Friday, July 18, 2014

The Lunar Series's Goddess Althena

Hm. Although I’ve spaced’em out pretty well, I’ve done an unusual amount of rants about the Lunar series lately. I guess it’s probably my having played Lunar: Dragon Song last year...until recently, I’d been happily content to let Lunar rest in the back of my mind in static disdain, but once the series was brought back to my attention, I started to not only recognize the unspeakable terribleness of LDS, but also really remember the previous games’ specific problems. And in this renewed attention, I have come to realize something about the series that I hadn’t particularly thought about before:

Goddess Althena sucks.

Seriously, she’s total crap. Consider this: I have played 3 of the 4 Lunar games.* She is physically present and affecting the plot in 2 of those games, and both times, she gets brainwashed to be evil and do the main villain’s bidding. So far, 100% of the time that Althena has been in a game, she’s been duped into being evil. Once, yeah, I was willing to accept that, but twice? 2 for 2? Once is acceptable for an RPG character, happens all the time. I don’t hold the brainwashing against Mary’s husband in Tales of Destiny 1, or Kain in Final Fantasy 4,** or Knights of the Old Republic 1’s Bastila. In fact, in all 3 of those cases, the brainwashing angle is beneficial to the storytelling, adding characterization or providing new, positive characteristics to the game’s plot. But when you’re getting brainwashed more than once, by 2 different people,*** and you’re a freaking goddess? That’s just pretty pathetic, lady.

Not helping that is the fact that neither villain who brainwashes Althena is a particularly compelling character or has a very well thought-out, reasonable objective. One wonders how anyone could be brainwashed by Ghaleon or Ignatius to begin with. I guess there’s some plot-convenient magic going on with it, probably, but again, why the hell is it so easy to do this to the super-powerful deity who created, maintains, and watches over all of Lunar?

That’s certainly not the only beef I’ve got with Althena, though. Here’s another big one: the endings of both Lunar: Dragon Song and Lunar 1 both contain the implication that Althena has decided, in the human forms of Lunar 1’s Luna and LDS’s Lucia, that humanity does not need her to guide them, watch over them, and serve whatever capacity she does as a goddess just sort of sitting around in a glowy chamber that people don’t regularly visit anyway. Well, okay, fine. There’s the message of her children standing for themselves and facing their future with their own strength and so on. Good message, lamely conveyed.****

Here’s the thing, though: her children not needing her to create their own future should NOT the same thing as her deciding to skip out on goddesshood forever. When Luna dies of old age after the events of Lunar 1, she doesn’t reincarnate, and so Althena the goddess is gone forever. Well, that’s fine and all, but she’s taking herself entirely out of the picture when she KNOWS that Zophar, the ungodly powerful villain of Lunar 2 whose destruction of Earth necessitated the creation of Lunar to begin with, could potentially return to threaten the inhabitants of Lunar in the future! Luna-Althena is fully aware of Zophar’s existence, of how incredibly powerful he is and that he might someday threaten Lunar’s people with extinction, and yet she makes no effort to keep herself alive in case that day may come! And you can’t even say she just stupidly forgot or something, because she left a video message for Lunar 2’s Lucia (no relation to Lunar: Dragon Song’s Lucia; why the hell did the writers have 2 separate major characters in the series named the same damn thing?) explaining that she did so.

I’m sorry, but there is a DIFFERENCE between letting your children pave their own way without your guidance or interference, and just carelessly abandoning them to let them face down a monster of pure evil that dwarfs your own goddess-level power! You can WATCH things without interfering with their destiny, you know. I may have every confidence that a child has the coordination, intelligence, common sense, and maturity to use an oven, but that confidence doesn’t mean that the first time the kid tries cooking some mac’n’cheese, I should turn off the smoke detectors, hide the list of emergency numbers, disconnect the land line, toss all cell phones in the garbage disposal, scribble out all the instructions on the mac’n’cheese box, and leave town!

It’s just stupid black-and-white reasoning with no room for the gray area of common fucking sense. If your kid is getting picked on by another kid in school, and you tell him that he should try to solve his own problems, that’s one thing. But if your child later comes running up to you in terror because he’s being chased by a vicious, possibly rabid dog, your response should obviously NOT still be to tell him to solve his own problems! That dog is dangerous enough that it poses a threat to YOU, a full-grown adult, and thus it is NOT reasonable to expect the child to deal with the problem himself. It is CONCEIVABLE that a child might just be able to protect himself successfully from the dog--the same way it’s conceivable to bulls-eye a fly with a snapped rubber band with your eyes closed--but it is horribly wrong to assume that he can and must do so. And that’s what Althena does after her permanent death after Lunar 1--she just leaves a video to whoever’s day she screwed up in the future saying, “You can do it if you believe in yourselves! Hope it all works out for you kids!” and washes her hands of her children forever.

Okay, fine, you can argue that she did, in fact, wind up being correct, and the heroes in Lunar 2 manage to find a way to stop Zophar on their own. You know what? You want to count Althena’s faith that humanity would manage just happening to come true as a point in her favor, go ahead. Just go ahead, I don’t even frickin’ care. But in my opinion, the narrow save for humanity of defeating Zophar isn’t evidence of well-placed faith, it’s just them managing to accomplish something that couldn’t possibly have been predicted or relied upon under even the best of circumstances. Lunar 2’s heroes made it happen and good on them for it, but from the perspective of Althena centuries before, she just irresponsibly rolled some dice and they happened to come up favorably. But that’s just my perspective, I suppose.

And another reason Althena is a shitty goddess: for all the big deal that’s made about her taking a mortal form and letting Lunar’s people move forward without her guidance...well, what exactly was so great about her guidance to begin with? Quite frankly, the world that Althena has only comparatively recently stopped supposedly directly guiding in Lunar: Dragon Song is a pretty bad one. The society of Lunar: Dragon Song, which again is implied to have been until recent years under the more direct guidance of Althena, is racially oppressive! Because beastmen in Lunar are (supposedly) physically superior to humans in every measurable way, they dominate the best parts of the land to live in, rule over both themselves and the humans, enjoy all the best perks of their society’s cities and technologies, and generally just look down on all humans and see them as just a superfluous, lesser species. And don’t give me crap about how Althena has, by Lunar: Dragon Song’s opening, been away in the human form of Lucia for several years now. The idea that humans are inferior creatures is one that is an ingrained part of this society’s mentality, shared and fully accepted by nearly all beastmen AND human beings. Even if we assume that some huge social order rearrangement from a previous society of equality could have happened in the time that Althena’s been Lucia, AND had time to settle down by this point into being everyday life, there’s simply no way that an entire society would so universally adopt a notion such as one race’s inferiority to another in such a comparatively short period of time.***** This is clearly a social idea that has been around for a long, long time, so the inescapable conclusion is that for a significant period of time where Althena has been directly available and supposedly influential on Lunar’s society, she has either overlooked or actively encouraged a society in which one race is looked down upon and subjugated by another one.

And by the way, just to make things clear here for the kinds of folks who think Caesar’s Legion in Fallout: New Vegas was a legitimate social force, the Lunar society, at the time of Lunar: Dragon Song, is one which is more than sufficiently advanced enough that the supposed physical strength of the beastmen does not warrant greater social respect. It’s a well-advanced civilization with political leaders, bureaucracy, the arts, and enough technological advancement that intellect must be socially valuable to some degree. It has advanced to the point where there is no defensible reason to base social worth upon physical prowess, and obviously has been at that point for a long time. So there is no rational survival-related reason for making humans second-class citizens, or anything like that. Not that it would be rational anyway, by the evidence of the series’s own games. I mean, human Jian in LDS is the physical equal of beastmen Gabby and Rufus (not even counting Jian’s ability to attack thrice at once), humans Alex and Kyle in Lunar 1 are physically superior to half-beastman Jessica, and beastman Leo in Lunar 2 is at best only physically the equal of human Hiro.

So let’s count up what we’ve got here, shall we? We have a goddess who is brainwashed into being evil every time we see her, who 100% abandons her people even though she knows that an insanely powerful and horrible monster may someday attack them on the flimsy pretext that she thinks they’re emotionally ready to take it on and have to stand on their own and so on, and she let an inarguably unnecessary racially oppressive society rise up on her watch. So far Althena is sounding like one awesome benevolent, wise, nurturing goddess that everyone loves. Do I have anything else?

You bet I do! How about that Vile Tribe, huh? According to the legends of Lunar, the Vile Tribe were a bunch of no-goodniks who were banished hundreds of years before any of the Lunar games after they rejected Althena and for the bad deeds they did. What deeds were these? Uh, the legends are pretty suspiciously vague on this point, actually, and a quick search at a couple of Wikipedias and Lunar fanpages doesn’t offer any clarification.

Putting aside the suspicious lack of details to what the Vile Tribe did to deserve this punishment, banishment from the settled part of Lunar is a pretty big deal. Lunar takes place on the moon (uh, spoilers, I guess?), and it seems that most of the greenery and flowing water and all those nice life-sustaining environmental conditions are a result of Althena’s magic having jumpstarted and, at least for a time, maintained them. In most cases, banishment is no laughing matter, but in the case of Lunar, banishment from Althena’s lands to the untouched Frontier is to be exiled to a harsh, very nearly lifeless wasteland. I mean, it’s essentially just the moon as we understand it, except that Althena’s magical air spills over into it, I guess. As far as I’m concerned, the following are all significantly easier to survive over long periods of time than Lunar’s Frontier lands:

The Majority of Fallout’s Wasteland
Breath of Fire 3’s Desert of Death
The Arctic
Baten Kaitos’s Earth
A Long, Thoughtful Discourse between Tommy Wiseau and Sarah Palin

So I have to wonder, what crime was it that all those who would form the Vile Tribe committed to deserve this? This isn’t just your regular banishment where you send someone away to do their own thing and stop bothering you. This is the kind of banishment where you’re sending someone away to die so you don’t have to execute them yourself. This is about a quarter of a step away from an outright mass execution. So tell me, Goddess Althena, always presented as so benevolent, good, and loving, what was this vague crime of the past that was deserving of such an extreme punishment for so many? I’d love to know what they did that could be heinous enough to warrant this.

But you know, that’s not even my point here. Here’s where my real fourth argument of Althena sucking comes in. Let’s assume for a moment that whatever the people of the Vile Tribe did, it really, undeniably WAS worthy of banishment to the edges of Lunar 500 years ago. Swallowing that, let’s consider something The beings of the Vile Tribe aren’t mentioned to be any longer-lived than regular humans and beastmen (and living out on the Frontier, one can reasonably assume that most of the Vile Tribe would actually have shorter lives than the average Lunar citizen), so that means that the people who are forced to live outside of Althena’s lands by the times of the games, forced to subsist in this wasteland to beat all wastelands, are the distant descendants of the original Vile Tribe who committed the crime that we are currently assuming actually warranted banishment.

Ummmmmmmm...yeah, uh, why are they still there?

Althena’s banishment doesn’t just punish those of the Vile Tribe who actually committed the crime, it passes that punishment down from generation to generation! By the end of Lunar 1, 500 years’ worth of generations have been suffering for the sins of their forebears, sins that these children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and so on had NO PART OF! By Althena’s decree, countless people have spent their entire lives in an agonized struggle for survival for a crime they did not commit! That’s...that’s horrifyingly unjust, outright evil!

You can try to rationalize it, sure. Here, let me help you--I already thought of some good ones:

“Ah gee, RPGenius, we don’t know that it was ALTHENA that kept them on the Frontier. Maybe she would have accepted the original Vile Tribe’s descendants back, and it was just the other people of Lunar who didn’t let them back!” Well that’s certainly possible, but I’d like to remind you that the major conflicts of both Lunar: Dragon Song and Lunar 1 revolve around the question of whether Althena should be available to guide and coddle Lunar’s civilization, with the understood implication that she has been doing just that. So even if the people of Lunar are the ones who keep the Vile Tribe exiled (due at least in part to the doctrine of Althena’s followers saying that this exile is a good thing), Althena has long been in a position up until very soon before both games’ beginnings to tell the Vile Tribe that it’s okay to come back, and to tell the rest of Lunar to suck it up and deal with it--IF she was willing to forgive the children for the sins of the fathers. But that does not happen.

“Well shucks there RPGenius, the Vile Tribe members we see in the games are mostly villains anyway. Maybe they’re still there because they’re still bad!” I think not. While Royce is shown to be pretty irredeemably evil and the possibility of Xenobia being capable of any good at all is questionable, Phacia, the third leader of the Vile Tribe at the time of Lunar 1, eventually comes to redeem herself, and from some of the things we learn during the games, the Vile Tribe of current times are doing what they’re doing because they’re justifiably pissed off at their exile and the difficult life they’ve all had because of it. But as at least some of them are capable of accepting and embracing the ideals of Lunar’s society, as seen by Phacia, they’re capable of complex thought and self-awareness of morality and emotion, and they’re capable of following a leader who promises them a better life, so I would say that the Vile Tribe are no more inherently evil than you or I. They possess the human spirit and a human-level intellect and self-awareness, and anyone who does so can, potentially, be a good, worthwhile, and acceptable person, given the chance.

“Maybe Althena doesn’t actually know they’re still out there, and would offer them the chance to come back if she did, RPGenius!” Well, I can’t remember exactly whether the Vile Tribe are a known fact to the society of Lunar in Lunar: Dragon Song and Lunar 1, or if they’re just a legend that people can’t verify or disprove, but by the end of Lunar: Dragon Song, Althena, in the form of Lucia, is very aware that the Vile Tribe exists because they factored into the whole adventure. Yeah, Lucia decides at the end of LDS that the world doesn’t need Althena’s guidance, but we know, given the later events of Lunar 1, that she at some point apparently changed her mind and went back to being a goddess who at least in SOME way had something to do with human and beastman affairs (if she truly had no part in them at all in that form, then she’d feel no need to let herself permanently die as Luna at the end of Lunar 1) for a while. Yet by the time Lunar 1 opens, the Vile Tribe is still forced to be out on the Frontier. Althena knows they’re there, and she’s not changing her mind about it.

