Friday, March 31, 2006

Vandal Hearts 1's Ugly Mugs

Time for another rant on things I actually LIKE. I know, it seems bizarre to hear me NOT diss things, heh.

I played Vandal Hearts 1 a ways back, and thanks again to Icy for sending it my way for reasons I don't actually fully remember (was it a donation contest or something?). And I had to say, one of the many aspects I was pretty impressed with was the look of the game and its characters. It's a strategy RPG about war and the chaos and bloodshed that it brings (think Suikoden games, or Final Fantasy Tactics). However, it actually has characters who LOOK realistically gritty and tough for the times and events of the country. Let's face it, by and large RPGs feature pretty, well-structured anime people designed to be at the LEAST visually pleasing, and more often than not downright beautiful. It's how entire groups devoted to wanting to bone characters like Sephiroth and KOSMOS get started. Someone in a game may be an experienced warrior used to close combat, but like hell will that ever have any influence on their complexion. I mean, not that I mind in the least Lady Chris Lightfellow's perfect looks and lack of any disfiguring scars or anything like that, but it IS just a tad unrealistic.

Not to mention, let's face it, some people are just not very good looking, plain and simple.

There are a few small exceptions to the general Beautiful Anime Character rule, of course, but usually these are games whose very American-styled universe necessitates a lot of ugly--you don't expect to see chipper, big-eyed heroes with bright blue hair in Fallout's post-apocalyptic wastelands, nor pretty slim glowing blonde teen magical girls hanging around gang turf and junkyards from Shadowrun's cyberpunk I-Have-5-Different-Kinds-Of-Cybernetic-Jacks-In-My-Head-And-I'm-Also-An-Orc-With-Wolverine-Claws world. Something like Vandal Hearts 1's world, you'd expect your standard anime pretty people cast.

But instead, you get gritty, real-looking characters, quite a few of which are a far ways from lookers. Everyone looks REAL, and to me, it actually really helps to draw the player into the tough world they inhabit and get into its atmosphere. I can't complain all that much about games handing me gorgeous lady characters all the time, but all the same, VH's a very refreshing, realistic, and appreciated change of pace.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Final Fantasy 6's Locke: Why I Don't Like Him

Yeah, yeah, I know. I'm gonna get killed for this. But I honestly gotta say, I do not like Locke very much.

It's not because he's arguably the least useful character in the game. While there's only maybe 2 or 3 instances where his ability to steal is really useful before the game just becomes a race to see how long it takes you to teach everyone in the team Ultima, which makes it slightly annoying that the game so often forces you to take him along in place of someone whose talents are useful, like Edgar or Sabin or Gau or Cyan or Mog or Shadow, the game is thankfully created well enough that most of it is pretty balanced and seldom hard enough to be frustrating. No, my reason for disliking Locke is strictly character-based.

Now don't get me wrong. He has a lot of good traits. He's protective (even though you could perhaps, though not very well, argue that this is based SOLELY on his guilt for the past), he's devoted to correcting his past mistake with Rachel which wasn't even really his fault anyway, and he pretty clearly knows right from wrong and sticks by that knowledge. In fact, I have to admit I feel like I SHOULD like him overall.

But man oh man, did he ever fuck up something fierce in the Magitek factory.

Going under the assumption that you all know by now that spoilers abound in these rants, and also on the assumption that you may be familiar with a game a decade old by now anyway, I'm gonna say right here that this scene makes me HATE Locke a good deal. Celes, newest member of the Returners, is a general who is implied to have been raised from a fairly young age to be a leader for Gestahl and the Empire. It is a likely thing that following her orders and fighting for the Empire is the ONLY thing she has ever known in her life, her sole purpose in life. Yet, even though she's been raised to be a perfectly obedient soldier, she cannot find it in herself to serve an army that lets monsters like Kefka poison innocents with impunity, and she rebels and is sentenced to execution for it. Locke rescues her, protects her while she's still weak, and gives her a new purpose in life, a new cause to rally behind. He completely saves her, and helps her to start forming a new identity that she can actually call her own.

But this is a process that takes TIME, and until she can function as a true individual, it's obvious that a significant portion of her confidence in her new self, in her new life, is invested in the guidance and emotional support of the man who gave it to her.

