Monday, December 18, 2006

Final Fantasy 9's Theme of Identity

I'm kinda blitzed from final exam studying and such, so this here's gonna just basically be a rehash of a post I made in the Final Fantasy section on Gaia. Sorry. Maybe next week I'll have a new and real rant for all'y'all.

I really love Final Fantasy 9. Although FF Tactics comes close, I think FF9 has gotta be the best installment of the series. From start to finish (well, near finish--that whole Memoria place seems to come out of nowhere), its plot and characters are epic, creative, and terrifically developed. There's a lot of themes in the game, from Love to the idea of Duty to Acceptance of Death, and many more. I think the biggest theme in the game that the characters all (or almost all) are fixated on, is the theme of Identity.

Someone brought this up at Gaia a couple weeks back, and when I thought about it, I came to a very interesting conclusion: the cast of FF9 is just about perfectly balanced altogether on this theme. One third of the cast (Dagger, Beatrix, Vivi, and Eiko) are people who discover themselves, who establish their own identity in the game. On the other side of things, the other third (Zidane, Steiner, Freya, and Amarant) are characters who don't exactly discover or remake their own personality, but rather, have their identity strengthened, solidified by the game's events, in ways of character development that are really no less interesting or skillful than the first group's. And the third...well, they just don't have much significance either way (Quina, Blank, Cinna, Marcus), so I guess they'd be right in the middle of the spectrum, or disqualified, or something.

It also interests me that each of the two groups' members represent a different level of finding or confirming identity, exactly as much as they need without going over that amount. Eiko, for starters, discovers what it is to have other people that she can trust and depend on, growing up just a little during the adventure while at the same time learning a little better how to be a child. Not a huge change in identity, but certainly a monumental one for a kid to have. Going one step up, Beatrix only finds a new identity in one sense, that of how to regard her role as Knight Captain. But that's still a huge aspect of her personality, so it's just as much and as little a change as she needs. Then you get Vivi, who basically starts from scratch in his search to find himself and his purpose. A huge step up in terms of a character finding themselves as you watch, but still not the highest, most complex and carefully portrayed example in the game--that would be Dagger's character, who does more than just build an identity from nothing as Vivi does--her experiences, efforts, and the influences of her companions change her entire being as you watch. It's a beautiful case of discovery and change.

The other side of the spectrum has just as much of a gradient, though. You've got Amarant, for starters. Now, he doesn't seem to really change at all in the game, or do much of anything, but all the same, his experiences with Zidane seem to remind him through the differences and similarities between them of exactly who he is, why he does what he does. It's only lightly touched upon, but then, Amarant's not a touchy-feely kind of guy, so it's just about right for him. Next, you've got Steiner, who struggles with issues of who he is and what his job means, much like Beatrix does. Conversely, though, he differs from her in that the conclusions he comes to are that his initial instincts and ideals of protecting the princess are more or less the right way to go (though, thankfully, he at least seems towards the end to not actively want to mount Zidane's head on a pike any more). Freya goes through a huge amount of mental anguish, yet internalizes most of it, meaning that, while we're all very aware that it's there, she's too strong to succumb to it and become a hopeless wreck over it. She continually works through her issues as the story progresses, putting the matters at hand first and formost as she should, and overall staying true to her code of conduct and ideals regardless of what seeks to shake them. It's again a case of an increased level of identity crisis being resolved, fitting the character's needs very well. And lastly, of course, we get Zidane, whose cheerful and helpful nature is a pillar to them all, and who faces conflict which threatens to shatter that trusty pillar of a personality, but ultimately emerges a stronger but unchanged version of himself for it. These aren't "static" characters persay, they're dynamic ones who simply stay themselves, just a little stronger, surer, maybe truer.

This is what I love about FF9, that no other of the series, and not too many other RPGs in general, does: it takes almost its entire significant cast (Marcus, Cinna, and Blank are only with you for little bits of the story, after all), and makes each and every one of them a deep, worthwhile character, but doesn't fall into the trap that a lot of other games do (such as FF7) of bogging the characters down with excessive identity issues. Everyone in the game has their own level of complexity, and it fits them even when it's low--you're not saddled with Mr. T suddenly becoming a tragic figure with a past just because the makers feel that everyone has to have huge personality issues to work through in order to be taken seriously, for example. The characters just have what they need, and there's more than enough food for thought in each of them with that.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Baten Kaitos 1's Inclusion of the Player

Baten Kaitos 1 is quite an interesting game, with a neat setting (floating islands, as I've mentioned in a previous rant), a pretty fair plot, a card-based battle system that DOESN'T suck ass (I think this may be the ONLY RPG where this is true), and several really great and original characters. One of the most interesting and unique parts of it, though, is that it actually includes YOU, the player, in the plot.

Now, it's not that I haven't experience this sort of thing before, on a very tiny scale. I mean, in Earthbound, the only way for Ness's crew to defeat the universe's ultimate evil is for Paula to eventually pray to the player him/herself to intercede and whup Giygas's ass. A kinda neat idea, too, that they're fighting an evil so monumentally unbeatable that it takes a being from a higher dimension to destroy it. And who hasn't seen or at least heard of that old televised Peter Pan play thing, where Peter asks the audience to clap and believe in fairies so that Tinkerbell can be saved? There're a few instances scattered here and there of the player/viewer/reader/listener/whateverer actually being included in something for reasons other than a quick joke.

But you know, I don't think I've EVER seen a game or show or movie or book or ANYTHING that takes it to the level that BK1 does. In this game, the player is represented as a Guardian Spirit, a sort of wandering soul that has taken residence in the main character Kalas (and for a brief time later, Xelha). Kalas and Xelha frequently actually interact with you, talking to you and asking you questions, and even the other party members occasionally talk to you. It's often noted that it's your presence that makes Kalas such a formidable and successful fighter (making reference to both the fact that you are controlling his actions and thus leading him to victory through your strategy, and that your presence can allow the main character to perform special attacks which far outclass all the other abilities in the game). And when you're temporarily banished from the BK1 world, the screen goes black--you actually cannot witness what's happening until the Guardian Spirit representing you is eventually called back later.

This involvement of the player really adds a neat and enjoyable angle to the game. It's fun to be directly thanked by the game's characters for helping them out, to have a direct hand in the game's affairs rather than just be an unseen watcher who happens to also play. And as I said before, it's a rarely-explored idea, probably because up until the medium of video games, the observer of a story, be it a book's or show's or movie's or whatever, did not have an interactive nature with the medium. With video games, though, you already are interacting with the game's mechanics, so with a little creativity, as BK1 demonstrates, the player can be made to directly interact with and influence the story as well. I hope at least a few more RPGs recognize the potential for this idea and also adopt it.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Kingdom Hearts 2's Atlantica

I bet I know what you're all expecting. You read the title of this rant, and think, "Oh, right, Arpy's gonna flame the hell out of Ariel's crappy world. It was a huge disappointment." Because, hey, if anyone's gonna hate a minigame world, it's gonna be me--and everyone else does, too. Ornery old Arp is gonna yell and scream and holler about it and give you all some good hearty laughs.

Well, you're all WRONG!

Now, don't misunderstand. I'm NOT a fan KH2's Atlantica. It's not much fun. You listen to a bunch of songs, most of which are grating and stupid, and play semi-DDR as you mash buttons in time with the music--well, sometimes in time, other times it's just there and you mash the X button for no real rhythmic reason.

While this is happening, a scene plays out, for reasons I can't quite figure out--it's not like you can take the time to watch and enjoy it when you're waiting for each little "PUSH X NOW BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE" icon to pop up. My theory is that SquareEnix actually spent a fortune on each song's visual sequence out of spite alone--FF10-2 has made it abundantly clear that they secretly loathe and detest the people who buy their games. Seeking to frustrate KH2 players, SquareEnix made these elaborate, cheerful sequences during a minigame where watching them means total failure. To add to the distraction value of these things, they decided to set this minigame in Atlantica, where players will continue to have their eyes stray from their objectives, lured away by Ariel and/or a shirtless Sora. No way can this just be a case of poor design; they're LAUGHING at you as you miss the cues because your fangirl instincts to drool at shirtless 14-year-olds cannot be denied.

"Wait a second," you're saying. "If you're saying that the minigame is stupid and annoying, along with badly-designed, then why was I wrong before?"

The reason is this: I don't hate KH2's Atlantica, even given its exceptionally annoying nature. Why not? Because it is so, so, so much better than it was in the original Kingdom Hearts. Look, as stupid and simplistic as the singing minigame might be, it's a helluva lot better than trying to navigate that stupid underwater battle system in KH1. You couldn't just move with the direction stick, no, you had to use that to steer while you held down a button to actually get there--it was annoying enough just to move regularly, let alone while trying to fight enemies that were above and below and all around you. You're trying to swim up and down to get at something and meanwhile there are Heartless smacking your face and electrocuting you with poorly-named Thunder spells and Donald and Goofy are floundering around doing just about nothing except absorbing damage as usual while Ariel's trying to make up for your incompetence at swimming and their incompetence at life and you start swearing because the Little Mermaid is more badass than you...

I'm supposed to be upset that a stupid but harmless little minigame replaced that nightmare of bad gameplay design? Not having to dick around with Heartless jellyfish and whales and whatnot was the greatest improvement they could have possibly made to the sequel. And hell, KH2's take on the world isn't too terrible at times--I mean, they actually made ERIC cool, rather than just the same kind of "Looks nice but has a mind as empty as Quina Quen's (Final Fantasy 9) refrigerator the day after Thanksgiving" character type that I so often criticize RPG heroes for being. KH2 shows HIM being willing to work to be with HER, rather than Ariel having to do and give up everything. I mean, the line:

Eric: "And to think...all this time..."
Ariel: ~LE SAD~
Eric: "...I could've practicing my swimming." ~Splash~

Adds a TON of depth to his character, and makes him pretty damn cool. Sure, it took several rounds of agonizingly dumb musical button-mashing to get to it, but it IS something good about the whole thing, at least, and more rewarding than any of the plot that you're given after the hours of underwater battle torment in KH1. All in all, KH2's Atlantica was a huge improvement, in my opinion.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

General RPGs' Minigames 3: Hauler Beasts

I don't have many serious complaints about Star Ocean 3. While still badly imbalanced in its battle system like SO2 was, taking a little too long to stop dicking around in fantasy land and get back to the plot, and also having Albel in it, overall it's a pretty good and enjoyable game. The characters are pretty good, the pacing's not bad most of the time, and the plot is really nifty once it gets going. But dear God, I loathe the Hauler Beast minigame.

