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Thread: The RPG Sanctum - #7: Optimum Length

  1. #1
    Host of The Sectorcast Rosestorm's Avatar
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    The RPG Sanctum - #7: Optimum Length

    What is the ideal length for an RPG? How short is too short, how long is too long, and what are the factors determining them? Our panelists will run the RPG Mega Gauntlet in order to find the answer.

    Listen: http://www.rpgamer.com/rpgsanctum/sanctum07.mp3
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    Last edited by Rosestorm; 04-18-2011 at 06:54 PM.
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  2. #2
    I know it's easy to pick-out a number, but I gotta say...the optimal length for an RPG is "doesn't feel too short, but long enough".

    Funny, eh? I say this because some RPG's feel just right at 20 hours but draggy at 30 hours, and some feel too short at 20 hours, but great at 50 hours.

    If you don't notice the time flying by, the RPG should be longer. If you feel every minute, the RPG should be shorter. The actual total game time is just a number, but those numbers tend to be in the 20 to 50 hour range. I don't mind how long my RPG's are these days, so long as I can get a few replays out of them.

  3. #3
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    I tend to like 15-25 hour games, though as you brought up in the podcast, pacing is at least as important as length. Of course, I tend to try to progress quickly and avoid grinding whenever possible.

    Out of my top rpgs, only one is significantly longer than 25 hours, and that's SMT:Nocturne.

    A shorter length also means it's easier to replay again later. Nocturne is also the only one of my top RPGs that I've only finished once.

  4. #4
    Veteran RPGamer watcher's Avatar
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    Anything beyond 40 quickly hits the realm of too long, with few exceptions. Too many recent games seem to have built in time wasting to pad advertised gameplay hours.

  5. #5
    Staff Healer RPGamer Staff TwinBahamut's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by XR2 View Post
    A shorter length also means it's easier to replay again later.
    We really should have discussed replay time more...

    Yeah, long games really do mess up replaying. I'd love to play through Persona 4 to see different Social Links and try different things, but the game is just too incredibly long to make that feasible. Too bad many shorter RPGs don't have as much replay value...

  6. #6
    I already psychologically investigated this a long time ago and the correct answer is 30 hours. Longer makes even the best game start to feel repetitive and shorter makes you sad when you liked the game and it ends so early.

  7. #7
    News Director/Reviewer RPGamer Staff Severin Mira's Avatar
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    Under what circumstances (i.e. exactly what games) is 30 hours correct though? As we discussed the optimal length is going to vary per game due to the many factors involved, as we discussed in the podcast. There are many circumstances where a 30 hour length would ruin the appeal of that game (e.g. Persona 3/4, or the many episodic games). It's kinda moot suggesting that games should all be one particular length and that's before including other genres.
    Last edited by Severin Mira; 04-19-2011 at 01:25 AM. Reason: Adding that we did discuss this in the podcast
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    One Knight Stand Spartakus's Avatar
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    I comes down to 1. the length that the game's story and gameplay can bear without feeling artificially padded and 2. the social and economic situation of the gamer.

    The first sort of goes without saying; if a game has such a rich storyline it just can't be told in less than 50 hours then you wouldn't want it shortened just for the sake of brevity, or maybe it has lots of interesting optional content that pushes it past the 50 hour line - you wouldn't want to forego any of that. But I feel like I'm describing a game that doesn't exist here, because in most cases where the main quest takes 50 hours+ to complete it's not because of its epic narrative ambitions but because devs tend to emply a lot of little tricks to lengthen playtime without straining their creativity (meandering dialogue, vast empty areas, by the books sidequests that add nothing to the story, long copy/pasted dungeons with endless random encounters against palette-swapped monsters, and so forth). The only 50 hour+ RPG where I felt the story could really justify its length was Suikoden 2, and if you're not completionist it can be finished in less. So while in principle I don't think there should be an upper limit to length, if it's past the 50 hour mark it's usually safe to expect padding.

    The second has more to do with your lifestyle. If you're a student or a kid you most likely have little money but lots of spare time, and the longer a game can entertain you the better, which means you'll also be way more patient with padded content or even welcome it. I know one of the reasons I came to prefer RPGs in my teens was because I'd usually get no more than 1-2 games a month and I needed to make each one last for weeks. If you're an adult working full-time on the other hand chances are you can buy more games than you actually have time to play, and that's when you become really sensitive to all kinds of unnecessary delays in games that just keeps you from getting to the good stuff ASAP and moving on to the next game. This is why I tend to play longer games for about 5-10 hours to see if they captivate me, and if not leave it aside to try something else.
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  9. #9
    The optimal length does not vary on the game from a player's viewpoint, though. Not really an RPG but let's take Portal. The game is designed so that a short length is kind of optimal for it. It just wouldn't work with a longer length. Yet, a majority of the players who liked it were sad, that it was this short. This wouldn't have happened if it was 30 hours. On the other hand if it was more than 30 hours they'd be bored of the game. 30 hours is the magical number where this enjoyment shifts over to being repetitive. No matter how the game is.

