Sunday, June 11, 2017

ATTENTION READERS

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...


Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Dragon Quest Series's Heal All Option

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

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

Ahem.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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













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


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

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

General RPG Lists: Worst Beginnings

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



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

The developers of the games below did not know this.



5. Behemoth Battle (Final Fantasy Mystic Quest)

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

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

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

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


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

LET ME OUT OF THIS BUMBLEFUCK VILLAGE ALREADY.


3. Temple of Trials (Fallout 2)

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

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

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


2. Twilight Town (Kingdom Hearts 2)

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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














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


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

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Fire Emblem 14's Inclusion of Homosexual Romance

A frequent criticism made against Fire Emblem 13, known also as Fire Emblem Awakening, was that the game incorporated a large selection of potential romances for its characters, yet of the literal dozens of potential love stories for its protagonist, not a single option for a same-sex relationship was given. The very legitimate argument was made by many players that in a game with emphasis both on character romance and great variety and choice in romantic options, to cut homosexuality out of the equation entirely was not morally acceptable in this day and age (and, for that matter, not even realistic, probability-wise). That is, in fact, the main reason that I have made it a point to avoid purchasing and playing the game. I’m not going to pretend I would otherwise have been chomping at the bit to try FE13 out--my feelings on the Fire Emblem series are mildly positive, but that’s about it--but there have been occasions in which I was reviewing what 3DS RPG to try out next, and deliberately vetoed that title for this reason.

Now, it does bear in mind that there is a reasonable argument to the other side of the issue: the reason that character romance was so important in FE13 was because the game’s plot significantly involved time travel from the future to the present, and the characters from the future were the children of the present time’s cast. So, essentially, the romance was important because it determined half the game’s cast’s existence. Thus, since heterosexual coupling can result in children and homosexual coupling cannot, there is a degree of sense in keeping the cast to heterosexual romance. Reasonable argument...to a certain, short point. Sadly, past that point are easily constructed workarounds that would have still allowed for same-sex romances which would not have caused the slightest hiccup in the game’s plot and the children’s existence, which will be detailed here a little later, so it’s still unacceptable.

Anyway, to whit, I made it a point not to support Nintendo with Fire Emblem 13 because their exclusion of same-sex love was not, ultimately, morally defensible. And because I had taken that stand on FE13...I jumped at the opportunity to buy FE14 when I learned that Nintendo had finally decided to do the right thing and include homosexual romance options for the new game’s protagonist. I bought FE14 the day it came out, all 3 paths of it, as well as all the DLC in advance. If I’m going to try to send a message by refusing to support immoral products, then I’d better damn well also make sure to send a message by strongly supporting products that are moral, right?

...Yeeeeeeaaaahhh. I might’ve jumped the gun a bit on this one.

Look, I’m sorry, but Fire Emblem 14? As Nintendo’s first (to my knowledge) real step forward in embracing the billions of human beings of sexuality other than hetero, Fire Emblem 14 can only be described as disappointing. And even that’s kind of a generous spin on it.

Alright, before I get into the negative, let’s at least acknowledge what Nintendo’s done right on this issue. Yes: Fire Emblem 14 has same-sex options for romance for Corrin, its protagonist. On 1 of the 3 paths of the game, a male Corrin can romance Niles, a male outlaw. On another path a female Corrin can romance Rhajat, a female sorceress (who is basically a reincarnation of FE13’s Tharja). And on the last path of the game, both Niles and Rhajat are available. So, yes: you can have your character fall in love with another character of the same sex in this game. And most of the benefits of the romance are the same: improved cooperation in battle, ability to share job classes, cute little scenes and sweet-nothings whenever you have Corrin stop by his/her personal home, a love confession scene, and so on. Good.

I’ll also defend Nintendo on 1 point of criticism, before I get to my own. I’ve seen some people say that it’s bad form for Nintendo to have had Niles and Rhajat as the same-sex romance options, because both Niles and Rhajat are considered very strange, in some regards deviant, people, so it kind of seems like Nintendo’s saying that it’s strange, in some regards deviant, to be attracted to members of the same sex. Well, this argument has a certain degree of merit, to be sure, but honestly, Fire Emblem 14 is filled to the absolute goddamn brim with bizarre weirdos who are heterosexually romanceable, too. Selkie’s a nut, Camilla is kind of disturbing, Odin’s a weirdo, Setsuna’s a space case, Asama’s just off, Mitama’s quite odd, Ophelia’s the same as Odin, Dwyer’s weird, Felicia’s at least a little unusual, Izana’s peculiar, Arthur’s a goofball, and Peri...goodness gracious, Peri. And frankly, a lot of the other cast members are strange in at least some small ways, too. Paradoxically, odd ducks are the norm for Fire Emblem 14. So I don’t know if you can really criticize Nintendo on the fact that Niles and Rhajat are pretty weird, because a LOT of the hetero options aren’t any more normal.

Okay. Now. My grievances.

First of all, let’s start with the obvious:

Two. Two. That’s how many same-sex romantic options you’ve provided, Nintendo? Fucking TWO? One for each Corrin gender? Yeah, that’s alright in a game like Dragon Age 1, where the total number of romanceable characters is 4 (5 if you count Anora, I suppose). But the number of characters in Fire Emblem 14 whom Corrin can be romantically involved with is, by my count, sixty-goddamn-seven. 67 to 2. Does that really seem fair to anyone? And let me point out that we’re ONLY talking about the love options for the protagonist Corrin with that number. The majority of characters in the game can also pursue romance with several other characters instead of Corrin, and what a shocker, they’re all strictly heterosexual ones. So we’re actually looking at, hell I dunno...150 heterosexual romances to 2 homosexual ones? 200 to 2? I ain’t spending an hour counting them all out, but trust me, an educated guess puts it up in that range.

Hell, even Niles and Rhajat, who I remind you are the sole characters who can be same-sex romanced by Corrin, have only heterosexual love options besides Corrin. Now you can make the case that this makes sense for Rhajat to some degree, because there’s some implication (most of which got translated out of the English version) that she and Corrin are reincarnations of Robin and Tharja from the previous Fire Emblem, and so Tharja’s obsession and love for Robin is so great that her soul retains it even in a new life. With that argument, you can then extrapolate that Rhajat’s love for Corrin doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with her basic sexual preferences. Fine. But the same can’t be said for Niles, so where’re his other same-sex romance options? He ain’t the type to hold back.

Here’s something to further compound the numbers problem. It doesn’t even make sense for the same-sex relationships to be restricted to 2. No, I don’t mean in the sense that it’s not even statistically likely to only find 2 bisexual (Niles and Rhajat have heterosexual partner options, remember) people in a group of 67, and no outright homosexual individuals. Although that is ridiculous. No, what I mean here is that it’s ridiculous for there to be only 2 potential same-sex pairings in this game when there are more than 2 non-heterosexual characters in the cast.

Yes. Yes, that’s right. There are characters besides Rhajat and Niles in the cast of Fire Emblem 14 who have differing sexualities, and yet neither Corrin nor any other character can pursue a same-sex relationship with them. The situation is just that bad.

First of all, you have Camilla. Camilla is a princess of Nohr, one of the 4 royal children of the country that adopt Corrin into their family and consider Corrin a sibling. Except Camilla, uh...she doesn’t...exactly...behave in a very sisterly manner toward Corrin. Well, I mean, she does, yes, she’s an incredibly doting and affectionate sister to Corrin, but, well, her focus on Corrin just goes waaaaaayyyy past the point of sibling affection. Look, I’m not gonna beat around the bush here: Camilla wants to pork with Corrin. She wants it Badly. Fire Emblem 14 is a game which gives you the option to have Corrin hook up with any of his/her adopted siblings (more on that weirdness in a moment), but Camilla is the only one where you can tell pretty much right from the get-go that she’s angling for that.

