To this day I tend to think of Video Game Role Play Games (VRPGs) in two distinct styles: Console and Computer. Needless to say this is no longer the case, what with computer games being ported over to the consoles and (rarer) vice versa. However, this isn’t to say VRPGs can no longer be classified into two specific styles. In fact, in many ways these two current styles are the same ones I grew up with.
They are the American-style of VRPG (A-Style) and the Japanese-style (J-Style). The next few parts of my series will cover what these two styles are and what I think their strengths and weaknesses are, as well as (finally) what I think of VRPGs overall today.
Why? Because I’m just such a super genius that the world needs to know what I think about it. Duh.
A-Style: Create Your Own Party
Actually, you can’t talk about J-Style VRPGs without mentioning A-Style. I did an all too brief series on Console VRPGs last year and found it amazing how often the game Wizardry was mentioned as an inspiration for games such as Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy.
Amazing, because when I was younger I never got the appeal.
Here is a description of A-Style, at least as I recall it from when I was a kid. We will be using a more modern game than I ever had access to as a reference, one called Icewind Dale. We won’t dabble in the mechanics too much, as not to bore the casual reader.
To the guy who said “Too late,” you can just leave.
When you begin Icewind Dale, as with the old A-Style games, the first thing you do is create a party. Stats are randomly generated (more or less) to decide how good the characters are at various aspects of the game. For instance, a high Strength score would allow the character to carry more items in his/her back pack, while a low Intelligence score might keep him/her out of some of the better collages… I mean jobs, such as Wizard.
After the player dealt with stats, he/she got to pick jobs (called classes), assign personal philosophy (really) and a lot of other fun things. Then, at the end, the player gives the character.
Hopefully that whole process wasn’t to onerous for the player. Because in Icewind Dale (as with almost all A-Style games in my youth), you’d have to do all that again five more times.
What you ended up with is something that looked a little like this:
Once you had the party formed, you’d send them out hither and yon looking for a plot. You have them talking with townsfolk, fighting monsters, scrounging around dungeons, and watching the characters die horrible, horrible deaths.
And the one thing you will never, ever do is give a damn about the characters.
Because not a one of them ever displays anything like a soul.
Icewind Dale and the more modern A-Styles like it tend to do a little better in terms of characterization with things called dialogue trees (branching options of what player characters say to non-player characters) and voices to assign each character. On this the stories, I think, are better than they were in the days of yore. However there is still a disconnect between player and game.
Enough said on that. Now let’s cross the globe to look at J-Style VRPGs. Or, rather, click on to the next page of this essay. That might be a wee bit easier.