Okay. Here's the basic idea. You get in a mine cart to go through a mine area. Never mind that you could just walk through it like you walk miles and miles through nearly identical other caves throughout the rest of the game--THIS one you need a mine cart for, and that's final! A Hauler Beast, which seems to sorta be some giant turtle thing of some kind which is so big that the mine tunnels only barely accomodate it, thus giving rise once again to the question of why regular people such as your characters can't walk through the tunnels when they're obviously more accomodating for humans, tugs your mine cart through the tunnels, and you give orders on what speed to go, when to stop to explore a little room in the mines, and which direction to take at forks in the path. You have to adjust your speed accordingly for traps and breaks in the track, and if your Hauler gets upset enough by the traps and bonking into walls and such, the minigame is over and you have to start from the beginning.

Now, in order to get all the treasures in the mines, you need to do a crapload of stop-and-go speed increases and decreases with the stupid Haulers, which is annoying. You also have to pretty much start memorizing what turns and twists you have and haven't taken so far, because the map the game gives you is utterly useless for any purpose of navigation. It would probably take you longer to properly figure out how to determine what turns to make based on the map than it would just to randomly fumble your way to the exit--which, trust me, would be a matter of solid hours. You also would have to memorize where each jump and trap is, so you can adjust your speed accordingly, because you'll never get the prizes very far in otherwise, since your turtletard will call it quits after being frightened at having to open gates (no, really).

This by itself is a huge pain in the ass, MORE than enough to guarantee it a spot on my list of Things To Kill People Over. But there's also one treasure deep in the mines that, according to an FAQ for the minigame (and my experiences back this up), you have to take out a Whimsical Hauler to reach. Now, there are 5 different kinds of Haulers. The one most likely to piss its shell and run screaming back to the beginning is also the one most likely to actually do what you tell it to. The other Haulers have different ranges of bravery against traps and willingness to not completely ignore you, but the only one who can last long enough to get this one treasure is the Whimsical Hauler, which does whatever the hell it wants without listening to any input from you. But of course, since the treasure is so far in, the Hauler has about 20 forks in the track to decide to go the wrong way on, so you can be waiting for a LONG time for the stupid thing to finally manage to accidentally bring you where you want it to go. I gave it about 10 tries before I just gave up.

Now, here comes the very best part. You may THINK that this is going to be the only time you waste hours of your life directing an uncooperative and idiotic turtle of burden through SO3's caves. And yes, it could be...but you'll miss out on a bunch of treasures if you don't come back later. Because, you see, nearly half of the treasures you find in the mines when you're forced to play this hellish minigame the first time will be out of your reach--you'll need a tool you get about 2/5 of the way through the game to get them. So if you want to actually get anything GOOD from this torture, you have to spend hours meticulously riding through the caverns AGAIN.

Well fuck you too, SquareEnix.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Knights of the Old Republic 2's Kreia

Alright, folks, if you haven't played KotOR2 and ever intend to (and you really, really should), don't read this. Too many spoilers.

I am a big fan of the Knights of the Old Republic games. They manage to flawlessly combine fan-made Star Wars (fuck Lucas--anyone who has ever read Timothy Zahn's books knows this is the best, most carefully detailed version of the SW galaxy) with the RPG genre. They've got an awesome setting (naturally), great plots, and better characters. They've got more realistic and gripping backstories and personalities than most other RPGs, and it can be hard not to like even the ones with a heart as black as Darth Vader.

Case in point for me would be Kreia. Now, I do not personally LIKE Kreia. If you've played the game, you'll know that she's not exactly the nicest or most moral person you'll ever come across. She's vicious, manipulative, and she bullies poor Atton all the time (I love Atton). She's Machiavellian to an extreme, just a bit crazy, and at least as much a servant to the Dark Side as she isn't.

But man, as a villain, Kreia is the best I've ever seen in an RPG, plain and simple.

Point One: She's tough. She's genuinely powerful. She's a master of the Force like few others, knowing its ways and using them to her advantage. She can use a lightsaber, which automatically makes her more of a force to be reckoned with than any villain using a regular weapon. She can take a hit (and by a hit, I mean have her hand cut off) and keep on truckin'. She doesn't NEED to do some quest for magic objects to give her the powers of a god. She's smart enough to set the fall for anyone who opposes her without resorting to one-winged angel crap like that. When you deal with Kreia, you deal with someone who's not going to futz around with that nonsense--she'll just either kill you, or, more likely, let you live to unwittingly do her bidding. If Kreia decides to let you live, it's not because she's being a stupid FF villain who doesn't have the good sense to kill protagonists after whupping them early in the game while their levels are low. It's because she knows she WILL make use of you, and can probably do so while making you mentally suffer.

Point Two: The game gives you ample opportunity to know Kreia. Like, KNOW Kreia. This isn't like knowing, say, Seymour of FF10. With Seymour, you know the very, very broad and general (not to mention really dumb) reasons for his villainous actions. This is true of most villains in RPGs, even the good ones--you just don't get too really involved in understanding them. A few, however, like Fou-Lu of Breath of Fire 4 or Orsted of Live-A-Live, are evil characters that you're given a really good amount of insight about, both in their personalities and the reason they do the evil things they do. Kreia, however, blows these two away. She hangs with your party for most of the game, and in that time she tells you all about herself. Her past, her ideals, the qualities she admires and the qualities she despises, her understandings of people and the ways of the universe, and eventually how and why she set everything up. Kreia is a realistic human being in a way that few characters (and of those few, just about no villains) in games are, complex in dozens of different ways that intertwine with each other. Even in a game series with such strongly defined personalities as KotOR2, she really stands out as a character whose creation and development are extraordinarily solid and deep. Folks, a great many of the classic works of literature I've read in my time at college as an English major don't have characters of this high a quality.

Point Three: The voice acting for Kreia is pretty much perfect. Not a big deal, I know, but still, when most of the game's more insightful and thought-provoking content comes from her, it really helps that it's delivered by a voice actress who can get just the right inflections of aged, dark wisdom to match Kreia's personality and words.

Point Four: Kreia wins. Everything. She's the most successful villain of any RPG ever, because she accomplishes every single goal she has. Kill off the remaining survivors of the old Jedi order? Check. Revenge on the Sith Lords who betrayed her? Check (no easy task, either--one regenerates all wounds done him, and the other one is such an unnatural horror that he could very likely defeat every single normal Jedi who ever lived--Yoda, Palpatine, Vader, Luke, EVERYONE). Set the stage for several new Jedi, who know what it is to be human first and foremost and Jedi after that, to create a new order which has a chance not to make all the mistakes the old one did? Check. Bring some balance to the force? All of the above work towards this one. Help prepare the galaxy for the inevitable and fast-approaching day when the Sith finally strike? Check. Send Revan a powerful ally to aid him in fighting the Sith on their own turf? Check. Just about no major move of the Light Side or Dark Side in this game is made without Kreia's making sure it works to further her goals. I mean, even when you kill her at the end of the game, you're STILL doing exactly what she wants--one of her goals is to train her greatest apprentice of all, and that apprentice having the strength of body, Force, and will to kill her will be the way to prove that she has succeeded, her final triumph. How many villains can you think of for whom their final defeat (not just I'm-Dying-But-Not-Really, like Seymour) is an essential part of their plan? Not many.

Point Five: You identify with Kreia. Understanding her isn't just a case of knowing where she's coming from, it's also a case of empathizing with her at times, acknowledging that there's wisdom in her ways regardless of whether they're good or evil. Villains aren't characters you can very often really connect with, and if they are, then you probably have a few issues. Kreia, though, you could argue the merits and weaknesses of her philosophies and insights on humanity, society, karma, and life for hours on end.

In the end, there's really no villain crafted with quite as much care and expertise as Kreia is. Buggy and unfinished as KotOR2 may be, the presence of a villain of Kreia's caliber alone makes it a great RPG.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Seiken Densetsu 3's Characters

After over a month-long absence, I give you...a lame post. Awesome.

I'll admit right now: doing a cast list for Seiken Desnsetsu 3 is a daunting task. Not because I don't think this game's cast deserves to be ridiculed for being shoddy and poorly-conceived characters there to be personality-less drones who forward the plot. Rather, because this cast is so incredibly boring that it's really hard to find a decent characteristic in any one of them that significantly sets them apart from the others.

Duran: You know, I know I harp on the fact that RPG hero dudes are very often boring, featureless blocks of wood that you could randomly switch around between games, and no one could tell the difference. I really wish I could think of new and funny ways to express just how blandly heroic these sword-wielding idiots like Duran are, but I just don't have the imagination. Suffice to say, there's really nothing about Duran that sets him apart from Claude (Star Ocean 2), or Cless (Tales of Phantasia), or Dart (Legend of Dragoon), or Lufia 1's hero, or Ratix (Star Ocean 1), or dozens upon dozens of other such faceless do-gooders.

Angela: Angela suffers a tortured existence as one small and limited sprite shouldered with the heavy destiny of being her game's entire share of T and A.

Kevin: Okay, now, I'm not saying that the loss of a pet isn't a sad thing, folks. I understand it hurts. I've kept some wonderful little creatures of my own in my time, and they've all passed on when it's their time, and it always makes me tear up at least a little to part with them.

But when you have a character whose entire motive for his heroic actions in the game is to avenge the death of his dog, you have done something wrong as a writer.

Lise: "My little brother's been kidnapped! Am I a bad enough Amazon dudette to slowly meander my way through the plot to rescue him?"

