Those days are gone. These days, games are made to be short, accessible, and disposeable. That's not a bad thing (mostly, and the disposeable part is definitely a bad thing). It makes for a healthy game industry, since shorter games can be made more quickly, can be played through more quickly, freeing the gamers up to buy more games. Accessible games are also good because they encourage new gamers to pick up the controller. Note that this doesn't have to mean that the game is easy, though it frequently does, just that it teaches you the rules and gives you some practice and positive feedback before throwing you to the wolves. Left 4 Dead is a good example of a game that doesn't sacrifice difficulty for accessibility.
But there's always been a place in my heart for the long, storyline-driven, epic RPG. I've steadily bought them over the years, while knowing that my lack of focus lately means that few will get finished. It wound up worse than that, and none of them did.
Well, I'm out to fix that. I've embarked on RPG Quest '09. For at least the next six months, and probably longer, I'm only going to play RPGs, one at at time, going on each one until I finish it. So far this year, I've been very happy, and very successful.
First was basically a bridge game, Fable 2. This is an action RPG, meaning that there's a "swing sword" button, and the battles happen in real time, and it's fairly short. I knocked that out in about 15 hours, ending it with an incredibly evil character who spent most of the game very fat, and with a pair of horns, and at least one wholesale town slaughter to his name. It was awesome, and rewarding to finish a game.
Next up was Lost Odyssey, a much more traditional Japanese RPG. There is a definite difference between Japanese RPGs (JRPGs) and western RPGs (with no cute acronym), and I'll probably get into that in a later column. This one is by several of the guys who helped create the old school Final Fantasy games. Maybe you've heard of those?
This one was not only turn-based, meaning you plan out your characters' attacks by using a menu, and then watch them perform them, but also long. My final completion time was 60 hours. I put in 15 hours of that when I started the game last spring, but the rest was played in the past few weeks. What's scary is that in gamer terms, that's actually not even playing terribly fast.
This was even more satistying. For one thing, you can construct a pretty engrossing storyline over the course of 60 hours, and these guys did. I was very invested in the characters by the end, in a way that I likely never will be with Master Chief or the GTA guy. It was also fulfilling in that I proved to myself that I was still able to commit to playing a game of that length. You might be thinking that finishing a game doesn't amount to much of an accomplishment. My answer to that is that plenty of people view reading Moby Dick or Ulysses as an accomplishment, so why would finishing a long game be any less so? There's an obvious answer to why that would be, but that's also another column.
So now that I've finished that one, I'm on to my next one: Persona 3. This one is firmly in the JRPG camp. The premise can be summarized thusly (kind of): you are a high school student who finds out that there's a 25th hour that happens at midnight. During that hour, the majority of people are transformed into coffins. Those that aren't are hunted by creatures who steal their will to do anything. Some people who don't transform have the power to evoke creatures from their subconscious called personas. A group of high school students is formed that use devices called Evokers that look like pistols to call upon their personas by shooting themselves in the head with their Evokers (which aren't lethal). Armed with their personas, they make their way up a 260 floor tower that rises from their school during the 25th hour in hopes of stopping the creatures. During the day, you attend school, study for exams (do well, and you might get a weapon as a prize!), date, and make friends. The stronger your connections with other people, the more personas you can create, and the stronger they are.
So basically, it's Demonic Pokemon meets Saved by the Bell in Tokyo. Kind of. It's very strange, and very very good. It's also very long. Play times seem to average around 70 hours, and easily double that if you want to catch 'em all. I've put 15 hours in this week alone. After I'm done with this game, I've got a whole string more lined up. This will truly be an epic endeavor, but I think it'll be worth it. Plus, when I'm done, I'll be able to pick up all the games that come out during this stretch for mad cheap! Hooray!