Would you rather have a good 100-hour RPG or a great 50-HR RPG? Your answer might depend on your availability; time is a limited resource. In my experience (XP level 43…), I would prefer a shorter yet better role to play. But I can see how one could go either way.
One one hand, like a long-form novel, a good RPG sometimes can take a few hours to get going. You might spend several play sessions wondering when the in-game tutorials will end or when the world really opens up to explore. And once you get comfortable with the game mechanics, then you might feel that you’re finally connecting with the characters.
This can take considerable time to develop. It depends on the story the game is trying to tell; it could be deep, broad, or both. Of course, it also depends on the technical and artistic abilities of the game developer to spin a good yarn made of ones and zeros.
Let’s say a good RPG averages around 50+ hours just considering the story-telling. Would a longer time-sink be better? Or would a succinct and brief RPG pack a better punch? Because sometimes, cliche or not, “less is more.”
After you’ve invested many hours into a good RPG, and have connected with the characters and themes, and are immersed in your substantial role to play – you have all the XP – what else do you want? You want a great pay-off!
If the story is great and is also told well, then you might find yourself in a catch–22. You want to hurry up and see how the exciting story ends! How do the plot-points connect? How do the characters’ story-arcs play out? But you also want the game to never end because it’s so good! When you’re enjoying a good thing, it often ends too quickly.
There’s more to the RPG motif that severely affects both the quality and quantity of a game. Grinding.
Some players accept grinding – rote, necessary, and repeated ad nauseam battles to slowly rack up all-the-points (XP, JP, AP…) – as inevitable to some degree or another. But other gamers decry the grind as a deplorable staple from traditional RPG’s past their prime. The grind is a vestige to cut off and live without.
To that, I say a modern RPG can offer balance. With the large number of ports and updated editions of past games, there have been quality of life improvements to mitigate grinding. For example, 2x or 4x battle speeds; a toggle switch to turn off (or increase) random encounters without waiting until 40 hours into the game to find the item that enables such conveniences. Or better yet, encounters that – get this – are not random!
RPGs today should include these mechanics from the start, along with being able to change difficulty level on the fly throughout the entire game. Some modern RPGs already do this, which is likely one reason why there’s been some resurgence in the genre.
Another aspect of an RPG that affects the quality level is directly correlated with quantity: the number of optional side-quests and bonus content. Assuming that these features exceed mere fetch-quests and are done well, they offer to the role-player an opportunity to go deeper into a broad story.
Let’s say you love a supporting protagonist and want to learn more about their backstory. How cool is it to choose to explore a 10-hour sub-plot centered on that character? If this was a more prominent trait in RPGs, and you had the time to spend on it, would you?
Finding the ideal RPG formula is a challenge for any game developer to be sure. And finding the perfect RPG as a player is equally elusive. But in our day, we’re closer than ever to enjoying these role-playing goals. A balance between quantity and quality is a worthy endeavor.
Since my play-time is limited, I lean towards quality escapism over quantity.
But I admit I tend to undermine my enjoyment of whatever current RPG I’m immersed in by craving the next new one on my backlog. But that’s another story.