Sunday, June 11, 2017


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

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Shadowrun: Hong Kong's Ending Choice

Interestingly, the ending of each of the recent Shadowrun games has presented the player a choice in career path, and each of the choices have a similar theme. In Shadowrun Returns, the protagonist is presented with the opportunity to become a personal security officer for some wealthy, powerful bigwig. And in Shadowrun: Dragonfall, a representative of Lofwyr, the tremendously powerful dragon who heads the largest corporation in the world, offers the protagonist the opportunity for her/his team to become a retained group of mercenaries for Lofwyr. I say this is interesting, because both of these choices are basically presenting the issue that defines the entire Shadowrun franchise: the choice between the comfort and security of being owned by the enslavers of man (government, religion, and, by far most of all, corporation), and the hard, usually short life of refusing to give up your freedom to those who see you as nothing more than a resource to be possessed.

Now, almost needless to say, in both of these games, I told the mouthpieces of oppression to fuck off, and stayed a Shadowrunner. If I was possessed of the opinion that trading away your self-determination for comfort and security was a worthy goal to pursue, I wouldn’t be playing a damn Shadowrun game to begin with! Easy decision, right? Of course. Screw personal luxury, a Shadowrunner stands on her or his principles!

Which is why it would probably seem odd to you that in Shadowrun: Hong Kong, when this choice was presented again, I totally had the protagonist go for it.

So, see, at the end of Shadowrun: Hong Kong’s Extended Edition (which basically adds a small post-game storyline, much like how Fallout 3’s Broken Steel DLC extended the game past its ending), a moment comes when you have a choice similar to that offered at the end of the Shadowrun titles I mentioned above: you can follow through with the deal you’ve made with Qiu and the corporation she represents, or do as Kindly Cheng, the leader of the Triad group that you’ve been working with until now, orders. The former option will earn a reward from Qiu’s corporate backers in the form of restored SINs (System Identification Number) for the protagonist and the protagonist’s adopted brother Duncan--essentially, they’ll both be able to go back to a legal life within the social system like they had before Shadowrun: Hong Kong’s events. The latter option will be giving the finger to all involved corps and supporting the criminal organizations that live outside corporate law.

So, you’d expect that I would have chosen to side with Kindly Cheng and tell the corps to fuck off, right? But I didn’t. My decision in this scenario is to help Qiu and her corporation out, as promised, and have the SINs restored for the protagonist and Duncan. It seems hypocritical, I know, but hear out my reasoning:

First of all, the end result, on the large scale, is the same either way. Hong Kong is still doomed to become a plaything of the Ares corporation regardless of whether Qiu’s company can fight back or the Triads have a better starting position. If this was a decision that made a true difference for the citizens and runners of Hong Kong, I’d surely side with Cheng, since, though in an unpleasant way, her gang represents the freedom from the system that the Shadowrunners live by. But because this decision changes only the fate of the game’s core cast, more leeway is allowed for selfish reasons.

So, with that understanding, here’s the big thing about this issue: being a Shadowrunner is ultimately meant to be about having control over how you live your life, and refusing to relinquish your self-determination to some unchallenged, unchecked, and undeserving authority. Being a Shadowrunner is a choice to live free to who you are, instead of submitting to who someone else wants you to be.

But the protagonist of Shadowrun: Hong Kong, and her/his brother Duncan? They never got to MAKE that choice. The circumstances of the game’s plot forced them to become SINless and to live as soldiers of fortune.

The protagonists of Shadowrun Returns and Shadowrun: Dragonfall were both Shadowrunners already when those games started. It’s right for them to reject the offers of the powerful to keep them in cages, because these characters’ lifestyle implies that they have already made that choice in the past. But Duncan and the protagonist of Shadowrun: Hong Kong are bound by no obligation to stay true to a past choice, because that choice was stolen from them by the circumstances of fate.

Additionally, Duncan and SHK Protagonist’s lives as Shadowrunners have not really been a particularly good representation of the freedom of living life in the shadows. They’re allowed to take jobs on the side, but ultimately, they answer to Kindly Cheng as their master, again as a result of circumstances beyond their control more than any choice. That’s basically almost the same as it would have been for the Shadowrun: Dragonfall team if I’d had them take Lofwyr’s deal: life as another’s pet, simply on a longer leash than most. In a case such as this, being returned to the regular social system would actually represent a life with more self-direction than the current life in the shadows allows. Hell, the protagonist could choose to have her or his SIN restored, leave Hong Kong, and then become a Shadowrunner again, this time on her/his own terms.

Furthermore, there’s Duncan to consider. It would be one thing if this choice only affected the protagonist, but the restored SIN deal is offered to both her/him, AND Duncan. Even if the protagonist wants to continue as a Shadowrunner, it’s not just herself/himself that she/he is choosing a lifestyle for, it’s also Duncan. Duncan eventually becomes resigned to a life of running the shadows during the events of the main game, but he doesn’t like it, and when the possibility is raised that he could have his SIN restored and live a lawful life once more, he jumps at the chance.

Like I said, if the protagonist likes being a Shadowrunner better than living a normal life, she/he can always choose at a later date to give up the standard life again and return to the underworld--and do so without being eternally indebted to Kindly Cheng, to boot. This isn’t the protagonist’s only chance at living as a Shadowrunner. But this IS Duncan’s only chance at getting out of the shadows and living a life he wants to. To give up on the chance to have their SINs restored is to screw Duncan, the longest and most loyal companion the protagonist has, over horribly.

And frankly? If you do that to Duncan, you’re no better than the careless, selfish corporations and wealthy assholes who are the villains of the Shadowrun franchise. No, really, how would you be any different? You’re taking a man’s ability to decide what he wants to do with his life out of his hands, deciding his fate for him with no regard to what he wants. That’s the thematic definition of everything the entire Shadowrun franchise stands against!

In Shadowrun Returns and Shadowrun: Dragonfall, I told the messengers of society’s oppression to take a hike, because I believe in self autonomy, in the freedom that Shadowrunners represent. But it’s because I hold that belief that I chose the exact opposite in Shadowrun: Hong Kong, and allowed Duncan and his sister/brother to escape their lives in the shadows: because this time, that’s the choice that means freedom. And I say kudos to Harebrained Schemes for having the skill and creativity to flip the situation around in such a way.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Guest Rant: Final Fantasy 4's Insistence on Not Letting Its Characters Die, By Humza

Guest rant time! Today's rant is another in the fine line of Humza's work, and this time it's even about a game I know! Now isn't that spiffy? Thanks for covering for me yet again, sir!

Disclaimer: I don't own Humza's words below, and they don't necessarily reflect my own perceptions and opinions. Although they might. You'll just have to sit and wonder. I'm not telling.

Final Fantasy 4's Insistence on Not Letting Its Characters Die

July 11, 2016

I think most people that would visit an RPG blog are likely to be at least somewhat familiar with Final Fantasy 4, even if they haven’t played it; for those that haven’t, then it probably isn’t worth wasting your time reading through this and spoiling some important elements of the game.

One of the most bizarre aspects of Final Fantasy 4’s plot (which is saying something considering this is a game where you go to the moon on a giant whale) is how almost every character (save Tellah and his daughter, Anna) dies a fake death and then returns by the end of the game, despite having little plot relevance at that point. There are quite a few theories as to why the writers decided to do this, like the expected audience being too young to witness death, but those explanations aren’t really interesting since there isn’t much meaning to the deaths in that case, and Tellah’s death is also not explained.

The primary cause of the characters’ alleged deaths is their resistance to Golbez and their attempts to prevent him from gaining the crystals and thus achieving...whatever his vague goal in collecting those crystals was. Their deaths are also the main form of destruction and evil that we see from Golbez, since the game doesn’t show us many other evil deeds he was responsible for (the only exception being Rydia’s town, whose citizens were indirectly killed by Golbez).

By reversing the primary source of damage that the players can identify Golbez as being responsible for, the player is more likely to forgive him, since those characters weren’t actually killed (meaning that the player sees even less harm that Golbez has committed, which would make him seem less evil than they initially thought). This fits in with the last quarter of the game, where the game tries (but fails) to make the players feel more sympathetic towards Golbez since he lost his parents and was corrupted by Zemus as a kid. The combination of his backstory (intended to induce players’ sympathy) and his lack of killing (intended to make players hate him less) cause him to seem better than the player previously perceived him as.

That still doesn’t explain why Anna and Tellah didn't survive, though, because reversing their deaths could have added to the decrease in hatred that the player was most likely intended to have (especially so for Anna, since she is a non-combatant and more innocent from the player’s view because of that). So why does the game still not let those two survive?

Tellah’s death occurred by using the Meteor spell on Golbez, which was too strong for the former to handle while still surviving, and it damaged Golbez severely, which seems impressive to the player since the gap in strength between Golbez and the rest of the party is still quite large at that point. The same spell is cast by Golbez and Fusoya against Zeromus at the end of the game, which the player would expect to be extremely strong (especially since it was cast by Lunarians, who are portrayed as superior in magic to humans, and since two people were now casting Meteor instead of one), but Zeromus was still mostly unharmed after the duo’s attack, which increases Zeromus’ strength in the player’s mind and makes him appear a more formidable enemy as a result.

If Tellah didn’t die, then how would that event have differed? The player wouldn’t see Meteor as being such a strong spell if it didn’t have so much recoil damage, which would decrease the intended surprise that would be caused by Golbez and Fusoya’s attack. More importantly, it would also make Zeromus appear to be a less formidable enemy since he would have been unharmed by what the player would perceive as being a weaker magic spell, which isn’t as impressive a feat. This also deals with the problem of the game letting Anna die at the same time, because the chain of events that caused Tellah to cast Meteor and then die as a result would have been avoided if Anna did not die and cause Tellah to set out on his journey with the party.

Okay, so to summarize that verbose mess I typed above, I think that the characters’ fake deaths are because the game doesn’t want us to hate Golbez for killing the characters as much, but instead wants us to sympathize with him. Tellah did die because his death served the plot purpose of showing the strength of Meteor through the recoil damage that killed him, which makes Zeromus seem that much stronger when he survives a Meteor spell cast by Golbez and Fusoya, and this couldn’t have happened unless Anna also died and made Tellah seek vengeance.

Monday, August 8, 2016

General RPGs as Art

It’s a question that’s starting to get thrown around here and there in gamers’ communities with some frequency, and I only expect it to become more and more widely debated in the future:

Are video games art?

