Sunday, February 20, 2022


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

Monday, January 18, 2021

Deus Ex 4's Downloadable Content

Well, I beat an RPG with DLC again recently, so y’all know what comes next: The RPGenius talks about years-old add-ons as though what he says could possibly influence your buying decisions or really anything else, ever.  Because damn it all, DLCs make for easy rants to write when I’ve got nothing better to offer, and after over 10 years of running this blog, my general lack of ideas has happily transitioned from a character flaw to an understandable result of having done this for so long.*  So let’s take a look at the 3 DLC packs for Deus Ex 4.  I found DE3’s single add-on to be quite good, if you recall...let’s see if the next title in the franchise managed to equal its predecessor.

Desperate Measures: Desperate Measures was, from what I can gather, 1 of those sneaky little free DLCs that companies will sometimes use to soften you up to the idea of acquiring the ones that come later, which will cost money.  It’s not a terribly honest business practice, but I guess I can’t fault it too strongly when so much else connected to microtransactions is so much worse.

Anyway, Desperate Measures is kinda blah.  There’s nothing especially wrong with it, or anything, but it just feels totally unimportant, and you don’t get anything from it.  The premise of this side-story seems to be based on answering the question of who the train station bomber was...which would be quite significant, of course, if not for the fact that the main game already provides you the opportunity to discover the bomber’s identity on a computer during Adam’s visit to Golem City.  And Desperate Measures really just doesn’t go much further than said computer’s emails did in rounding out the bomber’s character and answering players’ questions about him, either; what you learn about him is more peripheral (some light information about his family) than relevant.

So the stated purpose of this DLC is totally superfluous.  The biggest service it provides narratively, in that case, is that Desperate Measures explains why the police’s recording of the bombing incident (which Adam has to retrieve and have his coworkers analyze early in the game) was corrupted.  Which is, honestly, such a tiny lore detail that it didn’t even occur to me to ask or care during the main game’s course why that might be the case.  I dare to presume that most other players paid it as little mind as I did.  Beyond that, there’s really nothing story-wise...there are a few tiny ambient stories going on in emails and texts you can find, I suppose, but the DLC’s specific central character is pretty basic, Chang is no more than a plot device, and after delivering just enough decent lines to make for good trailer material, Adam is just there to get the quasi-plot done and move on with his life.

Bottom line, Desperate Measures is a fine enough extra level to sneak or run-and-gun through, I suppose, but only really worth the time if you’re very fond of Deus Ex’s gameplay.  Which I am, I guess, but still, I would’ve hoped for a lot better.  Still, it’s free, so I guess I can’t judge it too harshly.

System Rift: This add-on has some decent little perks to it.  It’s good to see Deus Ex 3’s Francis again, and the grudgingly respectful antagonism that he and Adam mutually share for one another is fun enough to see in action once more.  As someone who enjoyed the little side game Deus Ex: Breach more than he probably should have, I also thought it was neat to involve ShadowChild; I wasn’t expecting DEB to get a tie-in to the main series, and I liked the surprise.  And it’s neat that Stanton Dowd makes an appearance (well, a line of dialogue, anyway) here; concrete ties to the overall series lore is appreciated when one finds them.

With that said, this DLC is almost as pointless as the first.  It’s really not so much a side-story as it is a side-transition (which does, I suppose, make it fairly authentic to DE4 as a whole, as this game ultimately feels more like a transition between the series’s really important events than it does a story in its own right).  The premise of System Rift is that Adam’s old “friend” Francis wants to have him investigate Santeau, so Adam has to break into the infamous Palisade information bank to grab any of Santeau’s dirty little secrets off the servers.  But you get basically no payoff to that premise!  We’re given no substantive peek at the data Adam gets ahold of, and even secondary aspects of interest inevitably fizzle up similarly--Stanton Dowd really is nothing but a tiny cameo and we’re left with no understanding of what he’s up to with Palisade, and Adam and Frances are all too happy to refer to the mysterious period of Adam’s life between Deus Ex 3 and 4, without going into any actual goddamn detail about it.  It’s almost as bad as the cliched vague villain meetings you get in JRPGs where everyone talks in the most stiff, ridiculously inefficient manner possible about “that guy” performing “these actions” to accomplish “those goals” and so on.  Hell, the game even seems to know what a frustrating tease it is on this matter and revels in it, having Adam actually fucking hang up on Francis at the DLC’s end just as the latter was about to mention a single specific detail that the audience would find interesting about Adam’s recent past.

There’s really only 1 thing that System Rift tells us that’s of any consequence whatsoever, in that it is, unexpectedly, basically the story of how Deus Ex: Breach exists.  Yeah, thanks to System Rift, now we know the story of where the titular breach in Palisade’s network came from, which is, “1 time Adam Jenson did some stuff.”  I guess it’s nice to know that detail, but it’s also thoroughly unnecessary.  I guarantee you that no one, no matter how huge a fan of Deus Ex, was asking to know the Breach’s origins.  In fact, much like Desperate Measures revealing to us why the police evidence was corrupted, I don’t think it ever would have even occurred to me to wonder about something that small.

But unlike Desperate Measures, you have to actually pay for System Rift.  In fact, you have to pay a fucking lot for it; this add-on is sold at a whopping $12!  Considering that there isn’t anywhere even close to 12 hours of content to this thing, that would be a hell of a steep price even for a really good DLC, and this sure as hell ain’t that.  I would struggle mightily to call System Rift even minimally adequate, frankly.  I, thank Palutena, bought Deus Ex 4 a few years ago during some kind of Steam ultra-sale on SquareEnix products, paying only $4.50 for its DLC Season Pass (so essentially, $2.25 for System Rift and A Criminal Past each), or I’d really be kicking myself right now.  But even a measly 2 bucks is still overpaying for System Rift, a story that doesn’t want to actually tell you its story.

A Criminal Past: At this point, SquareEnix stopped even pretending that it had the slightest interest in using Deus Ex’s add-ons for anything relevant to Deus Ex.  I mean, Desperate Measures may have had very little to say about nothing, but at least it was connected to DE4’s plot and made the pretense of having some significance to it.  System Rift may have performed no greater storytelling task than to give the origin story of a goddamn mobile tie-in game, but at least it pretended to have substance to the series by leading you on with promises of extracting corporate secrets and finding new, interesting information about major players in DE4’s story.

A Criminal Past?  This is just a DLC that uses the backdrop of Deus Ex to tell a surface-level cop-goes-undercover-in-prison story that has nothing, and doesn’t even pretend to have anything, to do with the events, themes, values, or characters of the DE franchise.

Don’t get me wrong, if this had been, say, a movie belonging to some other franchise, or its own venture altogether, A Criminal Past would be okay, I guess.  Not good, mind you--not enough exploration into Mejia’s character and motivations, too much left open-ended about Fixer’s significance, and lacking a personal connection to the protagonist.  But it would be okay.  I guess.

But A Criminal Past isn’t it’s own thing, it’s a side story in the Deus Ex franchise.  A side story that has nothing to do with conspiracy theory fundamentals, examining the movements of human beings within their society, the question of where the line is between being a human being and being something more, or the grievously flawed foundations of a world in which the greedy and selfish few are overlords to the incalculably many.  A side story in Deus Ex that has none of that.

It’s not like it couldn’t have been an adequate representation of the series.  The undercover-in-a-prison schtick isn’t an especially on-brand move, but A Criminal Past could have used its setting as a way to show a hard, inside look at the prison system’s workings when used by corrupt social overlords as a tool for getting rich off of what effectively amounts to slave labor.  That ain’t even conspiracy theory; that’s just the current, factual corporate-run prison system of the USA right there.  But it can also tie very neatly into the theories of methods by which humankind is suppressed by its elite ringmasters, so with some decent talent and really not even all that much effort, A Criminal Past could have been a compelling part of its series.  But nope, rather than any of that thinky-thinky stuff, the bad guys in this DLC are the tired old cop-story mainstays of organized crime and officers going bad in favor of said organized crime.

At the absolute most, you can read significance into the final little summary scene with Adam and Delara, in which it is maybe implied that Adam is beginning to suspect that Delara is untrustworthy.**  But an entire DLC adventure is a hell of a lot of rigamarole to go through for such a tiny snippet of overall series plot advancement, and other DLC stories could have accomplished the same, such as ones perhaps crafted to in any goddamn way have an actual involvement of or connection to Delara.

A Criminal Past is highly pointless, plain and simple, and I’m honestly baffled by its existence.  How did such a completely irrelevant, tone-deaf thing come to be?  The best I can figure is that someone in SquareEnix had it in their head that it’s the basic, surface-level work that Adam does for TF-29 that fans of DE are interested in, and nothing more.  Of course, that would require SquareEnix to have misunderstood their franchise to a similar bungling extreme as Bethesda misunderstood (or intentionally ignored) the point of Fallout when they made Fallout 76, which seems impossible--surely no one is as stupid as Fallout 76-era Bethesda?  But then, SquareEnix is the company that gave a major narrative spotlight to Organization 13, refused to let Bravely Default bear the Final Fantasy name, and made Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals.  So I guess no level of incompetence is truly beyond them.

With some work, A Criminal Past could have been great.  Because Deus Ex 3’s DLC, The Missing Link, was great, and that, too, was a side story in which Adam was stripped of all his augmentation advantages, imprisoned in a detention facility, and forced to bear witness to gross violations of ethics as human beings were viewed as hardware to be used and destroyed.  But A Criminal Past can’t duplicate the significance or quality of the DLC it’s plagiarizing, not even remotely, so it’s not worth the asking price of $12.  It’s not worth the effective price I paid for it of $2.25.  In fact, it’s not even worth the time it takes to play it, not unless you’re just a huge fan of the undercover-agent-in-prison schtick and don’t especially give a damn about whether it’s Deus Ex or not.  If that’s your thing, then by all means, go for A Criminal Past if you can somehow possibly get it for free, but for everyone else, I’d advise not even wasting your time on it.

