Have RPG's Gotten Too Easy?
by Lassarina Aoibhell
One may notice, when one plays an RPG developed for the Playstation game console, that the game truly doesn't present much of a challenge. At the very least, I've found this to be so. Role playing games are getting much easier as time goes by, and I for one am not fond of the change.
Sony's recent RPG, The Legend of Dragoon, included (among its many failings) an apparent inability to challenge the player. Enix's Star Ocean: The Second Story was also a fairly easy game, although it does have its moments.
Older games which have been ported to the Playstation are more difficult. Take, for example, Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete and Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete, both of which games (originally made for Sega CD, I believe) were ported to the PlayStation by Working Designs. These two games represent the highest level of challenge I've encountered in PlayStation games--but they were initially designed for another system.
Another example is found in my favourite series of all time, the Final Fantasy series. Most of my RPG experience is based in this series, so that's what I'll use to illustrate my points here. My reckoning of this series begins with FF4, since I have not yet gotten around to the NES games.
Final Fantasy IV was released in two versions. Some Japanese gamers, when the game initially came out, complained that it was much too hard or that the story (admittedly complicated) was too hard to follow. Squaresoft went back to the drawing board and released the so-called "beginners' version." This second version cut approximately 50% of the dialogue (and hence, about 75% of the necessary story links), and also toned the difficulty down a great deal. (We won't even go into the amount of more "mature" content that was removed to make the beginners' version.) It is this "beginners' version" of Final Fantasy IV that was released in the United States as Final Fantasy II on the Super Nintendo. Now, I know some people who will look at me and gape, and shriek, "That was the EASY version?!" Yes, it was. Don't get me wrong, the U.S. version of this game was quite difficult enough for me at the time....err, it still is. But I would like to suggest that it was the creation of this "beginners' version" that led to a general decline in the difficulty of Final Fantasy games, and coincided with the lowered difficulty in other RPGs.
I have played both versions of Final Fantasy IV, and I can honestly say that the Japanese version is much more difficult--and much more interesting, in my opinion. I found it possible to get my butt kicked thoroughly by relatively minor bosses, and as to the final boss.....uhhhh.....well, let's just say it took me quite a bit longer to complete that battle than I had hoped. Thinking seriously about this fact, I realize that it is a huge factor in my reasoning when I declare FF4 to be one of my favourite games ever. I say this because after playing each subsequent Final Fantasy game, I am appalled at how easy it is to just hack and slash your way through the most recent installments in the series.
Final Fantasy V was fairly difficult, and gave me a nice challenge, mostly because of the requirements of the job system. My brain isn't really wired to think strategically in that way (which is one reason Final Fantasy Tactics kicked my butt and is currently residing in my stack of "games to finish someday.") Final Fantasy VI....don't get me wrong, it's my favourite game of all time and probably always will be, but it's really quite easy once you know what you're doing. Essentially, you can just keep hitting "A" all the way through the game (which causes your characters to attack physically) and occasionally cast a Cure spell. It takes forever but it is possible to beat the game that way. Already, even before we get away from the Super Nintendo, we see a decline in difficulty.
Final Fantasy VII....my personal feelings about the game aside, from a difficulty standpoint, this game is laughable. When I beat the final boss and the ending sequence started, I sat there staring at the screen going "That's it?! THAT was the final boss?! What the hell?!" The game was atrocious in terms of difficulty (I won't mention all the other things that made it atrocious in general.) Its successor, Final Fantasy VIII, was also disgustingly easy. The final battle was a cakewalk, and not JUST the final battle. The Junctioning system was useful, but like Final Fantasy VII's Materia system, it made it possible to create essentially godlike characters who were rarely touched by enemy attacks. Not to mention summoning GF's to take hits in place of your characters.
In fact, I haven't been challenged at all by any of the RPG's made for the Playstation. My only gripe with Final Fantasy IX is that the battles were much too easy.
I can offer a simple explanation for why RPG's have gotten easier: the larger fanbase. Final Fantasy VII pulled many gamers into the RPG genre that hadn't previously given it much attention, and made RPG's more of a mainstream genre. In the efforts of drawing more gamers to the genre, I think that RPG developers have tried to make the games easy and fun; however, I think that RPG's are turning into interactive movies.
If I may be allowed the blunt remark, the change sucks.
I'm a passionate advocate of challenge in RPG's. I don't want to watch a movie, I want to play a game! If all I wanted was to watch a story scroll past me, I'd grab a DVD and throw it in the player. I believe that the decline in RPG difficulty is a bad thing, and my last word on the subject is: God help any of the new RPGer's (the ones that like interactive movies) if they ever get their hands on an RPG I've designed.
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