JRPG Rant

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JRPG Rant

Postby Danners » Sat Dec 20, 2008 12:17 pm

Although this started out as a Persona 4 post, it (unfortunately) grew in to a JRPG rant.



I think I've come to the conclusion that Persona 4 is not for me, and quite possibly "modern" JRPGs....


I've been having issues with Persona 4 for a bit. I'm very much interested in the game, but, whenever it gets interesting I run headfirst in to a brickwall that obliterates my interest in the game. Being 17 hours in to a game and only just STARTING the 3rd dungeon of the game is annoying as heck. Doing social activities with NPCs is an interesting game mechanic, but quite often you need a walkthrough to tell you that you require a particular Persona (ie, a particular Pokemon) on a particular day and talk to a particular person at the particluar moment in the day. Then there's the problem that you waste time during the day requiring to train up your social skills which help your social activities. And thus, you're wasting hours of game play talking with people and choosing to study instead of dungeon crawling. But wait, that's right, there's no dungeons to crawl through until the correct story element is triggered.

Then there's the archaic save points system (just lost 2 hours of game play), battles that for some reason become insanely hard because you just so happened to run in to a rare or tough monster (reason for 2 hours of lost game play), and predetermining of what items I can and can not purchase (health potions, magic potions, bring back to life item, etc) despite having lots of money (or what FEELS like lots of money.

Normally things like this aren't a problem for me since I always stock up on the JRPG standard "Return to start of dungeon" item, that way a quick trip to town lets me restock supplies. However, in order to replenish supplies you have to leave the TV world which then wastes your day. I just recently got the Fox who will heal you for money. Sounds good. I go to him and he's charging me an insane amount of money. So I chance it a little longer in the dungeon. I make some money, gain some levels, and return to the fox. Wait a sec, he's charging me MORE even though I'm technically more healed up than before?

I'm all for challenging RPGs (I LOVE Etrian Odyssey 1 & 2 which are very tough RPGs) and unique game design, but whenever this game starts to get interesting, something pops out of nowhere which completely infuriates me. Perhaps this is why I've stayed away from from the JRPG genre for the most part in the PS2 era? It just feels like many of these games are using a convoluted and/or archaic means of design that my brain just can't put up with any more. I mean, I've never finished FF8 because I hate that the final boss is artificially difficult unless you were playing with a walkthrough. If you have been using a walkthrough then he's insanely easy.

And perhaps that is the problem. Whenever I play an old JRPG (Skies of Arcadia or FF4), a modern yet old school styled JRPG (Blue Dragon or Lost Odyssey) or a Western RPG (Mass Effect, Oblivion), it feels as though I can just play the game. However, anything by SquareEnix since FF8, some of these niche titles like Persona or anything by Nippon Ichi, I feel like I have to play the game with a walkthrough, and if I don't, I'll miss something and screw my chances at beating the game later.



Either way, that's enough of that (I think)....time to go back to re-playing Mass Effect I suppose.
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Postby rmsgrey » Sun Dec 21, 2008 8:13 am

Advancing the game is a common problem for me in RPGs - all you need to do is talk to that one NPC, then that NPC, then that NPC, in that order (note that the three NPCs may not be different, and some of them may be PCs moonlighting as NPCs...) but when it's not obvious which NPC you're supposed to talk to next, and when it's not always obvious that a conversation has advanced events, you end up talking to each NPC until they start repeating, then talking to each of them until they start repeating again (if most NPCs' dialogue doesn't change with the minor increments, it's rather faster on subsequent passes) and possibly a third time round. And then it turns out that the NPC you need to talk to is actually in another part of town, or you need to approach the impenetrable barrier everyone's told you about and that you visited (out of sequence) thirty conversations ago, before approaching it unlocked anything...

