Sunday, February 20, 2022

ATTENTION READERS

The new rant, updated on every 8th, 18th, and 28th of the month, is right below this post. Enjoy! But before you do, I have a quick announcement...


Saturday, March 28, 2020

Undertale's Flowey's First Meeting

Humble though Toby Fox gives every appearance of being, there’s not much doubt that his greatest claim to fame, Undertale, is a masterful work at nearly every turn. There’s so much that Undertale has to say to its player, and so much that it can say, and it never wastes an opportunity for that communication, whether through direct or indirect (or both) methods.

You take the initial meeting with the antagonist Flowey, at the very start of the game. Although I’m sure we’re all familiar, the quick rundown is that you’re dropped unceremoniously into the game, within a largely dark and alien setting, and within moments of gaining the ability to move your character, you come across a smiling, cute little talking flower who greets you and offers to let you know how things work down here. Expecting a tutorial at this early stage in the game, the player of course goes along with Flowey’s directions, and catches the little white “friendliness pellets” he tosses the player’s way...only for that pellet to immediately reduce the player’s HP, and to their dawning horror, Flowey’s face twists into an ugly, demonic grin as he tells you that the real way things work is that it’s kill or be killed, and that you’re an idiot for so easily trusting him. He prepares to finish you off, but you are, at the last moment, saved by another, later revealed to be Toriel. But the true damage is already done, as I’ll get into later.

It’s the first, formative experience that the player has with another entity in Undertale, the first moment in which the player has some agency in the game’s events and the protagonist’s actions...this is, essentially, the moment of birth for Undertale’s narrative, that from which every following moment in the entire course of the game will be informed. And Toby Fox uses this incomparably vital, founding event to its utmost! Many a player and critic has lauded Frisk and Flowey’s first meeting for all it accomplishes as Undertale’s opening gambit, and rightly so. It serves as the first taste and tutorial of the gameplay interface, and the pattern of the conflicts to come over the course of the game. It establishes a clear, prominent, and compelling villain to the work, to such a penetrating degree that Flowey can then be absent beyond occasional hints and rumors for 90% of the rest of the game without losing his singular presence when on stage. It grabs the player’s attention with violent speed and effect, drawing them immediately into the game to a degree that many RPGs can’t match with their more basic narrative methods.

But like I said, there have been many players who already have made note of all these ways in which Flowey’s introduction is a very skillful and effective narrative stroke, and let’s face it, most of them have probably done so more eloquently, and all of them have done so with more brevity, than I’m likely to. But there is 1 more way in which Flowey’s introduction is worthy of notice, in my opinion, which I have yet to see made mention of* by Undertale’s fans and philosophers, and so that’s why we’re here today.

Flowey sets a tone of paranoia that makes trusting those who follow him a frightening and difficult task for the player. Now, this by itself isn’t a unique revelation; many have spoken of how effective this is as a way of keeping the looming fear of trusting others present through the whole game. Flowey’s betrayal is sharp in our mind as we meet Toriel, and we have to make an effort to trust her in spite of how clearly kind and loving she is, because Flowey, too, seemed friendly and helpful, at first. Then, once we have allowed ourselves to trust Toriel, a being who clearly wishes only to keep us safe, happy, and loved, we have to re-learn to trust when we leave her protection--the meeting of Sans puts our hackles up again for a moment, for he approaches from the darkness, his intentions unknown, and though we learned to trust the familial Toriel, her warning that there are others out there who wish to harm us, and that we’re going out among them, brings back our memories of Flowey and the fear of others once more.

But Sans is immediately friendly, as is Papyrus, through whom we can learn to trust someone even though they are strangers, and even more, strangers who supposedly are our foes. But then we next encounter Undyne, and she is our foe, and once more the knowledge that there are those who wish to destroy us, imparted so effectively through Flowey at our beginning, brings us to fear this new and unknown person. Yet if we can find it in ourselves to master our fear once more and avoid resorting to violence, we discover that even those opposed to us can, in fact, be made into friends, with patience and understanding. Mettaton ups the stakes once more, a threatening figure who has (we think) not chosen enmity with us, but rather is hardcoded to seek our death, reminding us of Flowey once more (as Flowey posits that the world we’re in is a black-and-white case of kill or be killed, a hardline belief related to Mettaton’s supposed programing). And if we can even manage to put forth the effort to befriend--or at least sidestep--him, we finally face Asgore, the threat of whom we have been warned over and over again since Toriel, and who reminds us a final time of that first, scarring meeting with Flowey by forcing us to subdue him much in the way that Toriel shooed the malicious little dandelion off.

The betrayal experienced at Flowey’s petals early in the game, the distrust it creates within the player, is recalled again and again as Undertale goes on, admittedly with less pull every time (which makes Flowey’s return, at the point at which you believe yourself to have completely overcome the paranoia and perceptions he created in you, all the more jarring and even terrifying). But what I believe, and haven’t seen others comment on, is that this does not just serve to create a lasting, engaging question of trust and fear in terms of the player’s own experience and perceptions. The juxtaposition between the fear of betrayal and the hope for friendship and love created through Flowey’s introduction and all the following encounters in the game also comes back to 1 of Undertale’s themes: the examination of conflict resolution in one’s journey through life, and the creation, mentality, and terrible destructive wake of choosing to kill, of a mentality that chooses to meet opposition with violence, and to delight in doing so.

Undertale allows the player to play in 1 of 3 ways: Pacifist, in which they take care to never kill anyone;*** Neutral, in which the player opts to kill opponents at least once during the game’s course; and Genocide, in which the the player goes out of their way to murder every single possible opponent, even hunting them down to do so. Of these methods, however, it’s safe to say that only Pacifist and Genocide have particular significance to us and to Undertale’s messages, with Neutral seeming to exist mostly to urge you to pursue the Pacifist route. In each of these 2 more important routes, the game examines not just the results and mindset of resolving one’s problems with either violence or peace, and the difficulties therein for each, but also the formation of the kind of person who chooses to never repay violence in kind, and, more significantly, the formation of the kind of person who kills, casually, frequently, indiscriminately, habitually, and most importantly, remorselessly.

While Undertale examines the formation of such a psychopathic monster in multiple ways, the opening encounter with Flowey represents its best attempt, in my opinion. See, ultimately, that which keeps a person from solving their problems with others with violence is empathy.**** To have an immediate, strong compulsion not to harm others as a means of resolving conflict, one requires the ability to understand another’s feelings--to recognize their capacity to experience the pain you could inflict upon them as the same as your own capacity for suffering--and the ability to see other people, even initially hostile ones, as people that you can personally connect to in a positive way. Without the ability to view others in the same way as you view yourself, there is no possibility for regret for your harmful actions towards them, and there is no possibility for respecting their life.

And that’s what Flowey damages: the player’s ability to empathize. Flowey being our first and arguably most memorable formative experience in Undertale attacks our ability to trust anyone we meet after him. And trust is foundational to empathy: without trust at its most fundamental level, the ability to trust that another could possibly not be a threat to you, the ability to trust the world enough to recognize the capacity of any other being to be a source of anything but danger...well, one cannot empathize if one cannot allow for the possibility that others will not, sooner or later, be a threat to one. By making such a strong attack on our ability to trust every character that follows him, Flowey’s introduction by extension makes the same attack on our ability to empathize with them, and thus pushes us in our paranoia strongly toward a killing mentality, where otherwise we might have had a far easier time choosing to be peaceful from the start.

And through this scenario, Undertale examines the creation of a killer. Flowey’s introduction and its effects upon the player are allegorical for the cause--or a cause, at least--of a mindset of violence. So much of who and what we are as individuals is formed upon our early experiences, the perceptions of our world and its other occupants that we first gather--and Undertale argues, through Flowey and his influence, that an initial lesson that the world is threatening and contains dangerous falsehoods will strongly push a person to respond in kind for the rest of their life, even if subsequent positive experiences can eventually break that paranoia’s hold. An early experience bereft of love, nurturing, and security can damage our perception of the world in ways that will be felt forever--and can easily start us down a path of mistrust, then apathy, and finally violence.









* Which doesn’t mean that no one has thought of this, of course; it’s not like I scour the internet all day every day for every single comment and video made on the game,** so I certainly could have missed someone else figuring this out, as well. But I at least am confident that if I haven’t seen this observation made yet, most other people probably won’t have, either.


** Not to say that I’m doing anything better with my time, mind you. In fact, since I am at the time of writing this playing yet another Kemco game, I’m pretty sure I spend my time on far worse activities.


*** Jerry notwithstanding. But, I mean, it’s Jerry.


**** Yes, logic should also be a deterrent against violence, as any long-term understanding of social forces will inevitably show that peaceful resolution is the superior approach in the vast majority of cases...but let’s face it, interpersonal problems are called interpersonal for a reason, and that which is personal triggers our emotions, not our rationality.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Guest Rant: Cyclical Time in Japanese RPGs, by Humza

I'm absurdly pleased today to bring you yet another engrossing and thoughtful rant from the esteemed Humza! As you all are by now well aware, Humza has brought guest rants in such quantity and quality to this blog over the years that I'm relatively sure one could very safely argue that he's done a hell of a lot more for the intellectual integrity of Thinking Inside the Box than I have. Today's another fine set of musings and observations by the good fellow; check it out below! As ever, thank you for reading and ranting, Humza!

Disclaimer: I don't own Humza's writing, but rather post it here with his gracious permission. I also don't necessarily agree or disagree with his opinions and observations here. But I think it's safe to say that I do think they're pretty rad, or I wouldn't have been so eager to share them with you all!



