Just in case I’m one of the last gamers who haven’t tried a Pokemon game, this post is for you. You see, I dismissed Pokemon, like most Nintendo games, for most of my gaming life because I figured they were too kiddie and too simple. I was guilty of judging a game by its color palette and character design. Oh, and let’s not forget the awful anime, which I had to suppress a groan anytime the kids watched it. How could a game so embraced by little kids, even my kids, be interesting for a serious gamer?
The game is deep, much deeper than I expected. Thinking I was touching the bottom of it, I swam into the multiplayer end and discovered a whole new depth, one that I probably won’t touch bottom on for some time. This isn’t so much an introduction to the possible gameplay as much as my coming to see it.
how I was sucked in
My kids have played Pokemon games for more than 2 years, though mostly for a love of learning the various Pokemon and their evolutions. The card collecting side of it, if you will. My daughter especially loved it. So, I bought her Diamond and one of the Mystery Dungeons. She played them for a while but left it to pursue other interests.
About 5 months ago, the kids’ interest flared up. My daughter restarted Diamond and was doing much better. My son bought HeartGold and fell in love with it. Over in Alabama, my brother and his son [now a high school senior] were playing. Not to feel left out, I decided to buy Pokemon White when it released. For the first couple of hours, my fears seemed confirmed–it was a mindless, repetitive hack n’ slash RPG-lite.
finding new depth
Still, my kids were excited that I was playing, and I kept on playing partly on their behalf. Then around 10 hours into the game, I saw some of the depth.
With only four slots for moves [types of actions, like attacks, buffs, heals, etc.], I had to decide which moves to keep and which to forget. [I later learned that I can forget and relearn forgotten moves, though not until much further in the game, some 50+ hours.] For a long time, I looked no further than the game, with little idea of what future moves awaited me. This brought an element of surprise as the levels varied at which each pokemon got a new move. Still, it was a move-by-move decision as the game provided no means to look ahead a la Diablo’s skill tree. Not only did I have to decide what type of move to keep [grass, water, fire, ice, steel, etc.] but I also had to decide what fighting style I wanted to develop for each Pokemon. On the last point, my notions were fuzzy, but I had fought Pokemon that immobilized and drained hit points rather than use attacks. I saw it as a kind of caster vs melee choice, though more subtle.
Similarly, I could carry a maximum of 6 Pokemon with me as I traveled and battled. At first, I didn’t quite have a mental model for this type of game. It wasn’t exactly like the party combat found in so many Japanese RPGs because, for the most part, it was one-on-one combat. But still, it was a kind of party combat.
My first problem in seeing it as a party-based game is that I became very comfortable with my starter Pokemon, Oshawatt/Dewott. Its Sea Shell attack was very effective, and I found myself one-hitting my way through battles. I looked at my other Pokemon more as second-rate backups than as a team of any sort. That is, until I encountered a grass Pokemon that defeated Dewott easily. Then, I focused on building a Pokemon team that could tackle Pokemon of any type. [Insert mocking laughter from the Pokemon oldtimers.] The problem is that there are too many types to cover with just 6 Pokemon. But I knew it would be too much of a time sink to try leveling up more than 6 Pokemon at a time. I did want to finish the game, after all. At this point, I saw there was no easy answer to my question, and my respect for the game grew.
At 30+ hours into the game, I was seeing the subtleties of the various types of Pokemon [grass, fire, water, etc.] as well as the different roles to use while in combat. I was using Throh as a kind of tank, my default starter Pokemon for battles, because he had the highest hit points of all my 32 Pokemon at the time. But I also observed that the Pokemon that made the first move in a battle varied, something that I figured was determined by the Pokemon’s speed attribute. I also noticed that the different attribute values changed, even without leveling. As I was to learn later, this is a significant part of the game. I began to re-build my Pokemon team based less on their types and more on some fuzzy roles that I was defining for myself and on their abilities.
thrown into the deep end
One night about a week ago, I met my brother online, and we explored the various multiplayer features, including some friendly combat. The game allows for custom matches, but the point was that I saw a whole new side of the game that was now more like the card game battles. I hadn’t really played the card game, but I knew that it was like others that I had played where building a deck of compatible, complementary cards is key.
We then went to see my brother and his family for a wedding, although for the first night, it was all about Pokemon as the 5 of us played and talked about the games. My nephew had played Pokemon for several years, starting with Pokemon Blue when he was 9.
