And I wish I could play every game the same way.
Let’s be honest, no matter how much you love RPG’s, they do have a lot of boring stuff. There’s a lot of animations that aren’t necessary (especially in battles), there’s a lot of walking around, and if it’s not your thing (and working full time for me it is not any longer) grinding levels is a chore.
I had been playing the Trails in the Sky games on my PSP first and then my Vita. Let me be clear: The Legend of Heroes Trails in the Sky has quite possibly leapt up to my favorite JRPG ever. This means it beat out Tales of Eternia (or Tales of Destiny 2 for Americans), Chrono Trigger (can we please agree that it’s good but it IS NOT the greatest thing in the universe?), Final Fantasy V (#TeamFaris), Super Mario RPG (my most beloved RPG, the first one I ever beat) and Evolution 1 and 2 for me. However as much as I love Trails in the Sky, from a technical perspective I have some complaints.
One of those complaints is the magic system. Oh my gosh the magic system. Well, magic and S-Crafts. The animations look neat and the quips are great…like…the first two or three times. Dear Lord though, it did not take long for me to despise these hideously drawn out unskippable sequences!
While Trails in the Sky SC (Second Chapter) is balanced a bit better, magic rules the day in this series. I could one shot enemies with my orbal arts that would take three to five rounds of attack with my weapons. This also meant that I had to sit through the same long butt animations over, and over, and over again.
Honestly magic probably added a whole ten hours to my play time all told.
Next is how you even get magic. You have to grind random battles hoping to find enemies that drop the right color fragments. Once you have enough septium fragments, you have to spend those fragments to unlock your orbal slots for your character. That costs A LOT of fragments. Then you have to get more fragments so you can spend those fragments to actually create the orbs for the arts (think materia but you can’t buy it with gold).
Then you have to read your artes book to figure out what combinations will give you what abilities (which is actually pretty fun), then you have to figure out what orbs to even use because you might have a green one that also gives you red and yellow and you need a certain number of each for certain moves.
That’s not as confusing as it sounds; the real pain is the hours and hours and HOURS you would have to spend grinding to get the right stuff to make the right stuff. And, each new partner you find? Yeah you have to unlock their grid as well.
Another area that’s great from a narrative perspective but awful from a design perspective (but also not awful if you get invested in the narrative) is the fact that there is no quick way to travel between the game’s major cities. The first game has a narrative reason why Estelle and Joshua are walking everywhere. Trails SC finally introduces airships as a viable way to travel, but as Estelle and Joshua want to see the world on foot just like a certain someone did, in Part 1 you huff it everywhere!
Most towns have at least one dungeon in between them, and while there is a good enough plot reason to keep you from having to trek between regions, it does still force a lot of walking on you. A LOT of walking.
This issue is exacerbated by the fact that the sidequests in this game actually have a point. Aside from being tied to your bracer level, there is actually a ton of thoroughly well written plot details in the sidequests. NPC’s that I met in the first few hours of Trails in the Sky have shown up in the sequel, and I get a thrill every time I meet them.
One NPC in particular has a subtly sad story that weaves in such an amazing payoff, and another character that I thought was innocuous in the first game showed up in the second one with such a heart-wrenching story that I nearly shed a tear when I reached her conclusion.
Plus, a certain someone who is just a recurring sidequest annoyance in the first game shows up in a huge way in part two, and a certain reveal at the end of the first game filled me with so much rage when I thought about my otherwise innocuous interactions with the character leading up to that point.
As important and impactful as these sidequests are, they DO involve a lot of walking around. This may sound like I’m complaining for no reason, but listen, between magic, grinding and walking I think at least 1/3rd of my run time was filler. Trails in the Sky and Trails in the Sky SC are basically discs 1, 2 and 3 of the same game (SC literally picks up the morning after the ending of First Chapter), so when you consider that it is basically a one hundred hour RPG that means I spent at least 33.5 hours doing things I really didn’t shouldn’t have had to.
I loved the game, but I would literally take month long breaks in between two to four days of playing. Until I started playing on PPSSPP.
Again, I would like to re-iterate that I bought the game and so should you. Also don’t let the negatives scare you off, this is quite literally the single greatest JRPG I have ever played in my life. There are so many amazing things, from the characters and their growth to the amazing soundtrack (THE RANDOM BATTLE THEME IS SWING JAZZ!!!) to how literally everything has a point and purpose including random butt NPC’s. However as much as I love the game, I love my personal time more, and between a full time day job, composing music, writing novels and designing three games simultaneously, I don’t get much “Sit around and enjoy my hobby” time.
