Sitting down and starting a fresh character. Leaving that initial town you’ve been living in your whole life and venturing out into the vast, open world in front of you for the first time. That sense of discovery and wonder (and awesome world map music). A great RPG is like the ultimate comfort food. When everything comes together it can make for a truly memorable experience (kinda like when you order just the right amount of sushi). They’ve had such an impact on the games industry, that trying to find a game without some sort of RPG elements is hard these days. Even mega hits like Destiny & Call of Duty have a leveling system incorporated into them. The joy I find in RPGs is that they can be as linear or non-linear as you want them to be (with the exception of FFXIII, the tunnel simulator). You want to go through the main story first? Go ahead. You want to put saving the world on hold so you can go and collect some random shit (if you’re playing Breath of the Wild, you’re literally collecting feces from the Koroks) that will have zero effect on anything? Yes my friend, you can do that too.
My love for RPGs started during the SNES era. The first one I played being Secret of Mana. I was 8 at the time, and didn’t pay much attention to mechanics. Why was I having such a difficult time defeating enemies? You know, it might have had to do with the fact that I hadn’t been purchasing any weapons to upgrade my attack. Other things started to go through my mind. Things like “Why can’t I just spam the attack button?” or “I have to wait to attack? This is outrageous.” After realizing I needed to adjust how I played from simple button mashing to perform powerful attacks, and I was sitting on quite a bit of money, I ended up equipping myself with the proper gear and overcoming many of the games obstacles. I loved the game so much that I asked Todd, the owner of a local video game store, Game Power (my favorite place to rent from) what else they had that was in the same vein. He introduced me to a little game called Final Fantasy III (which is now my favorite game series of all time…. Todd, you the real MVP).
Now, when I started playing FFIII, I was a little put off by the turn based battle. This wasn’t like Secret of Mana, in the sense that I could literally move around in that game and avoid enemy attacks. Battles in this game came down to stats and good ol’ RNG. I couldn’t just avoid enemies and attack when it was safe? This level of strategy was missing from games like Super Mario and Sonic, where positioning and reflexes were everything. However, after spending a few hours with FF, I was enamored. The story had sucked me in, and I was introduced to one of the most vile villains in gaming, the maniacal clown, Kefka. For a SNES game, it also hit on some heavy topics like suicide and child murder. This is where my infatuation with Squaresoft (now Square-Enix) began. A few years later we were introduced to the unforgettable Chrono Trigger. That same year we received the excellent Secret of Evermore. I would come to realize, like many others, that the SNES had an overwhelming library of fantastic RPGs, thanks mostly to Squaresoft.
What I love most about the genre and how it has effected other games is that feeling of progression. It’s something you can visibly see. Mario games have excellent platforming and test your reflexes, but you can’t see Mario physically growing (actually this would be hilarious, please put this in the next Mario game. I want a buff Mario please). I mean, you can see the progression in Mario games because of the way the player plays. Speed runners that play Mario look vastly superior in the way they move compared to myself. It’s not the same though, as seeing someone with high level raid gear, or carrying some of the best weapons in a game. I guess that’s why we have the always reliable Super Mario RPG/Paper Mario series to see our Mario truly buff up.
Finding that rare piece of armor or weapon that pushes your party or individual hero even further is addictive. When you’ve reached the highest level, then comes maxing out your characters potential. This can apply to MMOs, where you’re constantly bumping your item level up, giving yourself that edge against raid bosses. Equipping the right gems (WOW) or materia (FFXIV) is crucial. Beating the main story is really just scratching the surface of what you can do in an RPG. Some of the best ones have a New Game + feature, such as Dark Souls. Dark Souls is great for watching your character grow. That boss that kicked your ass numerous times your first run through, is now grovelling at your level 300 characters feet. It’s very empowering.
Venturing on side-quests to find your characters ultimate weapons is mandatory in any RPG. These side-quests can sometimes lead to a better story then the main game. Chrono Trigger has a quest that takes you into party member Lucca’s past to acquire one of her ultimate weapons. Learning about the tragedy that befell her mother, and blaming herself was heartbreaking. On top of getting something useful for Lucca, the player grows closer to the character. Some aren’t as simple in execution though. Final Fantasy 8 had you scrounging up various rare materials and magazines for Squall’s weapons. Ultimately (HA), the pain was worth it…… you know…. it just was a really big pain.
Finally, we can’t forget the music. Town music is just the best music. I use it to fall asleep for gods sake. There’s something calming about the music you listen to in the towns you find. After spending what seems like forever battling monsters out in the field, you come across a small town to rest for the night. It’s here you’re treated to that calming, soothing, happy music. Square-Enix has had some phenomenal music in their RPGs. Memorable themes that if you turn them on, they take you back to those moments in your life. Any kind of music can be nostalgic, it’s just RPG Town music always has a huge impact on my emotions. It takes me back to the care free days. Days where playing a game was all that mattered. There weren’t bills to be paid, or things to really have to worry about. I love my family now more then anything, but I wouldn’t mind reliving those days again. Of course, knowing my luck, I’d make a deal with Rumpelstiltskin and my life would end up like that Shrek Forever After movie and it’d all just go to shit.
I’ve had plenty of fond memories with friends playing RPGs. My wife and I have recently spent a substantial amount of time playing World of Warcraft again. Running raids and world quests with her is always a blast. My favorite action RPG memory though, is one I share with my brother. We had rented Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance on PS2 from our local Blockbuster (yeah…… that sentence turned me into a fossil). I didn’t really know much about it, other than Official Playstation Magazine saying it was great (I think they gave it 4 out of 5 discs). We had our snacks and drinks, everything was set. I chose the human (who was an archer, but I chose to use hand to hand combat for whatever reason), he chose the dwarf, and we began our journey starting in that shady looking tavern. We played it till the sun came up. After passing out and sleeping for a few hours, we woke back up and finished the rest of it. I remember my brothers reaction when that giant rat charges at you in the sewers. Being able to unlock Drizzt as a playable character was an added bonus. It was a gaming marathon to remember, and a memory with my brother I’ll cherish forever.
After finishing Persona 5 last year, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of Dragon Quest XI for my next (next-gen) JRPG fix. In the mean time, I’ve pre-ordered the next World of Warcraft expansion and have been playing the new Nightborne race with the wife whilst I dream about leveling my Blood Elf Rogue to the new level cap of 120. On consoles, it looks like my next purchase is going to be Monster Hunter World for the PS4. It seems to have that progression I love so very much (I’ve only played the PS2 and Wii U MH games….. please don’t hurt me). With the SNES Classic out now (which I have visitation rights with my brother every other weekend), I’ll be diving back into Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy III and Super Mario RPG all over again. It makes my heart swell. There’s just too many great games to play.
Do you love all kinds of RPGs as much as I do? If so, what are some of your favorites? I’ll leave a list of mine down below. – NVJ
- Chrono Trigger
- Secret of Evermore
- Super Mario RPG
- Star Ocean: The Second Story
- Secret of Mana (especially #3)
- Final Fantasy (all of them… ALL OF THEM)
- World of Warcraft
- Diablo 1, 2 & 3
- Dark Souls 1 & 3
- Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance
- Champions of Norrath
- Phantasy Star Online
- Skies of Arcadia
- Elder Scrolls Oblivion & Skyrim