The random encounter that kills you unexpectedly is another common flaw - my first Final Fantasy game was FF8, and, wandering around Esthar, I ran into a Malboro, got hit by Bad Breath, and promptly lost control of my party and watched as they killed each other and failed to kill the enemy before finally succumbing. Ever since then, I've been fairly paranoid about junctioning high ST-Def against berserk, but it's still one of those "learn by dying" things... It's one thing if you know you're vulnerable - alarmingly low HP is usually a good indicator that you want to be risk averse for a while, bosses are usually signposted by a save point and various plot warnings, and exploring off the beaten track in places you've been warned are dangerous is something you expect to hurt, but one-hit kills from a freakishly difficult random encounter smack in the middle of the route you're supposed to be taking just plain hurt...

And as for things you can only find by blind luck, excessive poking around, or shelling out an extra 25% of the game's price on a walkthrough (or visiting Game Faqs)... http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/GuideDangIt Getting the Zodiac Spear in FF12 is a particular favourite of mine - in order to get the game's best weapon, you need to *not* open four specific chests during the course of the game, at least two of which you practically trip over while following the plot - and then you have to open the chest that actually has it in in order to get it, which players timid enough to ignore the chests the plot throws at you are unlikely to do...
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Postby Danners » Sun Dec 21, 2008 9:50 am

rmsgrey wrote:And as for things you can only find by blind luck, excessive poking around, or shelling out an extra 25% of the game's price on a walkthrough (or visiting Game Faqs)... http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/GuideDangIt Getting the Zodiac Spear in FF12 is a particular favourite of mine - in order to get the game's best weapon, you need to *not* open four specific chests during the course of the game, at least two of which you practically trip over while following the plot - and then you have to open the chest that actually has it in in order to get it, which players timid enough to ignore the chests the plot throws at you are unlikely to do...


A friend of mine who was playing FF12 found out about the Zodian Spear after 8 or so hours of playing. The result? He restarted his game and bought a guide. When he told me this I vowed to NOT play FF12 because I thought that was very very very very stupid game design.



The link you posted said it best in that these are archaic and dated means of artificially making a game harder. Just because they worked in the 80s doesn't mean they should still be used today. The link mentions "Fake Difficulty" and this is a term I have used before as well. Why have many recent JRPGs suffered from poor ratings and/or sales? I'm starting to think that it's their laziness in trying to advance the underlying game design of their genre, and instead feel as though complexity is how you make a better game. However, look at the bazillion FPS games on the market right now. If you look at the best of the genre from 10 years ago and compare them to the current crop, the concept behind them is the same (shoot stuff), but the newer ones ARE better because they built upon the designs that came before it. I find it interesting in how one can easily go back and play an old RPG, such as FF1 for example, and enjoy the game, but going back to play an old FPS, like Goldeneye, is often disappointing. Both games were technically sound when they were made and took advantage of their respective technology, and they were both cutting edge. However, while I acknowledge that the FPS genre is still "young" compared to JRPGs, the conventions of old FPS feel dated, but for most people the old JRPG ones don't?
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Postby Danners » Sun Dec 21, 2008 9:05 pm

I just read this article on The Escapist and it points out some of the problems with the JRPG genre even if it's talking only about the Final Fantasy series.

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/article ... al-Fantasy
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Postby rmsgrey » Mon Dec 22, 2008 1:03 pm

The point in the Escapist article about the Infinity-Plus-One Sword rings true - getting the best equipment in more recent FF games is a lot of work, often relies heavily on luck and/or walkthrough information, generally involves completing unfun tasks, and provides a reward that... lets you hit enemies harder - which you could have done anyway if you'd spent the last 10 hours power-levelling somewhere rather than playing drownball...

One of the more fundamental problems with the Final Fantasy formula is that, when it comes down to it, the core mechanic of the game is running around until you trigger a random encounter, using your standard "best attack" until your hp drop below a certain level, using your standard recovery technique, and repeating until you complete the encounter, then you get to do it all again in the next fight. Every so often, you get to save, recover, convert unwanted goods and money into more useful goods and/or yet more money, and, if you're on track, watch a cutscene and/or take part in some (side-)plot-advancing dialogue. Every so often, you'll get a fight where you actually need to do more than just hit the default target and heal as needed, but most of the game is spent fighting random mooks who've no real chance of threatening you, or looking for more random mooks to fight in order to gain a few more levels...

