Monday, June 11, 2018


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

Monday, September 18, 2017

General RPGs' Collectathons' Bad Rewards

Who’s psyched for a short rant?

Okay, could we PLEASE get some sort of formal, written agreement across the board from RPG companies that if your game has a long and involved collectathon, the final reward for finding every single hidden little collectable object has to actually be, y’know, rewarding?

This is not fucking rocket science. If you have hidden 50 secret magical doodads throughout the game and given the player a sidequest to find them all, there should be an end reward that doesn’t make them feel like they wasted the extra hours of their time that it took to track them all down!

Most games can figure this out. Find every single Normin in Tales of Zestiria, including those rotten little bastards that are hidden in goddamn scenery? You get a final Normin with 1 of the best equipment blessing powers, AND you get him via an amusing scene that reveals a little bit of back lore for Edna, along with a couple of those delightful Tales of series skits. That’s a fairly decent reward. Go through the inordinate trouble of tracking down 4 separate sets of 8 eggs in Lufia 2? You get an ultimate boss fight with a grumpy and now overworked dragon, and then are rewarded with the best sword and accessory in the game (which honestly is not nearly worth the trouble, if you ask me, but it IS an actual reward). Find all 99 dalmatians in Kingdom Hearts 1, and your final reward is the best wind spell in the game, a grab bag of some of the best inventory stuff in the game, and a torn page (which unlocks a part of the Winnie the Pooh sidequest, which, I mean, is plot stuff, so I’m obligated to approve of it even though, as noted long ago, I can’t fucking stand that dopey, staggering heap of urine-colored lint). Oh, and a short little cutscene of all the dalmatians running around their now overcrowded home, which is either adorable and fulfilling to watch, or makes you shudder with rage and wonder if Cruella didn’t have the right idea, depending on how much trouble you had finding all the monochromatic little vermin. But, y’know, since most people are not quite as easily frustrated by small things as I am, nor quite so quick to jump to vengeful thoughts regarding puppies, Imma assume most people like the cutscene, and say that overall this collectathon has a good reward.

But, see, while most games can manage to come up with something actually fucking decent to reward a player’s detailed exploration to find all 80 fabled mystical hot dogs scattered about the land or whatever other crap the collectible mcguffin of the day happens to be, some apparently can’t be bothered. Illusion of Gaia, for example. 50 Red Gems there are, scattered throughout the course of Illusion of Gaia from start to finish. That’s a lot of hidden locations to find, and some are rather challengingly hidden. Not helping matters is the fact that a lot of these are permanently missable--there are a lot of locations in IoG which you cannot return to after certain points in the game. So you go to all this trouble, and what’s your reward? You get to run through a short and frankly pretty uninteresting bonus dungeon, learn that the Red Gem collector was secretly the first boss of Soulblazer all along, and then fight him. That’s fucking it. No actual reward for your effort, just a tiny extra dungeon that’s boring, a fight that’s just a remix of the first boss from a previous game, and, like, I dunno, 5 lines of dialogue? Is the reward just supposed to be the satisfaction of knowing the secret of the Red Gem guy, and the fate of Soulblazer’s first boss? Because I’m gonna be blunt: I didn’t give a damn about the former, and I hadn’t even realized I was supposed to give a damn about the latter.

Or, worse yet, what about The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time? Where was the vaunted Nintendo polish when it came to those fucking Gold Skulltulas, huh!? This massive (for its time; still sizable today) land of twisty dungeons and obscure hiding places, and you’re asked to search it for 100, that’s one-flippin’-hundred, giant spiders* peppered all throughout Hyrule. And if you do stay the course, put in the time and effort, and actually uncover every last damn Gold Skulltula? Your prize is 200 rupees. Now, granted, you can keep coming back and getting 200 more rupees each time, so it's actually infinite money, so this seems, on paper, like it's a pretty good reward. But tell me: what the hell is there, by the point that you can reach every Gold Skulltula, to even buy any more? 200 rupees or 2 billion, it means nothing at the point of the game where there's nothing substantial left to purchase! I'd wager most players' wallets are completely full by the time they even get this reward, having had nothing important to buy for hours and hours already! At least Illusion of Gaia’s programmers went to the trouble to whip up a little bonus dungeon and a rehashed boss fight. They might have been mistaken about what an adequate reward for their collectathon would be, but they TRIED. Nintendo just doesn’t even bother pretending that it didn’t just put you through hours of busywork to artificially inflate the length of the game.

And don’t even get me started on Energy Breaker’s Shiny Pebble situation. At least Illusion of Gaia and Ocarina of Time actually did give you something for finishing their collectathons, terrible though the rewards may have been. Energy Breaker rewards you periodically for finding enough of the Shiny Pebbles scattered throughout the game, but if you actually manage to find all 50, which is no small feat, what happens? NOTHING. I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this, but here should actually be a reward for the player completing the collection quest you asked of them!**

Look, bottom line, if any budding game developers ever happen across this: please, make sure that the game-long collectathon actually has a worthwhile reward for its conclusion. Don’t make the ‘reward’ an extra chore that answers a question no one was asking, don’t make it a condescending pat on the head and some money they don’t need, don’t just forego rewarding them altogether...the players have put effort into finding all that you’ve hidden, so reciprocate with some effort in thinking about and creating a reward they’ll feel satisfied with, yeah?

* Who was the genius at Nintendo that decided to make the collectibles for this quest a bunch of giant fucking spiders, anyway? Giant fucking spiders whose bodies are skulls? Other RPG collectathons have you searching for precious jewels, cute puppies or other mascots, ancient artifacts, special coins, collectible bottle caps...things that you want to find, or at least don’t mind doing so. What’s Nintendo have you scouring every inch of the world for? Abominations. It’s like they were determined that absolutely no part of this sidequest should be appealing.

** I admit that on this point, I’m going on other people’s reports, not personal experience. I didn’t find all 50 myself when I played through Energy Breaker. Nonetheless, multiple other players have reported getting nothing for going to the trouble of locating every single Shiny Pebble in the game, and no one has contradicted these statements, so I’m assuming they are correct.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Cosmic Star Heroine

You know the drill at this point: I play an Indie RPG, I make a rant about it...assuming it doesn’t suck, of course. Or even if it does suck, sometimes. Cosmic Star Heroine was the...I think third Kickstarter RPG I backed, so it was pretty rad to finally see it finished and play what I’d helped make a reality. Here’s what I think:

Cosmic Star Heroine is fun.

Honestly, that is what Cosmic Star Heroine ultimately boils down to. It’s a good time from the word go. If you want a recommendation but don’t want to have to wade through another long, meandering rant, that’s it right there: It’s fun, so go and play it.

For any among you who like hearing me blather on, for some reason, let’s look at the game with a little more detail. First of all, let’s start with an examination into what it’s promised, and what it delivers on. Cosmic Star Heroine proudly proclaimed itself to be an RPG created with 16-bit-era RPGs in mind, most notably Chrono Trigger and Phantasy Star 4 (seriously, I don’t think there was a single promotional ad, article, video, or what have you for the game prior to release that didn’t name drop those 2 titles as its guiding influences). Well, in terms of drumming up interest among lifelong gamers for it, you sure can’t go wrong with dropping the names of the greatest SNES RPG* and the greatest Genesis RPG** every chance you can get. But, that does set a damn high bar for Cosmic Star Heroine to hit, too. Does it do so?

Well, not really, but also sort of yes.

Allow me to explain what I mean by this ambiguous standalone statement (I use those a lot, don’t I?). If you’re going to just compare the 3 titles together on total merit as RPGs, well, Cosmic Star Heroine doesn’t stand a fucking chance. It hasn’t got the emotional power nor the plot substance of Phantasy Star 4 alone, let alone Chrono Trigger. It lacks the narrative genius and creativity of Chrono Trigger, and much of CSH’s novelty in lore and world building is similar enough to Phantasy Star’s that it doesn’t seem especially unique when the comparison to PS has already been drawn. CSH’s cast in general doesn’t hold a candle to CT’s or PS4’s, and its villains are serviceable, but unimpressive when compared to Magus, Zio, Zeal, Dark Force, and Lavos. If you look at Cosmic Star Heroine’s frequent claims of a spiritual tie to Chrono Trigger and Phantasy Star 4 as a promise to equal their quality, well, you’re gonna be disappointed.

From a different perspective, however, Cosmic Star Heroine does deliver on its claims. The setting and narrative methods of CSH emulate Phantasy Star very well, capturing the series’s core atmosphere and style in a way that’s enjoyable, nostalgic, authentic, and yet never uninterestingly derivative. It’s even got PS4-styled cutscene semi-animations (in fact, they’re better quality than PS4’s iconic ones, while seeming to be on the same technological level). Honestly, this game is far more true to Phantasy Star than the actual Phantasy Star series itself has been for many years. Heck, the protagonist’s first name is even Alyssa, which isn’t too far from the names of Phantasy Star 1 and 4’s main characters.*** There’s also a lot of the game’s style of play and dialogue/monologue interactions that feels...well, maybe not directly related to Chrono Trigger, but definitely like a cousin to it. There’s also various bits and pieces scattered throughout the game that are little nods at CT and PS, such as sentient talking multi-tailed cats showing up here and there (as a nod to Myau of PS1...and honestly, Random Cats was sort of a CT thing, too), and a festival in the middle of the first planet’s city that feels more than a little like CT’s iconic Millennial Fair. So while CSH doesn’t really compare to PS4 and CT, it does in some ways capture a lot of their feel, and I’d be surprised if, while playing it, there was anyone who didn’t have at least a single moment of nostalgia for those classics.

The thing with Cosmic Star Heroine is, though, that it’s very much its own entity, more than it’s an homage or spiritual successor, and I think that it should be judged as such first and foremost. And as its own entity, it’s...well, as I said, it’s fun. Sorry, but I don’t have a whole lot else I can really call it that makes sense. To say more of it wouldn’t be accurate, but to say less would also be wrong.