Now that she's been given a way to be herself, Celes has been a completely loyal and fearless warrior for the Returners, putting her life on the line at every opportunity to stop the Empire. There is no rational reason to suspect her of anything devious, given the circumstances of how she was found and how she's fought. But the very instant that Kefka tells Locke that Celes is a spy, he, who knows BEST of her situation before he rescued her, doubts her. KEFKA, for fuck's sake. I mean, of all the villains in the world he's the LAST person you'd ever believe a word from! And it's not any minor doubt that Locke has, it's a serious and genuine mistrust that is immediately put in him. And it DESTROYS Celes that this man, who rescued her in so many ways, who said he'd protect her and trust her, who holds a very significant portion of her vulnerable growing individuality, apparently is so completely willing to doubt her.

Frankly, I'm of the opinion that Celes should never have forgiven him for it.

So there you have it. Locke turned against the person he'd sworn to protect in the very worst way, on the word of KEFKA for God's sake, and proved himself a gullible liar and jerk to me. When I think of him, and of the Celes-Locke pairing, which rarely addresses this issue, I just can't get past how incredibly stupid and rotten he was right then. That's why I frankly just don't like him. And he'll never, ever deserve her.

...also, now that I remember, I've always also found it stupid that he takes such exception to being called a thief by someone whom he's exactly 8 seconds from stealing the clothes off of.

Friday, March 24, 2006

General RPGs' Ultimate Stuff Held by Ultimate Foes

Sorry for the no rant on Monday...been kinda sick and out of it this week mostly...on Tuesday I was delusional enough to swear several times while drifting in and out of slumber that I was fighting Lex Luthor using nunchucks. So yeah. Mostly better now. I think.

(I totally kicked his ass, incidentally)

Anyways. Something that's always driven me crazy about many RPGs. We're all familiar with those lovely optional weapons and abilities and armor and so on that are the strongest in the game and can only be gotten through various special hidden sidequests, usually involving dungeon crawls, right? Always a good time. And we're all probably equally familiar with those optional bosses in a lot of RPGs that're way, way tougher than the final boss yet just sorta sit around and wait to be killed rather than go out and conquer the world themselves, right? Nasty fellows such as the infamous Emereld and Ruby Weapons of Final Fantasy 7, that crazy huge mech suit thing in Xenosaga 2, or that damnable King Mammoth in Live A Live.

Well, what I want to know right now is, why the HELL is it that most often the BEST weaponry and spells and items and what have you are always the ones guarded by these ultimate foes? I mean, for fuck's sake, if I can manage to find some way to kill these nasty motherfuckers, I don't have to worry about ANY other enemy in the game, so why give me a stronger sword NOW? I could have used it just a few minutes ago while I was fighting the only enemy I could conceivably really need it for! That's not a reward for your hard effort, that's just the game slapping you in the face and laughing!

What they need to do is give YOU, the player, a reward for going the extra mile in games, not the character you control. Screw the super accessory that ups all your stats to maximum (I am looking at YOU, fucking Egg Dragon of Lufia 2). You obviously don't NEED it. What they ought to do is give you special features for this stuff, things like bromides of official artwork (like in the Lunar series) or special game features or something. Something that YOU can appreciate, because at that point, there's really just not much that an unstoppable suit of armor's going to do for you.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Final Fantasy 5's Characters and Plot

I'm feeling unoriginal today, so I'm just going to do another of these character list things. This time with extra plot! For a balanced diet.

Butz: Chunkhead hero. Like, the most solidly unoriginal hero imaginable. His name is the ONLY memorable thing about him. And this ain't a good thing.

Reina: She likes dragons, because of something to do with her mommy. Also, she's a princess.

Faris: She talks like a pirate, and this is mistaken as character development. Also, she's a princess.

Galuf: Being old is apparently considered a type of personality now.

Krile: She's a little girl who talks to animals. Also, she's a princess.

X-Death: As unoriginal a villain as Butz is a hero. Also, could be killed by a Walmart Lawn and Garden center worker with some weed-killer.

