How would you "modernize" the classic JRPG?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by watermark, Dec 10, 2018.

  1. watermark

    watermark Veteran Veteran

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    So I saw this YouTube video where the creator of the Legend of Grimrock, a very successful commercial game, talked about how he modernized the classic Dungeon Crawler genre. You can see it here:



    I must say he is a terrible presenter, but what he says is very interesting. I do recommend it.

    Anyways, the gist is that he talked about how he revived a "dead" genre by selectively modernizing parts of it and kept parts of it old school on purpose. Basically, his team successfully took what made dungeons crawlers work and modernized the badly designed parts. This is easier said than done. One of the examples he gave was that they kept the grid movement system in place even though the technology allowed them to do real 360 movement and that made the game better.

    I think the classic Final Fantasy-esque JRPG, which is basically what RM is originally intended for, is also one of the dying niches past its golden days. I personally love this niche. I still make games in it, and I play it. But I realize it's not so popular anymore. So here's my questions for discussion regarding our beloved genre:

    1. What do you think should be modernized?
    2. What do you think shouldn't be modernized because it's the heart and soul of this genre? In fact, some commercial games may have done it already but you hated it.
     
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  2. EthanFox

    EthanFox Veteran Veteran

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    This is an interesting set of questions. I think, first off, that the "RPGs are dying" thing has turned a bit of a corner as of late - 5-6 years ago, it did seem as though the genre was in remission, but then again the industry moves in cycles and fashions, so it's always hard to know what will be big next year or the year after that. I think we've seen a bunch of RPGs in the last 2-3 years which have challenged that assertion.

    I recently finished Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and I think in many respects, that game managed to stick to many of the things people love about JRPGs while modernising key elements. So if I'm to use that as an example...

    Modernised:

    Key thing, for me, is saving/loading logic, and placement of said functions. Even into the Playstation era some RPGs had this problem. FF8 had various locations where you could "trap" yourself if you saved in the wrong place and were under-levelled for an encounter. As experienced players we would usually have two saves; one for every save-point and one "every few hours" save, but the user shouldn't really have to do this.

    Getting rid of "stuff to sell the game guide". A classic example of this is in Final Fantasy XII, the Zodiac Spear - where opening chests at various points of the game makes it impossible to get. There is no way for the player to know this other than buying a guide. Generally this involves stuff the player can miss, and never get again if they pass it by.

    Attempting a wider range of stories. I think it's great to see RPGs with main characters and party members with different motives and different aims, sometimes telling smaller and more intimate stories. Also games that take tropes and do cool things with them - on paper, Vagrant Story can sound pretty generic (like with the main character who has problems with his memories and such) but it's a tremendous game, because none of those things are quite like you'd expect.

    Lastly, this is going to be contentious - but I think RPGs learning from games like Xenoblade 2 and having systems that pair up the story with the gameplay (i.e. what you actually do) is really important. Years ago, I played a game called Eternal Sonata, which was meant to be an RPG inspired by the works of Chopin, the classical composer. It was fine (someone here probably loves it so sorry in advance for what I'm about to say!) but I just found it dull, because it had this really cool premise, but it was a pretty run-of-the-mill RPG.

    Xenoblade 2 has a combat system which is very involved and long-winded, but the reason for this is how the combo system works - where characters build upon each others' work, and can only land big damage numbers by working together and setting up big attacks as a group. This is important, as a big part of the game's story is about how the characters are strong as a group. It does the whole JRPG "our friendship makes us strong!" cliche, but it works because that really is why you win, during the bigger battles.

    RPG combat systems (and levelling systems) need to, in some way, reflect the themes of the game - its emotional experience. FFXII had this problem with the licence board, where the characters had to unlock equipment on a chessboard because... Well because they do? It had very little relevance to the game (the remake changes this) and was purely a system for systems' sake. This, in my opinion, needs to change.

    Kept the same:

    Despite what I said above, I think there should always be JRPGs that involve a small-town boy or girl going on an adventure, getting wrapped up in a country-wide conspiracy, battling the dark lord and saving the world, all while several party members fawn over them. These were a big part of my teen years and I think they will always be popular, because they touch on themes that many people identify with when growing up. They offer something very nostalgic and I would hate to see them vanish due to developers wanting to be edgy or profound, when sometimes I just want to play through what effectively amounts to Star Wars again.