So what does that have to do with my point? Well, for starters, not a lot of interactions between Corrin and Camilla change at all for Corrin’s gender, including many which make Camilla’s obsession with Corrin reasonably explicit, so it’d be rational to infer that the attraction is there regardless of Corrin’s gender. But that in itself isn’t enough to prove anything, because this is true for other romantic support conversation chains in the game. But, BUT, there IS something more. In the Nohr path of the game, there comes a time when you defeat Hinoka, Corrin’s princess sister from Hoshido who everyone thinks is Corrin’s actual, biological sister. During conversation with Hinoka after she is defeated, Camilla stakes her claim as Corrin’s sister and kinda tells Hinoka to back the hell off, but then the conversation takes a turn for the...well, a turn for the Camilla, I suppose. She is her own adjective. Camilla says, and I quote,

“Now that I’ve gotten a good look at you...you’re exactly my type. Cute and very beautiful.

“How lovely. Your embarrassed face, too.”

Now I’m not sure if Camilla’s saying that because she’s associating Corrin’s supposed biological sister with Corrin him/herself, or whether it’s just outright, honest attraction to Hinoka. But I am pretty sure of 1 thing: those ain’t the textboxes of a strictly heterosexual woman, there. Hell, to my knowledge, that’s the only time in the actual plot of the game (not the side support conversations) that Camilla expresses an actual attraction toward a character whose gender is static, so if anything, the strongest evidence we have for Camilla’s sexual preferences is lesbian, not straight. From the perspective of pure logic, you could argue that pairing her with men is less in character for her! So with it established in hard evidence by the game’s own main plot, with multiple supporting implications in Camilla’s interactions with Corrin (and her dialogues with Selena and Beruka, too), that Camilla is quite capable of feeling attraction for her own gender, why in the world would she not be another possible same-sex partner for Corrin? Camilla says and does the same stuff with Female Corrin that she does with Male Corrin, who she can get together with, and she expresses attraction toward another female character. Nintendo could have just included the same romantic conversation between Camilla and Female Corrin, changed virtually nothing save swapping “brother” for “sister,” and effortlessly had a little more same-sex representation in the game. It wouldn’t have required the slightest change to Camilla’s character whatsoever; hell, with her obsession over Corrin overall, it would have been, if anything, more true to her character.

And it isn’t just Camilla. There’s also the matter of Soleil. Soleil is the daughter of Laslow, a ladies’ man who constantly flirts with women and just as constantly gets shot down. Well, Soleil’s a chip off the old block in 1 way: she’s crazy about girls, too. And this ain’t a subtle thing. This isn’t like Camilla, where the pieces are obvious, but nonetheless require you to put them together. No, when asked about it, Laslow just up and states, plain as day, that his daughter’s interested in both men and women. Not only that, but her interest in the fairer sex is not just established, it is the majority of her character development. This is not just a trait of Soleil: the fact that “cuties,” as she herself calls pretty women, make Soleil’s knees go weak is THE trait of Soleil, the most definable aspect of her personality that the game harps on.

And yet, ALL of Soleil’s romantic options are male. Including Corrin! Soleil can fall in love with Male Corrin, but not Female Corrin. Not just that, but the way she initially gets her interest in Male Corrin is when she’s blindfolded and imagines him as a woman! Yet she’s not a love interest when Corin actually IS a woman! How do you even wrap your head around this kind of non-logic? HOW?

So yeah, not only is 2 same sex relationships in a game out of 150+ possible couplings so paltry that it seems insulting rather than progressive, but there are characters who canonically have sexualities that could have raised that number who were deliberately disregarded. That’s just awful.*

But I’m not done yet.

See, there’s another problem I have with this situation. Remember when I said that most of the benefits of heterosexual pairings for Corrin were present for the same-sex options? There is, in fact, 1 thing missing: Kana, Corrin’s child. See, under most circumstances, when you hook Corrin up with someone, you’ll unlock the party member Kana, Corrin’s plot-convenience-aged-up son or daughter. If Male Corrin marries Niles, however, no Kana (and no Nina, Niles’s daughter, either). Likewise, if Female Corrin marries Rhajat, no Kana.

“Well, that’s understandable,” you say to yourself, sensibly enough. “To conceive a child, you need a man and woman. That’s basic biology.”

Yeah, fine. I’ll grant you that. It relates to the argument for why everyone in FE13 had to be straight: can’t have kids without a mom and dad. Except there are some pretty simple, obvious work-arounds for that, which gay people have been discreetly employing for ages.

The first and most obvious being surrogate parents! This’d be easy enough to set up. Just make it so that once Corrin reaches S rank with Niles or Rhajat, and they confess their love for one another, the player’s given the option to choose another character, one of the opposite sex, who Corrin has an A rank with to act as a surrogate parent for Kana. It’s not like it’d break the challenge or whatever, you put in the effort to reach S rank with someone, right? Couldn’t be that difficult to program.

There’s another option, too. Let me point your attention back a couple decades, to an earlier title in this series, Fire Emblem 4. FE4 was, to my knowledge, actually the game that came up with this idea of pairing characters together to create child characters. But here’s the thing. In FE4, when you had 2 characters fall in love, their child would become a party member in the second half of the game...but, if you did NOT pair everyone off, you would NOT lose out on a party member. The role that the child character would have taken on would simply be filled by a completely separate character, some other freedom fighter with their own personality and history. Their stats and abilities wouldn’t usually be as good as the intended child character’s would have been, but you didn’t just lose out on a character entirely.

So why not apply a similar solution to the issue of a same-sex married Corrin’s child? Instead of completely axing Kana from the game altogether, why not replace Kana with a separate child character--an adopted son/daughter for Corrin? He or she might be without the stat growths and such that Corrin’s actual parentage would have conferred, perhaps, but at least he or she would actually exist. Because surface logic or no, withholding a party member entirely from a player because they had Corrin fall in love with someone of the same gender feels an awful lot like a discriminatory penalty to me.

There’s also the whole Soleil fiasco. Long story short, in the original Japanese version, Male Corrin’s support conversations had him secretly adding a magical powder to her drink that made her see him as a girl instead of a boy, for the purpose of helping her become more used to being in the presence of attractive women so it wouldn’t distract her on the battlefield. A side result of this, if a romance with Soleil was pursued, was that she fell for Corrin along the way. A big deal was made about this situation by a lot of people, because, when some of these conversations are taken out of context, they seem to be making the case of support for the horrible, degrading, oppressive practice of conversion therapy, and also, it was kinda date rape-y with the whole making-her-drink-magical-drugs thing. Well, the situation was blown out of proportions, by and large, because when read within context of all the other parts of the support conversation chain, it’s fairly clear that the writers’ intentions were innocent, and saying that it advocates conversion therapy or anything like that is a bit of a stretch.**

That said...even assuming nothing but the best intentions here, it’s still a case of poor judgment, at the very least, to portray Soleil’s interest in women as an obstacle in any capacity, and to then have the approach to helping her with this obstacle involve her ingesting mentality-altering drugs without her knowing consent. I mean, Jesus, Nintendo, it never occurred to anyone in the writing department even once that there might be some dangerous implications in that? Even with the understanding of the full story of the conversation path, it’s still more than a little questionable, and it just sheds one more negative light on Nintendo’s treatment of same-sex attraction in this game. If for no other reason than the fact that they would be so completely careless with this particular character and her sexuality!

