Retronauts Pocket 20 Explores RPGs with Modern-Day Settings

retronauts 21 cover

We’re all pretty big RPG fans on Retronauts, but in the (roughly) 30 years we’ve known them in their current console form, very few games from this genre have been set in the present day. And just why the heck is that? Well, I could tell you here, but then why would you bother listening to the episode? Thanks to Kickstarter back Juan Soto, Retronauts Pocket 20 brings you a thorough discussion of the surprisingly limited world of RPGs with contemporary settings. Joining us for this one is guest Kat Bailey, who knows her RPGs — and you may remember a few related podcasts on this topic she hosted in the past. Anyhow, enjoy, and please leave us your thoughts in the comments section below!

 Libsyn (45:03 | MP3 Download) | SoundCloud

This episode’s description:

“Kickstarter backer Juan Soto brings you Retronauts Pocket episode 20, which explores the very small world of RPGs with modern-day settings. Why do we find them so captivating, and why do the majority of RPG developers rely on Tolkienesque fantasy? Listen in for answers to these questions and more with the help of Bob Mackey, Ray Barnholt, Jeremy Parish, and Kat Bailey.”

This episode’s musical selections:

  • 6:47 – “Signs of Love” Persona 4 (Shōji Meguro, Atsushi Kitajoh)
  • 18:00 – “SMILE” Persona 4 (Shōji Meguro, Atsushi Kitajoh)
  • 26:16 – “Heartbeat, Heartbreak” Persona 4 (Shōji Meguro, Atsushi Kitajoh)
  • 42:51 – “The Battle for Everyone’s Souls” Persona 3 (Shōji Meguro)

Don’t be another Unassuming Local Guy—give us a nice review in the iTunes Music Store!

17 thoughts on “Retronauts Pocket 20 Explores RPGs with Modern-Day Settings

  1. Mundane! Two quick thoughts both about PC games: one is the 1992 Microprose game Darklands set in medieval, but not fantasy, Germany. So, a touch of realism.

    #2 is Martian Dreams, the Ultima OtherWorld game that sends you to Mars with Mark Twain and Emma Goldman and other famous folk of yesteryear.

  2. Haven’t listened to this episode yet, but I’m sure it will be fantastic. I love pretty much all the modern-day RPG titles, from the SMT titles to Earthbound to…well, that’s all I can think of at the moment.

    The comments for last week’s ‘burning questions’ episode are closed, so I’ll leave my comment here: Bob, you really missed an opportunity by not putting in the fire sound effect the way you did on the burning questions segments of the retro movie month podcasts on the old show. For shame.

  3. Ah! Great! This was a topic I really wanted explored, so I guess I can thank Juan Soto making this happen. Thank you man! :P

    On a related note, with so many Japanese anime stuff being both fantasy-related and being set in modern times, you know, just like Persona, it’s strange how they haven’t explored that setting more, and again, taking into account the popularity of the Persona series.

  4. Yay, moar katbot. I noticed there are quite a few Super Famicom RPGs that have a Mother-like mundane setting, I wish I could identify any of them beyond the anime licensed ones. Somewhat related, I’m still traumatized by the bait and switch of Star Ocean’s opening sequence.

  5. thank you so much, this is my favorite genre in video games even beyond jrpgs into games like jsrf

  6. Does South Park count as a modern day setting? I wouldn’t be surprised if this was recorded before Stick of Truth came out, I’d think it would have been mentioned around the same time as Costume Quest.

  7. Another great episode. Thanks for exposing me (us?) to some games we haven’t yet explored. Great to hear Kat back on the show, especially when dealing with RPGs. Keep up the good work all around.

    Stay Retro-Nautty!

  8. Great episode!

    The Yakuza games are my favourite modern-day RPGs — random battles disguised as street brawls, convenience stores as item shops, office buildings as dungeons. They’re semi-realistic and utterly bizarre at the same time.

    On a related note (though not strictly an RPG), Shenmue is pretty much the only game mentioned that had the courage to exclude fantastical/sci-fi elements completely, and for that I think it deserves some credit. Not that all games should do that, but it’s an admirable goal considering 95% of video games involve shooting guns and/or magic. I realise that sticking to RPG conventions can make this difficult.

  9. Confession time:
    Jeremy will hunt wildlife for gil
    There’s fanfiction out there somewhere of Captain Kat of the Federation
    Ray the Hedgehog was friends with Sonic
    Bob is totally Urkel despite his protestations

    Really enjoyed the episode. The modern setting is what hooked me on Earthbound from the beginning. I still remember explaining to my friends “No, you don’t get it–you get money from an ATM!” I thought that was so novel. I also agree that modern day settings, if done well like Persona 3/4, offer better escapism for players than a fantasy or sci-fi setting because you’re doing things that you ostensibly could do in real life (if you were a Japanese high school student who fought monsters in a TV / at midnight). The social sim aspects and the dialogue / routine choices give you agency that make you feel you’re living a second life.

    I also second Kat’s sentiment that I felt some melancholy after finishing the games, sad that it was over / you weren’t going to hang out with your bros anymore. That’s the sign of a really good story/cast. http://tinyurl.com/b32nwwk

  10. I love when the topic is related to what I’m experiencing at the same time. As with Bob, I’m playing Persona 4 on Vita, even though I played it on PS2 and couldn’t ever see me going back to replay such a long game, but I’m fully immersed in the world once again.

    Games with modern day settings have always appealed to me, not just on RPGs. I never liked Doom, but I loved Duke Nukem 3D only because it was in a modern setting. There is something way more appealing, for me, about interacting with things you recognize.

    Jeremy didn’t want to bring up SMT into the discussion, but I still feel they apply. Even SMT on SNES made more of an impact on me because you start off as a teenager living with his mom and dog. You leave to go to the mall, and when you come back your mom has been eaten by a demon and you have to fuse your dog with a demon to survive. It was messed up, and I think it would only be effective as long as you are in a modern setting with things from your life you recognize.

  11. Another fantastic episode, and it was great to have Kat back on the show.

    I’d really recommend playing through the first two Yakuza titles on PS2. The gameplay’s really improved over the years, but those first titles have the best stories in the series, and really flesh out the Kazuma character. Yakuza 2′s one of my favourite RPGs of all time.

  12. Great topic! What is the podcast that Kat mentions at the very end? It isn’t clear and I miss Active Time Babble.

  13. Hmm, haven’t listened to the podcast yet, and I feel that the comments will be closed when I get to, but I’m fairly confident that it’s not mentioned: There’s a very early porn RPG by KOEI called Danchizuma no Yuuwaku that’s set in modern days.

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