Friday, May 8, 2015

NOT A RANT

Hey, guys. As I said, with the huge level of focus that classes and my employment requires in the month of May, I won't be doing another rant until June. Sorry about that; hopefully you'll have enjoyed the Worst RPG list I left you enough to tide you over. However, while you're waiting, or not waiting since I don't actually have enough arrogance to think that anyone cares that much about my silly posturing treatises on video games, you should really check this out:

Unraveled: Tale of a Shipbreaker's Daughter

I back quite a few RPGs, and sometimes I'll share them with you all, but this is one that I really, really hope you'll join me in funding. It promises to be a strikingly artistic RPG with both emotional and political gravity, and what it's attempting to do is noble enough that it's something that really should be made, on a moral level. And look at it this way: You're here, which means that for some reason you think my opinion is worth something, and I'm pretty sure that once Unraveled: Tale of a Shipbreaker's Daughter is finished, I'll be singing its praises. Well, it'll be a lot cheaper for you to back the project for $10 now and get a free copy from the deal than it will be to buy it after it's released for double that cost or more. $10, guys. Just $10 to support a game that has art and soul, that's being made with the intent of shedding some light on a woefully unknown group of people oppressed by poverty and a dangerous way of life. More is great, of course, but all you need is $10 to own it. That's less than a lot of people can spend on lunch. Please at least consider it. I'll see you in June.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

General RPG Lists: Worst RPGs

Heads up: I won't be posting rants this May. My classes are demanding, and I've had to devote enough of my time to them, so I'm at the bottom of my rant reserves without any time to create new ones. Sorry. On the plus side, I'm leaving you with a pretty sizable one that's reasonably fun to read, I think. See you folks in June.



Well! It has been a LONG time since I posted this one. My very first list rant...ahh, the nostalgia. Memories, memories...

Well, enough of that wallowing in the past bullshit. Let’s tear this rant apart and build it anew! This thing was hopelessly outdated, and too small to boot. 10 slots when I’ve played over 270 RPGs? Not enough. So enjoy, reader peoples, the new Worst RPG List, now 15 entries long!



Simple truth: some video games are bad. And chances are, if you're reading this, that you have encountered at least a few in your time. Hell, if you're a regular reader of these rants, I know you've at least READ about quite a few. Cuz lemme tell you, after close to 300 RPGs, I've seen my share, and probably a couple others' shares on top of it. But which are the worst? Which are the true crap of the crop, the ones that rise up the ladder to stand above their peers only so that they can take a suicide plunge downward? Which RPGs should you never, ever play because they are just irredeemable piles of putrescent trash?

These.



15. Lufia 1 (SNES)

Ah, the perfect way to kick off this list--with a "classic." I've discovered that what the world's opinions on what RPGs are "classics" often do not mirror my own--for a while after playing Xenogears for the first time, I was convinced that the RPG-playing populace had been pulling an elaborate prank on me for years, and that I would soon get a letter or email from them all that read, "Ha ha ha! You gullible dweeb, you BELIEVED us when we said it was good! What a rube!"

Back to the so-called classic at hand, though. Lufia 1 is terrible. The characters are transparent and little more than plot-advancing automatons, and this is at the best of times--the rare times they do get what passes for character development, it's simplistic and stupid to an almost shocking degree. And the plot? Take a look--if there is any single part of this that seems original and/or interesting to you, then, uh, congratulations on your charmed existence of cliche ignorance.

1. God-powerful Bad Guys are out to destroy stuff for no adequately-explored reason.
2. Descendant of a previous hero sets out to stop them for generic reasons with a magical girl whose origins are mysterious.
3. Excessively long progression of traveling from one subplot quest to another that lead in a very, very roundabout way to stopping Bad Guys.
4. Magical girl's mysterious origins happen to be directly tied with Bad Guys and the world's fate! Who would have guessed?
5. Magical girl is confused for a little while.
6. Hero convinces her that her crush on him is way more important than her destiny, history, and/or other desires.
7. Bad Guys beaten! Ending where things seem like they might end sadly but everything winds up happy fun times after all! Yay!

Lufia 1's plot is unoriginal garbage, its characters alternate between being boring and annoying, the actual play experience of it is excruciating (level-grinding over and over in a terrible battle system is a must thanks to an excessively high difficulty level mixed with poor design making strategy nearly nonexistent), and the game leaves you with absolutely no point or theme. I have no IDEA how they managed to create Lufia 2 out of this crap, tie them together so strongly, yet somehow make the second game almost the exact opposite in quality.


14. Final Fantasy 12: Revenant Wings (DS)

Hi there, folks, and welcome back from our commercial break! I want you to picture this. You’re sitting in the gutter, stinking of stale booze and soiled pants, minding your own business, when all of a sudden, the CEO of a major video game developer comes up to you and asks you to make a game for him! You’re too polite, not to mention completely inarticulate after shooting up what you only hope was heroine, to say no, and now you’re sitting in a cubicle at his company, deadline looming, with no idea what to do!

Has this ever happened to you? Of course it has! Those Sonic the Hedgehog games have to be coming from somewhere, after all. Well, you’re not alone, and we’re here for you. So today, on Cooking with SquareEnix, we’re going to help you make that deadline by showing you how to make a bad game into a worse sequel!

Step 1: Preheat oven to 345° Fahrenheit.

Step 2: Take Final Fantasy 12.

Step 3: Remove the incomprehensible, self-important, boring, meaningless mess that is FF12’s plot. Once done, haphazardly cram a new plot in, one which can actually be followed and is a little less high and mighty, but is also twice as dull and pointless. Rub in just a pinch of stupidity, for flavor.

Warning: Be very careful that your new plot does not in any way involve the many locations from Final Fantasy 12 that your repeat audience would be familiar with and actually want to see. Instead of revisiting the visually striking but totally soulless locations of FF12 that desperately need the life and character which a new adventure could provide them, just use some stupid generic floating island.

Step 4: Take everyone in FF12’s cast except Balthier, all those boring, dumb, poorly written characters, and begin mindlessly mashing them until they’re little more than pulverized granules of the characters they used to be, even less nuanced and compelling than ever before. Put them back in, but be sure to keep them separated from your new plot by taking away virtually all personal stake any of them have in the story’s events. Your goal is to make the characters all seem more like intruders in the story than participants.

Step 5: Take the Balthier that you set aside in the last step and begin mercilessly smashing his character into atoms, as you did for the others. Since Balthier was the only good part of FF12, this will be a much more difficult process, but you must be sure to make him exactly as crappy and indistinguishable a lump of character paste as you have made his constituents. When putting this miserable, generic mush back, be sure to remember that he, too, should not have any personal connection to the plot.

Step 6: Lightly sprinkle some characters and villains who actually have any-goddamn-thing to do with the plot, but make absolutely sure only one of them is a party member. You don’t want to saturate your major cast with characters who are actually relevant in any fucking way.

Step 7: While you’re adding Step 6’s new faces, you’ll want to throw in a couple of intensely annoying, loud children whose youthful “personality” (if such it can be called) is clumsily exaggerated at every turn. If possible, use ones who were completely unimportant NPCs in the first game, so as to infuse that special why-the-hell-are-they-even-here zest. Be sure to apply them liberally to every inch of your product, from beginning to end; you wouldn’t want these obnoxious little crapwads to miss any opportunity to open their stupid mouths and make an already poor scene worse.

Step 8: Put it in the oven and let it bake for a couple weeks or however long you think they actually spent developing this miserable turd. While it’s cooking, decide on a name for your product. The name should be 2 words picked at complete random from a list of entertainment culture buzzwords. It is preferable that you not actually know the meaning of 1 of these words.

Step 9: Remove game, but keep the oven on for the moment. Set the game out to cool. Congratulations, you have made your very own Final Fantasy 12: Revenant Wings!

Step 10: Is your oven still on? Okay, good. Now, stick your head inside and slam the door shut on yourself a couple times, you wad.


13. Mega Man Star Force 1 + 2 (DS)

Okay, a little breach in protocol here, having 2 games take 1 spot, but they share virtually the same flaws and the second game is just a continuation of the first game’s monumental suck, so I don’t see the point of splitting them apart. Also, I’ll be honest: I’m going to keep an open mind, but I have a feeling that once I play Mega Man Star Force 3, this spot is going to go from being 2 games jammed in a single space to 3.

Overall, there is really only 1 thing to say about Mega Man Star Force and why it’s here. Dumb. Dumb. Duuuuuuuuuuuummmmmmmmmb. These games are so fucking dumb that I almost can’t believe they actually exist.

There are plenty of other flaws with them, of course. Flaws like the protagonist. Mega Man Star Force 1 stars Geo Stellar, a half-assed semi-emo preteen who seems to have misplaced a significant portion of his brain somewhere and is in no particular hurry to recover it. He at least stops being quite such a sad sack in the second game, but he is definitely still a complete moron. I don’t know whose great idea it was to make this completely unappealing little doofus into a Mega Man, but whoever it was should not be allowed to express a thought ever again.

Flaws like the fact that the supporting cast are one-dimensional shells who act not so much like human beings as they do like things that were written by someone who has heard of human beings. Flaws like the generic, paper-thin plots of each game. Flaws like the first game’s unsettling message that it’s wrong to want to ever have alone time and that you should completely submerge yourself in social networking. Flaws like bad writing/translations leading to remarkably bad dialogue, such as when a space monster tells a 12-year-old, “I’ll tell you about your father if you let me use your body, kid!”

But really, all of these flaws in plot and presentation and attitude and cast, it all adds up to the same, single word that represents everything that is Mega Man Star Force: Dumb. Inescapably, indescribably, intrinsically, iconically dumb.


12. Lunar: Dragon Song (DS)

Lunar: Dragon Song. I’d say it’s garbage, but for the fact that festering carrion rats frequently use garbage as a squalid staging ground within which to uncontrollably breed both their rancid vermin spawn and the plague-ridden parasites that prey upon every filth-soaked inch of their scabby flesh, all of which gives garbage a level of value to the world that Lunar: Dragon Song can’t possibly compare to.* No one who’s familiar with this game could possibly be surprised to see it on this list; its shortcomings are well documented and universally reviled.

