Turn Based #4: Focus Group Fantasy

SNES Master KI: Hello, and welcome to another Turn Based!  We’ll be trying something new this time, this will be a three-player round.  Increasingly prominent contributor Dari will be joining us for a discussion on how to design the ideal JRPG.  All three of us have our own ideas on how to do this, so hopefully we’ll end up with lots of bloody conflict and furious verbal combat.  Or hopefully we won’t, I forget which one we want.  Icepick is the least enthusiastic about the genre, so we’re making him go first.

Professor Icepick: I guess it could be argued that one of the most important aspects on a Japanese turn-based RPG is its setting. Due to the genre’s increased emphasis on storyline, a proper setting can create an engrossing world to explore for the 40-400 hours players can look forward to spending in the game itself. Yet roughly half of all JRPGs in existence will go for a cliched fantasy setting, taking place in a fictionalized version of medieval Europe. More recently, we’ve seen post-apocalyptic steampunk future go from a breath of fresh air to yet another one of those standard set pieces. Yet, very rarely, we’ll actually get something unique. I think the best example of this would have to be the Mother trilogy, released in the West as “Earthbound”.

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Long ago, in the far off ancient land of New York City circa 1993…

Taking place in what is essentially a contemporary setting driven more by off-the-wall humor than trying to ape the entire of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Earthbound managed to garner a cult following in the West due to its irreverent sense of humor and a setting that was, quite frankly, a breath of fresh air within the genre. As such, my ideal JRPG setting would be anything besides those two clichés that feel omnipresent within the genre. That’s not to say that it’s not possible to escape the bland nature associated with traditional fantasy or sci-fi tropes. It just takes some kind of a gimmick, like a fantasy game basing itself more on the folklore of a non-European region, perhaps a more mundane future with less obvious flaws or being developed by Nihon Falcom.

Dari, your thoughts?

Dariwan: I’d have to agree. Most of the time it takes something drastically changing in the middle of the story to make the setting be anything more than just the same old thing. Earthbound was definitely a different beast, kind of feeling like it’s in “America” which makes you feel like the game could be in your hometown or somewhere close by.

I feel like my ideal JRPG would be something like a mix of Japan or something like Earthbound mixed in with the tropes. I think that Tokyo Mirage Sessions mixed in eccentric Japanese settings and the cliché stuff pretty well, but I think we can go a bit farther than that. Not that we’re going in that far, but MMOs have the same problem as JRPGs with their settings being a bit blasé. but I feel as I said before my ideal setting is one that “lives” and changes as the game goes on, instead of being the same thing throughout.

KI, do you agree?

KI: My main criteria for a setting is that it’s different enough from reality to accommodate the variety needed for a 40+ hour game.  This seems easier to do in fantasy settings, which may be a reason why they’re such a common choice, but it isn’t necessary.  As mentioned, the Mother series was able to take neighboring towns in contemporary America and make one feel completely different from the next.  The key is that the setting can’t get caught up on feeling realistic.  You shouldn’t be confined by real life settings, or an obsessively “believable” medieval Europe expy, or rock-hard science fiction.  I want imagination and variety, and you can do that in any setting as long as you have the creativity and don’t chain it to realism, even realism attached to a fantasy setting.

I do like it when games change tone midway through as well, games like Xenoblade Chronicles 1 and 2 and Final Fantasy IX introduce settings late in the story that you see no indication of at the start of the game.  And Chrono Trigger of course has every world setting you can think of thanks to time travel.  With how huge the scale of JRPGs should be, one setting often isn’t enough for an entire game.

Icepick: Of course, JRPGs aren’t the only genre that relies heavily on story. Visual Novels are quite similar to JRPGs in terms of storyline, but the main that differentiates the two is the emphasis on gameplay. In my honest opinion, the main gameplay aspect related to JRPGs is the battle system present in each game. Unfortunately, in most cases, I’m left underwhelmed. I’ll break it down as simply as I possibly can: if the game’s concept for a battle system starts with “Attack”, ends with “Run” and can only manage to shove “Magic” and “Items” in between them, then chances are I consider you a cancer to the video game medium as a whole.

There have been a lot of games that have had interesting takes on the JRPG battle system that manage to set themselves apart from that mediocre stereotype. Games like Lunar and some of the Legend of Heroes games have turned their battles into almost miniature “turn-based strategy” segments, relying significantly on character placement to allow for more thoughtful combat. The aforementioned Earthbound sticks to a Dragon Quest-inspired battle system with one very unique (and game-making) alteration: when party members take damage, their health gradually decreases, allowing a knowledgeable player the chance to heal them before they get knocked out. I’d also be in remiss if I didn’t mention Undertale, an American indie game that was clearly inspired by Earthbound, but took its battle system in a different direction. Players can choose to attack enemy monsters, using an accuracy bar or simply interact with them to settle their conflict peacefully. But when the enemy attacks, the game turns into a sort of shoot-’em-up style game, representing the player with a heart icon, forcing them to escape injury in various ways.

Of course, my personal favorite battle system would have to be the ones found in the early Paper Marios, and to a lesser extent, the Mario & Luigi games. Relying on button presses to increase damage, extend attacks and even defend and counter enemy attacks with proper timing. There’s just something so captivating about this simple gimmick: it’s the closest I’ve ever felt to really being in control of my character in a turn-based RPG. It’s a shame that few other games have attempted to lift this system, going instead for the more traditional Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest-style of combat. The only game that really comes to mind for me is South Park: The Stick of Truth. The fact that the game is only referred to as being “inspired” by Paper Mario, rather than a “Paper Mario clone” or even its own sub-genre is perhaps one of the greatest crimes that JRPGs have yet to answer for.

