Sunday, June 11, 2017


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...

Thursday, January 28, 2016

General RPGs' Players Changing Opinions Due to Annoying Fanbases

Crappy title for this one, but I don’t really know what else to call it. Also, this is another one of those rants that applies to RPGs, but it really also applies to many other avenues of storytelling, as well. Like my rant on Resurrection Abuse, or Hot Springs.

Guys? Girls? Ad bots?* Don’t let an annoying fandom ruin something for you. Seriously, don’t.

It seems silly, but it happens. People will like a game, cartoon, anime, movie, TV show, or whatever--we’ll say a game for now, since that keeps it relevant to this theoretically RPG-only blog. They’ll like the game a lot. But as they go online to talk about it, to draw fanart or write fanfiction or make fan videos for it, they find that there are other fans of this same game who are loud, obnoxious, crude, and/or hostile morons. And sometimes, there are a LOT of them. Enough of them that the person’s feelings for the game’s worth change by association.

Worse still, repeated encounters with an annoying fandom for a game someone has not played will convince that person that he or she doesn’t like the game solely on the basis that he or she doesn’t like its fanbase. This is something occurring with unfortunate prevalence for Undertale right now, in face.

Please don’t let either of these things happen to you.

Again, it seems silly. Why should anyone let their opinion be changed about something just because the other people who like the same thing are morons and/or jerks? Worse still, why would anyone let their opinion be formed by such morons and/or jerks? Okay, sure, maybe seeing that you’re in inordinately poor company means you should at least give that thing you like a second look, just to make sure you weren’t overestimating its value. And maybe seeing that you would be in inordinately poor company means a reasonable amount of caution about trying the game out. But beyond that, it seems ridiculous to let a game’s popularity sway your own opinion one way or another. You’d be like the pretentious hipster stereotype who hates everything solely because it’s widely loved.

But silly or not, it does happen. Back in the days when I debased myself by frequenting the Gaia Online Final Fantasy forums, I’d frequently come across people who had initially liked Final Fantasy 7, but then began to look down on and even despise the game, simply because the fanbase for it was so absolutely full to bursting with illiterate, self-important jerks who lived their lives according to utterly concrete first impressions that they based on the shallowest surface level of all they saw.

I could never figure out why someone would do this. I like Final Fantasy 7 a lot because it’s a strongly written, creative story that covers many themes of personal identity, self-determination, self-delusion, self-forgiveness (a lot of focus on the self in this game), and so on, conveyed through a cast which contained several deep, dynamic characters. Does the fact that I see the beauty, wisdom, and art of Final Fantasy 7 change just because for every 1 of me, there’s about 50 drooling doofuses who like the game because Tifa has breasts and because they (the drooling doofuses, I mean, not Tifa’s breasts) erroneously think Sephiroth is a badass? So I like Cloud as a hero for his depth as a character and his dynamic change from a delusional loner to a man who has accepted his past and weakness and becomes stronger for them, while 50 other gamers who don’t know why blue boxes keep popping up on the screen while they’re trying to play happen to like Cloud because he has a big sword and broods sometimes. So what? I’m supposed to pretend that Final Fantasy 7 is less of a masterpiece of the RPG genre just because it happens to have a massive fanbase of people who like it only for the most base, unimportant surface qualities?

Hell NO!

My opinion is not the lesser OR the greater for who stands with me! I’ve observed Final Fantasy 7 several times. I’ve given substantial thought to its every aspect. I’ve discussed it at length with others who have also analyzed it. I’ve challenged my own opinions on the game multiple times, as I do with virtually every opinion I form. My perspective on the game is as valid as any opinion can be, because I’ve put the time and thought into it, because I can refer to the evidence for it and argue my point. Whether that puts me in the company of some giggling fangirl who just finds Cloud hot, or of the brilliant Chris Avellone himself, my opinion of Final Fantasy 7 stands the same.

Obviously there are certain joys to finding yourself in accord with people you respect. And obviously there are certain irritations to finding yourself in accord with people you can’t stand. And I definitely do not want to imply that you should never allow your opinion to be changed--one should always keep an open enough mind that they’re willing to have their perspective challenged, and even proven wrong.

But one of the joys of finding yourself in agreement with people you respect should never be that this fact somehow, on its own, validates that opinion. One of the irritations to finding yourself in agreement with people you can’t stand should never be that this fact somehow, on its own, invalidates your opinion. And if your opinion is to be changed, let it be through proof, through logical and emotional truth, through a new and better understanding of the subject matter, and never by the simple presence of others who share it. Similarly, if your opinion on a game, or anything else, is to be formed, let it be formed by the game itself, and never by the nature of those who have played it before you.

It’s a pretty universal occurrence that once something, ANYTHING, reaches a certain level of popularity, its fanbase becomes bad to some degree. That’s a truth of the internet that’s pretty important to embrace, because without understanding that, you open yourself to taking a bad fanbase too personally and letting it ruin your enjoyment of something. And when you do that, when you decide that Final Fantasy 7 is too beloved by morons to be good, that Undertale’s fanbase being pushy means that the game itself must be awful, that the varying levels of obnoxiousness in the fandoms for The Hunger Games, Star Wars, My Little Pony, Steven Universe, Doctor Who, or anything else means that those products can’t be worthwhile, you’ve given up your own free will to those you despise. And do not fool yourself on this point: when that happens, when you refuse to try something or refuse to allow yourself to enjoy something because its fanbase annoys you, your decision to let others dictate what you dislike will not have any lasting negative impact on them. The only person who loses out will be you.

* I have no misconceptions about where most of my page hits come from.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Fallout 4's MILA Placement

Fallout 4’s a pretty big deal. It’s got a strong plot (far and away the best of the series), a good cast, and, like all Fallout titles, a ton of allegorical (and sometimes direct) commentary and analysis on United States history, culture, and mentality. There’s more intellectual content, subtle nuances, and cultural and historical references to contemplate and discuss in this game than you can shake a bladed swatter at. And, of course, today we’re going to ignore every last one of these worthy topics of discourse, and instead nitpick an utterly meaningless detail that you could not possibly care about whatsoever.

Because I’m me.

So! MILAs. They’re observational doohickeys that you have to place at high places throughout the Commonwealth in Fallout 4 during a series of quests for Tinker Tom of the Railroad. Tinker Tom wants them at the tops of various buildings around the area so he can measure atmospheric conditions out of an irrational paranoia that the Institute is filling the air with mind control or something, and his boss Desdemona wants the MILAs up there for the completely rational paranoia of being able to monitor potential Institute movements throughout the Boston area. Either way, if you want to get in the good graces of the most moral and humanly decent group in post-apocalyptic Massachusetts, you’re gonna be climbing some stairs.

So here’s how it went for me on my first MILA placement quest. I travel over to the assigned building, MILA burning a hole in my standard-issue physics-defying RPG pocket. I get there, go inside, and begin to systematically wipe out the super mutants within as I climb stairs and fallen debris from 1 floor to the next...all the while grabbing every random piece of trash I can see, of course, because somehow my character can perform whatever forbidden alchemical arts are necessary to turn a packet of pencils and a few kitchen knives into a 12 x 18 foot solid wall of steel. I finally find my way to the top floor, and step out onto the roof. Time to find the little green box that indicates the exact spot to place the quest item doohickey.

...Wait. That can’t be right. There?

Allow me to explain what I am seeing right now. I have located the little green quest box that indicates the exact location of my mission objective. It is hovering over a loose board of wood, 50% (often more than that) of the length of which is extended over the side of the roof, weighed down by a single cinder block to keep it from succumbing to the seductive caress of gravity and falling 6 stories down to the ground. That is the spot where I am to place a large (think about the size of a big microwave), sensitive piece of equipment.

You know what? You need a visual. Here’s an example of a mission objective spot like that which I just described:


And here is what it looks like with the MILA placed:


Just look at that. Look at it! I know this really isn’t anything that matters, but the logistics bug the hell out of my nitpicky fan nature. Here you are, on a perfectly solid, serviceable roof where you could just put the atmospheric thingamabob down and know that it’s relatively safe and secure, and instead you’re sticking it on a single, extremely unsecured board of wood to jut out over a fatal drop. There are just so many things that make this a dumb placement!

First of all, the damn MILA is twice as wide as the board of wood it’s sitting on. There’s nothing to stop a playful breeze from unbalancing the thing and sending it hurtling down to the ground. And the weight! The MILA definitely looks heavier than the single, halfheartedly-placed cinderblock counterweight. One radroach larva happens to flutter over and land on the wrong end of that board, and the whole thing is toppling over, mark my words. And that’s all just assuming that board of wood, which has clearly seen better days, won’t just snap under the weight of it on its own* Do you really think that thing’s stable enough resist gravity when some nearby huge explosion (there are a lot of those in the Fallout Commonwealth) shakes the roof? Or when a Brotherhood of Steel vertibird flies low overhead, its rotors pushing air down from above? Hell, the heavy footfalls of a big supermutant exploring the roof might be enough to dislodge this damn thing. Or a raider in scavenged power armor. Or a Brotherhood of Steel goon in considerably better power armor. Or a deathclaw. I’ve seen all these things on roofs during my explorations, most more than once.

Even assuming that gravity does not claim the MILA for its own within 10 minutes of your having placed it there, the thing is jutting over the edge of a building, completely and totally visible to anyone looking up from the ground, or over from another building’s roof! Tinker Tom thinks that the Institute is monitoring absolutely everything everywhere, yet he wants to have his junk hanging out for all to see!** And even beyond his paranoia, it’s a fact that the Institute DOES have many agents, be they conscious or unwitting, active in the Commonwealth. Any of them could travel by 1 of these MILA points and happen to see this device and wonder about its use, which could lead to massive disaster for the Railroad. Even just a regular traveler happening to look up would be a bad thing--any given tech scavenger would probably see such a doohickey as a prize to acquire and sell off.