“Maybe, RPGenius, they don’t want to go back!” They certainly do want to go back; that’s why Ghaleon is able to get them to build his Grindery in Lunar 1. Now, maybe you mean that they don’t want to go back and be presided over by Althena. That is certainly possible--the original myth of the Vile Tribe does say that they rejected Althena from the start, and if my memory serves, Xenobia and Royce reject Phacia’s idea of trying to return to Lunar peacefully under the rules of Althena. But you know what? That isn’t a reason that they can’t be given a little piece of Lunar for themselves that isn’t the horrible Frontier. So long as they were peaceful and didn’t trouble others, why not let them live somewhere reasonably habitable without having to go around worshipping Althena? They shouldn’t be forced to worship her if they don’t want to, and the punishment for not worshipping her shouldn’t be banishment to a harsh wasteland! If the current generations of Vile Tribe people are seriously being kept out just because they don’t feel like worshipping the goddess that let them suffer a painful, harsh existence as penance for their grandparents’ mistakes, then we can add “raging egomaniac” to the list of Althena’s bad qualities.

“But RPGenius, children SHOULD be forced to suffer for mistakes their parents made!” Please go and be an idiotic asshole somewhere else.

No matter how you try to rationalize it, it always comes down to the same thing: the Vile Tribe descendants unfairly suffer for someone else’s crimes, because of Althena, and are either passively or actively kept in that suffering by Althena.

So yeah. That’s the rant, folks. That’s why Goddess Althena sucks. She’s brainwashed too damn easily, she abandons her people knowing what kind of danger they might someday face and just cheerfully expects them to overcome it without any reason for such confidence, she allows groundless racism to shape and maintain an oppressive society, and she forces descendants to go through the agonizing punishment earned for crimes they themselves did not commit. So essentially, she’s easily the pawn of mortals (and bad ones, at that), she can’t be relied on, her guidance leads society astray, and regardless of her supposed benevolence, she’s actually utterly ruthless and unforgiving, and in a way that’s completely unjust. I actually think that’s a pretty comprehensive list of everything that is the exact opposite of what a deity is supposed to be! It’s a damned shame, it really is, because Althena was a solo-act goddess at a time back when RPGs involving outright gods didn’t really have many such things, only heterogenous pantheons or single male deities (or entirely male pantheons). I would have preferred to like her. But the flat fact is that she really just sucks.

* The 4 separate, actual, original Lunar games, I mean. The Lunar series is bizarre in that it has 10 different title entries in it, yet of those 10, the majority are actually just remakes and rereleases. Seriously--there’s Lunar 1 (The Silver Star), Lunar 2 (Eternal Blue), Lunar: Walking School, Lunar: Dragon Song (Lunar Genesis in Japan), and then the rest of the games in the series are 1 remake of Lunar: Walking School, 1 remake of Lunar 2, and then 4 remakes of Lunar 1. This is a series where the remakes actually outnumber the original games. Even Final Fantasy isn’t that bad...yet.

** Keep in mind that though Kain betrayed the party twice, it was only 1 single brainwashing that caused that--he simply didn’t fully snap out of it the first time. It’s not like 2 separate, successful attempts were made.

*** Er, sort of. Ignatius of Lunar: Dragon Song is supposed to be his own individual character, even if it’s pretty painfully obvious that he’s just a bad copy of Lunar 1’s Ghaleon.

**** For the sake of the rant’s integrity, we will forget, for a moment, that it’s illogical and stupid for Lunar: Dragon Song’s Lucia to come to this conclusion, when she will, some time later, be Althena doing Althena world-guiding things in time for Lunar 1’s events to occur, at which point she’ll apparently relearn the same damn lesson. If you’re going to make deity non-involvement your message for your prequel game, Game Arts, then you might want to make sure that your later, already well-established game doesn’t hinge on that message never having happened.

***** Actually, I can think of one single way that would happen in a short period of time--if Althena had herself said that beastmen were better than humans and should lead society in totality. But that possibility would just directly prove my point that she sucks, wouldn’t it?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Shin Megami Tensei 4's Fiend Hunting

Remember the third rant I ever posted, way, way back years ago, on Rare Item Drops? Of course you don’t. None of you read my rants when I first started; it was the only time in the history of this rant blog that I’ve had fewer readers than...well, all the rest of the time. But 8 years ago, I ranted about how frustrating and utterly idiotic RPGs can be with items (and other occurrences) that only have a teeny-tiny statistically infinitesimal chance of showing up. It’s one of the few of my really early rants that I stand by 100% today and have not in any way changed or advanced my opinion on.

Well as it turns out, I jumped the gun on that rant by about 7 and a half years. I apparently should have waited until the latter half of Summer 2013 to write that one, because holy shit guys, Shin Megami Tensei 4’s Fiend encounter rates.

I’ll note right off the bat that SMT4 already has a few Random Number Generator transgressions before the Fiend business. The Incense drop rate is slightly annoying at times, although I suppose that’s not necessarily a big deal--if you’re farming Incense (or anything else in an RPG), you’ve pretty much got to have resigned yourself to wasting a lot of time on nothing important. More than that, there’s an entire line of demons in SMT4 that you can ONLY get from an accident during demon fusion, the Hero line. That’s annoying to any completionist who wants to get a full bestiary, and even annoying to someone who plays more casually like me, because Jeanne D’Arc is in the Hero line and I’ll be DAMNED if I’m going to play an RPG with a recruitable Joan of Arc and NOT have her on my team. The chances of a Fusion accident are tiny, the chances of that accident making one of the Hero demons instead of some random other one is small again (and the only way to feasibly make it happen (fusing dead and Foul-line demons) is not made known to the player), and the chances that the abilities the Hero demon inherits are ones you’d want them to have are random, too.*

Sigh. At least Atlus has finally done away with randomized skill inheritance in normal fusion, anyway. Maybe somebody in the company read my old rant about that. Or just turned on their fucking brain.

So anyway, SMT4 already has some moments where you’ll be cursing the Random Number Generator gods with some venom. But that’s child’s play compared to the ultimate of horrible randomized rate situations...the Fiend Encounter Rate. Capitalized because I think I might make that a thing, one of my special terms in this blog, like Sailing.

So here’s the deal. There are a small group of demons known as the Fiends. They are David, Chemtrail, Plasma, the Matador, the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse (The Red, Pale, Black, and White Riders, aka the infamous Famine, Pestilence, War, and Death), the Trumpeter, and Mother Harlot. They’re pretty cool because, vaguely, they kind of all represent Death in all its forms as we know it--more on that in a later, more interesting rant. In Shin Megami Tensei 4, you can encounter, defeat, and gain the ability to create and recruit David and (in the Chaos path) Mother Harlot from a couple of sidequests. If you purchase one of the especially pointless DLCs, Death has its Applications, you can also encounter, defeat, and then create and recruit Plasma. The rest (Matador, Chemtrail, the 4 Riders, and the Trumpeter) can all be just be encountered by passing by certain spots in the game and getting into a random encounter with them, and after defeating them, you can create and recruit them.

Simple, right? Yeah, ha ha ha ha, fucking no.

See, it’s like this. Let’s say you want to run into the Trumpeter. He is a super cool concept, the angel of death who announces the end of all things by the notes of his trumpet. It is he who sounds the coming of Judgment Day. Who the hell WOULDN’T want him in their mythological dream team roster? So you find out where he’s supposed to show up by looking online (because you will NEVER find out otherwise, my friend). It’s a certain spot between some trees in a certain forest. Cool. You go there (assuming you’re on the Neutral or Law path, that is; can’t get’im on the Chaos path, I think), and go to the spot. And...nothing happens.

Hm. Odd. You leave the forest and come back to it, and go over the same spot. Still nothing. Well, that’s just weird. Time to look online to see what’s wrong. Lessee...Google, GameFAQs, SMT4, Discussion, then one of the countless topics about the Fiends. Alright, let’s see...oh, here’s the problem!

You only have a 1 out of 256 encounter rate chance.

That’s right. 1 out of 256. 1. Out of. 256. Any time you cross over the one single spot where the Trumpeter, or any of the other Fiends I mentioned, is supposed to show up, the game is gonna pull up a list of 255 boxes saying NO and 1 box saying YES, and pick a single box from that list at random to decide if the guy you’re looking for is there. 1 out of 256. I would like to remind you that the Final Fantasy 4 Pink Puff enemies, those elusive fuckers who can drop the Pink Tail, are famous for how low their encounter rate is, and their encounter rate is 1 out of 64.

Now I think most of you know what I’m getting at here, but for those of my readers who are, I dunno, SquareEnix Executive-level morons, allow me to make my point clear: 64? It’s a LOT LOWER than 256. It is, in fact, 4 times less than 256. Meaning that the Pink Puffs, held up as the standard of stupidly rare enemy encounters in RPGs, mentioned in my own Rare Item Drop rant so long ago, are actually 4 times more likely to appear than one of the Fiends in Shin Megami Tensei 4.

Not fun. But not the end of the story, either. Remember what I said about that single spot that the Trumpeter might show up in? Well, you can’t just run over it back and forth for an hour or two to get him to show up. See, the chance of his showing up there is generated when you enter the area of the forest in which that spot resides. Meaning that if he’s not there the first time, that’s not going to change until you turn around and leave the area altogether, then come back to try again. So you’re not just wasting time going over this spot a few hundred times--you’re wasting time getting to the spot, going over it, then turning around and running all the way out of the area so you can do it again.** Over and over and over again.

And one more thing about the whole shows-up-on-a-single-specific-spot thing. It’s a small spot. So let me tell you something. When you’ve run over the same spot over 200 times and have yet to see results, you start to wonder. To doubt. You start to ask yourself, “Am I even running over the right place? This internet picture and map diagram is specific, but not absolutely perfect. Could I have been going over the wrong spot all this time?” You torment yourself with this doubt, making it worse with every screen reload, thinking each time louder and louder with ever growing horror, “Have I perhaps been going over the wrong spot for the last hour?! Have I actually been wasting my time this whole while!?”

(The answer is yes, yes you have, whether or not you have the right spot).

And we’re still not done. Let’s say, amazement of amazements, you run into the Trumpeter at long last. He probably kills you, but that’s okay--hell, it’s almost a GOOD thing. If you have Charon bring you back to life where you were, you’ll be right beside the encounter spot and Trumpeter is guaranteed to be waiting for you to walk over it. Just save, and you can fight him at your leisure. So you save, you get your team better prepared for the attacks that you now know he has since you fought him once already, and you try again. You beat him this time! THANK. GOD. Phew. Okay, FINALLY, since you have beaten him, you have unlocked him and can now fuse him and put him in your team. Alright, open up the menu, go to the fusion part, check out the Special Fusions…

...Um. Hm. Where is he?

Did you miss him? Go back. Back, back, yup, further,, you’re at the beginning of the list. He’s not there. What the hell. Back to the internet! Google, SMT Wiki, look up the Trumpeter, find his game-specific it is, his fusion requirements...oh, THAT’S why he hasn’t shown up on your list! In order to fuse Trumpeter, you’ll have to have the 4 Rider Fiends available to you, and since you haven’t encountered any of them, he’s not on the list. Well that’s simple enough, you’ll just have to go find them and beat them so you can...can…


Oh right. THEY’RE all Fiends, too! Yes, that’s right, reader peeps. If you want to fuse the Trumpeter, the best of the bunch, you will have to encounter ALL 4 FIEND RIDERS as well. You will have to repeat this agonizing 1/256-chance-per-screen-load-in-a-tiny-spot all over again. And you will do it 4 times.

And by the way, this does not get much better if you’re not that interested in the Trumpeter, so long as you have an interest in almost ANY of the Fiends. Yes, Chemtrail and Matador can be fused from demons you regularly have access to, so once you (finally) encounter and defeat either of them, you can immediately fuse them. BUT, the Pale Rider, White Rider, Black Rider, and Red Rider ALL have fusion requirements that require previous Fiends. One basically leads to the next in order to fuse it--in order to fuse the Pale Rider, you must have a Black Rider, in order to fuse the Black Rider, you must have a Red Rider, in order to have him, you must first have a White Rider, and to fuse a White Rider, you must have a Matador. All of them require you to have encountered and defeated them to unlock them. So actually, if you want the Trumpeter (and Mother Harlot, for that matter, since her fusion needs a Trumpeter), you’re not doing the horrible process only 5 times (1 for him, 4 for the Riders), you’re doing it 6 times, because you need that initial Matador to start the whole thing off. That’s struggling 6 times against odds of 1/256. Finding the spots, and going over them again and again hundreds, thousands of times, waiting for something to happen.

They say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Atlus is actually making its players crazy.

