Why I Like RPGs

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.

Tales of Vesperia – First Impressions

The Tales series is something I meant to get into way sooner than I actually did. Back when I was a teenager, I guess you can say I started with Tales of Phantasia, only it was before there was an English patch for it. I just remember being astonished at not only the visual style for it being a SNES game, but also surprised that there was voice acting in it. I didn’t play much of it because of the language barrier, but still, this is a series that has always been at the back of my mind. Even when I was a younger teenager, I’d heard some of Motoi Sakuraba’s work from Tales of Symphonia. Since then, I’d been wanting to play this series even more.

Flash forward six or seven years into the future. As an adult, I’ve spent most of my gaming time with Persona, Final Fantasy, Shin Megami Tensei, and Dragon Quest, and I’ve played most, if not all the games in each series so far. (I haven’t beaten them yet because it takes me forever to get through games, but still.) I’m rather burned out on the RPGs I’d been playing, so I ask a good friend of mine what RPGs he’d recommend that aren’t in those series, so later, he sends me this massive list of recommendations. One of the games on there was Tales of Vesperia. I’m pretty sure that game is available on most modern gen consoles now, but I decided to grab the PS4 version. (Though if I knew it was on the Switch, I probably would have gotten it for that instead.)

The moment I booted up the game, I fell in love with the anime-esque art style. Sakuraba’s music hit me with a wave of nostalgia from my years of listening to Tales of Symphonia music. The voice actors all sounded familiar and almost embraced me emotionally with a sense of welcoming, like I was coming home from a long journey, if that cheesy comparison makes any sense. After the prologue, I was raring to go. I loved how the dungeon-crawling worked, though I did admittedly get lost frequently in the first dungeon because I was just not all that observant. It took me a little bit to adapt to the combat style, but eventually, I got the hang of it. It reminded me of what a traditional turn-based RPG would look like if it all played out in real time, and I still love it. It makes grinding not feel as much like a grind.

I don’t really have much to say since I’m only seven hours in and haven’t had much time to play it since booting it up, but I can safely say I am absolutely in love with this game. The characters are all so charming, the world feels amazing, the classic RPG elements make it feel familiar and comfortable to play, and even though I’m currently stuck on a boss right now, I’m still having an amazing time with the game. If you’re looking for a fresh RPG that also shares similarities with what we RPG fanatics have come to know and love, I’d highly recommend picking it up, or at least listening to the music. Motoi Sakuraba is a genius.

The Genesis – Persona 4

Listen to the end. Trust me; you won’t regret it.

This is such a fascinating song that I had to write an entire article about it. Maybe not a long article, but I just wanted to share my thoughts on this song and why it’s personally one of my favorite tracks in the whole Persona 4 soundtrack. People talk about it being boring, and while they’re allowed to have their own opinions, I couldn’t agree less than I already do.

Maybe it’s because of this following fact. I’m not the biggest fan of Persona 4‘s soundtrack in general, at least, in comparison to the other games’ soundtracks. (My personal favorites are the soundtrack of P1, both the PSP and PS1 versions, P2: Eternal Punishment, P3, and P5.) People talk about it being too slow for the “true final battle” theme, and yes, it is a little slow, but it’s incredible. This track just stands out to me more than most songs in the P4 soundtrack do because of its intimidating and ominous nature. The true final boss is most certainly a formidable foe, and this song is probably the most fitting song Shoji Meguro could have composed for it.

In a game with music that gives off a pop/rock vibe, a song like this, with a classical orchestra feeling, really just provides that atmosphere change that really shows you you’re in the endgame now. Even The Mist, another one of my favorite tracks from P4, doesn’t scream “final boss” like this song does. At least to me, anyway. All of this is my own opinion, and I can absolutely see why people would disagree with me. But I’m coming from the perspective of a former choir/music theory major. In the years I performed in choir and have studied music theory, I learned to be able to feel what music was saying through the timbre of the instruments, the way the time signature is utilized, the cadence of the melody as it combines with the background harmonies, the list goes on.

