My biggest pet peeve about computer RPGs and jRPGs in particular, is when designers try to create the illusion that your character has agency outside of battle and exploration by giving you lots of inane multiple choice dialog questions that change how other characters in the game respond to you. It's a reasonable idea in theory, but in practice, players are often given no information about the consequences of their choices or any way to change decisions that were already made.

When Rosa comes Cecil in the hallway after the Mysidia mission, exclaiming "thank goodness you aren't hurt!", the game doesn't stop and ask the player how Cecil should respond, which will affect some hidden counter that determines whether Rosa and Cecil will get married in the ending, or Cecil's ability to become a Paladin, or some other stupid random thing that the player can not predict based on what is known at the time. "It's role playing!" No it's not role playing, it's mystery meat multiple choice. Trying to figure out the exact sequence of correct answers to get Yuffie to join isn't remotely fun, and that one is light years better than the Aeris/Tifa/Yuffie/Barret date stuff.

Not all multiple-choice decisions are bad. There's a good way a bad way to do them. When the Old Man says "Take any one you want," no one picks the medicine and it's not because they read a strategy guide. The player makes a reasonable prediction based on knowledge of game mechanics. On the other hand when a player finds his party on the wet floor of a dangerous sewer, he should NOT feel ANY urge to check the FAQ to see whether it matters if he talks to Tifa first or Aeris (it does).

Party composition can fit into this category as well. I'm not hostile to the idea. Composing your own party is fun, especially in games like FFVI where each character has distinct traits and abilities that complement others. It doesn't work so well when you wind up having to decide which characters are going to be present for a major plot sequence and you only have a vague idea of what's going to happen. The player has to try and predict which character will give the most entertaining dialog, with minimal clues as to which player this might be. More often than not, any missed dialog is trivial, which is even worse. It means there's a whole lot of trite filler dialog in the game, AND the player worries about missing it by picking the wrong party. FF7 compounds this problem by having party selection ALSO influence hidden romance values.

Thankfully, Final Fantasy IV represents at least one story-driven game that doesn't have this problem.

FFIV isn't perfect, though. There is one type of similar scenario that comes up several times during the game that is a bit unfair. Specifically, when the plot takes one of your characters, you permanently lose all the equipment that character was wearing. For the most part, this only happens with gear that is easily replaced, but I suspect there's a player or two out there who has lost a valuable sword or axe along with the Crystal of Darkness.


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