Dari: I personally like turn-based RPGs simply because they allow you to strategize instead of getting hit every 2 seconds with no real chance to defend. Also, the turn-based system allows you to exploit weaknesses and keep going. I do agree that “Attack Run Magic Item” gets boring at times. That’s why games like Persona (Especially 5) and games like the Tales series definitely are different beasts of turn based games. The Tales series in particular feels like an action RPG as most of the games are open field actions in battle. You can jump and do combos almost like a fighting game and even do certain mystic arts by chaining certain moves together. I like those different atmospheres that can generate difference in the game itself. But as I said I like the standard JRPG experience except when they do it wrong.

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This is very different than the “Attack Magic Item Run” system. and that’s why I like it.

 

The game I’m currently playing is Blue Reflection it’s kind of like Persona but backwards. The battle system is…interesting to say the least. they have systems that don’t really matter until boss battles happen, and the basic gameplay is kind of easy. You also auto heal after every battle, which takes away any urgency in any battle, since you know you won’t die. It bothers me, but the story is decent enough to keep me playing. That’s another argument for another time though.

KI: I’ve recently had trouble getting into turn based games, so my ideal JRPG battle system has become the Nier/Ys style where basic combat feels like a character action game, but you still have stats and items and an MP equivalent.  As long as I’m not being harshly punished for CPU controlled characters getting themselves killed or spammed with unavoidable spells, I generally prefer action-JRPGs at this point, and my ideal one would definitely have a real-time combat system.

If the battle system is turn based, it’s important there be something to prevent it from being tedious or feel like you don’t have to really be engaged.  Semi-turn based battle systems like the Mario and Luigi games or Xenoblade games can work very well for alleviating this, with timing being a constant part of every battle.  Even something as simple as the rhythm-based damage bonuses in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 adds a lot to the battle system for me.

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This is way more like a rhythm game than it looks.

Icepick: The role-playing game designation in video games generally feels like a catch-all term: there is little in common between games like Final Fantasy, Fallout and Ys, yet no one would argue that they are not all “RPGs”. One common element all of these games share is the concept of “character progression” — simply put, as battles and other quest elements are completed, the player character becomes stronger and gains access to new abilities, much like how studying or exercising increases people’s mental and physical prowess in real-life.

I’m honestly kind of torn about this one. Generally, I like mostly random stat boosts with experience, with a handful of points for the player to assign themselves, in order to further customize their character to suit their playstyle. That’s generally what I would consider the standard, but it’s just how much control one has over these stats that I feel conflicted. I’ve played games where stat changes are considered permanent, which forces players to make their choices wisely, which I like. On the other hand, I’ve also played games that have allowed for a constant “experience pool”, which can allow stats and abilities to be changed at will, depending on the situation. For example, if one focuses on the “strength” stat in a game, to deal big damage, but eventually finds themselves in a position where an ability only accessible to characters with a high “wisdom” stat becomes necessary, the ability to shift those points around saves the player from pointless grinding — but also sort of destroys any stakes in making those decisions in the first place.

Dari: It’s a mixed bag for me– I like the usual “Level up assign stats and go” which is kind of like Dungeons & Dragons, but I like JRPGs that buck that trend. Games like Fire Emblem that just give random stats that you don’t have control over, but offer different classes at max level give you more customization than other RPGs regardless of how it looks in the start. I’m a fan of flashy attacks and big damage so character progression is really big for me. The thing that irks me more than anything is when your characters are starting, and they really don’t have much to do, so you’re sitting there attacking and praying you don’t die every battle. This goes into ‘grindin6g’ which is another thing that i actually hate about JRPGs. JRPGs that “hide the grind” are the games that I enjoy a lot more than ones where you literally have to find in a area, sit there and fight for your life until you level enough to easily beat them then move on. (FFVII, I’m lookin’ at you…damn Worm area.)

KI: I generally don’t like being overwhelmed by choosing stat placement, especially early in a game when I may not know what exactly stats do or how important they are to the battle system.  I like getting a boost in every stat when I level up, I’d rather have customization be separated from that base stat increase.  Systems like the Abilities in Final Fantasy IX or the badges in the first two Paper Mario games are my preferred way to customize characters, you have more understanding of exactly what you’re choosing and how it will affect the game.  I’d prefer that the customization system not be overly buerocratic, a skill tree where I have to essentially grind level ups to get an ability I want is very annoying.  I also like a balance between whether stats/abilities can be reassigned or not.  Permanent choices made before you understand the game should never ruin a save file, but if everything can be changed at any time I don’t want constant micromanagement required because the game didn’t bother to balance areas so multiple play styles would work.  So having experience and ability point equivalents separated is my preference.

Icepick: Another common trait among RPGs in general is that they have a tendency of adding side content in an effort to flesh out the game world and make it feel more like an organic, real place, as opposed to, well, a video game. Secret bosses or dungeons, sidequests, card games, collectables, it must be required by Japanese law for every single RPG in existence to have at least one of these tacked on.

I honestly can’t think of an example of side content that actually managed to elevate an otherwise mediocre game. I guess there’s really only one bit of non-story related content that I actually found memorable and those were the bromides in Lunar 2 on the original PlayStation. Maybe it was due to the inclusion of characters from the previous game — or perhaps it was the lewdness of a few choice images chosen — but that’s probably the only piece of optional content in an RPG that’s actually stuck with me.

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Expecting me to use one of the sexy ones? Shame on you.

Dari: I don’t think they’re exactly NEEDED but in grindy games, I think side content is good as a “rest” from the game and doing something different, keeping the game fun and not tedious and making the player hate them. One of these “side content” things I like, again from the Tales series, they have “skits” which is side stories and sometimes just random conversations that add to character development and sometimes elaborate on story. It’s really helpful to have small cute offside stuff like that to help an RPG shine and show out as a better game in general.

