Atmospheric RPGs

So, after a lot of thinking, I think I’ve finally figured out what really draws me to RPGs: Atmosphere. It’s hard to define it…but I guess I’ll try. Here’s a few things I’m thinking of…

  • A sense of culture. Games that don’t neglect the existence of fine arts makes a good example…but especially games where all the different locations you go to look totally different, and have different types of people. When all the places you go to are pretty uniform, it’s just kinda gets boring. On the other hand, when every place looks detailed and different, it’s really exciting to explore each place thoroughly.

  • Convincing dialogue and direction. I know that sounds silly, but when people don’t act like how people act, or do things that people don’t do, it’s obvious. No one acts like people in Grandia do…but on the other hand, the Lunar series, a series done by the SAME people, is a lot more convincing. Chalk it up to different writers (Grandia has been localized over the years by Ubi Soft and Enix, wheras Lunar has been done by Working Designs). When people repeat the end of any profound statement they hear, or go “But…!” or when a person leaves, they go “…(person’s name)…” too many times, that’s just ridiculous. It’s not fun to read, and it’s not convincing. Dialogue has to be real to feel real.

  • On a similar note, good character interaction is vital. It’s irksome when characters remain static or only interact with the main character, or even worse, if they only have obvious things to say (TRPGs are a big offender of this, cos there’s always so many characters…but, while it seems contradictory, I’m more lenient about this stuff with TRPGs, because I play them to be challenged). Games where all the characters interact with each other and make their own opinions of each other really do a lot to help the experience be more convincing overall.

  • Consistency. It’s silly to me when a game sets you up one way and then changes suddenly. It can be done, I suppose, but it’s very rarely ever done right. La Pucelle made a VERY abrupt and drastic change, and the game fell flat on its face. Another one I played like that was the recent Grandia 3, which changed from very thematic and plot heavy to DUNGEON CRAWLER in a matter of one hour. Don’t, do, this. Don’t set up an expectation and ruin it. If you want your game to be a dungeon crawler, START IT OUT THAT WAY.

Lastly, music and art. I think people neglect the importance of music and graphics in a video game, and the impact it has on the experience. Unfortunately, I’m not very well-educated in artists and graphics overall to comment on that, but I can say a lot for music. A big reason why I still think old composers like Nobuo Uematsu and Yasunori Mitsuda are still AMAZING (despite what a lot of VGM fanatics I converse with like to say) is because their music is ALWAYS in context. Just listen to what his music sounds like in various series like Chrono Trigger, Xenogears, and Shadow Hearts. It’s always his unique style, but it ALWAYS fits the game well. I think a lot of people listen to a composer expecting their music to ALWAYS sound the same from one game to another, but it’s important NOT to do that. When I heard that Hitoshi Sakimoto (FFTactics, Ogre Battle series, Vagrant Story) was going to compose music for Dragon Quarter, I was really worried that it wouldn’t fit the feel of Breath of Fire. Well, not only did he manage to do it with his own style, but he fit it with the context of the game AND lived up to my preconcieved expectations of what Breath of Fire music should sound like.

There you have it. To restate, I think that games really need to focus on making their games have a sense of culture, focus on writing their dialogue well and NOT just their plot points, make sure the music and graphics work for their game, and lastly, once you have it down, don’t FUCK with it. Don’t get me wrong; I still love (and desire) games with intense, engaging battle systems, complex, well-written plots and all that…but…it’s very, very hard for me to care when you’re missing the foundation to build those things upon, and I think what I’m talking about - Atmosphere - is that foundation.

Games that I think did very well in at least two of these points:

Final Fantasy 6

Final Fantasy 7

Final Fantasy 9 (Although, I didn’t like 9, because the foundation had nothing laid on top of it)

SaGa Frontier 1

Breath of Fire 3

Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter

Shadow Hearts

Xenogears

Lunar SSSC

Lunar 2 EBC

Growlanser 3

Grandia Xtreme (And if a dungeon crawler can get it right, I see no excuse for any game to get it wrong)

…And those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Even non RPGs can benefit really well from these points. Metal Gear Solid creates an EXCELLENT atmosphere, for example. Adventure games generally do a good job of this, too. Games like Grand Theft Auto create a really cool atmosphere. Even the new Final Fight game created a pretty awesome atmosphere until the very end, when it went all Resident Evil on me. Speaking of Which, Resident Evil does a good job of this.

But, overall, I think it’s MOST important that RPGs, the plot-based genre of Video Games, should be the games that STOP getting this wrong, time and time and time again. And, that’s all I have to say about that. Discuss.

