My Personal RPG History

So as I’ve noted before, recently I’ve been reading the playthroughs at the CRPG Addict which has been getting me thinking about my own history with RPGs and the like.  What has most inspired my thinking about this is that the CRPG Addict talks a lot about Ultima, both the original game series and the Age of Enlightenment games, and talks about how influential and often how great even the original games were, and I remembered that I actually had an Ultima game — maybe even the original — for the Commodore 64 and … never played it.  I didn’t care for it.  I didn’t really enjoy the “wander around an openish world and do things model” that it employed and so never got into it.  And so despite ending up being someone who plays RPGs pretty much exclusively, I turned my nose up at one of the classics of the genre and at the time didn’t particularly play RPGs — at least as defined by the CRPG Addict — at all.  So how did I get here?

The first gaming system I played on was the Atari 2600, which didn’t really have much that looked like an RPG.  And yet I think that even here the things that would get me into RPGs eventually were already starting to show.  I was already enjoying and getting fascinated with story, enjoying the Raiders of the Lost Ark game and the first Swordquest game that built a story around the mechanics.  While I think that Raiders did that really well, Swordquest didn’t do so well with it, but I was already getting more drawn into games that had a narrative around them over simple games that didn’t (although I did enjoy the simpler games and simulation, some of which were quite fun and quite well done).  A good narrative would get me more interested in a game than a promise of good gameplay would.

Then, later, I got my first computer, a TRS-80 Color Computer 2.  Again, not much there, but I was again drawn to narratives even if the game didn’t really take advantage of them.  I played Dungeons of Daggorath, for example, as well as Bedlam.  Good settings and stories behind the games, again, tended to attract me more than just games that talked about great gameplay, although I had those as well.  But, again, I wasn’t really playing any kind of RPG at that point.

Then, after that, I got a Commodore 64, as noted above, which is where I started getting into RPGs.  I picked up a whole host of games from a teacher at my high school, but again even though one of them was Ultima I didn’t start by playing RPGs.  Instead, the games that most appealed to me that would fit in those categories were Defender of the Crown and Pirates!, games where, essentially, I was actually playing a role and helping to shape a narrative.  The same thing could be said about Infiltrator and even Airborne Ranger, where while they were more action oriented I was still playing a character in a role doing what that character would do.  So the narrative was indeed calling me.

The first real RPGs I recall getting into, though, were the Gold Box games, and particularly Curse of the Azure Bonds.  Which, as it turned out, I also had the book of and had read and so was primarily interested in seeing how they align.  I didn’t like the Eye of the Beholder games, and the only Gold Box game I ever managed to finish was Gateway to the Savage Frontier, but those games were developing my love for RPGs.  And yet, for all I can remember, those were the only RPGs I played, other than dipping into the first Buck Rogers SSI game and, if you consider this RPG-like, the X-Men:  Madness in Murderworld game.  Or Weird Dreams, which was another game where I was put into a role.  And this carried on through my days of owning an Amiga (many of the games listed here were Amiga games for me).  I played these games and some sports games and maybe a couple of adventure and action games, but roleplaying games weren’t dominant for me like they are now.

I really hit my stride with them later.  On the CRPG front, I came across Icewind Dale and thus the Infinity Engine games, and liked Icewind Dale 1 and 2 and didn’t care for Baldur’s Gate.  This led to me getting and playing Knights of the Old Republic and Sith Lords, which became among the first games on any system that I actually finished.  A co-worker recommended the Might and Magic games and while I wasn’t that fond of the RPGs I did like the mix of RPG and strategy that the Heroes of Might and Magic game had, which dovetailed into my playing those sorts of games like Age of Wonders and Disciples 2.  So, again, playing games in a narrative was driving me here, as the problem I had with Might and Magic was that the combats were too difficult for me to get into the story, which isn’t something that was a problem for Icewind Dale and Knights of the Old Republic.  I also got into Wizardry 8 at around this time, which was a game where the combats could be at least long, but the story and characters were prominent from the beginning.

At the same time, I also picked up a PS2, and this started my love affair with the narrative-heavy JRPGs.  The first ones that really grabbed me were Shadow Hearts and Suikoden III, and I can’t remember which of them I got into first (Suikoden III was released first, but that doesn’t mean that that’s when I played it).  So while on the PC I was a little less focused on RPGs, on the PS2 I was pretty much only interested in RPGs except for maybe a sports game here and there.  Thus, what really pushed me into being a predominantly RPG gamer was JRPGs, not CRPGs as per the CRPG Addict.  And why I liked them so much was despite the fact that they didn’t offer as much choice or customization as CRPGs, they also told better stories and were more focused on the narrative.  The CRPGs that I liked the most were also ones that focused on the narrative or, in the case of Icewind Dale and Wizardry 8, were games that didn’t overwhelm their more shallow narratives with extra combat and puzzles and so let me focus far more on roleplaying.

This, then, explains most of my issues with the CRPG Addict and his assessment of the games.  He, from what I can tell, is not a big console RPG player, and I think that JRPGs best embody playing a role in a narrative.  He places great importance on combat and development in an RPG, and I see those things, for the most part, as distractions on the way to developing a good and proper narrative.  What we agree on and what makes us both love RPGs is that we want the games to let us make choices and change and do things in the world as we play our role.  And for me, what I really want is to play that role in the world, which is why I find the Personas to be among the very best roleplaying games I’ve ever played, because while I don’t get a lot of choices in the main quest, outside of it in the Social Link aspects I can control what I do and who my friends are, and so can play a role as the type of character I want to be.  You can’t really get that in any other type of game.  And this also explains why I don’t care for the open world games as much because they are too open, and so there’s no real narrative that I can play off of.  In open world games, I am encouraged to go out and do what I want to do, but what I really want is to go out and do what my character wants to do … and I’d have to do too much OOC thinking to pull that off in an open world game.  With a solid narrative, I only have to think about my character’s reactions to what is being said or happening in the main narrative, and how they want to react to characters and side quests.  Thus, I get to play a role, while in open world games I have to define a role.

And, as it turns out, what I really want is to play a role.

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