Stuff like sidequests can help or hinder a JRPG. They can be good for a refreshing side story or they could just open a new time hole that you want to get out of because you want to access the story. this happened to me in Final Fantasy Crisis Core. I didn’t get past chapter 2 of the story because the side quests never ended. But things like the card games in the Final Fantasy Games are nice diversions that are optional that you don’t have to put time into unless you want to. I think that’s the ideal “Side content” in a JRPG. optional stuff that has enjoyment in putting in effort, but it’s not pertinent to the story or plot of the game, just something to break the monotony of the grind or the game in general.

KI: For side content, my general feeling is that RPGs should heavily lean towards quality over quantity.  Tons of trivial (or would be trivial if they didn’t involve luck based grinding/trying to figure out what the hell you’re supposed to do) sidequests are a very bad thing, they are tedious and overwhelming.  Sidequests should never end up being the majority of a JRPG.  It gets even worse when those sidequests are practically mandatory, meaning that you will be severely underleveled if you skip sidequests and don’t do an absurd amount of grinding.  Xenoblade Chronicles X was really bad about that, if you somehow had high enough levels doing just main story missions would take around five hours.  As it is, I spent 60 hours and gave up on the final boss because I STILL wasn’t strong enough to win.  There’s a reason I usually specific Xenoblade 1 and 2 when I praise the series.  Chrono Trigger is probably the best handling of sidequests I’ve seen in a JRPG, the sidequests at the end of the game felt as polished as the main story, they weren’t overwhelmingly difficult to track down, and they added to the characters, basically being the end of their individual story arcs.  We need more RPGs with 5 great sidequests instead of 500 mindless/frustrating ones.

Icepick: Of course, what good is world-building when the world itself is lackluster? Map design is an important aspect of any RPG, regardless of sub-genre. In the 8-bit and 16-bit era, games relied on an overhead view to create truly labyrinthine dungeons and vast overworlds, but these days they can exist at any angle. It’s tough to really quantify my ideal world in general — I think my favorite maps of all time have been in the Ys series — but rather, it’s better to define a key component: variety. Each area on a world map should feel different from other areas, both in terms of aesthetic and in terms of design. If the layout of a volcano area matches the tundra, which matches the desert, which matches your character’s hometown where your adventure begins, which matches the villain’s fortress where the game comes to its conclusion, then what’s the point of changing the setting in the first place?

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Ice slopes in a desert area, Falcom is truly brilliant.

Likewise, the setting of each area should inform the designs of the dungeons themselves. You wouldn’t expect to sink in quicksand in a volcano area, deal with water puzzles in a forest and frankly, I think Ys Origin is the only game that could reasonably work slippery terrains into a desert setting. Granted, it’s interesting to experiment with that sort of thing, but recasting existing hazards to match their new biomes is a must.

Dari: I don’t have much to add to that. except in the realm of randomized worlds. The world has to be unique each time. it can’t be the same thing with a color or tint change and pretend it’s different. There needs to be some kind of radical change for it to make sense. The Persona games do this well – at least 1 and 2 and on for sure – 3 and partially 4 kind of slipped up by having pretty much the same layout for each dungeon but just had different randomized maps each time you enter.

Stage hazards are also an interesting thing i don’t see many games pick up on. You may be in a volcano area, but the lava rarely affects you. The Desert doesn’t really do much but make you hot (Golden Sun actually made you drink water in the desert and your temperature went up the more you stayed in it which I liked) We need a sense of danger otherwise we’re just walking around through a nice-looking setting with really nothing to fear or worry about. Except the monsters/enemies which get kinda stale when they’re the only threat.

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Speaks for itself more ways than one.

KI: When it comes to world design in JRPGs, there is a gold standard that isn’t even technically a JRPG.  If asked about level design in my ideal JRPG, there’s pretty much one word I would use to communicate what I want: Zelda.  Dungeons should be intricate and filled with puzzles and obstacles.  The overworld should never have generic empty space in it, for all my issues with it, even Breath of the Wild knocked it out of the park when it came to avoiding that.  The dungeons don’t have to be exactly like Zelda, but I want something in them besides combat.  Puzzle solving, platforming, shmup sections, just anything but flat halls or mazes.

Being able to interact with the world beyond a generic talk/inspect button and fighting enemies is important to me in a JRPG.  Again, the gold standard is Zelda’s palette of unique items that can be used for both combat and puzzle solving, but anything that makes the levels more than a hall/maze/field with a graphical theme (as Icepick alluded to) will satisfy me.  If I’m going to be playing a role in a world, let me truly interact with that world.

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Just because it isn’t an RPG doesn’t mean it can’t be the gold standard for them.

Icepick: Well, I’ve got to say, we’ve had a pretty fruitful discussion about what each of our ideal JRPGs would look like. I guess, the best way to finish would be to do a quick summary of everything we like to see in the genre. I love unique settings that avoid cliches that are synonymous with the genre. Engaging battle systems that go beyond simple menu-based random number generation are a must. I’m open to either permanent stat boosts or a pool of experience that can be readjusted on the fly, but not that big on sidequests in general and love it when an area’s themes are taken into account when designing dungeons.

Dari: I love JRPGs that don’t rely on side-quests but make wholesome side content that help the monotony. Games that “hide the grind” or even change up the battle system entirely to make a change. I like “Living” worlds that change and evolve as I go through them and I like when the character progression isn’t exactly the same as D&D and can do its own thing and still be interesting and fun. Also having the world fight you too is good as well. Have something besides the big bad and his/her cronies to want me dead.

KI: So, my ideal JRPG would basically be Zelda, Nier Automata, and Xenoblade being mixed together.  Varied settings with lots of surprises as you go through the game, action game style combat, intricate, puzzle heavy dungeons.  Simple upgrade system with a separate ability customization system, a few major sidequests that aren’t forced on you under threat of grinding.  A world that’s big enough to make exploration feel significant, but not so big it all blurs together.  Put gameplay and variety over realism.

