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JRPGs are Cozy Games

trailsinthesky-1313771692I’ve been streaming The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky and a friend of mine and I have been chatting about Japanese role-playing games and our history with them. One thing that came up is that JRPGs have put us to sleep. I’ve fallen asleep playing them, my friend has fallen asleep playing them and we’ve both fallen asleep watching the other one play them.

Does this mean I find JRPGs to be boring? Not at all! The Final Fantasy series is one of my favorites, with Final Fantasy VI being one my favorite stories of all time. That’s to say nothing of Xenosaga, which had cut-scenes that could last almost an hour long and still held my attention. If Persona 5 was on the PC, I’d be playing it NOW. I love that genre of video games.

But, how many other games could I say put me to sleep. It doesn’t happen when I’m in a computer chair, but that’s because I only play JRPG’s on a couch. They’re long commitments and I need to be comfortable. With a pillow. Low lighting. Oh, I get it now.

68-fddugfqI think JRPGs tend to feel like books. This is especially true with older games that don’t have voice acting and require a huge amount of reading. But, because of the pacing of the conversations, they don’t feel like thrillers or action-packed books. Instead, I might say, they’re more like a dense fantasy book with lots of world building. A book that, if read too long, will start to make my eyes close, even though I’m invested in everything on the page (or screen).

They’re comfortable. Cozy, even. Something like The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is a pleasant game, that’s fun and exciting at times, but for the most part, feels like the video game equivalent of a quilt. It’s the town music of these games, these gentle tunes that make you feel at home, sleeping under a sunbeam. It’s the ridiculously superfluous mini-games like playing cards or fishing.

9570000It’s the turn based fighting. You can be in the middle of a fight with a gross looking monster, but it doesn’t move forward until you issue a command. And while most battle music tries to be exciting or intense, there’s always that one track that’s a bit more relaxing than the rest. No, I’m not going to fall asleep during a boss battle or fight for my life, but a few mutated rats that just need one fireball? Yeah, I might be dozing off for a minute.

None of this is a complaint. I actually think it’s a great example of why so many people like JRPGs. They can be exciting but still are slowed down. No matter how busy the world is, or your work day, Final Fantasy IX is going to move at a relaxing pace. These aren’t action games that require every mental facet to be focused and alert. They’re photo albums or puzzles that you’re putting together as your head gets heavy.

Of course, this isn’t true for every game. As I said, voice acting changes the dynamic from book to movie (or anime) and some games are “louder” than others, such as Persona 5. But, they still have peaceful moments, long sessions of silence. I like it. In the book world, you might hear the term “cozy mysteries” and I think JRPGs are the “cozy” genre of gaming. It makes me excited to get back into those types of games, because I wouldn’t mind things moving a bit slower in my life.

You can watch me play cozy and slightly less-cozy games live at my Twitch channel!

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Book Review – Empire of Imagination

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A reference to Unearthed Arcana, for those unaware.

Empire of Imagination: Gary Gygax and the Birth of Dungeons & Dragons by Michael Witwer is one of those biographies/histories where the author dramatizes it. Meaning there’s dialog and inner monologues that the author is taking a few liberties with, similar to Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation. That may bother some people, including me, but for once I actually found it helpful in relating to the subject matter.

The book is a history of Dungeons & Dragons but it’s a history we see as we follow one man, D&D’s creator, Gary Gygax. There’s very little jumping around and visiting other people involved, this story is firmly about Gygax and his how is life affected and was affected by D&D.

Having read a few books on the subject, my favorite so far being Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It by David M. Ewalt, there wasn’t a whole lot of new information to gain about the game itself. But I didn’t realize how little I knew about Gygax himself. A self-made high school dropout, creative and self-destructive and gamer to a fault. It’s strangely fascinating to read about Gygax’s personality and how it rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, including his wife and kids. It’s also shows how much of the company and game relied on friends, family and the gaming community.

And yet, with all of his flaws, the man created one of the greatest games of all time and then kept creating, kept the community of tabletop players alive through a home-town convention and never stopped playing games during his free time. While nothing after D&D ever gained the same popularity, there’s something to be said for the amount of material Gygax created in his life. He reminded me a bit of Stan Lee in that regard, having created an amazing and loved universe at the early stages of his career and then never being able to top after. Life Stan Lee, it wasn’t the material he created after that made him a star, it was him just being who he was. Gygax lived a rock star life for a while and the geek community helped make him feel like one.