And that’s it!  So how does Deus Ex 4’s add-ons compare to its predecessor?  Well, if you’ve read this far, you probably have gleaned this already, but for the heck of it, let’s go ahead and just say it for posterity: it’s crap.  None of these 3 stories are particularly exciting, interesting, or otherwise gripping, they don’t offer a proper ratio of content-per-dollar-spent, and all 3 of them weirdly share the unfortunate trait of being UTTERLY POINTLESS.  We already got about the same level of insight into the identity of the bomber and we never thought twice about the corruption of the footage.  We didn’t get to learn anything from the data we busted our hump to steal and we never felt the slightest need to know where the breach in Palisade’s firewall came from.  And we got exactly what significance to the series out of Adam’s little stint as a clank in the clink we were offered: none.  If Deus Ex 3’s downloadable content was a refreshing sample of high-caliber work sadly uncommon to the DLC landscape, then Deus Ex 4’s add-ons are a souring specimen of bilge, equally uncommon for how inconsequential they are.

* Hey, cut me some credit.  My content’s still fresher after 10+ years than the Simpsons and Family Guy were by Season 10, right?  For that matter, it’s better than Family Guy was by Season 1.

** This is inexplicably linked to his experiences with Mejia, somehow, as Adam wonders what else (besides the fact that the supposed terror attacks used as a story element in this DLC were bogus) Mejia might have been right about.  What the hell else did Mejia even really talk about that he could be right about?  At least, in connection to Delara, or the nature of Interpol, or whatever?

Friday, January 8, 2021

General RPGs' Puzzling Use of the Term "Goddess"

Thanks to Ecclesiastes for letting me bounce the banter that became the backbone of this bunch of blathering off him.  As always, you’re a damned fine (and patient) fellow, Ecc.

You know what’s weird about certain RPG worlds?  The word “Goddess.”

Now, the existence of the word “goddess” makes sense, in our own world.  The fundamental, earliest hierarchies of our historically and developmentally dominant societies, here on Earth, were largely male-centric to varying degrees, as were the systems of faith they by and large believed in, and the evolution of language depicts that.  Most of the religions of the human race’s foundational societies have either been A, centered around a single deity who is male, or B, had a pantheon of deities of both genders, but the most important and/or foundational deity or deities in that pantheon were male.

It follows that the default gender of the term “god” is regarded as male.  “God” is the root term for this concept of a deity, and generally speaking, the first, primary gender of deities in our species’ religious history, particularly the religions which have had the greatest influence on our society as a whole, is male.  So it makes sense that if you want to, in this world, refer to a specifically female deity, the term “goddess” is employed, because when you want to denote something as the gender opposite of what the thing is typically seen as, you either make a new word altogether, or add an addendum to the word to differentiate it from its original, base concept.  If the base state is male, then a suffix like -ess or -ette is common to tack on to denote that it’s a female version you’re talking about (a female “baron” becomes “baroness,” while a female Mario series NPC goes from “Toad” to “Toadette”), while (less commonly) if the base state is female, then a suffix like -er is added to denote that it’s a male version (such as a male “widow” being a “widower”).  Obviously some terms encompass both genders without need for differentiation (a “dancer” can be male or female, as can a “doctor”), but if you do have multiple versions of the same word, the simple, baseline word also inevitably corresponds with the gender most traditionally, originally associated with it.  As a result, the term “goddess” has been created to distinctly denote a female version of a god, because the history and nature of our society and our religions have by and large focused on male deities first and foremost.

But that means that it’s really weird that the people of Hyrule, for example, use the term “goddess” at all.

Because female deities are the only kind that Hyrule has.  To my knowledge of The Legend of Zelda series, all the deities of the land’s tales of creation and forms of worship are female.  Din, Farore, and Nayru are the 3 deities who created Hyrule and the Triforce, and then there was also Hylia at some point, who made the land’s people, if I recall.  And she was (and is) also a chick.  While there are male sages, and male spirits of the land, and stuff like that, the entirety of Hyrule’s religious pantheon has always been strictly female.  So by basic rules of thumb, the nomenclature in Hyrule should refer to Hylia, Din, Farore, and Nayru as “gods”, and the term “goddess” shouldn’t even exist.  Either they should only have the single term, or, at most, they should have the term “god,” to denote female deities, and a term such as “godder” to denote the theory of a male deity.

You see this sort of thing fairly frequently, and it just doesn’t make a lot of sense.  The titular land of Ys was created by 2 female deities and, to my knowledge (I’ve so far only played the first game), had no male equivalent of them running around anywhere, so they should refer to that pair as “gods,” not “goddesses.”  Fodlan of Fire Emblem 16, meanwhile, is a land with a single, all-powerful organized religion devoted to Sothis, a female deity.  Granted, other lands in the world of FE16 have different belief systems (Brigid, for example, believes in multiple divine beings), so the concept of male and female deities isn’t as unknown as it would be for Ys and Hyrule, but given Fodlan’s near xenophobia and aggressive belief in Sothis as the only true deity, you’d think that the only acknowledgement of the outside world’s beliefs in their language would be to invent a term like “godder” for foreign male gods, rather than adjust how they refer to their own single, female deity from the base “god” to “goddess.”  

Now, I can occasionally see an exception to what the rule should be.  The Lunar series, for example, has only a single deity within it, Althena, but I actually think that the term “goddess” makes sense for her.  Because, see, Lunar takes place in the far, far distant future of our world, at a time when humanity has fled to the moon, and forgotten its Earthly heritage.  So ultimately, you can make the logical argument that the conventions of language used in Lunar are directly related to the history of our own language conventions.  Just because the people of Lunar don’t actually have the slightest recollection or record of the time in the distant, distant past when the default term “god” was created in association with the, at that time, more standard idea that deities were male, that doesn’t mean that the term “goddess” wouldn’t have survived far past the point at which its denotation of gender has any value.  So in some rare cases, the strictly-female-deity society using the term “goddess” can still make some sense.

But in most cases, it’s something like Hyrule/Ys, where the default term of “god” would undeniably have implied a female, and/or Fodlan, where keeping that default term’s gender association would have been a matter of pride.  And yet, there’s a ton of RPGs out there with exclusively female, or at least clearly predominantly female, deities and pantheons, and they all throw the term “goddess” around willy-nilly.  Doesn’t make sense.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Annual Summary 2020

Holy crap what a year.

Here’s what I played.

Adventure Bar Story
Adventure Labyrinth Story
AeternoBlade 2
Al-Qadim: The Genie’s Curse
The Banner Saga 3
Beautiful Desolation
Dark Half
Deus Ex 3
Deus Ex 4
Deus Ex: Breach
Etrian Odyssey 5
Grimm’s Hollow
I Am Setsuna
I Have Low Stats But My Class is Hero, So I Recruited Everyone I Know to Fight the Dark Lord
The Longest 5 Minutes
Romancing Saga 3
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Q2
Unlucky Mage
Witch Hunt
Ys 1

Definitely a longer list than last year’s, in spite of a fair number of sizable games on it, but, well, that’s what happens when you’re furloughed for half a year, I suppose.

...Alright, look, I know this makes me sound like a complete asshole, but I can’t lie: purely in terms of the RPGs I played, 2020 was a good year for me.  All the rest of life around me might not have been particularly great, but I hit some nice RNG results with those RPGs.  Some great mainstream titles like Okami, Deus Ex 3, and Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Q2, a solid handful of high-quality indie titles like Rakuen and The Banner Saga, some great recent titles and some solid classics...alright, yes, there were some disappointments and some downright bad titles in there, too (as if 2020 weren’t bad enough already, I subjected myself to another Kemco game; goddamn their affordability and the severely diminishing number of 3DS RPGs I haven’t yet played!).  But overall, damn enjoyable year, strictly in terms of the games I played.

Of course, the world’s shutdown gave me plenty of time to do other stuff, too, and because I’ve somehow hypnotized myself into sincerely believing that anyone cares, I’m gonna tell you what else I was up to!

