Key Items in RPGs: Can’t Play With Them, Can’t Play Without Them

Who wants to carry 17 corpse galls around with them while they're traipsing around Thedas? Oh that's right, no one.

Who wants to carry 17 corpse galls around with them while they're traipsing around Thedas? Oh that's right, no one.

One of the reoccurring tropes in roleplaying games (RPGs) is the use of key items to aid characters in specific situations. For instance, in the classic Pokémon Red & Blue, which you may have recently participated in on Twitch, you must receive a Poké Flute to wake up a sleeping Snorlax. However, as purposefully useful as key items can be, they are not without their frustrations: 

They take up space, and you can never, ever, get rid of them. 

Remember all those Corpse Galls you collected in Dragon Age: Origins (DAO)? You may still have some leftover after you’ve finished the quest – and now you can’t get them out of your backpack! Who wants to carry 17 corpse galls around with them while they’re traipsing around Thedas? Oh that’s right, no one. 

This can be particularly frustrating for games with limited inventory, such as DAO or Kingdoms of Amalur (KoA). I only have 60 item slots in KoA and my character has carried around some random’s guys handkerchief for days. That item spot (and others) would be much more useful for carrying potions or loot. Instead, since the game does not allow players to dispense of quest-related items, I’ll continue to carry the handkerchief. Maybe I can use it to keep the blood off my face. Which brings us to the next problem:

You can never use key items when you want to

Unlike my handkerchief, some key items actually seem cool – like the Black Materia from Final Fantasy VII. It’s the most powerful piece of materia in the game, and it won’t even let you use it for yourself. It’s like unwrapping a Christmas present and being forbidden to play with it. I’d also like to be able to equip that Satin Dress and Sexy Cologne to Cloud while we’re on the subject of Final Fantasy VII

Some games allow players to more liberally use key items. Many of the items in Pokémon games are useable, but Professor Oak/Elm/Birch/Rowan/Juniper/Sycamore will always be there to let you know if you’re doing it wrong. 

You can’t use your Good Rod on land, you can’t use your bike indoors – what’s the point of having these things if you can’t play with them?

Most of these limitations have good reasons.

You can’t get rid of quest-related items because most games don’t want you to fail quests by accidentally selling important items. I would probably end up selling my Moogle’s Flute from Final Fantasy IX and never be able to conveniently summon moogles on the world map. I may badly want to sell my handkerchief, but I’m willing to keep it since the same mechanism prevents me from selling even more important items. 

Allowing players to employ items whenever they wanted to would add technical and story complications to most games. Using the Black Materia would have game-changing consequences, and programming a secondary outfit for Cloud would have added unnecessary amounts of manpower to accomplish. 

Do I still want to ride my bicycle in buildings? Hell yes! But as long as people want to play RPGs this is just one of the annoying staples that players have to accept.  

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