A big reason why I still think old composers like Nobuo Uematsu and Yasunori Mitsuda are still AMAZING
I thought I remembered you saying you hate Yasunori Mitsuda… or maybe it was that bastard DG. Anyway, I’m impressed. YM is imo the best composer in gaming, especially his guitar pieces. “Without Taking The Jewel” and “Kokoro” are just :OOOOOOOOOOOOO

I don’t think it’s as important to have good elements of atmosphere as it is to combine them in the right way. Graphics, music, dialogue, and culture can be great on their own, but you get a better atmopheric effect when they’re used to enhance each other, which is what I think most of the games on your list did right. I would’ve included Chrono Cross on there too. It has one of the best atmospheres I’ve ever experienced in a game. I hate it, but only because it’s battle system was awful.

I don’t know if atmosphere is what draws me to RPGs, but certainly it’s the glue that holds their other parts together. Without atmosphere, an RPG is just stats and commands. Atmosphere is the world it all falls into that makes it valid.

But, overall, I think it’s MOST important that RPGs, the plot-based genre of Video Games, should be the games that STOP getting this wrong, time and time and time again. And, that’s all I have to say about that. Discuss.
I think plot-based games need to stop ignoring plot. The rigid storylines being thrown at us are okay for books, but games have a responsibility to be interactive. I want to make more choices outside of battle, and I want the choices I make to have more bearing on the game’s outcome. Who I date at Gold Saucer doesn’t cut it.

The qualm with the dialogue is a uniquely Japanese thing. Most anime has dialogue like this (and it bugs me, too). It seems unrealistic to us simply because Westerners don’t talk like that. I daresay that a Japanese watching a Hollywood movie would think that the dialogue was unrealistic as well, while it generally wouldn’t strike us that way.

Unfortunately, I’m not very well-educated in artists and graphics overall to comment on that
I’m no virtuoso, but I think I have enough experience to say a few words.

Graphics are related to atmosphere in almost the same way you described music. They have to be in context.

There should be coherence. In other words, there should be a “logical, orderly, and aesthetically consistent relationship of parts.” Like a composer, the artist’s style shouldn’t change over the course of the game. Only the details of the visuals should change. You should always be able to tell that the art was done by the same team of artists. When you have that unity of style, it will hold the world together as a single, solid thing, and help the player become immersed in it. Variation is important, but it has to be variation within a constant, unifying style.

The biggest difference between art and music is that art is more spatial whereas music is more temporal. Colors and sounds are both just shapes and frequencies.

I didn’t even realize how important I feel culture is until you actually said something about it. That makes a huge part of a game for me. Maybe this is a bad example, but it’s one reason I really liked Earthbound. Every town had a completely different mood and different characters and everything.

I also agree with the good character interaction. Though it might just be that I’m a sucker for romance in books/games. Which is one reason I really liked the Lunar series

Yeah, it IS DG that doesn’t like Mitsuda anymore. Mitsuda isn’t my favorite composer per se, but that doesn’t stop me from recognizing how great he is at what he does.

I don’t think it’s as important to have good elements of atmosphere as it is to combine them in the right way. Graphics, music, dialogue, and culture can be great on their own, but you get a better atmopheric effect when they’re used to enhance each other, which is what I think most of the games on your list did right. I would’ve included Chrono Cross on there too. It has one of the best atmospheres I’ve ever experienced in a game. I hate it, but only because it’s battle system was awful.

I suppose I meant that when all the elements are right is when you get that ‘atmospheric’ effect. And yeah, actually Chrono Cross did have a really cool atmosphere. I think it fell flat on its sort of convoluted plot (I enjoyed the fighting, personally), but the atmosphere was nice.

I don’t know if atmosphere is what draws me to RPGs, but certainly it’s the glue that holds their other parts together. Without atmosphere, an RPG is just stats and commands. Atmosphere is the world it all falls into that makes it valid.

Exactly! That’s why it personally draws me to RPGs. It’s hard to care about the rest of the game when these basic things are missing. A good example would be the new Romancing SaGa game; it’s missing any sort of dialogue, and any sort of focus. Even though the music and graphics are really nice, and the battle system is AMAZING, it’s really hard to continue without any sort of incentive. I just pick it up from time to time and play it for like 30-60 minutes, heh.

