A recent release that may have flown under your radar is Soul Sacrifice, an action RPG for the PS Vita developed by Marvelous AQL and Sony. One of the main combat mechanics is the decision between sacrificing or saving downed enemies and allies. Saving an ally brings them back at the cost your health, while sacrificing them grants you an extra special attack. Sacrificing enemies restores charges for casting magic, while saving them restores a portion of your own health. Players even have the option of sacrificing parts of their own body. While this idea makes combat interesting, it would be nice to see the choices you make at the end of each level have an effect on the story and the outcome of the game. Essentially, does your choice really influence the direction the game takes? Many games have toyed with the idea of influencing the world around you, as well as the citizens who reside in it. But which games did it well, and which failed to influence the player to continue playing?
Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead
The five-episode point-and-click adventure game based on the comic book series as opposed to the television series won numerous “Game of the Year” awards last year, among a sea of critical praise. But given that Telltale have been doing episodic games for almost a decade now, it makes sense that they would eventually perfect their craft. The reason The Walking Dead excels in this category is due to its carry-over effect, as well as the quick-time decisions with almost always immediate consequences. When you go from episode to episode, the choices you’ve made in the previous episode(s) carry over, which creates continuity in your specific story-line. But the most influential aspect of the game that makes it…uh, influential, is that every decision you make, from choosing who to save to which comment you’ll make during a conversation, has an impact. Save someone’s kid and they’re grateful and will help you. If you get caught in a lie, others won’t trust you. Disagree with someone and they might act hostile or will be less willing to help you. Each character remembers if you do something to help or hinder them, and what’s even more cool is that some of these decisions can only be made with a few seconds to decide, just like a real zombie apocalypse.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
I know, you’re shocked that I’ve found yet another reason to gush about this game. But I love this game, and not only does it have decisions that influence the fate of the galaxy, your decisions influence the personalities of your companions. AND, the ability to influence others is also a driving force for both plots. In the first KOTOR, so much emphasis is put on how important the Jedi Bastila is, and this is because of her Battle Meditation ability, which allows her to influence allies and inspire them to victory. The decisions you make later in the game also have effects on Bastila’s eventual alignment, the fate of the galaxy, and which companions will continue to follow you. If you make dark decisions, the evil and chaotic members of your team will stick around for the fun, but the lawful and good-natured companions will run from you. While the second KOTOR lacks when it comes to storytelling, the plot now revolves around your character’s ability to influence others, and this influence is seen in your companions. Each companion has an influence system, and you can either gain or lose influence with them. When you gain enough influence, you can obtain the option to learn more about their past, or unlock new classes for them to level up in. Similar to many RPG’s, your companions will follow you and go along with whatever you’re doing, but at least in KOTOR, they’re aware of it, and acknowledge it.
So this section will be short given how fucking obvious this choice is, but because I have huge boner for Bioware (Bio-boner?), and since I’ve started a Mass Effect trilogy playthrough, I thought I’d say a few things. First of all, whether it’s influence systems or just which the better game is, Mass Effect 2 is the clear winner for the former. We can get into an argument as to which is better game wise at a later time, but the reason 2>1 when it comes to influence systems is due to the fact that Mass Effect 1 ends the same no matter what choices you make. Even if, (Mass Effect 1 spoilers ahead), you max out your charm and convince Saren that what he’s doing is wrong, you still have to fight him when Sovereign takes over his corpse, and you save the Citadel regardless of whether you save the Council or not. And who you choose to sacrifice on Virmire has no effect on the ending either, it just determines you who can use in the later installments. By the way, I sacrificed Ashley so I could keep Kaidan and pretend that Carth Onasi was one of my companions, since they’re the same voice actor. He’s also Scorch in Star Wars: Republic Commando, so he might be my second favorite voice actor. Behind H. Jon Benjamin of course.
So imagine coming across a new town in the countryside. You’re a strapping adventurer whom they haven’t heard of in the slightest, and they haven’t the faintest idea of whether to trust you or not. So what’s a hero to do? How can you convey your intentions, your goals, your aspirations, your virtues? Well, the most efficient way is obviously to do a chicken dance and then mimic the sound of a fart. For a game so reliant on questing and adventuring, it sure does a shit job of emulating the effect your exploits have on the world around you. Rather than convincing people that you’re a good person by dancing around and giving them a thumbs up, or scaring them by shaking your fist menacingly, maybe the consequences of your missions should determine their impression of you. If you free prisoners and protect the innocent, that news should travel, and villagers will applaud you in the street. Reputation means nothing in Fable because you can just alter people’s opinions by spamming certain emotes. Last time I checked, this wasn’t The Sims.
So my last piece, “Why NBA 2K13 Is More Of An RPG Than Most RPG’s“, spells out the ways NBA 2K13 excels in different role-playing aspects in its MyPlayer mode, in which you create an NBA rookie, get him drafted, and begin your NBA career. The system of influences involving your player and your teammates and coach are actually quite realistic and thorough. When you play smart basketball by setting picks, playing defense, and taking open shots, your teammates are more likely to trust you and give you the ball, and coach will give you more minutes. Make dumb plays, and your teammates will start isolating you out of the offense, and coach might even bench you. Plus, you might end up on Shaqtin’ a Fool. But one huge issue with the influence system that is so monumental and confusing that it landed NBA 2K13 a spot on the worst side of this list, is the issues with influence and your general manager. Your player could be playing star quality basketball, but your GM will still treat you like a rookie bench warmer. I present you with this situation: in his rookie year, my MyPlayer point guard, Steve Silk, was involved in a trade from the team that drafted him, the Golden State Warriors, to his hometown team, the Chicago Bulls. After joining the Bulls, the backcourt combination of Silk and Derrick Rose led Chicago to its first NBA title since the Jordan era. The Bulls had a playoff record of 16-1, with their only playoff loss to the New York Knicks in the conference semis. Along with the title, Silk earned the Rookie of the Year award, the Rookie-Sophomore game MVP award, an All-star game appearance, the season MVP award, the season scoring title, and the Finals MVP award. And what happens after the off-season? The GM brings back a player whom the Bulls had released the season prior, and gave him my starting position. After everything I had done for the organization, and the fact that Silk would only get better, I was still treated as a young gun who hadn’t earned his place. Well the jokes on them, because now I play for the Nuggets.
Fallout: New Vegas
The karma system from Fallout: New Vegas earns a spot on the worst influence systems because of its uselessness. In Fallout 3, your karmic alignment actually had effects on the game. Good-natured players were hunted by bounty hunters sick of your character being a goody-two-shoes. Evil players were hunted by the local band of lawbringers. Being either good or bad also gave you access to specific companions. Good companions such as Star Paladin Cross were inaccessible to bad eggs, and scum like Jericho and Clover didn’t want to run with any paragons. Even being neutral had its benefits, as you could unlock feats such as Impartial Mediation, or companions such as Butch and the Mister Gutsy. But in Fallout: New Vegas, karma has no impact at all despite still totally being in the game. It all revolves around the reputation system, and who attacks you and who’s friendly is determined by your standing with their faction. Both karma and reputation also have no effect on what companions you can acquire, as long as you just complete their quest. And reputation isn’t even that pivotal to the plot. You could ideally do everything for the NCR, to a degree that they worship the ground you walk on, and then pretty close to the end just fuck over everyone except yourself. Karma just becomes a stat in New Vegas, and in an RPG, a stat that has no effect is a stat not worth having.