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Battle System Originality

Blinded by the Light

Michael Cunningham

REBUTTAL TO: On Battle Systems: The Death of Originality

While I can't really fault Glenn for stating that the Japanese RPG selection has seen little innovation in the past few years, most of that is due to the fact that there have been remakes and re-releases galore. The new innovative games have been hidden behind "classic" RPGs coming back on the scene. Games like The World Ends With You and The Last Remnant are only some of the Japanese RPGs that get mentions for innovation, and that's only because both games are drastically different from the rest of the pack. It doesn't take a completely new battle system for a game to be original. My main problem with Glenn's editorial is that he states that most Western RPGs are "pushing combat forward" more than Japanese RPGs. I say that both sides are fine-tuning older battle systems and that Japanese titles are every bit as creative as their Western counterparts.

While not every Japanese-style RPG on the market attempts something new and exciting (I'm eyeing the Canadian-developed Black Sigil and Korean-developed Crimson Gem Saga), that doesn't mean that tons of others aren't doing more than allowing for hex grid combat, rewarding elemental weaknesses attacks, or adding auto-win abilities. Look at games such as Riviera and Knights in the Nightmare. Both of these Sting titles are highly original, and offer more strategic depth and originality than most other RPGs out there. There are tactical RPGs that really go beyond simple move-and-slash combat as well, like Valkyria Chronicles, Devil Survivor, and Rondo of Swords. Here I've named all of these titles without even mentioning games such as Final Fantasy XII and the upcoming Final Fantasy XIII. Innovative combat systems are still coming out of Japan, don't doubt that. Just don't be blinded by all the copy and paste jobs.

I'm not going to bash such great Western RPGs as Fallout 3 and Mass Effect, but at the same time I can't look upon their combat systems as being anything truly groundbreaking. Do they have great battle systems? Sure they do, but merely being fun is not something that walks hand in hand with originality. Glenn even states in his own editorial that most Western RPGs have cannibalized other genres to incorporate elements from action games and shooters into themselves, but is that really stepping toward originality? I think not.

While I'm not one to make wild claims that Japan is the only place for innovative RPGs, it's hard to look at a lot of new Japanese RPGs and not see the creativity there. Not every game coming out of Japan is a Dragon Quest clone, and those that are should be called out as such. But to make wild claims that every Japanese RPG is just a deviation or direct clone of Dragon Quest III is shortsighted, akin to saying the highly innovative Fallout 3 is just Oblivion with guns.

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