    Also I dare to say that if a story takes longer than 30 hours to tell, it is bad by default. In fact most of the time is wasted anyway. Suikoden 2's story might be good but it can also be easily told in 30 hours. The rest is up to game design.

    Note: I'm assuming in all of these statements that the player likes the game. The golden rule should always be true: Only play a game as long as you enjoy playing it, if it stops being fun, stop playing it. Meaning if you don't enjoy a game your playing time will not depend on the game's length in the first place, so it would be completely irrelevant.

    Note2: When I say 30 hours I mean roughly. It's not just one exact second where it makes click.

    Final note: I usually evaluate a game alone on the fact whether I finished it or not. As I listen to the "golden rule" I explained above, I'm not actually finishing many of the games I buy, so I can pretty securily say that the ones I've finished are the good ones and the rest are the bad ones for me. I use this evaluation to for example answer questions like "Which RPGs are good for console XYZ?".

  10. #10
    Overdosing Heavenly Bliss Moderator ChickenGod's Avatar
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    While the the truth is likely much more complex than this, I'm going to say that the optimal length for an RPG for me is between 40-60 hours. I find my favorite RPGs all tend to be around this length because they are actually capable of sustaining a very enjoyable experience for a prolonged period of time. RPGs like TITS, Tales, Xenogears, and FF13 are all games that I loved. If you were to tell me "I'm going to add 50 hours to this game, but its story and gameplay will continue along the same pace and quality as the rest of the game" then I would be all over it. Heck, why do you think we play sequels, such as TITS2 or the next iteration of Suikoden? If TITS2 was including in TITS1, I would not have stopped playing the game yet.

    The fact of the matter typically ends up becoming that time/money spent in development do not allow a quality game to be made over that length. Look at something like The 3rd Birthday. Most people are probably able to stomach that game exactly because its only about 10 hours in length (I finished in 7). The reason that it "works" well at 7 hours is that it does not continue to suck for longer periods of time. I don't think I can think of a single game that was amazing in which I thought to myself, "This game flipping rules, but it would have sucked if it lasted much longer". All too often I find stuff, like Bayonetta, in which I thought to myself "Why can't this joyride continue?" because its only about 15 hours or so. There was more than enough room to expand and detail the world of Bayonetta by adding more cutscenes, weapons, playable characters, or diverse gameplay.
    Last edited by ChickenGod; 04-19-2011 at 05:05 AM.
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  11. #11
    Interestingly all those games you mentioned had the effect on me though.

    Tales of Vesperia for example was enjoyable for the first 30 hours, then it just got repetitive and boring, battle system always the same. I quit it at around 30 hours.

    Xenogears, pretty much the same, it starts of great and interesting, but it gets dull fairly fast too, never finished it because it got boring on the final CD.

    FF13 also, the story is exciting and the gameplay is fun, but after 30 hours you realize it's always the same tactic over and over and the sudden plottwists also stop once you reach the big *** planet (which is coincidentaly also at around 30 hours playing time).

    Games have their limits, no matter how good they are. Even games that I finished and where I was sad that they ended already wouldn't have lasted more than 30 hours for me. Every game gets boring eventually.

  12. #12
    One Knight Stand Spartakus's Avatar
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    Uh, each to his own I guess. I've yet to experience the magic of the 30 hour treshold. If I play a game for that long I'm already liking it so much I want to finish it.
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  13. #13
    Maybe it requires a certain age.

    For me it basically kicked in when I started having more money than time for games (basically when I started working). So I started to only play games that I really enjoy and not those where I want to know how they end but aren't very fun anymore.

  14. #14
    Host of The Sectorcast Rosestorm's Avatar
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  15. #15
    is not declawed RPGamer Staff Ocelot's Avatar
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    I still don't think it has to do with age. I'm well out of my twenties now and I still finish a good number of 60+ hour games. It just takes me longer to play through them as I fit them into my schedule. It's taking me over a week per chapter in TitS, for example (I'm playing it for fun rather than to review), but I love it, and I'll definitely finish it. It took my husband and I three months to play through Persona 3 together, but it was basically what we did in the evenings instead of watching TV. On the other hand, there are plenty of shorter games I haven't finished because their mechanics or story didn't hold my interest.
    Last edited by Ocelot; 04-19-2011 at 08:06 AM.

