This is a column by Kat Bailey dedicated to the analysis of the once beloved Japanese RPG sub-genre. Tune in every Wednesday for thoughts on white-haired villains, giant robots, Infinity+1 swords, and everything else the wonderful world of JRPGs has to offer.Persona 4 Golden I thought hard about starting a new game. Saying goodbye to Persona 4's delightful cast after 60 hours was bittersweet to be sure, but I was also thinking about the social links I hadn't been able to complete. I felt like I could make a serious go at getting 100 percent, maybe even fuse a Persona like Thanatos. Of course, that would have required another 70 to 80 hours of my life; and sadly, I just didn't have that kind of time to spare.
So I'm packing away Persona 4 Golden for a while, even though there's plenty more to see and do. It makes me wonder: Is it a good idea to load up an RPG with a lot of content that can't easily be accessed in one playthrough? Especially when that RPG is more than 50 hours long?
My gut reaction is to say, "No, it's not necessarily a good idea." Not that I don't like extra content, or even replaying a really good RPG. It's the time commitment involved. And there are better alternatives than, say, forcing someone to keep multiple save files just so they can see every possible branching point without starting over.
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?
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.