RPG's or Role-Playing Games have always been an extremely popular genre in Japan. Big name RPG series such as Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest have consistently been huge sellers, moving upwards of 5 million games. It is only recently, with the huge ad campaign and hype for FFVII, that RPG's have become a popular genre with the majority of game players in North America. While it has remained somewhat of a niche genre, its popularity is rising quickly. This is evidenced by the rather large number of RPG's being released for consoles in comparison with the amount released in previous years. With this knowledge, it is apparent that RPG's will play a big part in the Dreamcast's success in both markets. Bernie Stolar, the CEO of Sega of America, has already stated that RPG's will play a large role in the Dreamcast library of games.
"I have the power!"
There is no doubt that the Dreamcast is a monster system. Just look at the specs. Both its 3D and 2D capabilities are leaps beyond what is on the market now. What does this mean for RPG's on the Dreamcast? Two things: Incredibly realistic 3D environments and characters to explore and interact with, and enough power to create incredibly detailed and complex 2D characters and environments.
The Dreamcast can push 3 million polygons per second. This will provide for extremely detailed polygonal models that are made up of thousands of polygons. It will allow for realistic facial expressions and movements to help convey the emotion of a scene or battle. Gameplay that will immerse you in a fully 3D, real-time environment, taking traditional menu based gameplay to another level. The possibilities presented by polygons and RPG's have only just been hinted at in games like FFVII and Panzer Dragoon Saga. FFVII created a rich world with diverse characters, and polygons gave life to those characters with realistic, human movements. Facial expressions were limited by the power of the system, but Cloud's shrug or Cid's swagger added a unique element to the characters. It made them a little more human.
Then there's Panzer Dragoon Saga. Playing it is a brand new experience for RPG gamers. Only Chrono Trigger came close to realizing what Panzer Saga does. It takes a traditional menu battle system and not only places it into a fully 3D environment, but also incorporates character movement. You circle your opponents as they circle you, looking for weak spots and avoiding attacks. Real time 3D battles. It would be hard to take a step back after experiencing the excitement of Panzer's gameplay.
What about 2D? What can be done with a style that has been turned inside out and upside down? Is there anywhere for 2D to go? Of course there is. The 16 Megs of main RAM in the Dreamcast will allow for a tremendous amount of animation to be incorporated into a game. While 3D may be the future, it still has a ways to go before it can reach the beauty of hand drawn art in videogames. And as the frames of animation and detail increase, it can only look better. Dreamcast is likely capable of 2D games that look like high quality anime. I don't know about everyone else, but that has me drooling. Look at Street Fighter 3. Dreamcast can do this game easily, and it is already high quality animation. It looks good enough to be anime. And the Dreamcast can easily go beyond. I will probably always prefer 2D, and the Dreamcast will hopefully keep 2D alive. It certainly has the power to take it to a new level.
"I got game."
So what RPG's can we expect on the Dreamcast? That's kind of difficult to say right now. No games have even been announced so we can only speculate. Two games that I'm certain will appear on the system and will take advantage of the 3D and 2D capabilities are Phantasy Star V and Lunar 3. Why Phantasy Star V never appeared on the Saturn, I'll never know. But with the upswing in the popularity of RPG's, Sega won't let their franchise title lay stagnant for another system's run. And GameArts has already begun work on Lunar 3, and there is little doubt about which system they are making it for. The only doubt is whether it will make it out of Japan with Working Designs gone from the fold.
Phantasy Star V, I believe, will be a fully 3D game with FMV cut scenes to help tell the story. This is the current trend in most big name traditional RPG's like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. Sega will want Phantasy Star V to put the Phantasy Star name on the same pedestal as those other two that dominate the Japanese RPG market. The game will be huge, utilizing the 1 gig CD's to tell a huge story with incredible visuals. Phantasy Star has always been one of the most beautiful RPG's, but it wasn't until Phantasy Star IV that their storytelling was equal to its visuals. Phantasy Star V should take both those aspects to another level, and give us an incredible sci-fi fantasy RPG.
Lunar 3 will probably be a 2D game. I don't see GameArt's playing around with polygons, it's not their style. Instead, we'll get a 2D visual feast. The first two Lunar games took advantage of the space on a CD to create incredible animated sprites that captured many gamers hearts with their extra animations. Lunar 3 will likely feature a heart-warming story of adventure and romance that will touch gamers in ways that they wouldn't think a videogame could. And incredible anime cut scenes with the usual breathtaking Japanese voice acting. Lunar 3 and Phantasy Star V will likely lead the way for RPG's on the Dreamcast and show off its power in both 2D, 3D and FMV.
What about other RPG developers that might turn to Dreamcast? Considering that representatives from both Square and Enix were at the Dreamcast unveiling, it is very possible that both are interested in the system. Having these two along even as a third party developer would guarantee huge success in Japan if the economy doesn't fall apart. Even so, both of them can be just as much of a presence in the US. We saw what FFVII did for the Playstation. With Square and EA teaming up, it is very likely that Square will have games on all the viable systems while focusing on the one with the best hardware as they've always done in the past. And If Square develops for a system, Enix will as well and vice versa. The competition between those two companies can only help the system they decide to compete on. There is also the rest of Sega's in-house, Capcom, Konami and many more, all of whom will very likely be developing on the Dreamcast. As far as RPG's go, the Dreamcast will have more than enough to satisfy fans of the genre.
"Et Tu, email@example.com?"
Another factor to consider with the Dreamcast is the possibility of online RPG's. The Dremacast will come with a 33.6 KBPS modem for Internet browsing and online gaming. Origin and Sierra have taken the first leaps into the perpetual worlds of online RPG's with Ulitma Online and The Realm respectively. While both of them have their problems, they are also early examples of the possibilities of online gaming. Sega will have its own online gaming service set up by SegaSoft who are well versed in the online gaming world. We will certainly be able to play action and sports games with friends over the net. But will Sega or another company take the leap into online RPG gaming? I have no doubt that someone will. And with a dedicated server for Sega online gaming, they will hopefully eliminate most of the problems that plague online games. Player killers and hackers being the worst. And console software presents a bigger problem. On the PC, you could download an upgrade or patches to correct problems with the game. With consoles, it's pretty much a one shot deal. It has to be right the first time. I don't expect online RPG gaming until a few years after the system's release. Games will have to go through rigorous testing before release and will therefore take a long time to reach us. But they will eventually, and with so much time devoted to making sure they are free from error, they will likely provide a well-balanced gaming environment for player's to partake in. On line gaming will play a huge part in the Dreamcast's success, and online RPG's will be a part of that.
Will the Dreamcast be a dream come true for RPG fans the world over? Only time will tell, but both the technology and the company line seem to be pointing in a positive direction. If the right pieces of the puzzle fall into place, we could have one of the most innovative periods for the role-playing game since its inception. We could see cross over between PC style RPG's and console RPG's because of the Microsoft OS that will be used. PC ports will be very easy and many console gamers will get their first taste of the world of PC RPG's. The Dreamcast is not out yet. Most of what I've written is pure speculation and hypothesis on my part. But the possibilities presented by the Dreamcast have me excited. The places it could take us, the worlds it could show us, may be beyond our imaginations. And that's really all we could ask for. RPG's give us an escape from the repetitiveness of our daily lives into worlds of fantasy, and the Dreamcast could take us deeper into those fantasies than we've ever gone before, and I can't wait.