What I just don’t get is why it’s such a difficult idea for Nintendo to get used to, this concept that there are people--more than 2 per every 67--who fall in love with others of the same sex, and live in happy relationships with them. What has taken Nintendo so long to make any kind of effort to acknowledge and incorporate these human beings into its stories?*** Is it stuck in that incomprehensibly idiotic mindset that there’s something morally wrong with love that isn’t heterosexual? Or maybe Nintendo itself doesn’t really buy into that rot, but doesn’t want to alienate consumers who do? I know there are plenty of raging morons online who have complained that even the pitiful 2 same-sex options in FE14 shouldn’t be present because they have such a poor understanding of their own religion that they think homosexuality is sinful.

Which is ludicrous in the context of Fire Emblem, particularly FE14, I’d like to note. If you’re going to get up at arms about anything involving the romantic possibilities of this game, homosexuality ain’t it. I mean, this is a game in which:


-Cousins can fall in love with the second generation characters, and you can have Male Corrin marry Azura (it’s probably the closest thing there is to a canon pairing for Corrin, in fact), who turns out to also be his cousin. Now, granted, cousincest actually is legal in more parts of the world than it isn’t, including many first world nations, and genetically speaking, it is, I believe, not actually particularly dangerous for genetics as long as it’s not done frequently. Still, you’d think this would be more inflammatory to people than homosexuality.

-Corrin can marry his/her adopted brothers and sisters from Nohr, with whom he/she has been raised for nearly all his/her conscious life, AND
-Corrin can marry his/her (spoiler) adopted brothers and sisters from Hoshido, all of whom have lived their whole lives mourning Corrin’s absence as their sibling. Either way, we’re talking about Corrin hooking up with a man or woman that Corrin has a firm mental perspective of as being a brother or sister, and vice-versa.

-Nyx, a woman whose body is cursed so that it stopped aging at what appears to be 13 - 15 years old, can be romanced by any one of a number of adult men in the cast, and have their child.

-Hayato and Elise, two characters who look extremely young for their age (and Elise also acts as young as she looks, if not even younger), also can be romanced by adult characters and become parents.

-Male Corrin actually admits to Camilla during his romantic S support conversation with her that he’s been attracted to her for some time...as in, from a time before the game starts, meaning that he’s admitting to have been attracted to her back when he believed she was his actual, biological sister.

-Soleil hits on her own mom. And it isn’t subtle.****

-Selena can, by marrying Subaki, become the mother of the reincarnation of her own mother.

-Kana can reach an S rank support--that’s the romantic level, to remind you--with his/her own uncle or aunt. No, seriously, totally possible. Let’s say you hook up Azura with Kaden (any first generation male who has a daughter will do, though), which produces Shigure and Selkie, brother and sister. Now let’s say that your Female Corrin hooks up with Shigure, which produces Male Kana. It is possible, in this circumstance, to then have Kana and Selkie reach an S Support--and again, in Fire Emblem terms, S Rank = Love. That’s Kana, who is the son of Shigure in this case, and Selkie, who is, here, the sister of Shigure. And yes, most of the S Rank conversations with Kana are pretty innocuous, with Kana talking about being best friends with the other person forever, and the romantic implications being very light. But I’ve chosen Selkie for a reason in this example, because in Selkie’s conversation with Kana, they outright say that they like each other romantically, and will be girlfriend and boyfriend from this point on.

-Camilla. Just...Camilla.

-Female Corrin can marry and have a child with Gunter. Gunter, who is like 30 - 40 years older than her, and, just for good measure, clearly established to be a father figure toward Corrin.

-Male Corrin and many other characters can marry Peri, a real, actual psychopath who has the mind of a child and is basically a grinning murder machine.*****


Oh, yeah, I can totally see how you’d want to limit how much same-sex marriage you allowed in this blushing maiden, no, this pure, pristine nun of a game. Jesus Christ, looking at Fire Emblem 14’s romance scene is like playing Fetish Bingo, and people are complaining about having a tiny bit of homosexuality in there? Unreal.

Anyway, I think I’ve said my piece and then some on this. I appreciate that Nintendo moved toward doing the right thing with Fire Emblem 14, really I do. But 2 same-sex relationships out of something around 150 can’t even honestly be called a full first step, and not only is it just too little of a gesture, it also doesn’t even make any damn sense when the game features more than 2 characters who have same-sex attractions. Nor does it make any sense to be reluctant to add homosexual relationships to this game when so much of its heterosexual romantic content is downright weird and/or far more risque. And that, combined with the issue of being problematically careless with Soleil and giving no thought to alternative solutions with the Kana situation, makes for an extremely disappointing first foray into representation of alternate sexuality. I’m sorry, but ultimately, Nintendo dropped the ball on this. Again I learn the bitter lesson: never trust a company enough to buy something before you know what you’re getting.












* And I just want to add, there are also a couple of characters who don’t actually show same-sex attraction, but really should be same-sex possibilities for Corrin. I mean, let’s face it, Silas’s devotion and friendship with Corrin is so strong that it already seems romantic anyway, and basically is if Corrin’s a woman, so why not just have him also be an option for Male Corrin? The character’s practically written for it already; hell, it’d be a lot less of a stretch than the majority of pairing possibilities in this game. And Corrin’s fast and powerful connection to Azura is such that it seems, again, like a natural gateway to romantic love, and is the case for Male Corrin. Really wouldn’t have been any stretch for Azura to be a romantic option for Female Corrin, too. And that’s just in regards to Corrin--there are plenty of other same-sex possibilities that are practically already in effect with the secondary cast, too. I mean, I talk about Silas’s devotion to Corrin, but Effie just plain lives for Elise.


** I don’t even think conversion therapy is a thing in Japan to begin with. A quick bit of research reveals no indication that it exists in the country to any real degree (good for you, Japan!), so it seems all the more unlikely that you can reasonably interpret that as an angle here.


*** In an official, significant way, I mean. There’ve been a couple Fire Emblem characters in the past, like Heather in FE10, who clearly weren’t straight, and heck if the entire Legend of Zelda series doesn’t seem more and more queer every time I look at it, but this is still the first time anything like that has been outright acknowledged and shown in a reciprocated fashion.


**** What’s funny is if you’ve set it up so that Camilla is Soleil’s mother, Camilla will actually say at one point that Soleil has “clearly taken after” Camilla. Just further evidence that Camilla should have been a same-sex option for Corrin. And that she’s really, really weird.


***** Although to be fair, Peri’s romance with Laslow is actually pretty sweet and compelling. But, y’know, in general, getting married to Peri is like exchanging vows with Chara from Undertale.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Guest Rant: Soma Bringer's EX Dungeon, by Humza

Well this is just peachy keen: another guest rant, and not just less than a year since the last, but only a single month! To say that I am pleased would be a gross understatement; I sincerely love the fact that I have readers interested enough in this blog to submit their own opinions, and the fact that I get to read new and interesting perspectives from them, and, it must be said, the fact that I'm off the hook to rant myself for a day. Hey, I'm actually legitimately busy these days. To me, a small break like this is something to treasure.