    Also, I want a bit of "crunch". I find sometimes if RPGs streamline too much they end up feeling like plodding action games; whilst an RPG can start simple, these games can be over a hundred hours and if they're too simple, they can become dull. I like there to be some challenge and a little bit of having to work stuff out; this also creates fodder for forum talk.


    Whew. That was more than I thought I would type at the start of this!
     
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  3. Wavelength

    Wavelength Pre-Merge Boot Moderator

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    JRPG is a genre with a complex "soul" that serves many masters, so I don't think there's necessarily a single element that needs to be kept in there every time.
    • You can find JRPGs that focus hard on battle and equipment, abstracting away the exploration and even most of the story.
    • You can find JRPGs that focus hard on the storyline and characters, where battle is an afterthought (or is even removed entirely, if you're willing to call that a JRPG - To the Moon, for example).
    • You can find JRPGs that focus hard on other mechanics besides battle, and don't take the storyline too seriously.
    • You can find JRPGs that focus hard on choices and non-linearity, without stepping into WRPG territory (Undertale for example).
    These can all work well, so I think the takeaway is that there are no Sacred Cows in this genre: it's viable to remove any one element of classic JRPGs and still come up with a superb modern JRPG as long as you purposefully focus on one or two elements of the JRPG's "soul" that feel important to the experience you want to provide your player. It's viable and even beneficial to streamline, abstract, or even remove the rest of the elements, in order to remove unnecessary complication (and bloated project scope).

    And I feel that kind of specialization is actually an important part of Modernization efforts.

    So with that kind of "relativist" stance, it's hard to name too many things that always should be changed from the classic JRPG conventions in order to improve them, but here are a few that I feel are almost universally steps in a good direction when Modernizing JRPGs:

    Quick Travel - Game Design has evolved, and we've discovered that walking (without discovering new things) is not an engaging activity. The level of Quick Travel that's appropriate will vary from game to game, but all RPGs are better off with ways to reduce the amount of time you're walking past content you've already discovered.

    Limited Intrusion - Dialog boxes were used in classic JRPGs to present vital information (such as "You can't go here right now", "The chest is empty", and "You take 3 Poison Damage"), likely because of RAM and ROM constraints prevented less obtrusive ways to present the information. The problem is that dialog boxes are intrusive, stopping the action while the player reads and dismisses the message. Modernization necessitates unobtrusive ways to present this information, such as HUD boxes that don't stop the action, and visual indicators where possible (see below).

    Visual Indicators - Every important piece of information that the player needs to know when making a decision should be visually (or aurally) expressed in a single, quick glance at the screen. This reduces the amount of mental "bookkeeping" and guesswork that the player must do. Status effects on allies and enemies are a good example.

    Cooldowns - Rarely seen in classic JRPGs, Cooldowns are a great way (especially in turn-based battle systems) to prevent spamming of a single skill, allowing each turn of combat to play out as a different experience than the last. It also offers a way for games to remove MP as a mechanic, which I think is generally a good idea (but it has its place in certain systems which emphasize resource management to create chronic, rather than acute challenge).

    Character Expression - Classic JRPGs often treated their characters as either blank shells with stats and skills, or faceless cogs in a larger plot. The evolution of videogames as an art form has revealed that any genre that invokes characters ends up being better when it develops those characters. (Some genres don't need to invoke characters, like rhythm and puzzle games, but JRPGs absolutely do.) For games where lots of dialogue isn't appropriate, the characters' personalities and motivations can be expressed through a character's name, facial expressions, pose, style of dress, voice clips, theme music, names for their skills/equipment, unique gameplay mechanics, and so on. Classic JRPGs often couldn't utilize these tools due to technical constraints. Not so anymore.

