Thursday, 12 March 2009

It's My RPG, and I'll Pout if I Want To

Role Playing Games (or RPGs) are known for two main concepts: firstly, they must contain teenagers with weaponry powerful enough to level a whole city; secondly, they make you do the same tasks over and over. These repetitive tasks (appropriately called 'grinding' by many) are the bread and butter for many games of this genre - an easy way to make a short game longer and more difficult. Unlike other game genres (racing games, shooters...) RPGs don't require much in the way of caffiene-fueled twitch reflexes, and grinding is the easy way out.

Don't misunderstand me here; the RPG is by far my most favourite genre, and it's rare to find a game that's completely ruined by the grinding, but this gameplay mechanic is so old and overused (the very first RPG videogame was Dragon Quest on the NES - the first Final Fantasy game actually came afterwards), that the game designers of today are practically pleaded with by their fans to do something a little different. And fortunately, they do. Occasionally. Several recent RPGs employ mechanics to alleviate the repetition (although the teenagers with heavy weaponry still remain). The World Ends With You for the Nintendo DS has a difficulty system you can change at any time - eliminating grinding completely, if you choose.

My World, My Way - produced by RPG giants Atlus, released for the DS - handles grinding just a little bit differently. Starring a spoiled princess-turned-adventurer (guess how old she is...), she overcomes difficult enemies and repetitive tasks by... moaning about them.

Having influence over the entire kingdom (and being continually watched by a mercenary hired by the King - the game tells you very quickly that the entire adventure is a ruse to placate the princess), she can 'Pout' at any time during her adventure to turn the tables in her favour; and there's a pout for pretty much anything. Monsters aren't dropping enough money or items? Pout for it. A locked treasure chest you can't find they key for? Moan about it until it opens itself for you. Just can't be bothered to collect 10 Demonic Explosive Potatoes? Whine enough, and the game will be happy enough to complete itself for you.

If only he knew...

A self-completing RPG would be a little too easy, so those who want a challenge may want to try and ignore Pouting completely, but the game will try its damn hardest to make you change your mind. By making quests so easy to complete with Pouting on your side, My World, My Way will turn the Grind-o-Meter all the way up to 11 should you even consider trying to restrain the temper tantrums. Assigned quests rapidly go from 'collect 5 things' to 'collect 25 things', with enemies increasingly stronger than you are (expect to survive the first few battles of a new area by the skin of your teeth). Every so often you'll encounter enemies that you have no hope of beating at your current level, and you'll ponder about using the 'Make Enemies Weaker' Pout, as your inner Gamer is reduced to tears.

This guy is pretty weak, but when you encounter a swarm of stronger ones...

Eventually, it becomes commonplace to ignore the story altogether for long stretches of time to gather money and items to spend on stat-boosting food and increasingly powerful weaponry, even if you do Pout often. There's a limit to how many times you can pout in one 'day', and you must return to town and rest before you can fight effectively again. And at that point - where you realise that Pouting is essentially a grinding wolf in sheep's clothing - that My World, My Way stops becoming fun.

The graphics and sound are up to a very high quality, and although the dialogue is a little vapid in places, it tries its hardest to poke fun at the common pitfalls in RPGs (the whole reason why the princess is on her adventure is to impress a Level 99 Paladin with a god complex), with fairly amusing results. But you'll see the same enemies a little too often, and hear the battle theme a few too many times, and what should have been a fresh experience ends up sweet, but stale - like a month-old chocolate bar.

You can tell she wants to do some grinding with him. In more ways than one.

My World, My Way is an honest attempt to be a different RPG, but it seems even veterans like Atlus can't resist Superhuman teenagers and super-boring busywork.