I’ve lived under a J-RPG rock for the longest time.
From what little I’ve played of Western RPGs (Fallout 3, New Vegas, and Oblivion–I have Dragon Age still in the wrapper), I’ve had mixed feelings. Fallout 3 rocked my world back in 2008, but the giant open worlds of Oblivion and New Vegas felt like tired retreads after F3. Even Demon’s Souls, which often gets tagged as a Japanese-made W-RPG, didn’t hit the sweet spot for me due to its mechanical combat (would a little fluid movement kill ya, Atlus?).
Last night Mass Effect Trilogy came in the mail, and I burned through an hour of Mass Effect 1. My thoughts in brief: brilliant dialogue system, deeply believable sci-fi world, solid third-person shooting gameplay, and slick graphics for 2007. My only early complaint is the bland character design of the human characters. Shepard looks like a stranger I played racquetball with last month, and the rest of the human cast look as if they could fill-in if there were a strike at your local Wal-Mart. But it’s early. And the dino-man turians make up for it.
I only sank in an hour of playtime last night, but the dialogue system won me over. Being able to choose from a variety of dialogue options is a standard in gaming; being able to navigate dialogue sequences in order to make sense of an unfamiliar sci-fi world, that’s brilliant. Whereas many sci-fi or fantasy games thrust you into a mythical world and force you to embrace it on the fly, Mass Effect offers you the option of keeping with the immerse-on-the-fly tradition or digging up as much voice-acted information as you want. If I want to learn more about the ghet or turians, I can. If I don’t fully grasp the stakes of the mission, I can damn well find out. And while I’m doing this, I can give encouraging, neutral, or harsh remarks to the characters I’m interacting with. Whatever I please, and not just once in a blue moon, but in nearly every conversation. In a sense, the dialogue system is a game in itself, and can’t wait to engage in it for however long the adventure lasts.
***MASS EFFECT 1 SPOILER WARNING***
Last night I embarked on Shepard’s first in-game mission, a trip to a war-ravaged planet called Eden Prime to investigate a “beacon.” Leading the way was a turian (if this is a wink at the Metroid location Tourian, I’d love to know) called Nilhus, who I sensed would develop into a major character based on the tension and cynicism he generated on Shepard’s ship. Turns out I was dead wrong and Nihlus was dead himself before I hit save and went to bed. And this wasn’t the first death of a secondary character in my brief playtime: a member of Shepard’s squad got lit up in a cutscene just before I got my first taste of the game’s combat (which happens to involve delicious Resident Evil 4-style shooting with party members). If one thing was apparent after an hour of play, it’s this: the game’s writers have no intentions of holding back.
Once I get some free time on my hands, I don’t intend to either.