Some truly amazing titles have graced the RPG genre during these last few decades. From the story to the setting, these games have a unique quality that can resonate for a lifetime. However, it seems that many recent additions to the RPG library are falling short when it comes to developing that long lasting need to not only push through to the end, but actually uncover every single detail that a game has to offer.
I remember feeling that adrenaline rush in the car ride home from school, knowing that I was 10 minutes away from diving back into Dark Cloud 2, where I could continue rebuilding Balance Valley. It’s a rare occasion if I find that level of value in a video game these days. Whether the problem lies in an unorganized interface, an unrestrained questing system, or the lack of meaningful plot, something steadily prevents me from immersing myself completely. So now that we’ve identified these shortcomings that drive us to dust off our old consoles from the glory days, let’s deliver some well deserved nitpicking to the offenders and praise to the champions showing us how it’s done.
When did it become a chore to navigate your menu? Why do I need to constantly set aside 30 minutes to perform a virtual spring-cleaning of my item inventory? Has it become the norm to hold onto every insignificant material you come across, just to accommodate a relentlessly convoluted crafting system? These are the questions that keep me awake at night, huddled against my copy of Chrono Trigger for nostalgic warmth.
Every gamer has a limit of what they are willing to sift through to find that mysterious black hole we call the “endgame.” There been so many recent titles that have tested my resilience and forced me to think, is this really worth it? An unmanageable inventory system is a prime example of something that gets in the way of enjoying a solid RPG.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
I’ve experienced this realization several times after revisiting The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. There are a few features in this game that scream mediocre, but it’s the interface that always seems to push me over the edge. I mean, the entire in-game menu is just one long list, separated by subsequent lists, inside lists that list out lists for listing things that lists don’t- my point is that lists are the absolute worst way to establish the interface for a role-playing game. You need organization. You need a comfortable grid to sort through your many weapons and items; one that says, I know the alphabet is useful for most things but it doesn’t belong here.
Dark Souls 3
A great example is Dark Souls 3. I could honestly mention any Dark Souls game here since they’ve adapted the age old motto of, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Everything about the Dark Souls layout is just sublime. There’s an almost Ocarina of Time feel to the main equipment window. Upon diving further into the equipment and item menus, you see that all of the weapons are sorted by type; the armor separated into legs, arms, chest, head categories. The items, which typically provide the biggest pain point for me, are each accompanied by an icon and description that tells you exactly what you need that item for.
Meanwhile your Skyrim inventory is an extensive, icon-less pit of no return. Not only is all of the armor mixed together in one long list, it’s alphabetical. God forbid you have enchanted gear, you’ll be jumping from top to bottom trying to compare equipment with different naming conventions. This is probably something you could learn to cope with, until it comes time to travel over to the items/potions/crafting ingredients/celebrity memorabilia/books tabs to discover what’s really keeping your weight at 250+ lbs.
Crafting and Upgrading
I love a good crafting system. It’s an excellent way to disrupt the monotony of dungeon diving and side questing until your eyes bleed. If implemented correctly, a solid crafting system can provide serious advantages to the gamer that’s willing to take that extra DIY step in their playthrough. And on the other hand…a convoluted or unnecessary crafting interface can turn players away from an otherwise well designed game. I’m not implying that every RPG needs to adopt the Ideal sublimity of Minecraft; just that it should either be useful or not included at all.
Dragon Age: Inquisition
I developed this position while playing Dragon Age: Inquisition. For the most part I enjoyed this addition to the series, but I just couldn’t get over that damn crafting system. For starters, there is way too much to gather. Every plant, rock, and miscellaneous POS is needed for crafting, and claiming these resources is anything but efficient since the map is littered with them, and the animations for collecting anything is unnecessarily long. You can read more about that particular frustration here.
Once you’re back at your stronghold and ready to get down with the forge and anvil, it becomes an entirely new burden. Comparing craft-able weapons and armor to your currently equipped sticks and trashcan lids is a pain. The variety of options for your gear seems like something that would bring value to this style of game. Instead it’s just overwhelming, complicated, unmanageable, and virtually pointless.
Dragon Quest VIII
Now onto Dragon Quest VIII; a shining achievement of adventure RPG prowess in many areas, including its crafting system. At first glance it doesn’t appear to be a full fledged crafting system alongside the likes of Dragon Age: Inquisition, but the beauty of this little feature is how it develops with the game. Absolutely everything you collect during your journey has a purpose that you will uncover as you progress. While you’ll still spend a lot of your time purchasing new weapons and armor, which is annoyingly nonexistent in most RPG’s these days, the crafting combinations you develop over time effectively complement your gear. This ensures that both purchasing and crafting remain essential, rather than cumbersome or unnecessary. The items and pieces you craft feel like huge achievements, so there’s a lot of incentive to keep searching the four corners of Trodain for that next component.
The good news is that promising titles are prevalent in the RPG genre. The Dark Souls games are still bringing plenty of quality through their game interfaces, and the crafting system in Fallout 4 is a truly inspired design that could push the crafting systems in the right direction. Hopefully user friendliness stays at the top of the priority list.