    Streamlining of "Chores" - Player conveniences that reduce the amount of don't fundamentally alter gameplay nor balance - these are vital to a good play experience, but sorely lacking in nearly all classic JRPGs. Examples of this are "Quick Heal" (where the player can push a single button to consume as many items from their inventory as is necessary to fully heal their entire party), "Sell All Junk Items" commands in shops, and the option to ignore Random Encounters once the player has reached a sufficient level where the encounters would be nothing but time-wasters. Any time a player convenience can be added in without taking away any of the interesting decisions that the player can make, it's a good add. Cutscene Skip is a related streamlining concept that cuts out not chores, but repeated non-interactive screentime.

    Descriptions, Contextual Info - This is an element in modernizing any genre, and it's probably more important in RPGs than any other genre. Any time there are terms, names, etc. (such as a Skill Select box or a Character Status menu), the player should be able to ask for additional information (usually by hovering their mouse or clicking a dedicated button). This was hard in classic JRPGs where processing power and screen resolution were limited, but there's no excuse for lacking it post-2010.

    PS - One particular item that I liked from the video, even though it doesn't relate to this topic, was the advice to use Composition of scenes and levels to lead your player toward interesting or necessary places, rather than more blunt techniques like hard-cuts or minimap icons. I'd add to this, that as the player gets nearby, events (such as unobtrusive, non-cutscene character dialogue talking about what they see, changes in the location's visuals, or enemies pouring out of the place) are a good way to make sure that the player doesn't assume there's nothing there but a cool vista and walk away.
     
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  4. Aesica

    Aesica undefined Veteran

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    Aside from pretty much everything @Wavelength already mentioned, the big one for me is "Transparency."

    In the past, we often had to consult strategy guides and online lists to see item stats, enemy weaknesses, skill effects, etc. MV has sufficient tools right out of the box to largely eliminate many of these. For everything else, there are freely available plugins to pick up the slack.

    Put the stats of your Long Sword into its description instead of something useless like, "It's a long sword made of metal." Explain the effect of a skill in its description in as few words as possible, including any power modifiers, so I know whether "Fireball" is going to hit harder than "Inferno" or vise versa. Bonus points for using language that also relays the scope of the ability. The language I've been using is as follows: "Fire magic damage (3x) to all enemies" or "Ice physical damage (4x) to one enemy." Right at a glance, this tells the player:

    1) What it does overall (in both cases, deals damage)
    2) What element the ability uses
    3) Whether it's physical or magical damage
    4) The modifier for determining strength
    5) The scope of the effect

    Enemy data can be a bit trickier. HP bar plugins are essential IMO, so please use one for your players' sake. As for weaknesses, that can be a bit trickier, but not by much since Yanfly has a tips & tricks thing for throwing together a very basic libra/scan ability. If you're using an element system, there's no reason to not include it in your game. Your players will thank you for cutting back the guesswork.

    In short, the more information you can relay to the player about what does what, the better. Your game is smaller in terms of popularity than something like FF6, so there's going to be fewer (if any) strategy guides or other such things floating around out there. Also, purposefully making your game's bits and pieces opaque and trying to sell strategy guides to player is dirty. Don't do that.
     
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  5. Seirein

    Seirein Veteran Veteran

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    Every answer to this is just going to be "keep the things [user] likes and get rid of the things [user] dislikes."

    The genre can be "modernized" in plenty of different ways, and has been. Some have been more or less successful than others.
     
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  6. woootbm

    woootbm Super Sand Legend Veteran

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    It's an interesting question for sure. Thankfully JRPG's rely heavily on story. Humans have craved stories since the dawn of time, so a good story will always be desirable. So JRPG's are mostly safe.

    I kinda feel like the main draw is aesthetic, really. So long as it looks like a JRPG, you're covered. It's up to you to make compelling gameplay and a compelling story to make it out okay. I guess I drew this conclusion from my own game. I got feedback on things like "why are the enemies so large?" "Why are the players on the right?" Both of those things are very standard in JRPG's, yet some people were confused by them. My thought is that we live in a world now where everything is so modernized and streamlined that people have forgotten what the old ways even were. Or are just too young to remember.

    Even in design and story, my game is much more Western than Japanese. But I don't think anyone really thought about that difference. My conclusion, then, is to modernize the hell out of your game. Personally, the whole idea that JRPG's are dying- I think- was brought about because people were tired of those old ways. As they innovate, we see them coming back. Also...

