SheitGeist, Installment 2

Don’t try to deny it, the industry has gone round the bend, and what is worse the industry commenting on the industry is currently completing its third round around that same bend, and that is just positively loony.

The western gaming industry and media have spotted their own reflection in the brown coloured lake of their own latrine offshoot and fallen in love, but no one seems to be around to kick them in the arse so they can get a closer look. In short, there is plenty of love going around, but where is the hate? The world needs hate. That is where I come in, your friendly neighbourhood ball buster.|

About SheitGeist:

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My quest to bring some much needed balance to things by kicking the western industry in the jewels every chance I get might be as futile as the one Don Quixote partook when he decided to challenge the windmill, but I don’t care! Someone has to stand up for the Japanese on this side and they sure as hell aren’t going to do it themselves, because they are too busy being awesome. Hence, SheitGeist, where I in an attempt to go against the current flaunt my pent up hatred for everything western in the industry and swoon over anything Japanese.

I have no false and pretentious aspirations of professionalism staying my hand, so my bias will come across with all the subtlety of a shotgun to the face. So, if you are one of the lepers who thinks the westerners are doing a bang up job of steering since they seized the reins to this industry of drunken bullocks then by all means feel free to sod off and jump off of a cliff. But please don’t, because the following was written with the specific purpose to piss you off and ruin your day, like you have mine.

The strange beast that is the JRPG, Part 1:

Hey, how did you get in here? Huh, what was that, this weeks SheitGeist? Oh sod off mate, cant you see I am playing Metal Gear Solid 4? Next week, mate, next week, now get out of here. What? You refuse? Where is that rusty pipe? Oh, I used it to bludgeon that kid with the Gaylo T-shirt, fun times. Ok, wait, what is this in the bin here? Ah, the “first draft”! Here ya go, you can have that, now get lost as I let this Game of The Millennium gently caress my every sense. Seriously though, get lost, I am about to get nekkid.

Previously in SheitGeist:

Last week we established how the term Western RPG, much like Keyser Söze and Tylder Durden is an imaginary concept, a figment borne from the sick mind of severely deranged individuals, the kind you cross the street in order not to come close to when you spot them coming on the sidewalk. I made a brief mention of the small handful of games being strewn on the ground for the “Western RPG” liking chicken denizens of the western fields and how they all seem to suffer from choose-your-own-adventure aspirations — an incurable ailment I fear — and how they therefore suck just enough to be able to be processed by the delicate digestive system of those who peck at them. Also I do believe we touched briefly on how FPS gamers enjoy masturbating reptiles as a pastime, or something to that effect, the disgusting little pervs. This brought us to where we are, about to explain how RPG’s could potentially become better.

Vagrant Story is divinity embodied in the form of a game. If you disagree then I respectfully hate your guts and reserve the right to release them from your abdomen:

First let me get this one thing out of the way immediately. I worship the game Vagrant Story, and any suggestion I will come up with to improve RPG’s does not originate from the dusky insides of the barren forest that is my mind, but rather from the little memento of wisdom called “What would our lord Vagrant Story do?”.

Vagrant Story is the greatest RPG that has ever been made bar non, any impudent bastard who would dare challenge this claim should polish their dueling rapier and prepare to meet me some misty morning on a moor for a gentlemanly bout from which only one us will leave alive, namely me, because I am right. So, sod off.

Just like Chrono Trigger did in its time, Vagrant Story represented the future of RPG’s, a future that everyone chose to ignore because the game did poorly sales wise. It is because games like Vagrant Story and ICO sold so poorly that I have an undying loathing for my fellow man. So, if I ever see one of you dying on the side of a road and instead of helping you I choose to kick your teeth into the back of your heads, know that it was because you did not buy those two games, and even if you did buy them I still hold you in disdain because you should have bought them twice.

If Vagrant Story was a person then at the end of his legendary life he would be put to rest inside some gargantuan Gothic wonder of architecture, would have been proclaimed a king saint by the highest religious authority of the day and each year millions would visit his lavishly crafted final resting place to pay him their respect and indeed in time cults would spring up that would worship him as a supreme god. The game is simply that good. The fact that so few even know about the game is an excellent testament to our race being nothing more than a huddled mass of sub intelligent simians with just enough intellectual capacity to not fall on our asses while attempting to walk erect, not crap ourselves when the need rises and precious little more.