Still, it bears noting why it takes this spot in particular. When people think of what’s wrong with Lunar: Dragon Song, the phrase “worst gameplay in the history of mankind” is probably what springs into their mind first. And to be sure, the act of playing this game is tortuous. If I gave playability any consideration in what makes an RPG good or bad, Lunar: Dragon Song would be taking the very first spot on the list with no competition whatsoever (not even from Phantasy Star 3, a game that feels like it was released in the middle of its development). But no matter how vile, gameplay is not a consideration for me when it comes to RPGs, and that’s not why Lunar: Dragon Song is here. It’s here because everything that matters in it is just as terrible. The characters are empty and vaguely dislikable. The plot’s presentation rarely rises high enough to be considered generic. Said story is completely banal, and it’s actually worse than pointless. Lunar: Dragon Song has a purpose, but the message it conveys (regarding the lack of need for the goddess Althena’s influence in the affairs of human- and beastkind) is just an extremely poor rehash of an idea that Lunar 1 and 2 already covered! And considering that Lunar 1 and 2 are already pretty subpar offerings, it’s really bad that they look positively masterful next to the spontaneous, half-assed attempt this game makes at conveying that idea.

And remember, all of that is what you get out of playing the game and dealing with its legendarily awful gameplay. Those vaguely repugnant characters and that sallow plot are the reward you get for suffering through a set of play mechanics so painfully counterintuitive and infuriating that they’re almost like some unholy miracle. There are worse RPGs out there (11 of them), but this is the one that makes you work the hardest for its worthless crap.


11. Chrono Cross (PS1)

Chrono Cross is the story of an overabundance of nothing. Over 40 characters, yet no characterization. 2 worlds (and some between-dimension stuff), yet nothing worth seeing. 12 endings, yet no satisfaction. Multiple plot viewings, yet nothing compelling. 30 - 60 hours of playing, yet nothing worth your time. It’s packed to the brim with plot details to the point that it’s almost as bafflingly convoluted as Xenosaga 3, and they all just add up to a story that does little and says even less. It’s packed to the brim with promising concepts like travel across dimensions, a future that forcibly guides its own past, and lost timelines that aren’t willing to disappear without a fight, but its pacing, general explanation style, and overcomplicated bumbling cause them all to be a confused mess of poorly assembled parts instead of a smooth narrative machine. It’s packed to the brim with party members, but can’t be bothered to give any depth or relevance to 90% of them (and the few characters the game does actually pay attention to are crappy, to boot), and just simulates individuality for them with one of the worst storytelling ideas ever conceived. It’s got all kinds of great established characters and ideas it can borrow from its widely beloved predecessor, yet everything it does to connect to Chrono Trigger seems dissatisfyingly tangential (even when those connections are an integral point of CC’s core plot!), and often it seems to just use those pre-existing concepts for the sake of destroying them (Robo was on screen for, what, 45 seconds before he was unceremoniously killed off?).

As a sequel to one of the greatest RPGs ever created, Chrono Cross is a horrible disappointment. But even on its own merit, it’s just outright awful, a rotten mess of incompetence and meaninglessness bound together by one of the most tangled and poorly executed plots I’ve encountered. Do you know what a rat king is? In case you don’t, picture a large collection of squirming, vicious rats whose tails are all so badly tangled and/or glued together with dried filth, blood, and feces, that the diseased little monsters can’t even extricate themselves, and so become a roaming, squealing, noxious vortex of entangled vermin. That’s a rat king, a snarled and snarling mass of totally inextricable plague rodents. And that’s what Chrono Cross is: the RPG version of a rat king.


10. Robotrek (SNES)

I challenge anyone to tell me that they understand the story to this game. No, seriously, I really don't think it is possible; I defy you if you say it is. Robotrek is not a game that is unnecessarily complex with a few plot holes scattered around that make it difficult to understand what's going on (Xenogears). Robotrek is a game that just does not make sense. And I don’t mean not making sense in the way that Chrono Cross makes no sense, where it’s just ridiculously over-complex and stupid but if you try VERY hard to untangle its many plot threads it actually IS possible (but certainly not rewarding) to follow them. No, I mean that Robotrek does not make sense in the way that a mentally unstable homeless man who has very liberally abused a wide assortment of narcotics improvising a surrealist poem doesn’t make sense. And yet that raving lunatic STILL is probably more coherent than this game is.

You know what? Words ain’t gonna cut it on this one. Here, let me break out The RPGenius’s Scale of Nonsensical Insanity and show you where exactly Robotrek falls on the incomprehenso-meter.

The RPGenius’s Scale of Nonsensical Insanity

Note that the scale does not begin at a normally rational, understandable point. It starts with Ghost Dad, a movie considered one of the least comprehensible works in human history. And from there, Robotrek is aaaaaall the way down near the end. That is how absurdly out of human comprehension this game is.

It’s also kind of lazy about its insanity, too. The game eventually gets so wrapped up with time traveling, vampires, aliens, and all kinds of other crap that it doesn't even try to make it plausible. It seems totally unable to untangle itself from the various paradoxes it's made and just says "Screw it" and continues forward. Robotrek is a game where everything's silly and stupid, nothing makes sense, there's little to no point, and there's really no motivation to brave the excessively steep increases in difficulty to reach the end. I can't think of a single reason to play this game whatsoever.


9. Final Fantasy 8 (PS1)

Sometimes I feel bad about ragging on FF8 so damn much around here. I mean, sure, it wasn't good, but I totally hated some other FFs more. It wasn't nearly as boring as Final Fantasy 5, for one, and unlike FF12, FF8 actually seemed to know what the hell it wanted to say and where it was going.

Then I look at the game's cast, and my guilt melts away.

FF8 was Square's first (definitely not last) truly sickening attempt to cash in on their audience by demeaning them and selling to the lowest common denominator. Sure, I can't pretend that FF5 was much more than a cheap cash-in itself, but at least with that crap heap, Square was putting little effort into a piece of trash that they hoped would sell because it imitated an RPG. With FF8, they made a cast of shockingly shallow stereotypes of their intended audience, and had them act out a silly, stupid love story clearly pandering once again to the shallow interests that Square imagined its teenage target demographic had. Squall's the caustic loner who just secretly wants someone to wuuuuuuv him but at the same time doesn't want any of the actual affection and attention that caring for people entails, Rinoa's the preppy spoiled idiot who not-so-secretly wants someone (really, anyone) to wuuuuuuuv, and the rest of the cast members meekly fall into their lunch table-inspired social roles as the main couple dominate the plot and make everything about how much they're in love after knowing each other for a few days, days during which they didn’t get along and Squall couldn’t stand her.

Not that the plot would be all that much better off without them--it's about a Sorceress in the future (what exactly makes a Sorceress, incidentally, is not really defined, since anyone in the game can use magic if they want) who decides to take control of Sorceresses in the present to enact a plan to compress time for no given reason that will involve connecting a magical pathway from the moon to the planet that will allow a huge horde of moon monsters that appear every 1000 years or something to come and ravage a technologically advanced super city that was once ruled by a mean Sorceress but now has a president whose adopted daughter can make people's brains go back in time and be in someone else's body...wow, summarizing the story is making me realize that it's even sillier than I thought, and I haven't hit on HALF of the craziness in it yet. No, really, not even half. There’s a part of this game where you get lost in space on an abandoned dragon-shaped space ship with alien dinosaurs on board, for Christ’s sake. This game’s world and story seem more like a fever dream than something intentionally imagined.**

But anyways, back on point. The game is about a poorly-written cast being involved in a tasteless and overblown romance that only vapid, bored teenagers could be so stupid as to be a part of, with the backdrop of one of the sillier time-traveling plots out there (and God knows that's saying something), with the clear hopes that the stupid teens in the game would appeal to the supposedly stupid teens playing the game and make it a financial success. FF8's here as much for the fact that it insults your intelligence while it panders, as it is for actually being terrible.


8. The 7th Saga (SNES)

I used to hold that this was the worst RPG ever. While certain other RPGs I've played in the past several years have changed this sentiment (Obvious and Unnecessary Hint: they're the ones below), both in that they are worse than The 7th Saga and that they have expanded my understanding of the concept and nature of “bad,” The 7th Saga is still one of the worst RPGs out there, and below only Rune Factory 1 and Suikoden 4 in how obscenely boring it is. Unlike most bad games, you don't just get one hero with absolutely no personality, you get to choose from more than half a dozen! The game's story doesn't really change at all depending on your choice, though, and it's frustrating and requires hours of level-whoring and money-gathering no matter what, of course. It's blocky, awkward, and ugly as anything--and that doesn’t matter, but it’s worth noting because it looks and feels the same way it’s written and expresses itself. You basically spend most of the game on a long, often aimless journey to gather magic Runes. Once you have them, you are blandly betrayed and have to save the world from the evil entity who was actually after the Runes all along. And as it turns out, the secret to beating him is...the Runes! What a twist. It’s like the creators of this game took the cliched basics of like half the fantasy stories ever written, shook free absolutely every single aspect of personalization that gave those cliches any flavor, and just used that for their game. If the story of your average, by-the-numbers RPG is a loaf of white bread, then The 7th Saga’s story is just tasteless flour. Poorly made tedium incarnate, The 7th Saga has nothing good and plenty of bad.