Did I mention the game has a full length novel and a running newspaper inside of it as well?
See the lovely thing about PPSSPP is that it has this neat little fast forward button that makes the game run hecka fast. My finger is never far from this button. Whether I’m walking on the overworld, in a random battle (which if I can just spam my regular physical attack and win every fight, please take a page out of Conception 2’s book and just let me get the experience and skip the fighting, please?) or watching animations that, I’m sorry, I just don’t care about (literally every dog fight in Trails in the Sky 2; I’m sorry, I know your art team worked hard but they were really, really boring), best believe I am holding that fast forward button like there’s no tomorrow.
This has made the game so much more bearable for me. I heard that in Trails of Cold Steel you can skip magic and skill animations, and I’m thankful for that, but I still have two more chapters to clear in Trails in the Sky before I can start that trilogy.
Playing on PPSSPP and playing intelligently designed (if poorly written) RPG’s such as Bravely Default have spoiled me. I want every RPG to have a fast forward button. I want every RPG to let me decide how frequently I want random battles, and how much I want to have to grind. I’m an adult with adult obligations, I don’t have time to game the way I’d like to.
I’m playing Dragon Quest VII on the 3DS and GOOD LORD I WISH IT HAD A FAST FORWARD BUTTON!!! The wandering the overworld, the insistence that I watch NPC’s walk slow as molasses in and out of every cutscene, the sweeping panorama of your villages that only have four houses, the constant grinding, if I could emulate 3DS games I’d do it in a heartbeat.
I’m also playing Code:Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ on the Vita (Shut up it has a good story and shut up yes I did spend time searching for a good picture of Cardia and Van Helsing and shut up yes I am upset that I saw spoiler pictures for St. Germaine’s route along the way) and I’m on my third route (Love Van Helsing’s story, Cardia is kind of a brat in Impey’s so I didn’t like his, passive about St. Germaine’s) and it involves having to fast forward through a lot of generic dialogue to get to the story parts I haven’t seen yet.
Even with a fast forward button, it fast forwards too slowly.
I know I sound like one of those impatient GO GO GO people of the day, but I mean really, a lot of that stuff just isn’t fun when you’re an adult with limited time. I love hard games and I used to enjoy grinding levels or the thrill of grinding for rare loot. Now? Not so much. I will always prefer hard games, but my time has me playing games differently than I ever have before.
When I play Tales of Hearts R, I turn on auto battle and read a book (or write one) while I just let the computer grind levels for me so I don’t have to. I just want the narrative at this point in my life. For the first time ever, I’m playing Fire Emblem games on casual with permadeath turned off. As much as it makes me sick to my stomach (differentiate my words: I don’t care if you personally like playing on easy, I just hate playing on easy) to make the game such a cakewalk, I don’t have time to play a thirty minute sortie and then have to restart because someone died forever.
I just plain don’t play games that I can’t get through fairly quickly anymore. Final Fantasy 15 is sitting on my shelf because it is like 50 hours long and I also have to watch a movie and read a book to understand it. Bloodborne and Dark Souls 3 sit untouched because I don’t have time to have to figure the world and the lore out. I’m only on the second time warp on Dragon Quest VII, and Dragon Quest VIII is out in like three weeks.
And yeah, I love visual novels, and yup, I also like otome games because they tend to favorcharacter development, actual romance and narrative far more than picking out the cutest girl a la harem games. Even so, while Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters is one of the most innovative strategy RPG’s I’ve ever seen, I don’t have time for a game that makes me play for upwards of an hour without a save point.
I’d love to play Summon Night 5 before Summon Night 6 comes out, but they talk A LOT and I don’t understand the combat engine, so, that’s on the back burner too.
I guess what I’m saying is, it’s 2016, can we stop designing games the same way we were doing it in 1991? Copy Bravely Default for example; let me speed up combat, let me adjust the difficulty on the fly, let me buy weapons and armor without ever actually going into a town, let me adjust the random encounter rate. Do like the iOS port of Final Fantasy 7; let me turn off random battles if I want to and just level and gear me up appropriately for boss fights. Do like Conception 2 and just give me the experience, money and items for fights without making me do them if you already know there is literally no way I would lose that battle.
There are a ton, A TON of ways to deliver a compelling experience to your fans. Stop forcing us to play the way you want us to solely because that’s how it’s always been done.