Fairy: This little semi-mascot for the team has the unenviable task of constantly having to remind these idiots that they actually have a job to do and should cut their aimless wanderings short to get it done.

Hawk: Being a thief using daggers motivated out of a need to save the chick he's into, Hawk reminds me suspiciously of Locke (Final Fantasy 6) at times, particularly given the name similarity and the fact that they're both Square characters. Aside from the aspects of his personality where this comparison can be drawn, though, there's not much of interest about Hawk.

Carlie: Carlie is a half-elf with the mind of a child who has the hots for a priest dude who stands about 5 feet taller than her. This jonesing for some hot priest-on-midget-half-elf-child action is what keeps her going for at least most of the quest.

Seriously, people. What is with these half-elf kids in RPGs?

You know, this game is just screaming to be made into a porno. Duran's the big muscular guy, Angela's the woman with the enormous boobs who wears scanty clothing regardless of setting (I mean, she IS wearing an over-glorified bathing suit while living in an arctic queendom), Hawk is there as an extra just because there needs to be another guy, Lise is there for the lesbian scene (she's in an all-girl amazon army, and all), Kevin the werewolf's there to please furries, and Carlie is the half-human nymphomaniac midget. Tell me this isn't the perfect cast for a porn flick.

Monday, October 2, 2006

The Fallout Series's Soundtracks

Anyone who's moderately familiar with me will likely have noticed that I extoll the virtues of the Fallout RPGs to anyone who will listen at any time it is relevant to do so, and many times when it really isn't. So while I'm going to try not to get too carried away with heaping praise on the games today, marvelling at their excellent and incredibly well-written and detailed non-linear plot (how often do you get a NON-linear plot that's been created with as much care for every last detail as a Suikoden game) or its great side characters or...well, everything, I can't promise I won't. In fact I think I just did anyway.

Okay. On topic here. I love the Fallout series for a great many reasons, not the least of which is the innovation in so many aspects of Fallout 1 and 2. One of the most original aspects of the series, however, is its music. Or rather, its lack thereof. By and large, each area of Fallout has no background tune being repeated perpetually, which I don't need to mention (but will anyways) is a marked difference from just about every other RPG in existence. At certain times, a difference that seems very preferable, because I dunno about you, but I don't think I've EVER met an RPG with a minigame theme that didn't drive me out of my mind.

This isn't to say that Fallout doesn't have any background theme, though. It definitely does. Its background, however, is usually a collection of far-off sounds put together with an occasional few seconds of musical notes (I wouldn't call it a "song" any more than I would those little Ocarina tunes in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time). It's almost always unobtrusive, and it really helps to quietly emphasize the general mood and post-apocalyptic setting of each little town, technological ruin, and radscorpian-infested cave you crawl through. The effect that the simple background notes and noises of each location you visit is incredibly effective in pulling you into the setting somehow, far moreso than almost any regular game music I've encountered.

Trying to describe sound and music in words, of course, is more often than not a futile gesture. You have to experience it to understand it. Which is just another reason of many for why you should all go find copies of Fallout 1 and 2 to check it out--it's refreshing, skillful, and excellently effective.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Xenogears's Characters

Fei: Cloud of Final Fantasy 7 is arguably the most popular RPG protagonist of all time. At the time of Xenogears's creation, Squaresoft, looking at its recent spiky-haired money-maker, must have mistakenly assumed that Cloud's success comes from his being immensely fucked up in the head, and set out to create the most screwed up, issue-laden protagonist of all time. Fei is the successful result of their endeavors.

Early on, Fei seems relatively normally psychologically impaired for a hero (does anyone else find it disturbing that such a significant percentage of our main RPG characters are at least a little unbalanced?). He's just a kinda pansy little whiner, really. "Waaaaah I dun WANNA pilot the big robot!" "Okay, pretty lady, go ahead and shoot me in the head. Nah, it's cool. I'm way too temporarily emo to care." "Citan, stop trying to get me involved in global affairs of extreme importance. I just wanna sit in the room at the inn and listen to the Cure, okay?"

However, as time goes on, we find out that he's actually got 3 people in his head who are all fucked up losers--one's him, one's Id (a thumb-sucking sissypants who thinks that being able to pilot a robot is the same thing as being powerful), and one's an addict to memory TiVo. Also, his father wants to kill him, while also helping him, because his father has been possessed by the ghost of the evil side of Fei in a previous life. Also also, he watched his mom erupt into a puddle of blood when he was 5. Also x3, he's the latest in a series of reincarnations of the same guy, one reincarnation of which was a deadbeat scientist pseudo-dad who went and died and left his creation-daughter fatherless, and now Fei has to deal with this problem that his former worthless self left to his current worthless self. Yet, in spite of all this, he seems to take most of this insanity in stride in comparison to his earlier angsting over the fact that people might want him to help them out so they don't all die in combat.

However, without Fei, there could be no scene in which Fei tries to catch that one fish, so in the end, he's still worth it.

Citan: "Hi, Fei. I know absolutely everything you want to know, but I am not going to tell you until at least 40-60 hours from now. In the meantime, have some Soylent Green."

Elly: Elly is a pretty pilot who is the 646th reincarnation of the mother of the world. However, no matter how many times she lives, no matter how many people throughout history she meets and influences, her taste in men never, ever improves. Also, she has parent issues, with her mother, and father.

Bart: Bart is a prince with one eye who is fairly happily engaged to a 12-year-old (and the worst part of this is that it's a way more believable and likeable relationship than that of Fei and Elly). Oddly enough, in direct contrast to the many potentially interesting but woefully wasted cast members succeeding him, Bart gets a ton of screen time to develop in, but in the end seems more like a vehicle for moving along the plot than an entity of any noticeable personality.

Rico: Rico is a monumentally important character with a significant past (involving his father) who is a valuable part of the plot.

Until you're done with his city, that is. Then he turns into a mostly-mute meat shield.

Chu Chu: Chu Chu is a talking cute fuzzy whatsit that can grow big. It tries to commandeer the plot for a few minutes in order to sneak in some development, but then a big robot beats it up for trying to be a real character.

Billy: Billy is a monumentally important character with significant issues involving his father who is a valuable part of the plot.

Until you're done with his 20 minutes of plot-forwarding, that is. Then he turns into a mostly-mute handgun.

Maria: Maria is a monumentally important character with a plot-significant heritage (involving her father) who is a valuable part of the plot.

Until you're done with her city, that is. Then she turns into a mostly-mute pilot.

Naw, just foolin'! She actually turns into a mostly-mute pilot even BEFORE you're done with her city.

Emeralda: Emeralda is part of the 2/3rds of the game's playable cast whose characterization is largely made up of what her relationship with her father was like. Her father being a scientist who is one of Fei's previous lives.

Deus: Deus is a big monster thing made to wage warfare on a planetary scale. The only specific power it possesses that the player ever sees is to create an insanely over-complex and ludicrous sequence of events over the process of millenia, including the actual creation of a human race, that will ultimately end with it repairing itself because it is so monumentally inefficiently designed that it can only be repaired by eating a shitload of zombies. I guess maybe somewhere in the future, gasoline becomes so scarce a resource that we start manufacturing devices that run on zombies instead because they're more plentiful than petroleum.

...maybe somewhere in the NEAR future, even.

Chair: Fuck Deus. THIS wooden horror is the true nemesis of every Xenogears player.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles's Plot

Apologies in advance--I'm kinda sick right now, and my head's not so good at holding onto ideas for long and stuff. So...this might seem to have even less direction than usual. Or something. Of course, this could also ironically end up being the one instance where I actually DO go somewhere with a rant not outright insulting a game/a game's maker. I guess we'll see how it pans out.

Late last winter, I obtained, played, and beat like a naughty puppy Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Not because I particularly wanted it in any great fashion, but more just because it was there, on sale, and I was waiting for Suikoden 5 but not wanting Phantasy Star 3 and Grandia 3 to be my only diversions during that wait (my feelings on both games have been well-documented here). Given that it is a painfully transparant marketing ploy on the part of Nintendo and SquareEnix to suck your money from your wallet faster than Rogue can drain your mutant power, using its title of Final Fantasy not only to boost what otherwise would be a random RPG's sales, but also to encourage you and your friends to purchase Game Boy Advances so you can play it the way it's meant to be played (and don't forget the link cables! Cha-ching, cha-ching!), I was not expecting a whole lot. It's not a wise emotional investment to expect anything great from Square's recent blatant cash-ins. But hey, it didn't seem possible that it could be WORSE than PS3 and G3, so why not give it a whirl?

Well, long story short, I've ended up actually liking the game a fair deal. I don't think it's terrific or anything, but certainly a nice, light little RPG. Certainly a helluva lot more than I'd have expected.

In general, though, FFCC gets a really bad reputation as being a pointless and repetitive game with no plot. Well, repetitive I can't debate--even if you manage to somehow get through the game inside the first half a dozen years or so, the general flow of the levels and fighting enemies is generally boringly similar from one level and foe to the next. It's certainly not any more boring than most RPGs battle-wise, of course--I've mentioned RPGs generally having the most boring systems of battle that I can imagine--but just crawling through dungeons repeatedly can get old fast.

But pointless? No plot? No sir. The plot's there the whole time, though it may be only a few rumors and stories you hear on the road sometimes, or part of the tale your elder tells you at the beginning of each year. Yeah, it's not thick and heavy all the time, like in a regular Final Fantasy, or most other games, but it's not nonexistant--it just all really comes together at the end, that's all.

Now granted, I typically favor RPGs which contain heavy plots that dominate their events. Give me an extremely linear RPG following a set story and I'm a happy moogle. Or a happy box, depending on which site you're reading this from. But sometimes, a little bit of a light, non-linear plot can be remarkably refreshing from watching almost-anime heroes and villains spout hours of dialogue that I've heard half of in previous games/shows and often doesn't even make a whole lotta sense. As you go through FFCC's world, you learn little bits and pieces about it, as events unfold almost on the sidelines that don't all add up completely until the very end of the game. How long you spend beating up monsters on a yearly schedule is up to you, as is what locales you visit--technically, I don't think you have to visit even half the places in the game to beat it. So it's pretty open-ended on what you do when.

