Neverwinter Nights Platinum: Some Thoughts on CRPGs

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Matt Barton's picture

Although I greatly enjoy playing adventure games and the occasional strategy game (Civilization IV being one of my favorites), the genre I always find myself returning to is the computer role-playing game. My fixation with the genre began at the tender age of 12 (or maybe 13), when I started playing the Bard's Tale series on the Commodore 64. If you remember, the first Bard's Tale is extremely difficult starting out. Fortunately, the cracked copy we had still had a saved game from whoever copied it, so I was able to play with high-level characters and thus get a better feel for what the game had to offer. However, it wasn't really until I got Pool of Radiance (the original SSI "gold box" game) that I really fell in love with the genre.

I ended up buying not only the game, but also the hint guide, and even the novelization! I was obsessed. Pool of Radiance is a fairly involved game for a youngster, but I was determined to beat it. Even with the hint book, the game takes plenty of patience and strategy to complete. Never before had a game enthralled me to such a high degree. I would literally wake up in the morning, begin playing, take small breaks for meals, and continue playing until the sun was coming up (thank God, this was during summer!) When I finished PoR, I immediately begged and pleaded for Curse of the Azure Bonds, the next entry in the series--and the hint guide, and the novel.

My enthusiasm only began to wane with the third game, Secret of the Silver Blades. That game had some rather lengthy and boring segments that lulled me away for while. Eventually, though, I finished it and then moved on to the Krynn games and later the Savage Frontier. At some point during all this, I read the Dragonlance Chronicles and Legends, and soon took Raistlin Majere as my role model. (Yeah, I know, twisted!) All along the way, I became more interested in paper-based RPGs, and bought AD&D books like the Dungeon Master's handbook, Player's Guide, Monsters Compendium, and so on. One of my worst memories in college was coming home to the dorm one night and discovering all my AD&D books had been stolen. Alas. I never had the funds to replace them!

Might & Magic 6: Fantasy art at its best.Might & Magic 6: Fantasy art at its best.When I got my first IBM-compatible PC, the first RPGs I played were the Might and Magic games. I started with the sixth game, The Mandate of Heaven, mostly because the cover art was reminiscent of the gold box games (probably intentionally so!). At first I didn't care for the first-person interface, and did feel this was series was roughly polished at times, but I nevertheless managed to get immersed in the series, playing all the way through to the eighth game. At that point, the games were just feeling like shoddy, sloppy money-grabs rather than anything worth investing so much time and money in.

For the longest time, I was reluctant to play Baldur's Gate. Why? Well, I didn't like the idea of playing only a single character after so much CRPG experience building and playing parties. The idea of creating only a single character seemed stifling and limiting. Indeed, the one Gold Box game I never played was "Hillsfar," which was an early attempt at something like Baldur's Gate. So, I avoided Baldur's Gate and went for Icewind Dale. Unfortunately, that game isn't the best, really, and even though I played it through, I found the game rather dull and plodding at times. Icewind Dale II turned out to be much more fun, and at that point I was finally willing to try Bioware's second Baldur's Gate game.

I really loved Baldur's Gate II. It's a tremendous game with wheelbarrows full of personality and character. In a word, it's Fun, with a capital F. Even though I couldn't create my own party, I could at least control who was in the party, and that helped a bit. After I finished II, I went back to play the first game, and found it was also quite enjoyable (though I still prefer the second!)

What then? Well, I bought Neverwinter Nights when it came out and played through the original campaign. Unfortunately, that campaign isn't perhaps the most interesting, mostly because it feels so small. The difficulty level defaults to what I consider too easy, so I was able to rumble through the game without really thinking too much about it. After I finished it, I sold it through Amazon and got Dungeon Siege, which I considered a better game at the time.

Anyway, a few months ago I noticed that I could get two copies of Neverwinter Nights Diamond for only $20, so a thought occurred to me: Would this game be more fun to play on a LAN with my dearly beloved as a companion? I wasn't sure, and I also wasn't sure she'd like the game, but for $20 I was willing to take the chance. The Diamond version comes with the original game plus two expansions, Shadows of Undrentide (sucks) and Hordes of the Underdark (still playing), so it felt like a solid investment.

