Monday, November 11, 2019


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

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Fallout 76 is a Failure on Every Level

Well, it’s finally happened: a bad Fallout game has been created. Yes, that which we had once, in the sunny childhood of our innocence, thought impossible, has come to pass. That which could not be, is. A bad Fallout game--the thing beyond what we could have imagined is reality! The dread eventuality that I never once believed possible, has...has...

...Ha ha ha ha ha! Okay, I can’t keep that shit up.

Yeah, I am pretty obviously a huge, diehard fan of the Fallout series, but I ain’t some naive schmuck. The idea that the vaunted name of Fallout could be sullied with a bad game, surprising? Come on, Internet! Do you people not remember Fallout Tactics? Did you somehow block Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel from your conscious minds? I mean, if you did, power to you, please teach me your mental technique because I’d like to do the same. But yeah, as much as I adore the Fallout series, it’s not like Fallout 76’s horrendous suckitude is some foray into new territory. It is, at most, an expedition that just slightly extends the boundaries of Fallout’s territory in the Land of Shitty Shit that Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel originally lay claim to. Also? I don’t know how anyone with both an understanding of storytelling methods in video games and experience with Bethesda as a developer could possibly have the slightest doubt that Fallout 76 was going to be awful upon hearing that it would be online-only.

Of course, just because I have a good enough grasp on Sesame Street benchmarks to understand that a game series starts at 1, not 3, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have major grievances against Fallout 76. I may remember that the Fallout series is quite capable of disastrously bad side ventures, but I certainly didn’t want that to come to pass again!

But hey, who doesn’t take major issue with this abhorrent, sloppy, careless cash-grab? At this point, Todd Howard’s association with the Tell Me Lies song, previously seeming like a flash-in-the-pan meme that wouldn’t last, is now pretty much permanently cemented into gaming history. As far as griping about stuff goes, Fallout 76 is low-hanging fruit. Diablo: Immortal reminded the gaming community at the beginning of November that AAA publishers will inevitably betray their creations, sell their integrity, and fuck the fans that made their success possible in the ass for a quick yuan, and then mere weeks after Blizzard had put the gaming community back on its guard, Bethesda delivered a validation of every single fear anyone and everyone had had since hearing that the game would be online-only. Fallout 76 is already a slap in the face to any man or woman foolish enough to purchase it, but it had the misfortune of coming right when people were already abuzz with annoyance over a not entirely dissimilar situation.

Still, even if everyone’s already venting their well-justified anger over it, I’d nonetheless like to throw in my own two cents on the matter, because most of the complaints about this game come back to a certain few glaring errors (which, don’t get me wrong, are irredeemably bad), and Fallout 76, in my opinion, is just so much more of a complete blunder than just these particular egregious errors. On every level, Fallout 76 is a failure.

Let’s start with the first and most important matter: Fallout 76 is a failure as a Fallout game.

Fallout is characterized by many qualities, and it can’t truly be Fallout without any of them, but at its heart, this is a series which explores, analyzes, criticizes, and lauds the culture and history of the United States, and through that, humanity itself. From its 1950s aesthetics to its old-timey musical focus, from its major stories that grapple with the USA’s foreign policy and imperialism and history of prejudice and constant struggle to find leaders who put the will of the people over their own desires and toxic capitalism and the inability of the human species to learn from its mistakes, to its subplots of baseball and comic book characters and scientologists and aliens and casinos, from its incorporation of distinctly American landmarks and products and accents to its incorporation of countless references of USA-familiar people and media for the sake of quick jokes, Fallout has made it clear from the start that it exists to be a lens through which we can view ourselves as a country, for the sake of understanding who we are and how we came to be us, of good-naturedly laughing at ourselves, of uncomfortably seeing our shameful acts, mindset, and history exposed, and of taking pride in the many traits that make us uniquely great. To both joyously celebrate and harshly critique the United States of America is to be Fallout.

Fallout 76 does not do this.

Oh, to be sure, it goes through the motions. There are West Virginia landmarks to be found. A bare few of them even are more of the local kind of landmark than stuff that’d be more well-known on a national level. The main music is...uh...well, it ain’t old-timey like it really ought to be, as a 70s song, but then, plenty of the songs appropriated for the series before have been from the 60s, so I guess it’s fine, and it certainly fits.* Some of the holotape stories left behind incorporate professions and accents and other human elements recognizably connected to the region.

But that’s all they are: motions. They have no more life or purpose than the after-death twitches of an ant after someone steps on it. What is the meaning? What are these locations and ideas supposed to convey to us about the American state, mentality, method, anything? What does any of this stuff say about us? For that matter, what does any of it say about West Virginia itself, its people, its history, its culture, etc? These references and locations and recorded diaries, none of them are put to any USE, they don’t analyze or celebrate or criticize anything! There is no thought or message behind any of it, and for that, 76 is more like a molt of Fallout than the actual beast.

