However, this past week has found me once again dipping my toe into the RPG pool, thanks to South Park: The Stick of Truth. And what’s more is that from the first moment I fired up the ol’ Xbox 360 until I had completed the game, it was all I could think about.
What was it about South Park: The Stick of Truth that so thoroughly hooked me? I’ve boiled it down to four reasons.
1. An Outstanding Story That’s As Good As Any South Park Episode
The story is actually The Stick of Truth’s greatest asset. This is a game that actually let’s you take part in a good episode of the TV series. Plus, with the hundreds of Easter Eggs scattered throughout the game with references going all the way back to the very first episode in 1997, it makes for a fantastically immersive experience.
Which is what a good RPG should do.
Whether you’re playing a pencil and paper game or JRPG, you should feel like you’ve just visited another place while inhabiting someone else’s skin and Stick of Truth does that to such an amazing extent. Within minutes you really do feel like “The New Kid” and that feeling doesn’t stop until the end credits roll. The developers of this game succeeded not in merely making a licensed game, but in making me a visitor to a living, breathing fictional world that I was actively engaged in from the start.
2. User Friendly Mechanics That Don’t Make You Feel Slow… Or Stupid
One of my big turn-offs when it comes to many RPGs is the mechanics. The mechanics of most RPGs all but exclude anyone who isn’t a diehard, lifelong fan of the genre. In fact, the word “difficult” may even be too kind. I would say “prohibitive” actually works better.
The creators of Stick of Truth seem to have realized that, yes, they were making an RPG, but because it being such a high profile property, the likelihood of drawing in a crowd that wasn’t traditionally experienced with RPGs was fairly high. And so it seems a quite a bit of work went into designing a system that incorporates the tropes of the genre all while making it completely unintimidating. All the best parts of RPG mechanics were present; mixing and matching abilities, working to figure out the best class combos, all that nerdy stuff. But it never felt like a chore. Not once.
3. Side Quests You Actually Want to Complete
Confession time, one of my least favorite parts of RPGs has always been side quests. Whether it’s raising chocobos or herding live stock, side quests have almost always struck me as filler. And when a main story can take up to 30 hours to complete, I sometimes find myself falling into a murderous rage. In most RPGs, given a choice, I will almost always skip a side quest if there’s even a hint that it’s just killing time.
Fortunately, I can’t think of a single side quest In Stick of Truth that I didn’t have a fun time tackling. Even the most mundane quest wherein Jimbo has you travel around town killing random animals (because… hunting) was pretty fun. The side quests in Stick of Truth are always about getting to know the people of South Park and the town itself rather than just performing mundane tasks for the sake of performing mundane tasks. And yes, I know that’s the intent of side quests in other games, it’s just that Stick of Truth pulls it off spectacularly.
To say that getting to explore South Park’s fictional Canada is a joy doesn’t do the actual experience justice. If Obsidian were to announce tomorrow that a follow-up game were in development, one that took place exclusively in Canada, I think I might cry tears of unadulterated joy.