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 lard pirates dawt cawm  §  The Top Ten WORST RPG Cliches / by Spoony Spoonicus
 the waggoner  §  articles and general riff-raff exceeding your expectations of worthlessness.
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 ~Spoony Spoonicus on 12:25pm 06/03/13 (12:44am 02/27/10) in 19m40s  §  7225 eyeballs
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I've played a lot of RPGs, as you can probably gather from my various rants and reviews about them on my site and on Lardpirates, and I'm pretty particular about what I like in them and what I don't. I'm always fond of mixing things up a bit with puzzles and minigames, having a memorable cast of characters, having to employ a bit of strategy in battles (and no, spamming normal attacks and Limit Breaks in every fight doesn't count), and doing something new and uncoventional to the genre (provided it's well thought out and not just a cheap tack-on) is always a big bonus. But since it would be rather self-defeating to make a list of "new and fresh" ideas I liked and wanted to see more of, I figured it'd be more productive to make a list of stuff I really want to see much less - or better yet, none - of from this point on.

10. Falling down a pit as a lazy way to seperate the party or kickstart the plot.

Almost everything Square's ever made has featured such a scene, and it only grows more and more contrived each time it appears. This is the best they could come up with in a situation that logically requires the party to split? Really? Well alright, Final Fantasy VI broke trend and came up with acceptable alternatives on a few occasions. Like when Locke got sent off to a nearby town and the rest of the party was forced to flee when the Empire came knocking on their door, then split up again when Sabin leapt into the roaring river to finish off the boss they encountered on the way. Or better yet, when Kefka causes the apocalypse and the whole world's landmass gets ruined, shifted around or sunk beneath the ocean. I don't know how everyone ended up in different places all around the entire planet and nobody died, but hey, anything to avoid this lame kick-start. Or how about the final dungeon, where you must split into three parties, each of which has to fight individual bosses and flip switches to open paths for the other two groups? That was some creative design there. It's not that hard; work your brains a little!

Then again, I guess if working one's brains were a regular occurrence around the Square office, we wouldn't have to endure the embarassment that is Final Fantasy XIII and its summoned-monsters-which-are-really-Transformers-that-turn-into-motorcycles, now would we?

9. Not letting you just LEAVE the dungeon after you complete the objective. No, you have to walk all the way back out.

This one is fortunately much less prevalent of late, with spells and items that let you leave a dungeon at any time becoming much more commonplace. But it still crops up on occasion, and it's still incredibly annoying when it does. Is there any good reason to not just script my party returning to the entrance or the nearest town once I've beaten the boss and seen the plot scene unfold? It's not like I'm going to find anything new on the way back, and there's no challenge in facing more of the same enemy groups I've already beaten dozens of times. Making me retread the same ground 2-3 times is just a lazy way to make the game longer; get rid of it.

8. Seek the three statues or the four sacred objects or the seven deadly weapons of the Elder God of Busywork!

Every time this comes up I just shake my head, because I know it's going to end in one of three ways.
You gather all of the items the villain needs to conquer or destroy the planet, and you think they're safely out of his hands, but lo and behold! He'll either just swipe them from your party or break into whatever safeguard you've put them under and take them back, enabling him to start his plan regardless.
You fight your way through a dungeon, only to arrive seconds too late as the villain steals the item or destroys the sacred object. Naturally, you can't stop him because your party will either just stand there and watch, or the villain will be protected by the Plot Barrier until he's already gotten away clean.
There's only one or two major bosses left, so you're just stuck wandering through several more dungeons to get the best artillery, one piece at a time. Hooray.
Regardless which of the three is chosen, though, it's just another lazy way to pad out the game without having to really write anything.

7. Long, unskippable cutscenes and tutorials.

Yes, I know how the controller works. It's also a pretty safe bet that I already have the basic gist of how your game works; RPGs generally don't vary too much in their basic premise and operation. Occasionally I'll encounter one that's really unique and that I'll need to delve into the tutorial for (see Knights in the Nightmare), but these are very few and far between. I appreciate the gesture, but please, put these as an option on the title screen or something; I don't want to sit through it every single time I start a new save. Hell, I get discouraged from starting new saves on some games just because I know I'm not going to be having any fun for the first twenty minutes to an hour (Vandal Hearts, I'm looking at you).

But even worse than that is when spell animations or special moves take upwards of ten seconds to play out. I know you're impressed with your new graphics and you want to show them off, but put yourself in the player's shoes here; they're going to have to sit through it dozens, possibly hundreds, of times before the game is done. Have an option to turn them off, skip them, or at least speed them up a little.