7. Rune Factory 1 (DS)

I think I said it best in my 2014 Annual Summary rant: this is one of the most dull RPGs I’ve ever come across. Just thinking about it is making me want to take a nap. Ugh. There’s nothing worthwhile about this game, plain and simple. Its plot is bland and generic, and just getting to the point where the plot is actually starting to show up at all takes fucking days of repetitive busywork punctuated by subpar dungeon-crawling. Compounding this fatal flaw, the supporting cast are utterly lackluster, overused tropes, and the romance aspect is trite and unconvincing, not to mention essentially the same regardless of which character’s affections you choose to pursue. This is a game that delights in all the mind-numbing side crap that annoys me in RPGs (item maintenance, item creation, item growth management, fishing, repeated dungeon-crawling that explores the same goddamn dungeons over and over, etc) and makes actually telling a fucking story and saying anything meaningful into a secondary priority. No, scratch that, storytelling and meaning is a tertiary priority. No, scratch that, everything that actually engages your mind and imagination in any capacity is a non priority in Rune Factory 1.

The game is just nothing, there’s nothing that it offers, there’s nothing that it says, there’s nothing that it does or attempts or demands or means or possesses. Chrono Cross, Final Fantasy 8, Mega Man Star Force 1 and 2, and even most of the worse RPGs below--these are all abysmal titles, but every one of them has SOMETHING to offer, even if it’s bad, even if it annoys the hell out of me with its stupidity. I can still get something out of these dismal failures. Rune Factory 1? Nothing. Just. Nothing.


6. Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals (DS)

Should a botched remake even count for this list? I mean, I don’t even count it as an individual RPG that I’ve experienced. And yet, how can I not include this abominable, wretched heap of vile, vomitous refuse?

Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals is a remake of the classic Lufia 2 for the SNES, recreated by SquareEnix from the ground up. Now, allowing SquareEnix to handle your franchise is like giving a child a loaded gun: you may get lucky and no one gets hurt, but more likely than not, someone is going to end up getting shot in the face. And in this case, that someone turns out to be the unhappy soul who plays the game.

Anyway, I did a rant where I went into specific detail about everything this game does wrong, and I’m sure as hell not going to reproduce that 81-strong list of this game’s sins here. I certainly encourage you to read it if you want the full scoop on this utterly repugnant monstrosity, though. But if you want the bare bones summary, here it is. Almost every aspect of this game, every plot event, is lousy to some degree. Sometimes it’s just mildly poor, like idiotic character designs or stupid and irrational dialogue. And sometimes it’s so awful it offends your very heart and soul, like the romance between Maxim and Selan or the cowardly and artistically catastrophic changing of the ending. But whether a little or a lot, virtually every moment is bad. And if you knew the original Lufia 2, and ever held any positive feelings for it whatsoever, then Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals is all the worse. Either way, this game makes me fucking sick.


5. Shadow Hearts 3 (PS2)

I did a rant on this game's characters which also mentioned some of its other problems, so most everything you need to know is there. I'll just say here that this game hasn't even an ounce of the thoughtful story-telling, humorous and/or deep characters, and reasonable creativity that the first and especially second Shadow Hearts games had, and completely botches its attempts to tie in with its real-world settings by taking the series's traditional creative liberties with its settings about 3 steps too far. A boring and somewhat annoying protagonist, a personality-lacking villain, a cast of empty followers and perpetually-repeating gags that aren't funny, and an awful, thoroughly meaningless plot that screws up in a major way all its attempts to connect with its setting, all work in tandem to make this game one of the worst video game turds to ever be squeezed from a developer's ass out onto store shelves.


4. Suikoden 4 (PS2)

Sorry to keep copping out, but I did a whole rant on Suikoden 4, and a General RPGs rant on Sailing that largely featured the game, so I recommend you check them out for a proper take on this interactive sedative. Suffice to say here that it's not actually as horrible as most of the games on this list, but it IS probably the most boring game I've ever played, bar none. In fact, it may be the most boring experience I’ve ever had in my life, plain and simple. Suikoden 4 is more boring than just staring at a blank wall. I’m not exaggerating. I mean that. Honest to God, between spending an hour playing Suikoden 4 and spending an hour focusing intently on a bare, blank wall, you will be more entertained by the wall. Because when you stare at a blank, expressionless place for long enough, doing nothing else, your imagination will automatically begin to activate itself, and you will start thinking about other things in the meantime. It’s a natural reflex of the human mind, when you focus on nothing, to start distracting itself with ideas, questions, stray thoughts, and mental scenarios. Whereas when you play Suikoden 4, you are playing a game that is at least as monotonous and devoid of appeal and meaning as a bare, blank wall is...but the animated visual stimulus of the game is tricking your subconscious into thinking you’re actually doing something. So even though you are equally bored as, probably more bored than you would be if you were just looking at the wall, your imagination isn’t going to bail you out this time, and so the wall leads to a more enjoyable experience. That is how boring this game is.


3. Phantasy Star 3 (Sega Genesis)

This is it, folks. This is a very, very special bad game. This is the RPG that inspired my very first rant. If it weren’t for Phantasy Star 3, this blog might not even exist.*** Cheers, PS3: every single one of the literally hundreds of thousands of words I have typed here is thanks to you. You suck that much.

Basically, this game would shame an unpaid amateur game coder. It looks horrible, it plays badly, the battle system is frustrating and yet as dull as reading nutrition labels, the music is like badly synthesized elevator music...and to get to the actually important parts, the plot's shaky and somehow just seems unimportant to the whole thing, there's barely any connection to the Phantasy Star universe as a whole and what connection there is makes this game canonically null and void, and the characters are basically just walking dolls meandering their way very slowly (like, over entire generations' time) to one of several endings that range from pointless to weird and inexplicable. From the visuals to the plot, the gameplay to the characters, the negligible to the crucial, the game seems like it was released while only 40% through its development process. Of all the games on this list, Phantasy Star 3 is the only one that is so poorly made in every way that I think a person, any person, using RPG Maker for 5 hours couldn't help but make something better.


2. Grandia 3 (PS2)

3 is not the magic number where the Grandia series is concerned. Being the next (and currently last) installment of the Grandia series directly following Grandia 2, this game may be the biggest RPG disappointment I've ever had (besides the ending of Mass Effect 3, which is in its own league of let-down). But it's not just bad because it's a disgrace to its series; it's bad because it's really, really bad. The short story is, it stars a typical (for anime) stupid, airplane-obsessed teen hero as he starts a cutesy little journey to fly away from home and, through unlikely yet boringly predictable circumstances of an equally predictably boring plot, gets roped up into saving, protecting, and more or less playing nursemaid to a magical healing girl just as typical and uninteresting as he is, named Alfina. It's like an RPG that Hayao Miyazaki would make, if Hayao Miyazaki were talentless and addicted to crystal meth.

You may remember the name Alfina from a recent rant I did, incidentally. The Top 5 Most Annoying Characters of RPGs. She was number 1. Yeah.

This game is pretty much the ultimate culmination of boring, overdone cliches of anime-esque story-telling. Its plot is hackneyed and covers no new ground whatever, its themes are either vague or run-of-the-mill, and either way are executed in an idiotic manner (its attempt at "Love of Family Can Overcome Evil" is to have Alfina tell her groundlessly villainous brother that she loves him, and this simple statement makes him SEE THE LIGHT even though not 5 seconds before he was about to fucking sacrifice her to a dark god), and its cast ranges from yawn-inspiring support characters to stupid and unlikable heroes and villains. There really isn't any redeeming factor here; it's just the perfect example of bad cliches and bad execution of them making a bad game. If you want more details, see my old Grandia 3 rant; it'll break everything down for you case by case.


1: Wild Arms 4 (PS2)

Time does not make the heart grow fonder with Wild Arms 4. When I played it, I hated it, but if you had asked me what I thought was the worst RPG ever, I would have been torn between Grandia 3 and The 7th Saga. When I finished playing it, I hated it even more, and did a rant on how much I hated it, but if you had asked me what I thought the worst RPG ever was, I would have had to think hard about whether it was Grandia 3, The 7th Saga, or Wild Arms 4. But as time goes on, and I continue to remember this unspeakably wretched time-vampire, the sheer animosity I feel toward this game only grows, and now there's no question in my mind: this is the worst RPG that I've played to date--that I can officially rant on, at least (see Dishonorable Mention below for explanation). Like I said, I did a rant on this one, so I suggest you check it out for exactly what's wrong with this game.

But the general idea here is, this is a game about the stupidest kids in the world on a quest to save their friend Yulie, who is so passive and compliant that I swear someone in the group must be slipping her roofies throughout the entire journey. They use this quest as an excuse to complain about how evil adults are, how terrible the world is (because of adults), and how unfair life is (also because of adults), as well as to spout completely irrational theories about why adults do mean things, because God only knows that children are utterly incapable of doing bad things themselves. These kids would make Peter Pan want to grow up. Occasionally you get a break from their chatter when the game decides to show you what the adults are up to (hint: it's evil), or shows you the idiot pretty boy on his motorcycle feeling conflicted in ways that you don't care about and have probably already seen more appealing characters handle in better ways in superior games/animes/whatevers. Most of the time, though, it's just one inane philosophy about how hitting the age of 21 erases all your moral values completely after another.

This game isn't supremely boring like Suikoden 4. It's not a complete mess like Phantasy Star 3. Its plot isn't just an assemblage of crappy cliches like Grandia 3, or completely incomprehensible like Robotrek. It's not even that it doesn't have any single redeeming quality like Shadow Hearts 3; the character of Racquel is actually pretty damn great in WA4, if not nearly great enough to justify playing it. The game is just infuriating, plain and simple, and continuously makes you hate the hell out of it as you play; there's just no escape from its grating prattle and rampant stupidity. It deserves its place as bottom of the barrel here, no question in my mind.


Dishonorable Mention: Final Fantasy 10-2 (PS2)

Here's the deal, folks: this is the only time I will ever seriously include FF10-2 in a rant of mine beyond a quick snipe or two. I generally follow the rule of shunning this game's existence. I don't include it in the list of RPGs I've beaten, and I won't officially rant on it. But I'm breaking the rule for this list and putting it in here as the Dishonorable Mention because, if I were to pay this game even the iota of respect I hold for Wild Arms 4, it would be Number 1 on this list of worst RPGs, without any competition whatsoever.

