Tuesday, August 4, 2009

the tactical advantage

Reading Tobold's remarkable post about Tactics RPGs (also known as Strategy or Simulation RPGs, S-RPGS for short) made me realise how long it has been since I last played a quality S-RPG, and how much I miss them. My favourite videogame ever is the timeless classic Final Fantasy Tactics. I could write an essay on how much I love it. Summing it up, it's got my favourite videogame storytelling and my favourite gameplay ever.

(funny how back when I first played FFT, a few months after it was released in 1998, I had no idea who Yasumi Matsuno was – only later I came to know he's the same director of my back-then favourite game, Ogre Battle, which as a matter a fact is also a Tactics RPG, but of a whole different sort. Matsuno has already become an idol of mine, joining the ranks of Shoutaroh Kojima and Keiji Fujiwara)

First of all, I dig bildungsroman-like stories. There’s nothing like being able to perceive the character’s growth; starting as a nobody and progressively become a great somebody, especially if needlessly corny or over-the-top intermissions are reduced to a few, or even none (honestly I can’t think of any unnecessary dramatic passages in FFT, everything comes together very well). I also prefer plots that deal with political conflicts, even if they are totally implausible or unlikely (give me a FFXII’s “Silly War over Stones” over the several "Save the World from the Evil Demon/Wizard/Evil God" clichés any day!), and FFT’s plot is an intricate tale filled with treachery and betrayal. Also, bittersweet endings just get me... FFT’s ending is a sad but uplifting masterpiece, plus it bestows us with the greatest, harshest piece of irony I’ve witnessed in a videogame: Delita’s last scene (after you watch everything he went through in the game).

I love the extensive micromanagement of my armies and the pre-combat planning it ensures. In S-RPGs, you are usually presented with several ways to customize and improve your units (such as gear, classes, skills etc) and, besides the tactical choices during the fights themselves, that micromanagement in itself is also a highly strategic part of the game. You have to carefully think which units you’ll bring to the fight, how to distribute your good pieces of gear among your units, which classes to level on your toons and so on.

Finally, S-RPGs have a quality that is long lost in the current style of games: you can afford to stop to think. The nod towards “action gaming” of most current RPGs seems widely published and regarded as some sort of selling point, but I don’t endorse this notion. Not completely. While I don’t mind action-oriented games (I actually enjoy like several of them), does everything have to be high-paced? There ought to be room for games in which not all decisions have to be made in fractions of a second.

I agree when Tobold says S-RPGs are a gaming style long lost. Admittedly, some S-RPGs have been developed and published lately but, truth be told, they don’t appear to include what I liked the most about my old S-RPGs – that is, all these features I tried my best to describe in the paragraphs above. I wonder if, on a sunny day, Yasumi Matsuno will descend from the Heavens and save the gaming world from the insidious action influence, rewarding us with slower-paced, more strategic gaming… or if I should just embrace the current action trend in videogames.

In the meanwhile, I guess I’ll just stick to playing Dragon Quest IX.

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