Warning: Stream of consciousness ahead!
The other thing that’s come up is something that really bugs me and that I absolutely, positively, completely and utterly hate about jRPGs, and that is that plot and gameplay are often almost universally separated.
I DO understand some reasoning behind this, after working on a game design docket myself. It really isn’t easy to create a solid semblance between plot and gameplay to a large degree (especially in regards to things like healing and the like, which even fantasy authors commonly fail hardcore at). I also don’t think this is an excuse to not even fucking try, though.
I’ll go ahead and say it. This REALLY takes me out of the story sometimes, and does have a tendency to make some sequences in games absolutely, positively unbearable. My poster child example is the P3 scene where your group gets held up by a couple thugs. It is, as presented, almost completely unfathomable. Here you are, being stopped by some punks only a couple years your senior, when you spend several hours a night punching goddamn demons in the face. Yes, yes, you can’t summon Personas outside the dark hour (sort of, Strega kind of blurred lines there, didn’t they?) but that doesn’t justify the ability to take hits from them or fight them with conventional weaponry.
The perennial example, the death of Aeries, does a stronger job of detailing what the real problem is, though.
Let’s say you’re watching a TV show and, in one episode, a character uses an awesome move. The next fight they have (say three episodes down the line) he gets beat soundly and would have been able to win using the super move. He just didn’t. This’d piss most people off. It certainly would annoy me! Why? Because its inconsistent, immature and thoughtless writing. It shows 0 regard for the writing and, honestly, 0 regard for the audience.
Game inconsistency is the same thing. It just isn’t THAT easy to compartmentalize what happens in gameplay being completely isolated from what happens in plot. And why should you have to? If they disconnect between game and disconnect between cinema is just that great, why are we forcing these two things together instead of putting things that work together. When entire facets of the gameplay have to be ignored as they have no bearing on the story or, in fact, act in complete contradiction to what is happening in cinematics, I start to wonder why I’m doing these things together! As is, I’m just fighting battles with characters who vaguely resemble the dudes in the cinemas I watch between every dozen fights. Let’s cut out the middle man here.
The Aeries example is so strong because it is supposed to be an emotive, gripping and important scene that requires, nay, forces, you to completely disconnect the gameplay sequence from the storytelling sequence, which isn’t always easy. And if you do have trouble, then the scene loses a significant amount of impact.
I’m sure some of you are saying that if its written grippingly enough/well enough that this won’t be an issue and I’m just being nitpicky. I’ll counter by calling you several less polite names and insinuating things about your mother. More seriously though, I’m being nitpicky because this just isn’t good writing. The burden is really on both parties (the designers and the story people) to make a cohesive work. At least make a token effort! I mean, even BG vaguely handwaves why its game over if the main character dies. Just do something to gesture towards cohesiveness, please.
And yes, I know its fully possible to tell a perfectly fine story and have the gameplay have nothing to do with it. Fine, sure, whatever. You can do it. I’ll give you that. But you know what? It really does improve the experience.
Maybe I’m alone this, but I was a little sad inside when after watching the first video in DMC3, wherein Dante mounts a mook, uses him to skate across the room and shoot some bitches while doing so, and started playing. Because, man, that was awesome and HOLY FUCKING SHIT I JUST JUMPED ON A DUDE AND USED HIM TO SKATE ACROSS THE ROOM WHILE SHOOTING SOME BITCHES. HOLY SHIT AWESOME. This was AWESOME. I mean, its not practical, its not that useful, etc, but it was something that was highlighted, that was cool and that I could do. The reverse should apply too. I don’t want to see my amazing band of heroes get held up by town guard Joe Schmoe and be easily subdued.
This is lazy writing.
This is bad writing.
I’ll go more in depth on why I think integration should occur more often (short answer: because what sets video games aside is that they are a freakin’ interactive medium), but I’m tired now.