What Makes A Great Western RPG?

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If there has been one genre that has captivated gaming audiences more than any other in the last decade, it is the RPG genre. We have seen some of the most genuinely staggering adventures delivered to our screens by very talented western developers. Each presents unique quirks, art styles, mechanics and narratives that make them stand out within a very saturated field. That’s right, there are hundreds of AA and AAA RPG titles made every year, but only a handful get their time in the spotlight.

Not every game can be a Breath of the Wild, an Elder Scrolls or The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. However, there is a particular formula that makes a successful RPG game. While that may not be too clear from the outside looking in, we aim to delve deep into the phenomenon and find out what makes these games so popular. So, without further delay, here is our guide as to what makes an excellent western RPG.

#1 – An Expansive, Detailed World

First and foremost, you need a setting that is conducive to the RPG title. This means you need a unique environment rich in lore, visually appealing, full of exciting characters, fauna, wildlife, different cultures, biomes, and groups that underline the world’s population’s most essential morals and beliefs. It’s about making the world feel like a complete escape from our own yet giving it enough similarities that we can still find relativity with our real-world ideas and opinions.

Take Fallout New Vegas as an example, a post-Apocalyptic world full of mutants and ghouls. Yet, at its core, this is a world that has left and right-wing political parties fighting for control of the state of Nevada, much like modern-day America. So, in short, make the fantasy detailed, unique, and relatable.

#2 – Emergent Gameplay

The second point relates to emergent gameplay, which for those unaware, means gameplay that will differ from player to player. If you are playing a role-playing game, you crave those moments that you can clip and share with your friends. An odd glitch, a moment that defies physics, an NPC mishap. Anything that makes the experience different from other players. Arguably, western RPGs do this better than any other genre. Their enormous scope allows for many different approaches, enables players to make different decisions and ultimately, has them live with the consequences of their decision. Without this, it’s a rather hollow experience, so a good western RPG needs alternative choices and consequences.

#3 – The Freedom to Role Play

Another aspect of a good western RPG is the ability to play your own way. You can play the main story, prioritize side quests, simply wander aimlessly, or you could sack off the whole potentially world-ending plot and become a chicken farmer. No matter what the player’s desire is, the game must allow for this eventuality.

Compare Fallout 4 and Red Dead Redemption II, for example. While it is hailed as one of the best RPGS of its time, this is a shortcoming. Almost every quest has one set method for completion and in terms of the time in-between. Aside from building your settlement, there are few grounds for role-playing. Whereas in RDR2, you can approach the quests in some ways, you get graded on your approach and in the lulls in between, you can hunt, fish, upgrade your camp, rob, steal and generally cause chaos. In short, RPGs need to allow for roleplay, plain and simple.

#4 – A Strong Progression System

One of the critical components to a western RPG that keeps players engaged long-term is a cohesive leveling and progression system. This system needs to help you build the character you want, give you new skills that allow you to manipulate the in-game world with ease, open up new areas and mechanical possibilities to the player. Plus, all this info needs to weave together seamlessly and inform the player very clearly. So, the UI needs to be on point.

One of the best examples of excellent progression systems would be Disco Elysium. It allows you to gradually build your character’s personality and uncover a mystery as you progress. Or on the flip side, games like Horizon Zero Dawn and the Middle Earth series do a great job of offering more mechanical options to the player, giving them a heightened sense of power.

#5 – Varied Gameplay Mechanics

Then to ride on the coattails of the last point, the mechanics and gameplay within these titles need to be varied, ever progressing and most importantly, fun. This means that players should be constantly given new quests, game modes, combat skills, weapons, loot, vehicles, be continuously challenged with new enemies and bosses. Plus, the game should be balanced so that one play style isn’t inherently better than another. We are looking at you, Skyrim, with your indulgence for stealth archers.

