Do we want quantity or quality RPGs?
Itâ€™s all very well to be an achievement whore or even a completionist, but what happens when the RPG youâ€™re playing lasts barely 15 hours and clocking up points doesnâ€™t even raise a sweat? We feel cheated, thatâ€™s what happens. But is plodding through a 150-hour epic, hitting milestone after milestone, a better alternative? Surely thereâ€™s a compromise somewhere between the two.
Although an RPG might be short, that doesnâ€™t mean it isnâ€™t a good game â€“ Fable is an excellent example of â€˜short nâ€™ sweet.â€™ But it wasnâ€™t supposed to be that way. Eager fans were promised all kinds of amazing content while Fable was in production, but unfortunately the majority of that much discussed and anticipated content didnâ€™t make it into the game for several reasons, lack of time being the most pressing. Nevertheless Fable is a wonderful RPG even though itâ€™s short.
But what exactly do we expect an RPG to have to â€˜fill inâ€™ the hours? How many hours is the â€˜idealâ€™ RPG? And why is there the expectation that an RPG should be at least 100 hours in length anyway? If we merely expect length of game to equal â€˜value for moneyâ€™ then the RPG genre as a whole gives us a pretty good deal. But personally I prefer content to length, or rather quality to quantity. Iâ€™m quite happy if a game barely breaks the 20-hour mark as long as the story grabs, and holds, my attention and the characters are interesting and worth caring about.
The short RPG really has only its story. It can be compared to a short story or novella where the characters are little more than sketches and the settings are minimal, so that instead of going into lavish detail about everything and everyone itâ€™s up to the readerâ€™s imagination to fill in those â€˜gapsâ€™. This makes the story the sole focal point. Without having to pay too much attention to â€˜backgroundâ€™ the writer can concentrate on telling the best story they possibly can in the small amount of words theyâ€™re allowed. Thatâ€™s not to say that the short RPG canâ€™t have fabulous graphics or that the characters canâ€™t develop well. They can, and usually do these days. Itâ€™s just that weâ€™re given the storyâ€™s bare bones and thereâ€™s nothing else to distract us.
The 150-hour plus RPG has time to tease out its story, reveal its characters' depths more slowly and it can throw in a few plot twists. A typical Shin Megami Tensei RPG has a lengthy and complex story, with a few plot twists that often involve characters who appear only two or three times and whose sole function is to move the story along. In Final Fantasy-type long RPGs, the principle purpose of side quests is to supply more detail about both the main characters and to add to the main story. Whereas the Suikodens have side quests to recruit characters and to expand their stories.
The majority of RPG side quests are xp (experience points) boosting â€˜Fed-Exâ€™ quests: take an item to â€˜Aâ€™ and come back - fighting monsters along the way. But once at â€˜Aâ€™ itâ€™s discovered that something else is needed to make the original item work, so you're sent to â€˜Bâ€™. Unfortunately â€˜Bâ€™ isnâ€™t at home but his neighbour can tell you where you can find him. But the neighbour asks that on the way to â€˜Bâ€™ for you to collect an item from â€˜Câ€™. But â€˜Câ€™ doesnâ€™t have it. That means thereâ€™s another â€˜Fed-Exâ€™ side quest to retrieve the second item. And on it goes, until you eventually get back to â€˜Aâ€™ with the correct item, but along with the item youâ€™ve accumulated information for the main quest plus you have a few more levels under your belt. Other side quests can be to fight a monster or two for the townspeople, giving you added fighting experience and, again, boosting your levels. But as long as the side quests are actually achieving something and not merely meaningless timewasters weâ€™re quite happy to do them.
Other lengthy RPGs â€“ for example the Suikoden series â€“ have mini-games that have little, if anything, to do with the story or the characters but are purely for the playerâ€™s fun and enjoyment. And itâ€™s tempting to spend hours at these games â€“ at least it is for me as some of those card games are extremely engrossing, and of course it doesnâ€™t hurt that youâ€™re amassing much needed money.
There are also many RPGs that have extra content thatâ€™s purely combat which comes after the actual story is finished. These fights add nothing at all to anything except your fighting experience and therefore your levels. Personally, I never play on after the story is over because I donâ€™t see the point. For me, once the last boss has been fought and killed and the story has reached its conclusion the game is over, regardless if the end credits have rolled or not. The majority of people play RPGs for the story, and some stories take longer to tell than others. And thatâ€™s fine. But to lengthen an already long game with extra combat just for the sake of it seems odd to me. Iâ€™d rather put the game aside and pick up the next one in the line on my shelf.
Regardless of the length of an RPG itâ€™s the content that matters the most. The story takes as long to tell as the length of a piece of string. The gameâ€™s graphics are also pretty much immaterial, but like most gamers I prefer to spend my hours gazing at a game thatâ€™s pleasing to the eye. And the soundtrack is like graphics; itâ€™s easier to listen to something that sounds pleasant rather than something that makes your ears bleed. Voice acting is also rather immaterial because if the actors are doing a terrible job you can always turn the sound off. However, when taken as a whole itâ€™s always easier to play â€“ and to enjoy â€“ a game when all of its parts are working together in a combination thatâ€™s pleasing, regardless of the length of time it takes to complete.