Well, the good news is that we did have fun sloughing through the first game. It became pretty obvious to me at an early stage, though, that Elizabeth wasn't nearly as "into" the game as I was, and didn't care to play with the kind of intensity and, er, "What the heck? It's 4 AM already!!??" state of oblivion I tended to find myself in during these games. She'd play just to make me happy, I guess, but I kept catching myself wishing I had a younger brother on hand! (One of my brothers is just as obsessed with this kind of thing as I am). I guess there's just a certain type of person who enjoys CRPGs, but I'm not sure what that factor (or factors) may be.

At any rate, playing the game on a LAN opened up a new dimension for the otherwise placid campaign. Although you can recruit henchmen of all different classes to accompany your character, their severely limited AI keeps them from being very useful (or enjoyable to have along). Usually, they merely become liabilities that you spend more time protecting and rescuing than anything else. A fellow human can be a major asset. Fortunately, for the first campaign, Elizabeth chose a paladin, which turned out to be a great beginner class because of the relative simplicity of combat, advancement, and abilities. In the NWN campaign, the fighter is actually a bit more complex, since good fighters will have to make very long-term plans about their character development--specializing in a weapon, choosing appropriate feats, etc. In other words, it's pretty easy to screw up a fighter pretty badly and end up with a virtually unplayable character.

Unfortunately, she picked a bard for the Shadows campaign, and that proved to be much more frustrating. The bard is probably one of the most complex characters to get right, and she discovered very quickly that her new character was extremely vulnerable in combat (and not very helpful otherwise). This undoubtedly led to great frustration, but, thankfully, the expansions offer a prestige class called "Red Dragon Disciple" that has helped make a difference in the Hordes campaign.
Pool of Radiance: Ah...What sweet memories of youth.Pool of Radiance: Ah...What sweet memories of youth.Anyway, the reason I wanted to post something about NWN and LAN was to offer some advice for other guys who might be thinking of bringing their "CRPG virgin" family or friends into the game. My primary advice would be to strongly discourage them from choosing to play one of the more complex characters, such as a mage, bard, cleric, or thief. It'd undoubtedly be easier for them to begin with a paladin or barbarian, or perhaps a ranger or sorcerer (though you'll end up explaining a lot). Rangers would be great for many women because of the emphasis on caring for animals (they get to summon an "animal companion"). Furthermore, the game seems to favor paladins, and there are no shortage of great items for the class. Plus, the powerful lay-on hands and turn undead features will prove a great asset. Probably the best aspect is that all you really need to do to play a paladin is click on the bad guys and keep an eye on your HP. This is infinitely more intuitive than the constant mode-switching you need to effectively play a fighter, to say nothing of magic strategy. Thieves and bards seem like difficult characters to play even for experienced gamers. They're pathetic in combat, and their special skills don't come as handy as you'd think. The few times I've tried playing a thief, I always multi-classed as a fighter, just to make the character more playable.

I suppose it'd be an impossible dream to find a whole party of folks (say, three?) who'd be willing to sit down on a regular basis at a LAN and play through these games as a group. I suppose at this point, the obvious solution is the internet, and perhaps a MMORPG like World of Warcraft. Perhaps. But I can't help but think that playing with a perfect stranger, who I'll more than likely never meet, would be as fun as playing with people I know (particularly family). I suppose I would be an ideal candidate for a game like WoW, since I love CRPGs and spent hundreds of hours in college sloughing through MUDs. However, I still cringe when I see the sort of "role playing" so many players on those systems engage in (i.e., straying far from character, cheating, and just being a punk). I also appreciate a good story in a CPRG, and the idea of doing random quests and playing a game with no ending doesn't seem to satisfy. Yes, I know there is a "social dimension" here that's supposedly more fulfilling than a good narrative, but I'm not sold on it yet.

However, I'd love to hear from folks who have a similar background to mine in CRPGs and who have made the transition into the MMORPG games (whether it be Everquest, WoW, or whatever). Was it a "Why didn't I do this sooner?" kind of thing? Be sure to let me know!

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Bill Loguidice
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Some semi-relevant ramblings in regards to RPG's past - present

As I've professed before, my first true personal CRPG experience came with "Phantasie" from SSI for my Commodore 64 (C-64), an experience that has left an indelible mark on my passion for the genre and very particular about what I consider a "true" RPG to be about. I played plenty of pen and paper RPG's prior to that - most from TSR (D&D, Gamma Force, Top Secret, Star Frontiers, etc.) - and from the advertisement in the magazine I read at the time (Family Computing, I believe), it seemed to encapsulate that very spirit. In essence, I was looking for the pen and paper RPG experience that I got from playing with my friends by myself on the computer.

