So as not to mislead with the title, let me say this on my impressions (not a review, Logain!) of Fable 3: I heart it. I heart it for its whimsy. I heart it for its concise and apt story-telling. I heart it for its gorgeous graphics and its unique setting (think Industrial Revolution Middle Earth). I heart it for its streamlined “non-menu” systems. I absolutely heart this game.
But it has its flaws. More on this in a bit. For now, the history of storytelling in RPGs …
The History of…. snoooore….
Editor’s Note: for the uncool among you, RPG =Roleplaying Game and JRPG=Japanese Roleplaying Game.
Back in the day, JRPGs were actually the evolved form of RPGs. Sure, the characters had spiky hair and outrageously oversized swords, but JRPGs brought something to the table that Americans had not yet invented – stories. I believe that when American game companies started putting out RPGs, they came from a D20 background, where the player imagines much of the tale and how his character reacts to things. In fact, the Western tradition of RPGs, to this day, relies more upon the player developing the role his character plays.
JRPGs, rightfully, considered their players to be inbred drooling ninnies without enough sense to staple their diaper shut after the urine makes the sticky part no longer sticky. Well, sticky in a different way…. but I digress. See, JRPGs let the player control an otherwise fully fleshed out character. And for much of the Western game market, this was wonderful, like playing through a movie or reading a novel. No imagination required!
JRPGs flourished in America on the PS1, and there was much rejoicing! Meanwhile, snobby American “gamers” hid in their garages rolling dice to determine their character’s fate, and using their big ole brains to mock each others’ misunderstanding of attack of opportunity rules for halflings. And the world was happy to be rid of both sets, as Seth Cohen had not yet come and made being nerdy somehow hot.
Then came Xenosaga. And everything went wrong.
The world of JRPGs BX was one in which storytelling got a front row seat, along with gameplay and inventory systems. This became the norm – play an hour in a dungeon, you get rewarded with dialogue and plot advancement as well as gaining levels and getting a kickass new 16-bit rendered sword. Instead of requiring players to randomly talk to every NPC in every town, village and cave, players were given actual plot to follow, and locations that made logical sense to that plot. Suddenly, all 40 hours of a game made complete sense and even, on the rare occasion, had a narrative arc and actual character development!
Xenosaga, and the end of JRPG Feasibility
Xenosaga was touted as the most cinematic JRPG adventure of all time! And while I ultimately found that title to be misleading, it certainly wasn’t for the cinematic aspect…. there was barely a scrap of game on those discs! Xenosaga presented the equivalent of a movie, with occasional interspersed game moments. I literally had one session where I watched almost 2 hours of footage, cutscenes and dialogue and was only able to move my character ONCE! That’s not a game – its a GD punishment!
To make matters worse, the story made very little sense, was completely convoluted, and over the course of a 60 hour game, was impossible to keep tabs on.
To make matters ever worser still, (possibly the worserest!) the critics and the Japanese effing loved this shit. Its probably because the main character was a sexy android wearing a bathing suit and with lazerz.
Soon every JRPG had a mandatory 3 hour opening sequence before the player got to take actual for real control and start doing things. I can only imagine that every Japanese film school “artist” decided their opus, about giant robots and futuristic school girls and a panty-loving alien dog, would make an awesome JRPG!
To this day, “story” is now the driver of the bus, and things like “activity” and “fun” are stuck under one of the rear wheels.
What the fuck does this have to do with Fable 3 …
Getting there, trust me.
