The A.Typical RPG

By: Phil Savage

Published: August 1, 2011 Posted in: PC Gaming Nonsense

I nearly became quite obsessed with the The A.Typical RPG’s name. I spent the first few minutes analysing every element for signs of it differing from the standard RPG template. The first objective is to complete a turn-based 3 vs. 3 football match. That’s pretty atypical, right? Turn-based systems aren’t usually reliant on a singular object, placing importance on the position of the party over the actions they carry out. That definitely isn’t something you see too often. Then a glitch caused the ball and a couple of the opposing side’s players to disappear from the screen. They were still there, moving around and even managed to score amidst the confusion. I just couldn’t see them. With that I was interrupted from my intellectual genre critiquing revelry, realising there were far bigger problems ahead.

Typical, really.

atrpg - football game“Okay lads, new plan: we’ll move one at a time.”

Not that bugs alone would be enough to ruin the game, especially when it has such a clever central idea. You follow the “adventures” of a college student as he proceeds with his day-to-day life, recasting the mundane as RPG themed objectives. Brilliant! Or it would be if it wasn’t so shallow. The protagonist begins by claiming he plans to cast off mediocrity and achieve his destiny. At which point you bounce around between the town and your dorm room, completing a series of minigames, before arriving back at the football pitch where the protagonist claims he plans to cast off mediocrity and achieve his destiny. At which point you bounce around between the town and your dorm room, completing the same series of… [and repeat.]

At first it seems to be leading to a clever exploration of everyday ennui through repetition. Unfortunately, talking to friends and hearing them deliver the exact same responses – including a tutorial of the conversation system – reveals that this isn’t the case. You’re stuck in a Groundhog Day style game loop that repeats until you’ve raised your rating with a key character high enough to trigger the next section. The worst thing about this is how it sours everything you do. That early football match that on the first attempt was an interesting if poorly executed idea becomes a tedious chore the second and third time. Similarly the button-matching battle system, which at least remains enjoyable, becomes insultingly easy. As for the classroom test mission… Well, that’s actually incomprehensible from the start, and never becomes any clearer.

atrpg - a messageThis is only the second dullest Twitter account I’ve seen

Not that winning or losing any of the objectives has any discernible effect. Instead they’re simply interactive vignettes between you and the few real conversation challenges that actually unlock the next section. These conversations are the game’s one truly inventive mechanic. You’re given a list of personality traits for the person you’re talking to and respond based on a selection of characteristics. Do you agree or disagree, sound interested or bored, angry or calm? Everyone you meet is someone the protagonist already knows and so tailoring your reply to what they’ll respond positively to mirrors an element of truth to the workings of actual relationships. Sadly it can be vague in execution and attempting to understand which combination the NPC will like can involve a frustrating amount of trial-and-error. Doubly so as a bad performance will consign you to more game-loops before you get another shot and gradually memorise the pattern that allows progress.

At least the dialogue is a pleasing collection of jokes and gaming references. On your travels you’ll meet a selection of characters such as the bouncer who was sent to school by his mother to level up in intelligence, the rich kid who wants to expand his empire by buying your dorm room bed and the childishly named primary antagonists Douchemo, Douchinho and Douchador. Every incidental character that you meet will provide you with exactly one piece of dialogue per location. After that, they’ll repeat themselves no matter how much progress you’ve made in the story. It makes the multiple instances of the game popping its head over the fourth wall to make remarks about the engine’s limitations appear quite desperate. As always in these cases, self awareness doesn’t absolve the crime.

atrpg - the dormThat awkward silence when you realise you have nothing new to say to a person

So much of the presentation suggests a far more assured game. The art style is crude yet charming, full of great flourishes like the always entertaining facial expressions during battle sequences. The music is quirky and, while simple, is never an annoyance even on multiple revisits to each location. More than any of this though, it gives the impression of being more than it is. For all its self-deprecation, it remains a confident game, to the point of delusion. Because great aesthetics, writing and indie spirit are all just stylistic enhancements to compliment the game underneath. What The A.Typical RPG really feels like is a design concept; a handful of ideas and mechanics that, if fleshed out, would make for a truly great slice of parody and nonsense. While it’s hard to get too worked up about a game that costs so little, it’s a real disappointment that we’re missing out on the game it thinks it is.

Phil Savage