In short, I learned that the campaign in the game, of defeating the Elite Four, could be viewed as a setup for the real meat of the game–the multiplayer game. Four things in particular opened my eyes about this part of the game.
Effort Values (EV)–In addition to leveling, you can boost your Pokemon’s stats by defeating Pokemon in combat. As it turns out, particular types of Pokemon boost different attributes. That means, by fighting specific Pokemon, you can increase any one attribute by a maximum of 255 points, significantly altering a Pokemon.
Natures–Pokemon have natures–timid, naughty, brave, impish, etc.–and I learned they are more than cute descriptors but important influences on a Pokemon’s abilities. My nephew bred several Zorua to get the right nature for the role that he planned for it. If I want a tank, then I might look for a bold or impish nature to improve its defense against physical attacks or a calm, or careful nature to improve its defense against special attacks.
Effectiveness–I knew that each type of Pokemon was weaker against some Pokemon than others. What I didn’t realize was that it was more subtle than that because the damage might be 0.25, 0.5, 2.0, or even 4.0 of the normal damage.
Roles–The roles are not hard and fast, but the community has some well established roles, with some general agreement on definitions. But the idea is that you have lead, attacking, defensive, and supporting roles with many variations.
There’s more than just these, but just seeing these 4 aspects changed how I saw the game. At smogon university, you can find tools, like a team builder, and analyses of each Pokemon, of good roles for it to play, different sets of moves, distribution of EVs. I also saw that attacks and defenses were more than just grass, water, fire, ice, or some other type–they were also physical or special. So, I might want a Pokemon that was focused on special attacks–raising that attribute and focusing on moves that used the special attack attribute.
Admittedly, I’ve not battled online except with my family. I don’t know that I will. But seeing that the game is a lot more than ‘catch ‘em all’ has impressed me. I’m now playing the campaign a bit differently, more aware of which Pokemon I level, what moves I keep, how I groom a particular Pokemon for a role. I check Serebii and bulbapedia for information about specific Pokemon, their resistances and their list of moves. Maybe I’ll plan a team and try the Pokemon Online battle simulator to see how well it might play.
What impresses me most, though, is that the game works at different levels. It’s a fun collection RPG as well as a sophisticated strategy game. It’s something my 9-year-old daughter can play and love as well as my competitive 18-year-old nephew.
Back in the winter, I bought the PDF for the Mouse Guard RPG, a game based on the very enjoyable Mouse Guard comics, a story that has fans among children and adults. Red Walls is another fantasy that has its fans, but neither the kids nor I really got into it. I never got around to reading the PDF until recently because we had our Star Wars game going. [BTW, if you are interested in Mouse Guard RPG, the book is very hard to come by now although you can download the PDF. A new boxset is expected later this spring or early summer. I also recommend the downloads at the Mouse Guard wiki.]
What I find attractive about this RPG is that it seems so much more focused on the characters–on their beliefs, instincts, and goals–than D&D, which often seems more focused on skills and on consistent character behavior. The GM’s task is less to create a story than to challenge the players, to make them rethink what they value, and to sometimes act contrary to those values. In fact, it is crucial that players fail some tests–to advance their skills and to earn something called ‘checks’ which allow them to take actions in the second part of the game, the players’ turn. The game is somewhat formulaic.
There’s a mission which tells the mice what they have to do.
The players write their individuals goals in the context of the mission.
The GM chooses two types of obstacles [which can be a simple test, or roll of dice, a complex set of tests, or a conflict].
If the players fail to succeed in the
Recently, I got the bug to play it, so I poured over the manual, which is certainly a beautiful book, as well a different organization with character creation coming towards the end instead of the beginning. I decided to play one of the sample missions in the book and use the premade characters with my kids. [For an excellent review and a more detailed overview of the game, see the review at Gnome Stew.]
We played the “Find the Grain Peddler” sample mission from the book. My 11-year-old son played Kenzie, and my 9-year-old daughter played Sadie. Overall, it was good but a little slow in the second part, partly because even though I thought I knew the rules, I found that I had to check the book. My crib notes helped in several spots, but they didn’t capture all the details. The kids said that they liked it, particularly with the action and the opportunities to act out their characters. However, my son had reached a point at the end where he was ready to end since they had accomplished their goals. Although I explained the purpose of awarding the points (to learn that part of the game and to award points for the next session), he was ready to be done.