Today's guest ranter is Humza, who is gracing us with his words for a second time, after his debut rant about Energy Breaker. Humza's a damned fine gentleman who's done me multiple solids in the past, from providing me with a particularly pleasing moment in my life to generously buying me Valkyrie Chronicles 1 on Steam. And the hits keep coming from Humza now with a new guest rant that covers another RPG I have yet to play, Soma Bringer!

Disclaimer: I don't own Humza's words below, and they don't necessarily reflect my own perceptions and opinions. I mean, they might. But I wouldn't know just yet, not having played Soma Bringer myself.



Soma Bringer's EX Dungeon

Humza
April 19th, 2016



Soma Bringer is one of the better known fan-translated RPGs for the DS, being developed by Monolith. It has post-game content that extends the story, which this rant will mostly revolve around (and, naturally, there are spoilers ahead).

The game’s ending (which is a core part of why these dungeons exist from a narrative perspective) shows that the characters Idea and Adonis both merge with Aletheia to stop the Visitors from harming people, which essentially means that neither of these characters would be seen again. The EX Dungeons all chronologically take place before the party reaches the final dungeon, so Idea hasn’t merged with Aletheia at this point. But she keeps her memories, so it’s possible for her to take steps to avoid her death.

With the history lesson out of the way, I have to say that the EX Dungeons are pretty bad, even when post-game content like this is generally weak. From the description above, one would assume that finding out how and why Idea managed to go back in time would be a core part of the concept, but this is not mentioned at all beyond the first few lines of dialogue in the first EX Dungeon’s prologue. If Idea doesn’t act on her knowledge of being unable to meet the party again, then there’s just no point in going through the dungeons. It’s entirely purposeless and retroactively detracts from her sacrifice during the ending, since her inertia suggests that she doesn’t care about her fate, thus making her sacrifice seem less sincere. Monolith probably wanted to subtly convey a message here, but as typical of them, they mistake withholding information with subtlety.

Instead, the EX Dungeons focus more on developing the characters’ backstories more. And that's a positive addition! Or, at least, it would be if it wasn’t handled ineptly. Most of the information that is given during the EX Dungeons is mentioned previously in the main part of the game, like how Millers rushed to save Forte after the latter fell off a cliff. The only information given that’s not covered in the main game is Einsatz and Jadis’ history of being bandits, and it certainly isn’t worth traversing 51 floors in a dungeon for this backstory. There are plenty of dungeons in the main game that lack story content, which would be repurposed to tell this information in a shorter amount of time without losing anything of value. The most damaging aspect for developing characters’ backstories is probably the sparse dialogue, though. In that respect, it’s a bit similar to Persona 3’s The Answer, where the majority of interesting content is at the beginning and end (except the EX Dungeon’s content is probably only half as interesting).

The EX Dungeons aren’t entirely irredeemable; the writers could have opted for an approach similar to Tales of Legendia’s Character Quests, where different party members overcome hardships while revealing some of their history in the process, and Idea eventually implements a solution in the epilogue that would stop the Visitors without her death.

Soma Bringer’s main story was decent, but there weren’t any qualities that were really worthy of note, so there aren’t any high expectations on the EX Dungeons to be much better. Even despite that, the EX Dungeons disappoints because it opens up new loose plot threads and regurgitates events from the main game, without enough dialogue to justify the traversal of 100+ floors in a dungeon*.












* I’m not joking about the total amount of floors exceeding 100. You can go to the bottom of this page and add up the amount of floors in each dungeon. The total is 115, which makes for bad pacing considering the sparse dialogue.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

General RPGs' Protagonists' Worldly Naivete

It’s been noticed by many players that the main character of an RPG is often an amnesiac, or comes from a very isolated/sheltered/completely alien community. Final Fantasy 6’s Terra doesn’t remember anything about herself for a good third of the game, FF7’s Cloud has suspicious holes in his memory which take most of the game to be filled, Shadowrun SNES’s Jake wakes up in a morgue with no memory of how he got there, Planescape: Torment’s Nameless One does the exact same thing, the protagonist of The Magic of Scheherazade wanders about without knowledge of his own identity, The Witcher series’s Geralt is trying through the whole trilogy to properly recover his memories after (I think, haven’t played the third game yet) an encounter with the Wild Hunt, and so on and so forth. Meanwhile, Jude from Wild Arms 4 comes from a village in the sky completely isolated from the rest of the world, FF10’s Tidus comes from a city that seems not to exist in the world he finds himself dropped into, Tales of the Abyss’s Luke is a sheltered rich boy who’s never been allowed beyond the walls of his family manor, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 and 4’s protagonists are both kids from out of town, every numbered Fallout game’s protagonist comes from a Vault, an isolated tribal village, or another time, the protagonist of Jade Empire has been raised in a village distinctly set apart from the woes of the rest of the empire, Star Ocean 2’s Claude is an alien, and so on.

It’s a cliche often called into question by RPG players, and poked fun at in parodies like RPG World. A lot of comments I’ve seen made about this common narrative choice over the years have asked, reasonably, why this is so prevalent. Certainly, these tropes exist in all other media forms, but RPGs seem especially fond of protagonists who lack much, or even any, knowledge of their world. Why is that?

Well, as far as the amnesia goes, it’s often more or less the same for most other stories that use the concept of memory loss with their protagonist--the character has a major place in the immediate history of the story, and the revelation of this place is meant to be a huge plot twist. It’s a huge deal when we find out the truth of the events of Nibelheim in FF7 and Cloud’s role in them, and the entire purpose of The Nameless One’s quest in Planescape: Torment is to understand himself and resolve the conflicts of his past--for either excellent story to function, neither Cloud nor The Nameless One can know the full truth of their histories; the entirety of the plot would suffer for it.

The amnesia device, however, is not always used solely for the purpose of plot twists and driving the story. You can rightly say that Shadowrun SNES’s Jake’s memory loss is somewhat important to the story on the whole, but it’s not absolutely vital to it. A couple of interesting twists and revelations come from it, but I think it’s fair to say that the game could have been told almost the same way if Jake had remembered how he was almost killed, and what he had been doing at the time, from the very beginning. Likewise, the story of Final Fantasy 6 would change somewhat if Terra knew herself from the very start, but not, I think, too terribly, at least not superficially. Terra still would’ve needed to be evacuated and hustled on over to the Returners, Narshe would still need to be defended and its Esper put into contact with her, and the issues of the Magitek Factory and opening the gates to the Esper lands would still have had to be addressed. So why is it still so prevalent even when not necessary for the overall plot structure?

Simple! For the same reason that you have the frequent major characters who come from some totally isolated or alien community: because RPG worlds can be too damned nuanced to get by without consistent narrative to explain them. Fantasy and fantasy/sci-fi hybrids, which I would say are the 2 most prevalent categories found in RPGs regardless of which side of the ocean they originate from, are interesting in that they very frequently involve a HUGE amount of lore for their setting. Writers like Tolkien and the peerless Isaac Asimov set high bars of world-creation early in what we regard as modern fantasy and science fiction books, and tabletop RPGs like Dungeons + Dragons and Shadowrun followed suit, slowly but surely building up multiple canons for themselves as they evolved over the years. And no matter how far we think the RPG genre may have moved from its early stages when it was so heavily dependent on Dungeons + Dragons, you can still see that heritage glow within these games as their writers continue to imagine entire civilizations, worlds, even galaxies, plotting out their histories, their mechanics, their peoples, and their cultures down to sometimes ridiculously fine details.

And sometimes, once a writing team’s done figuring the majority of their world out and tying it intrinsically with the plot...it’s a lot to handle all at once. So you need a way to communicate to the player all the important and creative details which you have so painstakingly constructed.

