Have you ever stopped and really thought about your childhood? The way everything back then seemed so much better than it is now, like old 7-Eleven commercials or even certain games for instance. When I think back to when I was a kid, I remember all the amazing role-playing games I got to play and how they still remain some of my favorite to this day. I always think back to late night sessions of Fire Emblem or when I played Breath of Fire II for the first time. I get really sad because I know games like that will never hold the same magic as they did when I was younger. Is it purely due to sentimental value or is it simply because RPGs back then were that good?
It is true that while RPGs today are more advanced in every way, it feels like they are lacking something. I know that sounds odd because with today’s technology and advancements in gaming, players feel more connected to characters and stories more so than they ever have, even to the point of going up in arms because they were not satisfied with a certain franchise’s epic conclusion. While I cannot put my finger on it exactly, I can tell you that I easily grow tired of completing quests for an hour in Dragon’s Dogma, yet I played Final Fantasy III for the iOS for seven hours today alone. It is not because Dragon’s Dogma isn’t a good game; I very much enjoy scaling cyclopes and stabbing away at their nether regions, but the role-playing games of the 90’s and early 2000’s resonated with me in a way no other RPG to date has. Twenty years from now, I am sure I won’t experience a nostalgic feel for Mass Effect.
Most of the RPGs I played growing up were Japanese. Mostly developed or published by Square Enix, (I miss Squaresoft…) the games were traditional turn-based games with everything that we have come to know and love. A reason I believe role-playing games are in a slump now is because they have already hit their prime, which is actually a hard to thing for me to come to terms with as I write this. The Japanese developers have already made their best games and with American RPGs now doing better in terms of sales in the United States, we are seeing more action-oriented games. With Bioware’s finger on the pulse of American RPGs, it will be difficult to see another major Japanese role-playing game that has the same impact and appeal of older titles that doesn’t have the words “Final Fantasy” on the cover. Even with Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a game that I enjoyed very much that was published by Square Enix, it was easy to see that this type of gameplay and formula is more than likely how RPGs are probably going to be made from now on. Japan has tried to play catch-up with more action-y games such as The Last Remnant, but with how mediocre it was, they are nothing but constant reminders that Japanese developers don’t exactly have what it takes to keep up with the changing market. The one title that, in my opinion, is still keeping them afloat is the wonderfully complex Kingdom Hearts.
Over the past few years, the American market has not seen many strategical RPGs. Fire Emblem is one of the more popular series, but has not received the attention or the care it deserves. Another one of my favorite games, Front Mission 3, has had to find its sales through a series of spin-offs that includes third person shooters amongst others. That means that besides the title, there is little that differentiates it from games like Armored Core, which is a bit sad. There has been quite a shortage of definitive RPGs in recent years, but there is a little glimmer of hope in the form of handheld gaming.
Although it is still relatively new and has not yet found its footing in the gaming market, mobile devices have an impressive amount of old-school RPGs and even a few big name titles. While mobile phones lack the power and support of major gaming companies, some great games have made their way through to the mobile market. A lot of them bring back a small sense of the nostalgia that older games carried with them. Though this does not exactly fill the void, it does provide a bit of entertainment and is a great alternative to pass the time. It briefly postpones the thought that RPGs have seen their best days.
So exactly when did RPGs lose their mojo? Is it possible for Japanese and American developers to move forward with games and still keep the integrity and charm of previous titles? Even watching the commercials to games like Pokemon and Final Fantasy IX is a big part of the experience and memory. Commercials that stay with you because they are tied directly to memories of you in a room in your house holding the original PlayStation controller for hours, going through novels of text and having a little moment of awe when you equip your character with a new weapon and it is visible in battle.
It is not hard to find a good RPG these days. That is easy to see just by how beloved the games are and how passionate the fans have become. Granted, these games have the budget and the talent to go up against any sci-fi movie, but the role-playing games of our yesteryear have something more; something that has stayed with us throughout our lives and has become somewhat of a beacon. We hold these games like Final Fantasy VII and Chrono Trigger up as the standard for how RPGs should be and most others fall short. While I understand that this could easily be mistaken for a rant and that it could be applied to any number of videogame genres, I wanted to express a love letter to my favorite genre as well as a “thank you” of sorts; a “thank you” to the games that are tied directly to my childhood as well as others’. While we may not get another game like those that are found on the game consoles of the 90’s, we still have good memories. Good memories, as well as digital downloads.