Anime: This year I watched Flip Flappers, a creative show which I quite enjoyed.  Flying Witch and My Roommate is a Cat were pleasant little shows, and Konosuba was dumb, but undeniably funny.  I also watched Re:Creators, which is a very cool analysis and treatise on the act of creation of fiction, on just about every level.  And lastly, I watched Puella Magi Madoka Magica and its third movie, which is without a doubt 1 of the greatest, most artful works of anime created, truly amazing as a whole--if you can emotionally handle it (spoiler: you can’t).  So yeah, very good year in terms of anime for me.
Books: It was actually a pretty disappointing crop this year, until right at the end.  After struggling on and off for the last 2 years to do so, I finally buckled down and finished reading Herman Melville’s Pierre or The Ambiguities, and dear Gozreh, it’s fucking TERRIBLE.  Look, if you loved Moby Dick, as I did, and are looking to see what else Melville penned, that’s great, but avoid the foolish mistake I made and steer the hell clear of Pierre or The Ambiguities.  It will not reward your persistence.  Aside from that, I read Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn because someone at some point had recommended it to me, and it was very meh, as well as Agatha Christie’s They Came to Baghdad, which was alright, but not up to her usual level of quality.  I also read Tortilla Flat, by John Steinbeck, and...I guess it’s probably good?  I didn’t personally like it, but that’s subjective; I am, by this point, just really tired of Steinbeck’s adoring preoccupation with extremely selfish hobos.
Luckily, my reading list for 2020 started to turn around with Thornton Burgess’s Blacky the Crow, which was a fairly decent kids’ book that got me nostalgic for back when I was a kid and an avid reader of his many works.  After that, I read the Dalai Lama's Ethics for the New Millennium, which is great.  I finished the year with 2 final books, the first of which was Jerry Spinelli’s Milkweed, which is just gut-wrenchingly powerful, a work so excellent that I think it manages to dwarf the likes of Maniac McGee and Stargirl.  The second and last novel that I had the absolute, rapturous pleasure of reading this year was Suzanne Collins’s The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, which is simply brilliant.  I fully believe that Collins is one of the most purely talented and significant authors within the last hundred years at least, and reading her latest work fully transformed 2020 into a great year for me in terms of what books I read.  I could have read a dozen Pierre or The Ambiguities, and The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes still would have managed to balance my year out as a net positive.
...Well, it could’ve balanced out at least 4 or 5 PIerre or The Ambiguities, at least.  Seriously, that thing is so awful.
Non-RPG Video Games: I actually played a few of these this year, besides just Super Smash Brothers.  I played a couple of visual novels, for starters: Heart of the Woods was pretty good, really like how well it does with setting its atmosphere, and VA-11 HALL-A, recommended to me by a former work friend, is really cool--I would never have thought that I’d be into a bartending simulator, but even if this one hadn’t been cyberpunk in a pleasingly 16-bit style, it’d definitely be a winner for its engrossing characters and understated story.  Strongly recommend it.  That same work friend also had me play Gris, which I recommend even more highly, because it’s just outright, lovely art, through and through.  Lastly, on a whim, having enjoyed that super old predecessor, I picked up the new XCOM: Chimera Squad, to see what the series has been up to in the past decade(s).  It’s not bad.
TV and the Like: Damn, I actually watched a ton of stuff this year.  My family all watched the old John Adams show together, and it’s pretty darned good, 1 of those little historical miniseries that tells a good story and informs at the same time.  I checked out the first season of the new Harley Quinn cartoon, and I liked it quite a bit...but then my interest immediately dwindled, because I next watched the new DC Super Hero Girls, and damn is it fun and clever.  Just bad luck for the Harley Quinn team to have to compete with Lauren Faust this year; better luck next time, guys.
Speaking of DC, I also watched the second season of The Flash with my sister, which is a fun show.  Of course, in terms of live-action superhero shows, nothing’s ever gonna beat Daredevil, which I finished watching this year, and goddamn am I gonna miss it--whoever’s responsible for canceling it, seriously, fuck you.  I also completed the new She-Ra, which has a lot of substantial ups and downs but is overall a solid show, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, whose final season is still fun but lacks a lot of the heart and charm of the first 3 and, at times, starts crossing the fine line it’s walked until now between an assertive mentality of empowerment, and certain unhealthy attitudes towards men.*  I also finally got around to watching Gravity Falls, which is good, and checked out the new Owl House, which is better--it’s kind of like if you put Futurama, the very few good parts of Harry Potter, and a couple Dali paintings into a mixing bowl and went nuts.  Also, I watched the eighth season of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  And yes, I know there’s a ninth season and I’m behind, but goddammit, it’s so hard to say goodbye to this great show that I can’t help but draw it out a bit.
What else...oh, I also rewatched Scrubs and Star Trek: The Next Generation with my mother, who enjoyed both (the latter, admittedly, with a lot of selective curation on my part of which episodes she saw...look, STTNG is an elegant, thoughtful, amazing show and it will make you a better person for watching it, but let’s face it, grandma-banging alien ghosts in Space Scotland and that one where Picard became a kid for a little while prove that not every episode of that show is a winner).  I also rewatched The Good Place with my sister, because The Good Place is awesome.  Lastly, I watched the new Steven Universe Future, and I found that, unsurprisingly, it’s pretty excellent--it seems at first just to be a quirky little bit of tying up loose ends, but then it starts hitting you with that good old-fashioned Steven Universe mental-emotional turmoil and redefining how you look at other people yet again, and earns its place alongside the main show as a true work of excellence.  I tell you, we’re lucky to live in an age in which we get to enjoy a show of such substance as Steven Universe.
Other Crap: Well, it wasn’t in session for like half the year, but a lot of my time nonetheless was spent upon my job (and briefly on a second, and even more briefly on a third), and I still like spending time playing with my lizard (not a euphemism...well, okay, I guess I do spend some of my time doing that, too).  Also I spend time writing these rants, and often I am le tired, so, y’know, that all takes up time, too.

Okay, enough of me indulging myself as I ramble on about all the non-RPG stuff I have opinions on this year.  Let’s move on to the main event: an even more self-indulgent bunch of rambling about the yes-RPG stuff I have opinions on!

RPG Moments of Interest in 2020:

1. I love the fact that Nigerian Prince scam emails are not only still a worldwide phenomenon in Deus Ex 3’s vision of our future, but a thoroughly unstoppable one, able to make it into the accounts of even top-level Illuminati operations no matter how much they try to keep them out.

2. Few things in life are as pleasing as the sight and sound of that little lightbulb lighting up as your Romancing Saga character suddenly learns a new way to kick ass during the heat of battle.  Like, I’ll never do this because down that road leads madness, but I feel like any Top 5 list of the most gratifying sights and sounds of RPG gameplay would have to include this.

3. This year, I realized for the first time that developer Roseportal Games can be seen as having the acronym RPG.  Just in case you ever need ammunition for an argument that I am, in fact, incredibly obtuse, there you go.

4. I know it probably is just a coincidence, but the fact that the dinosaur boss in SMTPQ2 is weak to lightning gave me some great Chrono Trigger nostalgia.

5. Forget that Coronavirus nonsense--the real world-changing event of 2020 is that Final Fantasy 8’s Zell Dincht is no longer the sole connoisseur of low-quality hot dog obsession.  It’s kind of cruel, really--Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3’s Elizabeth already had other distinctive quirks of personality, and now, in Persona Q2, she has stolen 1 of Zell’s exact 2, and showed him up by making it cute and far more amusing.

6. The only way I can wrap my head around AeternoBlade 2’s voice acting is to sincerely believe that the recording took place no greater than 5 minutes after the actors had been introduced for the first time to the concepts of acting, English, speaking, communication as a whole, and possibly just the mere act of existing.


8. There are some uses in Beautiful Desolation of certain basic vocal software programs.  This adds the authenticity of the whole robot-speech thing, but at the same time, it was hard to stay immersed when I felt like I was having a conversation with The Great Boot-Leg and Bootleg Jacques from Jontron.

9. This year was a sobering disappointment when it came to personal heroes of game development, with CD Projekt Red turning out to be as abusive to their employees as Bioware, as willing to fellate the CCP as Blizzard, as shamelessly dishonest as Bethesda, and as incompetent at releasing a functional product as all 3 of them.  And, much greater a blow to me personally, Chris Avellone turned out to be a predatory piece of shit.  Is there anyone in this accursed industry that can manage to be extremely talented AND not a douchebag?  Does Toby Fox host clandestine dogfights in his attic?  Is Laura Shigihara secretly running a human trafficking ring?  Will the Scooby Doo gang reveal in the coming months that underneath the mask, Yoko Taro was Old Man Randy Pitchford all along?

...Nah, that last one would require Pitchford to actually possess talent.  Might be safe on that one, at least.

10. Jesus Christ, Aldorlea Games!  28 different status effects in 1 game!?

11. What I like most about Unlucky Mage is the moment when the party uses their substantial endgame wealth to buy a horse to save it from an abusive life...and this transaction, and the little self-congratulatory back-patting session about how kind they are which follows, takes place in front of a large cage with 3 human slaves watching.  Yeah, the horse is absolutely the only individual whose situation you compassionate heroes should be focused on improving.

12. I finally filled out all the alphabet with Ys 1 this year!  By which I mean, I’ve now played at least 1 RPG for every single letter of the alphabet.  Took me over 30 years, but I got it done!

Quote of the Year
“What person on Earth has bowels filled with such charity?”
  --Sardonis, Unlucky Mage

Best Prequel/Sequel of 2020
Winner: Deus Ex 3
Deus Ex 3 is a great continuation of its franchise, a prequel to the first game that recaptures the compelling, conspiracy-driven story focus and the broader analysis of the nature of human society that made Deus Ex 1 such a powerful work.  Admittedly, DE3 is not quite as great at it as the founding work of the series, but it sure as hell comes close, and it makes up for this slight deficit by improving upon Deus Ex 1 in other important ways--DE3 adds an engaging focus on the question of what it is that makes us human, and whether part of what makes us human is the desire to surpass the restrictions that being human entails, for example.  The game also surpasses its predecessors by giving its protagonist, Adam, a defined personality, and relevant character depth that gives the entirety of the game’s events personal importance to him.  It’s a terrific upgrade--as engrossing a treatise as Deus Ex 1 is, DE3 manages to be a treatise of its own and a solid story with appeal to the emotional, human element.

Runners-Up: Deus Ex 4; Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Q2
As with last year, The Banner Saga 3 is not counted as a sequel for the fact that it’s basically a continuation of a single tale spanning the 3 games rather than a story in its own right.

Yeah, okay, Deus Ex 4 is, in terms of purpose and philosophical basis, the low point of the Deus Ex series.  No argument there.  It also has some major problems with its conclusion’s being a dissatisfying sequel-bait transition to the (theoretical as of this moment) next game.  The people writing DE4 don’t seem to have really gotten what the franchise is actually about, using the conspiracy stuff and major social commentary as the window dressing and building the house itself out of the surface-level events and issues of the setting, when it’s supposed to be the other way around.  Even so, DE4 is, at the very least, a pretty good story, that stays accurate to its heritage in body if not in spirit, and there are good ideas and messages to take from it on a basic level.  If Deus Ex 5 can manage to return to the higher level that DE1, 2, and 3 were at, and maintain the storytelling strength that DE3 and 4 possess, then I think that Deus Ex 4 will be retroactively vindicated as the title that led into it.  But I suppose we’ll see how it goes.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Q2 is great.  Q1, I admit, hit me harder and has a more powerful and important message, but the quality of Q2’s story and central character would do any series proud, make no mistake--and it’s paced a hell of a lot better than the first Persona Q, which only revealed its terrific quality in its last quarter.  SMTPQ2 also uses its cast to strong effect, juggling 3 different games’ worth of casts well enough to stay true to them all** and even managing to still find ways to explore some of the members of SEES and the Investigation Team in new ways.  And, as with Persona Q1, the game feels like a drawn-out, really well-conceived Social Link, which all the more connects it to its series overall.  It was honestly a pretty difficult choice between this and Deus Ex 3 for which is the best sequel/prequel this year.

Biggest Disappointment of 2020
Loser: Witch Hunt
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: going into a game hoping for something good and getting something bad is a let-down, but nothing is ever quite as disappointing as when the game leads you on, gives you the taste of decent quality...and then pulls the rug out from under you and turns into a complete crapfest.  It’s what absolutely kills me about the Xenosaga series, and La Pucelle Tactics.

