Gateway Games to RPGs: An Adventure of Its Own

I recently stumbled across an article about the questline of our video game adventures over at our friend Gaming Omnivore’s blog.

It got me thinking about my own journey toward being an RPG fan, since I wasn’t always. When I jumped into this video game blogging thing, I was so jealous of people who had played games like Knights of the Old Republic and Baldur’s Gate when they came out, and who had been so devoted to JRPGs, or had gotten into Dungeons and Dragons in their teens. I didn’t have any IRL friends interested in playing video games, and the age gap between me and my brother and sister was enough to keep us from generally playing the same games. I remember them opening the board game version of D&D for Christmas one year, but I wasn’t invited to play.

I actually didn’t get into RPGs properly until 2014, though I’d played video games for much longer than that. I think a lot of my missing out of games was two-fold: one, I was very sick when I was a kid, and wasn’t in school, so didn’t have friends, and in response I tended to shun whatever was popular, so that kept me from playing games like Final Fantasy VII when it came out, which seems to have been a lot of people’s gateway drug to RPGs, at least of the J kind. And two, I was always pretty happy playing and replaying the same games over and over if I liked them, so I was very content with my small pile of games that occasionally grew when I got a hand-me-down from my brother. This was an especially good trait to have with my limited video game budget at per my parents and my pocket money.

But that’s not to say I didn’t have the makings of an RPG fan. I loved fantasy. Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter (even though it’s not cool to like those books anymore).

I loved good stories, with my favorite author being the wonderful storyteller Charles Dickens. Eventually I’d find out that RPGs are like playing one of these fantastic stories, and there would be no turning back, but as a little baby gamer, I had no idea what was in store for my gaming once I hit my mid-20s.

First Steps in Roleplaying Games

To the surprise of perhaps some, my very first RPG-esque experience came from the fantastically underrated Zelda II: Adventure of Link for the Nintendo Entertainment System. This was my gateway game to other Zelda games, playing the same first few temples over and over again because I wasn’t good enough to get any further, and then being wholly delighted when Ocarina of Time came out for N64 and I found that under the Christmas tree one year.

Interestingly, Zelda II, or as I affectionately called it as a child, Link, was, maybe until Breath of the Wild, the only Zelda game with real RPG elements. Your character leveled up, and you chose whether to put your experience points into Life or Magic. Of course the Zelda item menus were there, as well, but I remember thinking at the time that it was cool that I, the little gamer, could decide how I wanted Link to “get better.” I went for a well-rounded build, faithfully alternating between Life and Magic so I would never be caught unawares.

I had one foot in and one foot out of the RPG experience by the time Ocarina of Time came out. It wasn’t a role-playing game per se, but when I wasn’t playing I used to come up with wild scenarios and try to figure out how I, as Link, would handle them. I used to imagine myself as different characters, trying on different abilities in my mind until I found one that “worked” for me.

I’m Going on an Adventure!

Most of my favorite games growing up were, in fact, adventure games, which at this point in my gaming career seem like “RPG lite” games. It’s usually all (or most) of the story, without the fiddling around with stats and abilities. My enjoyment of Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, all of the Metal Gear Solid games, Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, my ill-fated time as a gumshoe on my Carmen Sandiago game, even my first steps into the scary grown-up-game world of Grand Theft Auto III were defined by the story and how invested I was in the world and characters. So I bumbled along, playing Zelda and Metal Gear Solid and the other odd game that didn’t always fit into my adventuring profile but was entertaining all the same.

But then, I got his with a soundtrack that would change my life.

Gamer’s First RPG

Long-time readers know that several years ago I went on an adventure to beautiful Vice City Miami, Florida, to go on the level XX quest of acquiring a master’s degree. And with my Playstation 3 and Wii in tow, for all that free time I knew I wasn’t going to have as a graduate student, I departed for the land of palm trees, alligators, and questionable LGBT legislation.

I moved there in 2014. You know what also happened in 2014?

That’s right! The university put on a concert of video game music, which included hits from Halo, Zelda, Mario, Portal(!!) and…. The upcoming Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Well, let me tell you, I absolutely adored the music. I couldn’t even tell you which pieces from the game they played now, but I was so enthralled that I whipped a pen out of my backpack and, not wanting to be rude by pulling out my calendar, wrote the name of the game on my arm so I could look it up later.

The rest of the concert was wonderful, and I went back to my apartment thinking about the game name scribbled on my arm. One internet search later, I found out that Dragon Age: Inquisition was the third in a series, and it was a proper trilogy, in which one game influenced the next one, and so forth.

Well, the only logical thing to do would be to play the first in the series, right?

I bet you know where this is going…

Okay, so, please bear in mind that I knew exactly nothing about role-playing games, stats, or what any of these words like “constitution,” “dexterity,” and “cunning” meant, other than their standard English definitions. But I had my shiny, new-to-me Dragon Age: Origins disc, and looking online only offered me how-to’s and not why-to’s, so I popped the game in and decided that I am an intelligent human being and I’m sure I can figure out the game by myself.

I mean, I did, so go me.

But some of you might remember my post on playing games a different way, when I was “forced” to play the Dragon Age DLC Golems of Amgarrak on hard/nightmare difficulty for a trophy, and began to learn all the things that I still needed to learn about how to properly play RPGs.

I digress.

Needless to say for the four billionth time, Dragon Age: Origins quickly became my favorite video game, despite not knowing what I was doing and mostly leveling my character based on equipment I wanted to be able to use, rather than any actual decent build. But I beat the game, several times in one week, and was ravenous for more, devouring the Awakening, Witch Hunt, and Leliana’s Song DLCs, somehow winding up with several copies of Origins and Awakening discs, and then proceeding to fly through Dragon Age II, as well, all in time for the new school year to drop and to not have time to play games again until the following summer, when I finally took on Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Fast Travel Point

From there, I was hooked. While looking up something for Dragon Age, I saw something about a game called Mass Effect, and my thought was, “BioWare made a game in space? I’m in!” And then that trilogy quickly rocketed to the top of my favorite games, as well. As I played more RPGs, my knowledge about them unsurprisingly grew, I started a blog, and I eventually had a Year of the RPG, which coincided with some surgery I had, and eventually resulted in me falling off the bandwagon a bit. But as I played through Chrono Trigger, Baldur’s Gate, Skyrim, and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, my love of the RPG grew. I still have a stack that I’ve yet to work through, and I could go for several years without buying another game and have enough amazing game content to keep me occupied and satisfied.

To Be Continued…

One of the biggest hurdles for me when I started playing “proper” RPGs was not even knowing where to being to find out all the things I didn’t know. Flailing working in Dragon Age: Origins, and not having any idea what I was doing, couple with some pretty fast reflexes, got me pretty far. But one the first little domino was pushed, I am so curious to jump back into some older RPGs that I’ve played and enjoyed, and messed with the stats more to unlock more play styles and, hopefully, fun through this deeper understanding of game mechanics. Never thought I’d have fun playing a game on Nightmare (and that still might not be the difficulty I tend toward normally), but the challenge of playing using stats in a way I had never thought about was fantastic, and left me wanting more.

It’s been a fun ride, and I’m looking forward to it continuing!

What about you? What got you into RPGs? If not, what has kept you away from them? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon!
~Athena

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2 comments

  1. Thanks for the mention!

    It’s funny that you mentioned Zelda II. I’m reasonably sure that was the first Zelda game I ever played – for whatever reason I specifically remember the side-scrolling areas. This, along with my lack of XP with RPGs(bravo👏🏻) caused me to associate anytime an RPG was mentioned with the comment “Oh…so, it’s like a Zelda game?”

    Liked by 1 person

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