Sunday, December 14, 2008

Annual Summary: 2008

Another year has come and gone, folks. I'm particularly sad about this one leaving, because 8 is totally my favorite number. But that's life. The RPGs I played this year, in alphabetical rather than chronological order, are:

Baroque (PS2)
Fallout 3 (PC)
Golden Sun 1 (GBA)
Golden Sun 2 (GBA)
Mass Effect (PC)
Phantasy Star Universe (PS2)
Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald (GBA)
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES (PS2)
Shining Force EXA (PS2)
Suikoden 4 (PS2)
Suikoden Tactics (PS2)
Tales of Legendia (PS2)
Wild Arms 5 (PS2)

You may notice that there are significantly fewer games on that list than there were last year. There are several reasons for this. First of all, I started to work 2 full time jobs back around March, 1 related to the career I want to get into (Teaching) and the other related to the fact that I want to actually be able to pay my bills until someone hires me on as a regular teacher instead of a Substitute one. So that equals a lot of time lost. Another reason is Super Smash Brothers Brawl--those of you who know it and have it don't need an explanation on how that interrupts one's focus on other things. Third reason would be spending a lot of time with my sister, showing her awesome stuff like Wild Arms 3, Tales of Legendia (as a replay), and Futurama, along with her getting me into House M.D., 30 Rock, and, oddly enough, Ouran High School Host Club (so sue me, I can't help but love parodies of stupid fangirls and stupider anime trends). So that's a lot of time gone.

I also re-watched and re-contemplated every episode of Revolutionary Girl Utena, and the movie. This is an RPG-only blog, so I don't often say much at length on animes save the (often annoying) correlations they have with RPGs, but I gotta just make a note here: Man, if anything proves that anime can be an art form, it's RGU; I could make a blog that updates once a week just talking about that show and movie and manage to keep it going for at least 5 years. It's like one of the best classic novels ever written in visual form. So that's more time there, anyways.

And lastly, me compulsively searching every corner, bookshelf, and suspicious pile of rubble in Fallout 3. Damn that game's immense map and explorable nature. Thank heavens I'm not doing a second run of Fallout 3, or I probably wouldn't get a new RPG played until next Spring.

So yeah. Sadly not as much time this year for RPGs.

Still, it was a pretty good year. It didn't start especially auspiciously, with the first game I finished being the coma-inducing Suikoden 4, but things got better when I was happily surprised to find that Phantasy Star Universe didn't suck contrary to what Meteor9 had told me, Shining Force EXA was actually really nice despite being nearly totally unknown and looking like it would be as bland as could be, and Wild Arms 5 not sucking nearly as much as I thought it would. Also, a good friend who goes on Gaia by the name of Cross Knight Byuu recommended Tales of Legendia to me, and much to my (very reluctant) surprise, it turned out to be pretty awesome.* And of course, playing Mass Effect and Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES right in the middle made the year shine very favorably for me, RPG-wise (heck, just finding out that they ended up making Mass Effect for the PC instead of keeping it exclusive to the X-Box 360 was like an early Christmas; I nearly bought that stupid system just for that one game). Ending it with Fallout 3, which is pretty darned good, also makes the year feel pretty satisfying.

One unfortunate trend of 2008 for me, though, was the Endings aspect. While Suikoden 4 having a pointless and boring ending was no surprise, given the game, Wild Arms 5's final scenes and ending are so stupid that they would actually make Wild Arms 4 look worse, let alone a WA game that isn't totally horrible. Fallout 3's ending seems to be reversely proportional in detail and length (unless we count the insanely long credits) as the game itself is. And Golden Sun 2's ending doesn't seem to know what the hell it wants to do--it introduces 3 separate problems that sound important during its course, and then almost immediately after makes each one meaningless. Here's how they break down:

1. "Oh no! Alex is unsurprisingly a bad guy! And he could do evil things with the power that we have unwittingly made available to him!"
A FEW MINUTES LATER
Alex: I AM ALL POWERFUL!!!! Wait hang on, no I'm not. Well dang.

2. "Oh no! The people near the elemental towers will all be killed by them exploding and such!"
NEXT SCENE
"Oh good, everyone knows to get away from them, so they will probably be okay."

3. "Oh no! My family is not within eyesight, so they must be dead! I'm finally receiving character development because of this! NOOOOOOOOOO WHYYYYYY NOOOO SOB SOB"
3 SECONDS LATER IN THE SAME SCENE
"Oh wait, you guys are fine! I just needed to turn my head a little to the right to notice. Silly me!"

I didn't dive into as many unknown game series this year as last time, more just sticking to ones I knew already. Golden Sun was the only totally new one for me--although maybe not in spirit, since GS tends to be pretty standard RPG fare. Still, Phantasy Star Universe, and Shining Force EXA are pretty drastic reinventions of their series, and Fallout 3's fairly different from the previous 2 Fallouts, as well, so it wasn't all just more of the same.

But if I didn't do much venturing out in terms of series, the games I did play this year were often very different themselves. Mass Effect and Fallout 3 both created a new kind of Action RPG, a mix of RPG elements with a First Person Shooter game rather than the roving beat-em-up close-combat kind of game that most Action RPGs, with their swords and other melee weapons, focus on. While Breath of Fire 5's use of player death predates Baroque's by several years, Baroque's way of telling its story is almost as unique as the story itself is. And Tales of Legendia is really odd--it has 2 major stories in it, and the first, which is what the game considers the "Main Quest," leaves many loose ends to be tied up later, isn't half as epic as the second half, isn't as interesting (I didn't even really like the game until the second half began), and almost feels more like a long prologue intended to establish the great characters (which are not the main guy and gal; game's got major Love Hina Syndrome).

Okay, that's it for the real ranting, so as with last year, let's go bulletin-style for the end.


RPG Moments of Interest in 2008:

1. After years of eager waiting by we cult-like Fallout fans, Fallout 3 has finally come out. I've seen largely mixed reception from fans, and fans on both sides of the Good or Bad issue generally seem to have completely ridiculous and illogical biases that they form their opinions from, but hey, the important thing is, Fallout 3 exists. That would be a memorable event even if the game did suck, which it doesn't.
2. Me having to officially say the following: Tales of series, I am sorry. I have often accused you of being uncreative, pointless, dumb, and so full of anime cliches that it makes me physically ill. I said this based on the fact that it is true for Tales of Phantasia and Tales of Symphonia, and dismissed Tales of the Abyss's high quality as a fluke. But now, with Tales of Legendia, half of the Tales of series that I've played has been as interesting and neat as the other half has been crappy and boring. So until I play the next Tales of game and find it to be dull, I have no ground to criticize the series as a whole. I currently apologize for my previous statements.
3. Seeing that the Shin Megami Tensei series can be almost as thorough, inventive, and fascinating in treating other beliefs and mystical cultures as it was with Christianity (see previous rant for details) with SMT Persona 3's working its plot, characters, playing style, and general flow and progression around the Tarot deck. Pretty neat.
4. Fallout 3's Liberty Prime is totally the best robot since Knights of the Old Republic's HK-47.
5. Saving Wild Arms 4's Raquel in Wild Arms 5 (WA5 has all sorts of cameos of previous games' characters) from her debilitating illness. I mean, it's nice that I can finally do it, cuz I seriously love Raquel, but...why the hell couldn't we have seen Raquel cured in the game she was actually a character for? Why the fuck did she have to, in spite of the game practically promising us otherwise, die in her very own game?

Oh, and the process of saving her in WA5 confirms my suspicions that Arnaud, AKA Captain Moron, just didn't try hard enough to do it in WA4. Because, see, the process apparently is Captain Moron sending out a random group of well-meaning, less-than-bright teens to find a magical item to do the job while he sits on his goddamn lazy ass in a restaurant doing nothing. 'She needs him there' my ASS, she needs him OUT THERE finding a CURE for the DISEASE that is GOING TO KILL HER faster than not having him around to administer chicken soup every hour! I tell you, WA4 is so bad it's revolutionary at being crap--you actually can find NEW ways to hate it retroactively by playing OTHER games!


Best Sequel/Prequel of 2008:
Winner: Golden Sun 2
I didn't really think much of Golden Sun 2 (or GS1, for that matter). However, of the real Sequels/Prequels I've played this year, it ties itself to the previous title the best--not only does the story more or less just pick up right where GS1 ended, it also allows the player to transfer his or her data from GS1 to GS2 via link cable or password, allowing the player's game of GS2 to be influenced by some of the sidequests done and decisions made in the first game, along with getting to keep all the cool stuff and hard-earned levels of GS1. That's certainly a strong connection between original and sequel, one which I appreciate.
Runners-Up: Fallout 3, Suikoden Tactics
Fallout 3 and Suikoden Tactics are both fine fare as far as sequels go, each one having direct plot ties to a game/games before them (Fallout 1 and 2, and Suikoden 4, respectively). Still, while fine continuations of their origins' universes, each is just telling a new story with pre-established concepts. There's not a great amount of further exploration of those concepts; they're mostly just launch pads for new stuff. That's fine, but it's not noteworthy.