I think a third or fourth player would have been nice but would have made the game longer. I really enjoyed the game and look forward to more impromptu GMing. All in all, it was a very good session. My only criticism (and this might be more how I played the game than the game itself) is that the kids had a lot more dialogue and roleplaying in our Star Wars game than in Mouse Guard. Maybe it was the familiarity. But I also allowed them to drive a lot in the Star Wars sessions. I had a couple of key bits planned, but we had some fun, extended conversations in Star Wars. I think also their familiarity with the Star Wars characters and universe allowed a lot more opportunities and known history to play off of. But I think we could get to that point with Mouse Guard. By far and away, there was more variety to the conflicts in Mouse Guard. And even though complex on paper, the conflicts went far faster than fights in our Star Wars minis (where positioning has a large role important).
The kids understood their goals, beliefs and instincts and played to them pretty well. For example, my daughter played Sadie as kind-hearted, making sure that the peddler wasn’t injured even though they suspected him as a traitor.
One thing I would do differently is have some kind of flavor roleplaying at the outset. First, my kids (and probably a lot of players) like to roleplay, and, second, I think allowing them to do that first avoids the problem of my talking too much in the beginning as the GM. I could this being something like “You’ve woken up early. You have more than an hour before you report in, so what do you do?” or “Whom do you see on the streets? What is going on in the town?”
I think we’ve definitely found a great tabletop RPG for the family.
So here’s an outline of the hazards and events in our session. I didn’t capture the roleplay dialog, which was there but less than usual because we were so focused on learning the rules and playing the game for the first time.
Hazard 1 (Mice): Sadie rolled her Scout 2 with additional dice from Kenzie, wise, and gear. Peddler rolled 6D for Nature with 3 successes, and Sadie rolled 5D for 2 successes. She did not have any 6s so she could spend a Fate point to reroll.
They couldn’t find the peddler, but they did see his cart. Kenzie decided to search it for any evidence of the peddler being a traitor. (I thought it was a little vague, but I counted it.) Kenzie rolled 5D for 4 successes, a very excellent roll. As a result, Kenzie found the map.
Since there was no failed search, I didn’t apply a twist.
Hazard 2 (Animal): As a result of their rummaging through the grain, the snake appears behind Kenzie to attack him. Sadie jumps to his defense. This initiates a conflict with the snake. Sadie rolled the disposition and added her bonus for a total of 6. The snake had a poor roll and had a disposition of 5. I then explained how the conflict works and asked that they collaborate on who did what action. They alternated actions: Sadie, Kenzie, Sadie.
Sadie – To kill the snake to protect Kenzie
Kenzie – To distract the snake so that Kenzie could kill it (Not a very good goal)
Snake – To kill the mice to protect the nest
Action 1: Sadie – Attack, Snake – Attack
Sadie used a trait, gear, and a Persona point to roll 6D for 3 successes. The snake rolled 7 and had 3 successes.
Action 2: Kenzie – Feint, Snake – Defend
Kenzie was lucky and had a good round. He use a trait and gear to roll 5D for 3 successes. The snake’s disposition was 0.
I had them describe the fight, and I then added that Sadie cut the snake’s belly at the bulge, which then spilled out the peddler.
The players talked to the peddler but didn’t confront him with the map. The peddler said that he was fine and needed to make it to Barkstone. The mice decided to accompany him with Sadie offering to pull the cart so the peddler could rest, but he continued to look in the grain. Kenzie asked repeatedly if he was looking for something. The peddler acted nervous, and I tried to bait Kenzie with dialogue like “What? Are you suggesting something? I . . . I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Still, Kenzie did not have a direct confrontation.
They reached Barkstone, and the mice parted ways . . . except then Kenzie said that they would follow the peddler to see whom he was meeting. (He didn’t confront the peddler because he wanted to find who the contact was. Sneaky boy.)
Hazard 3 (mice): The peddler tried to hide from the mice to meet his contact. I make this a complex test.
First, The peddler used his Nature to hide, rolling 6D for 2 successes. Kenzie rolled 5D for 3 successes. He described how he spotted the peddler as he was meeting someone in an alley, whom I say runs at the sight of the mice. With the peddler then bound, Kenzie quizzes the peddler.
