These streets are always the same.
Everyone loves a good RPG, whether it be an ambitious, madcap adventure from Japan, or a more down to earth, steadily paced experience from here in the west. Whether you’re a genre pro who’s played all the greats and some of the more cult status titles, or someone who’s passively into RPGs, you’ve likely picked up on a few tropes that most of us have taken for granted. Such tropes are largely beyond the realms of reality, are never explained or just don’t make sense in the context of what you’re doing… and we love them for exactly that reason.
Here are ten of the most baffling RPG tropes that the genre simply wouldn’t be the same without.
You’re slaying giant spiders left and right, in hopes of grinding out those crucial levels for the next grueling boss encounter. While you’re at it, you notice you’ve amassed so much gold that the next shopkeeper you grace with your wealthy presence will surely be weeping tears of joy, laughing his way to the bank while he’s at it. Where is all this money coming from? Well, the monsters you’re so casually slaying, of course. It doesn’t even have to be giant spiders, gold will nonsensically drop from sewer-dwelling slimes, yetis, ancient demons and ghosts. Now really, what does a ghost want with money? Where does he keep it? Did his cash die with him? Do shops accept ghost money? So many questions that demand answers! Or, I could just not worry about it. I mean, money is money; I can hardly complain, and speaking of moneybags…
This is one of my favourites, purely because it places maximum convenience over logic and reason. In almost every RPG you seem to have an infinite amount of space to store your gear and items. Weapons, full sets of armour and no small amount of potions, brews and other such items. Where does it all go?
In the earlier Final Fantasy games you could buy tents that would allow you to recover fully out in the field, essentially a one-use portable inn. What I’d like to know is why these tents are deemed disposable, and why am I carrying fifty of them? Has no one thought that buying one non-disposable tent would be more convenient than buying fifty throw-aways? And these are tents we’re talking about… Tents are pretty big! Who’s made room for half a century of tents? You could run a campsite with that many!
Local Inn, or Industry Leading Hospital?
Staying at an inn works wonders in most RPGs, fully recovering your party’s health and mana, and ridding them of any and all status afflictions, illnesses and life-threatening diseases. All for a very reasonable nightly rate. Simply rest your head at an inn for the night, and what ails you will literally be a thing of the past. You’d think a place with such a revolutionary ability to heal would be a tad more expensive than what they’re asking for, right? What’s more, it’s not just one inn; every resting place in the land offers the exact same services, and not one of them seems to be making a killing from their remarkable services. Just what happens when your screen fades to black while your characters sleep? These places can not only cure poison, petrification, transmogrification, paralysis and all sorts of other debilitating illnesses, but they can also bring party members back from the dead. How is this even possible? Perhaps we’ll never know, but one thing’s for certain: it directly contradicts our next baffling trope.
Cutscene Deaths Are Permanent
There’s nothing quite as heartbreaking as losing a party member to the realms of the afterlife. Such scenes are few and far between in RPGs, but when they hit, and if they’re handled effectively, they can hit pretty hard. But that’s alright, I’ll just run them to the inn and have them resurrected, right? Wait, what do you mean you can’t bring them back to life? Because they died in a cutscene? You’re kidding right? No? Oh…
Characters Sleep Fully Clothed
For those of you fortunate enough to not be unavoidably murdered by the writers, feel free to make use of the revolutionary inns at your utmost discretion. However, it seems most characters don’t care for comfort, opting to sleep without removing their garments. You could argue it’s for extra defense; you can’t cast Luminaire in bed, after all. Maybe their clothing is so needlessly complex that they can’t even be bothered undressing, deciding instead to grin and bear their undeniable smelliness afterwards. I mean, just look at Cecil from Final Fantasy IV, he sleeps like a baby in a full set of armour. Maybe it’s customary for dark knights to sleep in such a fashion? Probably boosts their resolve, or something…
They’re Coming Out of the Walls!
After resting up at the nearest inn, it’s time to head back out into the world to slay some monsters! You spy some ruins off in the distance and decide to investigate. Upon entry, all seems quiet, maybe it’s your lucky day! You’re sure this place is rife with untouched, powerful loot. All of a sudden, however, a group of monsters are all up in your grill, and want nothing more than your party’s precious lives! You dispatch them easily enough, but a few steps later, another batch of nasties pop out of nowhere, keen on ending your life. Where are all these guys coming from? It’s like all the monsters are invisible until you step on their toes.
But, seriously, where are they all coming from? Every place I’ve been to seems to house a vastly infinite amount of horrible creatures. No wonder they tell us to stay indoors.
Who Put That Chest There?