I think plot-based games need to stop ignoring plot. The rigid storylines being thrown at us are okay for books, but games have a responsibility to be interactive. I want to make more choices outside of battle, and I want the choices I make to have more bearing on the game’s outcome. Who I date at Gold Saucer doesn’t cut it.

I think both can be nice…but, like I said, I think it’s almost irrelevant how cool your storyline is if your atmosphere sucks. The sad part about this, though, is that you can’t get by on just atmosphere and NOTHING else. You have to have SOMETHING else going for it in the storyline. IMO though, you can’t have a super duper awesome storyline and then just have like ONE atmospheric element. It doesn’t work in reverse.

I hate to sound argumentative, but I’m just skeptical that anyone talks like that, even Japanese. I guess it’s not impossible, but I’ll believe it when I see it, I guess.

Yeah, EB did a pretty good job of this…the only reason I think I disliked Earthbound is because I had a pre-expectation that it would be a laugh riot, like the NES game was. I shouldn’t have done that. :confused:

You can get by easier with a great atmosphere and crappy plot than with great plot and crappy atmosphere.

The plot in the Legacy of Kain games is complicated enough that it seems a lot better and original than it really is. The bottom line is two guys going around trying to figure what’s going on and save the world, but the setting, the characters, the voices, the graphics and everything else creates the illusion that the entire thing is much more elaborate than what it really is. A lesser much less deserving example would be the NIS games, who are all level crunchers with stories that are mediocre at best, but simply wanting to see the characters is enough to push you forward.

You can’t do that with gameplay. No matter if you somehow manage to create a battle system that’s actually addictive, it won’t keep you interested for more than thirty minutes at best. You need to have a reason to continue. You need to care about the characters you are saving, you need to hate the guy you are fighting, you need to want to win the fight. Final Fantasy Tactics, as much as it is a horrible waste of what could have been great character development, does a great job at getting you to care about your surroundings and giving you a reason to beat the bad guys. For once, I actually want to save those pixelated figures that I’ve been tricked into considering people.

The line between atmosphere and plot isn’t always defined. To me it’s the difference between wanting to defeat an enemy to see what happens next (plot), and wanting to defeat an enemy because I care enough about what’s going on to beat him (atmosphere). It sometimes happens to me that I enjoy the meaningless breaks in a storyline more than the storyline itself. It’s not uncommon that when [Insert name]’s group sit down to eat and start talking, or arrive to certain city and start looking around, I’m actually kind of disappointed when the break ends and they resume their journey. That’s a case about a game having a better atmosphere than plot, where the thing that drives me forward is hoping that the Evil Demon of Ultimate Destruction calls in sick and the team will have time to sit down and eat again.

The perfect game would be the one that doesn’t have this line, one that immersed me in the setting while keeping me interested in what I’m supposed to do.

I hate to sound argumentative, but I’m just skeptical that anyone talks like that, even Japanese. I guess it’s not impossible, but I’ll believe it when I see it, I guess.

You’re probably right - but then rarely do people speak the way they do in Hollywood movies, either. There’s a lot more “um, er” and less one-liners and bravado. It’s just that we’re so used to seeing it as “movie speak” that it no longer seems strange to us. I’m sure it’s similar with anime and games.

I agree with all that you said except a couple of the games you listed. I think FF9 had a very solid structure built upon it. FF9 was a game more about character development than it was about plot. The plot was the typical save the world plot, but the game wasn’t about the plot. It was about the characters. I think the game did an excellent job in fleshing out the characters (except for Quina, but thank god because I hated Quina). Some of the other games I can’t comment on too much.

And yeah DG’s the anti Uematsu and anti Mitsuda one and there are social reasons as to why that is that I don’t think pertain to the musical aptitudes of the composers involved. But that’s not the point of the discussion.

Man, I know I sound like a broken record SG, but play yourself some fucking Fallout. I’ve always said the greatest aspect of that series is the atmosphere it builds. Granted it’s not a traditional RPG setting, but the games do a fantastic job of building the world. You’ve got the CD, play it you cock.

Dude, you know I love Fallout, but it’s SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO depressing. Go get me some Prozac so I can play it longer than like an hour at a time. :stuck_out_tongue:

Bitch, it’s supposed to be depressing, the world fucking ended.

You can play Fallout 2 if you want a cheerier one, that one has about 100X more pop culture references than the first one and over 17 times the prostitutes.

When I think of games with Atmosphere, Legend of Mana comes to mind. I love the entire world, the people, the mythologies, the beautiful landscapes and worlds to visit… Oh, the music, too.

There’s a reason it’s ranked as one of my favorite games for years.