Cyclical Time in Japanese RPGs

Humza
November 6, 2019



"But time flows like a river… and history repeats..." - Secret of Mana*

The idea that time is cyclical, that events are fated to repeat themselves endlessly, is a pretty common one across different RPGs, and especially in Japanese ones (although the idea occasionally finds expression in Western RPGs, too°°°). It's also a general idea that is/was pretty prominent in various cultures around the world**, so chances are that it's a bit more recognisable to us when we see it than other ideas rooted in Japanese culture/tradition.

With most RPGs (aside from time travel ones like Radiant Historia and Chrono Trigger), time isn't treated as a very notable concept: you have your basic past, present, future, and that's it. This is an appealing view, too, because it allows for a strong version of human will. In Stocke's words, "My fate is mine to carve". And there's the possibility of a happier ending, in which the future is implied to be better than the past, not just for the cast, but for humanity as a whole.

In contrast, RPGs conforming to cyclical time might have difficulty in constructing as satisfying a journey or ending because the future necessarily reflects the past. What our heroes have done, will be done again (and were also done by others prior to them). The future will be just as happy and just as sad as the past. Individuals may lead better lives at some point, but the same cannot be said for people collectively (at least not in a way that avoids qualifying the improvement by its temporary quality). These reasons and others may explain partly why modern stories in general (and RPGs in particular) don't often implement the idea (or at least don't do so thoroughly).

From my observation, RPGs tend to use cyclical time in two*** ways: either the cycle is implied to repeat endlessly (like Terranigma and probably Secret of Mana if the epigraph is any indication) or the cycle is broken by the protagonist and his/her friends (like Terranigma**** and Energy Breaker). These subcategories may perhaps come with different intended messages.

The intention with the former seems to be to make it as if the protagonist is "enlightened" by the end, having grasped a profound truth about the world (and so it might be a way of promoting the writer's beliefs). A limited view of human will (permitted by the cyclical view of history), in which one has the ability to change their lives to some extent while lacking significant influence beyond that, seems to describe the situation many of us live in today, having little choice but to spend five days a week working. The routines many of us have in our day-to-day lives certainly give the impression that (in most cases) each day is similar to the last.

With the latter, those previous comments about how appealing the "standard" view of time apply, because revealing the cycle to be false, to be breakable with enough will, there's hope that the future will be better than it currently is (although it may invite from some people a pessimism that the future will be worse, as some currently anticipate with climate change). Above all else, it would change how people think about the world because the removal of a constraint previously thought of as impossible to overcome would lead to people imagining the removal of other constraints, questioning their inherited knowledge and becoming more ambitious in their future aspirations (because who's to say what really is and isn't possible to achieve?).

The ubiquity of the general idea makes it easier for people who, like myself, haven't studied Japanese culture to recognize and understand (although, assuming the RPG we're playing invokes them, some details unique to this specific conception of the idea will still be lost on us), but some other ideas commonly invoked in Japanese RPGs unfortunately don't fare as well when Anglophones play them, like the correlation between one's character and the temperature of their hands*****.

That's it - the main point of this post was to point to a concept used in quite a few RPGs and slightly push to learn more about cultures outside of our own. The RPGenius already read a book about Buddhism for beginners, so he probably doesn't need this encouragement (I might need it more than him), but other readers might find it a useful suggestion.











* From the game's opening, after the name entry screen. I haven't actually finished the game (and don't plan to), so I have no idea how relevant this line is to the story. (Maybe the protagonist's journey is one of many cycles in which a particular event involving the Mana Tree/Sword is done?)


°°° The RPGenius Says: War. War never changes.


** Cyclical time is an important part of Hinduism and Buddhism (both having their origins in India and the latter later becoming an integral part of Japanese culture), and has historically been a part (albeit a less important and more widely contested part) of the Western and Middle Eastern cultures (see Ecclesiastes 1:9 for an example applying to both, Oswald Spengler for one mostly confined to the former and Ibn Khaldun for one originating in the latter). Needless to say, there are significant differences between each of these (and putting all of them under a single category might seem a bit questionable to some).


*** Actually three if you count those games where it's part of the game's setting but seems to have little relevance.


**** I've listed Terranigma in both categories because (*SPOILER ALERT*) the game actually invokes both. For example, at one point in the game, Ark is told "Human fate is a fixed loop. What one seeks is not always found. You are different. You exist outside the loop of fate." and yet, at the end, Elle tells Ark "if we are bound by fate, we will meet again in time, somewhere." So Ark apparently has the power to break the loop of fate and is part of it. (My memory tells me that there's a more significant contradiction with Terranigma's cycles, but it's been more than five years since I last finished that game, so that's not too reliable.)


***** For example, see http://wwwthinkinginsidethebox.blogspot.com/2018/02/general-rpgs-characters-preoccupation.html, which expresses the confusion most of us must feel. There's almost certainly a reason for the trope's existence, whether good or bad, and it might be wise to suspend judgement until hearing it. We might even view it as an invitation to learn more about the region the game we're playing comes from, and this last point of course applies to RPGs we play outside of Japan, too.******


****** It's a common position taken in blogs and interviews about localizing games and other media that the team should strive to make the original text sound natural in their own language, obscuring and eliminating the need for foreign concepts. This might increase the target audience's enjoyment (and it shouldn't be forgotten that the profitability of a translated work somewhat depends on this), but it also lessens the motivation/opportunity to learn. Rudolf Pannwitz (quoted in Walter Benjamin's "The Task of the Translator") makes a compelling case for learning through translated works:

"Our translations, even the best ones, proceed from a wrong premise. They want to turn Hindi, Greek, English into German instead of turning German into Hindi, Greek, English. Our translators have a far greater reverence for the usage of their own language than for the spirit of the foreign works. The basic error of the translator is that he preserves the state in which his own language happens to be instead of allowing his language to be powerfully affected by the foreign tongue. ... He must expand and deepen his language by means of the foreign language."

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Fire Emblem 16's Random Final Bosses

This rant randomly references a thing on the internet I like watching. No, I don’t know why I suddenly felt like doing this. I’m weird. On the plus side, you can play the game of trying to figure out what it is, I guess?



It’s an annoying, but sadly not entirely uncommon practice in RPGs to have a random-ass bad guy suddenly appear at the game’s end to serve as a completely spontaneous and frankly inexplicable final boss. The most famous example, of course, would be Necron from Final Fantasy 9--after experiencing a massive, 4-disc-long story which has carefully and skillfully established Kuja as the ultimate antagonist to overcome, you finally triumph over him...and then, out of absolutely goddamn nowhere, this big self-important god-thing shows up, starts waxing Hot Topic about death and fear and such nonsense, and suddenly now HE’S the game’s final boss.

Necron has not once interacted in any capacity with the 60+ hours of storytelling in Final Fantasy 9. Until the second he appears, there is not the slightest indication that he or any entity of his nature exists. He has no place in the game’s events, which have been, as stated, very clearly set up with the idea of Kuja being the final, all-important foe to defeat. The edgelord bilge that Necron is spouting has no greater connection to the themes, messages, and character focuses in Final Fantasy 9 than it does to any other given game. And we’re never given the slightest understanding of how and why he’s shown up, what he is, his origins, what relation he has to Kuja and the events of the game that would cause them to awaken him--the only thing I understand less than Necron is why SquareEnix put him in the game! Because their decision to do so doesn’t add anything positive to the game whatsoever, and instead only confuses the audience in regard to the story’s message, lessens Kuja’s weight as the game’s antagonist, and causes an overall sense of puzzlement so great that it breaks the player’s immersion.

I’ve mentioned before, mostly when talking about Mass Effect 3, that the instinct possessed by certain writers who think themselves entirely too special and clever, and thus to add some bizarre curveball to the ending of the game that comes out of left field and completely changes everything, is a very, very bad one. That is not what an ending is for. Endings are the cap to your creation, the final seal on your product that should perfectly conclude and contain all the events and ideas and such that have come before them. And while throwing a totally random final boss at the player isn’t nearly so destructive as Bioware’s decision to poorly plagiarize an Asimov story and clumsily tape it to the tail end of a completely different kind of science fiction, Necron is still a violation of this narrative commonsense guideline.

Sadly, though, Necron is only a representative of these random-ass final bosses, certainly not the lone specimen. Wild Arms 5, for example, has Volsung the whiny-ass lamer set up as its ultimate antagonist, but after you kick his ass, the game drops some random poppycock on you about him being possessed and/or merged with a dark ghost of sad race relations or something so THAT’S the true villain in all this. Secret of Mana, meanwhile, decides it’s got to jam a syringe of Artificial Drama into its ending by making its final boss not Thanatos, the evil jerk that the entire game has been devoted to stopping, but rather your furry airship-analogue Flammie, because of some contrived, last-second drivel about magical mana energies or whatever making him go berserk. It’s a crass bid for poignancy by subpar authors who couldn’t get the job done without cheap emotional manipulation.

This crime’s worst perpetrator, though, isn’t Flammie, nor is it Volsung’s possession by Malcolm X. Nor is it Wild Arms 1’s Zeik Tuvai, Phantasy Star 1’s Dark Force,* or Mana Khemia 1’s Vayne’s dark side or whatever that crap was. It's not Necron, believe it or not...and it isn't even that stupid fucking magic tree in Suikoden 4! Because, you see, what all these inexplicable out-of-nowhere final bosses have in common is that there’s only 1 per game.

Fire Emblem 16, on the other hand, is not content with anything less than 3 completely random Final Bosses.

I dunno what the deal is with Fire Emblem: 3 Houses. Maybe the people making it never had any real idea what they were going to do to end it, and once they got to that point, they just went with the first thing that came to mind. Whatever the case, though, 3 of the 4 paths to the game end with random-ass last enemies. And it’s stupid.