Now, you might think that just saying that Cosmic Star Heroine is “fun” doesn’t really mean much, and that it doesn’t highly recommend it. But I do want to clarify that, to me, this actually means that CSH is a rather rare RPG experience. Because, well, “fun” isn’t really something that the stories, characters, and atmospheres of RPGs actually reach for very often. That’s not to say anything against the genre, of course; if anything, it speaks well of it. RPGs, plot-based as they are meant to be, are almost always far more concerned with telling a story that conveys a message, or provokes thought and consideration, or analyzes an aspect of our consciousness, or evokes strong emotions. RPGs usually have a direction they want their story to go in, and simple, surface-level fun is rarely it. That’s not to say that one does not enjoy the games, that one does not have fun with this genre that comports itself somewhat more seriously than most...but that’s not the same thing as a game that’s just out strictly to be an enjoyable, light romp. Only a handful of RPGs successfully choose this latter course, titles like Super Mario RPG, Mark Leung: Revenge of the Bitch, Startropics, and Paper Mario 2. And hell, sometimes an RPG that seems like it’s meant to be a lighthearted bit of fun ends up ambushing you with meaning and strong emotion just when you think you’re safe, like Okage: Shadow King, Disgaea 1, Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle, and Makai Kingdom.

And don’t get me wrong: I am extremely happy with this situation. I have no complaints whatsoever that RPGs almost always carry themselves with the intent to be serious, meaningful, and poignant.**** The result is a genre where the storytelling quality of, say, Final Fantasy 4, which is just a solidly well-written venture all around, is the average, rather than a high note. And I’m also extremely pleased when an RPG that has an approach that seems lighthearted turns out to be deep, meaningful, and/or emotionally complex, too. In fact, looking at Undertale, Okage: Shadow King, Disgaea 1, Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle, Makai Kingdom, and Mother 3, it seems to be a remarkably consistent way to craft an excellent and compelling story. It seems in many cases that a lighthearted hook, premise, and/or cast can actually make the heavier content to come all the more gripping, somehow. I can only think immediately of 1 example where it failed (Disgaea 2), where it just seemed to be trying too damn hard on all fronts of humor and emotion.

With that said, though? We all need a little pure, basic levity, now and then. We cannot survive on drama and tragedy forever; every now and then we must sprinkle some comedy and simple, straightforward action and excitement into our mental diet. I don’t really advocate things that turn your brain off altogether, mind you, since the implication with that phrase is that the thing you’re watching or playing or whatever doesn’t have to try at all. But if not outright turning it off, we at least all need to give our brain a chance now and then to sit back on a comfortable recliner and take a load off its cerebellum for a bit.

And when that time comes, that even your RPG hobby could use a slight break to loosen up a bit and just have fun? Cosmic Star Heroine’s the game for you. It has a consistent, enjoyable undercurrent of tongue-in-cheek humor throughout its course. It’s got a fun, exciting feel to it. It’s paced very well so that any time it might start to feel a bit repetitive, it throws a quick new event your way (like a brief break to pilot a giant mech suit in a classic anime/monster movie battle, or a mission to infiltrate a social event held by a mobster) to break things up and keep them fresh. It’s funny, without having to actually be a comedy RPG. It has a generally exciting and engaging stride with a lot of action and adventure. It’s got a cast which may not be especially deep or dynamic, but is weird and creative in that classic Genesis RPG way--between psychic gun monks, giant ant cyborgs, and an alien ghost detective, you’re never wanting for a colorful and weird character to adventure with. And, well, I mean, it’s a game about a science fiction secret agent superstar going rogue to save her star system from a mysterious alien mind control device! What can I really say about the game that its own premise doesn’t effectively communicate?

In the end, Cosmic Star Heroine is a fun RPG. It’s made to be an exciting, enjoyable adventure from the start, and its writers know how to keep it that way through to its end. Do I encourage you to give it a try? Sure! I’ll of course more strongly advocate for other, more compelling Indie RPGs first, ones like Celestian Tales 1 or Dust: An Elysian Tail, but as a simple, fun break from the typical, serious approach of the genre, Cosmic Star Heroine can’t be beat. I’d be surprised if you didn’t find it an appealing, pleasing venture.

* Sorry, Shin Megami Tensei 1 and 2, Final Fantasy 6, and Lufia 2.

** Sorry, uh...Pier Solar and the Great Architects, I guess? Wow, the only competition Phantasy Star 4 has for the title of greatest Genesis RPG is a game that came out over a decade after the system was dead. 16-bit-era Sega really just didn’t have a whole lot going for it RPG-wise, did it?

*** Yeah, okay, Chaz turned out to be the protagonist of Phantasy Star 4, not Alys. Well, much like Hot Ice Hilda to Outlaw Star, Alys feels like the cooler potential hero whose story was stolen from her by a narrative mistake. I really feel like the game up until Alys’s death feels much more like the story was designed with her as the lead in mind. Hell, even afterwards, Chaz’s role as leader somehow feels off more than a few times, like the result of a script that’s been altered from its original, intended vision.

Not that I dislike Chaz, you understand. He’s fine. PS4 just never felt to me like it was supposed to have been his story, that’s all.

**** This intent does not always work out, of course. Still, I’m glad that misguided efforts like Xenosaga aimed high and missed, rather than missing while not trying to do anything meaningful. Hell, even complete fucking garbage like Wild Arms 4 and Shadow Hearts 3 acted like they had something say with their stories, even if they were gravely mistaken.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Fire Emblem 14's Peri is Toxic

Huge thanks to Ecclesiastes, for giving this a read-over and helping me shape it into something halfway readable. And, of course, also to my sister, who does the same with every single rant I do. You’re both aces, chums.

I like Fire Emblem 14. It’s a good RPG. Not great, but its story is decent, at least, and its cast stands out somewhat for having some compelling interpersonal dynamics (Corrin’s familial bonds with the Nohr and Hoshido siblings, Effie’s devotion to Elise, Leo and Forrest’s father-son relationship, etc), and a few individuals who are legitimately deep and compelling characters, such as Camilla, Selena,* and Forrest. The game’s got some notable flaws, but even those flaws generally have silver linings, or are a case of trying, but just not hard enough. Flaws, yes, but normal ones, ones that could be worse.

There is, however, one problem with this game that is just negative no matter how you look at her: Peri.

As a character, Peri actually isn’t without some depth, in that her mental disorders have a cause and explanation in the game--her mother was murdered when Peri was a young girl by one of her family’s servants, and as a result, Peri never mentally developed as an adult, and remorselessly murdered the servants of her home whenever the whim struck her. That’s actually not a terrible concept for a character to explore.

But what IS terrible, what makes Peri overall damaging to the cast of this game, is how she and her situation are handled, on every damn front. First of all, her presence in Corrin’s army is an ethical contradiction. The fact that Peri is allowed to serve Corrin’s forces and fight for their cause is incompatible with everything the game shows and tells us about Corrin’s character and ethics. Corrin is an overall kind woman/man, who values life to the point that she/he is willing to jeopardize her/his own life, her/his reputation and respect, and her/his relationship with Corrin’s family to preserve the lives of the people of both Nohr and Hoshido, seeking a way to end war as quickly and bloodlessly as possible, and eliminate the ones who pull the strings to start war in the first place. There is no mistake to be made in Fire Emblem 14’s eyes: Corrin is the hero of the story and a highly ethical person.

So how, exactly, does it make any sense that Corrin accepts, without a word of complaint, Peri into her/his army? Peri, who murders innocent and completely helpless people around her the moment they commit even the tiniest offense, and sometimes just for fun? Peri, whose body count, if we count all the servants in her household that she’s murdered over the years, has to be a fairly even split between foe and friend? Peri, who actually, I shit you not, brags to Corrin about taking baths in the blood of the people she’s murdered. I mean, you can say that Corrin has no choice in the matter, that Peri comes along with Xander as a package deal because she’s his retainer, but that doesn’t excuse Corrin from never even protesting it! The most we get in that sense is, during their B rank conversation, Corrin realizing that Peri is seriously out of her fucking mind and regretting letting her into the army...but these natural reservations about having a mass murderer running around your camp are all forgotten by the next support conversation, because OH-MA-GURRD, PERI BAKED FOOD LIKE A GOOD LITTLE WAIFU, ALL IS FORGIVEN.

And it’s not just Corrin’s character integrity that Peri’s position damages, either. Why the hell is she Xander’s retainer to begin with? How does this jive with anything we know about Xander? I mean, we know that Xander recognizes the occasional necessity of doing bad things when it comes to being a ruler and a warrior, but the overall picture that Fire Emblem 14 paints of the guy is of a noble, dutiful man who is characterized by dignified reserve and iron focus. Why the FUCK would Xander of all people take Peri on as his personal bodyguard? Sure, she’s highly competent at combat, and he says herself in his support conversations with her that that’s what initially drew his attention, but surely that can’t be the absolute only qualification that a man like Xander would have for his servants? Surely at some point, Xander should have noticed Peri running around gutting the castle staff, and thought to himself, “Hmmm, now where does Dad keep the pink slips?” Not to mention that if combat prowess really was the only factor that would ever matter, you’d think Xander would have taken Beruka, or Selena, who I’m fairly certain most would agree are, story-wise, superior fighters. Or waited until Effie had finished turning herself into the goddamn She Hulk of Fire Emblem and taken her instead. Effie would fucking annihilate Peri.

The most I can guess is that maybe Xander figures that this is a way to keep an eye on Peri and keep her from causing too much damage on her own. Sort of like how, on the other side of the continent, Hinoka has somehow become the one who watches over her retainer Setsuna. Except that that reason doesn’t really make any sense, because it would be easier to just have Peri locked away where she can’t harm anyone, and again, she’s a good combatant, not an irreplaceable one. So it just comes back to a puzzling case of an otherwise responsible and decent ruler choosing to contradict every part of his character and employ a psychotic murder doll.

