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consider, first, that content is everything.

consider the evolution of role playing games. (why? because nothing is so important to you, dear brothers, as the evolution of role-playing games.) some would wonder therefore, if nothing is more important to me than the evolution of role playing games, wouldn't "the evolution of role-playing games" make a great title?

perhaps one day i'll title an article in such a fashion, when role-playing games have actually evolved. in the meantime however, i find that most of the latest "role-playing games" have devolved the genre into a degenerate state of dissolving mush.

do you remember when the story was the first, the most important aspect of a role playing game? the glory of the role-playing genre was its story. in that field alone, the role-playing game was without parallel. fighting and shooting games always were the elite elements when it came to showy graphics and real-time action, but a role-playing game was something you could sit down with, spend hours on end playing. it was not only playing a game; it meant being involved in the story, involved in the world in which it was all based. we were emotionally involved. it was real.

and when was the last time you got emotionally attached to a fighting game character? a counter-example: i know many players who have wept at the scene in final fantasy vii when aerith died at the hands of the arch-villain, sephiroth. did you get that kind of emotional impact when chun li beat up ryu?

these days, role-playing games have far less role-playing in them. look at final fantasy viii. i mean, the graphics in that game were legendary for its time. even to this day, when you look at the game, it still has top-notch graphics. genuine 'oh my god,' kind of graphics, you know? the characters themselves, though. . . they were just ripped off of final fantasy vii. squall and cloud were pretty much the same characters. they both are cold, distant, and generally won't open up to people. they say pretty much the same stuff. squall is cloud, version 2.

and rinoa. . . she's basically aeris' personality shoved into tifa's body. she looks a lot like tifa, for one thing. for another, she acts a lot like aeris, except that aeris had far better character depth. actually, no. what i mean to say is that rinoa attempts to act a lot like aeris, but she doesn't have that same essence behind her. in the attempt to copy something exactly there is often something lost. how do you express something like that in an article? rinoa is not an exact copy of aeris, but sometimes i almost wish she were. i'll skip the rest of the characters, lest i leave the impression that my complaints are solely with final fantasy viii. of course, part of the problem with my character analysis may be that i didn't finish the game because i just couldn't stand it anymore. i feel that this only supports my point. (bloody junction system.)

chrono cross, the sequel to chrono trigger, is another example. chrono trigger was one of the best role-playing games ever released. it revolutionized many aspects of the genre. it was the first game of its kind to have true multi-ending features. sure, before chrono trigger, we had many minor changes that could have shaped the ending, but this is the first game that allowed for completely different outcomes at the whim of the player. chrono cross, on the other hand, tried to express the same spirit behind chrono trigger, but fell short. it simply failed to build up any kind of emotion within the player. the game started way too dramatically, and in the end there was no one to relate to. it had all the great graphics that squaresoft could buy, but those did nothing to address the qualities lacking in chrono cross. did square think to impress us with all those multi-character features and flashy graphics? did they think that the flash graphics would endure in our memories so that we would forget that, overall, chrono cross was nowhere near as good as chrono trigger?

chrono cross' multi-character features have only as much appeal as those found in the pokemon games on gameboy. multi-character features are not a bad thing per se. one of the best role-playing games of all time, valkrie profile, had excellent multi-character features. and yet, square seems to have missed that i didn't enjoy that because i could have more characters— it was, rather, the depth that each character adds to the story. chrono cross didn't bother to develop the characters at all. most of the characters are completely two-dimensional, and our time spent in trying in vain to find depth in them only serves as a distraction from the development of the main characters.

i'm currently trying to think of a game that had a good dungeon. it takes awhile. i guess, though, i'd have to say that final fantasy vi iss the most recent one that comes to memory. wild arms had great dungeons that contained lots of secret rooms, secret passages, and plenty of fun little traps. the dungeon complexity was based on where you were. if you went to some ancient ruins where no one dared explore, the dungeons were pretty hard. it usually took an hour or two to get through some of the more complex ones.

but in final fantasy ix, any dungeon can be circumvented by simply going straight. not left, not right, not through a secret door or past any navigational obstacles, like portals, pits, or hidden doors. just straight. there's only one path to take, no choices, no pathways that direct you toward exploring deeper aspects of the dungeon. there really was no point in having the dungeons there at all, except to get from the entrance to the goal. sure, they threw in a few riddles here and there, but it still took only about 15 minutes to get through, minus the battles that slowed me down. you think the arch-villain is going to go to some huge expense to build a massively intimidating dungeon that a six-year-old could navigate by simply going straight?

okay. . . my next gripe? ah, yes. the meat of the article: the level of simplicity that modern role-playing games have degenerated to. i mean, there are some great side quests these days, but the game itself can usually be beaten without a problem. i was playing final fantasy ix when two of my characters went down against a boss. not just a boss, but the final boss of the entire game. now, i had no way to revive these two. so i, with my desperate two standing characters, engaged in a doomed, gallant struggle. i whacked at the final super-tough boss, whacked at it, whacked at it, and. . . wow. he went down. out cold. like a light. all those pointless expressions that represent the final point of humiliating defeat. so now my characters are left standing, pondering the fact that the arch-villain, this creature who possessed enough power to destroy the entire universe, was taken down by a couple of blows to the head. when i was playing final fantasy iv, the final boss was terrifying. i was afraid of him. he actually could beat my characters.

well, this is certainly turning into a major gripe against square soft. but then, square has become the major rpg producer in the united states. i mean, for many people in the us, final fantasy vii was the first role playing game they ever played. it had television commercials and everything. so those unfortunate souls who were brought to the genre so late can not understand what i'm talking about. if only they'd played games like final fantasy vi, or chrono trigger, or anything from the lunar series during the age of the sega cd.

but then, no one really played the lunar games on the sega cd. i was one of a lucky few.

there is still hope, i will admit. square has actually produced some games that are worthy of the attention of a true role-playing gamer. xenogears, for example, has been a leading candidate in many arguments for the title of the best role-playing game ever produced. (i would argue that it is a close call, but final fantasy vi beats it.) i mean, there are only three scenes of animation in those games— the opening, the middle, and the end. the rest of the game lacks any significant quantity of cg cinematic animation, but the story is very solid, the character development is amazing, and you really do get attached to your characters. they are people that you get to know, and they are often far more interesting than actual people i've known in the real world. (god, i wish i had gotten that picture of ellie at ax00. ^_^ )

yet another great example of the storytelling abilities of square soft is wild arms. i'm referring to the first one, not the second. there's a very important difference. wild arms fits on only one cd. only the opening has cinematic animation. the fighting scenes all look like a mosaic of polygons shoved together. it has none of the great flashy graphics that square soft seems intent on showing off in every game they produce now. and yet, the original wild arms still remains one of my favorite games of all time. the characters are fresh and original. each character has his own unique abilities, and the excellent background story makes playing the game a pleasantly memorably experience. all through the game you have only three characters, in stark contrast to the twenty or so in most role-playing games these days. all three of these characters, though, are highly developed throughout the game. the story continues to build up incredible levels of emotion and drama until the very end.

explain that to me. . . why does square soft lavish such great story development on their one-shot games when their jewel, their great moneymaker, the final fantasy series, has declined exponentially with each release starting with final fantasy vii? i mean, final fantasy ix makes a good recovery and all, but it just isn't up to par with what square soft is capable of providing. anyone who has played the final fantasy series, at least vi through ix, is not going to argue with me.

squaresoft should work harder to promote the standards by which games like final fantasy vi and xenogears were made. i did not pray each day for the newest release, only to find that it was a degenerated knock-off the game before it.

—jeff, with a little help from his friends.