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.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Kingdom Hearts Series's Winnie the Pooh

You know, I really like Kingdom Hearts. I mean, sure, it's not perfect. Riku's an annoying doofus, the keyblade is the most fucking ridiculous and idiotic weapon I've ever seen (even including gunblades), and it would be nice if Nomura's ego or whatever it is stopping him from adequately putting in characters from any FF not his own would disappear. But overall, it's a fun and great set of games, and hanging out with Disney characters like Hercules and The Beast is awesome. While I certainly do wish Square would put in some REAL quality Disney stuff, like Gargoyles or Darkwing Duck, I have no complaints to the casts they've assembled so far.

Oh wait, no, I do have one single complaint.

Winnie the Pooh.

Now, I'll level with you on the matter--I've always thought Disney's version of Winnie the Pooh was stupid and annoying, right from the start. So I can't pretend there's not some bias possibly at work here. But good fucking God, Square, what is WRONG with you?

It's not enough that KH saddles you with this urine-colored simpleton in each installment of the series. But instead of just being able to beat up some bad guys, maybe solve a few puzzles, and advance the plot the fun way like every other place, you're required to do a bunch of hideously stupid minigames! Ohhhh, how I loathe mandatory minigames. I can think of very few games that have had a fun minigame that wasn't completely optional.

More on those in a later rant. Much, much more.

While I can think of a few possible minigames that would make the 100 Acre Woods reasonably enjoyable (most of them involve rifles and some very choice moving targets), these minigames are sadly as pitifully boring and pointless as their mentally-inept star's existence. They can't help but be, since they are by and large based on events from his show.

However, as paradoxically yawn-inspiring and rage-inducing as his general KH idiocy is, it's when he's doing NEW things in Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories that things are at their worst. You see, in this game, you have the deceptively easy-sounding task of guiding Pooh through a long level, looking for his friends, doing so reasonably quickly so that he won't run out of honey-fuel before he arrives at the next pot for another fix.

Well, there is a major problem with this. And that problem is that Pooh is certifiably blind. Because, see, he can walk RIGHT fucking past his friends and not even NOTICE them. Not to mention that if you step a full 20 steps away from him, he is completely incapable of seeing you waving your hands at him to follow you. Instead, his puny mind chooses to mock you by having him fall asleep. You have to practically close enough to hold his hand for him to properly follow you ANYWHERE, and even then he has to stop at times to ponder for a moment how to work his legs for the next step. Hell, I wish you COULD hold his hand so that you could just drag him along across the ground--hopefully over a few rocks in the process--and GET places.

So, while recently playing KHCoM and watching Pooh stumble along like a mentally handicapped zombie, I put my mind to work on creating a theory about why Pooh is so painfully unintelligent. It wasn't like I would be needing to focus on anything else for the next 10 minutes it would take for the slack-jawed moron to make the next 2 steps toward me. And here is what I came up with. You see, Pooh has a diet consisting of nothing but honey--one which we could only hope would eventually lead to his blissful, malnutritioned end. So I decided that perhaps one day, Pooh, while sitting on his cushioned ass, took a large dump of whatever the hell happens when a full pot of honey goes through a cotton-based digestive system. Being perpetually hungry, of course, he realized that this foul substance still smelled somewhat like honey, and decided to eat some. Only, he temporarily forgot which hole in his head was his mouth, and so started to busily shove it into his ears. And that shit, I believe, still resides in his otherwise vaccuous cranium, being used as a substitute for a brain. It at least explains why he feels the need to stagger around like a drunken toddler.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time's Money Limit

Odd of me to rant twice in a row about a game I haven't played in over 2 years, but ideas come to me as they come to me.

So, in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Nintendo decided to add a new aspect to the series--an actual limit to how much money you can accumulate based on the size of your wallet. Now granted, RPG gamers are used to dealing with numerical limits to various parts of their characters--the infamous 999 or 9999 damage limits in most games, the standard 255 stat limit for the Final Fantasy series, etc. We expect a certain limit on the amount of money we can gain by looting corpses in a game. It's just part of the programming, and usually it's high enough that you're unlikely to ever normally reach it anyway--and you certainly would never NEED to most of the time.

Well, TLoZOoT changes all that. You're limited in the beginning of the game to being able to carry a measly 99 rupees, which is barely enough to buy anything of interest, and you can increase that amount to 200 and later 500 by getting bigger wallets. Well, on this matter, I'm going to have to call Bullshit. Once you actually work the money-limit into the plot, you get absolutely fucking ridiculous.

