(Originally available on the now-defunct NFT Zu website)
(2018 Edit: I found this in my WordPress drafts folder, not sure why it wasn’t published when I first imported it. It’s true it was on my old site, but I can not find a reliable indicator of what date it was published. So I will publish it with an arbitrarily chosen date of March 1, 2002.)
Officially, this rant should be available upon the re-opening of the NFT Zu webpage, version 4.something. As much as I’d like to babble on about anime or fanfiction, several of my associates here at the Zu know a lot more about those than I do. So I’ll stick to something where I can claim some sort of specialized knowledge: video games.
Lately, I’ve been playing Legend of Mana. It’s a little-known Square game for the PSX, the fourth installment in the Seiken Densetsu series of games. It’s a quirky little game, but what will strike you most about the game is the amazing graphics. No, I’m not talking about FFVIII-style FMVs or such. I’m talking about the detailed hand-drawn animations. The characters are portrayed by detailed sprites, the backgrounds are colorful,
hand-drawn landscapes, nothing like the mundane realism of FMV-based games. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking FMV. I certainly appreciate a great CG movie in a game.
But these days practically every game and its mother has FMV, and frankly, I tend to grow tired of it. What’s wrong with good ol’ 2d animation? We see a lot of games pushing the envelope as far as 3d CG FMVs are concerned, but where are the games pushing the envelope of 2d animation? As Legend of Mana and games like Parappa the Rapper show, there are certainly games and stories which are much better told in 2d animation than the mundane 3d videos of today. And for all their technical sophistication, 3d engines are still far more limited than what hand-drawn animation could show us, visions far closer to the artist’s
So where are all the 2d RPGs? Sadly, outside of Square and Capcom, no one seems to be capable of thinking for themselves and differentiating themselves from the pack. In this case the console RPG scene suffers from a common problem: lack of innovation. Aside from a couple of industry leaders, few companies can afford to “try something different” when they have sales to make. It’s far easier to do what everybody else is doing than to try out something which may or may not sell. The 2d RPG seems to be going the way of the handheld, as practically all 2d RPGS these days are being announced for GBA only, with the PS2, XBOX and GC all geared towards powerful 3d apps.
Granted, all of this might be chalked up to the fact that I’m an old-school gamer of sorts, and you could argue that “3d is the wave of the future!” But if you look at Legend of Mana, and its younger SNES brother Secret of Mana, you can’t help but see how 2d animation has improved by leaps and bounds over the years, albeit unnoticed compared to the attention 3d animation has been getting. Five years ago, all these 3d games were getting noticed because they were bringing us something new, a greater sense of realism than what 2d animation could bring. Back then 3d WAS the wave of the future. Today, it IS the future, and 3d games are the
norm, and 2d animation offers us something different, something fresh.
What am I saying? I want to see more 2d games, RPGs specifically. I want to see more Saga games, more Mana games, more Breath of Fire. I want to see new sprite-based RPGs. I want to see more fantasy worlds that look fantastic, more anime cut-scenes. Is it all too much to ask?
-Thinking about getting a GBA before a PS2