Seriously, why is the fantasy setting still the most prominent in the RPG genre? A lot of RPGs have been tapping into sci fi as well (Mass Effect, the upcoming Deus Ex), but even those games are becoming less and less RPGs. Is anyone else out there sick of mages, dwarves, elves, plate armor, and the like? Far be it from me to complain about something without suggesting alternatives, so I’ve constructed this list of settings that I feel are underused (not just in RPGs, either). As usual, this list is in no particular order.
There are plenty of games taking place in modern times, so this one is referring specifically to RPGs. Remember when all of those fantasy JRPGs were coming out on the SNES back in the day? They were all really good games (fantasy was not played out yet), but then Earthbound came out. It played just like all the other games but had a contemporary setting. The result was one of the most visually unique RPGs of the era that still has more personality than most games released today.
If you look just at JRPGs, the trend these days seems to be sci fi anime melodrama. And these developers wonder why the games don’t catch on over here. One of the reasons Persona 4 (and the others before it) was so refreshing and enjoyable was because of the unique setting. It took place a few years in the future, sure, but generally speaking it was present day. I’d love to see a western RPG (that isn’t trying to be a hybrid action game) set during this time period.
How many games are actually set during historical ancient Japan? There’s Way of the Samurai, which I’m not sure anyone anywhere has ever played (for good reason). Other than that, I can’t immediately think of anything else. It seems like all games set in Japan inevitably involve mythology or magic or something else.
I’ve always thought that ancient Japan would make a really solid action MMO. Include wide-open space to travel, towns and cities, various armors and swords, the ability to craft your own swords, and everything else. Guilds would essentially be different clans of samurai. Rather than classes, you could define your character by your equipment and what skills you invest in. No magic or monsters. You could make it PvP-focused and have players fighting each other rather than computers. Not to ramble, but I’ve always thought this would be a great setting for such a game.
Mafia II, while a deeply flawed game, was the first I’ve seen in some time to feature the ‘50s. The era was such a visually interesting one: the architecture, music, clothing, and car design were all unique to that era to the point where it’s easy to identify things that have come out of the ‘50s. Strangely enough, video games that take place in America seem to focus entirely on either the ‘40s during WWII or the ‘80s. Just because we associate the ‘50s with conformity and the nuclear family and all that other nonsense doesn’t mean exciting, dangerous stuff didn’t happen.
Did you know that antidepressants were a huge industry (and actually started) during the ‘50s? I’m willing to bet this is mostly due to all the housewives being stuck at home because they were expected to. Hell, make that into a game. A housewife in a standard ‘50s family gets bored and goes out to find something more fulfilling. If done correctly, it could offer plenty of action and it’s about time we see more female protagonists.
Mythology in general is just plain badass. It’s what made God of War so cool (well, that and really well-designed fighting controls). We should be tapping into more mythology than just Greek. Chinese is only one example of several that could be used. If you haven’t played Bioware’s less-popular RPG, Jade Empire, I highly recommend it. Ever since playing it I’ve had a hankering to see more Chinese mythology-based games and it simply hasn’t happened.
Norse mythology is another relatively untapped market. There have been a few games in recent years to feature it, but nothing that really made it big. The closest thing to a big name game that references Norse mythology is Max Payne. You’d think that with a mythos so focused on warriors and violence more games would be trying to harness that.
We do occasionally get new and interesting settings in games. The Assassin’s Creed franchise continually surprises me. The Holy Land during the Crusades and Renaissance Italy were both really good and original settings. Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for now. What underused or unused settings do you think would be cool for games? Under the ocean? The surface of the sun? Antarctica? Okay, maybe some of those aren’t outstanding, but the idea is that we need more variety. If I play another RPG that involves a fantasy world full of orcs and ogres I’m going to pull my own hair out.