Monday, November 11, 2019


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...

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Asdivine 4's Characters

Oh, Kemco. If I were to liken you to any animal, it surely would be the mother bird, and we the gamers, your hungry chicks. We clamor constantly for a new meal, an RPG to play, and you sally forth in a frantic rush to provide, until you happen across a big, juicy RPG. You devour it, take in this succulent gaming morsel and delight in its many virtues, and then bring it back to we chicks. And then, you force-feed us the half-digested slop crammed in your gut that was once a proper, fully-formed RPG by vomiting it violently down our throats. The easier it goes down, the fewer nuances that we can experience of this basic decomposed matter that was once a distinguishable and perhaps even enjoyable game, the better.

And because your games are a mere $10 or less, we, like the chicks, settle for this method of satisfaction and cry out for more.

Asdivine Cross, the fourth game in the Asdivine series, is, admittedly, 1 of the better Kemco games I’ve played. That’s not much of a badge of pride, of course--it’s basically the same as saying that 1 soggy cracker is preferable over its kin because it happens to have a single grain of salt on it--but it does mean that its cast members are perhaps just close enough to being real characters that I can make a rant out of them, unlike Chronus Arc or Justice Chronicles or Grinsia or--actually, to save time, just find a list of all of Kemco’s games, and assume that at least half of them are so bland that even I can’t think of a witty insult for them. I mean, I haven’t played all of Kemco’s works by a long shot (and I do not intend to), but I’m willing to risk the assumption on this one.

Harvey: Harvey’s a pretty bland and uninteresting hero.

What’s that, you say? You’re tired of hearing me say that about almost every RPG protagonist I come across?

Yeah. Me, too.

Amelia: You know what’s a lot less funny than certain RPG developers think it is? Making the entire basis for your character’s personality and development the fact that they’re a well-meaning but highly ignorant moron. It’s like, yeah, this works for Fry from Futurama, or the eponymous Homestar Runner, but that’s because those guys are the main characters of comedies. But for a straightforward save-the-world fantasy RPG narrative, a perpetual bubblehead like Amelia just isn’t compelling, and her humor value doesn’t last for long, either.

Olivia: Apparently, the character artist for Olivia was so damn proud of that 1 profile pic where she’s glaring that they decided to base the entirety of her personality around it. Well, I want to complain about how empty and forgettable a character that makes her, but even a personality trait so small and meaningless as “Glares pretty well,” standing all by itself, makes her more interesting than Harvey, at least.

You think I should make a list of all the characters in RPGs I’ve come across who have exactly 1 defining trait to their personality, which is so meaningless and/or stupid that it renders them parodically absurd? Because Olivia here is far and away not the first time I’ve been reminded of Final Fantasy 8’s Zell Dincht, whose solitary memorable characteristic of wanting to eat low-quality hot dogs opened my eyes to just how low and lazy RPG writers could go to round out a cast. Maybe I could even make a list of the most utterly idiotic one-notes to base the entirety of your character around. Hey, I’ve made dumber list rants.

Lucile: Frankly, I’m pretty sure that Lucile, the tsundere loli masochist, who derives what can only be described as orgasmic pleasure from the act of receiving extreme harm, offers us way too intimate, way too accurate a window into the personal interests of at least 1 of the individuals on Kemco’s creative team.

Zig: This is not just an anime thing. Look, I know forgiveness is (As)divine and all, and I’m a strong believer in the idea that one should be allowed to seek penance for one’s prior sins, and do what one can to balance the scales against the wrongs that one has caused in the past. But everyone gets chummy with Zig awfully fast once he turns against the main bad guy, considering that Zig has spent the game wiping out half the populations of multiple villages of innocent people. Like, okay, let the guy live and give him the chance to do some good to counter the evil of his past deeds, but maybe hold enough of a grudge about the matter not to immediately hand him a fucking promotion the moment he says “Yeah, I guess random murder is wrong.”

Light Deity: I guess it’s innovative to have the being associated with light, instead of the being associated with darkness, turn out to be the main villain...

Too bad her reason for being evil turns out to be the same tired old “we gotta start over from scratch cuz humans suck” schtick that like 35% of all RPG villains go with, except somehow even more limp and flavorless than usual.

Aria and Nullus: I cannot help but feel like the huge plot twist that the creation deities you have to defeat in New Game+ are actually the Harvey and Lucile of a previous time cycle would have had just a tiny bit more of an impact on the audience if Aria and Nullus had not chosen to look exactly like they did when they were human.

Goddammit, Kemco.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

General RPGs' Frequent Use of Aliens

You know something? RPGs sure are strangely fond of including space aliens that are completely inappropriate to their narrative.

I mean, yeah, okay, you’d expect some aliens here and there in the genre, sure. No one playing the Mass Effect series is gonna be especially surprised that half the cast consists of various species of aliens. Nor will players be surprised that the same is true of Cosmic Star Heroine, the Phantasy Star series, and Anachronox. They’re all sci-fi RPGs, so it makes complete sense that they’d incorporate some aliens in their cast.*

And even in some non-sci-fi cases, it makes sense. The Fallout series, for example. Yeah, there’s nothing about a post apocalyptic nuclear wasteland that especially calls for space aliens, but Fallout’s biggest theme and purpose is an exploration of United States culture and history on all levels, and Americans have long held a fascination and affection for the idea of extraterrestrial life, so throwing in an alien here and there makes sense. A game like the first South Park RPG, or Sailor Moon: Another Story, is based on a franchise that has already incorporated aliens into its story in the past, so there’s nothing out of place with its doing so again Similarly, sometimes non-sci-fi RPGs will base a major part of their story around the concept of extraterrestrial life, such as Tales of Legendia and Final Fantasy 7, both of whose stories heavily incorporate the idea of extraterrestrial races having long ago come to an already inhabited planet, and influenced the direction of its history.

But beyond outright science fiction, and appropriate non-sci-fi settings where extraterrestrial elements are a significant part of the lore, have you noticed how common it is just to have random aliens thrown into the mix, for seemingly no reason at all?

Like, what is Starky doing in Chrono Cross? Don’t get me wrong, I actually do very mildly like the little guy (which by extension means that I guess he must be my favorite character), and Girtablulu knows that Starky is not even close to being the weirdest, most narratively inappropriate character in Chrono Cross’s cast. But what about the world and tone of Chrono Cross fits with a cute, amusingly weird little alien conqueror scout being incorporated into the plot, hm? The Chrono world might already have had some alien influence, admittedly, as Lavos is also an extraterrestrial creature, but the major difference there is, like Jenova from Final Fantasy 7, Lavos is the basis upon which the entirety of Chrono Trigger’s history and conflict is built. Starky the random alien, on the other hand, just comes from nowhere and goes nowhere.

And he is not alone. Think of the RPGs you’ve played, and all the unexpected, inexplicable aliens that come and go in them that are not only completely unnecessary to the story, but are, in fact, jarringly inappropriate to it. Why is 1 of the character choices in The 7th Saga an alien--what does it accomplish? Cute though he is, whatever purpose does Pupu in Final Fantasy 8 serve? Is it not more than a little immersion-breaking for a Legend of Zelda adventure to incorporate alien abductions into a major sidequest? How did anyone on the writing team think that the spontaneous inclusion of Muppy, possibly the most random-ass alien of them all, would be a good fit for the alchemy-themed fantasy Mana Khemia 1? I know I’ve pointed out the Wild Arms series’s typical inability to stay true to its purported setting, but even by its own loose standards, how the hell do random invading alien enemies figure into multiple installments of Wild West games?

There is someone, working somewhere in the gaming industry, who is grossly mishandling the Drake equation.

Wild Arms 2 can’t even be satisfied with the 1 random-ass alien invasion, in fact--it’s gotta have the inexplicable recurring alien enemies of the series, and a pair of random-as-fuck alien lizard-people doing mad science for the bad guys. Why couldn’t the villains of Wild Arms 2 get by with regular, human mad scientists? What about the plot of WA2 necessitated this normal role be filled by outer space scalies whose extraterrestrial nature had absolutely no relevance nor place in the game? Who was the guy/gal at Contrail who heard the phrase “Cowboy RPG” and immediately thought to themselves, “This calls for reptilian humanoids!”? Such questions are beyond our ability to answer.

I guess I don’t necessarily have something against this unusual trope of random aliens sprinkled haphazardly about, given that it at least only rarely breaks immersion badly enough that it’s actually detrimental to the storytelling process. But it is another entry in my ever-growing list of things about this genre that are really quite odd.

* In fact, what doesn’t make sense, really, is how often sci-fi RPGs don’t have proper aliens in them. Xenosaga’s civilization has managed to fill up the entire galaxy without finding a single non-human form of life that they didn’t create themselves, Borderlands appears to be much the same, and it seems like every world’s species in the Star Ocean universe is indistinguishable from humanity. It’s like you have less of a chance to see proper aliens in the sci-fi RPGs than the rest!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Final Fantasy 9's Fratley: My Hypocrisy in Disliking Him

My disliking a character that a game’s writers didn’t intend me to is not exactly a new thing. Usually, though, my unanticipated distaste is not something irrationally subjective, but based well enough on hard evidence and reasoning that I can defend my dislike to my satisfaction, as shown by my rants on such characters. That’s not to say that my opinions are entirely objective--I daresay I have yet to encounter a person so lacking emotion and personality that their opinions are not even a little bit subjective--but they’re well-supported enough that I feel I have at least met my own standards for rationale.

Nonetheless, we all have our failings, and playing The Witcher 3 has recently exposed 1 of mine to me: namely, my long-held disdain for Fratley.

In The Witcher 3, Yennefer of Vengerburg, a major figure in the Witcher novels, makes her entrance to the game trilogy, and she’s somewhat displeased with Geralt’s romantic actions in the past couple titles. See, Geralt has had a longstanding romance with Yennefer in the novels, ever since some business with a djinn bound them together in fate. While I have my own opinions on Geralt’s relationship with Yennefer, it is a fact that as of the opening of The Witcher 1, Geralt and Yennefer are together. As The Witcher 1 begins, however, Geralt has lost more or less all of his memories, including those of Yennefer...and over the course of the game, Yen’s best friend Triss takes distinct and repugnant advantage of that fact, and gets the horny dope to start a romantic relationship with her, which continues through the majority of the second game, until circumstances and Geralt’s returning memories draw the affair to a close.

Yennefer is understandably vexed by this.

She does not solely blame Triss, either. Upon their first real chance to converse, Yennefer makes a snide comment about Geralt’s lack of fidelity, and she brings this up a couple more times later on in the game, as well. You can decide what response Geralt has to this, but what seems the most typical response from players, and the defense that they themselves hang their hats on, is that Geralt doesn’t need to feel guilty for his episode with Triss, because he had no knowledge that he was being unfaithful due to his amnesia.