    Sorry, I couldn't disagree with this more. I imagine the game you are describing and I'm already falling asleep. While a piece of this here and there can be okay, having SOOO many tropes always included is awful. I would point to something like the success of Game of Thrones, and how much of a breath of fresh air that is; it isn't a group of adventurers travelling across the globe to do a thing. It's super different, and that makes it all the more engaging.
     
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  7. EthanFox

    EthanFox Veteran Veteran

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    Don't get me wrong; after years of playing RPGs, I tend to gravitate to the more innovative or fresh ideas too.

    I just meant that there was a time in my life when I loved that sort of stuff, and as a result, part of me wants it to always exist, even if it isn't to my usual taste.
     
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  8. Diretooth

    Diretooth Lv. 23 Werewolf Veteran

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    I couldn't disagree more. Young boy goes off to save the world has been done so much that the game I've been developing since I discovered RPG Maker is a parodic deconstruction of this very concept. One of the better modern JRPGs that I've played is a game called Lost Odyssey which centers around an immortal named Kaim who begins not knowing his past. While a little cliched, the overall story was fresh and new enough that I'm still disappointed there isn't a sequel being made.
    The best way to 'modernize' JRPGs and games inspired by the aesthetic is to tell stories one would never think would go hand in hand with a JRPG. Tell a world-spanning epic about an old man getting fed up with a corrupt despot taxing him to death, tell a short, yet sweet story about young love, give us horror, give us joy, do an absolute pirouette off the handle and make something bizarre. Tell a story, any story, take the old and the new and make something wonderful. Don't constrain yourself to the expectations and cliches of a style. Do something unexpected.
    But for the love of all that is holy, don't do what everyone else already has.
     
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  9. Kupotepo

    Kupotepo Fantasy realist Veteran

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    @watermark, hello nice to see you and thank you for being this up
    1. What do you think should be modernized?
    2. What do you think shouldn't be modernized because it's the heart and soul of this genre? In fact, some commercial games may have done it already but you hated it.

    The modernized of the classic JRPG or RPG in the mechanics and digital arts already happen and continually evolved. The keywords are coding and digital art. Those words will make your wish come true. Yes, some RPG games are bad because of either the devs were lack of technologies in the past or they do not put much time into their game for whatever reasons might be.
    I think the question that you dance around is that modernized sociology of the classic JRPG and themes, story aspects of RPG.
    You can read taboos in a game and backlash in Reddit "Can We Keep Politics Out of Gaming?" (Artists Freedom of expression Vs. escapism):) We do not allow political discussion here, it is the rule.

    Some of the cliches are still good, so people still use them and customers like too. Some of the experimental themes in an RPG game may create a gamer's backlash because of a theme triggers customers' bad feelings. Cliches plots and themes are safer to display for the mess and make more money. That is the fear of game developers. They have crazy ideas and weird ideas which fear to experiment in public.

    Some developers might need to hire a writer or ask someone who specialized on specific topics that game developers want to explore. Those would make a story more compelling.
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2018
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  10. Seirein

    Seirein Veteran Veteran

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    Don't do things just because no one else (you know of) has done them.
     
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  11. Diretooth

    Diretooth Lv. 23 Werewolf Veteran

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    I'll rephrase my statement, don't do what everyone else has done to death. If you can take a cliche and spin it in a new way that it takes the old and tired and breathes new life into it, then do it. If you take a cliche and do it exactly as people expect, then all you are doing is repeating it.
     
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  12. watermark

    watermark Veteran Veteran

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    I agree with Ethan on this. Yes, this trope has been overdone and yes there's plenty of bad ones (which you notice, are usually incomplete abandoned noob experiments...hmm...) out there. Still, it's like chocolate ice cream, which many people tend to come back to even though there's a billion flavors out there now. A closer example would be the slew of movies in the Marvel/DC cinemaverse. Come on, pretty much most of them are basically "down on luck/relatively normal person gets powers and turns into savior fawned over by everyone." (Except Thor, but Thor is awesome.) Anyways, my point is people can love the same story structure if there's enough different elements in it to make it fresh.

