The decline and fall of the RPG: How Mass Effect 2 is to blame

Posted By | On 04th, Mar. 2011 Under Feature | Follow This Author @GNReith

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The role playing game, as a genre, falls into the role of the grandparents of video gaming these days. They are often well respected and their influence seems to be everywhere you look but, they are far from their glory days of the past and, it’s painfully obvious that their time will be coming to an end fairly soon. Though many games now openly use RPG elements at their core, the genre itself is seeing less and less complex role-playing, and more XP bars tacked onto action games. It is thus that I wanted to take the time to stir up some debate on whether the RPG genre is still relevant in our contemporary gaming, and if it has a future.

I was fortunate enough that my formative gaming years took place during the 3D revolution, with systems like the PS1 and N64. Many of the top quality titles of that era were RPGs, with the likes of Final Fantasy 7,8 and 9 and Zelda: Ocarina of Time (it’s an action RPG but it still counts) defining that whole generation of gamers. For a brief decade or so, it seemed like the gaming public couldn’t get enough questing, looting and grinding, with many high profile RPG titles starting to see releases outside of Japan.

Good times...

We now live in a very different society where many core franchises seem to have abandoned their RPG roots. Final Fantasy XIII stands to rights as a prime example of a game in recent history that failed to live up to its pedigree. Most of the things I disliked about the game, such as the monotony, linearity and shallow characters were things that were designed to be a departure from the role playing elements of the franchise. Needless to say, the game seemed much weaker as a result of this. The other key franchise for the traditional JRPG, Dragon Quest has also taken this direction to a similar extent. Though not as overtly and with more pleasing results, Dragon Quest 9 on the DS focused less on the story driven single player experience and opted for a multiplayer co-op focus instead. I felt the game was weaker for it overall, (as you can read in my full review of the game) but at least the idea of a multiplayer RPG is in keeping with tabletop role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons, even if it is a league away from the console RPG experiences that core gamers are used to.

Whilst these games of high renown seem to reject their role-playing traditions (for better and for worse,) other modern titles that embrace the form seem to be sidelined by consumers and critics. Does anyone remember 2008’s Lost Odyssey? It was one of my favourite games of that year and, in my humble opinion, one of the best examples of a traditional JRPG that was well executed on our current generation of hardware. Yet, despite its many good points, critics seemed generally unsatisfied with the game’s traditional aspects and it has since been forgotten. Contrasting this are Tri-Ace’s many unique current-gen RPGs that subvert and build upon many conventions of the genre. Yet, these games too share a similarly lukewarm reception with the recent Resonance of Fate and the equally enjoyable (though poorly named) Infinite Undiscovery going under the radar for many. And don’t even get me started on Magnacarta 2. It might have had a clichéd story, but that game may as well not have ever existed for the minimal amount of attention it received.

Bad times. Bad times indeed

This list of modern gems that have been lost is very Japan-centric however, and it is important to note how western RPGs still seem to be going strong. Bioware’s many franchises and the Fallout and Elder Scrolls series from Bethesda have all been well received critically and commercially, and these games are definitely deserving of their success. Despite their excellence in the field of RPGs they have slowly departed from what I love about the genre; and there is one game that seems the most likely culprit of this: Mass Effect 2.

I realise my criticism of ME2 will sound like sacrilege to many. It was inundated with praise upon its release early last year, and we even went as far as to vote it our game of the year for 2010 here at Gaming bolt. The irony here is that my problems with Mass Effect 2 have little to do with its quality. The problem, in fact, is that it was such an excellent game. The gaming industry is highly reactive these days and, when a game is as highly praised as Mass Effect 2 was, other developers and publishers tend to take note. Unfortunately for the RPG genre, ME2 removed many of its inventory managing, quest gorging RPG components, and I can only fear that other games will now follow suit. Thanks a lot Mass Effect. If only you’d been rubbish like FF13, then I wouldn’t have anything to worry about.

Mass Effect 2: A game too enjoyable for its own good

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  • How has nobody commented on this yet? are there no RP gamers on this site?

    I think it’s a change or die situation, but i don’t think it means the Genre has to be ‘Mass Effected” in order to survive. I don’t know if anybody here plays portables, but Radiant Historia just sold out in a week. Literally. That’s a clasic JRPG with some interesting twists to the formula. It’s my opinion that JRPG designers has simply stopped pushing the envelope because they can make money just sitting in their established formula. That plan is failing however, and they need to do more stuff like this to recover.

    People name drop FF7 a lot, and there’s a reason for that. Square Enix took a HUGE risk with that game and it paid off. Problem is, since then, it’s never happened again.

