I’ve been playing RPGs for most of my life and I’ve been playing a lot of RPGs recently, both old and new. Nothing can get its hooks in me like a well-written narrative, developed characters, and a fascinating, wonderful world. As a kid, I would always think about what the next generation of consoles would bring. I looked at the games I loved and imagined how they could one-up themselves next time around. But lately, something’s missing. I’ve been thinking about this for a few weeks now and I’ve finally figured it out: For the most part, modern RPGs have lost their sense of wonder.
I’m not sure if I’m just getting more selective about what I consider wonder or if it’s the nostalgia of old games blinding me, but… Well, let’s take Skyrim, because everyone knows about it. Skyrim is an absolutely beautiful game. It takes the best of the northern reaches of the real world and combines it with a gritty, dirty fantasy look. But… It’s without that vaguely-defined sense of ‘wonder.’ Don’t get me wrong, Skyrim’s great, but I don’t get anything out of exploring the world outside of ‘Oh, this is kind of pretty or neat.’ Nothing has made me sit and take in my surroundings, completely willing to take time away from reaching the next bit of sidequest plot or semi-random encounter.
Maybe it’s because Skyrim is too real? I mean, look at it. It’s like someone researched tundras and taigas and all that, then put that into a game. Mods aside, there’s not a huge sense of mysticism (fighting doesn’t count) in the world. While beautiful, everything is still reasonably down-to-earth. Or, again, maybe I’m just expecting too much or not experiencing the world in the way the developers wanted people to.
Let’s look at Chrono Trigger, then. Or Final Fantasy VI or Illusion of Gaia or something. They have some of the most well-designed worlds I’ve ever played through. Even to this day, the floating islands of Zeal simply amaze me. It’s infinitely low-tech when compared to stuff like Skyrim and many other modern RPGs. But… it gives me a sort of feeling of awe and wonder that those worlds don’t. And it’s not simply nostalgia, although that could be a big part of it. I mean, the last time I had such a sense of wonder in a modern game was when I started playing World of Warcraft, back at the end of the vanilla game. Out of curiosity, I made a dwarf and went to Ironforge. When I reached the gates, I just sat there for a while, taking it all in.
Is it the sense of scale in the world? I mean, Ironforge is bloody massive and overwhelming and powerful. But that wouldn’t make sense given my other examples. Chrono Trigger’s world, while big, doesn’t loom over you in the way that Ironforge does. Skyrim, however, is all about that sense of scale. The mountains are absolutely massive, there are huge burial chambers and word walls scattered about… Yet it doesn’t hit me the way it should.
I think the biggest reason why it’s like this is, well, I’m expecting more. My inner child still looks at games from back then and thinks ‘Wow, this was 20 years ago. They have to have something amazing now.’ But it seems like a lot isn’t amazing. It’s great, certainly, but it’s not wonderful and exciting like it used to be. Should I, and others who feel similarly, scale back our expectations? Or should developers stop worrying so much about having the absolutely best visuals and voice acting (or even voice acting at all), and step up how they deal with building worlds?
I honestly don’t know. All I know is that I miss that sense of wonder. Anyway, that’s me done for now. I hope I’ve gotten my point across to you fine folks, because ‘wonder’ is a really vague way to put all this. If you like what you’ve seen here, feel free to let other people know and maybe even subscribe, because every reader helps keep this place running. As always, thanks for reading and have a good’un.