Biggest Disappointment of 2008:
Loser: Golden Sun 1
Let's be clear: I don't hate GS1 and 2. And I wasn't horribly disappointed by either. They just happen to have had the bad luck to be played during a year where most games I played with low expectations turned out to be good, and the bad games I played I went into with the expectation that they'd suck. Granted, Suikoden 4 sucked way worse than I'd dreamed, but that was simply because of my lack of imagination on how boring a game could be. Golden Sun is the only series of games that I went into thinking they'd be great and came out of without having my expectations met. So...yeah. Sorry, GS1.
Almost As Bad: Golden Sun 2, Suikoden 4
See above explanation.


Worst RPG of 2008:
Loser: Suikoden 4
Yeah, okay, just...see my rant on it. And on Sailing.
Almost As Bad: Wild Arms 5
Whether by luck or simply by how few RPGs I played this year, only 2 of them I count as actually being bad. And really, WA5 isn't really that terrible. Sure, most of the characters are empty and pointless, the plot is kind of dumb most of the time, the main character only becomes tolerable after about 20 hours of gameplay, there are a lot of painfully contrived events, most of the finale is one of the stupidest I've ever seen, and the Monowheel exists, but....uh.......you know, on second thought, I was right the first time. This game blows.


Most Improved of its Series of 2008:
Winner: Suikoden Tactics
Being that Suikoden Tactics is a sequel to Suikoden 4 that does NOT rival tranquilizer darts as a means of sedation, it is almost immeasurably improved on its series's previous installment.
Runners-Up: Tales of Legendia, Wild Arms 5
Yes, yes, I know that I said Wild Arms 5 sucks, but just by sucking in a normal way it is a HUGE improvement on Wild Arms 4. And it does have some moments that are kinda nice and good, I guess. Who knows, maybe WA6 will actually be average...or, unlikely though it might seem, good. As for ToL, well, I've mentioned my feelings on it as a part of the Tales of series already. It manages to make anime cliches into really neat characters and themes explored in new ways, while Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Phantasia make anime cliches into...cliches that have been overdone one more time.


Most Creative of 2008:
Winner: Mass Effect
Mass Effect is an incredible sci-fi RPG. It imagines its setting with great and careful detail, going to huge lengths to develop a universe that, in my opinion, has greater potential for science fiction adventures than Star Trek or even Star Wars--if only because they're already doing so much to develop it from the get-go.
Runners-Up: Baroque, Fallout 3, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES
Doubtless several people, one of them tomato-related, are going to contest that Baroque is more creative than Mass Effect. I don't blame them. It was extremely hard to choose one over the other--Baroque just slaps you right in the face with individuality and crazily original ideas. The only real reason I chose Mass Effect over Baroque for sheer creativity is that Mass Effect really, really works for every bit of the stuff it comes up with, making ideas and then detailing them fairly extensively, while Baroque, while awesome, just flings original ideas and themes at you without getting into that extreme level of detail about them, making a lot of the plot's neat ideas somewhat vague. I know that's often what the game intends, but I still better respect the author who creates and then works to detail his ideas rather than the one who creates, tosses the audience the idea, and then immediately wanders off to make another. Oh, and yes, Fallout 3 is very creative in many ways, and SMTP3FES even more so.


Stupidest Weapon of 2008:
Loser: Dean's Ridiculous Sword-Pistol Things (Wild Arms 5)
I don't know if I'll ever have this category again, but really, these things are too stupid not to say something. Aside from looking ridiculous and being totally impractical as weapons (at least with Final Fantasy 8's Squall's stupid Gunblade, the weapon could be held sort of like a real sword--the blades of Dean's pistols come out of the handle going downward. Hell, all you'd have to do is push Dean's arms down a little and his damn blades would get stuck in the ground), they're rarely even used as guns to begin with. Dean will fire at things outside of battle with them, but when an enemy actually attacks, it seems he forgets how to pull a trigger unless it's a Critical Attack. You can't even imagine that he uses the impractical blades because they do more damage like some people theorize about Squall, because his critical hits show his guns going sub-machine gun-style and do huge damage. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Almost As Bad: Grune's Vase (Tales of Legendia), Norma's Bubble Straw (Tales of Legendia), Shirley's Writing Utensils (Tales of Legendia...Again)
No goddamn wonder mages can't attack for shit. Did anyone ever consider giving a magic-user a sword or spear or SOMETHING?


Best Voice Acting of 2008:
Winner: Tales of Legendia
Fantastic voice acting nearly all around; everyone's voice is well-suited for their character, and many of the characters wouldn't be as convincing and endearing without the actors' skill. Moses, Norma, and Grune are especially well-played, and of course, having Cam Clarke in the cast is icing on the cake. ToL isn't perfect--Shirley's voice acting is about half of why she's unbelievably annoying, the other half being everything else there is about her--but it's darned great all the same.
Runners-Up: Mass Effect; Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES; Shining Force EXA
SMTP3FES provides major competition to ToL, frankly, and putting one above the other in terms of voice acting talent might necessarily rely more on personal preference than objective comparison of skill. Mass Effect is done very well, as seems to be the norm for RPGs created on this continent (Fallout 3's also pretty good, and the KotOR series's voice talent is excellent). SFEXA actually surprised me--not only is it actually a pretty good game, but I really, really liked a lot of the voice actors' work in it. Everyone seems very well-chosen for the role, and in many cases, the acting is exceptional. Cyrille, 1 of the 2 protagonists, was particularly surprising in how appealing her voice acting was--she has, more or less, a somewhat average-sounding teen girl voice and speaking manner (I hear multiple girls chatting in class that sound very similar quite often when I sub), yet the dialog and her distinct inflections and delivery really sell the character to me and make her voice memorable.


Best Villain of 2008:
Winner: Sovereign (Mass Effect)
Sovereign's pretty cool--a massive, living machine that serves as a harbinger of doom for the Milky Way galaxy, using an ultimately irresistible mind control over sentient beings to bring about their own downfall in a calculated, ever-repeating cycle of galactic civilizations' destruction. Older possibly than the universe itself, on a level of consciousness unlike that of mortals or even the gods they worship, Sovereign's kind is beyond understanding, beyond reasoning with, and almost beyond resistance. They are simply the end.
Runners-Up: Death (Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES), Schwartz (Tales of Legendia)
As usual, not many villains this year that I'd consider all that good--I've mentioned before that RPGs just don't seem to get all that many good villains. Death was done really well in SMTP3FES, though, I gotta say. And Schwartz's role of world-ender isn't new or different, but she pulls it off with a convincing level of style and seriousness, so kudos to her.


Best Character of 2008:
Winner: Aigis (Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES)
Y'know, Aigis's character type is not especially new--she is more or less another Unemotional Girl Who Doesn't Know Anything About Humanity--But Learns To Understand And Value It.** But Aigis is the second robot lady I've ever seen to pull it off believably, and more than just that, get me emotionally involved in her struggles, really feeling the empathy for her that I'm meant to (Tio from Grandia 2 is the first, and still the best, but darn if Aigis ain't close). Aigis's transformation is lovely to watch, as is her relationship with the main character, which I believe is by far the most touching love story in the game (even though Mitsuru's was nice). Aigis is so great that I'd say she accounts for almost half of what makes the game so damn good.
Runners-Up: Chloe (Tales of Legendia), Will (Tales of Legendia), Wrex (Mass Effect)
Although none of them compete with Aigis for character excellence, each of these three are really great characters with (often quite surprisingly) a lot of depth.


Best Game of 2008:
Winner: Mass Effect
Make some room, Knights of the Old Republic: there's a new Science Fiction RPG franchise in town from the West to shame stuff like Xenosaga and Star Ocean with superior plot, characters, and creativity. Seriously, folks: play this game. Whatever hardware upgrades you make to your computer or price you pay for a 360 are worth it.
Runners-Up: Baroque, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES, Tales of Legendia
While the actual playing experience is repetitive as anything, Baroque's pretty darned cool. And even if the first half is kinda average, Tales of Legendia ends up being a game you love with characters you're guaranteed to remember fondly. As for SMT3FES, well, it seems to have become the Final Fantasy 7 of the SMT series--it has a crapload of hype, it seems like everyone's either played it or has 5 friends who have, and you can't hear its name 3 times without someone describing it as the best RPG ever. So like FF7, I think it's overrated. But also like FF7, I don't think it's overrated by very much. If you haven't already, go get it.


And that's it for this year! On with the RPGs of 2009. Looks to have a promising start; I've got Mother 3, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, and Paper Mario to start with, and I've heard promising things about them all. See all'y'all next year, folks.










* I was reluctant to be pleasantly surprised in this case, because it means that I can no longer count Tales of the Abyss being a fluke in the series for being good. I've said several uncomplimentary things about the Tales of series based mostly on Tales of Phantasia and Tales of Symphonia, but now that half of the Tales of games I've played turned out to be really good, I can't dismiss Namco's little RPG series as unimaginative crap...at least, not until I play another of their games and it turns out to be bad. Curse you, CK Byuu!