Then, Kenzie tried to persuade the peddler to spill his guts. I could made this a conflict, but I could tell the session had been long, so I made it a simple test. Peddler rolls 4D for the Persuader skill + 1D for the Cunning trait for a total of 1 success. ONE! Kenzie rolls 5D for 4 successes. The peddler and the players then act out the conversation, with the peddler revealing that he was selling the secrets of the Lockhaven defenses to the weasels for gold. When Kenzie asks if he has no loyalty, he says that as a trader, he has a home in many cities.
A while back, Michael Abbott posted an excellent post about the status of sports games, which I agree with. [I posted some of my own experiences in support of his points.] If you’ve seen me on Xbox Live, you’ve probably seen me playing NCAA 2010. I have a couple of online dynasties that I play with my brother. And we’ve been experimenting with the new teambuilder feature, that allows you [as you might guess] to build and customize a team from scratch.
And to follow up on Michael’s post, we are taking the customization in a fun direction, doing things outside of the game.
You see, we decided to combine comics and gaming to start developing teams based on superheroes. The idea is to take the traits of the character and apply it to different aspects of the team–player attributes, playbook, school attributes.
For example, a team built around Ben Grim/The Thing might look like this:
The Thing QB has a 99 throwing power rating but probably a low throwing accuracy, of say 55 or 66.
Everyone on the team has boosted Strength stats: Strength, stamina, Injury, break tackle, stiff arm, Run & Pass Block Strength, Kick Power, Trucking, Block Shedding, Hit Power, Tackle.
All of the speed attributes are much lower than normal (which would depend on the attribute–a basic speed of 40 for a RB might be unusable, although an interesting test when pared with the high strength values).
Intelligence-related stats would be 50, 60 or so.
The defense would be a 5-2 or 4-3, and the offense would be a more run-oriented team with some short to middle passes.
But here’s we started having fun–characterizing how the team is played:
The same Ben Grimm team would take a lot of chances because Grimm is an emotionally, fly-off-the-cuff character. That team would go for it on 4th a lot more often.
You’d always play to win, not to tie. For example, that team would go for 2 point conversions outside of the normal.
It would blitz a lot, too.
It probably would run up the middle more often than not. Very few screens and no trick plays.
We started going even further with these out-of-game characteristics:
With Doctor Doom’s Doombot team, the Doom player gets to pick some aspect of the opponent’s coaching or gameplan and remove it [as an agreement since it can't really be enforced]. For example, he could say that you have to start your backup QB and demote your starter to 3rd string. Or he could say that you can’t call any inside runs.
But the Doom team has a weakness for monologuing, which means that once a quarter, the Doom team has to take too long to call an offensive play. The Doom player picks when [early or late in the quarter].
No, this probably won’t appeal to college football fans. But we’re captivated with this new ability to play the game in a different way. And the game’s RPG aspects now seem to be more open and obvious than before. We’re no longer playing a strategy game and focused on numbers. We’re now developing game personas and playing roles.
As we hit a lull in console games, folks are looking at the top games for next year, like this one for the 360 [of which 5 are FPS, 6 if you count RE5]. Wii owners are told time and again that they have no ‘core’ or ‘hardcore’ games. But 2009 is looking much better for the up market. Yet, even with what has been announced, I think it’s highly likely the second half 2009 will see, at least, new games from Nintendo. Plus, there are some games that have not been announced a North America or Europe release date, such Monster Hunter 3, Fragile, and Fatal Frame 4.
So, sticking with only games with firm announcements for Europe and North America, here are some up-market games to look forward to in 2009. I’m not putting these in order, and I’m looking at different types of games. In this post, I’m looking at the better RPG and Action titles confirmed for 2009. In part 2, I’ll look at other up-market genres.
It’s good to note that several of these games have distinctive visual styles, whether it’s the black and white of madworld, the Jananese art style of Muramasa, or Eternity’s Child. As much as I enjoy the high-definition 360 games, they often seem to come in as browns and blues. The 360 has its distinctively styled games, but for the Wii, this is almost a necessity because it cannot compete with the detailed, high def style of the 360 and PS3. And in the end, I think this could potentially make Wii games much more visually interesting than high def games.