And hey, let’s not forget the other enemies of the Railroad, the Brotherhood of Steel...yes, the intelligent, scientifically advanced individuals with enormous resources who are specifically out to collect any and every piece of interesting technology they come across. The BoS is also the group whose members are always zooming around the Commonwealth in their vertibirds. Meaning that all they have to do is fly over a MILA, happen to be looking down at the time--which I can only assume is usually where vertibird passengers are looking; that’s kind of the point of aerial patrol ships--and they’ll see a cherry piece of tech they’ve never encountered before, just begging to having the information it’s sending out traced straight to the Railroad HQ!

And that’s STILL not the end of why this placement is so dumb. Let’s say that, miracle of miracles, the MILA does not fall and does not get noticed by anyone who would steal it or use it to harm its creators. It’s still out in the open, exposed! Say some idiot super mutant decides some time that he wants to have a staring contest with the sun. He looks up, and happens to see this weird box sitting on a board jutting out from a rooftop. Will he know what the hell it is, or have any interest in taking it? No. But will he be struck with the notion of using it as target practice? Quite possibly! Hell, we know from Fallout 3’s Galaxy News Radio dish quest that mutants have taken potshots at machinery located high above them before; there’s no reason they wouldn’t again. And if a super mutant doesn’t try shooting the MILA for shits and giggles, a raider certainly might, or a Gunner might decide to hone his aim with it. Hell, even totally unnoticed, the thing’s still not safe if it’s out in the open--the Commonwealth, particularly the Boston area where most of the MILAs get placed, is a constant warzone. There’s every chance of a MILA getting damaged in crossfire or by a stray missed shot, out in the air as it is. That’s especially true considering that a lot of fighting occurs between the Brotherhood of Steel and the dregs of the wastelands, meaning a ton of bullets and lasers firing up from the ground and down from the vertibirds.

And, that’s about all I have to say on the matter. MILA placement is dumb several times over. At any rate, congratulations on making it to the end of my most pointless rant ever! You have my condolences.

* Yeah, okay, so the MILA doesn’t actually have a weight value when it’s in your inventory. I contend that’s for gameplay purposes, so you don’t accidentally exceed your carry weight with a plot item, not because the kitchen sink-sized device of steel, copper, and plastic actually is supposed to weigh less than a marshmallow.

** You’re welcome for that image.

Friday, January 8, 2016

General RPG Lists: Best Bad Endings

Happy New Year, folks! As the year of You Are Not the Hero, Xenoblade 2, Fallout 4 DLC, a romance-oriented Fire Emblem that actually caught up to 10 years ago by providing homosexual options, and oh holy shit TORMENT: TIDES OF NUMENARA!!!, 2016 shows great promise for the RPG genre. Let's see if I can write up some rants so mentally stimulating and entertaining that they can keep pace with that exciting lineup!

(Spoiler Alert: I can't. You'll just have to be satisfied with the usual fanboyish, nitpicking garbage I spew every year).

In my Greatest Endings list, I covered the best of RPGs’ good endings...but you know, good endings aren’t the only ones to be found in this genre. A lot of games also have Bad Endings, intentionally dissatisfying conclusions that let the player know that somewhere or other, they done fucked up. These are the endings whose purpose is to create regret and discontent, and encourage you to do a better job next time. There’s a lot of these lesser finales in RPGs, and most of them are pretty by-the-numbers, but sometimes you’ll come across a Bad Ending that’s extremely well done, surprising you with just how much quality the developers put into even the conclusion that represents failure. And today, we’re taking a look at the best of the bad!

Note: I’m trying to be objective here, so endings that are just representations of playstyles I don’t agree with don’t count. So, for example, even though an ending where you empower Caesar’s Legion in Fallout: New Vegas is pretty bad from any decent human being’s perspective, I’m not counting it, because it’s not based on a failure so much as it is a social philosophy, even if that social philosophy is shitty and poorly thought out. So, no Renegade Shepard, no Chiaki Discipline, no negative karma Lone Wanderer, no Yamato meritocracy, etc. None of those are meant to symbolize a failure on the player or characters’ parts (besides, perhaps, a moral one). They’re endings meant to be as legitimate as their counterparts, not Bad Endings.

Note 2: I’m sure you can figure this one out on your own, but, uh, spoilers.

5. Live-A-Live (Sad Ending)

What makes this such a good Bad Ending is that it’s so poignantly underscored by the tragedy of Orsted’s fall from grace. It’s not just about the fact that he wins, that he changes the fates of the other 7 climactic battles to result in the defeat of each hero and the dominance of the demonic force Odio. After Orsted’s victory, as the credits roll, we see him leave his fortress of evil and journey through the now empty and lifeless kingdom that he was once a hero to, quietly visiting the place of each of the losses, misunderstandings, and betrayals that pushed him from a hero to a demon, as well as the sites of the triumphs that gave him so much to lose in the first place. What this ending is really about is reminding you that the ruination of this man’s life, the circumstances that drove him to embrace darkness, is what caused the triumph of evil now in multiple places in time and space. The fickle, quick judgments of the people, the deaths of the only true and good people Orsted knew, the vicious betrayal by his best friend over petty jealousy, the emotional betrayal of the princess, she who had symbolized the pure, redeeming goal and light that he had clung desperately to when the rest of his world was falling apart...Orsted visits the site of each to remind himself and us of his tale. The people in Orsted’s life failed him with their petty, stupid vices, destroyed him...and now, in this ending, we see the tragedy compounded as his retribution seeks out not only the humanity that did him wrong, but the innocents of other worlds and times, as well.

4. Eternal Senia (Ending 2)

Ha! The real question is, are any of Eternal Senia's endings not a Bad Ending?

I kid, I kid. Because humor is a defense mechanism. And I need it right now. Because the second ending of ES breaks my goddamn heart. After all that Senia has gone through to save her sister Magaleta, and all that Magaleta has taken on herself to save Senia, Eternity still wins out, taking control of Senia while Magaleta is pushed away before she can try to shoulder this last lethal burden. Senia is lost, yet Magaleta cannot bring herself to leave her, even as Senia attacks her...instead, Magaleta simply accepts each injury, as fate’s punishment for failing to love Senia well enough, and failing to save her. After all the hurt and trials that Senia and Magaleta have endured, each girl’s only concern the wellbeing of her sister, her only wish to be with the other...Magaleta accepts death by the blade of her beloved sister, happily, as her penance, and because she’d rather be with Senia in death than attempt to live without her. The sheer weight of Senia and Magaleta’s love for one another is staggering, and the fact that they never had the chance to truly live and rejoice in that love, from circumstance and an inability to communicate their feelings and fears, makes this the saddest Bad Ending I’ve ever seen.

3. Fallout 1

This ending, which you get when the protagonist gives in and tells The Master’s lieutenant about Vault 13, is short, yet extremely effective. The Vault Dweller is taken and dropped into the vats, transformed into a super mutant, the scene nightmarish without needing to be excessive or graphic. Then, we see the result of the Vault Dweller’s loose lips: the invasion of Vault 13 in progress, through security feeds. It’s a masterfully disturbing scenario: hopeless, relentless, terrifying, and brutal. It’s simple, and again, nightmarish without the need for gratuitous detail. Stunningly horrible, this is an ending that leaves you feeling a little sick.

2. Undertale (No Mercy Ending)

Actually, there are quite a few neutral endings in Undertale that might have pushed Live-A-Live off this list, too, but they’re pretty much the ones where you’ve come close to a No Mercy run, but not quite gotten it, so I’m just going to count this one alone, and call it a day.

Okay, so this may seem like it goes against that rule I mentioned earlier about not counting alternate play styles, but the No Mercy is different than just deciding to play Revan as a Sith or something. Going out of your way to murder absolutely everyone you possibly can has no belief or philosophy behind it--even Flowey’s motto of Kill or Be Killed only logically applies to interacting with those you come across and/or possess something you want, not systematically hunting down and wiping out the weak and helpless in totality. Additionally, the No Mercy ending is not shown as an acceptable alternative to another legitimate ending that gives a deviant player what he or she was shooting for--it’s pretty unequivocally a Bad Ending. Lastly, it does not represent a success of the protagonist, Frisk’s, choices or belief. Rather, as the ending makes clear, the violent impulses of the game belong to Chara, the first child, and if Frisk kills, it is because Chara’s spirit is in control. Chara more or less says this, and even mocks Frisk’s assumption that he/she has ever been in control should Frisk try to resist. SO, the No Mercy ending can really only be seen as a failure for Frisk, never a consciously-selected consequence: it’s a failure to keep the influence of Chara at bay and stay in control.

We square on this? Okay, good. So, then, let’s talk this ending and why it’s here, which is because it

As is its intention, of course. In this ending, you’ve unleashed a psychotic, reasonless murderer on the world, one intent on and capable of destroying all existence, a monster that can neither be stopped by even a hero who has been imbued with the collective power of the world’s hope, nor by an unimaginably powerful creature who can manipulate the very laws of the universe. Seeing Chara, hearing him/her talk, realizing that this is truly the end of this world, and then realizing that you’ve given Chara the power to lock you out of restarting and can only ever play the game again by selling Frisk’s soul to him/her, a decision that cannot be taken back no matter how you play the game ever again...this ending perfectly blends the stuff of a living nightmare, and the sinking pit in your stomach that occurs when you realize that you’ve made a choice, an important one, for the worse, and will never, ever escape its consequences.

1. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 (Kill Namatame Ending)

This is a pretty intense and emotionally painful ending all around. The scene that leads to the moment of this Bad Ending is heavy with the fresh pain of loss, and the desperation that comes of it. With the universally beloved Nanako dead, the Investigation Team privately confronts Namatame, the man believed to be responsible for her death. Although they only moments before were upset at the idea of what Nanako’s father, out of his mind with anguish, had intended to do with Namatame, the heroes find themselves also quickly blinded to reason by their grief and rage. In this moment of weakness, the team takes justice into its own hands, and murders Namatame.

