10 Things I hate about RPGs

pokemon blueI wont deny, I am not a fan of RPGs. These games have so many annoying hook-ups that over time I’ve just started to avoid the genre completely when I can help it. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t RPGs that would also be good games and to prove the point, I will present my Top-5 RPGs after I’ve written this blog.

However, before I post that list in order for it to make sense, I need to lay down the reasons I dislike the genre so much. These are things which have been repeated in countless titles I’ve experienced. Some of these are simple design sins, others are inherently sucky elements of the game genre.

These aren’t in any specific order since it really depends on the game and how, if ever, these elements manifest. So without further ado, let’s get to the list…

I'd be surprised if this didn't happen to an RPG character at least three times while walking to the post-box and back.

I’d be surprised if this didn’t happen to an RPG character at least three times while walking to the post-box and back.

1. Random encounters

This one is probably the most frequently mentioned problem with RPGs so I might as well get it out of the way. In most games, I feel, it’s important to maintain a sensation of progression. Especially when you have a long way to travel across the game world, there is nothing more infuriating and distracting then suddenly being pulled into a battle with enemies you couldn’t see in an over-world map.

I can only surmise that this cliché of the genre arose from the table-top RPG’s history of dicky Dungeon Masters wanting to add an element of “surprise” into a game. However, in video game form it becomes incredibly frustrating. If the game designers want to introduce obstacles for the player to avoid, I’ve never understood why they shouldn’t be entirely visible. In addition, you should at least give the player a chance to avoid dangers if they don’t want or need to fight for any reason.

Randomly spawning invisible enemies who distract you from your main goal are bullshit, pure and simple.

FF7stats

“Pretty impressive! All those numbers! I’m sure they mean something.” — Gilbert Lamb, Beneath A Steel Sky

2. Everything is numbers

I’ve often maintained that RPGs are just glorified math and it’s hard not to see them as anything but when everything in the game depends on an arbitrary number. Your attacks, how much you take damage from anything, how good are you at bullshitting to people. I can understand the charm of having a particular skill that lets you do things that characters lacking said skill can’t. Most often though, the “arbitrary number that controls your destiny” is frequently the bane of my existence.

Can’t do damage to someone? Probably because the combined arbitrary numbers of your weapon and you wasn’t big enough. A weak malnourished goblin somehow survived from a direct hit of that insanely huge axe you’re wielding? Probably just had lots of luck and survived with a sliver of life. The scenario is equally ridiculous if you replaced “goblin” in that sentence with “space creature” and “insanely huge axe” with “laser-gun at point-blank”.

There’s nothing more infuriating in a game than knowing that your life depends entirely on numbers. And sure, most video-games aren’t that different, but they don’t proudly display the numbers as part of the gaming mechanic. *ugh!*

FF6 battle3. Turn-based Battle

This is yet another convention that I believe was created from translating a pen and paper RPG into a gaming environment. Now to be fair, turn-based combat does work in games with multiple players which requires some strategy. However, in a game where your opponents are computer controlled, I really hate waiting around to take turns in order to attack and kill my opponents. Why can’t I just walk over there and whack them on the head with my weapon?

Even in games with multiple party-members, I would just prefer if they all acted independently or, even better, if I could just jump into the shoes of anyone in the party and start wailing away at the enemy. Turn-based battle is mostly a sin of Japanese RPGs but the fact of the matter is that turn-based battle really shouldn’t be a thing in games at all. Back when the technology made real-time combat a bit tricky to program, sure, I can accept that – but a fully action-based experience is always much better.

Again, some genres (like strategy games) might benefit from this, but it’s one of the reasons I get really bored and frustrated with RPGs, especially when combined with the random nature of battles (see 1).

4. Lots of extraneous side-content

I generally don’t like side-quests in video-games and we have RPGs to blame for polluting the game world with pointless side-content which can easily distract you from your goals. In RPGs at least, sometimes, side-quests  can be beneficial for collecting Experience (to boost up those “arbitrary numbers that control your destiny”) but almost anything which doesn’t directly benefit you and your progression through the game is just extraneous.

Whenever you see sword sticking out a stone, you can be sure that adventure is to follow.

Whenever you see a sword sticking out a stone, you can be sure that adventure is to follow.

5. Bad story-telling

RPGs take a lot of crap for this, but unfortunately it is true that RPGs are typically just very generic and half-assed in their story-writing. Now it’s important to note here, that there are RPGs with some good story-writing and telling in them. A vast majority of the time though, those aspects are reserved for characters’ origin stories and other more minor things.

The main story almost always devolves into a quest to “save the world” or stop a bad guy from doing something. Most RPG main heroes have no real stake or purpose in all of it (other than being a mythical “chosen one”) and this always has the effect of distancing you from the events. Admittedly, this design sin is also inherently a part of the RPG experience, you need some premise to justify a long and epic journey and usually no goal will seem big enough to the player other than the annihilation of the world, because you have to somehow justify being able to traverse vast distances and experience distant lands.

This is why MMORPGs are so popular now, because you don’t have to think of a story and just have people exploring the world without any clear purpose.

grinder6. Level Grinding

This probably frustrates me more than anything else in a game. Especially in any game where I’ve actually started to like the story and characters and have a burning desire to keep going and have the story progress. Then you suddenly run into an opponent you don’t stand a chance against because the “arbitrary numbers that control your destiny” are too low.

What to do then? There’s only one thing to do. You backtrack to places you’ve already been and slaughter countless numbers of the same enemies you’ve fought already to gather more experience so that you can boost those numbers up further. Doesn’t that sound fun? No. The words that come to mind are irritating, repetitive, boring and lazy game designing (okay, that last one was three words).