Okay okay OKAY, yes, obviously this is pretty clearly self-inflicted frustration for any gamer who goes into it. All the Fiends are entirely optional to encounter (even the ones who are a simple matter of going on a side quest), and though they’re very powerful, it’s not like you can’t make a huge, powerful team without them just fine (in fact, if you work the system properly, pretty much ANY demon can be a titan of pure unbridled power--when I was done with the game, my Pixie was tearing through Hard Mode’s shit like if you dropped Pinkie Pie in Sugar Rush). The only reason you’d need to go through all this bullshit for the Fiends would only be your own misguided need for completionism, or if you just really, really like 1 Fiend in particular.*** This isn’t really a case of a company outright abusing its audience, like a disturbing number of other creators do nowadays (by this point, I think you might actually be able to diagnose fans of Bioware or Spider-Man with Battered Person Syndrome--and you may think that’s just a joke made in bad taste, and it mostly is, but I’ve read some of the things fans have said on Bioware’s forums, and it’s actually kind of creepy how close some statements can sound to the BPS mentality). This is just them going too far with something that’s ultimately very unimportant. Like Game Freak does with the whole Shiny Pokemon thing--although to be fair, at least with the Shiny Pokemon, the regular, non-rare version of the damn thing is readily available to capture and recruit, while this Fiend Encounter Rate nonsense is the ONLY way to get these demons. Ultimately, I can’t hold too much of a grudge against the folks at Atlus for this nonsense; the person who decided to waste my time with getting the Trumpeter is me, not them.

But all the same...Atlus, please, for the love of everything good and just in the universe, don’t ever do anything like this ever again.

* SORT OF random. Technically speaking, you can rig it--figure out what the Hero demon is automatically going to have (their starter moves, essentially), then, using creative fusion skill inheritance, make sure that the demons you’re fusing to make the accident to create the Hero demon ONLY have the skills you want the Hero to have and that there are EXACTLY as many of those skills between the 2 parent demons together as there are free skill slots for the resulting Hero demon (FREE skill slots, as in, not the ones that will be used for the natural skills the Hero starts with anyway). This at least takes the randomization out of the skill inheritance aspect of Hero demon fusion accidents. By replacing it with tedious planning and executing of long chains of parent fusions. Joy.

** There’s a slight work around for this. If you own one of the stupid DLCs that take you to an Experience/Money/App farming area, you can stand in front of the Fiend’s encounter spot, open the DLC and go into it, quit it and come back, and that will re-generate the Fiend’s encounter area. This is incredibly tedious to do 400 times in a row, but still faster in most cases than turning around and leaving the area and then coming back again that same 400 times, particularly since you can add a complex save-reload trick to this process to shave a few more seconds off, a trick that is way more work to explain than I really think is necessary at the moment (but if you really want to know, say so). This is, however, obviously not a good enough solution that it makes the situation any more excusable, especially since not everyone wants to waste money on meaningless DLC nonsense.

*** Why oh why must I be such a sucker for the Trumpeter?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

General RPGs' Sprint Meters

Sprint meters are stupid, annoying, and worthless.


...You're still here? Oh, what, you wanted more than that? Well, I guess I can elucidate, but that’s all it’s going to come down to in the end. But what the hell, let’s do this.

Sprint Meters are those little bars on the screen of some RPGs that fill up or empty as the player runs around a play area. After a certain amount of uninterrupted jogging, the bar fills up or empties completely, and the character onscreen has to rest for a period of time, unable to continue running (sometimes unable to continue moving at all) for a short period, during which they’re presumably catching their breath. Sometimes the meters also govern how tired the character is getting from more activities than just running, such as with The Elder Scrolls 4 (probably 5, as well, but I haven’t played that yet) and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, where jumping, attacking, running, swimming, and so on all cause fatigue, at which point I just call it a Fatigue Meter instead. Most, however, are just for running, which is what I mean by Sprint Meters. It all boils down to the same annoyance in the end, though.

FIrst of all, the idea behind the concept is slightly irritating. I mean, I myself can only think of 2 possible explanations for the existence of a Sprint Meter in a game. The first is for game balance. If you can only run a certain amount of steps before slowing down, it limits how many enemy encounters you can manage to avoid, and in the case of a Fatigue Meter, attacking while fatigued from other actions lessens the effectiveness of said attacks in The Elder Scrolls 4, and the speed and actions you can take while tired in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword are very limited. I guess I can accept this for Fatigue Meters when a lot of the game’s limitations and checks and balances rely on this handicap, when it seems like this was a legitimate, thought-out decision as far as how the game is played...I guess. Sure as hell doesn’t mean I like it, and it’s annoying, not challenging or fun, to work around, but whatever. But Sprint Meters limiting the time a character can run because you don’t want to allow for a player to potentially avoid all enemies possible? That comes off as a game developer just trying to cover for his/her own inability to design monster placement and pursuit patterns well enough to properly contrast a good gamer by imposing arbitrary limitations. Plus, why the hell do you even need to limit the amount of times a gamer can avoid an enemy to begin with? If a gamer avoids everything, he/she shouldn’t have the levels necessary to beat bosses past a certain point, anyway. The bosses are meant to be the balance, not some stupid bar that fills up/empties due to jogging.

The other reason I can think of for having Sprint Meters is utterly unacceptable: totally unnecessary realism. In the same vein of “genius” that spawned the unrivaled tedium of constantly having to repair weapons as they rapidly decay, some idiot realized that in real life, people, even physically fit people, cannot run perpetually and must eventually stop to catch their breath, and decided to create a game mechanic solely for the purpose of having characters travel more realistically. I hope to God that this is not and has never been the reason any game has adopted a Sprint Meter, but given the utterly, insanely idiotic ideas that have been put into practice in RPGs in the name of making things realistic (who doesn’t want to constantly have to keep track of when to use a repair item on their weapon? Monotonously counting every sword stroke and gunshot you make is just SUCH fun!), I certainly can’t rule the possibility out.

So frankly, until someone graces me with a better explanation for why Sprint Meters exist, I’m going to go with the idea that they don’t serve any particularly good purpose. And hey, if they didn’t serve any particular purpose but didn’t do anything irritating either, like achievement points and trophies and the like, then I’d have no problem. But Sprint Meters ARE irritating!

First of all, I resent not being able to have the characters on screen travel as fast as possible to all destinations. I’m not the type to run away from enemies,* so the whole potential idea of keeping me from avoiding all enemy encounters isn’t even an issue anyway, but I AM the type to want to move as quickly as is viable through towns and dungeons alike. Not to say that I rush through RPGs--I sit still quite patiently for every word spoken and story action taken. But to get from story point A to story point B, do I want to waste time just slowly walking there? Hell no! No one does! I bet you can’t find a full 5 people on the entire planet who would rather watch a character slowly trudge across the screen instead of just holding down the Run button to get around speedily.

Another minor annoyance with some games which implement this idea: they don’t always have any actual Sprint Meter or other indication of when the character’s going to slow down to a crawl. Some, like Lunar 1, just leave you to keep track of the time your character has for running yourself, giving no indication as that time comes to an end. Yeah, that’s a very minor complaint, but all the same, it’s another way in which this concept is needlessly annoying.

Another minor annoyance, although admittedly I’ve only encountered this once, is in Secret of Mana. Running in that game has no limit, per say, but it uses up an action so you do have to wait a second to regain the ability to run again, or attack properly, or whatever. It’s a bit of a departure from the usual way a Sprint Meter works, but it’s in the same vein, so I count it. That’s not the problem, though. The problem is that a running character should not be confined solely to a straight line. For some reason, in Secret of Mana, any time your character runs, they launch themselves in a straight line and cannot be made to turn or even slightly adjust their course. I don’t know about you, but I, myself, managed to become adept at the art of changing direction during forward movements fairly early in my life. Like, before I could talk. One might as well not have been given the option to run in Secret of Mana to begin with; it was too awkward to use most of the time, anyway.

Also, I have to really take issue with how long a Sprint Meter holds out in all cases. If you clock how long it takes for a running character to get winded in these cases, you’ll find that, without exception, every character in an RPG is an asthmatic overweight chain smoker born with only one functioning lung. Seriously, the amount of time any given RPG character can maintain a brisk jog is inevitably less time than I, myself, can. And trust me, I am not the picture of physical fitness--I’m so out of shape that most offensive caricatures of geeks and gamers don’t actually go far enough toward depicting my lack of athleticism. There is no goddamn way that I should be able to maintain a run longer than an seasoned adventurer who has spent the last 50 hours of game time constantly on his feet and regularly getting the natural exercise that comes from fighting for one’s life with every few steps one takes. For that matter, there is no goddamn way that I should be able to maintain a run longer than Commander fucking Shepard. If you’re gonna limit the time an RPG character can run, at least make that limit halfway realistic for the character! Most people’s frail little grandmothers could outrun every RPG character ever made whose running is limited! Sheesh.

Sprint Meters and similar movement inhibitors are stupid and needlessly annoying in RPGs. Whatever dubious benefits they may be intended to provide to the game, the end result is something annoying, and in every case to my knowledge, totally unrealistic which ultimately only takes away from the gamer’s enjoyment of the gameplay.

* Hell, I don’t even use it to run away from enemies when there’s no benefit to gaining levels. In Lunar 1, enemy bosses level up as you do, meaning there’s not all that much reason to go out of your way to gain levels since you’ll only ever be gaining a marginal advantage at best. Did that stop me from running into every damn enemy I saw on the way through dungeons? Nope.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4's Chie's New Voice Actress

Before we begin today's rant, you might want to check out a new Kickstarter RPG in need of funding, Broeder: The Secrets of Ohr. I don't mention most of the RPGs I back on Kickstarter, but this one is in pretty bad need of backers, even though its funding goal is really quite low. I think it has potential, and if you do, too, then consider throwing a pledge in its direction--or sharing it with your friends. The woman behind the game seems to really care about the game (which if you ask me automatically makes it more worthy of our money than the latest products of many large and well-established game companies), so at least check it out, yeah?

You know what I don’t do enough of? Short rants. Let’s see about having one today.

So, when I was updating my SMT Persona 3 and 4 Social Link Comparison rant, I discovered something odd about the new version of SMT Persona 4--Chie’s voice actress was dramatically different. Wondering why, I did some extensive, exhaustive, comprehensive, penetrating research (which is to say, I clicked on the first Google result I saw), and discovered that when Persona 4 had been updated, the original voice actress for Chie was no longer available for the role, and since they did have new lines they needed to have recorded, they just brought in a new actress to redo all the original lines and then voice the new ones. Well, that’s how things go, I guess.

What gets me about it is the drastic difference between Old Chie Voice and New Chie Voice. This isn’t like what cartoons sometimes have to do, where they replace a character’s voice with a new, more available actor who can manage some close facsimile of the original actor. This is a completely different voice and acting style altogether. They didn’t even try to come close to what Chie’s voice was on the Playstation 2. Supposedly this new voice is more similar to the original voice of Chie in the Japanese version. Couldn’t say, as I’ve never played the Japanese version, but since this new one is more high-pitched and loud at times, I’d suspect that to be true--one of Japan’s major exports is the high-pitched, squealing babble of adolescent girls.

Thing is, the new one just doesn’t work for me. Now, don’t get me wrong, New Chie Voice’s actress, Erin Fitzgerald, is not a bad actress, from what I can tell. I wouldn’t call her particularly great at the role, but I’d actually say she brings more skill to the table than Old Chie Voice, Tracey Rooney, did. But honestly, Tracey Rooney’s voice simply fit the character better, acting skill be damned. Now Chie sounds similar in pitch and personality to the type of female character that Yukiko or Rise is, and without rewriting Chie’s actual character, that’s not the right fit for her. Chie’s not as feminine a character as the more standard Yukiko and Rise; she’s forward, inwardly tough, and interested in things like martial arts movies, steak, and protecting people.

Having a voice like Rooney’s attached to her character made sense and brought the package together neatly. She had a deeper tone that fit Chie, while being distinctly feminine--you’d never mistake it for a boy’s voice, even if it’s similarly deep. In this way, the voice helped emphasize the rest of the character--not standardly feminine like Yukiko or Rise, but not so far as to be gender-ambiguous, either, like Naoto. Rooney’s inflections and general tone also fit the less feminine, still-distinctly-female character of Chie, even if Rooney had perhaps a little less acting range with it.

The new’s not bad, but it and the actual character of Chie are working around each other, not with each other, you know? And I’m not saying that tomboys all have lower, deeper voices or anything like that, and that more traditionally feminine girls can’t. But the cadence of the voice, the diction of it, the way the lines are SAID, with Tracey Rooney matched Chie’s tone and character, while Fitzgerald’s higher voice is emphasized by the more girly-girl way she uses it, and that simply isn’t Chie.

I wish Atlus had tried to find a voice actress who was at least a little similar to the original one, who could give us a tone that worked alongside the tomboyish character instead of contrast to it. I appreciate that Atlus may have wanted to avoid that weird, awkward feeling on TV shows when you can tell it’s a new voice actor doing the lines but you’re not supposed to know because he/she is supposed to be really close to the original...and I can appreciate that maybe Atlus was trying to listen to the complaints of some of its fans about Chie’s original voice actress.* But in the end, the original voice for Chie was the right one, and it would have been better to find someone to try to mimic it, or at least get in the same range.

* Because heaven forbid we challenge the weeaboos’ fragile perception of reality with a teenage girl who sounds like the many, many girls in actual, real life whose voices aren’t like the shrieking Japanese mice who voice every anime female.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Xenosaga Series's Failed Potential

Warning: Today’s rant is a bit raw. I mostly just tried to get everything I had to say out and didn’t worry too much about making it feel refined and well-organized. I doubt anyone cares overly much, but I figured I’d let you know ahead of time.

Yes, it is that time once again: Xenosaga Rant Time.