Games on the list above do many sucky things. Some are obscenely boring. Others are just unimaginative and stupid. But with the exception of Final Fantasy 8, none of them insult my intelligence, and that's largely why I hate FF10-2 above all games of all genres--because it is a slap in the face to the consumer who plays it. And unlike FF8, which was intended as a crass marketing ploy but actually had some effort put into building a game out of that foundation (failed effort, but effort nonetheless), FF10-2 is, from beginning to end, nothing whatsoever but a blatant attempt by Square to pander its way into your wallet. Square didn't put any effort into making this game at all. It was an obvious, cheap attempt to make money from the get-go. The plot is boring and stupid, the characters are either reused, yet more intense archetypes from previous games (Paine is just an even less likable Squall, if you can even believe such a thing possible, while Rikku's air-headed, high-pitched annoying nature and lack of intelligence are increased), or shallow, audience-appealing stereotypes (Look everyone! Yuna the J-Pop Anime Girl doesn't have depth any more, but she DOES have a Spice Girls-esque go-get'em girl-power attitude! And also sexier clothes! Oh boy!), and, most notably, a crapload of stuff was just reused from the previous game in the most cheap and obvious ways imaginable. And I don't just mean stuff like settings; that's to be expected in a sequel taking place in the same world. I mean to the point that they reuse character models for Wakka and Lulu while loudly noting all the fat that Wakka has put on and how pregnant Lulu is, neither of which can be seen in any way. No, seriously, look.


FF10 Lulu

FF10-2 Lulu


Clearly a woman in her last stages of pregnancy. And while that example is probably the most famous, the evidence of apathetic laziness on the part of the game's creators is just found all over the place throughout the whole game.

It's already a bad game because Square didn't try at all to make it good, but the fact that they spent so little energy on anything beyond the sparkly effects and sexy dresses just makes it that much more blatant that they're pandering to their audience with the lowest common denominators possible, hoping that playing magical dress-up with spunky, entirely predictable girlies will appeal to their female audience, and that playing magical dress-up with spunky, entirely predictable hot chicks will also appeal to their male audience so long as they add in enough revealing outfits in poor taste. They clearly expect you, their target audience, to fall for appearances and not care a lick about actual quality. So, to whit, they're hoping, nay, assuming that the people that their company owes its existence to are crude, shallow, tasteless morons.

Now granted, the general success of FF10-2, not to mention its many, many fans clearly prove that Square was entirely correct in this assumption. Nonetheless, it's just about the most insulting product that I've come across. That, combined with the fact that it's a truly abhorrent game just on its own, and that it utterly ruins a previously extremely deep and well-created character (Yuna) by making her as shallow and stupid as everything else,**** makes it the true worst RPG I've ever seen, and, hopefully, ever will see. I could go on for pages and hours about how bad this game is and how much I hate it (and I have plenty of times before through IMs and forum posts), but frankly, I don't think I'll ever find numerous and nasty enough words to fully detail how loathsome this RPG is, so I'll stop now. But yeah. Final Fantasy 10-2 is in its own league of putrescence.














* Okay, okay, so I reused this opening from the LDS Characters rant. Cut me a break, I really liked it.


** In fact, there is a theory that some people prescribe to that when Squall is impaled by the ice javelins that Edea plunges into his chest during the failed assassination attempt, it’s a fatal wound, and everything in the game after that point is actually just a hallucinatory dream he imagines as his dying mind begins shutting down, with the events and twists becoming more illogical and unlikely as his brain dies and his mind unravels. You can read the details here. The sad thing is, this is pretty much the only way that Final Fantasy 8 could ever make sense, and if this were actually the truth of the matter, and what Squaresoft intended, then this game would actually be fascinating, artistic, and I would respect the hell out of it. But of course, thoughtful and articulate though this concept is, it’s obvious that Square meant FF8 to be entirely on the level (and there was plenty of stuff before the point of Squall’s supposed death that made no sense), and this is sadly just a charming idea that will never be endorsed. It reminds me of the Indoctrination Theory that fans created about the ending of Mass Effect 3. Like the Indoctrination Theory, the Squall is Dead Theory is a case where the fans have shown infinitely more intelligence and insight than the actual creators, and provided those creators with a way to make the work something worthwhile instead of something awful...but the creators will never, ever be smart enough to go for it.

Good God, what does it say about a game when it would be immeasurably improved if 70% of its events were reduced to a dying man’s hallucinations?


*** Yeah, right, like a rant blog wasn’t inevitable for me one way or another. No one as long-winded and self-important as me could possibly avoid having a blog forever.


**** Don't even try to give me that crap about "WELL PEOPLE CAN CHANGE A LOT OVER 2 YEARS." When people change completely (and I mean COMPLETELY) due to a tremendously inspiring and touching event/person, it's not to become a careless idiot who disregards and disgraces everything they learned from and cared about the event/person that changed them.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Neverwinter Nights 1's Add-Ons

Is it pointless to look at the add-ons of a game that came out over 10 years ago and is nowadays sold with its add-ons automatically included in the purchase, removing any influence this rant could have on the reader’s purchase decisions? Yup. Has the subject being pointless ever stopped me from making a rant before? Nope. So let’s take a look at the expansions and premium modules of the original Neverwinter Nights.



Shadows of Undrentide: Meh. A cookie-cutter plot wrapped in generic Dungeons and Dragons events. People complain that the second half of this expansion is rushed in its storytelling, and they’re totally right, but I can’t find that upsetting in the least because this expansion is frankly just not interesting enough that I’d want it drawn out at all. Frankly, I had more than my liking of drawn out, tedious plot cliche from the game proper, thank you. The first 2 party members aren’t bad, I guess, but they’re not good, either. They kind of feel like unfinished prototypes of Bioware characters rather than the real thing. I’ll admit that Deekin, and the kobolds in general, do tickle my fancy, so Shadows of Undrentide isn’t a total bore. Still, one amusing henchman does not a boring plot excuse. I don’t know how much this expansion originally sold for, but I know it wasn’t worth it, because even in its role nowadays as a free addition to the game, Shadows of Undrentide still isn’t worth the time it takes to play it.


Hordes of the Underdark: Like Shadows of Undrentide and the main story of Neverwinter Nights 1, the first 2 chapters of Hordes of the Underdark is plodding, largely mindless dungeon-crawling busywork, particularly the first chapter. The first chapter is just schlepping through a big dungeon, as if that were something novel for Neverwinter Nights by this point, and while Chapter 2 does finally see fit to grace us with a plot, it’s pretty generic stuff. The return of Deekin as a companion is welcomed, the return of 4 of the main game’s henchmen is not. The latter bunch clearly had their character development explored to its limit the first time around, and add nothing to the experience here, while Deekin (though he gets only a little more development) is amusing and appealing by nature, so he helps add a chuckle here and there. The new companion Nathyrra is okay, I guess...she’s sort of like an extremely watered down version of Viconia from Baldur’s Gate 1 and particularly 2. Like, if Viconia’s character depth and personality were filet mignon, Nathyrra would be a Slim Jim. Still pleasant, but not even in the same league as what it could be. I did like the part of Chapter 2 involving the mirror-cursed town of flying elves, too, but yeah...overall the first couple chapters of Hordes of the Underdark are no better than Shadows of Undrentide was.

...But then Chapter 3 starts, and suddenly the game pulls a complete 180 on you. No longer are you just going back and forth for one minor sidequest after another, waiting for something real to happen. Now you’re traveling alongside the soul of Aribeth, a paladin blackguard seeking to regain her faith even as she walks through the frozen hell of Cania itself, as you retrace the steps of an ancient, slumbering angel who gave up paradise for the sake of love in order to find a primal being who knows every person’s True Name--the name the gods bless each person with that holds ultimate power over him or her--all while the eternal Blood War rages on closer and closer, all so you can gain control of an interdimensional reaper and confront a hell lord before he can turn your home plane into his new domain to rule over. Filled with philosophy and beauty, the draw and power of the ancient and epic, and finally a companion with some real depth, Hordes of the Underdark’s third chapter finally delivers on the promise of a grand and meaningful Dungeons and Dragons story.

Is it worth it? Well, again, I don’t know how much HotU sold for originally. But the answer would almost surely be yes either way. Despite the majority of Hordes of the Underdark being generic filler, the third chapter makes up for that lost time in a big way and gives you something substantial and epic to enjoy. My policy is that if the payoff is great, I’ll happily suffer tedium to reach it (I really don’t know how I would play most RPGs otherwise, they’re so boring gameplay-wise), so Hordes of the Underdark gets a thumbs-up from me.


Kingmaker: Kingmaker is a Premium Module for Neverwinter Nights 1, which as far as I can tell is just what people called Downloadable Content before there was any widely recognized name for the concept. It’s, uh...odd. On the one hand, it’s just too simple to be interesting--the premise is just doing some quests for people to get their vote on making you the new lord/lady of a city (and oddly, it’s a position always listed as lord/lady, never king or queen, so I don’t know where the title of this DLC comes from), and then a short romp through some bad guys set on conquering that city for bad guy reasons. Boring. And yet, it’s also too complex to be enjoyable--the truth of the protagonist’s lineage, and the identity, nature, and purpose of the individual who sets this whole conflict up, are only half explained, even though they’re the major underlying factors that drive the entire story. Too simplistic on the surface, with inadequately explored complexity as its backbone: it’s a tough line to walk, but Kingmaker manages to do so and fail you twice over. To Kingmaker’s credit, some of the party members are actually pretty decent (particularly Kaidala and Jaboli, though Trip and Calibast are fairly unique, too), and there’s a decent effort put into developing the party members both in their own right and in their connections to one another, which I certainly appreciate. And even if it’s not compelling, Kingmaker is at least short and direct. After a full game, a full expansion, and 2/3rds of another expansion that are mostly just long, drawn out generic boredom, it’s hard not to appreciate a boring story that at least doesn’t dawdle and delay on and on.