Icepick: Well, that was a successful experiment. Hopefully Dari decides to join us in more Turn Baseds in the future. (We’ve actually already got a topic picked out, just in case he does.) So, who do you think has the best concepts for the perfect RPG? Dari, who is a die-hard fan of the genre; KI who is neutral, or the radical rebel that is Professor Icepick? Feel free to sound off in the comments below.

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Retronaissance’s Most Anticipated Games of 2017

SNES Master KI

Well, 2016 is almost over, and while there were some great games released, I mainly just want this year to end and to focus on the future (or gaming’s future, anyway).  Thankfully, 2017 in gaming fills me with a sense of true optimism (as opposed to forced hope) that I haven’t had in a long time, lots of series that haven’t had an entry (or a satisfying entry) in years are returning and while Nintendo has a lot less representation on this list than my ones from previous years, things should Switch on that front very early in the year.  So, let’s hurry up and get our focus to the new year.  I’ve decided to handle games from previous lists that got hit by delays with a rule that games can only appear on my lists twice, so Zelda won’t be showing up this time.  Let’s get this started!

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You Just Might Get It

Over the past year, we have seen a significant uptake in confirmations for long-awaited titles with a significant amount of fan demand. Square Enix is finally making a full remake of Final Fantasy 7, Capcom is at work on a remake of Resident Evil 2, Yu Suzuki is finally free to work on the long-awaited Shenmue III and Sony even revived The Last Guardian, a project many had assumed dead (myself included). We’ve also seen Half-Life 3 listed on a Steam database leak that included many other titles which have since been confirmed. Even last month, there have been some rumblings from some very reliable sources that Nintendo may finally be releasing Mother 3 outside of Japan, which is what led me to reflect on all of these events in the first place. Is this the beginning of a new renaissance for video games or could this be the beginning of the end of the current era of video games?
Yes, I know that last bit seems a bit like hyperbole, but think about it: many of these titles have been the money shot for companies, the one big thing each publisher could offer that could bring even the most jaded ex-customers evangelize that their once-beloved company has made a complete return to form…assuming all goes according to plan. After all, this isn’t the first time that games once thought impossible or abandoned have resurfaced.
Exhibit A: Duke Nukem Forever. After languishing in development hell for over a decade, DNF finally managed to hit store shelves in 2011. It was met with mostly negative reactions: the gameplay had modernized the wrong aspects, while keeping outdated elements that could use updated; the game’s storyline and humor was considered immature and juvenile at best and downright offensive at worst and some have even claimed that the graphics in the final build look worse than some of the earlier unreleased builds. One of the best examples of the old idiom “be careful what you wish for”, the only things that came out of Duke Nukem Forever’s eventual release were the IP being doomed to being confined to one of the scummiest developers I’ve ever seen since I started playing video games and the fact that it acts as a perfect warning that any dream game can easily be turned into a nightmare given the proper circumstances.
Then again, Duke Nukem Forever was merely a sequel. I’ve pretty much always assumed that remakes are held with even more scrutiny than sequels. A few years back, I wrote that sequels generally had a rough time just due to fanbases never being able to agree on how much or how little a new iteration of a series should change from its predecessors. Yet no one would disagree that a game’s sequel should change at least something. Likewise, very few fans would bemoan borrowing any concepts from the game’s pedigree – unless there were complete shifts in the series’ history and even then, most fans generally have a good idea of what game to use as a base for future games in their series of choice. When dealing with pre-established material, the idea that anything should deviate from the source material is itself a heated topic for debate. Some believe that a remake should closely resemble the original game as much as possible, with the only real alterations being improved graphics and load times. Others believe that a remake is license to fully reimagine the original source material to the point where it becomes unrecognizable. Most gamers fall somewhere between these two extremes and unfortunately, there’s the rub: with an even broader spectrum to play with, there’s an even smaller chance that the developers can make a product that would satisfy the majority of the audience.
We’re already seeing that now with Final Fantasy 7 Remake. When the game was first announced, every fan of the PS1 classic was completely elated, especially after the cruel tease that the Steam port of the original PC version was being ported to PS4 in the first place. Eventually, information began trickling in. Fans were pleased with the early graphics and the exploratory gameplay impressed many. Then Square Enix revealed the battle system: not the Active Time Battle-flavored turn-based system the fans had grown up with, but rather something that looked significantly more real-time and action-oriented. From what I could see online, the fanbase was immediately divided: some kept open minds about the changes, with a few even stating that the new changes looked interesting; while others felt betrayed, saying that Square Enix had turned their backs on them. However, the worst was yet to come – Square Enix then announced that FF7 Remake would be episodic, that is, split into multiple games. The most positive response to that bombshell was cautious optimism, but the majority saw the decision with pure, unadulterated pessimism.
The way I see things, there are two distinct outcomes for these games and they all rely entirely on sales and fan response, critics be damned. The game either hits or exceeds its sales targets or fails to make them by a significant amount. Ironically enough, I’d consider failure to be the more beneficial outcome on these projects. Why, you may ask? It’s nothing against the projects themselves, but if the games themselves fail and the publishers didn’t sink all of their finances on development, then it should be easy enough to regroup and come up with a new project without the hopes and dreams of an entire fanbase resting on its shoulders.
Conversely, let’s say these games are runaway successes. I’ve only got one question for the publishers should that happen: okay, what’s next? Let’s face it, if these games end up succeeding, all these companies (aside from SEGA, I guess, since they’re pretty hands off with Shenmue III) will have blown their loads when it comes to fan service. After all, what do you do for an encore when the most anticipated title in your library finally gets released? Sure, there are definitely other long-awaited titles from many of these companies – the problem is, none of them have quite the same reach as the titles they’ve chosen. Take Square Enix: if FF7 Remake succeeds, then what else can they do? Kingdom Hearts III has already been announced, but it’s currently being held up by FFXV. After that sees release, there’s really nothing with as much appeal – some fans might ask for a remake of FFVI (trust me, I know at least one guy who’s begging for one); others might ask for Squenix to try their hands at another series, Chrono Trigger comes quickly to mind. The problem with any of these projects is that they lack the same consolidated fan response that FF7 Remake has.
Of course, this is all just one man’s opinion – and that man tends to be pessimistic and likes to find the cloud in every silver lining. Maybe I’m wrong to scrutinize the logic behind finally giving the fans what they want, without any potential thought into the repercussions that might have in the long run or at least consideration of what “the next big thing” would be. In fact, I honestly hope I’m wrong. I happen to like most of the companies that are putting their necks on the line and don’t want them to go the way of THQ, all for the sake of a pie in the sky release that has a snowball’s chance in Hell of reaching the immense expectations of a fanbase that’s been salivating over these releases for at least a decade in most cases.

