Well, it’s been quite a while since my last post. New job, new home, new love life, and new lack thereof have taken most of my time. Now that I’ve started writing again, I figured I’d start out with a post detailing my thoughts on a system I had the misfortune of playing recently. Now that my cards are on the table, let’s take a look at Returners FFRPG.
I’m not sure what these guys were thinking. Well, that’s not true. I know what they were thinking. It was along the lines of “Final fantasy is cool, right? We should make a Paper and Pencil game about Final Fantasy!” There’s nothing wrong with having that idea. There are many, many, many cool things that have spawned PnP games of varying quality. But this particular system makes me wonder if the people who designed it actually played it. It also makes me wonder what kind of person would enjoy something like this.
Let me lay out my perspective here, so that my bias may be understood. I have played most of the Final Fantasy games. I liked FFIV, and FFVI is one of my favorite games of all time. FFVII was serviceable, and I don’t think FFVIII was as bad as everyone says. FFX was torture, but I played it through to the end for some reason. I couldn’t get more than 10 minutes into FFX-2. I refuse to touch the MMO’s, just because I’ve never enjoyed MMO’s in general. FFXII’s world completely failed to capture my interest, although I liked the idea of the battle system.
I believe that the JRPG genre as a whole has stagnated into a pile of cliched characters and linear walks between cut-scenes, broken up by random encounters with shapeless monsters. And I believe that Returners FFRPG exemplifies this in every way.
FFRPG treats all the Final Fantasy games as source material, and assumes all the worlds are interconnected. This basically means that any race and any “job” from any game is open to the players. When you create your character, you choose various traits from a short list that seem to accentuate the cliched nature of the game. You choose a job from a list of far too many, and work out your various powers, and what powers you might get as you level. They are ALL in here, any job from any game. Dragoon, Time Mage, Blue Mage, Ranger, they’re all here in one system. During creation, you can also build limit breaks using a point buy system. Ok, I’ll admit that’s kinda neat.
But let’s talk about the worst part: the combat. Remember playing any Final Fantasy game from I-X? Remember standing in a line in front of your enemies, who are also in a line? Remember jumping forward, attacking once, and jumping back? Remember the menu navigating to use health and mana potions, choose spells, attack, defend, or call on whatever giant summon is in this particular game?
FFRPG has captured that perfectly; It’s excruciating.
When you were a bright-eyed 10-year-old, sitting cross-legged on the living room floor, holding the SNES controller in trembling hands as you guided your 3-5 party members through the hardest dungeon in the game, it was exciting. You were involved in the story, you were taken in by the characters and the dialogue, and you had the sense that you were involved in something important. The world was at stake. It was up to your rag-tag group of characters to save it.
Now you’ve grown up, and you and your friends are seated around a table with some paper, pencils, and dice between you. You all remember those experiences with Final Fantasy. You’d love to recapture that.
Imagine, however, that back then, you had a few friends over, and decided to play Final Fantasy, instead of, say, Goldeneye, for some odd reason. Each person chooses which character in the game is theirs. Then, when it is your character’s turn, the controller is passed to you, for a short bit of menu navigating before choosing “Fight” or “Item” and then passing the controller. Then you wait, and watch, as each person does the same. A small, random encounter that you would plow through in no time at all if you were alone, takes 10 times as long, and during the 90% of the time when you are doing absolutely nothing, you wonder how the formula of standing in a line, taking turns whacking at each other, ever got to be popular. I mean, this is boring! Do you have that picture in your mind? That’s what playing FFRPG is like.
I feel like the creators of this system asked “How can we…?” far too much, and “Should we…?” far too little. They perfectly adapted the Final Fantasy experience to a PnP game, down to item lists, spell lists, and astrological signs, but that experience isn’t at all fun.
Lastly and perhaps most severely, FFRPG seems to ignore the greatest thing about roleplaying. In PnP games, we have a tremendous and wondrous amount of freedom. We never have to be tied down to the same limitations of video games. Whole worlds are open to us, to shape, to explore, or to conquer. We can exercise that freedom, or we can navigate imagined menus for a few hours, desperately grasping for half-remembered glory-days gone by.