I admit that I run into this problem frequently, because I don’t care about boosting my arbitrary numbers so much and just want to get on with the story. Inevitably, the game just starts to feel like work.

character creation7. Character creation tools

This really goes for all games, not just RPGs, but character creation tools have become so ridiculously over-bloated parts of the RPG experience that I’m starting to feel like game developers aren’t even bothering to create interesting characters when they can just let the player do it. Those of you who like Character creation tools, I do recognise that there are those out there who want the character in the game to reflect how they are in real life to maximise relateability (or do the complete opposite, whichever you prefer). However, that’s not what I want my character in a game to be like.

I also recognise that it’s hard to make interesting and relatable game characters. However, I’d rather take a generic (western RPG) or outrageously stupid (JRPG) stock character than spend the first 15 minutes of a game deciding my fucking cheek width. Why is cheek width even an option!? Why would you ever be concerned with a character’s cheek width!?! It honestly feels to me every time that the game developers finished the game and were too tired or lazy to finish the character, so they’re basically letting the player do their work for them.

Forcing me to finish game developers’ unfinished characters should not be the first thing I do when I start a game. In most cases I just pick the stock model that seems the least bland and then head out, because I play games to have fun.

dice8. Random Chance – “Missing” & Attack Power

One final note on the “arbitrary numbers that decide your destiny”: chance! The random roll of the dice is of course yet another real-life pen and paper convention that plays a big part in RPGs outside computers. And it’s yet another feature that really has no place in a video-game. Sure, some surprises are nice, but again I hate it when numbers stand between me and success. Throw in some random numbers generated by the game at some odd points and boom! You’ll start to get why I hate battles in RPGs so much.

Firstly, “missing” an attack is one of the most insulting things I know. Let’s say in a shooter, I have my enemy in the crosshair, then out of the blue they move and I miss. Fair enough, that makes sense. In a sword-swinging game, like Zelda, I take a swing at an enemy but they manage to hop out of my sword’s reach and I miss. Alright, I accept that – because physically my sword did not connect. In any RPG, especially in ones with turn-based combat, if my character physically walks over to a character and swings a huge, fucking sword at the enemy, one that can’t conceivably miss, and I inflict no damage, I feel cheated. Random numbers of chance conspired against me and I wasted my fucking time. That is completely unacceptable.

So is varying attack power. I can still accept that the combination of attack power and the stats of a weapon combining and deciding how useful that weapon is in battle. What I get pissed off most about is when sometimes my weapon does a little less damage and other times a little more damage than usual. If the enemy’s stats explain this sure – but why can’t weapons in RPGs just have a set number of damage that they do every time!? I can accept it if my enemies block or do something else to avoid getting damaged, but when it’s completely up to chance, it just enrages me.

Bottom line: Artificially manufactured rolls of a die you can’t even see should never determine the outcome of a fight, especially in a video game.

Wait? Aeons? Is that how long it takes to get out of this mess??

Wait? Aeons? Is that how long it takes to get out of this mess??

9. Menu Hell

Another thing I get sick of in RPGs is menu management. Just like character creation tools, this really extends to all games. In JRPGs especially during combat there’s nothing more infuriating than navigating menu after menu to get people to do something. I also hate games where you just have pages upon pages of menus for everything from what you’re carrying, to side-quest logs, to maps and whatnot. If the menus are of minimal hassle and you can access the ones you need to go with the press of a button (and exit the same way), fine, but not nearly every RPG does this.

Maps shouldn’t even have a menu. If your game’s world is so large and confusing that you need a map to get around, you should go the GTA or Zelda route and just have a mini-map on the screen. A map menu should only become a thing when you can do stuff like fast-travel. Also, item organising is a bitch in some RPGs, but even in games that sort items for you, you’re often carrying items in the triple digits. And all I can say is: why!? Why not just have one item and a counter next to it or just keep items to the bare minimum where they wont lead to tables upon tables of things. Any game that forces me to stare at menus for minutes at a time is just going to start feeling really boring.

This is yet another god damned distraction from my actual goal which is to finish the game. Menus should be as tiny and unnoticeable, easily navigable and just not a hassle in the very least. RPGs aren’t the only games to have this problem, but it’s definitely a recurring thing with them.

thesame10. “But aren’t RPGs a natural continuation of adventure ga-…”

This laughable argument. From time to time, I’m approached by people who know I’m an adventure game fan but don’t like RPGs and throw the “natural continuation” thing in my face. Not only do I find the statement to be entirely untrue, I find it quite insulting that anyone could possibly think this. And I’ll explain why…

For one, an adventure game’s only initial goal is the progression of the plot. You achieve this through conversation, collecting of vital items and solving puzzles. Each puzzle puts you one step closer towards your ultimate goal, activate cutscenes and events and just generally moves the game along. The entire process of playing an adventure game is actually moving through the story or “adventure” of the game.

RPGs do frequently have a progression of a storyline towards a goal, but ultimately whether or not you experience any “story” through the game is completely immaterial. You don’t have to talk to most characters, you rarely if ever have to solve puzzles (though I appreciate it when you do) and usually your progress is halted by A.) Cheek width, B.) random battles with monsters occasionally in turn-based situations, C.) Tiresome menu management and D.) Random chance. Not to mention that adventure games in vast majority of cases tie their protagonist directly into the events of the story, while in RPGs you are always some no-name, no-identity “chosen one” who has incredible cheek width through the courtesy of the player fiddling with it for 15 minutes at the game’s start.

The only thing which RPGs and adventure games share for the most part is that they have some kind of a story, which you can basically accomplish in any game and doesn’t actually make the games similar in the very least.

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