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The Importance of a Funny RPG
Role-playing games are generally associated with themes of magic and contain plots centered around the destruction of the world. It's usually up to a group of heroes to test their mettle against the forces of evil and save humanity. This is all serious stuff, and these games often attempt to capture their tales in as grand a fashion as possible. Now, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that. I like RPGs. I enjoy their epic design, but I also enjoy humor in my games. RPGs aren't really known for having laugh-out-loud moments, and this is due to their subject matter, which is usually pretty serious. Still, there is something to be said about an RPG that can feature a quirky plot, colorful characters, and hilarious dialogue. And though these titles are few and far between, I find comedy RPGs to be some of the most enjoyable entries in the genre.
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Earthbound: Serious Yet Colorful
One of the earliest examples of a conceptually unique RPG is Earthbound for the Super Nintendo. Though the game certainly dealt with themes of world domination and death, it was still a vastly different game than most of us had seen in the genre. The idea of baseball bats and yo-yos replacing swords and magic scepters was incredibly surprising at the time, but Earthbound managed to execute the concept flawlessly. Instead of fighting mages and wizards, the Earthbound crew was boldly taking the fight to hippies and psychotic paintings. Because of its approach at the RPG genre, Earthbound was quite revolutionary. It was also fairly quirky, and the characters, dialogue, and enemies were pretty funny. I wouldn't go so far as to call Earthbound a comedy RPG, but it was definitely a different spin on the genre, and it would go on to inspire more modern games.
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When Paper Mario landed on the Nintendo 64, it managed to take the themes and characters of the Mushroom Kingdom and put them in a colorful world rife with awesome baddies and traditional turn-based RPG gameplay. Because the Mario series has always been fairly light-hearted, though, it would be impossible to expect Paper Mario to be a serious tale of the Italian plumber's quest to rid the world of an imposing evil. Instead, Mario was once again tasked with saving Princess Peach. And though we've all seen that story before, Paper Mario managed to provide a deep and satisfying narrative that delivered on all fronts.
For the nostalgic Mario fan, the main objective was hardly a change of pace from most Mario outings. For RPG lovers, however, the subtle plot developments and enjoyable cast of characters offered something a lot more enthralling than the typical Mario game. Of course, even with these plot twists and awesome characters, Paper Mario didn't come off as a standard RPG. No, this title was very much a funny RPG with a lot of enjoyable character interaction and dialogue. Even Bowser, who pulled off his most dastardly plan yet, was a sheer joy to witness thanks to his cluelessness.
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Two Great Comedy RPGs Rise
Two of the most recent examples of comedy RPGs come courtesy of indie developer Zeboyd Games. The first, titled Breath of Death VII: The Beginning, is considered a parody RPG due to its references to other franchises. The dialogue from the characters is true genius, and hardcore gamers are likely to get at least a few of the nods in the game. The Legend of Zelda, Earthbound, Pokemon, and Resident Evil are a just some of the many franchises Zeboyd parodies in Breath of Death VII. The game is full of memorable moments, and this is largely thanks to the fact that it is so aware of not only popular series in gaming, but of the RPG genre, as well. The game jovially pokes fun at several games, but it does so in a welcome, non-threatening manner.
Almost immediately following the release of Breath of Death VII, Zeboyd launched Cthulhu Saves the World. After discovering that his amazing powers have been drained, Cthulhu finds himself unable to conquer the world and spread insanity across it. He then sets out on a journey to save the world, as doing so will earn him his mighty powers once more. The plot itself is fairly comedic, but it's the character interactions that really make Cthulhu Saves the World a ridiculously funny RPG. As I played through the game, I came across several laugh-out-loud moments, and I was very satisfied with the game's style and direction. Cthulhu Saves the World is, for all intents and purposes, the most hilarious RPG I've ever played, and it really makes me wish that the genre let loose a little more often and offered funnier outings.
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One reason comedy RPGs are so enjoyable is due to their rarity. You don't see too many games in the genre that poke fun at the gaming industry or parody other titles, and you certainly don't see much breaking of the fourth wall as you do in Cthulhu Saves the World (I mean, come on, Cthulhu talks to the narrator!). The fact that there aren't many comedy RPGs is what makes the few that are out there so special. Because of that, it would be foolish for me to expect the genre to be oversaturated with games that lean more toward humor than epic storytelling. That said, it would be cool to see more humorous RPGs landing on consoles and handhelds. By no means should these types of games be overly common--that would take away from their luster. However, it would be nice if comedy RPGs weren't so rare.
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More Comedy RPGs Please!
Franchises like Final Fantasy and Fire Emblem are a proper portrayal of grandeur and storytelling. These games offer serious RPG buffs a worthwhile experience that's both rewarding and captivating. Every so often, however, it's really cool to play a funny RPG that throws some of the genre's "rules" out the window and instead welcomes insane humor, crazy characters, and hilarious writing. Games like Earthbound and Paper Mario have done a great job of combining the best of both worlds. Meanwhile titles such as Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World offer crazy amounts of humor and wit, all the while providing a solid gameplay experience. Comedy RPGs don't need to take over the genre, but it would be pretty refreshing to see a little more quirkiness and humor incorporated into it every so often.
- Screenshots from Earthbound, Paper Mario, Breath of Death VII: The Beginning, and Cthulhu Saves the World.