First of all, let’s talk about the Necron of the group: Nemesis. On the Golden Deer route through FE16, the final conflict comes in the form of a necromanced return of Nemesis, the jackass from the game’s opening cinematic whose freaky fetish for gluing cervical plates together in the shape of a weapon luckily just happened to pay off when it came to dragon bones.

How did Those Who Slither in the Dark manage to get the dingus back on his feet again? Unclear! Where did he get a second loli-spine sword? Unclear! Why did TWSitD not wake his zombie ass up sooner, considering that he and his ghost army are a way more effective force of destruction than their current stooge, Edelgard, can muster? Unclear! Why do they only resurrect Nemesis on the Golden Deer route, even though the events of the Church route play out the exact same way in regards to defeating Those Who Slither in the Dark? UN-FRIGGING-CLEAR. You beat the actual villains of the game, he’s just here for the hell of it, so just enjoy the cool post-battle cutscene and get off Nintendo’s back about this.

And since we’ve talked about the Golden Deer route, let’s move on to the Church route, since that’s basically just “Golden Deer Except No Claude (But to Make Up for That, Go Ahead and Marry That Hottie Who is at the Same Time Both Your Mother Figure, Your Grandmother, and Sort of Also Your Daughter...Go Ahead, it’s Fire Emblem, We All Know This is Why You’re Here).” Apparently, even though, as previously noted, everything that led to Nemesis being resurrected in the GD path will also occur on this route, Nintendo felt that the Church route had to have an entirely different final boss. And instead of just having a more advanced fight against Thales, which would be appropriate for this route since his bunch of jerkwads are the most narratively juxtaposed to Rhea and her religion, the writers decided that it would be better to have Rhea spontaneously go apeshit in the midst of delivering an exposition dump--like, seriously, she goes berserk in the middle of a sentence--and force you to put her down. If Nemesis was Necron, then Rhea is definitely Flammie (she’s even a white dragon thing, to boot), but with even less credible magic plot bullshit to explain her going berserk.

How does being in a weakened state from torture and catching missiles in her teeth cause Rhea to suddenly release her full power? I don’t know! What purpose is served in frustrating players by forcing them to attack and potentially kill the character whom this entire story path is specifically geared toward rescuing and being loyal to? I don’t know! Why does Rhea never lose control and transform due to her injuries and weakness in the Golden Deer story, especially considering that she is ostensibly even more weakened in GD since she’s implied to die after the game’s over in that route whereas in this one it’s possible for her to live on? I don’t know! Or alternately, how is it that Rhea can have suffered the exact same damage on both the Church and Golden Deer routes, yet have a chance of surviving only in the former, even though this one also has her getting whaled on by the strongest people in the world for 5 - 20 turns of combat? I don’t know! If Rhea losing control also causes various high-positioned church officials to turn into monsters because she gave them her essence, why doesn’t it happen to Catherine, who would surely also have received this treatment considering her position and importance to the Church and Rhea personally? I don’t know! If losing her self-control and turning rabidly aggressive is what triggers her high-up church members to become monsters, then why don’t we see that happen in the final boss battle of the Black Eagles route, where Rhea’s surrounded by her best and most loyal warriors and has clearly been driven to hostile insanity? I DON’T FORKING KNOW. You beat the actual villains of the game, Rhea’s only flipping out to pad the run-time, so just enjoy the chance to sex up a dragon and get off Nintendo’s back about this.

So you may be wondering, now, who the third bemusingly impromptu final boss is of FE16. After all, it makes sense for Rhea to fill that spot on the Black Eagle route, and obviously Edelgard is the right person for the role for the Blue Lions. Well, I’ll agree with you on the former point,** but in spite of Edelgard being the right call for Dimitri and company’s last challenge, she still manages to be a pretty random final boss, this time in the Volsung way, by just up and getting ultra-powered with evil out of nowhere. Supposedly turning into this big demon-thing is something she can do by unleashing the power of both her crests at the same time, a fact which is never mentioned or even hinted at prior to this moment or in any other route.

Isn’t it kind of stupid for her to only unleash this power now, after her enemies have completely disrupted her armies, liberated territories from her control, and killed the majority of her best and most devoted soldiers, even though she’s had multiple opportunities before to go all out like this when it might have made the difference between her empire’s life and death? Oh, whoops! Doesn’t it make no sense for Edelgard to only use this ability in the Blue Lions version of this battle, even though the circumstances of this battle in the Church and Golden Deer paths are equally dire for her cause? Whoopsy! Doesn’t this ability undercut the idea of Edelgard’s determination to win at any cost (her 1 and only real character trait), when she apparently won’t use it in her own Black Eagles storyline even in a desperate battle against an out-of-control dragon in the midst of a raging inferno? WHOOP-FREAKING-SY. Try not to think about the actual villains of the game you’re unable to deal with, giving Edelgard superpowers was the path of least resistance to make this final battle interesting, so just enjoy your conclusion to a path that has no relevance beyond its own borders and get off Nintendo’s back about this.

I just don’t get it. This whole nonsensical out-of-left-field final boss stuff already seems utterly ridiculous to me under normal circumstances--it’s so much of a hassle to throw Necron and his ilk into an RPG’s finale to begin with that it seems like it should be impossible that someone wouldn’t stop to think for the 4.2 seconds it takes to realize that it’s a dumb idea and decide against it. But thrice in the same game!? How the hell does this happen? How do you just decide to throw your cares to the wind and put all your money on sensation instead of substance with your final foe 3 times in a row?























* Wow, this is actually a super old trope, isn’t it?


** Although, you could make an argument that there’s still an element of the unexpected and inexplicable in the Black Eagle route’s last battle, in the sense that it even is the finale to begin with. The actual villains of Fodlan, Those Who Slither in the Dark, are a threat that Edelgard is well aware of, and has outright stated she intends to take down, once she’s done stupidly venting her misplaced fury on Rhea...and yet the game never pursues this. It just ends. “Congrats, you won, Edelgard’s empire revolutionized the social system,” with a little footnote of “o ya also dey all fite ppls hoo slithur in dark lol,” that’s all you get. In the GD and Church routes, you don’t even KNOW about TWSitD and somehow still wind up tracking them down and wrecking their shit, but in the path all about the 1 faction who actually is aware of the true villains, where following through with this plot would have been super easy, barely an inconvenience...nothing happens.

Friday, February 28, 2020

General RPGs' AMVs 17

Howdy all! Time to see some high quality RPG AMVs! It’s a slowly shriveling fan medium, so let’s give some recognition to those who stay in the game and keep providing us with quality RPG music videos!



FALLOUT

Fallout 4: Freedom, by Pandamic
The music used is Launch, by Really Slow Motion. This AMV is a thoughtful, epic tribute to the Railroad faction of Fallout 4, showing off the Railroad’s morality, its philosophy, its personal connection to the Sole Survivor, and the path through which it saves an entire race of people during the game’s events, as well as the haunting conflict that doing so creates within the Sole Survivor. Edited beautifully, sequentially excellent, including perfectly-timed sound effects from the game footage, utilizing the music and dialogue superbly to create a stirring, compelling work representing that which made the story of Fallout 4 so great...this is a truly great AMV.


FINAL FANTASY

Final Fantasy 8: How Far We’ve Come, by YuniX2
The music used is How Far We’ve Come, by Matchbox Twenty. As always, YuniX2 provides a great match of lyrics and sound to game visuals, that somehow manages to use this crappy game so well that the AMV creates a narrative of sorts that actually embodies the game’s characters and events in a positive, satisfying light. YuniX2 never fails to please; I just wish she still made these things--this one’s an oldie of hers.


FIRE EMBLEM

Fire Emblem 14: Another Fates AMV, by Shey Black
The music used is Breath of Life, by Florence and the Machine. Good old Florence and the Machine, they rarely disappoint. Shey Black skillfully selects scenes to reflect and coalesce with the weight of Florence’s lyrics and vocals in a natural marriage of game and music, with each half of the AMV positively affecting the other. Good stuff.

Fire Emblem 14: Bad Wings, by Shey Black
The music used is Bad Wings, by The Glitch Mob. 2 in a row from this creator! Once more, Shey Black uses the inexplicable yet undeniable versatility of FE14’s visuals to make use of the song’s weight and create an AMV with enough gravity to draw in the audience, in spite of its relative simplicity. It’s a solid work.


NIER: AUTOMATA

Nier: Automata: Falling Inside the Black, by Max-Ter
The music used is Falling Inside the Black, by Skillet. From what little I know of Skillet, I have a feeling that you’d have a hard time finding any of their songs that wouldn’t fit Nier: Automata pretty well, but that doesn’t lessen the fact that this AMV’s creator has done a worthy job of matching this song’s emotional desperation, in both tone and lyrics, to the game’s visuals, creating a fine video that nicely shows and describes this excellent game.

Nier: Automata: The Sound of Silence, by Imagine Maker
The music used is a cover The Sound of Silence, by Simon and Garfunkel. The cover itself is done by Disturbed. Oh wait, did I say Skillet’s music was a natural fit to Nier: Automata? Sorry, THIS is the natural fit to Nier: Automata, right here. This is a powerful force of a piece of music, and even Nier: Automata seems to almost be swallowed up within the music, where it would otherwise generally dominate the direction and tone of the AMV with practically any other piece. Nonetheless, NA is a great fit to The Sound of Silence, able to keep up with this somber dance partner quite well, due in no small part to Imagine Maker’s knack for pulling the right scenes and events from the game to coordinate with each heavy lyric and thoughtful set of notes. It’s a moving AMV to watch: moving because the music is powerful, moving because the game is powerful, and moving because the music and the game are powerful together.


