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Why so few save points in RPGs? – A rant + A micro-review for the latest Atelier game

So once again I made the classic mistake. I was playing an RPG for a while, didn’t save a lot, something happened (in this case, my Switch crashed… I’ll speak about this quickly), and I lost HOURS of gameplay and am thus giving up on the game.

The game in question isĀ Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings, an RPG by Gust in a long-running series (since the PS1) which has been getting near-yearly releases since 2001. But it’s really not a problem exclusive to that game, I’ve encountered it many many times before.

So I’m making a post to complain about the lack of save points in RPGs nowadays. I don’t rant a lot, but this is something I’ve complained about too much not to do a fuller post about.

Let’s go!

(no this isn’t an april fools’ thing, this is a legit post about the game mechanic of saving your progress in an RPG… I have no life)

What happened specifically and who’s to blame?

So I’ve been playing the game most of the afternoon and evening yesterday. I never saved, because I’m playing on Switch and sleep mode is AWESOME for RPGs. Instead of having to save and come back later, you just go in sleep mode, then start straight back up from where you stopped. Why save all the time if I can just go in sleep mode instead of saving.

So I’ve never actually had an issue with this specific USB-C cable I was using with my Switch. I’d finish playing on my bed, plug it in, get back to it in the morning. I did that many, many times last year on different games. No problem. But this morning I wake up with a message on screen, saying the Switch crashed and that I needed to reset it. There’s nothing I could do to get back in the game first and save, obviously. So basically I woke up with 2 or 3 chapters of progress in the game entirely lost. Also my Switch wasn’t even charged after a whole night of being plugged in.

So instead of replaying all that, I’m just giving up on the game. The game features fairly boring, fairly long cutscenes. Lots of them. And they’re unskippable. Why would I want to subject myself to that again? It’s semi-acceptable the first time through, but a second time? Hell no.

So who’s at fault here? Everyone. But maybe one side more than the others.

The Switch shouldn’t crash from a generic USB-C cable being plugged into it during sleep mode. USB-C is a non-proprietary format, why would it ever not work with any cable? So Nintendo is to blame for their hardware failing (might be related to some firmware update, heard some things about some issues with third-party docks).

I wasn’t saving enough… obviously. I do this a lot in modern RPGs, and that’s largely due to the last part of who is to blame here (and due to me not thinking the Switch would crash). Should I have saved more? Yes. But there’s a good reason I didn’t. I’m to blame, but not entirely.

And that’s because the other element to blame here is the developers and publishers of the game. There’s one save point in the game. It’s a desk, some meters away from the alchemy cauldron in your atelier. You pretty much never go there, other than to save. That’s it. The game has no moments in-between chapters asking you to save, no random occasional reminders of “maybe you should save”. No save spots in dungeons. No save feature in the menus. Nothing. So I’d say the biggest blame is on the devs.

Nintendo’s blame is accidental, my blame is explainable, the devs’ blame? Entirely avoidable and not a mistake that should happen in any game. Gamers as a whole need to complain more too.

So what’s the solution?

I mean, it’s pretty simple: add save points, all over the place. A glowy spot or an orb wherever people might go to a lot in the game, and in key points in dungeons. This worked since the dawn of time (sometimes unbalanced save placements either made things too hard or too easy). What changed that makes the concept of save points obsolete? Nothing, that’s what (the simplification of console-style RPGs is one point towards shittier save systems, but… nothing I’d really call a good excuse). Game companies are trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist by removing something that has always worked.

The whole “save anywhere” thing a lot of RPGs have been doing recently is BS too. It encourages the same kind of shit the sleep mode thing did for me here (and has fucked me over several times, FYI). You save less because you can save anywhere. You become complacent, save infrequently, and then you fuck up at some point and lose shitloads of progress. Something that wouldn’t happen if there were save points.

Also have times where the game forces the save system on you, mostly at the end of “chapters”. Because nothing’s gonna force you to save more than… you know… being forced to save.

