RPGs for the Playstation 3 (PS3): An Oldschool Perspective, Part 1
RPGs and The Playstation 3
Given the lackluster entrance into the market of not only the Playstation 3 (PS3), but also the early titles offered for it as well, there was no need for an article about the PS3's offering of role playing games for quite a while. But now, it is October 2010, and with a slew of new RPGs getting ready to hit the Playstation 3 this winter, I thought it would be a great time to start a column to discuss the genre and the titles in it. There are now many great titles out and with titles like Fallout: New Vegas, Two Worlds 2, The Witcher 2, Final Fantasy XIV Online, Final Fantasy Vs. XIII, Dragon Age 2, Mass Effect 2 hitting shelves over the next six month, I will try to continue this series until I have covered most games available on the PS3.
Now, this specific series of hubs is not concerned with an order of "Best to Worst", or any of that non-sense. I don't believe it's easy to rank games without putting a lot of personal preference into the ranking. Rather than create a self-indulgent (at best) ranking system above and beyond the selection of these titles in the first place, I just want to rate the games on a scale of 1 to 10. Each rating will be explained, so before you compare scores to find the best, read the ratings explanation. Yes, my scores are biased (all scores are) but I will try to explain my bias so you can make an informed opinion.
Lastly, I welcome feedback and requests for titles in future hubs. I will try to focus on three games in each post, and to give a thorough discussion of the good and bad in each of those games. Alright, let's talk video games...
Final Fantasy XIII
Now, if you are going to talk about RPGs, or RPGs on the Playstation, or RPGs that have been around since the 1980s, you are obligated to talk about Final Fantasy. So let's just get it out of the way. I have played every Final Fantasy Game released in the US, but have not finished them all (I don't have as much time to play video games as my posts might suggest). My review comes from a perspective of understanding Final Fantasy is and has always been about mixing it up and trying something new while at the same time somehow maintaining an authentic feel of the rest of the series.
The Good: One of the best things about Final Fantasy XIII is the world it takes place in and the story of that world. The story of the world, Pulse, is mysterious and filled with disinformation so that your characters, as well as the player, have a hard time even understanding the true nature of the world they (and you) find themselves in. This holds true throughout and slowly unfolds its secrets as the game progresses. Though several secrets are not revealed, Square-Enix has already announced other titles to come out set in the world of Pulse. I feel the parts left intentionally vague are setups for things we will find out in other games. This is again a unique and perhaps risky move on Square-Enix's part. Sometimes this has failed horribly in the past (Draw system in FFVIII), sometimes it has far exceeded anyone's expectations (Kingdom Hearts). As of now, you cannot judge FFXIII's story as a lone title. As a gamer who enjoys the series, this excited me as it made me think that *spoiler* things in this game might be seen from a different light after playing other games in the FFXIII series.
Other than the story, the combat system has been completely redesigned and is quick, fun to watch, and engaging over the long haul. I found this refreshing to FFXII's approach that left me feeling like I had nothing to do with the battle in late stages of the game. The graphics in FFXIII are by far the best in the series and set the standard, once again, for what our expectations for future titles on the PS3 can do. I expect to watch other game designers (EA) scramble to make their games look as appealing as this title.
Get Final Fantasy XIV Online!
The Bad: I know that Square-Enix increased their sales of the game by 50% by offering it on the XBOX 360, and I'm all for more copies being sold because it ensures the survival of the series. The problem I do have with this is that this meant the Xbox 360 version was on multiple discs. Why is this something I mention? Because for the first time that I can remember, you cannot revisit old locations and further explore, etc. It seems that for about 75% of the game, once you go through it once, it's gone forever. There is no chance to get to know more than half of the visually spectacular environments in the game. I recognize this would have meant disc swapping on the Xbox 360, but I still want to be able to go anywhere I want in a Final Fantasy game.
Other than that, there were surprisingly few side quests. Yes there are a bunch of "hunts" much like FFXII, but none of the small quests of running favors, or playing cards, or helping lost moogles, or collecting comic books to train your dog, or blitzball, or any number of the extensive side games in FFVII. It felt like all you did in this game was walk forward, kill guys, open up a treasure chest that did nothing but give you more money to spend on better weapons to kill more guys. That sounds like an FPS game, not an RPG. There were two small story oriented hunts at the end of the game, but they did not satisfy the expectations set by the series as a whole. I do not know if this is a result of the multi-disc design or not, but I was sad to see the game so streamlined that some aspects of it were not even recognizable as Final Fantasy.
