Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 18, 2013
As I’ve said before, the term “old-school RPG” is becoming decreasingly useful. Not that I dislike it – it still brings a smile when I see it in the descriptor of an RPG. The assumption is that people are being inspired by the right games – whatever games those are. But it meant they are pulling from the rich history of the genre, and not – as the big studios are wont to do – imitating the action-game-with-RPG-trappings that sold the most copies last year.
But I’m almost to the point of regretting referring to Frayed Knights as “old-school.” I mean, at the time I started working on it and talking about it, the term hadn’t become trite and overused. Or maybe it was, and I just hadn’t noticed it yet. But now that the indie revolution has effectively won, I’m seeing lots of games on handhelds and Desura describing themselves as “old-school RPG” which seems to mean little more than, “Please excuse the primitive-looking graphics.”
I’m pretty good at that part. Sure, your graphics look like they belong in a (mainstream) game from 10 or 20 years ago? No problem. Your interface is a little clumsy? I don’t think that’s necessary, but I’m willing to put up with that.
What I’m really looking for in an “old-school” experience is something that makes me feel like I did playing my favorite classic RPGs. I know that’s a tall order, because you can’t just bottle nostalgia. And I don’t want a simple repeat of what’s come before — I still play those old games, and I’m in no mood for a pale imitation. And everybody’s favorites – and what pieces encapsulate that experience in their minds – are different.
And frankly, I’ve played a few lackluster indie RPGs lately that have borne that little marketing description now, and it’s not necessarily a badge of awesomeness or anything.
What I’ve really wanted is something I feel we’re coming close to accomplishing – reclaiming our birthright, our heritage, our roots. “Old School” RPGs took us back to an era that was full of fresh ideas, classic gameplay, and an experience that didn’t feel ‘dumbed down.’ It brought us the 16-bit JPRGs that could have been, the dungeon-crawlers that should have been, and reminded us that turn-based combat could still be a hell of a lot of fun. With some of the great games and series that have been released already, plus some high-profile (for indie) games that should be released in the next 24 months, I think that the return to “old school” might have been sufficient that it will transform into “new” school.
Maybe I’m being hopelessly optimistic – I do that a lot . But if nothing else, it should shake up expectations. A modern RPG can be a hell of a lot of things. At that point, hopefully there won’t be a need to ‘prove’ old-school credentials anymore. And from there, RPG developers will feel more free to experiment and play with the medium and genre, to play with the formulas and strike out in new completely new directions. Because that’s the way it should have been, and ought to be.
Lest we forget … part of the “bust” of western-style PC RPGs in the mid-90s came because of exactly the situation we complain about today… too many games all trying too hard to imitate the most recent best-sellers, bringing very little to the table in terms of quality or innovation. The market became saturated with sameness. While that is certainly a danger in the indie RPG world (particularly among the RPG Maker titles), as of this moment in time I’m pretty impressed with the health and variety I see in the genre. I hope the trend continues.
Welcome to the new school of RPGs.
Filed Under: Design, Indie Evangelism, Retro - Comments: 6 Comments to Read