Plot isn’t Pointless

I detest reviewers who say that people who care about plot are wrong.  After all, almost all RPGs have some kind of story.  When you play the games, new experiences are part of the reward structure almost all the time.  By “experiences,” I mean things like a new town, new bits of backstory, new plot, or simply new things to look at.  Even a game with minimal story will still offer new locales to explore.  If the game provides more plot as part of the reward structure, the plot is relevant to examining the game.

Angelo is flirting inappropiately with Jessica. Jessica's treatment as the "sexy girl" in Dragon Quest VIII is a downside for me in the game.

Like any commercial venture, RPGs do have the lowest common denominator plots.  In the NES era, you can find games with cookie cutter Dragon Quest like plots.  On the PS2, some budget titles added a bit of titillation to try to sell the game.  Some games have the same character types or the same plot tropes.  Some games copy anime standbys slavishly and can feel like the characters are carefully focus tested to be appealing.  If  you hate this kind of plot, then caring about that kind of plot isn’t stupid.  Instead, you’re fighting for less lazy writing, better treatment of female characters, or a reason to play game X over game Y.

Working Designs tended to add jokes. Sometimes, this added zip to a boring part of the game. Sometimes, it was just annoying.

Some RPGs have simply bad presentations.  You have poor translations, cramped text spaces, annoying cut scenes, and so on.  You may have a translation that doesn’t work for the player.  For example, Working Designs translated a fair number of niche titles with a very humorous style.  This style was hated by some players, since it inserted pop references and jokes irregardless of the “seriousness” of the game.  Dragon Quest IV has some almost racist accents on some of the characters.  While you can tell where someone is from, you can also find the sheer quantity of accents to be tasteless and simply bad writing.  Caring about this kind of presentation isn’t stupid.  Instead, you’re pointing out that the game design is poor or hampered by technology.

Due to the hurried translation, the text in Terranigma wasn't a variable width font. This is why the letters have a large space between each letter.

Some RPGs simply have a bad story.  It may be that the pacing is poor so that there’s tons of a story or way too little.  If you hate the story, that can mean that you simply can’t escape it.  If you love the story, you may still hate it if there’s way too much of it, or you may hate how little is smeared over the game. Sometimes the story is implausible, annoying, or simply a concept that doesn’t work for the player. Again, caring about the experience of playing (and finishing) the game isn’t stupid.  After all, if every cut scene is terrible, you may be soured on the rest of the experience.

Etrian Odyssey has a tiny bit of plot, but it has elements that almost ruins the game for me.

So why, if there can be so much wrong in a plot, should plot be something to foster at all?  Obviously, any piece of media has multiple elements that add up to the whole.  Black Sigil, for example, is a DS game with a retro 2D sprite look.  Unfortunately, the encounter rate is almost irritatingly high in the game.  You can’t progress in the game without running into areas with battles.  In Vagrant Story on the PS1, the weapon system is complex and baffling at first.  You can easily end up with the wrong weapon for an area, or wasting time making weapons that you don’t need later in the game.  You can’t progress in the game without using the weapon system.  In Star Ocean 3, the battle system is a fast paced system that includes low MP deaths.  You can literally die if you run out of magic, even if you aren’t a mage.  You can’t play the game without figuring out how to handle the battle difficulty.

A battle in Star Ocean 3: Till the End of Time. For me, the battles are almost too busy to pay proper attention to the tactics.

If you play a game for the plot, a bad plot hurts the game.  If you are a careful and attentive player, you’re still likely to notice a plot in a game even if you’re playing for the gameplay.  If the plot is sexist, you’ll notice it even if the rest of the game is fun.  Arguing that a bad plot is irrelevant is short sighted, and it’s really not a very critical way of looking at a game.  After all, if someone can say that the battle system is worth putting up with the plot, then the same person can say that the plot is worth a less than perfect battle system.  If the plot is revolting in a beautiful movie, you don’t say that you should just lean back and enjoy the pictures.  While someone may be able to enjoy this hypothetical movie, it’s not stupid to say that the plot is a dealbreaker.


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