6. Quests, items, etc. you basically HAVE to consult a guide for.

Almost every game falls into this trap at some point; there's some dungeon, sidequests or item hidden in an obscure place you'd never, ever think to check, or even stumble upon by dumb luck. Usually because it's either tucked away in an area that's closed off by the plot immediately after you leave, barely visible, not marked in any way, or completely defies the conventions of the game just THIS ONE TIME to throw you off. Or my favorite: a seemingly inconsequential dialog choice closing off a path that gets no show or mention anywhere in the game. I rag on the Tales games a lot for the mash-friendly gameplay and obnoxious characters, but at least they had the right idea here; townspeople actually chime in and give clues to the game's secrets, unlike 98% of RPGs where they have absolutely nothing interesting or important to contibute at all. Makes you wonder why people even bother to program them in, eh?

5. Stealth Sections

Really, what is the point of these? They're not fun, they're not challenging (they always just set you back to the cell you started in when you're caught), and more often than not they're just tedious trial-and-error puzzles as you walk out one door, find it to lead right into a guard, get set all the way back and have to make your way all the way back again to try another path. Regardless of the method, though, it's just more busywork to fill out a gameplay time quota.

4. Lousy collectible card game minigames

Were these ever fun? Or interesting? Or a well thought out way to add depth to the game? No, not really. It's just more inventory and statistics you have to keep track of, and the payoff of collecting all of these cards is almost never even worth it; 99.9% of the time, winning just earns you more cards, a miniscule amount of money, or some items you were bound to find a few dozen more of over the normal course of the game. You're not really even saving any time by getting them via the minigame, considering all the cards you have to collect, manage and sort out to maximize your chances of winning matches.

But what's even worse about these is that they seem to have supplanted mini-game sidequests that were actually pretty fun. Remember how Super Mario RPG and Final Fantasy VII integrated minigames into the main story to keep things interesting? Ever wonder why that's become such a rarity now in RPGs? I may be broad-stroking a little here, but I think these lousy, all-encompassing card game sidequests have made people afraid to ever touch the idea of "minigames" again.

3. Quest List Gameplay

Just about the quickest way to sap my enthusiasm for any game is to fall back on this tired idea. Too lazy to come up with a cohesive storyline or a way to get the player from Point A to Point B? No problem, just have them follow a generic list of quests from a hub town and take a 20/80 gamble on whether the next quest will actually advance the plot in some way or just be useless busywork! And of course, none of the enemies within can have any significant difference in levels or abilities required of the player just in case you do them radically out of order, completely removing all challenge from the game.

Quest list gameplay was adequate for the era of the Apple II RPGs in the early 80's, but even back then it was silly and tedious. There's a good reason why most gamers have stepped beyond that era of RPG gameplay and never looked back.

2. Cashing in on "Old School" gameplay

Churn out a generic, uninspired RPG with no real effort put into characterizations, story or gameplay, then just label it "Old school" so you can casually discard any criticism from people who give it negative reviews for that very reason. It's genius! Or even better yet, just say you're "combining elements of Eastern and Western RPGs" while neglecting to mention that you're combining the worst, most inconvenient and outdated tropes of both worlds, then sell it to unsuspecting suckers for a quick buck. There's a good reason old games like Ultima, Might and Magic, Fallout and Phantasy Star continue to sell whenever they get rereleased, and it's not because they're "old school"; it's because they were trying for a unique and fun experience despite the limitations of genre and hardware, not because they were lapsing back into the same tried-and-overdone routine every couple of years.

1. The Worst Approach to Plot Scenes

Much of what I've mentioned so far has just been instances of lazy writing, or ill-convieved methods of making the game longer or more varied. But there's simply no excuse for our number one offender, because in every instance it could simply be fixed with a few hours of work, tops. You may already know what I'm talking about - those scenes were you're stuck wandering around a large building or town talking to people one at a time, over and over again, until you've finally talked to the right person to trigger a plot scene so you can move on. When the developers could have simply moved your character to the person in question and had you speak to them automatically.

Even more annoying that that, though is when you're in the middle of said plot scene, but the dialog keeps breaking off every few sentences, requiring you to walk around, speak to everyone one at a time, hearing the same lines they JUST SAID again, until you speak to the right person to get a few more lines out of everyone present, and then it stops AGAIN. Augh! What is with this? Did nobody playtest the game and say "you know, this is really irritating, you really should just have it be one continuous scene"? Did they just run out of time? Why is this such a prevalent problem to this very day?

Update: Ni no Kuni on PS3 actually subverts this quite nicely. There are a few of these scenes in the game, but they always point out the exact person you need to talk to via a quest marker or an icon on the game's minmap. It's a small thing but it makes gameplay infinitely more convenient than the tedious trial-and-error approach. Future devs take note!
 rawks  §  rad comments, dogg.
 ~Azul Rojo  §  at 04:47pm 02/27/10
10. Another old one: Majority of party ends up in the villain's jail cells. Despite all odds stacked against them, they manage to bust out/trick a guard into letting them out, and then wonder where the main character is. The main character was taken to a different area which is very, very far away. The area includes a torture device and/or pissed off guards/rivals.