  • Aym

    I’m honestly counting on some older franchise to keep the true RPG model alive, like TES for example. But even those are more and more rare. I really hope we can get a revival of RPGs before they completely vanishes in the sea of FPS games…

  • ME2, to me, is one of the most disappointing game of this generation.
    Do not get me wrong: it is a good game with great production values but it is only a pale shadow of the first chapter.
    ME1 should have been the model, the new starting point for the evolution of the modern RPGs.
    ME1 was innovative, experimental but loyal to the basements of the genere. How can we forget the mix of elements in brought in the mix? Huge sandbox maps, the exploration (vehicle & galaxy), customization, party management, action tps elements, great rpg elements, cinematic feel, the promise of exporting game saves to the second chapter (ok I do not want to comment on this) etc…

    For the second chapter Bioware and EA instead choose to follow the path of Gear of Wars, adding during the process several bad design choices: 8bit-era galaxy exploration, planet scanning, ridicoulos conceived final mission (I am still asking myself why all the game is based upon recruit 12 party members..), badly emplemented reserch system; no party customization, scaled down weapons and armour selection/management, no exploration, no looting, a more limited dialogue system, end-mission screen, loading screen, no real in-game maps etc…
    The second chapter of ME2 has become a bland corridor TPS with dialogue cut-scene and very limited (ZERO!) connection with the first chapter…

    But ME2 seems to be a critical success… I feel so distant from this point of view! Fortunately it seems that I am not alone, a lot of people around the web share this point of view.

    The result? I lost my faith in Bioware.
    For example I will skip DA2. And I am more that sure that DA2 will sell less than DA:Origins.
    Regarding ME3 I will see… My mood now is very negative thoward all ME franchise and Bioware/EA in general.

  • This article really should be titled “How JRPGs are starting to suck” not how ME2 is to blame for an RPG downfall.

    I see in the post a decrying of the loss of the inventory management system, which was absolutely horrid in ME1, and a replying comment regarding the loss of sandboxed planets to explore – again one of the worst aspects of the first game. Rose-tinted glasses only work when you squint. ME1 wasn’t exactly a free roaming galaxy either; you landed on a planet, took a linear path to your mission objective and then took off. Hardly a free of rails, do-it-your-way type of game when compared to say, Fallout 3 or Oblivion.

    The decisions Bioware took with streamlining ME2 were the correct ones, we don’t need talent trees with 15 different abilities, we don’t need terrible vehicle exploration sections or inventory management for their own sake. There comes a point when needless, sometimes needlessly complex, systems don’t add to a game – they just become another layer of bloat.

    ME2 had enough off storyline missions to keep me entertained, a clean and crisp combat system but what’s more it played as my story, I was Commander Shepard. Isn’t that what we want when we look to an RPG?

  • It seems to me that all of the people who praise ME2 for “streamlining” don’t understand what an RPG experience is all about. They like games that are more action oriented, and that’s fine. But some of us like games with inventory management, with nearly endless weapons options, with a choice as to how your character progresses. But Bioware took my favorite game of all time (Mass Effect) and took away nearly all of the aspects which made me like it.

    RPGs are supposed to be about options, ME2 has something like 5 guns…TOTAL. Almost every FPS has more weapon options than ME2. And there are only like 10 items you can buy in the entire galaxy. Do you have any idea how depressing it was for me when I opened up the first new area and went to a shop and they only had one item to sell?

    RPGs are also about character customization. I want to choose perks, upgrade the stats of my choosing, and when I level up I want to actually see my character progress. I in no way felt that with ME2.

    Instead I’m stuck playing an interactive story with fewer RPG elements than many shooters today.

    Again; ME2 wasn’t a bad game. If it had been the first game in the franchise, I probably would have loved it (as an action game).

    Now I know how nerds who grew up loving Star Wars felt when George Lucas made Episode 1.

  • Ok I feel the need to correct some points. There aren’t 5 weapons in the game, at last count my Shep had 24 with the DLC packs.

    As for streamlining I’m talking about things like removing the absurd ammo mods in ME1. What really sucked in the original was that every time you entered a new area with different enemies you had to pause, open character menus for 3 different people, scroll through all their weapons, put the right ammo in, unpause and only then could you actually play your character in a min/maxed setting. ME2 still allows you to modify the ammo your squad fires but instead of spending 3 minutes in menus you simply activate the ammo with a single hotkey – streamlined to produce the same effect in a much more friendly way.

    As far as leveling goes, ME1 maxed out at lvl 50 on the first playthrough and 60 for a second. Now that gives you a fair chunk of talent points to throw around right? Except half the talent trees are absolutely useless and hold no gameplay value ( ME2 removed the absurd idea that as Earth’s elite warrior Shepard you had to learn to use a pistol to actually hit something 10 metres in front of you and instead gave value to your level ups, increasing the potency of the talents while reducing their number. ME2 talents are cleaner while being much smarter, you make intelligent choices of area overloads versus heavier overloads, a wider shockwave versus a thinner but more powerful burst, a shorter cooldown versus a heavy hitting warp. These are *much* more interesting talents than “You repair an extra 200 points of damage while in the Mako” and actually (*gasp*) have an impact on the gameplay.

  • doub7

    I guess ppl like me r part of the problem…lol. I have never been into hardcore rpgs, I am more of an action game fan & turn based battles always were 2 slow 4 me. But I have always loved good stories & character develpoment so that element always appealed 2 me. So more recent action focused rpgs like fallout 3 & ME 2 r more appealing 2 me. I guess u have 2 start sumwhere. Resonance of Fate looks interesting 2 me as well.

  • soto

    ..Mass Effect 2 is gay as shit, Elder’s Scrolls is gay as shit, Fallout is decent. How dare you put these garbage titles in the same article as Final Fantasy. Even FF13….as terrible TERRIBLE TERRIBLE as it was, it is still better than Mass Effect. YOU FAGGOT!


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