My point is that just about every song out there tells a story, and it doesn’t need lyrics to tell that story. You can understand what it’s saying through close listening and truly immersing yourself in the song. This song gives off the perfect foreboding aura such an intimidating final boss deserves. It sort of reminds me of the song “Transient Butterfly” from the PS1 version of the first Persona game, at least in its structure and what sort of feeling it’s giving off. Except unlike that song, “The Genesis” has that bit of hope at the end of the game where it brings things back full circle with the melody of “Reach Out to the Truth”, another one of my favorite tracks from this game. That ending always gives me chills.

Long rant short, I personally think this song is absolutely incredible, and it’s the perfect track for the true final battle. Also, the instruments give off very heavy Strange Journey vibes. I know that both games’ soundtracks were composed by Shoji Meguro, but still. Strange Journey is one of my favorite games of all time, and I absolutely love that Meguro threw some of that game’s music style into a Persona game. Goes to show it’s true that every Persona game’s final battle theme has some Shin Megami Tensei inspiration.

Persona Q2 – First Impressions (No spoilers)

I cannot express my love for this game enough, guys. Just play it when it comes out.

Ever since Atlus announced that they’d be making a sequel to the original Persona Q, which remains one of my favorite 3DS titles to this day, I’ve been hyped from day one. To make a long story short, I got into the original PQ because of the franchise’s predecessor, Shin Megami Tensei. The fact that there existed a first person dungeon-crawler featuring the Persona characters I’ve come to know and love over the past few years made me happy.

(I know Persona 1 was a first persona dungeon-crawler, but I never saw them doing this again.)

And then this beautiful gem of a game was announced.

I watched every trailer, every character overview, and basked in the amazingness of the music. I was ready. Of course, it came out in Japan long before its release here in the US, which is pretty standard for Atlus titles, but then we received unfortunate news that the game didn’t sell all that well in Japan. If I recall correctly, anyway. I’m not necessarily the go-to source for info like this. I just heard about it before localization of the game happened. As a result of the game’s poor sales, they made the decision to just keep the game’s Japanese voice acting in, and, possibly, if enough people in the US show interest in the game, they may consider adding English voice acting later down the road as DLC, like the Japanese voice patch in Persona 5.

As is normal on the internet these days, people got all up in arms about it, but personally, I don’t see the point. Yes, I had come to know and love the English VAs over the years, but English voice acting or not, the game still got an English translation, and I’m beyond thankful for that.

Backstory aside, I got my copy quite early. It just arrived yesterday, despite not actually being released to the public until June 4th, so I figured I’d give a little first impressions treatment to what is my new favorite title on the 3DS.

Honestly, all I can say is that this game is as amazing as I expected and then some. It’s not just another Etrian Odyssey game with the skin of a Persona game. (I’m over-simplifying things, but still.) It doesn’t feel like they just copied the assets from the first game and brought them to this one. Everything feels almost redone from the ground up, save for, perhaps, the engine itself, but that doesn’t matter.

The writing is incredibly solid, like in the rest of the Persona series. Every character remains faithful to their original selves from their respective games. The music, as is to be expected of a Persona game, is absolutely incredible, even more than I expected, to tell you the truth. Prior to the game coming out, I only heard the battle themes and the incredible intro theme, but after having gotten to start the game, it all sounds amazing and fits well. The animation and art style are both absolutely gorgeous. The chibi models look even better than they did in the original Persona Q.

And of course, there’s the gameplay. Honestly, when I was playing it, it gave off heavy old school Shin Megami Tensei vibes to me in the best way. It could also be because it reminds me of Strange Journey, another favorite title of mine on the 3DS, but still. I’m playing the game on Normal mode, and even the tutorial battle showed that, yes, you are playing an Atlus RPG, and yes, you will get your ass handed to you time and time again, and I absolutely love it.

To make a long rant short, I’m glad I pre-ordered this game back in February. It was worth every penny and then some. June 4th is its release date, so if you didn’t get the chance to pre-order it, I highly suggest purchasing it. Let’s show Atlus some love, and show them that the Persona series has a legit fanbase internationally. To end things off, I’d like to share a couple of my favorite songs from the game, so here we go.

(Sadly, most of the songs I posted here were deleted.)

Mother’s Day Nostalgia – EarthBound

This song alone stirs my nostalgia and I love it.

