I've been mowing lawns a lot lately, and so biggest conversation partner over the last couple of weeks has been the lawn mower. Nobody can hear me talking over the roar of the motor, and my mind hasn't much to do while mowing, either. So, whatever thoughts I have, I share with the lawnmower. (It doesn't have much to say about any of it, except “RRRRRRRRR~!” and sometimes, “RRRRrrRRRRrrrr-rrr-rrr...” which roughly translates to, “I'm out of gas.”)
Yesterday, of all things, I got to talking to it about video games.
Console “role-playing” games in particular.
Thing is about this so-called “genre” is that it's completely mis-named. They're adventure games, not “role-playing.” Way back when, a clever programmer realized that table-top roleplay games had systems that could be governed by a program, and you could make a simple campaign on, say, the recently released “Nintendo.” He and a few acquaintances messed around, made some sprites, programed a simple engine, and viola: Dragon Warrior was born. Of course, there were already similar things in existence, but this one was different. There were sequels, and other people followed this with their own games. “Final Fantasy” was one of these.
Early on, these were called adventure games, but the word “role-play” was dragged into it like a passive-aggressive three year-old. I believe it was the root for these games: their combat systems (combat was the center of all these games, the plot was just to move the player into more difficult fights) were derived from tabletop role-playing games!
I know, I know: trivial knowledge. (That's “bean knowledge” to all you Japanese majors and anime fanatics out there!) I'm sure you gamers are asking, “but whats t hat got to do w/ the gnres name????” Ask any decent tabletop role-playing gamer that same question. They'll mention a few things.
First, they'll point out the chasm between the amount of control a console RPG allows the participant and a table-top one does: a video game is made up of very few real decisions, a linear plot line; and pen-and-paper games have infinite amount of choices, goals exist, but there are many, many different ways to get there. Let's use Final Fantasy VII, because it is really freaking popular. Tifa Lockheart is in Junon, running down an oversize canon known as “Sister Ray.” The canon's creator, a sexily-dressed black-hearted beauty known as Scarlet and a pack of her uniformed cronies are chasing after Tifa. Tifa's cornered at the end of the canon, and is left with no choice but to confront the scantily-clad weapon designer. After some bad-mouthing, Scarlet slaps our heroine. Here's where the player gets do something. “Tap “O” rapidly to slap!” That's it. That's the only choice: a mandatory slapping contest. “But wait!” the player might exclaim. “Tifa has beat the shit out of dragons with her practically bare fists! This boobular evil engineer hasn't a chance!” Indeed, by all counts, she wouldn't. Scarlet just initiated a slapping contest with somebody who could reduce Mike Tyson to a pile of mangled flesh with a single punch, so where's the option to 'knock dressed-to-the-nines unkind big-weapon smith into next week' option, or GOD FORBID the 'try to reason with the bitch' button? The joke is, if any of these options existed, they would all SOMEHOW lead to the same thing. In a table-top role-play game, the only limitations to be found are those sometimes imposed by the game's idea of physics and those you impose yourself.
Second, the characters themselves reveal the difference between the two types of games. You can change Cloud's name all you want to, but it's still Cloud. You didn't choose the “spiky-assed” nut job swordsman, he was handed to you. All of his friends are also pre-programed, too. You don't even get to choose between them. As much as you can pretend otherwise, you can't play Barrett. No, you're playing Cloud. Get used to him and his personality. This is why many console “role-playing game” heroes are silent: so you can insert your own personality and thoughts. That trick doesn't work, though, as “non-playable characters” still respond to “you” in the same way. In a real role-playing game, the character you control you get to make. The personality, characteristics and capabilities are selected by the player, with some restrictions, naturally.
Third and last, it's all about content. In the world of console “role-playing games,” it's all about fighting. Oh, and leveling up. All for the next “boss monster.” The only thing ending-- and they do have endings-- is plot closure. This is a blessing to everyone involved: if the plot didn't end, the game could go on forever and ever (who wants to hear, “Yes! I finally got Cloud up to level ten thousand! Over a million hit points! Rock!”), and game designers would be in an uncomfortable position of making very, very big games. In a good table-top system, many characters don't even have to fight at all. Even the most hog-washing drop-dead action-packed exciting adventures can't be entirely combat. There are many other skills that are equally valuable in the world, all of which can earn you those ever-loved “exp. Points” or a cousin of them. Furthermore, the numbers tell the story: the highest “level” a character can be expected to reach in a table-top role-play game is about fifteen. In a video game? Nearly one hundred! The values used to signify physical capability are comparably huge in video games. Sometimes ten times what you see in table-top role-play games. The video games in question originally derived their numerical engines from the table-top variety, but then ran in their own direction with it.