** I hear there's a fine that Japanese writers have to pay if they write a female robot who DOESN'T fit this archetype.***

*** I wonder what Phantasy Star 4's creators had to pay for Demi.****

**** Because she was so vapid and meaningless a character that even the laziest minimum of Wanting To Be Human characterization would have quadrupled her near-nonexistent personality, Hand Maid May's writers got off the hook with mandated Community Service.*****

***** Which was 3 dozen panty shots per episode.******

****** This will be the last time I abuse these page-bottom note thingies this rant. Promise.*******

******* I lied.

Monday, December 8, 2008

General RPG Lists: Most Over-Powered Characters

Every now and then, you come across an RPG party member who is so ridiculously impossible to beat/ridiculously powerful, he/she/it seems to just plain be a living cheat code. Today, we look at the ones I think are the most over-powered of all.



5. Georg (Suikoden 5)

You could make an argument that Suikoden 5's truly broken character is Zerase, but honestly, she doesn't have the staying power that Georg does, and her magic doesn't deal out the kind of monstrous damage that his sword does (heck, you can more or less equal or surpass her with Viki in her own field of expertise). Georg can and usually does deal out immense damage with his attack, and he can often do a critical attack that either instantly kills a regular enemy (like being hit for over 1000 damage from him normally wouldn't anyway), or deal 4 times his regular attack to a boss. And along with having great defense and HP, making him already hard to take down with magic and nearly impossible to take down with physical attacks, he often--heck, not often, USUALLY--blocks enemies' attacks and counters them. Georg is a one-man team; you practically have to TRY to have him killed for him to be taken down in battle.


4. Chisato (Star Ocean 2)

Chisato is awesome in battle. I can't see why the Star Ocean 2 community as a whole hasn't quite caught on to this yet. Her regular attack does damage twice each time, which is nice since her attack stat is very high, and doesn't take so long to perform and have such a limited range that enemies often manage to move/attack before it can actually hit, like the attacks of the unfathomably more popular Dias. Her running speed around the battlefield is practically twice that of other characters, which means that she has a better chance of retreating for a moment to heal without the enemy effectively pursuing her. Her best attack, Tear Gas, is nearly inescapable, hits at least 10 times for good damage each hit, and has a chance, I believe, of poisoning its target. It's also easy to link with another of her more effective skills, Flamethrower, adding several more hits to the mix. Finally, Chisato is one of only 2 characters in SO2 (and, since the other character is the brainless, exasperating Final Fantasy 10 Rikku prototype, Precis, Chisato is the only 1 of the 2 that you would actually WANT to have around) that can equip the all-mighty Algol Shield. This shield basically can randomly Petrify any enemy that attacks its wearer--and with SO2, Petrify is synonymous with Instant Kill with enemies. The best part of this is, though, that almost no enemy in the game is immune to Petrify--this includes bosses, insanely powerful secret bosses, and even a boss that you are scripted to lose against. Frankly, if it weren't for SO2 having such a poorly-executed battle system that works with a high difficulty level to frustrate the player, Chisato would be number 2 on this list, easy. However, since the game is difficult both by design and by design incompetence, Chisato is not as crazily over-powered for her game as the others below, so she remains in 4th position on this list.


3. Juan (Suikoden 3)

The Suikoden series has more than its fair share of over-powered characters--if I did a longer list, I would not only have Georg and Juan, but would also most likely include Zerase and Suikoden 3's Nei, too. I'd probably consider Lazlo in Suikoden Tactics, too.

Juan is a beast. He SEEMS useless at first, because he's a lazy oaf who starts off every battle asleep. But all you need to do is equip him with Sleep-blocking accessory or armor to remedy that. And once he's awake, he's just devastating. His innate combat skills allow you to make his attacks extremely powerful, AND they have him hit multiple times each round of combat--it's been a little while since I played, but I think he was getting 5 - 7 attacks each round. Think about that. In your average RPG, just giving your weak HEALING MAGE character 5 attacks a round would put them in the same physical damage class as your top attackers--and Juan's the latter. The icing on the cake is that another of his skills allows him to retarget new opponents once the one he's attacking is dead, so if he kills an enemy on, say, his 3rd punch in a turn, you won't lose the rest of the strikes he would have delivered to them normally--he'll just find the next baddie and pummel them with the extra. He doesn't have the tank-like staying power that Georg did, but he obliterates everything so fast that it doesn't make a difference in regular battles, and he doesn't require any more healing aid in prolonged boss battles than anyone else normally would.


2. Orlandu (Final Fantasy Tactics)

Ah, Orlandu. Patron saint of the Over-Powered Characters. His attack stats are crazily high, he can normally equip most of the best armor and weapons in the game, he has decent movement, and his skills are a combination of the most immediately powerful decently-ranged Job Class in the game (Holy Knight, with its powerful semi-magical physical attacks that not only have range and easy-to-work-with area affect, but also can cause status effects on enemies that they don't just instantly destroy), one of the more tactically useful Job Classes in the game (Divine Knight, which, while lacking very slightly the Holy Knight's power and range, can destroy enemies' equipment with each strong attack), and one of the most self-sustaining Job Classes in the game (Dark Knight, which has a ranged attack that not only deals strong damage, but heals the user at the same time). Not only that, but he automatically comes with an extremely powerful sword that automatically casts Haste on him, giving him the speed to rain destruction down on his enemies one turn after another before they can even react. Using Orlandu can make you feel dirty, he's that over-powered.


1. Sailor Pluto (Sailor Moon: Another Story)

Sailor Pluto has lousy staying power. Her defense is bad, her HP ain't great, she more or less can be pretty easily put down for the count by one relatively powerful boss-level attack. Her attack power is even worse. Unless you specifically devote the best attack items to her, her regular attacks and special abilities will quite often be dealing 1 damage to enemies--and even with the attack items, she's mediocre at best.

So why is she the most over-powered RPG character ever? Because she can stop time. Or, more specifically, freeze your opponent in time for 3 turns. Your opponent will sit there, doing nothing, for multiple turns while you dish out damage, heal allies, and point and laugh. And this isn't just some typically lame RPG status ailment that works against all the weak enemies you don't need it for but not on the strong ones. Pluto does this for EVERY bad guy in the game, up to and including the final boss. And unlike a few similar abilities in other RPGs, there are no strings attached to this one--you don't have to recharge it over a period of time like with that group ability in Tales of Legendia, it doesn't so much battling to learn that it's probably useless when you get it like Feena's Time Gate in Grandia 1 (and on the note of Time Gate, Feena's the only one still active when she uses that move; Sailor Pluto's whole team can do as they like when she uses Time Stop). All you need to do is make sure that Sailor Pluto's MP is restored during one of the turns that your enemy's frozen, and she's ready to cast it again immediately. This means that, so long as the enemy doesn't manage to kill her between spell casts, Sailor Pluto basically makes it impossible to lose.


Honorable Mention: Mewtwo (Pokemon Blue/Red/Yellow)

Back in the good old days of Pokemon, Psychic was where it was at. Their only weaknesses were Ghost Pokemon, which was no weakness at all because there weren't any real Ghost Type attacks and all the Ghost Pokemon were part Poison, which made them weak to Psychic anyway, and Bug Pokemon which was also not a weakness since Bug Type attacks all sucked and the Bug Pokemon were all also part Poison like the Ghost ones were. And at the top of the Psychic ranks was Mewtwo. He had the best stats, learned or could learn most of the best moves, and was more or less invulnerable to everything. He was about as over-powered as it got; Orlandu looks like a sissy by comparison.

Sadly, the creations of proper Ghost Type attacks, Ghost Pokemon who weren't naturally weak to Psychic ones, lame other super powerful Pokemon like Deoxys and that idiotic flying chicken Ho-oh, and the disgracefully stupid, unnecessary, and random Dark Type, have all evened the playing field, and Mewtwo is no longer the unequaled master of power that he was always meant to be. Still great, of course, just not distinctively so. But if not a place on the actual list, he certainly deserves mention for what he was.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

General RPGs' Romantic Pacing

Today's rant is not about an RPG-only problem. RPGs have this problem, yes. But it is only natural that they would, because all the forms of media closest to them (other video games, TV shows/anime/cartoons, movies, even many books) have the exact same problem. It's an annoyance to me in general, but the blog's about RPGs, so I'll just focus on the problem in them.

This problem is the pacing of romance in RPGs. Now, don't get me wrong--I love a good courtship-under-fire, that situation where a guy and a gal (not that a guy and a guy or a gal and a gal wouldn't be fine, but RPGs haven't quite eased their way that far into the topic of homosexuality yet) fall deeply in love with each other while running around in constant, life-threatening danger on a long and complicated quest to save their country, world, galaxy, universe, or whatever. Their quickly-formed bonds of love will form over the course of the game (and often wind up somehow absolutely essential to the plot), and by the end or at least near end of the game they'll finally seem to accept that they're meant to be together, whether they actually speak the words "I love you," or, strangely often, just kind of reach some unspoken agreement about it. Sure, it sounds stupid, and, well, it actually quite often IS stupid, along with lazily and incompetently written and portrayed...but it does often work, too, giving us really lovely, heart-warming love stories like Tidus and Yuna's (Final Fantasy 10), Dagger and Zidane's (Final Fantasy 9), and Bastila and Revan's (Knights of the Old Republic 1), among many others.