Still and all, right at the ending, you get at least half of the whole plot all at once before the final battle, and it really is pretty neat. It manages to incorporate all the little bits and pieces you've encountered of what the game's about so far, then explain'em all and just then charge you with the epic task of saving the world--and the explanation for the world as it is, and how to save it, is actually pretty darned neat if you take the time to really think about it and enjoy it. It's an original idea for an original world, and in the space of 10 minutes it manages to transport you from a dungeon-crawling experience into a rather epic finale to an adventure you barely realized you were having. And at the end of the game, even though you spent 49 hours out of 50 without much direction, the salvation of this world can still seem an epic accomplishment that was worth your time to achieve and witness.

Is it up to the level of other FFs like 9 and Tactics? Not really. Is it a really fantastic RPG? Nah. But it's at least a good one, and undeserving of most of the smack people talk about it.

Monday, September 4, 2006

General RPGs' Floating Locations

Ah, floating landmarks. Chances are, if you're playing an RPG, you're probably gonna run into at least one of these oddities--some castle, temple, town, or entire island which just hovers miles above the rest of the planet, sometimes for an explained reason (usually involving magic or technology so crazy it might as well be magic), and sometimes just because it apparently can. Not only is it a convenient setting for bad guys' HQs, highly advanced cultures, and mystical descendants whose ancient ancestors have passed down the secret arts of creating important plot points and twists, but it also provides more game-lengthening material in the form of quests to obtain the means to actually get up to these floating landmasses in the first place.

It's not like this is just a modern aspect of RPGs, either. Floating landmarks are one of the oldest consistently-used traditions RPGs have. Zeal in Chrono Trigger, the Sinistrals' island in the Lufia series, Golbez's tower in Final Fantasy 4, the Mana Fortress in Secret of Mana...I mean, Crystalis for the NES had a floating tower filled with ancient and forbidden technology. Crystalis. I remember having a question I asked about Crystalis's ice mountains published in an issue of GamePlayers back when I was in 3rd grade. I'm 23 now. And the game had been out for a long while by the that time, too. That's how far back you can find magical floating places in RPGs.

Hell, there's a floating castle in Phantasy Star 1. Back on the Sega Master System. 1987. It's seen more years than probably about half of the people on this forum have.

Since you see it a lot in anime, I'm guessing that it must just be a Japanese thing (though Secret of Evermore, a US-made title, had a futuristic city in the sky, too). It's a really strange cliche, though, when you think about it. I mean, it's not like we have anything remotely like it here on Earth to use as a reference. The closest we really have are large airplanes which can carry several dozen people for extended periods of time, but those still have to land and refuel, not to mention get maintenance, pretty frequently when compared to some RPG's mystical floating castle that's been hanging out in the sky for the last 1000 years.

What's even stranger is that it's a cliche that RPG fans by now seem to generally accept unquestioningly. I mean, here we are, being told that somehow, somebody on this technologically backwards little planet where the idea of a steam engine is cutting-edge technology had the knowledge and ability millenia before the game begins to construct a massive floating building that's more than likely equipped with more laser beams of doom and robot guards than the Technodrome, and we just take it in stride, not once considering the possibility that this is absolutely ludicrous even by the standards of a game where you can do more damage with a pointed stick than a bomb blast can if you just have a high enough number next to the section of your Status screen that says Strength.

The concept's given way to some really neat and innovative ideas in a few games, though. Not so much in its usual form of one large amount of land floating around for no good reason, but rather, in the form of a world comprised of nothing BUT floating islands. It's an exceptionally strange and interesting world idea that's surprisingly been found several times in RPGs--Bahamut Lagoon, Skies of Arcadia, and Baten Kaitos are all RPGs taking place on worlds made up of giant sky islands (or lagoons, as the first calls them) inhabited by people who use various forms of transportation to travel between the islands, be they sky-faring animals like dragons (Baten Kaitos), ships resembling Earth pirate vessels and military battleships (Skies of Arcadia), or even smaller floating islands which are fitted with engines and have a ship's interior constructed within them (Bahamut Lagoon--it's a seriously neat idea, in my opinion). The result of this exceptionally bizarre setting is almost always a very interesting and innovative story.

But yeah, anyways, just really hit me today exactly how frequent and traditional the whole idea is in the genre, and I thought I'd make note of it.

Monday, August 21, 2006

General RPGs' Villains' Laughs

If you've ever watched a cartoon, sat through a movie, read a comic book, played a game, or experienced any other dozens of forms of entertainment, you're quite familiar with the Villain Laugh. Although obviously not an RPG-only cliche, I have noticed that RPG villains seem to be especially prone to it, just bursting out in raucous bellows of amusement at any given time of day.

Frankly, I think it's fucking stupid.

I do my best to understand villains. You know, get why it is that they're being dicks, and see where they're coming from. This doesn't mean that they're not still dopes for being evil assholes, or anything. But I can at least figure out exactly how and why they're stupid jerks. But that damn laugh I can't get.

I mean, okay, let's think like someone evil who is out to destroy at LEAST the world. Probably more--you know how these villain types are just never satisfied. And it's going well! You're collecting whatever mystical relics of an ancient civilization you need at a good pace, your henchmen have not yet started failing in every single task you assign them (they will soon enough, though, don't doubt it), you've killed some innocents, you've destroyed some property, and you've just finished explaining your ingenius plan to/using mind games to torment the leader of a group of heroes who stupidly tried to stop you while at Level 12. Morons. They'd need at LEAST 40 more levels to stand a chance.

In other words, you've got a good, evil buzz going on. You're walkin' on whatever the evil equivalent of sunshine is, baby. And so, you laugh like a ninnyhammer.

You've got evil plots to follow through, henchmen and accomplices to praise, berate, and/or kill, and each passing moment you spend here heightens the chance that some random person will show up to rescue the heroes you just pummelled in a way that is oh so convenient to the plot. But do you choose to just leave, maintaining your evil dignity and position as superior to these weaklings? No. No, you just throw your head back and scream with laughter as though someone just told you that they enjoy Final Fantasy 10-2 for its exquisite plot and thoughtful characters.

I mean, I can accept this when the game's villain is as loopy as a 4-year-old's self-portrait. Final Fantasy 6's Kefka giggling at mayhem and destruction that he's caused? It helps reinforce the idea that he's off his nut (not that you needed the reinforcement). Luca Blight from Suikoden 2 laughing happily as he personally murders civilians he's taken prisoner? It really works for him, because you just believe that he honestly does feel a sick mirth at such a hateful act.

But in general, the laughter thing just comes off as pointless. Regular, non-demented people, even evil ones, just don't do it every single time something good happens. Think how dull and monotonous (not to mention hoarse) you would be every day if you laughed on cue whenever good things happened.

"I passed my test! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"
"Muhahahahahaha, they have a 2-for-1 special going for AA batteries today! Excellent, hehehehe!"
"My is...GOLDEN BROWN! PERFECT! All is going according to my plan...TO MAKE MYSELF A BLT! YAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

What part of this is supposed to be cool? Do game writers really think that this is a fear-inspiring behavior? If some evil twerp tried that routine with me, I'd just watch them guffaw for a minute and then punch their stupid teeth down their throat.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Star Ocean 3's Treasure Chests

Okay, folks, it's been a while since I ranted at you, so you might think I have something semi-important to complain about or praise. Something solid and significant, like a character or plot point of particular note, or something of a more general RPG sense to speak on. Well, if that's the case, then prepare to be disappointed. Because today I'm just going to talk about the treasures in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time (henceforth known as Star Ocean 3).

I've been playing through this game for the last few days, having found it used at GameStop for $5. While SO2 had left me dubious of spending even that much money on a game from that series (I certainly wouldn't recommend anyone acquiring SO2 for $5--hell, I'd say the only fair trade is for a person to be PAID 5 bucks to take it), it's hard for me to resist cheap RPGs regardless of their pedigree. I mean, I spend about 3x as much cash on my lunch every day I'm at work. And Eagles had bugged me a couple times in the past to get it.

So far, it's actually not all that bad. I mean, granted, the improved battle system is only a little better than the piece of shit that is the regular Star Ocean battle system. The characters, though, are certainly pretty okay so far--not very memorable, but not outright dull like SO1's cast, or dull AND dumb as shit like SO2's cast. And the plot seems this time to almost make some sense and have direction. Honestly, the latter 2 facts above make me question whether this even really is a Star Ocean game I'm playing.

There is, however, one small recurring aspect of the game that is pretty dumb.

In Star Ocean 3, there're 3 basic sizes of treasure chests that you encounter: Regular, Biggish, and Fucking Enormous And Overly Ornate. This last type is bright aqua-green, covered in gold, and about 75% the size of your character. This thing looks like the kind of treasure chest you'd expect a king to keep half his own ransom in gold, a legendary sword, and a still-sealed copy of Suikoden 2 inside of--with room to spare. If your typical RPG party were to just lug this around on their adventures, there would be no question of how they could hold an inventory of 99 copies of all varieties of potions and herbs and whatnot. This thing is so huge that if I ever opened one and it turned out to be one of those Mimic-type enemies, I'd just reset my game--there'd be no point in trying to take on something that huge.

Now, the first time I really took notice of one of these enormous chests was in one city's old, abandoned church. As if it didn't grab enough attention by itself, the chest was sitting right in the middle of this holy-looking circle of flowers and greenery, bathed in bright light. If Schala had been hovering above it with angel wings while Aeris picked some flowers growing at a unicorn's hooves nearby, they wouldn't have seemed out of place.

This, my friends, was the ultimate treasure chest. Even if it were early in the game, this was surely the king daddy to end all treasures. Nothing less than the power of God Himself could possibly reside in this treasure chest.

Throwing aside the questions of the morality of stealing valuables from a church even if for the sake of their contributing to galactic peace, I eagerly ran up to the chest, ran against it for a minute or so, pressing X and fumbling with SO3's poorly-conceived need to stand exactly facing treasure chests to open them even though precise directioning is difficult because of slightly clumsy movement control, and finally opened it, and found...