Their adventure ends that night, in tragedy, their search for answers ended with a single terrible decision made without the dedication to the pursuit of truth that had united and propelled them up to that point. In the heat of this terrible moment, an act is perpetrated that cannot be undone, a betrayal of all that the team has stood for, striven for. It is an act that cannot be redacted. When it's time, a few months later, for the protagonist to go back to his home and leave the town in which the game takes place, there's no jubilant exit. There's only a small, sad speech by Nanako's father to the main character that sometimes bad actions must be taken for the greater good, awkward and quiet farewells from the protagonist's friends, and an atmosphere of regret. Regret, and perhaps shame, for what was done hastily in anger. It's very, very well done and poignant, and pretty much captures the essence of what a Bad Ending is meant to be--an unsatisfying, regretful conclusion that came about from a deviation from what the story had intended.

Honorable Mention: Mass Effect 3 (Fan-Created MEHEM Ending)

You know, it’s a funny thing. The Mass Effect Happy Ending Mod gives us a satisfying, correct ending for the ME trilogy to fix that sloppy pile of shit that those incompetent, self-important fuckwads at Bioware forced on us...but worth noting is that it also gives us a Bad Ending, too, if you’ve reached the ending by making bad decisions and not gathering enough war assets. And this Bad Ending...really, really works. It’s interesting, it’s intelligent, and it’s meaningful. And it’s even a little artsy, too, with how well it conveys details and intentions without outright speaking them. Seeing that all hope for their cycle truly is lost, Joker and the crew of the Normandy heroically sacrifice themselves to keep their secret contingency plan safe from the risk of Indoctrination bringing it to light, and we cut away to see, someday, 1 of Liara’s capsules being found and activated which details the oncoming Reaper menace to the next cycle, in the hopes that the details of our own failure might be enough to give the galaxy’s next starfaring children a chance to survive. And once the credits are finished, we learn that this was, indeed, what happened.

Yes, obviously this modded ending uses a lot of what Bioware created for the official “Bad Ending” to create its own downer finale, but that’s what MEHEM does overall--it takes the bits of Bioware’s bilge that can be salvaged for something good, and then fills in the gaps with its own fan-created content (which, by the way, is very good, often indistinguishable from the “professional” content) that make for something worthwhile. The important thing here is that, whereas before the message of the Bad Ending of ME3 was Bioware saying, “Oh, you don’t like being left with only shitty options? Sure, here’s a new option for you: EVERYTHING YOU LOVE DIES. Happy?”, this Bad Ending is a theme of hope even within resignation to your own fate, and of heroic, meaningful sacrifice of oneself for the good of others whom one has never even met. There’s a powerful, inspiring nobility to this Bad Ending that shows that even in the darkest of times, when all is lost for us, there is still a beautiful light to be found in our ability to help others as we were unable to do for ourselves.

I suspect not many people will ever see this ending, as the whole point of downloading MEHEM would be to salve the terrible wounds in your psyche, still open and raw years after ME3’s ending created them, so few people are going to bother going into it with the low rating that this ending requires to activate. And that’s kind of sad, honestly, because just as MEHEM proper is an absolutely excellent ending, so too is MEHEM’s Bad Ending 1 of the best you’re ever going to come across. Thankfully, it's not hard to find on Youtube.

And that’s it for today! Personally, I think it’s pretty darned cool that there are games whose creators take such an interest in their work that they can’t resist telling the game and characters’ stories even when they go in the wrong direction. And it’s really neat that the RPG genre has quite a few of these--this list was fairly difficult to narrow down. There are a lot of quality Bad Endings out there, such as the ones for Chrono Trigger, Mass Effect 2, and Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume, amongst others. The Bad Ending really can be an interesting, meaningful, and emotional little flourish that makes an already strong RPG that much more memorable and interesting, and I say kudos to those writers who take the time not only to make a Bad Ending at all, but to make one well.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Annual Summary 2015

Okay but seriously guys, how long can I keep up this whole rant thing? Surely I’m gonna run out of good ideas for rants soon, right?

...Wait, you can’t run out of what you never had to start with. Okay, I guess we’re good to keep going!

2015 was a good year for RPGs for me. Most of the ones I played were at least decent, plenty were great, and considering that I was working AND taking courses to be a teacher all through the year, I’d say I played a good number of them. Here’s what was on the plate this year:

Celestian Tales 1
Defenders of Oasis
Eternal Senia
Gothic 2
Legena: Union Tides
The Legend of Heroes 6-1
The Legend of Korra: A New Era Begins
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons
Mario and Luigi 4
Neverwinter Nights 1
Pillars of Eternity
Shadowrun: Hong Kong
Swords + Darkness
Witch + Hero
Xenoblade Chronicles 1
Zenonia 1

Okay, yeah, not a huge number, but again, I was pretty busy. Heck, even outside of my boring real life stuff, I filled my time up pretty fully.

With what? Why, I’m glad you (almost certainly did not actually) ask! This year, I watched a ton of great stuff. I finally, FINALLY, watched Avatar: The Last Airbender, like everyone has been telling me to for the last decade or so, and quite enjoyed it! It’s definitely a great cartoon. I also watched its sequel series, The Legend of Korra, which was great as well, and also a little more timely. I watched Brooklyn 99’s second season (hilarious as always), the recent anime Sakura Trick (meh), Rick and Morty (a much larger meh), the Dollhouse (quite good), the new show Adam Ruins Everything (fun, informative, socially important, and it stars a member of my first, favorite sketch comedy groups, Olde English!), My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic’s fifth season (great as always), Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (very funny), and The Tick (live action and cartoon, both are hilarious). I also rewatched Trigun and Avatar: The Last Airbender with my mother; she liked ATLA quite well and was absolutely nuts about Trigun. Naturally.

I also watched 3 things which just blew me away. The first was Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. It is, without a doubt, the greatest 80s parody ever made--and I say that now, in 2015, the very year that the indescribably awesome Kung Fury was released. Don’t get me wrong, Kung Fury comes damn close, but Garth Marenghi is just...just sublime parody perfection beyond our mortal understanding.

The second was Daredevil. Just...damn. This is now the golden standard for live action superhero shows, folks. It blows everything else out of the water. Hell, this show is so thoughtful, packed, and excellently done that it’s almost on the level of Batman: The Animated Series.

And...the third and greatest thing I watched this year was Steven Universe. I...really never expected this to happen, but...Gargoyles is no longer the greatest western cartoon ever created. Steven Universe is a thing of art and poetry, and every moment of it is wonderful and unique even as it beautifully pays homage to some of the great works of animation that inspired it. I cannot describe it. Please, please watch this show. Like MLP: Friendship is Magic, it is a show that can and will greatly benefit our society the more people, children and adults, that it touches. Yet even MLPFiM, which you guys know I have extremely high respect and affection for, does not touch the level of excellence that is Steven Universe.

What other non-RPG stuff did I do? Well, I played Kid Icarus: Uprising, and played it obsessively, at that, because damn that game is fun and funny. The quips and shenanigans of Palutena, Pit, Viridi, Hades, and all the minor characters are just a barrel of fun to experience, even several times over. Heartily recommended if you could use some simple, quirky fun. I also played Super Smash Brothers Wii U, because if you’re gonna go non-RPGs every once in a while, you might as well go with the best ever. They really pulled out all the stops on this one, and while I really miss the little story adventure that Brawl had, and my sister laments the loss of Solid Snake, overall this iteration of the series is fantastic. They finally added Little Mac! And Palutena’s there, too! What more could you ever ask for!? And lastly, I replayed both Shadowrun: Dragonfall and Undertale so my sister could experience them. She was duly impressed with them both, and I always have a blast sharing quality entertainment.

I also read a lot of stuff this year. I read books by Isaac Asimov, Peter Beagle, Robert Charrette, Agatha Christie, Mel Odom, and Benjamin Alire Saenz. That may not seem like a lot, but the authors I’m not mentioning are the COUNTLESS HORDES OF WRITERS FROM ALL DISCIPLINES WHOSE WORKS I’VE READ NONSTOP FOR CLASSES. Seriously I think my eyes are gonna pop out of my head pretty soon.

Alright, enough of all that crap. Back to the RPGs. As has become typical for me, a significant portion of my RPGs were Indie and/or crowdfunded titles, though I kept in a good mix of more “mainstream” ones. It was neat because several were games I had helped to fund, so I finally got to see how they turned out. My 3DS was as essential as ever in getting in some RPGs during transits or downtime outside of the house, although, admittedly, not a lot of them were especially memorable. I fear I’m running out of good 3DS RPGs to download which are on the cheap side...

Also, could we now, as a species, stop naming things, “The Legend of ____”? I already had The Legend of Dragoon, Grimrock, Mana, and Zelda on my tally of RPGs I’ve completed, and now I’ve got to add The Legend of Heroes and Korra in there, too. THINK OF SOMETHING ELSE ALREADY.

Anyway, enough boring stuff. Let’s get to the fun part! Well, assuming you find ANY part of these self-indulgent little narcissistic report cards I give myself fun, that is.

RPG Moments of Interest in 2015:

1. Did I...did I just play a Xeno- game that made a lick of sense, had a decent narrative structure and some good characters, and overall just didn’t suck? And in fact, was quite good?



2. In Shadowrun: Hong Kong, you can pickpocket excited convention-goers who are too busy messing with con activities to notice. I don’t know why, but somehow, something about this strikes me as a new low.

3.Have you seen that new Sonic Boom show? I can’t believe it, I really can’t fucking believe it, but it’s actually come to pass: after 24 prolific years of games, comics, cartoons, anime, and God only knows what else, the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise has actually produced something that doesn’t suck ass. Sonic Boom ain’t exactly a work of art, but it IS pretty damn funny, at least, and you can tell that the folks writing it are sharp and have great comical instinct.

It’s also funny to see a lot of long-time Sonic fans react to the show. They have no idea what to make of a Sonic product that’s actually enjoyable, having never encountered such a thing before, and so a lot of them decry it as getting the franchise all wrong. Pretty sure that’s the reason the show’s actually watchable, guys.

(Yes, this counts as an RPG thing. Sonic the Hedgehog had his own (shitty) RPG. Totes legit).