The immediate and most easily visible cause of this failure is, of course, the lack of characters in this game, which is 1 of the major complaints everyone has with Fallout 76: a lack of NPCs. After all, how can you explore such a very alive, human thing as the United States without alive, human actors? Characters like Caesar, House, Arthur Maxson, Elder Lyons, Vault 13’s Overseer, and James brought to life their games’ examination of America’s history of and/or connections to culture-extinguishing genocide, dangerously narcissistic entrepreneurship, thoughtless bigotry, selfless charity, xenophobia, and dedication to providing a high quality of life to its citizens. Major organizations like the NCR, the Railroad, and the Institute likewise gave compelling, living voice to Fallout’s analysis of the USA’s ties to unfair economic imperialism, fighting and sacrifice for the sake of others’ freedom, and a harmful Us First mentality. Hell, even just very minor NPCs like Sierra, Nathaniel Vargas, and Iguana Bob allow Fallout to speak to us about American tendencies toward blind product loyalty, self-destructively unreasoning patriotism, and disregarding the rights, feelings, and health of consumers in lieu of making a profit. Fallout 76 has no one.

But with that said, it wouldn’t be impossible to make a proper Fallout narrative based entirely around postmortem stories. Very difficult, but not impossible. Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon, another post-apocalyptic RPG which I like to call Studio Ghibli Fallout, uses after-the-fact storytelling for at least half of its overall narrative, and what’s more, that’s the method that best conveys the part of FDFRotM that’s about the quiet loss of a world ended and the extraordinary palette of humanity that world contained within its every inhabitant. As powerfully emotional and beautiful as FDFRotM can get with its main story, I would contend that its best narrative feature is its postmortem stories! If Bethesda had put the proper focus on saying something about our country and ourselves, if they had put their absolute best effort into appropriately tying that message to this empty wasteland through a thoughtful, well-crafted narrative of recorded messages, it could have worked.

But they didn’t. The narrative of Fallout 76 is an afterthought. They didn’t have the slightest intention to use its landmarks and tepid flirtations with West Virginia culture toward any greater purpose. It’s clear, looking at this game, that from the beginning of the game’s development, the highest level of thought they put into these ties to WV was the equivalent of a bored tourist pointing briefly at a landmark and saying, “Oh, look at that,” checking the place off a little travel list, and then going back to doing something else.

And I knew it would be this way, from the moment they said Fallout 76 was going to be an online-only adventure, because the level of narrative control you need to make a story with deeper content like the standard for Fallout isn’t something you can achieve when you first have to accommodate and put a focus on all the gameplay angles that perpetual communal online play creates.

So that’s how Fallout 76 is a failure on the level of being a Fallout game. But it’s more than that. It’s also a failure on the level of being a Fallout game, too.

No, that’s not a typo. I mean that on a more detail-oriented, technical level, it still fails to be a Fallout. What I’ve said so far has argued that it’s a game trying to play a role whose script it hasn’t bothered to read. But at the same time, it’s not even wearing the right clothes for that role!

Fallout 76 is a failure as a Fallout because it can’t be bothered to don the trappings of Fallout’s lore correctly. Now, look, I recognize the fact that the history and details of the Fallout universe have been changed before, and while that’s really annoying, I’ve generally forgiven Bethesda for it. The reason for this is that previously, Bethesda’s mistakes with the Fallout series’s lore have never been too terribly damaging. I mean, while they’ve bent a few of the bigger details, the biggest outright breaking the company’s done that I’ve seen has been the whole thing with Jet--Fallout 2 clearly stated that Myron, a character in the game, creates Jet, yet Bethesda’s later Fallouts contradict this by saying that Jet is a pre-war drug. It’s possible to rationalize this retcon well enough as Myron simply taking credit for knowledge of a drug that didn’t make it to the western USA before the world’s end (it certainly fits the little slimeball’s personality well enough), but it’s a definite screw-up on Bethesda’s part. Still, even considering the large role Jet plays in Fallout 2 and its recognizable nature as a Fallout item, we’re not talking about a huge, monumentally important piece of lore, here, so I’ve never held such a thing too strongly against Bethesda. After all, Obsidian made a few lore screw-ups themselves in Fallout: New Vegas (such as forgetting who actually created the Mr. Handy, which is arguably a more significant entity of Fallout lore than Jet). And hell, nothing Bethesda did in Fallout 3 or 4 was anywhere near the level of boneheaded, pointless, anti-lore stupidity that Fallout’s own creators pulled in Fallout 2, when they decided to retcon super mutants’ sterility--a lynchpin to the plot of Fallout 1 and the downfall of its antagonist The Master--for the sake of having 1 character make a joke after banging a hooker.** Bethesda never retconned anything so terribly as that.