For example, consider Tales of the Abyss. At first glance, its world seems a pretty standard fantasy-semi-sci-fi hybrid. But as you go through the story, one detail of the world after another is dropped on you, and you start to discover that this game’s setting is ridiculously complex. What you think is the surface of the world is actually an elevated shell built around a planet’s toxic surface, held up by high-magic devices known as Sephiroths, for reasons involving the long and relatively complex history of the world’s major religious organization, which follows a reasonably creative doctrine of beliefs and has its own internal politics, even though it’s the mediating force between 2 warring nations whose histories, military strengths, and cultures are also reasonably detailed. Plus there’s a whole thought-out system of magic which is incorporated into the lore of the world itself, and this godlike consciousness of fate that hangs out in the planet’s core, and I don’t even remember what else; there’s a lot in there.

That’s a hefty paragraph’s worth of explanation right there, and that’s just a vague, incomplete summary of the major stuff! That doesn't even go into the nuances of royal heritage, national histories, the lore of individual characters and small villages, the makeup of the various militaries of the world, and so on. Imagine trying to make an intro sequence that explained all the necessary details of the world of Tales of the Abyss in a single go. It’d take a damn hour! No one would sit through or remember even half of it. What alternative is there? Well, have the characters of the game explain the relevant details as they go, naturally. You don’t need to know about the Sephiroths right from the start, nor most of that other gobbledygook. It only needs to come up when it needs to come up. But, of course, then you have the other question: why would the characters constantly be talking about things that most of them would already know about? If these are the facts of their world, surely everyone who lives on that world should know most of them. Maybe not everyone in the USA can tell you who Russia’s political leader is right now, or even find Russia on a map, but I’m pretty sure any one of them could at least tell you that the world is round and that oceans have water in them--and that sort of basic knowledge of simple world mechanics is some of the stuff that has to be explained in a game like Tales of the Abyss.

So how do you make it work? Make the protagonist (the only member of the party that you’re pretty much guaranteed to have around at every part of the story) someone who, for legitimate reasons, actually doesn’t know all the details of the world he lives in. Luke fon Fabre was kidnapped as a child, so his parents kept him in their manor for his whole life, sheltered from the world, and thus he knows virtually nothing about his world, not even the basics. It’s simple, it makes sense, and now, whenever a new part of the lore of Tales of the Abyss becomes relevant to the plot, Luke can have it explained to him, and the player can learn as well.* Easy!

How lesser would the twists and progression of Final Fantasy 10 be if Tidus already knew all he needed to about Spira, and we had nothing explained to us? How difficult would it be for us to acclimate to the considerable lore of the Hexer (Witcher) series if Geralt’s fuzzy memory didn’t require the people who know him to ease him back into his role? How frustrating and contrary to the pivotal idea of exploration would it be for us if the Vault Dweller, Chosen One, Lone Wanderer, and Sole Survivor already knew everything there was to know about their section of the Fallout world and could go straight from Point A to Point B on their quest?** How bland would the revelation of the land of the Unclean Ones in Shin Megami Tensei 4 be to the player if the party already knew all about it and had already mentioned it in passing?

Incidentally, while this is typically something that occurs with the protagonist, it bears mentioning that it’s not always the main character who fills this role. Sometimes a support character is used as the one whose inexperience allows for the explanations that get the player up to speed. Nina in Breath of Fire 5, Galuf in Final Fantasy 5 (who’s a double-whammy of foreigner AND amnesiac), and Elena in Grandia 2 are all members of the party who play this role as necessary, leaving the much more worldly protagonists free to, well, actually know something.

That said, obviously this is not always a necessary trope. Wild Arms 3 pulls an interesting half version of this in that everyone remembers recent times, but memories of the world past 10 years or so back are getting progressively fuzzier. It relates to a huge plot point that’s pretty neat. Still, until that twist, the naive protagonist schtick isn’t really important; WA3’s world is straightforward enough that you can just roll with it as it goes. Final Fantasy 4’s storytelling gets by just fine with Cecil knowing as much about his world as any bloke might be expected to. Radiant Historia tells its superior story even as Stocke knows more about the world’s lore than even an average guy would...and that game’s actually complex enough that a naive character for explanations wouldn’t have been amiss.

And it’s also not even necessary in the games where it does exist, sometimes. Frankly, I don’t think that Star Ocean 2’s world was complex enough that we really required Claude to be a Star Trek refugee to figure it out, and lord knows not a single other piece of that lousy game actually lived up to the idea of it being the sci-fi game it was touted to be. Likewise with the world of Wild Arms 4--the plot and lore was not nuanced enough to really need Jude to come from an isolated sky village. Now, you might point out that his origins also are an integral part of his character, so giving Jude an upbringing more connected to the rest of the world would have changed his personality fundamentally. And you’re probably right. But you know what? Any change at all to Jude’s character would have been just fucking fine with me.

There are also some cases where this storytelling device really isn’t enough. Fei from Xenogears comes to mind. Fei might have been from an isolated village, and partially amnesiac to boot, but the timely lore explanations that gave us still weren’t nearly enough to make sense of the pretentious, quantum physics plot circle-jerk that is Xenogears.

But anyway, yeah, there you go. You now have a long, boring explanation for why this idea keeps showing up so damn often in RPGs, and other stuff, but especially RPGs. You might have figured this all out by yourself, of course, but, well, I’m bored and I like seeing myself talk. Deal with it.









* Now that I think about it, The Legend of Korra did this exact same thing, didn’t it?


** I always found a slight annoyance in Fallout New Vegas’s Courier. There’s nothing, if memory serves, to suggest that the Courier should not know the New Vegas area adequately (he/she’s a damn delivery boy/girl, for heaven’s sake, that’s a job that requires geographical and cultural knowledge!), yet everything is (by necessity) introduced and spelled out the same as it would be to any other Fallout protagonist who actually has a reason for not knowing anything about the area. I mean, I guess you can say that the shot to the head could’ve caused amnesia, but I don’t think that’s ever actually stated or even implied by the game, and the Courier’s dialogue options frequently suggest clear memories of events prior to getting shot.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Fire Emblem 14's Downloadable Content

Well, the inevitable has occurred at last. Nintendo has finally decided to ease themselves into selling DLC packages for their more popular games, such as Super Smash Brothers, and more relevantly, Fire Emblem 14. Honestly, it’s just surprising that it’s taken the company this long to take the plunge in a major way. I mean, you know that I respect Nintendo as a company and as a creator of art, but let’s face it, a hard stance on the moral quagmire that is add-on game content is not something one would expect of the company behind Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles 1’s requiring one’s friends to have purchased Game Boy Advances to take advantage of the game’s multiplayer features, or the current Amiibo marketing push.

Anyway, Fire Emblem 14, known as Fire Emblem: Fates to most, is the newest Fire Emblem game, coming to us after the strong success that was FE13. I never did play FE13, myself, because I take issue with a game in which a major component and selling point is the opportunity to play matchmaker with the cast, yet in which there is a complete lack of homosexual romantic options. It’s the mid 2010s, Nintendo, and society is starting to slowly catch up to morality on this point: it’s not okay to thoroughly shun the gays. So, when the news came to me that FE14 actually includes homosexual romantic options, I leapt at the chance to support Nintendo finally taking a virtuous step forward, and bought the game and all its DLC.

I may have jumped the gun a bit on that point. More about Nintendo’s disappointing showing on homosexuality in FE14 in a later rant.

