I go into RPG games with the full knowledge that I will be assaulted by a line of repeated experiences as long as my leg.
I suppose one should be annoyed at the fact that RPGs are so loaded with the same old design thing. Still, there are a lot of things that I look forward to when it comes to this type of game. So I thought I’d make a list of some of the sorts of things that RPGs do so damned often because they do it so damned right.
The Party of Misfits
I have almost never played an RPG where everyone gets along from the word go. Sure, there may be a couple of friends who start things off together, but more or less an RPG’s party is made up of people who would otherwise never seek each other out. The line of circumstances that would lead these people to meet fly against all reason and numerical possibility.
As impossible as it all seems, and as obvious as it is that this party of unlikely characters will all eventually coalesce into a team, it’s still fun to watch those interactions. To see those characters develop around and with each other. Together, they face things that would rip apart most, but they always somehow pull it off and are stronger for it.
I suppose the best way to describe it is by calling it The Reality Show Effect. These people are written together for maximum entertainment value. And I still love it.
I sort of touched on this in my last post about RP’ing villains, but it bears repeating–baddies should have even more charisma than the main heroes. A good bad guy makes the RPG more enjoyable. The best part of many RPGs is that there’s always a long LINE of awesome villains to enjoy. And they run the gamut from dark and deadly to murderous to refined gentleman to campy. There’s always at least one bad guy you’re going to love to hate, or you’re going to feel satisfied by their ending.
Some things just never get old, and the grand battle against a good villain is one of them. And it doesn’t even have to be the final fight–there’s been more than a few “minibosses” who stood out more than the big boss fight. Characters like Magus from Chrono Trigger or Thanatos from Secret of Mana…lots of fights that were not the main point, but were oh so satisfying.
Which segues nicely in to…
The Battle System
Granted, this is pretty much the bread and butter of an RPG, and a bad one can really make things awful…but when an RPG nails its combat model, nothing feels better. From the stance changing and combat motions of The Witcher to the tactics/free movement mashup of Valkyria Chronicles to the careful timing and planning of the Active Time Battle system in nearly every Final Fantasy game, a good combat model will always make killing legions of enemies a good time.
A lot of MMOs live and die even harder by this sort of thing, and it admittedly is where I look to for some excellent RPG combat. WildStar’s model is almost more like a shooter, but it doesn’t require quite the same amount of twitch skills as one. Tabula Rasa had a really nice system that tied together tab-target with a small bit of ironsight aiming, as well as positioning bonuses. Even a classic MMO combat model with hotbar skills and cooldowns can be engaging if the combat motions and cadence are done right.
The Music Pieces
You know what I’m talking about…The Drama Theme. The Victory Fanfare. The Dungeon Song. The Danger Theme. The Hard Battle Theme. Each moment is accentuated by a distinct song that prepares you for what should be an epic moment.
A good music piece can heighten the enjoyment of even the worst battle systems or the most awful fights. I actually found Super Mario RPG to be an obnoxious game, but the themes that played during regular fights were some of the must energetic things I’d ever heard out of an SNES. And part of the reason why I recall a moment in an RPG’s story so vividly is due to an awesome piece of music.
Everything about a good song sets the table for a moment that’s not to be missed and is trying to be remembered. Most of the time, RPG’s do just that. And frankly, there’s not a lot of other game genres that nail that quite as well.
No other genre offers up these sorts of things like an RPG, and it’s for these reasons that I keep coming back to them. The fact that a lot of these same tropes have also made their way into many MMOs makes me pretty happy as well, to be honest. People can argue until they’re blue in the face about how MMOs are becoming thin with RPG elements, but for my money an RPG is more than just a character sheet and a dice roll. The whole pile of experiences bundled together is what makes an RPG for me.