When it comes to RPGs, I’m a connoisseur. Sure, most RPGs are just time-sinks that eat up a lot of your time, but are usually entertaining and engrossing enough for it to be worth your time. Unfortunately, modern RPGs have started following a sickening trend the past few years: Dumbing down for casual gamers. Now, there’s nothing wrong with making a game simpler or trimming down certain aspects of said game. Sometimes, games are in desperate of need of being simplified. A good example of this is the original Baldur’s Gate, a game that will kick you in the nuts over and over again if you don’t know what you’re doing.
The problem is that most modern RPGs are unfortunately very watered down when compared to the RPGs of the past. They are simpler, with easier to understand controls, and a watered down open-world and story with linear paths to progression. Skyrim is a good example of this. It’s what I consider a great game, but a terrible RPG. The RPG elements were dumbed down to a ludicrous degree, not even the stats system was spared from the oversimplification.
Skyrim felt like a step backwards from its predecessors. It removed the interested side-quests from both Oblivion and Morrowind, and replaced them with a bunch of boring fetch-quests that barely fleshed out the world. You were constantly pestered by dragons with each step, and the game was generally more buggy upon release than any other game in the series.
Like I said, I enjoy Skyrim a lot despite its flaws. However, it can’t be overlooked that this game (along with Mass Effect 2) kind of spearheaded the change in ideals of modern RPGs. Game series that were once known for their complexities, character creation, and tough choices soon became over-glorified action games with slight RPG elements. While it is true that the casual audience makes up a large player base, I feel like making RPGs too simple for them is a bad way to go about it. I mean, if a casual gamer is going and play an RPG for 100 hours, can you even call them casual anymore? Sure, you have that player hooked, but sooner or later that person will realize that there are far more meaty games out there.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is a good example of a modern Western RPG done right. It still contains a ton of RPG elements, and even lets you choose between the two different control schemes of past games. You can play it as an action RPG, or a more strategy centered one. Character customization, detailed world-building, and interesting scenarios gave the world a lot of life.
If we can be real here, a RPG doesn’t need to be for casuals to be good. Dragon Ball Fusions is a more simplistic RPG for the casual audience, but it’s entertaining and fun enough to be played by gamers from all walks of life. It’s easy and simple, sure, but it’s got those complexities and intricacies that most modern games lack. While it is a Japanese RPG, it still carries some of those Western game sensibilities.
So, that begs the question, is it better for an RPG to be simpler so that an overall audience can enjoy it? Or, is it better for an RPG to be complex and intricate and involve player choice and consequences? That’s really up to the people who would buy RPGs, nothing for a single individual to decide. When I want my complex RPG systems, I usually just go for Indie games when I need my fix. However, I’m all for the occasional casual RPG, if it’s well put together.
Whether a person enjoys simplistic RPGs or more complex ones, I think they can all agree on one thing: An RPG is what one makes of it. The whole definition of what an RPG is has changed since the good old days of tabletop games. Nowadays, an RPG is what you make of it. RPG does stand for role-playing game, and the role you play will always be a different one no matter the game. Playing a simpler RPG is just as valid as playing a hardcore one, in my eyes.