Western RPGs – A Reaction
For brevity, I will point to my favorite example of what we now call a Western RPG – The Elder Scrolls. For those who haven’t played Morrowind or the sequel, Oblivion, (or any of the others for that matter, but that’s my familiarity) here’s the gyst: Unbelievably large open world, literally hundreds of unique NPCs, literally hundreds if not thousands of available quests, and a “main” storyline that’s easily abandoned after 10 minutes. These games reward the player for action by allowing a player a complex variety of gameplay variations as well as letting a player etch out their own voluminous history through exploration. One friend, obsessed with Morrowind, would occasionally show me his vampire lair and all of the unbelievable amounts of treasure he’d collected, so much so that he’d needed to buy additional houses to house all his wealth. To which I replied “how the fuck do you become a vampire,” and then saw that he’d logged over 120 hours of gameplay and I don’t believe he had even beat the actual game on that particular character.
Because yes, he had multiple characters.
So while JRPGs tended toward movies with the occasional impossible fight and no customization options, Western PRGs started becoming nothing but gameplay with a negligible story tucked somewhere between the unbelievable hoarding simulations and the vampire cybering.
Fable 3 – An Evolution
Fable 3 is through and through a Western Style Action RPG. There is freedom to travel and to explore, and a complete smorgasbord of opportunities beyond following the story or even fighting anything at all. One could enter the world, find some gold, buy some property, enter into a homosexual marriage, adopt a child, become a landlord, get a midlife crisis tattoo, buy a dress shoppe, and generally watch the profits come in while the world around you remains in some sick stasis – and it would be a wonderful good time. But to keep things interesting, Lionhead Studios seems to have hearkened back to the mid-90’s in tempering their gameplay-to-story ratio.
By following the main plot, which is easy to follow and well written, the played can expect about an hour of dungeon/forest/cave/overrun town monster slaying followed by a few minutes of story (give or take the ratios). And unlike Fable 2, which suffered from terribly generic heroes and a plot full of “meh” and “wait, did that really happen? I honestly don’t remember the story of that game at all.” Fable 3, instead, gives you a character that you will genuinely care abut, and a plot full of both heroic and villainous opporutnities.
Interspersed, of course, is the humor the Fable franchise has become known for. Only this time around, everything is beautifully interwoven; whether its a child running up to you giggling and asking for you to fart gloriously while you race around town, or the confused gentlemen stopping you in the middle of beheading a pack of hobbes to ask dating advice for the woman you’re in the middle of returning him to, Fable has a trademark sense of humor, some would say childish or lighthearted, that makes every step into the world a potential for grins and even laughter.
The combat is, as usual, fun and simple to master. My only real complaint here is the actual combat moments can at times seem sparse, though this is likely a reflection of how much time I personally dedicate to growing a huge empire of housing and commerce with which to create vast piles of gold coins to swim in a la Scrooge McDuck.
The game is gorgeous to watch, a more subtle blending of realism and cartoon, with mood-heavy zones becoming positively immersive at times. The enemies, in particular, seem to vary much more and reflect a darker tone and color palette than previous titles. Of course, since I made a similar observation about Halo: Reach, perhaps this has something to do with my TV settings …
The game has its flaws, for sure. Screen tearing occurs occasionally, slowdown occurs more than occasionally, one achievement seems particularly difficult to reach (and auto save eliminates the margin for error), your dog is less helpful than in the previous title, and the music and sounds appear to have been lifted straight out of Fable 2.
But I digress …. you can read about these sorts of trivialities elsewhere. Here’s the end of my rant:
Fable 3 is the evolution of roleplaying, a hybrid of the Japanese style and the Western. It is chock full of mythology but puts players in a more modern setting, making for a novel experience and a groundbreaking sense of world-building. The combat is addictive, the interactions with NPCs are humorous, the insulting lawn gnomes provide a welcome and viscerally stimulating side-obsession, the empire building is perfectly simple in its implementation, the weapon “leveling” provides wonderful distractions and old school FF endgame-like bonuses to gear …. there are a billion things to say about this game!
This is not just the evolution of the Fable series. This is exactly where I want all of my games to be – rewarding on multiple levels. I think sometimes, in the mix of making games “impressive,” sometimes developers forget about why so many people play games in the first place … so I will leave it with merely this:
Fable 3 is fun to play.