Well, that’s just too big a question for me to answer. I’m not qualified to judge the medium as a whole, so I’m not going to try.

Wait, where are you going? Sit back down; I’m not finished. God, you kids and your trying to leave before the bell rings, I swear.

As I was saying, I’m not qualified to judge the entire form of entertainment that is the video game on whether it is or is not art. But I do feel qualified to examine the question in terms of the RPG, at least.

As long as we’re pretty loose with what we consider “qualified,” that is.

So, are RPGs art? That, I can answer with an emphatic, “Yes! Well, y’know. Sometimes.”

What even qualifies as art, of course, is somewhat subjective, and always has been, and always should be. Still, even if it’s essentially impossible to hammer down the exact edges of the concept of art, we can at least generally agree on a broad area of its spectrum of definition. So even though my personal definition of art may not be exactly the same as your own, we’ll probably still be able to agree the majority of time. With this rule in mind, I feel safe in giving the definition I generally adhere to deciding whether something is or is not art:

To me, Art is a creative work or action created with the intent of conveying to or invoking within an audience an emotional, spiritual, or philosophical meaning, question, or resonation. And, well, gets some degree of success in its result. I mean, you can’t deny that Mass Effect 3’s ending invoked one hell of an emotional response, but I don’t think blind, unending fury against the game’s creators was the intended response, so I wouldn’t call that pile of shit art, at least not for that reason.

So, to me, there are a lot of RPGs that are art, yes. As a general rule, RPGs are plot-centric, attempting to engage us with characters who explore various theoreticals of the human condition, with the intent of making an overall statement on the world.

Are these statements always complex and intriguing? Certainly not. More often, the games convey fairly simple ideas as an overall theme, things like Love = Good, Know and Be True to Yourself, Friendship is Magic, and even just Be a Decent Person. Still, art doesn’t always have to be deep and complicated to be art. Sometimes it’s important to contemplate and reinforce the simple ideals and facets of ourselves, too. Besides, sometimes a simple concept can still make for a powerful piece of art; it’s just all in the execution. Yeah, “Love = Good” may be the simplistic message you can take from, say, Legend of Dragoon, but it’s also essentially the message of the gripping, emotional powerhouse that is Disgaea 1, or the truly spectacular Undertale, and I think it would be difficult to argue either of those creative, nuanced explorations of human connections as not art. Likewise, you can say that “Friendship is Really Good,” which is something you can find as a major theme of simple stories like Wild Arms 1 and Secret of Mana, is too facile to be art...but when you get down to it, isn’t that the fundamental theme of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, a game which explores the power and spiritual meaning of our connections to one another in a grandly emotional and even poetic way, and The World Ends with You, an RPG widely recognized for its creativity and the strong emotional connection its audience forms with its cast?

And whether or not you can accept the RPGs with simpler ideas to convey as art or not, there are certainly a number of games in the genre which explore deeper ideas and emotional truths in a way too creative and devoted not to be called art. Deus Ex 1 explores the nature of government and its power, strongly relevant to our current society, and what the truths it has discovered mean for us as a society. The Shin Megami Tensei series takes a number of perspectives in analyzing the concepts of religion and faith, as well as the conflict within us and our society between the wish for security and order, and the wish for freedom and independence. Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume examines the concept of vengeance, and what it can do to a person who chooses it as his or her duty. The Fallout series explores, celebrates, and critiques the culture of the United States, and the inevitability of both good and bad aspects of human nature. Several RPGs like Tales of the Abyss, Star Ocean 3, Okage: Shadow King, and Valkyrie Profile 1 examine the question of Man against God/Destiny in a definitive variety of ways. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 and Q both explore the question of what gives our lives meaning. And then there’s Planescape: Torment, which is just damn.

To me, RPGs can, and more often than not should, be considered art. Not always--there are plenty of RPGs out there that just clearly are a paint-by-numbers affair that convey nothing but their developers’ wish to make money. But overall, the genre is all about the exploration and communication of truths of humanity, and/or the portrayal and invocation of powerful emotional states, be it in a simple or grandiose manner. And to me, that makes them art.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

General RPG Lists: Fire Emblem 14 Romances

Before we begin, I have a quick question for you folks, since you always seem to be way more in the know about these things than myself: does Nintendo have any plans to release a third pack of DLC maps for Fire Emblem 14? I made my rant on the game's DLC before I knew about the second map pack, which released soon after I posted the rant, and I feel like an idiot over it. I want to post an updated rant on the game's DLC which covers the new maps, but I sure as heck don't want to make the same gaffe twice. Is FE14 done with DLC now?

Thanks in advance for the answer. On with the rant!

Fire Emblem 14 has a lot of romances in it. Like, a fuckton of’em. The main character alone has almost 70 different romantic options--basically, Corrin can romance about half the entire cast as a man, and about the other half as a woman. And that’s just Corrin--most of the rest of the party members in this game have about 11 - 13 romantic options for themselves. By my count--yes, I did actually count them all--that’s over 300 separate romances!

And only TWO of them are same-sex. I know I talked about this before at length, but it bears saying, again: Holy Hell, that is just disgraceful.

With such an insane number of love confessions, it’s understandable that there’s a pretty wide range of quality in the writing of these romances. Some are really touching and genuine...others are quite stupid, or worse. So, with the wide range and the literal hundreds of possibilities, why not make a rant listing out the 14 best and the 14 worst of the FE14 romantic scene?

...Look, I read through all of them. I’ve gotta do SOMETHING to attempt to justify that, alright?

The Best Romances of Fire Emblem 14

14. Charlotte and Silas

This is a simple romance, but I like it. Silas doesn’t just happen to find out about and accept Charlotte’s true self, like all the other guys she can be paired off with--he actively pursues a knowledge of her, sitting her down and getting to know her in totality before the S rank confession scene. It seems like a small thing, but it shows a genuine interest in Silas for Charlotte as a person, and that means something. There are a lot of love confessions in this game in which one person says they look forward to deepening their knowledge of their new significant other, and that’s fine, but in Silas’s case, we see that he actually cared to know all he could about Charlotte as a person before he formed a romantic interest in her.

13. Azura and Kaze

There’s not much to say about this: Azura and Kaze form a bond that is sweet and compelling. Their affection just feels quite real to me.

12. Mitama and Shigure

This meeting of aesthetic-minded individuals who find joy in recreating the world’s beauty in their art is a natural, convincing progression of affection. The scene of Mitama and Shigure by the shore of a lake, spending their hours beside one another as they quietly labor on paintings and poems, brought together by their shared desire to’s romantic in a classic way, foreign yet somehow familiar to us, a compelling scenario of romanticism that ends in a convincing exchange of affection.

Also, you know it’s some serious romantic shit when Mitama actually says she’d rather spend time with someone than asleep in bed.

11. Azura and Laslow

Azura and Laslow connect really naturally through an interest in dance, and...well, that’s sort of it, but they seem to have a real chemistry with it. I hate to be so brief with Azura a second time here, but there’s not much to say, really: it’s simple, and it works.

10. Beruka and Kaze

Well, you know me: I’m a sucker for character development. The relationship between Kaze and Beruka has Kaze helping the assassin to rekindle her long-lost humanity by helping her to learn how to enjoy herself during her free time. What I like about this is that Kaze is gentle, patient, and accepting toward Beruka, coaxing her development as a person and connecting with her as he does so. The confession scene is pretty standard for Beruka, but the conversations leading up to it do a good job of selling you on the idea that Kaze has made a significant impact on Beruka, and that her quietly returning emotions bring a love for Kaze with them.

9. Kiragi and Velouria

Velouria’s odd obsession with what most people would consider rubbish is the basis for most of her conversation chains with other characters (and the same is true of her father, Keaton). Most of the time, however, this fundamental aspect of Velouria’s personality and values is seen as a mildly amusing quirk, or worse, a somewhat off-putting obstacle by her romantic partners. In this, Kiragi stands out, for once he gets a handle on what Velouria’s interests are, he just takes them in stride, without criticizing them or needlessly pointing out how strange they are. In fact, his first instinct is to invite her to come hunting with him so that she can find more of her treasures in the forest, and once they’re there, he generously lets Velouria set the pace of their excursion, and even helps her find objects of interest. Finally, I like the S rank conversation--I think it’s sweet that Velouria wants to show Kiragi her entire collection in her tent, and I like the fact that he’s genuinely interested in it. Not only that, but this confession conversation has a message of some merit to it, too, for Kiragi finds a new value to Velouria’s collection when he sees it all together, realizing that it has formed a breathtaking recreation of the forest within Velouria’s tent (and Kiragi does love the great outdoors). Kiragi and Velouria have a good chemistry, their interests mesh well, Kiragi shows honest respect for her, and their exchange of feelings for one another is genuine, heartwarming, and meaningful.

8. Leo and Nyx

Look, everything involving Nyx romantically is...kinda iffy. I mean, I know that, logically, Nyx is a consenting adult regardless of the fact that she’s trapped in a body that stopped aging at, what, 13? Objectively, I know that it’s morally okay for her to be in a romantic relationship with an adult person. Hell, age of consent is more about mental development than physical development anyway, so if anything, she’s the one with an unfair advantage over her partner given that she’s implied to be the oldest member of the game’s playable cast. Nyx having romantic opportunities with members of the cast really, honestly is okay.

It’s still off-putting and Japan is still weird, though. Just...c’mon, Nintendo, did you really have to? I know everyone took Xenogears in stride with Bart and his 12-year-old cousin Margie, and I’m honestly pretty shocked at how no one ever seems to even question La Pucelle Tactics throwing adult man Homard and “13”-year-old* Eclair together (and their relationship is really shitty, to boot; at least Bart and Margie appear to have a genuinely good emotional connection)...but did you really have to throw the lolicon community that bone? It’s better than Margie and Eclair in that Nyx is mentally an adult, at least, but still...Oh well. I’ve seen worse, so I may as well get over this.

Regardless, I strive for objectivity, and speaking from that perspective, the romance between Leo and Nyx is actually pretty nice. After she tells Leo of her curse, he helps her to see herself in her mind as an adult, and pushes her toward forgiving herself for her past sins. It’s a brief, but very touching moment, and it’s good for Nyx as a person. The same is true of the S rank confession. Nyx speaks of how she sees herself in her mind sitting with Leo as an adult as she should be...and Leo replies that he sees a similar scene, but one in which she is as she is, and between them, a child. Ignoring the slight mental discomfort of Nyx’s teen pregnancy, this is touching, and also good for Nyx, because while Leo acknowledges that within herself, Nyx is an adult (he was, after all, the one who first suggested to her trying to see herself as such within her mind), when he thinks of being with her, starting a family with her, he’s seeing her as she will have to be, should that come to pass. In essence, Leo understands her inner self, but also accepts the reality of her outward form, and that’s a good example to set for Nyx. And so, I think this is a good couple in the game--it develops Nyx’s character in a positive way, and it’s pretty touching.