From what I can tell, Kingmaker sold for $8 originally. Oddly high price for the time, and definitely not worth it. But as it is nowadays, a bonus that comes free with the game, I would say...well, I wouldn’t recommend it, like I recommend Hordes of the Underdark, but I wouldn’t recommend against it like I do with Shadows of Undrentide, either. It’s a bit of a time waste, but not a huge one.


Witch’s Wake: Alright, finally! It took a while, but Neverwinter Nights 1 at last delivers a consistently engaging story that’s written well, has compelling atmosphere, interesting ideas, a good narrative, and some decent NPCs. Wooo!

Too bad it’s the first part of a planned series of DLC packages that was never continued.

Yes, after only the first leg of a mysterious and potentially awesome quest to remember one’s purpose and self, and to deliver a cryptic message to a king once known but now forgotten, this DLC ends, and you are left with no satisfaction whatsoever. Apparently Bioware planned to make this into a multi-part story, but the Premium Module program was shut down before Witch’s Wake could ever get past its first chapter. A damn shame.

Although I would like to express a serious level of disgust with this plan, had it come to fruition. I mean, consider this fact--back when it was released, you paid $5 for Witch’s Wake (and Shadowguard; they came in the same package), and what you were doing was paying for an unfinished story. If all had gone according to Bioware’s original plan, you would then have been paying more money for each subsequent chapter of the story! A common complaint with Downloadable Content is that if it’s handled dishonestly (and it so, so often is), it’s basically a case of consumer extortion, where you pay for a game but then have to pay an extra fee to actually play ALL of the game you ALREADY PAID FOR. Well, that’s pretty much what we would have had here, if Witch’s Wake had ever been continued. You’d have to keep paying over and over again to fully experience the product that you had already purchased! I tend to think of Bioware as having slowly descended further and further into greedy, amoral corruption over time, but finding something like this makes me wonder if perhaps the company was just always rotten, and we all just didn’t notice it as much back in the day.


Shadowguard: Oh for Phosphora’s sake! It’s Witch’s Wake all over again! While not nearly as intriguing or narratively strong as Witch’s Wake, Shadowguard nonetheless presents an interesting, engaging story with some actual personality for its protagonist...and then drops off into nothingness. Yes, as with Witch’s Wake, Shadowguard is meant to be the first part of a multi-chapter story which was never continued. As with Witch’s Wake, Shadowguard is something that’s enjoyable while it lasts and which you’d actually have some interest in seeing continued, unlike most of Neverwinter Nights 1’s content that we’ve seen so far. And as with Witch’s Wake, the intended concept of paying several times for the privilege of actually playing Shadowguard, the product you’ve purchased, to its conclusion is utterly repulsive, shameless extortion on Bioware’s part. What a load of bullshit.


Pirates of the Sword Coast: How much you get from Pirates of the Sword Coast is going to greatly vary depending on how much you like pirates and the whole swashbuckling adventure genre in general. Myself, I am pretty ambivalent towards pirates. By themselves, they are not interesting, and most stories involving them and the whole idea of seeking fortune on the high seas don’t pan out to be all that compelling. Nonetheless, there’s enough opportunity to the whole pirate thing that you can certainly get some decent plots and characters out of it if you’re a decent storyteller. So I don’t care one way or another about the pop culture pirate genre.

That said, I was surprised to find myself enjoying this DLC pretty well as it went along. Pirates of the Sword Coast isn’t kidding about being pirate-y. A jabbery, smartass parrot, recruiting a pirate crew, undead curses, being marooned on islands with (sort of) cannibal tribes, treasure map hunts, krakens, pirate-filled island towns...this side-story has pretty close to every pirate trope out there, and it plays all of them pretty well. It never feels like any of these common pirate story devices are forced, though, and the overall method of the DLC is pretty good. It’s only sparsely narrated, but what it has works, and overall the story is average, but the characters and NPCs, and the item descriptions and environmental text, are all lighthearted and even a bit clever. It’s kinda like a combination of the fun of Pirates of the Caribbean 1 (and only the first movie; none of that crummy drek that followed) and Muppet Treasure Island. So I did end up liking this one well enough, and I expect people who are more into the high seas genre of books and movies and whatnot would find it all the better.

Pirates of the Sword Coast was a bit costly for its time, selling at $10 (from what I can tell, at least; it’s been long enough since it was sold that my sources are only old forum posts about it). Nonetheless, it’s fun enough that I wouldn’t necessarily call that a waste of money, depending, again, on how much of a pirate fan you are. Maybe not worth that much to me, but I could understand why someone else would think it worth that. Moot point nowadays, of course; Bioware long ago stopped selling it and if you can find an installer for this module (or any of the ones below), it’ll authenticate itself and let you play it even though you haven’t purchased it (at least, mine did). But anyway, yeah. Decent DLC, this.


Wyvern Crown of Cormyr: Meh. Nothing especially bad (besides the damn jousting minigame; expect that bit of annoyance to get its own rant at some point), but likewise nothing interesting, either. Not worth the time to play it, certainly not worth the $10 that Bioware originally charged for this module.


The Dark Ranger’s Treasure: This DLC is among the 3 tiny little modules that Bioware made and released for free. On the one hand, it’s hard to find fault with something a company provides completely for free. On the other hand, this brief little venture could barely even be called a boring sidequest. I’d pass on it, but if you try it and don’t like it, at least it won’t waste much of your time.


To Heir is Human: See what I just wrote for The Dark Ranger’s Treasure? It applies to this one, too.


The Winds of Eremor: Ditto.


Infinite Dungeons: If, after a full game, 2 expansions, and over half a dozen DLCs of various sizes, you are, somehow, still in the mood for running around killing things in a dungeon for hours on end, then this is definitely your module. If, however, you are someone who plays an RPG to experience storytelling in the video game medium, who has become sick to death of the repetitive gameplay mechanics after experiencing them for 100 hours and frankly was not particularly interested in them to begin with, then this DLC is a thoroughly unappealing prospect.


Darkness Over Daggerford: Bioware designed this final DLC with the intent to sell it, but apparently someone pulled the plug on the idea of continuing to produce Neverwinter Nights 1 content before it was finished. So, from what I gather, one of the employees of Bioware decided to finish DOD after he left to form his own company. Thus, Darkness Over Daggerford is legally considered to be user-created content instead of official, but since it was mostly developed by Bioware, I’m still counting it here.

Darkness Over Daggerford is...eh, decent, I suppose. Nothing special, but a little better than the par for Neverwinter Nights 1; I at least didn’t feel outright bored at any point. The party members are alright, and the plot is generic but acceptable. Being unofficial content, this was released for free, so I guess the price was right, at least.



And that’s the last of’em. There are plenty more modules for Neverwinter Nights 1, of course, but those are ones made by fans, not Bioware. So how’s it all stack up? Well, good if you look at it one way, bad if you look at it the other. I mean, Neverwinter Nights 1’s main game is a highly uninteresting venture. Almost every part of its plot is generic and doesn’t hold the attention at all, and that plot is padded out ineptly by having most of its chapters being multi-part fetch quests that take so long that you almost forget sometimes what the hell you’re doing all the run-around for. Its characters are generally only a little better, with only Aribeth having depth that stands out in the game’s cast--and despite having said depth and being vitally essential to the plot as a whole, Aribeth is only barely present in the damn game, relegated to a quest-giver in the first half, while in the second half of the game she’s a plot device whose actions and development are blandly told to you second-hand.

So compared to Neverwinter Nights 1 proper, the game’s add-ons are a cut above. Some, like Shadows of Undrentide or those 3 tiny freebies, are no better, but Pirates of the Sword Coast, Shadowguard, and especially Witch’s Wake and the third chapter of Hordes of the Underdark are certainly better. It’s inarguable that the best parts of Neverwinter Nights 1 can be found in its add-ons, and frankly there are parts of Hordes of the Underdark that are awesome and epic by any RPG’s standards. So in the context of the game itself, the add-ons are the highlights of Neverwinter Nights 1.

But speaking in a more objective sense? This is a lousy showing. Its best moments are Witch’s Wake, which is incomplete and would have been flagrantly dishonest, and Hordes of the Underdark, which is only good in its last third and requires you to just slog through a bunch of average dungeon-crawling nonsense to get to the good part. The majority of the packages just aren’t good, and almost nothing here is worth its price of time and (back in the day) money. It’s not the worst set of add-ons I’ve seen, but it’s a much further cry from being the best, that’s for sure. I suppose add-ons were still a pretty new idea at this time, at least in a sense of downloading them instead of going out to purchase physical copies of expansions, but still, not great.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Legend of Korra: A New Era Begins's Lack of Asami

Sigh. So, over my Christmas break between semesters, I went on a crazy Avatar binge, watching the entire series of Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra from start to finish. I had seen neither before, but always heard only great things about them,* and with Korra having just finished its run, it seemed like a good time to finally get around to checking them out. I was not disappointed with either show; they are both excellent and well deserving of the frequent praise given them.

What I WAS disappointed with, was the Legend of Korra RPG.

“Cheap, lazy cash-in” is basically how I would describe this game. The facile plot barely manages to string itself together in between-battle cutscenes lasting all of a few seconds before the next mindless combat begins, the whole game feels like unimportant filler, and the characters are barely more than mouthpieces for a plot which almost doesn’t even exist. RPGs are a genre thankfully free from the curse of movie adaptations, but this title is clearly no less of a halfhearted, manipulative franchise-milker than any given movie-based game. And while I’m sure she would have ended up just as pale an imitation of her true self as all the rest of the characters in the game do...where the hell is Asami?