And no, it doesn’t stop there. Peri is directly damaging to the character integrity of Xander and Corrin, to be sure, but she’s also indirectly damaging to the character integrity of...well, pretty much the rest of the army! At least, almost everyone who she can have support conversations with. No one ever calls her out on this shit! Some characters, like Corrin or Laslow, will be perturbed by Peri’s penchant for slaughtering any helpless innocents within reach, but not once does anyone in the cast have the basic human decency to just come out and say, “Cut that shit out, you fucking maniac!”** Additionally, practically no one in the cast cares enough about this matter to actually try to get to the cause of Peri’s behavior and solve the problem. I think Laslow is the only one who can be bothered to. The closest any others seem to come to trying to fix this problem which is killing people is to get Peri to distract herself by baking shit instead, like Corrin does. This entire dozens-strong cast of heroes just collectively shrug their shoulders and look the other way as Peri brags over and over about murdering everyone who annoys her in the smallest way!

Making Peri one of the heroes of the game was just the wrong move. A villain, she would have worked as. But as someone who stands shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Corrin, Azura, Xander, Effie, Elise, Sakura, Arthur, Hinoka, Ryoma, and countless others in the army who are genuinely good people? This does not work. I realize that the cast has its ethical gray areas--there are thieves, professional killers, and individuals with a massive bloodlust on this team. But Shura the thief and kidnapper was doing what he had to for the sake of his people, and he at least has the presence of mind to know that what he does isn’t respectable, and to even have guilt over some of his past actions. Beruka and Saizo the assassins kill precisely and purposefully, not indiscriminately, and they can even, in their support conversations, come to mutually realize the futility of what they do, and recognize that it does not ultimately serve to create a better world. Camilla has an interest in death and has absolutely no qualms about killing anyone who threatens the happiness and safety of those she cares about, but up until you give her cause to eliminate you, she’s a warm and caring person who can welcome and make a beloved ally of even those who sought to destroy her. Keaton finds himself drawn to bloodshed, and Charlotte and Reina are both maniac berserkers who, once they’re going, can’t contain their bloodlust...but all 3 of these characters have enough control and ethics to strictly limit their crazed violence to the battlefield. In all other morally questionable members of Corrin’s army, you can find restraint, purpose, and/or codes of ethics or professionalism. None are wanton murderers of innocents, save Peri.

Also, as I mentioned in my previous rant about the best and worst romances of Fire Emblem 14, Peri is just as damaging a part of the game from the angle of romance. The fact of the matter is that she has the mind of a child, frozen in its development from the moment she saw her mother’s bloody corpse on the floor during her childhood. Now, before I continue, I must say that I give a pass here to Laslow and Peri’s romance. Laslow’s support conversations with Peri result in him helping her to understand the pain and suffering of others when she kills innocents, and realize the source of her psychosis, and so, his influence causes her to become a better person, but also helps her begin to mentally catch up, and begin to become an adult. During their confession of love, Peri has grown to the point that she can will herself to speak and think as a woman, instead of a child, and she takes a moment to tell Laslow what he means to her, as a mature, emotionally aware woman. Granted, she slips back into her little girl mentality a moment later, as it’s more comfortable for her, but the fact that she CAN, at will, function as an adult thanks to him is enough.

But, aside from Laslow? Every single romance that the game’s characters have with Peri is extremely disturbing. And not just because most of them are knowingly getting married to a careless murder machine (although that’s certainly another significantly distressing part of it). No, it’s because, again, SHE IS MENTALLY A CHILD. These rational, reasonably well-adjusted adult men are getting married and sexing up a severely imbalanced woman whose mental development halted prior to puberty!

Look. When we take the time to actually question and contemplate the concept of age of consent, it’s never quite as cut-and-dry as society likes to pretend it is. Most of the civilized world says it’s 16, a lot of the USA says it’s 18, some places are insane and think it has to be 21, some places are insane and think that it can be...a lot lower, let’s say. The only constant is that it’s pretty damn arbitrary. Additionally, the ‘why’ of the matter is also hard to really fully pin down. Obviously, there are ages in which the body is not physically ready for physical intimacy of that nature, and it is wholly immoral to try to push it into that. At the same time, though, the body is nearly always sure as hell more than ready for sex before age 18, or even 16, for that matter, so the question can’t be entirely one of physical readiness. In fact, since the potential long term harm of having sex at an inappropriate age is mostly mental, I think it’s fair to say that the matter is mostly a case of protecting young people from the mental harm that sexual relations can bring before one is ready for them, particularly with a partner whose experience as an adult gives them a dangerously unfair emotional advantage. But that, of course, just makes a hardline number of 16 or 18 or 21 or whatever all the more arbitrary, because we all develop emotionally and intellectually at different speeds, and furthermore, a lot of our being properly ready to pursue a physical relationship comes down to whether our parents, teachers, and other experienced contacts have properly talked to us about the matter.

Now, all of this is a very roundabout and awkward way for me to say that, in the end, the concept of age of consent is both physical AND mental, and that, frankly, I think that it’s more about the mental side. Peri may have an adult’s body, but she is no more emotionally developed than a child, and a really damaged child, at that. To me, a regular adult pursuing a physical relationship with Peri is a violation of the fundamental spirit upon which we have built the concept of age of consent: the idea that physical relations with someone who has not had the experience and mental development to be able to handle the emotional weight of romance and sex is wrong. With the exception of Laslow, because, again, he’s actually helped Peri mentally connect to her adulthood, every single S support romance with Peri in this game is unhealthy, imbalanced, and highly disturbing.

Not every character in an RPG can be a winner. Some are uninteresting, or annoying, or poorly conceived. But there are a few individuals who go beyond just being a bad character, who are faulty enough that their presence is significantly damaging to the integrity of everything around them. Peri is one such character. She is so toxic that her position in the story lessens the rest of the cast by association, particularly Corrin and Xander. And all but 1 of her romances are, franky, ethically reprehensible, and lessen the characters who marry her because it says that they’re men of loose enough moral code that they neither mind falling in love with and marrying a careless killer of the helpless and innocent, nor mind falling in love with and marrying someone with the mind and spirit of a child. Bottom line, Peri is an awful person, and the writers really fucked up by including her in Fire Emblem 14.

* Hot buttered Buddha on a biscuit, a textbook Tsundere who has personality, depth, and mental complexes that actually rationally support her attitude? I had no idea that this was actually a possible thing!

** Well, Leo sort of does, I first. But then Peri starts questioning why one kind of killing is better than the other, and Leo gets caught up in the ethical implications of the matter--which I am not opposed to, mind you; I think that the way we rationalize killing on the battlefield as ‘okay’ is a major problem with our cultural mindset. What I do have a problem with is that by the end of the A rank conversation, Leo’s happy to have her around to make him question stuff, and it no longer seems like he’s going to keep her from doing her thing.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Final Fantasy 8 AMV: Take My Hand

It’s been quite some time (over 4 years, in fact), but I have finally happened across another RPG AMV of such high quality that I feel compelled to make a full-on rant about it! And it’s...about Final Fantasy 8.

Damn it all.

Nonetheless, the fact is that, personal tastes notwithstanding, Argol has created a damn fine music video that deserves exposure and praise. And today, we’re gonna check it out and appreciate the merits of Argol’s work.

Final Fantasy 8: Take My Hand:

Look. Look With Your Special Eyes: The visual quality here is quite high, which is nice, since most FF8 AMVs tend to be a bit grainy. Through no fault of the AMV creators, of course; it’s just a fact of graphics meant to be depicted by the Playstation 1. With the high-resolution rerelease of Final Fantasy 8 for the PC, however, music video editors have access to FMV clips of the highest quality now, and Argol is obviously using those here.

The visual effects in this AMV are used well, just flashy enough to grab attention and help convey ideas, without ever getting distracting and messy. Scenes and changes between them are well-paced to give the video a fast, restless sense of energy, even when using the slower footage, keeping in tune with the active pace of the song, and recalling the action and excitement that Final Fantasy 8...well, didn’t really possess, but did try to convince us it had.

Beyond that, Argol also overlays some scenes and objects over the changing scenes, which can help emphasize the ideas presented by the video and song. For example, you see such an effect at 0:58 through 1:04, in which the floating rings that symbolize Rinoa and Squall’s connection and faith in one another are skillfully overlayed over the scene of Rinoa finding Squall’s body and getting upset over his seeming death, right before the clouds are cleared away for the sunlight and the setting becomes a wildflower field in full bloom that couldn’t be more clumsily overt in screaming “resurrection” at the player if it was a scene of Jesus and Jack Harkness dual-juggling Dragon Balls. FF8 never is found lacking for ways to underestimate its audience. Anyway! The overlay of those symbolic rings creates the idea that their love and connection is powerful enough to overcome death, which, of course, connects perfectly to the music at the moment, which proclaims that “our love will never die.” Argol employs several such overlays throughout the video, many of which add or enhance a layer of meaning.

Of course, sometimes the overlays seem to just be simply for fun visual effect, and there’s nothing wrong with that, either, since it helps convey a sense of interest and enjoyment which is well suited for a tribute AMV. I like overlay effect at 2:50, for example, where we see Squall’s face faintly in the background as the feather comes to a rest, and the way Squall moves in the original scene seems to suggest that he suddenly notices the feather as it reaches the ground. It’s a small, but interesting visual trick, and those make their contribution to an AMV’s quality, too.

If Music be the Food of Love, Play On: The song used in this AMV is Take My Hand, by Simple Plan. I’ve heard it before, but I wouldn’t say I’m familiar with it, nor the group. Personally, I’m pretty ambivalent about the music...doesn’t do much for me, but I also have no objection to it. Which I guess is actually close to a thumbs-up from me, given how inordinately picky I am about music.

