Saturday, November 13, 2010

Blog Post: Why good dialogue is so important (Metroid vs Enslaved) and the JRPG

Story-driven games are a great thing....if done right. Being an interactive medium, video games are of course still primarily about theirgameplay. When developers take that extra step, though, to develop a compelling narrative to go along with the gameplay, sometimes that's what it can take to make a good game...well, great. Or even excellent. The Japanese RPG genre has thrived on this principle for so long. The gameplay in a JRPG has in the past never been known for being particularly amazing, especially with the likes of random encounters, dungeons, slow battles, etc. The main reason people loved JRPGs, though, was for their stories. Maybe not everyone remembers exactly how they flipped those switches in Gargan Roo in Final Fantasy IX, but they remember Vivi's powerful encounter with the other mages in Black Mage Village.

Lately the Japanese RPG genre has been noticeably struggling, it seems, both to get good sales and to get the same critical acclaim it once did. I think a big reason for this is that scenario writers for JRPGs have become too reliant on cliches and have resorted to borrowing heavily from past JRPGs as more of their efforts seem to be moving to the gameplay. The gameplay simply can't compare to other genres, though, and without the storylines being as good, I think current JRPGs have been viewed as far lesser experiences than they once were.

Anyway, that may seem a bit off topic from what I originally wanted to discuss in this post, but it does tie in to what I'm going to talk about, and that's the importance of a good story and well-written dialogue in games that are attempting to be story-driven. Nintendo of course released Metroid: Other M last August, and the game has apparently not sold very well. Fans were very much divided on the game's portrayal of Samus, and even those who did like the game, (yup, me,) admited that the script and voice work were definitely below what they could have been. And when some of the (unskippable) cutscenes go on for minutes at a time, this can be a problem. A lot of fans and critics have expressed disapproval of Sakamoto's (writer/director) decision to focus so much on story for a series that never needed it before. What I think is too bad is that if the dialogue was better-written...if it was delivered by top-notch voice actors, if the story was interesting and the characters convincingly developed, I think a lot of fans would have been able to get past all the things that bothered them about Samus speaking, about her freaking out when she saw Ridley, etc. But with such unconvincing dialogue, it, to some, cheapened the feel of the game to the point where it stopped them from being able to enjoy it.

Then, you look at something like Enslaved. It was a game that many felt wasn't too distinctive in its gameplay, but one that was elevated by its compelling story and strong characters. And this is what I mean when I say that a great story can take a good game and make it great. If Other M had a story as well-written and acted as Enslaved's, I'd be willing to bet that a lot of people (and critics) would have been much happier with the final product.

Developers, especially ones who have been around for a long time, including Nintendo, need to realize the importance of a strong script and good voice acting in this day and age....especially if they're dealing with an iconic franchise. It's not just enough to have lots of long inner-monologues. Video games are being looked at more and more with the same scrutiny in the story department as movies are, and in this day and age, it can severely limit a game if its dialogue and voice acting isn't up to par. Especially a game that's story-driven.

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