Now, Witch Hunt ain’t Xenosaga, and it ain’t La Pucelle Tactics.  It didn’t start out seeming like some fresh, grand new epic, nor did its protagonist seem like a genuinely awesome, freshly unique and appealing person.  The most I would really call it, in general, is adequate, with a few decently fun moments.  It’s a decent RPG for the most part, but it didn’t have the great qualities that Xenosaga and La Pucelle Tactics decided to just carelessly throw away.  But even if Witch Hunt is otherwise just an averagely alright RPG, its ending is so shitty that the game still manages to leave you feeling extremely disappointed as it finishes, not to mention irate and empty.  This game’s conclusion is so terrible that my first reaction was to assume that I’d done something wrong--played on the wrong difficulty setting, missed a vital item or sidequest, something along those lines--and triggered a joke bad ending as a result.  I had to be told by the creator himself that this was the real, only ending to the game, a revelation which flabbergasted me because it is just so bad.  I’m not gonna go into details just yet, because Witch Hunt’s ending is the kind of thing that deserves a spot on my Worst Endings list AND a rant all in its own right, but it is absolutely the sort of thing that can turn even an unobjectionable, mildly positive, but generally unremarkable title into a tremendous disappointment.

Almost as Bad: AeternoBlade 2; Etrian Odyssey 5; Romancing Saga 3
As someone who liked AeternoBlade 1 a lot (way more, objectively speaking, than I should have), AeternoBlade 2 was kind of a bummer--the first game was an interesting tale of escaping the cycle of hatred that one creates for oneself, using the manipulation of time to make that premise more literal than most games could, and that plot’s central figure, Freyja, was necessarily compelling.  AeternoBlade 2, though...the plot overall is far more along the lines of the genre’s standards; there’s not much to separate it from any other given RPG wherein a guy starts doing villain stuff so he can attain some problematic power over the world to undo/prevent something he didn’t like from happening.  The new characters don’t have much going for them, and while I still like Freyja well enough, she lacks the nuance she possessed in the original.  Also, not for nothing, but the writing starts jumping choppily around with portions of the plot, it’s hard to tell all the guardian time spirit things apart and remember how any of them actually matters, and the voice acting delivering all the dialogue and plot and characterization is, put frankly, awful.  In spite of it all, I don’t think AeternoBlade 2 is actually a bad game, per say, but yeah, it’s definitely a disappointment after the admittedly crude but still perceptible elegance of the first game.

Etrian Odyssey 5 and Romancing Saga 3 are also examples of being unable to achieve the expectations set by predecessors.  While RS3 keeps up the series tradition of being very complex with what events lead to what and its open-endedness, the story itself, when you stop for a moment and just put it all together, is pretty meager and doesn’t really say or do all that much.  EO5 is even worse--the plots and characters of Etrian Odyssey 2 and 4 are pretty ho-hum and forgettable, but at least they’re there.  Etrian Odyssey 5 just gave up the pretense of having a story altogether, introducing its only narrative-significant character in its last dungeon, and then waiting until the last 2 floors of that dungeon before having her actually tell you what the goddamn plot and purpose of the game was.  I may not go into every RPG expecting great things, I may not even go in expecting particularly good things, but I do go in expecting things, at least, and that’s precisely what the narrative of Etrian Odyssey 5 thoroughly fails to deliver.

Best Finale of 2020
Winner: Rakuen
This might seem like an apt place to pull the “I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying!” joke, but let’s face it, I am crying and we both know it.

Runners-Up: The Banner Saga 3; Dark Half; Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Q2
The concluding events of Dark Half are when a lot of the creative nuances of its plot get their payoff, and we come to fully understand the dark and dichotomous story we’ve witnessed in full.  When combined with the endings, with their bittersweet sense of significance and at times resignation, Dark Half has a strong finish, to be sure.  SMTPQ2 likewise concludes well, with a final dungeon and confrontation that’s very on-brand for how personal they manage to feel even as they engage the cast in generalized heroism, and the ending hits you in the feels with how right it seems for all involved.  Lastly, even after an entire trilogy of ramping up the tension of a world’s people having to struggle harder and harder for survival in a world in the midst of its end of days, The Banner Saga 3 still manages somehow to deliver a finale of the greatest nail-biting anxiety yet as the trilogy’s survivors pour the last of civilization’s resources into a truly desperate last stand, and their final hope travels into the darkness to reveal and confront the human weakness that birthed an early cataclysm.  It’s every bit as dramatic and stirring an end as this epic demands, and had Rakuen’s conclusion not been the breathtakingly beautiful emotional tour-de-force that it is, The Banner Saga 3 would’ve had Best Finale in the bag this year.

Worst RPG of 2020
Loser: Etrian Odyssey 5
You know what?  I’ll say it.  I’ll say it, here and now, because apparently I have to.  I’ll say it because I guess not everyone knows this, even though you would think they would.  I’ll say it, because it seems it’s not as obvious as it really should be.

The plot of your game shouldn’t make its first appearance 2 dungeon floors before the final boss.

And hey, as a freebie, because I’m just a generous kind of guy, I’ll throw in this extra tidbit of wisdom: that plot also should leave your player feeling something more than mild confusion about what the point even was of it.

Almost as Bad: Al-Qadim: The Genie’s Curse; Unlucky Mage; Witch Hunt
Oh, a Kemco game that’s bad.  What a surprise.  Actually, I guess I’d say Unlucky Mage is among the developer’s better offerings, but that’s really no more flattering an appraisal than saying that a splinter is a more pleasant thing to receive a puncture wound than a rusty nail--it’s not a fun prospect either way.  As for Witch Hunt, well, as I said above, it’s actually a relatively okay RPG for most of its course, but it’s got 1 of those endings that’s just so vigorously atrocious that the entire work is retroactively ruined by it.  You may absolutely depend upon a rant in the coming months about this catastrophe of a conclusion; merely a spot on my Worst Endings list is not going to cut it for Witch Hunt.

You know how I wanted more Arabian Nights styled RPGs a while back?  Well, after playing Al-Qadim: The Genie’s Curse, I can safely say that if it means ever having to again spend a third of the game running back and forth doing errands for a bunch of genies carefully crafted through scientific process to be as infuriatingly annoying to converse with as possible, then I take it back.

Most Creative of 2020
Winner: Dark Half
A reader suggested this SNES hidden gem a while back, stating that it had a very creative premise, and they were not kidding.  The act of telling a story from both the hero and the villain’s perspectives is a sadly under-utilized method, and Dark Half was 1 of the first to try it--Live-A-Live is the only RPG I can think of which did so earlier.  By itself, that wouldn’t be enough to propel it to the top of this year’s creativity category, but the purpose to which the game’s narrative is split, the truth behind the game’s lore and the villain’s journey, and the overall aesthetic and method to its story, make Dark Half in many ways a pillar from which later RPGs’ story concepts could draw, and in other ways a unique entity even now, 25 years later.  Innovation of a high quality, is Dark Half!

Runners-Up: Beautiful Desolation; Okami; Rakuen
Maybe the general plot concept of Beautiful Desolation is a bit generic, but as the game pulls together the classic, striking aesthetic of isometric RPG titans like Planescape: Torment and Fallout 1 and 2, an adoring devotion to Africa’s aesthetic and spirit, and a gaggle of future-tech concepts like what you’d find in a collection of science fiction short stories from the 50s and 60s, it’s strikingly creative on aesthetic merit alone.  Rakuen, meanwhile, is singular as an RPG that tells a very real, relatable story of love, loss, comfort, and coming to terms with oneself, grounded fully in a real-world tragedy of our recent past.

It was difficult to rate Dark Half higher than Okami when it comes to creativity, because Okami’s got bundles of it.  From its fresh take on a protagonist, to the ways it incorporates the full host of Japanese folklore into its narrative without ever feeling any less its own distinct entity, to the twists of its plot, to its unique incorporation of brush calligraphy, to the way it manages to translate the aesthetic of traditional Japanese art into a functionally animated, living world, all with an atmosphere of both straightforward adventure and lighthearted character...I give Dark Half the win for what a unique direction and intent it has with its many singular ideas and twists, but it’s a damn close margin with Okami, that’s for sure.  I sure had a great year in terms of creativity in the RPGs I played.

Best Romance of 2020
Winner: Gemma x Winston (Rakuen)
While I think that most of the other personal stories of Rakuen are more compelling, the story of Gemma and Winston’s love is a classic tale of romance and devotion in the face of cultural biases that effectively plays at your heart.  I won’t say that’s an amazing romance, but it’s a solid one, no doubt about it.

Runners-Up: Flash x Haru (The Last 5 Minutes); Oddleif x Rook (The Banner Saga 3)
There wasn’t a lot in the way of the lovey-dovey in this year’s batch of RPGs, and truth be told, I can’t pretend I feel too strongly about either of these couplings.  Still, even if it doesn’t truly move me, Flash and Haru’s story has a simplicity and sincerity that’s appealing.  And Oddleif and Rook do make a rather good couple, complimenting one another as people and bonding believably over the events of the world’s end--I just can’t get too strongly behind this pairing because I think that Alette is a much better and more narratively meaningful protagonist than Rook (and I even think that Oddleif’s relationship as a mentor/advisor/maternal figure to Alette is at least as strongly written as her love story with Rook).  Still, it is good stuff.

Adjustment to 2019: Dorothea x Manuela (Fire Emblem 16) = Best; Runners-Up = Catherine x Shamir (Fire Emblem 16), Dorothea x Ferdinand (Fire Emblem 16); Octavia x Protagonist x Regongar (Pathfinder: Kingmaker)
Remember how last year I mentioned that I hadn’t accounted for the Fire Emblem 16 romances in this category, as I hadn’t seen them all?  Well, now I have, and here’s the adjustment.  Displacing Pathfinder: Kingmaker’s awesome polyamorous trio, Dorothea and Manuela were the best love story of 2019.  It’s a hard decision to make, because I really like the romance between Octavia, Regongar, and the Queen/King of Pathfinder: Kingmaker, and I respect the hell out of Owlcat Games for putting that level of effort into writing a serious 3-person love story as something real and worthwhile rather than just a throwaway harem situation...but all the same, Dorothea and Manuela together really, honestly moves me; I find their connection a truly touching one, as I mentioned recently.  Additionally, the romances between Dorothea and Ferdinand, and Catherine and Shamir, are substantially superior to the Stella Glow couples I initially credited as runners-up last year.  So, as promised, those are the updated rankings for last year.  Nice work, Nintendo.

Best Voice Acting of 2020
The Absolute Antithesis to the Very Concept of Winning at Voice Acting: AeternoBlade 2
I can’t believe I was actually ragging on Tales of Eternia’s voice acting a couple years back.  I’m sorry, ToE.  I didn’t understand how good I had it.