...Until Fallout 76, that is. Like I said, I’ll forgive relatively minor infractions on the Fallout lore like Jet, and Mr. Handy, and so on. But Bethesda was so damn determined to include every possible iconic Fallout variable, to really just scream “IT’S FALLOUT, SEE!?!? SEE!?!? SEEEEEEE!?!?!?!?!” while they shove series signatures like deathclaws and super mutants in your face, that they just utterly twisted the canon into unrecognizable shreds. For example, Fallout 76 jumps through absurd hoops to include the Brotherhood of Steel, an inclusion which retroactively makes the previous games’ lore incomplete, because you’d THINK, at some point during all the previous Fallouts in which you can learn and read about the early days and formation of the BoS, that somewhere it would have been mentioned that the order’s founding commander apparently had a fucking pen pal in West Virginia who decided she’d open a BoS franchise of her own. You’d think that might have been mentioned somewhere in the histories. Hinted at sometime in the many conversations you have with dozens of Brotherhood of Steel members about their order from Fallout 1 onwards. Implied in the smallest way! But it wasn’t, because the idea is silly, and only a soulless greedy dumbass looking to make a quick buck would greenlight it.

And the Brotherhood of Steel are far from the only major twisting and breaking of lore that 76 is guilty of. Honestly, for a game so utterly devoid of story content, it’s actually kind of astounding how much it can manage to fuck up the series lore. Super Mutants? This is the fourth independent outbreak of Forced Evolutionary Virus mutants in the series now (and by far the least believable). Did the US government just sell vats of FEV as part of some promotional package before the war?*** Why is it so damn common? This stuff was supposed to be the most insanely top secret shit in the world! Now we’re supposed to believe that the government was testing it in a lab, and also having Vault-Tec use it for their experiments in Vault 87, AND that MIT for some reason had some lying around, AND that the government decided to just infect an entire goddamn town in West Virginia with the stuff to see what would happen? All at the same time!? Fucking Nuka-Cola Quantum had a smaller distribution range in the pre-war United States than this biological super weapon!

Also, why are all the ghouls in Fallout 76 already feral? This game takes place a mere 25 years after the end of the Great War. It’s an established fact that after many, many years, most ghouls eventually lose their minds and become zombie-esque ferals, and it’s implied that this is the inevitable fate of all ghouls, although there’s really no proof of that. But even though the time it takes varies from 1 ghoul to another, there’s a substantial enough population of sane ghouls in the USA even over 200 years later that it’s irrational to think that a sizable portion of the ghouls a mere 25 years after the bombs dropped would have gone feral--and it’s ludicrous to think that ALL the ghouls in West Virginia would have succumbed! Since the game is careful to differentiate between natural ghouls and those created by the Scorched Plague, with the former apparently being completely immune to said plague, you can’t just say that the Scorched are the rest of the ghouls; they’re a separate thing. So where the hell are all the mentally functional ghouls in this damn state?

Jet’s not inconsequential to the Fallout universe, but it’s at least small enough that you can make allowances for messing up its lore. But we’re talking about the Brotherhood of Steel, the single most important and influential faction in the entire series, which plays an absolutely essential role in 3 of 5 Fallouts, and an important secondary role in the other 2! We’re talking about ghouls, the major (sort of) non-human race whose afflictions have been a crucial part of countless side stories and quests throughout the series! And we’re talking about super mutants, THE iconic bad guys of Fallout, whose very existence is the foundation of Fallout 1’s plot, an absolutely essential part of the history of Fallout 3, and a heavy indictment against the main villains of Fallout 4! In all earnesty, I cannot think of what other iconic elements of the Fallout series could possibly be worse to carelessly mess up!

So you see, Fallout 76 fails on the level of being a Fallout, not just in heart and spirit, but also in body and mind. Not only can it not be bothered to even try to accomplish the task that its name requires of it, but it mars and breaks the assets it has borrowed. And so we reach the next level: Fallout 76 is a failure as a Fallout, but what about simply as an entity of its own? As an RPG in its own right, how is it?

Bad. Really bad. Awful, in fact.

Indeed, this game might just fail harder by basic RPG standards than it does by the lofty expectations of the Fallout series! Because even if Fallout 76 is unable to (nor even tries to) say anything about America, I will give it, at least, that it’s got the quiet exploration of a post-apocalyptic world that’s another of Fallout’s staples, even if only barely (hard to maintain the tense, atmospheric interest of poking about ruins and the wastes when there’s just so comparatively little to actually find). But as just an RPG, it doesn’t get anything right! The “plot” of this game has less depth, less complexity, than a number of games from the days of the NES, and even the Sega Master System! Seriously, pit Fallout 76’s story against Phantasy Star 1, The Magic of Scheherazade, and even several non-RPGs like The Astyanax, and Fallout 76 is the inevitably the loser--this 2018 title designed to take actual dozens if not hundreds of hours to beat has less substance, less compelling human drama, and lower quality plot twists than a 1989 side-scroller that you can beat in 2 or 3 hours.