I remember watching my friend Brian's brother playing some of the original Ultima games (II and III I think) on their Apple IIe and being absolutely mesmerized by the possibilities (though it was single character, it still impressed me). Still, it would not be until getting a hold of "Phantasie" for my own computer that I would take the true dive into the genre (and not from a disk copy, an actual purchase, where it was important to be taken in by the amazing cover artwork and the thorough manual).

Luckily for me, it was a wise choice. It was a multi-character party RPG, featuring - get this for you modern folks - six adventurers that you crafted yourself. Yep, there was a full storyline and what-not, but no cut-scenes, no pre-determined names, nothing. By your lovingly-crafted character's actions alone you drove the story along to its eventual conclusion. It was open-ended to a large degree (you could uncover more of the map and explore various dungeons and other areas as you saw fit, though certain areas did feature creatures of power greater than your parties until the typical leveling up through fighting and questing). In short, everything I could ever hope for and setting a standard for future games that has been hard to live up to. I of course gobbled up Phantasie II and III and worked through to the conclusions of both of those games. (Several years later IV was made for an obscure Japanese-only computer, a 32-bit Sharp I believe, but it doesn't really count; I did have the pleasure of getting to kick the tires in an emulator once, though)

As Matt did, I also played the original "Pool of Radiance", also from SSI (they released some great RPG's didn't they?). My friends got this first - I believe my friend Glenn got this for his C-64. It also was very neat and very different from what I was used to, though I was a bit dissapointed that some of the in-game text was referenced out to the manual. Perhaps it was a combination of saving space and copy protection. In any case, great stuff, and I finally got to play through it myself with the enhanced Commodore Amiga version (sadly, later entries in the gold box series would not necessarily receive enhanced ports, instead being straight PC ports). Of course I played and acquired other Gold Box games on both the Amiga and PC, eventually completing the partially virtual set (and all related games in the series), but not playing them all yet.

I picked up one of the combined editions of "Neverwinter Nights" not too long ago for the PC (and played the Gold Box-inspired game of the same name that appeared on AOL many moons ago), though not Matt's most recent deluxe version. (One thing on the PC, they release the same games ad infinitum it seems in ever better special editions, so it seems you have to be willing to miss out a bit if you're not 100% sure you're getting the "last" or "best" one). I have yet to play it, sadly, but look forward to it, particularly all the readily available modules out there (and would of course have loved to have found time to construct my own!). Really, beyond acquiring more games that I'll eventually play through, I haven't played much since the pinnacle of the early Gold Box games (and games like the wildly original "AutoDuel" from Origin) and attempting the deeply flawed but ambitious "Temple of Elemental Evil"...

As for MMORPG's and playing games with friends, even online, it's a bit of a pity that all that free time goes to the young. I simply don't have the ability to commit any type of consistent time to such things these days with all of my other responsibilities. I love the basic ideas, but my only hope is to play by myself at odd hours, so it has to be a "single player" RPG or nothing (the last RPG I got was the collector's edition of Morrowind for the Xbox 360 - great, but still not exactly what I'm looking for in the classic sense). My "friend adventuring" has been strictly limited to when my wife is able to play action dungeon crawls with me like the console versions of Baldur's Gate, Fallout, Everquest and X-Men Legends, which are really RPG-lites and have more in common with Gauntlet than a true RPG.

Besides having future dates with all the classics I haven't gotten to yet (Wizard's Crown, Shard of Spring, Ultima everything, Bard's Tales, Wizardry's, etc.), I also want to write a piece on a run through of the different versions of "Phantasie". Essentially there were three distinct engines or methods of implementing the same basic game. You had the C-64/Atari 8-bit/IBM PC versions. You had the Apple II (original) version. And then you had the 16-bit versions for the Atari ST/Commodore Amiga. Same basic games, just different visual styles and ways to interact. I always thought it would make a neat article to start games on each of the three different types and chronicle the accounts. Who knows if I'll get to such an epic undertaking, but it would be pretty darn fun.