I think that the music is the most powerful factor of this video, although the visual component is obviously not left far behind. True, the AMV does come off like the music was selected based on what the video was intended to be and convey, so it could seem like a secondary force, but the fact is that the tempo, mood, lyrics, and volume of this song largely dictate the video’s pace and content. And in that regard, Argol does a terrific job of combining audio and visual together into a single, moving entity. When the song opens, the images and scene transitions used are fast-paced and active, as the music is, and this is true frequently throughout the video, keeping the pace with the quick and energized tune, while the slightly more drawn out moments of the song are given scenes that last a little longer and have less movement--although, as is appropriate for the song, it never really feels like it slows down. Likewise, the lyrics dictate the scenes that play, as appropriate video is matched to each line--you gotta love an AMV whose first lyrics, “Sometimes I feel like everybody’s got a problem,” are paired with a full-on shot of Seifer. Hard to think of a better song lyric to describe that dingus.

Worth noting is also that the lyrics-to-video match-up is sometimes intuitive rather than simply obvious, which is another plus. What I mean is, quite often, AMVs that match scene to lyrics tend to lean heavily on the literal--the lyrics talk about running, you show a scene of characters running, the lyrics talk about the singer’s heart flying, you show a scene of someone or other flying. And there is plenty of that here, to be sure (I’d never have realized just how often in FF8’s cinematics someone reaches their hand out or joins hands with another character, without the chorus of this song). But I like it when an AMV maker thinks creatively enough to take it a step forward, showing video clips that don’t literally visualize the lyrics, but require a quick (but simple) intuitive leap to connect them, and Argol does this. For an example, take 0:48, in which we see Squall driving at a breakneck pace down the road, to the lyrics “Let’s not think about tomorrow.” Not a literal representation of them, but it’s an easy logical step to connect the concept to a symbolic image of a lone driver traveling down the road, living in the moment, which seems portrayed by Squall in this scene. This kind of little moment of mental exercise not only keeps the video and music well-connected, but also keeps the watcher’s attention more active.

Guy, You Explain: I think the purpose that this AMV serves is as a tribute to Final Fantasy 8 as a whole. It’s not as focused and interesting a calling as exploring Yuna’s journey or analyzing the relationship between Shepard and the Illusive Man, I suppose, but as nice as it is when you can get an AMV that reaches for (and achieves) a deeper purpose, it’s not a requirement for a solid RPG music video. Sometimes, all an AMV really needs to be trying to do is to show its game off, to convey a great enthusiasm and appreciation for its subject matter and remind you of how great it was.* Plenty of my other favorite AMVs aspire to no higher purpose than glorifying their subject, after all.

And so, as a labor of love for Final Fantasy 8, I have to say, this is a pretty great AMV. It’s fun and exciting to watch, and uses FF8’s cutscenes expertly to portray the game as fast-paced, engaging, sincere, and even deep. The reality of SquareEnix’s plodding, pandering, pointless, preposterous fever dream could not be more different, of course, but even I found myself momentarily nostalgic for Final Fantasy 8 thanks to the great way this AMV presents the game. This is simply an excellently crafted send-up to FF8 that’s fun and worth spending a few minutes to watch.

* Or, in cases like this, less reminding you of its greatness, than deceiving you into thinking it was great at all.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Dragon Age 2's Friendship/Rivalry System

6 years since I played it, Dragon Age 2 continues to confuse me, and it probably always will. Not in the way that Chrono Cross confuses me, wherein the plot is simply too needlessly and stupidly convoluted to ever be fully disentangled into a comprehensible whole, nor in the way that Lunar: Dragon Song confuses me, wherein I simply cannot fathom how such a godawful piece of rubbish was ever created by thinking, feeling human beings. No, DA2 confuses me in the sense that I am still, and probably always will be, unable to tell whether it’s a good or bad RPG. I’ve just never been able to figure out which of its ideas make it work, which are too poorly executed or fundamentally flawed to forgive, where to weigh the lopsided personalities and character developments of its cast, and whether or not the major decisions of its storytelling process and thematic focus, in the context of its being a continuation of Dragon Age 1, are a step in the right direction or a tremendous blunder. Hell, so long as I overlook its horrible finale (great job on creating 40% of the worst RPG endings I’ve ever seen, Bioware!), I’m not even sure whether I, personally, liked the game!

One such puzzling aspect of DA2 is its system of Friendship and Rivalry between protagonist Hawke and her/his party members. For most RPGs in which companions’ loyalty to the main character involves player input, things work in a pretty simple way: when you have the protagonist do/say stuff that a party member likes, that party member’s approval/affection will go up, and once you hit a certain point of approval, they’re, like, totes BFFs, for legit. It’s a functional enough system for most RPGs, and Dragon Age 1 itself had a similar linear affection system. The trick to building lifelong friendships between DA1’s Grey Warden and her/his party members boils down to giving the right gifts to the right people, speaking to them in a way they like, and not having Morrigan in the party any time you want to say or do something intelligent, or display the barest shred of human compassion.

God, Morrigan was such a pill.

Anyway, Dragon Age 2 had an idea that shook things up a little. Instead of just playing nice with each party member in the way that they most approve of, you can also forge just an ironclad bond by doing...well, basically the opposite. Yeah, you can be a flippant, careless jerk in Dragon Age 2, and Hawke’s Friendship points with Isabela will go up...but you could also choose to be selfless and demand a higher standard of dignity from your friends, including Isabela herself, and Hawke’s Rivalry points with Isabela will go up, instead. But rather than just being a measure of disapproval, Rivalry is a path of its own for Hawke’s relationships to go down, one which deepens and develops as the story progresses, just as much as the Friendship does. As one might expect, a fully developed Friendship results in an extra combat ability/bonus for each character, which has become a standard in such situations for RPGs, but a fully developed Rivalry also results in such an ability/bonus, should you decide to take that route.

It’s a truly interesting dynamic to me. First of all, it allows for the protagonist of the game to have a more concrete set of morals and personality, I think. I mean, often when playing an RPG involving party members with approval ratings, a player may bend their perception of their character slightly in selecting dialogue and actions, in order to have a chance to witness a party member’s character development in full, since that usually requires a maxed out approval rating. A good RPG will always provide you with enough chances to max a character out without absolutely needing to uncharacteristically bend a protagonist’s moral code in dialogue or actions, but it can get tricky. I recall, for example, that it’s difficult to really get in good with Kreia in Knights of the Old Republic 2 if you’re sincerely devoted to the Jedi way (and the same is true for Sith playthroughs; Kreia’s not much for falling in with either side), and it would be a damn shame to miss even a single sentence of the philosophical excellence that is Kreia. But with a dual Friendship/Rivalry system for each character’s approval of the protagonist, you can have a protagonist with a more concrete, defined set of personal ethics, and not have to give up on seeing a party member’s personal story through to completion. Is Hawke a generous, compassionate, stalwart defender of the right, uncompromisingly good and just? Well, obviously she/he will get on just fine with Aveline and probably not have any issues with Sebastian, but the shenanigans of Isabela and the selfishness of Merrill won’t sit right with Hawke. Well, thanks to the Rivalry option, they don’t have to; she/he can butt heads with Isabela and Merrill all she/he likes without sacrificing a relationship.

I also appreciate the fact that this system recognizes that strong, positive personal relationships don’t have to always be about hugs and kisses. Sometimes, the person you value most in life may very well be your polar opposite; you may even both frustrate each other more often than not! But our opposites can be our most valued companions for the fact that they challenge us, they view the world differently and offer insights we simply couldn’t have seen ourselves, and sometimes, they’re the ones we need to force us to be better than we think we can be, who drag us into the light to keep us on the straight and narrow. In this way, a Rivalry can be as valuable, or even more than, a Friendship.

And I also like the Rivalry option presented in this game for the fact that, well...good rivals, specifically ones who aren’t murderously hostile, are damn hard to find in RPGs. Frankly, I feel that most of the time in this genre, characters get put into the “rival” category not because they genuinely deserve to be there, but because the writers felt, for whatever reason, that the protagonist needed it. I mean, in Mana Khemia 1, did Roxis really feel like his personality, his values, his goals, etc., were authentically opposed enough to that of protagonist Vayne that they really should have been considered one another’s rival? To me, Roxis felt like a character who should have held a small dislike for and competitiveness with Vayne initially, and gotten the hell over it because there wasn’t really anything about either of them to sustain either negativity or especial competitiveness. The writers just twisted the character they had to fit a mold they wanted to fill, rather than accept that what they’d created really didn’t feel right for it.

With DA2, on the other hand, there’s potential for Hawke and her/his party members to be sincerely on opposite ends of certain personal values, such that, while their experiences together and reliance on one another guarantee that they share a strong bond of companionship, you can genuinely see that they stand in true disagreement with how the other lives and thinks. You can actually develop rivalries in this game that feel organic and right for the characters.

So yes, the Friendship/Rivalry system has some definite potential benefits, and on the conceptual level, it’s not only a creative and refreshing take on party member approval systems, but also perhaps ahead of its time. And the same time, it has its downsides.

One of the major downsides is that, quite frankly, it’s not a universal enough idea for the workload it’s stuck with in this game. In many cases, the possibility of 2 different paths a personal bond can take will work just fine. But at the same time, it doesn’t really work for every character, and it certainly doesn’t seem right for every member of the cast. Sure, I can totally see Isabela greatly valuing a rival who tries to force her to be a better person, just as I can see her greatly valuing a friend who just joins her for her fun and agrees with her on everything. But by contrast, the character of Aveline in DA2 is that of a hardline, black-and-white good person who does not appreciate or want challenges to her rigid, though largely adequate, view of morality. Isabela may be annoyed by selflessness and virtue, but she’s the kind of character who can reluctantly allow for it, and even be changed by it. Aveline, on the other hand, really just does not come across as a personality who can accept certain kinds of selfish behavior, and as a result, a Rivalry with her seems forced and insincere in its attempt to convince you that Aveline genuinely values a Hawke so much an opposite to herself.

Similarly, while it’s believable that a party of friends who you’ve gone out of your way to support all throughout the game will stick with you through thick and thin, it’s...kinda hard to buy the idea that you can treat everyone around you like shit enough times that they’ll be similarly devoted to you.

