Viewpoints on RPGs

I've been playing primarily two games of late, God of War and Dragon Quest 8. While they are both role-playing games, they each have an extremely different feel. There's the obvious differences in setting (Random Fantasy World that doesn't seem to give its name anywhere v. mythological ancient Greece); in art style (rich color, cell shading and cute v. 3-D, realistic and gritty); in gameplay (turn-based combat v. occassionally button-mashy, but cool-looking real-time action); and in rating (DQ8 is "Teen" v. GoW is a solid "Mature").

Original Comment by: Mark

God of War, an RPG? I've heard it described as many things, but that's not one of them. I'd call it more like a beat-'em-up, or adventure, or the nebulous "action" title. Defining the RPG genre is, at best, an exercise in frustration - I just use whatever is covered at RPGamer as a benchmark.

Original Comment by: Patrick Dugan
http://www.kingludic.blogspot.com
Indigo Prophecy had the same problem, almost to the extend of making movement difficult. It kinda nails home Chris Crawford's idea that storytelling isn't dependant on spatial navigation, and often, the spatial paradigm distracts from the storytelling.

Original Comment by: Tim
http://oghc.blogspot.com
I have to second the questioning of your classification of God of War as an RPG. I mean, well- ...you COULD I guess. But then you'd also have to call Mario 64 an RPG, and that would just make my head fall off its shoulders and roll into a pit of fire.

Indigo Prophecy is to RPGs what child pornography is to the legitimate smut peddling industry.

Original Comment by: Khurram Ahmed

You want to see a good camera you have no control over - the best I've ever seen is Silicon Knights' 'Eternal Darkness' on the GameCube.

Original Comment by: Ferrous Buller
http://ferrousbuller.1up.com
God of War - an RPG?

*blink blink*

OK.

I have a blind spot - no pun intended (well, not much intended, at any rate) - when it comes to "cinematic" cameras. Namely I hate hate HATE them. No matter whatever other virtues a game has, if it's got those random, swooping, disorienting changes of camera angle - sorry, dude, but you lost me (both literally and figuratively). It's why I couldn't stand the Devil May Cry games; and it's why I gave up on GoW after the first level.

I can understand the cinematic camera in the bad old days of Resident Evil, when the hardware clearly wasn't up to rendering true 3D environments in any detail. But these days, when it's clear the HW is up to snuff but the designers decided they wanted to be "clever" with the camera - ugh.

Sorry, but give me either a useful fixed camera or one I can move at will. Please spare me your "amateur cinematographer" aspirations. I don't care how cool you think you're being: if I can't see what going on and/or I get disoriented, it just ruins things for me - especially in a fast action game like GoW.

God of War certainly is a multi-genred thing, but I have to disagree with saying it's NOT an RPG. There are many nuanced definitions of RPG, as someone else pointed out, but some of the basic elements are these:

-Player takes on the role of a single character or group of characters.

-That character's or group of characters' can increase in power due to choices made by the player.

-A storyline which the character may or may not directly impact by decisions.

God of War, while not necessarily neatly, fits all of these. It absolutely has elements of action, even platform jumper, but in playing, I take the role of Kratos, I decided which and when of his weapons and spells are levelled, and there's certainly a storyline.

Some people say there must be an impact on the storyline by my decisions for it to be an RPG. This would blatantly discount nearly all RPGs, including Dragon Quest 8 - I do make choices about the order in which I complete tasks, and there are some side quests that I don't need to complete, but there is a main storyline that will be accomplished if I continue playing.

Other people bring up the actual combat in this RPG v. non-RPG discussion. I don't buy into this - what's more taking on a role than having a direct, real-time action aspect to battle? Why do numerous menus, blue or otherwise an RPG make?

If these last two make an RPG, then why is Diablo considered an RPG? OR perhaps, is RPG a different manner of classification than action, altogether?