I myself take this stance. Triss may be a duplicitous fucking snake, because she knew damn well the nature of Geralt and Yen’s relationship and decided to take advantage of the oversexed sod anyway, but Geralt did not remember it, and because he did not, you really can’t say that he was capable of giving consent to the sex and relationship he entered into with Triss. The most basic, important aspect to the concept of giving consent is that you are informed enough and intelligent enough to do so. A child may very well agree with no coercion to have sex with an adult, and a dolphin may initiate a sexual advance on a human being, but even though each is voluntarily agreeing to or even asking for it, they are not capable of giving consent. The reason for this is that neither one is emotionally advanced enough to understand what they are getting into or asking for. They are not well-informed enough about the concepts of sex and love for their consent to count.* Likewise, in not remembering any detail of his personal relationships with others, Geralt is incapable of giving informed consent, so the fact that he willingly entered into a relationship with Triss while his mind was in such a state cannot, I think, be held against him, and while I sympathize with Yen’s hurt and frustration, she is not right to hold it against Geralt.

So, being that I am capable of this reasoning, why have I always held a grudge against Final Fantasy 9’s Fratley for breaking Freya’s heart by forgetting her? Why, indeed, am I still unable to relinquish my scorn for him?

Why can I forgive Geralt infidelity to the woman he loves during amnesia, and yet hold fast to my disdain for Fratley for having hurt Freya by forgetting about her during his travels? Fratley has not even unwittingly cheated on Freya the way Geralt has Yen, at least not that we know of. If anything, Fratley’s sin should be even easier to absolve in my mind than Geralt’s was. And yet I still blame him. I can accept Yen’s forgiving Geralt and the two of them being together once again, if that is the direction the player takes Geralt in romantically (even if, as I have said, it is not the choice I believe in), and yet Freya’s portion of Final Fantasy 9’s ending, in which she and Fratley are together once again even though he still doesn’t remember their history, is perhaps the 1 and only aspect of the brilliant game that slightly repulses me.

Seems hypocritical of me.

My inconsistency has bothered me greatly for a couple months now, as I should hope hypocrisy might plague the conscience of anyone, even on so small and unimportant a detail as a video game hobby. On thinking about it many times over a decent period of time, all I can say is that the situation with Fratley seems different to me, and in that difference my capacity for hatred makes its home. Fratley’s situation stands apart of Geralt’s, to me, for 3 reasons:

First, we actually do learn why Geralt lost his memories, and it’s a pretty legitimate reason, having to do with being kidnapped and brainwashed for a time by the Wild Hunt, whose dread magical powers are so terrifyingly advanced that most regard the Hunt as a supernatural, godlike force beyond mortal means to resist. Eredin, king of the Wild Hunt, put a hell of a whammy on ol’ Geralt, and his doing so is something we can easily accept the legitimacy of after the subtle but significant hype the trilogy has given to the Wild Hunt.

On the other hand, with Fratley, we never do find out what, exactly, it was on his journey that just up and caused his lifelong sweetheart to slip from his mind as though she were a loaf of bread he’d forgotten to write down on his grocery list. I mean, it is entirely possible that Fratley’s reason might be every bit as reasonable as Geralt’s, or even more so, but we never find it out! And when you get right down to it, in a circumstance like this, in which Fratley is the individual doing horrible emotional harm to Freya (even if inadvertently), the natural response for the audience is to blame him if sufficient context isn’t given.

It’s like, say, if I told you that some guy’s feelings were deeply hurt because his girlfriend cheated on him with another man. Your instinct, at knowing these very vague overall details, is to think that the woman is unarguably in the wrong. Yet it might very well be the case that the boyfriend is, in fact, a physically and emotionally abusive partner, who has destroyed the woman’s concept of self-worth and who uses the threat and occasional application of physical harm to repress her, while the man she cheats with sincerely cares for her, values her as a person, and makes her feel like a real human being again. With that context, suddenly our first instinct to think the adulterer is in the wrong melts away into sympathy (at least, I certainly hope it does). But, as a general rule, those who cheat are in the wrong, so although there are (sadly) many cases in which the circumstances more or less exonerate them, we comfortably retain our natural assumption that a cheater is in the wrong, unless better knowledge of the details proves otherwise.

That is, I think, part of why I don’t find myself able to extend the same forgiveness to Fratley that I do to Geralt for their similar crimes of emotionally hurting their lovers: because I know how it came about in Geralt’s case, and I can reason out that it’s not his fault. But without any knowledge of how Fratley came to forget Freya, all the context I have is a miserable, forlorn woman who deserves better, and the man who’s put her in this unhappy state. Is the truth of Fratley’s condition as understandable and forgivable as Geralt’s? It might very well be. He might even have a better explanation! But we’re never made privy to it, so my knee-jerk reaction of dislike has no concrete rationality to combat it.

Secondly, I think that there’s something to be said about the differences in how exactly Yennefer relates to Geralt, opposed to how Freya relates to Fratley. Yes, in each case the forgotten woman is the lover of the amnesiac, but the roles each plays in the lifestyle of each man are different. Geralt loses all memory of Yen and nearly all memory of everything else, but he does have, if I recall correctly, a vague understanding of his life as a witcher, even if all details and specifics of it are temporarily lost to him. Similarly, even though Fratley has lost almost all of his memories of his life, his sense of duty and his devotion to his country and its ruler nonetheless lead him back to Burmecia and Cleyra--he may not remember the how or why of it, but his need to protect his liege and his people is too ingrained in him to be forgotten, even when all else is. Both Geralt and Fratley have too much of themselves intrinsically tied with their life’s work to fully forget it.

The thing is, though...well, this doesn’t affect my forgiveness of Geralt for not remembering Yennefer, because although she has joined him many times in the course of his adventures as a killer of monsters, she’s not an intrinsic part of his profession and duties, the only part of him that he still seems to recall any vague concept of during The Witcher 1. But with Fratley...Freya’s not just his sweetheart, she’s also his fellow warrior and knight in service to the land and crown of Burmecia. And as such, it just sort of feels to me like there’s more reason to expect him to remember her, anything about her, even something just so small as the inkling that he had love by his side in his duty, or a feeling of missing something important even as he stands as the protector of Burmecia that he instinctively knows he is. I dunno, I can’t help but resent the fact that he could remember enough about his devotion to take up arms for his country as a knight once more, but his love wasn’t strong enough to piggyback on his sense of duty even when the woman he loved was directly tied to it.

Finally, and most importantly for myself, I dislike Fratley for why he was put into the position, whatever those circumstances may have been, to lose his memory in the first place. You can’t really fault Geralt for how he wound up in the Wild Hunt’s clutches--their king, Eredin, kidnapped Yennefer, and Geralt gave himself to Eredin in exchange for Yennefer’s life and freedom. Geralt may have inadvertently wronged his lover when he fell for Triss’s manipulations and began a relationship with her, but the only reason he had been cursed with the amnesia that allowed that to happen was because he had been trying to rescue Yen to begin with. The hurt he caused the woman he loved is, ultimately, the eventual result of a failed but nonetheless spectacularly courageous act of love on his part for her.

Sir Forgetley loses his memories of Freya because he decided to leave her behind while he tried to beat someone up who was minding their own business.

I mean, honestly. The guy went on a quest to challenge the famed knight Beatrix, not because he was ordered to, not because it was for the good of his nation, not because she was known to be a villain in need of vanquishing, but because he just wanted to see whether he was better at stabbing stuff than she was. For this purpose, Fratley left his kingdom without its (arguably) greatest defender. And more relevantly to this rant, for this purpose, Fratley left behind the woman who loved him so desperately that she outright told him that she feared she did not know how she would live without him while he was gone.

We don’t know what happened to cause Fratley to lose his memory, but we know how he got put in the position to do so, and exactly how understanding can we be, really, given the circumstances? Fratley’s leaving his woman behind without showing the slightest remorse for it nor regard for her feelings, and taking a deliberate risk that puts his home and everyone he knows in danger, all because he’s a single-minded boob for whom beating other people up takes precedence over the happiness and well-being of his loved ones. Good fucking God do I hate the Goku/Vegeta/Bakugo/etc. anime archetype, the dumbass characters with such tiny micro-dicks and/or undeveloped micro-brains that they can't find any security in their manhood unless they can violently prove to themselves that they're stronger than anyone else, regardless of the cost to those around them. What the hell is up with Japan's obsession with them?

So the basic breakdown of this is, Geralt lost his memory because he threw himself at impossible odds against a foe regarded more like a force of nature than something that could be fought, for the sake of his beloved’s safety...while Fratley, on the other hand, lost his memory because he was busy LARPing as his favorite Dragon Ball Z character. Maybe he was jealous of Zidane’s origin story and felt the need to prove that he was the number 1 Goku fanboy around.

And that’s pretty much all I have to defend myself with on this subject. Those are, as far as I can tell, the 3 reasons I can forgive a character like Geralt for inadvertently causing his lover pain through his amnesia, but cannot forgive Fratley for essentially doing the same. Are they good reasons? No. I know they aren’t. One’s better than the others, but I know that they’re more emotional than rational, and I know that in the end, unless I’ve been a hell of a lot more convincing than I think I have and unless you’re a hell of a lot more lenient than expected, I am a hypocrite for holding a grudge against Fratley. The reasons I’ve listed mitigate my hypocrisy a little; they do not absolve it. Final Fantasy 9’s Fratley is simply a pitfall for me, a failing of mine as The RPGenius. Just how it is.

* This statement, of course, is highly generalized and thus potentially somewhat faulty, and then there’s the whole highly arbitrary nature of exactly what the age of consent is from 1 country to another, but as that’s not the subject of today’s exploration into ethics, we’re just gonna use the perfectly serviceable blanket statements and scenarios for now.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Radiant Historia's Remake's New Content and Add-Ons

Radiant Historia, 1 of the best Nintendo DS RPGs made and a personal favorite of mine, was recently rereleased for the 3DS, updated with a lot of new content. And I bought it. Which is something I really never do, honestly, because I’m opposed to the idea of having to pay multiple times for the same game, and I am morally outraged by the scenario of a developer coming up to me 10+ years after I helped support them with my patronage and telling me, “PSYCH! You think you played our game? That was just an incomplete first draft; THIS is how it was made to be played! Fuckin’ rube!” You wanna rerelease your game, fine, but could you maybe not go and add a bunch of new story content to it and make me feel like a fucking fool for having paid full price for what was apparently an incomplete product?

That’s not to say, I guess, that I’ve never purchased remakes before, in the technical sense. I did so for Skies of Arcadia, Romancing Saga 1, and Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, after all. But the difference there is that I had never played those games’ original versions, so for me, I was, indeed, getting a new game for the price of a new game. With Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology, however, I decided, on something of a whim, to purchase the new release, even though I had already bought and played it before. I really did love RH the first time around, so I figured, what the hell, I’d play the role of the non-thinking consumer just this once, as a thank-you to Atlus for it and the SMT series in general.

And so I bought it, and I played it, and I finished it. I’d planned to do a DLC rant on it anyway, as I do for pretty much any RPG I play which has add-ons, so why not also talk about the new content added to the main game, too? These add-on rants are meant to be kind of a review/warning for prospective buyers, anyway, so in addition to determining whether you should consider buying the DLCs for Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology, let’s also take a look at the remake’s new content as a whole, and figure out whether any of it’s worth it.