Remaking History

Originally, this article was going to be my own personal take on an earlier piece from KI, where he detailed various sequels he’d like to see for games that have long been ignored or forgotten. Truth be told, I’ve got a similar hunger to see some old games resurface myself. Of course, while I was brainstorming that topic (and don’t worry, my take on that idea will resurface at some point down the line) I eventually decided that it would be more interesting to think up games I’d like to see remade. After all, remakes and sequels are pretty similar when it comes to video games.

I’ve said this in the past, video games are unique in the sense that sequels typically improve on their predecessors. The same can honestly be said with remakes: video game remakes typically improve on the source material, where most other forms of media have a much lower success rate. Unfortunately, video games fall into a similar trap as other forms of media. Commonly if a game is remade, it’s generally already a popular (and by extension, good) game. It’s somewhat pointless to try to reinvent the wheel. Games like Maverick Hunter X and Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles weren’t improvements over the originals. On the other hand, you’ve got remakes like Metroid: Zero Mission and MegaMan Powered Up, which were definite improvements over the games they were based on.

For the purposes of this article, I’ve chosen 5 games which I believe deserve to be remade. Maybe people will disagree that they need remakes, maybe some of you will even think these games are just lost causes altogether. The other thing these games all have in common is that they come from either established franchises or development teams that eventually redeemed themselves after each respective misstep. I’ll be discussing each game’s faults, strengths and how I personally would handle a remake for each game, though the order in which the first two aspects are discussed may vary between entries. The importance of each element will determine which takes precedence in the discussion.

Mother (1) [a.k.a. “Earthbound Zero”] – Nintendo Famicom/Game Boy Advance

The Problems

Just as a bit of a disclaimer, I’ve never actually played the original Mother. I requested that a friend of mine play through it, mainly because after playing through Earthbound on my own, I was curious about the game’s roots. In spite of having no hands-on experience with the title, I can tell that it is definitely a very flawed game. The problems I have with the original Mother can be summarized in a single sentence: it’s an NES-era Japanese RPG. The NES was a part of the last video game generation where the abomination that is random battling could be blamed on hardware limitations. Likewise, while its sequels played around with unique gameplay mechanics that matched the franchise’s off-beat tone, the original Mother feels incredibly generic by comparison.

The Potential

On the other hand, Mother 1 actually gives us a unique opportunity. Shigesato Itoi, the mastermind behind the Mother trilogy, has stated that he has no intention to make a fourth game in the franchise. Considering how Mother 3 ended, it’s safe to say that there may be nothing left to explore in the future of the games’ storyline. However, the Earthbound fanbase is extremely passionate about seeing a new entry in the series. Meanwhile, Earthbound and Mother 3 don’t actually really need remakes: they’re perfectly fine in their current state. That leaves us with the original Mother, a flawed, but still very interesting game. Remaking the original Mother could allow Nintendo a chance to give the fanboys what they want, while avoiding any potential backlash in making a new game without Mr. Itoi’s involvement. It’s also important to keep in mind that Mother has only been released in Japan. I may have ragged on The Dracula X Chronicles earlier (despite the fact that I actually like that game), but there’s one thing that it objectively improved upon its predecessor: the number of regions it was released in. Sure, Nintendo’s supposedly sitting on that complete, unreleased English translation of the original Famicom game, but why just release that when you could do something with much more style?

My Proposal

I think a remake of Mother 1 would work best as a downloadable game for the Wii U. I’d actually prefer it if they kept the story about the same as the original, making as few alterations to the Famicom game’s scenario as possible. I’d say the gameplay should probably emulate Earthbound more than Mother 3, just due to its place in the timeline. Represent enemy encounters on the world map, use the odometer-style HP system, all that good stuff. Graphically, I’d like the game to resemble those clay models used for the Mother series’ concept art. It’s such an interesting aesthetic and Nintendo’s already attempting something similar with Kirby and the Rainbow Curse.

Street Fighter (1) [a.k.a. “Fighting Street”] – Arcade/NEC TurboGrafx CD

The Problems

People say I go way too easy on the original Street Fighter, due to the fact that my first experience with the game was with the even worse PC port. While I don’t think that SF1 is as bad as everyone else says, I must admit it’s an incredibly flawed game. It suffers both from being a late-80’s era arcade game and one of the earliest examples of a modern fighting game. The game suffers from both stiff controls and gameplay, which coupled with the traditional “unfair” difficulty typical of “quarter muncher” arcade games, made the experience even less enjoyable.  While introducing special moves was a pretty cool idea, the lack of playable characters (just Ryu and “Player 2”, later renamed Ken) also hurt the game’s appeal, especially when compared to later fighting games.

