Monday, November 19, 2012

Top Ten SRPGs 2: ContinYOUd

at 4:18 PM
This is the part of the strategy RPG cake where I take you down memory lane to look at some genre classics that provide popular tweaks on a generally accepted framework of Chess Plus. What I mean by that is grid-based gameplay with alternating turns and pieces that only have one type of action. These games vary mostly in their implementation of the notion of role-playing, as you'll come to lovingly understand.

What?

Anyway.

4. Fire Emblem: Pick Which One You Like Best
As the years have passed, Fire Emblem seems to have evolved the least of Nintendo's mainline series. Complain all you want about Zelda and Mario being formulaic, but they take us on journeys through worlds. Link sailed across the ocean and soared through the skies while Mario sunbathed in the tropics and reached for the stars. The adventure and discovery make old mechanics new again. Fire Emblem loses this because its trademark is the setting, not the characters. The heroes change every time, and the castles stay castles. So there isn't much to see - oh well, strategy games were never about the scenery anyway.

The Fire Emblem model is very cut and dry. Units have flavors which define their relationships: axe beats lance beats sword, archer beats magic, so on. There's not much rolling of the dice on the battlefield; once the machinery begins to turn, you won't be surprised (or have to react) to the results. That makes Fire Emblem a preparation game, all about choosing the right units and the right equipment. The choice to take a character into battle carries a greater weight because they each have their own back-story and persona. They may chat with the characters next to them, or perhaps have a town or enemy to uniquely interact with. 

5. Shining Force II
Of the Shiny Forces, I've only played II, so this is a freebee. At first glance, Shining Force is just an even boringer Fire Emblem. Seems like the battles go slower, you have less units, etc. Yawn. Actually what you're witnessing is that Shining Force is more a traditional JRPG than its other SRPG compatriots. You're first clued in by structure of the game. You walk around in towns, chat about, and explore a world map. There are shops and churches and castles, as one would see in Dragon Warrior or Ultima. Battles can be escaped and replayed. This sets a leisurely pace for the game. 

Shining Force wants you to get in there, take your time, and beef up your team. You'll hit the wall occasionally, even if you think you're playing with strategic perfection. Part of the experience is investing time in each character, learning their individual strengths and weaknesses. There aren't the rock-paper-scissors hierarchies, so each unit is more well-rounded and self-sufficient. I'm saying you can grind, got it? To some that is a most comforting notion.

6. Romance of the Three Kingdoms VII
Alright, finally, something interesting. Romance VII is a large-scale, territorial strategy game. Based in historical scenarios, some would call the game a simulation, as it demands that the player manage economy, culture, and diplomacy across his very own Ancient Chinese Dominion. It's true that Romance VII presents itself as a numbers game, all about allocating resources and

Wow you know I'm realizing here how boring strategy games are to write about. Admittedly, plenty of people find them boring to play as well, but I find something impossibly soothing, engrossing, and rewarding about these games. When I sit down to play Romance of the Three Kingdoms, I know I'm going to lose a few hours of my life, and yet am satisfied to see the growth of my sandcastle. There is a quantifiable element of success that goes beyond a high score or kill/death ratio, a constructive effort with nigh-tangible results. The more granularity the game provides and the more hardship one must overcome to amass his little kingdom, the more gratifying it is to witness it come to be.

ROTK7 offers exactly as much control and granularity as you need, through its RPG element. You don't rule directly over the land and all of its day-to-day business, rather this is handled by warlords with individual statistics and predispositions. These characters allow for indirect and personalized development of your domain, keeping the details hidden while you watch your borders expand.

Come back next time to learn about some non-traditional, and maybe even Western!, strategy RPGs. 

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