ConsoleRPGs, however, have evolved into a markedly different beast than ComputerRPGs. The defining ConsoleRPG was probably FinalFantasyOne. Even now, most games in the genre imitate its turn-based combat with battle-action selection through menus. Characters advance via an experience-and-levels system, where you get experience for fighting monsters and almost nothing else. Generally, games like FinalFantasySix, ValkyrieProfile, and ChronoTrigger (ConsoleRPGs) have more in common with each other than with games like Fallout, PlanescapeTorment, and MorroWind (ComputerRPGs).
Newer ConsoleRPGs tend to try to focus on Story and Character more than the earlier ones did. They tend towards fairly linear stories - although several brag about multiple endings, most of the game is the same, there's just a different ending (PhantasyStar III is a notable exception to this rule, as there are two major branching points which change the nature of the subsequent chapters). Characters generally have distinct personalities, and you usually can't choose what the character acts like or says. (And if you can choose, there's generally not much effect.) You also generally can't choose their starting stats or character class. Some have complained that, especially with newer ConsoleRPGs, there's nowhere to insert yourself as a player - you're just along for the ride, and hey, aren't those cool graphics?
Contrast with ComputerRPGs.
Beyond the fact that they aren't roleplaying games, my biggest complaint is that they are all easy. Notice the challenges page with all the ways people have tried to make the final fantasy series challenging. Is it really a game when all you have to do is play long enough (assuming it can hold your attention) and you are guaranteed to win? Then again, i like games which are NintendoHard. Early action/adventure games like Rygar are still the best in the genre, IMHO. I also really dislike the trend in ConsoleRPGs towards being movies. I mean, FinalFantasyShiny may have been pretty, but when half the playing time is watching cut-scenes or summons (that you can't skip), its only going to serve to annoy me. Heck, when i play DiabloIi i generally skip the small cut-scenes between levels, because if i'm playing a game i want it to be an active and not a passive experience. Rather than waste all that disk space on cut-scenes, they could do a real service to the genre by actually making the plot open-ended, with substantial plot forks and player actions determining future options. That said, i actually enjoyed FinalFantasyTactics (at least what little of it i got to play), but thats really a tactical combat game. --NickJohnson
I'm really NOT finding a *problem* with the easy-ness of the games. I'm probably just a TOTALLY INCOMPETENT player who has no business attempting video games in the first place, but I do NOT enjoy getting completely owned early on in the game. (I never really bothered with Lunar:SilverStar? because I died repeatedly in the FIRST DUNGEON. In the FIRST BATTLES YOU EVER HAVE.) I find it a little more bearable later in the game, when I can (theoretically) do things to amend the situation. However, if I have to do a great deal of leveling up to just barely survive the next area, I'm probably going to quit. (And I think my definition of "a great deal of leveling up" is SIGNIFICANTLY lower than it is for any of the other regular video game commenters.) It actually annoys me a LOT that the games I like have various people wanking on Wiki about how they're too easy to be fun. I'm sorry, but I actually DON'T like fearing for my life with every single non-essential battle, and ConsoleRPGs tend to have a lot of them. But like I said, I'm just an incompetent gamer, so I guess my opinion doesn't matter. --SeleneTan
While a large share of games today are easy, and virtually all are beatable, I think a problem with RPG difficulty in particular is that it's hard to make a non-abusable system that wouldn't anger your core audience. Even if you make the enemies really stompy, there will be always people who will just sit around for days leveling up and perfecting their party until they have a group of walking gods. Solutions to counter this, such as enemies that are harder if your party is higher level or monster spells that take down a percentage of hit points rather than a flat amount, can help abate this a little, but ultimately there will always be a way to abuse it (just ask EvilSouthie about his low-level FF8 strategy). The best way I can think of to make RPG's hard is to impose a time limit. However, I'm sure people would bitch a lot if there was a restrictive time limit, so most RPG's don't have them (I think Jeff Brenion brought up an exception, but I can't remember the name...).-AlexBobbs
Selene points out a fundamental division in the sorts of people who like to play CRPGs: some people play them primarily for the plot, setting, and characters, and some play them for the gameplay. As a generalization, if those are the two ends of a scale, I'd say most all players are somewhere between all plot and all gameplay. This is not to say that gameplay precludes plot, or vice versa, and good gameplay does not in and of itself imply difficulty. If I had to guess, I'd say that the majority of Console RPG players are nearer to the "plot" end of the spectrum. If seeing more of the game world is the primary motivation for playing, it stands to reason that the plot-related fights are the important ones, since (in general) random battles do nothing to advance the plot or develop the characters. Therefore (again from this perspective) random combats should neither be taxing nor plentiful, since in either case they distract from the story at hand. Since (I hypothesize) this end of the spectrum is what attracts more players, game makers lean towards making easier games, so that most of the audience can progress through the game without having to take serious time out to power up. This also explains the optional superhard bosses in recent CRPGs.