TALES OF

Tales of Berseria: Hurts Like Hell, by Autumn Boze
The music used is Hurts Like Hell, by Fleurie. This AMV is an at times almost overpowering tribute to the singular and amazing Velvet Crowe, taking a song that’s simply raw with sorrow and pain and through it describing her with heartrending accuracy. Hurts Like Hell is a natural companion to the story of Velvet Crowe, but by no means does that lessen Autumn Boze’s contributions to this product--the scene selection and timing are of such skill as to use the song and game scenes to their utmost potential. Powerful, compelling stuff.

Tales of Berseria: The Plagues, by Buckets42 TheBadLuckCharm
The music used is The Plagues, from The Prince of Egypt. It’s an unexpected pairing of music to game, but this actually works quite well, and while I’m not sure whether it’s an AMV about Velvet, Artorius, and Laphicet using the fated conflict of Moses and Ramses to describe them, or an AMV about Moses and Ramses using the tragedy of Velvet’s family to illustrate them, the end result is a thoughtful music video either way.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Deus Ex 3's Downloadable Content

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a rather great game, both in its own right and as a sequel. It’s able to successfully expand upon the lore of Deus Ex, maintain the original’s spirit and aesthetic in ways that its sequel never was able to, take new steps forward while losing nothing of DE1’s style, improve upon 1 of the original’s more glaring problems in having a protagonist with some personality and depth as a character, and bring up the same questions of conspiratorial power games and social existentialism while taking a different (admittedly smaller) direction with its plot and events. And it also overall provides a thoughtful, well-told plot that betters the audience to experience. Deus Ex 1 has never quite broken onto my Greatest RPGs list, but it’s always hovered at the fringes, and Deus Ex 3 will now join it there right at the edge--if the next expansion of that list allows for 1 of them to finally join their peers at the top, I daresay it will be difficult for me to choose which.

But as evidenced by multiple Fallouts, even great RPGs can still have crappy add-ons (although, as evidenced by Neverwinter Nights 2, the opposite can also be true). So today, let’s take a look at Deus Ex 3’s Downloadable Content, and see whether it measures up to the rest of the game.

...and let’s do so without thinking overly much about whether or not there’s any point to reviewing an add-on for a game that’s the better part of a decade old which is nowadays automatically sold at no additional cost with said DLC anyways. Hey, you know how I roll: for every significant rant I make, there has to be at least, like, 4 pointless ones.



The Missing Link: My experience with this DLC is odd. I didn’t realize it was an add-on, to start with: I played DE3 recently, so my copy just automatically came with The Missing Link, and it starts up as a part of the linear story rather than (as most DLCs do) requiring me to voluntarily elect to initiate its adventure, so I really had no idea for the majority of it that I was involved in something other than the main game’s narrative. At the same time, though, it felt from the start to be something separate from the rest of DE3, slightly out of joint. So I guess we can, first and foremost, give The Missing Link credit for having authenticity to the overall sequence of Deus Ex 3’s events, while also clearly being detached enough that the main story as a whole wasn’t incomplete without it. That has to be a tough line to walk, particularly with as smooth a gait as DE3 manages.

Now, as far as the DLC’s overall quality, it’s definitely solid stuff. Adam’s capture and prolonged escape from the clutches of Belltower’s clandestine base provides a story that expands upon the lore, particularly the conspiracy lore, of the game as a whole, introduces some decent characters in its course, and creates a microcosm tale of disrupting the grasp of the monstrous social overlords upon the innocent that reflects the style and purpose of the series as a whole, and maintains a healthy allowance for the player’s personal agency in how to overcome humanity’s secret masters--more than the main campaign does, one might argue, as there’s a little more complexity to the climactic choice in this DLC than there is to the game’s own ending.

I also think that The Missing Link shines on a couple of points in particular. First of all, it provides the player with an understanding of what the deal is with the computer mainframe of Panchea at the game’s end, which I imagine must have piqued some interest in players prior to this DLC’s release. The troubling thoughts at the end of Panchea’s internal communications and, more noticeably, the whole anime-esque white-blindfolded women connected to the machine core...it’s all a great aesthetic for an unnerving final showdown setting, but it’s a little more palatable when you know what to make of it thanks to The Missing Link’s explanation of its origins. So this DLC enhances your understanding of the details of the main game, but not in such a major way that the game would feel empty without it (I would have taken Panchea’s operating system in stride overall), which is good.

The other point on which The Missing Link really stands out, and perhaps the one I think which has the most positive effect, is the fact that this DLC actually shows us the victims of Belltower’s atrocious operation. It hadn’t occurred to me until reaching this point, but the Deus Ex series has, as far as I can recall, never before this moment really driven home the cost that the innocent, the everyday men and women of the general populace, suffer at the dark manipulations of the secretive societal masters that the DE series warns us of.

Oh, sure, we get glimpses in the series up until this point of the suffering of the human species as a whole that results from these dark conspiracies of corporations and Illuminati and so on--we interact with the impoverished and homeless in Deus Ex 1, we see the needless struggles and animosity of the working class being manipulated into hating one another rather than looking at their real problems through the coffee chain rivalry in Deus Ex 2, and DE3 presents us with the hardships of common people with a dependence on medications that bankrupt them, and so on.

But though it is vitally important to see the results of the insidious, passive methods that the governing elite use to control the people of the world, the DE series hasn’t given its audience much direct contact with the ways that humanity’s hubristic handlers more actively abuse innocent common people. The horrors inflicted on people by machinations of civilization’s rulers have always, to my recollection, been more something that the series has told of, rather than shown. The Missing Link represents the first time that the weight of what the high few will do to the lower many is shown in full, inescapable clarity to the audience in this series, as we see the rows and rows of men and women unjustly incarcerated, secretly snatched from their lives by a private police under the falsehood that they’re involved in terrorism, never to be released, used instead as test subjects for inevitably fatal experiments. Hearing the frightened, angry, and confused cries of the prisoners as you pass by their cells as they beg to be returned to their loved ones, invoke basic social rights that they don’t understand they never truly possessed, and insist that their incarceration is a mistake...coming face to face with the pain and horror inflicted on hundreds of random innocents just for the sake of a fractional number of successes...it’s a sobering moment that the Deus Ex series was lacking, a putting of faces and voices to what were before tragedies and evils only described and theoretical. The whole series benefits from personally presenting this operation in motion to the player.

While it’s unimportant overall, I suppose I will say that the gameplay premise of The Missing Link is puzzling to me. The idea with it is that you get all your augmentations and weapons taken away at the DLC’s beginning, and have to get by on what you can acquire within the DLC itself, rather than all the stuff and powers you’ve amassed in the game up until that point. This sort of thing has been done before, of course, in other add-ons. Operation: Anchorage in Fallout 3 takes place primarily in a simulation, meaning you can only work with what the simulation provides, and the Sierra Madre DLC in Fallout: New Vegas did something similar, as I recall. It’s a way for the developers to create an adventure whose technical parameters can work regardless of what stage of the game you’re in, within reason--thus players who are in the endgame by the time the DLC releases can still find a challenge within it, while newer players don’t have to wait to try it out.

The thing is, that rationale doesn’t work here, because The Missing Link has a set time at which it occurs within Deus Ex 3. You can’t experience it any earlier or later than a single set spot in the game’s overall sequence of events. So everyone going into it will have had the same opportunities to build up their character and arsenal. DE3’s developers could just design The Missing Link’s difficulty level and loot output the same as they would (and did) for the next stage of the game. Forcing us to lose our entire inventory and all our upgrades--and the loss of the latter doesn’t even seem like it makes any logical sense--wasn’t even a developmental necessity! And it certainly didn’t add any fun to the adventure; I had tailored Adam’s development and inventory around a playstyle I enjoyed, and having to start that process again from scratch was a pain in the ass. It’s just an artificial and frustrating handicap that serves no purpose!

But as stated, that sort of thing doesn’t really matter all that much, and even if it did, it wouldn’t outweigh the positives of this add-on. The Missing Link is a solid and worthy part of Deus Ex 3, and while I’ve had trouble finding solid information on what it originally sold for (I think $6?), I think it’s fair to say that it was easily worth its price.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

General RPG Valentines Special Edition: Job Classes

As ever, many thanks to my sister and to Ecclesiastes for their helping me to get these things juuuuuuust right. Or at least good enough. It's not the sort of thing you shoot for the stars over, I guess.



I really like Valentine's Day. You all know this. And I also really like Bravely Default and Bravely Second. You all know this, as well. So with the recent news that a new Bravely title will be gracing us all sometime in the future, I figured, why not have a little fun, and do something special for our RPG Valentines this year? So today, in honor of the Bravely games being both awesome and the truest expression of the Final Fantasy series to date, I've got a whole heap of Job Class themed ways of telling someone special this holiday that you love them and a specific form of the turn-based combat formula of a specific video game sub-genre equally!













































And naturally, I've got some for those of you who are distinctly on the other side of the fence in regards to this holiday! I couldn't quite figure out enough ways to use the Job Class system specifically for these anti-sentiments, but I can at least keep halfway to this year's theme by sharing some general Bravely/Final Fantasy reverse-Valentines with you!















...Look, theme or not, it's just not an RPG Valentines post without Reyn and Kevin.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Fire Emblem 16's Azure Moon Route is Irrelevant

Fire Emblem 16 is a gigantic RPG. Well, sort of: any individual playthrough of the game is actually a fairly normal, even perhaps very slightly short RPG’s length. But, the game has 4 different paths to follow, with each having a very separate character focus and a relatively unique second half, and the game is set up in a way that none of these routes tell the player all the details of the game’s story, lore, and major characters--rather, it’s meant to be a collaborative effort between the paths, wherein you’ll only have a complete understanding of any substantial part of FE16 after playing through the game on multiple routes. This means that the title is massively long to play through, if fully understanding it is your aim. The damn game took me a full month and a half to finish, and I daresay I devote more time to video games in my daily life than most!