All of this considered, I think what gamers are used to calling “RPGs” are actually adventure games, and role-playing games are still the real role-playing games. I have nothing against either, but by labeling these games incorrectly, we're leading to false expectations of both. Those accustomed to “RPGs” will be invited to play a role-playing game and make complete asses of themselves, and even threaten to change the table-top games to what they are used to. That would be a travesty, because both are great forms of entertainment, but simply aren't interchangeable. This might still leave Tifa slapping Scarlet on a big o' canon, but that might be for the best. Those kinds of things make the most sense in adventure epic games.
Geebus, you're still reading this crap? If you didn't, I just wrote a rough essay explaining that what you play on your Playstation and computer and call “RPGs” are actually adventure games, and pen-and-paper/table-top role-play games have a more rightful, um, right to that particular genre name.
Can you believe I'm not out of wind YET?! Nope, while we're on the subject, I'm going to talk about:
I occasionally talk about 'ego-based' characters and 'class-based' characters. An ego-based character has abilities or skills based upon their personality, while class-based ones are essentially predecided by the class, with a personality dropped in. For the most part, the Final Fantasy series has seen the later exclusively, as far as I know. (I stopped playing at IX for financial reasons.) I've heard the argument that the class-based system ended with part seven, but I heartily disagree. Their limit breaks and weapon choices are more than just “references.” First, it would be a self-reference, because it is still Final Fantasy. Second, the slight statistical differences between the characters indicate there's a class there, but the materia system short-circuits it with customizablitity. Lastly, look at their starting materia: further indication of implied classes.
I'm going to run-down the characters. Tell me if I'm wrong.
Cloud: Fighter/knight. A no-brainer.
Tifa: Monk/black-belt. Ha! Obvious.
Barrett: 0_o Um... I'll come back to that one!
Yuffie: Ninja! This is the most obvious.
Aeries: A white mage. Limit breaks are a give-away.
Vincent: Berserker! I thought he was a gunner, but those limit breaks reveal the truth! Also, gunner is a more modern class, and Vincent help make the mode in his non-berserk form. Go Vincent! No, wait, stop going! It's flame elemental, don't do that breath atack on-NOOO! Vincent, you idiot! X/
Barrett: I'm getting to it... uh... Wow, this is a tough one... Hmm...
Cid: Dragoon knight, and it was a damned stretch, too. He should have been an engineer, like the Cid in FFIV. Wait, he was near-useless... Never mind. Go ahead, Cid, enigmatically be a dragoon knight. Yeah. Smoke that cigarette. Lung cancer and jumping go SO well together.
Cait Sith: Gambler. A bizarre class from VI. Check it out. You see them later in the series, too.
Red XIII or Nanaki: HA! You thought I was going to get stumped on this one, too, I'll bet! He's a red mage! He has practically completely average stats, and... well... for crap's sakes, he's red. It's right there in his code name, too. Also, his limit breaks do all kinds of stuff, a big ol' tool chest if you will. Very red-mage like, if you think about it.
Now, for the finale': Barrett. Let's take a close look.
Weapons: mounted big guns, lasers, gattling guns, and artillery; scissors; fists-like things.
Limit breaks: explosions. Lots of 'em.
Starting materia: ice, I think. Doesn't say much...
Statistics: higher HP than average, slightly lowered magic ability, and slightly higher defense.
Other notes: typically long-ranged.
So, what does that indicate? I don't know~! The best I can say is that he's literally a tank. Still, that isn't a real Final Fantasy class. There wasn't anyone like him in IV or VI, nor was there a class in I or V that cries his name in slow, romantic Spanish! Maybe, just maybe, Barrett was something really special. He might have been a real gem: a real personality surrounded by rearranged classes. His clothing, weapon, and dog tags all indicate that they might have been trying to make a new class with him: 'artilleryman', or 'soldier', or something. Any thoughts?
Woo, glad I wrote most of this before I came online. It's almost at five pages right now, which is weird, because I know I haven't been sitting here that long. You know what's really bad, though? I got another post right after this one ready. Holy crap. Between the post I made the day before yesterday, that's a lot of LJ writing. Woo.