The Search for the Perfect RPG
Although by day I usually go by the title of Evan Bee, RPG fanatic and Possessor of Objectively Correct Opinions (go buy Croixleur Sigma), when night falls, I actually pursue another passion project that I currently have in the works. My hope is to become a successful video essayist, like many other video game enthusiasts before me. Because of this, I tend to watch a great deal of material on YouTube, and I recently viewed Charlie Cade’s recent video review of Devil May Cry 5.
Charlie, otherwise known as TheGamingBrit, has been producing content for some time now, though a great deal of it has been centered around action games (or character action games, your choice). Over the years, he has pined for another Devil May Cry sequel, a series known for establishing much of the design philosophy for a very specific kind of action game that has risen to prominence in recent years, in no small part due to the continued efforts of Hideki Kamiya and PlatinumGames. It is heartwarming to see Cade gush over Devil May Cry 5, a game that features the cutting edge of technical gameplay and graphical fidelity, as well as a heartwarming narrative that seats old Uncle Dante back on his rightful throne as king of his genre.
This did cause a certain strange thought to creep its way into my own head. An idea that has now evolved into a grotesque bit of writing that you now see before you: if a hypothetical title were to exist that would cause me to make a video like Cade’s own, what would it be? As surprising as it may sound, I wouldn’t really say that Croixleur Sigma is deserving of that title. Obviously, I wouldn’t be posting this article here if I didn’t believe the game would be from the Role-playing genre, but that only complicates things further. For example, Cade’s video claims that DMC5 is the best-looking, best-playing, and best-written action game out there. How can we repurpose those qualities in a genre as vast and multifaceted as this one?
Final Fantasy XV is without a doubt one of the best-looking Role-playing games on the market today, boasting production values similar- if not superior- to DMC5. However, its gameplay is an evolution of the concepts established in previous titles, but it strikes out on a path too different from its predecessors to be considered a true sequel in any way, shape, or form. Who is to say that the best RPG would necessarily need to be a sequel, either? Sure, a hypothetical Phantasy Star 5 tantalizes me to no end, but the leaps the series would need to make in order to be on the cutting edge of the industry once more would be astronomical.
Good writing in RPGs can range from the wholesome and charming material found in the Dragon Quest series to the complex and thought-provoking narrative arc found in Nier: Automata. Returning to the combat mechanics of XV, they feature some of the experience grinding and statistic manipulation normally found in the genre, but are these elements archaic, and are systems that mitigate grinding, such as those found in the Bravely series, truly an improvement of the formula? The true question swimming in my head, however, is whether or not the perfect RPG is already out there, waiting to be iterated upon in a new and satisfying way that will blow the competition away.
Not pictured: The Switch Version.
Cade isn’t afraid to admit that the DMC brand has had its missteps. DMC2 is almost universally disliked by hardcore fans of the series, and the bizarre DmC reboot from Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice developer Ninja Theory offers up plenty of debate. In discussing the latter of these, Cade remarks that DmC did little to iterate or improve on the stepping stone that was DMC4, an imperfect title with plenty of aspects worth debating. This brings more baggage to the table: does a series need to have a fall from grace, or a few imperfect entries, before being deemed perfect with a release that hits all the right notes?
The more and more theories I began to craft, the more and more games I began to list as perfect entries, the more I started to realize how absurd I sounded. I’ve heard a number of members of the SwitchRPG community comment on the way I approach this form of writing, saying that games are “just games” and that this incessant search for the superior experience is futile, or at least, isn’t the way they perceive the medium. That games are ultimately meant to be enjoyed in a way that doesn’t deserve scrutiny, or over-analysis. I sometimes reflect on my writing and wonder if I have lost that point. But Cade’s video resonates with me because DMC is part of the reason he began producing content years ago.
He loved the series so much that he hoped for a perfect entry, one free from the issues he had seen in the series prior. In the end, DMC is less the face of a genre and more of the epitome of a certain facet, a game that encourages self-expression and the desire to exhibit skill and personality through the actions of the player avatar. This philosophy can be applied to many genres, RPGs included, but it is the series that managed to resonate with Cade the most. It inspired him to want to discuss video games as more than just entertainment, in spite of being a very video-game-y video game. Yikes, what a sentence.
With that said, however, the perfect RPG is, and always will be, an elusive beast. As far as genre defining titles go, one could look to Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and Phantasy Star, or they could instead cite The Elder Scrolls, Heroes of Might and Magic, and Ultima. Even with these classic titles around, there are certain subgenres to consider. Titles like Monster Hunter, Ys, Dark Souls, and Pokemon occupy the same realm. Is one series more deserving of the chance to be “the best” than the others? Not necessarily. Each does allow for player expression and emotive storytelling, however, in ways that are utterly unique from one another, just as they are unique from DMC’s own brand of self-expression.
But the matter of high-quality gameplay, visuals, and narrative still remains, and even with all of these qualifiers in mind, there are RPGs that currently exist at the forefront of the industry in these respects. Whether or not they are perfect, however, will always come down to the player. Yes, it’s hard to deny that Dragon Quest XI isn’t one of the best-looking RPGs out there, and with years of entries with similar combat and leveling mechanics, it’s also hard to say that its iterative improvements don’t make it one of the best titles in the series. In the same way, Persona 5 is an incredibly stylish game that builds upon the foundations established by earlier Shin Megami Tensei games. Are either of these games the perfect RPG, in my eyes? Well, I can’t rightly say- I like turn-based RPGs, but I need a little something extra to go along with them. That’s just my personal taste.
When push comes to shove, there are certain series I’d love to see a NEW perfect entry from: Paper Mario returning to its RPG roots, improving upon the mechanics and design found in The Thousand Year Door, would be a dream come true. Another open-world title from Monolith Soft, utilizing some of the new input-command elements from Xenoblade Chronicles 2, yet still emphasizing the exploration-based gameplay of Xenoblade Chronicles X, is pretty much the game of my dreams. A sequel to The Last Story, or perhaps even a spiritual successor to Chrono Trigger, would both be kinda nice, I guess. I choose all of these titles because they mean something extremely important to me, as a person.
They left a mark on me that inspired me to deeply analyze their gameplay elements and share what is so lovable about them with others. That’s the true joy of finding a “perfect” RPG, or any game, for that matter- the idea that it is so good, you can’t help but want to share it with others. That’s why, at the end of his video, Cade sees the need to take TheGamingBrit in a new direction- the perfect game exists, in his eyes, and it features hours of content he deems worthy of investing into. If anyone wants to shout at him for being wrong, it doesn’t really matter, as the game fits all of the metrics by which he deems a well-made game, well, well-made. I really need to stop doing that.
In truth, I don’t really have the ability to put any of my personal “perfects” at the cutting edge of visual/gameplay/narrative standards. There are some titles I consider near-perfect, and they’re titles that I truthfully need to get back in-touch with, because I think they’re worth taking a closer look at and identifying which areas would need improvement in order to take that next step towards perfection. I would much rather hear your thoughts. Be it RPG, platformer, or adventure title, what game is nearest to perfection, in your opinion? While your answer might seem obvious, it might also reveal another fan with similar tastes. And for those of use with a favorite that demands a more perfect sequel, don’t worry. We’re all looking forward to that day, as well.