7. Arthur and Felicia

This one’s in my good books just for the fact that Arthur’s one of the few people who actually encourages Felicia. Most of poor Felicia’s potential romances have her husbands-to-be criticizing her for her clumsiness, or at least approaching it with resignation as a negative thing to be mitigated. Arthur, on the other hand, spends his time in his support conversations with Felicia encouraging her, trying to show her ways not to lessen or eliminate her clumsiness, but rather how to live with her difficulty and function with it. And of course, if anyone could help Felicia with this, it’s the disaster magnet himself, right? So I like this one for the fact that it’s good for Felicia, offering her so much more than the slightly condescending pat-on-the-head that most of her romantic options do in regards to her difficulties.

I also like this romance in that it’s not just completely focused on Felicia--it also develops Arthur, as well. It’s often the case in this game that romances are one-sided in terms of character personality, even in the good ones. I mean, look at Leo and Nyx--they have a good romance, but it’s very Nyx-centric. You could fill Leo’s position with almost half the male cast and it’d work just as well. And that doesn’t take away from their romance, because as I said above, it’s good. But with Arthur and Felicia, Arthur’s part could be filled by no one else, and his own character grows alongside Felicia’s, and that’s a bonus.

Finally, it bears saying that beyond all these other considerations, the support conversations between Felicia and Arthur are also just a genuinely good bonding experience for them, and you can really believe that they’ve developed feelings for each other during their time with one another. Overall, this is solid.

6. Azura and Corrin

Hey, it’s the closest thing to a canon couple that we have in this game. But more importantly, Azura and Corrin have a fast, strong, committed bond to one another in this game, and it translates well into romance. Corrin is the one person that Azura can truly confide in and share her secret knowledge with. Corrin shares doubts and fears with Azura that he doesn’t share with anyone else. Azura is Corrin’s protector and partner in conspiracy, and she’s willing to plunge herself as deeply into darkness and sin to do what’s right as Corrin is (seen on the Nohr game path). Azura and Corrin are one of those put-together-because-of-plot-conventions couples, similar to countless other RPGs which pair the protagonist with the most plot-significant member of the opposite sex, but regardless of convention, it’s clear that these two do have strong chemistry and a connection that very easily takes the step into love.

5. Corrin and Rhajat

It’s a shame that the English release changed the way that Female Corrin and Rhajat’s S rank scene goes, because the original confession scenario implied that Corrin is the reincarnation of Fire Emblem 13’s protagonist Robin, and that (less surprisingly) Rhajat is the reincarnation of FE13’s Tharja, and that their love was so great that not even death and reincarnation could keep them from one another. I like that sort of story, one with a love that transcends time, space, life, and death, and keeps bringing two souls made for each other back together across lives.**

Still, what we ended up with in the USA, which is that the confession scene is the same for both Male and Female Corrin, is good. This one’s here not so much for the S rank conversation itself, as the overall concept. There’s something appealingly romantic about the idea of falling in love with the hero who inspired you and changed your entire life, and it makes a certain sort of sense--after all, the person you’re in love with tends to be the most important person in your life, so it seems a natural thing for one of the most fundamental figures in Rhajat’s life, the one whose actions shaped who Rhajat became, to also be the one that she loves and marries. And the authenticity of this love is helped by the fact that this is a rare occasion in FE14 wherein romantic interest is actually present beyond the confines of the support conversations--it’s a simple fact of Rhajat’s character in the game, independent of the player’s input, that she has an interest in Corrin. Admittedly, an interest that manifests itself through stalking, but that’s easy enough to take in stride once you’ve reconciled yourself with some of the other somewhat uncomfortable stuff this game throws at you, romance-wise.*** It’s kind of a nice and refreshing thing that Corrin and Rhajat’s support conversations function with the assumption that Rhajat is already romantically interested, too--almost all other conversation chains in this game have to establish the romantic connection themselves, while here, it’s already there (on 1 side, at least) and thus the conversations can run with it. Overall, Corrin and Rhajat have a good, touching, and enjoyable romance.

4. Beruka and Saizo

Alright, now we’re talking. The last 4 romances on this list are the ones I really, really like, respect, and/or feel are just real, true examples of love. Until now, this list has been a selection of the best examples of halfway decent romances; from this point on, we see stories of love that are really good even in the objective sense.

I really, really like what the game does with Beruka and Saizo. It’s a believable, compelling meeting between 2 emotionally damaged killers who have seen the darker depths of their world that most of the rest of the cast cannot truly understand for having never been involved in it. They connect from shared experience, and through that connection, are reminded of just how ugly and useless the violence their lives are based on truly is. It’s a thought that troubles the normally emotionless Beruka greatly, as each realizes how truly meaningless the cycle of vengeance is, a cycle which they help to perpetuate. In this understanding, they vow together to do their part for Corrin’s army to create a world in which this is no longer the case. And after that, Saizo proposes that after the war, both he and Beruka retire from conflict, settle down together and help each other find peace, 2 killers who understand one another in ways that no one else in the newly peaceful world could.

It’s not warm and tender, like most of these other romances, like the way we expect romance to be...but Beruka and Saizo come together in a powerful way, and I find it extremely compelling and beautiful.

3. Laslow and Peri

Generally speaking, Peri’s romances are...pretty awful. I’ll get into that below. But the romance between her and Laslow is pretty damn great. Through his interactions with her, Laslow helps Peri to grow immensely as a person, as she comes to understand what it was that made her a murderous psychopath, and finally reach an understanding of the tragedy of death. With the guidance of Laslow, Peri grows from a thoughtless, violent child into a woman who feels the consequences of empathy, who can cry out of actual sorrow instead of a mimicry of emotion, who can move beyond childish words and speak as a true, adult woman when she needs to...a woman who is in enough possession of herself that we can truly believe it when she tells Laslow that she loves him.

2. Selena and Subaki

Honestly, this is a terrific story of love, in ways far beyond any other romance in the game (even the couple in this list’s top spot). It’s everything it should be. Selena and Subaki are a great match, a woman whose issues of self-esteem and unrelenting drive to be the best at everything and a man who puts constant effort into the pursuit of perfection. They’re so similar in their desires, and yet completely different in their motivations and actions, that they fit together flawlessly. Beyond the simple fact that they’re a natural match, their support conversations provide a convincing romance, developing each of them (but especially Selena, which is fine, because she’s definitely the deeper character) in a positive way so that when they admit their feelings for one another, it feels like the only possible conclusion.

That by itself makes Selena and Subaki a great pair, but the unique aspect that puts them so high on this list also has to do with something that happens for Selena that doesn’t happen for just about anyone else (that I know of): the child she has with Subaki is uniquely tailored for her. Normally, the conversations between child characters and their mothers (with the exception of Azura and Shigure, and Female Corrin and Kana) are generally the same from one mother to the next. What I mean is, if you pair, say, Azura up with Kaden, their daughter, Selkie, will have almost the exact same support conversations with Azura as she would have with Hinoka, or Charlotte, or Rinkah, if any of them were her mother instead. A few words of the child’s dialogue may change, and obviously the mother’s dialogue is (usually) adjusted to reflect her personality, but overall, the same ideas are expressed.

But, in the case of Subaki’s daughter Caeldori, the support conversations she has with Selena have more content to them than with any other mother Caeldori might have had. And they’re...wonderful. Some of the best stuff this game has to offer, I would say. Caeldori is the spitting image of Selena’s mother, Cordelia (and her name is an anagram for Cordelia, too, so, much like Rhajat to Tharja, it’s safe to say that Caeldori is a reincarnation of Cordelia), and like Cordelia, Caeldori is admired and respected by all who know her for being a hard-working, flawless prodigy of nearly all she does. Thus, during the conversations that Selena has with Caeldori, she can’t help but see a lot of her mother in Caeldori, and this allows for some really engaging, emotionally powerful dialogue between Selena and her daughter that brings Selena to a really good place, reassuring much of her fears and allowing her to work through a lot of her longstanding issues of self-worth. It’s touching and it’s extremely good for Selena, and that’s what really skyrockets the pair of Selena and Subaki so high up this list: because not only is it a great meeting of personalities, not only is it a natural and real story of love, but the daughter that Selena has with Subaki also develops Selena’s character beautifully and brings her to a much better place as a person.

1. Camilla and Corrin

Look, Camilla is more than a little weird. Her obsession with Corrin is maybe a little uncomfortably intense, and while it’s established early in the game that she and Corrin are not actually siblings and that she and the rest of Corrin’s Nohr family knows this, Camilla still clearly thinks of herself first and foremost as Corrin’s sister, even as she dotes on and adores Corrin in a way that’s really, really hard not to see as significantly romantic. In fact, I’m fairly certain that the familial perception is part of it; her voice-acted love confession to Corrin actually says, “We’re a family now. And I love my family more than anything.” And if you set it up so that she’s Soleil’s mother, Camilla will actually say, when Soleil begins hitting on her in a support conversation, that Soleil has clearly taken after her.

She’s also just kinda off-putting at times on her own, able to switch disturbingly easily between compassionate, generous, and caring, to cold, ruthless, and bloodthirsty. And hey, on the other side, let’s face it, it’s kiiiiiinda disturbing in this support conversation chain when Corrin admits to having been attracted to Camilla for a long time--as in, longer than Corrin has had the knowledge that they aren’t siblings.

But you know what? Past the parts about Camilla and Corrin that are uncomfortable, awkward, and downright creepy, if you can let yourself get beyond that (though I don’t blame you if you can’t)...Camilla’s love for Corrin is just undeniably genuine. Like Rhajat, this is a case where the love goes beyond just the support conversations. Being just absolutely crazy about Corrin is the defining characteristic of Camilla as a character. Hell, even in a lot of her support conversations with other characters, characters you can have her marry, the focus of her interactions with them is trying to figure out how she can better convince Corrin of how much she adores her/him, or delving into the reasons why she is so fixated on being affectionate toward Corrin. Frankly, when Camilla says in one of these conversations, this one with Arthur, that she’s “overflowing with love for Corrin,” it rings far more genuine and is much more touching than the later conversation when she and Arthur get together.