    I remember playing "Lunar: Silver Star Story" back in childhood with my best friend. Now that game is like the mother of tropes from start to finish. One big Clichefest. But it's done WELL. I still love it. And I would play something like it again, if it's done well. Come to think of it....maybe I should go make one.... :kaoblush:
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2018
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  13. trouble time

    trouble time Bearer of the Word Veteran

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    See I couldn't disagree more with this. When people try this we get trash like Earthbound, Undertale, or OFF, games that try to be quirky but just end up annoying and "lol so random". I'd prefer play a game will well worn themes than Dragon Quest written by a 3 year old, Sigma Star Saga but everyone's on LSD, or a final fantasy I but the art is hideous and there are no characters worth caring about.
     
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  14. Diretooth

    Diretooth Lv. 23 Werewolf Veteran

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    Ignoring my utter outrage for the sake of intelligent discourse, have you ever played these games for more than a few minutes or hours? They're considered classics for a reason, and not because 'lol so random'.
    All three games have had thought put into not only their storylines, but their themes and implementation. Earthbound was as much an exploration of very heavy themes ranging from cults, police brutality, rape, and many other dark subjects while also being friendly enough to children that it wouldn't get demolished by the censorship policies of its time.
    Undertale was a deconstruction not of video games, but of how people play them, you couldn't revert to an earlier save to escape your consequences, the very idea of saving was even exploited by the main antagonist. Not only that, but it took common ideas such as combat and turned it on its head. It even deconstructed the concept of dummied out assets.
    And OFF was, to my recollection, an examination of protagonist-centered morality and the idea of arbitrarily following a vague quest with horrifying results.
    The people who made these games didn't make them for the meme, they didn't make them just to have a quirky, weird game, they made these games to explore concepts we either take for granted, or are considered too dark to be explored in any fashion. That is why they endured as much as they did.
     
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  15. trouble time

    trouble time Bearer of the Word Veteran

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    @Diretooth yep played earthbound to completion (its been many years) and played OFF for a while too. Undertale i watched a lets play and couldnt stomach it. I think you're praising these games to highly, they're not only bad but hard to look at. Earthbound doesnt really explore any of the themes you mentioned it just had those things in it...and you know what so do many JRPGs, senran kagura has all those things (except rape). All you ever hear about them is hiw their different, but if they fail to charm you with their "quirky" sensibilites its basically impossible to enjoy any of them. Dark things happened in them, sure...but its not effective. It all feels like video game dadaism to me.

    Also if you play a game for even one hour and it isnt good, it almost never gets good.
     
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  16. woootbm

    woootbm Super Sand Legend Veteran

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    I work in the games industry in my day job. Perhaps my experience is anecdotal, but I've never been at a company I would call lazy. In fact, quite the opposite. Most game companies are full of "passionate" people who are willing to work (and do) a great many hours of crunch for long periods of time. The problem is usually a lack of planning, bad ideas that have to get fixed by the people that made the bad idea in the first place, and a lack of direction. Sorry for the tangent, just thought I'd share :hswt:

    Don't know why this was brought up. Most of the best fantasy and sci-fi stories are impactful because they deal with real life scenarios in an allegorical fashion.

    As far as I'm concerned, *every* game needs a writer. Even with an RM project, writers are easy to come by. If you can't write, pick one up!

    I don't see why not. The great freedom of an indie game is being away from the rigidity that comes from an overly corporate-minded triple A game.

    Well, there's a difference between a formula or a structure and a point-for-point copy/paste. Marvel has been trying to shake things up with each iteration. Winter Soldier has political thriller beats, Ant-Man is a heist movie, etc. MOST of the points are the same, but important beats are changed just enough.

    I don't personally care for those games either. But I recognize the creativity and uniqueness, and how that has garnered them great audiences and acclaim. I find it impossible to fault them for that. And they seem like perfect examples of the good that comes from off-the-wall ideas.
     
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  17. trouble time

    trouble time Bearer of the Word Veteran

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    @woootbm I'm gonna be honest, I don't just dislike those games, I have an irrational all consuming hatred of them. Its fun. Its probably because for some reason I feel like the embody the exact opposite of what I actually like.