To the other end of the spectrum, the frequency of the combat makes less difference than the interest--a little too much isn't such a bad thing as long as it's fun (and even the most interesting system in the world decays to boring eventually if you have to win the same scenario over and over with it). I can only speak for myself here, but to me much of the interest of game systems comes from having to figure out how to best make use of them in given situations. Now, "obviously", the threshhold at which this occurs varies from person to person, and is the reason for the existence of difficulty settings in many other genres. By and large, though, there is no "Easy" or "Hard" setting in the CRPG world, unless the game involves some sort of action (TalesOfEternia?, KingdomHearts, and StarOcean? all feature real-time combat and a choice of difficulty setting); I guess we may conclude that it is assumed to be unnecessary.... --AndrewSchoonmaker (who hopes that wasn't insulting to the ends of the spectra he's not on)
I'm not sure it's so much a scale as . . . something else. Either that, or I'm just weird, which is always a possibility. I have strong allegiances both to games with interesting combat and good stories. Depending on the game, I tend to stay in one mode or the other, but sometimes I switch back and forth.
I mean, I liked XenoGears, where the second disk consists of almost nothing but plot, and I made it through the Deep Dungeon in TacticsOgre, which is one hundred levels of pure combat (I have to admit that I was getting a bit tired by the end, but the experience still had its moments).
My complaints about CRPGs with too-frequent random battles is that the combat system is not interesting enough to justify the frequency. This is less of problem with tactical games like FinalFantasyTactics or TacticsOgre, because tactical systems tend to have more inherent interest than the standard line combat traditional in CRPGs, but it can still happen. And in non-tactical games, often combat boils down to optimizing a simple algorithm and then executing it. I've used the same analysis technique for almost all the Final Fantasies: for each monster, figure out how much damage each character can do to each monster, using appropriate weapons, skills, and spells; then set up a sequence of attacks that distributes damage to each set of monsters in a way that minimizes spillover (and thus minimizes time to completion of combat) and optimizes character-vs.-monster differences. There are occasional variations, depending on the game, but the basic idea is that I can crack the monster distribution in a specific area in about 10% of the time I spend there, then spend the other 90% of the time executing the exact same commands in the exact same sequence, so much so that I could turn it over to a computer. That's boring, by my lights.
To maintain my interest, a combat system has to require a certain level of involvement. It's been my experience that CRPGs often don't have this.
It is possible to make a tough game thats not about random combats. I actually hate random combats because (1) they distract from the plot (yes, if i were to play a crpg i'd want plot), (2) they make powering up possible, and (3) they're never interesting combats. Were i to design a crpg it would have no random encounters. This would mean that the characters power level is bounded. Then, the major combats would be brutally hard. There would be ways to make them easier (that you wouldn't have to do), but even at their easiest they would take some skill to finish (and the amount of skill required would increase throughout the course of the game). Most of the gameplay would not be combats but would be finding out what you need to know (because i love incredibly complex plots where the hero starts out knowing nothing and must uncover the plot to defeat the antagonist) and interacting with the world. I'm a big fan or forking storylines, with the character's interactions with people in the world affecting what can be accomplished, and possibly which side the character is on. Ie, i don't like good/evil dichotomony in an absolute sense, and if the player wants to side with the nominal 'badguys', i'm all for allowing that. Player choice should be able to make a difference at key points. Basically, if i'm going to play a story-based game, i want it to not be a movie (ie, i have input into the ending in a way that i am conscious of), i want it to be challenging, and i want to be able to fail because of my mistakes. The best of all possible worlds would be a game where failure isn't game-over necessarily, but that you have to deal with the consequences of your failure later. If you can't tell, i'm not a big fan of being able to back-up save in games like this (eg, crap, i got the bad result again, reload). Ie, Angband style 'we're sorry, no repeats' is the way to go. Works better if failing doesnt mean start over, so that you can still finish the game (because these games are too elaborate to make you go back to the beginning solely cause you died). --NickJohnson
Sounds a lot like PlanescapeTorment to me. You wake up with total amnesia and therefore have to learn everything from scratch, there's no "random" battles except for the street thugs that stop attacking once you reach a certain level, there's a "difficulty" slider in the game options, there's a significant amount of branching and sidequests (for a VideoGame, anyway), and death is not a big deal because your character has been rendered "immortal" in the sense that whenever you die, you wake up a few minutes later fully healed. (A few puzzle solutions actually involve killing yourself.) Too bad it's a ComputerRPG! Silly proprietary consoles.
The thing is, it seems like Square really just wants to be a CGI creation team these days. Remember Final Fantasy, the Movie? I'm willing to bet that if that had been more successful, we'd be seeing fewer Square games (at least in the FF series) and more shiny graphics. I mean, more than we have already.
Plus, while making good models and realistic computer graphics is difficult, it's a different kind of difficult from making an absorbing, open-ended story. Notice that even at their best, the Final Fantasy storylines have been fairly simplistic. In fact, there really aren't a whole lot of complex plots out there in videogame land. I suspect that's because creating them requires a lot of effort (just imagine all of the if statements involved in every single branching point and how they would cascade throughout the game). Ouch. -ChainMaille