Again, it's a whole different debate about the failings of what passes for RPG's on consoles (mostly the stuff from Japan, frankly) and the paltry amount of multi-character user created parties in RPG's in general since their heyday, but it's always worth a note.

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Matt Barton
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Neverwinter Nights Construction Kit

I loved reading your response, Bill! I'm sure if we lived closer together, we'd be playing LAN games to the point where our wives would probably chuck our computers out the window!

One thing I forgot to mention in the post was the emphasis on constructing your own adventures with NWN. Apparently, NWN's extensive construction toolset was one of its main selling points for some people, though that kind of thing hasn't really appealed to me. However, the idea was to create an engine that would let everyday D&D gamers (particularly the hardcore pen-and-paper folks) create commercial-quality CPRGs. Seemingly, the strategy has paid off beyond anyone's wildest speculations, with hundreds (if not thousands??) of eager dungeon masters unleashing decades of creative potential into the construction of freely downloadable modules for the game.

It was an awesome idea, and I'm sure that, again, if I had the right circle of friends, it'd be something I would've wanted to do. However, without friends to play the game with, it'd be a waste of time. I had no interest in getting SSI's Forgotten Realms Unlimited Adventure, which was pretty much the same deal. I mean, it'd be fun, but for some reason, I was always more interested in playing CPRGs than making them.

I remember reading Shigeru Miyamoto saying that RPGs sucked because your character started off with so many limitations. However, I thought that was the main draw. It's really fun babying and pampering a character, watching him or her develop slowly through experience, and always having a hand in the process. The very best games really focus on this aspect, and let you create very distinct characters from a sort of generic pool, gradually refining them. Obviously, the party-based games add immensely to this element, because you have to think so far beyond just one character. You have to think about how the characters will work together, and which skills will complement the group. I guess most people now would be tempted to call it a "turn-based" or "real-time" strategy game rather than an CRPG, which has come to mean the solo-player games like Morrowind.

But really, it was so fun taking all the gold to the shops and trying to decide if you'd buy that platemail for your fighter or a ring of protection for your mage. Would you have a straight thief or multiclass? In the gold box games, there was always an important choice in whether you'd focus on melee or magic. I'd usually opt for two mages, usually of different specialties, since the "artillery" was usually pretty amazing once you got far enough into the game (though at first they were huge liabilities).

My usual party consisted of a half-orc or dwarf fighter, a human paladin (or elf ranger), a halfling thief, elf cleric, and two wizards, usually elves or humans. Sometimes I'd multi-class the thief with fighting.

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Bill Loguidice
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Ah yes, getting the mix of

Ah yes, getting the mix of characters right in the party... To me, that was one of the great parts among many in these games, the multi-character user-created parties. I would read through the manual, plot out a strategy and work out ahead of time what type of mix I wanted in my adventuring group. You rarely get it right the first time out, but I would genuinely try to make it with my first party, unless there were significant nuances of the game that I felt would be best left to a different group.

I found it delightfully frustrating that the only way to make it through a certain part of the first "Phantasie" game was to have a minotaur in your party. I of course didn't have one when I reached that point, so I had to add one, removing a favorite member, and quickly trying to level him up. By "Phantasie II", I actually found it even more necessary to swap out party members in town to get the right mix of spellcasters and fighters. In essence, one type of party was best for a certain part of the game, while another was good for the last part (with there being at least a few core characters at all times). Interesting stuff and something I do rather miss in today's games.

Going back to the Gold Box games, one thing I found particularly frustrating were those times when you'd get poisoned or other related nasties, particularly when fighting the undead. At the same time, it did create tension in many of the later battles that might not have been there. Of course nothing quite matched losing whole limbs in "Phantasie III" and not always being able to regenerate them!

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
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mrCustard (not verified)
PPRPG for me.