There is, however, a way to cut the colossal prospect of a full and complete experience with Fire Emblem: 3 Houses down somewhat, to reduce the sentence of its hold upon you by a whole 25%. I unfortunately only discovered this clever trick after it was too late to be of benefit to me, but perhaps in sharing it, I can save the rest of you a little time and effort better spent on other games, and air my own grievances while I’m at it. To wit:

Choosing the Blue Lions house is pretty much pointless so don’t bother.

Yes, yes, OMG HOW COULD I, SHOTS FIRED, GTFO, DIMITRI IS BAE, and so on and so forth. Sorry, but it’s the truth: no matter how much you love Dedue, how much you love Dimitri, and how much you love how much Dedue loves Dimitri, playing the Azure Moon route of Fire Emblem 16 just doesn’t really accomplish much of anything, in contrast to the other 3 options.

See, Fire Emblem: 3 Houses has been set up in such a way that you’re only supposed to really get all its lore and plot-relevant characters fully through multiple playthroughs. You’re not going to fully understand the way Fodlan works, the lore of its history, and position it has with its neighbors, without playing through the Golden Deer route. You’re not going to have a full perspective on the bad side of Rhea and Church of Seiros, and what few good qualities are possessed of the game’s first major villain, Edelgard, without playing through the Black Eagle path. And you’re not going to have a clear understanding of protagonist Byleth’s history and nature, as well as the lore of the Sacred Relics, Rhea, and Sothis, without going down the Church’s storyline. Similarly, you won’t have a full grasp on the true villains of the game, the Agarthans (or Those Who Slither in the Dark), without having played the Black Eagles and either the Golden Deer or Church scenarios. You can get a fine game out of playing FE16 only once, but you’re only going to get your full, complete knowledge of it through multiple playthroughs, and it’s clearly set up with that in mind.

Except, the thing is...the Blue Lions route doesn’t fit into all that. Oh, sure, there’s plenty of stuff you learn along a Blue Lions playthrough, but...well, it all fits into 1 of 2 categories. Either the stuff you learn A, is lore that is also present in most or all of the other paths anyway (and sometimes in better detail), or B, is lore that is only relevant within the purview of the stuff exclusive to the Blue Lions route. In other words, while all the other game’s storylines enhance your understanding of major elements relevant to FE16 as a whole, everything exclusive to the Blue Lions path also only affects your understanding of the Blue Lions path’s characters and events. The playthrough’s only relevant in and of itself! Meaning that if you completely eschew experiencing it, you’ll still be able to understand every major, relevant aspect of FE16 in entirety so long as you engage in the other 3 routes.

Think about each of the unique parts of the Blue Lions route that aren’t available otherwise, and it becomes apparent. For starters, Dimitri. Dimitri may be the big deal in his own plot path, but the guy is otherwise pretty superfluous to the game as a whole. He doesn’t have a significant hand in the events of FE16 if you aren’t actively by his side every step of the way--in the game’s first half, he’ll just comment on recent and relevant events as they happen, and then in the second half, he’s either caught up in his own business that only intersects with the main story once (in which he dies), or he acts as an accomplice to Rhea in a role that doesn’t really amount to much more than any given Fire Emblem military general-type NPC. By contrast, Edelgard’s importance to the plot is huge as she’s its most vital and active antagonist, Rhea’s intrinsically linked to like 80% of the game’s lore and is the doorway to the player’s access to said lore...and even Claude, though his role be minor outside his own route, does hold some connection to the setting and politics of Fodlan, and maintains a level of mystery in regards to himself and his intentions for the Alliance, that draws the player in. Dimitri? The most he contributes to the Black Eagles, Church, and Golden Deer paths is to shout a few edgy things and make the player wonder how he went from looking like Draco Malfoy, to looking like Mad-Eye-Moody...and also still Draco Malfoy.*

Get to know Edelgard, you learn about the game’s most prominent villain and the (stupid, short-sighted) way she thinks. Get to know Claude, you get to learn about the social workings of Fodlan and its neighbors from coming to know the guy’s lineage and ambitions. Get to know Rhea, you get to understand Byleth’s origins, some of the truths of the Church, and some information about Seteth and Flayn, 2 more important characters. Get to know Dimitri, and all you learn about is Dimitri, relevant to his own path and no other.

Next unique part of the Blue Lions route: Dimitri and Edelgard’s past together. When throwing your lot in with the Kingdom, you get to learn about how Dimitri and Edelgard are related through some political marriage, the typical complicated gobbledegook of nations using porking as a basis for alliances, and how they spent a little time together as kids, in which they sparred, Dimitri had his first tingly feeling in his pee-pee for his sister-in-law (this is Fire Emblem, after all), and he gave her a dagger as a memento when she had to leave.

And yeah, this sure seems, at first glance, like it’d be important overall to the story of Fire Emblem 16, as Edelgard is a key figure to the game no matter what path you’re playing, but, uh...it’s just not. It becomes clear after a time that this experience was something really major for Dimitri, a foundational part of his relationship with Edelgard and the icky feelings at her betrayal that make him act like a Hot Topic employee with roid rage...but on the other side, this peek at a moment in Edelgard’s history really doesn’t tell us anything significant about her beyond the fact that she and Dimitri hung out for a little while when they were kids. Her motivations and personality don’t seem to have been in any way affected by this particular piece of her past--your understanding of Edelgard as a character and as the villain of the game is the same after witnessing her past with Dimitri as it was prior.

Hell, it doesn’t even seem like this stuff even really affects her connection to him very much, from her perspective! You can probably debate the point, but, beyond the sentimental weight of Edelgard’s still carrying the dagger around years later, she seems to regard Dimitri’s feelings about her and their history together as a curiosity more than anything especially significant. I can’t recall seeing or hearing much from her even on the Blue Lions route that suggests it’s something substantial to her, even when Dimitri has become her greatest enemy. Which is a damn shame, because Edelgard is pretty sparse (to put it politely) in the personality department, so it could have brought about a very welcome emotional response and dilemma. The character depth, the plot and interpersonal significance, they only exist on Dimitri’s side, and so, they hold no importance to Fire Emblem 16 as a whole, only to the Blue Lions route.

Another unique aspect of the Blue Lions route: you get to learn about the Tragedy of Duscur. Alluded to here and there in the game’s first half when speaking of the Kingdom and of Dedue, the Tragedy of Duscur was a disaster which destroyed Dimitri’s family, and drove the Kingdom to wreak excessive vengeance upon the neighboring country’s population. It’s the single most devastating, significant event in the lives of Dimitri, Dedue, and Gilbert.

And no one else.

Again, the relevance of the Duscur incident, and the secrets that the player can learn of it, are restricted solely to the Blue Lions route. We’ve already established that Dimitri only has relevance within his own route, and Dedue and Gilbert are characters restricted entirely to this same route, so the fact that they’re the only ones significantly affected by the Duscur incident isolates it--it’s of peripheral importance to the rest of the Blue Lions characters at most. While most of the Blue Lions house’s characters have a connection to the Duscur incident in 1 way or another, the significance of those connections can be fully understood through their Support conversations or occasional chatter, all of which is fully available on any route. Your understanding of them won’t expand in any meaningful way with the Blue Lions route’s revelations about the Duscur incident. The same is even true for Catherine, whose connection to it is considerable--again, in all ways that it affects your understanding of her character, the Tragedy of Duscur is understood more than adequately through the vague details you can get of it outside the Blue Lions route.

Hell, it’s much the same for the plot, even. While a great many secrets that you learn about Duscur have huge significance for the Kingdom and its royal family, that stuff still really only affects your perceptions of the Kingdom in ways that matter solely to the Blue Lions route’s plot. The Kingdom’s influence on the overall story of Fire Emblem 16’s other paths, which is already pretty minimal compared to the other powers of Fodlan--another reason why the Blue Lions route’s superfluous--is not something you’ll perceive any differently for this greater knowledge of the nation’s history. Likewise, Those Who Slither in the Dark’s influence over the Duscur event is understood as much as it needs to be without getting into the Blue Lions route’s revelations--they’re evil and manipulative, and they’ve manipulated lots of evil stuff into happening, including the Tragedy of Duscur. That’s it, that’s everything that actually matters to know, and it’s something you find out in other routes anyway.

Next, there’s Dedue. As the adjutant character of the Blue Lions route, Dedue’s only available to recruit and thus best to understand on this plot path. But while he’s certainly a better-written, not to mention far more appealing character than Hubert of the Black Eagles route, the vast majority of Dedue’s character is tied inextricably to Dimitri, whose significance, as mentioned above, extends no further than this route...so basically, everything that better insight into Dedue’s character can give us is still locked solely within the Blue Lions path, offering nothing to the whole of FE16. Hugo, by comparison, may also have the entirety of his character development devoted to route-specific entities (Edelgard and the Empire), but he does at least serve as a noticeable and recurring villain in the other routes, as well, so there’s some cause for a player of a non-Black Eagles route to want to find out more about what makes Hugo tick.** Dedue just doesn’t have that.

