What is the draw regarding role playing video games? Could it be the unpredictable nature of the roll of the dice, and the quick thinking needed to succeed if the numbers don't go your way? Is it man management and having to cater for and lead a rag tag party of battle hardened warriors into all but certain doom?
Is it the catharsis found when donning the robes or steel of a character, so carefully and meticulously crafted, in order to inject your own ego into an immersive virtual world and embark on adventures you'd never be able to enjoy in the real?
Well that's the thing with RPGs: it's all of the above and then some. The draw is how immensely deep they can be.
When broken down, RPGs can be defined as vehicles that rely on incredibly detailed and nuanced narratives, and include 1 or more characters that are defined by their numeric attributes.
That sounds like a pretty cold paragraph to describe the tense fun had sprinting through the wilds of Boston's wasteland whilst trying to out run a host of feral ghouls and a legendary deathclaw in Fallout 4, or investigating murder plots whilst slaughtering beasts of the sky, earth and sea in The Witcher 3, or trying to keep your squad alive in the thrilling final mission of Mass Effect 2, or furiously trying to dodge another one of Champion Gundyr's pretty tasty kicks in Dark Souls 3.
But them's the rules.
A Sporting Attempt
When you look at one of the many "Top RPGs Ever" lists that prop up the internet, naturally you'll be treated to some of the finest games to have ever graced the genre and the medium full stop.
But there is usually one immense oversight. A franchise that has been ticking along silently in the background, and wowing its fans with stats and numbers for nearly 25 years. And is absolutely showing no signs of stopping.
The Football Manager (née Championship Manager) series prides itself on being the most realistic soccer/football simulation out there, and it's an easy claim to make. Gone is the gloss and overly animated, AAA sheen of FIFA, and the arcade like, tactical madness of Pro Evolution Soccer and replaced with the soul crushing/buoying realism of managing a football team and cultivating the beautiful game.
First unleashed onto the public in 1992 as Championship Manager, Champ (as it is lovingly known in some parts of the community) was created by Paul and Oliver Collyer, a pair of ace programmer bros who simply wanted to create a football game they would love to play.
"Football is our passion and we never started this thing for the money. We didn't wake up one morning and think 'I know, let's make some money out of computer games.'"
- The Collyers in an interview with Eurogamer
24 years later, a change in publisher and title and Football Manager (FM) is a veritable phenomenon which continues to baffle, like honestly confound, people who aren't wise to the glory of not participating in a match as actively as you would in FIFA or PES.
Three-Piece Suit or Tracksuit?
Recently FM saw a change implemented where you could create your fictional bossman's visage. Much like any RPG with a character creation tool, you could tinker with Mr. Manager's facial features, hair and height, amongst other appearance modifiers.
This is when it dawned on me. After installing FM 2016, on the laptop I pretty much bought for the game alone, and booting it up, I had created myself for the first time in my history with the series. Much like I had done frequently in the Fallouts, Dragon Ages, Skyrims and Mass Effects passed.
This is the moment when Champ would finally go full adventure mode.
The game then led me to the menu where I would choose how to spend my stats. The "choose managerial style" section splits your manager's skill set into 2 categories - tracksuit or tactical manager.
Tracksuit coaching is akin to being a seasoned warrior that has taken a backseat from battle, but still doesn't mind getting their hands dirty.
Tactical coaching is the more logistical side of things. You're the person who likes to sit back and strategize, letting other seasoned pros in your party, like your assistant manager, get their hands dirty for you. Think of a character who has powerful ranged abilities, like a mage or an archer.
This move was a vital introduction to the game, because it's also a new way of introducing the game's difficulty setting. FM would be pretty difficult for the uninitiated, so it would make sense to place your manager's past experience at international footballer level, so you already go into the game with respect from your peers, your board and, of course, your club.
Thrill Of The Chase
Where some RPGs want you to spend time roaming worlds and collating party members or an insane arsenal of weapons, Champ turns said weapons and party members into coaches and players.
In order to create a team capable of winning every cup under the sun, it's imperative you get the right mix of backroom staff together, and get them focussing all of their time on training one particular stat. Don't want to overwork your helpers.
Figuring this out hit as hard as when I realized Nick Valentine would be the sole survivor's most useful companion due to his terminal hacking ability. I hate hacking terminals as much as the idea of training goalkeepers. Good thing these guys have my back, huh? This means I can pour more hours into appeasing whiny settlements. Build your own generator, you useless swear words!
Some of my greatest gaming achievements have sprung from Champ. I still fondly remember winning my first UEFA Champion's League trophy in a thrilling 3-2 victory over Belgium's Club Brugge KV in Championship Manager 01-02. The elation that springs from tinkering away at tactics mid-game and it paying off is like no other.
Like when a boss transforms halfway through a battle in Dark Souls 3, and you have to stay on your toes in order to defeat this giant, quivering dastardly bastard. And with a simple roll and slice, the beast is slain and you have a giant cup as trophy for your efforts.
So To Surmise
I've spent so many words trying to describe why I believe Football Manager is a perfect RPG, but the game is so huge and so immersive I'd be here talking for days.
If an RPG can be defined as a vehicle that relies on incredibly detailed and nuanced narratives, and includes 1 or more characters that are defined by their numeric attributes, Football Manager allows you to step into the nuances of soccer and create a universe where you become a veritable God of stats, and leader of men.
Fans will chant your name, legendary footballers will regard you as one of their favored personnel. Stadiums will be named after you, it's all there.
Football Manager is all about carving your own legend with chalk as opposed to enchanted blades. And I'm all for it.
What's your favorite RPG?