Final Fantasy VI is still one of my favorite RPG games of all time. Not only did it have a gripping storyline, excellent character development, and a 16-bit musical score that is still touring the world today with a full orchestra, but it solidified features such as a class system, experience points, skill improvement, and the acquisition of loot as staples of the RPG genre. Of course, there were other role-playing games before this masterpiece and many more afterwards, but they always seemed to incorporate these conventions exclusively.
Fantasy RPGs were games where I would need a good stretch of time to make any meaningful progress, whether that be clearing out a dungeon, fully exploring a zone, checking every shop and talking to every NPC, or simply grinding out some levels and loot to bolster my party to match the tougher areas, enemies, and bosses ahead. It required a commitment, but when I needed a quick thrill or was on a time crunch, I could always count on GoldenEye, Super Street Fighter II, or Destruction Derby to satisfy those precious few minutes of game time back in the good old days.
Genres like racing, shooters, and fighting games used to be simple pick up and play outings, even through the first decade of the new millennium. Halo was always about grabbing your Spartan and blasting through hordes of Covenant. The Gran Turismos of the last decade were about strapping into a sweet looking ride and just hitting that top gear. Then, the gaming landscape changed. Gamers expected more than a quick thrill, and developers and publishers tapped into RPG features to tempt players with premium morsels.
Now RPG assets have invaded nearly every genre, bloating menu screens with options and dangling upgrades and progression systems in front of players to keep them hooked. It’s no longer simply about the satisfaction of beating a game or the thrill of a quick match. Loot crates stuffed with skins, buffs, and other content are everywhere now. Forza Motorsport 7 has a leveling system just to access new vehicles, perks to increase your cash winnings, and crates filled with costumes and cars. Destiny 2 has classes, weapon and armor mods, and quests galore. And don’t even get me started on Fortnite and its insanely convoluted skill trees and inventories.
Now, granted you can usually turn to a quirky indie title and bask in modest menus and rationalized features, but almost every big budget title nowadays has to be overflowing with superfluous content. Just try playing any of this year’s sports offerings from Electronic Arts; there are so many modes and progression systems, it’s a challenge just to find the quick play option. It all boils down to greed, from both gamers and game makers. The consumer expects more content for the sixty smackers they slap down, despite the fact that the retail price of games hasn’t changed much in the past two decades. If Madden NFL 18 had the same features as Madden NFL 2001 today, people wouldn’t pay five bucks for it and there would be riots in front of EA’s headquarters.
Then you have the big publishers, salivating over the adoption of downloadable content and microtransactions, adding them to a game’s blueprint early in the development, eager to sap extra dollars from gamers with big appetites and low willpower. Although it’s hard to make a strong argument against the practice, since we are getting an abundance of content worth its weight. But when does it become too much, or does it ever? And why must all the deep, grind-worthy features historically found solely in RPGs be crammed into every other genre? There must be other ways to make a deep FPS, racing, sports, or fighting game without throwing XP and loot chests at it.
What do you think? Do you miss the simple thrills of a good game that doesn’t need a convoluted progression system, or do you like having all that extra content, giving you goals and rewards to strive for? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.