Linkage: FF XIII article on Gamasutra

(Not an MMO post. YHBW.)

I haven’t played Final Fantasy in years (almost a decade in fact), and I don’t count myself as a particular fan of the genre — unlike, say, my brother, who will rabidly froth about it for hours — but this analysis of Final Fantasy XIII and what it’s doing to the role-playing aspect of games is fascinating. Excellent, balanced analysis.

But when you start subtracting RPG elements from a game that people think of as an RPG, what does that get you? That’s the question that Final Fantasy XIII raises, and is likely to be why it’s one of the most polarizing games of 2010 when it’s released in the Western market. (Christian Nutt, Gamasutra)

Go read more. Now.

9 thoughts on “Linkage: FF XIII article on Gamasutra

  1. Hmmmm…That’s an interesting analysis, but I’m not sure I really agree.

    Having grown up with Western CRPGs and PnP RPGs, I prefer the interactive method of role playing. However, we’re talking about “roles”, which is assuming a place in a narrative. Western games have always kept you in the role at all times. Dragon Age: Origins is the most recent example because even when you were engaged in a cut-scene, you still had control through the conversation options.

    In JRPGs (that I have played, which is several, but I’m by no means an expert), they seem to value the STORY above the mechanics. But the mechanics are still there. You DO control an avatar, who has a role to play in the story…except that the role is advanced through non-interactive cut-scenes.

    The Gama analysis is taken down to a finer point then how I feel about it; I think that any game in which you play a character within a defined story line (meaning something like Doom, which has only a fine veneer of a story to give some reason to why you’re shooting, is NOT considered) can be considered an RPG. When people say that FFXIII is less of an RPG is simply splitting hairs — which I can appreciate.

    1. I’d disagree with that. Being a character in a story doesn’t make it role-playing, just as identifying with a character in a book isn’t role-playing either.

      Now I’m going to have to think about what role-playing IS, to me, as opposed to just what it isn’t. 😉

  2. I think the problem here is everyone is getting hung up on what “role-playing” means in a PnP context (or even what it means in actual English), and trying to apply that to video games. Note, for sake of argument, I am defining “role-playing” to literally mean “playing a role”, as in pretending to be someone you are not and making decisions and taking actions based on that role, rather than what you would do in the same situation. In truth, video games labelled as “RPGs” have NEVER been about that sort of role-playing.

    Calling a video game an RPG, or saying it has RPG elements, typically means three things about the game – first, that the character(s) the player controls have some means of advancement (becoming more powerful) that doesn’t rely on finding items (such as a leveling or experience point system); second, that these improvements persist, either by possessing a password system, or some way to save the game, etc.; and third, that this advancement is a core element of the game’s mechanical focus (this one tends to be what separates “RPGs” from games “with RPG elements”). That is all RPG has ever meant in a video game context. Story does not make an RPG, nor do strong characters – games of any genre can have these things. In video game terms, mechanics are the only thing that defines an RPG. In essence, I am saying that “role-playing” in a video game context DOES NOT mean the same thing as “role-playing” in general.

    You can certaily partake in traditional role-playing while playing any video game. If you want to really imagine you are that Doom space marine, and shout insults at the cacodemons as you gun them down, you are role-playing. Similarly, if you make up an elaborate backstory for your Baldur’s Gate character, and you pick converstaion options that character would say, rather than what gives the best reward, you are also role-playing.

    It seems to me that this argument bounces around pretty much continuously, and the problem really is the shared terminology. The term “RPG” as it applies to video games needs to die – it is only in use because the originators of the genre were often inspired by D&D, which is a real RPG. The real solution to this problem is to redefine the genre to some other term, one which really captures the defining elements of the genre, and isn’t shared with something different; maybe call them Growth-Based Games (GBG) or something like that. But until that happens (and it won’t), FF XIII, no matter how linear it is, is most definitely an RPG, because in video game terms, it has the defining characteristics of an RPG, and not a shooter, or a stategy game, or whatever.

  3. It’s great innit. Uncharted 2 has an on rails story with cut scenes broken up by cool action sections and everyone hails it as god’s gift to gaming. But if final fantasy tends the same way, suddenly it’s panic because they’re getting rid of the roleplaying.

    I think FF games have always tended to be rather on rails so curious to try this one myself. But it was never going to be another Dragon Age (much as that would have been cool…)

  4. I’m curious about FFXIII and will probably pick it up once it comes out in the UK. I loved the older FF games, especially VII, but didn’t like the newer ones so much because they just felt like interactive movies. If FFXIII is heading the same way, I may not like it very much either 🙁

  5. The Final Fantasy franchise hasn’t produced an RPG in years. Try to remember the last FF game that involved more game time than CGI movie time.

    Now try to remember the last FF game that let *you* create the hero…

  6. Interestingly enough, I had the idea to do a stripped-down “RPG” which eliminated exploration and focused mostly on combat. You’d start in town and get a “quest” to go get an item; the dungeon was essentially a set of battles you’d fight with some random events to help or hinder your group in between. It was intended to be kind of a “causal” RPG, but never saw the light of day. (Yet?) A friend of mine complained that it was taking everything out of the RPG that he liked and focusing on what he didn’t.

    Sounds like FFXIII is going that way, but with a stronger emphasis on story as the later entries of the series have done.

    Not sure a story with some interactive battle scenes in it is enough to really be called an “RPG”, personally. The term might already be seen as an abomination when applied to computer games if you compare them to the pen and paper games. Removing more elements doesn’t seem like a step in the same direction. Not to say that’s bad, but inventing a whole new genre of game isn’t easy. 🙂

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