Anyway, Getting Back on Track...Winner: Deus Ex 4
Simply put, everyone’s on point in their voice work, and Elias Toufexis puts in a great performance as the protagonist.  He may not quite be Commander Shepard or Geralt of Rivia, but Adam Jensen nonetheless has a very signature style and tone, and it’s a major factor in making this game stand out for its acting.

Runners-Up: The Banner Saga 3; Deus Ex 3; Rakuen
It’s kind of a toss-up as to whether DE3 or 4 is the better in terms of acting, really; each has almost the exact consistent high level of performances and a few characters that stand out.  I think Adam’s voice as a character comes together much better in DE4, so that’s why it won over DE3, but they’re both great.  There’s not much to say about The Banner Saga 3 and Rakuen--their voice acting is sparse, saved for special occasions, but when it’s there, it gets the job done very well, and the singing in Rakuen is, as far as I can tell (I have very little knowledge of such matters), solid work.

Funniest of 2020
Winner: Okami
Look, I could talk about the pleasantly lighthearted tone of most of the game’s NPCs and plot events.  I could praise the fun dynamic between Amaterasu and the self-important flea riding around on her, and the enjoyment one gets out of her overall canine demeanor.  There is, in fact, just a lot about Okami that’s tongue-in-cheek funny.

But none of that crap matters.  Because even if Okami had not a single other joke or jape in its entire course, it would still win for being a game in which you can literally kill demons by making divine doggy tinkles on them.  That’s just not something you can compete with.

Runners-Up: Gurumin; I Have Low Stats But My Class is Leader, So I Recruited Everyone I Know to Fight the Dark Lord
I didn’t know what to expect from Gurumin, getting it solely because it was a 3DS RPG on sale, so it was a pleasing surprise to find it a largely lighthearted kiddie adventure with the occasional chuckle-worthy line or shenanigan.  As for IHLSBMCiLSIREIKtFtDL, it’s pretty obvious from the title that it’s silly by design, but I give it credit for the fact that it keeps up a humorous levity for more or less its entire run (which turns out to be longer than one might expect), and doesn’t rely solely on its premise alone to provide the giggles.  I’m still waiting for the day (which may never come) that You Are Not the Hero is finished, but in the meantime, IHLSBMCiLSIREIKtFtDL makes for a good tongue-in-cheek Kickstarter RPG with the same foundations of poking fun at RPG narrative conventions.

Best Villain of 2020
Winner: Rugga (The Banner Saga 3)
It’s strange.  The Runners-Up below may have more depth as well-intentioned villains or be far more compelling and elegant forces of fate and divinity...but there’s just something about Rugga that makes him stand out above them all to me.  Something about the petty, unreasoning ambitions and schemes of a self-important asshole who’s clever but not smart speaks to me in terms of villainy.  The world falls apart around him, all of civilization being undone as all races are swallowed by calamity and ever-approaching doom, the time remaining to him and all other living creatures is measured in mere hours...and Rugga’s determination to be the guy in charge never wavers, only grows.  Rugga’s villainy is the sort of single-minded pride and ambition that’s unreasoning, destructive to everyone it touches, and utterly, wholly, irredeemably pathetic.  He doesn’t care how tiny, twisted, and ruined the throne is, he wants to sit in it, and he’ll do anything to do so, even if it means worsening the very heap of refuse he wants to rule over!

It’s the kind of worthless, small-minded evil that I wish were confined to the world of fiction...sadly, Rugga’s is the mindset of countless cutthroat little ladder-climbers in innumerable companies and corporations, not to mention quite a number of politicians.  It’s the reality within Rugga, the man who’d rather rule scraps and shreds than let them be pieced back together by anyone else, that makes him the greatest villain of this year for me.

Runners-Up: Enlil (Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Q2); Hugh Darrow (Deus Ex 3); Ryukyu (Dark Half)
Much like Orsted in Live-A-Live and Fou-Lu in Breath of Fire 4, Ryukyu benefits greatly from the fact that the game’s structure gives him an amount of screentime comparable to the hero of the game (in fact, Ryukyu and the hero share the role of protagonist), and I would actually say that he embodies the game as a whole far better than his heroic counterpart, with Dark Half’s themes of inevitability, and despair over mankind’s shortcomings, and the tragedy of humanity being so awful as to require a Jesus-like savior to give their existence in exchange for a chance for humanity to be redeemed.  Ryukyu doesn’t measure up to Orsted or Fou-Lu, of course, because while theirs are journeys whose stories we can see actively shaping them (or verifying what they suspected already), the core of Ryukyu remains a mystery to us until the game’s end, and much of his metric for judging that which he sees in the world is difficult to pin down in several regards.  He’s just a bit less dynamic and fleshed-out than Orsted and Fou-Lu, I think.  Still, Ryukyu’s a great villain who embodies the spirit and atmosphere of his game, a shining example of innovative writing and design which I would have no trouble believing was a huge inspiration for Fou-Lu several years later.

Enlil and Hugh Darrow are both solid villains of the “doing evil with the intention of good” type that RPGs and anime are both so very fond of.  As is usually the case, their actions are absurdly exaggerated as a solution to their problems, and the logic that led them to their solutions of inescapable pocket dimension prisons and world-wide cyborg murder rampages can generously be described as poorly-reasoned, but each is still a pretty decent, compelling villain raising questions of humanity’s obstacles, and frankly, anything better than an outright badly-written villain is part of a minority in this genre, so kudos to the creators of Mr. Darrow and Ms. Enlil.

Best Character of 2020
Winner: Hikari (Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Q2)
She’s no Rei from SMTPQ1, and it’s much easier to see where the game’s going with her (unlike Rei, whose personality plot twist was far more cleverly subtle), but Hikari’s a well-explored, engaging person whose depth and development are more than up for the responsibility of being the centerpiece of the game’s narrative.  And just because you can probably see the reveals coming for most of the game, that doesn’t make the journey of her self-actualization any less engaging, touching, and inspiring as it’s told.  Hikari’s a damned good character, and she’s easily 1 of the best in the SMT Persona series.

Runners-Up: Alette (The Banner Saga 3); Boy (Rakuen); Sue (Rakuen)
Alette’s growth into a leader, and her doubts along the way, as well as her dealing with the loss of her father, make for a protagonist whose personal journey holds a natural appeal and even feels gratifying to witness.  The stories of Sue and the Boy are some of the most moving in Rakuen, and the Boy in particular is a character of emotional simplicity and complexity both, whose tale is tear-inducingly inspiring.  They also both feel very authentically like the children they are, which seems to be a tricky prospect for quite a few RPGs to manage to pull off, so Sue and the Boy are all the more a feather in Rakuen’s cap.

Best RPG of 2020
Winner: Rakuen
With its use of significant real-world events as a backdrop, a smooth back-and-forth between reality and a colorful fantasy world that’s nonetheless at least a little bit real, and focus upon the sorts of difficulties in life that anyone could and may experience, Rakuen’s already a unique experience unto itself.  And then, with a wonderful understanding of the fragile beauty of existence, and of the weaknesses and stalwart warmths of the human heart, Rakuen leverages its signature components to tell a thoroughly moving tale of courage, both one’s own and the ability to inspire it in others, and the process of loss, and the power of love and heroism to give us the ability to carry on.  And it’s beautiful, and simple, and dammit I’m starting to tear up again as I remember some of the more amazing of Rakuen’s scenes...look, the game is just wonderful, okay?  Go play it.

...But make sure you do so with the Sprinting Patch installed, because honestly who the hell has time to dither around with slow character walking speed?

Runners-Up: Deus Ex 3; Okami; Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Q2
Shin Megami Tensei rarely fails to please, and Persona Q2 is a fine installment in the series, an entertaining adventure with a lot of heart that feels like a great Social Link skillfully expanded to the size and scope of a game in its own right.  Its main character, Hikari, is well-constructed and likable, and it adeptly utilizes the casts of the modern Persona games towards its purpose and as foils for Hikari to help her growth--and it gives a bit of spotlight to Aigis and Yosuke along the way, which is pleasing, since each is arguably the best character in their respective game’s party, and a nice surprise, since I would have thought the developers would favor the more recently popular Persona 5 party in the story than the older casts.  Solid stuff.

Deus Ex 3 is a great game for all the reasons that Deus Ex 1 was, using the foundation of conspiracy theories to both warn its audience of certain unpleasant potentials before us, and to draft compelling observations and analyses of humanity, both on the level of the individual and, much more, as a social animal overall.  Absolutely a worthy successor to the first title, and I could easily see the argument being made that DE3 even surpasses it.

You know how Bravely Default is pretty much the most true embodiment of the classic, core of the Final Fantasy series?  I think it’s safe to say that Okami is much the same to The Legend of Zelda.  Beating Nintendo at its own game, and beating it within an inch of its life at that, Okami is a grand, marvelously fun adventure that perfects every gameplay signature and even the atmosphere and personality of TLoZ, while maintaining a strongly defined, highly unique character of its own as a collection of and joyous glorification of Japanese folklore and traditional culture.  And it does so with such a good-natured, frequently tongue-in-cheek approach that it never seems stuffy or overly self-indulgent, as, I find, games and anime tend to feel when they attempt to do the past Japanese culture thing.  And on top of all that, it’s a pretty neat adventure with characters you get invested in, and the best Silent Protagonist that I’ve seen to date.  Damn good stuff, Okami is, and major thanks to Ecclesiastes for gifting it to me!

List Changes
Greatest Deaths and Worst Endings: So, here’s an interesting thing: there’s gonna be a few General List changes in the upcoming future to account for games I’ve played this year, but, interestingly, there’s enough changes within each rant that it makes more sense to update the rant with an expansion  The Greatest Deaths rant is 1 such case--I really have to put a couple characters in Rakuen onto the list, but it kills me to think of pushing certain others off, so, with it being a few years since I made the list, it seems reasonable to expand it out a little (even considering that it is, admittedly, a pretty long list already).  The other case is the Worst Endings rant, because I can’t possibly let Deus Ex 4 and Witch Hunt escape that list, but fuck me if I’m gonna let Neverwinter Nights 2 get a break and be shuffled off.  So expect to see an update in 2021 to each.
Weirdest Characters: Actually, this one isn’t changing, either.  But I thought it was worth emphasizing, once again, what an incredibly bizarre genre RPGs tends to be in terms of its casting, because this year I played RPGs including party members who were anthropomorphic lobsters, boyfriends who had been cursed to transform into chickens, whatever the hell the Dredge are from The Banner Saga, and an honest-to-Iomedae living snowman.  And none of them are weirder than that list’s gatekeeper Skelly.