4. One of the many impressive things about Undertale is how it uses the game mechanic of save points and resets as an actual part of its story. It’s very rare for a game to incorporate a meta-game mechanic like that into its the top of my head, I can only think of 2 other RPGs that have done so: Breath of Fire 5 (which incorporates save file resets as a necessary part of seeing the game’s full story), and Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle (which incorporates and gives narrative cause for its multiple endings once you reach a true understanding of what’s really going on with Duchess Catherine). Neither of them, however, so expertly manipulates the system into its plot as Undertale, and it was really neat to see the creativity with which Toby Fox made it happen.

5. Oddly, I encountered 3 separate games this year whose battle mechanic is basically running into enemies to both do and take damage: Eternal Senia, Fairune, and Witch + Hero. Nothing really to say about it, I just find it weird that the first year I come across such an idea, I hit upon it 3 times.

6. A couple of games I’ve played this year really remind you of just how great a product you can get from a single person’s vision. Toby Fox didn’t develop Undertale entirely by himself, but from what I understand, it’s still fair to call the game his personal vision and overall a 1 man show. And Eternal Senia, as far as I understand it, really WAS a case of a single person, going by the name Holy Priest, making the whole thing on his own. Considering Undertale’s excellence and how emotionally powerful Eternal Senia is, it really proves that you can get some pretty amazing results from even just 1 person’s passion.

7. This is going to be the most relevant Annual Summary rant I’ve ever done, because I actually played an unusually high number of RPGs that were released this very year. Celestian Tales 1, Eternal Senia, Legena: Union Tides, Pillars of Eternity, Shadowrun: Hong Kong, and Undertale were all released in 2015. How crazy is that--The RPGenius is actually talking about stuff that’s current!*

Best Prequel/Sequel of 2015:
Winner: Shadowrun: Hong Kong
While Dragonfall is still the best Shadowrun video game to date, this year’s addition to the series is darned good, and it does the Shadowrun series proud, making good use of all the signatures of this awesome franchise: dark, gritty cyberpunk characters and settings, dark threats from both the corrupt corporate society and the forces of the supernatural, wry humor and earnest streetwise philosophy, and a twisting, layered plot. Settling into the Shadowrun universe perfectly to tell its story of greed, regret, and redemption, Shadowrun: Hong Kong is a cyberpunk gem.

Runners-Up: NA
Nothing to say, really. I didn’t play many games that were sequels or prequels this year, and of the few I did play...well, Shadowrun: Hong Kong was the only game that really did well by its predecessors and title.

Biggest Disappointment of 2015:
Loser: Mass Effect 3
You may think that the reason I keep mentioning Mass Effect 3 here every year is just to reinforce my disgust with its ending in an entertaining fashion. And you are not entirely wrong. Nonetheless, this isn’t just for the sake of hyperbolic amusement.

See, 3 years later, the atrocious pile of shit that is Mass Effect 3’s ending is still no less utterly vile and repugnant than ever. And that means, see, that the mere memory of it still brings forth feelings of disappointment that far eclipse any others I have felt this year. Since 2012, there has been no fresh disappointment in my RPG life that is great enough that it competes. Even if it’s just through memory, the ending of Mass Effect 3 really is still the most disappointing part of my year. Eat shit and die, Bioware.

However, if we limit ourselves to fresh disappointment, and reject that of recollection...

Actual Loser: The Legend of Korra: A New Era Begins
Honestly, I didn’t really expect too much of this game, but seeing as the show it’s based on is really high quality animated entertainment--one of the top 10 non-anime cartoons ever, I’d say--I was expecting, I dunno, something decent, you know? This game, though, is just...blah. It’s nothing. The story is hasty, boring, and honestly doesn’t really feel like it belongs in the Avatar universe more than it could belong in any other setting, with minimal tweaking. The characters are bland and interchangeable mockeries of the characters from the show, recognizable only from their appearance, not their personality...if they’re even there at all. When you get to the end and beat the game, you feel nothing, no sense of accomplishment or victory, and for a game based on The Legend of Korra, a show possessing such epic, meaningful, and in-universe historically significant climaxes and finales, that’s damned disappointing.

Almost as Bad: Neverwinter Nights 1, Swords + Darkness, Zenonia 1
No real story to tell with S+D and Zenonia 1--I just went into them as I do any other RPG, with the expectation that there would be a minimally acceptable plot and characters that don’t suck, and I was disappointed. Neverwinter Nights 1, though...if it weren’t for the last third of the Hordes of the Underdark expansion for it, NN1 would have been the most disappointing title for me this year. NN1 made such a splash in the RPG community when it came out, everyone was talking about it and praising it, and yet when I finally played it, all I found was a cliched, repetitive plot with terrible, boring pacing that bided its time with 1 stupid fetch quest after another instead of developing its story and characters in any real way. The main game’s only redeeming feature is Aribeth, and she’s also disappointing because she clearly has some potential as a character and villain, yet the game just doesn’t bother to do a damn thing with it. Some of the official add-ons for the game are good, but overall they’re drowned out by the others’ mediocrity, and even the best of the add-ons have problems, as I mentioned in a previous rant. So yeah...this vaunted Dungeons and Dragons game I’ve heard about for years and years just wasn’t anything of interest. Too bad.

Best Finale of 2015:
Winner: Undertale (True Ending)
Fun, heartwarming, fulfilling, grand in its scope, with a thrilling final battle that resonates strongly with the beauty of forgiveness and peace...the True Ending of Undertale is everything you want from this excellent game.

Runners-Up: Pillars of Eternity; Shadowrun: Hong Kong; Xenoblade Chronicles 1
The final part of Xenoblade Chronicles 1 is interesting and adds a bit of the existential food for thought that Xeno- games are so fond of, without getting its head stuck up its own ass about it, which Xeno- games are also fond of. Pillars of Eternity has a strong finale, clarifying much of its lore and purpose in its final area (without feeling like they were cramming the information in last-minute, as some RPGs do), and concluding with a classic individualized ending, where you’re told what the results of your actions were for each place and important person in the game. Finally, Shadowrun: Hong Kong has a solid final mission, composed of both otherworldly horrors and matters of the human spirit, and ends its tale of regret and redemption as any Shadowrun adventure should: with the pride of a job well done, the satisfaction of a world-altering conflict settled, and yet the casual acceptance that in the end, the status quo of this tyrannical corporate world remains the same, as does life in the shadows. Grand yet also insignificant, as is the story of the individual standing on his or her own in the corporate world--that’s the way of the Shadowrun ending, and Hong Kong does it well.

Worst RPG of 2015:
Loser: Zenonia 1
Honestly, I’m happy to say that none of the RPGs I played this year were truly terrible games. I mean, there was some crap, to be sure, but even Zenonia 1 here is only faulted by being very lackluster and a general waste of time. That’s really nothing compared to the asinine yawn-weaver that won this spot last year, Rune Factory 1.

Almost as Bad: Gothic 2; The Legend of Korra: A New Era Begins; Swords + Darkness
Like Gothic 1, Gothic 2 is an exercise in tedium that wants to trade you 50 hours of your life for absolutely goddamn nothing. The plot of Swords + Darkness barely exists, and is the sort of generic, pointless drivel that tells you that its creators didn’t give half a damn about it. Its story may as well have come from a 1990s side-scrolling beat’em-up title, it’s so phoned in. Lastly, well, I’ve spoken multiple times about what a careless waste of time The Legend of Korra: A New Era Begins is. I frankly wouldn’t be surprised in the least to find out that its entire script had been written on some napkins by a distracted intern on his lunch break, whose only knowledge of the show’s characters came from a brief glance at Wikipedia.

Most Improved of 2015:
Winner: Gothic 2
Gothic 1 was forgettable and let its moderately interesting premise languish in slow and distracted pacing and a thoroughly uninteresting cast. Gothic 2...does pretty much the same thing, but, I dunno, sorta not as poorly as the first game? The story is slightly less boring, the characters are slightly more interesting, the setting is slightly better still doesn’t add up to anything worth playing, but an improvement is an improvement nonetheless.

Runners-Up: NA
Meh. What can I say? Most of the games I played this year that weren’t standalone works just weren’t improvements. Mario and Luigi 4 isn’t any less boring than MaL3, the Legend of Zelda titles are both inferior to Link’s Awakening, and even though Shadowrun: Hong Kong is quite good, as I said, it isn’t as great as its direct predecessor, Shadowrun: Dragonfall.

Most Creative of 2015:
Winner: Undertale
As I said in more detail in my Undertale rant, this is one hell of a creative RPG, from its setting and lore, to its cast, to its style of storytelling, to its gameplay, to its premise, to its deconstruction of its genre, to its use of RPG mechanics within its plot. Seriously, this is 1 of the most creative RPGs you’re ever going to come across.

Runners-Up: Fairune; Pillars of Eternity; Xenoblade Chronicles 1
The world and history of Xenoblade Chronicles 1 is interesting and had some decent thought and effort put into it. It’s nothing mind-blowing, but it’s also a lot more than your standard JRPG package. Fairune is kind of neat, using mostly nonverbal methods to tell...well, less tell, actually, and more imply, a vague but present backstory that makes the game a little more than it seems at first. Makes me think of Crystalis, though for what reason, I couldn't really guess. And lastly, Pillars of Eternity is a classic, yet distinct fantasy world which delves into the concepts of reincarnation and soul, and what meaning and impact one’s life really can have. It’s pretty neat, and I think the mechanics of souls and rebirth that Chris Avellone and company have come up with is quite singular.

Best Romance of 2015:
Winner: Aribeth and The Sleeping Man (Neverwinter Nights 1)
This romance is mostly awesome in a 1-sided way--the history of The Sleeping Man in Neverwinter Nights 1’s Hordes of the Underdark expansion is just terrifically epic, beautiful, and inspiring. He can actually get together with a few of the women in the expansion, but some are disappointing (it’s total bullshit that the disciple chickens out and flees him), and others just don’t feel very genuine. Aribeth, though...there’s something about the idea of the soul of the fallen paladin, as she walks the frozen plains of Hell in an attempt to find redemption and create purpose from her sins in life, finding this divine being slumbering for countless ages as he awaits her with unshakable faith, that I find really, really awesome. He, a man who gave up all he had because he lacked love, and traveled to the center of Hell itself to wait faithfully for it, and she, a woman who turned from all she had and believed in because she lost love, and was condemned to that same Hell to languish, finding one another and completing a destiny written beyond the fates of planes and time just speaks to me.