Unfortunately, it seems I never succesfully made the switch from the Pen&Paper RPGS (I played AD&D and Call of Cthulu for a few years) to CRPGS, let alone MMORPGS. I like Oblivion however, but that's the first RPG i spent more than a few hours on in years. Other RPGS I played for more than a bit were mostly of the Japanese variety: FF7, Suikoden II, and Jade Cocoon come to mind. I've often wondered why I never felt particularly attracted to the American style of CRPG. I suppose it has something to do with the storytelling, or maybe I'm subconsiously biased towards linear gameplay. I did sit in on a few sessions with a friend who plays WoW (who was also an avid AD&D player btw), and well... the game just doens't feel like a proper RPG to me. The fact that there's so little roleplaying, people are out of character ALL the time,the endless level threadmill, it all put me completely off. Then again,I even got bored with the threadmill in Planetside, but friends who had played different MMORPGs before, found the levelling in that game refreshingly fast. So there you go. It's probably me.

Gamertag: Custardo

Bill Loguidice
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Games that are called

Games that are called "RPG's", whether justified or not in the classic sense, I find polarize people moreso than other, more easily categorized genres. To me, classic computer RPG's are very different game types from modern Japanese console RPG's and again from modern first person computer RPG's. And then let's not even get into games like "Diablo", "Dungeon Explorer" and "X-Men Legends" that are more action oriented, but still called "RPG's" in many circles. There definitely needs to be a distinct sub-categorization for us to effectively discuss all of these very different classes under "RPG".

Again, to me, the user created multi-character party non-linear computer RPG is the ideal format, but that may have something to do with my roots in pen and paper RPG's and my first true exposure being "Phantasie". Perhaps if I were born a few years later, I may indeed have favored Japanese-styled RPG's if that's what I was exposed to first... (though of course those early games were heavily influenced by Western RPG's and even the NES had a metric ton of 8-bit computer conversions, RPG's included)

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Matt Barton
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Taxonomy of RPGs

Yes, you're right, Bill, there IS a lot of tension in defining these games. Lots of traditional pen-and-paper gamers like Mr. Custard sometimes go so far as to say that CRPGs aren't really RPGs. For them, an "RPG" is primarily a type of play-acting, where you sort of improvise a story and act in-character during the session. I've only done traditional D&D once, and I noticed this was the most striking feature. People who are really into it won't even respond to their own names; it's either act in-character or quit the game. This can lead to LARPing, or live-action role play, where the characters actually dress up and act out the roles in a type of improvised play.

I can see where people who were attracted to this type of RPG wouldn't care at all for the computerized equivalents. On the one hand, the computer can do one thing really well--crunch all those numbers and keep the calculations and dice rolling firmly in the background. It's a bit distracting and tedious in a real session to wait for the DM to do all the calculations, but somehow it seems lame for a DM to ignore the dice and just make his own decisions (which I've seen done). Indeed, a few DMs I know are so far out that they refuse to follow any rules whatsoever, declare themselves a type of god in their fantasy realm, and you just have to accept whatever arbitrary decisions they reach regarding outcomes. Not very fun in my opinion.

One complaint I often hear from traditional D&Ders is about the linear gameplay of the computer games. Obviously, if you're going with the type of DM I just described, the game is very open-ended. However, most DMs will at least try to follow the official rules, and less experienced ones will buy a campaign module and just work through it. I don't see how these are any less linear than the computer games. Indeed, during the one session I did play, I pissed the DM off by refusing to open up a chest in the middle of the room. I kept saying, "I don't care about the chest. Let's just leave it alone." This was killing him because he had this elaborate story arc setup about the chest; it was actually a trapdoor into a dungeon. At any rate, he finally said something lame like, "A divine force forces you to open the chest!" and, at that point, I was ready to quit. The DMs have just as many ways to force a linear story on to you as the computer!!

But anyway, to get back to the taxonomy. I would definitely distinguish Diablo from Baldur's Gate and then again from Bard's Tale. My belief is that games as different as Diablo, Morrowind, and Pool of Radiance don't belong any single category. Let's not even consider non-fantasy CRPGs like Fallout for the moment.

I guess I would categorize "CRPGs" according to criteria: (a) Do you create and control one character or a party? (b) Does the game have first-person or third-person perspective? (c) Does the game have a narrative, or is it entirely open-ended? (d) Is it turn-based, real-time, or some combination? and finally, (e) is it designed for only one-player?

