Super Robot Taisen Z
, for example, is essentially two stories in one. Right from the start, you are asked to choose between one of two characters, at which point the narrative unfolds from their particular point of view. The other character will occasionally pop in as well, but by and large, their story is locked away until the next playthrough. And that's to say nothing of the hidden route that is almost impossible to access without the help of a guide. All told, the actual campaign takes around 50 hours to complete. I really enjoyed SRW Z
, and I even started a second run, but in the end, it was too much of a time commitment. I decided to read a story summary online instead.
That's a bit of an extreme example, of course. I'm not exactly calling for the abolition of branching paths; I like having to make tough choices. But I do think there's a more eloquent way to go about presenting the content than forcing a complete restart.
The best example I can think of is Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together
, which features a large number of branching story paths. The remake makes it possible to revisit any of the original paths once the story is complete; an essential addition given how complex Tactics Ogre
's story can be. It probably wouldn't work quite as well in SRW Z
given the magnitude of the split, but as the Tactics Ogre
remake has shown, it is actually possible to experience multiple route splits without having to invest more than a hundred hours into one game.
As for more traditional RPGs, like Persona, Final Fantasy or the Tales series, I've always found that the best approach is to tuck away additional content toward the end and let players discover it at their own pace. In this instance, Persona 4
may be the victim of its own story structure, since it ends on a fixed day. But on the other hand, Persona 4 Golden
fast-forwards through more than a full month after Valentine's Day. Why not allow us to use that month as we see fit?
I find that my favorite point in any RPG is that period just before the final boss. Usually, I'm exceptionally powerful, and I have a way to quickly travel about the world. It's this point where I often sit down and start plowing through side quests, since I'm typically reluctant to just go in and finish the game, especially if I'm enjoying myself. I like to meander, discovering things at my own pace, possibly uncovering a secret weapon or two. This is where I like to see everything an RPG has to offer.
If I'm going to replay an RPG, it's nice to have some extra content there as a reward. But in general, I prefer that approach for shorter games; like Fire Emblem, for example. Having only invested about 12 hours into a single playthrough, I find that I'm much more inclined to go back and test out new support conversations to see what I end up with. The less the commitment, the more likely I am to play through a single story multiple times.
Someday, I may go back to Persona 4 Golden
. Maybe I'll get the itch after finishing Persona 5
; or as with a good book, maybe I'll just want to jump back in and say hello to the characters I like so much. When that happens, I'll be glad to have the opportunity to see everything I missed. It just seems a shame that I have to read the equivalent of an entire novel for a couple extra chapters.
Kat Bailey is a freelance writer based out of San Francisco, California. Her work has been featured on multiple outlets, including GamesRadar, Official Xbox Magazine, gamesTM, and GameSpot. You can follow her on Twitter at @the_katbot.