A telling question is: "when's the last time you sought out a random encounter in an FF game for fun?" - Kingdom Hearts, sometimes I will go pick on a few heartless just for the heck of it; Final Fantasy games, it's probably when I got W-Summon + Knights of the Round + HP Absorb + MP Absorb + Counter + Mime going - and the thrill wore off that one after a couple of fights full of excessively long summoning animations... Were it not for the whole "improve or die" thing going, whereby failing to meet your notional quota of kills in one stretch of the game means you're going to get flattened in the next stretch, I would quite cheerfully ignore most of the random encounters in Final Fantasy games...

FF12's gambit system is at least an attempt to address the problem - by automating the hit-hit-cure, it allows you to, pretty much, ignore routine combats entirely and still benefit - the trouble is that the net effect is to underline just how empty routine FF combat actually is...

The schizophrenic approach to walkthroughs is also a failing of 12 - on the one hand, there are heaps of Guide Dang It moments - like the appearance conditions for some of the rare game; on the other hand, there's a fairly large amount of randomness (particularly in the case of chests which might contain rare and valuable items - if they're there in the first place, and don't contain money or a common item instead...) which makes a guide less useful. On the gripping hand, at least the guide will tell you where to look for the chests that might be there - so rather than checking out every region multiple times to encourage the chests to appear, you can just run through 3-4 regions, checking whether the chest you want has appeared (with the item you want) - without the random element, it would be feasible to just search every region and be reasonably confident you'd found all the loot...
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Postby Xander77 » Sun Dec 28, 2008 2:57 pm

Danners wrote:I just read this article on The Escapist and it points out some of the problems with the JRPG genre even if it's talking only about the Final Fantasy series.

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/article ... al-Fantasy
Dear lord, that article was calculated to piss me the living shit out of me. The same "nobody could possibly take your stories seriously, so why don't you embrace the kitch, darling" attitude you get from ignorant arrogant douchebags who review film, theatre and games, yet have neither the brain nor the soul to appreciate them.
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Postby Danners » Sun Dec 28, 2008 6:36 pm

Xander77 wrote:
Danners wrote:I just read this article on The Escapist and it points out some of the problems with the JRPG genre even if it's talking only about the Final Fantasy series.

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/article ... al-Fantasy
Dear lord, that article was calculated to piss me the living shit out of me. The same "nobody could possibly take your stories seriously, so why don't you embrace the kitch, darling" attitude you get from ignorant arrogant douchebags who review film, theatre and games, yet have neither the brain nor the soul to appreciate them.


Yeah, I did notice the "ignorant arrogant douchebag" tone every so often. Unfortunately I haven't come across a reviewer or review site that reviews a game based on its content AND design. Kotaku comes close in that they do not associate a number to their reviews, simply things they liked or disliked, which I find more informative than a number. Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation fame also does a decent job once you look past his purposely angry tone.

In the end, I just wish reviewers would look at a game a little more critically than what they normally do.
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Re: JRPG Rant

Postby Alessar » Mon Jan 05, 2009 11:57 am

If you think this game is hard, you should try playing Shin Megami Tensei 1 or 2; they will make the toughest early gen final fantasy seem like a walk in the park. This game is actually quite easy but you do have to learn its approach and it sounds like Danners is fighting the system the whole way. Aside from the mechanics in general, this game uses only about 10% of the enemies packing death spells than other games in its series, and the damage types have been simplified even more than before.

Dungeon running - and all major actions that affect your character - use up time periods. Much like Valkyrie Profile, you have a limited number of days and a limited number of actions. However, that number is quite generous. In a typical game month, plot events will happen to put someone in peril; you'll then have about 2 weeks to rescue them. After that you'll have a week that's pretty free where you can grind for more money or work on social aspects. You are completely free to prioritize things how you like. Do you want to buff up your attributes first? Work on S-Links to make stronger Personas? Dive into the dungeon and rescue the victim first? Do you want to marathon the dungeon in one day, or spread it out over 3-4 days?

