The writer of Final Fantasy XII and a host of other RPGs has spoken of her shock at being told by other production staff that RPGs “don’t need storylines” as the players aren’t looking for them.
Miwa Shoda, a game designer and scenario writer who for many years has worked for Square Enix, is best known for such RPGs as Final Fantasy XII and Legend of Mana. As a “scenario writer” she explains she is responsible for the design of the story and world, but also quests, tutorials and scripting.
Speaking about her experiences designing games in a lengthy exchange on Twitter, she reveals her shock at being told that RPGs don’t actually need a storyline:
I’ve worked all over the place and gained a great deal of valuable experience from all sorts of people, and learnt approaches to writing games I would not have been able to do on my own, but the one approach I could never understand is the notion that “games don’t need storylines.”
Now, I don’t think all games need storylines. But when I was told that RPGs don’t need storylines, I was really shocked. They said players weren’t after a storyline, so the bare minimum of events would suffice.
I’ve enjoyed RPG stories ever since I was a child. A thrilling adventure in a new world, with interesting companions. Events are how you enjoy that, together with a storyline, or so I thought.
So I can’t believe it when people say a storyline is unnecessary in an RPG.
Since she has primarily worked for Square, and then Square Enix, it would not be unreasonable to assume that they were the ones to tell her of the unimportance of the RPG storyline.
That some JRPG developers think storyline is unimportant probably explains a great deal, not least the pathetic string of overwrought cliches and endlessly recycled science fantasy settings which generally pass for storyline and setting in Japanese RPGs.
Bioware and company’s reaction at learning that their carefully crafted stories are actually superfluous, at least according to a mercifully unnamed JRPG developer, can only be guessed at.