The Verdict: I give the game an 8 of 10 for the purposes of this article. We are comparing PS3 RPGs out right now, and as far as they go, it's one of the best. As far as Final Fantasy games go, I think FFXIII will be overshadowed by the future titles coming out set in the same world as Pulse.
Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Another one of the longest running and most successful RPG series around is The Elder Scrolls. Though Oblivion is the first to be offered on the PS3 (Morrowind was available on PC and Xbox), it does not lose the spirit of the series. In Oblivion, the player finds themselves suddenly thrust into a dramatic situation within Cyrodil, the Imperial capital of Tamrie. Emperor Uriel Septim VII is assassinated in front of your eyes, but before he dies, he gives your character the mystic Amulet of Kings. The game begins with the charge to find a living heir to the throne. As you might expect, the assassination of the king was only the beginning, and a deeper, darker fate awaits the now unprotected Cyrodil as demons start to build "Oblivion Gates" from which they can invade Tamriel.
It is a first person perspective RPG, and though you receive help from time to time, there is little party tactics to battle, but there is, as you would expect from The Elder Scrolls, an immense world to explore that is rich in history.
The Good: Oblivion is massive. You can play this game forever and have not really even pursued the main quest. That means it's also massively open ended. If you just want to strike out and do whatever you like, explore, help people, hurt people, become a vampire, an assassin, a holy knight, whatever, you can. The game is completely up to you, you can, or you don't have to, follow the main story. Truly, there is enough to do in the game without it that you could easily get the $15.00 worth it would cost to purchase it because now the game is old enough that it is also very cheap. A great buy if you are on a budget and want a way to make $15 last for 6 months.
Beyond the expansiveness of the game, it has a great mood. The ruins of Elves and Men each have distinctive style that seems to get under your skin as you wander through the dark with your torch raised listening to the sounds of something in the dark. Often times there are brigands hiding out and you can sneak up and take them out one at a time if you prefer to play as an assassin. Which brings up another plus, you can solve problems with different skills with relative ease. That means there is no "game bias" towards the warrior class that seems to be ubiquitous in hack-n-slash at times. The game also has so many quests and characters you meet through those quests that not only will it keep you busy exploring with a purpose and meeting new people, but the world really seems to come alive in a way that few RPGs can. This seems to be a trademark of Bethesda as a game developer.
The Bad: Sometimes too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. To put it simply, Oblivion's open-endedness limits it's marketability. It's just not every gamer who wants to jump into another world and figure out everything for themselves. In fact, many gamers are just overwhelmed and probably would only toy with Oblivion for a little while before tiring. This game should come with an "Only hard core open world RPG players wanted."
The graphics in Oblivion are truly hard to look at from time to time. Namely the character art and animation. Not only are the people ugly, but they say the same things over and over in ways that sabotages the effect of having life like speech in the game. Another complaint I had beyond the way everyone looked so bad was that the game just couldn't hold my interest plot wise. After a while it just became dull. The character development kept me going, but once I hit 100 on my stats, there was little reason for me to play except to get to see the ending as quickly as possible. I
have no clue how many quests I never did, I did what feels like hundreds, but still, it feels like I accomplished nothing in the long run.
The Verdict: If you want a game to lose a long time into and you like pure fantasy RPGs with none of the futuristic/gun slinging stuff, this game might be the one for you (though I would recommend Dragon Age: Origins first, even if it feels like a "little brother"). At the discount price I see it being offered at these days, it's a no-brainer if you like open ended RPGs. It has enough of the Elder Scrolls literature and lore to satisfy even the most nostalgic of fans as well. Overall, for PS3 RPGs out there, I give it a 7 out of 10. There is nothing that it does particularly better than any other game except just "be bigger", but there is nothing it does particularly wrong either, so it deserves nothing lower than a seven, and perhaps higher depending on your preferences.
Imagine a FPS looking Diabloesque loot-hunting driven RPG set in the future on an outlying planet in the "Borderlands" that used to have a mining operation on it, but has now been abandoned by the company who built it and is basically ruled by the convicts who live there and didn't leave when the company pulled out. Well, you've imagined Borderlands.