The Potential

Of course, Street Fighter’s potential is obvious to anyone who’s ever played its sequels or Final Fight. Once the initial kinks had been worked out, Street Fighter’s core ideas led its successors to become some of the most important fighting games of all time, even to this day. Besides that, SF1 also had some fan favorite characters that haven’t reappeared in more recent titles. I’m sure few people care about such mainstays as Lee, Joe and Mike (who is generally considered the basis for later SF2 character Mike Bison/Balrog, known colloquially as “Boxer”), but we haven’t seen characters like Birdie and Eagle since Capcom’s transition to 3D models in their 2D fighting games. There are even characters that never reemerged in later games that have been requested to some degree. Remember when the internet thought Retsu was the fifth new character in Ultra Street Fighter IV? Geki, the Japanese ninja, is another common request when it comes to returning characters, though he’s not at the top of most people’s lists.

My Proposal

Honestly, I’d kind of want Street Fighter V (which has been alluded to, by series producer Yoshinori Ono) to take a page from the Mortal Kombat reboot and retell the stories of all the previous games, which would lead to having a gigantic roster (and effectively remake Street Fighter 1 unintentionally). However, that would probably take an insane amount of resources, despite the fact that the game could potentially reuse some of the assets from the last game.

So let’s just talk about a straight remake of the original game instead. On one hand, seeing something along the lines of the MUGEN-based remake “Street Fighter One” would be pretty cool. Reuse the graphics from the arcade version, the TGCD version’s soundtrack and create an entirely new gameplay engine that would fix the flaws of the original. There’s also the possibility that there could be a full-on 2.5D remake, made by the team behind the Ultra update, in a case of what some people I know refer to colloquially as “watching the bee”. Think about it, the Ultra team is small and many people have complained about their work being buggy in many cases. Giving them another chance on a less important project to redeem themselves would be far more productive than just disbanding the team. Regardless of which form this remake take, there’s one thing this game should definitely have: the entire SF1 roster playable. Yes, even Joe.

Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest – Nintendo Entertainment System

The Potential

Regardless of my personal feelings towards Simon’s Quest, I must acknowledge that it was an important step in the evolution of the Castlevania series and had a profound impact on the entry in the franchise that most people consider its magnum opus: Symphony of the Night. Granted, it wasn’t the first Castlevania game to focus more on exploratory gameplay as opposed to standard linear platforming, that distinct honor belongs to the MSX2 version of the original Akumajou Dracula, commonly referred to as “Vampire Killer” outside of Japan. Considering that little factoid can easily be filed as “obscure trivia”, it should be pretty clear why SQ is generally considered the proto-“Metroidvania”. Of course, a remake of Simon’s Quest could lead to the most interesting Metroidvania ever, if done properly. Considering the game takes place across multiple mansions, towns and forests, there’s way more potential for this compared to just another romp in Dracula’s Castle.

The Problems

Simon’s Quest falls into the “good concept, awful execution” category. Konami retained the standard lives systems from the first game in the series, despite the fact that it really didn’t add much to the game. The level design also left a lot to be desired, what with all those fake blocks and instant-death pits. The latter appear even in the towns, for some reason. The game allowed you to accidentally skip important (yet cryptic or possibly poorly translated) hints, but not the excruciatingly slow day/night transitions (call me a ripoff of AVGN for complaining about this, if you must). Finally, though the convoluted password system only appeared on the cartridge-based renditions of SQ, the original Famicom Disk System version had load times that would make the PS1 blush.

My Proposal

If Konami ever decides to remake Simon’s Quest, I’d like them to emulate another remake of one of the weaker entries in the series: Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth. Make it a downloadable game, use the same style of faux 16-bit graphics and music. Instead of just aping the old “Classicvania” style of gameplay, I’d like to see a cross between that and the more Metroid-like style of gameplay from later 2D entries in the series. Keep the sprawling overworld and the various puzzles, but maybe include some kind of a “journal” where any clues the game gives you can be re-read at your own leisure. Expand on the mansions, maybe make them into actual stages, either linear Classicvania layouts or labyrinthine exploratory areas. Better yet, use both styles to keep things interesting. Develop on the towns by throwing in more shop mechanics like the ones , keep the day/night mechanic (but make the transitions more immediate) and we could be potentially looking at the best Metroidvania in the series.

Metroid II: Return of Samus – Nintendo Game Boy

The Potential

Let me be perfectly clear on this one, if Zero Mission didn’t exist, the original Metroid would be here instead of its Game Boy sequel. Return of Samus is a significant improvement on the original Metroid in pretty much every way. The controls are significantly improved. There are brand new power-ups including the Spider Ball, which allows Samus to climb walls and the Space Jump, which allows her to repeatedly spin-jump in the air. They join old favorites from the original like the Varia Suit, Ice Beam and Varia Suit, giving the intrepid bounty hunter a much more versatile arsenal. It’s also significantly longer than the original Metroid, with at least twice as many boss fights (that’s assuming you count each variant of a Metroid as a single fight, regardless of how many times they appear in the game) and several other areas to explore.

The Problems

Metroid II’s biggest issue is the fact that its sequel is an even greater improvement on it than it was to the original Metroid. Super Metroid added an in-game map, which allowed for a return to the original’s more non-linear game progression while avoiding its tendency to leave players stranded, added even more iconic weapons to Samus’s arsenal and improved the controls to perfection. There’s a reason why Super Metroid is generally considered the best game in the series. Unfortunately, due to being a Game Boy game and not being the series’ progenitor, Metroid II is generally considered to be the weakest game in the franchise. Its reputation isn’t helped by the fact that Zero Mission is generally considered to be close to the quality as Super Metroid.