Runners-Up: Alphys and Undyne (Undertale); Fiora and Shulk (Xenoblade Chronicles 1); Frisk and Papyrus (Undertale)
Eh, Alphys and Undyne are cute. That’s really all there is to it; they work well together. Moving on, Fiora and Shulk have some believable chemistry, and their devotion to each other is romantic. I also like the fact that they just kind of naturally, mostly unconsciously acknowledge and embrace their feelings for one another. I mean, they do explicitly talk about it, too, it’s not all left unsaid, but most of the time, it’s kind of just a case of each clearly showing through their actions, tone, and motivations that they love the other, and understand that they’re loved back. It’s nice.

Finally, skeleton dates are best dates. ‘Nuff said.

Best Voice Acting of 2015:
Winner: Pillars of Eternity
There’s a lot of heavy dialogue with some of the more nuanced members of the Pillars of Eternity cast, and in such a situation, having voice actors who can bring each line alive in the right way for their character can be the difference between an engaging speech of philosophy and inquiry into the nature of humanity, the universe, and the spiritual...and just coming off as being overly gabby. Pillars of Eternity, thankfully, has a vocal cast that really do their jobs well, bringing complex characters like Eder and unique characters like the Grieving Mother to life and shaping their words into personality and depth.

Runners-Up: Neverwinter Nights 1; Xenoblade Chronicles 1
In the case of Neverwinter Nights 1, “Best” voice acting really just means “Wasn’t Bad” voice acting. I didn’t play many RPGs this year with vocal work, and some of the ones I did play had awful voice acting (Gothic 2**), so it hasn’t taken much to make it onto the list this year. Still, NN1 does its job adequately in most cases, at least. Xenoblade Chronicles 1 is better, with a cast that have pretty good and personal vocal work that distinguishes their characters well. I actually quite enjoyed the accents, too--most of the time, English translations of games are released in the USA or Canada first, but this time Europe got the game before we did, so our English dub is done by British voice actors. It’s an enjoyable change of pace, and the acting is competent and fits the characters well...and you just can’t resist the ridiculous, almost campy charm of Reyn shouting those goofy battle quotes of his.

Funniest of 2015:
Winner: Undertale
Among other things like heartwarming and creepy, Undertale is just goddamn hilarious. From bad bone puns and mischievous little dogs to amusing item descriptions and deranged robot TV stars, Undertale doesn’t fail to keep you chuckling.

And Papyrus. Papyrus is comedy.

Runner-Up: Witch + Hero
While nothing special overall, Witch + Hero makes it clear from its opening that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and with what few opportunities it allows itself to develop a tiny story, it’s generally fairly amusing. There’s not much more to the game than a few giggles, but hey, that’s something, right?

Best Villain of 2015:
Winner: Flowey (Undertale)
Vicious, creepy as fuck, infuriating, smart, remorseless...and secretly pretty deep as a character, Flowey is an awesome villain, just another of the many reasons that Undertale is so damn good.

Runners-Up: Aribeth (Neverwinter Nights 1); Colonel Richard (The Legend of Heroes 6-1); Thaos (Pillars of Eternity)
Even though the game doesn’t even attempt to use Aribeth to her full potential, she’s still not a bad villain, and the Hordes of the Underdark expansion later develops her character and villainy nicely, fleshing out her rationale, regrets, and revelations. Thaos is...well, honestly, he’s not exactly compelling, but he does have an interesting purpose and provides some good food for thought while adequately serving the role of obstacle-with-a-connection-to-the-protagonist, so he’s a pretty good villain. Lastly, Richard is decent, a conspirator whose motivation for his well-intentioned but immoral methods is paranoia and a hero-worship that he can’t get past. As I’ve mentioned, I think the fact that he connects to an overall trend of his country’s people that we’ve seen constantly throughout the game, the tendency to credit their country’s success and peace to a single man, is very smart and well-reasoned. Richard’s a good villain; he’d probably have won this year if not for that evil little plant bastard.

Best Character of 2015:
Winner: Grieving Mother (Pillars of Eternity)
Well, hell, what is there to say but that Chris Avellone has done it again? She’s no Kreia or Ravel, but the Grieving Mother is still fascinating and unique, a fresh character in both personality and complexity that I would say is an intellectual highlight of this thoughtful RPG, and certainly the best part of it in terms of emotional impact. Truly an impressive character, to be certain.

Runners-Up: Eder (Pillars of Eternity); Gaichu (Shadowrun: Hong Kong); The Sleeping Man (Neverwinter Nights 1)
You know, for a game I didn’t actually like overall, NN1 seems to be showing up in this rant a lot. Well, I wish I could have put some (or all) of the characters from Undertale in here, because I dearly love them, but objectively speaking, this bunch just has more depth, development, and worth.

Eder is a well written character, great in every aspect: he’s likable, he’s got great depth, he’s interesting to listen to and contemplate, you can see him grow (and help guide that growth) as a person and more importantly as himself, and you really feel for the guy. He’s just a solid character from every angle. Gaichu is a rich and complicated character whose conflict is interesting, and whose warring sense of honor and duty, his acknowledgement of his own rights and individuality, and his brutal instinct makes for a great character. Finally, again, I just really admire the grand romance of The Sleeping Man, the fact that his is a story of inspiration in both love and faith, to be found and cherished at the center of a place for the condemned and the seemingly irrevocably evil. damn epic!

Best Game of 2015:
Winner: Undertale
Undertale really is just a remarkable piece of fun, wit, poignant emotion, massive creativity, and meaningful commentary. It’s an RPG that will stay with you, and which shakes up what we think of as our standards for the genre, becoming a new example of excellence for other games to strive to match. Out of over 280 I've played, this is the eleventh best RPG I've ever encountered--and if you want some context, that puts it higher than Final Fantasy 7, every Mass Effect and Fallout, and Mother 3. I sincerely hope this will not be the only game we see made by Toby Fox, because he apparently possesses the talent and drive to create art of great worth.

Runners-Up: Pillars of Eternity; Shadowrun: Hong Kong; Xenoblade Chronicles 1
Actually, in all honesty, I personally like Eternal Senia better than some of these, but objectively speaking, these are the 3 best non-Undertale RPGs of the year. Pillars of Eternity is great, an RPG devoted to higher order thought which challenges the player intellectually with its plot of previous lives, how a single life can matter, the question of science vs. tradition in a society newly emerging into an intellectual Renaissance, and so much more. Shadowrun: Hong Kong is a solid, interesting cyberpunk venture, as Shadowrun should be, and getting to see the Shadowrun universe’s take on China and the eastern supernatural is a treat. Finally, while I think that Xenoblade Chronicles 1 is overrated somewhat, it’s still a solid, enjoyable JRPG with heart, and content that invites contemplation and attachment.

List Changes:
Greatest Villains: Flowey has been added; Delita has been removed. Sorry, you resourceful rags-to-riches ruffian.
Greatest RPGs: Undertale has been added; Shadow Hearts 2 has been removed. Sorry, you European yarn about Yuri’s yearning.

And that’s it for 2015! Certainly a good year for RPGs and beyond, and 2016 is promising, with many more Kickstarter RPGs I’ve backed set to release during its course, finishing Fallout 4 and playing its no doubt awesome upcoming DLCs, and plenty more RPGs on my playlist to go! I just wonder how much I’ll actually be able to get done as I move from taking classes to teaching them...I hope 2016 won’t be the year I have to permanently throttle back how many rants I’m releasing, but the possibility is there. Of course, if I were to get more Guest Rants from you fine folks, that would alleviate the difficulty greatly, I’m sure...hint, hint.

At any rate, thank you all again for continuing to read this silly drivel of mine, and here’s hoping 2016 will be a great year for us all. I’ll see you then.

* I’m also playing another 2015 release, Fallout 4, right now, but let’s face it, the game’s so massive that I’ll be lucky to finish it in time for the 2016 Annual Summary rant.

** Although it’s certainly not solely the voice actors’ fault. A lot of Gothic 2’s singular vocal weirdness comes from the bizarre choice of the developers to have a few lines just reused over and over again for many varied situations. Like, the line, “Hey, you!” must be said for at least 50 different dialogue openings, and it’s weird because it’s always the same accusatory “Hey, you!” used, even when the protagonist is just casually opening conversation with a friend. The rest of the conversation can be amiable and light, but it’ll unfailingly begin with the guy acting like he’s just caught someone stealing a purse or something.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

General RPGs as Classroom Texts

Check it out: in this rant, I do what I should have been doing for the last 9 years and actually italicize titles! Don’t expect to ever see me fulfilling this fundamental grammatical responsibility again, though. Today’s rant is related to what will hopefully be my career soon, so I feel more compelled to be somewhat professional about it. After this, I’m just gonna slump back into my slovenly, gibbering ways that you all know and mildly like just enough to read this blog sometimes when you’re really bored.

So, as I mentioned in last year’s Annual Summary Rant, I’ve been doing some graduate work to be certified as a teacher. High School English, specifically. It’s a fairly rigorous program (or it’s not, and I’m just not very good at it), so matters of the classroom have been going through my mind quite a lot during this past year. And of course, with my head already so full of all the RPG stuff that I overthink, it was really only a matter of time before a Teacher thought would collide with an RPG thought, and so we come to the question of today’s rant:

Can an RPG be a suitable text for the classroom?

First of all, let’s briefly define what a classroom text even is. We tend to think of texts in school as being things like novels, textbooks, short stories, articles, plays, reports, and various other typed, readable examples of fiction and nonfiction. Which makes sense, of course, as these are all things that communicate their ideas via, y’know, text. In the program within which I am enrolled, however, “text” takes on a broader meaning, associated with any outside work introduced for study in the classroom, regardless of its format. Under this definition, a text could certainly be a physical copy of The Great Gatsby or an online posting of an Emily Dickinson poem, as you’d expect, but a movie adaptation of Hamlet, a picture of one of Jackson Pollock’s paintings, or an audio recording of a speech by the Dalai Lama, would also each be considered texts if used in the classroom.