The problem I have, though, is that this is more or less the ONLY romantic pacing shown--the "Boy Meets Girl, Boy and Girl Develop Attraction, Boy and Girl Finally Establish Themselves as a Couple, The End" formula is more or less the only love plot ever shown to any significant degree in an RPG. The "relationship" they show isn't actually a relationship until the last moments of the game. Just about never do we see an RPG where a main character actually is IN a relationship, whether it existed before the game or came about during the game's events. Some smaller, side characters might have boyfriends/girlfriends or husbands/wives, but they're shown as secondary. Actually, hell, scratch that--they're never even shown secondary attention. That's given to side characters who are ALSO working their way into a relationship. Any side character who's happily involved/married gets just about nothing. Most of the time, any romantic scene they get can be summed up by:


Party Member: Hello, dutiful husband or much-more-likely wife. It's me, your wife or much-more-likely husband. I'm going to have to leave on a dangerous journey with a group of people who call me old just because I've been able to legally consume alcohol for a year now, because they need my help with fighting or thinking, as I am either a renowned warrior or much-more-likely renowned scholar.

Spouse: Okay! Love you! Bye! I'll keep the house tidy!

Party Member: Your support means all the world to me. Thank you.

Spouse: Okay! Love you! Bye! I'll keep the house tidy!

Party Member: I'll be thinking about you the whole time, darling. I only have my courage by knowing I have something, and someone, to come back to. Goodbye.

Spouse: Okay! Love you! Bye! I'll keep the house tidy!


RPG writers never seem to want to deal with the task of writing two people who are in love with each other and actually KNOW it. There are 3 reasons I can think of for this, but only 1 that I really buy.


Reason 1: Pandering to their audience. Just like Quesada's decision to break up Spiderman's marriage, the RPG writers have determined that their audience is a collection of anti-social losers who are incapable of finding love due to being enormous tools, so the writers give them the only side of romance that they can relate to--the build-up to getting together with someone, except that they usually throw in the happy ending that the gamers imagine and strive for but never themselves reach. The game ends before any specifics of how the relationship works are shown because the gamers themselves have no understanding of it.

Actually, that's not exactly like Quesada's plan to insultingly pander--the RPG writers probably aren't projecting their own misery and psychological issues.

Reason 2: The conflict of a burgeoning romance. The conflicts and difficulties of hooking up with the person you like are always interesting to an audience, and of course you can't show those in a relationship where you have hooked up with that person already.

Reason 3: Just about no one in any popular form of media shows stable, happy relationships. Even in cases where two people ARE together and are focused on by the show/movie/whatever, their relationship immediately becomes all about outside forces trying to tear it apart (and usually succeeding...we wouldn't even have daytime television if not). A happy relationship's aspects and hurdles aren't ever shown in other media, so RPG writers have a whole new world available to them if they want to show a relationship in progress rather than starting...and the newness scares the dickens out of them.


I don't think that the first reason's the case, because you can usually spot the RPGs out there that are insultingly pandering to their target audience pretty easily (shallow teen stereotypes involved in empty, meaningless friendships and won't-last-a-week romances with each other in Final Fantasy 8, crappy writing desperately trying to hide behind lame and stupid jokes and women who qualify as naked even when fully clothed in Shadow Hearts 3...that sort of thing). And I don't really think that the second reason's the case, either, because really, most of the RPG romances come about with relatively little resistance from either side beyond occasional stupid anime "I'll do everything humanly possible to deny that I have a crush on someone because it's shamefully embarrassing, somehow!" stuff. I mean, sure, sometimes the guy and gal have to work stuff out to hook up, like with Dagger and Zidane, but in general, RPG couples just kind of hit it off from the start and cruise their way into each other's arms.

So I'm left with the third reason. It's annoying, because until a significant amount of people are willing to take the plunge into the creative waters of portraying a stable relationship, it's not going to become anything more than a rarity.

And for clarification, I don't mean cases where you're told there's a stable relationship, but never seem to actually see it for yourself. Senel and Shirley in Tales of Legendia may be involved with each other in the second half of the game, once they hook up at the end of the first half via standard RPG love story pacing, but they live separate lives in general, and when they're together (which is almost invariably while they're with the rest of the party anyway), little to no mention or development of their relationship occurs. Ark and Elle (underground version, I mean) in Terranigma might be an item, but since Ark's away from her for about 98% of the game, it doesn't count. And while Shadow Hearts 2 shows some rather touching moments of the love between Yuri and Alice established in the first game, I don't think you can really count it in this case since it's Yuri being grieved over Alice's death. I mean, I guess you don't get much more stable than death, but...not what I'm talking about here.

(Not to say, incidentally, that I don't think SH2 does a truly great job with Yuri and Alice, and that I don't think it's an uncommon thing to show in such detail in an RPG--it does and is. It's just not what we're looking for in this rant).

I would say that of all the RPGs I've played, the only ones that significantly show an actual relationship for a fair amount of time are Dragon Quest 5, in which you spend a lot of the long and tedious game wandering the world with your wife, and later children, Monstania, which has the main character Fron and his main squeeze Tia already established as boyfriend and girlfriend, and Lufia 2, which shows main character Maxim hook up with and marry Selan, a woman he meets in his travels.

DQ5 doesn't really go into the details (surprise, surprise) of the relationship it shows after the wedding (heck, it barely shows the details of the relationship beforehand, and that's if you the girl the hero chooses is the one he actually knew before wandering into town the day before), with the hero's wife more or less just blindly and cheerfully following the hero and popping out a couple of kids (good old Dragon Quest, always keeping up with tradition!). Monstania, though, is rather nice, showing Fron and Tia knowing each other, sticking by one another, having the occasional argument that's not serious, and quietly reaffirming their bond through actions and small, non-dramatic words and gestures. It's not a moving, epic story of Love Conquers All by a long shot, but it's different, nice, and believable.

I think Lufia 2 does it best Maxim and Selan fall in love in rather typical, somewhat-odd-but-we'll-roll-with-it RPG fashion probably about 1/3 through the game. They get married, and the player sees a few scenes of them living a happy married life as husband and wife, fellow warriors, and equals. After these scenes, the adventure picks up again, and they go off together to save the world. During this quest, they engage in light-hearted banter, deal with issues of trust and faithfulness, act on the desire to protect their child's future, and share tender moments together when circumstances allow...things real wedded couples do, from what I've seen of'em. It's interesting, it's touching (heck, moreso than probably the majority of average RPG romances), and the quality and appeal of the relationship doesn't suffer at all for actually being there. It's a shame we don't see more relationships like this in the genre.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Okage: Shadow King's Humor

Okage: Shadow King is an absolutely delightful, very obscure RPG that looks and behaves something that Tim Burton might come up with while tripping on LSD. Despite having tortuously boring dungeons that focus almost exclusively on a mind-numbingly repetitive battle system, it has an unique sense of fun that makes just about everyone who plays it love it.

What OSK is most known for is its bizarre and zany humor. It's silly through and through, filled with crazy hilarity that more or less stays consistent through to the end. To give you an idea of this, here's how the game opens up: Ari, the main character, finds himself having to leave his village to go on a journey to beat up creatures known as Evil Kings at the demand Lord Stanley Hihat Trinidad XIV, a selfish and short-tempered spirit who has possessed Ari and is currently inhabiting Ari's shadow, who wants to gain their power for himself. Ari, who got into this mess after his family pressured him into selling his soul to Stan in order to save his sister from an embarrassing curse that caused her to only speak in Pig Latin, has to go along with this on the hope that raising Stan to the state of the legendary Great Evil King Gohma, who Stan makes completely unfounded claims of being a reincarnation of, will give Stan the means to create a body of his own, so he can leave poor Ari's shadow alone and stop harassing him.

The game goes on largely in this vein of amusing oddness, with incredibly silly situations, crazy characters, and funny dialog that guarantees enjoyment throughout the game's entirety. It's such a wacky, fun time that you almost don't realize as the game reaches its later stages that you're also experiencing a deep and thought-provoking plot.

This is what separates Okage: Shadow King from other Humor RPGs such as Super Mario RPG and Earthbound, among others, to me. The games of this sadly rare category are all marvelously fun RPGs that appeal to just about anyone who's not too self-important and anal to have a sense of humor, making them often universally loved, but I'd say that OSK is the only one I've encountered that's an all-out humor adventure that has true meaning to impart on the player. Not that it's surprising that such a thing would be a rarity--it's not often we see a product completely devoted to humor that also has something there to make us really think and consider it. I may absolutely love comedy movies like Space Balls and Ghostbusters, and comedy TV shows like Freakazoid and Mystery Science Theater 3000, but when I watch such things that are built around tickling the audience's funny bone, I don't expect to see anything that really gets me thinking.

(Not to say that Comedies shouldn't be held to any standards; they still need creativity and intelligent writing, just focused in a different way. Crude, unimaginative shit like Superbad or the Scary Movies that just cycle through 5 low-brow punchlines over and over like a month of 8-Bit Theater strips condensed into 2 hours aren't excused).

This is probably because actually getting some kind of deeper meaning into a comedy product is more than a little difficult. While the occasional or even frequent joke is a nice way to break up tension without distracting the audience from the important plot stuff in your average movie, game, show, or whatever, it's hard to keep an audience's thoughts and emotions captivated with your creation's depth when 80% of your dialog and situations are trying to get them to laugh.