Original Comment by: Slartibartfast

It's called "action-rpg," people :-)

Original Comment by: Haarball

I find often find that it's the camera-angle and player view that impacts people's definition of an RPG. Obiviously, there's the customisation and detailed, controllable improvement of your character, an embodiment of the RPG-genre, but I can't help but see the connection to the player's physical view of his/her character and the world in which is resides. Take Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy, what difference would a fixed 3rd person view make? The adventure genre is known for its characteristic and almost mandatory fixed angle, and an otherwise implemented view would distort genre definitions. And there's Diablo 2, towards which vague definition would it move had the camera angle been closer to the character and the graphics more intimate? I believe there would be a certain change in people's perceptoions of what genre the game is in, often because of pre-pubescent teens ignorantly shallowly defining a genre based on merely the superficial elements, which is perhaps why this issue doesn't come up a lot and is quickly disregarded by the more "educated" debaters of games. Still, I believe it has some truth to it, and no matter how you look at it genres will be partially defined by some of the more superficial factors such as camera angle.

As for God of War, that game was completely let down by its lack of originality and inspiration and overwhelming cosmetic and audiovisual focus. Hacking, slashing, hacking and slashing and more hacking and slashing (which is my way of saying that the game is a tedious hack'n'slash with an exasperating range of moves/skills and that its creators must have the imagination of a severed thumb) DOES NOT become more entertaining or worthy of my time because my "hero" grunts more eloquently than a wild boar mid-intercourse. And, the above-mentioned limitations of the camera, in place to ensure a spotless, boring, distracting and unwanted audiovisual experience effectively putting a damper on anyone thinking of the game as crud, effectively made sure that the experience was further destroyed and sucked down the drain. But that's just me.

Haarball - It's an interesting point, that camera view and movement allowance might affect a game's RPG status. Certainly, a player-controlled camera can add to the role-playing feeling. However, another game I have recently pulled off my shelf and dusted off for another go, Final Fantasy X, has a fixed camera.

Undeniably an RPG, FFX has bothersome camera issues, as well. The world is just beautiful in places and I wanted to look around, but couldn't. To be constantly reminded how little control I had in the game was very frustrating to me. I'm also a bit of an explorer when I play, so this may have been worse for me than for others.

As far as Indigo Prophecy, yeah, the camera messed with me a few times. There's one particular place where you are running to get out of a mental ward that the camera switches abruptly and I just kept running straight into a patient. It was very furstrating, but looking back on it, it's kind of funny. I still loved the game - it was a refreshing change.

Original Comment by: Randall Fitzgerald
http://www.ikimashou.net
JULIANNE!

You are just now playing God of War? Oh man... I didn't know. I mean... that game is so epic, how could you not have played it until now? I'm afraid I just can't love you anymore until you kill Ares and scream to the heavens as his blood rains down upon you. You know, or something similar. I'll be waiting for your call.

Original Comment by: Haarball

Yes, Julianne, that is often a detriment to the RPG genre, the fixed camera effectively putting a stopper to one's exploratory (I hope that's a word) genes. I personally don't have much of a problem with it, so FFX is still one of my favourite ever RPGs, if not games.

Original Comment by: Ferrous Buller
http://ferrousbuller.1up.com
Julianne,

Uhhh, you realize that your three criteria describe most games, period, right? Let's take them one at a time:

"Player takes on the role of a single character or group of characters."

Should be obvious that the vast majority of games fulfill this requirement; only abstract games like Tetris arguably don't count. In a strategy game, I could claim I was "role-playing" as my army's (usually off-screen) commander, or "role-playing" every unit in the game. [In fact, the Fire Emblem games run with the former idea, having the characters directly address the player as their leader!]

"That character's or group of characters' can increase in power due to choices made by the player."

In a FPS, I pick up bigger guns; in a platformer, I gain new abilities (double-jump, head stomp, whatever); in an RTS, I gain access to more powerful units. In each case, my ingame avatars have "increased in power due to choices" I made.

Look at it this way: say in a game like DMC or GoW, my character earns skill points for kills, which I can then use to unlock special abilities between levels - hey, it's a character customization system, it must be an RPG! Now say we change things so I earn money instead of points and I spend them to buy new equipment, rather than unlock skills. Functionally, it's exactly the same, I've just changed the terminology. Is it still an RPG? If it is, does that mean any game where I earn money and can buy new stuff is an RPG?

