What is that flaw with computer RPGs?

In the article http://rpgvault.ign.com/articles/763/763050p1.html Jeff Vogel talks about how he starts to hate computer roleplaying games (RPG). It is funny, but I have recently been thinking about these things as well.

I recently moved house and finally had normal use of my PlayStation 2 and various other equipment again. So I set out to finally finish Final Fantasy IX, X and X-2. Final Fantasy IX wasn’t as bad as X was when it came to having to grind your way constantly in order to not suck at the next part where some boss enemy would otherwise kick your butt hard. What’s even more perplexing is the fact that Square Enix in some strange state of mind forces you to go through games of reflex (some very bizarre) in order to obtain some item so that you can get the other item/weapon/thinghymajig that will enable to more easily beat the game.

Now, I am not sure what part got confused, but would I be playing an RPG game if I wanted to be tested on my reflexes? If I want to test my reflexes, I’ll fire up Half-Life 2, multiplayer Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, or CounterStrike. I never understood these games of reflexes in adventure games like those from Sierra (remember Leisure Suit Larry) and I do not understand them from the point of view of an RPG. No, I do not want to do a bloody Chocobo race! Perhaps I am alone in this mindset, but I do not think so. I do not mind categories to blend, it can make games more interesting, but in these cases it just serves no point whatsoever.

Perhaps this is why Zelda always didn’t annoy people. It does not pretend to be one thing and annoy you with something else. You are attacked in real-time by monsters, you fight back in real-time. You have a wimpy three hearts of energy at the start, but as you beat more bosses you gain more hearts. Alternatively you can find more heart pieces that will, once you collect four pieces, give you an additional heart as well. Parts you cannot do or reach is solely due to you not having item X or Y. And you typically do not have to jump to various hoops to get these items. Normally it’s either reaching some location and open a chest or beat a monster and gain said item. There’s one part in Oracle of Seasons where you have to dance in order to obtain the boomerang. It might take you perhaps three of four times to get it right, but it is obtainable.

Now, try to race the Chocobo in Remiem Temple and try to get three chests. No matter how hard I tried, and granted I might just be bad in this, I managed to get one or two chests only. Reaching for the third always made me loose to the other racer. It gets even more bizarre in the manner that you need one or two 300-400 page strategy books to find out about all secrets. I am all for secrets, but this is getting bizarre beyond comparison (and yes, I have two of the Japanese Final Fantasy X books, and one for X-2, if only for the artwork).

Now, I played World of Warcraft for a few months, but it became so tedious. The moment you encountered someone from the opposite faction who was perhaps two-three levels above your current level you might just get your butt handed to you. I will readily accept that someone of a higher level can beat you more easily, but normally you have at least a fighting chance. Also, to obtain these levels you have to go grinding (the act of sharpening, in the case of MMORPGs the act of building up experience points to gain a higher level) in order to improve. Sure, I can accept the fact that you need experience, it is no different from joining a martial arts group in order to learn a specific art. But there is a big difference here, I think, between the paper based RPGs and the computer ones when it comes to characters and experience. With the paper-based ones you can at least express yourself and choose your path, especially along the axis of alignment (good, evil, chaotic, lawful). With World of Warcraft, no matter which faction you choose, you wind up doing quests that all push your character towards a lawful good or neutral good alignment. You do not have the option yourself to assume a mantel of evil. And that also brings us back to major problem with computer RPGs, you make no lasting impact on the world around you. And ultimately, this was what RPGs set out to do with the paper-based variant. We all loved The Lord of the Rings that we wanted to play our own parts in such grandiose stories and alter the course of history or at least die trying. So, aside from the time spent on the game leveling and gaining items, just what exactly did you accomplish in the world you played in with, say, World of Warcraft?

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