Okage: Shadow King, however, seamlessly blends the serious with the comic--in fact, rather than competing, the comic and serious tones work together in this game. The comedy keeps you immediately interested and entertained, while softening the drama of the plot and allowing you to experience and appreciate the serious events and themes without becoming mired in them. You'll be chuckling at the silliness even while seeing themes of individuality, independence, and Man Vs. God explored in as interesting and worthwhile a way as any other RPG--in fact, OSK does it a sight better than quite a few of its peers. I can only hope that more humor RPGs will take a cue from this one and experiment with mixing in some deeper meanings to their joke-laced stories, because it can really result in something nifty.

Friday, October 3, 2008

General RPGs' Combined Gameplay

For the most part, RPGs stick to a certain kind of battle system adamantly. I pretty much divide these up into 3 separate types: Action, Regular, and Tactical. Regular battle systems are what RPG players are probably most familiar with--the menu-surfing standard made almost synonymous with the genre by the infamous Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series. Action RPGs are practically the exact opposite, having you actually PLAY the game rather than select commands and hit a Confirm button thousands of times. Although not nearly as common as Regular battle systems, Action battle systems are just about as old to RPGs, with games like Crystalis and The Legend of Zelda series in their early history, and only seem to be getting more common. And then there's the Tactical genre, which has you moving units across maps in predetermined distances of movement, where distances, heights, terrain, and ability side-effects are often the true deciding factors in combat. It's hard to explain, but chances are you've encountered more than one before, and if not, well, I dunno, go on Youtube and find a video of someone playing Final Fantasy Tactics or a Fire Emblem. You'll get the idea pretty quick.

Anyway, RPGs pretty solidly stick to one of these genres, in most cases. An action RPG's gameplay is pretty much never gonna deviate from that battle system, save maybe for the occasional annoying minigame here and there. Outside of of wandering around dungeons, towns, and the map, and playing the previously mentioned annoying minigames, you're not going to be getting much real gameplay in a standard RPG, just hundreds of interruptions where you "battle" enemies with menu choices. There's really not a lot of attempts in the RPG world at mixing up the systems themselves, only at adding features and innovations to the existing ones, which often just ends up making them needlessly complicated (the actual, real world is not as complex in its laws and natural balances as Star Ocean 2 and 3's battle systems are) and/or silly (Final Fantasy 12's requiring experience to equip a better suit of armor than they currently have clearance for, even though the skill to put it on would have already had to have been mastered for them to wear the currently-equipped clothing).

However, there IS a certain innovation that I'm fond of that happens on very rare occasions: the use of TWO (or even all three) of the battle systems in a single game. No, I'm not talking about just the fact that you can (and really do have to quite often) open up a menu during an Action battle to give commands, like in the Tales of series or something. I mean real, distinctly different battle systems being used at different times.

The earliest game I know of that did this was the good old NES title, The Magic of Scheherazade. Now, I admit, I am very, very fond of this old treasure, and nostalgia plays a great part in that--I consciously know it's only a fairly good RPG, but darned if I don't just love it to pieces. TMS was pretty unique, though, in that it employed both an Action battle system, AND a regular Menu one. You travel from one screen area to another (just like The Legend of Zelda 1), and on each screen you can encounter enemies that you have to fight off by actively controlling your character and having him move and attack. But, each time you move from one screen to another, there's a chance of you getting attacked, Random Encounter-style, and having to fight an enemy party in a standard (if extremely simple) menu battle. It's neat, the way it's separated, and it breaks up the gameplay a bit so it's not all just the same thing over and over again.

Of course, the most famous example of this combination of RPG genres would probably be the Suikoden series (the numbered ones, at least; Suikoden Tactics predictably only features Tactical combat). Suikoden games primarily employ your standard, menu-based battle system for most of their battles; however, in each game there are many times when you have to win a round of Strategy combat. Though the tactical battles are usually not as complex or developed as the regular ones are (the first Suikoden's strategical warfare is only a few steps up from Rock Paper Scissors), it's a great break that works very closely with the game's plot to help you get drawn into the game's events. In addition, the series has one-on-one battles that actually qualify as an entirely different genre of RPG battling altogether, in my opinion, which further give the player some plot-related variety. It's done very well.

The last game that I can think of immediately that has a combination of gameplay types would be Bahamut Lagoon, for the SNES. I'd also consider it the best example. Battle is a perfect mix between Strategy and Menu battle systems--you move your units across the field and use abilities and terrain just as you would in a regular strategy game, but you can also have a unit personally engage an enemy instead of just attacking on the field. During this personal fight, you get a turn of regular menu combat with your assembled troops. It's all easy, it's all smooth, and it's all connected, yet separated very distinctly. Quite different and innovative.

Of the 3 games/series where I've seen it implemented, all have done it in a way that was overall positive and refreshing. So, really, why don't more companies do it?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Chrono Trigger's New Game+

Over a decade ago, Squaresoft and Enix teamed up to create an RPG. This game would not be like most of the endeavors they would later work together as one company to make, for this would be good. In fact, one of the greatest RPGs ever created, by most accounts, including my own. The game was called Chrono Trigger, and it became one of the most immortal pieces of the genre to date.

Chrono Trigger's creativity, variety, innovation, and colorful presentation has never really been duplicated, in my opinion. No RPG time travel has had quite the same engaging significance and fun, nor has an RPG had as well-done a merging of different time periods, and I'd have to say that I've yet to see any past, present, or future utopia civilization in an RPG that can quite measure up to the mysticism, opulence, and magical majesty of the Kingdom of Zeal. In most cases, I'm fine with this--CT wouldn't stand out and its imagination wouldn't seem as neat if any old game could copy it, and I'm all for other developers coming up with their own twists on preconceived concepts. That's what creates variety in games.

But one of CT's particularly imaginative concepts that's almost never been copied as anything more than a shadow of its original self that I WANT duplicated in full glory is the New Game+ feature. For all 0 of you who aren't familiar with CT, New Game+ is an option on the game's beginning menu that opens up once the game has been beaten once. It allows you to restart the game with all the levels, items, money, weapons, Techs, armors, and accessories that you had in the previous game. This very handy feature allows you to breeze through the game quickly again any time you like, which means that you can watch the game's plot and character development more cohesively, and not have to deal with the stupid tedium of level-grinding and long boss battles (not that CT really needs either of these, being on the easy side of the easiest regular game genre to date, but, y'know, it's the thought that counts). And you're given incentive to give the game at least one more spin by the fact that you can get many alternate, just-for-fun endings to the game by beating the last boss at different times in the plot's progression. Definitely a neat extra.

Now, don't get me wrong. Plenty of games have copied the idea in some way or other. Sometimes it can be in a way that is just stupid and useless, like with Baten Kaitos 2, which, after going through an inordinately long game with an annoyingly complicated and touchy battle system that you have to use in inordinately difficult battles, that include that goddamn Holoholo Bird boss, AKA the Rainbow Sunshine Bird of Satan and its Cute Fluffy Hellspawn, allows you to restart a game with...the records of the cards you've encountered in the game. No levels, no battle abilities or equipment, no money, no items, not a goddamn thing of any use at all. Including the New Game+ this way is a cruel joke more than a replay enticement.

At other times, a New Game+ can be almost as good or even just as good as CT's was in terms of keeping your characters' stuff for the next replay. Mass Effect, for example, lets you start over a game with the exact same character as you completed the game with, levels, credits, equipment, Paragon and Renegade points, abilities and all. I think you might still have to repurchase Grenade and Med Gel upgrades, but, hey, advanced levels and weaponry right from the get-go, along with oodles of extra cash, makes that pretty much alright. The Tales of series has an interesting twist in that you can keep lots of handy things like money and skills in a new game, along with get bonuses like extra HP and doubled Experience, but only if you did well in the previous playthrough--although the measurement of how well you did is only by your success in battle, rather than in any important aspect of the game, so I'm not as enthusiastic as I could be about it. Still, good potential.

The thing is, though, that there's MORE to CT's New Game+ than most games even attempt. Oh, sure, I LOVE the idea of making the replaying of the game much faster and smoother, because if I replay an RPG, it's either because I'm showing its story and characters to my sisters, or because I want to view them myself again. It sure as hell ain't ever because I can't suppress the gleeful desire to move a cursor through a menu and press the Confirm button thousands of times again.

But CT's New Game+ didn't just rely on the game's terrific plot and characters to entice you to play through again--although that would have been and most often was more than enough, to be sure. It gave you a fun extra to keep you going through at least once more: the multiple, amusing endings. They were a fun, imaginative little extra to stick in there that really made you want to go through again just to see them all, even the ones that were little more than glorified remixes of the credits.

See, THAT'S what most of these games with New Game+ knockoffs are missing. They give you the option of experiencing the game again without having to spend as much time or effort on the boring part, but they don't really tempt you to do it with fun extras. Sometimes you get something little here and there, such as Tales of Legendia's option to replace the party members' regular clothing with "Formal" outfits (which are grossly disappointing and stupid, but that's beside the point) or animal costumes, but such small efforts are usually cheap, minor, and don't provide lasting incentive. I mean, using the last example, fighting in animal costumes is only engagingly funny for so long...and then you're just left with characters running around dressed up like those particularly odd team-mascot-outfit-wearing furries for the rest of the game.