Plot: Go save crystals! What? You failed miserably? Okay, go to another planet and attack X-Death! What? You failed miserably? Okay, go seek a way to get into his place, and try again! What? You failed miserably even though you thought you won? Well now you're fucked, because, despite the fact that the decrepit, ancient turtle just kicked his ass much more thoroughly than YOU guys ever did, he now has the power to make the N-Zone, which is not the End Zone from football or Enzo from Reboot, but is rather a void thing, that, I dunno, takes stuff from one place and puts it in another place instead. It's...bad? I guess?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Wild Arms 3 is the First and Last Real Wild Arms

I am a moderate fan of the Wild Arms series. The first game was okay, if a bit dull, and while the second was not too much more entertaining to me, I did really, really like the way it so carefully and fully analyzed every aspect and characteristic of heroism and its ideals. It's probably the biggest and most complex examination of the idea of the hero that I've seen yet in a game, anime, or anything save boring crap like term papers and stuff.

But the fact is that both of these games are immensely disappointing. Since day 1, the Wild Arms games have been promising a Wild West-themed RPG experience, and the first 2 in the series just fail miserably at it. Oh, I do grant you that WA1 has a few locales remniscient of the old west, and some of its music fits that theme nicely, as do several of its items. But for God's sake, it stars:

1. A summoner-princess-sorceress. Not very true to the promised theme.
2. A talking rat.
3. A guy who takes the idea of the Fast Draw fighting style that cowboys are famous for in those old shootouts and all and rapes it by applying it to a katana. I mean, seriously, that defeats the fucking POINT of saying it's Old West-ish. Hell, it makes it just your standard samurai deal and removes all cowboy-ness entirely since you see those indescribably stupid scenes in anime where they run at each other and you never see who gets who but you get to know once they're done running and have their backs to one another and it takes no less than 2 minutes of silence for one of them to realize they died.
4. An android whose idea of using old-west guns is to bombard enemies with missiles, grenades, and fucking lasers.
5. A bunch of metal demons armed with medieval weaponry and The Power Of Science.

(As a note I guess I just precluded all possibility of my doing a WA1 cast sum-up rant in the future...woulda been too short anyway, I guess)

This is not the cast of a Wild West RPG. Them taking a magical journey around the world at the behest of magical creatures and doing so using a future-tech plane and encountering alien elves also does not quite fit.

Wild Arms 2 is even LESS devoted to the theme it promises. You encounter heavy artillery-wielding political prisoners, happy little witch girls, happy little summoning boys, vampires, magical creatures, lizard aliens, nuclear dragons (what the hell, seriously), lots of crazy technology, adventures in space, adventures in time sorta, evil dimensions, and nice guys possessed by ancient demons. There are even fewer locales than ever that feature any resemblance to the Old West--they seem like they're thrown in there as an after-thought than anything, like the developers made them before they forgot their own theme entirely.

And, from what I am told of the 4th installment to the series, it's more like some random anime and less like its promised premise than ever.

WA3, besides being the best game thus far just in general, finally delivers you a WORLD, not just 3-5 locations, that is like the Old West. Its characters, with the exception of Jet the Naruto-dropout with a machine gun, finally almost all fit in, both hero and villain and antihero. As do their weapons. Hell, they even make some of the series's staple non-western elements finally work for the theme as well--no longer are the world's magical creature Guardians just there to add a fantasy aspect, but now they actually are treated in a fashion somewhat like Native American spirits, worshipped and spoken of by a Native Americanish tribe. There're horses to ride, showdowns to see, trains to protect from robbery, and stupid bandits. It's the first time, and so far the last time this series has lived up to its promise, and it kicks ass.

(As a note, this isn't to say it doesn't have its crazily non-Old West elements (what is WITH this series and aliens?), but they're meshed into the theme and plot rather than dominating it)

Friday, March 10, 2006

General RPGs From the US

NOTE FROM...THE FUTURE: It has been a long time since I made this rant and I clearly knew just about nothing about the Western RPG scene, nor even very much about the games I spoke of here. I leave this rant here for posterity, and to remind myself that I can make some shitty rants if I'm not careful, but overall you should just ignore this. Or read it if you want to laugh at what a doofus Past Me was. Seriously, I just read this thing and I shake my heard because I clearly just don't know a goddamn thing I talk about here. The level here of ignorance of the subject matter is almost as bad as the Nostalgia Critic's review of Sailor Moon, for Christ's sake.

Well, okay, maybe this rant isn't anywhere close to as embarrassingly ignorant and foolish as that. But it's still bad.


You know, everyone goes on and on about Japan's games and RPGs. And granted, they DO own the lion's share of the video game market, so it's natural that most of our gaming exposure is going to be to their titles. Still, there's a rather unfair stigma against American-made RPGs, I've noticed on a few occasions.

