There and back again: why RPGs matter more than ever
So many roles, so little time
In a 2019 interview with Retronauts, inXile Entertainment founder Brian Fargo recalled what Interplay hoped to accomplish in Tales Of The Unknown: Part 1, the seminal RPG more commonly referred to by its subtitle: The Bard's Tale.
"We were trying to set a mood and build a sense of being there… that there was a world… in our own primitive way," Fargo said. "You started off in a bar; you got to walk around outside, you had to go down to the dungeons, so you felt like you were living in a world; you weren't just thrust into a wireframe dungeon and that was it."
It wasn't until the following decade, with the surprise success of fiddly dungeon crawlers like Dark Souls, that RPGs found a way to strike the balance. Crowdfunding certainly did its part, as did the explosion of digital distribution and the proliferation of more powerful tools. Streamers and YouTubers, too, helped to popularise games like Undertale, which took familiar genre trappings and subverted them with unique and interesting choices of their own.
Meanwhile, the PC and console ecosystems came together in the 2010s, but not in the way that publishers might have expected. In recent years success has flowed out of platforms like Steam, where Divinity: Original Sin and other games like it are continually refined before being released to larger audiences on consoles. The flow has run the other way as well. Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest - classic franchises that got their start on console - have thrived on PC. In 2020, Persona 4 Golden, an enhanced version of a 12-year-old PlayStation 2 RPG, found great success on Steam, prompting Sega to announce that it was planning additional ports.