So, I figured I'd mix it up today by ranting on an RPG element that I really enjoyed. I mean, making fun of stuff can be fun and humorous, but there's nothing wrong with APPRECIATING things, too.
I'm very impressed with the city of Valua in Skies of Arcadia. It sets a mood of despair and meaningless existence better than any RPG I've encountered to date. It frankly shocked me when I played through the game last year to find that Overworks had constructed such a dark, gloomy, depressed city that I myself felt an enormous pity for the people who lived there.
It's not that the hopeless, dirty city of citizens leading meaningless, trapped lives hasn't been done before. There've been a few very unhappy and pitiable cities in RPGs, most notably FF7's Midgar slums. People living in shacks in the midst of ruin and disorder, with various meager mutant monsters roaming around outside of the small sections where people live in unhappiness and filth...Midgar's tough competition for Valua.
The lowest section of Taris in Knights of the Old Republic 1's tough competition, too. Again, dirty, disheveled slums living beneath a richer city's shadow, eking out a pathetic existence where even 5 credits seems like a fantastic treasure. And don't forget the Rakghouls that prey upon any who leave the confines of the camp--monsters who, if they don't get you and eat you when they attack, can infect you and turn you into one of them.
But Valua...man oh man. It's dark. It's crowded--not necessarily with people; I mean the slums of the city you walk through are built in a crowded and disorganized way. The music is a beautiful mood-setter. It's dark and low, and it even sounds like there's an element of long, drawn-out misery to it, but it doesn't ever become overbearing. It's a subtle thing; it enhances but doesn't define the melancholy. What defines it are the people. They're miserable, they talk of the upper-class part of the city as though it were heaven itself. The thing that really puts Valua as being the most miserable city I've seen in an RPG is that the people there just have no hope or life to them, whatsoever. In Midgar, people are tough and hopeful. In the lowest part of Taris, people still keep hope in them. Valua's citizens, though, they've just had hope and life beaten out of them by the city. You encounter a man in a bar whose long day of hard labor makes him almost too exhausted even to drown himself in Loqua (booze) before sleeping so he can repeat the meaningless daily cycle. It's him that makes Valua stick to my mind.
Valua is, simply put, a masterful representation of hopeless misery and unbreakable despair.