One of the best examples of constantly progressing game mechanics that keep the game feeling fresh is Stardew Valley. This relaxing and straightforward RPG (though neither a western RPG nor a JRPG) utilizes simple farming game mechanics. However, as the game progresses, even up to three or four years into your campaign, new mechanics and content are hurled your way. Showcasing that even with limited scope, you can still provide gameplay that evolves as you play.

So that is our breakdown of what makes a western RPG successful. What do you make of our list? Do you think that we left out any key components? What is your favorite western RPG of all time? Let us know in the comments section below and as always, thank you for reading.

Nostalgia in Gaming – The Cure or the Curse

Nostalgia is one of the biggest trends in the modern video gaming world. You only need to look as far as a release schedule to see sequels of games that have been running for years on end, and even games that have been re-imagined and reintroduced into the realms of gaming.

Nintendo is a company that beats the nostalgia drum quite heavily and with repeated fashion. Look at their top games line-up and you’ll see the likes of Mario and Zelda rearing their heads to cast their gaze over you and your wallet.

Nintendo has gotten it right for the most part. While a large portion of their games may come from the same universe, not many of them are absolute carbon copy or re-imaginations of older titles. Quite a few of them can stand on their own as solid examples of video games.

 

The Psychology of Nostalgia

Behind the nostalgia that you may feel while gaming is a rather sound psychological principle. It’s a mix of both positive and negative emotions that arise when thinking back to meaningful events. Media content is a trigger for nostalgia that can help people feel better about themselves and get rid of that solitary feeling.

Nostalgia can promote mental health and well-being. This especially true when teaming up with the same characters from before. These relationships, while social and complex, allow players to see these characters as extensions of themselves or members of their social circle.

 

Defining Nostalgia in Gaming

It’s a difficult task to look at nostalgic gaming because there’s no real answer as to how the games make people feel or indeed, what guides them towards these games. But you don’t need to look into too much depth to see why the games are defined as such.

The Final Fantasy series is one of the biggest inclusions, despite the games having advanced in terms of both graphics and gameplay. The newer games don’t feel much like the older ones at all. The stories have very little to do with each other (save for the remakes), but there is usually a common thread that lies within the games. The developers throw continuity out of the window in favor of the title to generate the feelings of nostalgia and sell games.

So, while you have to sort through the feelings that are generated by such titles, there are some new games that came out recently that spark the feelings of nostalgia, but still, in their own rights, are amazing games. Titles such as Cuphead and Undertale are two that strike an immediate spark. Both of the games have been designed to, either purposefully or accidentally, spark the feeling.

 

True Nostalgia

The truest form of nostalgia in every sense of the word is bringing back the games of old. Looking back through consoles like the SNES and even the Sega Mega Drive, we saw a bunch of games that defined the industry as a whole. Where would games be without the influences of characters like Sonic and Link? How would games be different today if it weren’t for the button mashing of the first fighting games, or chopping down multiple enemies in Golden Axe?

Looking back to the late 1970s, Oregon Trail is a game that few played, but many know about because of its meme power. The game was supposed to be a form of edutainment, teaching people about the settlers across the old west. It was able to teach you that every decision you make is probably the wrong one and will kill you without any fear of hurting your feelings. You’ll die of dysentery multiple times, and it’s as simple as that.

Going back to play the game now is a waste of time for most gamers. The game looks terrible is awkward to play. Its soundtrack is pretty shocking, to say the least and it has almost no replay-ability for the sake of being boring and repetitive.

Something like Ultima 7 was a game of true nostalgia. Had you sunk many hours into it when it was first launched, you’d understand everything about Britannia. The music as you entered Lord British’s castle, the way you and your companion Iolo had discussions over ale in the tavern, and even feeling sad for Spark, after seeing his father’s gruesome death. The game conjured up emotions, told weaved tales, had amazing music and was a genre-defining game that pushed the limits of technology at the time.