I'll grant you, I CAN think of 2 games that have done the New Game+ thing as well as CT did. The first is Chrono Cross--same basic deal, with the added bonus of a way to make the game go twice as fast as normal with everything it does. THAT feature might make CC's New Game+ better, actually, as the faster you can zip through that nonsensical shitstorm, the better. The second is Makai Kingdom--again, you get to restart with all your stuff from the last game, AND there are various fun (and even sometimes informative about the game's events and characters) alternate endings to unlock on the subsequent replays. And unlike Chrono Cross, Makai Kingdom is actually a game you would WANT to play over.

In general, though, games that copy the awesome idea Chrono Trigger introduced to RPGs over a decade ago are only producing second-rate (or worse) replicas. What's the deal?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Final Fantasy 4 Theory: Kain's Bisexuality

Alright, folks, a few people have told me that they actually wanted to hear about this, and most of my ideas for rants lately have been titled "Why God Hates Me (Spoiler: It's Because I Have To Buy A New PC Graphics Card Because Mass Effect Won't Run On My Computer, Which Is Now Refusing To Load Its OS On Reboot So The Graphics Card Is Really A Moot Point At This Point Anyway)" which is altogether too long to use, and "Why God Loves Me (Spoiler: It's Because My Computer Works Again Thanks To Angahith And Mass Effect Is So Fucking Awesome As To Defy Description)", which is also far too long, so here we go. As a note, though, I want to point out that this is nothing more than a theory, based on what is, albeit reasonable and believable, wholly conjecture. I will usually defend the perceptions and beliefs stated in these rants because I've made my conclusions through a lot of thought and looking at hard evidence. This, though, I'm not going to do any more with than throw out there as a possibility.

Alright. Most of us are familiar with Kain. He's the somewhat curt Dragoon of Final Fantasy 4 who joins forces with Cecil, betrays his country, gets lost, rejoins his country, betrays Cecil, rejoins Cecil, betrays Cecil, then rejoins Cecil. If someone like Kain existed prominently in Earth's history, we wouldn't know who the heck Benedict Arnold or Judas were, because Kain clearly has'em trumped. I've never been a huge fan of him, seeing far more appeal and actual depth in most of the rest of the game's cast, but FF4's fans are crazily fond of pretty every aspect of the game, which includes Kain, so he's a reasonably well-liked character in general.

So, after Kain originally betrays Cecil and then is forgiven by the Paladin sucker and allowed to rejoin, it's explained to the gamer that bad guy Golbez used Standard Bad Guy Mind Control to turn Kain against his friends. He did this by exploiting a certain emotional weakness in Kain's mind: his long-held resentment toward his best friend Cecil, who always had the king's favor, was the more popular and respected soldier due to his choosing the path of Dark Knight, and, by far most importantly, had the love of the apple of Kain's eye, Rosa. This jealousy is what makes Kain so incredibly easy for Golbez to manipulate him.

But hey, okay, that's all in the past now, right? Kain recognizes his general and romantic jealousy towards Cecil, and has come to terms with it, making him a nice guy once more and presumably free from any further mind control by Golbez.

Yeah, that doesn't last long.

At the first opportune moment presented, Golbez takes control of Kain once more with no more than a moment's struggle from the man. Kain betrays the party like a total dick again, and trots off to Golbez. Well, thinks the player, Kain must have OTHER inner battles than just the jealousy thing, and Golbez has apparently taken advantage of those ones, this time. Doubtless it will be explained to the player later why Kain fell so immediately a second time.

Except...it never is explained. When Kain rejoins, he makes no attempt whatsoever to explain his last betrayal, gives no insight to how Golbez managed to sucker-punch his mind twice in a row. Nothing. Being an individual who, in a noble and nice way, invites betrayal into his life all the time, Cecil of course has no problem immediately accepting Kain back, despite the lack of explanation this time around.

The plot quickly moves along to its final conclusion of Good vs. Really Pathetic And Lazy Evil That Sits On Its Ass In Its Moonbase And Has Everyone Else Do Its Work For It (a kind of evil which, with the exception of the part about the Moonbase, will show up more than once again later in the series), and whatever questions the player might have about Kain's second betrayal are quickly forgotten. But what could have caused it?

Well, let's look at the material that the game gives us to go on. We know the following to be true:

1. Kain's personality's faults are what gave Golbez an easy in to his psyche the first time.
2. Kain's personality faults that are known to us are both based on jealousy--jealousy of Cecil's success and acclaim, and jealousy of the relationship between Rosa and Cecil.
3. Of these two, it is implied that the romantic jealousy is what really made him a sucker for Golbez.
4. After Kain is released from mind control the first time, he has a full comprehension of these weaknesses of jealousy of Cecil for his success and for having Rosa's love, and how they aided in his corruption. To this effect, it's reasonable to assume that in recognizing them, he has come to terms with them, and thus is not going to be susceptible to Golbez's mind control through these weaknesses again.
5. For no given reason, he still gets brainwashed at the drop of a hat later.

So here's my theory: Kain loves Rosa, and is jealous that Cecil has her love. But Kain also, unknown to him until after his second betrayal, loves Cecil, and is jealous that Rosa has his love.

It's a fairly elegant solution to the plot hole of the second betrayal in a couple ways. It allows Kain to keep his character development regarding his having recognized and resolved the issues that Golbez manipulated the first time, for it explains the second betrayal without having to nullify his understanding his jealousy towards Cecil for Rosa's love. Yet it also allows for the seeming ease with which Golbez regains control over Kain, for Golbez is, the second time, switching from Kain's jealousy for Rosa's love to Kain's jealousy for Cecil's love, two very similar emotional paths for Golbez to take into Kain's head. It's easy to see why Kain wouldn't have recognized this second love initially, as he could have been so focused on his love for Rosa that he would have mistaken the jealousy he felt over Cecil and Rosa's relationship as only being directed to one side, instead of both. And it also helps to explain why he doesn't even try to explain away his second betrayal, because, really, the only thing more awkward and distracting than saying "Hey dude, I betrayed you cuz your girl gives me a second spear, if you know what I mean" is saying "Hey dude, I betrayed you again cuz you also give me a second spear, if you know what I mean." Hell, he's probably still uncomfortably working through his feelings on the issue at that point; he's pretty quiet in general after that point, and he probably hasn't had as much time to come to grips with his second love as he'd had for his first.

So that's my Kain is Bisexual and Loves Rosa AND Cecil theory. Like I said, it's not one I'm going to stand by as clear, logical truth; it relies on circumstantial evidence and guesswork too much. At best, it's an interesting idea that's just as impossible to prove wrong as it is to prove right. And I admit that I haven't played the recent rerelease of FF4, so their completely unnecessary updated translation may have key changes which I'm unaware of that make this hypothesis impossible. But hey, at least I came up with the idea that a main guy in an RPG might be into another dude without once resorting to equating both friendship and rivalry/hostility with love. You gotta admit, THAT isn't something you see often.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Wild Arms 2's Antenora: A Lovesick Villainess Worthy of Note

One of the more annoying villain types I encounter in RPGs, I've found, is the Villain's Love Interest. This is the chick on the bad guys' side whose role in life is to be infatuated with the main villain. They just seem to be there to drape themselves all over him (yes, always him; no major female villain has this kind of flunky...because, as we all know, people who are clingy and submissive when in love are always women, right?), or at the very least simply stand around and take orders from him in some bizarre kind of devoted, silently pining stupor.

Aside from their generally annoying, clingy, very excessively dramatic demeanor, I typically think little of them as characters because their one and only defining character trait is, almost without exception, barely explored at all. I mean, if a developer's going to burden the game with these melodramatic floozies, they should at least TRY to sell me on their love. But instead, it seems to just be assumed by the makers that I'm going to completely buy that this random woman just happened to get to know this sinister baby-eating fiend (despite his tendency to kill everyone he meets), and was absolutely floored by his ridiculous and selfish plan to remake the world/destroy the universe/take over a country/whatever, despite the complete bullshit motives behind it.

I mean, correct me if I'm wrong here, because I don't claim to know everything about the way women think, but somehow, I feel that if I were to walk up to random women and say something like, "Hey, baby, I'm planning to destroy all civilization and remake it the way I want it, because I have a load of unresolved issues of identity and self worth. Wanna be a general? How about personal concubine? Both positions are open!", I would not get many favorable replies. But somehow, these villains are always able to find some doting, subservient woman to do everything they say without ever questioning them, and shower them with complete, blind love born of seemingly nothing but their role to play.

Gee, you'd never guess these games came from Japan, would you?

But yeah. Legretta in Tales of the Abyss, Lenus in Legend of Dragoon, Violetta in Grandia 3...the list of these annoying villain wenches is long, and has practically no character on it that had any depth or worth whatsoever.

Save, perhaps, for Antenora, of Wild Arms 2.