It’s also worth noting that the quality for these Rivalry relationships isn’t always all that great. I mean, I appreciate being able to create a Rivalry with Merrill, because for Salamando’s sake, someone has gotta be there to make sure she damn well knows that the tragedy that comes from her personal quest is entirely of her own making, and ensure that she will learn from her selfish mistakes. And honestly, I think that the Rivalry romance with Isabela is definitely the best romance in the game, creating an interesting and touching story of tough but genuine love that inspires a woman to become something better than she thought she could be for the sake of the woman/man she’s fallen in love with, culminating in a conversation that is not just a confession of love, but also a pledge to become worthy of it. Solid stuff.

But aside from those 2 cases...the Rivalry friendships and romances generally range from being a bit uninteresting, to subpar, to, at times, kind of indistinguishable in any major way from the Friendship path. I mean, hey, whether or not you’ve given Anders a big hug every time he mutters something dark and extreme, or perpetually told him to cut that revolutionary shit out, the shortsighted asshat’s still gonna become the Fereldan Unabomber, so what was the point of trying to Rivalry him into being less of a jackass? Not to mention, some of these Rivalries kinda lessen Hawke as a person. I mean, how unpleasant a person do you have to be to be the polar opposite of Aveline? In the end, not a lot of real, actual cases of character depth and value get added to the cast thanks to adding the Rivalry duality to Hawke’s relationship paths, honestly.

And yet, there’s the confusing part. It doesn’t pay off well, but is that the problem of the dynamic itself, or simply Bioware’s inability to use it effectively enough of the time? The writing quality for the game as a whole is a chaotic grab bag, so this could just be an extension of that. And even if not much good really came of it, is it still worth it, as a storytelling tool, if it did provide probably the best moment of romance and character development in the game (via Isabela)? Is the Friendship/Rivalry system truly a good idea at all, when it so clearly has limitations to how far it can extend over a whole cast, limitations which standard approval systems don’t have to worry about? Then again, isn’t it just a bit of a relief to see any system, even if it’s only viable every now and then, that can offer a more functionally complex system of approval and relationship-building than a Youtube Like/Dislike bar?

I guess in the end, much like the rest of the game, I just don’t know how I feel about the Friendship/Rivalry mechanic. I’d like to think it has better potential than was capitalized in Dragon Age 2, but I can’t really imagine how you could make it work for any standard-sized cast in a way that would seem realistic in general and provide worthwhile alternative friendships for all possible characters. Nonetheless, I can say that whether or not I ever determine whether the Friendship/Rivalry mechanic was a positive or negative for Dragon Age 2, it’s still an approach that was interesting to see in action, at least this 1 time.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Pokemon Generation 7's Main Character

Pokemon Generation 7, better known as Pokemon Moon and Sun, really is a great RPG. It has a thoughtful and interesting story, it has a cast of characters with personality and depth (well, some of them, at least; Hau kinda plateaus at “I like fried bread”), its villain is complex and striking, and its main character is dynamic and terrifically written.

No, I’m not talking about Moon or Sun. I’m talking about Lillie.

Yeah, in addition to having a thoughtful and well-told story, Pokemon Generation 7 is also interesting in that it takes on the challenge of an unconventional narrative form: the protagonist of the game that you control is really not the main character of it. If anything, Moon (I’m just gonna keep saying Moon because I got Pokemon Moon and the either-or thing gets tiresome; just replace “Moon” with “Sun” if that’s your preference...for some reason) is just sort of a plot device to Lillie’s journey of self-actualization and familial redemption, albeit an absolutely essential one.

Sure, the game takes you and Moon through the predictable (though pleasantly jazzed up) Pokemon paces, with the whole wandering around, challenging important trainers, and becoming Champion thing. But the overwhelmingly clear focus of this game, the main plot, is that which revolves around Lusamine, the realm of the Ultra Beasts, Nebby, and Lillie. And that plot is Lillie’s story, not Moon’s. The game's story begins only once Lillie is first introduced to Moon, and nearly every substantial plot point affects her, usually directly. The foil of the game’s main villain is clearly Lillie (and what a terrific connection and history there is between them; the depth and psychology of Lillie and Lusamine are just stellar work by the writers), and it’s her determination and desires that carry the plot forward and frequently determine its course.

Moon’s role in the plot of Pokemon Generation 7 is really just to be a vital support for Lillie--a protective guardian to her to keep her safe early in her journey, and an example to use as inspiration as time goes on. And let us not make any mistake on this point: it’s an extremely important role for Moon to play, to serve as the rock-solid example for Lillie. If she did not have Moon’s independence and unflagging strength to protect others to emulate, Lillie would not have completed her personal journey and found herself. Moon’s presence, silent though it is,* is the shoulder Lillie leans on and the foundation from which she builds herself, and that’s pretty damn important in a story of an emerging individual who has learned to value herself. But, that isn't the same as Moon actually being the plot's key figure.

Even the few major parts of Pokemon Generation 7’s course of events that seem, on the surface, to legitimately be focused on Moon and her journey often end up coming back to Lillie and her personal journey of growth and family. Take, for example, the finale of the game, in which Moon becomes the first Champion of Alola, and the region joins the rest of the world with its newly formed Pokemon League. That’s a pretty big, general event, and it certainly seems like it relates solely to Moon’s quest, in that it’s the traditional Pokemon game conclusion. But even then, this major moment in Alolan history, this crowning achievement of Moon, this final interactive event of the game’s story, is still made important by the plot not for its own sake, but for the fact that it is the final moment of Lillie and Moon’s journey together, despite Lillie’s not being present for it. For, you see, Moon’s victory and assumption of the role of Champion is a galvanizing event for Lillie to leave Alola, with the intention of emulating the girl (or boy; it could be Sun instead, I know) that she respects and, let’s face it, 80% probability loves.** This finale is not just the end of Moon’s tale, it is also the end of Lillie’s, and the beginning of her next, prompting her to leave to care for the mother she has saved and become a trainer like her hero.***

Now, yes, you could make the argument that Lillie’s not the main character of the story, but that she rather fulfills a very familiar RPG role: the Magical Plot Girl. Certainly a common RPG trope, and there’s much about Lillie that reminds one of Breath of Fire 5’s Nina, Skies of Arcadia’s Fina, Lunar 2's Lucia, Lufia 1's Lufia, and countless others. The fact that she’s on the run while trying to protect a mystical plot device from falling into the wrong hands, wrong hands which happen to be actively pursuing her, is so common a narrative trope to the genre that RPG might as well stand for Running Plot Girls.

But the difference between Pokemon Generation 7 and other RPGs is that in a game like Breath of Fire 5, or Grandia 2, or Lufia 1, or so on, the protagonist is made a significantly involved member of the story and its direction. Ryu of BoF5 is the one who makes the decision to bring Nina to the surface, Ryudo quickly becomes the key figure in the unfolding story of Grandia 2, Lunar 2's Hiro gets more or less press-ganged by the members of his party with actual personalities to man up and show Lucia that there's more than 1 way to save the world, and Unnamed Lufia 1 Hero is...well, I mean, he just drifts along with the bland plot, but that’s pretty much true of everyone in Lufia 1, because playing Lufia 1 is basically putting your brain on a crash diet for 40 - 60 hours. Generally, the protagonist actively affects and changes the Magical Plot Girl (most often using the method clinically referred to as Twoo Wuv), and influences the plot’s direction and purpose. But in Pokemon Generation 7? Moon only passively affects Lillie and helps her change, and just sails along with the plot as other people gently push her from one event to the next (although that part’s just standard for Pokemon games). Lillie pushes herself to be greater thanks to Moon’s example, but never Moon’s influence, if you follow me.

The instigator of Pokemon Generation 7’s plot is Lillie, the story’s themes and conflict center around her, the journey for discovery and value of one’s self are hers, the villain of the game is directly connected to her, and almost every major event of the game’s story is focused upon her, whether actively or inactively. She is dynamic through her own determination to be, and she defines the stakes, purpose, and direction of the game’s climax. So in my opinion, it is Lillie who is the main character of Pokemon Generation 7, and I applaud the developers of this game for not only approaching its narrative in an unusual and interesting way, but also for making that different method work so well.

* I’m not a fan of silent protagonists, as I’ve mentioned, but it seems to work adequately here, I must say. Moon’s silent, unyielding hero-ness actually meshes well with the role she’s meant to have as an example to Lillie. Like a pillar of strength who...well, talks as much as an actual pillar would.

** Yes, I’m a filthy shipper, and I don’t care who knows it. Lillie and Moon (or Sun) are meant to be, dammit!

*** Hands up if you shed tears at this game’s ending.

...Oh, you liars, get those hands up right now, you’re not fooling anyone!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Breath of Fire 1's Party Members' Battle Functionality

Time for another rant that even I admit doesn’t matter in the slightest. That's, what 3 in the last month? Or 336 in the last 11 years, depending on your perspective? But what the hell, I have thoughts and the screen has space for text. Let’s do this.

You know what’s weird? Breath of Fire 1’s cast.

Well, okay, I mean, obviously it’s weird. It’s made up of a human dragon, a winged princess who falls through time and gets amnesia (hurr hurr spoilurz for the 20+ year old game), a fox ranger, a fish man who can become a super fish, a big ox man, a naga sorceress who voluntarily spends 99% of her existence in a coma, and a tiny mole man. I think the last job the lead artist held before being hired by Capcom might’ve been an art booth at a furry convention.

So, yeah, obviously Breath of Fire 1’s cast is weird. I mean, sort of. Weird from most people’s perspectives. From the perspective of a guy who’s played over 300 titles of the gaming genre with the highest saturation of Weird Characters per capita, though...well, this motley assemblage of Deviantart refugees is just my Monday morning.

What does make them odd for even me, though, is how most of these characters function in combat. To whit: they actually just don’t. Half of the party members of Breath of Fire 1 actually don’t really serve a purpose in combat.