Nor is this straightened slinky of a storyline meaningful or emotionally fulfilling. Beyond being terrific commentaries on the USA, the Fallout series is, of course, a great collection of tales that speak to us of ourselves and greatness in a general sense. Even if Fallout 3 had no commentary on the generosity of the American spirit and the way that the will and welfare of the people continues to inevitably clash against the selfishness of our government leaders, it would still be an awesome story of dedicated, selfless human kindness, of the courage to stand against not only danger but also one’s own laws in order to do what is right, and of a child who embodies her/his parents’ greatest qualities and fulfills their legacy of heroism as she/he finishes the father’s work to enact the mother’s dream for the world. Even if Fallout 1 had nothing to say about the USA’s old tradition of isolationism and the importance of not losing diverse individuality in a land defined by its ideals of unity, it would still be a badass story of a man saving a harsh world from the festering wounds its past has left upon it, only to find that in leaving to fight for the sake of his home’s survival, he’s now so changed that he has no place there. Even if Fallout 4 had no investigation of our history of human exploitation, our cold war paranoia, and our recent fascination with finding and embracing our personal identity, it would still be a compelling story of both the strengths and the limits of a parent’s devotion to a child, of ordinary people banding together to stand for extraordinary ideals, and of the fascinating idea that artificial humanity could, in fact, be in some cases more truly human than many so-called “real” people. Beneath the celebrated mantle of their franchise, the major Fallout games that have come before have been excellent RPGs in their own right for their stories.

And yes, as noted before, the game does have a lot of the holotapes and so on of little mini-stories of now-dead individuals to fill you in, but, frankly, that’s just not enough. Certainly, this storytelling device can be an effective one, but, as stated above, it’s clear that Bethesda did not bring its A Game to this aspect of 76. None of the lore stories in this game reach the strength of many of those found in previous Fallouts, and anyway, just because something is an effective part of a storytelling process, that doesn’t mean it can support an entire narrative all by itself. Mustard is a great condiment to put some pep in your sandwich, but it’s not a meal in and of itself--even the terrific after-the-fact stories in Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon, which I believe are the best example of this narrative device, didn’t exist in a storytelling vacuum. They helped make it great, but there was still an actual plot and real story events in the game that defined FDFRotM’s pace and purpose. And hey, who knows, maybe that title could’ve managed to pull off a plot solely held together with such stories--it was really good at them, after all. But Fallout 76’s writing isn’t even close to Fragile Dreams’s equal, even in those rare moments when it did seem like someone at Bethesda was putting a little effort into it, and it most definitely cannot pull together a compelling narrative from these logs and vignettes.

Of course, a superlative RPG can be created from more than just a strong story--a plain or even weak story can be held up quite adequately with a great cast and an emotionally powerful narrative. I love the second half of Tales of Legendia, for example, even though its story is, taken as a whole, only average, simply because it explores a lot of memorable and deep characters, sells you on the great connections they have as a family, and is filled with human drama that speaks to you on a personal level. But here, once again, Fallout 76 fails--and this time, the failure does begin and end with Bethesda’s disastrous decision to keep its game barren of characters. Because obviously, it’s hard to have any human connection to a cast that doesn’t exist. And yes, some people have pointed out that there ARE some NPCs in the game, in fact, namely the quest-giving robots and a super mutant trader...but these “characters” really just are nothing more or less than their role in your gameplay. They no more add to the human experience of the game than do the soulless, single-minded shopkeepers in any other RPG that spend their lives in a single spot behind a desk, awaiting your decision to Buy or Sell a potion. The Fallout series has given us such memorable personalities as Harold, Myron, Lynette, Moira, Yes Man, Lily, Glory, and Codsworth, such interesting entities as Nicole, Marcus, Goris, Elder Lyons, James, Madison Li, Boone, Caesar, Piper, DiMA, and Father, and such amazing characters who are both powerfully memorable and deep as Sarah Lyons, Veronica, Ulysses, Deacon, and Nick Valentine...when that’s the sort of standards against which to measure, it’s kind of hard to even feel like Fallout 76’s lame quest-spouting and money-changing narrative automatons even qualify as NPCs.

And, of course, the facts that the protagonist of this game has no personality whatsoever, and that there’s a lack of any real antagonist figure, don’t help. Even by silent protagonist standards, your role in Fallout 76 is utterly lifeless--the Vault Dweller, the Chosen One, the Lone Wanderer, and the Courier all had honest, personal stakes in their adventures, even if the games did suffer from their lack of characterization, as did the Sole Survivor, thankfully an actual participant in the game’s story for once. In Fallout 76, you just play 1 of a bunch of nameless goons released carelessly into the wasteland for a job with no apparent personal relevance to you. No “Save your home,” no “figure out why some guy shot you in the head,” nothing--you can’t even reasonably pretend to care about what’s happening! And of course, while other RPGs are usually smart enough to make up for their mute main character’s lack of input with an involved and vocal surrounding cast, obviously Fallout 76 has no such fall-back. Likewise, the villain of this story, if so it can be called, is a silent, faceless plague.

Bethesda, when people say that a great villain should be a mirror to the hero, they don’t mean that if you’ve written a horrendously boring hero with no presence whatsoever, your villain should be the exact same!

But hey, again, none of this is a surprise. Because when you make a game for the purpose of online gameplay, this is gonna happen. The strongest reason to voluntarily play a game by yourself is because you want to experience is storytelling qualities, and control the pace and environment in which you discover them. So when Bethesda made this game online-only, it was making something quite clear: the story elements of Fallout 76 were so unimportant in the eyes of its creator that there wasn’t even a point to allowing the players to experience the game in a way that emphasized them. It was clear from the start that they weren’t going to give a shit about this game as anything more than an online cash-grab; the most surprising thing, really, is that they even bothered to include what half-hearted attempts at lore and plot are there.