The most likely culprit for how this happened, of course, would likely be Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. Though by no means the worst FF out there (stomaching 5, Legend of the Crystal, and 10-2 is much worse), it's still infamously bad, and the first US-made RPG to get any major attention that I'm aware of. I will admit, of course, that Trippy has a point in saying that it makes no pretenses about being better than it is--it's not trying and failing miserably to convince you that it's a deep and serious game, like FF8 or any of the other worse FFs I mentioned above. Does this make it any less of a suck-ass failure? No, of course fucking not.

But you know, FFMQ aside, the US has made some pretty damn decent RPGs, too. Secret of Evermore comes to mind first. Now, there are a lot of haters for this game, and I really have never understood why. Its graphics are very nice, its gameplay is good, and most importantly, its writing is really great. It's a humor RPG with a small, fun plot and amusing characters with a wacky sense of humor and the creativity and writing to back it up. Like a fantasy Earthbound, only actually fun to play. And the music in it is a fantastic contrast to the general feel of it, too, appropriate and mystical quite often even while your hero cracks wise about B-rated movies.

Then there's the Knights of the Old Republic series. Tired of seeing a bunch of dumb anime kids running around? Want to see an RPG on a REAL epic story? Don't get no better than Star Wars. As you save (or condemn) the galaxy thousands of years before Yoda first sat on a lily-pad, you also learn about The Force's every intricate detail and, through realization that The Force is simply a higher metaphor for humanity and life itself, explore dozens of philosophies. All, of course, while wielding a fucking lightsaber, coolest weapon to ever be conceived.

And finally, there's my favorite one to mention, the Fallout series. Goddamn. Words always fail me. I've been replaying Fallout 2 for maybe the 20th time, and I'm STILL finding tiny hidden references and details and secrets I haven't before. It's a series that may very well never get old no matter how many times you play it. Its plot is unobtrusive yet heavy, its characters interesting and fun, and it has so many fun and hilarious references to American culture and even history while perfectly meshing an apocalyptic future with a 1950s feel that you could probably very well say it's a series made as a testament to America itself.

So yeah. It doesn't happen too often, but when someone talks about the US being shitty at RPG-making in comparison to Japan, it does annoy me. Japan might have made the best ones so far (barely), but there's really no more an RPG quality gap between the US and Japan than there is an animation one--the US just doesn't seem very often really try for a really high-quality product, is all. But when it does, it sure as hell delivers.

Monday, March 6, 2006

Star Ocean 2's Characters

Well, it's Monday, and I've just realized I haven't thought of a goddamn thing to do a blog rant on this week, since I'm not in the usual environment which I make them in (school's off this week, so I'm not having to find ways to pass my time in a computer lab). So, in the spirit of the only entry I've made previously that was funny, here are my thoughts on Star Ocean 2's main characters!

Needless to say, large spoilers, as always.

Claude: I've noticed that, quite often in anime and RPGs, the position of "Main Hero" will be given to the most boringly average chunkheads imaginable. They just sort of bumble along, being heroic for the sake of maintaining their position without ever really developing themselves past an interest in whatever pretty girl they're hooked on. In this tradition of Butz and Alex and Dart and so many others, Claude rises up to blandly go where every hero has gone before. About the largest amount of real development ever given him seems to happen in the beginning of the game, where it is determined that he is not only our unimaginative meathead hero, but also a complete dumbass.

He's part of a crew, son of the captain, and they're examining some ruins giving them odd readings. He finds a button, and tells his fathercaptain and says he wants to push it. Actually I think it's a strange device and he just wants to touch it rather than push it, but for the sake of humor, we will pretend it is a button. Conversation goes something like this.

"No, don't push it."
"Dude, I am totally going to push it."
"No, it might be dangerous. Let the science officer look at it."
"STFU that's not going to get us anywhere look the only way to ever know anything about this button is not through scientific analysis but by pushing it and that is what I am going to do."
"Kid, I am your father telling you that you are not pushing that button."
"But daaaaaaaaaaad you don't understand! This button is being pushed by me!"
"Get AWAY from that fucking button you fucking tool, THIS IS YOUR CAPTAIN SPEAKING TO YOU, PRIVATE DIPSHIT. DON'T. TOUCH. IT."

Clearly, an intellectual giant, here.

