Because as we all know, A is for Dungeons & Dragons. Or at least, it was in the early 90s. And if you don't know why, this entry may not be for you, if you will.
For my part, D&D is not my role-playing game of choice. I am a White Wolf man, through and through, preferring stories where players are pushed hard emotionally. But I have rolled a d20 here and there in my time, and I know my THAC0 from my Save vs Poison, Paralysis, and Death. I have less patience for RPG video games, however, as they are basically the masturbation of gaming - what you do when you can't get the real thing. But there are four, count them four D&D games to have come out for the NES, and because I am a faithful blogger, I have played all four. For you.
We'll start with the bad - Heroes of the Lance and Pools of Radiance. These are two games that just did not come together for me. Heroes of the Lance had a breathtakingly clunky control scheme that led to a mass of death and a general failure to understand what seemed like they should be basic functions of the game like "how do I switch characters" or "How do I hit this short guy who my sword swings over the head of." In this regard, it was not entirely unlike my experience reading the Dragonlance books on which it was based.
Pools of Radiance, on the other hand, I am actually more or less unable to review in a sensible manner. Because the game is actually, astonishingly, worse than its sequel. This is an impressive feat, because its sequel contained a bug whereby it would delete your entire hard drive when you uninstalled it. I mean, maybe there's a good game in there somewhere. But here's the game I played - first, you spend time rolling a character. Then, you start playing the game, which begins with a several minutes long tour of the city. The city consists of numerous repetitions of the same wall and door, none of which are labeled in any way so as to orient you. Then you are left in front of a dungeon that is crawling with monsters. Being as this is a D&D game, you enter the dungeon.
There you are swiftly cut down in one hit, you get a game over, your character is deleted entirely, and you have to create a new one and sit through the several minutes long tour of the city. Again.
Seriously. In my half hour, I didn't get any further than this.
We should stop here, and note that what interests me about roleplaying games is that they are an emotional medium. The focus on forcing players into using the first-person and thus into a sort of active method acting is interesting to me. Because it creates the opportunity to carefully construct dramatic and powerful emotional moments.
Video games are a fascinating medium, and I love them, but the only emotion they generate with any reliability is white-hot rage. And so they are a poor medium for role-playing. Role-playing is also a fundamentally social experience. It is about creating a narrative that is experienced vividly by a small group of people, and is inaccessible to everyone else. So I should modify, a socially anti-social experience. But it is an intense shared experience, and this is what makes it interesting. It is intimate. One has strong emotional ties to ones gaming buddies. I have friends I rarely talk to except about gaming, and yet those friendships are still some of the most intense and significant friendships I have.
That said, Hillsfar, in its own strange way, does capture the feeling of a D&D game. You run around confused and directionless, get into dungeons, are arbitrarily punished for things you do not entirely understand, and, when things go badly, are kidnapped by bandits and robbed with no chance of defending yourself. It is, in short, an exact clone of D&D when played with an overly sadistic DM. I have to stop short of calling the game fun - I have no desire to go back to it. But playing it, one constantly feels as though one is on the brink of having a really good time.
Finally, there is Dragonstrike - at once the worst and best use of the D&D license. Where the other three games attempt to produce something resembling the D&D experience, in Dragonstrike you are a dragon. You fly over land, and burn shit up. Or freeze it. Or whatever. It's straightforward. It's fun. The first boss is kind of killer, but it leaves me with the feeling that I could get good at the game and enjoy it.
This is perhaps the thing I like most about video games. Even a truly great video game is not, generally speaking, high art. That doesn't make it uninteresting in the slightest, and it doesn't make it a stupid medium. But it is, for better or for worse, about fun.
But it does make it a poor substitute for RPGs.