    I won't even give them creativity or uniqueness, since much of what they are is the kind of surface level analysis people make on t.v.tropes, and I honestly think the acclaim they get is just people obsessed with the avant-garde and being on the cutting edge. In fact I'd be willing to bet that if they weren't ugly as sin they wouldn't get half the attention they did because of the prevailing assumption is that anything that looks ugly must have a reason to look ugly. That and if Undertale weren't associated with Homestuck (something else I have an extremely strong hatred of). Like I can understand how people like all kinds of things I don't, like rap music or Steven Universe. I can even make exceptions for things I normally don't like, like how I don't like love songs generally, but I have a few exceptions. I don't get it here, I literally can't conceive of why besides the reasons I mentioned, which is why I'd say that they're literally opposite to my tastes.
     
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  18. woootbm

    woootbm Super Sand Legend Veteran

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    @trouble time Haha, I get that. I have a lot of curmudgeonly thoughts like that, too (since you mention rap, that's one of them. Completely meritless form of art). But I appreciate the effort. I always appreciate effort over doing nothing.

    To bring things back on topic, I think weird indie games are very in style now. I would say that's a good way to modernize a JRPG.
     
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  19. Kupotepo

    Kupotepo Fantasy realist Veteran

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    @woootbm, thank you expand the subject and provide insight. You are right in the perspective of working with a group in the game industry. When I said, "they do not put much time into their game for whatever reasons might be." I should be more articulate and concise. I do not know what is going on which I have to look into a case-by-case. Let's me rephrase some game company has to do something quickly to pay for their bills. It is just a situation that it is out of control of developers and due dates. I do not call anyone who makes a game lazy because I am making it too. I have the first-hand experience and you are too. Both developers and game players of the market hate bugs!:)

    However, I provide the perspective from a hobbyist and observe some of a solo RPG developer here who did everything writing, draw, and sometimes code. Some might need to hire a writer to help because an individual cannot be perfect in everything. You probably know that many are not very rich people here and hire a professional writer costly a lot of money. It is an investment and can be a scary decision.:o

    Why am I bring this up "You can read taboos in a game and backlash in Reddit "Can We Keep Politics Out of Gaming?" (Artists Freedom of expression Vs. escapism)" I hope that many of game player will understand like you. The problem is on game players' side. Some players think a game should be meaningless and fun because it might hurt their brain see to others perspectives. Some game developers might to too expressive of what they think or their feeling on the controversies on their games which are"impactful," but some game players get angry and respect a game design direction, instead of agreeing to disagree. Immature of some game players demand a game to stay in their ideologies and their mentality safe zone. I think you get what I am saying. :smile: Cultural and Political awarenesses will make your world become more complex.

    I like educational and fun games at the same times which it is hard to copy and revolutionized at the same time. It is required a lot of study into many subjects which may not fun for many game makers.
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2018
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  20. richter_h

    richter_h Eh? Sweetroll? Veteran

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    While I agree with most points described above, I think the modernization of JRPGs require a bit of sacrifice in part of things that give soul to JRPGs, like the nowadays-regarded-as-overused tropes and the "clunkiness" of most game mechanics.

    Not gonna lying, my JRPG experience is minimal, but if I may say, the setting and story brought in classic JRPGs become some sort of cliche todays. The sense of wonder and unexpected things become minimal, yet this particular matter has cemented into some sort of "charm" that regarded as the definition of JRPG by some people. Players need something new (or something old but presented in different ways) to experience; we need something similar to craft and infuse into the game, and this is the thing I'm yet to discover.

    Talk about "clunkiness", battle systems in classic JRPGs are, in my perspective, kinda clunky mostly not because of deliberate choices; it's because of the limitation within system's boundaries. Combine this with overly complex rules and mechanics, players might lost interest of the game because it becomes unplayable at certain points. Some titles pursued their way to craft the system that's engaging and pleasing to the eyes--this might explain some titles have "cutscenes" as part of action sequences. This modernizes the system part, but might break players' JRPG experience if it's overdone.

    While the modernization is possible, I can't see much beyond the fact that improvements in JRPG genre is not as rapid as other genres. Sure, it'll take a while to develop, but the breakthrough is there.
     
    #20
    Punamaagi, watermark and Wavelength like this.

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