At any rate, this means that I’ve got every DLC package available to me. And that means it’s time for a DLC rant!

Note: These are all $2.50 to purchase and download, individually. Except for Before Awakening - I think that one was free.


Ghostly Gold: This one unfortunately sets the standard for a lot of these DLCs. The long and short of it is, you play a mission where you have to stop ghosts from making off with treasure, after a night in which some of your teammates didn’t get enough sleep. I guess if you’re enthralled at the prospect of hearing a quick 2 - 3 lines of monologue by the cast about how they did or did not sleep the night before, then, uh, it seems that Nintendo has finally acknowledged your niche market, friend. For everyone else, skip Ghostly Gold. It’s just empty time-wasting.


Boo Camp: Ghostly Gold was about farming money, and Boo Camp’s about farming Experience, and like GG, BC does not bother to make itself in any way more compelling than that. The premise is that the cast is trying to get stronger by taking part in one of those tests of courage that, going by anime, is some little cultural ritual of Japan’s most bored teenagers. Well, I suppose it beats what teenagers in the USA get up to when left to their own devices. Anyway, if you’re really hankering to trade the time and effort you spent earning your livelihood to Nintendo in exchange for the opportunity to see how the FE14 characters react to a spooky graveyard, then, well, you obviously don’t have enough of an appreciation for your money to deserve to keep it anyway, so you may as well just electronically transfer it straight into Nintendo’s wastebin. Anyone with a functional understanding of the concept of currency, however, should stay away.


Museum Melee: Difficult to believe, but this DLC about farming weapons is actually even less worthwhile than the last 2. At least with Ghostly Gold and Boo Camp, the in-combat monologues of the cast as they react to their situation are mildly interesting. Not interesting enough to justify spending $2.50, of course, or any amount of money at all, but the situations in those add-ons were different enough to make for some slightly interesting commentary. This, however, is just brawling with people with the intent of taking their weapons. How do you get interesting reactions for a situation like that? I can’t say I know. Neither does Nintendo.


Beach Brawl: Hey there, impressionable young target audience member! Do you want to see some of the pretty men and women of Fire Emblem 14 in swimwear, at the beach, doing beach things? Are you a traveler from the past, and don’t know what an ‘image search,’ ‘youtube,’ or ‘rule 34’ is? Are you just morally opposed to the idea of possessing money? Then BOY does Nintendo have the DLC package for you!


Royal Royale: This one is basically just the same damn thing as Beach Brawl (a preset battle between the royal siblings of the game), except it replaces insulting fanservice with the reward of stat-boosting items for the main game. I guess that’s better. If you want some schlock written within 30 seconds about Corrin’s royal siblings competing to send her an interdimensional care package, then, uh, I guess Nintendo’s just hitting all the right niche markets today. Well, if you’re just super hard up for the joy of another long battle virtually indistinguishable from the dozens and dozens of other ones in the game, then you could find a worse way to spend your money. Probably. I mean, I can’t think of one, but anything’s possible in theory, right?


Before Awakening: By the messy hood-hair of Anankos himself, could it be? A DLC for Fire Emblem 14 which actually is story-driven? It is...it IS!

It also IS barely a step up from the garbage above. Now, yeah, I’m not the best audience for this one, because I didn’t play the previous game, so the only characters from Fire Emblem 13 that I have even a slight working knowledge of are those in Super Smash Brothers, and also Tharja, for Rhajat-related reasons.

But I suspect that even if I had any particularly strong attachment to Chrom, Lissa, and the third guy whose name I can’t even remember, this DLC still wouldn’t impress me. It’s empty fanservice that goes nowhere: you show up for a few minutes in the world of the previous Fire Emblem game, assist some of its characters with beating monsters from FE14’s world, you tell each other “Sick moves bra,” and you’re done. Riveting. Nintendo...just leave this stuff for Nippon Ichi next time, okay?


Hidden Truths: Oh, hey! This one’s actually good. That’s a nice change of pace. Yeah, this is another story-driven DLC package, split into 2 parts, which gives some background for 3 of the party members of FE14, as well as building some lore for the game’s history and a couple of its other important characters. All of this feels like an actual, honest bit of bonus character and setting development, too, so even though we’re talking about major characters’ background, it doesn’t come off like it’s content that should have necessarily been attached to the game. And honestly, this is a pretty decent little side story--it got me invested in it, it speaks to me in the right ways. Everything up to this point has been garbage, but I’ll recommend Hidden Truths: it’s a good aside to the game.


Anna on the Run: This DLC is a short-ish battle in which you get a new character, Anna, who is basically to Fire Emblem what Cid is to Final Fantasy--there’s 1 in each game. Unlike Cid, though, the Annas have the Nurse Joy/Officer Jenny thing going on, where there’s like a thousand of them who’re all identical members of the same family sharing the same first name and occupation. More dedicated Fire Emblem fans than I (I still feel like an outsider to the series, even after 5 titles) tend to be somewhat obsessed with Anna. So I’m sure a lot of them are pretty enthusiastic about this DLC.

I’m...not. The plot component here is pretty thin (you find Anna, you help her, she joins you, the end). That wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, mind you--the actual process for getting, say, Javik in Mass Effect 3 isn’t much stronger an example of storytelling, for instance, and the same might be said for other DLC-unlocked characters in other RPGs. The problem is that those other characters, regardless of whether or not their recruitment was interesting, contributed to the game adequately in the interrelationship and character development department. Javik’s a well-developed character with a distinct personality, his presence affects many scenes in Mass Effect 3 (sometimes dramatically, such as on the Asari homeworld), and he has relationships with multiple other members of the crew (notably Shepard and Liara) which develop both parties as characters.

By contrast, Anna has no input on or reaction to the game’s plot developments that I’ve noticed, and she’s one of those annoying few characters in the game who only has a Support relationship with the protagonist, no one else. This situation is made worse by the fact that this sole chance for character development is pretty uninteresting. Anna’s conversations with Corrin concentrate on the fact that there are many, many Annas out there, and her trying to figure out a way to seem more individualized--and trust me, my description here makes it sound way, way more interesting than it actually is. It’s not a terrible Support in and of itself, but when it’s the only piece of character development Anna gets in the whole game, then all she amounts to is a mildly quirky gimmick character. And that just isn’t worth paying for. Pass.


Vanguard Dawn: Oh, joy, we’ve given up on story- or character-driven DLCs, and have returned once more to unimaginative one-off battles for gameplay reasons. This one’s the least interesting yet--just defending a spot from a wave of enemies for a while until the battle ends. If you’ve just got to have an item that gives 1 of your units the same job class as Ike from Fire Emblem 9 + 10, then you’ll probably buy this anyway, but if you’re looking for anything even remotely interesting whatsoever, look elsewhere.


Ballistician Blitz: There absolutely is nothing of substance to this. You go in, you hear a couple quips from Anna, you beat some enemies, you get a class-change item. That’s it. That’s everything. You pay money, you get fucking nothing. It’s the Fire Emblem 14 DLC business plan. If you told me that FE14 was a product of Capcom, not Nintendo, I’d be none the wiser.


Witches’ Trial: Man, Nintendo just stopped giving even a tenth of a fuck after Anna on the Run, huh? This is as completely empty and meaningless as Ballistician Blitz, but it actually manages to be lazier than ever before by having the map itself just be taken from another Fire Emblem game, FE Gaiden. Nintendo doesn’t even cover it up; it just outright tells us that it’s recycling battle maps at this point. I mean, how damn hard can it possibly be to make a Fire Emblem map, really? I wouldn’t be half surprised if the entire production cost for this DLC, from class animations to battle map to scant, trite Anna monologue, was covered with the DLC’s first sale.