Spoiler Alert, here. I’m gonna speak about this game with the understanding that you already know the original release of Radiant Historia. I’ll try to keep spoilers for the new content to a minimum, but if you don’t know the game at all, this is not the rant to read for it--or at least, you should skip to the end, to determine whether you should play this port or the original.

New Content: First of all, I’ll credit Atlus with this: they ain’t SquareEnix. Although I would rather a developer not add/change anything when rereleasing a game, if they’re gonna do it, they should at least go all in. When SquareEnix, lazy pack of greedy asswipes as they are, rerelease a game, they basically just slap on a new optional dungeon, maybe a couple extra lines of dialogue to a super boss or two, and call it a day. I mean, Jesus, look at the Chrono Trigger DS rerelease. In SquareEnix’s eyes, 2 dungeons and some incredibly half hearted foreshadowing for a game that already came out over 10 years before is more than worth hitting your bank account for 40 HP. And let’s not even get into the debacle of CT’s recent release on Steam--if you somehow, after the past 25 years, still needed evidence that SquareEnix does not and never will give half a shit about its greatest creation, you sure as hell got it in February of this year.

Atlus, on the other hand? When Atlus decides to rerelease their time-travel classic, they add a bonus dungeon and a new super boss...and also voice acting, new character art, several pieces of art of important moments in the game, over 2 dozen new sidequest scenarios, a huge expansion of the known lore of the world, a new look at several of the preexisting villains as well as a perspective on a vital lore character never seen in the original game, a new hugely important character, and an entire new dimension to the plot that involves a post-game quest which leads to a new, final ending.

See, SquareEnix? This is what “effort” looks like. If you’re still confused, try consulting with your Silicon Studio team or your PlatinumGames group; apparently they’re the only people who have passed through your offices in the last 2 decades who have any familiarity with that term. And while you’re at it, maybe consult with them about the definition of “quality” and “dignity”, too.

So yeah. Atlus at least gave a shit about Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology, and I can appreciate that. And I do have to say, a decent amount of Perfect Chronology’s new content is pretty good. Getting to see alternate worlds and explore snapshots of RH’s characters and events in the different scenarios than the main timeline allows for, histories with variations outside of Stocke’s control, is kind of neat at times. And I appreciate the fact that these little sidequests often require you to traverse back to the main timelines to complete them, because it helps keep your time spent with these possible histories connected to the main game--it would be all too easy to make these sidequests feel alien and divorced from the main narrative, given their nature as new content, so having you do the usual back-and-forth hopping through history for them, like you do normally in the game’s main story, is good for keeping them grounded.

I also think it’s very cool that the rerelease finally allows you to see and engage with the Prophet Noah in these possible histories. Noah’s lack of appearance in the original game wasn’t a flaw or anything, mind you (it’s a pretty vitally important plot point, in fact), but it’s nonetheless very cool to have the opportunity to actually see and hear this individual whose influence is so hugely important to the game’s lore. And while we’re talking about new characters being introduced, I do quite like Nemesia--she feels pretty superfluous at first, I’ll grant you, and a little bit out of place, but her personality and her character history wound up being a definite positive to Radiant Historia. Finally, it’s cool that the new content actually allows you to see the post-apocalypse world of Radiant Historia. I never realized that getting to actually experience the world’s ruin firsthand was something missing from Radiant Historia’s original iteration, but in retrospect, it really was. There’s only so much you can really get from having 2 time guardian elf kids tell you over and over about the world’s desertification--far better to actually allow the audience to see it, feel its desolation. This new addition to RH isn’t a masterful narrative stroke like Chrono Trigger’s revelation of 2300 AD was, but it’s certainly a plus.

I like the voice acting, for the most part. I think Raynie should have a slight accent to fit her dialogue, I guess, but overall, everyone pretty much sounds the way they should, and does a competent job. The game’s better for it.

That’s the good stuff. The meh stuff would be the new bonus dungeon (it’s boring), the new artwork (you get used to it, and in a couple cases I even prefer it, but overall, the original RH’s character art was a perfect signature to the game’s atmosphere), and several of the ways that the new post-game content interacts with the story. It’s like...I’m okay with the idea of redeeming Queen Protea, but it feels pretty spontaneous and tacked-on. Redeeming Dias and Selvan seems even more unnatural, and stretches the already difficult-to-swallow concept of Stocke’s actions in different histories having echoes in other timelines a little too far.

And come ON, Atlus, are you for real? Redeem Protea, okay, her flaws weren’t beyond overcoming. Redeem Dias and Selvan, well, I don't like it, it’s not realistic for their characters, but at least Dias and Selvan were always interesting in the fact that, duplicitous snakes though they always were, they had moments of depth through which you could see a greater regard for their nation than you would expect from an otherwise 1-dimensional villain. But Hugo? Hugo as redeemable? Hugo as redeemable because he actually was devoted to the Prophet Noah? Are you shitting me? If ever the human race creates a Virtual Olympics, then Japan would do well to send the RH rerelease writers as their representatives, because to look at Hugo’s actions and words throughout Radiant Historia and say he was doing it all for his misguided belief in Noah instead of just using Noah’s name and image as an excuse for his own ambitions requires some gold-medal-level mental gymnastics.

And that’s my transition into the negative parts of this rerelease’s additional content. I like a lot of the new content, I like the new characters associated with it, and I think most of the new lore it introduces is alright. But the problem is that it all is tied to the purpose of the new, post-original-game quest and “true” ending. And honestly, it’s just not right. Radiant Historia’s original true ending was excellent, a perfect blend of happy conclusions with bittersweet moments of longing, culminating in a redeeming sacrifice that fully embodied the idea that while it’s not right to be forced to give your life for something as immaterial as a cause or a concept, willing sacrifice for the people and places we know and love is a beautiful and noble thing. Radiant Historia’s original true ending was an excellent conclusion, and more than that, it was exactly the right conclusion for the game, invoking feelings both joyous and melancholic perfectly in tune to the game’s atmosphere, and embodying its themes and purpose. It was a happy ending, but not a homogeneously happy ending, and that was what was really right for the game.

The new ending to Radiant Historia is just positive, no mixture of the bittersweet to it. And, I mean...I like it, I do. I like happy endings! I almost always want everyone to come out of a story well off. But more than my subjective desire for positivity from my RPGs’ conclusions, I prefer an ending which is right to the game, that concludes the game in a way that is true to its tone, direction, heart and soul, and one which underlines the purpose of the story. And while this new True Ending honestly is a pretty decent finale, and is more purely happy...ultimately, it’s just nowhere near the original True Ending, and replacing the latter with the former is a serious negative to Radiant Historia. The original simply had more substance.

Also, of less importance, there are a few aspects of this new ending that don’t add up for me. Like, first of all, there’s not even a mention of Kiel in it. Stocke’s achieving the impossible in the original ending by managing to save Kiel and the rest of Rosch’s troop was a linchpin of the game’s conclusion, a final example of just how great and impressive a man and wielder of time Stocke truly was. I guess we can assume that Stocke does the same thing this time around, but still, it’s really weird that the new True Ending wouldn’t even acknowledge Kiel’s fate when it was such a huge turning point in the story and conclusion.

Also: seriously, Stocke and pals? You didn’t tell Viola that [name redacted]’s alive? Fucking HUGO gets to know, but Viola doesn’t? You complete assholes.

Finally, while I do overall like the new information about RH’s setting provided with this port, all the stuff about the empire that caused the desertification...I have to say, the history of the Red Chronicle and the truth of the desertification’s cause is a bit out of place. It’s okay, I guess, it just feels like it was designed for a different RPG. And the fact that it also allows us to boil down the problem of solving the desertification to “kill a big monster” feels pretty damn cheap. That’s like the oldest RPG cliche in the book.

Anyway, that’s about all I have to say about the new content to the game. Let’s move on to DLCs.

Bathing in Mana: Oh for fuck’s sake, Atlus. A bathing spring fanservice DLC? Are you fucking kidding me? Jesus fucking CHRIST. It’s bad enough when this shit shows up in SMT Persona, or Fire Emblem, or Tales of games, but as much as I hate them there, those are RPGs that make it a point to include sexuality into their nature, in at least some tiny part. Radiant Historia just doesn’t DO that. It’s not what it’s ever had the slightest interest or focus on! Why not just make a DLC with a fucking car chase? Throw some ninjas, spaceships, and bright cartoon ponies in while you’re at it! It’d be just as in character to Radiant Historia as a fucking fanservice bathing DLC!

(╬ ಠ益ಠ)

Do you SEE what you made me do, Atlus!? 12 years of self-control, 12 years of suffering the slings and arrows of EA, SquareEnix, Bioware, Kemco, whoever the inhuman monsters were who created Lunar: Dragon Song...and YOU, Atlus, YOU are the one to reduce me to the helpless fury of EMOTICONS.

Ugh. Alright, so, surprise surfuckingprise, this DLC is worthless garbage! Who could have possibly guessed? The conversations you can have with each of the characters mostly just retread old ground; there’s nothing there that actually develops them at all. In fact, here, I’ll just tell you them all so you don’t have to buy this garbage: Marco thinks about the fact that he’s the team healer and decides to drink pool water, Aht says she’s gonna be a shaman and demands that Stocke wash her as the FBI breaks your door down, Rosch hammers home the fact that he and Stocke are war buddies and is concerned about how to treat Sonja right, Eruca confirms those awkward suspicions we’ve always had that she’s not quite 100% romantically disinterested in her brother, Gafka is a damn dirty ape, Nemesia is an exposition machine, and Raynie wants Senpai to notice her.

Also, I’m reeeeeeeaaaaaaally not comfortable with seeing a full-on shot of 9-year-old Aht’s bare satyr butt and topless back. Keepin’ it classy there, Atlus.

Credit where it’s due, I guess: Eruca actually does converse about her personal maid and their history together, which is something new for her character, and not unwelcome, although also pretty unnecessary. And I guess it’s at least refreshing that this is an equal-opportunity fanservice event--most of the time, these things are obviously geared entirely towards showing off the female cast members, but Bathing in Mana doesn’t hold back with the shirtless, wet beefcakes, containing scenes for Rosch, Stocke, Marco, and Gafka that, if anything, are more fanservice-y than most of the women’s scenes.*

But yeah. This DLC? Garbage. Don’t buy.

Rage of the Fallen: This little DLC costs $2.50. That’s not much, but it’s still more than this thing’s worth. Rage of the Fallen isn’t bad, exactly, but there’s just absolutely nothing to it--you go through a small dungeon, you rescue Aht and Marco, and Aht fixes a problem with a lost soul. There’s no real character development for Aht or Marco, or at least, nothing that isn’t already covered much more comprehensively during the main game, and the adventure itself doesn’t have any sort of message or interesting angle to it. You simply gain absolutely nothing from playing Rage of the Fallen, plain and simple. It wouldn’t be a waste to play if you got it for free, but there’s nothing here worth even a dime of your money.