So, then, if we allow that any work that can be studied is a text, and so long as we also allow that avenues of fictional storytelling are even something that we believe worth studying to begin with,* it is as possible that an RPG can be a text as it is possible that anything else can be. But can an RPG be a suitable text?

Well, the answer to that, of course, is subjective, and also quite dependant on what RPG you’re looking at. Certainly not all RPGs are worthy of study in a classroom. In fact, I’d say most of them aren’t. But that doesn’t really prove much by itself; I daresay even most books don’t warrant focused study. But are there at least some RPGs that have something to offer to a program of study, that are worth the effort of teaching?


As an example: A great many classrooms study Fahrenheit 451, 1984, or some other book that covers the dangers of totalitarian societies, how they are perpetuated and the ways of fighting back against them--or the hopelessness of trying to do so. Some enlightened schools have started incorporating The Hunger Games into this study of dystopias, which I heartily applaud, and hope to do so myself. It’s a good genre to have students study, at least a little. First of all, by directly encountering, studying, and coming to understand this concept of an overbearing, freedom-restricting, anti-intellectual society, the students can come to have a better understanding of important aspects of other works, such as Animal Farm or The Scarlet Letter (the Puritans needed to chill out, man), or even nuances of parts of their history class (such as why it was so important for the institution of slavery that slaves be forbidden to learn to read). Secondly and far more important, learning about this idea of a society which uses meaningless distractions, propaganda, and the destruction and alteration of idea exchange is important in teaching students to look critically at their own society, and recognize dangerous similarities between real life and the dystopias they have read about when they encounter them. Studying dystopias can make students better, more vigilant guardians of their society and their freedom.

Would not the RPG Deus Ex 1 fit into such a unit perfectly? It is, after all, all about dystopia, how it might come to be enacted in our world, the questions of when government goes too far and the means through which it does so, the dangers of propaganda, the questions of total surveillance, and so on and so forth. In fact, while I do think the primary text of a dystopia unit should remain 1984, The Hunger Games trilogy, or Fahrenheit 451, I would say that the second most important text in such a unit would be Deus Ex 1, rather than a second book chosen from that list. Why? Because those three books I mentioned, and most other dystopian works I’ve encountered, all describe to us a dystopia that is already in place. They describe the incredibly difficult, perhaps impossible, struggle to overcome a dystopia once it is a fact of life. The cautions they offer to the reader on how to stop a dystopia from coming to be are all general, non-specific advice--don’t let authority ban or destroy literature or any other free exchange of ideas, don’t let yourself be tricked by doublespeak and meaningless wars, be critical of what you see and read, don’t let yourself be put at odds against those as oppressed as you are by the people causing the oppression, and so on. All very good pieces of advice, of course, but in some ways harder to put into practice because of how unspecific they are.

Deus Ex 1, on the other hand, shows us the moment at which an oppressive authority takes the final step to become a dystopia, and it details to us the methods that evil authority uses--the kinds of agencies, the kinds of propaganda, the kinds of tools, and the reasons these things work. The books I’ve mentioned give you the grim caution of what could happen, but Deus Ex 1 shows you how it could happen, and so better forearms its audience with the knowledge of specific warning signs of the dangers that the books could only give generalized cautions against. Providing a practical example of how a dystopia could be enacted is a GREAT way to support your primary dystopia text, and DE1 would be able to do that with its level of specific detail.**

...Okay, wow, I didn’t mean to make this one example long enough to be its own rant. Sorry. I’ll try to be less long-winded on these other points.

DE1 isn’t the only RPG that could be used as a great supplemental text, of course. In a unit which examines, for example, the question of Man against God, a number of RPGs could be used as supplements--Grandia 2, some Shin Megami Tensei titles if you want to be literal about the issue, Okage: Shadow King, Star Ocean 3 (if you could really, really abridge the game’s first half), Wild Arms, this is a really, really frequent theme in JRPGs, now that I think about it.

Fill in the blank: It would be _______________ to follow Ahab in his journey in Moby Dick to destroy the white whale and prove he has free will, while playing Tales of the Abyss at the same time, watching Van Grants set forth in his own machinations to break the world free of destiny’s cage, the Score of Lorelei, and draw comparisons between them in class discussions.

If your answer was “Pretty Cool,” give yourself a gold star. If not, see me after class.

You could do a lot with some of the richer intellectual western RPGs in a unit about teaching effective reading--Planescape: Torment would be ideal for it. Any unit involving a look at religion and how it shapes us and our society could be benefited greatly by a number of Shin Megami Tensei titles, or Final Fantasy 10. In a unit that covers the theme of a young adult seeking to find themselves and their place in life, I can see far worse companions to Paper Towns, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and Catcher in the Rye than the games Wild Arms 3 or Final Fantasy 9.*** Surely any unit that uses works like The Great Gatsby, Our Town, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to speak about the social history and personal essence of the United States would benefit from a great deal of the stories and events, both direct and allegorical, found within the Fallout series. And so on and so forth--I daresay there are few typical High School English units (and even fewer college-level ones, for that matter) that I couldn’t associate with at least 1 RPG that could add thoughtful, worthwhile insights into the matter.

And so, coming back to the question of this rant, can an RPG be a suitable text for a classroom? Well, in my reasonably expert opinion, the answer

“Oh COME ON, The RPGenius, you inimitable, self-important asshole!” you grumble now, as your mouse cursor hovers dangerously close over the X button in the corner of your browser. “Did you seriously just waste all that time convincing us that RPGs have as much to offer a thoughtful curriculum as any other method of expression, only to turn around and tell us it can’t be done anyway?”

Of course I did. I’m a total jackass. I thought you guys would’ve figured that out by now. Really, you have only yourselves to blame.

See, here’s the thing. I do believe wholeheartedly in what I’ve been saying here. As methods of storytelling and expressing higher thought, RPGs are no less capable and worthy than any other narrative art form, be it books, television, movies, comics, visual art, theater, or what have you. Obviously those other forms have a huge head start on video games, but I’d nonetheless place the likes of Planescape: Torment, Deus Ex 1, Final Fantasy 7, Wild Arms 3, Mother 3, and many more RPGs at the same level of worth and intellect as the average classic work of literature.****

Here, however, is the “but” that makes that opinion meaningless: Many RPGs are worthy of academic study, but, it is, logistically speaking, impossible to make them a part of any school’s curriculum, for a number of reasons:

A: The time. Even reading a full novel from start to finish, a task that a class unit gives its students a time of about 1 - 4 weeks to complete, is never a task that’s going to take more than 20 hours of a student’s time altogether, and as far as I can tell, most assigned books take considerably less time than that. Heck according to this site, you can read the entire Hunger Games trilogy in less than 17 hours. Obviously the mileage of high school students is going to vary greatly, but still, you get the idea.

Now consider the fact that RPGs average anywhere between 25 to 60 hours to complete. If it takes 2 to 3 weeks to have students read and learn about The Great Gatsby, which averages in at less than 3 hours to read, or To Kill a Mockingbird, which clocks in at less than 6 hours to finish, how the hell would you ever find a way to include, say, Grandia 2, which takes, according to How Long to Beat, about 35 hours? You’d basically have to be including it in your curriculum for an entire term, and probably be well past whatever unit it was meant to coincide with before you even got to the relevant details in the game.

Even Deus Ex 1, a short RPG, takes 20 to 25 hours to complete, which would translate to, what, a month in class? You could maybe make your unit on dystopian fiction last a full month, but you wouldn’t be able to fit in anything but DE1, and while I think it’s an ideal supplementary text, it can’t be the anchor for the unit--you really just need to have Orwell, Bradbury, or Collins serving as the unit’s foundation.

I can’t really see it being possible to effectively teach an RPG as a text in parts, either. While you can take excerpts from some books and such to teach with, RPGs are typically a very linear story that really requires that you’ve witnessed all of what’s come before each scene in order to get what’s going on. Context and background knowledge is too vital for almost any RPG’s significant scenes and dialogues to be able to work effectively with excerpts from the game.

B: The cost. School budgets in the USA are pretty meager. Honestly, most of them are outright pathetic. It is flabbergasting, honestly, the expectations that this country has of an education system that it staunchly refuses to adequately fund at any level of government. There are a lot of reasons for why so little (sometimes even none) of a high school’s English class literature comes from any time more recent than the 1960s, all of them bad, but one of the big reasons is simply that books cost money. Even with the discounts that publishers give schools, it’s a lot easier to pay for a few replacements each year of an older book that the school already has a few hundred copies of, than it is to buy a few hundred copies of a new book that the school’s never taught before. Especially considering that newer books are priced higher.

So really, how would you be able to fit RPGs into the budget? If you have to get enough copies for every student in each classroom, there’s no possible way, even if we assume that you magically always have access to a PC version of the game and don’t have to outright buy the game systems that run the RPG to begin with. You could try to do a school account at GOG, purchase the game once, and have the students download it from that account, but that’s definitely not ethical, particularly when you consider how easy it would be for the student to just keep it for themselves even after the class was done with it. And even if you were unethical enough not to care, I’m fairly sure that the unusual number of downloads would be noticed by the retailer before too long, and they’d take steps to prevent it from happening again.

C: The Inequity. Even assuming, again, that you’re only using computer-based RPGs in a curriculum, not every student has regular access to a computer for the length of time it would take to play the game through to its end. Public-use computers in the library or a school computer lab are great for writing a paper or doing some research, but they certainly aren’t going to do it for something that takes 20+ hours to experience, saved games or no. Not every family can afford a reliable PC, and not every family can accommodate their household computer being tied up for that long on just a single assignment.