You’ve managed to stave off the monsters long enough to stumble across an unassuming little treasure chest. Finally, it seems your trip to the ruins has come to some fruition! What’s inside this mysterious container? Perhaps an ancient weapon condemned by society, a powerful suit of armour, maybe a rare item that’ll help you out against the next big nasty that wants you in his stomach?
But while we’re at it, just who is sneaking around these places planting treasure chests everywhere? Whether it be an ancient ruin, a rainforest, an active volcano, prisons, dungeons, otherworldly dimensions, someone is setting these things up, surely? Perhaps we’ll never know, but we’re thankful of their efforts regardless. In many ways, the someone/something that’s going around planting all these helpful items is the real hero of the story; there’s no way we could go on without them!
The King’s Creepy Guards
One trope I have absolutely no time for (but honestly, one that has thankfully lessened over the last few generations) is the dialogue given to any kind of guard, soldier, or any NPC of the same type that stand in protection of something. Here, let’s talk to this man standing guard outside the castle’s entrance:
“The king is not taking audiences right now. Please leave the premises.”
Kind of rude, but he’s only doing his job. I’ll let it slide. Hey, there’s an identical guard stood opposite from him. Let’s hear what he has to say:
“The king is not taking audiences right now. Please leave the premises.”
Well, I know when I’m not wanted. Why do they say exactly the same thing? Is it royal decree to speak these exact words, and only these words, while on duty? Will they get the old nose-in-the-book treatment should they say anything else? Are there guards watching the guards to make sure they do their jobs to absolute perfection? If so, who’s watching the guards who are watching the guards? When does it end?! My god…Orwell was right all along.
The Shop That Predicts Your Future
Many RPGs follow a common flow in regards to their plot structure, and how you’re guided by the plot through the world: Start in small unassuming village, beat a dungeon, arrive in slightly bigger village, beat another dungeon, arrive in capital city, beat a dungeon, party member dies in glorious fashion, arrive in another village/city/world, and so on, rinse and repeat. That’s an incredibly brash example, I know, but it’s important when talking about this particular trope. Most of the time, towns and cities in RPGs are your safe haven from the hellish overworlds, dungeons and temples beyond (unless you’re Nocturne, in which the towns want you dead as well), and often feature the aforementioned miracle factories that are inns, as well as equipment and item shops. What is strange, however, is that these shops seem to follow an upwards correlation in terms of equipment quality.
In other words, each town you visit will have slightly better equipment for sale than the last. What’s more, they seem to conveniently stock gear perfectly usable by your entire party.
Tales of Symphonia takes this to a rather ridiculous degree; Genis, the magic user, wields a kendama (essentially a ball in a cup), and Colette uses disc-like chakrams. Rather coincidentally, every weapons shop across the world sells kendama and chakrams. These aren’t common weapons like swords or staves, they are minutely particular weapons that seem to be more of a stylistic choice than anything else. Not that I’m complaining, Symphonia is indeed a superb game, it just strikes me as very odd that these stores seem to anticipate your arrival with undeniably upgraded gear. It’s all a conspiracy I tell you; I’m definitely not crazy.
Generic Angsty Teen Protagonist: Present and Accounted For
Easily my biggest pet peeve with RPGs (JRPGs in particular) is their reliance on generally uninteresting protagonists, used almost exclusively as a crutch to build the world around. The problem is, such protagonists (let’s call them ‘Squalls’) barely register any interest in the world at all, caring more for themselves or literally nothing at all. Squalls usually fall in the age range of 16-21, are pretty much exclusively male, are brimming with angst and tend to be sociopaths, thinking the world is somehow out to get them. Their mentality is that everything exists to inconvenience them, thus they close themselves away from the rest of the world.
I call them Squalls rather obviously, because it can be argued that Final Fantasy VIII’s protagonist, Squall, is the quintessential example of his kind. He registers no emotion, care, or interest towards anything. He drags the already poorly written story down to such a degree it barely makes the game worth playing. I know FFVIII has its fans, but Squall is infuriating in his ineptitude. Lost Odyssey’s Kaim is similar in personality, but he at least has reason for his mopey nature: the fact that he lives a life of loss. Being immortal, everyone he knows passes away sooner or later. He also reminds me of Nicolas Cage, so that’s a definite plus in my book.
Tropes for Days…
So, those were the ten RPG tropes that immediately sprang to mind writing this article, but there are hundreds out there. I ask you, the readers, what are some of your favourite (or least favourite) tropes of the genre? Tropes that make you laugh, cry, or simply annoy or even infuriate you? We’d love to know, so leave your comments below!