Rena: Rena is the other hero of the game, as you can choose between her and Claude in the beginning. The choice doesn't really make a significant difference, though. The game's plot does not change in the slightest way, and it's not like she's any less a boring stereotype than he is. Rena is the MYSTICAL ANIME GIRL, who can use healing powers, and doesn't know her true origins. This makes her MYSTERIOUS (the designers hope). But don't worry! As unbelievably unlikely as it all is, you will find out where she's really from in the course of the adventure, because, believe it or not, it is tied in with the plot! What are the ODDS?

Celine: Big-titted sorceress with a flirty way of speaking. How new.

Ashton: Ashton is somewhat original, almost. He really likes barrels, basically. His obsession with barrels, though, is about all that sets him apart from a random NPC following you. While you would THINK he has an opportunity for some decent characterization due to having 2 dragons melded into his shoulders, there is remarkably little really noted on this characteristic, with one quick sidequest to remove them revealing that he actually would miss them and doesn't want them to go and die. Then, once that's done, which can be as early as 20 minutes after you meet him, he shuts up about anything that could be used for real depth of character and instead babbles about barrels on occasion. Awesome.

Dias: "My ultra-happy-sunny-cheerful sister was killed and I vowed to become a strong, silent, asshole fucktard broody swordsman to make up for it! I'm sure that my cute, happy little sister would be very proud of how I've severed all ties to any emotion beyond angst."

Also, for all his supposed power, his sword swings take a second too long and make him often utterly useless in combat since enemies will continue to pummel him while he awkwardly attempts to attack.

Opera: She's a girl with 3 eyes who came looking for her boyfriend and crashed. She has a gun. That's...about it.

Earnest: Opera's boyfriend, who is very deserving of her devotion because he pays more attention to ancient ruins than her and mostly just ignores her completely while they are both in the party.

Precis: Prototype Rikku. Same empty mind, similar clothes, same interest in machines, same shallow and idiotic personality, same arm-weapon.

Precis's Robot: Has absolutely no impact on anything ever.

Bowman: Basically, it's like your friend's dad decided to come along to chaperone all you kids, but you keep getting this feeling that he's just there to stare at jailbait ass.

Leon: A magical little boy whose parents totally encourage to develop new ways to kill things.

Noel: Frankly, there are no words yet invented for how uninteresting Noel is. He is so boring that 4 times after getting him in my party, during story scenes, I actually wondered for several moments what a random NPC was doing in my group before remembering that he existed. It is paradoxically incredible how boring he is.

Chisato: The only actual decent character in the entire game, and even then, not for anything deep or real. She is simply quirky and neat enough that she does not end up coming across as boring or stupid like the rest.

And it helps that she is, without doubt, the most powerful character in the game. She runs about twice as fast as every other fighter around the field of combat, she attacks twice in each regular attack, her special attack Teargas is monstrously powerful, and she can equip a shield that can instantly kill whoever attacks her, be it regular enemies, bosses, ultra-bosses, end bosses, or even enemies who you are scripted to lose against.

10 Wise Men: Frankly, these villains are sad. Most games can make do with just 1 or even 2 brainless ultra-villains who just inexplicably want to destroy and conquer with no rationale. This game, however, decided it needed 10 random psychos for the job.

Now, the developers seemed to sense, at the end, that they were doing a shitty job with this game. They barely had backgrounds for their major characters, and had nothing for the Wise Men. So to try to save their asses without actually putting any effort into a real solution, they added a hard-to-access scene hidden in the game where Chisato mentions that her research suggests the possibility that the Wise Men may have had a reason for their evils in the past. Yes, that's it. Rather than give a reason, the bone the writers throw the player is that the villains MIGHT have ONCE had an unseen reason for what they did.

Marvelous job at building villains.

Mayor Narl: Okay, he's actually not a main character and not a villain. But I just HAVE to mention this fucktard here. Okay. So let's say you're in charge of leading an assault on these ultra-powerful 10 villains whom normal weapons don't seem to work against. Do you do it: A. Immediately, or B. After Acquiring The Material You Need To Actually Hurt Them? Well, Narl picks A, and leads an assault which just ends in futility and the deaths of several of his soldiers, and THEN, once everyone's either killed or has retreated with him, he then says "Well, maybe we should make some weapons that could hurt those guys."