After a while, highly detailed games can have a certain sameness simply because, by allowing greater detail and more realism, the games tend that direction. But with the better Wii games even today, they do not suffer a halo effect of looking similar, except for perhaps the core Nintendo games. Even so, Super Mario Galaxy is noticeably different from Mario Kart Wii and certainly far removed from Metroid Prime 3. THen there are very distinctive styles of Zack & Wiki, Boom Blox,No More Heroes, Lost Winds, and de Blob. The 2009 Wii lineup seems to advance this visual diversity.
If you’re like me and only have a slot 1 cart for playing homebrew, you’ve been missing out on some good GBA homebrew games. But one of them is not available to play on slot 1 carts. Anguna is a nicely done Zelda-clone adventure/RPG.
You can download the DS port from Nathan Tolbert’s website, as well as read tips and guides. Be sure to look at the readme for the game controls.
This is a well done game, one definitely that you should download and play. The graphics are well done, and the gameplay is solid. If anything, the game might leave you wanting more when you are done. Still, there are lots of hidden items to find, if you think the game is too easy. Anguna definitely is on my ‘keeper’ list. I need to update my zipped file of the best DS homebrew games, and I’ll be adding this one.
The kids and I have now played three sessions of Dokapon Kingdom, increasing the number of weeks [7 turns per week] each time. The kids really like it, although my six-year-old daughter has a tendency not to venture out much and, thus, often comes in last place. Far and away the most difficult aspect of the game . . . moving. The auto move feature is sometimes frustrating, so I encourage the kids to turn it off and then, the games uses arrows to show all your possible finishing spaces.
I really like the risk-taking and exploration that the game encourages. My nine-year-old son has now been rewarded for a certain strategy, which is stealing and liberating towns. So, he’s setting off now for all the towns, moving into areas further and further from the starting castle, which has that ‘home base’ security that my daughter still clings to. Yet, no place is truly safe–you can be attacked by monsters or other players from afar, or you can get into several battles and lose track of your health. She sees my son succeeding by venturing outwards and is now trying to do the same. By playing a non-thief role, I’m trying to them how other roles, or jobs, can be rewarding.
Something else that is interesting is watching the kids develop informal rules, which, if you’ve watched kids play, often. For example, when the kids saw that thieves steal items from other players, they wanted to play a thief all the time, but then the advantage of the role quickly disappeared because everyone stole from each other. Partly out of self-preservation but also to advance the game, my son proposed that we not focus on stealing from each, or, as he said, ‘we just steal the same things from each other.’
This kind of gaming can be difficult to find, where the official rules of the game don’t overwhelm the players and allow them to be creative and even develop their own play. In a way, Dokapon Kingdom has only a few rules.
You can move or use an item each turn.
You have to earn gold to win.
Otherwise, the game is dealing with all the choices and responding to the different actions and events.
In a way, the game has that kind of tabletop rpg feel, even though in the multiplayer mode, there’s not a story per se. But it has that feel of finding the unexpected–that dynamic gaming feel. In a party game like Mario Party, you can do a few things to affect other players, but those actions are limited, until you get to the minigames. In Dokapon Kingdom, what you do, what squares you land on, has a significant impact–with battles, levelling your character, or getting great items that help you attack or defend against opponents.
With games like Mario Party, the minigames get old and there’s not as much of a progression outside of the board itself. With Dokapon Kingdom, it’s not about moving around the board in a specific order but about getting the most gold, which you can do several ways. You can be good, or you can be evil . . . in several ways.
But right now, I’m enjoying watching the kids play in ways I haven’t quite seen before–while not completely new for them, the risk-taking and game-making is at another level. Perhaps soon, I’ll have my tabletop rpg group, and we’ll have those marathon sessions.
After the break, I’ve posted images of the instruction manual, which give you a pretty good idea of how the game works, what the different actions, jobs, battle commands, and spaces are, and how to use the game controllers [for Wii remote, classic controller, or Gamecube controller].
Trying to relax in the face of impending deadlines at work and feeling way too behind, I spent some of the Thanksgiving days off getting in some time with a couple of new games. Come December 19 at 7pm, I’m going to begin marathon sessions with these 2 new games, as well as Fable 2. Both are RPGs that are quirky and not your traditional RPG in many ways. Both emphasize fun, have large replay value, and should be approached on their own terms. Besides, who needs dark and brooding for the holidays?