Here’s what I mean. On the 1 hand, you have Ryu, Nina, and Bleu (or Deis; personally I liked the original translation name better). Ryu is combat-relevant, because his special ability in combat is to turn into a big honkin’ dragon and tear enemies’ shit up. Nina is combat-relevant for the game’s entirety, because she has a whole gaggle of healing and status effect spells that she keeps learning throughout the game’s course. And Bleu/Deis is combat-relevant, because she learns combat spells over the game’s course that put the hurt on enemies nearly as much as Ryu’s dragon forms.

But then you have the other half of the cast, and they’re...well, they’re really only good for attacking. Like, okay, Bo, the Ranger Rick wannabe? He seems pretty good when you get him early in the game, because he comes with a set of offensive spells, and a Cure spell. Handy! Except that, much like the Genie from Defenders of Oasis,* Bo never learns any spells beyond this initial set. For context, that’d be like a character never learning anything beyond Fire 1, Ice 1, Bolt 1, and Cure 1 in a Final Fantasy game. They’d be handy for a short amount of time, but it wouldn’t take long before they fell to the wayside, and that’s what happens with Bo as a spellcaster. Hell, it’s been a while since I played, but I seem to remember that even before the plot arc involving Bo’s hometown is finished with, his spells are starting to lag a bit. Pretty soon, Bo’s only real utility in combat is basic attacking. Which he’s good at, mind you, his physical attack stats are high. But that’s not serving a combat role that any other character couldn’t.

Similar deal with Gobi. Gobi has some attack spells that are actually pretty useful, and he learns a few more as he progresses in levels. But the problem is, they all only work underwater! I mean, okay, yes, makes a certain amount of sense, him being a fish man, but...well, there’s a decent-sized part of the plot which takes place on the ocean floor, so he gets a good amount of time in which he’s useful in combat, but once you’re done with that part of the game, you’re, well, done. From then on--and this is the substantial majority of the game--you’re encountering enemies on land only, and as such, Gobi’s only combat utility is to poke things with his trident. Like Bo, he’s only there to hit the Attack button, or maybe use an item now and then.

And it just gets worse with Mogu. Mogu’s a little mole man, and the game didn’t even try to pretend that he can do anything special in combat, like it did with Bo and Gobi. Mogu’s 1 and only ability outside of regular attacks is that he can use Dig, and dig a hole out of combat. So, basically, he can guarantee that your party can run away from battles. Uh...great. Yeah, Mogu’s 1 defining trait as a party member is to do what most games accomplish with an equippable accessory. It makes even less sense when you consider that Mogu is the final party member to join you! The guy joins, what, halfway through the game? 60% of the way through? Being able to guarantee an escape from combat is an ability for early in the game, when you’re still getting the hang of the game’s balance and battle system, and when you have fewer resources and options to draw on to survive random encounters! Unless a game has outright flaws in its balance, by the time you’re halfway done with a game, you should be pretty well past the point of needing guaranteed escape abilities! So once again, you have a character who, if he’s in the active combat party, really is just there to do basic attacks and nothing else.

And lastly, there’s Ox. Ox sort of has a use in that just being a big lug who absorbs damage and hits stuff is meant to be his thing. The tank of the team, as it were. Unfortunately, BoF1 was made back in the days where you couldn’t really do much of anything to direct your enemies to attack a specific character, so the utility of a tank character isn’t really all that impressive--having him there won’t cause the less durable characters to be hit any less. Also, he does have a couple of very useful healing spells, but he has so little MP that he can cast them like twice before he’s out of juice. So in the end, Ox seems at first like he’s sort of properly designed for a role as a basic attacker and damage sponge, but the game itself isn’t advanced enough that he’s actually substantially more than Bo, Gobi, and Mogu.

So yeah, that’s 4 members out of 8 who, in combat, don’t really have any specific role in their party. They exist solely to hit the Attack button, and nothing else. It’s very weird, honestly. Usually when you have a party whose members can be swapped out during battle and allows you to reconfigure its makeup as you like, there’s, I dunno, some difference between what they can do. In Final Fantasy 10, for example, every character has a clearly defined and unique skillset and function, at least until you’re, like, at post-endgame level of Sphere Grid unlocking. Even in Final Fantasy 6, some characters do maintain useful individual skills through to the end of the game, even if most of them let their skills fall to the side in favor of everyone getting Ultima.

And yeah, there certainly are plenty of characters in RPGs who also intentionally exist solely to use basic attacks. Aguro in Lufia 1, for example, does literally nothing but attack and use items for the entirety of the game. But this isn’t just a single boring party member in a game which doesn’t offer the player a choice in which characters to use (and frankly, Lufia 1’s not usually a good game to model yourself after in any regard, anyhow). This is half the cast who don’t have a reason to be in the active party except to fill in when Nina, Ryu, and/or Bleu get knocked out.

Also, I should just mention for the record, I’m just criticizing the cast on their value in terms of gameplay mechanics (which, if you know me, is just a minor nitpick which in no way actually affects my opinion of them or the game itself). As characters, they all have adequate reason to be on the journey, several do fulfill decent plot and interpersonal roles, and all of them do have their gameplay purpose outside of battle (Gobi is useful for traveling under the ocean without running into enemies, Mogu can dig through certain spots to find treasures and pathways, etc). Basically, what I’m saying is that this is JUST an inconsequential nitpick of an odd design decision that occurred to me.

So, it’s weird. But is it a flaw? Well...I’m not actually sure it is. See, if you’ve been doing the math, you’ll realize I’ve spoken of 8 characters, yet have only described 7. There’s 1 other member of the party named Karn. Karn’s a thief, and at first seems to be the very least combat-relevant of all of them. Even Mogu has his stupid escape ability, but Karn learns not a single spell or ability on his own! But, Karn CAN learn 4 abilities from some NPCs hidden throughout the game. Each of these abilities power Karn up (and give him some out-of-combat abilities, too), making him incredibly powerful. Sure, he’s still just a physical attacker, but with one of these abilities activated, these regular physical attacks of his are the equal of Bleu’s spells and Ryu’s dragon form!

What does this have to do with Bo, Gobi, Ox, and Mogu, you wonder? Well, Karn’s abilities are all fusion spells. Essentially, each of his 4 abilities fuses him with a combination of Bo, Gobi, and/or Ox, making them unavailable to the party, but using their stats to enhance Karn as he shapeshifts into various hybrids of fox, fish, and ox people.** Karn’s final and most powerful fusion, Puka, is a fusion of himself, Bo, Gobi, and Ox all at the same time, which effectively removes those 3 from the party, and makes Karn absurdly powerful.

Mogu is still useless.

So, you see, it’s kind of hard to say whether Bo, Ox, and Gobi’s lack of combat relevance is really a flaw, so to speak. After all, if they were actually viable combatants, it would be a tough decision, whether to risk losing their versatility in exchange for empowering Karn. But since they’re all basically just Attack machines by the time Karn can start playing with fusion, there’s no conflict--fuse the spindly little pickpocket up, and fill that fourth spot in the party with someone who can actually break some skulls! Maybe it was planned that way, or maybe Capcom just wanted to cover its own ass after it realized that half of its cast was never going to see active duty past a certain point, but in the end, it does work toward a functional purpose for 4 of the 5 otherwise useless characters (counting Karn, since he’s pointless on his own).

Still a weird way to set up your party’s combat dynamic, though.

* Somewhere, a hipster just got a boner and doesn’t know why. That’s how obscure the reference I just made is.

** Is it really any wonder why there are so many furries online these days? My generation and the generation after me were fucking bombarded with anthropomorphic animals from all media angles. You don’t put this pantsless wonder in the instruction manual for your game and then expect a kid to grow up with no interest in catgirls.

Oh, and while I’m at it, thanks a fucking lot for Bleu, Capcom. I really needed to be a lifelong snake woman enthusiast.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

General RPG Lists: Greatest Examples of Battle Systems

Kudos to Ecclesiastes for letting me shoot some ideas at him while I was writing this rant. You’re a proper righteous chap, good sir.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you’ve probably come to know 2 things about me. The first is that despite RPGs being my preferred gaming genre, I find the actual process of playing them invariably tedious, and see the large majority of battles in RPGs as being meaningless filler that distracts and distances the audience from the only reason to play the games at all: the story. You know that when I judge the worth of an RPG, combat is a complete non-factor, as it should be for a genre whose gameplay mechanics are so repetitive, and frequently can’t be distinguished from the process of ordering breakfast from a Denny’s menu.

But the other thing you know about me is that I like the sound of my own voice (such as it is in text form) enough that I have no problem whatsoever chattering on about things that don’t matter in the slightest. And so here we are.

Battle systems! They may not matter a lick to me, but even so, I can tell when they work and when they don’t. And even if it doesn’t make a difference to whether or not a piece of interactive art should be experienced, a programming team’s good work on making a battle system whose repetitive mediocrity is as low as possible deserves some credit. So today, I’ll be looking at the very broadly defined types of RPG combat I know of, and judging which RPGs are the very best examples of these different battle systems.

Enjoy! Or don’t. I make the same amount of $0 either way.

Turn Based
The most traditional, iconic battle system of the RPG genre, utilized in countless titles going as far back as the original Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and even Phantasy Star titles, and still going strong today in major series like Shin Megami Tensei, Pokemon, and Indie RPGs like Shadows of Adam, released just this year.

It’s also the reason I find RPGs so fucking boring to play. This is a battle system built on the same premise as navigating through the Windows operating system. How the hell this genre managed to take off with this as its starting point, I’ll sure never know.