So yeah, Fallout 76 is not just a failure as a specific brand of RPG, but as an RPG of any kind. I have felt more life and significance in the plot and cast of Kemco games than I have with this pile of crap. Which leaves just 1 more level for the game to try at. If it can’t be a success as a Fallout, which is a specific kind of RPG, and it can’t be a success just as an RPG, which is a specific kind of video game...can it at least be a success simply as a video game, period?

Uh, no. God no.

I’m not good at rating games for just being games, honestly. While I have my enjoyable mindless diversions (as you read this, there’s an 80% chance that I’m currently playing Super Smash Brothers Ultimate), I mostly engage with video games for the same reason I do with books, anime, shows, cartoons, movies, and so on: in the hopes that they’ll speak to me, make me think, offer insight into the human condition that I haven’t considered, and push me to explore new regions of heart and soul. So I’m not gonna go into this in depth. But in strict terms of whether this game is fun, whether it has merits in terms of simple gameplay and enjoyment? Fallout 76 fails.

As more than a few people will tell you, it’s objectively flawed in the technical sense. As in it has bugs. Tons of them. It’s buggier than a goddamn anthill! And when your priority with a game has solely been to focus on the gameplay elements--that’s the elements of just playing the game, now--that’s absolutely unacceptable. If you’re going to sacrifice everything worthwhile about an RPG to focus solely on its playability and nothing else, then the game better goddamn work! And yet Fallout 76 released with as many glitches and oversights as any of its predecessors--more, in fact, since it has all its own problems AND has inherited quite a few from Fallout 4 which after 3 years Bethesda hasn’t bothered to fix even though all it would take is stealing a few lines of code from the damn modding community that DID repair the issues years ago on their own time!

Add to that the fact that Bethesda’s decided no modders can touch the game for a year--modders being the ones who traditionally improve Bethesda’s products to the point that they’re actually playable, because God forbid this absurdly rich developer actually do their own fucking tech work and release a functional product by themselves. Add to that the fact that a significant amount of items and other content are locked away behind a manipulative, evil in-game currency system. Add to that the fact that there’s practically no protections in the game to keep people from cheating. Add to that the fact that there are areas designed so poorly that you can get yourself stuck in them without any way of escaping besides killing yourself and spawning elsewhere, as well as settlement sites that have enemy spawns right in the middle of them that stay functional even after you’ve built a base there. Add to that the fact that even the stuff that works as intended is sometimes just bad all on its own--the PVP system is designed in a way that causes most players to just ignore it because it’s not worth the time, and the HP-to-attack-power ratio makes battle with just about anything a tedious slug-fest, for example. Add to that the fact that the game lacks basic necessary functions of online games that have been standards for over a decade, such as a push-to-talk button! And finally, maybe most damningly, add to all of that the fact that the goddamn servers at Bethesda can’t handle the game consistently,**** booting you back to the main menu (what a GREAT idea to make it online-only, huh?) frequently--the servers can’t even handle some of the game’s primary features; they crash if 3 nukes go off in the same area!

Basically, if Fallout 76 was the Catholic Church, we’d need an entire clone army of Martin Luthers hammering away to accurately theses-out all the shit that’s wrong with this game. It’s like they wanted to create the western RPG equivalent of Lunar: Dragon Song.

Bethesda apologists/stockholm-syndrome-sufferers like Oxhorn (who, if a Bethesda executive whacked him in the dick with an aluminum bat, would, I think, find a way to argue that this action was not only completely acceptable, but actually a good thing), have, of course, tried to make the argument that since it’s an online game, Bethesda will naturally have no choice but to make patch after patch to fix the game’s issues until it’s actually in working order. That’s a nice thought and all, but not only does nothing in the company’s history suggest this will happen, but it’s also really not that great a defense. “Yeah, guys, it’s a abysmal maelstrom of refuse right NOW, but if you’ll just patiently twiddle your thumbs and wait for a few months, THEN it’ll be modestly acceptable! I mean, who purchases a video game and then expects to be able to play it within the same calendar year, right?”

Some people have also pointed out that Fallout 76 is better when playing with friends. This is true. And, in the interests of fairness, that IS a point in the favor of a game specifically designed around the idea of cooperative and/or competitive play. But the simple fact is that it doesn’t make up for the fundamental technical problems that will inevitably mar you experience, friends or no, and there’s absolutely nothing, besides a coat of Fallout paint, that it offers that you couldn’t get from playing a different game with your friends--and that different game is more likely to actually function correctly, too. Anything is more fun when done with people you like--are the movies that Mystery Science Theater 3000 shows somehow less objectively bad, just because watching it alongside a wisecracking guy and robots is fun? Your enjoyment with friends only lasts until they get bored and move on to better games--or in the short term, get disconnected from the server again.

