Self-absorbed discussion on RPGs...
I was looking over my host of ROMs for the various consoles I've owned over the years. Ticking off my fingers at games I loved and games I hated. And I got confused: Why is it that I hate half the RPGs that everyone likes, and like half the RPGs everyone hates? What am I judging that's so independent of what everyone else is looking for?
For example, I love Warriors of the Eternal Sun. It's a D&D game. Pretty crappy. But I love it. I hate the Eye of the Beholder games, which most people liked back in the day. Yet I love the Buck Rogers game, which uses almost exactly the same system!
Similarly, I loved Daggerfall and Battlespire, but hated Morrowind. (Although it should be noted that I cheated like a mofo through Daggerfall. I think everyone did.) I loved FFVIJ, but hated FFVII.
I thought, "is it just a dislike of first-person RPGs? No, I liked Daggerfall, and Ultima Underworld, and so forth... Do I only like party-based RPGs? No, I liked Daggerfall and hated Eye of the Beholder..."
Then I realized what it was:
I was looking for a relaxed game. When I play an RPG, I'm looking to be the only active person in the game. I want to know what to expect when I do something. I want a toy, a relaxed puzzle. You don't try to solve a jigsaw while someone counts down loudly in your ear. And I don't like RPGs that force things on me.
Don't get me wrong: I don't mind a challenge. So long as I know what the challenge is before I step in it.
All the RPGs I like have long, luxurious lead-up times for any given problem. This usually means a map with very few hidden traps on it and a long range of player vision. In its most basic form, this is easiest to accomplish with a bird's-eye view: seeing a long distance, only engaging when I want to engage. Another way to do it is to have only a small view range (like first person mode), but have really slow monsters and nonclaustrophobic level layouts.
I think the reason I have this definite preference is because I'm also a tension junkie. Used to the nature of tension, I have a distinct distaste for anything that pops up without building it. Look at all my favorite non-RPGs (and sort-of-RPGs): System Shock, for example. You are rarely taken by total surprise: you'll always hear the monkeys before they get you.
So what is it about RPGs where they think they can just wham-bam you, no thought to building tension or stress?
I think it's a leftover from "random encounter" syndrome. In a tabletop, it's harder to build stress, because your players have a bunch of options they'll use. They'll buff each other. They'll set a trap. They'll do all sorts of clever things. And your poor monster is toasty. So it's RPG tradition to simply drop monsters on you without any warning at all.
The RPGs I don't like? Universally do this. And there's no reason for it: building tension is fifty times more powerful than simply dropping a monster on you.
Yay. I like figuring things out. Now, to bed!