Whenever people talk about JRPGs being obsolete in relation to the success of the modern Western RPG, the one thing I can never escape is that the Western RPG’s freedom tends to work against its story. As great a game as Skyrim happens to be, its narrative takes a backseat to whatever impulse it is that drives us to pick locks or hunt foxes outside of Whiterun. I think this is one of the reasons that the Mass Effect series appeals to me – it still manages to have a tight, exciting narrative while allowing the player a certain amount of freedom. Somehow, the series has straddled a pretty nice sweet spot that brings the best of both of those worlds.
In the latest release of Bioware Pulse, the company’s video series highlighting its projects, lead writer Marc Walters discusses their desire for Shepard to be a much deeper character this time around than ever before:
“One of the things we wanted to do in Mass Effect 3 was deepen Shepard as a character, so you really get to express what your Shepard is feeling and going through, throughout the war… We wanted to take that next step with the story telling. Yeah, it’s a war, yeah it’s got giant robots we get to shoot in the face, but there is a human side to the story. You are role-playing, and you are role-playing as a human. Why shouldn’t that human have an emotional component throughout the game?”
Here’s my question, and one I think the Western RPG is going to keep running into as long as it does business this way: can a lead character in a game based on player choice ever really have depth? Sure, Bioware has come up with some memorable, incredibly well-written characters in the past – but all of these completely outshine the main characters, who are just conduits for your own one-dimensional choices. I’m not sure if those things can ever co-exist, and I think developers could be kidding themselves if they think they can.
How do you guys feel about this issue? Can lead characters in games based on player choice actually have depth? Is it OK for them not to?
Source – VG247