VRP Madness (III): Riding The Rail

Future Cullen sez: Here we have a unique situation in the history of this blog: Visible correction to a post. See, Brother Eric said something in his answer to this post that inspired a massive rethink in the terms. As Eric references these terms in his post, I can’t really just remove the offending parts. So instead, the first time it happens I’ve struck it through and highlighted them in red, like this, with the new term placed to the right.

That said, let us proceed.


In the earlier post in this series, we discussed in a completely chaotic fashion the two distinct types of Video Game Role Playing Games (VRPGS).  Summing up, we have games that are purely story driven and games that are character driven (or, if you prefer, “open world”).  In either case, players will find that both have a narrative path that must be traversed for the player to win the game.1.

This means that no matter which game you play, whether it’s American, Japanese, Korean, or other, you are on a rail if you are at all interested in seeing how the story ends.  You can go all over the ruins of Washington D. C. in Fallout 3, but sooner or later you will be go where the game designers want you to go just as surely as you do in, say, Lunar: Silver Star Story.  The difference then becomes how much of an influence the player is allowed in the story.

From this perspective, VRPGs can be further into three subcategories:  Fixed Solid, Semi-fluid Semi-solid, and Inconsequential Fluid.

Solid is where the story is fixed in place, where the player gets no choice at all in how the plot goes.  This covers the majority of VRPGs coming out of Japan, as I suggested earlier.  How enjoyable this type of game is relies solely on how good the story is.

And, of course, how good the game mechanics are.  Because these are games.  Not little movies or books with really pretty pictures.  Though some game designers forget this worse than I just did.

Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete
This was recently re-released on the PSP with a brand new cast doing the voices, and let me tell you, it felt strange to play.

An excellent example of a Solid VRPG is the aforementioned Lunar: Silver Star Story.  It starts out as a young man seeking to become as worthy a hero as his idol.  Before it ends, it becomes a race to save the hero’s childhood sweetheart from the clutches of an evil Wizard.  All of which could have felt like “Been there, done that” were it not for the excellent characterizations and equally excellent plotting.  The player gets led by the nose and it really doesn’t matter in the slightest.

Unless, of course, you demand your head plot-wise.  Then your mileage may vary.

Semi-solid is where you have quasi-control over how the story goes.  A choice you made in town X makes things a little easier (or harder) in town Y.  Someone you save comes back to help, when if you don’t save them you have to muddle through on your one.  And (in a subject we’ll talk about a smidgen more later), at the end of the game you receive a certain type of ending you might not have gotten otherwise.

Fallout 3
I’ve played the four games in the main series and have only finished one. Can’t decide how telling that it.

Examples about here, most of which from American shores.  For our purpose, we’ll go for another aforementioned, Fallout 3.

Here we have another young protagonist journeying into the world, traveling from a sanctuary into the radioactive ruins of Washington D.C. in search of a wayward parent.  Or not.  Along the way, the character can save a town or leave it a radioactive crater, make friends with the local government or with an invading force, or just roam around doing random quests for as long as the player desires.  The option rests entirely on the player.

And, as a rule, boils down to a yes/no, good/ evil response.   Not that this is a bad thing, mind you.

As with Lunar, Fallout 3 is an excellent example of a VRPG done right.  Up to a point.  See, right at the end the game designers decide to tie the players to the rail with a simple choice: either be an utter bastard or die.  Which would be fine, except there were several other answers that would have solved the problem just as well as the choices presented.  Which tended to irritate.  More than a little.

Still, excellent, excellent game.

Which leaves us with Inconsequential Fluid.  With this we have a fixed game that allows the players to make small choices on matters that don’t necessarily have an effect on the plot, but does change the nature of the experience.  This can be as simple as a hidden character for the player to have join the party (one that has to be found in the course of play rather than handed to the player during the plot) to romantic interests in the game.

Examples of this include such games as Final Fantasy VI (in which some characters fates hinge on waiting at a certain place for a certain length of time while others rest on how well you can fish) and Final Fantasy VII (in which the main character can end up on a date with one of the three female characters or his very disgruntled ex-boss).  However, for my money, the best of them all is a little scene series called Growlanser.

Love it though I may, I tend to think of this game and its immediate sequel as the games that killed Working Designs, the company that brought it to America. Mainly because they were…

Specifically, I adore Growlanser II: The Sense of JusticeWhile one can make a case for the adventures of Imperial Knight Wein Cruiz being Semi-fluid with its branching story line, it’s has countless little things scattered about the plot that I really love.  For instance, a wrong choice at a certain point might cost a companion a chance to fulfill her dream.  If the player doesn’t do a bit of exploration and investigation, a childhood friend of Wein’s may die.  Romantic relationships may bloom or wither on the vine.  And so on and so forth.

None of this stuff really has any effect on how the branching plots end up, but it gives the player the illusion of control.  It seems to me that with the Inconsequential Fluid games you have the best of both worlds.  The player has a degree of say in things, while the game designers get to tell their stories.

All of this, of course, hinges on the game mechanics the story is attached to.  If the game isn’t fun to play, it doesn’t matter how fixed or fluid anything is.

Tomorrow we hit Cullen’s Theory of Video Games, something that covers every game rather than just VRPG.  Then we have the fun moment where Cullen realizes he has promised three more posts and has no idea what they are going to be.  Tee hee.



1. This is, of course, excluding the recent Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, which was expressly designed so that the game could continue on even after the main story was finished.  According to something I read, you never once go to the main credits during the course of play.  Once the last boss is bested, players can keep right on in the world.  Kinda neat, that.

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