So what should I speak about today? Xenosaga still has so many flaws and nonsense that I could rant about. Maybe I should examine just how necessary it was for KOS-MOS, during the in-the-past-sort-of escape from Kevin, to smack Shion and knock her out--she does it to subdue the obnoxious twit and get her safely away from Kevin, but considering that KOS-MOS is a monstrously strong battle android and Shion is just a (whiny, overbearing) human being, she could have struggled all she liked and not given KOS-MOS the slightest trouble in carrying her off. Or I could point out that it doesn’t make much sense that the shockwave from Abel’s Ark can cause everything it touches to disappear, even planets, yet the Elsa, a small freighter ship, is totally unaffected by it. Or perhaps I could…

...No. You know what? I think I’ve done enough. Since beating Xenosaga 3 and closing out the series, I’ve made 9 rants about the stupidity of Xenosaga, and in nearly all of them I’ve not only examined the flaw(s) that the rant is actually about, but also listed several other ones that I could just as easily have ranted on. I’ve put forward dozens of Xenosaga’s mistakes to you all, and there are plenty more I could add to them. And perhaps I will some day. But with all this criticism at a glance and at length, on all these various flaws, there’s only one conclusion that you, the reader, could draw: that I hate Xenosaga. And, well, that’s just not true. Oh, sure, there are parts of Xenosaga that I sincerely hate, no question. Shion’s pity parade during the finale, MOMO’s last words to Jr., Kevin, the utterly disgusting way Shion’s abusive relationship with Kevin is glossed over as bad ONLY because it hurts other people and NOT because it hurts her...huh, I guess each of the moments of Xenosaga that I truly hate come from the last game. Hadn’t realized that before.

Anyway, my point is that, yes, there are a lot--a LOT--of problems with the series, and yes, there are even some parts of it which are just unforgivably loathsome. But while I don’t like the series as a complete product...well, I don’t hate it. It’s like when your parents tell you that they’re not angry with you, just disappointed. I’m not happy with Xenosaga, especially with the way it all turned out, but I can’t just dismiss it completely, either, because it had potential, and for all its terribleness, it still maintained a few of its good points throughout. This is a series that at least could have been good--even if it wasn’t.

I mean, consider the voice acting. Yeah, as I’ve mentioned, in Xenosaga 3, the voice overs are just a mess of incorrect emphasis and tones that just don’t work within the context of the characters’ intent. But back in Xenosaga 1, the voice acting was pretty consistently decent, enough to make it clear that this cast did know what it was doing when properly directed. And the voice actors themselves fit the characters very well, by and large! Hell, even when they have to change voice actors for some characters between games, the new ones still work very well! The proper matching of actor to character type by itself is enough to lend life to the characters, even if the confusion of lines constantly read in the wrong way later in the series messes that up. This is voice acting that could have been good from start to finish.

Take a look at the graphic style of Xenosaga 1. Now, you know I don’t care about visuals when determining how good or bad an RPG is, but that doesn’t mean I can’t acknowledge the difference between good and bad quality. Xenosaga 1 rolled out with a clean, interestingly simplistic yet distinctive artistic style for its characters and universe. Speak to a player who’s experienced all 3 main titles in the Xenosaga series about which style of KOS-MOS sticks out the most in his or her mind, which grabbed his or her attention the most and is the most interesting, and I’m willing to bet the answer will most of the time be the style from Xenosaga 1. It was different enough to grab and keep your attention: deformed but not chibi, bright but with plenty of darkness to contrast, clean but not undetailed. And then, Xenosaga 2 came around, and...the art style was completely different. For reasons best described as “moronic,” Namco decided to ditch the unique style that otherwise would have become a recognizable signature of the series and adopt, for Xenosaga 2, a much more dark, so-called realistic art style that was far more conventional for anime-styled JRPGs of that age, and in being far more conventional, was also far less interesting and thus did not hold one’s attention as well as before. And then they switched the style up again for Xenosaga 3, but this next change was a smaller departure from its predecessor, and in the end still doesn’t stand out in any particular way from other RPGs. I do know that there are some people (a minority, I believe) who liked the art styles of Xenosaga 2 and/or 3 better than that of the first game, but even still, I think most of them would have to admit that first game’s style was more distinctive--and while visuals have no effect on me, that’s something that can count for a lot with some audiences. Lose the distinctive look, you lose the benefits of novelty. This is a series that started out with a good look, and could have kept that good style to its end.

Listen to the music for the series. Both the composer for Xenosaga 1 and the composer for Xenosaga 2 and 3 are clearly talented and creative. The music of Xenosaga 1 does its job competently nearly all of the time, and there are a few tracks that I consider to be excellent. For an example, there’s only 1 single battle theme throughout the entire game, whether for regular enemies or bosses, and yet even though I heard it hundreds of times during the course of playing through the game, I still love it, and keep it in my personal song collection. It’s fast-paced yet not frenzied, common yet so very epic, promising the intensity of battle while embodying the idea that this is the first tentative step in a grand saga. The composer of Xenosaga 2 and 3 does just as well, providing solid music accompaniment to the entirety of both games, and I have to say that there are some themes of Xenosaga 3 that are just AMAZING to listen to. The theme playing while exploring the forest during the game’s foray to the past, the music that plays during Pellegri’s death scene, the background theme of the Dabrye Mine...absolutely lovely stuff. Not everything with these games’ music is a hit, but there’s certainly no noticeable failing, either, and enough stand-out moments of excellence that the soundtrack gets my endorsement. This is good music to set an epic tale of space, emotion, and drama against, and Xenosaga could have been really good if everything had been as consistently decent and occasionally great as its music is.

Watch the cutscenes of the Xenosaga games. Xenosaga 1 has a good number of FMV sequences that are very engaging, full of gripping action, and compelling suspense and drama. The scene in the first game wherein KOS-MOS saves Shion for the first time from the Gnosis starts off intense as Shion’s fading in its clutches, and becomes cool and impressive as KOS-MOS gets to work, an epic first combat for this iconic character. And what about the hyperspace chase and battle in Xenosaga 1? That whole thing is awesome and thrilling! It’s action-packed, it’s suspenseful at all the right times, it knows exactly when to cut in with comedy with the reactions of Hammer, Allen, and what’s-his-name, the commander guy below decks, it’s a great first meeting of these still-new characters and a chance to really show their personalities as they work together for the first time, it’s inventive and interesting...this is everything a sci-fi space battle should be, combined with a skillful use of the characters involved that’s thrilling from start to finish. Xenosaga 1 knows how to make good use of its exorbitant cinematic budget. Xenosaga 2’s good for a while in the same field, too--the initial battle between Jin and Margulis is very well done, and the car chase early in the game is exciting. But eventually, as the series plot and events becomes too heavy and bloated to support itself, the FMVs start being more long than interesting, more over-the-top than actually exciting. The last cinema sequence of the series that I feel is really particularly good is Jin and Margulis’s confrontation in the second half of Xenosaga 2. From that point on, the FMVs are either just not very interesting, or are advancing a story and/or characters that no longer grip the audience. Even the videos in the latter part of the series that do seem kind of interesting to watch, such as the fights between KOS-MOS and T-elos or the scene in Xenosaga 2 where KOS-MOS awakens to save Shion, are riddled with stupid elements that ruin them (see my rants on Voyeuristic Paralysis Syndrome, Xenosaga 3’s finale, and space motorcycles). Xenosaga could have had memorable cutscenes throughout its entire course, if it had kept up the same quality as it started out with.

Let’s move on to the more important stuff, though. Xenosaga had great potential where it really counts--the plot, the themes, the characters.

Recall the pacing of Xenosaga 1. It was just as it should have been. We were introduced to important characters at a carefully measured pace, never too many too fast, and for the most part, the characters who had a special allotment of time stayed relevant enough, long enough that the amount of time and importance the narrative afforded them seemed well-spent. The details and lore of the story and universe developed at a brisk pace, but not so rapidly that we couldn’t keep up, and although these factors and ideas kept getting thrown at us steadily right through to the game’s end, it wasn’t a problem, because it was obviously the beginning chapter of a much larger series. It’s okay to keep adding right up till the end of the first part of your saga, it’s expected. It means you’re building extra material in to be dealt with later on.

But after Xenosaga 1...well, the pacing doesn’t slow down at all; it only keeps speeding up! Ideas and details and terms and characters of all kinds keep getting crammed in, too many too fast. You can no longer keep up comfortably with all the complications and plot threads building up, too many huge events are being resolved more quickly than they should while too many small plot arcs are given more focus and time than they’re due, and even as the games try to settle the matters that they were originally building up in the first game, they’re adding more complications. And, of course, it doesn’t help that an entire half a game’s worth of events are summed up in a “this is what happened” speech in the middle of Xenosaga 2, and then another full game’s worth of events are just entirely skipped over between Xenosaga 2 and 3, known only to you if you spend the time reading up on it in Xenosaga 3’s codex. Too slow, too fast, too much stuff thrown in all at once, huge important parts missing or related as a dry, dense monologue that breaks immersion...the only consistent thing about the pacing of Xenosaga 2 and 3 is that it’s just terrible. I’ve mentioned before that the biggest contributor to this was that a 6-part series was suddenly condensed into 3 games, and I’ve gone over the stupidity both of trying to do such a thing AND of expecting to have a guaranteed 6 games to tell your story in the first place, so I won’t go into this any further. Still, Xenosaga 1 shows that the narrative pace of the series could have been fine and easily followed, instead of frenzied and too full of nonsense.

Think about the characters of the series, and how they interacted with each other early on. When you look at the main cast of Xenosaga, you’ve got a genuinely interesting and diverse set of personalities being put together, one that commands enough interest to initially get you invested in them. Initially, MOMO is cute and friendly but not in a way that’s grating, KOS-MOS is cool and robotic but in a way that brings into question the possibility of a humanity hidden below, Jr. is fun and rambunctious, Ziggy is brooding and straightforward but not in a tedious way, Jin balances being a regular guy with some quirks and being a very private and intense person, chaos is secretive yet open and outgoing, and Shion...well, actually, Shion’s never particularly interesting. Still, she doesn’t start out being a psychotic, shrill, repugnant harpy, so you could say that even she was good, early on. I guess. I dunno. The other cast members could at least make up for her, at any rate.

Anyway, the thing is, the Xenosaga cast is one’s hard to describe, really. My sister, whose insight and feedback contribute immeasurably to these rants and I should really mention and credit her more often, puts it best: they’re characters that you want to like, characters you want to see, know, and learn about. Obviously everyone has their own reactions and prejudices, but I have to say, I’ve interacted with a lot of gamers who have played at least the first Xenosaga title if not the whole series, and it’s funny, but I encounter almost no one who did not have at least a little enthusiastic interest in the cast at first. It may not have lasted--sure as hell didn’t for me--but I think that Xenosaga’s cast is special in that practically all of us start on the same page of an initial interest in KOS-MOS, chaos, Ziggy, MOMO, Jin, Jr., and Shion. And there’s some decent depth to them that could maintain that interest, if was properly developed and worked with.

Additionally, I think the way they interact with one another, the dynamics between the major cast members, are, for a time, pretty neat and enjoyable. I like the connection Ziggy and MOMO share. I like the way that Shion and Jin have trouble with meaningful communication. I like the deep bond between KOS-MOS and Shion, the implicit trust and emotional openness Shion has with KOS-MOS and the way she tries to determine just what sort of humanity KOS-MOS hides within herself, and I like the way that this seems to be, for a time, working its way into a romantic angle for them. I like the puppy dog romance of Jr. and MOMO. I like the way Ziggy and Jr. treat each other as respectable equals. For the first half of the series, possibly even a little longer, the Xenosaga team feels like a genuine collection of individuals brought together, their personalities bonding with and bouncing off one another. It feels a lot like several other games with really good, interesting casts that become close-knit as time goes on, like Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, or Tales of Legendia (although not nearly as good as the latter, mind).

Unfortunately, this potentially great aspect of Xenosaga, like so many others, does not last. The character development for some characters becomes too overdramatic and confusing (not to mention, at times, incredibly stupid--particularly when it comes to Shion), becoming, as with so much else in the game, far too much nonsense stacked up at once. Said character development also becomes too much of a solo act, with the other cast members having little real influence or input while it’s happening. Eventually the relationships and interactions between the cast members are, almost universally, dictated by the plot--by and throughout Xenosaga 3, dialogue is almost entirely restricted to reactions to the plot and forwarding it; gone is that sense of a friendly, interesting team from earlier in the series. Some aspects of relationships are just destroyed completely to make way for more convenient, plot-friendly concepts, like the clear and obvious Shion x KOS-MOS love subplot being utterly supplanted by the terrible Shion x Allen one. And since the plot that’s now dictating their interactions and character development is such a ridiculous pile of nonsense that it actually makes the Star Wars prequels look almost not totally horribly incompetent by comparison, this drags the cast down with everything else. This is a set of characters that could have really been a special, memorable, and iconic cast, if they hadn’t had to stumble along to the breakneck pace of a ridiculously overblown, convoluted plot.

On a similar note, take the villains. Frankly, not a single villain in the whole trilogy is all that good, but a few of them at least had potential to be decent. Margulis, for example, is just this perpetually antagonistic, egotistical asshat that keeps being played up by the cinematics and narrative as someone more important than he actually ends up being. But if we’d gotten some time devoted to giving the guy some honest backstory, or a few scenes that better showed us and emphasized Margulis’s religious fanaticism, he could have been a lot more compelling. We’re told, not shown, that he’s a diehard fanatic, and the only other character traits assigned to him are a rivalry with Jin originating from a history between them that’s never properly delved into, and a propensity for grandiose, frustratingly vague scheming via speeches and monologues. And the latter quality doesn’t count, because pretty much all of the Xenosaga villains, and even plenty of the good guys, do that. With a little care, Margulis could have at least been a little noteworthy, but as is, he’s just a plot mouthpiece who really makes no impact.