Now, granted, she seems at first to be a classic case of this annoying type. What you initially see of her is her being focused entirely on romantically following her psychotic leader, Vinsfeld, who also seems infatuated right back with her (which is somewhat uncommon; another stupid part of this cliche is how the villains never seem to give a damn about their followers' romantic aspirations). And, I suppose, I would have to admit that in the end, her relationship with Vinsfeld technically IS the focus of her development. But it's in such a neat way.

See, it's like this. The first inkling you get that there's something more to Antenora than meets the eye is as she's leaving to go on a certain mission. Her high and mighty terrorist boy-toy Vinsfeld makes it known to her that he's concerned for her well-being. Given her history of being clingy and seeking his attention, you expect her to be just about ecstatic at this. But as it turns out, she's really not. She's suddenly distancing herself from him, and kinda just politely giving him the cold shoulder. Weird, you think, and then dismiss it as unimportant and keep playing.

Somewhat soon afterward, she has her final showdown with the game's heroes, and, predictably, gets her butt kicked. Afterwards, though, she doesn't seem too terribly upset over failing her mission and being mortally defeated. And then she tells you why.

As it turns out, Antenora was once the daughter of a family of nobles...until the rest of her family was one day murdered by Vinsfeld as part of his mad vision. Robbed of those she loved and left with nothing, the life she'd led until then completely destroyed, she vowed ultimate vengeance against the man responsible.

Why join his cause and become his devoted follower, then, one might wonder? Why actually contribute to his plans, instead of at least secretly working against him? Well, because she didn't just want your average kind of revenge. Defying him, killing him, stopping him and ending his hopes and dreams...these tame, layman's revenges wouldn't cut it for Antenora. She wanted a revenge where he would suffer pain greater than any he could have imagined, emotional torment as bad or worse than what he had inflicted on her.

So to this end, she threw in her lot with his terrorists, rose up the ranks, and through her devotion to the cause became one of his main leaders. Once she achieved that, she did everything in her power to make him fall hopelessly in love with her. And once she was sure he had, and an opportunity arose...

She went to confront the heroes, and made sure that Vinsfeld could see by video link the ensuing battle, in which the woman he loved was violently murdered by his foes. She wanted to give Vinsfeld the greatest pain imaginable for what he did to her, and man, did she ever succeed. That's a plot of revenge by a woman crossed so emotionally vicious that would do a Shakespeare play proud. Heck, I haven't read everything the guy wrote; for all I know, Shakespeare DID once do the same thing. I really wouldn't be surprised if he had; it's a twist great enough to be worthy of him.

But yeah. Few things are more enjoyable to me in an RPG than to see a cliche character type given a totally new, unique, and intriguing spin to reinvent the archetype enjoyably, and Antenora really does just that.

Monday, June 23, 2008

General RPGs' Archers

RPGs use a lot of old weaponry. Although plenty of them do have advanced weapons like guns and heavy artillery (along with silly, stupid, unrealistic technological bullshit like gunblades and whatever the hell those things are that Dean in Wild Arms 5 uses), for the most part, if you're playing an RPG, your characters are going to be sporting spears, axes, knives, shuriken, and the like. And swords. There seems to be an unspoken law that at least 80% of all RPGs follow that someone in the game has to use a sword. Broadsword, rapier, katana, idiotically huge sword that would be next to useless in real life, whatever.

For the most part, these weapons are represented fairly well. They work like they're supposed to (Well, there's not a whole lot of creativity you need apply to the combat use of a big hammer, for example), and more often than not a character will have a ridiculously overdone special attack technique using them that looks cool and does a lot of damage even though no one could actually ever perform it in real life. In addition, their general level of power may sometimes vary from one game to the other, but you're almost sure to find a character in some RPG or other that handles a certain old weapon well enough to inflict massive damage with it. They get their proper respect.

Except for bows and arrows. Regular bows, long bows, crossbows, it doesn't matter: they never quite get their dues.

I mean, think about it. Who's the most likely in an RPG to use some form of arrow-launching weapon? Here's a hint of the first character type that comes to mind for me: Nash (Crossbow; Lunar 1). Need another? Artea (Regular Bow; Lufia 2). Not yet? Well, then, there's always Bow (Crossbow; Breath of Fire 2), Rosa (Long Bow; Final Fantasy 4), Marle (Crossbow; Chrono Trigger), and, though it pains me to speak ill of my favorite RPG of all, Millenia (Crossbow; Grandia 2). What do they all have in common? They're all primarily magic-users, whose primary use in battle, the skill you actually rely on them for, is either offensive or healing magic (or both). At best, their attack might be mediocre, a way to pass turns when not casting spells without it being a total waste.

But hey, there are some characters in RPGs that specialize in bow and arrow combat that are meant strictly for attacking. They must make up for how often this highly devastating weapon gets stuck with a puny magic-using weakling, right?

Well, not really.

See, in most cases, even offensive characters who use a bow and arrow are usually not terribly powerful. Sure, Diane and Hans in Shining Force 1 are decent units that can cause some okay damage. Certainly, the bow and arrow in Secret of Mana can be worked up to cause decent amounts of damage (although its "distance" was so utterly pathetic and laughable that it probably shouldn't even be counted). And yes, there are a crapload of elves and even some non-elves in the Suikoden series who use various bows and arrows who aren't specifically geared toward magic.

But the problem is, it's never quite enough for this weapon. See, longbows, like the kind the English used during the 100 Years War with France, are devastatingly powerful. They shot arrows with such force and at such velocity that they could penetrate heavy armor that swords and other regular melee were almost useless against. Medieval knights charging from a distance at a column of archers were like precursors to World War 1 soldiers charging from a distance at a machine gun turret. And the archers who used longbows fired them fast, too. Skilled archers could fire 10 to 12 volleys a minute. That's a shot every 5 or 6 seconds. None of this clumsy taking aim and leisurely making a single shot in one turn that you see with most RPGs.

The bow, or at least the longbow, is not a weapon with secondary power for support only. It is monstrously powerful killing device that surpasses the long-time favorite RPG weapon, the sword. If things were as they should be in Tales of the Abyss, Luke and Guy, the best physical attackers, would be dealing out background damage with their crazy sword techniques, while the team healer Natalia would be killing everything in sight inside 2 minutes with her longbow.

And crossbows? Jeez. Crossbows were banned by the Catholic Church for being so deadly as to be considered ungodly. They had all the power of a longbow with better distance. But RPGs have turned them into a fucking joke--under-powered, tiny toys that don't even seem to shoot as far as a regular bow.

So yeah. I know there are some characters out there, like Lilika from Rogue Galaxy and Faval from Fire Emblem 4, who can at least stand mostly on equal ground in combat with the regular sword-users. And I know that sometimes, on rare occasions, archers do get special techniques with their weapons the way most melee combatants do with theirs, such as Cyrille from Shining Force EXA or Link from The Legend of Zelda series (magic arrows count). But even at their best, bows and arrows are never given the power, range, or firing rate they deserve. I want to see an RPG with a longbow/crossbow-using archer who is not just support or primarily a mage, but an appropriately superior attacker over all others.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

General RPGs' Elves

Wow, a rant update BEFORE an entire month has passed! Incredible, ain't it?

So, anyway. Is it just me, or are elves by and large a pretentious bunch of assholes in RPGs? I mean, if, in an RPG, the hero must visit an elven community at any time, he or she is almost guaranteed to have an unpleasant time. This is how it will usually go:

HERO: Hey, Mr. Elf, there's this super-powerful villain guy who's out to destroy the world. We'd heard that you guys could maybe help us out with stopping him.

ELF: Shut the fuck up you stupid human. We're ELVES. We live FOREVER, and that makes us so incredibly wise that we don't have to do anything but sit on our asses for all eternity in our shitty little single forest village and contemplate how GREAT we are. If you're having problems then it's YOUR fault, because as human beings, everything you do is wrong, and you're all evil jerks who ruin the world.

HERO: No, no, see, HE'S the evil jerk who wants to ruin the world. We want to save it from him. Using some kind of special knowledge or magical power or something. That's where you come in.

ELF: If he's evil then you must be, too, because all humans are exactly the same, with no possible exceptions.

HERO: But...but he's making plans to destroy your whole race right now! Don't you think we should join forces so you don't all die?

ELF: Ha! As if. Humans lie about everything, so clearly he isn't actually going to attack us. And even if he did, we have bows and arrows, and our houses are made of old wood! What threat could he possibly pose to us? Now, as a token of our appreciation for going out of your way to find our village and attempt to save our lives, please enjoy the restful accommodations of our local prison.

BONUS SCENE FOR WHEN YOUR PARTY HAS A HALF-ELF, HALF-HUMAN IN IT:

ELF: Your parents never loved you and your very existence is a filthy sin against nature.

I mean, it's not that elves are incapable of being decent folks in RPGs. The individual ones you find along your travels, most often the ones who join your party, are usually pretty decent. For example, Suikoden 1. What happens when you come across one elf? Kirkis (said elf) asks for your assistance and is appropriately grateful for it and cordial. What happens when you go to the village of the elves? They throw you in jail and totally refuse to listen to anything you say. So I guess the general rule of thumb to go by more often than not is that elvish dickery is directly proportional to the number of elves concentrated in one area.