Also, it’s worth noting that everything around this game seems to fail, too. Bought the game at full price? You get to feel like a fool immediately afterward, as Bethesda drops the price almost in half in a desperate attempt to sell it. Want the special edition canvas bag they promised? It takes the very real threat of litigation for false advertising for you to actually get what you paid for. Want to get a refund because you don’t like the game? Well, because Bethesda only allows digital sales through its own services, they don’t have to give you jack shit once you’ve downloaded it--the equivalent in the real world would be a store refusing to return the jeans you just bought 14 seconds before on the grounds not that you’d put them on, but simply that you’d put them in your shopping bag. Putting in a customer service request? Well, I certainly hope you enjoy the prospect of random other people being able to see and respond to your support ticket, as well as gain access to your private data. And as a bonus, expect Bethesda’s initial response to each and every one of these issues to be flippant and cheerfully dismissive.

Thus, I say that Fallout 76 is a spectacular blunder in totality. It fails on every single possible level. It fails as a Fallout game, both in soul and in body. It fails as an RPG. It even fails at simply being a video game. And Bethesda fails at everything they do in regards to it. Fallout 76 is a raging, out-of-control trash fire, like someone set flame to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, for all the reasons commonly pointed out by its players--but I thought it was worth noting that it’s a failure on every level, and that the real cause of this isn’t just the immediate, glaring problems highlighted by reviews, but rather the root of those problems: a lack of interest on Bethesda’s part in giving their product substance, and a lack of competence in making it functional. Shame on every man and woman who’s had a hand in the decision-making process of this fiasco.

* Although I kinda feel like the theme song for a Fallout set in West Virginia being Take Me Home, Country Roads, a song which is just outright about West Virginia, might be a little TOO fitting. Fallout 2 didn’t feel the need to begin with Scott McKenzie’s San Francisco. Fallout 1 didn’t require the Bee Gees’ California Girls to set its stage. Fallout 4 didn’t open by slapping you in the face with the fucking Kingston Trio’s Charlie on the MTA! The signature old classics for every major Fallout title before 76 have always been concerned with the major plot points of their game, or the overall concept of the Fallout universe’s setting, rather than just blatantly wailing the name of the state they take place in.

But then, as I go into above, there IS nothing to this game beyond its scenery, no matter of substance in story nor cast, theme nor intent, so what other song could you possibly use to convey a game so genuinely lacking in intellectual or emotional matter? would want way too much money for any of his work. So really, a song which boils down to “West Virginia is a place THAT EXISTS” represents the apex of Fallout 76’s mental value.

** Chris Avellone has said that it was only meant as a joke, not a retcon, but--and it’s hard for me to blaspheme against the mighty Avellone, believe me--I think that’s just him trying to cover for a decision he only realized in retrospect was really dumb. This nonsense already starts with Marcus the super mutant making a joke, and then, when asked to elaborate, he says, without the slightest hint of levity or deception in his voice or words, just his regular conversational tone, that it just took some years for the “juices” to start “flowing again.” For this statement to be a joke in response to having cracked a joke would be awkward and narratively out of place, and it wouldn’t fit the voice acting nor dialogue’s wording. I’m pretty sure this scenario was originally meant to be in earnest.

*** I exaggerate, of course. After all, by Bethesda’s logic, if a vat of FEV had been promised as part of some special deal, then the only thing that Vault-Tec, MIT, and West Tek would have actually received would be a bottle of Mello Yellow.

**** And keep in mind, this game has, by all indications, not sold even close to as well as Bethesda wanted it to. So if the servers can’t handle even the reduced number of forsaken, miserable souls who had the misfortune to purchase Fallout 76 right now, what the fuck was Bethesda planning to do if it had actually met its sales expectations?

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Legrand Legacy's Party Members' Disharmony

NOTE: As of the time I am uploading this rant, Legrand Legacy has received a version update which replaces the ending, and supposedly updates a substantial portion of the game's writing. I haven't been able to get a properly clear answer from the developers about whether the actual content of that writing has also been changed, so I'm still putting this rant up with the assumption that it has not, and that the problems I list below are still there, just expressed more eloquently. I will be sure to slap a retraction up here if I confirm later on that content of the game's writing no longer suffers from the problems I go into in this rant, though. Not that any of you necessarily care about super obscure indie titles like this anyway, but just in case you might be turned off from this game by a problem that they're fixing, I'll keep y'all informed.

Of course, you could ask why I don't just wait to see before uploading this rant, in case it does have to be nixed. Well, there's a very good reason for that: petty spite. The problems I examine in this rant annoyed the shit out of me, and even if the creators do end up fixing them, I still think I went through enough vexation that I deserve to vent my justifiable frustrations. If I have to later do an apologetic retraction rant, so be it.

Legrand Legacy is a Kickstarter RPG which I helped to fund, created to serve as an homage to many of the RPGs of the Playstation 1 and 2 era. It’s a pretty authentic tribute to the RPGs that inspired it, and there’s a lot to like about it.

There’s also a lot more to not like about it.