Are we expected to believe that if Link has 99 rupees and his wallet can't carry any more, that he's going to just look at a red one (worth 20) and say "Gee, I sure do wish I could take that, but my wallet just can't hold it, so I guess I'm out of luck?" Look, if I see a glittering gem on the street worth $20 that no one's claiming, I'm gonna find SOME way to carry it, regardless of whether my pocket's full. You trying to tell me that Link couldn't just throw a few of those absolutely useless Deku Nuts away to make a little space in his inventory for a few extra bucks? That he couldn't just empty one of his bottles of the fairy or bug or juice or milk or whatever the hell he's keeping in it to eat later and put in a few cool 50-Rupees? Hell, for all I care he can stick them down his damn tights; from the looks of him, it's more than likely he's got little else to fill that space. I don't care HOW they wanna work it, but Nintendo needs to stop fucking me over every time I find a golden 200-Rupee prize and can't do a damn thing with it because my tiny useless little wallet refuses to carry it.

Friday, April 7, 2006

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time's Characters

I'm actually running kinda low on RPGs whose entire casts were largely dull and stupid for me to ridicule here. Sure, there are a few boring and lackluster casts out there, but really, what can I even TRY to say about the characters of Final Fantasy Mystic Quest or Lufia 1? And some games have had casts so forgettable that...well, I've pretty much just forgotten them altogether, and I certainly don't want to have to go and subject myself to the pain of Seiken Densetsu 3 or Dragon Quest 5 again just to remember them. I'm not THAT dedicated. After today, I'm really only going to have Chrono Cross left, which is both a daunting task in that there are so many characters to cover, and yet also the easiest since I can sum 90% of them up with one word: Empty.

So anyway, yeah, let's take a look at this game's cast. I'll be counting the Sages as party members, since, well, if I don't then it's just 4 characters, only 2 of which are even human, I'm looking at.

Link: Well, right off the bat we've got Link, the least manly-looking RPG protagonist of all time. Seriously, people who complain that FF10's Tidus looks like Meg Ryan and so on should be thankful that he at least wears clothing that SORT OF identifies him as a man. Link, on the other hand, true to form after about 10 years since he originally hit the screen, still stubbornly insists on wearing his little forest-elf outfit, which consists of pantyhose, little booties, and a skirt. Not that it's the clothes alone that negate his masculinity, of course--he himself has the face and hair of a woman, and his flat-chested woman's body doesn't help. Honestly, he looks more like a man in his 10-year-old form in this game than he does as an adult.

You may notice I'm not commenting on his character here. Well, this is largely because Link HAS no character. You may recall my last rant mentioned him as being one of the poster children for silent protagonists. Well, what this means is that we pretty much know absolutely nothing about him, as usual. From the knowledge gathered in the game, we can safely assume that pain hurts him, surprising things surprise him, he enjoys taking money from dead monsters, and he has monumental patience when dealing with fucking annoying fairies.

Zelda/Sheik: Apparently jealous after all these games that Link continues to be a prettier woman than she is, Zelda decided to get into the whole gender-confusion thing in this one by using her magic to change herself into a man for 7 years. A man whose idea of helping Link to accomplish his hero work is to talk about touchy-feel-good emotions and teach him how to play 7 consecutive notes that are somehow classified as a song.

Despite all this, she's still clearly the best Zelda incarnation as of this game, given that she's at least out doing SOMETHING instead of just standing around, kidnapped or waiting to be.

Saria: Saria is a little forest elf girl who, like Link, cosplays Peter Pan. Her cosplay is more dedicated than Link's, though, as she really does take Pete's policy of "I don't wanna grow up, I'm a Toys-R-Us kid" seriously.

Darunia: Darunia is a big Goron, which as close as I can figure is sorta like a race of rock trolls with the combined mental abilities of a tapeworm. When Link goes and kills a big dinosaur thing that causes the Gorons trouble, Darunia is so overwhelmed by the idea of a person who doesn't sit on his ass in a hole eating rocks all day and actually gets shit DONE that he decides to name his son after him.

Impa: Impa is basically the Anti-Link. While she does very prominently have breasts, every other aspect of her screams "Man!" There's not much to her, really, she just stands around, waiting for Zelda to give her orders.