Ripe Berries.

Not money. Not treasures. Not legendary equipment or jewelry or whatever. Nothing. But. Berries. Ripe ones, though.

Try to wrap your mind around this. Try to imagine the circumstances that lead up to this moment. Imagine the generous faithful church-goers pitching in money each service for months and months, so that their trusted priest could make a truly worthy purchase to benefit their little congregation. Then, finally, when the priest finally had months and months' worth of collections, representing a part of so many trusting members' living wages, he went out, and purchased the biggest, craziest, most expensive treasure box he could find. No, he couldn't have even found this. He probably had to specially order it. He probably had to commission several architects to design this thing. Then finally, after weeks of directing them in designing it to be properly beautiful and awe-inspiring, the time had come. The priest brought it before his followers with pride to let them see what all their faithful giving had brought about, set it down in the most heavenly, serene place he could, opened it up, dropped a few raspberries inside it, closed it, and enthusiastically declared their money well-spent.

No wonder that church was abandoned. They probably lynched that crazy bastard.

It's not like this is really an isolated incident, either. People in this game have an obsession with hoarding treasure chests containing berries in their home that borders on lunacy. In any given residence, you can expect to open up a random treasure chest shoved against the wall, thinking that you're looting pricy family heirlooms, and discover that this house's residents apparently value individual Blueberries enough to keep them under lock and key (well, not literally, since no treasure chest is ever actually locked, but you know what I mean). Ruins holding ancient wisdoms and artifacts and such are littered with treasure chests of all sizes which hold all varieties of berries.

I admit that berries ARE good healing items. So it might not SEEM any different than finding random potions and herbs and such in treasure chests in other RPGs. But other RPGs don't stuff them in countless immense, shining treasure boxes that your entire party could fit into. I mean, when you open the big ones, you get trumpet fanfare as the game announces that you've somehow managed to find a single Blackberry in the otherwise empty box. If the game's going to give me a quick blast of parade music, I want to be getting something just a little better than 1/60th of a pie's filling.

Anyway, I don't really have anywhere I'm going with this. It's just something that strikes me as amusingly crazy, and also somewhat annoying since I keep hoping for substantial treasure and just getting fruit-wannabes every time.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Kingdom Hearts 2's Jack Sparrow

Today's rant is brought to you largely by the recent, terribly disappointing Pirates of the Caribbean sequel. Let it never be said that outside factors don't influence my rant topics.

So, there are a few general complaints people have with Kingdom Hearts 2 that you hear repeated very often. These usually include the following criticisms:

1. Atlantica Sucked (Myself, I found it not so terrible--at least its dumb minigames gave you the idea that you were ACCOMPLISHING something, instead of just fucking around finding honey or pretending to be Tony Hawk).
2. Aeris's Voice Acting Sucked (No arguments here--man, I thought I'd been prepared for bad voice acting by other games, but this is in its own league of awful)
3. Sephiroth Is In It (Meh, big deal, it's still not like he's hard to beat, and Nomura has such a narcissistic infatuation with his own creations, both good and godawful, that you can't really expect anything else)
4. Nomura doesn't bother to even try to understand any FF character not his own (Oops, sorry, did I stick a personal complaint into this list? Silly me)
5. Jack Sparrow Wasn't Done Right

Number 5 there I was fully willing to believe before playing the game. I mean, the character of Jack Sparrow from the original Pirates of the Caribbean is a pretty unique fellow, with enough quirks and mannerisms that he's gotta be hard for anyone to reproduce (as further proven by the terrible job that Depp himself does at trying to recreate him in the afore-mentioned sequel). So I went into KH2 with a reasonably low expectation for the PotC world's central character. So I get to the PotC world, start busting up undead pirates with my trusty cartoon friends and fucktarded Keyblade, and hang out with Cap'n Jack for a while, and come to the following realization:

I have no idea what everyone's complaining about.

The general movements and gestures for him are all spot-on. He's got the same noticeable, but not glaringly obvious sway, the same smoothly flimsy hand motions, and even the same gracefully uncoordinated way of fighting. Even when he's doing the kind of wildly unrealistic stuff that hanging out with Sora allows you to do, particularly during joint Limit Breaks, he's still the same off-kilter pirate we all know and love.

Personality-wise, he's also just about a perfect fit. He still has his own best interests in mind, while still having that ambiguously friendly personality that can convince you that, just maybe, he's also just as motivated by the urge to be a decent guy. They even kept the line that I think really best describes him and the uniquely uncertain motivations for all he does: "Have I ever given you reason not to trust me?"

What seems to inspire people most to say that he's not right is the voice acting, I've found. Which confuses me as much as their criticism of any other part of him. To be sure, he's not voiced by Johnny Depp. But while you can tell this if you really, really listen for the difference, the voice is honestly so close that I doubt I could have told the difference without knowing beforehand that it wasn't Mr. Depp doing it. It's certainly closer than quite a few other Disney character voices get in the game, but you don't really hear any complaints for them, so I'm gonna have to say it's probably mostly the deranged Depp fangirls and fanboys who take any strong notice of this difference. Overall, I think SquareEnix did a damn good job with the character of Jack Sparrow, and anyone who has a problem with him is being too picky even for me.

Monday, July 3, 2006

General RPGs Minigames 2: Chinchirorin

Alright, folks. You know I love Suikoden. Like, just really love the series a helluva lot. So much so that I'll neglect ranting, and just about all other aspects of my internet life, for about 2 weeks to finish a new installment in the series.

But the series has its faults (besides the entire game of Suikoden 4). I mean little faults, annoying things that happen inside even the great games (which would be all the others). There's that frustrating problem in the endings of not giving you enough damn time to read the little bits for each character about what ends up happening to them post-game, the strange feeling of It's Here Because Plot Needed It that always springs up near or at the final boss, and the never-ending problem of not having enough money regardless of how long you've been whacking monsters.

The fault I'm really interested in today, though, is the minigame angle. Yes, Suikoden has minigames. Lots of them. Suikoden 5, in particular, seems to be littered with the damn things. And you know, sometimes, they're not all terrible. I mean, Suikoden 3's horse racing minigame was kinda sloppy and choppy in its controls, but nothing anyone who's handled Epona in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time can't deal with, and you do get some kinda okay rewards from it, and it's not, to my memory, mandatory in any respect.

And of course, there's always the Suikoden 2 Iron Chef minigame. That was actually pretty damn awesome.

But man, most of the time, these minigames are boring and stupid in their best moments. You take this one from the earlier games, Chinchirorin (you can tell it's going to be a BLAST with a name like that). Now, this one you can count as mandatory, because you have to play it to get a couple of characters, and without them you can't get the good ending in either game. What it basically is, is you throwing some dice in a bowl and seeing what number they turn out to be. Then, if it's a good number, better than your opponent's, you win money. If it's not, you lose money. It seems to be at least 98% random as to what you're going to get regardless of where or when you throw the damn little things.

Yeah. Fun. Let's play a game where you press a button, and a random number is generated beyond your ability to influence it with any skill or reasoning, and, depending on what number comes up, you might win, or you might lose. They might as well just call it Random Number Generator Minigame, drop all the pretense and save themselves some time on animation and programming by just having a random number come up and tell you that you lose. Who knows, maybe it'll be so stupid that it'll really catch on and become a classic (worked for Rock Paper Scissors). I know casinos would LOVE it; so much easier to rig than slot machines.

How does a game that stupid even come to exist, anyway? Like, I mean in real life here. There are plenty of incredibly simplistic and frankly dumb pastimes people have invented, often involving dice or cards or hunting rifles. But what exactly inspired this one, I wonder? Why the bowl? Was randomly rolling dice to see if a certain number came up just not exciting enough? Did somebody think, while watching his comrades bet their livelihoods one day on a set of dots adorning a certain face of a tiny cube, "You know what would liven this game up a lot? A bowl. This game needs a bowl." And thus was invented the game of Chinchilla or whatever it is, dice tosses made special, somehow, by the presence of a salad bowl.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

General RPGs' Odd Protagonists

When we turn on our machines made by Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft (if you're unlucky), Sega, or whoever and put in a new RPG, we have a pretty good idea about the character we're going to be controlling once the opening scenes, history lessons, and ear-agonizing beginning music videos are done with. We safely assume that the androgynous little freak in the bad clothes who walks around in circles to our grubby fingers' commands is going to be the main hero of whatever epic conflict and quest he finds himself in the middle of. This isn't ALWAYS the case, though.

For example, in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, the protagonist of the game, Marche, is NOT the main hero. The game doesn't seem to really have one; Llednar is probably the closest to being one. Marche is actually the main VILLAIN. He's a classic FF bad guy--his goal is to destroy the world for strange, outlandish reasons that just about no one else in the world agrees with. The only real difference is that, for the first time in SquareEnix history, Marche's outlandish reasons for world-conquering are actually GOOD ones, not just stupid and misguided like most villains with a "lofty" goal to their actions ("THE WORLD IS SO DARK AND PAINFUL SO I'M GONNA KILL EVERYONE TO SAVE THEM FROM IT BECAUSE KIDS TEASED ME AT SCHOOL LOL"). The point, though, is that, even if he does the best thing for the best of intentions as a very decent and well-developed person, Marche is nonetheless the game's villain rather than hero.

That's a rare quality for an RPG main character, to be sure (Knights of the Old Republic games don't count, either, because you have the opportunity to CHOOSE whether you're hero or villain). And it's done VERY well, exploring Marche's perseverence for his ideals yet doubts about his right to do so in such a quiet and complete manner that most people won't even realize he's taking the position of main villain instead of hero until you mention the idea to them.

Another interesting oddity in protagonism (is that a word? I'm claiming it as my own if it isn't already) can be found in Dragon Quest 5. Now, my opinion on the Dragon Quest games is pretty much the same opinion that I hold on bacterial infections. However, that doesn't mean the games don't have a few good qualities hidden beneath the bad.