There aren't any absolutes. There are no Swords of Infinity +1 you can miss in the game... there's assorted "good" armors and weapons and most of them pop out of treasure chests at random, or are purchasable in the store after you kill enough enemies. The closest things to that would be weapons and armor unlocked by defeating certain rare enemies that only show up on rainy days, and even then they aren't absolutely the best and may have trade-offs.

It can be a complicated game, but only as much as you want. Generally, it's *always* best to have a persona who matches the person you're going to do social activities with. Generally you should be able to reload a save (say, from the day before when you're done dungeon crawling) and get what you need. If you don't know when people are going to show up, try reading their S-link info for their availability hint.

The inclusion of save points may seem tiresome but consider that you can buy the "escape from dungeon" item for 950 yen, chump change; that you have a save point in the entry to the TV world nexus so it's right at hand; and re-entering a dungeon lets you start at floor 1 or whichever floor you left off the time before (barring the dungeon being reset by you visiting another, an optional boss moving in, or drawing the Death card). Personally, whenever I got a particularly nice drop like an item off a rare, rainy-day enemy, I just used an escape item, saved, and resumed.

As far as the fights just being tough, you should always carry a persona strong against each element if you're able, as well as a good physical type and perhaps a healer. That's 6 slots; you start with that many, and eventually get 12 so you can have this kind of set up from the start of the game. If a fight goes badly quickly, there is an escape mechanic as well as an escape item that, like the dungeon exit item, is quite cheap and purchaseable in the store. Generally, the store unlocks items slowly at first so as to not overwhelm you; it prevents you from buying status ailmnet curing items before they actually show up. Upgraded healing items are available as the game progresses. That's not really different from classic final fantasies as you are able to buy better potions as you go to newer towns. This game just uses 1 store though, that upgrades as you play.

I can't really speak to the intentions of the designers of other games like Final Fantasy IX - XII, but it seems to me they're all trying to build new approaches around the dungeon crawling core. That makes sense, and in the process of mixing things up a bit some classic elements are kept, others are not. In Persona 2, for instance, you could save/load anywhere, anywhen outside a plot sequence. I know that my approach to these types of games is not to try to rush in, but rather to sit down and try to "learn" it, and not assume the same old I did in the previous game is going to work. There's significant differences even between P3 and P4, for instance.
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Postby Danners » Wed Jan 07, 2009 7:07 am

The problem I have is that many of the things that you mentioned I have taken in to account. I always have one of each elemental type with the main character stocked up on several ones for overlap. I did use the item to go back to the "hub" to save, but my main problem was being low on life and magic points. In order to refresh them I'd have to leave the TV world, which wastes the time slot when I want to keep dungeon crawling. Then, in order to go back to dungeon crawling, I'd have to either way for another "free moment" that doesn't put me in jeopardy of missing out a chance to increase my social link with a character.

To be fair, I'm sure I could just leave the TV world, heal up, and wait for the next chance to go in to the TV world, but that's my issue. As soon as I do that, I now have to wait for another free moment that the game designates is available for me to go to the TV world. Sure I have the option to go whenever, but then, I may miss out on a building a social link. Perhaps I am valuing social links too much, but I've been screwed by other JRPGs in the past (I'm looking at you FF8) for not maximizing my characters enough to make certain or the final boss fight beatable.

Granted, this "time" system is interesting and a little more realistic I suppose. I mean, in games like Mass Effect and Oblivion (two games I've enjoyed) where the end of the world is eminent, you can putt around the world doing side quests as much as you like with no time constraints at all. I just wish the Persona 4 system was a little more lenient.
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Postby Alessar » Wed Jan 07, 2009 7:15 am

Part of it is probably just your level and progress point in the game. It does ramp up a bit over time. For instance, you sound like you only recently got the fox social link. Crank up a few levels in it and watch the average restore cost cut in half. Early in the game I needed 3-4 days to clear the dungeon and defeat the boss. About 5 dungeons in, I could 1-day it. Also, as you level up better skills become available so you can not only carry around a fire-using persona, you can start fusion 'resist ice' onto it if its weak to that element.
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