Mar 3, 2012

Why I hate RPGs

You might think this is funny from someone whose hobby is to write scripts to enhance a RPG maker engine. But it's actually for that very reason I do this, and it's a fact - I can't stand the RPG genre. To make this statement a little less blunt and some more interesting, let me explain you why...


I'm sort of a dinosaur in the world of video games. I was born in the 80's, and I spent a very long time without a gaming console, nor even a PC - just old computers, with old video games (and when I say old, I mean older than pretty much anything you'd have in mind), and RPG came only very late in my life. At the time, there were no real genres - since the games were lacking on the multimedia side, they had to be interesting, and quite unique, if they were to catch your eye. Rather, they were roughly categorized into action/arcade, puzzle, strategy and "adventure". This last category could have held RPGs as we know them today, if there was only any chance that they could have developed at that time. The "adventure" category was further roughly divided into two styles - humourous, puzzle-like adventure games (think LucasArts's Monkey Island), and serious role-playing video games (which should be the ones to deserve the title of RPG, but which I refer to as "RPG-ancestors" to avoid confusion).

So, it all started with those "RPG-ancestors". Historically, they would be videogame adaptations of classical "pen-and-paper" role-playing games (think Dungeons & Dragons), and as such, would present the player with incredibly rich and detailed worlds, and countless possibilities. Just like a PnP role-player, you were thrown into a full-scaled universe with lots of place to visit and lots of people to talk to - and more importantly, no one sticking out to tell you what to do, or stop you if you would try and go somewhere while that was not the time yet. Though appreciated by fans, this extreme freedom would sadly overwhelm the newcomer, and make these very complex games, which required weeks of experimentation before they could be enjoyed to their fullest. For this reason, "RPG-ancestors" were particularily geeky games.

Then, one day, there was Final Fantasy.

Upon its release, Final Fantasy was kind of a UFO among "adventure games". It was neither puzzle-like, nor hardcore-roleplaying-game-like. Actually, there was pretty much nothing to do other than follow NPC's instructions who told you where to go and what to do, just a few battles here and there to keep the player interested. For the first time in videogame history, you could enjoy an epic adventure without even thinking about it. So you can only imagine how it soon became a hit.

And thus, Final Fantasy started a long-lasting tradition of brainless adventures, where you just have to sit and enjoy, and occasionally bash a few buttons to take down overpowered enemies. This is what we call RPG nowadays, and this is what I've come to dislike more than any other kind of videogames.

RPGs have you do anything but roleplay

"Role-playing games" is an usurped title for this generation of videogames. A game would be called "role-playing" provided the roleplaying aspect makes any difference, wouldn't it? Roleplaying means speaking in place of the character, it means taking decisions for him, and that implies being given the opportunity to do so. Where in a classical RPG do you take any decisions, even regarding what to say to NPCs? And by that, I mean real decisions, some which have an influence, make any difference in the game's unfolding - dummy choices are just a joke, you could program some in Pong and it wouldn't make it a RPG, now would it? The "roleplaying" part is limited to moving the main character and make choices about his equipment, and whether he should attack or drink a potion in battle. If this is enough for a role-playing game, then it makes Doom a RPG (and a much more thrilling one, by the way).

Non-interactive storylines

Considering you don't do anything except fight endlessly, it's only natural that whatever you may do has no influence whatsoever on the way the storyline is going to unfold. A few RPGs offer multiple endings (and by multiple I mean just 2 or 3), but it's often not even about important choices in the storyline's perspective - rather, you get another ending because you've chosen this character to join your party over that one, or because you haven't completed some obscure sidequest. The very word "storyline" says it all - we don't even start to think about making scenari something else than a dull, flat line. I'm struck by how we have incredibly sophisticated ways of rendering stunning graphics, and how much passion and energy is put into putting together breathtaking music that matches the game's atmosphere perfectly, whereas we still stick to prehistoric, extremely linear scenari. Even "choose your adventure" books offer the player more interactivity than modern RPGs, whereas their concept is half a century old. I shall discuss leads regarding how to create really interactive storylines in later posts.

It's all about battles

Remove battles from a RPG, and it's not even a game anymore. No battles means no equipment, no treasure hunt, no leveling-up, no random encounter and thus no purpose in wandering around to ultimately get and advance the storyline. Without battles, RPGs are mere movies. Refering to my previous statement, a better title for RPGs would be "battling games", since all you really do as a sentient being, able to make decisions is battle. Now, some RPGs do have interesting batttle systems, but most of them are just about attacking absent-mindedly. Take the RPG Maker series, which is supposed to be representative of what your standard RPG would be. Honestly, the standard battle systems they feature are so dumb they make me wonder why I quit playing Soulcalibur.