And that’s all of’em. The verdict on FE14’s DLC: abysmal. You even had to ask? Of 11 DLCs, only 3 even attempted to have something resembling story and/or character development, and of those 3, only 1 is actually good, with the others being empty fanservice. I feel a little foolish that I leapt to buy FE14 on the premise I mentioned above (to support Nintendo’s first Fire Emblem foray into representing same-sex relationships) before verifying that the game merited that support, because FE14 has some major problems in that regard. But I feel ashamed that in my eagerness I also bought all of these DLCs. The Fire Emblem 14 downloadable content collection represents money I just threw away. No, that’s not an appropriate analogy. If I actually, literally threw my money away--went to my garbage can, took out $20, and threw it in--I’d only be doing myself harm. But by giving that money to Nintendo in exchange for the DLC I’ve described above, I’ve done more than myself harm: I’ve told Nintendo that it’s okay to charge money for fucking nothing. That putting no effort into its add-ons is acceptable. That selling utterly meaningless gameplay quirks instead of art is permissible. In my misguided, optimistic desire to support a level of morality that Nintendo doesn’t even properly achieve in the game (again, more later on that), I used my money to make myself a liar.

This is the second time I’ve experienced DLC for a JRPG. The first was Shin Megami Tensei 4, and if you remember, I was not happy with it. I had hoped that the next time would be better, but that was a hope in vain. This isn’t a step up, it’s a step sideways. Ugh. Look, bottom line: Get Hidden Truths, only consider Anna on the Run and Before Awakening if you’re a hardcore Fire Emblem fan, and then do what I wasn’t smart enough to do: leave the rest of this crap behind.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Guest Rant: 10 Reasons Why You Should Give Shin Megami Tensei Persona 2 a Second Glance, by Nurjean



Another Guest Rant!  And less than a year after the last, too!  How totally awesome is that?

Today's rant comes to us courtesy of Nurjean, a new but very outgoing, enthusiastic, and interesting reader to have joined our tiny, tiny flock.  A reader who has also played a very prominent RPG which I have not: SMT Persona 2!  It's always a boon to this blog to be able to offer some perspective on another Atlus treasure.

Disclaimer: I make no claim to own Nurjean's words below.  This guest rant does not necessarily reflect my own opinions and perceptions.  I don't see how it could, really, seeing as I have none for the game it's discussing.  But I'm eager to gain some, so let's read on!



10 Reasons Why You Should Give Persona 2 a Second Glance

Nurjean
March 28, 2016
 
Hi there! Nurjean here from A Creative’s Nook. When The RPGenius posted that he was open to guest rants, I immediately decided I would make one for Persona 2. My first Persona game is the Eternal Punishment PSX version. Despite that, I’ll try to incorporate its “prequel”, Innocent Sin, in this tribute.

Persona 2 doesn’t get a lot of credit.

Try to Google how Persona fans discovered the Persona series. Most of the answers will reveal it was the third entry that led them to embrace the series. Most of them will claim that 3’s the best.

I can’t blame them. After all, it was P3 that put Atlus’ series onto the world map of must–play JRPGs. It doesn’t help that Persona 4 followed the formula Persona 3 set in stone. With Persona 5 in the making, Persona 2 is bound to be shoved into oblivion.

Well, not really. After all, I’m sure there are a bunch of people out there who were introduced to the series by playing the second entry. Now what’s unique about the Persona 2 series is that the story’s broken down into 2 chapters: Innocent Sin, and Eternal Punishment. Innocent Sin never saw an English PSX release for unknown reasons. Fortunately, Eternal Punishment was given an English PSX release. The only disadvantage of playing the second chapter is you’ll have initial difficulty in understanding the game with its references to Innocent Sin.

But it’s not that much of big deal, unless you make it so.

I’m writing this positive rant to give tribute to a beautiful game that’s not your typical highschool-dungeon crawler-sim. While the first chapter gives you the reins to 4 high school kids, the second chapter allows you to play the game as adults with real life issues. Even though the portrayal isn’t perfect, it’s a different take from playing teenage protagonists.

So allow me to show you a couple of things that endeared me to the second entry in the series:


1. “You don’t like the bad ending of the first story? No problem, we’ll add a new chapter where the heroine lives, but wait, let’s add drama to make it fun! What if the hero fucked up in the previous chapter and has to suffer the consequences of his actions in the new chapter?”



This second entry in the Persona series actually refers to Tatsuya Suou’s mistake in the previous installment, Innocent Sin; the consequences of his mistake unfolds in Eternal Punishment.

The second installment of Persona 2 is told from Maya Amano's eyes (another protagonist from IS) who died in the Innocent Sin Timeline.

There are two things to keep in mind to understand Persona 2’s story:

1. Philemon & Nyarlathotep’s Bet. Basically, the good and the evil make a bet to see which side of humanity wins.

2. Tatsuya’s Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment. For the uninitiated, Persona 2: Innocent Sin tackles the story of five childhood friends. Due to miscommunication or some plot device the writer thought up, one of them, Jun Kurosu, believed he and his friends killed their friend, Maya Amano, when they trapped her in a shrine so she wouldn’t leave. Unfortunately, the Shrine was set on fire by Tatsuya Sudou. Maya survived, but developed a phobia for fires. However, Jun’s delusion is merely Nyarlothotep’s ploy to win a bet he made with Philemon.

To make the long story short, Maya is killed, thereby fulfilling the Oracle’s Maia, a prophecy where everything in the world, except Sumaru City, is destroyed. To revive her, the four friends agree with Philemon’s proposal to create a new timeline.

The catch? They never met each other.

Although Lisa, Eikichi and Jun willingly gave up their memories, Tatusya chickened out at the last minute and failed to fulfill his part of the bargain.


In this new timeline, everyone forgot each other, Maya Amano lived, yet Tatsuya retained his memory of “The Other Side”. This was the Innocent Sin the game refers to.

Because his memories were the common denominator between both timelines, Nyarlathotep attempted to restore the previous timeline by pushing Tatsuya Sudou to become JOKER and rekindle the memories of the other 4 protagonists. That way, the new timeline dubbed as “This Side” would meet the same fate of “The Other Side”.




Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you a simplified diagram of Persona Story.
Honestly, it’s a beautiful yet melancholic tale of friendship gained and friendship lost.

It’s not Persona 3’s Minato, who pulled a Jesus Christ to save his comrades by crucifying himself. Persona 2 gives you the feeling of being with a “stranger” whom you once called a “friend” (most profound if you played IS before EP). It’s the feeling of pain when you know you had so many experiences together, yet you’re the only one who can recall that.

Even if I never played Innocent Sin, I could feel how sad it was to play Eternal Punishment and hear Lisa, Eikichi and Jun’s responses. “Excuse me, but have we met?” “Why do I have this feeling that I met you before?”

It’s like seeing your parents with Alzheimer’s Disease--except that Alzheimer’s unintentional.

Choosing to erase your memories to give your friend a new lease in life is intentional. And knowing that you didn’t fulfill your part of the bargain hurts more. Because you’re burdened with the memories that you were all once friends...yet they can’t remember anything about it.

Sad tale, huh?

Now try to beat that, Minato!

