The turn-based RPG genre certainly has dedicated fans, but I know a few people who don’t fully understand the appeal. Honestly, I don’t blame them either. We as human beings have incredibly varying tastes. It’s only natural for one person to absolutely love something and another to completely dislike it. Granted, the people I know don’t completely dislike the genre, but they aren’t big fans of it. I’m sure there are many people who dislike or even completely hate it as well, which I understand. It’s not for everyone. But today, I decided I would like to break down what it is exactly about this genre of game that I really enjoy, and why I love diving deep into these typically long adventures fraught with danger, story, and stats.
When growing up, I didn’t even really know what RPGs were until I was 12 years old. The only games I knew were Mario, Zelda, Mortal Kombat, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, since they were the games my parents played. My dad told me a little bit about the Final Fantasy series as a kid, though all I knew about the series was that it had great music. When I was 12 years old, however, I got my first RPG: Final Fantasy IV on the GBA.
The moment I played it, I fell in love. I’ve never been what one might consider “good” at video games, so the idea of a game where you choose the actions for your character to do rather than having to fight with your own skill was practically a godsend as a kid. Finally, a game I actually had a chance at beating. On top of the combat, I enjoyed the character-driven narrative. Before then, the only story I’d ever known in a video game was that the world was in danger and you had to save it. But with Final Fantasy IV, it dove deeper into the personal affairs and struggles of the game’s cast, showing the more human side of the characters you’re playing as. At that point, the game was more than a game: it became a story.
Nowadays, you can find these deep story-driven games in any genre. The Last of Us games are probably the biggest example of this, given their major cinematic approach to storytelling. However, I think the reason I enjoy them so much more in RPGs is because with the games being simpler mechanically, it allows more room for character growth and actual plot. That’s generally why RPGs are known as long games. They don’t always have to be, of course; you can still have a great story-driven RPG but have it only be a couple hours long. But as a kid with nothing much to do, my childhood self loved long games and knowing that it would take me a while to reach the end of the journey.
This has mostly been a rant on how I feel about the story-driven elements of these games, so I’ll get back on track before I digress more.
Despite my rants, the reason why I love RPGs is rather simple: because I think they’re fun. I understand that not everyone finds them fun because they would rather use their own skill and not depend on luck and numbers in combat, which is completely fine. I agree that things based on RNG can be annoying (like status ailments in Persona 1 ruining everything), but at the same time, there’s more to it in my mind.
When you’re playing an RPG, you become part of the world in the game. You get to see the lives of the characters and you join them on their journey. Much like real life, things happen that you simply can’t avoid. Even so, the game is meant for you to keep pushing forward. It’s especially compelling once you get attached to the characters. That’s why I’m continuing Persona 1 despite my previous protests to doing so. I’ve gotten too attached to the characters to just stop playing after getting one ending.
The other factor here is the mechanics. Most RPGs generally have simple mechanics in terms of combat that are easy to understand, and some have more complex mechanics. However, they generally follow the same formula. You fight enemies, you input commands, you gain experience in some way (either the traditional way or you gain points to allocate to different stats), and you get some form of treasure. Rinse and repeat. For many people, I’m sure this formula is quite boring. It can certainly be repetitive, yes, but there’s something I find comforting about it. Or perhaps cathartic.
I find enjoyment in the process of progressing the strength of the characters via this system. Xenoblade Chronicles is an example of what I personally think is the ideal character-building system. On top of gaining tradition level ups through EXP, you learn Arts and can level them up accordingly, you have skill trees which level up with SP, and you have the Gem system, where you can alter each character’s stats and abilities in combat and on the field. It is an incredible system of customization. It does require plenty of patience to go through so many menu screens to get the character build you want, but for someone like me, I think it’s perfect. It feels productive, and it feels fun.
Again, despite the ramblings of this nerd, the reason I enjoy RPGs is simple. I enjoy their narratives, I love the mechanics, I absolutely adore getting absorbed through the storytelling and the music especially, and I just like seeing the characters get stronger through numbers as well. I totally get why people would dislike it, and I would never dissuade people because of their opinions. This is merely the opinion of a tired nerd, even if it doesn’t fully make sense. Also, RPGs are a big reason why I’m an author now, so I have that bias going for me as well.