Definitions

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For many people, RPGs scratch a completionist itch.  There’s strategy guides, for example, on completing various games with 100% of everything – and that means one of every item, fighting every enemy, opening all the chests, and seeing everything the game has to offer.  Some games offer rewards when you complete all the maps or fight everything in the bestiary.  Other games are infamous for having complex or annoying secrets.

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I watched, the other night, someone speed run through Unlimited Saga.

This is a standard mission screen in Unlimited Saga.

While the game was in Japanese, I could basically tell their tactics.  First of all, they avoided almost all battles.  Secondly, they got skills that seemed to emphasize speed.  Finally, they used two main tactics – knife skills with a high chance of a deadly strike, and a specific axe technique which tends to kill the final boss quickly.  The player finished the game in about an hour and a half.

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Ys Clones

I’ve mentioned several games as being Ys clones in this game.  I think as a definition article, I should define what I mean.

Makai Hakkenden shows a typical YS clone.

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Exploration exists in pen and paper RPGs.  Some games make exploration a puzzle. You have traps in ancient keeps, or rules covering travel times and wild animals.  Some games make what you find part of the reward ranging from treasure, interesting locations, or history.  Exploration really, in my mind, breaks into a couple of categories.  There’s exploration in learning about the world (so, plot, mapping, getting skill in travelling -)  There’s exploration in simply finding new places (the nuts and bolts of seeing new stuff.)  And there’s exploration in the sense of finding new interesting things that matter to your interests (plot relevant locations, useful locations, useful materials at said locations -)

Silva Saga has some locked doors, like this one. They also pop up in the earlier game, Minelvaton Saga.

Obviously, in a console or computer RPG, you can’t have the same freeform potential for exploration.  You do get things like secrets tucked away at the edges of the map. You do get Metroid esque “can’t get here yet” style barriers.  Some games also encourage you to stay on roads (to reduce encounters) or force you to search to find areas.  The Wild ARMs series even hides locations from you until you get the directions to find them and are able to search in the correct area.

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Encounter rate is a term that I think is obvious to anyone who played a RPG.  However, it might be interesting to discuss.

The world map, at the edge of an enemy group shift.

Due to being a massive connected continent, Final Fantasy II has late game enemies near early game areas. Here, one step south would have me fighting late game enemies.

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Censorship

I suspect everyone remembers stories about Nintendo games removing crosses and blood – or alcohol and smoking.  I think it might be interesting to talk about the side effects of this.

In the Japanese text, this line was something about drinking more booze.

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I think a lot of people who complain about boredom in a JRPG have some valid complaints.  After all, many games have padding, confusing sections, or simply poor layouts or plans.  This means that the average player likely will be in an area longer than needed.  The longer you’re in an area, the more likely you are to see repetitive things – from landscapes, to battles, to treasure.

The imps in the NES version of Final Fantasy resemble the goblins in the GBA version of Final Fantasy.

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FAQ Required

Some early games required a FAQ (frequently asked question.)  Sometimes, this was needing a manual as a form of copy protection.  Sometimes it was simply due to limitations in the systems.  I’m including things like “need to draw a map” with FAQs because if you’re not willing to do the work, you cannot play the game.  Magazines usually included tips from the publisher with the review to encourage people to buy the magazine.

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Linear Plots

Non-linear plots are actually really a case of deluding your player.  After all, you can have different gameplay experiences every game, but you can’t really make an infinite number of endings to a game.  For a story intensive game, there must be some linearity to help tell the story.  Some games favor letting you explore anything you want instead of forcing you onto a narrow path.  Other games want to tell a complex story and narrow your options.

Unlimited Saga has a set number of missions to finish the plot for a character. However, much of the game is spent on side missions so you can prepare for the plot missions.

The most common example of a linear plot element is the “but thou must” questions.  This might be something like “It’s time to report back to the base,” and being blocked from doing anything other than that.  This might be a simple “Are you going to fight the dragon?”   If you refuse to play along with the plot-line, the game may end, may block you from exploration, or may just repeat the question endlessly.

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Personally, a game with romantic subplots isn’t a selling point for me.  However, I do find the presence of romantic subplots or romantic subtext to be fascinating in games.  I think you can break down many of these romantic subplots into a couple of categories.  One would be “sexy” games which are frequently a JRPG and a dating sim combined.  Another would be games with canon pairings.  A final would be games with romantic subtext.

A “sexy” game is one where you tend to have a harem of girls that you can date, and the game tends to be packed with innuendo.  A good example of this is Ar Tonelico. This game plays around with some of the common elements in a dating game, and is advertised in ways that focus on the sexualized aspects of the game.  In the first game in the series, the plot specifically plays around with conventions.  For example, a common dating game plot is a man entering a room to find a girl wearing only a towel.  In the case of Ar Tonelico, a girl in a towel handcuffs the main character to a bed and says that she has to imprison him to keep him in her life.  The scene may have “sexy” imagery, but it’s intended (and is) creepy in the game.  At another point in the game, a cutscene involves a crystal being inserted into a female character with dialogue that makes the metaphor obvious.

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