D. The Disparity. Plenty of RPGs are completely linear, which would be fine for teaching, but a lot of others provide experiences that vary greatly depending on what decisions the player makes. A player who plays Planescape: Torment without putting a single point in the Wisdom stat is going to have a significantly different (and poorer) experience from the game than a player who properly prioritizes that particular stat, which is all-important to the game’s storytelling. A player who doesn’t bother with the Social Links in Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 in his/her haste to forward the game’s plot will have less than half as enriching an experience as the player who does. Trying to teach a class on the significant stuff in an RPG where player input has any influence on that content would be an exercise in futility.

E: The Teaching. Yeah, it’s easy enough to have everyone look in their books during class to examine a specific passage, or watch a video on a TV or a projector at the front of the classroom, but a game and its console isn’t exactly something you can easily have everyone bring into class and just go to specific scenes within it the same way you flip a page or pause and rewind a video. I mean, it’s not the hardest logistical problem of these, but the teacher would still have to go to extra trouble to hunt down a Let’s Play of the game to show the desired scenes to the class for whatever examination is part of the day’s lesson, then go to further extra trouble to find a Let’s Play that doesn’t involve an awkwardly-voiced idiot chattering nonstop as he plays as though it’s his dull witticisms, inept musings, and garbled mumbling that you’re watching the video for. And if a suitable Let’s Play can’t be found, then you’d need to make videos of the gameplay yourself, which of course adds heaven only knows how much extra time to your class prep.

F: The Administration. Video games as a respectable medium of art is an idea that is new, and not going to take hold of the culture for a long, long time. We might not even live to see the day where games are recognized by the common person as such. I mean, graphic novels and comic books as we recognize them have been around, what, about 100 years now, and there’s still a LOT of people who would scoff at the idea that they can express ideas as well and as worthy as books or theater. Parents and administrators may not question a teacher’s decision to include a movie or recorded play in the curriculum now and then, but even if you could get all your other logistical ducks in a row, actually convincing the people in charge of your department, your school, your students, and your very employment that there’s anything worthwhile to be taught in a video game is a tall order at best. Hell, I don’t even know if I’ve even convinced you of that, and you already came here specifically to read about RPGs!

So in the end, do I think RPGs are worthy of study, as any other form of expression? Yes.

Do I think they are so, to the extent that they are as deserving of academic focus as many accepted novels, plays, and so on? Also yes.

Do I think there is any way at all that you could make an academic study of them work in school? Nope. Not a chance in hell. It’s too bad, but that’s the way it is, from any angle I look at it: it’s a nice idea, but it just can’t be done. If you think otherwise, please do tell me how you’d get around all the problems I’ve listed, because I’d love to be able to make this work.

And finally, am I self-aware enough to realize that no one beyond myself actually cares about this to begin with, and that I have wasted everyone’s time with this rant? Of course. Hell, I just assume that’s true for every rant I post here.

* Apparently a number of high schools across the country are moving to curtail or even altogether eliminate their English programs. It’s quite a frightening social trend.

** You might worry that being more specific could also mean that DE1 would be more dated, given it came out over 15 years ago. After all, the more specific something is in its use of real world details, the more easily it becomes dated as those details change. Well, no worries there. I’m pleased and utterly terrified to assure you that DE1’s portrayal of governmental and private movements to disempower the world’s citizens and restrict freedoms is more relevantly accurate today than ever before!

*** In fact, if you ask me, one of those worse companions for such a unit IS Catcher in the Rye. Yeah, I’m an aspiring English Teacher that doesn’t like Salinger’s most famous work. Bite me.

**** Maybe even above that level, in fact, if you count Kurt Vonnegut’s works as part of the classics canon. Yeah, I’m an aspiring English Teacher that doesn’t like Vonnegut. Again, bite me.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Shadowrun Series Theory: The Shadowrunner's Motto

“Watch your back, shoot straight, conserve ammo, and never, ever cut a deal with a dragon.”

This is the classic motto of the Shadowrunner, a combination of survival advice and well wish that those who live outside the tyranny of corporate law in the Shadowrun universe espouse, the closest thing to a common code that those who run the shadows possess. It’s an iconic phrase of the Shadowrun franchise, which its fans recognize and hold dear the same way fans of Planescape: Torment do for the question, “What can change the nature of a man?”, and fans of Fallout do for “War. War never changes.” It’s a cool phrase, summing up the survivalist mentality and reality for a Shadowrunner in a manner that’s simple and straightforward. there something more within it?

This motto of the Shadowrunner is meant to be interpreted literally, yes. To survive as a free soldier of fortune, you must be wary and ready for attack, you must be competent and possess sharp skills, and you mustn’t be wasteful of your resources. And of course, to survive, you must not let yourself fall into the clutches of that which is too powerful and too clever for you to overcome, the mighty dragons who rule society and claim the world’s resources and people as their treasure hoards. And maybe that’s all there is to it, the literal interpretation. Still...I think that this motto, at least its final part, is also metaphorical. The motto is not just advice on how to stay alive as a’s also the guideline to how to live as a Shadowrunner.

It comes back to what dragons are in Shadowrun. On the surface, the great dragons of Shadowrun are both major characters in the overall story of the Shadowrun world, and essentially a foundational part of the series’s lore. Through one method of control or another (though most commonly via heading the mega corporations that rule and spiritually enslave humanity), the dragons have become the puppet masters of the world, using humanity and metahumanity as resources with which to play a long game of global chess against each other to see who can hoard the greatest wealth of resources.

But it might also be that we’re meant to see the dragons of Shadowrun as something other than just powerful, scaled overlords. More than just physical players in the plot, entities unto themselves and separated from humanity, dragons might also be allegories, representations of greed and covetous control in its highest form. After all, the Shadowrun dragons have, in their short time in the world of humanity, quickly positioned themselves into the places of power over countless others. They are the heads of government, they are involved in organized crime, they head social and religious organizations, and, most importantly, they head the colossal, international businesses, the “megacorps,” that control the peoples of the world over any other force. Follow the trail of any influential and powerful organization, particularly those which are for profit, and you’ll almost surely eventually find a dragon at its end, pulling the strings and consolidating the world’s resources and people as its own, its only true competitors in global manipulation its draconic peers. Sometimes, as in the case of the infamous Lofwyr, you don’t have to follow the trail for very long.

And yet, the ones who cut the trail, who pave it, who serve as its cobblestones, are humans, selfish, short-sighted, power-hungry, greedy little humans. It was no dragon that created the concept of a corporation that puts profits before people, no dragon that invented the concept of political groups and national governments, no dragon that first organized religion. These tools for holding humanity in place and subjugating the everyman were thousands of years old before the dragons arrived on the Shadowrun world scene, created, enacted, and even perfected by human beings. Dragons simply play the game better than people, and seat themselves in the throne that mankind thought it was building for itself. Or at least, its own elite.

In a sense, then, dragons are more than just the characters that the Shadowrun series’s surface presents them as. Dragons are not an alien, outside force, but a foe that lives within our own creation, our own being. I submit that the Shadowrun dragon is intended to be a representation of the extreme of certain faults within humans. They are the embodiment of greed, of corporation, of power lust...they are the embodiment of the desire for the one to make the many dance to his or her whims, and for no sake but simple, covetous want.

Having established that, then, let us look at what a Shadowrunner is. You can find a Shadowrunner in any person. The crusader against social wrongs. The narcissist desiring a bigger piece of the pie than his day job allows. The survivor trying to get out of a bad situation. The ex-soldier who’s lost her way through a combination of circumstances and bad decisions. The anarchist out to disrupt the dragons’ puppet show. A shy computer nerd. A framed cop. A light-hearted street rat with no taste. A selfless community leader. A former lead vocal from a punk band. A psychopath with a vision for humanity. From the virtuous to the deeply disturbed, for grand reasons or petty, it seems that you can find just about any kind of person running the shadows.

There is only one thing that unites them all, and that is the basic definition of a Shadowrunner: one who chooses to live outside the social system, by their own rules. Whatever else a Shadowrunner may be, at the core of their being, they refuse to live within the absolute control of another, refuse to be a cog in the machine, and desire to live free and true to themselves, with only the masters they themselves choose.

“Watch your back, shoot straight, conserve ammo, and never, ever cut a deal with a dragon.”

Thus, I think that the Shadowrunner’s motto is more than just advice or a slogan. I think that when it avows to “never, ever cut a deal with a dragon,” it’s an affirmation of the core principle of what it is to be a Shadowrunner, and thus, a free man or woman. The “dragon” is the system, the means by which the many are controlled by the few, and it is an absolute. You can give into it and be a part of it, or you can stand on your own and never relinquish your autonomy; there is no middle ground. Once you engage with the “dragon,” you are no longer a Shadowrunner, but a cog in the machine and a pawn in someone else’s manipulations, no matter what you may believe. To me, this motto does more than tell how to survive as a Shadowrunner--it also tells how to live as one.

I leave you now with Harlequin’s words of wisdom from Shadowrun Returns:

"The lesson is this - the game is rigged. The cards are stacked. The dice are loaded. It's the same as it always was. Every cycle. People in power exert power. Little people cower in their homes, think what they're told to think, and buy whatever product will help them forget how horrible their lives are for another day. And that's why we don't *play* their fragging game. We don't swallow their drek sandwich and politely ask for another. It's why we run the shadows. That's where real life is, kiddo."

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Undertale's No Mercy Let's Plays

So, for this and any future Undertale rant, I’m just gonna go on the assumption that you know most of the important lore and details of Undertale, have played the game through to its end on at least one path, and that I don’t have to censor myself of spoiler material. Fair warning.

Oh, and get ready for the heaviest load of Taking A Game Too Seriously that you’ve ever seen. Seriously, hardcore Trekkies would say, “Dude, you know this isn’t real, right?” That’s how bad this is. I mean, this rant is basically me seriously engaging in an argument with a fictional character. If you're okay with seeing just how deep the rabbit hole of Utter Pointlessness goes, though, then by all means, continue reading to watch me fall to its very bottom, and then dig that rabbit a new basement.

On with the rant!

It’s okay to watch a Let’s Play of Undertale’s No Mercy path (also known as the Genocide path), rather than play it yourself. You don’t need to feel the lesser for it.

