CRPGs have been around for decades, with nearly all of them inspired by the likes of Dungeons and Dragons in some shape or form. The genre has also slowly merged with adventure games in recent years, allowing for new dynamics (and problems) to arise in their designs. However, with advancement in technology, video games, in general, have evolved into huge, intricate, and immersive experiences. Which has led for consumer expectations to rise.
Therefore, developers need to focus on creating complex and engaging storylines filled with memorable characters. That’s what will keep the genre iterating — and interesting.
Why Are Story And Characters So Important?
Story is what holds every RPG together, and it gives the player focus throughout his or her playtime. However, great storytelling isn’t just about the main narrative, but also compelling mini story arcs and side quests narratives. When the player wants to explore and seek these out, they should be engaged by them and rewarded by them — and not just with loot. Otherwise, these side quests become mundane, a chore to get through.
Likewise, characters are pivotal to any story — the two cannot be separated. They work in tandem with great storytelling. They must have personality to be believable. They cannot be blank and emotionless A.I. If the characters are dull and unmemorable, then it will be difficult for the player to become invested in the game.
Although the story may boil down to saving the world, telling this in an interesting way — with relatable characters — makes the experience so much more engaging and worthwhile.
Where RPGs and Adventure Games Get It Wrong And Right
The following RPGs aren’t necessarily bad games, but they’re also not necessarily great games, either. There are certain design and development decisions, specifically in the realms of narrative and quest design, that harm each game’s overall experience.
The Assassin’s Creed Franchise
The Assassin’s Creed series has had ups and downs, to say the least, Assassin’s Creed 2 and Black Flag arguably the best games in the franchise. On the other hand, the series’ side quests have never been great, relying too heavily on treasure hunts and endless fetch quests that offer little variety and no narrative payoff.
Comparatively, its main story has always been quite engaging and complex. This has been one of its strong suits (alongside fun and likable characters, like Ezio Auditore). Although the story in later entries isn’t as strong as some of the early narratives in the franchise, it still contains its surprises, ones that keep the player engaged and coming back for more.
The Final Fantasy Series
The Final Fantasy series has always put a focus on its storylines and characters, which has allowed many entries to remain memorable and iconic years (and even decades) after their releases. Entries such as Final Fantasy VI, Final fantasy VII, Final Fantasy IX, and Final Fantasy X are regarded as the best in the long-running franchise. Even with dated graphics, the strong stories and relatable cast of characters allow them to stand the test of time.
Now, they are not without their faults — one of them being the lack of side quests. Final Fantasy 15 corrected this to a degree by going open world and including countless side quests of varying quality. But its plot and characters were still a huge driving force behind the game, even through the late-game parts where the pacing of the narrative felt rushed. But in the end, it was still a successful narrative with an intriguing and well-written villain that sits among the best in the franchise.
The Elder Scrolls Series
Commonly referred to as the king of western RPGs, this franchise has always been one of the best at world building, providing players some of the most intricate pieces of lore in all of video games. Flawlessly incorporated into the gameplay, lore, story, and narrative-driven side quests have brought the series acclaim and provided originality. Skyrim may have better combat than Oblivion, but the quest design clearly took a hit, going with quantity over quality.
However, memorable and likable characters have never been present in the series, which does hold the games back from staying with the player long after they finish it. With the next game in the series, Bethesda will need to fix this long-running issue if they want to compete with the next example.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt:
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt improved every aspect and flaw from The Witcher 2. Its main story was epic and hooked players from the start. Nearly every character was detailed and layered, and each was easily likable and memorable as soon as you met them — like The Bloody Baron, Geralt himself, Ciri, and Triss to name a few.
Many critics and fans alike consistently praise the side quests and for good reason. They all have a good, and often bizarre, story to tell. Players often seek out quests for narrative surprises, not loot.
The level of detail, care, and passion that has gone into this game is unparalleled, far more than any other game out there. It has an impeccably written story and deep characters. Why? It’s because every aspect of each has been created to such a high standard. The game’s multiple endings allow for more than one playthrough, so you can experience many different choices over and over again. It is the closest gamers have ever come to a perfect game.
I hope that every developer learns the importance of story and characters in RPGs. It’s needed alongside strong gameplay and quest design to truly make the game a masterpiece. Otherwise, the genre will pump out one uninspiring game after another — many with little evolution.
Do you agree, or do you think I am completely crazy? Let me know in the comments.