Allow me to be slightly snobbish for a moment while I’ll tell you that Japan has never produced a good roleplaying game. Oh sure Mother 3 is an amazing game, it’s just not a roleplaying game. At all. Same goes for any Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest game you want to shake a stick at. They may be fun, they may have fantastic stories but they are not even remotely about roleplaying, they are at best tactical resource management sims with dating game elements. I don’t even think the Japanese know what roleplaying is.
So what is this roleplaying about? Well for starters it’s not about playing a role, it’s about creating a role.
Which initially means wrestling with the character creator.
I begin with a sexy lady dwarf. Dwarfs are traditionally good warriors but I make my girl a rogue because rogues are cool. I’m not a power gamer, when building a character I’m much more likely to pick something I find interesting from a story perspective than from a gaming one. I also pick the commoner background again because it sounds cool. I choose the default name Natia because I am lazy and also names are meaningless.
Naturally I tweak her appearance to suit my tastes. Honestly it takes far longer than I’m willing to admit. There are too many sliders and I’m constantly having to start from scratch. In the end I’m not satisfied because the lighting in the character creator is quite reddish which meant that my character looked normal when I was making it but ended up intensely pale when I started the game. My character is now a common sexy goth lady dwarf rogue.
But character creation doesn’t stop once you start playing the game. Soon your character is presented with moral choices. Should I save the puppy or kill the puppy? No joke the game literally features a quest like that. It’s not about forcing the player to confront complex moral issues it’s about giving them a means for self expression, allowing them make their character the hero or the villain. I choose to save the puppy and show that deep down I’m still a good person. My character is now a common sexy goth lady dwarf rogue with a heart of gold.
I find myself in a chapel. My people do not worship the human god “the maker” but I ask for his blessing anyway. The priestess mentions that this is an unusual request for a dwarf but performs the ceremony anyway. I decided then and there to abandon my ancestor worship and devote myself to the Chantry. My character is now a born again common sexy goth lady dwarf rogue with a heart of gold.
As I level up I gain the option to specialise in a certain area. I am enjoying dual wielding daggers so I decide to become a duellist. My character is now a born again common sexy goth lady dwarf duelling rogue with a heart of gold.
Later on, the game’s romance options begin to open up to me. I find the Orlesian bard Leliana’s accent mildly appealing so Natia begins a relationship with her. My character is now a born again common sexy goth lesbian lady dwarf duelling rogue with a heart of gold.
As you can see the labels begin to pile up. Some of them confer stat bonus or penalties while some are purely cosmetic . They are all in their own way important because in a roleplaying game character creation is the game. The narrative and characters are what I’m playing with and to me that is a large part of what makes these games fun.
This is part of an ongoing series about Dragon Age: Origins to read the first entry click here.