games / Columns

The 8 Ball: Top 8 RPG Clichés

June 26, 2018 | Posted by Marc Morrison
Final Fantasy IX

Welcome all to another edition of The 8 Ball! This week I’m here to talk about RPG clichés and how they are used in video games. This isn’t really an all-inclusive list of them, frankly there are too many to count. This is a list of my personal favorites or the ones I noticed the most in the games I play, whether they be JRPGs or western RPGs. Let’s begin:

#8: Good character becomes baddie

Game Examples: Suikoden 2, Mega Man X: Command Mission, Star Wars: KOTOR 2

This is a pretty innocuous trope but one that exists. In some RPGs you’ll have a party member, sometimes throughout most of the game, which will actually be the evil bad guy you’re chasing or will somehow become the ultimate evil in the game. In Suikoden 2 the descent that Jowy has is a slow one while in a game like KOTOR 2 it’s pretty much spelled out for you at the offset. In Command Mission, it’s a slight surprise, mainly because Spider is in it for so little and then suddenly is returned to life and is also the bad guy. This cliché doesn’t happen in every game but it is there.

#7: Ancient technology better than current technology

Game Examples: Elder Scrolls, certain Final Fantasy games, Fallout

The classical chestnut of “an ancient civilization left a bunch of crap for us to find, that we can’t figure out” applies well to some RPGs. Elder Scrolls utilizes it with the Dwemer ruins, which are usually filled with robot guardians that no one else has figured out how to make. It can be a plot device in a few Final Fantasy games, specifically FFX where the level of technology in the past dwarfs the current level of technology. Fallout also has it, but at least there it is story-related as most people aren’t too concerned with building new stuff as opposed to surviving or scavenging the old.

#6: Women in party = Key to saving world

Game Examples: Final Fantasy 7 and 10 (at least), Lunar 1 and 2, Star Wars KOTOR

For this trope, I am omitting games where you play as female characters like Parasite Eve or Tales of Berseria. This cliché is more about games where you play as guy characters, happen upon a female character and they somehow become integral into stopping the bad guy and/or saving the entire world. This occurs in FF7 with Aeris, in 10 with Yuna, with both hero characters stumbling upon these women and they instantly joining your party and are the vital to saving the planet. It happens in Lunar, with both games, which really is the same plot for each game, just with some minor differences. Finally, it happens in KOTOR 1 with Bastila Shan, though it does get subverted a tad because she is ultimately kind of inconsequential to the end plot as she did her galaxy-saving business before the game.

#5: Thrown in Jail

Game Examples: Suikoden 2, World of Warcraft, Tales of Berseria, Elder Scrolls, Divinity: Original Sin 2, etc.

Frankly, there are too many examples to really name for this adage. At some point in most RPGs you’ll be caught breaking into something, or trying to get to someone and be thrown into a jail, inescapable island, or sewer, which is pretty much a rat-infested jail. You’ll always manage to escape said prison due to some machinations outside of your control and you can go on your merry way to completing the quest laid out before you.

#4: Character Portrait? Hello, new party member!

Game Examples: Suikoden (series), Ni no Kuni 2

I’ve observed this behavior in Suikoden games but really noticed it in Ni no Kuni 2. Most NPCs you come across barely have a name, or just a job description. The minute you come across someone with a name and a portrait to show detail in their character, you’re either going to get them as a party member or they are the villains you just haven’t met yet. Like I said, Ni no Kuni 2 was a recent example because you talk to so many people and only 100 of them are actually worth a damn in the overall game.

#3: Intricate Hair = Bad

Game Examples: Final Fantasy X

Other RPGs have bad guys with weird/improbable hair but Final Fantasy X easily takes the cake. I remember when I first played FFX a decade and a half ago, I didn’t have the manual so I didn’t know who were minor or major characters or if they were good or evil. The second, and I mean the second Seymour shows up, I immediately said “Oh, so that’s the bad guy, huh?” I said this without knowing much of anything else was going on, but just because of his stupid, pointy hair, did I announce it. And I was correct.

#2: Status spells never work

Game Examples: Final Fantasy games (not 12 or 15), Persona (series), World of Warcraft, Star Wars: KOTOR

I can theoretically understand why a boss shouldn’t be susceptible to a poison spell or a stone spell but if that’s the case, why bother having it in the game at all? In most RPGs, enemies use status spells against your characters inflicting poison, blind, silence, petrify, etc. to damage the party. Your characters may have the spells as well but they only work on normal enemies and not bigger ones. A few games let you do this, but it’s rarer than you might think. FF 12 has this baked in, since certain bosses all-but require certain status ailments. Also, Final Fantasy 15 broke this trope almost completely by giving you the Ring of Lucii, that after a developer buff, could be used to one-shot any boss in the game.

#1: Amnesia

Game Examples: Planescape: Torment, some Final Fantasy games, Star Wars: KOTOR, Zelda: BOTW, Lost Odyssey

To me, Amnesia is the number one RPG cliché there can be. It’s usually used to hand wave away some plot inconsistencies, like in FF7 or FF8 while in other games it is the entire focus of the plot, like in Planescape or Zelda: BOTW. I don’t mind it when it’s the focus (like in the latter two examples) but when it is used to fix the plot, it usually just smacks of lazy game writing. I generally just think it is overused, not just in RPGs but in most story-based games and I’m a bit sick of it.

For comments, list your favorite RPG clichés and why.

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Top 8 Games of 2018 (So far)

article topics :

The 8 Ball (Games), Marc Morrison