Things in RPG’s that makes me want to punch a baby:

I struggle in choosing which issue is in the most need of being addressed and should therefor be discussed first. To help me come up with an answer I turned to reflect on what goes through my mind when my hand as if guided by some magnetic force hovers right past the bundle of RPG’s as I try to pick a title from my ever growing “finish these you lazy bastard” game pile. Doing this led me to discover that the thing that turns me most off from playing an RPG is the commitment in time that it forbears. On average it takes me 80-90 in-game hours to finish a typical RPG which is, lets face it, insane. I only have a few hours daily to commit to gaming and some days I end up using that time to do something else, like writing this drivel. This basically means that it will likely take me months to finish any given RPG unless it is so mindrapingly amazing that I cannot put it down for even a second, in which case it will just take one month to finish. That is a long sodding time to dedicate to any single pursuit by any standard. In fact it is so unfairly long that to this day I cannot say that I know what the story was in a single of the dozens upon dozens of RPG’s which I have finished.

You see, I’ve always wondered about peoples obsession with Aeris being gutted on Sephiroth’s sword in Final Fantasy VII because until I started hearing it mentioned with increasing frequency years later I couldn’t even say that I even remembered it happening. I mean I seem to vaguely remember seeing the cutscene depicting it, but I do not remember having any reactions to it nor do I recall it leaving me with any lasting impressions. It is not like I have a short attention span, I only have a pretty horrible memory which means that every time I fired up an RPG to play more of it I felt like the guy from Memento, not knowing where he finds himself, how he got there and his motivations for continuing on. In short, a two to three month long gaming run means that every time I get to a crucial part of a game that drives the plot forward I have already forgotten all the preceding plot points because they happened about a million bleeding pointless encounters ago. All I know about any RPG at any time is that there is a baddie and I have to defeat him in three progressively more difficult back to back encounters at the end of the game. Hence when I saw the, I’ve been told, quite lovable Aeris being used to polish the business end
of the the sword wielded by the, I’ve been told, manically evil Sephiroth I only saw some girl getting killed by some guy and felt nothing. Then again it could also have been due to my Hitler like appreciation for human life.

Don’t believe the E-mails, artificial growth is no good:

Usually this would only be a minor annoyance since I tend to not give a fart about game stories to begin with and settle for they just not being annoying or infuriating like they are in most modern war shooters, but most RPG’s claim to depict such epic tales that I would like to actually be able to follow one for once. Furthermore, the insurmountable mountain of time each RPG requires in commitment before being finished would be less criminal if every single second of it was somehow jam packed with exhilarating bits gameplay that would completely ruin the game if omitted. I think I can safely say that this is absolutely not the case in any of the RPG’s that I have played, or any at all. Rather it has somehow come to be expected of the developers of JRPGS that their games should be very, incredibly, horribly, bleeding long and since no one can keep things fresh in a game for that amount of time those types of games are artificially lengthened by the endless grind of meaningless monster encounters which do nothing but slowly level up your characters and in the process the game tends to overstay its welcome like an impudent guest.

The feeling I go through with every RPG I have ever played, except Vagrant Story of course, is exactly the same. It starts off with putting in the disk, and immediately it feels like you are visited by an dear old friend, you are happy to see him and much catching up and merriment ensues. Of course, the feeling starts to wear off when you realize that your guest came with no intention of ever leaving. By the time you notice that he has taken to sleeping next to you in your bed, is shagging your wife and has started forwarding his mail to your house you are just about ready to slit his throat in his sleep. Old friend or not, every man has his breaking point and it was crossed when he clogged up your loo for the 3rd time. By the time you finish it all by stabbing that last baddie in the gut, who is essentially a representation of the monster that your former best friend has by then become, you are bitter and relieved that it is all finally, finally over. It will be long while before that bitterness wears off enough so you are ready to do it all over again.