2. Hitler as Innocent Sin’s Antagonist

I’ve heard rumors that one of the reasons Innocent Sin wasn’t released for an English Port for the PSX was because of this dude. Anyway, now what’s a real life historic figure doing in a fictional story like Persona?

Well, that’s because Atlus decided to make him one of the main antagonists of this game! And you get to fight him at the final dungeon!

Oh, have I forgotten to mention that he has his own boss battle theme?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgjSaHFCVkg
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-_Mx7vvxCE

Or that his name is mentioned in the Madhouse-produced opening sequence for Eternal Punishment?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1bgbfEPUog

3. The Rumor System


I thought this was one of the brilliant features of this game! Even though it was part of the plot development, this feature was used to affect the gameplay. You could spread rumors to unlock powerful weapons, or unlock a quest. Though the protagonists weren’t the only one who used this: even the antagonists used this against the players!

One of the antagonists in EP, Wang Long Chizuru, spread the rumor that anyone who used the Joker Curse would become Joker themselves.


On the flip side, I wonder why the antagonist (Nyarlathotep) decided NOT to use this to his advantage. He could have spread the rumor that Lisa, Jun and Eikichi would remember “The Other Side”. That would have saved him time. But of course, Atlus came to present a story of redemption and the fight between good and evil. That would have been too easy.

4. The Joker Curse Urban Legend


Japan is oozing with excellent urban legends to scare the shit out of you. Who could forget the videotape that contained Sadako (The Ring)? Or how about the cursed house in The Grudge?

This is the perfect premise for a Japanese horror story. I wonder why no one thought of making a movie out of this?

The curse is simple: dial your cellphone number, and Joker will answer to grant your wishes (Innocent Sin) or kill someone for you (Eternal Punishment). The downside of this curse is that when you don’t have a wish, Joker will take your soul instead (IS); or you will become Joker, as mentioned above.

5. The in-game art is beautiful


No, I’m not referring to the mannequin-freakish art. I’m referring to the in-game portraits that pop up when you talk to relevant characters!

When I first played this game way back in 2006, my only high-end phone was a Nokia 6600 with a VGA camera. I remember taking pictures of every portrait I saw in this game. It was like capturing a rare Pokemon—every portrait was such a rare treat!

I was born in the early 1990s, and I grew up watching 90s anime. This lead to my fondness for cell-shaded art. I believe the artist who drew Persona 3 + 4 also made the in-game art for Persona 2. It’s vibrant, crisp and clean. It suits the overall mood of the story. I doubt it would have the same impact if it used moe-like style. (No, Just no).

6. The Music is a hit or miss, but when it hits, it HITS!

I have to admit, there are some tracks which are lackluster and repetitive. Yet there are tracks which are brilliant, heart-warming and memorable. The music isn’t Yoko Shimomura’s sweeping pieces, nor Nobuo Uematsu’s epic compositions. But it does match the game’s paranormal-horror and occult feel.

Take this dungeon theme for example:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIlNpMnrdN8&list=PL7B7BB33D4FB78C06&index=3

Or the world map that has that Rhythm and Blues Vibe:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6-OsXZ8V7o

Or how about a boss fight that gives you that adrenaline rush?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fee0GYSTebg

Or maybe you like chilling in a bar with your significant other?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MFcbIOuwAA&list=PL7B7BB33D4FB78C06&index=5

Or when your significant other is about to dump you?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y97krQU7s-s&list=PL7B7BB33D4FB78C06&index=21

There are several pieces worth listening in this game. My Top 10:

Map 1 (PSX & PSP EP version)
Map 1 (PSX & PSP IS version)
Maya’s Theme (PSX & PSP EP-IS Version)
Aoba Park (EP)
Parabellum II (EP)
Main Theme Side A (IS)
Change your Way (EP)
Boss Battle Theme (EP)
BGM II (EP)
Knights of the Holy Spear (PSX & PSP IS Version--the Dual Mix Version is great as well)

7. Did I forget to mention that you can talk with demons?

I promise you’ll meet some of the most mercurial to the most gullible enemies in this game. And I promise you’ll read excellent short horror stories when you have Ellen in the Party. Where else can you find a game where you can scare demons by telling horror stories?

8. Glitch #1: How to cast every spell in the game for 3 SP


This worked for my EP PSX version. It was my ex-best friend who discovered this glitch.

When selecting a magic spell, press the R1/2 and L1/2 buttons while the cursor hovers over the spell.

To illustrate, let’s start with Katsuya’s basic Persona attack, “Agi,” that costs 3 SP. Press the R1/2 and L1/2 buttons, and you’ll notice Agi will switch to its stronger spell, Agidyne. Keep on switching until you access other spells...and even enemy spells!

You’ll also notice that as you shift through the spells, a certain code appears on the upper right screen. Each code corresponds to the spell’s name.

Six Advantages of This Glitch:
-You can cast stronger spells at the cost of 3 SP;
-You can cast Armageddon to instantly kill all enemies. Boss monsters are susceptible to this spell, too;
-Leveling up is easier (You’re like God with the Armageddon spell);
-You can speed through the game;
-Saves your time;
-You can cast enemy spells, such as Joker’s “Old Maid”.

Five Disadvantages of This Glitch:
-You’re labelled as a “Cheat”;
-The challenge is gone;
-The game hangs as you try to access stronger or enemy spells;
-The game infrequently hangs whenever you try to cast “Old Maid”;
-You cannot access stronger spells when you’re looking for the 100km/hr Hag at the CD store. If you’re heavily dependent on Armageddon, this glitch spells trouble for this dungeon since you’re forced to use your brute strength.

I don’t know if this glitch works with the PSP port.

If you’re the type who wants to play the game for the story, please do use this. If you want to be challenged without feeling robbed, please don’t use it.

9. Glitch #2: How to teleport and decrease your chances of enemy encounters


This worked for my EP PSX version. My ex-bestfriend also discovered this glitch. I can’t exactly recall the special buttons.

Either press the “Select” or “Start” button. Either button you press should show you the area’s floor map. Drag the cursor to the location where you want to teleport to. Press start again.

Voila! You have learned how to teleport!

Three Advantages:
-Fewer enemy encounters;
-Helps you beat the timer in the Burning Museum part of the game;
-Saves you time.

Two Disadvantages:
-You can’t use this while looking for the 100 km/hr Hag side quest;
-You find no reason to explore the entire floor area by foot.

I don’t know if this glitch works with the PSP port.

If you’re the type who wants to play the game for the story, please do use this. If you want to be challenged without feeling robbed, please don’t use it.

10. Japanese Paranormal-Horror-Occult-Mythology-Jungian Psychology Power-of-Friendship Experience in a Japanese-Based Setting


These are the hallmark signs of a Shin Megami Tensei game. Can you imagine if Squarenix (formerly Squaresoft) created a Final Fantasy game like this? What if Namco-Bandai made a Tales series game with this in mind? No? Never? It feels wrong?

What endears me to the second entry is how it blends the paranormal-horror-occult with Japanese-Greek Mythology, Jungian Psychology and the theme of friendship. I can never find another JRPG like this (unless you tell me).

Most JRPG worlds are reminiscent of Medieval or Industrial Europe. But a modern-day inspired Japanese RPG with a mix of the occult? Couldn’t they have published a manga version for this entry as well? Persona 1 had one, but its story pales to this entry.

It’s true that it’s not the best Persona entry for most Persona fans. Either the story doesn’t really stick with them, or they just prefer good old high school drama mixed with action. But I hope that by pointing some of the entry’s finer qualities, you can give the game a second glance, and go see what’s it all about.