There once was a day in the history books of console gaming that all of the biggest, baddest, and most beautiful games available were turn-based RPGs. Of course the Final Fantasy games or my all-time favorite in The Legend of Dragoon on the PS1 come to mind, but even before that.
Chrono Trigger is an all-time classic and Dragon Quest née Warrior has been around since the NES days. What happened then, once the PS2 was put to rest, that caused such a dramatic shift away from turn-based gaming? I understand the appeal of real-time combat; I love Skyrim and The Witcher just as much as anybody, but nothing truly compares to expertly crafted and perfectly paced turn-based RPGs.
You could easily put a lot of the blame on gamers as a whole. While it isn’t always true, it just so happens that a lot of the time “voting with your wallet” is a real thing. You can complain all you want about yearly releases for Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, Madden, and tons of other iterative franchises, but as long as people keep buying them, developers and publishers will keep churning them out.
Gore, realism, and action have been the highlights of the past near-decade of console gaming; while I do in fact enjoy my Uncharted Gears of Halo Duty just as much as the next guy, I wish someone would use a Phoenix Down to revive the genre of my childhood.
A lot of developers are making effort in this regard, but not always in the ways that I want. The PSP, DS, and 3DS are absolutely littered with remakes, re-releases, and standalone turn-based RPGs – truly enough to keep you busy for years and years. With a Vita, all of its games and the PSP’s vast digital library are suddenly at your fingertips. You can also surely find thousands of free-to-play, open-source, or indie projects across a multitude of PC gaming channels, but what about the big-budget epic console adventures?
With this most recent generation of consoles, the technology is riper than ever. When CG really found its footing on the PS1, RPGs were able to tell stories unlike ever before. Now, consoles like the PS4 and Xbox One can create some of the most breathtakingly believable worlds and emotional characters – unlike anything we’ve seen before. The potential for dual screen play (PS4/Vita and Wii U/Gamepad) creates a great dynamic that would alleviate some of the pains of couch surfing while you grind. Cloud saving or remote play between the Vita and PS4 allows me to access the game from essentially anywhere.
For more modern and relevant examples, the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy, while good in its own right, hardly even consists of any turn-based gameplay elements at all, especially in the third installment. As the grandfather of the genre moves further and further away from the systems it helped popularize, a definitive void has arisen in its place. Dragon Quest IX is a brilliant game – but it’s a DS exclusive. Dragon Quest VIII was all the way back on the PS2 and now Dragon Quest X is an MMO. Trust me, I’m all for evolution, but what’s a guy got to do to get his AAA turn-based RPG fix these days?
Thankfully, all hope isn’t lost. Publishers like Ubisoft aren’t afraid to give fans what they want, as the stellar South Park: Stick of Truth is not only hilariously entertaining, but a damn fine turn-based romp in its own right. The upcoming Child of Light that utilizes the same framework engine as their revitalized Rayman games looks truly breathtaking. Recently, Bravely Default on the 3DS has received tremendous critical and fan acclaim, much to the surprise of even Square themselves.
Sometimes gambles pay off, but other times they don’t. With a respected publisher like Ubisoft leading the way and renewed interest from the genre’s forefather at hand, we might be in for a bit of a gaming renaissance. Two RPG gambles last generation from Mistwalker in the form of Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey on the Xbox 360 failed to be the smash hits they were planned to be, but cult followings have often proven to be very powerful mediums – just ask Team Ico and Operation Rainfall.