Winner: The Shin Megami Tensei Series
Although not every SMT game employs traditional turn-based combat (SMT Devil Summoner Raidou Kuzunoha, for example, is an Action RPG), the majority do, and, quite frankly, this series has got a simple-to-understand take on Turn Based gameplay that manages to allow for complexity and strategy without abandoning even the slightest functionality. With most RPGs, the constant addition of nuances and complexities to battle systems is a detriment, cluttering an already annoying play experience with superfluous crap that feels more like an attempt to stand out than an attempt to build something actually enjoyable to play. The press turn nuance of SMT games, which encourages you to understand enemy weaknesses by rewarding you with more attacks per turn when you exploit them and punishing you with fewer when you fail to account for enemy defenses, makes even regular battles more interesting as you play a game of balances against your opponents, seeking to maximize your turns and minimize the turns they get. In addition, beyond the press turn function, SMT games are generally made with enough care that their difficulty curve keeps you on your toes for the majority of the game, and strategy beyond manipulation of press turns is a must. To say nothing of the effort that Atlus puts into the weaknesses of its bestiary! Yes, the Shin Megami Tensei series is the best possible example of Turn Based battle systems: a straightforward, functional, intuitive system that naturally allows for complexity and strategy rather than trying to artificially inject it as a gimmick. Kudos to Atlus on this one.

Active Time Battle
It wasn’t long into Turn Based battles’ run that some bright young man or woman realized that they weren’t actually fun. In a (futile) attempt to remedy this, the ATB system evolved from traditional Turn Based games, offering ever so slightly closer an experience to actually playing a game, and not just cruising through someone’s My Documents folder. With ATB, there is no overarching turn in combat--rather, each combatant receives their turn individually, determined by how their Speed stat (or its equivalent) matches up against that of everyone else in battle. This was Squaresoft’s bread and butter during its iconic years of the SNES and first Playstation, and it, like its Turn Based predecessor, is still going strong today, particularly with Indie RPGs like the recent Cosmic Star Heroine.

Still boring as hell, though.

Winner: The Grandia Series
In a manner not entirely unlike Shin Megami Tensei, Grandia makes the most of the ATB system by implementing mechanics that encourage “juggling” your enemies as much as they do actually harming them. With Grandia, your attacks and your exploitation of weaknesses don’t just do damage to your foes, they also halt them for a moment, delaying their turns from arriving, or even stun them, outright stopping and setting back your foes’ approaching turn. Your foes can, of course, do the same to you, and so the game adds an element of strategic budgeting of your attacks to its battles that keeps you engaged. It’s a good idea that’s executed well enough that I actually, incredibly enough, found myself enjoying most of the battles in Grandia 1 and 2. And sure, there are plenty of other ATB RPGs that make some use of juggling enemy turns, to varying degrees of success...but it’s rarely so well and essentially incorporated as Grandia’s system, and certainly it’s never been as satisfying to hear see and hear you soundly smash your foes down the turn order as it was with Grandia.

First Person Slasher/Shooter
You know, we tend to think of FPS/RPG hybrids as being a newer concept, introduced by games like Fallout 3, the Elder Scrolls, and Mass Effect, but actually...this has been around in RPGs for ages, when you think about it. What else would you call all those old first person dungeon-crawling PC games from back in the day? You know, the ones that Orcs + Elves mimics? This is actually an old and storied type of RPG, which has simply gotten a facelift in the last decade.

And thank goodness for that. If Orcs + Elves is anything to go on (I don’t pretend to have played the old school hack and slash titles), FPS systems used to be boring as hell. Heck, they still can be; the Elder Scrolls titles do absolutely nothing for me. But Mass Effect and Fallout are actually legitimately fun to play, so the system has evolved in a very positive direction.

Winner: Fallout 3, 4, and New Vegas
It’s hard to believe that the engine the recent Fallout games use was developed for Elder Scrolls, and not the opposite way around. The system that just never feels quite right, a little inescapably clunky, for the series it was created for, by contrast fits Fallout like a glove. But it goes beyond just providing a good First Person Shooter experience--otherwise, Mass Effect would be here. No, what really makes the Fallout series shine is the way they incorporated the turn-based battle system of the original Fallout 1 and 2, with its great feature of targeting specific places on enemies’ bodies to cause various effects. With its VATS system, the Fallout series has become the absolute perfect blend of RPG and shooter, seamlessly letting you go back and forth between relying on your stats to turn the tide and dominate difficult battles with selective Turn Based pauses, and relying on your own capabilities in real time for the rest. Beyond Undertale’s incorporation of Bullet Hell into its menu-dependent Turn Based system, I can’t think of another RPG that even comes close to Fallout in blending substantially different combat types into a single, efficient entity

Eventually, someone somewhere figured out that there really wasn’t any law in place that said RPGs had to be patience-testing slog-fests of selecting the same commands from a DOS simulation about a thousand times per playthrough--it was, in fact, legally possible to incorporate stat-based gameplay and still have characters do things. From this groundbreaking concept that video games could actually involve movement came Action RPGs, RPGs whose battle systems allow for free and generally continuous movement. Menus may and usually are still involved, but pressing a direction button does more than just move a cursor.

This is the only RPG battle system that I find to be consistently fun. Well...mostly consistent. Lagoon still managed to be ass.

Winner: Kingdom Hearts 2
Honestly, there’s a lot of competition here. Kingdom Hearts 2 is competent, functional, and fun, incorporating stats into its free-moving gameplay well, involving menus in a simple and effective capacity while leaving the meat of combat to remain the player’s actual movement and’s solid stuff. But a lot of other RPGs can say the same, to the same degree of competence...hell, a few of them, like, say, SMT Devil Summoner Raidou Kuzunoha 2, do it slightly better. But KH2 has 1 important feature that pushes it into the top spot for me: its triangle button actions. I covered this a while back, but a quick refresher: You don’t just have the option to fight enemies normally in KH2--with each foe, you have an opportunity in combat to react to their movements and pull off a special attack or defense that’s singular to that enemy. For normal foes, this can be as simple as a quick dash behind them, which isn’t that interesting...but when you take advantage of triangle reactions against bosses, the results are frequently exceptionally cool and fun to watch, bringing the battle to a whole different realm. Who can forget how awesome it was to have Sora ride the Heartless chandelier thing in the Beast’s castle, smashing it against the columns of the ballroom? To make him leap atop Cerberus’s heads, grab the Keyblade, and dive-bomb them? To watch Sora run up the walls of the Master Control Program’s chambers, and use the height to hurl himself straight at the giant Sark? Every boss can be unique for what strategy must be employed to beat them, but Kingdom Hearts 2 takes it a step forward, and makes the choreography of its epic battles just as singular, lending a sense that this really is a special battle of its own. Very enjoyable.

Of course, this isn’t the only RPG out there to do something like this, I should note. Recent Legend of Zelda games, for example, also have many reaction commands. Nonetheless, KH2 stands apart for how thoroughly it incorporated them, and the fun and epic nature of them is still unmatched, to me.

Action battle systems are generally fun, but even they get repetitive when you go through an RPGs’ typical hundreds of battles doing the same thing each time, even for most bosses. Kingdom Hearts 2 goes out of its way to make its epic battles a part of its cinematic experience, and that pushes it to the top.

The Fire Emblem series, Nippon Ichi’s canon, most Shining Force titles, Live A Live, the early Fallouts, the recent know the drill with Tactics battle systems. They’re sitting around, waiting for your turn, much like Turn Based and ATB, but your turn also involves moving where you are on a battlefield, and your placement affects what you can do and who you can attack. From ancient titles like Crystal Warriors and Fire Emblem 1, right on up to this year’s Torment: Tides of Numenera, Tactical RPGs have been around for ages, and they’re going nowhere anytime soon.

They range in terms of how boring they are. Some are very boring. Others engage one’s mind enough that they’re kind of less boring...until you realize that each battle takes like 20+ minutes to get through. I’m not really a fan, but I guess that they’re better than the standard battle systems of RPGs.

I originally thought I’d separate Tactical RPGs into 2 types: Turn Based, and ATB, in the sense that some RPGs (like Vandal Hearts 1 + 2, Bahamut Lagoon, and the Fire Emblems) strictly follow an order of everyone on 1 side getting to move and act, then everyone on the other side getting to move and act, back and forth like a regular Turn Based system, while other RPGs (like SMT Devil Survivor 1 + 2, Hoshigami Remix, and Project X Zone 1 + 2) are more like an ATB system, in which turn order is about individual units and their stats and actions. But honestly? I kind of feel like the differentiation doesn’t matter all that much...whereas it’s a huge thing on its own, Turn Based vs. ATB in terms of Tactical RPGs comes off as more just one of many potential features and approaches to how it works, a part instead of the focal point. The focus with Tactical systems is on the strategies of troop placement and all the details that go along with it, so I don’t see the point of splitting this category up.

Winner: Final Fantasy Tactics
As if there were ever any doubt. It takes a little while to get the hang of, but the method of Final Fantasy Tactics’s gameplay is sensible and engrossing, with a staggering level of complexity built into it. There are dozens of different ways to use dozens of different units in dozens of different scenarios of terrain, formation, stats, angles of fire, turn order, and various other interacting details. If most other Tactical RPGs are checkers, this is chess, the ultimate cumulation of tactical aspects that the genre aspires to.

The only flaw, really, is that the level of possibility and detail in the battle system is so nuanced and expansive that the developers didn’t really seem to even know what to do with it, as there are few battles that really strive to explain to you or push you to try various facets of the system’s possibilities--like they developed a supercomputer and then had no idea what to do with it beyond using it as a calculator. Still, there’s enough opportunity and different scenarios to sink your strategic teeth into this insanely detailed battle system to appreciate it.

I don’t know what else to call this style of battle system. Maybe there’s a term for it, and if so, let me know. This is that weird thing where it’s not so much characters following your direct commands, so much as it is you setting the pace for them and directing them from afar. Hard to, Final Fantasy 12, or Dragon Age 1, where it’s less you directly controlling your characters’ actions than it is pointing and clicking to set their target, and they follow a set action automatically. Setting up the gambits of FF12, auto-attacking in Xenoblade Chronicles 1 when you’re near an enemy, ramming into foes in Eternal Senia and the Fairune series, that sort of thing.