"A storyline which the character may or may not directly impact by decisions."

Again, that's true of any game with any sort of narrative.

My point is your definition of "RPG" is far too generic, to the point where it's almost meaningless. While my personal definition of the genre is, in many regards, totally arbitrary (and very similar to yours), at least I have specific requirements which must be met. When I define (C)RPGs, I look at old-school games like Wizardry to see what common elements they have:

- Numerical representations of my characters' physical and mental abilities (i.e., stats, skill points, etc.), which - based on the rules of the game's mechanics - are primarily responsible for determining whether or not my characters are successful in their actions. [As opposed to an action game like GoW, where my skill with the controller is primarily responsible for determining how well I do; the character-customization system mostly just lets me tweak Kratos a bit.]

- Characters accumulate experience points over time for successfully overcoming in-game obstacles (i.e., combat, finishing quests, etc.), which are used in some fashion to improve the aforementioned numerical representations of my abilities (usually through either a fixed class system or a more dynamic skill-based system). These improvements are separate from the acquisition of money and/or better equipment, which also improve my characters. [To my mind, a "true" RPG incorporates both, but that's not a rule.]

- Furthermore, an RPG is structured in such a way that the player is required to "level up" their characters as the game progresses, in order to overcome the game's successive challenges. [Which is what leads to the dreaded yet all too common "level grind."] It should be possible to finish GoW without ever improving Kratos' abilities; it's just more difficult to do so. Good luck killing Werdna with a first-level party!

- Some form of overarching narrative - with a definite beginning, middle, and end - which provides the characters impetus to progress and which the player's actions ostensibly influence. In actuality, a lot of RPGs are quite linear in their narratives - either you advance them or you die or you're stuck doing nothing - which break the illusion of being "in control." But there's never any doubt about the fact the events of the game's plot revolve around your characters and their actions: you're the one beating Floozle and saving the world, no matter how artificial the conceit can get. [Your definition makes it sound like the characters can just be "along for the ride."]

Yes, my definition is similar to yours, but it's more specific. In particular, my first requirement specifies something of the nature of the game mechanics of an RPG; and my third requirement specifies something about how the game is structured and paced. There's no point in inventing classification systems if you don't impose some rigid rules on them.

Of course, from there you can cross-breed genres, blurring the lines. E.g., action-RPGs such as Diablo have stat-heavy character systems which have a major impact on gameplay; but because combat is real-time, gameplay depends much more heavily on your reflexes than, say, Wizardry does.

Which is a long-winded way of saying: action games like GoW borrow the concept of "character customization and improvement through experience" from RPGs, but that does not make them "true" RPGs themselves (or even action-RPGs, IMHO), any more than throwing in some sight gags suddenly turns "King Lear" into a comedy.

Ferrous - Yes, I do realize that the criteria I listed are very generic and can apply to nearly any game. That's actually part of the problem we're finding in this discussion - the only rules for classification anyone can agree upon ARE very general. I think this likely comes from the criteria being changed to suit over the years.

And yes, your rules are more specific, I was simplifying for the purpose of easy, quick reading. But even your rules I think fit GoW, even if GoW takes a much more simplistic approach to them.

-Numerical representations of my characters' physical and mental abilities (i.e., stats, skill points, etc.), which - based on the rules of the game's mechanics - are primarily responsible for determining whether or not my characters are successful in their actions.

This is present in GoW, just a much more simplified version than you will see in a FF or a Dragon Quest. You can level up your prowess with the Blades of Chaos, learning new attack moves. The magic becomes more and more powerful as you level them. There is something to be said for your point about mental skills making the attacks more powerful, but I put forth that GoW makes it a direct relation of leveling, rather than a "matrix-style" two variable equation. But is it a less numerical representation of abilities?

- Characters accumulate experience points over time for successfully overcoming in-game obstacles (i.e., combat, finishing quests, etc.), which are used in some fashion to improve the aforementioned numerical representations of my abilities (usually through either a fixed class system or a more dynamic skill-based system). These improvements are separate from the acquisition of money and/or better equipment, which also improve my characters. [To my mind, a "true" RPG incorporates both, but that's not a rule.]

