Thursday, March 31, 2011

Different Genres, Different Strengths. Why?

When I was young, I didn't really think too critically about videogames. When I bought an RPG, I knew I would be in for lengthy cutscenes, a great story, and great music; and when I bought an action game, I knew I was in for some high difficulty, good gameplay, and a simple story. But, not that my mind has matured the way it has, I have to ask: why? Why must the genres remain separated in the priorities they take when executing their games?

Take the music present in so many great JRPGs over the years. Powerful and emotional themes that emphasize and enhance the narrative. Pieces like "Star Stealing Girl" in Chrono Cross, or Hepatica (KOS-MOS) in Xenosaga III. Why are such emotional musical pieces that emphasize the narrative so well, and provide such an emotional impact restricted to the RPG genre. And yet, the RPG genre restricts itself with simple execution of gameplay. For satisfying gameplay we look to action games, yet these games usually have such simple storylines that provide little drive to follow the story and the player instead focus simply on the gameplay, which in turn reminds the player they are playing a game thus reducing the immersion into the experience and thus hurting the overall satisfaction. Why can't there exist a game that breaks down these "genre gaps" and provide a "full" experience of everything gaming can offer?

I believe that the game that truly satisfies me will not have these "genre gaps". Games like Okami and Bayonetta have come close, but Bayonetta could have used a more coherent story and needed to be much longer; Okami is the closest a game has come to this ideal, as it only really needed a slightly stronger battle system and to be more difficult.

It's really the strong sense of immersion (which results in emotion) that RPGs have that makes them so satisfying to play, and the graphics, art direction, music, and storyline often all come together so well to provide that power immersion. However, gameplay tends to always take a backseat to the visual and aural elements of RPGs. The only RPG that I really think about the gameplay is FFXIII. FFXIII came close to this ideal as well, but it needed more depth to the combat (despite the combat being the best RPGs have to offer) and the story could've been more emotional towards the end. The fact that FFXIII came so close to the ideal gives me hope that FFXIII-2 may achieve it, with the satisfying gameplay of an action game alongside the powerful story and immersion of an RPG.

Some games have attempted to bride this gap. Games like the .HACK//GU series, which are action RPGs, but have strong narratives and great music; another CyberConnect2 developed game, Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm 2, also did a good job at trying to reach this ideal, by being a fighting game with a focus on gameplay, but an equal, if not stronger, focus on graphics, music, and expressing the story visually and not just through words. While both games are far from being the best, they give me hope that CC2 may achieve this ideal with Asura's Wrath, which has been promised to blend narrative and gameplay together. It will be interesting to see what AW brings to the table.

Odin Sphere is also a game that came close to this ideal. If the gameplay provided more complexity, then it may have achieved this ideal, for Odin Sphere had one of the most powerful narratives I've experienced in a game, and Vanillaware's trademark 2D graphics alongside the beautiful soundtrack just made the game a true visual and aural tour de force.

I am starting to see these genre gaps to become smaller and smaller, so soon there may be game that totally lack a solid definitive genre. I hope that day comes soon.

At the moment, I'm really looking at PlatinumGames, Vanillaware, Square-Enix, and CyberConnect2 to deliver the game that will completely satisfy me. Not that I'm not open to other developers. There's always bound to be some surprises on the horizon (El Shaddai perhaps?).

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