9. Pain in the ass, especially when you just used all your healing items and magic to defeat the boss.

8. Not so bad if it doesn't go down one of the predictable "VILLAIN STOLE/BROKE THEM! PREPARE FOR DEUS EX MACHINA!" or "VILLAIN BROKE IT! OH, IT WAS FAKE!" paths. Super Mario RPG's plot eventually lead to "collect the star pieces to fix what Smithy broke," but doesn't degrade into a pile of BS. Though the villains do show up and sometimes succeed in taking the star pieces from you, you immediately chase them down and deliver a lovely ass kicking. Then you take back your star piece and continue to look for the others. Why's that so hard to do nowadays?

7. First time through the game, I want to watch the cutscenes and do the tutorials. If New Game+ or multiple endings are involved, I better be able to skip or speed through the cutscenes on another playthrough.

6. This is bullshit. But, for some reason, Square-Enix thought making an entire game (i.e. FF X-2) around this would be a good idea! All quests in a game, optional or not, should have some fucking hints on how to start them and complete them.

5. Completely frustrating. Almost get to where you want to go, but then an errant pixel of light from a guard's lantern touches you and you have to start over. No, Breath of Fire III, that was not fun.

4. Mini-games are far more fun. Except for Blitzball. Fuck that shit.

3. Quest lists are okay so long as they include a journal that tells you what you need to do. You should also be able to pick which quests you want to do, and not have to worry about things being insanely difficult or too easy. Legend of Mana did this quite nicely.

2. Acceptable only if you're bringing back an old game in its original form, labelling it "Classic Game," and selling it for $5 to $20. Zelda II "NES Classic" on GBA: $10. Nothing was added, nothing was drastically changed, except for the save feature (no more holding Reset while turning the power off!). FF3 on the DS: $45. Upgraded graphics, altered dialogue, and new sidequests. Some gimmicky bits thrown in. The game isn't innovative or new at all; it's just FF3 from the NES at a jacked up price.

 ~Spoony Spoonicus  §  at 12:34am 02/28/10
I don't mind updates of existing games if they're well done. Final Fantasy III was okay, but trying to "balance out" the classes was a pretty dumb move. Oh look, you get more Level 1-6 spells if you stick with the generic White Mage or Black Mage instead of upgrading to the Priest and the Warlock! Too bad anything below Level 5 is essentially useless at that point of the game! Taking away Ninjas' ability to equip any decent armor was also pretty bad, especially since they're guaranteed to get killed off by two consecutive hits from any boss, and all bosses get multiple attacks in a row in the update. Oh, and the worst part: only making the best effects for summon spells available to the devoted Summoner job! Pair that up with Sages getting screwed on MP (only FOUR level 8 magic castings at Level 99?!) and you've effectively removed all benefit to even USING one of the former best classes in the game. Not to mention that even then, you have to grind job levels like crazy to even GET a decent amount of MP for each class.

I was referring more to games like Nostalgia, which sells itself entirely on being an "old school" RPG. But of course they don't tell you that it's full of stock characters, story cliches, and incredibly monotonous solve-the-dungeon-encompassing-puzzle-while-getting-into-fights-every-three-steps-for-two-hours-straight gameplay. It just screams to me "this game's chock-full of annoying, outdated gameplay conventions and has a dull story, but we're just going to label it 'Old School' so we don't have to try any harder!"
 ~Commander Ladd  §  at 12:47am 02/28/10
Blitzball: Never before or since has a sidequest looked so fun in an opening cinema and been so goddamn boring to play.
 ~Washuu  §  at 05:56pm 03/02/10
Spoony, I always enjoy reading your articles. Especially these where you bitch about the reasons why I've stopped playing nearly every jRPG since so many of them are offenders of the same mundane bullshit that I tire of. NO PLOT? GENERIC CHARACTERS? SOLD. Admittedly, I'm generalizing when I mention only jRPGs but they're the ones that stick out the goddamn most to me, probably because every one always follows the same glaringly obvious, cookie-cutting archetypes/plot.
 ~Spoony Spoonicus  §  at 07:14pm 03/02/10
Only ones I really keep up on anymore are Shin Megami Tensei and Nippon Ichi titles. They may not be 100% fresh and new, but they always have fun characters and gameplay that doesn't get old 3-4 hours in.

Game Arts has some solid stuff too, but they really need to make more than one RPG every 3-4 years.
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