Save anywhere is BS, having a single fucking desk you never go to being the one place you can save is BS, and not having save points is BS. Clearly there’s a design element here where there’s a balance of too many or too few save points. There’s a reason oldschool RPGs tend to let you save on the world map (sometimes hidden behind using specific items), but then only have one, maybe 2 save points within dungeons (if any at all like in the original FF), because it makes sense for a VIDEO GAME. The world map can be exploited a bit, but the dungeons are the actual challenge areas where you may actually end up getting your ass kicked if you suck. And having actual drawbacks to losing in those is the most sensible thing.

So my point is: fuck not having save points in RPGs, they desperately need to make a comeback.

Modern console-style RPGs have a lot of issues that need fixing (lamer dungeons being a huge thing… just go back and play Lufia 2 on SNES and you’ll see what I mean), but the save system is something that shouldn’t be a problem ever, and yet recently it’s been constantly fucked up.

That’s the end of my fairly pointless rant.

So anyways how’sĀ Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings?

Atelier Lydie & Suelle: The Alchemists and the Mysterious Paintings

So after complaining about the shitty save system, how’s the actual game? Pretty fun. I actually skipped the last 5 games in the Atelier series (last one I played was Atelier Meruru). The series was getting slightly bland, and I was already routinely skipping games in it (Iris 2, Mana Khemia 2, Totori) because they ended up being very similar between each other.

So after playing this, I completely understand how they’re making this yearly. The production values are extremely low, and honestly they have been since the series has been 3D. It retains the similar style of character models and textures from Atelier Rorona onwards. It looks good visually, however looking at cutscenes you realize they put very little effort. There’s a cutscene in this one where a character is asking another character to autograph her book. The scene doesn’t feature a book, a pen, or an autograph. Lucia gives nothing to Drossel, Drossel moves her arms around (not even doing a signature motion, more of a shrug), and that’s that. Wut? As I mentionned before the cutscenes are unskippable, which is bullshit considering how meh they are.

The gameplay is separated between 3 “parts”: really long boring cutscenes with minimal animation and lots of dialogue and no interaction, RPG-ing (dungeon crawling, turn-based combat) and alchemy.

The dungeons and combat are the fun part. They’re where you gather alchemy materials, fight enemies for more alchemy materials, and do some story segments. The combat is fairly standard turn-based combat. You see the turn order on the right side of the screen, some attacks affect said turn order, otherwise you have attacks that hit areas or single targets. Each of the 3 characters in your party can have a supporting character assigned to them (as you gain more characters). It’s pretty simple but mostly good… until you get to enemies that have either way too much HP or “immunity” (strong resistance rather than actual immunity) to certain attacks… then it just gets annoying.

Alchemy is fairly simple. Choose a recipe, choose a catalyst (you unlock that feature later), choose which ingredients for each type of ingredient you need to use, then select the attributes of the ingredients (which are represented with colored square patterns). Placing same-colored attributes next to each other, on icons and on squares that have a specific color. Recipes tend to require certain colors of attributes, leveling those up enough gives extra traits to the resulting item.

Game flow is also quite simple. Get the requirements to get to the next alchemist ranking, do a bunch of somewhat random tasks to be allowed to do the promotion test, then do the test, then visit a magical painting world. In-between there’s a lot of cutscenes when you visit different parts of town, sometimes you get sidequests too. Some of them I kinda wonder what the reward was because I legit got nothing from the few I finished. There’s also jobs at the notice board which are mini-sidequests.

Overall the game is fun, but nothing to really write home about. It kinda lacks a decent narrative (it probably gets more of a narrative past where I stopped playing, but the game starts with basically no real goal for the characters), the combat is fun but occasionally annoying, and alchemy, even if more interesting than older games I’ve played in the series, is still very very simplistic. So I’d say worth checking out if any of this sounds interesting to you. Just save a lot in case your Switch crashes during sleep mode.

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