I am not referring to pencil-and-paper RPGs such as Dungeons and Dragons or live-action RPGs.

In most role-playing games, I use the default names for the characters the first time through the game. Some RPGs, however, do not provide a default name. These include Mother (aka Earthbound Zero), Harvest Moon, and Secret of Mana. By extension, these also include any console or PC game where you can name your save file.

Problem: The name doesn't fit. For example, Sephiroth has nine letters, and DOS-influenced games only allow eight. (Thank you Square for not submitting to Microsoft.)

What they sometimes do (as evidenced by Chrono Trigger's main character being named "Crono" and by Final Fantasy 1) is pick a number of letters (sometimes four or five) suitable for a Japanese name. Japanese names take fewer letters because each Kana letter represents one syllable. For example, Crono's name is Ku-ro-no, three Kana letters. The developer's excuse is that changing the maximum length of the player's name would require re-engineering much of the engine, especially the save system.

Shame on you Nintendo for restricting player names to so few characters. Even more shame on you Microsoft for setting such a bad example. It just takes the fun out of the game.

Microsoft's (failed) bid against Wizards of the Coast for TSR had some interesting proposed items for advancing the Dungeons and Dragons property. In an effort to promote ease of use and institute standards, a number of new rules were proposed. Character names were shortened to eight letters, with up to a three letter suffix (title), such as 'sir', 'ms', or 'god'.

The old system of writing down equipment was replaced with a plain, generic paper doll of your character. You draped cutouts of the characters aquired equipment over these paper dolls, and they were required by the rule book. There were two full color paper dolls for each class, one of each gender. The different races were removed from the game, to make playing any character type more intuitive once you were familiar with any other character. Equipment packs were to be sold separately, requiring each player to purchase an equipment pack ($14.99 MFSRP) to gain the cutouts of the equipment to outfit their character with. Piracy seems like a strong problem with this system, but there was a proposed license agreement that was accepted when the player opened the package which permitted them to use the purchased equipment pack on one character and only one character. This had the added benefit of preventing players from using the same equipment pack for two different characters in two different games.

Also proposed were "theme packs" ($9.99 MFSRP each) that could allow you to change the appearance of your character, such as by draping a different skin color over your paper doll. The variety of dice used in D&D were replaced with a square 6 sided die, identical to those used in Las Vegas with one exception. The face of the die formerly containing one pip was replaced with a solitary, featureless, blue face. The more dice you rolled, the better you were at an action. However, any "blue dice" were terrible failures. One noted pitfall of this system by TSR, was that the higher level a character and the more "souped up" they got, the more likely a "crash" became. Despite the features, ease of use, and marketability of this system, Microsoft lost the bid against Wizards and had to settle for aquiring FASA. What could have been! ::sigh::

In every branch of computer RPGs, naming your character is a potential minefield.

In the English language version of Chrono Trigger on the SNES, names could only have five characters, rendering the protagonist with the slightly contracted monicker of "Crono". Square games are some of the only RPGs that allow you to name all your party members (Ultima never does this, and Shining Force* offers it as a cheat mode).

Ironically, Square purists insist on playing through the games with the default character names (obviously this helps you discuss the game with other players). The games always introduce a new character with a contrived lead-in such as "Meet my friend, you know, what's his name..." and then you get a very brief description of the character to help guide your naming decisions.

Faselei! on the Neo Geo Pocket Color allows you to choose a name and a callsign, but helpfully doesn't inform you that only the callsign is used to tell players apart in multiplayer. You can also name all your mechs, which is fun, if you can think up suitably inappropriate names for 40ft. combat robots. (Like FLUFFY.)

In Frontier (Elite 2), your name was the same as that of your save game, ridiculously. This lead to gravestones being presented for Commanders GOTOSOL, GOTLASER, NEWSHIP and GETMONEY and many others.

Some PC RPG's especially very story-oriented ones, don't let you name your characters at all. Raymond E. Feist's Betrayal at Krondor would have lost some of its gravitas if BUMFACE the mage and NOBHEAD the thief had set out on the quest, I suppose.

To satisfy everyone, Deus Ex gives you a character name (JC Denton) as a codename, still allowing you to enter your 'real' name. Of course, this actually had the effect of both sides of the argument complaining about it. Sometimes you just can't win.

The best naming system in any game was definitely Howzat! on the ZX Spectrum. It allowed you to enter long, meaningful names for all the members of your team. Such as WILLYBAT, GOGOGOGOGOFOO and WOBBBLYTREE.

*In the Shining Force games, your character's default name was BOWIE. Which is pretty cool.

The system I always found useful for naming characters in the last RPG I played (ie. The Bard's Tale on the Amstrad CPC464 - it was a long time ago) was to take the first and last syllables of two popular household cleaning products and stick them together.

For example:

Domestos and Ajax - Domjax, a male warrior, obviously. The name says it all.
Toilet Duck and Windowlene - Toilene, a female cleric and part-time country and western singer.

note: you can stretch the single-syllable rule for the reverse of domjax, getting ajastos. he's greek.

...You get the general idea. Take your own household cleaning products and have fun with the tip. :)

The reason that RPGs offer such a limited number of letters is that many of these games are originally japanese... for example, in FF6, some of the default names had to be clipped or shortened. four characters was plenty for a reasonable name in japanese, and that was unfortunately not changed in the english version for some reason (maybe they were lazy, maybe there honestly were space constraints, maybe they lost the source, who knows?)

I guess I would fall under the category of "Square purist" in that sense. I see a console RPG much like a novel. When you read a book, the author does not ask you to please name the main character. No, s/he has a clear image of what the main character's persona should be, and the name of the character is a big part of that. So, I usually play my RPGs using the default names, and I have no qualms with games like Valkyrie Profile that don't even considering asking you for your input in a character's name.

When I am forced to choose an original name, I usually go with my own name, Matt. If I'm going to be assuming the role of this guy for a few hours, I might as well name him something comfortable. Of course, when Final Fantasy I forced me to name not one but four characters, each with a name consisting of only 4 letters, I named one of them Matt and the others Pop, Popp, and Fizz. I guess if I were taking the game more seriously I would've thought of something better.

And in response to RST, that is why some RPGs limit the name to 6 characters. Japanese has each ideogram standing for a more complex sound than the standard western alphabet does (which is why they have so many ideograms while we have 26 letters). The reason developers don't often change the actual length of the input field is usually because it would be a severe pain to change every reference to the name length in the code that handles text box spacing, menus, and other interface components that depend on a definitive length for the name. It would also lead to more significant changes between the Japanese and English versions, and certainly that would begin to annoy purists even more, wouldn't it?

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