Now, in Dragon Quest 5, your nameless, personality-less protagonist is, indeed, a good guy. He has some adventures as a kid, gets captured for slavery, escapes as an adult, has some more adventures, gets married, has kids, gets turned to stone for like 15 years, and then gets saved by his kids. But as heroic as this guy's actions, if not any words from him, indicate that he is, it's his SON, not him, who is the legendary main hero person who wields the legendary main hero person's sword against the demon king bothering everyone. From a perspective, the game's protagonist is just the random father of the game's main hero. Most of the plot could just be seen as a long backstory for the true (somewhat short) quest of the son.

The idea's not taken very far or developed (nothing ever is in that series), but it's still there, and still a neat concept with interesting potential that your character's role in a game could be no more than an accomplice of some sort to the game's main hero.

Another uncommon trait in RPGs is the choice of selecting who YOU want to be the protagonist. Games like Star Ocean 2, Live A Live, and Seiken Densetsu 3 give you the option of who you want to be the protagonist and main hero of the game, which is neat. Though it's rare that any major changes to the plot occur depending on who you choose, it's still a nifty idea to be able to choose who you think is the real hero material of a game. In the same vein, an RPG which has more than one protagonist is also an original idea, such as Final Fantasy 6. I've never been able to see anyone successfully prove that Terra and Celes didn't share the roll in that game.

There's really a lot game developers can do with their games just by switching the role their protagonist plays. Sure, it's fine to play through a game as the main character, and there's still plenty of potential for interesting and gripping ways to develop a protagonist as a main hero (Virginia from Wild Arms 3 is a primary and reasonably recent example of this), but there's a virtually untapped wealth of creative freedom to build a unique tale out of a protagonist who's not a main hero, or not the only one, for whatever reason. Game companies really oughta try it more often, because you can get really great results with a little creativity.

Monday, June 5, 2006

Tales of Phantasia's Characters

Y'all know the drill by now.

Cless: Cless is our main character. He's pretty solidly uninteresting, though admittedly to a much lesser extent than most of the meathead heroes I've noted in the past. Rather than being motivated by the goodness of his heart to do acts of heroism, Cless is more guided through his quest by the desire for revenge against Dhaos, who had his parents killed. This doesn't really lead him to be any more interesting than your standard hero with a one-track mind, of course--he still relentlessly leads his friends along into danger for the lofty ideal of Plot Demands It in virtually the same ways, he just has a more personal and ever so slightly more believable reason for it.

He also seems to be the jealous type when it comes to other people getting characterization. Whenever the idea that his sworn enemy might have some motive for his actions beyond Evil For Evil's Sake, Cless gets all defensive. It goes something like this:

"Hey Cless, I wonder why Dhaos is doing all this. Maybe we should try to think of what he has to gain from all this so we could better know how to--"


Mint: Mint is the nice, shy healer of the party. As per RPG Law, she becomes interested in the main character, doubtless enamored by his incredible ability to be an even more boring person than she is. Probably the only scene she ever gets where she stands out is the part of the game when she has to meet up with the unicorn so she can usurp its healing abilities for her own use, and even then, it's more just the presence of a unicorn there that makes the scene good, not Mint. Luckily for her, the unicorn gets attacked by demons and dies, so she doesn't have to deal with any qualms about killing it for its horn. What exactly she would have done had said demons not shown up, of course, baffles me. Perhaps she was going to shyly ask permission to saw off that piece of the unicorn's head.

Klarth: Klarth is an older man (by RPG standards, this means an age range of 20-24) who mistakes literature for weaponry and fulfills the team's vital requirement for someone who actually has a goddamn brain. He both explains the various magical phenomena that they witness and hear about, and usually gives them some direction on what they should do next to keep Cless from just leading them around in circles all day, waiting for Dhaos to show up. Of course, this minor virtue of character is almost entirely forgotten about Klarth, because the only thing anyone is ever going to really remember about him is that he once theorized that Arche would "fuck like a tiger."

Arche: When this jailbait half-elf isn't busy propositioning middle-aged sailors (what is WITH these half-elf kids, anyway?), Arche manages to be a kinda okay character with some actual development here and there.

Chester: Chester is a guy who falls in love with a girl that he doesn't like and joins you later in the game about 40 levels behind everyone else.

Dhaos: Remember back when I made the list of Star Ocean 2's characters, I noted that the 10 Wisemen's creators invented the cheapest cop-out of bad villain characterization ever by including a hidden scene in which it is implied that they might at one point have had some form of reason for wanting to be evil? I take it back. Dhaos has the cheapest cop-out of all villainy. See, for just about the entire game, Dhaos is just your uninteresting, super-powerful evil dude out to destroy and provoke protagonists into killing him. Cless's party continually wonders whether there might be merit into investigating Dhaos's reasons for being such a dick, and Cless continually tells them to shut their yaps, but that's about all you get for Dhaos's development. When you FINALLY get to know what was up with him, it's a small note made, in the ENDING, after he's already dead. You don't even get to hear Dhaos say it--all you see is him dying and saying he wants Cless and co. to know his motives, and then suddenly there's a scene change and you get to hear the heroes sum it up in about 2 sentences or so, and then just move on to other things. I mean, hell, why didn't the game just be honest about it and have Fei or Elly come in, sit down in a chair, and tell me instead? I mean, if you're gonna do a lame post-plot wrap-up scene, you might as well go all-out for maximum cheapness.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Lufia 1 and 2's Disparity

We're probably all familiar with the fact that, sometimes, two games can differ tremendously in quality, yet both be of the same series. Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is monstrously frustrating and has a yawn-tastic story for the first 75% of it, while the rest of the games in the KH series (thus far) are terrific fun to play and have gripping and intriguing plots just about from start to finish. Phantasy Star 3 is the gaming equivalent to self-mutilation, while the rest of the series is engaging and original. Wild Arms 3 is a great game in the midst of a series of sorta-kinda-maybe-okay-perhaps-I-guess RPGs. And of course, the Final Fantasy series has its games going all across the board--horrible, incredible, and everything inbetween.

But I don't think I've ever seen quite as stark a contrast between 2 related games as with Lufia and the Fotress of Doom and Lufia: Rise of the Sinistrals (1 and 2, respectively). Now, true, I think there is actually one example with an even wider gap in actual game quality, that being the horrendous Grandia 3 when compared to Grandia 1 and 2, but the difference between the Lufias still seems the most pronounced to me.

First of all, the second game just looks and feels a LOT more crisp and clean. Everything is more defined, the general gameplay is a little more streamlined and fast, the music seems to have more effort put into it, and the battle system, while still a far cry from "fun," is at least not nearly so dull, repetitive, sloppy, and demonically frustrating as Lufia 1's. With Lufia 1, the bosses were so stupidly hard that you could not possibly avoid long level-whoring sessions about half a dozen times or more through the game. With Lufia 2, everything is set up efficiently--as long as you battle and kill most or all of the enemies you encounter while just progressing through dungeons and such normally, you should just about always be strong enough to take on the next boss (though there usually is still a decent challenge involved, but that's a good thing). With the exception of optional bosses, like Gades the first time around or the Egg Dragon, I can't think of any point in the game where you're forced to spend hours seeking out random monsters (who in Lufia 1 would often be tough enough to kill you themselves anyway) just to struggle your way to a few extra levels so you can withstand your next boss encounter.

But of course, this isn't something too shocking. I mean, a sequel cleaning up the general grubbiness of the original game is nothing new to video games. What really sets them apart are the plot and characters.

Now, the plot for Lufia 1 basically goes as follows: Unnamed Hero (for this rant, we shall refer to him by the name of Turd) sets out to stop superbeings (Sinistrals) from taking over planet, helped by his magically-inclined petal-plucking obsessive-compulsive tea-making girlfriend Lufia. They do nice things and join up with both canon-fodder (Aguro) and the pedo-tastic half-elf half-Lolita Jerin. Eventually Lufia remembers she's Erim, a bad guy. Later she decides not to be. They kill the Sinistrals and save the world. Lufia has to make some sort of sacrifice, but it apparently only actually involves giving up all her memories besides those of how to make a mean cup of darjeeling. But that's okay, Turd is perfectly willing to settle for a witless girlfriend; surely those memories will grow back someday, like a cancer, right? And if they don't, it's not like he had to work very hard to win her infatuation the first time anyway.

So it's your basic cookie-cutter save-the-world deal with a small additional subplot of a cookie-cutter anime guy-falls-in-love-with-amnesiac-girl-who's-forgotten-that-she's-Satan romance. Neither something new nor interesting.

Lufia 2, on the other hand, adds a little more flavor to your gaming experience. Now, yes, it's still a save-the-world game as before, with the same grumpy deities taking the villain's position. This time around, however, the game adds a little flavor to the plot, making it a more epic battle of not between good and evil, but also free will and destiny, Man against God, that sort of neat philosophical thing. Everything about the game’s events just feels a lot more like a legendary quest of heroism and virtue. Not to mention that the romantic subplot this time around is much, much better, not only in simple terms of the characters interacting better, but also in showing a glimpse at a relationship AFTER the characters hook up, through marriage and childbirth--quite a rarity in an RPG. It’s solid and a welcome way to watch the characters grow and develop.

Speaking of which, the characters also really set the second game apart from the first just as much as the plot. Where Lufia 1 gives you a cast rank with uninteresting mediocrity, Lufia 2 gives you a cast of realistic, unique individuals teaming up for the greater good and actually interacting with each other as friends and sometimes rivals. They’ve all got good personality traits that set them apart from your average breed of questing bums, be it Dekar’s goofy attitude, Selan’s faithful strength, or even just Maxim’s ability to have fun while adventuring without losing his overall serious and strong demeanor. They’re all good characters, and they mesh well with the story, which makes it all the more enjoyable.