I'd also add some requirements for a game to be considered an CRPG. There should, at the very least, be some means of gaining experience and leveling up character/s so that they can become more powerful and gain new abilities. Ideally, this system should be fairly nuanced, to allow for very different possibilities. I'd also insist that there be a world to explore and an emphasis on strategic combat (vs. arcade style combat). I realize that some folks have argued that you can play a peaceful farmer in ROGUE and that is technically "playing a role," but I don't buy it. Likewise, I don't consider Space Invaders and the like as "RPGs" even though in a way you do "gain levels" and new powers as you progress. I don't like CRPGs that require too much in the way of "twitch," which is why I never cared for "clickfests" like Diablo.

Finally, I'd also insist that a CRPG takes place in one of the "genre fiction" environments, whether it be science fiction, fantasy, post-apocalyptic, or possibly even a western. This is perhaps more out of convention than of necessity, but I have such a hard time imagining a good CPRG set in a mundane environment.

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Mat Tschirgi (not verified)
Nice post, Matt. I have

Nice post, Matt.

I have dabbled a little in MMORPGs simply because my computer (still a PIII 733)can't run the current ones. I was in the public beta of the Korean MMO Ragnarok Online and played the old BBS menu based MUD Legend of the Red Dragon, though...

The main reason I play RPGs of any kind is because of a compelling story and characters first and a good battle system second. I really enjoy the narrative aspects probably because my very first RPG was Dragon Warrior (Dragon Quest in Japan) for the NES; the Japanese console RPGs focus more on story than American ones, for the most part.

While the community aspect of MMOs is appealing, I find the lack of a good story is what makes them less appealing to me. I have had fun playing Diablo I + II online as a fun dungeon romp, however. :)

This post sounds like the start of an article for a new issue of Armchair Arcade! :)

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Matt Barton
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Japanese RPGs

Yes, I definitely agree that a good storyline and fascinating environments are essential to a good RPG.

The one Japanese RPG that really did it for me was Chrono Trigger. While I realize it's something of a cliche to praise the game, it really was able to reach me despite a somewhat negative view towards "cute lil' Japanese games." I despite cute. How a society that privileges samarai honor and just bad-assism in general could be so obsessed with Ewoks and big-eyed star children is beyond me. What disturbed me is that even in seemingly mature Japanimation, there's a tendency to toss in some totally disruptive "cute" old man or "pookie" type "Aw, so cute!!" that totally ruins the mood. *&*(& the *& ponies.

However, even though it has a lot of "cute," Chrono Trigger does so many other things right that it remains a great game for both Western and Eastern gamers. The excellent, somewhat-dark atmosphere, coupled with a great combat system and amazing balance make for a masterpiece.

I've also played the first Final Fantasy on the NES, and have to admit I was unimpressed. It definitely felt over-stretched and extended just to make the game feel longer. I've heard that the other FF games are much better, but I haven't felt compelled to really explore them. The last time I was serious about trying one, I saw a cover of a young man wielding a sword that was about three times his size. I just chuckled at that and moved on. Again, I'm certain that this tendency is why the Nintendo is generally considered a kid's machine. I mean, I don't want to play a game that just might come with puffy stickers to be applied to my lunch pail.

I guess that Japanese RPG developers are willing to poke fun at themselves and go for "cute" even though it totally ruins the experience for someone hoping for a more mature experience. What's frightening is that even in anime films with adult-only content (Ninja Scrolls), you'll be stymied by some obligatory invasion of the cute or hopelessly trite.

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Bill Loguidice
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Japanese RPG = Story, Western RPG = Not; Cliche'?

I don't know, the standard response I always hear about Japanese RPG's is how they have so much more "story" than Western RPG's, particularly the classic ones. I know I'm no connoisseur of the Japanese RPG despite owning several (I've never actually completed any) for Dreamcast and PS2, among other systems, but I think frankly the idea of "story" is used with too broad of a stroke. It's not that simple.

It's very simple really to compare the differences. I'll use Phantasie as an example and Pool of Radiance (POR), both from SSI, simply because they were previously discussed. When playing through each of them, there was obviously plenty of exposition, plenty of quests/missions, plenty of things to do. However, at no time in either game are you particularly guided in how to achieve your objectives. In no way did you feel that the story was predetermined. You created characters from scratch and guided them through the world and uncovered things and responded to things more or less as you saw fit (within the constrains of the technology and the design - you obviously had to fight a lot even when you didn't want to for instance). The stories were the typical kill the big foozle at the end, but the story still interacted with your characters and there were still the occasional NPC's that could join your party (in POR) IF YOU CHOSE (more or less) with their own agendas, who also could affect the outcome.