After picking up Chrono Trigger DS last Tuesday before the holidays, I got in a couple of hours with the game. I never played the original, but I was expecting a silly little RPG that is fun. And it is. I can’t help but think of Philip K. Dick as I play the game because, like Dick’s stories, the writing itself, the expressions and the style, is often awkward and unpolished, but the idea of the story is greater than the writing. And, like Dick’s characters, the Chrono characters are often stilted and simplistic, yet there is something memorable about them, something that keeps you interested in them. What really got me was how earlier scenes, actions, and characters in the game were used in the trial scene as evidence of both guilt and innocence. It seemed like a very fresh element, even though the original game was released 13 years ago, the kind of thing that made me think, ‘wow, that was cool.’ Needless to say, this little RPG has pushed aside Fallout 3 for my game time for the holidays.
I have some extra points on goozex, and all the games I have requested have very long waits. So, I decided to try Dokapon Kingdom. I looked at it as a simplified multiplayer RPG that I could play with the kids, replacing the very tired Mario Party 8. When it arrived in the mail, I took a couple of hours to play the solo story mode, and I quickly realized that my assumptions about the game were wrong because Dokapon Kingdom has far depth than I expected. The battles themselves are not complicated [at least, initially] and have some variety, but it’s the board game aspect that really adds to the RPG elements.
I’m reminded of some of the excellent [often German] board games that introduce a certain amount of randomness that doesn’t overwhelm or dictate the game but rather provides opportunities to develop strategies for winning. Along those lines of dynamic play, you are also encouraged to change jobs/classes, either to deal with your opponents or to unlock more jobs.
The goal centers around getting the most gold, but there are many ways of doing that–completing quests, stealing from other players or from NPCs, investing in your towns. When I read how one player used a disguise to look like another player’s avatar and then stole from a merchant, leaving the other player getting blamed for the crime, I was hooked on learning more about the game. I also have found that you can play evil or good, like in most RPGs, but these paths are not overtly part of the game but part of your play style.
The game would great for LAN parties, particularly playing with experienced gamers. I’ve played just a little with the kids, but I think the game works well for them, too. While I understand some of the criticisms of the game, I think it’s much better than the 71 average score on metacritic. It’s a game that could be easy to dismiss as slow and superficial, but if you read stories from people who play it and approach it for what it is rather than it isn’t [as in, a traditional multiplayer RPG], I think you’ll find a great little game.
There are some very visually interesting games coming up for the Wii early next year, but a couple have more than visuals going for them.
First, there’s Monster Hunter 3, which will have an online coop mode. While the game has not been confirmed for release outside of Japan, it’s the sort of beautiful and intriguing game that deserves the lust in our hearts. What’s encouraging is that the PSP versions of the Monster Hunter series have been selling well in the west. Plus, Capcom gave game magazines English sheets for the creatures and controls, which would seem to indicate that a release in the west is planned.
Next is Arc Rise Fantasia, which is confirmed for release in North America and probably for Europe. This is the sort of RPG that seems that it will have depth as it includes at least two types of dynamics. First, you have ‘contaminant dragons,’ which, when killed, have poison the surrounding area. Second, RPGamer reported that, the longer you use the same three characters in a group, they develop a more powerful bond that affects their attack, in addition to special combination attacks.
Excellent visuals are always appreciated, but having a deep, dynamic experience is better. And I think we could have that in these two games.
If you’re a fan of RPGs, then you’re a busy little gamer right now more than likely, especially if you have a 360. If you only own a Wii, though, what are you to do? You can look forward to 2009 with games like Fragile: Farewell Ruins of the Moon, Arc Rise Fantasia, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time, Swords of Legendia, and Shiren the Wanderer 3 [likely Japan only]. You’re probably ready for next week when Tales of Symphonia releases.
Fortunately, you also have some Gamecube RPGs to consider.
A lot of Japanese RPGs to be sure, but Aradia is perhaps the most intriguing of them [and there's a rumor of a sequel]. Western RPGs are few, although Obsidian still sponsors an Alien RPG forum on their site.
Michael Abbott has an excellent post about his students playing Fallout 1 and 2, describing how they came to appreciate the game for all the games’ unfriendliness. And then he talked about why RPGs appealed to so many players, which came down to creativity and character development. I can’t disagree because I enjoy the idea of creating a character and playing the game developing that character and staying true to his or her core.