Well, that’s it for this year.  I know it’s been a hell of a year, but I hope that you’ve all managed to find some good and enjoyment in these past 365 days.  I’m grateful to have had a lot to feel fortunate for, myself, not the least of which being my sister, Ecclesiastes, and Angel Adonis, all of whom have contributed in many, many ways both great and small, but always significant, to making these rants as good as they can be.

I’m also very fortunate, not to mention pleased and proud, to have gotten my first regular, sustained Patron (at least, the first who didn’t rethink the matter after a couple months) this year - a tremendous and heartfelt thanks to you, Dan Brandt; your support is so generous and SO cool to have!

And lastly, of course, even if many might look at it and think it small by internet standards, I think that the fact that I have a readership, that there are people out there, whether in the billions or just a handful, who are interested enough in what I have to say, is something fortunate and flattering indeed--so thank you all, as always, for hanging out with me here and reading my rants.  Here’s hoping for a 2021 as prosperous and enjoyable as 2020 was difficult.  Adios until the new year!

* Which may not mean much coming from a guy, admittedly, but I actually only really noticed some of Kimmy Schmidt’s final season’s unhealthy messages when my sister got uncomfortable with them and pointed them out to me.

** At least, I think.  I can verify how well it does with the Persona 3 and 4 gangs, but Q2 is actually my first time encountering the Persona 5 bunch.  Still, from what my limited knowledge can tell, they did right by the Phantom Thieves and Caroline and Justine, too.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

General RPG Lists: Fire Emblem 16 Romances

Heeeeeyyyyyy.  Remember that time I made a list of the best, worst, and most missed romances in Fire Emblem 14, in large part because I had to do something to make me feel like spending those hours upon hours reading through over 200 romantic conversation chains was justified?  Well guess who just finished spending even more time watching the Supports for Fire Emblem 16?

What the hell is even wrong with me

So anyway, here are the best romances of Fire Emblem: Three Houses.  I’ve decided to go with 8 this time, because 16 is too goddamn many stupid slots for this, so half should suffice.  That’s not to say there aren’t that many decent romances in the game (thankfully); FE16 has some pretty good ones that didn’t make it here, like Dedue and Shamir, Leonie and Seteth, and Dorothea and Petra.  I like the way, for example, Byleth’s romance with Hilda advances Hilda as a person to rise up and meet Byleth’s expectations and become a more complete, collaborative person as a result, but it, like the other examples I mentioned, just weren’t the very best that the game had to offer.

Now, lemme just explain some criteria here real quick: generally speaking, this is about romances that are actually in the game, not just ships I or others might like.  Yes, Dimitri x Felix and Hilda x Marianne fans, I know you’re angry, and so numerous, but tough tanukis.  HOWEVER, that is within some reason--if the ending bit talks about them specifically living together, very happily, like well within the range of being reasonable to infer that they did so as lovers, then that does count--so Annette and Mercedes, for example, were eligible for the list, due to the way they end up at the end (which I personally thought was rather nice and sweet).  Similarly, if 2 characters’ final conversation makes statements that imply love in a similarly concrete manner and the ending passage coordinates to some degree with this, they count--so although Shamir’s suggestion of marriage to Catherine is implied to be tongue-in-cheek, the fact that Catherine’s reaction is clearly that of taking the offer in earnest, that neither one actually denies it or says “jk bro its just a prank” about it, and that the the epilogue text implies that they stayed together and very close, are all enough that they qualify.  Finally, if the ending for the character pair vaguely alludes to them living together “like family,” or being closer than family, or something along those lines, that also is fair game: A, Because in the traditional sense, you and your committed romantic partner do count as “family,” and B, because this is Fire Emblem--being family members raises the chances of 2 characters wanting to boink.

Oh yeah, last prelude, I swear: these are judged strictly in terms of their merits as romantic couples.  There are some conversation chains in FE16 that are actually quite good as arcs and studies of characters in a general sense, but not particularly good as love stories, such as that between Dorothea and Linhardt.  Overall quality on those terms is obviously a desirable icing, but the romance itself is the cake.  And even though it’s the exact opposite for me in real life, metaphorically you can’t eat icing and no cake.

Alright, enough jawing, let’s get this done.  The best 8 romances out of Fire Emblem 16’s...jeez, I don’t even know.  Well over 100, I would estimate.

The Best Romances of Fire Emblem 16

8. Byleth and Claude

Although Byleth as a character is something akin to a pile of slightly expired applesauce, Claude’s got a screen presence and a knack for 1-sided conversation that largely compensates for what Byleth lacks, and his decent sequence of conversations with Byleth work in conjunction with the bond they form of friendship, support, and partnership during the game’s main story.  A guy who’s willing to put his main goals in life completely on hold so he can watch your back through a whole war and make sure you uncover as much of the truth about yourself as possible is a keeper, I think.  At any rate, even if he’s doing all the heavy lifting in selling this romance, Claude makes it believable on both sides that he and Byleth love one another, and the result is nice.

7. Byleth and Dorothea

Of course, if Claude can single-handedly sell a romance with Byleth with some help from the main plot, Dorothea can do it with nothing more than the Support conversations alone.  Dorothea brings her genuine and unashamed readiness to love to a set of scenes with Byleth that have the advantage of already being about the subjects of romance and of Byleth and Dorothea knowing one another past pretenses, and the S rank conversation and ending blurb are both very sweet.

6. Mercedes and Sylvain

The quality of this one came as a shock to me, because honestly, I wouldn’t have even considered the idea of these characters together to begin with, let alone that they might actually work.  But this one’s solid, no 2 ways about it.  We have here an engaging story of Sylvain finding a woman who can form a natural, meaningful connection with him over how Crests have negatively affected their lives, cutting straight to the heart of the issues that truly matter to Sylvain, and who has a decent chemistry with him, enough that she can roll with his surface-level antics, but also move straight past them to allow her and him to earnestly come to know each other.  Understanding, commiserating, and accepting, but without being cloyingly sweet and passive, Mercedes turns out to be just the person that Sylvain needs, and you can earnestly believe that his flirtatious overtures to her quickly become quite sincere.  I also appreciate that the ending text for them, in addition to being decently romantic, makes it clear that Sylvain makes major strides in his lifetime toward moving society past its lives-ruining preoccupation with Crests.  I wouldn’t want to pair him up with anyone if it meant his not accomplishing what he does in his solo ending, but thankfully, some of his romances also end with his working towards a Crest-free society, and of them, I think it’s his ending with Mercedes, in which his house is passed to his son without a Crest, that best embodies what Sylvain wants.  Sylvain and Mercedes work great together.

5. Dimitri and Marianne

I really like this love story, because it manages to perfectly use the defining trait of both these characters (survivor’s guilt) to form a fast and strong connection between them that naturally leads to deeper feelings, and yet it avoids the pitfalls of that trait that plagues them in most other conversation chains.  Neither gets, as they usually do, irretrievably edgy or gloomy, respectively, and instead utilize what they share to help one another deal with the past and keep moving forward, without being pushy about it.  Marianne usually bores me and Dimitri annoys the living crap out of me in most cases, but I actually really enjoyed them both in this little story.  They’re good for each other, they have solid chemistry, and the ending blurb for them is very tender.  Good stuff.

4. Dedue and Dimitri

I have to say that it’s a little frustrating that 2 of the best romances in FE16 are devoted to 1 of the worst examples of Silent Protagonists I’ve ever seen, and another 2 are devoted to possibly the most exaggerated and tiresome edgelord character created in the past decade, but what can ya do?  Much like Byleth and Claude, this is a relationship helped substantially by the main plot, which establishes Dedue’s unending respect and devotion for Dimitri, and Dimitri’s different but similarly powerful devotion to Dedue’s well-being and dignity.  The conversation chain is a good showing of their connection, and I really like the way that Dimitri desires for a more meaningful connection between them, and Dedue’s quiet hope that a day might come when that can be true.  Finally, the ending text for them is really nice; it has a kind of classically romantic feel of devotion and loving companionship.

It’s weird--gun to my head, I’d have to admit that Dimitri and Marianne’s love story seems better on paper, a coming together of two people who coalesce perfectly, but I can’t help but rate this one more highly.  I guess it’s that a powerful and unshakable connection is present between Dedue and Dimitri from the start, that a complete trust and devotion between them is always the definition of who they are to each other.  Maybe it can be argued that Marianne is a slightly better match altogether, but it seems obvious who Dimitri himself would choose were the decision his and not the player’s.

3. Dorothea and Ferdinand

I have nothing but love for Dorothea and I have little but exasperation and disdain for Ferdinand, so that they can be paired up at all is annoyance to me, and that I have to objectively acknowledge that this romance is so good is nothing short of agony.  But facts are facts: this is the third best romance in this damn game.  Ferdinand’s at his best with Dorothea through it all, and though most of their conversations are just buildup for the final interaction, that final interaction is amazing.  You can feel Dorothea’s heart, soul, and pain in the A Support, and Ferdinand’s turning out to be not only the opposite of what she had disdained him for, but actually someone for whom meeting her was a pivotal moment in’s really romantic; feels almost like this is a love that was destined.  I feel like FE16 captures, in Ferdinand’s simple description of the first time he saw Dorothea, exactly the awestruck, monumentally moved sensation of love that Lunar 1 was going for with that cutscene of Luna singing on the boat.  Except that where Lunar 1’s FMV sequence carries its subpar song on way too long and ends with Alex wearing the expression of someone comparing floor tile samples, Ferdinand succeeds in convincing the player that this was the day when he learned what true beauty was as he gazed at Dorothea and heard her sing.