It may be a small flaw in a title that’s little more than the video game equivalent of a cheap t-shirt found in a second-rate amusement park gift shop, but the fact that Asami isn’t even in the game at all is nonetheless greatly annoying to me. I don’t deny for a moment that a lot of that annoyance is subjective, of course. I like Asami, I make no pretense otherwise. She’s an enjoyable character with subtle but significant depth who contributes a positive dynamic to the show and connects well with virtually every character and benefits their character development. She’s sharp, active, and dependable, and she rounds out Team Avatar very well. I want to see her in any and all Legend of Korra-related ventures.

But even from an objective standpoint, it doesn’t make any sense to have Asami absent from the game. There’s no plot-related reason that I can think of for her not to be present--the game takes place during a time in the show when she’s as available to be out and about with Korra as any of the rest of the gang is, and the game says and does nothing that would require her to be elsewhere. I suppose you can make the argument that just because Korra has an adventure, that doesn’t mean she always needs to have her friends present (there are plenty of times in the show where she’s going it alone, after all), but Korra’s pals Mako and Bolin are party members. What sense is there in having some members of Team Avatar on the adventure, but not all of them? It’d be like making a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game where you could play as Leonardo, Raphael, and Michelangelo, but for some reason Donatello wasn’t available, or even present, and his absence was never explained or even brought up in passing. It’d be like if a My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic game was released where Twilight goes on an adventure with 4 out of 5 of her best friends, but leaves Applejack behind for no given reason. It’d be like if Kingdom Hearts 3 comes out and it stars Sora and Goofy, but Donald is just completely missing and no one seems to even notice.

It’s not even like party spots are being reserved only for the most essential show characters anyway. Yeah, you’d expect Mako and Bolin to be there, that’s a given, and of course Tenzin is an obvious choice, but while Lin is important in the show, she’s certainly not at the level of main character that Asami is, yet she’s a party member in this game. And Kya? The game throws freaking Kya into the party, but not Asami?

Now, I suppose you could try to make the point that Asami has no elemental bending powers, so she wouldn’t really be able to hold her own as a party member in combat alongside all the other characters who can throw elemental attacks around willy-nilly. And I could certainly understand how you would think that...if you were a blind, slobbering moron, because anyone with even the slightest shred of familiarity with the show knows that non-benders can still be fierce combatants. Lacking bending never stopped Sokka, Suki, Ty Lee, and Mai from being formidable opponents in the first Avatar series, and it sure as hell doesn’t stop Asami in The Legend of Korra. She regularly takes down trained benders and warriors on her own with ease. In fact, I’m relatively sure that if you took all the fights Asami has been in, and averaged out how many of them she won, and then took all the fights Korra the kickass Avatar has been in and averaged out her success rate, you’d find that Asami actually has a way higher win ratio!

And it’s not like the game’s elemental system wouldn’t support Asami as a team member. The game has an element for physical attacks. Plenty of enemies use it, and at one point in the game, Korra has her bending blocked temporarily and has to rely on physical attacks only. So it’s not like the developers couldn’t have just coded in a non-elemental party member if they’d cared to. Hell, it would have given the player a chance to take advantage of the strategies inherent in applying the physical elemental to combat, providing the game with a tiny bit more gameplay variety. Which it could certainly use, since the gameplay of TLoKANEB is only marginally better than its story elements.

Even if you want to take a stickler approach that the combat team has to be benders only, there’s no reason Asami couldn’t have been in the game as a team-helping NPC. There are plenty of times where she could have been driving/piloting an escape vehicle, or flying the team to their next destination, or something like that. Asami’s got mad driving and piloting skills, so she’d do great in the role of the party-helping NPC who ferries everyone around.

I know it’s not a big deal, particularly not when compared to the game’s other shortcomings, but it just strikes me as dumb to leave as major a character as Asami out of The Legend of Korra: A New Era Begins. It would have hurt nothing to include her, her absence is puzzling and conspicuous, and as a character she tends to enhance the depth and development of those around her in the show, so who knows, maybe she actually could have interacted with some of the other characters in the game and made them seem a little more like the cast of The Legend of Korra, and less like standing cardboard cut-outs of the characters that some 6-year-old crudely snipped from the back of a cereal box. Probably not, I suppose, careless writing is gonna be careless writing anyway, but still. And if nothing else, having Asami around would have allowed for at least a tiny extra bit of time she’s spent connecting with Korra (even in as limp a way as this game would no doubt portray), and maybe help make the ending of the series just a little better grounded as a result.** Ah, well. The Legend of Korra’s a pretty popular show, even if it has ended...maybe someone will make another RPG based on it, a much, much better one I hope, and Asami will be invited to the party then.



















* Well, almost nothing but great things. I had heard many people mention that Korra’s romance with Mako in Season 1 is stupid, spontaneous, has no chemistry, and, by far worst of all, takes attention and time away from the important parts of the plot and characters rather than naturally work within them. This is all true, unfortunately, but at least that nonsense resolves itself by the end of Season 2, so it’s not a big deal.


** Not to say that I wasn’t pleased that Korra and Asami end up together, or that I don’t think they should. I definitely agree that Asami is the person for Korra; they have such a natural connection from the first season on that their chemistry is almost tangible when they’re on screen together, and they relate perfectly to one another and compliment each other in the best ways. It’s one of those rare times when fictional characters are built right for each other from the get-go; in most romances I see in games, cartoons, animes, comics, and so on, the people involved have to be worked up to the point where they’re a perfect fit for one another. You’re sold on how genuine most characters’ love is through the interactions that play into the romance. With Korra and Asami, the genuine connection is there, clear and easy to see, without any of that work needed.

The only problem is...the romantic work isn’t needed to see that they’re right for each other, but it IS still needed to make their falling in love seem legitimate within the story itself, and Korra and Asami don’t actually spend a whole lot of time in the series together building their natural connection into something more, realizing its romantic potential. Besides the unfortunate fact that the show is skittish about outright showing their interest in one another until its famous ending, they just don’t actually have much together time on screen. What they do have is terrific, of course; I really love the scene at the end of Season 3 where Asami is trying to raise Korra’s spirits after her near death experience with Zaheer, I love the letters they exchange and the fact that Korra feels comfortable sharing herself in a letter only with Asami, I love their talk during the recap episode, and so on. But it should still be more, to warrant an ending as unambiguously about their being in love as The Legend of Korra concludes with. Korra and Asami being together is the right answer, there is no logically or emotionally rational argument to be made otherwise, but the writers rushed past a few steps getting to that correct conclusion.

How fun is it that a Korra RPG essentially gives me full freedom to rant like this on anything I want about the show? Fair warning right now, I may shamelessly abuse this privilege for more rants in the future.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Planescape: Torment's Theme of Belief and Will

It’s March 28th. March 28th, 2015. Do you know what that means?

No, of course you don’t, because you’re (probably) not fanatical Chris Avellone worshippers like I am. Well, for those of you who have not sculpted a golden calf in your mind and stuck a “C. Avellone” name tag on it, March 26th, 2 days ago, was the day on which Pillars of Eternity was released. PoE is a crowdfunded RPG developed by Obsidian Entertainment, the developers behind Knights of the Old Republic 2 and Fallout: New Vegas (and the South Park RPG, apparently, which means I really do need to check that thing out at some point), and whose many excellent writing talents include the transcendently magnificent Chris Avellone. And if what I understand is true, he’s one of the most prominent minds behind Pillars of Eternity...and as a crowdfunded game, and a wildly successfully funded one at that, PoE has had the opportunity to be developed at its own, healthy pace and with no constraints on its creators’ vision. An RPG written by Chris Avellone and his talented peers in which no whimsical but tyrannical corporate suit, no bloodsucking marketing department parasite, and no sales-dictated deadline has had a chance to muck things up? My God. People, at this very moment that you are reading these words, I may be playing the RPG to finally topple Grandia 2 from my Greatest RPGs rant.

That, or I have set myself up for the biggest disappointment of all time. Then again, I did see the ending of Mass Effect 3, so...second biggest.

Anyway, this momentous occasion deserves some sort of celebration here. I did a whole year’s worth of Shin Megami Tensei rants when SMT4 came out, after all, and that wound up not really deserving that much hooplah anyway. The least I can do now is do a rant on an RPG Mr. Avellone has previously worked on. And of all of the RPGs that have been graced by Chris Avellone’s touch, there is one which stands out the most famously. So, without further ado, let’s (finally) have a rant on the legendary, the unparalleled, Planescape: Torment.

Oh yeah, uh, major plot and character spoilers in this rant. If you have not played Planescape: Torment, then for the love of Palutena, DO NOT READ THIS RANT. If you let this shining star of magnificence which you must someday play be lessened in any way, I will be pissed like you cannot believe. DON’T SPOIL PLANESCAPE: TORMENT FOR YOURSELF. JUST. DON’T.



For all the lip service I pay to Planescape: Torment, lip service which it has richly earned of course, I’ve never actually made a rant on it before. That’s not because there’s not much to talk about regarding the game. If anything, Planescape: Torment is the most demanding for discussion and contemplation of all RPGs in existence. It’s more that I actually don’t feel qualified to take the stance of authority in a rant here for anything about the game, the way I do for most any other RPG. It’s so deep, so intelligent, so artistic, and so wise a game that my own childish forays into contemplation don’t even remotely measure up.

Still, I think I’ve actually realized something fairly neat about Planescape: Torment which few others have, something neat and interesting to share with you all at long last. And that realization relates to one of the most significant and fascinating of the many, many subjects that PT touches on: the overwhelming power of belief and will.

It’s easy to recognize how important belief is to the events and setting of Planescape: Torment. It permeates every level of the game’s course. The power of belief comes up over and over again as you travel through the game, in ways both small and large. In Dungeons and Dragons, there is a certain idea that the gods of the D+D planes are born out of people’s belief alone, empowered by it, and that they fade to oblivion if all of their worshippers die or lose faith. At least, I think this is a concept true of the D+D universe in general, and not just invented by Planescape: Torment. The unexpectedly wonderful indie RPG, Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle, has one of its most touching love sidequests making use of the idea that with enough time and belief, an ordinary mortal creature can transcend and become a goddess, and it’s quite clear that EoWC uses the Dungeons and Dragons universe as its setting inspiration. At any rate, it’s an interesting idea that of course correlates thoughtfully to belief’s role in our own world and what we can accomplish with it as our inspiration.