So in just about all ways, Lufia 2 is greatly superior to Lufia 1. But what really makes the gap so memorable to me is the length that Lufia 2 goes to in order to connect itself flawlessly to the first game as a prequel. It’s not just a case of one sequel doing its own thing and kinda sorta trying to tie itself to the previous game enough to call itself a sequel, like with Chrono Cross, nor is it just a game in the series completely separate from the previous one(s), like Grandia 3. Lufia 2 plants itself firmly in the same place and timeline as the first game, and actually defines its world, explaining the origins and expanding the knowledge of a ton of details from Lufia 1, from giving a little more explanation to the Sinistrals’ existence, to showing the origins of the flower that Lufia loves so much, to better understanding the nature of the legendary Dual Blade. Lufia 2 does such a complete job of setting up even minute details of its predecessor that it’s almost even worth it to play Lufia 1 just to see all the big and little connections. That, I think, is what really makes these 2 games stand out as being so different from one another--the fact that they’re so strongly connected, with more care than nearly any other RPG series you can find.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Breath of Fire 3's Plot

With the summer comes a lack of time spent wondering how to spend it whilst sitting in a college computer lab inbetween classes, and thus, I'm gonna cut my rants back to just Mondays for the season. Yes, yes, I'm sure you're all devastated.

Anyways. I've always been a big fan of the Breath of Fire series--bigger than the good-but-not-fantastic series might warrent, even. One thing I've heard from a lot of people who've played some/most/all of the series, though, is that BoF3 is the low point of it. This is simply just not true. (Spoilers ahead, like, of the whole game).

Now, I can understand where this comes from. People I've encountered largely criticize it as seeming pointless, a long adventure without any satisfying aim or conclusion. The reason for this is that Breath of Fire 3 isn't your standard, shallow save-the-world deal. It's not a typical world-spanning quest ending with a climactic showdown with whatever mentally-imbalanced villain with unspeakably destructive powers is threatening the planet/universe for reasons one can only describe as "stupid." In fact, the conclusion of the game has your actions putting the planet's people in more jeopardy than ever, because you choose to kill the goddess who holds a slowly spreading, all-engulfing desert at bay, giving it no obstacle to continue its expansion into the last untouched continent of the planet, where almost all of the world's civilzation is gathered.

The problem is that people don't approach the game with an open mind. They go into the game expecting what they do from almost all RPGs--an eventual happy ending with the world safe and sound and evil banished forever, with several aspects of human nature and interaction having been examined along the way. Well, with Breath of Fire 3, the philosophy IS the plot. The whole quest is just a series of events and characters that all build up to the moment at the end when you confront the goddess who watches over the world, protecting it from the danger of the desert, but stinting its growth and freedom. This moment, in which the main character Ryu must choose whether or not he'll submit to the goddess and allow her to keep coddling the world's people and restricting their advancement, or trust in the determination and strength of the world's people and strike her down to free them to live life as it should be lived--with freedom and choice, even if having those important qualities brings danger, is the defining point of the game, everything it's built up to. It's not MEANT to be a climactic battle showing that Good will overcome Evil. What it's meant to be is a moment showing that despite the dangers and hardships that come with it, people need to have their freedom to live as they wish to, without a parental entity holding them back to protect them from the harsh realities of the world. It's an excellent and thought-provoking message of hope, freedom, and individualism all wrapped into one, but it nonetheless does mean an ending of uncertainty rather than happy security, and that's just not what most people expect from a video game. It's certainly not an inferior method, but if you can't appreciate this original twist on RPG story-telling, then the game will, indeed, seem as empty and disappointing as its detractors claim.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Lufia 1's Characters

Yes, it's once again time for a review of one game's terribly stupid cast. Not that the rest of the game isn't equally stupid or worse.

Unnamed Protagonist: This hero is one of those annoying sorts who doesn't canonically have any name that I'm aware of, so there's really no way of easily referring to him. I myself named him Maxim like his heroic grandfather (the hero of Lufia 2), but that ended up being kinda confusing later on as I tried to distinguish which Maxim was being referred to when people discussed the virtues of granddaddy Maxim to his unnamed descendant.

However, I have to concede the possibility that not naming this guy was INTENTIONAL on the part of Lufia 1's creators, because they may have realized that a complete lack of any defining name would reflect his complete lack of any defining characteristics. As a character, he can be likened largely to a sack of wet sawdust. No personality whatsoever beyond "dur were is evilz i gotta killz0rz it!!" and "OMG GOTTA SAVE MY LOVE INTEREST."

Lufia: Certainly the high point of the cast, though not really by her own doing. Lufia, as herself, is about as devoid of interesting qualities as this game's hero. You ever see that Red Versus Blue episode where Church and Tex are in Caboose's head, and see Caboose's impression of what a girl is like, saying crap like "I like pretty pretty dresses!" and such? This is generally the impression you get of Lufia. Her joys in life are pretty pretty flowers! And making cinnamon tea for her protagonist boyfriend, who barely seems to acknowledge her existence until she's gone for a while! Half the time she's talking I expect a girlish titter to escape into the dialogue box.

Of course, what makes her interesting is that she's also the Sinistral Erim, who has always kicked ass, but it doesn't really last for long before her overwhelming desire to make flower crowns and various kinds of tea overcome her dark instincts and she comes back to her annoying self.

Aguro: Aguro is the very essence of a Grunt. His entire purpose in the game seems to be being a second physical attacker (and by attacker, I mean, he can Attack, and do NOTHING else), and to be a person in the party who is not the hero or Lufia to add important, insightful grunts.

Jerin: Jerin is a half-elf who looks and acts just like a child and may in fact BE a child (it's hard to tell given elves' longevity) who really really wants to get her lolicon freak on with the hero.

Amon, Daos, and Gades: These three evil superbeings known as Sinistrals are, um, evil, and, uh, they want to take over the world, and do bad things. That's about it. Oh yeah, and at the end of the game, they all mash together in order to form...SUPER MEGA MUTANT VOLTRON SINISTRAL! You see, somehow, when you combine 3 godlike evil dudes, who are 2 warriorish-looking jerks in armor and 1 guy in a robe, you get what looks like Lavos's spleen. Really, someone please explain the following equation to me:

Amon + Daos + Gades = Michael Jackson
Because I'm not quite seeing how it works.

Monday, May 8, 2006

Bahamut Lagoon's Love Triangle

I've been a pretty cantankerous RPG grump lately, so let's mix it up with another positive rant. And of course, as always, spoilers abound. I mean, I don't usually even bother putting that up these days, but sometimes I spoil so much of a game that I feel that I really HAVE to.

I don't expect too many of you are familiar with one of Square's more obscure old RPGs, Bahamut Lagoon, so here's a sum-up: A Silent Protagonist (God how I hate them) leads a small army of warriors, including Metallite, the original Adelbert Steiner, to save his world against the plots of an evil emperor and the encroachment of an usurper dragon god. Said world in need of protection is made up of large masses of land that float high, high in the sky, forming a world of aerial islands (and you thought Skies of Arcadia had that idea first).

So, yeah, history lesson done with. The game's definitely interesting and fun in its own right, with many deep, dynamic characters, an engaging and interesting plot, and a good share of goofy fun (Donfan is the most awesome RPG smoove operator lady-chaser EVER). But probably the most interesting and original aspect of it, to me, is its romantic subplot.

Now, before I begin, lemme just make a disclaimer here. A lot of this is gonna be based on my personal interpretation of the main character, Byuu, because, being the ever-irritating Silent Protagonist that he is, one has to piece his personality together out of actions, yes/no questions, and general demeanor rather than actual dialogue and monologue, meaning there's plenty of room for interpretation. But as we all know, my interpretation is always right anyways, so let's begin.

Now, at first, the love triangle of this game seems familiar to the point of stupid cliche--protagonist (Byuu) loves girl, antagonist (Palpaleos) loves girl, and girl (Yoyo--no, seriously, that really is her name) is caught in the middle of them. Antagonist turns out to be not that bad a guy after a little while, just to be on the wrong side. Byuu spent his childhood with Yoyo, and in their childish innocence, they went through a little ceremony promising to always be together (on this note, SquareEnix would later plagiarize itself in Kingdom Hearts 1). Palpaleos spent a few years later on getting to know and love Yoyo as she was a well-treated prisoner of his emperor's.

Now, here's where Bahamut Lagoon suddenly turns around and throws you for a loop: Byuu, the hero, loses. The hero of the game does NOT get the girl he loves. During her forced stay under the care of Palpaleos and his country, Yoyo falls in love with him (one can most likely attribute this largely to Stockholm Syndrome, which adds another very unique and intriguing dimension to the romantic story), and stays in love with him throughout the game. Byuu, however, still loves her as well, and his childhood memories with her hang heavily in his mind.

This whole triangle is carried out VERY well overall--it's not some stupid soap opera with feuds and jealousy, but rather a simple bittersweet affair. Byuu holds no grudges, and neither he nor Palpaleos battle one another out of jealousy or try to aggressively win/keep Yoyo's heart.

It's a story of having regrets that the world changed them as people, and that they had to move on from who they were to who they had become. Very poignant, and considering how easy it would have been to make it some violent, shallow affair that you could see on ABC during the daytime, I can really appreciate it. The closest I can think of to ever having seen a relationship ending up like this would be Final Fantasy 6's Terra's brief interest in Locke, but even she admits later that it wasn't substantial. I really enjoy and appreciate this game for taking a real stab at a new and intriguing angle to the tired love triangle.

Friday, May 5, 2006

The Final Fantasy Series's Ara-Aga

You know what I miss about the old days of Final Fantasy? Besides the fact that Square hadn't yet discovered that they could make money without trying to give the player quality, I mean. Although, then again, I can't see them spending significantly more effort in making that crap heap FF5 than they did on FF10-2. So I guess they've always known that they could be lazy and make a profit off of any poorly-written swill they slap a Final Fantasy name on.

But what I REALLY miss about the old days was that spell names made some fucking SENSE. First of all, of course, there's the fact that lightning spells were called Bolt, as in, bolt of lightning, instead of Thunder, as in, the sound that lightning discharges make that have nothing to do with the lightning itself. And for that matter, spells involving ice were called Ice, instead of Blizzard, which doesn't make all that much sense since the spell typically involves hitting a foe with/encasing a foe in a big block of ice or something. Last time I checked, blizzards were snowstorms, involving a lot of wind, a lot of cold, and a lot of snow. Not really just a big chunk of ice materializing around you.