This is absolutely present in GoW. From combat, you gain red orbs, which you then use to level up particular spells or weapons or the skill associated with the weapon.

- Furthermore, an RPG is structured in such a way that the player is required to "level up" their characters as the game progresses, in order to overcome the game's successive challenges. [Which is what leads to the dreaded yet all too common "level grind."] It should be possible to finish GoW without ever improving Kratos' abilities; it's just more difficult to do so. Good luck killing Werdna with a first-level party!

True you cannot complete many RPGs without levelling. But this is as much because levelling happens automatically and will simply occur as you go through the narrative. Yes, there is some level grinding required, but I did that at one point in GoW, just to have more powerful weapons to go through a particular section. I know other people have, as well.

As for the statement about the narrative, I did not make myself very clear. I started to say that the storyline is affected and moved forward only when the player plays. However, the narratives are often linear, as you've said, and while play causes the story to progress, it does not truly affect the outcome of the story. It's a rollercoaster - full of dips and turns, but it's on rails. It's not a different ride for each person. So, really all that can be definitively said about narrative is that there is one.

This discussion is not meant to say that I'm right and you're wrong. It's simply pointing out how really blurry the lines are as far as genres. You say action borrowing tenants of RPGs. I say (though I didn't detail it, as the post was supposed to be about cameras!) it's a heavily-action-RPG. We're both kinda right.

Original Comment by: Mark

Hey guys - guess what I said in the first comment?

Defining the RPG genre is, at best, an exercise in frustration - I just use whatever is covered at RPGamer as a benchmark.

Original Comment by: Tim
http://oghc.blogspot.com
Why don't we just ask David Jaffe under what category HE classifies God of War? He is, after all... you know, AROUND. Just e-mail the dude!

Because it's more fun this way?? :P

Original Comment by: Tim
http://oghc.blogspot.com
Ya got me there :)

Original Comment by: Ferrous Buller
http://ferrousbuller.1up.com
"This discussion is not meant to say that I'm right and you're wrong."

Of course not! That's because I'm right and you're wrong! Don't you know how the Internet works?!

8-D

Originally I had more to say, but really at this point it seems like it's just a matter of personal tastes and self-imposed standards. There's nothing I can say which will make you accept my definition of what an RPG is; and vice versa.

Games like GoW and DMC don't "feel" like action-RPGs to me - they just cribbed a few ideas from RPG's notebook when they thought it wasn't looking - so now I'm trying to work backwards to a satisfying definition of "RPG" which explains why I feel that way (and, incidentally, excludes games like GoW). And I think it's largely a question of which elements you think should be emphasized in an RPG.

GoW's character-upgrade system just felt like a relatively superficial element to the game's overall design (in the parts I played), when I expect it to be front-n-center in an RPG; and none of its other elements felt "RPG-y" to me. To me, calling GoW an "action RPG" is like saying Doom is an "action-adventure" because you find keys and flip switches.

But if you think it deserves the action-RPG label - hey, who am I to say otherwise?

You're wrong, of course, but I won't hold that against you.

;-)

Original Comment by: Ferrous Buller
http://ferrousbuller.1up.com
"Why don't we just ask David Jaffe under what category HE classifies God of War? He is, after all... you know, AROUND. Just e-mail the dude!"

Dude, have you ever actually seen the Internet before today? That's not how arguments are handled!

"We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!"

:-)

Original Comment by: Tim
http://oghc.blogspot.com
"Dude, have you ever actually seen the Internet before today? That's not how arguments are handled!"

No. No I have never seen the internet before today. Seriously, I'm totally new, just this morning I hooked up a brand spanking new, lightning fast 28.8 modem from a yard sale because everyone was like 'dude! you have to try it! You can DOWNLOAD stuff!' So, I got this here AOL account, see... and I thought I might check some 'websites' or something. You should Instant Message me sometime; my screen name is "MrSarcastic1979"

;)

 

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