RPGs – Why so serious?

July 15, 2009


Today, most role-playing games deal with heavy themes and main characters who have more problems than Windows Vista had on release (Zing!). Let’s look at a few examples.

Lost Odyssey:

Look at me brood

Look at me brood

The main character, Kaim, is an immortal. He is cursed to wander the earth forever, unable to die. Everyone he ever becomes attached to he loses. At one point he is reunited with his daughter, who he thought had died. Shortly thereafter, she proceeds to die in his arms. Depressing! Lost Odyssey also deals with the theme of identity because, surprise, surprise, the main character has amnesia and slowly pieces together the memories of his incredibly long life. Hint: They’re not happy memories.

Fianl Fantasy VII:

Amnesia is cool

Amnesia is cool

This is Cloud Strife. He’s another depressing hero with amnesia. He joins the army, but instead of becoming a super commando like he always dreamed, he fails and becomes an anonymous grunt. On a mission to his home town, his hero, Sephiroth, goes crazy and burns the town to the ground and kills everyone, including Cloud’s mother. On top of all this an evil corporation is sucking the very life out of the planet, slowly killing it. The worst part is that Sephiroth also straight up murders one of Cloud’s best friends/love interests.  Good times, right?

Eternal Sonata:

He's not taking a nap

He's not taking a nap

Meet Frédéric Chopin (yes, the Polish composer). He’s dying. This entire game takes place inside his head. The game world is some fever dream he is having on his death bed. It gets mad points for having an original set up, but it’s still depressing. None of the characters exist. They’re all figments of Chopin’s imagination. When he fianlly passes away in the real world at the end of the game, they cease to exist. Starting to see what I’m getting at?

The Wticher:

Bad ass

Bad ass

Hey, look, another brooding hero with amnesia. I wonder if he has a tortured past. You bet he does! Kidnapped as a child, and raised to slay monsters, Geralt doesn’t lead a happy life. People hate him because he’s different. Everything in his world is a shade of gray, with no clear cut right or wrong choice. “Hmmm should I murder the witch, or the corrupt towns people who hired me to murder the witch.” Keep on truckin Geralt. I’m sure things will turn out ok eventually (That’s a lie. I’m lying).

Don’t even get me started on Dragon Age: Origins and it’s “new shit” (Seriously, look at their advertising campaign). No one is happy when an evil army called the Blight rises up and starts stabbing every thing that moves right in the face. While I have only seen videos of it, the dark fantasy setting does not lead me to believe the main group of characters will be walking around in bright sunny fields while laughing about how care free they are.

So what’s up with all these games being so serious and depressing? Where are all the bright and hopeful RPGs? You know, the ones where the main character smiles at least once.

For one thing, most role-playing games are epic in scope and story. To be epic, there needs to be bad stuff going down. This bad stuff usually threatens the world in one way or another, and the end of the world is a pretty serious topic. As  a result adult themes are injected into the game to help make it more believable, and the main characters usually suffer as a result. If saving the world were fun, everyone would do it, right? Surprisingly, saving the world can be a good time.

Look how happy and pixelated he is

Peace yo

Ness is the hero in Earthbound. He fights off an alien invasion while going on a crazy adventure with his friends. His weapons include baseball bats and yo-yos. Best of all, he hasn’t forgotten about everything that has happened in his life before the game began. He’s just a kid having fun.

While I think Earthbound is one of the best examples of a “happy” RPG, it certainly isn’t the only one. Shiren the Wander is all about Shiren and his ferret questing to get to the top of Table Mountain. The game is hard as hell, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t just a fun adventure. The Disgaea series are a bunch of silly strategy RPGs filled to the brim with humor and murderous  exploding penguins.

Then there’s Pokemon, another game about being a kid and going on adventures. It also happens to be one of the best selling RPG series of all time. And lets not foget how adorable some of these things are.

Look how freakin adorable I am

Look how freakin adorable I am

Role-playing games don’t need to be super serious and dark to be good. Unfortunately, most games in the industry tend to be grim and gritty, and RPGs are following that trend. Lets try not to forget that a bright and fun adventure can be just as good as its more “maturely themed” brethren.

2 Responses to “RPGs – Why so serious?”

  1. DJ Freddy Fresh Says:

    This is also something we saw in the comic book industry beginning in the 90s and even late eighties – characters became alcoholics, started killing suckas, etc.

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