Ruto: "Wow, you went crawling around in the intestines of a huge fish just so you could hork my royal family heirloom! You are turning my freakish fish-body on SO much. Let's get married!"

You know, aside from the fish-body thing, I could actually see Rinoa saying that to Squall at some point under like circumstances.

Rauru: "Hi, I'm Rauru, Sage of Light. So, you've aged 7 years, Hyrule's a desolate wasteland ruled by evil now, most everyone you ever knew is probably dead, and you have a whole new quest. What's that? You need some time to come to grips with your entire world having collapsed? Well, do it some place else. Get the hell out!"

Nabooru: Nabooru's intense warrior's training and powerful Earth Sage's magic give her the amazing ability to be immediately captured in a quicksand trap by the Twinrova sorceress sisters, the Bebop and Rocksteady of witchcraft.

Epona: Epona the horse is actually the most powerful being in the world, in that she is invulnerable to any and all attack. She's not particularly brilliant, as her judgment on who she deems safe or a threat relies entirely on whether they can hum 6 notes the right way.

Ganondorf/Ganon: Despite having more screen time and dialogue in this game than ever before, Ganon continues to be a dull, unimaginative villain with no motivation for being an asshole beyond just plain being an asshole.

Navi: If you have played and beaten this game, you are REQUIRED to hate this annoying attention-whore bug thing, and all the annoying fairies who will follow in her footsteps. Every goddamn minute, you will hear her shriek, "HEY! LISTEN!" in her squeaky little fairy voice. The designers try to pass this off as her trying to help you by pointing out things of interest, but no, oh ho ho no, I know better. She is pointing out things of interest to HER, not ME. I myself am not going to get excited over her interest in the same rock I passed 2 minutes ago that she already screamed about. She has a memory like Leonard from Momento, only Leonard has the goddamn sense to leave himself notes. That's what I wish I could do in this game, is obtain an item, Stack of Post-It Notes, and just put one on every single damn pebble and blade of grass that Navi starts wailing like a police siren about. Notes that say, "ALREADY EXAMINED THIS, TINKERBITCH" and "I FUCKING KNOW, YOU ADHD-ADDLED TWIT" that she could read every time she sees this amazing patch of dirt for the 7th time and wants to share its existence with me by making a scene.

What I wouldn't give in that game for a can of fucking Raid.

Monday, April 3, 2006

General RPGs' Silent Protagonists

We all know'em--they're the main heroes of a game, leading their band of do-gooders and the like against the forces of evil, righting wrongs, defending truth, justice, and the American way...all while letting nary a word pass their lips. From the protagonist of Crystalis to Crono to Rudy to Ness to Link to Ari to so many more, we all have played at least one RPG where our leading lad never deigns to speak (female protagonists don't seem to ever have this problem, at least ("Women Are Chatty" stereotype detected?)).

And I just have to wonder, why the hell do they do this?

It's been suggested at times that this is done because it gets you more into the role. Helps you identify with the guy you're controlling, as he has no personality whatever save that which you give him. Well, I can't say that ever worked for me, because frankly, I have trouble identifying with someone who doesn't SPEAK. I use verbal communication daily, rather than relying on pantomimes and having my friends interpret them like concerned parents trying to figure out that Lassie's trying to tell them Timmy managed to fall down into the well. Again. You'd think they'd just board the goddamn thing up so it'd stop happening, really.

It's really always been something that bugs me, these silent heroes. I mean, okay, fine, you get a few like Crono (Chrono Trigger) or Toan (Dark Cloud 1) who at least have a vast array of exp​ressions and movements to kinda give you an idea of what they're like. Not a very good idea by any stretch of the imagination, but an idea. And Link (Legend of Zelda series) at least has 60 different kinds of grunts and battle yells...too bad that doesn't really give you much idea on his character at all save what he'd sound like during constipation, but whatever, it's still something. But sometimes, you just don't even get that much, and your character just sort of walks around at the front of the group while all the people who can speak English trail along behind him, having to shoulder the burden of both their own characterization and their leader's when they interact with him (see: Breath of Fire 1 through 4).

By all rights, the person you ought to know BEST, and who ought to have at least one of, if not the, most interesting personalities and histories, is the guy you're playing as for the whole game, right? RPG developers thankfully seem to be mostly behind this silent protagonist nonsense by now, but it still crops up every now and then. They really need to stop being lazy and just characterize their own goddamn heroes. It just about always works better, even when you end up creating a largely unimpressive one.