To me, this battle system has the capacity to be the most boring of all of them--and it lives up to that potential more often than not. It works out okay enough when it’s the ram-into-stuff variety, I guess, like the Witch + Hero series and Eternal Senia, but in the more common MMORPG styles of this battle system, things can get really asinine. The only thing I can imagine that’s more mind-numbing than repetitive Turn Based combat is spending 20 - 40 minutes messing around with combat command orders and priorities, and then for the rest of the game just watching every battle happen on its own, with you occasionally directing someone to use a potion. Set up your little automated combat strategies well enough in some of these systems, and you can just sit back and read a book while the game plays itself without you and Jontron freaks out. This is the only battle system so ass backwards, it’s guaranteed that the better you are at it, the less you’ll actually play. You can play some of these RPGs in the background while you’re doing something else.


...Someone did remember to tell the Final Fantasy 12 development team that video games are generally regarded as an INTERACTIVE medium, right? A memo clarifying what products SquareEnix made did circulate around the office at some point between 2001 and 2006? Then again, maybe the FF12 team designed the game the way they did as an apologetic mercy to the player. Maybe they fully realized that their game was a self-important coma-inducing wad of garbage, and in a last-ditch effort to mitigate the damage, Final Fantasy 12’s developers designed its battle system to be so excessively automated that you could actually play a different, better game while playing theirs.

Winner: Defender’s Quest 1
Okay, so, this is kinda cheating, because Defender’s Quest isn’t so much an Automated RPG as it is a Tower Defense RPG, and Tower Defense games just naturally have units which are automated. Look, I don’t know what to tell you. The best that Automated battle systems ever seem to produce are either things like Xenoblade Chronicles 1, which is functional and fine but also would have clearly worked better as an Action RPG, which isn’t something I’m gonna congratulate, or things like the Eternal Senia/Fairune/Witch + Hero thing, where you just spend the game ‘attacking’ enemies by body slamming them and hoping they die first. That works just fine, but can I really glorify something that careless and basic with a winning spot?

Anyway, cheating or not, DQ1 is an Automated RPG, and it works damn well, incorporating the RPG concepts of leveling up and stat/ability-building into the naturally addictive (if perhaps kind of stupid) Tower Defense genre’s gameplay smoothly and effectively. There’s not a lot to say about it, really. Just imagine a Tower Defense game that is an RPG, imagine that it’s done exactly as well as you’d think it should be, and you’ve got Defender’s Quest 1. I can’t for the life of me figure out why we haven’t seen more games try merging these genres since DQ1 came out, because it’s strong proof that they have a natural chemistry.

And...that’s it for now. I can’t think of any other really major RPG battle system types that aren’t just somewhat varied versions of the above, although if you can, you’re welcome to share your thoughts with me. Barring that, though, this is the end of the rant, and I have no closing thoughts to share, so have this awkward paragraph, instead! Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Tales of Legendia's Shirley's Free Pass

You know, when you think about it, Tales of Legendia’s second half really, really glossed the hell over Shirley’s actions. I mean, this cutesy flower-crown-making dame was going to straight up murder every human being in the fucking world because the guy she liked didn’t like her back!

I love Tales of Legendia, honest to Palutena I do, but when I look back on this game critically, it is frankly astounding that no one, during the second half of the game, seems to take any issue whatsoever with the fact that Shirley was moments away from drowning the entire human goddamn species because her feelings weren’t reciprocated! I think there’s, what, a moment during the second half in which the party makes a lighthearted joke about it? Ha ha, yeah, good natured ribbing, nice one guys, ha ha, you made her blush, ha ha, she was going to murder you all over a teenage crush.

And hey, look, I’ll be fair about this. I know that the catalyst for Shirley’s deciding to go forward with Maurits’s plan* to annihilate the human species is, ostensibly, the death of Shirley’s friend Fenimore. It’s quite a tragic scene, and I myself was moved by her loss, even if she was often kind of a jerk. And I also acknowledge that the influence of the raging water god thing** that Shirley was connected to probably had something to do with the matter. It’s not JUST the fact that Senel rejected Shirley’s advances that galvanize her to go forward with Maurits’s scheme.

Nonetheless, even if there are mitigating factors, I feel that we can only logically conclude that the only truly important part in Shirley’s decision to drown the human race is her desired romance with Senel. Her guiding philosophy as the Merines is that humans and Ferines can’t live together peacefully; they’re too different and historically humans have treated her people the way white people historically have treated Native Americans. It’s an idea that’s catalyzed by Fenimore’s death, but maintained by Senel’s rejection, as evidenced by the fact that the moment Senel says, “Uh, you don't need to kill us, Shirley...because...I love you. Oh, yeah, baby! I feel like doing stuff for you, and stuff,” Shirley calls off Armageddon in favor of smooch time.***

And yet, despite the fact that Shirley’s way of dealing with rejection from her personality-lacking protector is less “write bad poetry in my room” and more “untold millions of innocents must die for no reason”, no one, particularly not her new boytoy Senel (who has, in the proud tradition of Legend of Dragoon’s Dart and Final Fantasy 8’s Squall, spontaneously flipped his brain switch to love her for no particularly credible reason), calls her out after the fact on this incredibly petty rationale.

And it IS petty. So very, very petty, and selfish, not to mention illogical and stupid. Because, you see, it’s not just that Shirley’s mind could be changed by seeing love between a human and a Ferines. She, specifically, has to be the one to benefit and get a beau out of it. How do we know that she’s holding millions of lives ransom for a boyfriend, and it’s not just a philosophical matter of not believing that peace can occur between the 2 species without there being proof that they can love one another? How do we know it’s purely selfishly subjective, and not general and objective? Because Shirley already knows that humans and Ferines can love each other. She was there to witness it! Before Senel settles for this whiny silver medal, he was in love with Shirley’s sister, Stella! In fact, we see far more convincing evidence of Senel’s devotion and affection for Stella in this game, even though it’s all in her absence and after her passing, than we do of his eventual feelings for Shirley!

Oh, and by the way, real fucking considerate on Shirley’s part to get so upset over Senel’s rejection of her confession when he just lost Stella, what, a week ago? A day? Stella’s loss is still fresh and painful when Shirley makes her bid for the guy’s heart. Dyntos forbid the guy take a fucking moment to mourn the loss of the love of his life before doing a forward half somersault dive into your panties, you insensitive cow!****

And that’s not all. Senel may not immediately return Shirley’s affections, but he has been there as her steadfast friend her whole life, and throughout the entirety of the game’s first half, he is throwing himself into dozens of life-threatening situations and running himself fucking ragged trying to take care of and guard her! Say what you will of Senel’s otherwise lacking character depth, but the guy is a loyal, unrelenting protector and friend to Shirley. Forget romantic love, his mere friendship with Shirley is MORE than enough evidence for any objective observer that humanity and magical water plot people can coexist with deep, meaningful bonds!

If Shirley wanted any real evidence that humans and Ferines can come to live in harmony, she has only to look at the entirety of her fucking life for it. The love she witnessed all her life between her sister and Senel, and the intense devotion Senel has to her as a friend and would-have-been brother-in-law, should be far more than enough to convince her not to go through with Maurits’s genocide plans. But that’s only IF she were not just being a selfish, spoiled little twat about the whole affair, using the philosophy of Maurits as an excuse to lash out over a failed teen crush. Yes, the decision to extinguish an entire species of people comes down not to her people’s history, not to the death of Fenimore, not to a philosophical policy of “get them before they get us,” but rather the fact that her fragile feelings are fucking hurt and she’s got the opportunity to throw the biggest tantrum in history over it.

What a petty, stupid, selfish, and just outright horrible person Shirley is. At least when it comes to Fenimore and Maurits and the rest of the Ferines, their hatred for humans and harmful wishes are based on actual tragedy and atrocity witnessed by, and even inflicted onto, them. Genocide isn’t the answer, of course, but at least their lives have born witness to tragedies that you could understand leading to that kind of decision. Fenimore’s death catalyst aside, Shirley won’t snap out of her self-indulgently gloomy murder haze solely because she got friendzoned. Yeah, well, Shirley, you know what? The question of whether you can live in peace together with someone else should NOT have to depend on whether they’re willing to stick a dick in you!

I really like Tales of Legendia. Of the 5 Tales of games I’ve played, it’s my favorite, for its great cast and the terrific sense of family and home it creates among them. But the game’s not flawless, even in the areas in which it truly shines, and nothing proves that better than how quickly and inexplicably the entire cast is willing to completely forgive and forget about the fact that Shirley is a terrible person.

* Speaking of inexplicable free passes, how about that Maurits? He’s the guy who orchestrates the whole human extinction plan to start with, and unlike Shirley, there was no stage of the plan in which he wasn’t fully aware of what he was doing. And yet during the game’s second half, he’s still alive and well, and even being allowed to continue leading the Ferines village! Look, I know that vengeance is bad and many times harsh punishments don’t really solve anything, but maybe his intention to slaughter millions of people deserves at least a slap on the wrist, huh? Could we perhaps not let this guy keep a leadership role, at least? If Hitler had lived to see the end of World War II, we probably wouldn’t have reinstated him as leader of Germany, don’t you think?

** Not a euphemism for her period, I swear.

*** If anyone can actually find a link to a video of when Futurama’s Bender says this (the episode called Love and Rocket), I’d be grateful. It just isn’t as funny in text form.

**** I realize that Shirley’s also broken up about Stella’s loss, too, and I sympathize and allow her that, but that doesn’t really relate to this situation, so neither does my sympathy. Also, it doesn’t really fit in anywhere else in the rant, but I want to note--Stella’s death is not an adequate factor for Shirley wanting to drown humanity, the way Fenimore’s death is (in theory, at least). Stella may die because of human vice, but her last acts are to protect Shirley and (more importantly) Senel from harm. If anything, Stella’s death is a positive example of the love of a few outweighing the hate of many, and thus should be another reason for Shirley not to go forward with the genocide thing.