My brother and I talked about RPGs in general and Fallout 3 in particular as he tried to explain to me why he thought it was probably the best RPG he’s played in a long time. And for him, it came down to the difficulty of the game. Ammo is not plentiful, and neither is money. And the consequences of decisions and actions aren’t always immediate, but they’re there. RPGs are games of choice, and when you choose a strength, you invariably choose a weakness as well, especially in more strict class RPGs [as opposed to RPGs with hybrids]. In some games, like System Shock 2, choosing a skill and not another meant that you wouldn’t see some parts of the game. Or, more classic, you choose the strength and hit points of a warrior but an inability to heal yourself with spells as well as a weakness towards magic. Choose a spell caster, and you have great power, but you are physically weak.
To riff on Uncle Ben, with great power comes great weakness.
This weakness helped define characters and presented players with the challenge of playing around or through their weaknesses. One way is to group with others, which MMOs like Everquest play off of. In fact, it was difficult for any class to solo in the early Everquest.
corpse soup — a bad death in Cazic Thule
But the thing that many RPGs are missing, as I realized when I played Final Fantasy III last year or Etrian Odyssey is that these blockbuster RPGs like Mass Effect, Fallout 3, and especially action RPGs like Fable II don’t penalize failure. If you die, it’s a slap on the wrist effectively. No signficant loss of experience or gold. No loss of progress.
But I’m interested in penalties because I’ve got a masochistic streak. It’s because when you combine that fear of loss with the ability to create a character, it makes the game all the more enjoyable, particularly when you succeed. Some group RPGs require the optimum group to succeed in a quest, but in some, you can put together a less than optimal group but still manage to succeed if you adjust to both your strengths and weaknesses. That doesn’t mean you play with just any old group, like say 4 white mages. But you can play a less than perfect group and succeed.
But there’s another aspect of severe penalties, one that might be very difficult to see in anything other than an MMO or multiplayer game. When I played Everquest with my friends, we didn’t have the optimum group–we had a druid instead of the much better healing cleric. And we had a magician instead of an enchanter or a powerful wizard. And the ranger was an average DPS class, followed by a warrior. Two great experiences came from such imperfection.
We failed and died a lot. In those days, not only did you lose your stuff, which all remained on your corpse, but you lost experience, a lot, which might mean you lost a really valuable skill or even the ability to wear some piece of armor. It wasn’t uncommon for corpse retreival to be the focus of the night rather than the original quest. Yet, those were among the most enjoyable experiences because the loss was real and it was imperative that we help our mate get his or her stuf before quitting for the night. Dying made us cautious but not afraid. Well, not so much that we couldn’t be talked into going somewhere that we shouldn’t.
Through perseverance and strategy, we accomplished a lot that was very difficult for our regular group. Success became glorious and appreciated, never taken for granted.
Through the weaknesses and strengths of our characters, we approached the challenges and risks of the game in our own ways, which seems to me a greater depth of character than just choosing a faction or a backstory. Even more significant and perhaps the most elusive in a single-player or single-character RPG is that we learned to trust each other.
I remember many a fight as my warrior’s health dropped while my druid friend healed to the best of her abilities. There were times I could have run, but I didn’t because I believed in my friend. Certainly, you could say that I the gamer trusted my real-life friend, which is partially true. But I played my character, a fiercely loyal character that would rather die himself than run and let his weaker friends die, because it might mean the druid lost a level and couldn’t use the upgraded healing spell. That particular part of my warrior character was not something I could have developed in real life . . . it was something only possible in that game, only possible where characters are weak as well as strong, and where death is something to dread.
Great RPGs like Oblivion and Knights of the Old Republic do not come close to giving me that kind of experience, even with all the openness, choices, character development, and creativity that they offer. They are certainly enjoyable games, but I think there’s a certain type of relationship that can only develop and even flourish in the shadow of harsh conditions and great risks.
larahl from Poland is working on a DS homebrew game called Spider DS that is a combination of a platformer and an RPG. It’s a game about a boy who has turned into a spider. As the game progresses, the boy spider gains abilities, like climbing and web slinging. THere’s not much more detail about the game, but even this little bit is titillating. I love the original premise–it’s the kind of game where both the story and the gameplay are interesting. The demo has only a little functionality, enough to see the jumping ability and the changing time of day. I find the platforms a little too small and awkwardly placed, and while the graphics are very basic, it has a quaint feel to it, not unlike some of Jayenkai’s excellent games.