At the top of the list of this game’s shortcomings is its cast. Interestingly, though, it’s not the usual cast flaw that RPGs frustrate me with: that being the problem of most/all characters being poorly written, boring, and/or dislikable in their own right. That’s annoying in games like Lunar: Dragon Song, Final Fantasy 8, Chrono Cross, and so on, but it’s not the case here. I mean, I’m not especially fond of all the main characters of Legrand Legacy (Kael is a douchebag), but in general, they’re not awful in and of themselves. No, the problem is with how they work together as a party, and their relationship dynamics in general. To put it simply, I have never seen a cast in an RPG, or anything else, for that matter, so doggedly determined to never, ever get along.

I swear to Lir, as soon as the party has multiple members, there is not a single event that occurs in this game which doesn’t see these heroes begin bitterly bickering and bitching about it. They will find any and every possible excuse to disagree on what should be done and hold a grudge against each other at every damn turn!

I’m serious, it never stops, from the moment you get the second member of the Fatebound. The second person to join the party, Aria, is the Old Faithful of unnecessary party drama: it’s a guarantee that every hour or 2 she will erupt and start spewing a hot stream of negative emotion at 1 or more of her ‘friends.’ Aria graduates from being constantly impatient and insulting to protagonist Finn to being huffy about the fact that he cares enough about another female to want her not to die, to criticizing Kael for saving her life because he did it by encouraging slaves to fight for their freedom and that’s just too violent for precious Aria’s sensibilities, to deciding on multiple occasions that she can never again trust and work with some of her companions who have been fighting at her side and supporting her just goes on and on. I honestly do not think that there is a single, unbroken period of 3 minutes of dialogue in this game in which Aria is happy, or even just goddamn neutral, about what’s going on at that moment. And it sure as hell ain’t just her--Kael actually manages to be worse.

It is, frankly, EXHAUSTING to sit through, as the player. Emotionally draining! You just go from 1 moment in the story to the next, over and over, and every single time, you have to watch these idiots argue amongst themselves and criticize each other for every single action they take. Imagine having to watch a 50 hour video compilation of every single overdramatic disagreement and instance of badmouthing from any given stereotypical reality show. That’s what this is like! Bad games and bad characters, they frustrate me, they may bore me, they may drive me crazy, they may even utterly repulse me, and when I’m done playing them, I feel relieved that I don’t have to deal with their stupidity any longer. But the relief I felt at finishing Legrand Legacy swept over me like a wave; it felt like I had escaped from a cage someone had been keeping me in. This must be the sort of freedom felt by someone who has finally cut their ties with a toxic, emotional parasite that’s been ruining their life by association.

And let’s not be ambiguous about this: this is not just a flaw in the sense that it’s extremely off-putting to the audience. It’s also a serious flaw within the context of the game’s basic storytelling. It is definitely contradictory to the writers’ intentions. There are plenty of moments during the drama in Legrand Legacy in which some of the characters will assert, earnestly, that they’re all friends. Like, when Kael finds out he’s a shadow, a being born of an evil magic rather than a natural biological human, he gets all dramatic about it, and tries pushing the others away, to which 1 of them responds with conviction that it doesn’t matter because they’re his friends regardless. Later on, Kael feels all betrayed by some new drama, and remarks that he’d thought he had some real friends, but he guesses maybe he was wrong.* There’s a multitude of moments in the game in which it’s said or implied that these people are under the impression that they’re friends, but there is simply nothing we see about the way they interact and the ideas they communicate that supports this! Once again, we must retreat to the tried and true adage: Show, Don’t Tell. You can’t convince me that the members of the Fatebound think of themselves as friends when every single conversation they have seems to threaten to tear the group asunder!

This maelstrom of negative emotion is also a case of poor writing because it contradicts its own conclusions on multiple occasions. The same subject of Kael is a great example of this: early in the game, the revelation that he’s a shadow shakes him, and it causes a bunch of drama for the cast. The end result, though, is that they come to the conclusion that Kael is no more or less a person as he was before they knew his nature, and he himself seems to have accepted his origins. The matter seems dropped. But then, late in the game, it comes out that, in a twist, fellow party member Eris is the person that Kael was created from. Suddenly the issue of him being a shadow, which hasn’t been a problem for him for the last 30 hours of game time, re-emerges and causes a massive explosion of betrayal and distrust, as he turns on Eris as somehow being complicit in this and against him all along or some such nonsense, and wails about how horrible it is that he was forced to exist. Not only does his sudden anger and feelings of betrayal seem extraordinarily forced in this situation (why does this fucking matter, and why blame her for it?), a clear case of the writers inventing drama just for the sake of drama, but it seems like the emotional closure of Kael’s major character development arc earlier never happened. We already dealt with this problem, and he was supposed to be over it! Aria doubting and outright attacking people because of their pasts, Finn doubting Kael’s intentions, Aria being called on being too demanding and harsh as a leader, the same drama keeps surfacing over and over again, with no solution ever seeming to stick, no lesson ever seeming to be learned!