Another great read on the subject.

A lot of the book talks about how much Gygax influenced the world and it’s hard to argue. The path of D&D to computers, to MMORPGs, to LARP to Stephen Colbert and Vin Diesel, it’s all easy to see. Near the end of the book, Witwer talks about how Gygax is geek royalty, maybe even King of the Geeks. Considering that D&D has been going since the 70s, he might be right.

As someone who’s life has been heavily affected by Dungeons & Dragons and tabletop games in general, the history of the medium feels strangely personal (there’s a reason this blog is called Natural 20). I wasn’t playing in the 80s, but reading about the groups that formed, I felt like I could have been. There’s always something geek-romantic about friends around a table in a basement roleplaying. Well, maybe it’s only that way for me, but I love reading about that stuff.

If you’re remotely interested about the history of D&D, Gary Gygax or the hobby of roleplaying, this is a great read. Combined with Of Dice and Men, digging through the past has never been easier or more entertaining. I will say both books share a flaw in that neither really dig into the history of TSR after it’s removed from Gygax’s control. Empire of Imagination does a better job, but seems like the company was so destructive that you could get another book out of it’s time in the 90s, before it was bought by Wizards of the Coast.

I guess I’ll have to start reading Designers & Dragons next.

 

What to game, what to game…

As a roleplayer, I’ve been on both sides of the Dungeon Master’s screen. And, like most roleplayers, I prefer to be a player rather than the guy running the game. But, on the other hand, being the DM means you get to play whatever type of game you want!

When I’ve been the DM, I’ve run all types of games; fantasy, zombies, superheroes, dinosaurs, pirates and pulp. I try to make every game I run a game I would want to play. But, there are some types of games or ideas I just haven’t been able to figure out or lock down. Every time I decide it’s time to run a game, I go through all the same motions and concepts and decide they’re not right yet and come up with something else. But what about the game’s I can’t glue down yet?

Space Opera
To this day, it remains to be one of the few genres I haven’t even made an attempt to run. You would think, with my love for space and science fiction, this would come easy. But you would think wrong. I can’t figure out how to make this type of game work. I can’t get the governments right, I can’t think of aliens and I can’t help but fall in the shadow of material like Firefly and Star Wars. Maybe it’s a case of having to much to work with, but when I think of doing Space Opera, I freeze up like a Space Deer in Space Headlights.

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Running is all you do in a dinosaur game!

Dinosaurs
Here’s a case of me having, at one time, done a successful dinosaur game. It was much like Jurassic Park, or Dino Crisis and heavy on the survival horror. However, it was a one shot and one of the first games I ever ran. Ever since then, it’s like I’ve been trying to capture lightning in a bottle for the second time. The problem with dinosaurs, in roleplaying, is that they are just too dangerous. You can hit an orc with a sword or shoot a zombie in the head, but if you try and stand your ground against a dinosaur, you’re dead meat. I keep trying to think of ways to run a dinosaur game where they are scary but not invincible, dangerous but not unmanageable. Unfortunately, a T-Rex is going to eat you no matter how you write up its stats.

Sliders
Remember the show called Sliders? Well, I didn’t watch it either but it was about a bunch of people jumping from parallel universe to universe. So you can do anything. Abe Lincoln is the new Emporer of America? Sure! Robots run Walmart? Right on! But the problem for me is that nothing matters after a while. You have situations where you need someone saved but if the heroes don’t save ’em? It doesn’t matter because they’ll be in a new universe tomorrow! Also, once the characters find their way home, they’re home. End of story.

l5rSuper Villains
Here’s an idea I’ve had for a long time. It’s always been based off of the idea of the Thunderbolts, or the Suicide Squad. The players are super villains, but maybe they want to be better people! The reason I’ve never done this type of game is because I play with some morally ambiguous people who might not want to use their role as a bad guy to learn how to be good. They might, instead, want to use their powers for things I wouldn’t want to describe. To be frank, I’m scared of the horror the players would inflict upon their GM.

Samurai
I would love to run a samurai game, especially one set in the Legends of the Five Rings realm, but it all comes down to knowledge. While I have an affection for Japanese culture, my knowledge of their history and customs are severely lacking. I’m too ignorant to run this type of game!

But I guess that’s part of putting together a game, deciding how to make your robot pirates against British goblins work.