She just thinks the absolute world of Corrin, and at the times in the game when she thinks that Corrin has abandoned her and betrayed Nohr, she becomes despondent, and even unstable. Look, call it creepy, call it unhealthy, call it heavy-handed--and you’re not wrong on any of those counts--but this is a woman who is so completely, utterly in love that it is an intrinsic, inescapable part of her, one which she cannot function without. And that kind of raw, overwhelming emotional power is something that I can’t help but feel some strange respect for, something that I can’t help but identify as the truest love that this game has to offer: primal, adoring love that cannot be contained and makes no excuse whatever for itself.

And I do want to note that it’s not all one-sided here. Creepy or not, Corrin’s admission to having felt attraction for Camilla for a long time gives their romance some foundation as something each was moving toward, and the fact that their support conversations before that point were helping to establish Corrin as an adult and resolving the conflict of Corrin’s mild annoyance at Camilla’s dotage really helps it. It truly does feel, as Camilla says, like they’re childhood sweethearts who have finally grown old enough to act on the love they’ve always felt for one another.

Honorable Mention: Corrin and Scarlet

In a game full of cheesy, over-the-top confessions of love, Nintendo at least shows us that it’s aware that a lot of the lines its characters throw around are laughably corny. When Corrin attempts to propose to Scarlet by asking her to “decorate me with your love,”**** Scarlet bursts into laughter at how bad a line that was, even though she does accept the proposal. And then, in the voice-acted confession, she tells Corrin that she loves him...even though his proposal was “was pretty weak.” Scarlet earns her place on this list for being the only person in the whole damn game who can keep it real.

Well, that was fun! But now that we’ve seen the best love stories that Fire Emblem 14 can offer...let’s take a look at the worst! And hoo boy, this game has some doozies.

The Worst Romances of Fire Emblem 14

Dishonorable Mention: The Ones That Come Out of Nowhere

Most of the time, I like to save the Honorable or Dishonorable Mention until the end, but this one kind of works better as a way to set the tone for the rest--a lot of the actual entries on this list will be this, and also worse.

Okay, so, this game may have some decent romances, but I’d say at least half of the game’s S rank confessions come out of fucking nowhere. Like, 1 minute Corrin’s just helping Hayato learn how to write a letter home, and the next, Lil’ H is confessing how much he loves Corrin and she’s all “sure why not.” 1 conversation, Hisame is teaching a friend how to pickle vegetables, and the next conversation, they’re deciding to be Pickle Pals on a whole other level. There’s nothing terribly wrong with these spontaneous feelings of mutual attraction, I guess, but most of the time when I was reading through the romance scenes in this game, I was just scratching my head on how they got from Point A to Point B (or more appropriately, Point C to Point S).

14. Camilla and Keaton

Camilla’s just really, really ambivalent about the idea of marrying Keaton. I mean, his interest in her comes out of nowhere, but she doesn’t even seem to HAVE an interest in him. The biggest draw she seems to have to him is that she can tell he has a lot of blood on his hands. Not exactly a huge thing to base a relationship off of to begin with, but even in itself, it seems a lot closer to a casual observation than a statement of romantic interest.

13. Arthur and Nyx

So, Arthur, lemme see if I got this right. You had no idea whether Nyx was as young as she appears, but you still procured an engagement ring before checking, just in case? I’m sorry, but there’s just no good way to have an inquiry about whether someone’s a legal adult, and a proposal for marriage in the same conversation.

12. Corrin and Hinoka, Corrin and Ryoma, Corrin and Sakura, and Corrin and Takumi

Look. It is 1 thing for me to accept the idea that Corrin could fall in love with her/his Nohrian “siblings,” since it is established early into the game that they’re not actually related to Corrin by blood. I’m still put off by the fact that Corrin still thinks of them as her/his siblings because she/he was raised with them as such, but as the number 1 slot of the list above proves, I can look past that. Although it WILL figure pretty heavily into the Since We’re Not Related It’ll Be Okay Syndrome rant I plan to write eventually.

But this is just going too far. Yes, it turns out that Corrin is also not related by blood to her/his Hoshidan “siblings”, either. So you’d think that hooking Corrin up with Ryoma, Hinoka, Takumi, or Sakura would be fine, at least as much as hooking up with the Nohrian royals is. But the thing is, it is only revealed to Corrin that she/he is not related to the Hoshidan royal siblings in the S rank conversation with them.

Think about that. This means that if you’re pairing Corrin with, say, Ryoma, Corrin will only find out that she is not Ryoma’s real sister in the SAME CONVERSATION which she accepts Ryoma’s proposal. I mean, come on now, Nintendo! I know that in Fire Emblem, brother-and-sister and husband-and-wife are practically the same thing, but you don’t think that’s just a little rushed and awkward? Not to mention that unless the player has gained knowledge of this situation from an outside source, you’ve created an uncomfortable scenario in which the only way for the player to find out that it’s arguably morally acceptable for Corrin to marry Takumi, Sakura, Ryoma, or Hinoka is to initiate a love confession conversation with them while the player still thinks they’re Corrin’s actual sibling!

This is what’s known as making a Hail Mary pass at someone.

The annoying thing is that that if they had timed it better, timed it so that Corrin wasn’t accepting a marriage proposal from the man or woman that 5 minutes ago Corrin thought was her/his actual, biological sibling...most of these romances would actually be pretty decent. Hinoka’s in particular would have been really nice. And if there had been a separation, so that Corrin learning of the truth of her/his non-relation to the Hoshidan royals didn’t happen at the same time as a marriage proposal by them, the revelation would have been rather nice, too, as it reveals an admirable side to King Sumeragi’s character. So this mess is detrimental twice over to what could have been good moments in the game.

11. Rhajat and Shiro

In this support conversation chain, Shiro keeps pestering Rhajat, a vegetarian, to eat some meat. Nothing says love like showing no respect whatsoever for someone’s dietary choices, right? And not only is this a lousy romance for Shiro being a pushy jerk for no reason, but it also promotes a lousy message to the audience by having Rhajat actually give in and eat some meat rather than stay true to her right to eat whatever she goddamn well pleases. The cherry on the top is the motivation that Shiro gives--at first, Shiro says that he’s doing it because he’s worried about Rhajat’s health, thinking that she might be so gloomy because her health is poor. Okay, acceptable, I guess, even if he went about it like an ass. But, if you have them pursue a romance, Shiro then takes it back and says that the real reason that he was being such a pushy prick was just because he wanted an excuse to have a conversation with her because he likes her. Being worried about her health is 1 thing, but insistently disrespecting one of her lifestyle choices just because he wanted more attention? This romance actually retcons itself into being even lousier.

10. Ignatius and Midori

I dunno about you guys, but when I think of sweet, tender romantic love, the first thing that comes to mind is ingesting live pill bugs, vomiting, and then fainting out of disgust in a pool of my own sick.

9. Azama and Sakura

Azama is an annoying jackass to Sakura for the first 2 conversations, only kind of makes up for it in the A rank scene, and then in the next conversation, he tells her that his apology gift was also a proposal gift. How fucking romantic.

8. Corrin and Selena

I like Selena a lot more than I’d have expected. She’s probably the most layered, deep character of the classic Tsundere role that I can think of. But sometimes she does play too much to type. Corrin and Selena’s romance amounts to Corrin being repeatedly berated by her for 3 conversations, and then actually bullied into marrying her. Corrin himself even actually says that his acceptance of her proposal is “against my better judgment.”

I have seen romance. This is not it.

7. Corrin and Odin:

The conversations between Corrin and Odin are about Corrin being reluctant to spend time with him, and then during his confession of love for Corrin, she demands that he drops his act and speaks plainly, or she’ll walk out. Be still, my heart, at this tender display of love. I’m supposed to believe in their romantic bond when Corrin shows, at best, tired resignation to the activity that Odin most enjoys doing? Yeah, there’s a marriage that’s gonna last.

6. Hana and Jakob

Ugh...and so we come to the Jakob part of the list. As much of a jerk as Azama can be, he at least usually has sort of good reasons for treating everyone around him like garbage. Jakob, on the other hand, is just 100% an ass.

As evidenced with his “romance” with Hana, if you really want to dirty the word by associating it with this debacle. He’s just hostile for no fucking reason to her, and even at the point where he admits that in some ways she’s a respectable person, he’s still standoffish about it. And then, suddenly, there’s love, for some reason, in which even the confession is kind of insulting. Ugh.

5. Azama and Hinoka

Man, and I thought Sakura had it bad with this jerk. Azama spends 3 conversations insulting and harassing Hinoka, and then, in the final scene, pulls a proposal out of his ass. And get this: Hinoka agrees to be Azama’s wife because, I shit you not, of the saying “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”

Now that’s some heart-stopping romance, there.

4. Jakob and Setsuna

Jesus, Jakob is such a lousy asswipe. What the hell were they thinking when they wrote this douchebag? Jakob spends the main 3 conversations of their support chain being a jerk to Setsuna, proving what a pathetic negativity-feeding parasitic troglodyte he is by picking the easiest target in the whole army, an agreeable girl who’s too spacey to fight back. And then...Jesus, even as I type this I am overcome with disbelief at this. And then, after using Setsuna as a verbal punching bag for 3 conversations without the slightest remorse, Jakob asks her to marry him, and starts this proposal by acting like this is him doing her a favor, since he can help keep her from falling into traps (she’s prone to doing this). As if he’s been trying to do so at all so far!

I just can’t wrap my mind around how messed up that is. What an abusive bottom-feeder. After he’s verbally belittled her every time they’ve spoken, he acts like marriage would be him doing her a favor. Eat shit and die, Jakob.

3. Peri and Anyone Who Isn’t Laslow

As I said, Peri’s romance with Laslow is a very touching, even heartwarming thing to see, which gets her in touch with a conscience and humanity she hasn’t had since childhood, and develops her excellently as a person.

Unfortunately...every other character’s relationship with Peri goes less well. With all other courtships, Peri’s penchant for reasonless, careless murder is treated with very little gravity, if it’s even addressed at all. Being a psychotic murderer seems to be seen as an unfortunate personality quirk and little more. For heaven’s sake, Felicia’s clumsiness gets more attention as a problem in need of fixing than Peri’s homicidal whims! I’m sorry, but so long as Peri is a gleeful mass-murdering psycho (and Laslow is the only individual who brings her past that point), I don’t buy that a romance between her and any of the well-adjusted (by comparison), morally functional members of the cast will work. Even in the case of allies who are known killers, like Keaton and Saizo (the latter of which can’t romance Peri anyway), and don’t feel remorse for their violent actions, they’re still pragmatic enough that they should see Peri’s casual violence as completely excessive and reasonless.

