World-Builders

RPGs today seem to be becoming more and more lavish visual experiences. Final Fantasy XIII released earlier this month in crisp HD, and is a true feast for the eyes. But as game design focuses more on the art and visuals do other parts of the experience suffer?

Petter of Don’t Fear the Mutant linked to this Destructoid review of the game tuesday night, which led to a short discussion of how recent Final Fantasy games seem to play out a story very disconnected from the player character. The narrative quality of earlier games is lost in my opinion when the game chooses to become more about World-Building than about storytelling.

My example for this is Final Fantasy XII. In that game you are tossed into the world of Ivalice with very little history or story, left to fend for yourself as the characters talk about the invasion of their kingdom by Archadia and the story moves largely without you. There’s a scene near the end where you learn of a treachery played by one of your enemies where he impersonated one of your party members, but I found it hard to care because the treachery didn’t happen during the game I was playing… it was before, in another story.

The contrast between MMOs and solo RPG games is a distinct one for me. In an MMO you advance the story through the might of your party, or your guild. You want a world rich with history and lore because you can spend time and find it, along the way to higher levels or before you even begin. A solo game should be more about the narrative, about exploring the characters and giving you reason to care about your party and the villains you fight against. The Final Fantasy series seems to be moving away from that and becoming more about world building than telling a compelling story.

Contrast the story of Final Fantasy XII with that of Final Fantasy X. In FFX your character goes from being a sports superstar in a futuristic city to waking up in a world of magic and steel. As he learns about the place where he’s been brought you learn with him, and when he and his new friends go on to battle the ultimate evil you care about them because their stories are yours. You were there for them, and you’ve found reasons to care.

How do you see the distinction between solo RPGs and MMOs? Do you play one or the other for different reasons? Let me know your thoughts.

About shatteredblog

Online: Lost in the aether A disparate amalgam Of shining fragments Offline: A hopeless romantic Uncomfortably close to 30 Employed in chemical manufacturing A cat person A tortured soul

Posted on March 19, 2010, in General and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I agree that offline/single player RPGs are most often driven by a storyline. Though they also have open world features in many cases. Think of the Elder Scrolls (Oblivion, Morrowind) and Fallout series. Which ironically also got acquired by Bethesda, who also make the Elder scrolls.

    Now Bioware tries to bring the strong narrative qualities of their not so open world games, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Baldur’s Gate to a MMO. I wonder if this will work, especially with so much voice acting.

    Dragon Age is interesting as it has an interesting background, but due to the points of interest instance system is more driven by story than world exploration. Even Guild Wars, though very instanced, has a mostly connected world. You can walk from Ascalon to Lion’s Arch and have run through the Shiverpeaks to Droknar’s Forge if you manage to survive the mobs.

    I think it is quite possible to have both. Dragon Age might have a stronger story, but the more open Fallout 3 world with little local questhubs all over the map with random critters in between also has some appeal.

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