Pellegri’s another one. Given her history with Jin and the terms under which they went their separate ways, she could have been a really compelling individual. But the games just never go into any real detail of her old feelings for Jin, never show us what things were like between them, never give enough emphasis to the way her blind adherence to Magulis’s crusade shut out the other things, good things, she had in life. We don’t see her appreciation of the things she had then, we don’t see her regret or conflict at losing them, we just don’t see anything REAL about Pellegri. She’s little more than a rag doll wearing a sign on her head reading, “JIN’S TRAGIC PAST,” existing solely as a foil for him and not even doing very well in that capacity.

Xenosaga could have made Margulis and Pellegri actual, interesting villains. It could have dialed Albedo’s insanity back enough to make him as sympathizable as the games want him to be, and made his brotherly love for Jr. schtick more believable and realistic--as it is, this main point of Albedo’s character depth comes off more as another piece of psychosis than anything legitimate. It could have revealed Wilhelm early enough and well enough that the guy could have better explained his position and the plots he masterminded. It could have given Yuriev the time and effort to develop the idea of his fear of U-DO and better examine how it relates to the human condition, and all sorts of good jazz; there was some real potential in there! It could have given us more recollections (and better ones, for that matter) of Kevin so as to properly show why Shion would have such conflicted feelings late in the last game, so he doesn’t seem like such a one-dimensional dick that we question how Shion can have any attachment to him. So many villains in the Xenosaga series could have been good, or at the very least decent, if they’d been used and developed well.

Let’s also contemplate some of the concepts of Xenosaga’s story. There are a lot of interesting ideas to the games, such as KOS-MOS being a robotic reincarnation of Mary Magdalen. Yeah, that’s bizarre, but I feel like it’s odd enough that they really could have made it interesting and neat if they’d handled it right. They could have used the scenario to explore the character of Mary, and allowed for the contrast between her and the growing personality of KOS-MOS to give them both more depth. But the KOS-MOS-is-Mary stuff is only shoved in at the end, so nothing much can be done with it (despite how overly complicated it winds up being), and Mary’s only used as an odd plot device, not as a character. KOS-MOS could just as easily have been a reincarnation of 1 of the 12 Apostles, or Adam, or Eve, or Lassie the Dog for all the difference it makes--there’s no actual connection to the character of Mary here, so anyone could have been used in her place. Anyone in history and/or theology could have completely and inexplicably been handed God’s keys to the universe, anyone could have been retconned to have Shion’s previous incarnation as their ambiguous BFF-maybe-lover-maybe-not, and absolutely nothing would be changed.

These concepts and scenes that really could have been something good are littered through the second and third Xenosaga titles. Shion’s suffering as the greatest of all the universe, for example. I love the idea overall, that when Shion witnessed her mother and father brutally murdered on the same night that her friend Feb died and all Hell broke loose in a terrifying military battle in her city, her pain was so great and unbearable that it tore the very fabric of reality and called forth the wayward lost souls of the universe’s despondent and rejected. That is compelling and epic stuff! And yet, so much of the plot of Xenosaga 3, particularly regarding Kevin, Shion’s personal conflict, and the themes of starting over or pushing through the seemingly inevitable destruction of the universe with the hope of a better tomorrow, all comes back to the pain of Shion, and the game just doesn’t know how to make use of that all-important plot point. The problem is that while we can believe that child Shion felt that pain, over the course of the games adult Shion, the one we’re familiar with, has never given the slightest inkling of someone still carrying torment that could tear the universe asunder. I mean, she’s not a bubbling mass of happiness or anything, but she never seems to be suffering particularly, either, for the entirety of Xenosaga 1 and 2, and even the first half of Xenosaga 3. She’s just a regular character. Hell, even when the final game’s suddenly realized it has to actually start showing that Shion has some issues since they’re suddenly the most important thing in the world, Shion’s introspections and interactions seem more listless and bratty, respectively, than they do like she’s seriously hurting. Come on, want to base the major elements of your series’s plot around the painful baggage Shion’s carrying around, you need to show us that it’s there somehow. Batman carries his parents’ murder with him in everything he does and says, and we see it and we believe it. The Nameless One of Planescape: Torment carries the torment of his lost mortality with him in everything he sees and everyone he encounters, and we see it and believe it. But as awesome a concept as Shion’s pain breaking the universe is, it’s never shown until way too late to believe in it, and even that last-minute effort is mostly just a testament to Namco’s lack of understanding when it comes to the emotions and reasoning of human beings.

Another example, while I’m thinking about it--remember 1 of my very earliest rants, about the stupidity of the space motorcycle scene in Xenosaga 2? Of course you don’t; nobody actually read this thing back then (practically nobody does now either, heh). But in a smaller way, it’s another example of this. Like I said back then, the scene SHOULD actually be good--it’s KOS-MOS hearing Shion’s cry for help across the void of countless light years, and despite being turned off, despite not even being in working order, the need to protect Shion is so compelling to her that she awakens and rushes to the rescue. It’d be pretty inspiring...but then, the silliness of a space motorcycle hits you. It’s about as pathetic and obvious an attempt to seem cool as Poochie the Dog, except that Poochie is MEANT to be a ridiculous icon of parody. The death of Pellegri is a bit similar to that--again, it’s a scene that should be really noteworthy, and it almost is. The music that plays, the concept of her simply having gone too far along a path that ended in failure, the fact that her death is painful for’s done well, and provokes some sadness from the player. Yet, as I outlined in the rant about Xenosaga 3’s finale, this scene’s worth is overshadowed by its immense stupidity--Pellegri’s reasoning just doesn’t make sense, and it lessens her character depth considerably by forcing her into a throwaway villain niche. The quality of what’s happening in the death scene is overpowered by the stupidity of why it’s happening. Anyway, I’m digressing a bit too much. Whether because they weren’t utilized and developed properly, or were just poisoned by really dumb elements, a great many of the concepts and scenes of the Xenosaga series could have been quite great, both emotionally charged and thought-provoking, but in the end, very, very few managed to live up to their potential.

Examine the overall themes and intended meanings and messages of the Xenosaga series. There’s actually all sorts of great things that the games are meant to explore through their plot and characters, themes like the significance of the fear of God (represented through Voyager and, more so, Yuriev), like the idea of becoming greater than the sum of one’s parts through devotion to another (KOS-MOS and, in some tiny way, Allen), the idea of whether one can choose to go against the purpose of their existence and the consequences for doing so (shown through KOS-MOS, Canaan, Jr., Gaignun, the failures of Pellegri and Margulis, and many more), and of course, the concept of personal and divine will, how to live with it, how to use it, what it’s capable of and the forms in which it exists. Xenosaga takes many strong ideas for its plot that stem from real-life great works and minds of human culture, such as the Bible, the Torah, and most notably Friedrich Nietzsche (the full titles of the games are even named for his concepts). The seeds for greatness are definitely scattered throughout the series in its many underlying themes and ideas.

Of course, the problem is that those seeds just never have a chance to sprout into something more. Essentially all of the great themes are buried 6 feet deep underneath a tightly-compacted morass of over-complicated details, poorly written characters, bad pacing, grandiose and completely unnatural speeches and exposition, and military-grade insane nonsense, far too deep for the seeds of greatness to ever have a chance to break through to the surface without some serious digging on your part, narrative digging which is effort way beyond what an audience should be expected to put forth. Many of the great themes are simply too unexplored before the crisis point of the character they’re linked to--like Yuriev’s fear of God thing. It’s practically unmentioned until its major moment in the story is upon you, which lessens how much of an impact it can make, how much narrative importance that you can give it. Some discussions earlier in the game on the subject--REAL discussions, not incredibly vague, poorly-written hintings--would have gone a long way to giving the concept its narrative due, and the same is true for so many of the themes of Xenosaga.

And hell, it doesn’t even seem like Namco got a lot of the deeper concepts they borrowed from others like Nietzsche right--though I’ll let smarter people than I explore and explain that here and here.

But make no mistake: Xenosaga may have bitten off way, way more than it could chew and lacked the narrative skill to make proper use of its grand, intelligent messages and themes, but they were there, just nearly inaccessible through the mountains of chaotic foolishness. It’s like a brilliant philosopher with no tongue, no computer, and atrocious, illegible handwriting trying to share the incredible things within his mind. The Xenosaga series could have been fascinating and intellectually meaningful, even on par with the best that the Shin Megami Tensei series can offer, if only its writers had been able to effectively convey their ideas.

And that’s essentially all I have to say on the matter. I could probably keep going, but I think this covers pretty much all the bases. From the small matters to the greatest, Xenosaga had the potential to be a really great series. Great science fiction, great characters, great ideas, great themes, great execution. It could have been something absolutely incredible, it really could have, and that’s why, despite its incalculably numerous flaws, in spite of all the criticism I’ve heaped upon the series (particularly its final installment) in my rants, in spite even of the disgust and animosity that I do feel towards some of its truly vile aspects (Shion’s motivations in its finale still make me shake with loathing) spite of everything, the fundamental truth of the matter is, as I said before:

I don’t hate Xenosaga.

It may be less sensible than Final Fantasy 8. It may be more of a disappointment to itself than La Pucelle Tactics, and have just as hasty and ill-thought-out a love story for its protagonist. It may be as idiotically over-complicated as Chrono Cross. It may be almost as much a waste of a good cast as the Kingdom Hearts series’s decision to focus more on its own bland original villains than the Disney rogues available to it. It may be more confused about what it’s doing and how to get to its plot destination than Dragon Age 2, and have a finale almost as stupid and terrible. It may seem as groundlessly self-important as Final Fantasy 12. And it may have been as screwed up by its parent company’s time and budget constraints as Xenogears. But you know what? Xenosaga started out solid and good, and it carried the potential for greatness. If you dig, you at least find and recognize those seeds of quality that never germinated; you can’t say the same for most of the games I just named. And honestly, in spite of the massive incompetence at Monolith Soft and Namco and whoever else was involved in the creation of the series, I have to say, rarely does it feel like the writers weren’t trying, weren’t giving their ideas and desires for the story a sincere effort, and at no point does it feel like the writers didn’t honestly think that these ideas were worth conveying. Which again is not the case of several of the aforementioned titles.

So maybe I’m dissatisfied with the Xenosaga series. Maybe it makes me angry often, and maybe it disappoints me because it started off so well. Maybe it’s made poorly enough that it’s a very easy target for my derision. And maybe...maybe I don’t even actually like it. But I don’t hate Xenosaga, either. And I don’t resent it, and I don’t feel like it was a true waste of my time to play, not like many of the other RPGs I criticize here often. Xenosaga is a failure, but it failed trying to do something worthwhile, and I’ll always respect that too much to ever hate or fully dismiss the series.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

General RPG Lists: Greatest Deaths

I broke my toe this past weekend. I had never exactly thought doing so would feel pleasant, but I discovered that it hurt considerably more than I would have thought--also, seeing a part of your body bending the wrong way is kind of gross. Anyway, this event has served as definitive proof that I am not invulnerable. And is there any better way to celebrate the sudden, crippling mental trauma that is the realization of one's own mortality than to make a rant about death scenes?

Probably. But my imagination's limited strictly to solutions involving RPGs, so this is all I got.

Death scenes. While they’re a universal part of storytelling, there’s no denying that RPGs are very fond of killing characters off over their story’s course, perhaps more so than most other vehicles of artistic expression. I see some deaths in cartoons, a good portion in movies, plenty in anime, and a few in television shows (although that number’s risen substantially in the last few years thanks to Doctor Who and Game of Thrones), but I probably couldn’t name a full 10 RPGs I’ve played in which there wasn’t at least a single tragic character death to keep the plot moving, at least not without sitting down to think long and hard about it. I’d say the only media form that’s got more wholesale character carnage per capita would be comic books--although I’m not sure that even counts, since the person dying always just comes back to life somehow or other within a few months, or at the very least gets replaced by a new person using their name and schtick.

So which ones are the greatest of all? Which deaths are the very best? Well, I’ve put together a list here of the ones I find most impressive. Perhaps you will agree with some of them. Perhaps not. Doubtless someone or other will be shocked that I’m lacking such classic death scenes as (SPOILERS ALERT) Mareg from Grandia 2 or Aeris from Final Fantasy 7, among many others. But, well, it’s my blog, so you’ll just have to deal with it either way. Neener neener neener!

As a couple of notes before we start. First of all, it has to actually be a death scene. It can’t be a scene where a character appears to die but we learn later that they did not. Don’t get me wrong, there are some absolutely amazing fake-death scenes out there, such as the ones (SUIKODEN 2 AND GRANDIA 2 SPOILER ALERT) for Nanami in Suikoden 2, and Aira in Grandia 2 (well, that was a supposedly irreversible coma, but I reckon that’s good enough). If either were really gone when it appears they are, they would SO be on this list. But it turns out that Nanami survived her wound and Aira awoke, so they don’t count. Now, this does not necessarily mean that a death scene can’t count if the character is later resurrected somehow, or if the death only stays permanent by one route of the story. But it DOES have to be one HELL of a great death for that to count, because I’m a stickler for death being, well, death.

Also, a great death scene doesn’t have to be the same from one character to another. Generally it’s going to be emotionally moving deaths being shown here, but a death that creates great positive feeling (intentionally; the relief and satisfaction of a really annoying character dying, such as with the possible off-screen death of Mass Effect 3’s Diana Allers, doesn’t count if the game didn’t specifically want you to feel that way) is fair game. Oh, for the opportunity to have choked the life out of Earthbound and Mother 3’s Porky...Anyway, what matters is that the death is one that accomplishes exactly what it should in terms of emotional impact and effect upon the story and theme, and that it is in all relevant ways executed well.