The final character signature to the Blue Lions route is Gilbert, and here you actually do have a guy with a significant connection to something outside of this specific path...or so you’d think. Gilbert is Annette’s estranged father, and Annette is a character you can recruit in any path, you see, so there should be some potential to, at the very least, better understand her through him. Except that it doesn’t happen. Honestly, the only thing about Annette and her relationship with Gilbert that you can glean from their Support conversations and Paralogue scenario are that she has issues with the fact that he ran out on her and her mom, and she wishes they could be a family again. And that is exactly what you already could figure out in any other route! Annette and Gilbert’s Support conversations, C through A, are all heavily focused on Gilbert’s over-pronounced and frankly absurd sense of honor, and a reaffirmation that Daddy’s not gonna be home for Christmas but it’s not because of you baby it’s because he has severely self-indulgent emotional indigestion. Nothing of importance is gained in terms of Annette’s character from Gilbert’s availability for chats.

And for that matter, the same is true of his conversations with other characters, too. It always seems to come back to the fact that the Tragedy of Duscur gave Gilbert’s pride as a knight an ouchy boo-boo, the only bandaid for which is an exile based around pompous self-loathing. Nothing of substance in Gilbert’s Supports is ever gained in terms of the other characters; it all only develops him, and always with the same damn subject, making him even more 1-dimensional than a brief glance from other paths’ might suggest--character development actually lessens Gilbert’s depth.

So basically, in terms of your knowledge of the relevant lore and characters of Fire Emblem 16, the Blue Lions playthrough can safely be skipped, because it all only relates back to itself, while each of the other paths reveal much about the game’s characters, setting, and history that enhances your understanding of the other paths’ perspectives and events. And really, there isn’t even a whole lot to see on this path for its own sake, as like 75% of all its lore and character development seems to always come back to 1 particular event. Seriously, if you do not have a Crescent-Sickle-solid, 16-foot out-of-control raging boner for the Tragedy of Duscur incident, there is no goddamn point to learning anything about this damn playthrough.

And on a more subjective note, I’d also like to say that there really isn’t a whole lot of satisfaction to be had with the Blue Lions path, at least not once you have a grasp on the game’s situation as a whole. Its conclusion feels like a rushed Sorta Bad Ending, because when all is said and done, the Azure Moon finale has Edelgard defeated, but the evil manipulators behind her, Those Who Slither in the Dark, are left undefeated and entirely unknown by the game’s heroes. Sure, the Black Eagles path also doesn’t technically end in their defeat, but at least the Black Eagles playthrough ends with the (admittedly half-assed and unfulfilling) promise that the fight’s being taken to them next. When you throw your lot in with the Blue Lions, Edelgard takes her knowledge of Those Who Slither in the Dark to her grave, so in spite of some surface-level setbacks with their personnel, the baddies are free to continue to do their thing. If anything, this ending helps those jerks, because as an evil group whose main methods are about manipulation and clandestine dealings, they can only benefit from now being completely unknown by all major players in Fodlan’s politics and nobility. Not to mention that there’s now a single, centralized political power structure of the country, a far easier system to work to their whims than the previous 3-way power balance! “Winning” Fire Emblem 16 for the Blue Lions means handing the country over to the bad guys on a silver platter!

And there sure ain’t much satisfaction to be had out of the route-specific characters, as far as I’m concerned. Gilbert’s a mopey jackass for whom wounded professional pride far outweighs the happiness of his wife and daughter. Rodrigue and Cornelia*** are plot-device NPCs and little more. Dedue is...well, actually, I do like Dedue, and I guess I can give this route props for the fact that it’s the only one where Dedue can have a happily ever after getting his gay on with Dimitri...but even then, Dedue is just a decent character, no better than that, certainly not worth enough to outweigh the wankery of even Gilbert alone.

And Dimitri as the central figure of the story is terrible. I’m sorry, I know he’s the most popular character overall in this game, and I know he’s, like, so bishy, but I said it and I stick by it: Dimitri sucks as a character. He may have an actual personality, unlike Edelgard, but that personality is EDGELORD SUPREME and it gets old fast. Not only that, but his descent into Kylo Ren imitation is poorly executed and immediate. The game is happy to tell you that there’s darkness underneath his initial noble veneer, but it’s the same as the game constantly trying to tell you how much Byleth is changing as an emotional being: you just can’t fucking see it. One minute he’s Little Lord Fauntleroy, the next minute he’s Red-Wine-Drunk Squall Leonhart, and there’s no damn authenticity to it. And the change’s spontaneity isn’t helped by how laughably facile its process is (“Oh hey Edelgard is evil WELP I GUESS IT’S TIME TO BREAK OUT THE OL’ KEFKA LAUGH”) and nonsensical (why is Edelgard being his enemy such a mind-melting concept for him? Even if he was clearly way more emotionally invested in their childhood friendship than she was, nothing about Dimitri’s interactions with her in the present time have given any indication that she holds such a vital place in his world view and perception of others that her betrayal would cause a mental breakdown!).

And why the hell does he just automatically assume that Edelgard was behind the Duscur incident when he finds out she’s been the bad guy of recent events? What put that idea into his head? I honestly don’t recall any explanation for why he jumped to that conclusion, aside from finding out that she’s evil. Edelgard doesn’t even do that stupid anime/JRPG thing where someone inexplicably doesn’t correct a misunderstanding because it’s narratively convenient to let it continue; she outright tells him, multiple times, that she had nothing to do with that Duscur shit, and he just ignores it, even though she’s pretty up-front about all the other crap she’s been up to once she’s exposed so why would she lie about that 1 thing alone?

The end of Dimitri’s character arc is pretty weak, too. It’s not as bad as his descent into Edgelord Madness, but Dimitri’s finally realizing that the world would seem a lot less dark if he were to try looking at it with his head not shoved up within the warm confines of his own ass is still a very quick process instigated by an event that doesn’t seem like it should have quite so powerful an effect. Sure, there’s every reason why he should be deeply affected by Rodrigue’s death, and the cycle of violence that led to it, but Dimitri’s given every appearance in his tiresome teen goth phase that Rodrigue, like everyone else, is not especially important to him, compared to his thirst for vengeance and the ghosts of the past and all that other bunk he’s always on about, so its ability to actually get through to him seems awfully unexpected, based more on narrative necessity than authenticity.

Only important unto itself, and defined by lacking elements...basically, the Blue Lions route is like my pet gecko’s tail. It’s there, it’s connected to the rest of her body, and it seems, at first glance, like it’s as substantial a part of her as the rest of her. In fact, to a dumb predator easily fooled by appearances, it looks delicious, or so zoologists say. But this appearance belies the truth: the fact is that the tail can be effortlessly and cleanly disconnected at a moment’s decision, and the rest of her body will continue functioning exactly as well without it. Additionally, for all the delectable meal it appears to be, that tail is actually mostly just fat and bone, with little in the way of substance to satisfy any who would consume it. If you’re playing Fire Emblem Three Houses as you read this rant, just save yourself some time and give a hard pass on the Blue Lions story.














* And the Blue Lions route isn’t even any use for answering that! He lost the damn eye offscreen!


** But spoiler alert, said player will be disappointed. It turns out that Hubie is pretty much a douchenozzle just because he is a douchenozzle.


*** Should’ve mentioned this earlier when talking about the lore issue, but I didn’t, and don’t feel like restructuring everything, so I’ll just briefly mention here: Rodrigue doesn’t really open up any greater insight into Felix’s psyche than what Felix’s Supports with other characters will reveal, and while Cornelia spills her guts on some secrets regarding (what else?) the Duscur thing, she doesn’t provide any better understanding of Those Who Slither in the Dark. So the mostly-route-specific NPCs are, as with everything else, relevant in ways solely contained within this story path.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Bravely Series's Convenient Battle System

You all know by now that I don’t play RPGs for the visceral so-called joys of their gameplay, a genre whose interface is based roughly 90% of the time on an inherently dull, plodding foundation. It’s just not what I like about the genre. But that doesn’t mean I can’t identify and acknowledge that some RPGs manage to arrange just enough tricks and features in just the right way to make them far closer to diverting to play than their peers. Do I appreciate the fluid, intuitive complexity of the Bravely games? The skillful way that Fallout 1 and 2 broke ground and developed a battle system that actually made fire-arms based turn combat work? The ability of Bahamut Lagoon to seamlessly bring tactical and turn-based systems together into a single entity? The way most Fire Emblems manage to offset a somewhat imbalanced difficulty with patently obvious ways to cheese your way through the game? Sure. Do I enjoy them? Nah, not especially.

...Although I do have to give it up for the extremely rare occasion that a developer brilliantly manages to create a battle system that subtly underlines and expresses major dimensions of its characters, or themes of the game as a whole. Like how Tales of Berseria’s aggression-based battle system is consistent with its protagonist Velvet, or the way Lunar: Dragon Song expresses its developers’ disdain for the human race in a careful symphony of infuriating gameplay anti-features.

So even though this sort of thing doesn’t affect my estimation of how good an RPG it is, I think it’s only fair to mention that the Bravely series has got a terrifically fluid, intuitive, and useful auto-battle system, especially Bravely Second. It is, in fact, pretty much the best example I’ve seen thus far in the genre.

First of all, let’s just acknowledge that the fact Silicon Studio bothered to do anything more than the bare minimum on this matter is laudable. In like 90% of the RPGs I’ve encountered with an auto-battle function, said feature basically just has everyone in the party mindlessly attack enemies until the battle ends in either victory or defeat. It’s just a more convenient version of mindlessly mashing the confirm button for every character over and over again, a process so simplistic that even most Kemco games possess it. KEMCO, for Abadar’s sake! And don’t get me wrong, I’m still appreciative of an auto-battle feature, even in its most basic form--I’d go so far as to say it and the battle speed option are tied as the very best characteristics of just about every game from Kemco’s catalogue--but actually taking steps to make the auto-battle commands in Bravely Default and Bravely Second anything more than just mindless Attack commands in succession represents an uncommon level of effort in this genre.