It’s certainly been a while since I posted an article here, and I most definitely apologize for that. Sometimes, life gets crazy. I do have more articles planned, I promise you that. I’m just waiting to get a little further in certain games, like Dragon Quest XI since I feel like I’m nearing the end of the game at around 100 hours now.

However, that’s not quite what I wanted to discuss. With it being Mother’s Day, I thought it would be appropriate to write about a game I’ve been playing again during breaks at work, and that is one of my favorite games of all time — Mother 2/EarthBound.

At work, I’ve been trying to come up with various methods of keeping my head above water. It’s easy to fall to despair in my line of work and get bombarded and drained by the onslaught of verbal abuse from customers, so during breaks, I’ve been bringing my 3DS to work for the first time in years and playing this amazing game. I already had a file saved in Onett when I booted it up. It was just outside of Giant Step Cave, so I knew exactly what to do.

Playing EarthBound again for the first time in well over a year over the past week or so has brought back many pleasant memories. When I first discovered this gem of a game, I was fourteen years old. I saw a Let’s Play for it done by the YouTuber Chuggaaconroy from back in 2008 and fell in love with the game from that. After I started high school, a friend of mine introduced me to the magic of emulators and being able to play games I wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford.

As soon as I got a Super Nintendo emulator, the first games I got were Final Fantasy VI and EarthBound, the two games I’ve been wanting to try for a while. I’ll never forget how difficult the game seemed at first. I was still technically new to RPGs, so I didn’t do much grinding and exploring to find secret items or pieces of equipment. I don’t think I made it past the Giant Step Cave for a long time. When I eventually did, I still found difficulties in the game for sure, but I think I eventually got stuck in Threed because the enemies kept completely destroying me.

It’s a cold little life here in Winters.

Fast forward to when I’m about sixteen years old or so. At that point, I’d gotten used to EarthBound and its mechanics for two reasons. The first is that I decided to try the game out using cheats, which I later regretted because it made the game crash as soon as Poo joined the party. But then I played it again naturally, and this time, I had found a PDF version of the old school player’s guide. You know, the super cool and creative one. I fell in love with that guide and decided I’d use it to finally try and beat the game myself.

I finally did, and what a masterpiece it was. Since then, I’ve played that game over and over again, and every time I do, I learn something new about the game. It’s incredible. Some of my favorite memories with the game are these days when my brother and I would be home alone a lot. Back then, he had worse anxiety problems than he does now, and he couldn’t sleep in a room alone for a long time, so I’d let him crash in my room while I played EarthBound. He always liked the sound effects and music and thought the general atmosphere was calming, even when I got to Moonside. The sounds would just make him fall asleep. We’re both adults and living our own lives now, but we recently reminisced about that and it reminded us both of how much we love this game.

This game helped me establish my identity as an author, a music composer, and now a game developer. While Persona did a lot of the work, this game helped me through some difficult times, and playing it again here in my new life is a bittersweet experience, but mostly sweet. It’s not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea though. All throughout high school, my co-author often hated on this game, but now that we’re older, he’s far more civil about it. We haven’t discussed it in years, but I reached out to him recently because I wanted to know what he didn’t like about it and why, and he had an interesting answer.

He hadn’t really thought about the details until then, but his judgement was that he felt the game was quirky in its general atmosphere, but not in a way that kept his attention, so he simply didn’t enjoy it. To be fair, he’s not the biggest fan of most turn-based RPGs, with some exceptions like Final Fantasy VII and the Pokémon series, so I can at least understand his point of view.

The song of sweet relief.

This is all to say that this was, still is, and will forever be one of my favorite games of all time, right up there among games like Final Fantasy XII, Xenoblade Chronicles, and any Persona game, including Persona 1, but I’ll get more into that game in another article later, because I have some words to say about that one. EarthBound holds a special place in my heart. The game, the music, the characters, it’s all just perfect. It doesn’t feel so much like a game as much as it does an experience, and I think that’s why it resonates with so many people. It’s an adventure, one that brings back a childlike sense of wonder and amazement. If you haven’t played it before, I highly suggest playing it, and if you have played it before, pick it back up again and just play it, even if it’s been forever. Perhaps you’ll find something new in it that you haven’t noticed before.