Overworld Dreams

Explorable overworlds, or world maps, have been part of most role-playing game franchises from their humble beginnings, serving as a link between towns and dungeons. As several console generations passed, however, their presence in RPGs would diminish. Is the disappearance of traditional overworlds cause for alarm?

One franchise that abolished its traditional overworld system is Final Fantasy, starting with its tenth installment, which replaced that system with large explorable enemy-infested areas connecting towns and dungeons. This change caused some alarm within the franchise’s largely-unpleasable fanbase, which equated the lack of a traditional explorable world map with increased linearity, despite the greater realism of the altered system.

A charge one could levy against standard explorable overworlds is their unrealism; for instance, humans and their respective transportation do not increase in volume whenever they depart towns, and the areas between towns in real life typically aren’t infested with violent enemies (with the exception of the occasional predatory beast and vagrant murderer), who share the large volume of the person wandering in between towns and their transportation, have they any.

Further adding unrealism to traditional overworlds is their toroid, or donut, shapes. On traditional RPG overworlds, going beyond the leftmost edge causes the player to emerge on the rightmost edge. Good and logical for travel on earth, yes? Where the realism ends is whenever the player goes beyond the northernmost or southernmost edges, which will cause the player to emerge on the opposite side, an indication of the donut shapes of RPG world maps.

While some RPGs allow the player to display these world maps in spherical form, such as Secret of Mana and Final Fantasy VII, they fail to mask the true toroid shape of their respective overworlds. Even one RPG whose world map is our earth, Nostalgia, has a donut shape, where traveling north beyond the Arctic Sea causes the player to come out over Antarctica, something that most assuredly does not happen with travel in real life.

Videogame technology has greatly advanced with each generation, so there’s really no excuse for unrealistic world exploration in RPGs, and even those that do feature it such as Final Fantasy X tend to have their share of dissenters, thus sending mixed messages to developers about what exactly the average gamer wants with new titles in the hottest franchises, with each new installment continuing to disappoint their unpleasable fanbases. So developers, next time you produce an RPG with a traditional overworld, how about some realism for a change?

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