As another note, this list includes any and all characters of RPGs. Be they for hero, villain, or NPC, the death of any character can be a powerful experience. In fact, as you’ll see, over half of the greatest deaths in RPGs that I’ve seen have been those of non-party members! Strange, but then again, party members do tend to die far less often than bystanders in these games. In fact, the rate of bystander death in RPGs is pretty much the highest you’ll ever see outside of...oh, shoot, I already made this same Doctor Who joke a few of paragraphs ago. Darn. Oh well. Anyway, I guess the number of NPCs on this list makes sense enough given the higher volume of deaths in their population.

Lastly, it should be patently obvious, but SPOILERS in a major way. In the interest of fairness, I will tell you in advance which games will have plot points spoiled for you, and let you decide on whether you want to risk reading ahead, in alphabetical (NOT below-listed) order: Breath of Fire 2, Breath of Fire 4, Disgaea 1, Final Fantasy 6, Final Fantasy 10, Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon, Lufia 2, Mass Effect 3, Mother 3, Planescape: Torment, Shadow Hearts 2, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers, Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 1, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, Suikoden 5, and Wild Arms 3. In the further interest of preventing spoilers, I’m going to change the way I usually list these for this rant, and each entry will state the game first, character dying second. This way, you can see which game each entry is from before seeing the name of the character who dies in it, and can thus skip ahead if you don’t know the game. I don’t want to spoil any of these scenes for you guys, especially not the top 15 or so, after all. And I’ll trust you guys not to let yourselves be spoiled, too--when you see a game listed that you haven’t played, don’t read that entry! These moments are all too great and powerful to be experienced for the first time through my insufficient words alone.

And now, on with things.

25. SUIKODEN 5: Roy

It’s funny--most players won’t see this event, because it only happens when you’ve made the wrong choices in the story; Roy will live and the circumstances of his death will never come to be in a proper playthrough. On the one hand, it saddens me a bit that this is the case, because Roy’s death is easily the greatest moment in this otherwise largely phoned-in Suikoden title. On the other hand, I’m happy that canonically he gets to live, because I like Roy a lot (mostly, paradoxically enough, because of the person he reveals himself to be in his death scene).

Roy goes out like a champ. Knowing that reinforcements are on the way to save the denizens of the lake castle in which all the heroes are holed up under siege, Roy, who serves as a body double for the game’s prince protagonist, takes advantage of the enemy commander’s demand to face the prince in a duel, hoping to buy more time for the rescue of all his comrades--Lyon in particular, who he (for some inexplicable reason) is sweet on. Roy goes out and faces the enemy leader in battle, and defeats him, but is betrayed as another enemy leader (thinking that Roy is the protagonist) has his archers take aim and fire a volley at him. Roy valiantly tries to fend the arrows off, but can’t stop them all, and is fatally wounded a dozen times over. Meanwhile, the prince that Roy is protecting struggles to run out to help him, but Roy’s friend strikes him and shakes his head with finality--Roy has made his choice, the choice to die in the prince’s place, and to reveal his deception now would make his death for naught. Collapsing as the life drains out of him, Roy catches sight of something in the distance, and grins in triumph--he bought just enough time for the reinforcements to arrive. He dies, satisfied that his sacrifice has been worthwhile and has saved the lives of his friends, and the life of the girl he loves, Lyon, whose image is the last thing Roy sees in his mind before he’s gone. It’s sorrowful, yet an inspiring sacrifice, particularly when it comes from a character who has until now been a scoundrel and ne’er-do-well. It transforms Roy from a mildly appealing scamp to a noble, selfless hero, and it’s beautiful.


Keeping Cid alive is no easy task, and at least as dependent upon luck as understanding what you’re doing. And though the player can, through Celes, nurse Cid back to health successfully, I’d almost say that it’s better not to (sorry, Cid). The scene of Celes’s discovery of Cid’s death is excellently done, a portrayal of not just incredible sadness at the loss of one she’s close to, but also the only known fellow survivor of the world’s end. Her grieved disbelief is realistic, but even more hard-hitting is the hopelessness that Cid’s death breeds, such that Celes, overcome by the grief and doom of a lifeless world, attempts to take her own life. We feel that anguish with Celes, understand how the loss of Cid has been the last straw in this destroyed world, and that’s why Cid’s death is remarkable.

23. LUFIA 2: Maxim and Selan

And I mean the REAL Lufia 2, not SquareEnix’s abhorrent remake.

Well, they both die in close proximity of one another, and the moments that make their deaths so great are all done as a couple, so we’ll double this one up. Tragic yet inspiringly heroic, Selan dies pitting the strength her soul against the souls of malevolent gods in order to prevent the destruction of all the world, and Maxim drives himself to fatal exhaustion after doing the same, then having to use what remains of his spiritual energies against the device that seeks to crash the floating Doom Island down onto his home to destroy his son, in the end so weak that he can only strike the final blow by resonating his energies with the those of the infamous Dual Blade. Maxim and Selan both die heroes defending the lives of innocents. What makes their deaths all the more tragic than they even normally would be is that they leave their infant son Jeros parentless...yet this death is not just purely sad; it is also uplifting. Maxim and Selan’s spirits fly over the world they gave everything to save, observing the places and friends that their sacrifice preserved, visiting their son one last time, before they’ll finally rest in peace, knowing their work is done, and done well. And finally, we see Maxim’s oldest friend Tia, weeping without consciously knowing why. It’s a powerful scene and one of the greatest endings of RPG history, poignant yet satisfying, sad yet so happy, combining some of the most important parts of a great ending (being shown the results of the heroes’ work for all the places and people of import to the tale) with an already greatly touching death.

22. SHADOW HEARTS 2: Alice

While Alice’s death before the game starts has strong consequences upon all of the game’s story and in particular its main character Yuri, I actually refer here to the scene in the game where Yuri and Roger try to bring Alice back from the dead, but fail. So technically I guess this means she’s not actually dying here, as she’s already dead and hasn’t been brought back to life properly, but it still more or less counts, I think. All the same, since it’s technically not a “death” so much as it is a reaffirmation of death, I’m putting it lower than it might have been otherwise (I’d guess it would have made it into the late teens).

Anyway, this scene is one of the most heartwrenching that I have ever witnessed in an RPG. It brought me to tears the first time I watched it, and I still get pretty choked up every time I’ve watched it since. This scene brings to Yuri and the player a moment of hope as the process begins, and Alice’s body begins to materialize from the ether...and then so, so cruelly rends that hope to shreds as the process goes wrong, and Alice’s body begins to dissolve back to nothingness. To see the failure, to know how what it means to Yuri, who’s been able to live for nothing since the loss of Alice, is hard enough, but then, in the final moments, Alice...damn blasted watery eyes make typing hard...Alice opens her eyes, and tells Yuri that she loves him, and he, tears streaming down his face, returns her love with his own, pain and remorse twisting his face. It’s as beautiful as it is tragic.

21. MOTHER 3: Hinawa

The funny thing is, you don’t actually see Hinawa’s death, you only hear of it from a villager who discovered her with a monster’s fang through her heart. But the reaction that Flint has to his wife’s death is so real, so powerful, so full of hurt and confusion and rage, that it hits you and it hits you hard. It’s also, I think, the first moment in Mother 3 that shows how truly effective and penetrating you can make an emotional scene when you’ve presented it with a modicum of the quirky, humorous nature that Mother 3 and Earthbound are known for--Hinawa’s death is related to Flint in the form of an “I’ve got good news and bad news” statement, which prepares us for a quick chuckle and then slams us over the head with a 2-by-4 of anguish. Mother 3 is a game full to the brim with this narrative style, using quirky nonsense as a means to get us from one emotional powerhouse scene to the next, both helping us to cope and making it all the harder to do so each time. Finally, Hinawa’s death is powerful for the legacy it leaves behind--its after effects are felt keenly throughout the game, tied to the main plot, with the grief and loss dominating the actions and development of Flint, the protagonist Lucas, and his brother Claus. This is no death to be felt keenly and then dropped--this is a loss whose significance is portrayed through Flint’s utter devastation, and which lasts for the rest of the lives of Hinawa’s sons and husband, haunting them every step of the way. Powerful stuff.

20. MASS EFFECT 3: Miranda

I don’t even really like Miranda. Honestly, my logic has to keep reminding my emotion that she’s actually a reasonably okay character, because everything in her demeanor, appearance, and personality just scream of a mediocre, shallow character created solely for fanservice.

But man, if Shepard doesn’t give her the resources and heads-up that she needs to avoid dying by that loser Kai Leng’s attack...Miranda’s death is just incredibly heartfelt and genuine. She gives her life to keep her beloved sister Oriana safe, reinforces how great her love for Oriana is as she spends her last words speaking of how much she wanted Oriana to have the good, normal life that she herself never could...very, very touching and genuine, all of it. It’s incredibly sad, but at least we can see that Miranda dies with the satisfaction of knowing that her sister is safe.

You know I’m quick to lash out against the bad parts of Mass Effect 3, but I’ll give it this--it really, really knows how to tug on your heartstrings as a crucial character will be evidenced again before we’re done.

19. MASS EFFECT 3: Legion

Right now, I mean. ME3’s knowing how to tug on your heartstrings as a crucial character dies will be evidenced again right now.

By this, I mean Legion’s death under the circumstances of the Quarians being convinced into a cease-fire by Commander Shepard, and Tali being alive and present. Although the variations of this scene, including those involving the VI reconstruction of Legion, are pretty much all emotionally potent.

It sort of comes out of nowhere, which is why it’s not higher up, but Legion’s sudden realization that he can only complete the transfer which will raise his people to the height of artificial life that they’ve always yearned for by disseminating his own programs into them, effectively dissolving his own existence, is a sudden and painful loss to have to bear, just when things were finally looking up. But what makes this scene so profound and beautiful is what Legion says, how he acts, and Tali’s words to him. In his expressionless non-face you can genuinely see his regret as he explains with true sorrow and apology to his friend Shepard what he must do in order to see this through and bring his people into a new state of liberty and self. He refers to himself as an “I” instead of a “we” for the first and only time--in his final moments, Legion is more than an AI consensus; he is a person. And Tali, representative of the Quarian people whom the Geth’s rebellion against had earned the seemingly eternal enmity of, steps forward, and answers the original question of centuries’ past, “Does this unit have a soul,” with the simple, all important answer of “yes.” And Legion thanks her, and tells her that he knows already.

Just...I can’t commit to words the gravity and power of these final words, how immensely grand a gesture it is for Tali to say this to Legion, how epic a thing it is for Legion to acknowledge its own identity as an individual, how amazing it is that we, the audience, have been brought to care for this artificial mind as much as we have, and how great a loss it is to us for him to die...and yet how great, how monumental a moment this is for the Mass Effect universe, for any science fiction storytelling of the created trying to understand, become like, and win the respect of its creator, while keeping its essence as something different intact. All I can say is that this is a truly great scene, and Legion’s end is not one I’ll soon forget.


I dunno what to say about this one, really. It’s an incredibly poignant and tragic end, one which truly injects our first real, powerful element of emotion into this game as Argilla weeps over her dying friend, and they both awaken to their humanity through their coming to fully recognize and feel the power of affection and camaraderie for one another, only just as this newfound connection is ripped away from them by the ravages of war and senseless brutality. The loss of Jinana is felt by Argilla for the rest of both SMTDDS titles, not only by her conscious remembrance but in every act of decency and kindness, every gesture of goodwill, made by Argilla. Argilla’s loss, Jinana’s happiness at being cared for and close to Argilla in these final moments, Argilla’s awakening to her humanity in this loss, the sorrow of the whole thing...this scene really hits you, and hard.

17.BREATH OF FIRE 2: Daisy

This scene starts as party member Rand is caught in a trap, a wall trying to crush him to death against another. He manages to hold it at bay with his great strength long enough for his friends to get out of the way, but cannot push it away entirely, and cannot move out of its way without losing his grip, which is the only thing keeping it from killing him. He begs his friends to leave, not wanting them to watch him die. They do so, and he stays behind, gradually losing strength, the wall bearing down on him bit by bit. It’s looking bleak...when Daisy, Rand’s mother, comes on the scene. Scolding him harshly for letting himself be caught in such a way, she tries to help him push the wall back, adding her own considerable power to his...but it’s no use. Rand is at his limit, and she can’t stop it on her own. He tells her to leave, and she backs up...then rushes forward and slams into him, knocking him clear and leaving her in his place. He tries to get back in as the walls begin to crush her, but she tells him to stay away.

Until now, Daisy has only ever been harsh and critical of Rand, insulting him, smacking him over the head at times, and forcing he and his friends to interrupt their own (pretty important) business to labor for her. She hasn’t been so cruel as to seem like she doesn’t love him at all, but at the same time, it’s clear that she’s never been encouraging or kind to him. Yet now, at the end, as she has given her own life for his, she speaks gently to him, kindly, telling him that he’s a good boy, a good son, and that good sons listen to their mothers, and she tells him to leave her behind, to save himself. It breaks your heart to watch these final moments of a mother who could never properly express her love for her son until her dying words, but who made the ultimate sacrifice out of that love for him. Just...damn, what a tear-jerker.

16. WILD ARMS 3: Werner

I haven’t mentioned how wonderful Wild Arms 3 is for a while. It’s incredible. Go play it.