Opening the game now is a little different. It may be that technology plays a big part in why games cannot be felt the same way anymore. Games seem dated, clunky and obtuse. With gamers playing on huge monitors, and the type of gameplay and graphics we’re now accustomed too, those games of old can only do what they can to conjure up images of fun and joy from your youth.

Nostalgia isn’t always a saving grace though, as Duke Nukem Forever proved. Trying to relive the glory days in the world of first-person shooting, Duke Nukem Forever failed in every single avenue possible and was a mere shadow of the success of what Duke Nukem 3D was… Or was it?

Do we remember those games so fondly because they were that good or just because there were so few to choose from? Looking back at some of the more popular games that were available, they did seem to be rather difficult by comparison. Games wouldn’t last a mere 4-6 hours of gameplay. People would put months into games from the Mega Man series, constantly trying to best their enemies. Even games as new as Baldur’s Gate would boast upwards of 40 hours of gameplay.

The nostalgia of the gaming industry may be less about how good were the games we played, but more about the time spent in a world of fiction, enjoying the experience that lay out before us.

 

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Boss Fight Books: Final Fantasy V

Final Fantasy V is the first book of the latest season of Boss Fight Books, written by Kotaku editor Chris Kohler. His Wikipedia page reads as: “Chris Kohler is a video game journalist and editor who has written for several publications in the past decade, including Wired, Animerica magazine, and Nintendo Official Magazine UK. After graduating from Tufts University with a degree in Japanese, Chris attended Kyoto Seika University on a Fulbright Fellowship, and completed major research for a book tentatively titled Super Mario Nation: The Cinematic Japanese Video Game. At Tufts, he taught a for-credit undergraduate course titled “A History of Video Games” and continues to study Japanese at an advanced level.”


In many ways, the author’s experience with FFV and Japanese only titles in general mirrors my own. Personally, the first time I went through it was in Japanese. I learned about the different colors (ao-mahou was my favorite, Blue Magic), I found that it was actually still possible to finish a game without understanding the plot in its entirety. I say “still because the first game that I played and beat in Japanese was a Dragon Ball game. Knowing the anime and manga, as well as most gameplay systems of the era, my friends and I deduced many of the words we saw, especially hiragana and katakana. Kanji had us beat and we could only memorize so much. The game was a lot of fun nonetheless, it followed rather faithfully the show’s narrative, so we got the gist of it and filled in the rest with our imagination or simply creating the related dialog with funny anime voices of our own. It was only after finding the fan translation that I could truly experience the narrative of FFV on my PC using emulators. The story was crazy as always and very interesting. Nevertheless, it could not beat the greatest feature of this game no matter the language you play it in the JOB SYSTEM!


The book does very well in explaining the system, it even goes as far as unveiling just how one can go about and create the ultimate team, able to mow down anything and anyone in-game in as little rounds as possible. Those strategies require some time and dedication nonetheless and should be expected to be quick cheats such as the famous Konami Code. Knowing the job system intimately is the first aspect of building the uber-party, the second: patience…

 
Overall, Chris Kohler did a good job not only retracing the history of Final Fantasy V but mostly getting first-hand information and comments from members of the team working on it. Simultaneously, much insight is given about all other titles of the series up to Final Fantasy XIII. Many of my, and his, generation, will find that reliving those moments, their recollections of the general emotions and dreams of the time echo his own. It is a very nice read for a great game, written in a passionate voice that lends well to the structure and pacing of both the game and the well researched recounting of both the real life stories of Chris and Square (now Square-Enix) over the years, centered around the point in time when Final Fantasy truly became the Hail Mary the company needed to succeed.


I received an early copy of this in e-book format as a backer of the season 4 of Boss Fight Books Kickstarter. Click on the book cover at the beginning if any wish to get it in paperback or e-book format from Amazon. Another option, of course, is to get it directly from the official Boss Fight website. Stay tuned for other reviews, the next one will probably be either the book Mega Man 3 or Bible Adventures (yes, there ARE Catholic NES games out there!!).


Cheers!