Console RPGS tend to be a pretty solitary experience. Here is a way to turn a solo grind-fest into a cooperative game or even an avenue for debate and discussion.
Both players begin a game of Final Fantasy 5 and play normally until they reach the last save point. At this point, each player chooses the job and secondary ability for each member of the team (Freelancer and Mime are banned). No job or ability can be used twice, and the players cannot tell each other anything about what jobs or skills they are selecting ahead of time. Then the players each save their game and trade games. This is much easier to do with emulators, since the players only need to trade their savestate file rather than physically trade game cartridges or memory cards.
Upon receiving the other player’s saved game, the player boots it up and defeats the final boss with the chosen team. Once both players have defeated Exdeath, the game is won and it is time to tally points. You start with eight points, and then subtract one point for each job or secondary skill that both players chose. For example, here are the two final teams of a sample game:
|Player 1||Player 2|
|Lenna||Dragoon/Spellblade||Mystic Knight/Rapid Fire|
|Faris||Ninja/Blue Magic||White Mage/Time Magic|
The players both used one job (Ninja) and one secondary ability (Dualcast) so they get a -2 to their score for a total of 6. If you wanted to be a stickler, Mystic Knight automatically has Spellblade as their primary skill, so you could give them a final score of 5. The goal of the game is to create a party that the other player can beat the final boss with, but with jobs and skill combinations they probably aren’t going to give you. You don’t want to go too esoteric or difficult with the skills you choose, because they still need to beat the game, but you also don’t want to pick obvious things they could be sending you. Also, they’ll be thinking the same thing, and for all you know they could be trying to select the same “least likely” combinations you are. The game becomes about utilizing unexpected strategies to beat the game, and also trying to get into the other player’s head.
This creates a “traditional” cooperative game with a clear points system, but this game can also be used as a template for other, perhaps more interesting games. Let’s look at an RPG which creates a very personal relationship with its players: Earthbound. Earthbound is a game that repeatedly asks you to take its ridiculous narrative and hodgepodge of themes and ideas and create your own meaning and connection to it. Trading save files at the last battle with Giygas asks you to end someone else’s personal journey. In many ways identical to your own, down to the characters and stats, but still a different journey. What can be learned from that? Before trading saves, both players should fill Ness and Paula’s (since they are the characters you explore the ending with) limited inventories with the items they believe represent their own journey and connection to the game. Out of Earthbound’s large and esoteric item list, which do you feel sum up the highest and lowest points of the experience to you? What can you learn from the other player’s chosen inventory? The save file becomes a message in which you attempt to communicate your experience through a very limited vocabulary.
With games like Final Fantasy 6 or Breath of Fire III, you can completely customize the stats and abilities of the characters, creating characters completely alien to the intended archetypes. Do you try to surprise the other player with a physical powerhouse Nina or a magic-casting Cyan? Pokemon games also offer an opportunity to create personal, inventive final teams. What ideas can you communicate to the other player through the choices you made during the game and the final outcome you present to them?
This kind of save-trading game can also work with simulation games. Paint an image using crops in Harvest Moon. Play a single game of Sim City or Civilization, trading the save file every few in-game years, and have a silent, in-game debate over urban management or history. Compare your final map of Fa’Diel, or the final statistics of your Vault Dweller, or the ruined remains of your Dwarf Fortress. Forget about what the “real” story is trying to say (its probably just saying “war is bad, except when it isn’t” or “evil magic clowns are bad” anyways). Focus instead on what you and your fellow players are saying when you play.