However you look at this needless mandatory prolonging of gameplay it does not make any sense what so ever. It makes JRPG’s less accessible for more casual players, it makes developing them take longer and cost more and finally since each RPG takes so blithering long to finish it means that people who are playing them will buy less of other games while stuck in their race for the end credits, if they bother getting that far at all that is. In other words, perhaps RPG and other games would get a boost in sales if RPG’s were of a more manageable 30 hours in length which they easily could become while maintaining their epic feel if all the meaningless repetitive fighting was eliminated, just like it was in, surprise, surprise, Vagrant Story. What is the point of having to hack ones way through 30 random generic monster encounters which can be completed by repeatedly mashing the same button to select the attack option when all one is trying to do is to get from from Town A to Town B? Here is an idea, remove any encounter in JRPG’s that can be completed by switching your brain off and mash the same button over and over like some FPS player would while masturbating their reptile.

This is how I personally feel about the issue, but there are, as far as I know, a peculiar breed of gamers that somehow revel in the the pointless chore of the grind. These people must suffer from some mild from of mental disorder that makes them enjoy mindless repetitive tasks. I imagine grinding in RPG’s and the the entire MMOG industry in general must exist to somehow satisfy the mental itch of these people. Society needs these people, their seemingly infinite capacity for mindless repetitive tasks makes them ideal to perform functions in society which would drive the general populace postal within the span of a few days. However, I am not one of those people, I view the grind as an annoyance that has to be tolerated for me to be able to enjoy the real meat of the RPG’s, the challenging battles that require strategy, the micro management of spells, abilities and equipment that lends your personal touch to the game and helps give you that extra edge to overcome a particular challenging boss fight and so much more.

Random battles are about as much fun as random slaps to the bollock:

Encounters that are both challenging and require strategic thinking are possible in JRPG’s because they all contain a number of them, usually in the form of boss and mini-boss fights. So, to begin with get rid of random encounters completely because they are an aging relic from the mid 80’s that today amount to nothing more that a horribly poor design choice kept on life support solely for the sake of tradition. I cannot state it strongly enough, random encounters need to die a miserable quick death of the very painful variety. Nobody thinks it is fun to have their examination of a suspicious looking area in some corner to brought to several screeching halts by packs generic monsters suddenly ambushing them. Adventuring is fun and an integral part of any RPG and one should therefor not be punished with 500 encounters for giving in to ones adventuring spirit. Instead look to a 10 year old game that despite its age was ahead of the industry in many areas, Chrono Trigger. Chrono Trigger and other game like it had monsters actually be on the screen so you could choose to try and run past them if you were not in the mood for a fight. Of course a few years later Vagrant Story came out which also was of the no more random cockblocks persuasion. The industry as whole, seems to be slowly moving away from random battles, but there are still too many RPG makers that need a good whacking on their skull to start marching along and abandon that relic as well.

Instead of thousands of brainless random encounters why not cut the number of encounters down to a fraction and instead of brainless fights turn them into meaningful and challenging encounters of a mini-boss variety. This will make the game seem much more intense while at the same time reduce its length significantly without taking away anything from it that anyone would miss. Of course removing random encounters will also remove the leveling up grind one usually has to go through to beat particularly though boss-fight or difficult areas in the game. But that is fine because nobody enjoys this grind, it is a pointless repetitive task that is not fun which people only tolerate because they want to pass further into the game. Leveling up is a chore and no one but fat sweaty MMOG players would derive any pleasure from doing, so getting rid of them is a good thing. People play games for fun, distraction and reality escape, so making any part of it feel like a chore will resemble too closely the reality one is trying to escape from, which begs the question of why one should bother escaping to begin with.

Most modern RPG’s allow you to customize some aspect of you character with each level up, an example of this is the sphere grid in Final Fantasy X. Reducing the number of encounters in an RPG from the thousands to a few dozen doesn’t mean that you will have to get rid of the customization part of RPG’s, it just means that instead of being able to change something every 100 encounters it can be done every 1-10 encounter. That will of course make the game feel much more strategic and engaging.

All the above suggestion are in fact exactly what Vagrant Story does, in other words, if Vagrant Story was a dame I would have married her on the spot, she is so bloody wicked. Most people
think that Vagrant Story is too challenging because if not careful most ferocious enemies in the game can tear your adam’s apple out. But that is exactly the point, you have to be careful, you have to be alert, you have to think, not just mash an attack button over and over while wishing you were doing something a bit more fun, like accounting.

Article continues next Friday.

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