Friday, May 18, 2018

General RPGs' Dialogue Archiving

Something that a few RPGs do to varying degrees that I want to give a brief shout out for: dialogue archiving. Sometimes, an RPG will have an option for you to scroll back up through dialogue or other text that’s been said previously, so you can reread something the characters said.

This is obviously useful, particularly to a story-junkie like myself. First of all, if you have to get up and do something in the middle of a conversation in an RPG, being able to scroll back up through what’s been said gives you a chance, once you’re done with whatever distracted you, to much more easily get back into the game and situation that you left. Life is unpredictable, and RPG conversations are long--this has been very useful to me more than once. It’s also handy in the sense that if for some reason you aren’t sure what a character’s talking about, you can go back and review the text that brought you to this point in the conversation, and maybe find some clarification from it. And sometimes, an RPG conversation is heavy and dense enough that it just is useful to be able to reread parts of it over again, once you’ve finished it and have a general idea as to where it was going--sort of like rewatching a movie or anime a second time and understanding it better now that you know what it’s trying to express.

Heck, it can be useful for something as small as having found a particular exchange between characters hilarious, and wanting to read said hilarity out to your sister so she can enjoy it. This is how I first realized how useful this feature was, in fact, as I simply had to share Aegis’s comments on Yukari’s fanfiction habits in Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Q, and suddenly realized the utility of the button that brings up all the text you’ve seen previously.

In spite of the fact that the first time I really came to notice this feature for its merits was in SMTPQ, this is something that western RPGs seem to have a much longer history with than JRPGs. It’s actually a pretty common thing for you to be able to scroll up in a dialogue box to see an archive of everything that’s been said to you, going back in chronological order. The feature goes pretty far back--I remember finding it useful in Fallout 1 and 2 (although those little boxes also archived all battle action descriptions, too, so its utility was somewhat lessened). It’s something I especially appreciated (even if I didn’t really think about it specifically) for Planescape: Torment and Torment: Tides of Numenera, since narration and dialogue are the primary points of interest for those 2 RPGs, and just about all of it is incredibly heavy and thoughtful.

Still, props to JRPGs where it’s due--several of them have started implementing a feature that has a separate screen for keeping track of all that’s been said to date (as I mentioned, I was quite pleased with this in SMT Persona Q). Maybe not all of them are good enough to actually warrant it (can’t imagine why anyone would feel the need to reread any of Conception 2’s text), but it’s nonetheless great to see it becoming a regular JRPG feature. It’s definitely not just a western RPG thing. In fact, I think the earliest example of it I know of is from a Japanese RPG, Energy Breaker. Although the dialogue archive feature is in its infancy in EB, it is present, in the sense that, within every conversation, you have the ability to press Up as characters are talking to see everything they’ve said during that particular branch of dialogue until that point. Only good for parts of conversations rather than being a true archive, of course, but still, an early step toward this great idea.

Still, although there are a few JRPGs out there that include dialogue archiving to some extent, most do not, and I hope that more will implement this feature as time goes on. I likewise hope to see it in more western RPGs--they may have the lion’s share of games that have this handy characteristic, but they are still not nearly as common as I wish they were. For a gamer like myself, who plays specifically for the story and the humanity to be found in the genre, dialogue archiving is a great feature, and I appreciate every game that employs it.

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