For Sake of Convenience

While RPGs have advanced considerably since the 8-bit era, many contemporary titles insist on continuing archaic traditions that can in some instances needlessly burden the player and waste their time. It is understandable why early RPGs lacked modern conveniences, but since game developers today have more flexibility than they did then, not to mention more game memory, they can just as easily include many of the shortcuts and conveniences this editorial will discuss.

The Ability to Skip Splash Screens

Early games tended not to barrage players with endless company screens and logos on startup, given space restrictions, but as generations advanced, certain companies developed the strange habit of forcing the player to see many screens showing every company involved in a game’s development on startup, with no opportunity to skip them. A notable offender is Kingdom Hearts, with about a minute between starting up the game and actually getting back into the game. As a bonus, certain titles, such as recent Megami Tensei games, force players to endure these screens over and over if they die. There’s really no excuse why splash screens shouldn’t be skippable, with Stella Deus being one of the only recent titles I’ve played that allows players to skip its splash screens.

The Ability to Skip Cutscenes

As fellow editorialist Daniel Orner pointed out, there are good and bad ways to do this, the good including games such as the Xenosaga trilogy, letting players pause and cancel cutscenes. Bad implementations of the scene skip feature, conversely, include Nippon Ichi’s games and Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, which first ask players if they want to skip a scene and leave them clueless as to what scene exactly they’re skipping. Other poorly-implemented scene skips include Valkyrie Profile 2 and Grandia III, whose cutscenes are skippable but not pausable. Remember, developers, pause and skip.

Skippable Test/Adjustable Text Speed

Some of us would rather skip through text, if we're fast readers, than wait and listen for a voice clip to finish before advancing to the next dialogue. Even the original Dragon Warrior had adjustable text speed, yet future titles such as Xenogears would lack this convenience, and the Xenosaga trilogy in most cases forces players to wait through the voice acting, as well.

The Ability to Turn Off/Skip/Reduce Spell Animations

As graphics advanced in RPGs, companies developed another bad habit of inundating players with long, flashy spell animations in battle for sake of showing what consoles can accomplish visually that can needlessly drag out battles and often accompany the most powerful skills. We will spend most of our time in combat in RPGs, and while these effects might be eye candy, we sometimes just get really sick and tired of them, especially if they stretch out fights, and often we just want to get them over with. Mercifully, there are some RPGs that allow players to cut down on or turn off spell animations, such as Persona 2 and Wild ARMs 5, and other titles should definitely follow suit.

Equip Best/Auto Equip

In RPGs where the player’s party members can number greatly, there is a good chance that we’ll spend an eternity managing their equipment, and thus, it’s important that character management be as quick and painless as possible. An equip-best feature is vital in sparing players the annoyance of scrolling through items and equipment to outfit characters with the best gear. An alternative feature, however, is an Equipment Wizard similar to Star Ocean 2’s, where, when the player buys new equipment or finds a new weapon or piece of armor in a chest, the game automatically equips it to characters if it’s more powerful than that they’re wearing. Games with large casts of characters, such as tactical RPGs, would seriously benefit from this feature.

Frequent Save Opportunities

There is some debate on save systems and how they affect a game’s balance, although this writer believes that opportunities for saving should be frequent, especially in console RPGs, given the potential to lose a lot of playing time because of things such as a long dungeon, an unexpected difficult battle, or even a brownout/blackout (not a problem for portable systems), which are more common than usual where I live. Numerous save opportunities should also be present in the middle of extensive cutscenes, as they mercifully are in games such as Xenosaga Episode III. If games don’t let the player save anywhere, they should at least have a quick-delete-save feature like Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter, allowing the player to save and quit the game anywhere and deleting when the player loads it, and not affecting game balance in any way. Remember, developers, we don’t always have an hour or more to sit playing your games nonstop.

Turn Order Meter

Any turn-based RPG, in my opinion, should have this feature so players can have some sort of idea when their characters and the enemies will take their turns and thus plan better in the heat of battle. The good way of implementing this feature is Final Fantasy X, showing turn order for over a dozen turns. The bad way? The Xenosaga trilogy, whose turn order meters run short on icons and refill the next turn when one icon remains. “Traditional” turn-based RPGs, where the player inputs all commands for their party and lets them and the enemy exchange commands in a round (examples including the Dragon Quest and Golden Sun games), would benefit from this feature as well, since sometimes character/enemy turn order can be random, and it is a bit annoying to have to memorize/write down turn order when it does indeed remain consistent.