And that effort is spent so effectively! Silicon Studios makes the auto-battle system in Bravely Default so natural and handy. Just because you want a little more complexity to your battle performance than “everyone just hits Attack” doesn’t mean that every damn turn you take has to be a completely new strategy than the last--most of the time in an RPG, there’s only really a handful of combinations of characters’ abilities in a single turn that you’ll use with any great frequency. So Bravely Default’s clever way of handling auto-battle is to simply have your party repeat all their actions from the last turn again. Once you’ve explored BD’s shockingly complex and yet even more shockingly intuitive battle system enough, you’ll have a general idea of what effective strategies you want to repeatedly employ in most random encounters, meaning that getting to simply press a button to repeat them for as long as you want is incredibly convenient--and yet, since you can disengage and change tactics 1 turn, then repeat those new tactics over and over again, this gives you all the convenience of an auto-battle system with none of the limitations! And possibly best of all, you can keep using this repeated-turn system even in a new battle, without having to manually create the first turn you want reiterated each time.

And then Bravely Second improves the system even further by allowing you to not only select auto-battle to repeat a turn’s actions, but also have the option to select from 3 preset turn strategies you’ve designated for repeated use. So basically, all the benefits of Bravely Default’s take on the auto-battle system, combined with the functional convenience of a battle strategy system like Dragon Age 1’s tactics system--only also smoother and better designed.* You can preset 3 strategies that’ll presumably take you through most battles and have’em ready to go at the press of 2 buttons, any time you like, giving you convenience without sacrificing the ability to explore the many nuances and possibilities of the Bravely combat system.

It’s basically like Final Fantasy 12’s Gambits, if that system had been streamlined, attached to a well-constructed combat engine, player-friendly, and actually effective. And if the FF12 developers had possessed the collective 12 brain cells necessary to know that the Gambits should be optional, because otherwise it’s less like playing a video game than it is making some meek suggestions to a video game. And if the FF12 playing experience was good in any capacity whatsoever. So...basically like Final Fantasy 12’s Gambit system, but at the same time, absolutely fucking nothing like it, really.

And although I’ve spent most of this rant talking about how great the auto-battle system is with the Bravely games, I’ll also give major appreciation to the games for the fact that they also have a battle speed-up feature, too. I’ve already made my love for this function known in a previous rant, so no need to get into it here, but the fact that Bravely Default and Second have simple, effective fast-forward options as good as any I’ve seen in the genre is as valuable to me as their having such an effective and reliable auto-battle system.

Bravely Default and Bravely Second’s developers clearly had a lot of pride in the mechanics of their games, pride which is fully justified, as valuing gameplay conventions goes. But what I really appreciate about Silicon Studio is that they didn’t let that satisfaction blind them to seeking to make the playability of their games as convenient to the player as possible--no matter how proud they were of their creation, they didn’t hesitate to give the players a uniquely efficient set of tools to hasten our way through that creation to our content. Considering that over the course of both Bravely titles, I engaged in hundreds if not over a thousand random encounters, I feel significant gratitude to the developers who put these tools of convenience together. It feels like they valued my time.










* Don’t get me wrong, though, I think the DA1 tactics system is quite thoughtful and effective overall. And in fairness, while there’s a surprising level of innovative depth to the Bravely games’ combat, Dragon Age 1 still has a lot more going on in regards to what’s happening when, under what circumstances, and to what priority, so it’s pretty understandable that its use takes a little more work.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

General RPG Lists: Funniest RPGs

Happy New Year, Y'All!



I play RPGs for the story. I want to experience new ideas, to see a tale unfold that reveals the truths of the world and our species. I play RPGs for the characters. I want to see the heart of humanity, its every facet portrayed and its complexity multiplied through the factor of interaction and relationships. I play RPGs for the chance to learn about the human condition, and to grow as a person.

And, sometimes, I play RPGs for the yuks.

RPGs devoted to humor are not common by any measure. Oh, certainly, a well-written game will usually make use of humor to an effective degree in the course of its story, as a useful way of ingratiating characters to the player, and easing tension when necessary. Tales of Berseria and Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, for example, each contain no shortage of comical interludes in which the vibrant personalities of their casts bounce off one another in amusing ways, and scenarios of wacky hi-jinks (bro dat dove scene tho). And a less well-written game will also often attempt to force what it ineptly believes is a joke upon you over and over, recognizing neither the line between being funny and being pathetic, and the line between charming recurrence and obnoxious repetition. Tales of Symphonia, for example, really wants us to believe that Raine widening her eyes and babbling in a mildly comprehensible fashion about the archeological lore of its (kind of stupid) fantasy world is absolutely HILARIOUS. And Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4’s running gag of Yukiko being a fairly reserved person in general but laughing super hard when something does tickle her fancy...I think I was gracious enough to give a polite grunt that could be interpreted as a chuckle the first time I saw it, but that was about it.*

But while comedy is frequently a part of RPGs, as it is with most narratives, there aren’t a lot of games in the genre that devote a primary focus to it. Sure, there’s a lot of funny moments in The Witcher 3, but even though the scene where Geralt and his fellows get drunk is some of the funniest shit I have ever seen, it’s quite clear that The Witcher 3’s intent is to tell a serious story. Unexpected, referential, clever, and at times outright wacky moments of comedy are a defining characteristic of the Fallout series (too bad Bethesda can’t be bothered to figure this out), but even if it’s a necessary component to the Fallout formula, it’s not what the series is all about, ultimately. With most RPGs, levity is a tool, not a purpose.

But though they be rare, there certainly are some RPGs that make your laughter Job 1--or at the very least, an essentially equal part of the storytelling process as the more serious stuff. And today, we’re going to sort through them and figure out which are the greatest comedies of all, the hardest of knee-slappers, the most explosive of gut-busters, the most unruly of laugh-riots. These are the 15 Funniest RPGs!

Note: To qualify, the RPG in question has to be, like, at least about 45% devoted to “teh funneez.” It can also have more serious ambitions, too, but the comical must clearly be 1 of, if not the, most important components to the title. So, no matter how much I chuckle at Mint’s diverting shenanigans in Threads of Fate, the hilarious snark of Ryudo in Grandia 2, and the lovably amusing way Rei’s gluttonous 1-track mind keeps mishearing strange food versions of others’ statements in Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Q 1, none of these games is gonna make it onto the list, because even if in varying degrees they have lighthearted stretches, none can really be said to be at least half-ish about the comedy. I’d say that...lessee...Shadow Hearts 2 would be the cut-off point: SH2’s comedy is as pervasive as it can be without actually qualifying for consideration.

With that said, an RPG can be funny AND serious in decent enough mixture to qualify for this list. Secret of Evermore, for example, has a story that is primarily a straightforward adventure of a kid getting stuck in a magical other-world and having to find his way back home (the 80s and 90s certainly were very fond of this trope), but the protagonist is an idiot child who contextualizes everything he experiences against the standard of B movies, and his ever-present partner is a free-spirited dog who possesses possibly the highest disparity between “Trouble” and “What He’s Worth” that I’ve ever seen in a pet, so as a result, even though the story itself is pretty standard, the game as a whole still winds up qualifying for consideration simply because most of what these 2 idiots say and do is funny.



15. Bravely Second

You really have to hand it to Silicon Studio when it comes to Bravely Default. On so many levels, it’s the perfect Final Fantasy title, and within it, the developers seem to just effortlessly coordinate every aspect of a game into a cohesive whole. As a result, among other virtues, Bravely Default’s narrative and approach to characters had an undeniable charisma and personality.

And you have to then hand it to Silicon Studio again when it comes to Bravely Second, because they knew exactly how to follow up on such a grand epic as BD: they didn’t try to outdo themselves, but rather, took the strengths of the first product, and found a new way to play on those merits. And with that great personality of storytelling and characters, Silicon Studios made Bravely Second a fun mix of engaging adventure...and quirky comedy. Bravely Second uses its characters and situations to great comical effect (particularly Edea; God I love that girl), with its villains it frequently mixes dark pasts with moments or styles of levity with surprising success, it reuses supporting characters from the first game now with a comically light touch, and it wraps it all together by doubling down hard on Bravely Default’s fondness for puns. The devotion to amusing the player was an unexpected direction for the sequel to Bravely Default, but it really works, and Bravely Second will have you chuckling from start pretty much to finish.


14. Okage: Shadow King

Imagine if someone looked at Henry Selick’s career, and said to themselves, “Well, I like it, but what if, instead of a story that’s weird in an understated way about a bunch of quietly oddball characters that could’ve just as well starred in a Wes Anderson flick, we up the Quirk Meter to a 10 and everyone’s a wacky nutjob?”

When a game’s opening gambit is a girl getting cursed to speak only in pig-latin, with her parents’ reaction being to summon a self-important demonic spirit of evil to lift the curse (a deal which requires them to sell the son’s shadow as real estate to the evil spirit, which they’re more than happy to), you know you’ve found something special.


13. Mark Leung: Revenge of the Bitch

As time marches on, much of Mark Leung: Revenge of the Bitch’s jokes, which borrowed a fair bit from then-current events and internet culture, have become dated, and so it’s moved down on this list from where it might have been had I written this rant 10 years ago. In spite of that fact, however, MLRotB is still an obscure classic of comedy, following a grumpy, down-to-earth ginseng-harvester as he reluctantly travels a crazy world of memes and low-budget live-action cutscenes in order to stop a pushy cult from coercing people into eating their vegetables with the threat of turning them into cockroaches if they don’t. Incredibly silly and so heavy-handed that it can’t help but be all the more funny for it, I’ll always carry a torch for this bizarre little Indie title, and keep hope alive for a sequel no matter how unlikely.


12. Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages

Honestly, when I hear about a sci-fi combat flight sim starring space monks who bend the universe on a conceptual and spiritual level, my first thought isn’t, “That sounds like it’d be the perfect vehicle for lighthearted, random and off-beat comedy in a style not unlike Freakazoid or Monty Python.” Well, after hours spent watching my protagonist do stuff like get into a dogfight with the PTA as a tactic for aggressive salesmanship of DVORAK keyboards while a voice in their head pleads unendingly for peanut butter cups, in a galaxy where people view gun turrets as pets, all I can say is, shows what the hell I know!


11. Anachronox

Another RPG that draws you in with random weirdness in both its situations and characters, Anachronox also does a fine job of letting its characters’ amusing personalities bounce off each other and create laughs simply from working together. Additionally, the games I’ve mentioned so far are all very funny, and it’s obvious each time they’re telling a joke, but Anachronox is interesting, and perhaps a little funnier, for just how smoothly its comedy fits into its spontaneously silly universe--much of its comedy feels less like the writers maneuvered it into place, and more like these funny situations and interactions are simply the natural course.


10. Makai Kingdom

Nippon Ichi is a little bit overrated. People generally like to pretend that everything this developer’s created is gold, but only half of the NIS games I’ve played have been particularly good, and most of that inferior half’s titles were, frankly, quite bad.

But when Nippon Ichi is on point, it is on point. A story of quiet love and out-of-control egomania, Makai Kingdom brings NIS’s full talent for singular personalities and silly antics to bear, and it’s a hell of a humdinger. If the classic JRPG/anime approach to humor appeals to you at all, then Makai Kingdom’s gonna have you grinning over and over again.


9. Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle

I play RPGs all goddamn day long. Of course I’m gonna find especial enjoyment in a game filled with jokes that poke fun at the genre! So I might not be a particularly objective judge on this. But this naughty, full-hearted little Indie work of passion thoroughly charmed me, as much with its ever-present, lighthearted wit and whimsy as it did with its poignant romance and fascinatingly understated darkness.


8. South Park: The Stick of Truth

Look, it’s South Park. Do I really need to explain this?


7. South Park: The Fractured but Whole

The South Park RPGs are pretty close to equal in terms of how funny they are, but I think the sequel has the original beat just a bit. The Stick of Truth was great, but a lot of the time, it was very focused on jamming as much of the show’s history into 1 game as possible, and that meant that sometimes the joke was simply that there had been a joke at 1 point. Which is fine, honestly, because they did it mostly well enough, but still...The Fractured but Whole had only a few years’ worth of new material to do that with, so the game seemed to try harder to find new gags to pull with what it already had in place, and I think it succeeded. The Crab People as service providers in SPTFbW was funnier to me than their just existing for the hell of it in SPTSoT, for example. And at times, the sequel’s just funnier overall--I can’t remember any part of The Stick of Truth making me laugh as hard as Randy’s bit, or the raid on the police station, or the genetics lab in The Fractured but Whole.

But yeah, anyway, South Park. It’s funny shit.


6. Borderlands 2

After never getting off the ground during the original, the irreverent, off-kilter comical style of Borderlands really hits its stride in the second game, taking you across a wild planet and adventure filled with hilarious violent wackjobs constantly cracking wise at one another. It’s a real testament to Borderlands 2’s writers that this game’s as hysterical as it is, because, honestly, the format for its narrative is a huge impediment. 95% of the method of delivery for the game’s jokes (and plot, and character development, and everything else of mental substance) is, after all, just having some off-screen voices sporadically chatter at you as you wander around and shoot stuff almost entirely independently of their input. To have made that work as a storytelling design, those writers have got to be have been some high-powered comedians. But they managed it, and Borderlands 2 is an appealing off-road excursion in absurdity.


5. Disgaea 1

Nippon Ichi at its best. What more is there to say than that? There are multiple reasons why this is the game that really put them on the map, and its signature ludicrous mirth is definitely 1 of them.


4. West of Loathing

Off-kilter style. A fantastically effective use of stick figures. An utterly ridiculous (yet somehow very authentic-feeling) Wild West setting. A deeply clever narration. A perfect sprinkling of references and low-brow humor. Word play of such quantity and quality that I daresay Shakespeare himself would tip his hat. And glorious, glorious pottyspittoon-humor. You just aren’t gonna find many greater comedies in this world than West of Loathing.


3. Undertale

You know, when we think of Undertale, what we remember most is always the heavy, fascinating ideas and messages of the game. Or it’s the secretive, poignant lore. Or it’s the engaging, incredibly lovable cast. Or it might even be the chilling, disturbing other side of its coin. But what we so frequently forget--and I’m certainly as guilty of this as anyone--is that it’s also relentlessly goddamn hilarious. From dad jokes to jabs at RPG conventions, from engaging physical comedy to a gentle touch of absurdity, from funny memes** to characters so vivacious that you can’t help but laugh at their simply being themselves, Undertale is never at a loss for a way to tickle your fancy. When you see its jokes coming, you still giggle at their arrival because of just how appealingly they’re told. Frequently you’ll find yourself laughing in delighted surprise as a jape falls into your lap unexpectedly.

And it’s all so well-conveyed, so pleasingly accessible--with every other game on this list, the comedy feels as comedy usually does: like its creator is out to make you laugh (and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, of course). With Undertale, though, it feels like Toby Fox (its creator) is creating jests and hi-jinks that make him laugh, and he’s just eager to share them with us. I don’t know if that’s a good way to describe it, but the overall effect is very disarming, very much like a friend who thought of something hilarious by accident, loved it, and just has to pass that jocular appreciation on to you.

Undertale is a masterful work in a myriad of ways, and 1 of them is the effortless way it keeps you invested by putting a smile on your face with nigh every step.


2. The Kingdom of Loathing

Basically, everything positive I said about West of Loathing is true with Asymmetric’s original RPG, except that KoL is a browser-based MMORPG that has been going on for over a decade and a half now, so when you play it, you’re basically getting all the hilarity of West of Loathing in exponentially greater quantities.


1. Barkley: Shut Up and Jam Gaiden

It’s a cyberpunk RPG in which Charles Barkley, his son Hoopz, and a dwarf with a basketball for a face, among some others, fight to survive in a post-apocalyptic dystopia in which basketball has been outlawed for years, ever since Barkley performed a dunk with such power that it caused a nuclear explosion. The premise alone is a side-splitter, but what really makes this sequel to Space Jam filled with save points that write treatises to the failings of RPGs the unassailable king of comedy is that everything, everything, is played totally straight. It’s like someone wrote in earnest a solid cyberpunk adventure of regret, rebellion, and redemption, and then, when that first someone was finished, he got up to go celebrate its completion with a sandwich and a nice glass of ginger ale...and then some internet wiseguy grabbed the script, broke out a red pen and a bit of white-out, and went to town on it, changing the names and details of lore into a mad mixture of basketball and absurdity, while never altering the tone or style in any way. The end result is the most utterly, hysterically ludicrous story ever told, made all the more rich for the fact that the game’s acting as its own straight man the entire time.


Honorable Mention: Fallout: New Vegas’s Old World Blues Downloadable Content

Yeah, there are humor RPGs, but did you know there are also humor DLCs? It’s true. When I stop to think about it, there are a good handful of add-ons devoted to comedy. Mass Effect 3’s Citadel, Fallout 3’s Mothership Zeta,*** that sort of thing--and of course most DLCs for games like Borderlands, which are already devoted to comedy. So, might as well honor these, as well, right?

While not especially lacking in funny content as a whole, Fallout: New Vegas very unfortunately followed Bethesda’s lead far more than the original Fallouts’ when it came to humor’s place within it. The Old World Blues DLC, however, made up for lost time in a major way, with its goofy premise, a cast of delightfully bizarre mad scientists, and singularly hilarious supporting personalities, providing a merry experience from the moment it starts. Honestly, this add-on would win by virtue of Muggy alone.













* Now that I think about it...in spite of being a very good RPG as a whole, SMT Persona 4 was absolute shit at being funny, wasn’t it? Yukiko’s schtick is tedious. Occasionally poking fun at Kanji’s sexuality and masculinity just comes off as being tacky. The camping trip shenanigans are so overused and unfunny that they offend one’s dignity just to suffer them. There’s an NPC spontaneously thrown into the game solely so the writers can make fun of fat people.

And then there’s the game’s favorite by a wide margin, Teddy trying to hook up with chicks, which is quite possibly the most exhausted, loathsome, braindead “joke” ever conceived by the human species. I swear to the Loom-mother, whoever at Atlus came up with that bit, and then insisted that it be done over and over, should know nothing but suffering until the end of their days. I want them to be put through a deboning machine. I long for their days and nights alike to be defined by varying states of incontinence. I wish that sharks would learn to walk on land to the specific aim of tracking them down.


** Interestingly, I don’t feel like Undertale will ever suffer the same problem that Mark Leung: Revenge of the Bitch did, with its humor fading somewhat over time because of its basis in internet comedy, which is a famously temporary and constantly-shifting entity. I can’t say for sure, of course, as Undertale’s still relatively recent, but that’s the impression I get. I think the trick of it is that MLRotB used the entire, specific details of its memes, while Undertale kind of makes its humor from the core ideas and feelings of the social media humor it works with. Will the online landscape ever change to the point that Alphys announcing she has a picture of herself and then posting a pic of a trash can ever be dated? To some extent, I’m sure it will be, but most of the joke is rooted in a lighthearted moment of self-deprecation after making a gaff on social media, and I daresay that’s a feeling and intent that’s always going to have relevance.


*** Granted, Mothership Zeta was a colossal failure at being funny, but just because Bethesda’s capacity for joviality is strictly limited to companions’ quips, that doesn’t mean that Mothership Zeta didn’t count.