State of the Game Address: Whatever happened to the RPG?

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Hey everyone, it’s Marty, filling in for Brandon this week, who is currently honeymooning in Florida with his new wife Christina.  Let’s get right into it.

I remember the first time I played one.  I was about 7 years old.  I got the game out, entranced by the box art of a knight fighting a huge green dragon surrounded by flames.  I popped the cart in, fired up my system, and entered one of the most complex and confusing games I’d ever played in my life.  I was playing Dragon Warrior, which, for all intents and purposes, was my gateway drug into the world of Role Playing Games, or RPG’s, as most fans know them.  From Phantasy Star to Final Fantasy, the RPG genre has long brought amazing visuals, long hours of gaming, and epic storytelling to gaming consoles, creating some of the best loved moments in gaming history.  But, this question echoes in my mind as I remember all the time I spent playing RPGs: whatever happened to the RPG?

It’s no secret that the genre is in decline, somewhat in part because of developers but also somewhere in part because of gamers and their tastes nowadays.  The shifting climate in the world of gaming almost caused the fantastic RPG Xenoblade Chronicles to not see releases in the United States. Thankfully a campaign from fans saved it and finally got it published here, albeit as a Gamestop exclusive.  I have to wonder what happened to our fervor for the genre, which exploded after the domestic release of Final Fantasy VII, which is arguably one of the best, if not THE best, RPG of all time.

After that, the series continued to build, offering great installments like Final Fantasy IX, (I won’t acknowledge XIII as a real Final Fantasy game) Final Fantasy X, and more.  Sure, there were some missteps here and there, and a dip into MMO territory that didn’t exactly set the world on fire, but Final Fantasy was known at one time as the king of the RPG genre.  Nowadays, it seems that more gamers are turning from the once beloved franchise and spending their time and money elsewhere.  The downturn in the RPG genre even caused former competitors and rivals Square and Enix to merge into one mega company, a move that has seemed spotty at best in producing great results.  So….what happened to the RPG?

I’ll tell you.  It hurts.  You may not like it.  But, I believe its the truth.

Final Fantasy killed the RPG.

I know, I know, that’s blasphemy, you say!  But, you can’t argue with the truth that’s standing right in front of us.  Final Fantasy killed the RPG genre.  Here’s why.

Everyone loves Final Fantasy VII.  In fact, most people who aren’t even longtime RPG gamers at least know the characters.  Cloud, Aeris, Tifa, Sephiroth and others made such an impression on people that there are still endless calls for a remake being made.  Final Fantasy VII released in 1997, and 15 years later, people are still asking for a remake, which would no doubt be incredible.  That’s just the problem, though.

In an article I read last week, SquareEnix CEO Yoichi Wada spoke about the possibility of remaking Final Fantasy VII.  He said that managing the brand is difficult.  There is frustration within the company because they have not been able to make another game yet that has rivaled the scope and popularity of FFVII.  Therefore, they concluded that if they were to remake VII……Final Fantasy would be dead.  I would wager to say that if they happened, the genre as we know it would also be dead as well, at least in the mainstream.

Sure, there will also be pockets of RPG fandom, those that keep franchises like Disgaea and the like going; but there would a collapse of the mainstream RPG genre, the juggernaut that pushes Final Fantasy to the masses.   While this could be a bad thing, meaning less exposure and less testing of the waters of new RPGs here in America, it could also have an adverse affect and be a good thing, finally breaking the monotony of the franchise and causing SquareEnix to go outside the box they’ve built themselves into.

Basically, the company’s position is that until it can make a game better than Final Fantasy VII, they won’t do a remake.  I can respect that.  That means they are seeking new heights.  Now, the argument is whether they are able to attain them or not.  Personally, I feel that they haven’t been able to yet, and may not be able to ever.

Another angle to consider as we close this article is the state of the game industry and it’s money.  With games today taking millions of dollars to create for a 6-8 hour experience, where do games that routinely take 40+ hours to finish fit into the mix?  How much does it cost to make them?  Are the grandfathers of the genre the only ones who are going to produce RPGs or will new developers take the plunge and spend the cash to create fresh RPGs, even if they are wading into a multiplayer saturated environment?

I hate to say it, but for those of us who love the quest, uncovering treasure and saving the princess may be becoming a thing of the past as the RPG genre continues a slow plod to extinction.  Innovate or die seems to be the byword nowadays, and I can only hope that we don’t see that Final Fantasy VII remake coming down the pike soon, as much as I would love to play.

Agree?  Disagree?  Want to kill me for saying Final Fantasy killed the RPG?  Let us know in the comments section below

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