The idea of RPG, especially the first comer was really simple. It is all about a male protagonist who gathers a party, and then battling monsters, rescuing princesses, fighting evil bosses, the end. We can say that it is all about fantasy world, and that is the core of modern RPG that we know today. Although that theme is kind of simple and old, some modern RPG still uses that formula up until now.
The classic fantasy theme later develops into a different concept, using science-fiction element. Title such as The Phantasy Star series (Sega Genesis) are the pioneer of science-fiction themed RPG. In this kind of RPG, we will not just save a kingdom or two, but on a larger scale: the entire solar system. The main protagonist is a woman, and the graphic is good enough at that time, with the faux-3D feel.
The development seems to reach Super Nintendo too, with the release of EarthBound (known as Mother 2 in Japan). This game brings out another different sensation, with the protagonists consists of children and an unusual extraterrestrial theme. The gameplay is similar to the Dragon Quest series; it created a unique and colorful world with an American feel rather than Japanese feel.
The Resurrection of RPG
In mid-‘80s and ‘90s, RPG titles developed and improved greatly, maybe we can call it the golden age of RPG development. Many of the modern game nowadays use the formula of this phase of RPG. In this era, we can feel that playing RPG requires more effort and seriousness. The gameplay is getting more challenging and the story development become more complicated than it used to be.
The Shin Megami Tensei series for example, uses system that led to branching storylines and multiple endings. This kind of element isn’t present in the prior version, where older RPG usually has straight-forwarded storyline that will led into only one ending. There is also Chrono Trigger, the famous Square masterpiece that has strong time-travelling concept which is popular for its deep and linked storyline.
Chrono Trigger used a nonlinear system of gameplay, unlike most of its predecessors. It also introduce New Game+ feature, where we can start new game with the last equipments and items after completing the game once. Final Fantasy IV adapts the Active Time Battle system that Chrono Trigger used; it stands between the real-time combat and turn-based battles that often used in Japanese RPG.
In this era, there is also a new kind of RPG which popularly known as tactical RPG. In this kind of RPG, we will control characters that move in squares on a certain map. Ogre Battle, Shining Force, and Fire Emblem are popular titles that have successfully delivers tactic-based kind of RPG.
The Rise of Handheld
In the development of RPG, we must not forget about the existence of handheld. Handheld console is not that popular and attractive at first that could drove people into buying it. The device and the cartridge aren’t that wallet-friendly in most countries. Moreover, one cartridge usually contains only one simple game that we might finish effortlessly, especially in the first generation of handheld.
With all those reasons, the handheld didn’t shine brightly at first; only some people are willing and able to buy it. Even if they bought it, they might not be able to collect all of their favorite titles or their favorite genres due to the lack of variation and high prices. But that moment didn’t last too long as soon as Nintendo introduced The Legend of Zelda series.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is the beginning of its popularity in Nintendo-specific handheld. Being introduced in Game Boy, that was the start of Link and The Legend of Zelda’s domination, up until present day. Not just that, Nintendo also introduced Pokémon series (firstly for Game Boy), and successfully creates world scale of fanatic gamers and collectors.
The Pokémon series catch-em-all gameplay is being used until now, it is because the system was created beautifully with strong concept. And the result is, Pokémon series dominates almost in all of Nintendo handhelds. Although handheld consist of several brands such as PlayStation Portable, we must admit that Nintendo is the pioneer in boosting the popularity of handheld console at that time.
Massive, Multiplayer, Online, but still RPG
People might think that RPG only belongs to consoles. Some also think that it is to be played individually rather than in group. Some other thinks that console games are only played offline; those are correct, up until MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online RPG) was introduced. MMORPG emerges with the new kind of RPG that negates those concepts; it can be played multiplayer and online.
The firstly popular titles of MMORPG are Neverwinter Nights, The Realm Online, and Ultima Online and were released for PC. Neverwinter Nights and The Realm Online introduce the new kind of massive-multiplayer game with role-playing focus, while Ultima Online delivers an online game with even larger population. Later, EverQuest comes up with the introduction of big clans system.
The MMORPG subgenre successfully attracts gamers to play multiplayer and online at the same time. Games aren’t to be played individually anymore, and it also belongs to console as it originally released in PC. Phantasy Star Online is the prove of that; it was released for Sega Dreamcast in 2001, and there is also Final Fantasy XI Online for Xbox 360 which was released in 2006.
The trend of playing MMORPG in console continues until today, with the existence of DC Universe Online (2011) for PlayStation 3 and Final Fantasy XIV Online (2012). The MMORPG brings out new feelings, where we can interact with other players online, co-operating with them, and even fights them. Fortunately, MMORPG came up when the technology are ready to provide excellent graphics in games.
To be continued in the last chapter: The History of Console RPG – The Present
Read also: The History of Console RPG – The Next Level
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