It's just a matter of optimization

Battle could be interesting, and "role-playing-like" if there were even multiple strategies to be developped. For instance, I took some interest in Pokémon for the fact that you can choose your style in some extent (even though it all boils down to dealing the most damage in the end). But most of the time, as for the storyline, there's one and only way to go. When you get the latest weapons in the game, you have to equip them since they're more powerful than the previous ones, there's no considering them a option, you would be stupid not to equip them. Once again, you're not given a real choice, even regarding as basic an option as what kind of items to equip. Regarding how your characters progress, it's just the same - they can only level up, they won't lose abilities they don't use out of lack of training. And since they have classes that prevent them for learning abilities or using weapons that are not meant for them, there's nothing to be pondered, just go and gain XP and money.


I think most people enjoy RPGs for their inherent simplicity. As stated above, Final Fantasy met success because it was so simple compared to what existed at the time. I can understand that games which require much thinking and involvement can be a hassle, and to be honest I easily get tired with them as well - however, I think there's a happy medium between being required to manage tons of environmental variables at once, and being given no option at all. I make my best to give RPG Maker XP new dimensions with my scripts. I try to cross-breed RPGs with old-school adventure games, allow them to exhibit a puzzle-like aspect, and in a general manner, give the player's choices more consideration. I hope someday I can make a heavily decision-based game which is easy and entertaining to play, but difficult to get to the best end, to demonstrate my point. And then, I'll consider classical RPGs finally outdated, in a gameplay perspective.


  1. I would like to add something.

    A lot of people like RPG because they don't play real games. By its definition, a game means you can win, but lose as well.
    But, in RPGs, you can't lose and you have to create your OWN challanges to make the game enjoyable...

    For exemple, I finished Xenogears no using magic. It was hard, but great. I had a lot of fun and it was challenge. I even died more than 10 times.
    And, for more fun, I didn't do some level-upping (what a boring thing...)
    In the future, I will try to finish Final Fantasy 8 without using magic (except healing).

    I'm glad I'm not the only one who's bored about traditional RPG view.

    Mikltov / Rutsuku Fushin / Cantarelle

    1. Thanks for your insight, Rutsuku, I'm glad I found an ideological partner as well. :) Tell you what, we should consider working together someday, I'm sure mixing both our talents and ideas could result in something great.

  2. I have tried to play TES series, Ultimate 4, the IE CRPGs, and Fallout but nothing doing. However, I loved the KOTORs, Jade Empire, and Fable TLC on the original XBox. I think platform can make a big difference in what someone plays (mouse -click movement onsome of the above rubbed me the wrong way) .

    Another factor might be that I generally like jrpg character and story tropes. Being kid friendly also is appealing (a game that strives to be like a tabletop rpg will probably be against my sensibilities; not that jrpgs don't veer into adult territory at times).

    Overall, though, games like Pool of Radience and games like the FF series are enjoyed by whoever might find them enjoyable. A game is only as fun as the times a player finds a game fun. I haven't observed anything more constant than the two above statements in the context of 'what is best for fun in a videogame?'

  3. I have come to similar conclusion recently, I would say the problem is more about stream lining. If a battle mechanic is really interesting then it deserves a big range of tactical situations presented. It's not impossible to capture certain choices in a video game, modern huge budget projects like elder scrolls and their mods present anything you could ever want from an rpg world.

    Grinding and repetition is always boring, however small amount of the kind of thing where you feel you are working hard to beat an enemy or get something cool is an experience. The game can't revolve around grinding or blindingly expecting everyone to grind and know all the mechanics before hand.

    I guess there need to be more tutorials for rpg maker. No one makes a good game to start with but you can make an rpg with choices, interesting dialogue and a good story. Table top rpgs are not for everyone, I've seen a few and you can have hour long battles and confusing dialogue. You have to have a really good DM to make the story even slightly memorable.

  4. I know this post is four years old, and I can see what you're getting at, but I disagree with you. I enjoy playing RPG's because for the most part you don't have to think too hard about battle strategies, and that way you can continue to see how the story unfolds. To me, an RPG is an interactive way of reading a book essentially. There shouldn't be any need to grind for experience as long as you fight the battles you've come across because grinding just clogs up the story.