One more thing that really turns me off of Peri romances: her ability to consent to a marriage is pretty damn dubious. I mean, think about this. Laslow is the only person who helps Peri develop herself as a person and get in touch with her adult side. For everyone else, Peri is just regular Peri throughout their support conversations, including when she agrees to marry them. Which means that Peri is operating with a stinted, childish mind, and an emotionally damaged one at that. So, in spirit, these adult men are getting engaged to a child--a child with an adult woman’s body, yes, but what matters is that her mind is not adequately developed to the point where she can acceptably consent. Well, Nintendo, which is it? Mind or body? Is an adult romancing Nyx okay because within her child body is a fully developed adult mind, or is it okay when an adult romances Peri because her child mind happens to be kept within an adult body? Either it’s the physical or mental age that matters, Nintendo, you can’t just change your damn mind whenever it’s convenient!

2. Corrin and Gunter

Falling in love with a man who’s over 30 years your senior and clearly established, in the same line of conversations that lead to the love confession, to be a father figure to you? With whom you’ve literally spent every support conversation leading up to the marriage proposal playing catch, the most patently father-child activity ever invented?


1. Felicia and Jakob

Jesus Christ, Jakob! What the fuck is your real, actual problem?

As unpleasant as he is to others in general, as much of a jerk as he is to Hana and Setsuna, it’s his “romance” with Felicia in which Jakob truly hits his stride as a veritable superhero of douchebaggery. Jakob’s “love” for Felicia begins with reinforcing her low self esteem by reminding her of how awful she is at her job, and then develops this foundation through the next few conversations by expressing that she is not only completely terrible, but also hopeless, incapable of improvement without his help, and later he even goes further and indicates that she’s hopeless even with his help. This goes way beyond his abuse of Hana and Setsuna, because not only is he insulting Felicia at every turn for her completely harmless shortcomings, he’s going a tremendous step beyond that and saying that her flaws are inescapable no matter how hard she tries. And unlike Setsuna, Felicia can fully understand Jakob’s words and intent, and have her self-worth affected by them--Setsuna at least is spacy enough that she doesn’t take malicious statements to heart. And then, of course, once he’s been a merciless asshole for 3 conversations, the S rank proposal starts with him reaffirming how utterly hopeless she is of improving herself, and suggesting, as he does in the Setsuna proposal, that he do Felicia a favor and marry her because only a husband would be able to devote enough time to Felicia to make her less of a monumental fuck-up.

Watch out, Kevin of Xenosaga. You’ve got some stiff competition for Best Boyfriend Ever!

In this entire conversation chain from start to finish, in only a single line, at the end of the S rank marriage proposal, does Jakob express any actual, significant positive feeling for Felicia, when he claims, completely without basis, that he does want to marry her out of love. And he immediately follows this single, solitary moment of positive emotion with another low blow by reaffirming that her tea-making (a part of her job and thus something personally important to her) is “truly a nightmare.” The ending line of this romance--not making this up--is Jakob reassuring her that together, they’ll be able to wake up from that nightmare.

Just...what an unspeakable, monstrous piece of shit this guy is. Corrin and Gunter may be unhealthy and disturbing to the very core, but by God, at least it isn’t horrible, abusive garbage like this. Congrats, Jakob, you really are just the fucking worst.

Well, that’s that for the best and the worst that FE14 has to offer. There are some really lovely relationships to be found in this game...and some that make me cringe. But what can you expect, with over 300 different possible pairings in a game? With that many different romances to portray, naturally the writers are gonna hit all the bases.

Well...maybe not all of them. In fact, as numerous as FE14’s romances are, there are still some that really, honestly should have been there, but aren’t. Let’s do a final list, this time of the romances that should have been! We’re gonna split it in half this time with a list of 7, though, because I dunno about you but I am starting to get Fire Emblemed out.

Incidentally: most of the couples-that-should-have-been below are same-sex. I know it’ll come off like I’m very skewed toward that, particularly given how often I point out the fact that same-sex couples don’t get adequate representation in games, but it’s honestly not so much an issue of bias as it is that nearly every possible heterosexual couple in the game is already an integrated possibility. There’s just not a lot of hetero pairs that haven’t been explored by the game.

The Romances That Should Have Been in Fire Emblem 14

7. Effie and Elise

Look, I don’t want to go all slash-shippy on you guys, but Effie’s devotion to Elise just goes way, way too far not to be at least somewhat romantic in nature. When she recounts the day she met Elise to others, she speaks reverently of how incredible and radiant Elise was, how Effie knew then and there that this was the person she needed to devote her life to. Effie’s desire to serve and protect Elise have driven her to become utterly superhuman in her strength, to basically become the Fire Emblem equivalent to She Hulk, through effort alone. Much like Camilla to Corrin, Effie’s devotion to Elise spills over into many of support conversations with other characters, to such an extent that even as she pledges her love to these other characters, Effie clarifies that her priority will still always be her duty to Elise. Seriously, in 1 of these love conversations, she says, word for word, “I’d give my life to protect you as well. Assuming I’m not already busy protecting Lady Elise, of course...”

Considering some of the absurdly meaningless connections that this game has based other characters’ romances on, this one seems a no-brainer, and really should have been available, I think.

6. Male Corrin and Silas

Similarly to Effie, Silas has devoted the path of his life to being in Corrin’s life. This is the basis for the romance between Silas and Female Corrin, but that foundation is no different when Corrin is a man, so it seems natural that the aspect of romantic love in Silas’s devotion would be the same. I mean, Silas’s devotion is the same either way, so does the game want to say that the entire foundation for his potential romance with Female Corrin is an affection no stronger than it would be out of basic friendship?

The reason this one places above Effie and Elise is that even though we can very reasonably say that Effie’s fathomless devotion to Elise involves romantic feelings, there’s really no indication that Elise has an interest in women. There’s no indication that she doesn’t, either, but the only thing known about her sexuality is an interest in men. Corrin, on the other hand, is bisexual, since he can fall in love with Niles, so if we suppose that Silas’s devotion is partially romantic--and if we assume otherwise, then it undercuts the entirety of the relationship he can have with Female Corrin--we can also assume that Male Corrin would be capable of reciprocating that love.

5. Azura and Female Corrin

I dunno, it just kinda feels like the closest-thing-to-canon relationship in this game should be available to your protagonist regardless of gender. It’s not like, say, Knights of the Old Republic 1, in which there was a hugely plot relevant romantic option for each gender of Revan (Bastila for Male Revan, Carth for Female Revan*****). There’s no male equivalent to Azura in the game’s cast for Female Corrin. Additionally, as I said earlier, a lot of what makes Azura and Corrin work as a couple is their powerful connection established not just in their support dialogues, but in the events of the game’s story, and that stuff doesn’t change with Corrin’s gender. So a lot of the groundwork that’s laid out that maks you feel that Azura and Male Corrin love one another is there for Female Corrin, as well.

4. Charlotte and Ryoma, and Charlotte and Takumi

Um...why in the world would Charlotte, on the Revelations path of the game where you’ve united both the Hoshidan and Nohrian forces, not be able to pursue a relationship with the Hoshidan princes? I mean, gold-digging is the foundation of her split-personality character, right? It’s in Charlotte’s nature to go after royalty and other rich people. Takumi and Ryoma should be just as much in her sights as Xander and Leo.

3. Female Corrin and Soleil

I mentioned this in that previous rant, but it doesn’t make a lick of sense that Corrin, a bisexual character, has no ability to pursue a romance with Soleil, a bisexual-leaning-heavily-toward-the-homosexual-side woman who makes it a point to pursue nearly every woman she meets. It’s even more absurd that Female Corrin is unable to romance Soleil when Male Corrin can, and when Soleil’s first interest in Male Corrin begins in a conversation in which she’s pretending Male Corrin is a woman.

2. Ryoma and Scarlet

Scarlet’s one of the characters in the game who only has a single option for romance, Corrin. Now, this is acceptable enough in the cases of Flora, Fuga, Anna, and so on, because these characters usually don’t really have any non-family connection to the rest of the cast.

...Well, I mean, Flora has known Jakob for a long time, but I’ll be damned if I want to give that jackass another person to treat like his verbal toilet.

But getting back to Scarlet, the thing is, she has a relatively well-established friendship, or at least friendly alliance, with Ryoma. He treats her as a friend he values, particularly in the Revelations path of the game. Yeah, friendship doesn’t automatically mean romantic feelings, but this is Fire Emblem 14--the majority of possible romances in this game are based on a hell of a lot less than an established, visible friendship. Forrest and Sophie can fall in love over the fact that he sewed her a shirt with a horse on it, for Neaki’s sake! Every other slight possibility for a heterosexual romantic connection is explored in this game, so why not include one of the few which would have some actual basis?

1. Camilla and Female Corrin

As I said before, the majority of Camilla’s obsessive, overwhelming love for Corrin is visible in events involving her outside of their support conversations, and in support conversations that Camilla has with others, all of which don’t change depending on Corrin’s gender. It is very, very clear in this game that Camilla is just crazy about Corrin, period, gender notwithstanding. Not only that, but Camilla’s sexuality seems more pronounced toward women, anyway. If she’s Soleil’s mother, she’ll mention, as Soleil hits on her, that Soleil takes after Camilla. Camilla’s support conversations with Beruka and especially Selena are affectionate to a questionable degree. And in the plot itself--cold, hard evidence that is not alterable by the player’s choices--Camilla even says, on the Hoshido path of the game, to Hinoka that Hinoka is just her type, “cute and very beautiful.”

So the strongest evidence we have of Camilla’s sexuality distinctly shows that she is interested in women. The fact that Female Corrin can pursue a relationship with Rhajat means that she is also capable of being interested in women. Camilla shows an equal attention, which we know is strongly romantic, to Female Corrin as she does to Male Corrin. The C, B, and A support conversations that lead up to the S rank confession of love between Male Corrin and Camilla are in every substantial way identical to those between Camilla and Female Corrin. And lastly, even if they didn’t incorporate nearly enough to be morally acceptable, the presence of any same-sex relationships in Fire Emblem 14 means that Nintendo can’t officially take a stance against them in this game. To wit, in every observable way, Camilla’s love for Corrin is identical regardless of Corrin’s gender, sexual preference is no object, and same-sex relationships are an integrated aspect of the game universe. So what possible reason could there be to allow Camilla and Male Corrin to engage in a romance, but deny Camilla and Female Corrin that option?