For anyone not in the know, towards the end of a No Mercy playthrough of Undertale (as in, a playthrough in which you intentionally and systematically kill absolutely every last individual that you possibly can), Flowey starts appearing sporadically as you walk through Asgore’s castle to fill you in on some of the game’s interesting lore, most of it specifically related to him. There is a point at which he states, while speaking about how liberating it is to just freely murder those around oneself,

“At least we’re better than those sickos that stand around and WATCH it happen...
Those pathetic people that want to see it, but are too weak to do it themselves.
I bet someone like that’s watching right now, aren’t they...?”

It’s a line that probably just seems like an odd bit of dialogue that means nothing in particular to someone actually playing the game, but to someone who’s watching the No Mercy run via someone else’s gaming video, it’s pretty damn obvious that Flowey is calling him or her out. I gotta hand it to Toby Fox, creator of Undertale: the guy really does think of everything. I saw that line, and I slammed my fist onto my desk because DAMN IT, EVEN THROUGH YOUTUBE FLOWEY MANAGES TO FUCK MY SHIT UP! I swear to Thanatos I hate that little dandelion asshole so damn much!

Ahem. So, here’s the thing. I find this little “Gotcha!” moment amusing and clever, to be sure, and I admire Mr. Fox for being sharp. But I don’t actually feel bad about watching a Let’s Play instead of playing through the No Mercy run myself. And I don’t think anyone else should feel bad, either.

First of all, consider the source of this criticism. I may be being told that I’m no better for watching rather than doing, and in fact that I’m actually worse for it, but...I’m being told this by Flowey. This guy is not exactly the mouthpiece of all that is just and righteous, now, is he? It’s like being rebuked about something by Suikoden 2’s Luca Blight, or Earthbound and Mother 3’s Porky. If Emperor Palpatine started lecturing you sanctimoniously about what was and wasn’t polite, how much attention would you pay to him, really?

But let’s consider the possibility that Flowey is more than just Flowey when he says this. Let’s say that this is meant, as is often the case with lines by Flowey and some by Sans, to be a direct message from the game to you. We’ll say that this rebuke is from the game, and Toby Fox himself, simply delivered through the mouthpiece of an obnoxious little bundle of tea ingredients. Do I feel a little chastised, now that the source of the reprimand is legitimate?

Still no.

See, here’s the thing. You can call it cowardice, sure. I did sate my curiosity about certain events of the No Mercy run, while being too cowardly to make them happen myself.* My reason for watching the Let’s Play was really more about learning the lore that only comes up in the No Mercy path, than “just seeing what happens,” so maybe I’m not even the real target of this line, but let’s say I am. You can call it cowardice. But it’s not equally bad to doing the act myself. Because drawing on the knowledge and experience of others who have done wrong helps us to avoid doing wrong ourselves. It is a GOOD thing to sate your curiosity in simulation rather than in practice. Reading others’ accounts of how it feels to commit wrong helps us to understand the criminal mind, which gives us the knowledge to recognize warning signs of potential criminal acts, and to better track down those who have perpetrated such deeds. It helps us to understand how terrible war is, so that we know better than to hastily wage it without just cause and no alternatives, and seek to bring its end about as quickly as possible. It helps us to find empathy with those who have done wrong, so that we can learn how to understand and help them to become better.

We learn best from mistakes. But they don’t have to be our own. When one commits a mistake to public record, it is for the benefit of all to learn it, to lessen how many times it must be repeated. I think it’s reasonable to say that the No Mercy playthrough of Undertale is “bad.” I would feel guilty (sick, really) if I did it myself. And if no one ever did, I still wouldn’t do it, even at the expense of not knowing what happened within it. But some people have played the No Mercy run of Undertale, and they’ve posted their experience online, and I’ll watch it, and satisfy my curiosity, and I won’t feel any less for it. Regardless of what Flowey’s incomplete and unexamined philosophy on the matter may be, there’s no shame in the knowledge of evil passed on by another, only in the knowledge of evil gained through experience.

Sorry, Flowey, but I’m not gonna feel bad about NOT killing people.

* I personally would call it simply loving the characters too much to commit harm against them myself, though. Of course, that opens up a whole new can of worms about what difference that makes, whether I’m a hypocrite for it, and so on. Oh well.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Legend of Heroes 6-1's Cassius Bright's Shadow

Well, I did my positive piece on The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. My debt to Humza is paid. Now for the fun stuff. On with the complaints! At least, sort of.

Be warned, this rant contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.

Cassius Bright, the plot jack-of-all-trades for the kingdom of Liberl. Brilliant military strategist who turned the tide of the Hundred Days War! Unequaled swordsman AND peerless master of the bo staff! Internationally celebrated Bracer superstar for whom the unofficial, classified S-Rank was invented! Savior and redeemer of child assassins! Devoted father of protagonist Estelle Bright! If there’s anything important that’s happened in Liberl within the past 20 years, Cassius Bright was a key player in the event or was good friends with someone who was. He knows everyone important everywhere and has a finger in every plot pie conceivable. And that...

Gets really, really old.

If I have any complaint about the story as a whole, I think it’s probably the inescapable weight of Cassius Bright throughout the whole game. Estelle cannot go anywhere or meet anyone without being in her father’s shadow. I’d say at least 75% of the important figures in the story knew Cassius Bright and have something to say about him, and as I’ve just said, just about every important thing that happened in the past and half the ones happening in the game’s present are directly tied to the guy. Introduce herself as a Bracer in training, as a person in her own right, and Estelle barely gets a nod from any plot figure. Let them know that she’s Cassius Bright’s daughter, and suddenly she’s a celebrity by association, and everyone magically now has confidence in her abilities. Estelle somehow manages not to develop a huge anxiety disorder from all of this, but it still gets kind of tiresome to just keep hearing all the damn time.

I mean, look, I can appreciate a story where an important figure’s legacy is a constant presence whose influence is frequently felt. Done right, it can contribute to the creation of a very strong and meaningful story. I think that Shadowrun Dragonfall did this terrifically with the character of Monica. So much of the story and setting was determined by the legacy she left behind after her death, and through that ever-present influence from beyond the grave, Monica was made into as well-developed and deep a character as half of the party members who were actually alive for the game’s events.

Rose Quartz from Steven Universe is another great example of this idea of a non-present character’s legacy nonetheless shaping and influencing a huge part of the story and characters. If you’ve seen Steven Universe, then you know exactly what I mean, and if you haven’t seen Steven Universe, then why haven’t you seen Steven Universe. Stop wasting your time with this drek I’m typing and go watch Steven Universe. Seriously, it is one of the highest works of art produced by humanity to date.

But Monica and Rose Quartz are characters whose presence is always there silently, remembered, referred to directly only sparingly and when naturally appropriate. You’re allowed to mull over how much of the characters and plot you see are because of their memory, their beliefs, and their passing--the game and the show will tell you to a certain extent, but allow you a lot of room to extrapolate and contemplate on your own. But no one will goddamn shut up about Cassius Bright! Everything, everyone, comes back to this guy, and the game wants you to know that fact beyond any shadow of a doubt! It’s like the nation of Liberl is entirely populated by 6-year-olds who are at that stage where they find 1 thing in the world that they think is super cool and talk obsessively about it to anyone who will listen. I GET IT. CASSIUS BRIGHT WAS AND IS A BIG DEAL. SHUT UP.*

...But, repetitive though this does get, I can’t complain too seriously about it. See, even though I find it annoying, it...kind of is thematically important in terms of the main villain’s role. In fact, it might just be the most intelligent narrative aspect of the entire game.

See, the villain’s entire motivation for his schemes IS that he, like everyone else, saw Cassius Bright as an unequaled hero who singlehandedly saved the nation and united its leaders together for the good of all. Colonel Richard’s motivation for his evil machinations is his inability to believe that the the nation can otherwise be safe without Cassius Bright’s leadership, and thus Richard must do bad things to gain tyrannical control of his country and gain control of (what he thinks is) an ancient magical super weapon. That motivation is kind of a hard sell under normal circumstances, but I found that I completely understood Richard’s perspective when his motives were revealed, sympathizing more with him than I have with any other villain this year.

And why is that? Because the game shows you, firsthand, how much the people of Liberl depended on Cassius, how they idolized him and saw him as the sole reason for the happy outcome of the war and the current freedom and security of the nation. And that reliance on Cassius by the nation’s leaders and military heads is echoed in the present with the Bracer Guild’s adoration and dependence on the man--capable Bracers lament that their obstacles would be easily solved, or never have arisen to begin with, if Cassius weren’t away on his secret mission, powerful and renowned Bracers like Scherazard and Zane consistently refer to themselves as small potatoes by comparison...even the Bracer who seems the most self-reliant, Agate, gives the impression that a major part of his motivation is just to equal and surpass the vaunted Cassius Bright.

In the face of a nation wherein its protectors, its leaders, and even its great scientific minds all idolize Cassius in such a regard that they minimize their own accomplishments and abilities, is it any wonder that Colonel Richard attempts his coup against the queen? You can fully understand why he feels his country is helpless and vulnerable without Cassius Bright to run its military. Even though Cassius himself believes and strongly states that the salvation of Liberl during the Hundred Days War was a team effort, that no matter how great his role was, he was unable to do anything alone and even failed in some regards (such as his inability to keep his wife safe), Richard and so many others see only a war won by a single man. To some degree, nearly every major figure of the nation of Liberl has convinced themselves of their own powerlessness by comparison; Richard just believes it to a greater and more paranoid extreme than most.

Man, Knights of the Old Republic 2’s Kreia would have a field day talking about Liberl’s situation.

At any rate, that’s pretty much all I have to say on this matter, in my long, winding, and ultimately pointless way. The constant references to Cassius Bright in TLoH6-1 do get tiresome, but that’s all part of a clever, larger narrative plan to really persuade the player of the authenticity of Colonel Richard’s motivation for his villainy, and it works.

* I am joking. Please do not actually tell 6-year-olds to shut up. Who are you, Kevin Winnicot?