That's not all, though. At the end of the game, Narl decides to let his planet-thing be destroyed. Now, it's a necessary loss, yes. But he doesn't even bother to TRY to evacuate anyone. He explains it as Nede having gotten too far ahead, and become stagnant, so they need to just be gone. Well that's just DANDY, man, I'm sure that you speak for every single one of the MILLIONS of people you just decided need to die. Best elected official EVER.

Friday, March 3, 2006

Grandia 3

Well. I'm done with the recent and latest installment to the previously legendary Grandia series, folks. I've had it for all of 2 weeks, so I think this may be the fastest run I've had for a regular-sized RPG.

I'll tell you folks right now.

I'm not happy.


I have a lot to say on this matter, so I will do my best to progress from least important factors to most important. Before that, though, I'd like to apologize to SquareEnix. See, I mistakenly blamed them for a while for how this turned out, since they published the game, but upon further examination, it seems the game was still DEVELOPED by Game Arts, which means that this is a betrayal of the worst nature. You can't really blame me for thinking it's all Square's fault, what with the SquareEnix Essential Shitty Pop Music Video beginning that they've been sticking into everything lately.

Okay, so, the game.

Starting off: Graphics. Grandia 3 has fantastic graphics, and its cinemas are great. I can't complain about any of them, besides the fact that the spell effects are incredibly dull and lackluster compared to the gritty yet awesome look of spells in Grandia 2. But overall, graphics are good.

And, of course, utterly insignificant.

Music. The music in Grandia 3 is mildly disappointing. A few remixed old themes can be identified at times, but overall, the tunes are lackluster background noise, acknowledging a mood but never emphasizing or creating it. There's maybe one reasonably impressive tune in the lot, the epic-feeling Guardian theme, but aside from that, dullsville. I have mentioned that the main theme of the game is some shitty pop music. It could be shitty American pop in nature or it could just be a convincingly-dubbed shitty JPop tune. Either way, I don't feel I can emphasize the word "shitty" enough when describing it.

General Gameplay: Honestly, I got nothing to complain about here. The way you walk around and examine stuff and all is very Grandia-esque, it's easy, it's straightforward. The only small problem is that the camera sometimes is stubborn at inopportune times, but it's not like in Kingdom Hearts where you're actually in combat when it starts getting wonky, so it's no big deal. Dungeon settings are all VERY faithful to the feeling of Grandia, as well, from looks to treasures to sound effects and so on. No problem there.

Although I really miss the little rainbow save pyramid things. Why the hell did they get rid of those? I liked them.

Odd Moment: Okay, seriously, if sheep are sacred animals that Dahna's people won't eat, why is there a large conversation over dinner about how delicious the mutton kebobs are in her town? Is the innkeeper just the heretic of the town or what?

Battle: For a long while, battles are standard Grandia fun. The Grandia series has pretty much the unquestionably best standard RPG battle system in existence, and it seems to return here. For a while.

Then Disc 2 happens.

Now I admit. I was not fully prepared for the upgrade in combat. The game gives you options to cannibalize your skill books and mana eggs for new spells and skills, and I mostly ignored this, just because I had yet to really need to do this. So when I went into Disc 2, I didn't have the skill to increase my attacks in combat, and I didn't have the skill to do extra damage to evil enemies. I'm sure things could have gone better if I had invested in these things. But I must emphasize that until that moment, I had had no difficulty, only satisfying challenge.

On Disc 2, Grandia 3 went from being a fun game to being a very realistic simulator of what happens when demons rape you. It is fucking BULLSHIT. These enemies are suddenly taking forever to beat, and even the groups of the weakest ones can total your team if you don't watch yourself very carefully. And there's this ONE fucker, this black demon velociraptor dude? Holy SHIT, people. This guy is a fucking DRAGON BALL Z CHARACTER. I went to get a treasure chest and he fucking APPEARED next to me. Like, you know in DBZ, where to save themselves from actually doing work the animators make fighters do Zwee-fighting, where they teleport all over the place with those little fwooshy black lines to indicate it? That's what this fucking thing did. It is a Zwee-fighter, and in battle, it is so fucking fast that you may find yourself wishing you could be allowed a turn after it's taken, like, 4.

And after putting me through fucking hell on Disc 2, the game decided to INSULT me next. Because, as soon as I was out of the demon level with the fucking zwee-fighting raptor men, the very next area is populated by completely harmless bunnies and sheep. I'm not joking. After showing me what it was like to take it up the ass from shadowy demons, I got to find my next targets to be defenseless grazing critters. There is something WRONG with this.