I usually don’t do this, preferring to respect the wishes of developers and writers for their creations...but in my estimation, going forward, I view Camilla and Female Corrin as much a legitimate, canononical potentiality of Fire Emblem 14 as Camilla and Male Corrin. I’m not usually one to encourage or discourage headcanons, nor to engage in them myself, but there are rare occasions in which the audience has interpreted and understood the work better than the creator, and this is one such situation.

Dishonorable Mention: Anna and Female Corrin

Well, if you’re gonna include a character and let her be romanced out of fanservice and nothing else, I reckon you should be equal about it. If you offer a trite, manipulative little garbage romance to players of a Male Corrin, no reason it shouldn’t be offered to players of a Female Corrin, too. It’s obviously not being done for any reason of artistic integrity to start with, so why not?

Actually, you know what I would have liked to have more than the ability to romance Anna as both genders instead of just 1? To have Nintendo maintain some shred of dignity and not clumsily drop Anna in as a love interest at all.

Well, that was fun. And long. And took me way more time to research than it was worth. But on the plus side, I’m sure I’ll lose a few readers for dumping on their OTP or promoting some couple or other they find distasteful!


* I’m putting the quote marks around 13 here because according to online sources, officially Eclair’s listed as 13 years old, but when I did the math while playing the game a few years ago, I was coming up with 11.

** Well...I usually like it. It’s still possible to have such poor writing, convoluted workings, and unappealing characters that even this concept of love across lives is rendered lame and lifeless. Xenogears managed it.

*** Also, by the time Rhajat enters the picture, you’re probably used to Corrin having people secretly following her/him around all the time. Between Saizo’s suspicion, Kagero’s protective instincts, Rhajat’s obsession, and Camilla’s...Camilla-ing, there are so many people following Corrin around and spying on her/him that Corrin must feel like an animal at a zoo. Or the average American citizen.

**** It’s related to the previous conversations Corrin and Scarlet have had, involving decorating their weapons in mosaic to make them all sparkly and such. So there is context. But no, that context does not make the line any less ridiculous.

***** Although honestly, with the plot set up the way it is, it feels like Bastila should’ve been available either way.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Shadowrun: Hong Kong's Typos

Come on, Harebrained Schemes. COME ON.

Look. I think we can all agree that the occasional error in our RPGs’ dialogue and narration is no big deal, right? We all make mistakes here and there. My rants certainly aren’t always perfect, even by the somewhat loose standards of English composition that I hold myself to. There’s an insane amount of text in your average RPG, so the rare mistake must be allowed for.

But there are typos all OVER Shadowrun: Hong Kong. And they get distracting. And that’s a problem. Because when you’re writing out an interesting, nuanced story with interesting, nuanced characters (well, some of them, at least; Is0bel’s just kind of there), the last thing you want is for your audience to split their attention from appreciating your art’s sophisticated content and chuckling at your art’s crude presentation.

It’s like if you took, say, Toy Story 3--we can all agree that movie was great, right?--and had a prominent animation error show up every 5 or 10 minutes. Is the story still engaging? Are the characters still lovable? Does everything still look mostly great? Yes! But are you going to leave the theater thinking, “I can’t believe the movie had all those errors,” and think it was unprofessional? Also yes!

This ain’t like the translation of Eternal Senia. Eternal Senia was produced by like 1 guy with a few contributions from a couple others, who didn’t speak English, and the game is free. No one’s making money off of it. It is allowable that Eternal Senia’s English is not perfect...hell, it’s actually a little endearing at times; I mentioned in my rant on the game that there are times when the crude translation actually kind of adds flavor to the dialogue.

But Shadowrun: Hong Kong costs 20 bucks, was fully funded by both a Kickstarter campaign and proceeds from previous Shadowrun games, had a complete development team working on it, and was created by a company based in the USA. Not to mention, the overall content of the game’s text makes it clear that these writers know their way around the English language pretty darned well! So what gives?

I wouldn’t be making such a big deal out of this, except for the fact that it’s not the first time Harebrained Schemes has been so damn sloppy in its dialogue and narration. Shadowrun Returns was crawling with spelling and grammatical mistakes! And people noticed, and ridiculed appropriately. So then, what do you know, Shadowrun: Dragonfall comes out a while later, and it’s on point with this, burdened with barely any typos, no more than you’d expect a professional game to have. And now the third game's brought back the typo issue. What gives, Harebrained Schemes? You FIXED this problem! There is actual, tangible evidence that you know better! It just makes no damned sense; they’re repeating a mistake they already knew enough to avoid!

I dunno. Maybe I’m overreacting. But I dislike sloppy work, and that’s certainly what this is.

Friday, July 8, 2016


I finished playing another Indie RPG recently, so you know what that means: it’s time to shove it in your faces as though you asked for or in any way indicated that you wanted my opinion about it!

So, Dex is one of the Kickstarter RPGs I funded a little ways back. It’s a cyberpunk RPG, and clearly influenced, in a positive way, by iconic forebears of the genre like Shadowrun, William Gibson, and Blade Runner. You can find it at Good Old Games for $15.

Now, short of outright holding me at gunpoint, the term “cyberpunk RPG” has been scientifically proven to be the best way of getting me to give up my money with no questions asked. So, y’know, my objectivity on this might be slightly skewed. Nonetheless, I’d have to say that Dex is a fun, well-made, engaging RPG that finds its place quite nicely in its fascinating genre.

The plot and lore are fairly standard fare for the cyberpunk ventures, for a while, but enjoyable and nuanced enough that you stay engaged as the game continues, until you reach the point, toward its last quarter, when the story starts heating up and you start seeing the heavier stuff. What starts out as a relatively typical (but decent!) quest to stop a corp’s attempt to gain too much power through control of an artificial intelligence on the net eventually unfolds to be way more creative and interesting than expected. Usually the idea of controlling an AI on the internet is by itself the major problem of a cyberpunk story (Shadowrun’s done it a couple of times in its games, in big and small ways), so it was a pleasant and interesting surprise to me to find that there’s actually a deeper, even more dire level to the game’s story, when the creative plot twist was revealed. Kudos to Dreadlocks Ltd. for finding a very cool new approach to a bread-and-butter cyberpunk story concept!

The overall theme and message of the game is good, too, while we’re talking about plot. Skillful enough to raise a very cyberpunk-esque set of questions for you to contemplate, and subtly letting you decide the answers to those matters of philosophy yourself. Can’t really go into any more detail than that what with spoilers and all, but it’s intellectually good for the same reason that Deus Ex and Shadowrun are intellectually good.

I like the cast of the game, too. Sure, if you’re looking for really deep and involved characters for your cyberpunk RPG, I think your first stop should be Shadowrun: Dragonfall, and then Shadowrun: Hong Kong afterward (well, for Duncan, Gaichu, Racter, and Raymond, at least...Gobbet and Is0bel were pretty damned disappointing, sadly). Still, though the characters of Dex may not be as complex and well-explored as many of the Shadowrunners, they nonetheless have defined, appealing personalities that draw you to them just as well. This is helped in no small part by well-written speech mannerisms (Tony’s are particularly noteworthy and rich in cyberpunk style) delivered by competent, sometimes particularly skillful, voice actors.

It’s worth noting that the setting of this venture is solid, too. The background and artistic flavor of the visuals are pretty damned vital for the cyberpunk genre, as necessary to maintain its subtle but unique mood and focus as they are to genres like post apocalyptic and film noir.* Dex captures a lot of the feeling of the icons of its genre, particularly Blade Runner and Shadowrun, which is good. But I also feel that there’s a certain subtle vibrancy to Dex that helps it to distinguish itself from its predecessors enough to feel like its own presence, rather than just derivative. Likewise, the music helps set the mood in a way which is once more reminiscent of other works of the genre, yet distinct enough to be its own. It all comes together artistically to give you an experience that appeals to one’s love for the genre and its classics, while also giving you the enjoyment of a new experience.

The game also controls very well, and overall is pretty fun in regards to the actual play experience. Doesn’t make a difference to me, of course, but I know most people care about that.

Now, in fairness, Dex has its flaws. While the story really does pick up in an interesting way in its last third or so, there are some aspects of the plot in the game’s final moments that get a little too abstract. I’m still just as clueless as Dex herself about what to make of the final trial, involving visions of her friends Richmond and Decker. I think the game wants it to be artfully ambiguous, but it just comes off as frustrating not to know, because the ambiguity doesn’t really serve any purpose to the story or characters. Also, while I appreciate the dilemma posed by the game’s antagonist and the events she orchestrates, I feel that she herself is not all that great...the pontificating and motivations for her are kinda just generic RPG material. I mean, she’s not a bad villain, she’s just not a good one, either.

Finally, I have to say, while the gameplay overall works well and is certainly a draw for those who care about it, the gameplay element of firearms is puzzlingly obtuse and awkward. You can build a workable character who specializes in guns, but it’s just not nearly as functional, fluid, or enjoyable as sticking with a melee build. Which is just kinda weird to me...I know hand-to-hand, augmented combat is a strong part of the cyberpunk genre, but I think it’s safe to say that when you think of a battle in a cyberpunk game/movie/book/whatever, the first image in your head involves guns being fired. But the overall way the system for drawing and firing the gun works in this game, it’s just faster, safer, and more enjoyable to go for hand-to-hand, leaving the gunplay in the cyberpunk RPG behind. It’s like if you started playing a Wild West-themed RPG, only to find that all your characters’ primary weapons were swords and magical staffs.**

These problems, however, really don’t get in the way of appreciating Dex. The plot is still strong despite some of its last pieces being kind of inscrutable, the conflict of the game isn’t harmed significantly by the villain’s lack of gravitas, and even if you want to limit your mental experience by focusing on mundane matters of gameplay, the overall experience of playing Dex is still fun even if the firearms aren’t implemented as well as they should be.

So do I recommend Dex? I surely do. It’s a solid RPG for a pretty fair price. And if you’re a fan of cyberpunk stuff, Dex is a happy little relief to help ease the pain of knowing that Harebrained Schemes isn’t planning on making another installment of Shadowrun any time soon. Check it out!