Alright, with that obligation out of the way...the death of Werner (the AI hologram of him, that is, the “real” Werner died long before the game’s opening, but for all intents of the plot and his daughter Virginia’s mind, this is as much her father as the one who is deceased) is a fantastic moment between he and Virginia. It’s sad, certainly, but more than that, it’s a moment of clarity and distinction for Virginia, the moment in her life that everything, her youth, the gift and responsibility of ARMS that her father gave her, her character development over the course of the game, all that we’ve seen of Virginia, has led up to. This is the moment of heroism and self-empowerment, the final goodbye to her father in all ways, that she has been building up to. To save the world’s memories, Virginia must shoot and destroy the machine that maintains Werner’s existence--she must, in essence, end this memory of Werner, with her own hands. As a metaphor both for the child leaving the safety of the parent to stand on her own, and for the necessity of moving beyond memories of the past in order to stand in the present and walk to the future, this scene is top-notch. As a cumulation of everything Virginia is and shall be, this scene is top-notch. I love how strongly you can feel their love for one another, I love how Werner explains that the reason he gave Virginia ARMS was so that she could understand and better care for life by knowing exactly how easy it is to harm and end it, I love that their final interaction is to shake hands as equals, I love the way that Virginia does not shy away from what she’s doing at all--she doesn’t just shoot the machine while Werner watches, she shoots the machine that is behind Werner, meaning that in her eyes, in her line of sight, it is her father she’s shooting. I love everything about this scene just as I love everything about this game. Yes, it’s sad and it stays with you, but more than that, it’s empowering, inspiring, a satisfying conclusion and first step into a new way of life.


It really hadn’t ever occurred to me when I first played this game that the Personal Frame might not always be with Seto when he first found it--I figured the PF was going to be this game’s version of the Fallout series’s Pip-Boy 3000. So maybe part of my being so affected by the dying of the PF’s batteries comes from the fact that it surprised me...but I think most of it simply is that it’s a deeply moving scene. The death of the PF is the death of the first friend Seto’s ever had, the first thing he’s found in this silent world that has been gentle, conversational...alive. Their time together was so sadly short--as is obvious, perhaps in a painful way, by how limited the PF’s recollections of the memories she’s shared with Seto is--but it’s clear that it truly meant the world to her to have met him, to have been able to spend the last hours of her existence having experiences with a friend, instead of alone. His intense sorrow, contrasted to her gentle acceptance, her final question to him of his name as she fades away and his answer, the fact that Seto buries her as one would any person deserving such respects...this is a death that grabs your heart and squeezes mercilessly, makes you want to go find your friends and give them a hug.


No, no, Nanako DOES count here. Yes, if you play the game normally to the Normal or True Endings, then she does live, yeah. But, if you make the wrong choices during the scene with Namatame immediately after Nanako dies, her death is real and permanent, and you get the Bad Ending. It’s not like Nanami of Suikoden 2--with Nanami, even if you have Riou pursue the ending in which he never knows that Nanami survived, that doesn’t change the fact that she did--Riou was just never told, presumably because he dedicated his life to serving the state, and as such, his important duties never ended, and Nanami specifically requested that Riou only be told of her survival when Riou’s work was done, since he otherwise was distracted from it by her. I guess. Regardless of whatever the reason he wasn’t told in that ending, the events were exactly the same leading to her being wounded, and immediately after it, so unless directly evidenced otherwise, we must assume she lived. Nanako, on the other hand, is very definitively deceased for real during SMTP4’s Bad Ending.

Anyway, enough quibbling over details. Nanako’s death is devastating, both to the game’s cast and to the player. Watching her gently fade away in her hospital bed, before her father can reach her to be present for her final moments, tears your heart out and stomps it into mush. But in addition to that, like Hinawa’s death as we discussed earlier, it’s the immediate aftermath that drives the intense, unreasoning sorrow and anger home to us. Rise sobs helplessly, Kanji slams his fist into the wall in helpless rage, Yosuke alternates between anger and sorrow, and Dojima, in a grief-stricken fog of anger and even madness, goes to find the room of Namatame, the man (supposedly) responsible for Nanako’s death. The rest go after him to stop him from recklessly doing the unthinkable...yet when Dojima is restrained and removed by police guards, and they’re all alone with Namatame, the Investigation Team’s grief and anger overpowers their rationale, and they begin to seriously consider ending Namatame’s life themselves, knowing that they have the ability to do so without being caught or stopped. Unconcerned with guilt beyond reasonable doubt, unconcerned with the process of the law, the team debates with growing fervor the merits of taking the matter into their own hands, making sure themselves that this man will never take another life. Their reason is so lost in grief over Nanako’s passing that they, themselves, are getting closer and closer to becoming murderers. The protagonist can manage to talk them down (in order to pursue the Normal and True Endings), or step back and condone this vigilante justice. But either way, seeing the emotional extremes to which the death of Nanako has pushed her friends and family is enough to truly sell just how painful and wrong and terrible her loss is.

Y’know...just in case you’re an inanimate object that isn’t already teary-eyed over this state of affairs.

13. FINAL FANTASY 10: Tidus

At this point in our list, things begin to take a turn. Though we’re not done with intensely sad and moving death scenes, this is when much (not all, though!) of our list is going to be more than just sorrow-inducing...this is the point where we’ll be more often seeing character deaths that are, though still sob-worthy, more satisfying, inspiring deaths that for all their sadness are nonetheless moments of triumph, where the passing of the character is for the better, and uplifting, and celebrates them and their work in some way, or is otherwise for the greater good. This, I feel, is even more an important part of a great death in fiction than sorrow for one’s loss. To be satisfied with one’s life at its end is important; indeed, it is perhaps the greatest thing we should hope to achieve, to be able to look back or around at one’s legacy and accomplishments and be pleased, and/or to die in a way that makes a positive difference. Death can and should be a good moment in one’s life, when one can, in his/her final moments, look back and see that their existence made a difference, that it mattered in a good way to the people and ideas that they cared about, that the world is better for having had them in it. To be sure, many of the previous characters on this list have deaths with elements of this to them...but going forward, we’ll be seeing many deaths where this positive aspect, this focus on a life well-lived and/or a death for great purpose, is the defining note of the death scene.

Tidus is the perfect way to kick this off. Although Auron, too, is lost at the end of Final Fantasy 10, Auron is already dead, and took upon himself this quest (indeed, he engineered it) with the full understanding and intent of its ending with his being laid to rest. It is Tidus, however, who has gotten caught up with a journey to his own death without having known it at first, Tidus who has convinced his beloved Yuna to follow a different path in defeating Sin, a path where she will not have to sacrifice herself, and no one else ever will, for Tidus himself, who, composed of the same ethereal essence as Sin, must be ended as well to keep Sin from returning. He has taken Yuna’s sacrifice as his own to keep her safe and sound, to protect her, and to guarantee that none shall have to follow her. He dies so that she may live...and though it hurts him to leave her and to accept his own death, and it hurts his friends, and it devastates her to have to watch it happen--to have to make it happen!--he leaves, after a final, loving embrace, with a smile, leaping into the afterlife where his father and Auron await, knowing that he’s succeeding in saving the woman he loves and preserving the world she lives in. This is a death that is incredibly sad, incredibly touching, but also, rewarding, satisfying, a death in which one has found purpose to one’s existence, and followed that purpose through fully, leaving the world a better place for those that one loves.

12. FINAL FANTASY 6: Rachel

Locke has lived for one purpose for years: to find a way to revive Rachel, who perished during an Imperial attack on her town with his name on her lips. Though he had been driven away from her at the time by the belief that being around her as she struggled to restart a life she didn’t remember would make the process more difficult for her, Locke blames himself for her death, believing that he should have been there to keep her safe, that he could have stopped her demise. This loss and determination defines nearly every aspect of his personality in the game; he is a man obsessed with making right by what he considers his unforgivable mistake, both by searching for an item to revive Rachel and by protecting the innocent he encounters with dogged persistence.

Once Locke finds the Magicite of Phoenix, he gets his chance to bring Rachel back...but even then, it’s only for a few minutes, and even that much shatters the magical stone to shards. But these minutes are beautiful, as Rachel reassures him of her undying love for him, of how happy he made her. Most importantly, she urges him to understand that he is not to blame for her passing, that he must not let himself be further burdened by it, that he has to move on and live his life well, and find happiness again. It’s heartrending, yes, but at the same time, Rachel uses this second chance at her final moments to save the man she loves from his own guilt, to release him and give him another chance to enjoy his life. In her final words, she gives Locke one last gift, bringing Phoenix’s Magicite back together so that he may use its powers for good. It’s sad, sure, but more than that, this scene is cathartic, emotionally uplifting, a scene of goodbye but also of a fresh start with a clear heart. Yes, I would say this is the greatest death scene in the entire Final Fantasy series, without question.

11. BREATH OF FIRE 4: Elina

Taking a quick break from uplifting deaths with this one, but it certainly does earn its place in the upper half of this list.

The sweet relief and victory of finally finding Princess Elina, the sister of Nina and Cray’s lover, the seeming final, victorious ending to the long quest of protagonist Ryu’s closest friends, turns to ashes in your mouth as the incalculably evil Lord Yuna reveals what he has done to her, that in seeking an ever more devastating Carronade--the already horrifying weapon of mass destruction he oversees which uses negative thoughts as fuel--he has transformed Elina into an immortal monster, planning to use the the fact that he can torture her eternally and as painfully as he wants because she cannot expire. Having asked to be alone with her beloved Cray, Elina begs him to take the Dragon Slayer, the only weapon capable of killing an immortal, and end her suffering. After all this time journeying to find her, the sacrifices he’s made and the difficulties he’s overcome, Cray has finally found his love only to have to become her executioner. A mercy killing by one’s lover...Elina is happy that she can be relieved of this painful existence by the man she loves, and we the audience feel that, but far more do we feel the soul-shattering anguish of Cray as everything he’s worked for the entire game--everything all the party has worked for--is killed by his own hand. And when we shift to see Nina outside, waiting, unknowing, but, as she narrates to us against a screen of black, somehow realizing when she sees Cray emerge from Elina’s room that she will never see her sister again...the terrible finality in that moment has stayed with me ever since I first saw this scene years ago.


Yuri must make a decision at the end of Shadow Hearts 2. The curse of the Mistletoe, ever eating away at his mind and soul, cannot be stopped, and it is not long now before it will finish its terrible work, and he’ll lose all his memories, everything that makes him who he is--including his memories of his beloved Alice. And he CAN choose to allow that to happen--but the true ending of the game is the one in which Yuri stays behind in the collapsing realm beyond time, and allows himself to die, impaled upon a rising spike of rock. Yuri chooses to die, rather than stay alive and lose who he is, and more importantly, who he loved. Death as himself is better than living a life not knowing everything that he ever did, all that ever mattered to him. It’s tragic, but at the same time, it’s right, fulfilling even, to see him choose to remain himself, true and whole, no matter what the cost, not to sacrifice his memories of his friends, his accomplishments, and his love out of fear of death. As we see his soul gently pulled from the Mistletoe’s engulfing bark by the soul of Alice, come to bring him to her, we know that the right choice was made: death for Yuri, release from an existence without Alice and escape from an existence where he has forgotten himself, is not a bad thing here. For Yuri, he has chosen wisely--he has chosen not the curse of the Mistletoe, the curse of existence at the cost of soul, but rather the blessing of a peaceful, satisfied end. And he’s rewarded for it, for all the good that he’s done, with a second chance--his soul is moved through time, and brought back to the first moments of Shadow Hearts 1...the moments when he first met Alice, and came to find meaning joy in life thanks to her. The best time of his life.


For the sake of clarity in my mind, I will refer to SMTP3’s protagonist as Minato, but obviously this applies to both he and his female counterpart. Also, I include him on this list currently because right now, his exit from the world is essentially the same as death--his soul is dormant, holding back Nyx the Destroyer from being summoned once more. This may, however, change in the future, as further SMT Persona games may wind up having him freed from this task and returned to life by Elizabeth. It’s kind of been hinted in SMTP Arena (from what I’ve heard; haven’t actually played the game myself) that this will be the case in the future. If that happens, I’ll have to decide at that point whether it counts as a resurrection or a “didn’t really die” moment, and whether he’ll qualify for this list. But for now, I’m keeping Minato here.

Minato’s death is essentially a long, drawn-out affair. It starts with him rising to meet Nyx head-on, given the power of the fully enlightened human being to do so. He draws upon the connections he’s forged with the many people whose lives he has bettered in the past year, who will forever remember him as someone very dear to them, and is empowered by their emotional ties. He has found the true wisdom of this journey, that life is made rich and meaningful by the connections that one forges with the people around one, and in so doing, Minato has become a Messiah, one who has reached a level of enlightenment above the regular condition of humanity, one who serves to show the path to all others of how life should be lived.

But in vanquishing Nyx as this avatar of the best of humanity’s soul, Minato exhausts himself, and (perhaps unknowingly) binds his soul to Nyx to ensure that he’ll be able to keep it from ever returning. It is this moment of triumph that is also the moment of his end. From that point on, Minato’s time on Earth is limited. He manages to make it to the final days of school, growing more and more tired with every passing day, and on those final days, as his life draws to a close, he goes out into the city he’s lived in for this past year, among the many people he forged deep relationships with, checking upon each of them one last time--a silent farewell to those he’s cared for and those who cherish him back. Seeing the good he’s done for them, Minato manages to live long enough to see the final day of school. He enjoys the beautiful day from the roof of the school, head in the lap of Aigis,* she who loves him most of all, listening to her gently reminiscing about the great thing they’ve done, and speaking about the beauty of life and friendship. Remembering now their adventure together, the rest of Minato’s allies and friends all rush to the rooftop to find him, to celebrate their victory with him, and he closes his eyes one final time, surrounded by the loved ones he fought alongside and gave everything to give a future.

Incredibly tragic. Tender beyond words. And also so, so very satisfying even in its sadness, uplifting in his being surrounded by all that he loves and all that he has achieved as he passes on. It’s one of the most beautiful and touching endings I’ve ever seen, one of the most incredible passings of a beloved character, so inspiring...and if you’ll excuse me a moment, I need to compose myself, because just having thought about this scene has gotten me choked up pretty badly. You should’ve seen me the first time I saw it. Bawling like a baby.