Planescape: Torment takes this idea that belief in the D+D planes has quantifiable power and influence, and runs with it as a major theme in all levels of itself. You have small but notable events involving the power of belief in the planes, such as the possibility that if you have The Nameless One give the false alias “Adahn” enough times in the game, you can actually find an NPC late in the game named Adahn who has come into existence simply from the power of will of The Nameless One’s deception and the belief of others that the “Adahn” they’re told of actually does exist. Even if their belief that The Nameless One is Adahn is incorrect, it has been enough for them to simply believe that there is an Adahn. Belief has produced reality.

Small NPC encounters aren’t the only place where the theme shows up, of course, it’s just interesting and important to note that this theme is so important that it does not restrict itself only to the major events and characters, but is instead infused into every level of the game. Of more important note, the theme of belief’s power shows up in major characters such as Dak’kon, a githzerai warrior whose loss of faith was enough to allow the enemies of his people to destroy the city he led, and for whom regaining his faith transforms his blade into one of the most powerful weapons in the cosmos. Belief in the power of justice is what makes Vhailor the Mercykiller an unstoppable force of kharmic might, so much that even just believing himself still alive keeps him animated--and if you convince him that there is no meaning in Law, and/or that his perspective on justice is flawed and that he himself is guilty, he will kill himself, for he cannot exist without his belief.

Really, though, if you want a proper accounting of just how powerful belief is in Planescape: Torment, there’s no better advocate than the source itself. As the protagonist himself says:

“If there is anything I have learned in my travels across the Planes, it is that many things may change the nature of a man. Whether regret, or love, or revenge or fear - whatever you believe can change the nature of a man, can. I’ve seen belief move cities, make men stave off death, and turn an evil hag's heart half-circle. This entire Fortress has been constructed from belief. Belief damned a woman, whose heart clung to the hope that another loved her when he did not. Once, it made a man seek immortality and achieve it. And it has made a posturing spirit think it is something more than a part of me.”

Holy crap, I love the writing of this game. I’ve never wanted to make love to words before Planescape: Torment.

Anyway, there you have it. Belief does all of those monumentally incredible things that The Nameless One mentions, and he gives this speech at the end of the game, to the manifestation of his mortality, as a way of seguing into what I believe is the only true conclusion of Planescape: Torment: the Nameless One defeating the Transcendent One through just the threat of willing it and himself out of existence. Hell, even the very infamous question of Planescape: Torment, the one that is immortalized as its greatest question, “What can change the nature of a man?”, is answered with belief. Belief is that powerfully awesome and important to Planescape: Torment, to Dungeons and Dragons, to us as human beings.

But of course, all of that is well known in regards to Planescape: Torment. The game outright tells you most of it, and most players will already be well aware of all that I have mentioned so far. So what is my own addition to this? What have I come to realize that I have not seen others mention, in regards to this theme of belief in Planescape: Torment?

My own revelation is that there is another layer of meaning in making belief and will such an integral part of everything within Planescape: Torment: it makes this game the most true and worthy representation of Dungeons and Dragons out there. Because Dungeons and Dragons is nothing but belief.

Think about it. What is, at its core, Dungeons and Dragons? It’s a game of make believe. As is the case for essentially all tabletop RPGs, D+D exists as an exercise of imagination. The players imagine themselves to be others, imagine their surroundings, their enemies, their actions, their interactions, everything. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Dungeons and Dragons can be even more an example of belief than regular make believe! A child pretending to be a knight may do so because he has found a stick to swing as his sword, a child pretending to be a police officer may do so with a toy gun at her side, a child pretending to own a restaurant may set about making mud pies as representative of their culinary creations. The children have the stick, the toy, the mud pies to represent what they are imagining; what does the D+D player have? Dice and a character sheet. Words and numbers, themselves less corporeal than the stick, toy, and mud.*

In being a game wherein the power of will is explored as a power that can have tangible results, wherein belief is perhaps the most significant core concept of absolutely every wisdom and idea presented to the player, Planescape: Torment is the most truly symbolic game of Dungeons and Dragons of all. True, games like Neverwinter Nights 1, Baldur’s Gate 1, and the Icewind Dales much more closely emulate the actual playing experience of D+D.** But ultimately, those games are based on and never get beyond the fictions that have grown from the original truth of D+D, not the game’s core principles. Planescape: Torment of course hugely utilizes the lore that has been built around the Dungeons and Dragons planes, but while doing so, its core theme of belief and will make it a tribute to the heart of Dungeons and Dragons in a way that no other game based on the franchise which I have played accomplishes.

So yeah. Probably somebody somewhere has come up with this connection before I have, but as far as I can tell from a cursory glance online and from my small experience with online forums on which PT was discussed, this layer of meaning is at least not widely known. It’s pretty neat, though, and just one more of many, many examples of the nuanced excellence of Planescape: Torment’s writing.















* Yes, there are plenty of accessories for D+D you can acquire beyond that. Maps, figurines, and so on do add at least as much tangible representation as the children’s tools I mentioned. But at its core, Dungeons and Dragons does not need nor use such things, and that’s my point.

** To their detriment, if you ask me. The closer a game is to the actual D+D playing experience, I find, the less focus it has on a strong and meaningful story carried through by characters of depth and interest. That’s why the best parts of Neverwinter Nights 1 are found in some of its add-ons, which become more focused on telling a story the way the writers want to than just giving the player carte blanche to wander around aimlessly, and why Baldur’s Gate 2, in becoming a game with a great focus on a more linear and structured story and defined characters, so surpasses BG1 in quality.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Final Fantasy Series's Odd Elemental Imbalance

Not really a complaint today, just an observation of something strange. Did you ever notice how early Final Fantasies have an odd disconnect between the plot-important elements and the actually useable magical elements?

What I mean is...alright, see, for the first couple generations of Final Fantasy titles, the plot was pretty squarely centered around the four elemental crystals of Fire, Water, Wind, and Earth. The idea was that these all-important plot devices were what infused the elements of a living, functional, and magical world into the planet and nature, and without them, the elements would either fade out (FF5) or go out of control (FF Mystic Quest) and the world would be doomed. Pretty standard stuff all around, of course; the idea of super magical sparkly special plot item crystals performing essential, mystical maintenance for a world’s life force has been a part of fantasy- and anime-styled stories for ages, and the idea of Fire, Water, Wind, and Earth being the main 4 elements of all creation has been around for a bit longer. And by that, I mean thousands of years.

So you’ve got earlier Final Fantasy games--and maybe more recent ones; I haven’t played anything more recent than FF Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates, so I couldn’t say--having these mystical elemental crystals of Water, Wind, Earth, and Fire governing all the world’s magic and essential natural functions and life force and whatnot. Okay, cool. But then what’s up with the elemental magic system?

As far as the standardized black magic of the earlier Final Fantasy games goes, the all-important crystals are barely represented. Okay, sure, Fire spells are in abundance, as you’d expect, but the other elements with the highest number of spells, practicality, and plot focus are Ice/Blizzard and Bolt/Thunder spells. Yeah, you’ll get a token Earth spell, Water spell, and Wind spell, but of the 3 major magical elements of the game’s battle system, which again tend to be the most likely to get out-of-battle use during story events, only 1 actually has anything to do with the major all-important magical plot crystal elements.

And no, Ice/Blizzard spells do not count as representations of the Water Crystal. Water and Ice/Blizzard are considered 2 different elements in the typical FF magic system. And even if you do want to count it as related to the Water Crystal, you’re still missing strong representation from half of the sources of magic in the world, so it still doesn’t make much sense, at least not to me.

And yeah, sure, Wind spells had a little more early game exposure than I’m giving credit for, in that there were a couple for White magic in FF1 and a proper 3 levels of Aero spells for Blue Magic in FF5. I guess that counts for FF1 to an extent, since White Magic is as basic and inescapable a standard for Final Fantasy as Black Magic, but Blue Magic’s kind of its own thing, an odd-ball type that doesn’t really conform to the rest of a game’s magic systems, so I don’t reckon it really counts. That could just be me being picky, I suppose. Still, it’s kind of a shaky point for Wind magic to stand on regardless.

Wouldn’t you think the basic spells of the most basic magic type would correspond to the elements established by the plot to the be major and important ones, the source of all magic? Instead of Fire-Fira-Firaga, Blizzard-Blizzara-Blizzaga, and Thunder-Thundara-Thundaga, shouldn’t it really be Fire-Fira-Firaga, Water-Watera-Waterga, Aero-Aerora-Aeroga, and Stone-Stonera-Stonega? The series later brought Earth magic properly into the mix in FF7, and Water magic in FF10, but the crystals aren’t a part of those games anyway. For the games where they would make the most sense to be the most basic building blocks of magic, most of the crystal elements are represented as only individual spells achieved late in the game, or parts of odd side-magic systems, rather than as the iconic basic spells of the iconic basic magic style of the series.

Like I said, it’s not a big deal, or anything that actually bothers me. Just a little oddity I noticed, that’s all.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Fallout 3's Best Mods

Ahh, Fallout 3. We had to wait a damn long time for the classic 1990s RPG series about post-apocalyptic America to continue, but it was worth that wait and then some. Bethesda took the game engine they had used for their subpar Elder Scrolls 4 and used it to make an intelligent, atmospheric, allegory-rich wasteland for us to explore, and it was awesome.