And speaking of this drama overload being inconsistent to its own conclusions, there’s the Roshua Tree trial. 1 of the most important moments in the game is the trial in the holy tree, whose purpose is to get the Fatebound to trust 1 another, and accept that their roles as protectors of Legrand is bigger than their own personal ambitions and opinions. The purpose of this trial is to cement them into a team with a purpose, get them to forgive one another their past mistakes and go forward together as a cohesive whole. Their successful completion of this trial, their coming together to receive the holy relic, is the first major victory that the party has as the destined heroes they’re supposed to be, and it’s clearly meant to be the first major step in a new direction for them...but, as this rant’s existence makes obvious, this lesson doesn’t stick, rendering what should be a climactic moment of the game into just 1 more broken promise of the narrative.

Also, the Roshua Tree’s trial is pretty damn pointless in another regard. It’s supposed to be about getting all the Fatebound to accept that their role in destiny is more important than their personal politics and all that jazz, and supposedly everyone learns this and completes the trial to the tree’s satisfaction. But apparently Kael wasn’t paying all that much attention, because his final act in Legrand Legacy is to try to possess the final boss’s body, with the intent of using the guy’s power to change the world’s societies to eliminate upper classes and make everyone equal. Which sort of sounds like the exact opposite of the whole “let go of your personal opinions and just focus on getting the job done” thing. Especially since it results in revitalizing the final boss and making him more powerful than ever, unable to be put down without a highly confusing and ambiguous sacrifice on Finn and maybe Eris’s part (the ending to this game sucks, by the way). So yeah, Kael’s last bit of drama in not being able to trust his comrades (because 2 of them are royalty) winds up almost destroying the world. Good job on remembering every-goddamn-thing you had the characters learn at that crucial moment in the plot, Legrand writing team.

...what kind of shit prophecy was it that put Kael in the Fatebound, anyway? How well you contribute to your team of foretold warriors may vary, but I’m pretty sure most people would agree that you shouldn’t get to be a hero of destiny if your biggest influence on your team is to make it harder to save the world. Who the hell writes a story in which it would have been beneficial to the quest if 1 of the fated heroes had just stayed home?

Oh, and another point to be clear on: you may have noticed that Aria and Kael are the ones I mention most here as causing this constant drama, but it’s definitely not them alone. Yeah, Azzam and Scatia and Eris may not instigate this crap all that often, but the most they do to mitigate it is to passively protest or reactively argue. Once an argument or other form of heated exchange has started, they may try to defuse the situation and talk the others down, but it never seems to occur to them that they should try saying, “Hey, guys, let’s just take a moment here to talk to each other and work through our issues together” in the off-times when tempers aren’t currently flaring. Halfheartedly flicking a few water droplets on each new fire is not the same as trying to convince the guy with the matches to stop lighting them. The horrendous dysfunctionality of this party may be caused primarily by a certain 2 individuals, but they’re ALL complicit in it in 1 way or another.

I understand what the writers of this game were trying for. Honestly, I do. They wanted to make sure that their characters were always evolving, always being developed and an active part of the events they were involved in. So Semisoft tried to make sure there was always something going on with them that they were reacting to, or some interaction being made between the bigger personalities of the party. And I can respect the intention, at least, because it’s really annoying and boring in an RPG when a character has had all the major development and interactions they’re going to get, and they wind up just feeling like they’re a passenger to the plot the rest of the time. Even great games do this sometimes--I’ve mentioned before how I really wish that Final Fantasy 9 had done more with Freya, who I think had the most potential of its entire cast, after the events in Burmecia and Cleyra during the early parts of the game. She never disappeared, or became a silent placeholder, but her character’s contribution to the party dynamic and plot was limited after that point, and that’s damn disappointing. And that, at the very least, does not happen with any of the party members of Legrand Legacy.

But Semisoft seems to have mistaken constant drama, constant disagreement, and constant vitriol as character development. And not only is that not the case, but, since the lessons learned from these conflicts are disregarded several times in order to make the next melodrama possible, this never-ending torment of complaints, clashing personalities, and hurt feelings is actually the exact opposite of character development, because it keeps bringing these individuals backward to retread the same ground. By the end of Legrand Legacy, not a single 1 of the main characters feels like they’ve actually grown as a person, nor do they feel as though they’ve connected to the others as a team, because they stumble over the same character faults as they did at the beginning, and almost no part of how they speak to and regard one another appears to have moved a step forward. After dozens of hours of watching these characters, it still feels to the very end like a group of ill-tempered strangers have been thrust together at random for some especially sour RPG version of the Real World.

* Kael does this more than once, in fact. Which is a little hypocritical, because the instant he finds out that 2 of these chums that he’s so quick to accuse of not being true enough to their friendship to him are, in fact, royalty, he immediately turns around and from that point on refuses to trust or support them.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Asdivine 4's Characters

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah. Me, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goddammit, Kemco.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

General RPGs' Frequent Use of Aliens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 28, 2018

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

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

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

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

Yennefer is understandably vexed by this.

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

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

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

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

Seems hypocritical of me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(╬ ಠ益ಠ)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I miss The Witcher 3.

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

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

Monday, October 8, 2018

General RPG Minigames 12: Golden Ring Rotation

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

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

And it is fucking bullshit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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