I first considered buying a DS back in late 2005. I’d played my fair share of GBA games and was I excited for the system’s successor. Like most people, I found the thought of a portable system with two screens incredibly curious. I wasn’t a skeptic though.
I’d had a chance to play the French version of Feel the Magic: XY/XX — aptly named “Project Rub” — which I’d loved and I’d seen screenshots of Mario Kart DS, which had also impressed me to no end. It was Mario Kart in 3D! On a portable! There was also the promise of the inevitable new Pokémon games, which alone would have driven me to buy whatever system they were released on, were it not for the fact that I was in college and had next to no money.
You tend to be a lot more conservative with money when you’ve just started to earn it. I decided I’d wait and see if the DS was really worth it. What I was hoping for was that, like the GBA before it, the DS would grow into a great RPG system. And so, over the next year, a couple of IRC friends and I watched the DS’s growth, debating every other week what the chances were of it actually picking up where its predecessor left off. We wondered if there would ever be a sequel to Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and what the chances were of seeing another Super Robot Taisen: OG.
Fast forward to 2009: Final Fantasy Tactics A2 sucked and I didn’t really like Pokémon Diamond. Oh, and we have to see a true SRT: OG game. Regardless, I own a DS and it’s easily my favourite current-gen system. There’s an extremely diverse range of genres on the DS, and it has more to offer in the way of RPGs than even the GBA did.
The problem is, while the DS offers enough role-playing games to satisfy just about anyone, most of them have one glaring flaw in common: they suck from a story perspective. I can count the DS RPGs that really impressed me with their story on one hand. Soma Bringer had some nice characters and Echoes of Time had a pretty passable story. However, those are both ARPGs, which means you have the constant action to fall back on even when you tire of their narrative.
Turn-based RPGs are a whole different story. The only one that comes to mind is Devil Survivor. Sure, people will argue that Chrono Trigger, Disgaea and Final Fantasy IV address my concerns, but those are all ports of older games. Much older in the case of Chrono Trigger and FFIV.
I’d really like to know what’s going on here.
Did people just…forget how to write good RPG stories after the PS2 era? This is a complaint one could aim not only at DS RPGs but this generation’s role-playing games in general. Here’s the thing though: I’m sure a lot of us are willing to excuse bad plots in high-def games. Current gen game development is tough and often expensive. You’ve either got to worry about new control schemes or about finding the most efficient way to churn out normal maps and get your fancy dynamic lighting system working correctly. It’s cool guys, we understand, really.
However, this is not excusable when you’re developing for a system that is roughly around the PS1 benchmark. Not only is it cheaper and (technologically) easier than console development, it’s also a heck of a lot faster and leaves you with enough time in your production schedule to work on a somewhat satisfactory story. So what exactly is the problem?
Is it laziness? Is it some sort of misconception that the portable nature of these games makes up for the lack of a coherent plot with interesting, relatable characters? It’s certainly not due to a lack of good writers. I’ve been very pleased with nearly every visual novel-esque or adventure game I’ve played on the DS.
Here you have a system that’s bound neither by the restrictions of graphical expectations nor the lack of unique hardware. And it’s been out for five years! Why is no one experimenting?
I’d like to remain optimistic and say we need to look to the future. That the return of great stories that will truly impress us is right around the corner. But honestly, aside from Ni no Kuni and Infinite Space, I can’t think of much to look forward to in this regard. Am I the only one?