And the fact that it’s fairly obvious that he’s in love with her, and she’s going to give him the chance to win her heart as well, doesn’t hurt.  A huge problem FE16 has with its romantic angle is that the majority of these Support chains end with a scene that doesn’t really even hint at the characters having feelings for each other, let alone expressing them, and then the ending blurb comes in out of nowhere and talks about how they got married.  I can only assume that this is largely related to most characters only getting 3 conversations together, without the classic S Support interaction, but whatever the reason, FE16’s “hook anyone up with anyone” approach suffers a lot for it.  It wasn’t all that hard to make this list, even with it being so much smaller than the one I made for FE14, just for the fact that so many of the ending marriages kind of come out of nowhere.  So while the A rank talk for Ferdinand and Dorothea is wonderfully romantic in its own right, and represents some of the finest emotive acting that Allegra Clark performs in FE16 as well as a compelling moment of humanity for both Dorothea and Ferdinand, it’s also fairly significant that there isn’t any ambiguity about the romantic natures of their feelings.

2. Catherine and Shamir

Is there any single scene between Catherine and Shamir which has the romantic power and majesty as Dorothea and Ferdinand’s A conversation?  Admittedly not.  And yet, the quality and focus of the interactions between these unlikely partners is consistently great and compelling, and whereas most of Dorothea and Ferdinand’s time is spent building up to their excellent culminating interaction, all 4 of the conversations between Catherine and Shamir are dedicated to both warriors acknowledging, arguing about, and puzzling out who they are to each other, why they work so well together as partners and friends when they’re so different, and yet also finding that in the midst of their differences they’re actually quite the’s great from start to finish.  They understand each other already, even as they seek to deepen that understanding, they argue about matters fundamentally important to each of them, yet know when to let a disagreement rest and not get past what they can handle together, and they never let the fact that they have very different views in life get in the way of their connection, even when those differing views make it hard to maintain that bond--and they’re open about their feelings every step of the way.  

You’re not watching 2 people get close enough to fall in love, you’re watching 2 people who are in love only coming to realize it long after the fact because it’s so natural a facet of their partnership.  It’s the kind of simple, penetrating trust, understanding, and devotion that you hope to see between people who have been together for a long time.  This is a great shared journey of development as Catherine and Shamir’s different values and priorities are discussed and ultimately set aside as not being stronger than their connection to one another.  It’s all nicely reinforced by their interactions during the game’s regular course, too, with their banter around the Monastery and during group tasks--like Dedue and Dimitri, or Byleth and Claude, this is a connection that extends into and benefits from the game’s main content.  I particularly love the moment when Catherine realizes that she would die for Shamir; it’s such a simple, understated moment of realization of just how important Shamir is to her.  Like I said, that’s what this all is, really: two people who are in love, poking and prodding each other’s heart until they themselves are aware of it.

1. Dorothea and Manuela

This is my favorite, hands-down.  And I don’t just mean in Fire Emblem 16.  I mean this is easily the best romance I’ve seen in Fire Emblem, altogether.  From start to finish, the Support conversations between Dorothea and Manuela flawlessly extol to the viewer the perfect chemistry between them, as peers, friends, and so much more.  In the 2 of them we see a combination of women who inspire and better each other just by being themselves, without resorting to viewing one another as greater than each truly is--as much as they are about having such profound and overwhelming respect and affection that they’re each a role model for the other, Dorothea and Manuela’s interactions are also about acknowledging one another’s shortcomings and loving her no less for them.  Their sequence of conversations tells a heartwarming story of Dorothea chasing after the woman she loves and has always been inspired by, the one she wanted to stand alongside, and a moving and touching story of Manuela finding someone, finally finding someone, who loves her (and always has) for what’s good and great and important about Manuela, regardless of the small shortcomings that come with that.

It’s a wonderful, warm joining of 2 people made for each other, each seeking the exact kind of love that the other can give, and who hold onto one another as a source of personal inspiration to better themselves.  And the A Support is just beautiful, 1 of my favorite scenes of tender love in all of RPGs.  Whoever wrote Dorothea and Manuela’s relationship, I hope you got a damn raise, because you raised the bar and gave me happy butterflies in my tummy.

Honorable Mention: Byleth and Sothis

Poor Sothis really got a shit deal out of all this.  By all accounts, she devotes her life’s work to being a benevolent goddess to a bunch of self-important primates, and for her troubles, 1 of them brutally murders her and nearly her entire family, and rips out her spine to make a sword with it.  She’s given a second chance at life thanks to her daughter’s efforts, but that life is an amnestic state of constant drowsiness, trapped in another person’s body with no control over what they do (which is particularly annoying when that person’s greatest talent seems to be stumbling into lethal situations).  And then, when Sothis finally fully remembers who she is, before she can have a chance to consciously reunite with her few remaining children, including the daughter who reshaped and guided an entire continent’s civilization single-handedly all so she could bring Sothis back, Sothis has to relinquish all she is to Byleth in order to save her/him from the trap that she/he stumbled into and couldn’t be bothered to remember to rewind-time out of before it was too late.  Brutally murdered along with her family, trapped within another’s body in a drugged-like stupor, and then forced by circumstance and morality to give herself up to death once more.  That’s Sothis’s existence in Fire Emblem 16.

So you know what?  I don’t care that this romance is only so-so, and I don’t care that you can only call it so-so by generously accepting/ignoring the fact that Byleth is hooking up with her own great-grandmother’s loli ghost.  If that’s what it takes to give Sothis a chance to live, with some relative happiness, then it’s got my seal of approval.

So there you are, the best romances that Fire Emblem 16 has to offer.  But of course, we’re not done yet.  We still have to talk about the other side of the coin: the relationship-building that went terribly, horribly wrong.  And this time, 8 slots isn’t gonna be nearly enough for the task, because for all the decent romances that Fire Emblem: 3 Houses possesses, it’s got a whole hell of a load MORE romances that suuuuuuuuuuccccckkkkkkkk.  16 is still too much, but 8’s too few, so let’s split it down the middle, shall we?  I present to you the 12 worst romances of Fire Emblem 16.

Sort of.  Look, I’m gonna cheat with a couple of them.  I can’t deny it.  But there’s just so much trash in FE16’s romantic scene, guys.

The Worst Romances of Fire Emblem 16

12. Ashe and Mercedes

Fire Emblem, do you think it might be possible for you to go a single goddamn game without having 10 - 20% of the Support conversations be based entirely around whether or not a woman is competent at cooking?  Do you think that might someday be something that you can develop far enough as an art form to accomplish?  Maybe?

What puts this couple in particular onto this list over its kitchen-shackled peers is that Mercedes is outright dismayed when she thinks that Ashe has romantic feelings for her, and in fact says it’s a relief when she finds out that he hadn’t been saying that, so, y’know, not the most moving portrayal of adoration I’ve seen.

11. Annette and Claude; Annette and Felix

Look, it’s basically the same thing for each, so they have to count as a single slot here.  While not as stupid and pointless as being pickle pals with FE14’s Hisame, Claude and Annette inexplicably falling in love after swapping improv nursery rhymes that Claude gives too much thought to is utterly baffling.  Equally baffling is Felix spending 4 supports--this is 1 of the lucky few couples to get an extra conversation!?--just listening to Annette being embarrassed about her little singing habit and him taking an out-of-character interest in the matter, somehow concluding in them hooking up after the war.

This is love story?  I have seen love story.  This is not that.

10. Annette and Byleth

I mean, there’s nothing too terribly wrong about this, aside from it not having a whole lot of basis (but then, how many FE16 romances do?) on their interactions prior to the point of getting together.  But the whole purpose and moral of Annette and Byleth’s story is, “It’s okay to overwork yourself to the point of exhaustion and inability to function.”  Yeah, sorry, if the takeaway message of your love story is lifted word-for-word from the management strategem of Electronic Arts, you done fucked up.

As a side note, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’m cut out for not doing my best” may be the most Japanese sentence ever said in human history.

9. Ingrid and Raphael

Yeah, so, Raphael’s marriage proposal basically boils down to, “Hey, I’m too much of an idiot not to be a complete slob, so how would you like to spend the rest of your life being maritally obligated to clean up after me?”  Totally love the part where he’s too hungry and/or stupid to emotionally support her when she’s distraught over her family’s future, too.  Really sells me on this whole thing.

8. Byleth and Seteth

This subpar conversation chain, which builds no rapport beyond “we’re family yo,” culminates in Seteth proposing to a woman who is functionally his grandniece and spiritually his mother, in which he is outright talking about continuing the bloodline.  Now you can say what you will about hooking Byleth up with the ghost of her great-grandmother Sothis, or her mother-figure/biological grandmother/spiritual daughter Rhea, or his spiritual granddaughter and biological-something-generational-cousin-I-can’t-even-keep-track-of-this-shit Flayn.  But at least Female Byleth isn’t gonna be making divine dragon incest babies with Sothis, nor (presumably) with Rhea, and at the absolute very least Male Byleth’s relationships with Rhea and Flayn don’t outright boast about popping deformed reptilian troglodytes out of their wombs.  And at least when Flayn’s hooking up with her gran-gran’s new male bod, she goes to the trouble of trying to determine just how much of Byleth is Sothis and how much he’s himself.

You’ve been slowly, quietly, subtly chipping away at my socially standard bias against incest for years now, Fire Emblem--don’t think I haven’t noticed you doing it!--but we’re still at least 3 or 4 more games away from my being at a point where Seteth outright talking about producing heirs with his own family won’t gross my shit right out.

Also, while far from the worst part of all this, I have to say, the fact that Seteth’s speaking outright of marrying someone and yet not once has there been any mention of his former wife whatsoever, whose memory is shown in other events during the game’s course to still be strongly with him, is some pretty bad writing.

7. Claude and Flayn

The entirety of their interactions are spent with Claude being equally relentless and tacky in trying to uncover Flayn’s secret, up until the last second, when suddenly they start batting around the idea of marriage.  Oh, yeah, naturally.  Because if there’s 1 person I want to spend the rest of my life with, it’s definitely gonna be the guy who has proven in every single interaction he’s had with me that he’s utterly incapable of respecting my personal boundaries.  And it ain’t great from Claude’s side, either; he’s gonna be marrying someone that he knows isn’t who she pretends to be and who absolutely will not tell him the truth.  Be still, my fucking heart.

6. Byleth and Felix; Felix and Dorothea; Felix and Ingrid; Felix and Mercedes

Oh my Sothis, Felix is such a fucking pill.