As awesome as Fallout 3 is by itself, though, it can, it seems, still be improved upon. The modding community had an absolute field day with Fallout 3, as it did for The Elder Scrolls 4, and created a veritable mountain of modifications that you can add to the game to tweak it into something new and different. Traditionally, I go light on mods when I play a new RPG, wanting to get the true sense of the art of the product, but there are certainly many cases of games which are better experienced with some mods, even during your first time. Planescape: Torment, for example, has a couple of mods that restore cut content to the game and fix various bugs and grammatical errors, and everyone should play the game with these mods installed. I’ve personally praised the massive restoration mods for Knights of the Old Republic 2 and Fallout 2 here on this blog before, and I sincerely think that any first-time player should experience these classics with those mods. And of course, the Mass Effect Happy Ending Mod ensures that no innocent man or woman must ever again suffer the grievous emotional injury that is Mass Effect 3’s ending. That right there is less of an enjoyable alteration and more of a great service to all humanity.*

So, here is a little list of a few mods for Fallout 3 that I think significantly improve the overall experience, enough and in such a way that I would encourage you to use them the next time you play, even if it’s your first time. There are plenty of other nifty mods for the game that I have used and enjoyed, of course, such as DC Moods, Weapon Mod Kits, and Cube Experimental, but these are the ones that I feel do more than just enjoyable tweak the game. These are the mods that capture the essence of Fallout 3 and enhance it, creating an experience truer to Fallout 3 than the game on its own could have provided.


Level 100 Cap: You know what’s just really annoying? Hitting your level cap before you’re done adventuring, even though you haven’t been purposefully level-grinding. It’s so annoying that I even did a rant about it (although I’ll do rants on just about anything, so I guess that’s not such a huge deal). Well, with this handy little mod, that irritation is over and done with! Setting the level cap over 3 times higher than the original cap means that you can explore the game to its fullest and not have to give up the satisfaction of gaining experience for your feats part of the way through. Sure, this is a small thing, but you have to realize, the setting of Fallout is a major, major aspect of the series, and even tiny details can add depth and insight into the Fallout universe and communicate a message, details small and hidden enough that you only find them if you’re rigorously exploring. Having a level cap set low enough that you’ll hit it only 60 - 90% of the way through the game means that you have less gameplay incentive to explore that last 10 - 40%. By setting a cap far beyond achievable means even considering the possibility of a bit of grinding, this mod lessens the odds that you’ll eventually lose interest in the all-important exploration aspect of the game, and that’s important.


RobCo Certified: Gameplay is not a huge factor to me in enjoying RPGs (especially since most RPGs’ gameplay, being menu-based, is inherently completely unenjoyable), but this mod that adds a new dimension to Fallout 3 gameplay deserves a mention. Why? Because Fallout takes a certain pride in offering players a chance to achieve their goals in a variety of ways, to encourage everyone to build their own style of playing, and RobCo Certified opens up a new avenue of play style that has not been present before: that of the mighty and fearsome MAD SCIENTIST! With this mod, it’s completely feasible to have a character build who has more or less no combat abilities whatsoever, which really just hasn’t been achievable (at least not in a way that’s at all fun) in Fallout 3 previously. I mean, you could build a stealth-based character in the game and avoid all the enemies, but it’s a lot of extra time to sneak by absolutely everything, and Stealth Boys are so damn expensive. This mod gives you the possibility of learning to repair broken robots with various wasteland junk, upgrade those robots, and set them loose on your enemies while you step back and watch the pretty, lethal fireworks. You can also even turn inanimate parts of the background into attack robots, too! It is rather fun to be flanked by a small army of mobile televisions and ovens, I must say. As your abilities to make killer robots improve with your aptitude for science, it’s now entirely feasible to roam the Capital Wasteland with a character whose skill points are all put toward non-combat abilities, with as much confidence as a heavy gunner character or a champion sniper or whatnot. Hell, the mod even goes so far as to give you a role in combat that has nothing to do with attacking enemies--as the bullets fly, you can just be hitting your robots with your repair tools to keep them in good repair while they’re melting the crap out of super mutants and Enclave assholes.

And hey, in case you haven’t guessed it, beyond opening up new avenues for play style, it does bear mentioning that this mod is FUN. It’s here because of its utility in expanding the gameplay of Fallout 3, but it’s a blast to collect a horde of robot minions and to repurpose innocuous wasteland junk into your own servants. This really is an impressive mod for its scope and complexity, and it’s definitely worth adding to your next Fallout 3 experience.


Ultimate Perk Pack: Well, if you increase your level cap, you’ll want enough useful perks that those additional levels feel like they mean something, right? The Ultimate Perk Pack adds a truckload of additional perks to the game that you can choose from at level up. They’re well-designed, following the same general curve of usefulness that the original perks do, and they’re creative and fun, to boot. Really, they feel very natural to the game, enough that you may not even be able to tell sometimes which perks are from the original game and which came from this mod.


More Map Markers: This mod adds a bunch more markers to the Pip-Boy world map. This is very handy for exploration, as you can fast-travel to more points in the Capital Wasteland and continue your explorations from there, but more importantly, it marks a lot of neat places in Fallout 3 that might otherwise be missed, tiny little points of interest that would be hard to find and return to without the marker. It always irked me that Rockopolis was unlisted, for example, because it’s related to the overall lore of Fallout 3 and it even contains 1 of the elusive Vault Boy bobbleheads. Additionally, what did and did not qualify for a map marker in the original game sometimes seemed strange and arbitrary; there were plenty of spots that were tiny and pointless that did get marked on the map, while other spots of equal or even greater size and importance did not. In fact, thanks to this mod, I found a handful of fun little locations that I had missed the first time I played Fallout 3--and let me tell you, I’m pretty thorough with my explorations! This mod gives you a much better chance to get the most out of your explorations of the Capital Wasteland, and thus, a better chance to get the most out of the game as a whole.


Point Lookout More Map Markers: Everything I just said for the last one, except for the Point Lookout DLC map. Given that exploration is a huge aspect of the Point Lookout DLC, this is no less important for this add-on than the original More Map Markers mod is for the main game.


Tenpenny Tower Alternate Endings: I complained about the Tenpenny Tower quest in a rant a little time ago, and mentioned this mod there, so I won’t say much here. This mod corrects what I see as the only real failure of Fallout 3’s storytelling (besides the ending and Mothership Zeta), the conclusion of the Tenpenny Tower quest, making it possible to achieve a result that is more in line with your intentions and the storytelling style and themes of Fallout 3 as a whole.


GNR Enhanced: Galaxy News Radio is a significant part of Fallout 3’s plot, and listening to Three Dog’s warnings and tips for surviving the Capital Wasteland, and his recounting of your deeds, is fun for when you feel like listening to more than just the quiet background noise of the game (though that background is great for setting the mood, don’t get me wrong). The only problem with GNR is that between these fun bits of Three Dog, the songs that play are extremely repetitive. Sure, they’re not horrible to listen to (well, a couple of them are, actually), but the playlist is tiny, so it gets damn repetitive. Well, with GNR Enhanced, there’s now a ton more songs in Three Dog’s repertoire, all of which are old timey and very thematically appropriate to Fallout. The old classics are still in there, but now you won’t get sick to death of listening to GNR as you traverse the wastes, which is neat.

More importantly than that, this mod also fixes a few bugs for GNR. For starters, Three Dog will report on you past Level 20--in the original game, for some reason, he would sometimes stop running news stories about the Lone Wanderer once the character hit the original level cap, which was annoying, because those were really the only reason after 1 hour to be listening to the station (unless you just really like that hackin’ and whackin’ song, in which case you probably should see a therapist). Better still, this mod adds to the non-music material that GNR broadcasts, restoring Three Dog song intros and outros and certain news story lines. And the mod even adds a couple of fun little commercials for in-universe products like Mr. Handy and the Pip-Boy! This mod expands the entertainment value of GNR several hundreds of times, expanding this plot-important and theme-important radio station’s role in your exploration of the Capital Wasteland and strengthening its significance to the game.


Busworld: Busworld is simple, but awesome--it adds interior areas to the many buses, metro train cars, and boxcars you encounter while exploring Fallout 3. I always thought it was a major waste of potential in Fallout 3 that you could never explore the interiors of these vehicles, which are frankly just all over the place. I mean, come on, exploration is the name of the game in this RPG, and in a post-apocalyptic setting, such larger vehicles would surely be host to all sorts of interesting stuff to find and survivors seeking shelter. And this mod makes that happen! Exploring the subway system is now a lot less repetitive thanks to this mod, and it’s fun to find all these new little places to explore as you pass buses and the occasional boxcar in your travels. This mod is great, taking what was once an unimportant and even mildly disappointing background object and transforming it into another part of the Fallout experience. Big thumbs up from me on this one!


DC Interiors Project: And here we are. Of these mods that I recommend to anyone wanting to sharpen the experience of Fallout, this is the best. For some reason, a reason probably related to making deadlines, the strong majority of pre-war buildings in Fallout 3, especially those within the D.C. Ruins, are boarded up and cannot be entered and explored. As I’ve mentioned many times in the past and as you’ve probably figured out from my continued emphasis on the concept throughout this rant, exploration is a key element of the atmosphere, draw, and storytelling process of the Fallout series, and having so few extra places that you can enter and examine is a severe waste of potential, and passively detrimental to the game.

This mod fixes that problem. The DC Interiors Project adds a whole bunch of interior areas to the game, allowing you to explore nearly all the relatively intact buildings you come across in the D.C. Ruins, as well as the surrounding area. And these new areas are expertly designed, too, interesting, appropriate to the setting, very creative, and with tremendous attention to detail. There are a few puzzles to solve, lots of sights to see, scavengers to find and trade with, and overall just a lot of neat settings that fit perfectly into the wasteland and add in a positive way to your wanderings. It doesn’t exactly reinvent Fallout 3 exploration, but it sure as hell adds more personality to it and gives you fresh incentive to go poking through the crumbling ruins of a past age. And that right there is a lot of what Fallout is meant to be. Kudos to this one, it above all others is a mod to enhance the Fallout experience.















* I WILL eventually be using this mod and making a rant about it, but it’s still a couple versions away from being complete enough that I’m ready for it. Hopefully this will be the year where you will see my glowing rant praise for it, though.