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The History of Console RPG – The Next Level

Final Fantasy XV - Title

We have known about the beginning and the progress of RPG. It took a long time for RPG to become as great as now and still exist until this moment. From simple gameplay mechanics into complicated system and characters development, from easy-to-play into a more serious and mind-consuming plot are the proofs that RPG is improving, never-ending, and still growing.

If we look back into the era of Dungeons & Dragons which was considered as the pioneer of RPG, we can’t even compare the speech-based gameplay with the modern RPG nowadays. The modern RPG quality and gameplay are assisted with technologies that are capable of delivering not only speech but also gorgeous visuals. The quality of RPG gradually becomes even better, without forgetting the core.

Whatever great the modern RPG is now, it came from classic consoles with minimal features. The first Final Fantasy is no match against the complexity of Final Fantasy XV. But we should admit that the latest Final Fantasy XV will never exist without the first step of the first Final Fantasy. We may talk only about modern RPG now, but we should know what its origin is, where it comes from, and how it develops.

The Honest Way of Storytelling

Sephiroth at Nibelheim Incident

For RPG lovers who has taste the classic console in mid-‘90s, they will notice that it is different with the prior RPG. If the prior RPG has a more straight-forwarded storyline, and usually ends happily, it is different with the RPG developing in mid-‘90s. In that era, RPG has a more honest way of storytelling, not just happy ends and friendly scenes, but also multiple endings and the possibility of violence.

Let’s remember about Sephiroth for a while, the main antagonist of Final Fantasy VII who wields a extremely long katana called Masamune. There is a scene in the game where he came out of nowhere and slashed Aerith Gainsborough in front of Cloud. This kind of scene will never be found if we play classic games from SNES, for example. It is something that you will hardly found in old games.

That scene could be the turning point for RPG industry. Instead of delivering a colorful, cheerful and happy plot, Square chose to create Final Fantasy VII with a dark theme, where it isn’t about colorful and happy life anymore. RPG has changed from a straight, undeveloped character like in Dungeons & Dragons into something deeper and emotional like the scenes and plot used in Final Fantasy VII.

There is also Suikoden II, which came out quite surprisingly with the possibility to build an army consists of a lot recruitable characters. The characters consists of monsters, vampires, and even misfits who will work together with the main protagonist in taking down a power-mad ruler Luca Blight, for his action of killing indiscriminately and rules unjustly.

The Path into the Next Generation

Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne

So far, the formula for a definition of RPG is already set. Basically, it is a Final Fantasy-style RPG with fantasy theme, ultimate weapons, and nicely dressed characters that make a standard of the success of RPG at that time. We can find a lot of similar style games in PlayStation 2; a proof that it is an acknowledged formula of RPG used in PlayStation 2 at that moment.

PlayStation 2 probably is the most successful console in delivering the good RPG titles. You can find a lot of nice RPG available on PlayStation 2, and then continues in another sequel in the next generation consoles. For example: Tales of series, Grandia series, Final Fantasy series, are titles that started on PlayStation, continued on PlayStation 2, and has their own fanatic lovers who will follows its sequels.

The success of RPG on PlayStation 2 were being followed by GameCube with The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Xbox with its Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, even though it can’t match the dominance of PlayStation 2 in delivering RPG. The dominance is even greater when Final Fantasy X unleashed and steals the show.

The upgraded standard of Final Fantasy X has filled a hole in previous generation of RPG. The conditional turn-based battle system, the availability of Overdrives in exchange of the Limit Breaks, has succeeded to steal the attention of most RPG lovers. Moreover, movie-quality CGI cutscenes, real facial expressions, and lip movements, supported by well scripted dialogue has made it rules.

Later, the success of Final Fantasy X was followed with some titles of similar quality and gameplay. For example, the continuance of Final Fantasy X called: Final Fantasy-X2, although it isn’t as successful as the prequel; Shadow Hearts series with dark, demons, and demented social figures theme; Atlus’s Shin Megami Tensei series which was a success in Japan but not in the states.

Shin Megami Tensei series has given the chance to show off by Sony on PlayStation 2. Its unusual, dark theme might not be a great success in the states, but Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne has stolen the attention of RPG lovers in Europe with its post-apocalyptic adventure set in bombed-out Japan.

Instead of stopping the apocalypse, the main character’s goal is to assert his will on the new world, and finish the game by challenging Satan. A plot that is quite rare to be found in the genre that used to be all about saving princesses and slaying demons. It makes us realize, that classic consoles such as PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Xbox are also playing an important part in the history of RPG.

The Clash between Sides

Dark souls character fighting some mobs

The present time has come to an era where everyone tries to make a great game. Not only Japanese like before, but now also European countries which develops and implements RPG elements in their creation. For example, a sport game like NBA2K series gives the possibility for developing our character through My Player mode, or in Batman: Arkham City, where it is possible to upgrade the gadgets.

The RPG elements in a western game like NBA2K series or in action game like Batman: Arkham City were never present in the old times. Sport games is all about doing sports and action games is all about whacking and slashing. The influence of RPG elements which was popularized by Japanese RPG has reached western games.

But apparently the traditional gameplay and long duration needed in playing RPG is not so friendly with western gamers. Classic JRPG titles are not too popular with them, which caused titles such as White Knight Chronicles in PlayStation 3 or Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey in Xbox 360 did not score very well in the west. This could be caused by geographical issue and gamers’ characteristic.

The eastern gamers are more willing to play turn-based combat and anime-influenced character as the formula being used in most JRPG. While in America, the best selling games are titles like Dragon Age series, Mass Effect series, Elder Scrolls series, Fallout series which were action-oriented and sets place in vast, open worlds.

Games like Dark Souls and Skyrim are also the proof of the distinguished taste of western gamers. Showing the details in slashing enemies and spellcasting, also Skyrim’s expansive overworld has successfully steals the heart of most western gamers who were closer with that kind of RPG. But no matter how big the difference is, it is all about taste, nothing can decide which one is better.

The growing numbers of RPG titles shows that RPG is loveable, and has their own segment. Both eastern and western RPG are good, it depends on our perspective of RPG definition. I love turn-based Japanese RPG, but I didn’t hate the western RPG since I found some fun in playing it. What is important thing is, the genre called RPG is growing, improving, and will always be there to satisfy us RPG lovers.

Read also: 7 Most Popular RPG Subgenres

Feel free to comment about the topics that we have discussed above. Do you have any opinion about the next level of console RPG? Please share your thoughts below.

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Written by
A fellow RPG addict who played a lot of classic masterpieces from Square, Square-Enix, and Tri-Ace. "The epoch may change, but the classics will remain eternal"

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