Under the Moonlight: Also $2.50, this package is a little better than Rage of the Fallen. I guess. Basically, you get to see Stocke have an intimate conversation with either Raynie or Eruca while on a mission, and then you complete that mission by beating some guys up. The conversation with Raynie is a complete waste of time--she basically just asks Stocke about whether he’s given thought to his future after the conflict, and then brings up the possibility that they could be together at that time, and Stocke agrees. It’s nice and romantic, yes, but it’s also essentially just a copy of the same interaction they have in the main game, on the same topic. Were the writers really just that out of ideas for how Stocke and Raynie could interact? Eruca, at least, has a conversation that develops her character to a small degree, as well as her former relationship with her brother, and it’s pretty sweet. I don’t think that’s really worth 2 and a half bucks, but I could at least see this as being worth it if it ever went on sale, at least for Eruca’s side of the DLC.

Meeting in the Chasm: Ah, now, see, this one’s actually kind of good. It gives you a more personal perspective on the events in Nemesia’s past that led to the whole desertification thing and her quest with the Red Chronicle, which is good, and although it’s a quick and simplistic quest (basically just beat up a couple bad guys and watch the cutscenes), it feels like this event actually means something, since it’s the event that ties Stocke and Nemesia’s destinies together. At 15 to 30 minutes long, Meeting in the Chasm is criminally short for $2.50, honestly, but...I reckon the content is just decent enough that it wouldn’t be a mistake to purchase it. Certainly the best of these add-ons thus far.

Settling the Score: You show up to help Rosch and Gafka, and beat up a bunch of enemies who became time ghosts because they’re annoyed that Stocke killed them. If that only sounds a little boring, then I’ve definitely oversold this last DLC. Don’t bother with it.

So, what’s the verdict? Well, as far as the main new content of Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology goes, it’s neither good overall nor bad overall. The new conclusion is just a huge black mark against this port of a game that ended perfectly in its original form, and there are some other problems with the newer content, such as an insistence on redeeming villains who frankly just don’t seem like they would ever want that redemption. And honestly, there are times when Nemesia’s story of saving the world almost seems to be trying to turn Radiant Historia into a kind of RPG that it wasn’t meant to be.

On the other hand, though, expanding the history of the game’s world, adding in all these other snippets of possible histories, and the addition of Noah and Nemesia are all positive qualities. So in the end, I guess I would say that anyone who hasn’t ever played Radiant Historia before might want to play this version...but anyone who has played the original, or is considering playing the original instead because they have less expensive access to it, should not worry that they’re missing anything vital. All that really matters, honestly, is that you do play Radiant Historia, in 1 form or the other.

The downloadable content situation, I am less positive about. It’s not the worst pack of add-ons Atlus has come up with, but there’s really only a single DLC in this bunch that’s really worthwhile--and strangely, that’s the 1 that focuses entirely on the new character Nemesia. That’s the major problem with the rest of these packages--they don’t have any idea what to do with the major characters of Radiant Historia, the ones you know and like best. Either the DLCs just don’t do a damn thing with the characters they’re supposed to be focused on (Marco, Gafka, Rosch), or they just repeat characterization moments that you’ve already seen in the main game (Aht and Raynie). They’re clearly just a lazy cash-grab, as is so frustratingly often the case with downloadable content. You get a D- on Radiant Historia’s add-ons, Atlus.

I miss The Witcher 3.

* “Most” being an unfortunate key word here. To my resigned annoyance, Aht is by far the most exposed of the cast in these things.

1 of these days, the entire nation of Japan is gonna get invited to sit down and have a cookie with Chris Hansen.

Monday, October 8, 2018

General RPG Minigames 12: Golden Ring Rotation

Every time I write 1 of these Minigame rants, I hope, I pray, I plead with merciful and holy Palutena herself, that this will be the last. That I’ll never again encounter an RPG minigame so detestable and frustrating that I must document my uncompromising loathing for it. That game developers will finally learn to stop shoving these inexplicable, time-wasting obstacles into their creations that interrupt what might otherwise be a successful narrative flow. That it’s all Gwent, Triple Triad, and Tales of Dragon Buster from here on out. Alas, it is a sad fact that while she is good and wonderful, Palutena is also highly whimsical and mischievous, not to mention fictional, and so, here we are once more.

Among certain other traits ineptly copied from Kingdom Hearts, Sweet Lily Dreams is infested with puzzles and minigames which range from the slightly tolerable (mixing potions with Dr. Jekyll) to the infuriatingly tedious (swamp island hopping). By far the biggest pain in the ass, however, is the very first puzzle in the game, in which you must rotate several golden rings to correctly form an image out of a series of angled symbols.

And it is fucking bullshit.

This is a pretty visual thing, so here’s a video of someone else doing the puzzle, to show you how it basically works--you needen't watch the whole thing being done if you somehow aren't utterly enthralled by the action and excitement of a rotating puzzle ring, but you can at least get the idea:

The idea is that you’re trying to get it to look like this:

This sounds simple enough, but one quickly finds that it’s incredibly frustrating, for a number of reasons. First of all, the degrees of articulation that these rings have is way, way too fine. This isn’t like some puzzle where you get a limited number of directions that each piece can face in. If that were the case, if each piece could only face in, say, a dozen directions, then this wouldn’t be so bad. But because you can rotate these things to such a degree of detail, that means that actually locking aring into the exact right position is a long, tiresome ordeal of trial and error. You can have everything lined up in a way that really does look right, but because the minigame requires such an exact position for every ring, you could be off just a few tiny degrees, which is enough to keep you from passing. You need to get it pretty damn close to pixel-perfect with the positioning in this minigame, and when you combine that with such a complete control of each ring’s tiniest movement, you’ve got the potential for huge frustration.

Second, look at that damn image, and watch the video. The image you’re trying to form is intricate, complex, and overly confusing. It’s all a bunch of interlocking Starfleet triangles and lines that have barely any distinguishing differences from 1 area of the image to the next. It’s hard to distinguish a useful point of reference in the correct image to start your reconstruction from, and because it’s all the same color and a bunch of similar shapes and angles, it’s a constant struggle to figure out whether you’ve actually formed the right lines and shapes, or whether you’ve just made a bunch of triangles that are similar to what you’re supposed to have made, but not quite it. You know you’ve got something about this wrong, because the game hasn’t ended, but since everything needs to be so damn exact, as I stated above, you’re never entirely sure whether you’re just a tiny bit off because it has to be exactly right, or whether you’re completely off and just can’t tell because all the goddamn yellow triangles look the fucking same!

Third, and most damning, this is all assuming you even know what the fuck this Telly Monster wet dream is supposed to look like in the first place. The game itself sure as hell doesn’t let you know! Seriously! You’re thrown into this damn minigame blind, clearly expected to form this pixel-perfect picture from nothing more than being able to determine which lines connect perfectly where--except that everything looks the fucking same! Not to mention there are pieces of the correct image that stick out without connecting to anything, so if you’re working with the perfectly rational assumption that everything should connect together, you’re never going to get it right. I haven’t found any image in the room with the puzzle of what it’s supposed to look like, there’s no written clue anywhere (not that you could really describe this image through text anyway), there’s no locking sound or chiming or anything when you’ve slid 1 of the rings into the right’re just going in totally blind on this. Did Roseportal Games actually intend for players to experience the rest of the game? I nearly put a fist through my monitor just trying to win at this damn minigame, and I was working with the solution image provided in the Sweet Lily Dreams walkthrough! I can’t imagine how someone was actually supposed to get past this point of the game organically!

The placement of this minigame is utterly idiotic, I’d like to add. I mean, come on, Sweet Lily Dreams has almost a dozen different minigames/puzzles in it. Why pick this obstacle in particular to be the introduction to the idea that this is a minigame-heavy RPG? I may not have participated in nearly enough football games to suffer the brain damage necessary for me to say that any of SLD’s minigames are enjoyable experiences, but any of them would have been a better choice as an opener than this fucking golden ring bullshit. By the time you hit upon this thing, you’ve been playing, what, an hour? Maybe not even that. You’re not invested enough in the game that you have any reason to persevere over a minigame this intensely frustrating. I mean, okay, clearly I did, but you have to remember, I played Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood from start to finish: I’m clearly an idiot. At the very least, Roseportal Games should’ve made this ring turning nonsense one of the last minigames, hit you with it only after you’d committed too much time to this subpar RPG to turn back. Anyone with a healthy possession of common sense and without an RPG obsession will seriously consider quitting on an RPG where this kind of crap is dumped on them right from the start.

At least you only have to do this stupid shit once in the game, unlike Spheda or most fishing games. Nonetheless, Sweet Lily Dreams’s golden ring rotation is easily 1 of the absolute worst mandatory minigames I’ve come across in over 350 RPGs. I knew this game was supposed to involve themes of abuse, but I thought that just meant, like, as part of the plot and stuff. I didn’t realize that Sweet Lily Dreams was going to have the players experiencing it firsthand!

Friday, September 28, 2018

Fallout 4's Railroad Faction: Why I Side with Them

Maybe someday I’ll write a Fallout rant that isn’t 5+ pages long. You never know. It could happen.

Definitely not today, though.

Fallout 4 allows you to select from 4 separate factions to determine the fate of the post-apocalyptic Commonwealth of Massachusetts. You can choose the Minutemen, which is basically a collaborative military force of the Commonwealth’s farmers and other common populace all pooling their resources to become a self-sufficient and protected series of communities. You can support the Brotherhood of Steel’s east coast chapter, fresh from Fallout 3’s Capital Wasteland. You can side with the Institute, who see the future of mankind in scientific advancement and replacement. Or, you can throw your lot in with the underdogs of the struggle, the Railroad, whose goal is to be the champions of Synths, helping them to live safe, sound, and most importantly, free.

This sounds like a fair number of choices, of course, as many as Fallout: New Vegas offered, and technically it is, but the less ambiguous ethics of Fallout 4’s factions means that, ultimately, it actually becomes a choice between 2 groups, instead of 4. If you’re playing an immoral, evil character, your only options are: A, the Institute, which remorselessly commits atrocities regularly against the people of the Commonwealth and values directionless scientific advancement toward some intangible, undefined ideal of future human perfection over the actual, living human beings working and suffering to make a decent, livable society in the Commonwealth, or B, the Brotherhood of Steel, which has been twisted and ruined by its current leadership, becoming a fanatical military group of bigots who define humanity by specific genetic conditions rather than valuing self-aware intelligence and empathy wherever it may be found.* And if you’re playing as a character who is not a complete asswipe, your choice is between the Minutemen and the Railroad.

Comparing the Minutemen and the Railroad, the choice seems simple enough. While it’s clear that the Railroad has a noble cause in standing up for the Synths’ freedom and wellbeing, as any organization trying to assist slaves and the downtrodden is noble, the Minutemen, pound for pound, accomplish the greater good with their cause. The Minutemen provide protection and stability to the entire region’s otherwise vulnerable settlers, farmers, and traders. They help establish and build settlements, they directly oppose hostile elements that prey on the weak like raiders and super mutants, they send armed patrols through the Commonwealth, they establish trade routes and lines of communication between settlements, and they jump to assist towns and settlements even outside of the ones who have agreed to be a part of their alliance. Well, okay, you do a lot of that stuff yourself as the protagonist, but, y’know, the idea is that the Minutemen as a whole are doing that. They oppose the Institute because it threatens the entirety of the Massachusetts populace. In essence, the Minutemen are helping pretty much everyone, by default including what Synths the Railroad has freed and established in the Commonwealth, and on top of that, they’re establishing an overall society from which higher levels of safe civilization can emerge and prosper.