Plot. Now we're getting to the meat of an RPG. Only "meat" is too kind a term for this story. This is like a vegetarian burger. It doesn't even TRY to be a decent substitute for the real thing.

Grandia 3 has a plot so immensely cliche and unimaginative, I would be shocked if you didn't get a very bored sense of deja vu at multiple parts. For any part of this thing to strike you as new or interesting, you probably would have to have never seen an anime or played an RPG before in your life.

What gets me most about this plot is the fact that it seems to confuse itself. Like, you know in Chrono Cross and Robotrek and Xenogears, the plots got so ridiculously stupid and complex that the game itself seemed to be stumbling over itself to keep up? It felt like the game was getting just as lost in the inexplicable contrived nonsense as you were at times. Well, Grandia 3 is like that, only YOU can follow the plot fine because it's simple and dull as anything. But the GAME seems to trip over itself all the same, unable to quite keep up with how Alfina feels about her evil brother at this second, completely unable to even figure out what it's supposed to be about. know how most RPGs will have at least one very major theme to them overall? Popular ones include hope, love, heroism, and so on? Up until the very end of the game, this one doesn't seem to have the faintest clue what its main theme is supposed to be. You just sort of go along, hear a wail or ellipses out of Alfina regularly, and watch stuff happen without really even considering it all very much.

Finally, at the end, the plot seems to have sorted itself out and the big, booming voice of PURE EVIL gives you a hint by ranting for like 5 minutes about how it wants to destroy love. It's just like the writers weren't even sure where the hell they were going until that very second.

Don't let this sudden understanding of their own direction fool you, though--the ending is just as boring and pointless as the game itself. I'm not going to get into too many specifics here, both because you still might conceivably play it some day and because I frankly want to recall as little of this game as possible starting now. But man, it's a very bad thing when I'm so bored with a game that I barely can manage to pay attention to an ending so short in its pointlessness as this one.

Characters: Here it is, folks. The worst part of this game, by far. Let's start with the best and work our way down.

First off, there's Ulf, whose basic job in the party is to provide a body with a high attack power to fill space. His characterization seems to mainly be an interest in meat--which I can appreciate! But aside from a very mild comical presence, Ulf doesn't really do much as a character. Sadly he seems to be the least annoying of the whole crew.

Miranda: Okay, so this is Yuki (main hero)'s mother. Now, I'll tell you right here, I really liked this idea originally. I mean, it's pretty totally original for your mom to be tagging along in the party in an RPG. Not counting Ma-cha from Chrono Cross, because, well, she got the same amount of development that all the other characters did in that game (which is to say 0).

Miranda, unfortunately, doesn't really do much with her potential. For starters, her physical appearance seems to suggest that she had Yuki when she was 6 years old. This is only supported by her development, which emphasizes that she's more like a big sister to Yuki than a mother. It's like they copped out of their own good idea, really. The instant they finally start getting to any sort of characterization involving how she feels to watch her son doing all this crap and growing up and all, oops, she leaves! How convenient.

Alonso: Like Miranda, Alonso is a fairly decent older (read: not possibly out of his 20s) character. His most important contribution to the plot, though, besides bumming Yuki a ride on a boat, is taking Miranda out of the picture. Apparently they get together or something, for the simple reason that Plot Demands It.

Hey, they're ADULTS, there's no real need to illustrate any sort of real relationship for THEM, right? Just say it's there and it must be there!

Dahna: Dahna has three very important roles in Grandia 3. First of all, she has an angsty, mostly dull role as the wife of the semi-bad guy who ditched her because he wanted to dress in black and do zwee-fighting sword battles with the main baddie. This affords Dahna about 2 real scenes of character development, both of them sad (for her; you may not end up caring very much) and having her for the rest of the time just be the encouraging type. Second, she plays the important role of being the only person really decent with magic in the party. Thirdly, and most vitally important, Dahna serves the role of Tit Transport. She moves her monstrous mammaries everywhere you go, ensuring you always get the all-important sight of them jutting so far out that you'll sometimes wonder if they're not just slowly falling off.

Hect: Just some emo fairy with a violin. You'd think that sort of combination would be more interesting, but, well, it isn't.