You gotta love the S Support between him and Byleth in particular.  His grand romantic proposal for marriage is essentially “durr well i dun want mah sparring pardnur 2 far away hurr hurr,” and Byleth has to basically drag the words “I love you” out of the jackass, with him promising that he’s never going to say them again--and this occurs as he does a scumbag lean-in while Byleth’s up against the wall.  It takes a high mental constitution to be able to watch this scene, and yet still resist the conclusion that love is dead.

5. Lorenz and Mercedes

This whole thing is about Mercedes (justly) looking down on Lorenz because of how rigidly he defines his life by the status of nobility, with particular focus on whom he can pursue romantically...and yet that premise is immediately thrown away, unresolved, when Lorenz suddenly takes a romantic interest in Mercedes only after he finds out that she could be considered a noble.  The fact that she doesn’t seem to have any great interest in him even then is appropriate, but doesn’t give this terrible anti-love story any extra points.

4. Flayn and Linhardt

“Yo babe, how would you like to get knocked up and pop out some kids as part of a science experiment?”

Even the game seems reluctant to pretend that this shit is legitimate, as Flayn is, quite naturally, left confused and highly dismayed by Linhardt’s proposal.  What the fuck, Nintendo, for real.

3. Claude and Ingrid

I legitimately can’t believe that there’s worse than Flayn and Linhardt, but here we are.  This relationship basically progresses as such: Ingrid mercilessly and needlessly nags Claude, while Claude keeps telling Ingrid how pretty she’d be if she just smiled more often, gorgeous.  This leads to them trying and failing to change themselves for the other’s benefit, and finally agreeing that trying to get along with each other with even a basic modicum of civility and human respect is pointless anyway, so they may as well just keep doing what they’re doing.  At no point is there any expression of actual romantic interest whatsoever to explain why, in the ending blurb, they get married.  This is the fucking Fire Emblem poster child for what a dysfunctional, mutually-at-fault harmful relationship looks like.

2. Byleth and Hubert

So, 3 conversations of Hubert weighing the pros and cons of killing Byleth, and then suddenly Discount Jafar is confessing his love?  Yeah no.  And it ain’t helped by the actual confession itself: “I once thought killing you would be a real challenge, but...the real difficulty was declaring my love.”  That’s not me exaggerating, I’m directly quoting the game!  Are you fucking kidding me?

Nintendo, I shouldn’t have to tell you this.  I shouldn’t have to actually write this out.  But I do have to.  Because you’re filled with fucking idiots.  So lemme just make this real clear to you: if the majority of the real estate you take up in someone’s head is focused on calm, cold calculations on whether or not you’ll be more useful dead, and how killing you would best be accomplished, they're just not that into you.

1. Byleth and Jeritza

Jesus Christ, and I thought Hubert was bad.  GET A FUCKING HOBBY, JERITZA, HOLY FUCK.

Dishonorable Mention: Ignatz and Petra

Look, generally this couple is fine, and all, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s founded entirely upon a ProZD sketch.

By heavens, that was difficult.  There’s a LOT of shitty romances in FE16 that I really wanted to be there that couldn’t quite make it; I can’t believe I didn’t get a chance to talk in detail about how uncomfortable Balthus and Constance make me, or to take to task people who would pair up Bernadetta with Hubert.  Hasn’t poor Bernie-Bear suffered enough, dammit?

But we’re not done yet.  Yes, even in a game with over at least 100 different romantic pairs to potentially be made, there are still some opportunities that were missed.  But not that many, so let’s go with a sweet, simple 5 this time.

The Romances That Should Have Been in Fire Emblem 16

5. Byleth and Gilbert

Look, Nintendo, you invented the S Support for 1 specific purpose.  S Support = Confession of Love.  Gilbert may be a sad sack of shit of a human being in general, and the idea of marrying him makes me feel a little nauseous, but if you’re gonna make it possible to S Support a guy, then he better goddamn be putting a ring on it.  I’ll give Alois a reluctant pass on this matter, since he’s pretty happily married, but there’s no excuse for Gilbert--regardless of what the game tells us about Gilbert still loving his wife, all it’s shown us is a craven little half-man who values his wife and daughter less than an exaggerated, groundless concept of honor.  As such, officializing his separation from Mrs. Backed The Wrong Marital Horse by marrying Byleth would be well within his character.  Hell, it would twice over, because he could combine his marriage to Byleth with his duty to protect him/her--in fact, I’m relatively sure that marrying the guy/girl he’s sworn to protect is the only way that this idiot could possibly be a happy and proper spouse.

I wouldn’t normally pull for it (and if this were any other character than Gilbert, I’d have ranked this higher), but Nintendo set up the expectation of being able to romance Gilbert by giving him an S Rank scene, so they should’ve followed it through.

4. Dorothea and Ingrid

Their Support doesn’t particularly lend itself to a romance between them, but Dorothea is at her absolute flirtiest during their Paralogue adventure.  Dorothea doesn’t have any problem showing a romantic interest in others to begin with, particularly not the ladies, but even she’s rarely as forward as she is with Ingrid in the Paralogue’s aftermath.  And I’ll grant you that Ingrid doesn’t show an interest in women, so this is almost more shipping than anything (I’d have ranked this at 5 had Gilbert been literally any other character in the entire cast, yes even Hubert and Edelgard), but still, personality-wise, they would’ve really worked well, and you’ve certainly got 1 side of the romantic equation chomping at the bit to ride off into the sunset on a pegasus.

3. Raphael and Most of his Female Supports

Weirdly, several of the girls Raphael can reach A support with have no indication of romance with him, even in the epilogue (specifically, Flayn, Lysithia, and Marianne), and even with Hilda and Shamir, the game leaves the burden of assuming romantic implications on you more than making an effort itself.  What’s wrong with poor Raphael?  He’s not the greatest character ever, and he’s kind of dumb, sure, but not to any degree that should prevent him from being with others.  He’s sure as hell not as fucking stupid as Dimitri and Edelgard in the ways that actually matter.  What’s the deal?

2. Ferdinand and Hubert

Look, have you seen their A Support?  There’s more romance in their final conversation than in those of most of the WINNERS of the Best list above.  To be frank, I really think this should count as an official potential romance for them, but I objectively have to admit that even by my lax standards, the ending text just doesn’t make any statement reasonably alluding to a romantic relationship.

But it sure as hell should have.

1. Female Byleth and More Women; Male Byleth and More Men

Look, I appreciate that Nintendo took several steps forward this time towards proper inclusion of non-heterosexual romances, compared to the shamefully wanting showing they made with FE14.  There’re 5 different women that a female Byleth can romance (and most of them are even decent romances with characters you’d actually like to hook up with), and male Byleths have...just 2.  Assuming you buy the subpar DLC.  That is still twice as many as last time, though!  And a couple of the female characters can actually get together with each other, and Dedue and Dimitri can, too.  So a definite few steps forward in general from Fire Emblem Fates’s miserable attempts.

Still, it’s neither realistic nor enough, on either side.  First of all, I think that Manuela, Petra, Shamir and Catherine should all have been possible love interests for a female Byleth.  Catherine and Petra are both capable of falling in love with a woman (Petra with Dorothea, and Catherine clearly romantically adores Rhea, to say nothing of how she feels about Shamir), so the fact that they’re romanceable as a male Byleth means there’s really no reason they wouldn’t also be equally romanceable for a female Byleth.  And while I could normally be convinced that Manuela is the type that would never have thought about love with a woman until someone as special to her as Dorothea suggested it, the fact is that most of Manuela’s behavior toward Byleth, which is pretty unambiguously forward, doesn’t change regardless of Byleth’s gender.  It’s like Camilla all over again.  Finally, the fact that Shamir says that Byleth, male or female, reminds her strongly of a man she once loved during their A Support, which directly ties to the S Support confession of love for male Byleth, makes it clear to me that, as Shamir’s capable of feeling that way toward a woman as seen with Catherine, she should also be an option for a female Byleth to marry.

And it’s just so much worse for male x male romances.  Linhardt and Yuri and that’s it!  And again, that’s even cut in half for anyone with enough sense not to purchase the Ashen Wolves DLC.  For fuck’s sake, Nintendo, you couldn’t have provided male Byleth anything else?  At least make the playing field even; Fire Emblem still needs a couple more lesbian love stories to strike a decent and realistic balance, but even they outnumber the gay male romances by several times!  Come ON, Nintendo.  You couldn’t have thrown players a bone(r)* and made Claude a male Byleth love interest?  Felix is one of those annoying characters who care about literally nothing besides how good they are at combat; would it really have been that unrealistic for his (terrible) romance with Byleth to have given as little a damn about Byleth’s gender as everything else?  What about Sylvain?  It might actually be an interesting angle to pursue if Sylvain’s disgust and exasperation with the Crest system and how it makes the opposite sex act towards nobles actually made him more open to the idea of being with another man, as a way of giving the finger to the system’s hereditary focus.  Heck, a gay version of Seteth’s romance with Byleth would have been a massive improvement, as it would have taken the “Great-uncle’s gonna breeeeeeeeeed you, baby” discomfort right on out of the whole affair.

Ugh. fair, Nintendo, and be reasonable.  If an individual’s bisexual, and can be romanced by 1 gender version of a character, they ought to be able to be romanced by the other gender version of that same character unless there’s specific personality reasons otherwise (as could have been (but wasn’t) the case of Manuela).  And if there’s more than 3 gay female love stories in the game, there ought to be more than 3 gay male love stories.  Sheesh.  I appreciate the steps forward, honestly I do, some of those steps were the best romantic options in the entire game, but you should be taking those steps with both feet, and you’ve still got a bit to go before you hit the destination.

Dishonorable Mention: Jeritza and Manuela

Would this be a good romance?  Oh FUCK no.  I’m entirely certain that this would be in, possibly even at the forefront of, the Worst list.  But let’s face it: Manuela is just that much of a hot mess that she’d give the Death Knight she wants revenge upon a romantic go.

And there you go, the best, the worst, and the should’ve been, of Fire Emblem 16.  I hope you had as much reading this as I had researching it and writing it up!  Actually, sorry that’s a terrible thing to say to you all.  I hope you had substantially more fun reading it than that.

Paradoxically, the thing that is both most tempting and most repelling to me about finally playing Fire Emblem 13 is the thought of making another of these things for it.

* I’m goddamn hilarious, I know.