The Railroad, on the other hand, just frees a very specific group of people** from slavery, and tries to keep them safe. They oppose the Institute specifically because it enslaves those people, not necessarily because it’s evil overall. Agan, this unequivocally makes the Railroad a morally good cause, and were it just them, the Brotherhood of Steel, and the Institute, there would be absolutely no question which faction was the right one to side with. And to some extent, they’re still laudable even by comparison to the Minutemen, for the people of the Railroad are putting their lives on the line by directly opposing the greatest threat (the Institute) with the least resources to do so. More than that, they are the sole voice and shield for an entire race of oppressed people. Even the Minutemen are at best ambivalent about Synths, so without the efforts of the Railroad, a great number of conscious, feeling, thinking people would be utterly helpless to escape from their enslavers. Though in some ways the Railroad can be criticized for turning its back on the regular people of the Commonwealth (although what exactly people expect this tiny, frugal coalition of mostly non-fighters to do about the grand problems the Commonwealth suffers through is beyond me), in other ways they are more noble than even the Minutemen, for the Minutemen themselves do stand to benefit from their good deeds, while the Railroad’s members risk everything completely selflessly, having nothing to gain personally from helping the Synths who cannot help themselves.

Regardless of whose ideals are truly higher, though, it’s quite clear that the Minutemen do the greatest good for the greatest amount of people. The Railroad performs a service to freedom and morality that the Minutemen do not in freeing and specially safeguarding Synths, but the Minutemen perform many more acts of good that the Railroad does not. So, ultimately, if the issue of deciding which faction to support in Fallout 4 truly was a question of which one was better, I would wholeheartedly advocate choosing the Minutemen as the faction you ally with to take down the Institute and save the Commonwealth. Completely and totally.

The thing is, though, that unlike all other faction combinations, with the Railroad and the Minutemen, it’s not an either-or scenario.*** And that being the case, the fact is that the Sole Survivor can do the most possible good for the Commonwealth, short and long term, by allying with the Railroad.

Let’s examine the goals of the Minutemen, shall we? Ultimately, the Minutemen want a safe, stable Commonwealth civilization in which everyone is free and secure to pursue a positive life. In pursuit of that end, the Minutemen need several things to happen. They need a strong and dedicated leader to take the reigns of their group. They need to retake their old base of operations, the Castle. They require settlements across the Commonwealth to pledge to support the Minutemen. By extension, the Minutemen want those settlements linked, by trade and other social relations, and built up to be strong, productive, and self-sufficient. The Minutemen want to force the predators of the weak and innocent out of the Commonwealth--the raiders, the Gunners, the super mutants, etc. They need to establish a strong and large enough force to send patrols through the Commonwealth to keep its roads and ruins secure. And, of course, the Minutemen must bring about the end of the Institute. With all of this accomplished, the Minutemen will have the strength and momentum as a military force and as a collaborative union of the people of the Commonwealth to build a greater community of the Commonwealth’s citizens.

Here’s the thing, though: all of that can be accomplished for the Minutemen, without actually choosing them as your endgame faction.

If you support the Railroad instead of the Minutemen, very little changes for the latter. Even while committed to your alliance with Deacon’s bunch of Synth-loving super spies, you can still accept the role of and act as the General of the Minutemen. You can help Preston and his Minutemen buddies retake the Castle, and then help them to reestablish it as their HQ. You can dive into radiant quests and settlement building, and thus acquire all the same settlements and support for the Minutemen from the people of the Commonwealth, and enhance them to your satisfaction. You can still return to those settlements to fight off attacks, and you still have exactly as many opportunities to eliminate raider gangs and other hazards through exploring the Commonwealth. Actually, you can do slightly more by siding with the Railroad, since a few of the post-game sidequests they give you has you hunting down a raider gang that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to attack. You can still have built up the Minutemen enough that their members are seen now and then patrolling the Commonwealth. And finally, it doesn’t really matter to the Minutemen whether they’re the ones to end the Institute, or whether it’s the Railroad that does the job--the important thing is simply to cease its threat to the people of the Commonwealth.

So you see, as long as you’re willing to dedicate the time and effort to do so, the Minutemen can have their goals accomplished even if you decide to side with the Railroad as your endgame faction. The good that the Minutemen accomplish is greater than the good the Railroad accomplishes, but it’s also not mutually exclusive to the Railroad’s good--you can support them both.

But of course, the question then becomes: isn’t the same true, in reverse? Since the Minutemen do not object to or obstruct the Railroad’s operations, couldn’t you also just choose the Minutemen as your faction to oppose the Institute, and still do the majority of the quests to help the Railroad? In fact, since the Minutemen don’t require you to act as a double agent in the Institute for so long as the Railroad does, you could argue it’s better this way around, since you won’t be forced to even mildly assist the Institute as a Minuteman the way you would as a Railroad agent.

Well, the answer is no. It’s not an equal matter on both sides, I’m afraid. If you support the Railroad, you can still accomplish every goal of the Minutemen and put them in the position to do all their good for the Commonwealth. But if you support the Minutemen, you cannot accomplish quite as much of the good the Railroad could have.

There are 2 major parts of this imbalance. The first is that in the attack on the Institute, the Railroad has specifically coordinated the captive Synths there to join the fight for their freedom and be involved in escaping from their captors. I’m sure that, during the Minutemen’s attack on the Institute, plenty of Synths use the opportunity to escape, but given that they weren’t expecting it, there’s a greater chance that many of them get caught in the middle of the fighting and perish, or don’t escape in time. And for those Synths who do escape the Institute during the Minutemen’s attack, they have no immediate protector, plan, or provider in the Commonwealth to help them, putting them at risk. The Railroad’s attack on the Institute, on the other hand, accounts for the freedom-seeking Synths of the Institute, and the Railroad has experience with guiding and safeguarding new Synths in the Commonwealth. So, ultimately, more good is done for the lives of the innocent and the free by the Railroad than the Minutemen in the final Institute attack.

The other reason, and the more compelling one, I think, is quite simply a case of which of the 2 factions needs the prestige more. See, the Commonwealth knows of the Institute’s demise once it happens, and Travis Miles does a report in which he acknowledges the Sole Survivor and the appropriate faction as the ones who ended the nightmare. Thanks to the gentle urgings of Diamond City Radio and Publick Occurrences, the people of the Commonwealth know that they owe a debt of gratitude, and to whom. And that goodwill is something that will benefit the Railroad’s cause a lot more than the Minutemen’s.

Oh, make no mistake, the Minutemen require goodwill to operate. It’s incredibly vital to them, in fact. The Minutemen is an organization that can’t survive if the common man doesn’t have faith in it. People’s willingness to trust and cooperate with the Minutemen is the lifeblood of these citizen soldiers, because the Minutemen ARE the people.

But the fact is that, provided you have appropriately built the Minutemen up, they have that goodwill. Your actions prove to the settlements which join up that the Minutemen can be trusted, and the game shows clearly that the Minutemen have regained their prestige in the eyes of the Commonwealth’s people. Random NPCs can comment in passing their approval of the work you’re doing in leading the Minutemen, and some of them can even stop your companion Preston and initiate a conversation with him in which they thank him for his work as a Minuteman. Hell, there’s enough positivity about the Minutemen that you can encounter a scam artist who seeks to impersonate Preston and take advantage of people’s gratitude by extorting them for donations. So it’s safe to say that the Minutemen can garner as much goodwill from the Commonwealth as they require even without being the ones to put the Institute down.

By contrast, though, the positive publicity of being the saviors of the Commonwealth would be a really, really great boon to the Railroad. The fact of the matter is that most people in the Commonwealth associate Synths with the Institute’s evils, and thus understandably have a paranoid fear of them. That kind of paranoia could lead to many acts of violence against the newly freed Synths attempting to find a place in this new world; this isn’t the kind of fear that is going to go away overnight, death of the Institute or not. But the knowledge that the Railroad, the faction known for being the champions of Synths’ rights and wellbeing, was the one to save the Commonwealth...well, that could go a long way to convincing a lot of the Commonwealth’s people to give Synths a chance, out of respect and/or gratitude to these saviors who think that Synths are worthwhile people. And considering that, with the destruction of the Institute, there’s now a ton of new Synths that the Railroad needs to move through and out of the Commonwealth in an attempt to set them up with new lives, to such an extent that the Railroad is actually openly securing checkpoints along the routes through which they guide their Synth charges, having the approval of the citizens is an important thing. Side with the Minutemen, and the Railroad will simply have to keep to a completely underground operation, and the Synths it cares for will continue to be at risk of oppression from their neighbors if ever discovered.

Admittedly, there is, I suppose, 1 other benefit to the faction that defeats the Institute, which I just brought up a moment ago: the military checkpoints, located here and there across the map. And in that regard, the Minutemen will do more good with them than the Railroad, since the Railroad’s agents occupy these checkpoints with the intention of securing safe passage for Synths, while the Minutemen take the checkpoints simply as a means of providing greater protection to travelers through the Commonwealth. So there is that factor to take into consideration...nonetheless, since the Minutemen will send out patrols through the Commonwealth anyway, and since I think it’s fair to also count the provisioners with which you connect your settlements as an additional measure of patrolling security, giving the Minutemen the military checkpoints is sort of just a case of strengthening one of the acts of good they already perform, while the benefits the Railroad garners from being the ones to defeat the Institute are otherwise outright unavailable.

So basically, that’s why I chose to support the Railroad during my playthrough of Fallout 4. I’ve seen a lot of people criticize the Railroad, and the players who throw their lot in with it, for choosing to help the few instead of the many. And that’s just not the case, because more or less all that the Minutemen accomplish for the greater good, they can still achieve if you side with the Railroad, while the reverse is not true. Side with the Railroad in Fallout 4, and you really can have your Fancy Lads Snack Cakes and eat them too.

* Also worth noting is that the Brotherhood of Steel isn’t really much better for even just the regular people of the Commonwealth. Yeah, they’ll definitely make the place safer, but they’ll have the Commonwealth’s citizens provide the Brotherhood with their food whether the citizens want to or not, and they’ll occupy and fortify whatever location strikes their fancy. The Brotherhood provides assistance by force, and independent of any wishes or stipulations that the people it supposedly protects might have. It’s basically like an organized crime protection racket, if a protection racket actually did offer protection. It ain’t the worst thing going on with the Brotherhood, but it is still a wrong.

