What the Fluff!? – A Look at Japanese RPG Dialogue

May 6, 2015 Written by Cameron Teague

what the fluff

This topic of the high amount of fluff in a lot of Japanese RPGs has been working its way around my brain for awhile now and recently got stirred up by Heath’s article on Omega Quintet and then Mark’s review. There is fluff all around you when you enter the worlds of these RPGs; it’s been that way for years and years, but lately it has become a way to hide flaws in game design, or to pad the length of a game and it needs to stop!

We as gamers should demand more from developers, more time spent making better games and less time spent on pointless dialogue. I am putting down my foot and looking at you, developers, when I say, “What the fluff!?”

Lack of Writing? Just Add Fluff!

It has to be hard to write a story that can stay interesting for the 15-30 hours that someone plays it, but that doesn’t mean you can go the lazy route and provide us with a five-hour story that balloons up to around 20 hours because of all the excess dialogue you cram in.

Omega Quintet is the most recent example of this. There is just so much fluff writing here, that you can’t even enjoy what little story there is because you have to wade through so much bullshit. What should take 10 words to say, instead takes around 60 or 70 words because of all the useless chit chat.

As Mark mentioned in his review, you can usually read the first two lines of any scene to get an idea of what’s going on, and then skip the rest. It’s different if the added dialogue is funny or at least meaningful to learn about the characters, but more often than not, it’s just chit chat between characters about the most random things. Yes, I know that every RPG since the beginning of time has featured dialogue that doesn’t necessarily push the story or beef up the character depth, but just keep it to a minimum and don’t let it take away time you could have spent on other parts of the game. 

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Side Note: Persona 4 being here is not to say there is bad fluff. I just liked this image and text.

 

Not enough Game Modes/Features? Hell, Just Add in Some Fluff!!

We have seen it time and time again in recent games. Combat is done well, but the developer obviously didn’t take the time to flesh out the rest of the game modes, so let’s hide it with an over-abundance of dialogue! That way, no one can even tell that 3/4 of the game modes are completely void of any sort of depth or a severe lack in polish.

When you can skip through almost half of the dialogue in the game and still feel you understand the story just fine, that’s a problem. If just a little bit of that time/money spent on the extra writing and voice work was used to beef up the game modes, just imagine how much better these games would be.

Using Omega Quintet as an example again because it’s fresh in my mind, but modes/features such as the music videos, the upgrade system, or questing itself could be so much more fleshed out if they had only been given a bit more attention. There are games series’ out there that feature plenty of this extra fluff while still maintaining high value modes/features outside of the core game. I can look at recent entries in the Atelier and Tales of series, where high amounts of extra dialogue did not detract from the time spent on the rest of the game. Granted, these are established series and that has a lot to do with it, but still.

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Oooh… I thought I was gonna die!

Annoying and Stupid Characters? Have You Tried Some Fluff??

I have noticed this more and more lately, but it seems like there is an abundance of annoying, pointless, void of depth characters in JRPGs these days. So much so that the added dialogue between these characters is made even worse because you don’t want to dive deeper into said characters, and you cringe whenever a scene comes up where they have to talk.

When I was a younger lad, it seemed that these annoying side characters were much fewer, with generally stronger casts all the way through. This made the side dialogue, or fluff as I call it, much easier to stomach because you. at least, had a mild to high interest for the characters. A lot of this could have been because I had more patience as a young tot, but I like to think that more time and effort was put into making casts stronger.

Now, it seems like for every Cloud or Oliver (Ni no Kuni) out there, you have a few Rikku’s or any one of the CPU characters from the Hyperdimension series.  This makes it much harder to stomach through the absurd amount of fluff jammed down your throat. It is truly amazing to see just how much a strong cast can help you forget about so many other issues in the game.

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 But the Western RPGs Do It Too!!!

Yes, this is a true statement. In fact, every game type out there has that extra dialogue that is added in there, mostly to push the individual stories of the characters or to expand on the situation throughout the world. The difference is, that in my experience with Western RPGs, most of that fluff is there when you’re doing optional side quests. Key word there being “optional.” Most of the Western RPGs are more of your open world variety, giving you a much greater chance to completely skip any unnecessary dialogue. It doesn’t just pop up when you go into a new area and force you to click through five minutes of ABSOLUTELY POINTLESS talk. It doesn’t take a story scene and tack on about 10-15 lines of absolute nonsense.

Extra dialogue like that is fine in small doses, but can become very tiresome when it is everywhere. Just for reference, I am not in any way defending Western RPGs because in my eyes, they suck.

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This Cameron Guy is Full of Fluff!!

So, I am sure at this point in the story, the comments will be set ablaze by an army of Otakus hell bent on my destruction. Ranting on and on about how I don’t understand Japanese games and blah Blah Blah! Look, guys and girls, I am not Japanese, so there may be some truth to that, but I love Japanese RPGs and I always have. Suikoden, Final Fantasy, Breath of Fire, Xenosaga, Wild Arms, Atelier, Tales of, the list goes on for days. That doesn’t mean though that I don’t see fault in each one of them (outside of Suikoden, it is flawless)..(well, so long as you don’t count IV and Tactics) and it doesn’t mean those faults shouldn’t be brought up.  

Omega Quintet was mentioned a few times here and even with all the useless fluff in that game, I am still enjoying it; and unlike Heath, I might actually beat it! Well, probably not. So yes, there is fluff around the corner in almost every RPG you play. However, some games just do a better job of giving you enough depth to overcome the extra dialogue while others use that extra dialogue to simply pad game length and avert your eyes away from the problem areas. 

Please let me know in the comments what you think. Is the extra fluff getting worse with these newer RPGs or do you think I am just growing out of touch with RPGs?