In-Game Guides

These can include tutorials (which, as mentioned in a previous editorial, should be optional and/or skippable), a monster compendium, a plot synopsis guide (which can also remind the player on how to advance the game if they’re lost, maybe keep track of sidequests), shop lists for every town in the world (such as in the Tales games), a Game Dictionary a la Star Ocean 3, and so forth. Such guides can also play some kind of part in battle, for instance, with a few titles such as Wild ARMs 3 and Persona 3 having scan magic work permanently against specific monster types to allow the player to get a reminder on things such as how much life they have left, what they’re weak/strong against, and so forth. However, corporate greed sometimes dictates that this information only be available in a game’s player’s guide, and whether or not one is available, completionist players may experience the inconvenience of having to look at guides online or ask around on message boards to find everything.

Good Automaps

Completionist players will likely yearn to explore every corner of dungeons for every secret and treasure, but also may not like to get lost while exploring said dungeons. The handy convenience of automaps can aid in exploration, although many modern titles still lack this feature (and their absence is inexcusable since even decades-old titles such as The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past had this feature), and even when they are present, they might not be as detailed as players wish. Ideal automaps should show things such as where stairs and entrances/exits are, perhaps allow the player to switch between each floor’s maps like in the Digital Devil Saga dilogy to see how areas are connected. They should also be easy to fill out if the player wishes to fully map a dungeon, with some games such as Final Fantasy IV DS and Star Ocean 3 offering special rewards for completed maps (though the latter game’s maps are somewhat finicky in this regard). It can, as mentioned, be annoying to have to buy a player’s guide or look online for conveniences such as dungeon (and town) maps, with games having evolved reasonably to be able to have them in-game.

Warp Magic

Odds are that players will eventually want to revisit areas during a game for missed treasure, sidequests, and so forth, and while early titles such as the Dragon Quest games have had the convenience of warp magic, many contemporary games often lack this feature, thus forcing players to have to spend half an hour or even more than an hour trying to revisit areas. Even games that do have some kind of warp magic, however, tend to be somewhat restrictive in where players can teleport, such as only to towns (as in most Dragon Quest games, and even the recent Dragon Quest V DS doesn’t allow revisiting of certain towns via warp magic), with few RPGs allowing teleportation to dungeons, as well, or isolated huts.

A feature this writer would perhaps like to see in RPGs is in-dungeon teleportation, where the player can instantly warp to previously-visited rooms in a dungeon to spare them the trouble of a lengthy trek and dozens of enemy encounters in the process, and there are certain titles that make players retread visited parts of dungeons constantly, like many Zelda games. Admittedly, such a feature could somewhat impact a game’s balance, given the skipped battles, but backtracking and repetition can nonetheless be detrimental to the player’s experience.

One-Stop Shopping

Whenever we reach a new town in an RPG, one of our first instincts is to visit shops to upgrade equipment and replenish items. Most RPGs have a habit of forcing the player to walk around town to visit separate stores for weapons, armor, and consumable items, but ironically lump them together at other points. RPGs, in this writer’s opinion, should take a hint from Wal-Mart and offer one-stop shopping in towns to spare players the inconvenience of visiting several shops to upgrade gear and replenish the party’s supplies. Certain titles may have bazaars at various points with tons of shops having different selections, although having dozens of shops in towns is really an archaic design decision that could use a rest.

In-Game Clock

Many RPGs have this feature critical to accurately gauging minimum and maximum playtime for a game, but there are some contemporary titles, such as Disgaea 4, that lack this feature, and some titles such as the Kingdom Hearts series don't pause the game clock when the game is officially "paused." Others such as the Valkyria Chronicles games make it hard to view playing time, and their complete absence either necessitates mental estimation or using a stopwatch.

Conclusion

RPGs have definitely come a long way in the genre’s more than two decades of existence, with each new generation providing developers more flexibility on what kind of features they can include in their games. There are definitely plenty of things they can do, furthermore, to make our lives easier as we play their games, perhaps shave off superfluous playing time, such as including basic features like warp magic and an equip-best option. Shortcuts and other features such as guides can definitely aid in basic computer and application use, so developers can certainly take a hint from them by including such useful conveniences in their games.

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