The games FPS look is deceptive and if you expect things to drop with head shot like they would in MW2 or BF:BC2, you have the wrong idea. It's an RPG so you have to level up, upgrade your gear, learn special skills, etc. to be able to do things like one shot kills. So it takes patience to be able to get to the point when you can run through the game distributing death and destruction on all who oppose you. The land is barren, the graphics look great, if cartoonish, and the characters are funny, if crude. The game has a tongue-in-cheek quality to it that makes the whole thing come off nicely. You'll be jumping in caves and buildings, hideouts, ravines, and maybe even a secret alien vault by the time you are done with Borderlands.
The Good: You have four character classes each with a special skill to choose from. They each have their own look and personality, and the game as a whole has a personality that seems sort of PG-13ish, but that works because you're blowing their heads off as they give you lip, or try to eat you, or whatever. The game is colorful, to say the least. The leveling system is deceptively simple. It actually have a lot of ways to develop your character, and as you get to higher levels, new ways to customize your character become available.
Probably the best part about the game is the guns. There are tons, different types, different ammos, different manufacturers, etc. It seemed like through almost the entire game I kept finding new types of guns, and it was fun every time. Another great thing about the game is that it is quest driven. You will be on 4 or so quests at once through most of the game, and your in game map helps you keep track of destinations, so you can feel free to explore without ever getting lost. Sometimes you'll discover new locations and quests, and open new parts of the story. The quests seem to evolve as you go through the game and reveal more about different story lines, so the more you do, the more "the big picture" emerges. I enjoyed this.
The Bad: One thing I didn't like is that once you picked one
of your four classes, you were stuck that way through the rest of the
game. This is an RPG under the hood, not an FPS, so all the different
types of special attacks that the characters you didn't choose have, you
never see. It feels like there should be some way to switch so that
you can try all the different ways to play without having to start over.
I often wondered if a different class would be more effective in
different situations. Borderlands is a little light on plot, so if you
want a compelling story, this is not the game for you. Plus, if you
play FPS, this game will probably irritate you for the first 5 hours of
game play because it will take a lot of bullets to kill things. Also,
the teenage-ish attitude and style might be a turn off for some younger
or older players, depending on your tastes.
Another thing I don't like about this game is that there is tons of expensive and cool DLC available for it. If you are going to come up with three or four new quests that have great new locations, that's great, but I don't want to pay $10 a piece for them. That's $40 before the whole thing is said and done and I only paid $20 for the game. I know DLC is en vogue, and others would count this a plus (and I could say it about most RPGs on this list), but I got irritated to know that there is a ton of new equipment, and locations, enemies, and quests in the game that I can't play without paying more than I paid for the entire game. I don't have the time or money to see the DLC on games like this, so I count it a loss for a gamer like me.
The Verdict: I have to give Borderlands a 7.5 out of 10. Ranking it against other games on the PS3 right now, it's not a straight ahead RPG. It's definitely a hybrid, and that means that it's not going to be for everyone. I do think, however, the game delivers on it's on terms and that it provides lots of hours of fun, though not as much as you could have if for some reason you thought paying $90 to play a game was a good idea. I personally cannot play it as long as other RPGs because of the quicker camera movements associated with the FPS visual style. This is not a complaint, but as an old school gamer, this is something I think about. Borderlands has been out long enough now that you could easily pick it up for under $20. If it sounds good to you, go try it out.
Coming Next Time...
I will tweak the content of these as I write more of them to make them as useful as possible. In the next hub, I will discuss Marvel Ultimate Alliance 1 & 2, Sacred 2, and Dragon Age: Origins.
Currently I am playing through Dragon Age: Awakenings, so discussions of it will come later. Until then, game on!
Best in the Series?
Each hub will ask for your favorite in an RPG series. So, what is your favorite installment in the Fallout series?
Read More Hubs in This Series
- RPGs for the Playstation 3 (PS3): An Oldschool Perspective, Part 2
The second hub in this series discusses Marvel Ultimate Alliance 1 & 2, Dragon Age: Origins, and Sacred 2.
- RPGs for the Playstation 3 (PS3): An Oldschool Perspective, Part 3
The third installment of this series covers Dragon Age: Awakenings, Fallout 3, and Nier.
- RPGs for the Playstation 3 (PS3): An Oldschool Perspective, Part 4
This is the fourth installment in the series on Playstation 3 RPGs. It specifically discusses White Knight Chronicles, Fallout: New Vegas, and Demon's Souls.