My Proposal

At one point, Nintendo had plans to remake Metroid II for the Game Boy Color, as they did with Link’s Awakening. Unfortunately, it was scrapped along with other similar remakes (including MegaMan V, supposedly). I always thought it would’ve been pretty cool to see this idea come to fruition, but honestly, this project wouldn’t make much sense at this point in time.

Instead, I feel like Return of Samus should get the “Zero Mission” treatment. Give it an expanded remake, utilizing a similar engine to Super Metroid. I’d personally keep the more linear layout the game, but maybe throw in some exploits that would allow speedrunners or anyone else who’s looking for a challenge an opportunity to break sequence. Better yet, just make an extra mode that removes the roadblocks. Add some new bosses, but keep the 40 Metroid boss fights intact. Considering most of those were just the same 4 bosses repeated, that shouldn’t be much of a problem. The fact that Metroid’s fanbase has been clamoring for a new game in the franchise, especially a 2D one, pretty much means that if this remake is done well, it’ll relieve some of the pressure on Nintendo when it comes to working on the next real entry in the series.

Knuckles’ Chaotix – Sega 32X

The Problems

To say that Knuckles’ Chaotix was the best the 32X had to offer is pretty much an objective fact. Unfortunately, that’s really not saying much. Though its fellow expansion peripheral the Sega CD had a respectable amount of cult classics, the only other 32X game I find remotely endearing is Kolbiri, a free-roaming game with shump-style controls where you play as a hummingbird. Despite its status as the “one good 32X game”, Knuckles’ Chaotix still has its fair share of issues. Though I don’t really mind the random selection when you decide to switch out your partner, the way the stage order is randomized bugs me: you often switch between zones before you finish whichever one you’ve started with, which messes with the game’s flow. There’s also the fact that, at times, the game just doesn’t feel as smooth as its predecessors on the Genesis and Sega CD, the controls feel a little off at times and there’s also the occasional slowdown.

The Potential

The funny thing is, my first experience with Knuckles’ Chaotix didn’t happen until way after it was released. Even then, it wasn’t actually with Chaotix itself: I played a leaked beta made for the Genesis by the name of Sonic Crackers. While it wasn’t nearly as polished as the final product, I was enamored with its unique idea: controlling two different characters (in that case, Sonic and Tails) tethered together by a pair of rings. Likewise, Knuckles’ Chaotix delivered on that concept in my opinion. It may not have been a perfect game, but it was a way more interesting spin (no pun intended) on the Sonic formula than 3D Blast ever was.

My Proposal

Simply put, give it the Sonic CD treatment. Use the art and sound assets from the 32X version and let Christian “The Taxman” Whitehead work his magic on it, removing any technical limitations and tightening up the controls from the original version. I think the main reason I’d want this one remade is because it’s just not worth the time or effort for Sega to try to emulate 32X games, even though many fan-made Genesis emulators can handle them (to varying levels of success).

There you have it, 5 games I think are worth remaking. Some of them are more flawed than others, but all of them could use a second chance in my opinion. Of course, like I said before, most games that get remade even today are still as good as they ever were. Instead, they should be reserved for games that didn’t age gracefully, fixing their problems while sharing their potential with a new generation of gamers.

 

Repetitive Painstaking Genre

When it comes to video games, every gamer I’ve ever met has at least one genre that rubs them the wrong way. Some hate the mind-numbing grind of hack-and-slash action games, some hate the point-and-click adventure games of old, due to the seemingly great leaps in logic when it comes to solving the puzzles found within them. From racing to fighting to puzzle games, every genre has their detractors. For me, it’s simulation sports, real-time strategy (RTS) and most controversial of all, the turn-based RPG. Honestly, it confuses even me: I like turn-based strategy games, so-called “action RPGs” and strategy RPGs, but something about “JRPGs” (flawed title in my opinion, but what can you do? It stuck.) alternately bores me and drives me up a wall with aggravation. It’s not to say that I’ve hated every single one I’ve played: take for example, the upcoming indie PC game Undertale, I played the demo for it and I loved it. The point is that the genre at large bugs me, and I’m gonna tell you why.

The first major problem I have with the genre stems from the very concept of it. From the beginning, RPGs with turn-based combat have simply relied on random number generators in order to determine the consequences of actions take by the player. Now I am totally aware that this is a proper simulation of the battle systems seen in traditional pen-and-paper role-playing games of old, but I still find the idea that character stats and random number generation are literally the only aspects that matter in gameplay. Skill literally means nothing in your typical turn-based RPG. If you reach a sufficiently high level, you literally can just charge headlong into battle without any strategy. Likewise, if you happen to be “underleveled”, frankly, you’re pretty much boned.

Well, unless you decide to suck it up and buckle down for problem the second: grinding. Ah yes, grinding: the magical formula that can turn a pretty good four-hour game into a 100+-hour nightmare. Because why bother actually putting effort into extending game time when you can just use absurdly strong enemies as a roadblock preventing the player from making any progress? Of course, experience is probably the least aggravating thing you’ll have to grind in your typical RPG. Sometimes you’ve got to grind for money too. But worst of all, grinding for items. Oh man, seriously, fuck that noise. Especially when it’s linked to some ridiculous fetchquest side mission that you need to complete in order to continue on. Seriously, that kind of thing is unforgivable. Fortunately, modern games don’t appear to force you grind as much as the games of old.

And then there’s my last major problem with the genre. It doesn’t really appear so much these days, but it was so pervasive for so much longer than it should’ve been and frankly, on the rare occasion that it shows up in modern games, I literally start seeing red. I am, of course, speaking of the dreaded “random battle”, the gameplay design choice where you randomly encounter enemies on the battlefield with no rhyme or reason. At best, it’s merely an annoyance. But at its worst, it makes RPGs into an infuriating mess. Oh man, seriously, excuse my language, but fuck random battles in the ear with a rusty spork. I mean, during the NES era, it was understandable. The system was honestly too weak to do anything but random battles, but from that point on, there was no excuse for having it in console JRPGs. No excuse whatsoever. And yet, it was still so very common for so very long.