* Also, I ask the world, and not for the first time: where is my film noir RPG?

** Damn it, Wild Arms 1, you had one job.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Mario Series Theory: Peach's Power and Helplessness

A few months ago, I played Mario and Luigi 4, the one where they’re messing around with dreams. It was boring, like every other MaL before it, and very little about it caught my attention. There was, however, one moment during the final confrontation with Bowser that I was interested in. Things were looking bad for the Mario brothers, as Bowser had supercharged himself with power from the Dream Stone, AKA, ultra-powerful-relic-doohickey-of-the-day. There didn’t seem to be much hope for Mario and Luigi as they stood completely outgunned and terrified before the might of their magically enhanced foe...

And then, from behind Bowser, Princess Peach (who’s chilling in a locked cell, as usual) rallies Starlow, and together they blast Bowser with a beam of magic so staggeringly powerful that it actually blows the Dream Stone he’s drawing ungodly power from into a haze of magical shards. I mean, the thing’s not broken, it’s disintegrated.

Now, let’s get one thing straight right here: magical ultra-empowering plot devices may be a dime a dozen for RPGs, and not exactly uncommon in regular Mario games either, but common or not, this thing was legit. Because after Peach makes her attack, Bowser manages to inhale several of the shards left over, and these shards, these motes of power, are still enough to increase his power to end boss proportions. The fact that Peach and Starlow (and I think it’s safe to say it’s mostly Peach; Starlow hasn’t shown, to my recollection, any really great magical prowess before now) can send Bowser reeling when he’s got the whole thing in his grasp, and then destroy the Dream Stone to boot, suggests magical power on a tremendous scale. Even if we suppose it’s 50-50 between her and Starlow, it’s still incredible.

This got me thinking about where Peach stands in terms of power in her world. She has access to this love-powered magic that can knock an above-end-boss-powered foe on his ass. She’s shown multiple times to be able to use the same kinds of power ups that Mario can, and she can generally keep up with him in terms of overall physical prowess. Then there’s that game where the Vibe Scepter grants her the ability to channel her non-love emotions into magical power. Oh, yeah, big deal, you say. Emotion-fueled power, who cares. Well you know who else does that? Fucking super saiyans, that’s who.

So when you think about it...Peach is only a step or two behind the hero of the entire series, Mario, in terms of physical prowess, she can use the same equipment that he does, and in addition, she has a range of magical powers that range from the mildly convenient (floaty-ness) to the insanely powerful (the love magic beam thing). I think...guys, I think Peach might actually be the single most powerful being in the Mario franchise.

At the very least, she’s pretty damn high up on the scale. And hey, that’s a kind of interesting thing, yeah? Worth a little rant, I figured. So I started typing this up. And then halfway through, the obvious question hit me:

If she’s so goddamn powerful, why, then, does she let herself get kidnapped all the damn time!?

Yeah, okay, people have been criticizing Peach (and other frequent damsels in distress) about the kidnapping thing for ages. It’s not a new thing. I’ve kinda always just given it a disgruntled pass before now. I mean, I’m as sick of it as the next bloke. Even if you want to ignore that underlying sexism of the issue, it’s been the most overused, tired, bland cliche imaginable for some time now. But so long as it seemed reasonable to say that Peach was not, on her own, capable of matching Bowser in combat, I was willing to let it pass, albeit, again, reluctantly.*

But now that it seems clear that Princess Peach is close to Mario in athletic prowess and command of power ups, and that she far outclasses pretty much everyone else on her planet in terms of magical power, the question is a lot harder to ignore. If she has offensive options on par, or even superior, to a ultra-magic plot mcguffin, why does she let herself get kidnapped by Bowser so frequently? It doesn’t make any sense!


Does it actually make more sense than ever?

Alright, hear me out. So let’s follow the evidence and implications on this, and assume that Peach has massive magical power. Let’s even go as far as to assume that she could, any day of the week, overcome Bowser herself in an outright no-holds-barred fight. Here’s a question: what is the collateral damage of a fight like that?

I mean, consider Bowser. He is a big lug. He breathes fire. He leaps around. He smashes through floors and walls. Sometimes he’s using some heavy artillery while riding a ridiculous flying clown thing. And he’s never above having a ton of his minions help him in combat. Any extended fight with Bowser inevitably requires significant space and causes a lot of damage to the surroundings. And even with our operating assumption that Peach has tremendous power and can subdue Bowser without question, there is NEVER going to be an all-out fight between them that ends quickly. By far more than his offense, Bowser’s durability is insane. I mean, if you look for a moment at the damage he takes in his battles with Mario, you start to realize that this dude is the next best thing to immortal! Bombs in his face, hammers and fireballs and all manner of solid objects pelting him, and outright falling into molten lava, multiple times, and Bowser somehow stays alive. The guy had the entire fucking galaxy collapse in on him, and survived it! Oh, sure, it all hurts him, and he can be taken down by it, but things that should be insanely lethal and would destroy many villains we might assume more powerful than him just cannot kill Bowser.

Pretend you’re in Peach’s position. You’re the ruler of your kingdom, and you genuinely care about it and its citizens. Bowser launches an attack on your castle, his minions smacking your subjects around and his flying artillery bombarding your home. What, exactly, is your best option in this scenario? A fight with Bowser, in most cases, is going to take place on your home turf, with innocent civilians in the area. If you have to fight all out, you’re probably going to be causing damage to your surroundings. Even if you don’t, Bowser absolutely will if he’s going all out. And there’s little chance it’ll be a short fight. In this scenario, what’s the better option: to unleash your real power on Bowser and initiate a fight that will damage your own home and hurt those you’re responsible for...or to go along with the blustering turtle-dragon, knowing that you have a couple of warriors on your side who will come to save you once you’re in enemy territory, ensuring that the only collateral damage of a confrontation with Bowser will be against Bowser’s own turf?

Besides a concern for her kingdom and citizenry’s welfare--which should, as a ruler, be her primary concern, I’ll note--there’s also a longer-term situation to consider. Even if Peach did cut loose and drive Bowser away in defeat herself, then what? You think Bowser would give up? He hasn’t been Mario’s arch nemesis for the last 30 years out of a lack of persistence. He’d be back...but this time, he would, perhaps, up his game, launching a much larger attack against Peach’s kingdom since the first one didn’t work. A defeat for Bowser in this situation could just provoke a stronger attack next time, getting more innocent bystanders caught in the middle of it.

On the other hand, if Peach allows herself to get kidnapped, what happens? Bowser takes her away to his own territory, and then a lot of his time is occupied with hampering the Mario brothers as they come to fetch the princess. For the period of her captivity, Bowser’s attention is on her, and her coming rescuers, not on her kingdom and its people. The mushroom people are perhaps safest while Peach is held captive. And when Mario and Luigi come and beat Bowser, and rescue her? Well, Bowser will be back again later, but if his defeat teaches him to up his game, he’ll be escalating in laying down more serious obstacles for Mario and Luigi, not launching a bigger attack during the Kidnap Peach part of his scheme--because that part went off without a hitch before.

And if the shit hits the fan hard enough while she’s held prisoner...well, the scenario which inspired this rant proves that the bars of a cage won’t be able to stop Peach when she needs to act. She can afford to bide her time until her hand is forced. Which, given the Mario brothers' resourcefulness, skill, and good luck, is quite a rare occurrence.

Peach is, of course, not always taken by Bowser. Plenty of other enemies also kidnap the chick. But there’s still some logic in her refusing to unleash her power on them: A, the collateral damage thing is still a consideration, and B, new enemies are unknowns, and it’s smarter to test the waters with them and find out what their capabilities and limits are before outright engaging with them in combat.

Anyway, there you go. Am I overthinking this? Absolutely. Do I even for a second believe that anyone at Nintendo has intentionally set up this situation, which now makes responsible sense of Peach’s kidnapping problem? Nope. But does it nonetheless provide a rational explanation that I can stand behind for why Princess Peach allows herself to be taken by her foes so frequently even when she’s one of the most powerful individuals in her world? Yup. And that’s all I require.

* Incidentally, I do know that a criticism leveled against Peach (when working with the apparently false assumption that she can’t fight back) is that she has plenty of opportunity to learn self defense between kidnappings and should do so, but I still gave her a pass in the face of this argument. Bowser being what he is, I think it’s fair to say that (again, under the apparently incorrect belief that she doesn’t hold any extraordinary power naturally) any normal amount of self defense training isn’t going to cut it when he shows up to rumble.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Dragon Quest Series's Heal All Option

All credit to my friend Queelez for this rant. And, honestly, quite a few of the rants that I’ve done in the past. The guy’s a great source of topic ideas. Cheers, mate!

...Now finish that guest rant you promised me! You can’t reveal to me a whole new fascinating perspective on an RPG I played decades ago and then NOT follow through with a rant about it!


You may have noticed that I don’t have a lot of good things to say about the Dragon Quest series as a whole.* DQ games tend to be generic to an extreme, feature a cast utterly devoid of defining characteristics, and be engaged in a fierce competition with Suikoden 4, Rune Factory 1, and Ricky Gervais over who’s the most potent sedative. You know how I can be sure that the conspiracy theorists are wrong, and the government’s reason for putting fluoride in our water isn’t to make its citizens docile and complacent? Because if Uncle Sam really were trying to do that, he’d get serious, ditch the fluoride, and slip some Dragon Quest 6 into our pipelines.

Some of the cause for this problem in the DQ series comes from its overall goal and premise, that being that Dragon Quest seeks to be a ‘traditional’ RPG, maintaining a ‘classic’ feel like it had in its beginnings back on the NES. This shouldn’t actually be a problem, of course, except that someone at Enix and now SquareEnix apparently thinks that part of that tradition should be a bland plot with characters who have more in common intellectually and emotionally with a tree stump than they do human beings.**

With all of that said...there is 1 aspect of Dragon Quest that’s pretty forward-thinking. In fact, in this regard, the series has been ahead of its genre for over 20 years: the Heal All menu option.

Allow me to explain, for those amongst you possessing enough luck or sense not to have played a Dragon Quest before. So, you’re in a random battle, right? During the course of the battle, your foes manage to get in some good licks on a few of your characters, so when you finally emerge from the fight victorious, your party needs some healing before continuing. Standard stuff, right? Of course. So you open your menu, select your party’s healer, and either have to heal every party member 1 by 1, or spend probably more MP than was necessary for the convenience of a party-wide healing spell, assuming you have that option to begin with. Mildly annoying to have to do frequently, but it comes with the RPG territory, right? We put up with it as players because we have to.