8. PLANESCAPE: TORMENT: The Nameless One

This one’s interesting because it’s almost completely devoid of sadness, at least to me. Yes, I’m sorry to see The Nameless One die to a certain extent, but the truth is, I’m more happy for him than anything. For The Nameless One, death is the proper end of his journey to discover himself and end his eternal suffering and confusion--he has conquered his own mortality, The Transcendent One, and forced it back into himself; what other conclusion could there be but to die? After living for so long, and causing so much havoc in the universe through the actions of his past selves, to die is a goal, a blessing, a righting of what was wrong with the universe and himself. To end centuries of living in fear and confusion, of traveling across the multiverse and sowing chaos with every step, to finally be whole and himself once again after untold ages of the torment of a half-existence, to no longer have to see the lives he’s ruined, leaving so much destruction of every kind in his wake that the only individuals that he can gather to himself now are those nearly as broken and anguished as, death is a small price to pay indeed, and even the afterlife’s punishment for his deeds is looked to with hope and satisfaction. The Nameless One’s death is everything that could be wanted in a conclusion to his long journey, and gives glad closure to his tale.

7. MASS EFFECT 3: Anderson

The death of Anderson is quiet yet incredibly emotional. As the staunchest supporter of Commander Shepard throughout the series, the first and loudest voice to lend encouragement to and trust in Shepard’s abilities and decisions, Anderson fulfills a role not just as a superior officer, but also of a mentor, friend, and father figure. In many ways, the struggle against the Reapers unwittingly began with Anderson, and the struggle to save the people of the universe from the Reapers and all their forces has always been as much his own to bear as Shepard’s. It is thus so fitting, so right, that here, at the end of this epic galactic conflict, Shepard shares the stage with Anderson. The death of the man who ultimately made possible every heroic feat that the great Commander Shepard has performed, the man who has always perfectly walked the line between being a gentle guide to Shepard while forever respecting and backing up Shepard’s independence and really hits you hard and deep.

But as Anderson and Shepard talk in these final moments, taking in the battle around them as Anderson reflects on how tired he is, there’s a certain overwhelming sense of acceptance from Anderson. You can feel that he’s prepared for this moment, and now that he and Shepard have succeeded, he’s alright with having earned his rest. Certainly doesn’t make it any less moving to watch, of course, but this is a quiet, peaceful heroic end that one can look back at later and respect, feel satisfied by, despite the sadness of losing Anderson. There is a certain level of joy that an audience can feel at witnessing a calm, peaceful acceptance of one’s end, and that certainly is the case here. And to seal the deal of how meaningful and touching this scene is, Anderson’s last words are that Shepard has done well, and that Anderson is proud of our hero. Ever the loyal, encouraging father figure even to the end--there could not be a better death scene for David Anderson.


Ohhh, so that’s why Personal Frame died earlier in the game--to give you a practice run for how it’s gonna feel when the game later rips your heart out of your chest and stomps on it with cleats. Seriously, I can’t...there’s nothing I can say about the tenderness and the sorrow of this scene, as Seto finds his brief best friend again only to have to say goodbye to him, reassuring Crow of his humanity and their friendship in his last moments, Crow’s mind fading as his battery runs out. And that last line…

“Mm...Come on, he shut down.”

“You’re wrong...he died.”

Oh God where are my tissues I need my tissues.

5. MASS EFFECT 3: Charr

Oh jeez. Good thing I just got these tissues, because hoo boy is this a tearjerker. In Mass Effect 2, one of the many memorable, teeny-tiny unimportant NPCs you could encounter was Charr, a lovesick krogan who was head-over-heels for a particular asari woman Eraba. In an attempt to woo her back after she hesitated to deepen their relationship, he was spouting corny poetry, calling her his “Blue Rose of Illium” (Illium being the planet they were on). It was funny and cute, plus kind of sweet. Shepard had the opportunity to convince Ereba to give Charr a chance, or to be a heartless bastard and tell her to stay away from him.

In Mass Effect 3, we see Ereba again on the Citadel, working at a shop whose profits go to the war effort and proudly telling her customers about how her husband is off fighting the Reaper forces. Just regular background NPC chatter, really, nothing you’d think too deeply about. But later on, Shepard goes on a mission to assist a company of krogan commandos investigate what happened to a team that hasn’t reported in for too long. During this mission, it becomes obvious that all the members of the first team died fighting the Reapers’ new ground troops, and by one of the corpses, Shepard finds an audio message, to be delivered to Ereba--a final message that Charr recorded for her once he knew that there would be no returning from his mission. When Shepard brings it to Ereba and plays it for her, we’re treated to a beautiful poem of farewell, as Charr speaks of his love for her, that she will be in his thoughts and heart to the very end, and his pride in having fought to protect Ereba and their unborn daughter. The emotion and the imagery of his poem together in this moment...yup, I cried. What a beautiful, tender moment of loss this is...and like so many of the conversations Shepard can listen in on around the Citadel during Mass Effect 3’s time of war, it feels very, very tragically real to me.

4. MASS EFFECT 3: Thane

This assumes that Thane’s son is alive and reconciled with Thane (thanks to the ME2 loyalty mission), that Thane himself is still alive by ME3 (as in, didn’t die at the end of ME2), and that Shepard is not a Renegade douchebag.

Look, I’m sorry that like a third of all the people on this list come from Mass Effect 3. It’s not my fault. Blame Bioware for killing all their characters off, but in amazingly excellent ways.

Thane goes out like a champ, protecting lives and fighting off the eminently loathsome Kai Leng, keeping up with and scoring hits on the jerk even though Thane is in the last stages of a crippling, mortal disease--because Thane is fucking awesome. Sadly, he still gets stabbed, which is bullshit because A, Kai Leng is actually a weak little shit, B, it really didn’t make much sense for Thane to run straight at a guy with a sword while he himself was still armed with a far superior pistol, and C, Shepard and company are in the midst of a severe case of Voyeuristic Paralysis Syndrome which is always stupid. Still, it’s not the act that kills Thane that puts Thane’s death on this list, but rather the later scene in the hospital as Thane actually passes away.

Thane’s death is...truly epic. He is calm, at peace with his end, knowing that he has, as he had hoped, left the universe a little better than when he entered it. Shepard gets to be there with Thane for his final moments, along with Thane’s son Kolyat, and so Thane is with those closest to him, those that remind him that he has achieved good with his life. Yet Thane feels there is one last thing he must do. In his final act in this world, Thane begins a prayer for forgiveness, which Kolyat and Shepard help him to finish. It’s a beautiful addition of spirituality to the intense emotion of the scene, made all the more poignant when Shepard asks why Thane, who died a hero, would pray for which Kolyat responds that the wish was not for himself, but rather for Shepard. Even in his final moments, even knowing that his life wrought good for the world, Thane’s final thoughts are for the spiritual welfare of another.

Even this isn’t all there is, however. In the Citadel DLC for the game, Kolyat, Shepard, and Shepard’s crew hold a memorial service for Thane, and in my mind, such a ritual of remembrance for the fallen qualifies as a part of the character’s death worthy of note on this list. It’s a strong addition to the game, handled well and respectfully recalling to our mind the fallen Thane, in a much-needed moment of sober reflection in an otherwise overly jovial DLC package.

Thane’s death is an eminently moving one, one which is tear-inducingly tragic, richly spiritual, and shows an excellent combination of the deceased feeling satisfaction with his life and his final act, and being at peace with his end. You can’t ask for much better than this.

3. DISGAEA 1: Laharl’s Mother

Reincarnating out of one’s stay in purgatory counts as a death, right? Eh, close enough for me, at least in this context.

Well, you can’t ask for much better of a character death than Thane’s, but it’s still possible to get one all the same. Probably the best part of a game full of excellence, the chapter in Disgaea 1 where you learn of Laharl’s deceased mother, how she ended her own life to save her son’s, and realize that much of Laharl’s resistance to love comes from the pain it caused him at that time, all culminates with the Prinnies, reborn souls working off their sins as menial laborers in the underworld, being taken by the spectre of death to properly reincarnate, now that they have atoned for their past lives’ crimes. Though Laharl does not realize it at first, the pink Prinny who looks after the others is his mother, reborn as a Prinny because she must work off the sin of taking her own life. I...damn, I really don’t know how to describe this scene adequately to express why it is so incredible. All I can say is that the sadness of Laharl’s mother leaving just when her son realizes she’s before him, the happiness of knowing that she’s going on to something better, her gladness at seeing that her son is well cared-for and is on his way to being a truly good person, the heartfelt power of a mother’s love, our understanding of how full of both contentment and pain she is in all comes together into one of the most touching scenes of farewell I’ve seen in a game.

2. MASS EFFECT 3: Mordin

Mordin’s death is that of a hero, that of a man satisfied and proud of his accomplishment and his life, and that of a man who knows that his death serves a great and worthy purpose, that he dies bringing hope to the universe and correcting his only great mistake and regret in life. Human or not, Mordin’s death is the picture of victory as a person, a portrayal of man’s only true triumph over death. He does not shy away from it, he does not fear it, he does not even wait for it to come to him--he strides toward it calmly, proudly, because it will be the culmination of his most important work, it will be the salvation of a people that he feels responsible for. He dies in the service of others, he dies at peace with what he has done in his life, he dies knowing that the legacy of his most valued work, of his knowledge, will be the future of an entire race. And perhaps most of all, he dies his own way, satisfied with himself, with a smile on his face and singing a song of triumph. Truly, if a man dies on his own terms and happy with who he is, dies doing good for the world and knows that the legacy of his life’s work was noble and worthwhile, fully at peace with where he is, who he is, and the fact that it is time to end...has he not conquered death in every way we can hope to? Sad though it is for us to have to part with Mordin--it’s definitely no less a thing to grieve over than any other character’s passing--he provides an inspiring example for us, a reassurance that death need not only be the last moment of our can also be one of our greatest.


Sorry to cop out here, but I’m not going to even try to describe this and explain why it is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever witnessed in fiction of any format. Each and every time I witness the final scene of the Sun Social Link--and, for that matter, the Sun Social Link farewell at the end of the game, where you speak with Akinari’s mother--I just start sobbing uncontrollably. Every. Time. I’ve seen Akinari’s story from start to finish probably a dozen times now, and I weep no less now than I did the first time. Maybe even more! For heaven’s sake, I am getting misty-eyed just thinking about it. The passing of Akinari is monumentally moving, a masterpiece of the art of emotion, beyond words’ ability to describe.


I’m giving this spot to the death of Leader in SMTDS Soul Hackers because it was this one that gave me the idea of making this list in the first place. I was surprised as I sorted through the list of all the character deaths I’d seen in RPGs that Leader’s so quickly fell below the 25th spot, but I suppose that just speaks all the more for how great the ones that did make the list are. Still, as Leader’s passing was strong enough to make me think of making this rant, it deserves mention. Yes, I know that you can save him in the New Game+, but on your first playthrough, Leader dies, so it’s legit.

The tragedy of this scene hit me hard as Leader awakens from being possessed to find himself mortally wounded, dying after being forced to attack his friends. As Nemissa breaks into tears over the fact that this man is dying--which is touching in itself, to see that Nemissa has grown to care about the people around her so much--Leader is gentle and forgiving, noble to his end, which makes the whole thing even more affecting. What really hits me hardest in this scene is when Nemissa desperately tries to awaken Hitomi (Nemissa is a spirit possessing Hitomi’s body, and Hitomi’s spirit has lately been becoming too weak to maintain consciousness). The desperation with which she rouses Hitomi’s consciousness, her tearful need for Hitomi to be able to say goodbye to’s heartbreaking.

Well. That was fun. And by that I mean it was a nonstop emotional rollercoaster as I remembered and re-watched all these great, yet incredibly sad, moments. It was tough to write, too...difficult to keep it from just being 25 repeats of the sentence “It’s really sad.” But I think I’m pleased with this.

You know what was the hardest part of this rant, though? Figuring out which 25 were the best. When I first looked over the RPGs I’d played and started listing out every character death that was particularly good and worthy of note, I figured I’d be making a Top 10 list, 15 at most, and that it’d be easy to separate them all out. That was not the case. My end total of character deaths in RPGs that I felt were especially good was 63. Even with this list being a long 25 slots, I’ve still been shocked and dismayed by how many great character deaths didn’t make the list. I never imagined this list wouldn’t have Leo from Final Fantasy 6, Thyodor from Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume (during the B Ending), Nia from Infinite Space, Alys from Phantasy Star 4, Crono from Chrono Trigger--and I could go on. And even once I'd determined the 25 that would be on this list, it was still a devil of a time to try to order them. At first, I thought Daisy and Elina would be higher than they ended up being, while my original thoughts were to have Rachel much further down the list. I kept rearranging it as I went along, thought deeply about each character’s death, determined just how strongly it made me feel something and just how worthwhile it truly was for both its emotional impact and its message, if it had one.

This was easily the most difficult list I’ve ever written. I really hope you guys enjoy it, if you’ve made it this far. I’m sure I’ll be besieged soon enough with indignant cries of how I could dare not include Aeris, or Earthbound’s Star Fly, or so on, but nonetheless, I do think my choices have been good ones. Hopefully some of you will agree.

* Well, in a New Game+, you can actually have the protagonist here with a different love interest, now. But the first time around, it’s always Aigis, and in my mind, since she is both the one who loves him greatest and also the one to whom he passes the torch of journeying to discover oneself through the love of others, it’s her who should be here, period.