Monday, July 6, 2009

may your children always play with guns by Jibril

Yuji Horii wants to make Dragon Quest IX really hard. Perhaps, if you haven't given it much thought, this seems like a reasonable statement. Maybe you even admire him for wanting to make a difficult JRPG.

Me, I'm too busy being dumbfounded at how little the man who created the JRPG understands his own genre.

valkyrie profile is hard

I don't know if you've noticed, but JRPGs aren't difficult. Ever. It doesn't happen. The JRPG is a genre in which all obstacles are overcome by one or more of four simple solutions:

1. Grind more.
2. Employ a specific, often arbitrary or gimmicky strategy.
3. Abuse unbalanced or broken game mechanics.
4. Hope the random number generator doesn't step on your nuts (i.e. get lucky).

As you can tell, not one of those things entails any form of difficulty. Grinding is boring and tedious, not hard. A specific strategy simply requires knowledge beforehand. Broken game mechanics, ditto. RNG is pure luck unless you know how to manipulate it, which is tricky unless you're emulating the game.

ff4 is haaard

The JRPG is an extremely simple, reactionary game of the mind, not one of notable skill. What most people confuse for difficulty is actually what I like to call... well, artificial difficulty. Remember how hard it was to collect all those monsters in Final Fantasy X so you could fight Nemesis? I do. Except it wasn't hard, we were just getting reamed by random number generators and the veritable black plague that is random encounters. You shouldn't feel accomplished after you finally capture that tenth Tonberry, you should feel angry that you got swindled out of valuable time by awful game design. To think, there was a group of people sitting around a table somewhere in Japan, talking about how good an idea that whole thing was.

Some people like randomness in their games. I will never understand those people. Random numbers, random encounters, random items, random enemies. I know, at the core of the RPG is the dice roll, and the dice roll generates randomness to simulate chance -- that's fine. This concept crosses a line, however, when you start balancing vital elements of the game on the randomness of a dice roll. If, when you enter a generic random battle, there's a set chance that you will die and game over no matter what you do -- I'm looking at you, Persona 4 -- that is bad, bad game design.

Randomness in games clouds the perception of a lot of things, including difficulty. I'll use one of my favorite games as an example, Star Ocean 2: In the post-game dungeon, there's a chance you'll find a merchant on the 6th floor. A chance. He sells a few extremely valuable items, and it's worth the time to find him. The thing is, why is there only a chance? Why isn't he there all the time? If you're looking for the items, you're going to keep exiting the dungeon and re-entering until he appears, and if you're not, who cares, anyway? So what does the randomness of his appearance accomplish? Nothing. It doesn't accomplish difficulty and it's a waste of your time.

ff12 is haaaaaard

I guess some gamers undervalue their own time because they have too much of it on their hands. I know I do. We shouldn't, though -- time is all we have, and it pisses me off to no end that game designers have no qualms about wasting huge chunks of it so they can trick you into thinking their games are hard, or clever. I don't know if developers realize this, but there's nothing to gain from using things like random chance and arbitrary design choices to keep people playing the game longer (unless it's an MMO, but that's a whole other story). It doesn't matter if people play for 10 or 50 hours, they still get the same profit. In fact, the game would probably sell and review better if they didn't bullshit around with these kinds of archaic concepts.

Getting back to the original point, Dragon Quest has always been all about grinding. Dragon Quest VIII was a very grind-intensive game; things just rolled over you if you didn't take time to level up and get all the new equipment at every new town. That grinding took a long time, too; shit was expensive as hell. How is DQIX going to be "harder" than DQVIII? Is it going to be even more grind-intensive? If the lack of wifi multiplayer and single save slot weren't enough to turn you off from the game, surely this should do it. Sadly, this is Dragon Quest, and pretty much every country that's not America will be all over it regardless of how much it sucks -- and it has always sucked. People love to parrot Japan when it comes to games, and Japan loves DQ because it's tradition. You know how it goes.

battle toads is haaa... wait.

Knowing that JRPGs are not difficult by both nature and design, I don't see how you can perceive Yuji Horii's statement as anything other than "enjoy lots and lots of grinding, you'll buy it anyway." I doubt I'll be buying the game -- this announcement has completed a painful trilogy of Square-Enix uppercutting me squarely in the junk. I'll never bear children. Someone get me some ice, I need to lay down.

At least it doesn't have random encounters.

-Jibril | LJ