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In Defense of the Epic Adventure Game
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on March 29, 2006   |   Episode 99 (Show Archive)  

   

In case you haven't noticed, the women of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion are not an attractive lot!
As clich? as I'm sure it sounds, 2006 is the year of the adventure game! No matter what system you own chances are there's a big budget adventure game just waiting to be explored. PlayStation 2 owners get Final Fantasy XII and Kingdom Hearts 2, GameCube owners get a new Zelda game, and you can't forget The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for the Xbox 360. If you're a fan of leveling up, exploring new worlds and solving puzzles, then get ready to be very happy with 2006.

But with all these adventure games coming out there is a renewed interest in knocking down some of the best-loved story telling formulas. Are the critics right when they contest that most adventure games feature the same narrative and are almost always an epic tale where you are the only person that can save humanity? Critics will always find something

Leave it to GamePro to promote their exclusives of the new Zelda and Metroid DS ... a year after they were officially announced!
to complain about, but do they have a point about these adventure game clich?s?

This argument was giving legs recently when GamePro magazine ran a story on the Five Ways to Save Video Games. There it was, a popular video game magazine bringing up an argument that has been alive and well on message boards for years now. Are these adventure games -- Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Suidoken, etc. -- too epic? Is the idea that you're the only person on the planet that can

On second thought, Final Fantasy X-2 might have been better if it was just about the little things!
save humanity outdated and boring? This was the argument that GamePro took up ... and wouldn't you know it, they took sides.

"It's high time designers stop revolving around the thoughtless drivel that sees A) the player as the hero; B) the hero taking on impossible odds to defeat some oppressive enemy force; and C) the hero saving the world -- and perhaps even existence itself -- by beaning enough baddies in the head with his magical sniper rifle." That is how GamePro summarizes it, continuing, "This is

If The Lord of the Rings wasn't ultimately about defeating evil, why would you invest 10 hours of your life watching it?
all pointless because after all, you're the hero: You know you'll win if you quick save enough."

GamePro may have a point that some video game makers could scale down the game's overly dramatic story lines, but what GamePro (and all critics of this style of story telling) is forgetting is that there are perfectly good reasons for this epic formula to exist. It's easy to suggest that we should have games focus on smaller scale situations, but in practice that's nearly impossible to do with this type of game.

Adventure games are, by and large, a struggle between good and evil. They are stories of people going against the odds

I don't mind the hyperbole in Final Fantasy, but I could do without the metrosexual men!
to not only prove to themselves that they can do it, but to defeat whatever "evil" that is causing it. This type of storytelling is as old as fiction itself, a popular device that is easy to relate to and full of tension. This "good versus evil" story works perfectly in a game where you're leveling up your character and forced to explore new worlds; why else would you do these things?

Games like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest are no different from movies like The Lord of the Rings or Gladiator. This is story telling that allows you to give your hero a mission; give him reasons to train and go through all of the perils that come with this mission. It also allows you to create a bad guy, a character that can be as simple or complex as the storyteller wants.

For video game developers it's easy to see why they would want to make these epic games, it's the type of story that people connect to and is easy to drag out for dozens of hours. Surely these stories aren't required to be so dramatic (putting everybody's life in danger), but you've spent the money to go on a quest that could take you more than 50 hours; game

C'mon Mr. Cameron, I know you want to make that Aquaman movie for real!
developers know that you want it to be worthwhile and satisfying. If the stakes were lower then why would anybody want to spend the time to defeat the big boss?

Think of these games like you would a comic book movie. Be it Superman, Batman or even Dare Devil, all superhero movies involve the good guy defeating some evil madman who intends to kill a large cross section of people. And if Aquaman isn't your thing, then what about James Bond? People go to 007 movies to watch their favorite British spy kill an evil genius who plans on getting his way ... even if he has to kill a bunch of people in the

If GamePro doesn't like stories about men who save humanity, then they must HATE Donnie Darko!
process. The point is, this simplistic story device isn't a bad thing at all, it's a popular clich? that can be done right.

And it's not just traditional adventure games, its titles like Halo as well. GamePro complains that "only Master Chief can save the planet," but forgets to note that it wouldn't be as much fun to just be the guy in the background watching somebody else save the world. Sure we can work together as a team, but we're talking about an over-the-top science fiction story, why wouldn't you want to be the person that single handedly saves the world? Not only is that exciting, but it's something that is easy to get behind. Convincing somebody that they're going to be three rows back watching somebody else do all the cool stuff might be a hard sell.

GamePro asks, "How cool would it be if the hero died halfway through the game, and the player carried on as the villain?" This is not a bad idea, but two games that GamePro singled out had similar story shifts. Final

The Indigo Prophecy, yet another game GamePro clearly didn't play!
Fantasy VII featured a surprise death of one of the game's best-loved characters, and who can forget when Halo 2 shifted gears to show things from the side of the enemy? Killing off your hero and then showing the villain is a risky move, especially if you would rather kill the bad guys than play as them.

GamePro continues, "Or what if it slowly became evident -- slowly -- that the player himself was the villain, whether on purpose or by accident?" Haven't these people played Call of Cthulhu: The Dark Corners of the Earth? Or what about the fantastic adventure game, Indigo Prophecy?

The idea of playing with the convention is great, but it's already being done. There are plenty of games currently on the market that showcase unique twists on the "Good vs.

World of WarCraft is fun, but its lack of ending can get real annoying!
Evil" storyline, yet most people ignore them to focus on the epic story telling of Final Fantasy. But Square's long-running role-playing series would not be improved by making it about smaller, less explosive situations. You play a game like Final Fantasy to save the world, just like you watch a movie like The Lord of the Rings to watch them defeat evil once and for all.

Lost in this argument are all of the massively multi-player online role playing games currently populating the software aisles at Best Buy. Games like World of WarCraft and Final Fantasy XI are polar opposites of the games we have been talking about. Instead of the story revolving around you, these MMO's really stress that you're just one person in a world that is bigger than

It's Seinfeld: The Game - a game that is literally about nothing!
you. If you're going to do anything you're going to need to band together, and even then you're never going to be the person that saves humanity. Is this the type of non-epic that GamePro has in mind?

These countless MMO's have their place, but from a strictly story telling standpoint they are far from satisfying. The reason that Final Fantasy VII stands out in people's minds is because it managed to weave a fascinating story with memorable characters. Your adventure to save the world is one of the most endearing things about the game, especially when you look at how each character grows on their quest. The fact that the story has a beginning, middle and end is not something I consider to be a negative, I actually like the feeling I have when I've defeated the last boss and have finally saved my friends, family and everybody else on the planet.

There are a lot of games that fit into this formula that are garbage; by now we all know that not every game is worth playing. But when it's done right this epic storyline is effective and fun. In the end GamePro suggests the most extreme idea yet, "What if there were no heroes and no villains, just ordinary people doing the best they could under supremely tough circumstances?" I guess if that's the type of adventure GamePro wants to go on then I won't complain, but we already have that game ... it's called The Sims!
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