Bad Guys: Okay, seriously, this is just stupid. First off, the main bad fellow, Xorn, is just some random big evil monster dude who wants to destroy all life. No reason given, no history, no real explanation as to why having him shoot a root straight through your skull turns you to glass instead of just, y'know, killing you via hole in your brain. Yawn.

Next, we have the sorta main bad guy Emelious. He is (GASP) the BROTHER of the main chick! This, of course, leads her to mumble "Emelious..." all the fucking time to simulate characterization. But man oh man. This guy is so lame, even fucking SEPHIROTH looks decent in comparison. Sephiroth, after all, went insane because he had issues with his parents, which is stupid and lame, but still better than Emelious. Emelious goes insane and wants to kill everything because he was born as a part of a destined whole. Like, the fact that he shares his destiny with his sister rather than has one of his very own is the reason he goes evil. Now, if that isn't just plain fucktarded whine-eriffic stupidity, nothing is.

His journey BACK from evil is just as idiotic, I might add, because it seems that the ONLY thing that is needed to convince him to stop his madness is his sister telling him she loves him. All of a sudden things are clear to him! He suddenly cares about her safety once more, which, I dunno, I would normally figure he'd come to realize prior to setting her up as a human sacrifice. But whatever!

Then there's his assistant. Man, I don't even remember this guy's name. He has like 5 minutes of screen time, betrays Emelious for some reason, then gets killed. Was he manipulating things the whole time? Did he just do the betrayal cuz it seemed like a good idea right that moment? These are questions that will never be answered.

Also, there is General Grievous. I don't know what the guy's name really is, but for all intents and purposes, he's General Grievous. Seriously. Voice, look, coughing problem (though Grievous never actually coughed mucus up all over his mirror), it's all the same.

Violetta is a chick in love with Emelious for no discernable reason. In fact, the only time the game gives us any glimpse of her showing any approval of a specific action of his, it's her being impressed with his willingness to just throw her and her cohort's lives away at a whim. I know that these hopeless bad guy fangirls don't usually get a terrific deal, but come on, this is just plain lame.

Finally, there's Kornell, who, I dunno, he just sort of bumbles around like the muscle-bound idiot he is. What I particularly like is how he pretty much just disappears after a while. Like, he's there one cinema with Emelious's bunch, and then, after that, he just isn't there any more. No last battle with him, no scene of him actually walking out. He's just gone. Forgotten from memory. Like Rowd in Suikoden 2.

Yuki: Yuki, the main hero, is basically a Miyazaki character rip-off. He's eager, he likes airplanes, his dream is to fly an airplane. Once Disc 2 starts up, he mostly forgets his life's dream of being a pilot and instead begins to experiment with creating a new language made up entirely of different ways to mumble "Alfina..." Sorta like Alex from Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete in that regard.

Alfina: And here is the number one reason to hate this game. Alfina is joining Shana and Rinoa in the Hall of Shame representing female game characters. Good. Fucking. God. If you've seen the recent Penny Arcade comic on Grandia 3, know that their portrayal of Alfina, while totally accurate, only scratches the surface of how infuriatingly moronic she is. She faints. She cries. She wails. She mumbles people's names with ...'s after them as though it were somehow meaningful to do so. She constantly needs rescuing and protection. I'm actually not sure which is more painful and cheesy--her absolutely fucktarded dialogue, or her voice actress's stuttering attempts at reading it. Her eyes are perpetually mystically sad (which reinforces the terrible acting), regardless of what mood she's failing to properly convey. She will not shut the fuck up about the temperatures of people's hands. And to top it all off, OH BOY, it's the GREATEST REPEATING JOKE EVER. You see, Alfina likes to cook for people, but, get this...she's not a very good cook. As you can no doubt imagine, this leads to all KINDS of hilarity which I'm sure no one in the world has already seen dozens of times already in less lame circumstances.

She is one of the most irritating, whiny, useless, crappy characters of all time, and I'm convinced that this whole game might have been salvaged if she had not existed.

But, as it is, Grandia 3 is a mediocre, uninteresting, yawn-inspiring pile of cliched boredom as an RPG. And as a part of the Grandia series? It is possibly the most disappointing thing I have ever experienced. More than Chrono Cross, the recent Star Wars movies, anything. It's like the exact fucking polar opposite of Grandia 2's immense excellence, and I would advocate the purchase of almost any other RPG in existence over it.

Okay. I'm done. I think.