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.