Square's complete and total ineptitude with meteorological terms aside, though, what I miss about the old spell names was that they were reasonable. You had Fire 1. Fire 2. Fire 3. Fire 4, in FF Tactics. The numbers denoted the power of the spell. It's a working, functional system, right? I mean, it's not fantastically creative--other RPGs might actually name their increasing spells differently to show their strength, where Fire 1 would be called something like Single Match, progressing up to Fire 3's equivalent, 5000 Volcano Explosions While In The Center Of The Sun, or something. But the numbers WORK. They make some SENSE.

Nowadays, we have Ara and Aga. Want to cast Fire 3? Too bad! Instead, you get to cast Firaga! Wanna cast Bolt 2? No dice; you're gonna have to make like Liono and start yelling about Thundara (seriously, now, I can't be the only one who gets a Thundercats rush when I see that spell name, can I?). I mean, where does it even COME from? How does adding an ara at the end of Blizzard suddenly make it a more powerful ice spell? No, really, if you were to look at the spells Firaga, Fire, and Fira, what sort of reasoning would bring you to the conclusion that Firaga is the best of them? I mean, hell, if I were asked which one I thought sounded the most powerful, I'd say Fire, because it's an actual word and doesn't sound as much like something a toddler would gurgle whilst drooling gobs of sour-milk spittle all over his stale, crusty bib as Firaga does.

I miss the happy golden days of numbers. They made sense and they worked. And since Square has not started naming its games Final Fantasara and Final Fantasaga, it can still clearly see the benefits of them. So for heaven's sake, Square, stop monkeying around and bring back the days when your spells were something other than nonsensical moron-babble.

Friday, April 28, 2006

General RPGs' Minigames 1

Alright, folks, it's 4 AM right now, I've got 7 pages out of 10 done for my last paper this term, I've been promising Queelez I'm gonna use his rant idea for a while now, I haven't done a rant for too long, and if I spend any more time on that goddamn paper without taking a break I swear to God I am just going to find as many different ways to say "Kiss My Ass" as it takes to get to that 10th page.

So, minigames. Minigames. We all know them. They're as much a staple of RPGs as hit points, save points, and a complete lack of agreement between companies on what to call Lightning spells. No, I'm not going to let go of that one.

I've never been entirely sure where the concept came from, really. Whose idea was it to include a teeny-tiny, entirely separate game using separate, utterly simplistic rules inside their RPG? And why did they do it? I mean, I grant you that RPGs, as a general rule, are not very fun or interesting to actually play. No, seriously, come on. You could simulate most standard RPGs by jamming equations on a calculator. The biggest difference is that you won't see a little guy or girl or animal or plant or robot or genderless freak jump forward and bonk some hapless creature with a stick. It's not the ultimately powerful paintbrush of legends that you've got equipped on Relm that kills baddies, it's the little white numbers it creates that're lethal. Hell, if an RPG villain ever wanted to really fight dirty against the heroes, he'd just teleport them to Sesame Street and have the Count masacre them.

I think I've gotten off-topic here. This isn't surprising given the time and state of mind. So anyway, yeah, I can see where a game developer might figure that a change of pace from standard RPG battling might be a very good thing for his game. (Not to say, incidentally, that Action RPGs and Strategy RPGs are immune to boring battles as well--Strategy RPGs still often end up being partially a game of Arithmetic Fighter 2 Turbo, and with Action RPGs you always run the risk that a developer will get cute and inflict an unspeakable form of torture on you like in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories).

But see, this idea usually falls apart in practice, because by and large, minigames are so simplistic and stupid that they're MORE boring than spending an hour fighting hundreds of palette-swapped goblins. For example, you take Chrono Trigger's soup-racing contest. The entire premise of this one is that if you press the A button enough times, you'll win. Not only is there no real logical connection with hitting a button repeatedly and drinking soup that I've ever been able to uncover, but this little minigame's "fun" is supposed to be derived from the challenge of whether you have the stamina and resolve it takes to push a button down, and then do it again a few times. You begin to wish that Ayla HAD just challenged you to actual combat; at least then you would have had to employ some skill, even if it's just more "Hit enemy with hardest attack and heal sometimes."

What makes this whole thing more ridiculous is that the button-mashing minigame isn't restricted to just CT. There are plenty of RPGs that use it. In fact, it's really kinda hard to find ANY minigame that's mostly unique.

So yes, anyways, we have plenty of minigames which are annoying in their simplicity. Look, game developers, I'm not playing an RPG so that I can mash buttons to beat some minigame machine in an arm-wrestle. I'm not playing an RPG so that I can get a miniature Dance Dance Revolution experience that magically makes my character do squats or win well-choreographed duels (and incidentally, Dark Cloud 1, way to go with encouraging me to look at the little buttons on the screen that I have to press so that I completely miss out on watching all the awesome fight moves I'm performing. Real rewarding). I'm not playing an RPG so that I can play Rock-Paper-Scissors for an hour. I'm not playing an RPG so I can learn how to correctly toss a ball in a circle, or engage in a rousing game of Look the Other Way, or move a green bar back and forth and call it fishing, or guess which hand the goddamn ball is in so that I can win a rotten mushroom. Look, give me something that I actually have to use some REAL skill for. Like, with my BRAIN.

Not to say that those don't also have their downfalls--those being, most of the time, boring repetition. FF9's Chocobo Hot and Cold, where you basically dig for items and maps and such, is fun for the first 20-45 minutes. But after that, it just becomes the same thing over and over and over again, repeated for several hours over several sessions until you FINALLY get all the great rewards you want. If you actually make a minigame that's ENJOYABLE, you need to ensure that the gamer can get what he/she wants from it BEFORE it gets dull.

The worst minigames, though, are probably the ones that aren't actually games at all. These are the ones that you acutally have absolutely no control over at all--things like slot machines, or betting on races. What you're basically doing here is giving up a bit of your Gil or Potch or Zenny or Gold or GP or Rupees or Dollars or whatever currency your game's world happens to use so that the game can wait for a few moments before deciding whether or not you win or lose. That's not even really a GAME. You could do the exact same thing by flipping a coin over and over for several minutes and guessing which side will face up when it lands. Not exactly the thrilling amusement one hopes for from a video game.

I've noticed also that casinos in RPGs seem to be the very worst hovels for minigames. You'll usually find slot machines, which I've covered, and sometimes races to bet on, which I've also covered. You'll also invariably find card games you can play against the game, most often Blackjack. Now don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good few games of cards every now and then. But the thing of it is, when I want to play Blackjack, I don't NEED to turn on Super Mario RPG, because I already have a deck. I didn't need to pay $50 for the game, then win the damn juggling clown game 100 times, then find the super-secret exit from Bean Valley, all so I could play a goddamn game of Blackjack! Hell, if I REALLY want a video game element to my card-playing experience, I'll just use my Final Fantasy 7 deck! It cost like $2!

Finally, most of all, it's the mandatory minigames which annoy the hell out of me. Whether it's dicking around with Winnie the Assbrained Pooh, or trying to knock a 300-pound sailor off the mast of a ship while I'm playing as a skinny little angel princess, or throwing dice in a bowl and just sorta hoping they fall on favorable sides, minigames that you HAVE to finish to continue on with the game are ANNOYING. There are a few exceptions--FF7's motorcycle and snowboarding games were fun, and I actually enjoyed Final Fantasy 10's Blitzball--but by and large it's a pain in the ass to be told that you can't continue on or get the best ending if you don't play and win Solid Snake Visits Hyrule Castle's Indoor Garden Maze Filled With Mentally Inept Guards.

So come on, game makers. If you're gonna force these annoying time-wasters on us, at least make them fun and OPTIONAL, like the Xenosaga 1 robot battle game or Final Fantasy 8's Triple Triad (and none of that FF9 Tetra Master bullshit).

Oh, and incidentally, I will likely be doing follow-up rants on this, examining and shaking my head in disgust at several choice minigames that are just so dumb that I can't do them true MST justice here.

Friday, April 21, 2006

General RPGs' Thunder Spells

Today, I shall be ranting on something which has bugged me for a long time, probably way more than it should as it really is pretty trivial. Today will probably be both short and not entirely funny, so, sorry in advance.

Now, it is very common in RPGs to have magic attacks based on elements, such as Earth, Fire, Wind, and Water (but not Heart; sorry Ma-Ti). One element very commonly added to an RPG's mix is the element of Electricity, usually most focused on its lightning aspect.

The standard spells for this element vary from game to game, with some being Lightning (such as in Chrono Trigger) and others being Bolt (as in Final Fantasy 6). However, there's one other very common name for these spells: Thunder.

This makes no sense whatever. Thunder refers to the SOUND made in a storm when lightning discharges. In itself, it has NOTHING to do with the electric discharge itself. A spell called Thunder, or Thundara, or Thundaga, or whatever dismally dumb name the FF series wants to give to Bolt 1, 2, and 3 these days, should do nothing but make a big booming sound. A spell using LIGHTNING should be NAMED as such, because that makes SENSE. Bolt is fine, as the term is "bolt of lightning," so it's not like the name couldn't be shortened to fit a smaller text space and still make sense. But for heaven's sake, thunder refers to something completely and totally different from lightning!

Who the hell is translating these games? Or, if it's a correct translation, who the hell is naming the spells to begin with? It's not a difficult concept to grasp. I mean, I think that the last time I got thunder and lightning confused, I might have been 6 years old, tops. Are the translators/developers for Kingdom Hearts and the Final Fantasies taking their work home and letting their kids handle some of the script, or what? Not to say that SquareEnix is the only company that commits this idiocy; there are plenty of other companies' games you find it in--off the top of my head, I know it occurs in Phantom Brave, and I'm sure with an extra couple minutes I could add at least 3 or 4 more examples. It is, frankly, just plain dumb.