** For the sake of this rant, we’re going to forego an argument about whether Synths are people and just jump right to the part where we all agree that they are. If you really want a rant where I lay out the reasoning behind that, then I can provide, but I daresay even the game itself isn’t too ambiguous on the matter, with party members like Nick, Curie, and Danse, characters like DIMA, Glory, and Mayor McDonough, and situations like Roger Warwick’s Synth’s slip of the tongue, the fact that the Synths are capable of wanting freedom, and the ambiguity of Synth-hood being a question for Kasumi and even the protagonist herself during the Far Harbor DLC. So yeah, we’re gonna just roll forward with the understanding here that Synths are people no more or less deserving of rights, happiness, safety, and all that jazz than any human or ghoul.

*** Okay, technically speaking, you CAN support the Minutemen without making an enemy of the Brotherhood of Steel. But members of the Brotherhood do express unease at the idea of the Minutemen being an armed peacekeeping force, and unless the BoS decide to turn around and go home--which doesn’t seem likely to happen; the game makes no indication that they will and they’ve already committed to setting up strongholds and policies in the Commonwealth--contention and conflict are pretty much a guarantee. Two rival peacekeeping forces in the same area is a recipe for problems already, and all it will take is the Brotherhood deciding it wants a particular settlement for strategic/scientific purposes, the Minutemen deciding they don’t take kindly to the BoS strong-arming their farmers into giving up their crops to the Brotherhood, the Brotherhood opening fire on innocent ghoul settlers, or some other inevitable incident of their incompatible ideologies and goals for the two factions to go to war.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Shadowrun Series's Calfree Trilogy Mods Are Seriously Awesome

Shadowrun Returns, Shadowrun: Dragonfall, and Shadowrun: Hong Kong are all swell RPGs (well, okay, Returns really isn’t, but 2 out of 3 ain’t bad). They do, however, come with some unfortunate baggage for me: I didn’t realize just how much I need a cyberpunk RPG adventure periodically in my life until Harebrained Schemes brought the defining franchise of the genre to RPG form. And unfortunately, HS apparently decided to call it quits on the franchise for the foreseeable future after Hong Kong, meaning that since late 2015, I’ve started jonesing for more cyberpunk goodness. Dex helped me a bit with it, but hang it all, 1 cyberpunk RPG in 3 years just wasn’t enough, and it’s at least another year until CD Projekt Red’s done with Cyberpunk 2077!

Thankfully, though, Harebrained Schemes provided some relief for junkies like me, in that the Shadowrun PC trilogy wasn’t meant to just be the single campaign story of each game. In the tradition of Neverwinter Nights, the Shadowrun games were made with the intent that fans would use the game’s engine to create their own adventures and campaigns out of it, to share with other players. It’s a great idea, really, because it worked very well with Neverwinter Nights 1, with that title becoming 1 of the first huge mod scenes of PC games, and Shadowrun, like Neverwinter Nights, is based on a tabletop RPG, so people sharing campaign ideas is already a part of the culture of the series. And so, in this terrible post-Harebrained-Schemes period of drudgery, I thankfully do have some options for getting my cyberpunk RPG fix, in the campaigns that other players have created for the Shadowrun PC trilogy.

Unfortunately, like any junkie, I have very little self-control or logic when it comes to my drug of choice, so once I started playing these mods, I just went through them all at once, like an idiot. So I’m screwed until Cyberpunk 2077, after all.

Still, if I’ve run out of new Shadowrun mods to actually play, then perhaps I can at least get a contact high from talking about them, right?

There is a decent handful at this moment of mod campaigns for the Shadowrun trilogy available for runners to enjoy, and most of them are pretty good. I like A Stitch in Time, Mercurial, and Nightmare Harvest to varying degrees, and you should check them out if you feel yourself adrift in the same cyberpunk doldrums within which I find myself floating aimlessly. But what I want to talk about today is a trilogy of mod campaigns by one Cirion, or Seberin, depending on whether you get it through Steam or Nexus. And the reason I want to talk about these 3 user-generated campaigns is because they are fucking AWESOME.

Cirion’s trilogy, which I have decided to call the Calfree Trilogy since it takes place in the California Free State of the Shadowrun universe, is expertly crafted, in all regards. It plays as smoothly as any officially published RPG might. In fact, in terms of technical prowess, it goes beyond what you could expect from an official publisher, because Cirion has actually added features to 2 of the 3 campaigns he’s made--most notably, a character Influence system, where no such thing had existed in the original schematics of the Shadowrun games. That’s a pretty damn complicated feature to add to a game not originally designed for it, I would think!

More importantly for me, the story, characters, and themes of this trilogy are smooth, natural, and skillful, to a greater extent than most “real” RPG publishers manage. Additionally, these adventures provide great side-stories and fleshing-out of the lore that Shadowrun has already canonically established for Calfree, which will provide a pleasant anchor to more intense fans of the series, while the campaigns remain standalone enough as stories that players not entirely familiar with the long history of Shadowrun (which, honestly, is mostly the case for myself) won’t have any problem keeping up.

So, to start with, we have The Antumbra Saga, a mod for Shadowrun: Dragonfall. This is an episodic story which is engaging from the start with a tiny little shadowrun underneath a nightclub, which snowballs into an all-out war for the future of the California Free State. The pacing is great, which is essential in this sort of small-adventure-turned-grand-epic, and the characters are well-written, nuanced, and fun. It’s really good as a story for the sake of the adventure and conflict, and while I don’t think you’ll be moved or find much in the way of deep ideas or wisdom, The Antumbra Saga keeps you invested throughout its course. And it obviously was a great test-run for Cirion in Shadowrun mod-making, because he took the characters he had created and adapted, and used the knowledge he had gained to make the next mod campaign even better.

If the Antumbra Saga is awesome, The Caldecott Caper, its sequel, which is a mod for Shadowrun: Hong Kong, is super awesome. I greatly enjoyed The Antumbra Saga, obviously, but it was, for me, limited by its nature of being an adventure focused upon its own events and story than upon the human element within. It’s got solid characters, and a purpose, don’t get me wrong, but The Antumbra Saga was an adventure for the sake of its adventure, where the focus was more on what was happening and how it was happening, rather than the who and why, if that makes any sense. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing! The Antumbra Saga was, obviously, very good, and there are some legendary RPGs that share that focus on the events and overall story over the individuals involved, such as Deus Ex 1, Romancing Saga 1 + 2, and Fallout 1. Still, to me, a really great story usually comes from the heart, really speaks to us on a human level, and you’ll see that reflected in my list of the greatest RPGs I’ve played: the vast majority of them put a substantial focus on the human element of their stories, making a priority of developing their characters, capturing the audience’s emotion, and making statements about us as a people.

And The Caldecott Caper does that excellently. If I were to draw a comparison between TCC and other works, I’d say that this mod feels, in many ways, like an excellent Bioware-styled game from back in the days when the company knew what the bloody fuck they were doing with themselves. The cast is exceptionally likable and interesting, not to mention well-written and dynamic, and your interactions with them are as much a part of The Caldecott Caper’s greatness as any other component of the campaign. Each team member is a unique personality, easily as skillfully written and memorable as you might expect to find in a ‘real’ game--more than that, in fact! I daresay not even half the published RPGs I’ve played have casts as solid as this mod’s ensemble. The NPCs are very good, too, and the villains are serviceable. Finally, the romance subplots are top-notch fact, as I have mentioned previously, the romance with Persi in this mod was the best love story I encountered in all the RPGs I played during 2017!

And make no mistake: Cirion did not have to compromise on the story’s quality to achieve this, because, if anything, this adventure’s plot is several steps up from The Antumbra Saga’s. It begins as a simple train heist, and, as Shadowrun stories do, develops into a bigger story of power struggles and social conflict. And the interesting thing about this one is that, though it is well-written, creative, and purposeful, it is also perfectly balanced. Things never get so grandiose in The Caldecott Caper that you lose the excitement of the simple heist story that it is, and yet, the events of preparing for said heist all unexpectedly but with subtle method coalesce into the grander schemes that the heroes suddenly find themselves intruding upon and entangled by. This mod has all the basic pleasure of a classic run through the shadows, but keeps that undercurrent of thoughtful substance strong with its musings about the society of the Shadowrun universe.

Ultimately, The Caldecott Caper is a terrific slice of Shadowrun, the kind of adventure that perfectly embodies the style of the series, and shows off the potential of user-generated content in games like this. It was, at the time I played it, second only to Shadowrun: Dragonfall in terms of quality of all the Shadowrun adventures I’ve experienced. So you can imagine my thorough delight when Cirion unexpectedly released a third and final campaign mod that was even better.

Calfree in Chains, also a mod for Shadowrun: Hong Kong, is the finale to Cirion’s trilogy, and it’s pretty fucking amazing. It honestly might be better than Shadowrun: Dragonfall, and if it’s not, then it’s at least equal to it--and I'd like to point out that Shadowrun: Dragonfall is so excellent an RPG that it frequently just barely misses getting onto my list of the greatest RPGs ever created. This mod is basically a perfect balance between The Antumbra Saga and The Caldecott Caper, in that it’s got a major, epic story much like The Antumbra Saga did, but it’s also majorly focused on the characters and human element of the players involved, as The Caldecott Caper was. Calfree in Chains is also even more than that, because this mod also has major themes running throughout its story of racial conflict and of whether it is better to respond to evil with violent or nonviolent resistance. And Calfree in Chains does a stellar job with exploring that question of violence versus nonviolence, too. Aside from Undertale, I daresay this is the best RPG I’ve played that examines the subject of nonviolence, and it’s less of a second-place and more of a good companion to Undertale, because where Undertale examines the concepts of violence and pacifism at their core and essence, Calfree in Chains examines them in terms of real-world application and conflict. It shows both the strengths and limitations of each philosophy, and the consequences of your actions and inactions are a constant aspect of the game’s environment and characters as you go along--which is, in itself, another virtue of Calfree in Chains, since western RPG players are very fond of both having choices in their games, and of those choices having consequences and weight.

As a standalone adventure, Calfree in Chains is great. The cast is solid, the romance (particularly with Arelia) is wonderful.* The story is engaging, meaningful, and natural, and it comes to have a powerful hold on its audience. It has worthwhile messages to convey and significant philosophy to explore: this is a work with purpose. And, quite frankly, there are multiple moments in this game which will hit you, and hit you hard. Some of my most powerful, emotional moments in 2018 as an RPG player have been with Calfree in Chains, in fact--I played The Witcher 3 and Bravely Default this year, and neither of those RPG titans possess moments of such emotional power as I found in Calfree in Chains. Romanced Arelia’s speech at the end of the game is just utterly beautiful.

And as a finish to this trilogy, Calfree in Chains is great, too. It brings the simmering issues of the previous 2 adventures to a head, feeling like it is, indeed, the story and conflict that Cirion’s works have been leading up to. And it uses the characters and lore established in The Antumbra Saga and The Caldecott Caper exactly as they should be used: as a foundation, as a point of familiarity to start at, without leaning on them so heavily that it can’t introduce and spotlight its new characters and lore.