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  16. #16
    Overdosing Heavenly Bliss Moderator ChickenGod's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rya.Reisender View Post
    Interestingly all those games you mentioned had the effect on me though.

    Tales of Vesperia for example was enjoyable for the first 30 hours, then it just got repetitive and boring, battle system always the same. I quit it at around 30 hours.

    Xenogears, pretty much the same, it starts of great and interesting, but it gets dull fairly fast too, never finished it because it got boring on the final CD.

    FF13 also, the story is exciting and the gameplay is fun, but after 30 hours you realize it's always the same tactic over and over and the sudden plottwists also stop once you reach the big *** planet (which is coincidentaly also at around 30 hours playing time).

    Games have their limits, no matter how good they are. Even games that I finished and where I was sad that they ended already wouldn't have lasted more than 30 hours for me. Every game gets boring eventually.
    Sadly my favorites probably aren't going to hold up for everyone else. For me, GOOD games are rather rare to get your hands on, and the longer they last (quality intact) the more I will enjoy them. Clearly the quality deteriorates over time for you, but for me thats not the case when it comes to solid games. I still ditch games I find boring too, but the prime difference is I usually consider those games to suck more or less, which is why I got bored with it in the first place.

    Its really lucky for me to find something that I could count amoung my favorites, and I'd rather play 80 hours of Persona 3 over a period of time than 20 hours of 4 mediocre games W, X, Y, Z that pale in comparison.

    I get what you're saying though, every game does get boring eventually, and I agree. This is why I practically never replay anything, at least until many years later, as I've already experienced the bulk of the content. My time threshold is just rather high, and I truly don't know how long I could go before getting bored with a stellar single-player RPG. If you were to tell me I could play with TITS1-3 as a single entity, then I highly doubt I would get bored enough to drop it for any significant amount of time.
    Last edited by ChickenGod; 04-19-2011 at 11:32 AM.
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  17. #17
    これはメタです RPGamer Staff Quin's Avatar
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    If I'm really enjoying myself with an RPG, then chances are I can go for ages.

    I think I originally finished Tales of the Abyss for the first time at just under the 60 hour mark, but since you can carry playtime into subsequent New Game+, I think I finally stopped somewhere in playthough #3 at the 190 hour mark or so.

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  18. #18
    Staff Healer RPGamer Staff TwinBahamut's Avatar
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    I'm the same as Quin, in that regard. As I mentioned briefly on the podcast, Suikoden V carried me through more than 160 hours of gameplay due to two 80+ hour playthroughs, with only a short break between them.

  19. #19
    Under watcher LordKaiser's Avatar
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    I want classic games back. I'm tired that all the RPGs today use AI systems... I'm not against them as I love the Tales series but, why we don't have more turn based RPGs like FFX at least where you can relax? Also I dislike systems where you must do timing defense or attacks like when Eternal Sonata forced me to hit the circle the exact time a shield appears or like Artonelico 2 that you must time those lines to defend the reyvatels. About the length of a game it depends on the story and the system but they shouldn't extend the game play for the sake of extending it or else you will start with a amazing story and then ruin it at the end. Also the shouldn't add ridiculous amount of endings or endings where you need to do something that's easy to miss. I had noticed that RPGs nowadays lack challenging puzzles and have to lineal dungeons without secret doors etc. to secret chests.
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  20. #20
    RPGamer Staff RPGamer Staff Wheels's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LordKaiser View Post
    I want classic games back. I'm tired that all the RPGs today use AI systems... I'm not against them as I love the Tales series but, why we don't have more turn based RPGs like FFX at least where you can relax? Also I dislike systems where you must do timing defense or attacks like when Eternal Sonata forced me to hit the circle the exact time a shield appears or like Artonelico 2 that you must time those lines to defend the reyvatels. About the length of a game it depends on the story and the system but they shouldn't extend the game play for the sake of extending it or else you will start with a amazing story and then ruin it at the end. Also the shouldn't add ridiculous amount of endings or endings where you need to do something that's easy to miss. I had noticed that RPGs nowadays lack challenging puzzles and have to lineal dungeons without secret doors etc. to secret chests.
    this is a discussion of game length...

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