Now compare that to something like a "Kingdom Hearts". You're given a character to play. Your party consists of pre-determined characters. Your encounters consist of pre-determined interactions. You move from one event to another to trigger the next cut scene and the next linear progression. Yes, an intricate story is woven around these events and characters, but is it really a "better" story than the one in POR or Phantasie? If all of this stuff is pre-determined for me ahead of time and I have little to know ability to take my own path to the finale', why wouldn't I just watch a "Kingdom Hearts" movie than play my way through it? I'd rather not watch a POR or Phantasie movie, because the outcome of the games are entirely my own to weave. Obviously there are plenty of triggers in both games and events that happen when you reach certain points, but more or less, it's like I'm "really" role playing. The personalities of my characters are mine to imagine, they're not pre-determined for me.

I know how I wrote the above is not particularly elegant and may not have made my point as well as I would have liked, but I hope I at least highlighted why I think there are fundamental differences in the game types that are both somehow referred to as "RPG". To compare one to the other - to me - is all but impossible. Each has very different goals and effects on the end user, the player. Each appeals to very different people. I know I've been stunned that there are people out there that actually don't like to make their own characters - they'd rather be GIVEN characters already created - they actually hate the process. Until I could accept that as a concept, I could not understand why someone might not like a true classic CRPG. Again, different styles appeal to different people.

Finally, here's one last illustration of the differences. My sister-in-law is an RPG fanatic for the PS2, playing through nearly every RPG ever released for the system. How does she do it? Essentially she buys the game AND the guide. She opens up the guide and starts playing, following PRECISELY step-by-step what the guide says. In essence, she plays the walkthrough to go from the start of the game to the end. It still takes her the 15 - 20 hours or whatever it ends up being, but she plays through step-by-step. You know what the "walkthrough's" were for classic CRPG's? You were basically given tips on fighting, maps to the dungeons and wilderness areas and a rough outline of what you needed to do to advance through the game. No walkthrough was possible. That to me is the KEY difference. One is an interactive movie more or less, the other is an interactive world. Harsh, but isn't it rather true?

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
[ My collection ]
[ http://www.MythCore.com ]

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Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
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Joined: 01/16/2006
RPGs with Stories, Stories with RPGs

I know precisely what you mean, Bill. I could compare two RPGs as well: Betrayal in Krondor (and the somewhat bastardized sequel, Betrayal in Antara) and Morrowind. It's pretty obvious that the appeal of these games is wildly different. In the first series, the gimmick is that the games were authored by the celebrated fantasy author Raymond E. Feist. Feist's work is excellent, and the story, characters, and dialogue in these games is great. Indeed, they are so good, that I actually got very interested in the outcome and stuck with it. It was a totally new experience for me, because I was almost hard-wired into thinking RPGs were about hacking and slashing, with a "story" grafted on just to satisfy some idiot who didn't quite "get it." Now, I had to rethink all that. Thank you, Mr. Feist.

On the other hand, was there a story in Morrowind? I guess there was. I don't know. I was too busy running around doing what felt like random sub-quests, killing Mr. X, acquiring an orb or sphere or whatever. Honestly, I think if I see one more game about "You must acquire the twenty-eight and 1/3 shards of the ORB OF POWER or the world will be destroyed in eternal winter!!" kind of schlock I'm going to demand a refund. I really didn't care for Morrowind, since the level-up system seemed downright exploitive. Just keep clicking; eventually you'll level up. Not fun.

Then again, I kind of suspect the reason I like some RPGs and hate others is that you love what you first experienced. It's like James Bond movies. People who started watching (and loving them) during Sean Connery's tenure will always think he was the best. Meanwhile, folks like me can't see anyone but Roger Moore in the role. Again, it's the same thing with Dr. Who. Again, if it's not Tom Baker, I'm not interested.

I fell in love with CRPGs in the days of Pool of Radiance and Bard's Tale, which are much more alike than they are dissimilar. Therefore, my idea of what makes a "good CPRG" is how closely they conform to the mechanics of those early games. I just can't acknowledge Diablo as a true CRPG no more than I can a game like System Shock. I really would prefer to call Morrowind a FPS with RPG ambitions. ;-)

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