I am completely serious, not exaggerating whatsoever, when I say that Cirion has crafted, in his Calfree Trilogy, the best video game Shadowrun experience to date. I’ve been a lifelong fan of the original SNES title, I really like Shadowrun: Hong Kong, and Shadowrun: Dragonfall keeps only barely missing my list of Greatest RPGs, but I say, with sincerity, that this collection of adventures that Cirion has created is the best Shadowrun experience out there. And I mean that both in terms of being the best example of a Shadowrun story, and in terms of being the best work as a whole. Shadowrun: Dragonfall might still be the best individual Shadowrun adventure, or it at least might be tied with Calfree in Chains...but if you put the actual, official Shadowrun trilogy of games that Harebrained Schemes created next to Cirion’s Calfree Trilogy, you will find, pound for pound, that Cirion’s work’s virtues outweigh Harebrained Schemes’s. I emphatically recommend the Calfree Trilogy to anyone who owns the Shadowrun PC games--and frankly, if you don’t, then you should strongly consider purchasing them, not just for their own virtues, but also for the fact that you can, through them, experience the genuinely superlative Calfree Trilogy.

* Though I do admit I still think Persi’s love story in The Caldecott Caper is the best of the trilogy.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Shin Megami Tensei 4-2's Navarre's Role in the Final Battle

You know what really feels like a missed opportunity in Shin Megami Tensei 4-2? Navarre’s role in the final battle.

Overall, the conclusion to SMT4-2 is pretty great. Okay, the lead-up dungeon is a little long and irritating (albeit very pretty), but the lead-in to it is solid stuff, and once you get to its end, the final battle against God is hella epic. It’s also really handled well in the sense that it really feels like the final, powerful note to the journey of not only Nanashi and his friends, the heroes of this game, but also of Flynn and his comrades, the protagonists of the original Shin Megami Tensei 4, bringing all parties to the true end of the sort-of-dual-game saga. And the battle itself is handled really nicely in that its gameplay mechanics reflect this climactic final collaboration between heroes, as you control 2 parties rather than just the standard 1, with your normal, Nanashi-led party bringing the damage, and Flynn’s providing support and opening up opportunities for attack. And then, once you’ve succeeded, the ending to the game is really heartfelt, and feels like the emotional, satisfying conclusion that a thoughtful, world-changing epic should have. It’s all just about perfect. In fact, for a while, I thought it was perfect, executed with no oversight or missing feature that could have improved it.

Then I thought about Navarre, and now that damn final battle gnaws at my mind for all it could have been.

Look, this is a small thing. It really is. But it’s 1 of those small details that really just drive you crazy. Like toast crumbs in your bedsheets. Nothing so tiny should be able to frustrate a person so much, but, unless you are a far superior breed of man or woman than I am, you cannot get comfortable so long as you know they’re there. And for me, Navarre’s place in the final battle of SMT4-2 is that way. There’s nothing wrong with that battle--it’s fucking awesome, in fact, as you would certainly hope given the circumstances--but the opportunity that Atlus missed to tie 1 last detail of character development and theme up in a neat little bow is killing me.

And what is that detail, you wonder? Or perhaps scream irritably at me, given that I’ve been leading you on for 4 paragraphs now about it. Well, it’s simply this:

Navarre should have been the support character for Flynn’s team.

Think about it. Wouldn’t that have been the absolutely perfect way to conclude Navarre’s character in Shin Megami Tensei 4-1 and 4-2? Wouldn’t that have been the perfect way to complete Flynn’s team?

Flynn’s team in the final battle is made up of himself, Isabeau, Jonathan, and Walter. This makes sense, of course, in that they’re the party of the first Shin Megami Tensei 4, and it feels really good that they get to be included in such a major way in this final battle for the destiny of the human race, that Walter and Jonathan can put aside their history and their ideologies to stand alongside Isabeau and Flynn as their allies and friends 1 last time. It’s a great way to bring Flynn and company back into a spotlight that, let’s face it, was more or less stolen from them in this second game,* and give them a final and really substantial moment of glory as co-heroes of the mini-saga.

But these 4 weren’t the only samurais of their year--cowardly failure though he turned out to be, Navarre was the last samurai chosen during the ceremony at the beginning of SMT4-1. He couldn’t handle the responsibility then, and wound up endangering them and losing his mind before meeting his untimely end. Since becoming a ghost and going with Nanashi on his quest in this game, however, Navarre has grown into his own, and redeemed himself for his shortcomings in life.

So wouldn’t it have been a really fitting, touching thing if Navarre had left Nanashi’s bunch for this final battle, in order to run support for Flynn’s group? It would have been the crowning moment for Navarre’s character--sure, Navarre has redeemed himself well enough with Flynn and Isabeau earlier in the game, but he could, in this final battle, prove himself conclusively through his actions, and stand with his 4 comrades as he was always meant to. Hell, it would put a whole, more meaningful spin on Navarre’s character arc--he makes his purpose in SMT4-2 guiding and protecting Nanashi during their voyage, but if his final decision in this saga was to stand with his fellows as he had always been meant to, then Navarre’s purpose in his afterlife, the meaning of his character arc, would retroactively shift from the nice but somewhat out-of-the-blue dedication to Nanashi to a story about Navarre growing as a person enough that he can do in death what he could not in life. And given that the whole thing with ghosts is them having unfinished business, that would make more sense, too.

Additionally, beyond Navarre’s character development being neatly concluded, having him join Flynn’s party as the support unit would have also been a nice thematic touch. Like I said, the idea of having both parties of the SMT4 duology teaming up in their entirety for the final battle is a cool and fitting way to conclude this story,** and it feels right for Isabeau to leave Nanashi’s bunch to stand along her fellows from the first game. It gives you the feeling of having the gang back together for 1 last moment of glory, you know? But it would be even more complete if Navarre were there, because, like I said, destiny also chose him to be among their band, even if he wasn’t a strong enough man to fulfill that purpose. As a team 1 last time, Flynn, Isabeau, Walter, and Jonathan are a moment of recapturing what once was--but if the narrative had allowed Navarre to take this last chance to stand with them, it would be more than what once was, it would be what should have been. Which is more epic and thematically fitting, in my eyes.

I’d also like to point out that putting Navarre in as the support unit for Flynn’s party would even have been a good move from a gameplay perspective. Flynn’s party has potential to deal out good damage, but its purpose is primarily to open up YHVH’s defenses, so that Nanashi’s party, which you’ve been developing the whole game and so of course is going to be the more capable of inflicting damage, can focus on attacking. Well, given that Navarre’s major utility as a support unit late in the game is debuffing enemies and eliminating debuffs inflicted on the party, he’d be the perfect cherry on top of Flynn’s sundae.*** And it’s not like removing him from the main party’s use would be a significant blow--yeah, it slightly lessens your options with Nanashi, but Asahi makes a superior alternative to Navarre in terms of buffs and debuffs, in that she can enhance the party’s stats and heal them, while Navarre’s more locked into managing debuffs only. As a loss to Nanashi’s party, it’s basically equivalent to the fact that Isabeau is switching over to Flynn’s bunch: what she can provide (magical damage and some healing) can be better provided by Asahi or Hallelujah.

Like I said, this isn’t a major issue, or anything. It’s not a fault of Shin Megami Tensei 4-2 that the writers didn’t think of having Navarre join Flynn’s party during the final battle. Because that showdown feels awesome and complete the way it is. But, once you think about it, even if it’s not missing, so to speak, it’s still a really great opportunity that they passed over. It makes sense from a gameplay perspective, it’s a nice thematic bookend to Flynn’s party’s role, and it would be a great way to complete Navarre’s personal journey. And so, this little detail that Atlus missed out on really does bother me substantially.

...Someone make a mod! Mod SMT4-2 to have Navarre join Flynn in the final battle as his party’s support, and add just a line or 2 of dialogue to set it up. I know 3DS modding is possible, because that marvelous Unassuming Venusaur lady has been correcting Fire Emblem 14’s oversights for a couple years now. So, readers, if any of you are tech-savvy, I charge you now to tweak Shin Megami Tensei 4-2, just a tiny little bit, and make this idea of mine a reality! I’ll buy you, like, 3 RPGs in thanks.

* Not that I for a single solitary second have any regret about this, mind you. To a man/woman, the party members of SMT4-2 are more interesting, appealing, developed characters than everyone from SMT4-1 was put together. Well, okay, Isabeau is empty and mundane, but that doesn’t count seeing as how she’s in both titles’ parties.

** Or is it 1.5 stories? This mini-saga is kind of weird, narratively.

*** You have my permission to twist this metaphor for use in whatever Flynn x Navarre smut you feel the need to write after hearing it. You’re welcome.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Millennium 5's Finale

Millennium 5 is the final part of a series, created by one Indinera Falls, which details the journey of Marine, a girl out to improve the lives of her fellow peasants, who languish unhelped and rights-less while the ruling capital, Mystrock, flourishes from their efforts. She’ll do this by allying herself with the oppressed people across the Mystland nation, and fighting in a ritual tournament spectated by thousands of the wealthy, carefree citizens of the capital city.

It is, perhaps, just possible that Indinera Falls is a fan of The Hunger Games.

The Millennium series is barely known at all, which seems to be how things usually go for games developed with RPG Maker, but it and its creator do have a small but devoted fanbase, from what I can gather, which are pretty positive on the Millennium games overall. Myself, I’m lukewarm about them, but I suppose they’re decent enough. There is, however, 1 aspect of Millennium 5 that seems to get a mixed reaction even from this small fanbase, as well as players in general: the finale to the saga. A lot of people don’t seem to like it, and those that do, nonetheless don’t seem to have especially positive feelings about it. There are a lot of criticisms levied against the tournament and ending which close out the series, and while I think that some are legitimate, I also think that some are too harsh, or, at least, made without due consideration.

So basically, that’s why you’re here today, reading about a game you’ve never played and don’t care about. Sorry, folks, unimportant and extremely obscure commentary is just my thing. Oh, and I’m talking about the final events of a 5-game series, so, y’know, spoiler alert.

Alright, let’s start by talking about what the finale of Millennium 5 does, indeed, do wrong. First of all, a minor annoyance is that none of your characters can equip accessories during the tournament. It’s bad enough that the series decided in Millennium 4 to stop letting the majority of your characters use weapons, because they needed to train in the unarmed combat thing since it’s a martial arts tournament, but that, at least, is an understandable plot thing. Annoying, especially since you still keep finding weapons as you go along with Millennium 4 and 5 that you now can’t even use (what is up with that?), but understandable. But during this period of weaponless combat, you at least get to continue using the majority of helmets and accessories in the game, because, as the games’ dialogue specifically notes many times, the rules permit them. So why are they suddenly not allowed, when you finally enter the tournament? If you’re anything like me, you set your characters up around what accessories they wear, so this totally throws things off. It’s the second most annoying gameplay decision the Millennium series makes.*

Second, and similar to the first, is the fact that the characters in the tournament lose most of their skills going in. These skills are replaced with ones specifically designed to help them in the tournament, which is good and all, but some of the lost skills would have been way, way better, and in no way violate the story of the tournament. Why’d Salome have to give up her skill that hits enemies 4 times in a row? There’s nothing about that which contradicts the tournament’s rules, since she’s just hitting them with her fists. Lame.

