Jack talks about what it is that makes South Park: The Stick of Truth so special and what other developers can learn from the game.
Just this past weekend, I found myself shrunk to the size of a mouse in the midst of a journey through a grown man’s lower intestine in an effort to save all of South Park, nay, the world, from extinction and caught myself wondering what had led me to this point. Was it my love of RPGs? Perhaps I could credit my decision to play South Park: The Stick of Truth to my appreciation for the work of Matt Stone and Trey Parker. Whatever it was that brought that moment into my life, I was exceedingly happy to be there and was having as great a time as I can remember while playing a video game.
Let’s deconstruct that last paragraph a little bit. Magic and wondrous technology are prevalent in the town/universe of South Park and, like many other RPGs, are used in your character’s combat capabilities and world navigation. However, unlike other RPGs, South Park does not rely on high fantasy or convoluted reasoning to give your character his powers. Teleportation? Alien anal probe. Object destruction? Farts. Character size manipulation? Underpants Gnome magic dust that is snorted into your system. In true South Park form, the game resists the urge to explain everything and take itself too seriously and remains hilarious the entire way through, provided you can get past the “South Park-ness” of it.
You might not know why the aliens want to probe you or why the gnomes want your underwear so badly unless you regularly watch South Park but that’s not the important part. What is important is how entertaining these elements are and how they serve the narrative and game as a whole. These mechanics, along with the 2-D/3-D style of the world, reminiscent of Paper Mario on the N64 or Gamecube, make South Park: The Stick of Truth one of the most refreshing RPGs in years. It is because of my admiration for it, however, that I am conflicted about the length of the game.
South Park: The Stick of Truth has a run time of somewhere between 14-20 hours depending on whether or not the player takes his or her time with the game and if they are committed to doing each and every little thing they can like I was. Part of the beauty in that game though, and other RPGs like it, is that I’m sure there’s still stuff I missed. However, compared to many Western RPGs and JRPGs, an hour count of 20 is exceptionally tame. Consider the 200 hours you could put into Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning or even the 80 hours you could put into Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch and suddenly, South Park is over in the blink of an eye.
Considering the time in which South Park was released, a 20 hour time could be just right. With Titanfall, Infamous: Second Son, and Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes, all dropping in the same month, some players might feel the need to abandon or skip South Park entirely as the least established and/or hyped game released. That said, the fact remains that with two solid weekends and an hour or two here or there, South Park is a beast easily felled before moving on to other titles. Along with the logistical reasoning behind the length of South Park, there are a few other gameplay reasons to keep an experience like this short.
South Park has always been known for its particular brand of humor. I say particular brand because poop jokes and ethnic or racial humor doesn’t quite capture everything South Park utilizes (only about half of it). While I believe that Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who helped develop the game from the ground up, are usually pushing some meaningful, overarching message, it can occasionally get lost in the mix of all the crude humor. If the game went on for much longer players might begin to grow tired of the same drums being beaten over and over again.
While there certainly are flaws in South Park: The Stick of Truth they are few and far between. The gameplay is reminiscent of some of my favorite RPGs of all time, a formula woefully underused in modern gaming. The humor is spot on the entire way through, to the point that it feels like the best episodes of South Park I ever played. From the aesthetics to the gameplay to the humor to the length, South Park: The Stick of Truth is a model for all future RPGs. Not everyone should strive to create the same experience, but all developers should try to stand out among the crowd in such a proud, unabashed fashion.