I’m definitely curious to see where larahl takes the game.
Sometimes, I feel the neighborhood cat lady . . . except that I’m a dude, not a lady. And I don’t take in stray cats with all kinds of afflictions and scars. Instead, I take in stray games [which at least don't literally stink up my house].
Such a game is Fable 2, which this review well captures the game’s defects:
A rather blah story
A game that is hardcore in its size and other features but lacks the depth we’d expect from an RPG of this size
A game world that is huge and offers vistas of places that you can’t get to [or at least easily]
A lack of a good map tool that allows you to visit the world easily or even relate the different areas to each other
Too few baddies to fight, unless you just want to get a whole town mad at you
Lots of linear play with the appearance of openness
To which I would add:
A really clunky interface with almost ability to customize
Way too easy to make money
Dreadful job mini-games that become mind numbing after a short time
I admit that all of the above is true, only to say that I still really enjoy the game. I do wander around the world, even though it’s not completely open. Even though you might not discover a place that doesn’t have a quest attached to it at some point, you can still explore the world and find surprises. When I happened across what seemed like a large, abandoned mining camp, I was still fascinated, although I never saw anyone to fight. But I didn’t know for sure . . . and I had that experience of wondering what happened there, why was everyone gone.
In a way, too, my expectations weren’t for another Oblivion thanks to the fact that Fallout 3 fulfills that expectation. I had played Fable and knew what to expect. And that’s what I’ve gotten, but better. I can do much more in Fable 2 than in Fable, like buying all sorts of properties. In the original, I could not spend that much time outside of the main quest and story because there wasn’t that much to do. But in Fable 2, I can . . . I’m maxing out those job skills with the minigames, and I’m investing in property, just my pa advised me.
The other thing is that the game is light-hearted, even for its seemingly dark main story. From item descriptions, to quotes during the load screen, to NPC chatter, there’s usually something in every game session to make me smile just a little. I think it’s the kind of game that shows why itemizing the faults can be so very misleading and how a game can be fun without being the most complex or sophisticated game in a genre. The game has enough relationships among player actions and the game world to make it the kind of sandbox game that doesn’t overwhelm you and make you feel you’ll be playing it for months.
Plus, any game that provides stories like the two in this forum thread can’t be that bad.
Gamers who enjoy RPGs have several games to entertain themselves with, and I am still wrestling with The Witcher: Enhanced, Fallout 3, and Fable 2. I think I’ll end up playing Fable 2 first for a couple of reasons: 1. I put down a deposit on it at Gamespot so that I could get the Fable Pub Games for free [a waste of time], and 2. my brother is getting it as well so we’ll try the multiplayer as soon as it’s ready, whether at release or shortly afterwards in a patch. There’s actually a third reason–I think I’ll be so engrossed with Fallout 3 that I won’t be able to play Fable 2. [And speaking of gross, I have to admit the exploding heads in the Fallout 3 trailers somewhat put me off. I hope we can dial down the gore.]
Plus, as I mentioned before, my son and I have picked up Star Wars Miniatures again, which we’re really enjoying. We’re now printing custom maps, and we’re creating our own scenarios, which I’m encouraging him to come up with. He’s understanding the idea of creating a goal and having obstacles, the basics for any story or real-life problem solving. We’re also creating our own characters with the generic minis, like the clone troopers and droids. We’ve watched the clone wars animated series, and one thing they’ve been doing there is to develop personalities in those seemingly un-individual characters. The droids have humor and some personality, and as Yoda pointed out in a recent episode, clones are not identical.
For example, I have a droid character called ‘Klink’ who is not really into being a soldier and does what he can to avoid battle, including destroying himself. But there a technological karma at work, so he always gets reincarnated as a soldier droid. But having his character in play introduces a wildcard, a piece that might not follow orders or that might throw itself in the line of fire. Sure, it’s a way to sabotage my own game, but it also makes the game less serious and provides a little wonder of ‘what’s he going to do this time.’ Part of this goes back to my time on Everquest when it seemed that making mistakes, like getting lost or killed, was a part of being in a team and made it more fun and interesting. And my son is developing a character who thinks he isn’t a clone but is the original, which I’m interested in seeing where he takes the character.
Sometimes, there’s a fine line between being involved with your kids’ interests and abetting their obsessions.