Next, I have to say that it just seems a little odd that Marine’s party is so close to evenly matched with the Mystrock warriors by the end of Millennium 5. I mean, I get that Mystrock has the best resources and training and whatnot, and that most of them have been warriors for their whole lives compared to most of Marine’s team not, but come on. 2 days before the tournament, Marine and company were slapping dinosaurs around with their bare hands. I don’t care if Merryll has hit the gym every damn day of his life, there’s no way he or any others of Lord Dragon’s crew should be able to compete with Marine’s bunch. It’d be like saying Little Mac would pose a serious combat challenge to Samus Aran--Mac’s one of my favorite Nintendo characters, but if it ain’t Super Smash Brothers, it ain’t happening.

Finally, and a lot more importantly, there’s the damn ending. Or, honestly, lack of such. You’ve gone through 5 entire games, sat through Marine’s entire continent-spanning adventure, and all that you get in the way of an ending is a few short sentences that give a far too general summary of what happened, and a bit of information letting you know that Marine and Dragon got married, for some reason. Better him than Jack, I guess, but sheesh, talk about coming out of nowhere. But you don’t get to hear any specifics on what happens to any of the 12 warriors who stood with Marine to make this all possible, nor any of the other friends she made along the way. You don’t get to hear or see much about how life goes for her and what the process of the social upheaval that’s been the whole damn focus of the series is like. You don’t get to even know whether or not her father survives and pulls out of his coma--the guy whose actions at the beginning of Millennium 1 kicked this whole thing off. I guess I can’t expect a classic Fallout-styled ending narration for every game I play, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to hope for SOME form of actual closure for the characters and story that I’ve been engaged with for 5 games! If it weren’t for the fact that I played Neverwinter Nights 2 the same year I completed Millennium 5, this game would probably have wound up on my list of worst RPG endings.

So those are the problems--let’s talk about the good stuff, next. Up until that inadequate conclusion, I have to say, the finale is pretty good. First of all, it is, technically-speaking, extremely impressive. The tournament is over 150 battles as each member of the 2 teams of 13 fights against every member of the opposite team once, and almost every battle opens with the 2 fighters interacting with each other. Most of these aren’t just generic lines that would fit any match-up, either. It’s not like the beginning face-off in some 16-bit fighting game--these fighters’ dialogue frequently highlights their personalities; it’s very character-specific for the majority of matches.

To take the time to do that for over 100 fights is a pretty significant amount of effort, but what really dials it up a notch in terms of being technically impressive is that the game’s also keeping track of a lot of factors regarding the victories and losses up until that point. Frequently, the things each side’s fighter says changes to reflect which side is currently in the lead at that moment (and sometimes even changes depending on how much of a gap there is in the win-loss ratio), which is also true of the stuff that Marine, Borgon, Dragon, and some of the others on each side say before and after the matches. The post-match dialogue also, of course, reflects the winner of each round. And on top of all that, sometimes the dialogue in the fight adjusts to reflect the personal wins and losses of the character(s) fighting! I can tell you from personally witnessing it that if you just keep denying that jackass Merryll a single victory the whole tournament, he will, in fact, several times show his growing fury at the fact that these supposedly inferior people are repeatedly proving what a useless sack of shit he is. Likewise, there’s plenty of lines before and after the matches that comment on how that fighter, specifically, has been doing during the tournament. Watching Borgon’s growing frustration with Merryll’s losing streak is a joy.

So yeah, when you really stop and think about it, keeping track of that many variables over the course of potentially more than 150 matches, and staying relatively consistent with the dialogue that’s keeping track of it all...I know very little about programming, but I’m pretty sure that’s a huge feat, and would be a tall order even from a AAA publisher, let alone a tiny indie game developer that I’m pretty sure was mostly a 1-person show.

And it’s all done well enough that it’s pretty enjoyable from start to finish! Even though the tournament is essentially just 169 or so battles in a row, and even though it comes after a whole 5 games of standardly incessant RPG battles, I actually was engaged from start to finish! I mean, okay, I wasn’t on the edge of my seat or something, but the interactions between sides, as well as the dialogue between allies as they encourage or berate their teammates, is done well. It doesn’t really feel at any point like the writer got tired of the characters and seeing how they’d react to each new opponent, in spite of the daunting quantity of such meetings. Other bits of extra effort help keep the tournament interesting, too, like the rewarding feeling you get as Borgon hollers in frustration over his team’s losing streak, the halftime break where each side rallies themselves for the tournament’s conclusion, and the fact that a lot of the enemy’s team have their own battle songs (Gisele’s is pretty rad, in fact). Nothing in the Millennium series is amazing, but Indinera Falls clearly put a lot of extra effort into making the tournament a stronger moment in the saga, as it should be.

I’d also like to say that the emotion of the finale is spot-on. It definitely feels like the epic culmination of Marine’s quest, from start to finish. The night before the tournament as Marine and Jeanne talk is quiet and touching, the words of thanks and encouragement Marine gives her team are warm, the final battle between Marine and the Dragon feels as climatic and desperate as it should, and Jeanne...actually, I take what I said before back, there is an amazing moment in Millennium, and it’s the last-minute sacrifice of Jeanne in the very final battle. It’s sudden, it hits you hard, and it’s all the sadder because she doesn’t have enough time to say goodbye, to prepare herself. Somehow, it feels very real, and much more moving, for the facts that it’s immediate, it’s unexpected, and it’s something that Marine will never know the truth of. That, to me, is the most tragic part...that Marine will forever have to wonder what became of the little fairy that made her dream of an equal society possible, wonder why she never spoke to Marine again...maybe even wonder, eventually, whether Jeanne was ever real to begin with.

Anyway, yeah, the finale does a lot of stuff well, and I think most people will agree with what I’ve pointed out as its highlights, and its flaws. Here, however, is the thing that a lot of people take issue with, which I think is worth defending: how, precisely, you get the true ending. There are 3 endings, you see, of which only 1 is the good, actual ending. The first bad ending is as you would expect--you get it if you lose the tournament. The second bad ending, however, is the major stumbling block for people, because you actually get this ending if you win the tournament.

Yeah, I’m not kidding. If you win the tournament, which is the goal that you’d think you’re supposed to be shooting for, it triggers a bad ending! Being sore losers and all-around jerks, Borgon and several of Dragon’s team start an insurrection, and the people of Mystrock by and large go with it, losing their shit over the fact that some dirty old peasants beat their finest warriors. You lose the game because you won.

What you have to do to get the real ending, is lose the tournament, but by a score deficit no greater than 10. When that happens, you find out that there’s some archaic old rule of being able to challenge the result if it it was a close score, and have the leaders of each side face off 1 last time to determine who really wins the tournament.

How magnificently convenient.

So for there to be any hope at all of success, Marine has to have a rematch with Lord Dragon, even though it’s damn clear that she can’t possibly win it. But at the eleventh hour, Jeanne comes through, finding a fairy spell powerful enough to overcome the anti-magic seals on the arena, as Marine buys her time by enduring Dragon’s blows as best she can, even though she’s exhausted and barely able to withstand them. This is the scene which I mentioned as a major point in the finale’s favor, for the spell’s power comes at the cost of the caster’s life, and, I reiterate, it’s a pretty powerful scene. With Jeanne’s sacrifice, the spell hits Dragon, and knocks him out of the ring, resulting in a win for Marine. She collapses a moment later, caught and respectfully carried out of the arena by Lord Dragon. Unable to determine any other possibility, since there’s simply no way any human magic could ever overcome the arena’s seals, Mystrock by and large decides that the miraculous spell that granted Marine victory had to have been an act of their god, to show beyond any doubt that Marine is meant to take the nation in a new direction.

Well, that’s all well and good, a fine way to close out the tournament and win the game, yes, but, you wonder, why does it have to be that way? What was wrong with just having the game be won when it’s, well, won? Surely complicating matters with this hairsbreadth victory was not necessary, when the result is still that Marine wins the tournament?

I suppose that’s fair enough. Here’s the thing, though, and the reason that I actually defend this seemingly unnecessary and picky decision on Indinera Falls’s part: when you think about it, Marine’s quest isn’t supposed to be about proving her people’s superiority over the people of Mystrock. She doesn’t embark on her journey with the specific desire to rule over Mystrock (and by extension Mystland). She isn’t motivated by some belief that she’s the better qualified political leader, nor is she specifically trying to prove something to herself or to Mystrock. Marine just wants the peasants of Mystland to be treated as equals of the citizens of the capital city. She just wants her people to have the same rights and privileges of everyone else, to help end the poverty and suffering she sees all around her. She enters the tournament to become Mystrock’s new governing figure solely because being the leader is the only way she can make this dream a reality; if there had been another option presented to her, she would just as likely have pursued that, instead. Though she may become personally incensed by some of Mystrock’s cruelties along the way, ultimately Marine’s quest is about a desire for equality.

And because of this, I think that it does, in fact, make thematic sense for the ending to the Millennium series to require this eventuality of neither defeat nor victory. Just writing it so that Marine succeeds by outright winning the tournament seems at first glance to make more sense, in terms of gameplaying conventions, but nothing about that scenario really resonates with what the quest has been all about. A rout of the opposing team proves the peasants’ superiority more than their equality to the people of Mystrock, and the point is to win the rights of the commoners to be treated as equals, not betters. By contrast, the true ending has a tournament whose results are so near to even that equality is inescapably implied, decided by a match that appears to be close enough that it requires a divine third party to settle. Additionally, the events of the final match give Lord Dragon cause and opportunity to show his respect for and support of Marine’s victory, in a way both powerfully meaningful and indisputable to the citizens of Mystrock who watch. This is the sort of hard-won, miraculous victory that you can actually believe would, indeed, lay the groundwork for a revolution of social equality to come. By comparison, the idea of a happy, successful ending coming from a situation in which a population with long-held prejudices is forced to obey the woman whose victory hurt their pride, solely because the rules say they have to...maybe it makes sense from the perspective of gameplay conventions, but Indinera Falls is right: it doesn’t hold up logically.

The path of the true finale to Millennium 5 has its issues, to be sure. It’s not quite clear enough what has to happen to achieve it, and having to keep an eye on your ranks throughout the tournament to budget your victories is somewhat annoying--particularly when there are plenty of matches whose outcome you either can’t predict with certainty, or can’t influence (you cannot force the Bear lose a match, for example, making it dangerous to hover near the edge of overall victory). Nonetheless, even though you wouldn’t think it at first, going against gaming convention to make a true ending out of a near loss instead of a victory is the right call in this game, because it’s truer to the heart of Marine’s quest, and it provides a more believable scenario of success in accordance with the game’s lore and characters. Millennium 5’s finale has its flaws, but I don’t believe the unusual requirements of the true ending is 1 of them.

* The first, of course, is that Salome gives up on being a mermaid, which I’ve noted before was pretty awesome, not to mention pleasantly overpowered! Why, Millennium 3, why? It’s not even sensible from a plot perspective; transforming into a mermaid is clearly shown not to inhibit her ability to traverse or stay on land at all, so there’s nothing she would have to give up by remaining ‘cursed’.