Friday, October 24, 2008

RPG Incoming: Fable 2

That's just a sampling of the incredible, INCREDIBLE levels of hype Fable II is getting all over the Web. Can a game be THAT good?


The definition of RPG between Western developers and Eastern developers clearly differs in some way. Western devs mostly think that when a game is a 'role-playing game', they take it quite literally---you, the player, play a role in a fantasy setting, and as such, you should be given full ownership of that role. There's a lot of emphasis on freedom and the ability to do what you want to do in that world; the more expansive the choices you can make, the 'better' the game is. By this logic, even a game like Grand Theft Auto IV is technically a 'role-playing game', even if its setting is not a fantasy world (though at times, what happens is totally fantastic).

With Eastern developers, it's different: a role-playing game for Japanese developers is putting the player in the middle of a story. The story is already written; you just have to get your pre-assigned character through that story. A lot of emphasis is given on making your character (or party of adventurers) interesting personalities on their own. The player doesn't define the personality of the characters in the game, but instead, moves them along the story, so that the player can find out what happens next. A Japanese RPG is probably more like a movie wherein the player is given the ability to control that movie's main character. While there is a clear, set limitation set in by the developers for the players' party of characters, this does give the developers the ability to create a much richer, more memorable storyline since they have a preset vision, idea, or sets of ideas that they are able to convey. A linear approach may seem limited from a 'gameplay' standpoint, but it can serve to make a game less of a simple distraction and more of a work of art---in the sense that it expresses something, an idea or a point of view, of the game's creators.

The Western RPG shuns this completely and lets you have your own view; in that sense, it says nothing but it lets you carve your own path through the world.

RPGs from East and West are so different, but I'd like to think that neither are better. I personally don't prefer one or the other. I've grown to accept that they just really have different approaches to game design, and one is not superior to the other. Western RPGs can get boring if they provide no guidance at all to the player; they just give you the world and let you do whatever you wish, and there's no level of challenge or real purpose to you being there. Eastern RPGs can be a chore if they require too much 'grinding' (essentially, powering up your character through repeated battles with the same set of monsters), and poorly imagined characters or storylines in some Japanese RPGs easily spoil that sense of disbelief that's so important in these kinds of games.

I wouldn't want one kind of RPG to emerge victorious over another, quite frankly. I think there's room in the world for different points of view on how RPGs should be designed. I think both kinds of games should still be made. If Western RPGs win, I'm going to miss going through a game as an interactive story in the truest sense. If Japanese RPGs win, I'm going to miss the ability to have all that freedom in a game. I only remember one game in my entire lifetime that managed to merge both kinds of games into a cohesive whole, and that was a PC game: Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn, and its expansion, Throne of Bhall. If you've got the time to invest in a rich RPG experience that successfully merges East and West, you have just got to buy that game. It's open-ended enough to let you define the moral character of your party of heroes; at the same time, it manages to tell stories---lots and lots of good stories with great characters in them---about the fantasy world that it's set in, and in that sense, it feels like a Japanese RPG, too.

Fable 2 is getting some incredibly good press. 1UP just recently reviewed it and said 'it had more ideas than the last ten years of Final Fantasy'. A bold claim that is sparking a lot of debate among the crazed fanboys of the NEOGAF forums. I'm about to get the game; personally the best way to enjoy any game is to keep an open mind. I didn't completely read the reviews for this game (I usually just go straight for knowing the final scores...); I have seen the previews and what I've seen is quite compelling. I do feel optimistic for it.

I'll be totally honest, though. I did NOT like the first Fable game for the original Xbox. What kept me back from enjoying the first game was that it did not do a good job of guiding the player through the first few moments. It felt very slow and dull and just didn't have that 'first-five-minutes' draw that a good game should have. Despite that opinion I have of the first game, I'm willing to give the second game a shot. If the game does a good job of letting me know 'why should I care' and encourages me to play on and on for hours on end, then maybe it deserves all those nearly-perfect scores it has been getting.

Ironically enough, I recall hating the first Baldur's Gate RPG, for entirely the same reason. The first Baldur's Gate felt like a chore, particularly when it forces you to traverse screen upon screen of dense forest (with nothing interesting in between). In Baldur's Gate II they solved that problem completely, and made every moment (from beginning to end) interesting and compelling.

Hopefully I'll have the same experience with Fable II. We shall see ^_^

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