Of course, there are a few other trends that annoy me as well, but they’re really pretty minor things. Like how pretty much every single turn-based RPG either relies on medieval fantasy or futuristic sci-fi settings. Seriously guys, it’s so bad, I’d even consider something as generic as steampunk western a massive change of pace. Speaking of cliches, there’s also a really common plot point that bothers me. Now I’ve been told the way that I summarized it in the past was technically incorrect, but I think I’ve got the jist of it now. It feels like at least half of the JRPGs on the market today revolve around a bunch of whiny teenagers covered in zippers joining together in order to kill a tyrant who is either trying to or has already become God. There, that’s way more accurate than my earlier complaint about how said teenagers team up to kill God.

And then there’s the fact that the demand of turn-based RPGs have left me a bit shortchanged when it comes to specific publishers and developers regarding games in genres I actually like. For a long time, Game Freak made pretty much nothing but Pokemon games and at one point, Atlus actually made Shin Megami Tensei and other RPGS IN ADDITION to games in other genres like the classic fighter Power Instinct, rather than INSTEAD OF. The worst offender when it comes to this kind of thing is obviously Square Enix. Squaresoft and Enix used to be able to make awesome games in all kinds of genres, like Einhander, the Tobal series, Bust-A-Groove, E.V.O., Actraiser, Brave Fencer Musashi and many more. Nowadays, it’s nothing but Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts spinoffs, with the occasional Dragon Quest to break up the monotomy.

Seems like a sour note to end on, so I’m going to throw in a little ray of sunshine. Like I said before, I’m not willing to write off the entire genre as a waste. Truth be told, I can think of quite a few turn-based RPGs I’ve liked. Mainly because, for the most part, they deviated from those criticisms I lobbed at the genre itself. Kind of funny how that works right? The only games in the genre I actually liked don’t do the things that make me hate the genre. What a concept. Anyway, moving on.

The first turn-based RPGs I can say with certainty that I truly enjoyed were the two Lunar games released on the original PlayStation. I managed to track down Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete used at a Gamestop, as the game had gone out of print by the time I decided to pick it up. But the used copy I found was completely intact, including most, if not all, of the bonus items that came with the game originally. The game itself was amazing, it was the first time I’d ever even seen a JRPG without random battles. Another aspect of the game I liked what that the battle system had a mild semblance of strategy in it, due to the ability to set your party member’s location on the battlefield. I’ve since been informed that this wasn’t exactly unique to the Lunar PS1 remakes, but considering the fact that party members near the front of the battlefield gained improved accuracy and speed, while the ones in back had greater defense and were more likely to dodge enemy attacks, it had a greater impact on the gameplay overall. And frankly, for how cliched and corny the story was, it was my first actual JRPG. The sequel, Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete was another favorite of mine and I even managed to pick that one up brand-new.

Perhaps the least popular entry on the list, Evolution: The World of Sacred Device for the Dreamcast was another favorite of mine, despite the fact that it’s considered an extremely generic dungeon-crawler. The battle system was interesting though, as if you were able to strategize properly, you could modify the attack order of your characters and enemies, getting “extra turns”, rather than the standard “everyone attacks, then we start over” system seen in most turn-based RPGs. The customizable Cyframes were also pretty interesting, as you could swap out parts allowing for different types of attacks. I never got to finish the Dreamcast version, but I did manage to play through the entirety of the Gamecube remake Evolution Worlds, which contained both the original and its sequel’s storylines in it. A bit short, but frankly, that was perfectly alright with me.

Technically the oldest example on this list is also the one I played most recently. I was recently dared to beat Earthbound for the SNES in under a month, I managed to do it with time to spare, but frankly I had some fun with it. Again, no random battles (sensing a pattern?), and while the battle system is fairly simple, there was one unique quirk I instantly fell in love with: the damage meters. Basically, when you take damage, your health cycles down slowly, so if you manage to get KOed by a random critical hit or something, you can manage to save your character if you manage to defeat all of your opponents or escape before your HP hits zero. I mean, that’s brilliant. I also liked the game’s quirky storyline and while I can’t really comment on the rest of the series, but Mother 3 looks like fun. And despite my newfound appreciation for the game, I’m still sad that I can no longer mock the fanbase anymore, due to the recent Virtual Console release of EB on the Wii U.

Speaking of quirky storylines, another of my favorite turn-based RPGs was Double Fine’s Costume Quest. I mean, what other RPG has you saving your sibling from a group of evil goblins trying to take over the world by using magical Halloween costumes that transform you into whatever you’re dressed up as, be it a giant robot, a knight, the Statue of Liberty or even a Unicorn? Each costume has its own unique attacks and abilities and some of them are even needed to solve puzzles on the overworld.

And of course, last but certainly not least, the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series. These games are the total package: quirky stories, no random battles, an interesting battle system with actual in-game interaction, epic boss fights and awesome music. Ironically enough, it was Super Paper Mario that got me interested in these series, and that one wasn’t even an actual RPG. Honestly, I can’t wait for Mario and Luigi: Dream Team to come out next month.

In the end, I guess those games prove that there are some turn-based RPGs that even I like, despite my prejudice towards them. The common thread behind all of them appears to be that they manage to evade at least some of the problems I have with the genre at large and make at least some attempt to deviate from those bothersome conventions of the genre. But the damage has already been done when it comes to my acceptance of the genre as a whole.

(P.S. Seriously, Square Enix, at least re-release Einhander or Brave Fencer Musashi on PS1 Classics or something.)