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Ever wondered what your life might have been like if things
were different? I'm sure everyone of us had such thoughts at some moment in our
lives, but we usually just toss that to the backburner because we know it's a
pointless thought. However, some of us dreamers continue on the thought, and
continuously wonder how things would be. Such thought is root of role playing
games. Rather than acting out the other imaginary self in reality and face
consequences, we dreamers play it out in games.
Role playing had gained huge following ever since the
beginning of gaming history, and it is still going strong. The high quality
graphics and smooth animations makes the experience more realistic and with the
stories becoming more and more grand, it is no wonder by it is such a popular
genre. I mean, who doesn't want to escape the routine life by becoming a
notorious assassin that tries to save humanity, or a hero traveling through
time to prevent annihilation of the world. That aside, even though current games
have gives the player a lot of freedom in gameplay, but in essence, the player
is an actor in set stories made by the director. Regardless it is still nice to
put yourself in someone else's shoes and watch as their life story unfold
through your decisions.
Player tend to separate an RPG as being a regular RPG and
JRPG (Japanese RPG). Now we don't personally make the distinction (to be honest
it feels kind of weird saying JRPG) but there are clear differences that makes
them two separate methods trying to achieve the same goal. Let us first discuss
the differences between the two methods and how they attempt to achieve the
same goal, then we will finish off with some key elements of good RPGs. Before
we go any further, the RPG genre we are referring to aren't MMOs, that's an
entirely different animal by itself that deserves its own discussion.
The main difference between regular RPGs and JRPGs is the
way the story is told. Games like Demon Souls, Dark Souls, and Skyrim tell the
story from the player's perspective, which means the player is the person
moving in the game and thus have control over all decisions made as well as the
consequences. This makes the experience much more immersive since the player is
much more engaged and there is much emotional investment. Think about it like
rather than hearing the story, you are actively taking part in the story, now
that sounds more fun already. One noticeable demonstration of this trait is the
ability to name your own character (you don't know how much time we take to
think of a good name, cause we suck with names) and character customization in
terms of cosmetics and stats. All of this is to allow the player to create a
being that closely resemble who they want to be if they were in the game
environment. On the contrary, JRPGs takes the approach of an non-customizable
character with a set name (usually a name most westerners can't pronounce
right), this is a clear demonstration of the Japanese storytelling method
(rather the oriental method, but we will use Japanese since we are talking
about JRPGs). The story is being told to the player rather than allowing the
player to make decisions, and this is usually done in 3rd person perspective.
Contrary to open world movement, JRPGs tend to have a lot of cinematic moving
the story along and justifying moving to a new town, a new quest area, or new
missions. The player simply accepts the story progression and play through
area/quest/mission. Although this doesn't seem to be as immersive as regular
RPGs, it has its own way of attracting and retaining fans. Many times you will
find that the underlying story in an JRPGs is much more indepth or epic
compared to an regular RPG, although this is true sometimes, it is far from a
certain statement. The reason why JRPG's story seems to be more grand is due to
its continuity or a lack of distractions. An regular RPG such as Dark Souls and
Skyrim, you know the general goal of the game, but with an open world to
explore, player are tempted to go around exploring and lose focus on the storyline.
When I play such games, checking quest log and thinking about how the story
progress was a frequent task, in essence, I was getting distracted with all the
possibilities of the open world. This is where JRPG's story tend to outshine,
there are fewer distraction because there aren't many open world exploration,
the player goes through cinematic and begins in a new area, complete all the
quests figure out everything that happens in the chapter of that story and move
on. No distraction and a continuous flow of the storyline. It is quite obvious
now that players (no matter how bad your memory is) tend to remember the full
story of JRPGs better than regular RPGs because they get to continuously see
development of the story and never get sidetracked. Thus players feel that
stories of JRPGs are "better", though they are on some cases, but not
always. If you question this, we suggest you go play some Final Fantasy series
and try to recall the series of events that happened.
Overall, and RPG is and RPG. It is the player controlling a
character and unraveling a story, but key difference is in the telling method.
Regular RPG let the player play as the protagonist, whereas JRPGs tell player
the story through a 3rd person perspective.
Like we said before, at Imagiro Studios, we don't separate
and RPG into a regular RPG or JRPG, this mainly because we feel that if we make
such distinction when we examine games, we will tend to make the same
distinction when we make games. Rather than doing either or, we like to take
the best of both parts and fuse them in the best way possible. Thus we will go
ahead and look at some key elements that makes a good RPG (both regular RPG and
JRPG if you are so inclined to categorize).
The most important thing in a RPG in our opinion is an EPIC
story. The more epic the better, make the characters larger than life, the
world so much more grand, and the twist and turns jaw-dropping. Player play RPG
mainly to experience something out of their routine, whether it is being a
famous outlaw, or some billionaire tycoon, or simply a hero. The story is the
most important tool used to captivate the audience, once they are drawn into
the story, they will want to see the ending. Approach it like writing a good book,
first draw the interest of the reader, either with a grand opening, an
interesting character, or some sense of mystery, then once hooked, keep them
guessing until the end, then finish them off with a climax event. Games like
Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy series, and Ni no kuni are good examples (I just
realized that all the titles were JRPG, but good books, movies, tv shows are
all good reference of good story). One thing to be careful of is the
interactive nature of a game, with interaction the player always have some way
of influencing the story, and thus transitions in games must be handled with
utmost care. This can be resolved easily through good story planning, so have
that figured out before anything else. Also, never ever TELL a story, let the
player discover it. Although the story is a set path, the player still doesn't
want to be told, the way we approach this at Imagiro Studios is that we set key
events in the storyline and have side quests or mini-missions contributing to
those key events and explain the why. I (Allen the story developer) don't like
to be told why directly (unless its for the sake of discussion), and I despise
meaning side quests, so that's why in my stories, I made sure there are no
holes in the storyline and everything has a meaning.
The second thing we consider important in RPG is the
mechanics (well actually, mechanics contributes to games of any genre, not just
RPGs). A good story does make the game, but horrible mechanics takes so much
away from the goodness of the game that it can actually make the game bad. In
the end, a game is a game, the player is still "playing". Like we
stated above, the interactive nature of a game still allows the player to
influence the outcome of the game somewhat. No matter if there is a lot or
fewer interactions, the player will mainly enjoy the part where they get to
play the game rather than sit there and watch cinematics (why not just read a
book or watch a movie? well cinematic scenes now are pretty much movie
qualities anyways). So make sure the mechanics is intuitive, this means easy to
understand, remember, and use. We found that you can plan all you want, but in
the end it still needs a lot of play testing to figure out if something is
intuitive. But that is just the due diligence developers must do. Come up with
a basis, then play through it and figure out the kinks in the mechanics so you
don't make the player feel awkward.
Last but not least (this was debatable, but in the end it
came out as a worthy third point), the art style must match the feel of the
story. We say the feel of the story but not the story itself. A dark story does
not need to have realistic art style, a funny story doesn't have to have a
comical eccentric style either. But having the feel of Skyrim with cartoon
characters just doesn't cut it. We can't really describe this too well either,
the closest thing we can say is the theme of the game or the setting. A game
set in the Norse slaying dragons, first character that comes to mind is a
realistic gruff viking character, not a 8-bit japanese chibi samurai...I think
you get the point.
Overall, approach RPG development the same way you approach
writing a book, with the added element of creating a smooth interactive
mechanic. And since you are visually telling the story, have the art style
compliment it, not against it.
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