Except that we don’t have to. Not in Dragon Quest, at least.

Since early in the series--I couldn’t say when, exactly, having never played anything before DQ4, but Queelez reports that the option is present at least as early as DQ3--there has been an option in the menu of Dragon Quest games called Heal All, which just does all that crap for you. You select Heal All, and the game automatically has whatever members of your party are capable of casting healing spells bring everyone in the party back to full health (or as close to it as possible, if your MP is running out). As far as my experience goes, most of the DQ games I’ve played are even fairly economical about the process, too, not usually wasting MP on larger spells if smaller ones will do the trick, at least as far as I’ve noticed. Then again, when I’m doing the healing myself, I’m usually lazy enough to just select the biggest all-healing spell I can get and be done with it, so what seems efficient to me might not seem that way to you. Nonetheless, it’s not as wasteful and lazy as I am, so, y’know, that’s a plus for me, at least.

Needless to say, this is a fantastically convenient and useful little gameplay feature, and regardless of my feelings for the series as a whole, I give it and its developers full credit for coming up with it. Heal All may not seem like that big a deal in the long run, saving only seconds at a time, but think about just how many damn times you wind up going through the process of after-battle healing in an RPG. Especially a Dragon Quest game, whose traditional difficulty level means a higher than average frequency of post-battle boo-boo bandaging. At Hour 39 of the game, after your 1245th random encounter, those seconds saved from each healing session thanks to Heal All are probably going to have accumulated close to half an hour altogether! And let’s face it, folks--can anyone really argue that being able to press a single button rather than navigating 5 extra menu options every damn time you want to take care of the most basic gameplay process of an RPG is a bad thing? I love Heal All for the convenience alone, let alone the time and admittedly tiny effort it saves.

The question I have is, why the hell hasn’t the rest of the RPG world caught up with this damn concept? This isn’t a new feature for Dragon Quest! Like I said, this hearkens back to some of the series’s earliest titles! What, the mighty NES could handle the lines of code for the feature, but a fucking Playstation 4 can’t? Were the early guys at Enix some sort of coding savants, incapable of writing a genuinely interesting plot twist or convincing line of dialogue but able to create some master healing logarithm that the entire rest of the gaming industry can’t hope to recreate? Did Enix take a patent out on this single menu option? I want to know, RPG industry, what’s the hold-up on this convenient, useful, seemingly-obvious-on-a-common-sense-level feature being a standard for menu-based games?

Sorry, but the situation just kind of annoys me. It would be nice if I didn’t have to reluctantly admit that a series I don’t like made by a company that I can’t stand is STILL, after over 2 decades, ahead of practically every competitor in terms of such a patently obvious gameplay feature. A series that takes pride in having its head shoved up the ass of its own history, for that matter. This is like if your mentally unstable grandpappy, who still thinks he’s flying a B-52 under the command of General Lee against the Visigoths, had invented a can opener back when he was 12 and is STILL the only person on the face of the planet who recognizes its utility. I mean, I’ve played close to 300 RPGs now. While obviously I can’t claim to value my time all that highly, especially since some of those 300 were Quest 64 and the Golden Sun series, I still feel a certain righteous annoyance when I think about how many hours of my life could have been saved, ultimately, if I’d had a Heal All option in the majority of those games. When is the damn industry as a whole going to catch up on this issue?

So, in the end, I say kudos to you, Dragon Quest. I gotta hand it to you--you’ve had a legitimately good gameplay idea, and it has been yours and yours alone. I may criticize you for being hella dumb, but in this regard, every other game, series, and company in the industry, at least that I can recall, is apparently much, much dumber.

* Except DQ8. I still have no idea how such a solid RPG came about from this dull as dirt series.

** The rest of the problem, of course, is probably just overall incompetence being the official business plan for Enix and SquareEnix’s writing staff.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

General RPG Lists: Worst Beginnings

Credit to my buddy Queelez for this rant idea. He’s a darned good bloke who’s always got a great rant idea for me.

One of the most universal truths about crafting a story is that the opening to your work should grab an audience’s attention. You want to draw your audience as far in as you can in your initial connection with them, whether it be through excitement, intrigue, beauty and wonder, humor, or whatever other appeal you can come up with. It’s true for writers, it’s true for filmmakers, it’s true for sequential artists, and it’s true for game developers. It’s a tried and true technique older than our oldest stories, and one that spans every form of expression, from the snobbiest cinema right down to something so casual as a story told between friends. First impressions are powerful, and the effective creator makes sure that first impression is a good one.

The developers of the games below did not know this.

5. Behemoth Battle (Final Fantasy Mystic Quest)

Who the hell does this? Who the hell makes the very first fight of a game one which you have no guarantee of winning?

Mind you: I’m not against the idea of opening your RPG up with a battle. I’m not even completely against the idea of opening your game up with a fight which the player can actually lose, if the player decides to monumentally screw up.

But there is only a single thing you can do in the Behemoth Battle at the beginning of Final Fantasy Mystic Quest: Attack. There is a single strategy for victory, and that is it: hit the Attack option several times, and whittle down the Behemoth’s HP before he whittles down yours. And most of the time, that works just fine! I’m sure most people reading this who have played the game have no idea what my problem is.

But the thing is, you can miss the attacks you make. And the Behemoth can also get in critical hits. So, get unlucky just twice in this opening battle of the game, and you will die because of the cruel twist of RNG fate. And there’s not a goddamn thing you can do about it! You have NO other options to take in this battle to counteract a bad role of the electric dice. What kind of a way is that to begin a game? Punish a new player for his/her mistakes if you have to, but have the sense to make sure that in the first damn fight of your game, there’s no chance the player will lose even while he/she does the RIGHT thing.

4. Ordon Village (The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess)


3. Temple of Trials (Fallout 2)

You know, I think the question of whether tutorial dungeons need to exist is debatable, but regardless of your stance on that issue, there’s definitely a right way and a wrong way to go about making one. The right way is to do it like, say, the tutorial dungeon that Lufia 2 (the real one, not that Curse of the Sinistrals crud) opens with. It’s very straightforward, it only introduces a small set of the gaming conventions that you need to know at that time, it communicates effectively, and it’s short.

Now, you want the wrong way to make a tutorial dungeon? Look at Fallout 2. It’s long--as in, the size of a full, actual dungeon. It’s boring. It tries to get you familiar with too many of the game’s conventions all at once. It really doesn’t communicate the mechanics it’s teaching you effectively. And it feels extremely forced, an extra jammed into the game for the sake of gameplay rather than plot. Take it out (as some mods do) and you lose absolutely nothing from the game. It’s just a terrible way to start the game; it’s a chore, nothing more, and not even an effective one.

You know what’s the real kicker about the Temple of Trials, though? The real kicker is that Fallout 1 had already proven that it was completely unnecessary. Fallout 1 has no such tutorial area at its beginning; it just drops you into the game and lets you figure out how to engage with its world on your own. And it worked absolutely fine for every player I’ve ever known who started the series there! Fallout 2’s Temple of Trials is an inept attempt to teach you stuff that it’s already proven doesn’t need to be directly taught anyway! Idiotic.

2. Twilight Town (Kingdom Hearts 2)

I’m sorry, SquareEnix, I think I might’ve misheard you. The ears, they play tricks on a guy after he reaches a certain age. You say I’m going to have to spend how many hours playing as a minor, nearly superfluous character doing minigames before the fucking game actually starts?*

1. Peragus Mining Facility (Knights of the Old Republic 2)

Oh my stars. If you thought the Temple of Trials in Fallout 2 was a dull tutorial dungeon, then you...well, you were totally right, obviously. But Peragus is even worse.

I mean, I’ll give it the fact that pieces of plot actually do happen in this first dungeon of the game. You meet major characters, you discover bits of the lore, you encounter a couple separate antagonists, and the events of this dungeon actually DO have plot relevance. At first glance, you’d almost think this were a solid opening.

But it goes on FOREVER. There should never be a time when your tutorial dungeon spans HOURS. And while stuff does happen in the facility, it’s only occasionally punctuating long, dull stretches of simplistic gameplay teaching you skills that are definitely simple enough that they could just be picked up as they become relevant while going through the rest of the game.

And once again, you’ve got a case where the game’s a direct sequel of a title that proved this bullshit wasn’t necessary! KotOR1 had its opening tutorial stuff, but it was quick and didn’t jam the entirety of the game’s mechanics down your throat all at once, just what was needed to get along. The sequel’s mechanics are pretty close to the first KotOR, so what’s the deal with this 3-hour long hand holding session?

Dishonorable Mention: Half of the Damn Game (Star Ocean 3)

Okay, so, Star Ocean 3 does have an actual, legitimate opening, and it’s mostly fine. Main character Fayt gets involved in lost-in-space shenanigans, finds himself on a backwater little world whose culture is in a feudal era of sorts, and helps a little village out before leaving. Okay, fine.

Except that the place where Fayt ends up next, and stays for the next 20 - 30 hours of your time, is just another backwater fantasy planet! One which has the very barest possible relevance to the actual damn plot of the game! Fayt gets mixed up with fantasy world politics for half the game, while the actual plot of this entry in a theoretically science fiction series goes on up in space without him! Eventually the issues of importance to the entire universe find Fayt and abruptly yank him back to where things that are actually significant happen. So abruptly, in fact, that it almost feels like halfway through making the game a new director got hired, walked into SquareEnix’s offices, and screamed, “Whatever you thought this game was going to be about, drop it! We’re doing things my way now!”** It’s just too bad that he didn’t arrive to kick start the game’s plot a lot earlier. Because a 25 hour generic fantasy prologue detour to my inventive scifi epic is too goddamn long.

* Yeah, yeah, I know, Roxas is super important to the Kingdom Hearts series overall. Fine. But he’s really not all that significant for THIS installment. His presence in KH2 mostly serves to set the possibility (which SquareEnix exploits as shamelessly as they do ineptly) for spin-offs about the series’s side lore. If you took him out of KH2, not a lot would need to be reworked, and those changes wouldn’t be especially sizable.

** I know, of course, that this did not happen. Because when SquareEnix decides to play musical chairs with its development staff on a title, what you get isn’t an improvement. What you get is a convoluted, incredibly boring boondoggle of a game that throws every sensible, time-tested rule of narrative it can find into the trash bin.