Now, honestly, the whole thing doesn't make much sense to me. Why is this race of beings who live for centuries and are supposed to be wiser than just about anyone else a bunch of close-minded, isolationist racial bigots? It may just be the perspective of an ignorant non-immortal human, but personally, blind prejudice and irresponsible separation from the world is not what I think of when I think of wise cultural policies.

Not to mention that their racism is in itself illogical and foolish. They don't have a good reason for it. I mean, sure, RPGs are usually going for the whole Tolkien-esque version of elves that are in tune with nature and everything, so yes, it makes sense that elves are, more often than not, not thrilled by humans in general due to humanity's constant destruction of nature for its daily life. I get that much. What I don't get is why they'd think they have the right to hate, ridicule, and completely snub humanity for bad habits such as these when the elves never do anything about it. Seriously, think about it. When was the last time you played an RPG where you visited some completely secluded elvish hideaway and got ridiculed by an elder or random elven citizen about how humanity sucks because it destroys nature and doesn't respect magic and blah blah blah, and had any indication that the elves had ever approached human civilization and attempted to guide them to better habits and methods? If they're not going to do a damn thing about it, I don't see what right they have to complain about it.

RPG makers have really got to get out of this trend. It's silly, it's annoying, and it's even a little disturbing, when you think about it, that beings renowned for their knowledge and wisdom are stubborn bigots.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Mario Series's Mario: The True Knight

Queelez will surely be pleased as punch to know that this rant was partially inspired by my reading the script for Man of La Mancha a few weeks ago.

So I know Mario's not exactly known for his RPGs, but he's been in a few, so I figure he's fair game. But I do admit that today's rant is more on Mario in the general sense than on his roles in RPGs. Still and all, I reckon it's only a minor breach in protocol.

So, Mario. We all know him. Hell, EVERYONE knows him. He's been widely-recognized and immensely popular internationally since his days on the NES, and most of us here have grown up playing and loving several of his classic games.

The thing, though, is that we've grown up playing the games. We're not 8-year-olds running for bridge-destroying axes, drifting through the air thanks to magical capes or raccoon tails, and hopping through magical paintings into whole new worlds. Our impressions of things we watch and play, and our understandings of characters and plots and so on, have grown with us, so the way we see and identify with iconic characters such as Mario also have changed accordingly.

Normally, this is fine, and even can give us some interesting new insight into old characters. However, there are a great many individuals out there, particularly amongst game-players and internet-users, who never mentally mature past the age of 14. These are the great intellectuals who, for example, spend their time postulating that The Legend of Zelda series's Link's motivation for his heroism is the hopes that he's going to get some from Zelda. They take something they've known since they were kids, and force their mature-yet-immature perspectives onto it, warping and perverting it into something that the original purely child-friendly and simplistic product never intended.

Now, before I go on, I should note that I don't necessarily mean to make a stand against the very concept of applying sexual tones to the stories and characters that one encounters. I'd be just a little bit hypocritical if I did. You can do so many times in a way that manages to bring about interesting truths and perspectives about characters that one hadn't considered before. Although rare, there are several sexually-explicit fanfics out there that tell a story or explore the characters within them in a thoroughly good way, for example. And I've had some unexpectedly interesting conversations in the past about, for another example, whether Kain in FF4 might actually be bisexual, and in love with both Rosa and Cecil. More on that in another rant, perhaps.

So yes. It's not that sex is an EVIL AND BAD subject that you will BURN IN HELL for applying to video games and the like. It can be an interesting tool for further exploring a character or theme.

And even if you're not using the subject for such lofty goals, it can sometimes be good for a chuckle. I mean, going back to my original example of The Legend of Zelda, I can't exactly pretend that I haven't, in some of my past columns here, poked fun at just how odd but funny some of the series's characters are in the sexual sense--as I've mentioned, Impa, Zelda/Sheik, and Link from Ocarina of Time could practically throw their own traditionally in-terrible-taste gay parade by themselves, with the ways they look.

But using themes of sex to explore a character or underscore a theme, or to get a few laughs at a clever jibe, has its time and place. The characters you can explore well in such a way are complex ones that we encounter in games made for teens and adults, with themes of more maturity than something just made for kids. Even if it started out as being a kids thing, the Legend of Zelda series has matured and grown with its fans, and is now a complex enough entity that it can appeal to adults and children in more than just the "Find a princess and save her" way the original did.

See, Mario just isn't like that. The Mario series has never made the slightest pretense of growing up with us. Oh, the graphics and look improve as time goes on, yes, but it's always to the same effect of having Mario be a cartoony, goofy-looking little dude who hops around, gains super powers that are childlike in how simple they are (flying thanks to a magical cape, bouncing around better thanks to a big spring, and the ever simple act of just getting bigger). His villain is the same as he ever was: a big, scary-looking turtle monster with spikes and claws, who is ornery for the sake of being so. His objective is most often always the same: save the princess and stop the bad guy. On the occasions where he swaps this objective for an alternate one, the new one is almost always just as simple. Unlike other series which have grown up with us to take on complex and often darker tones as we mature enough to appreciate them (The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Sonic the Hedgehog, etc), Mario stays as wholesome and immature as ever.

This is why it annoys me when the adolescent-minded individuals I mentioned earlier apply their singular focus on sex to him. There are a lot of people who seriously are convinced that Mario is getting it on with Peach, and that's at least a significant part of why he goes through such trials for her all the time.

Guys, seriously. Let's look at the characters and face facts here. Mario is not getting any from Peach. Mario doesn't CARE about getting any from Peach. As he scurries from one painting and world and galaxy to another to save her, it's not on his mind. This is a man who, at the end of a game, is occasionally fortunate enough to be rewarded with a single chaste kiss from the person he just spent hours getting blown up, eaten, smashed, electrocuted, fried, frozen, sliced, drowned and...um...falling-down-bottomeless-pits'ed for. And each time, he gives every indication of being completely content, even ecstatic, at this seemingly tiny reward. And it doesn't seem likely that he's putting on some happy facade while seething at her ingratitude underneath because, well...it's Mario. This guy ain't exactly a master of deception or complex emotion.

And, as an afterthought, Peach isn't leading him on, either. Again, that's a concept of a mindset foreign to that of the series. She's chaste and innocent, and in her mind, cakes and kisses are obviously as good a reward for something as anything could be. I mean, look at her. It's Peach. She ain't exactly a master of deception or complex emotion, herself.

Mario isn't doing it for sex, or even sexual love. He's being a hero countless times, uncomplaining and ever eager, because that's simply what he is: a hero. He does the right thing because it's the right thing to do. He saves his princess with no expectation or even desire for reward because that's what he wants to do, what he knows is RIGHT to do. He may love her, but it's a pure, chivalrous love, reverent enough of the object of his affections that her small shows of simple affection for him are more than enough reward for all he does. Not that he can't treat her as an equal and even competitor in those many games like Mario Party or Mario Kart, but his general treatment of her is with chivalrous respect.

That's why, in my mind, Mario's a true knight, more of one now than almost any other video game character in their current form to be found. Sure, he's goofy through and through, from his looks to his style to the battles he fights, but the core essence is the same regardless of outer appearances: He fights for what's right, no questions asked, no personal motives needed, and he cherishes the object of his affections with devout chivalry and unquestioning loyalty. He's a simple character, always has been, always will be, and that simplistic nature is what makes his heroism noteworthy, even inspiring, on the level of other such iconic heroes as Superman and Captain America.

Monday, March 31, 2008

General RPGs' Sailing

Sailing. Good lord, do I hate Sailing in RPGs.

Now, I should clarify what I mean when I say Sailing. I don't mean the traditional kind of sailing most often seen in RPGs. Sea- and lake-faring ships have been a pretty common staple in RPGs from the genre's earliest days. Generally, boats were used as an easy and fast way of traveling to new places previously unreachable, skimming across the waters of the globe at a quick pace to get you where you wanted to go. Simple, fast, easy to use. I mean, granted, the idea that you could sail around the planet in less than five minutes using a wooden boat propelled by sails is not altogether believable, and I know that I'm often making rants about how silly and unrealistic certain things in RPGs are. But this is the kind of unrealistic thing that I don't mind, and in fact, advocate, because it benefits the game's flow and enjoyability without being significantly odd. The game's story and realness wouldn't significantly benefit from making the ship slower and harder to navigate, but the ability to enjoy the game is significantly boosted when you can get where you want to go at a good speed, without having to wait ten minutes just to get your ship out of port. Not to mention, you can get a better feel of the plot being cohesive as you travel from one place to another if you get there sooner than later, since the plot's events will follow one another while they're still fresh in your mind. This is like the infamous 5 Second Inn Stay--the slight sacrifice of believability, or at least the slight quickening of an otherwise uneventful and long event, is easily made up for by how much the game and its story gain.

However, there are apparently people in Japan who don't realize this. These are the people who create games with the evil that I call Sailing.

The first ones, or at least the first ones to my knowledge, were, quite strangely, the fine folks at Nintendo. Specifically, the ones that made The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. TLoZWW takes place over a series of islands set apart from each other by large expanses of water. To get from one typically tiny island to the next, you must sail. You must sail a lot. For a long, long time. You will sail and sail and sail, and you will only see more water. More water, and lots of enemies. There will be nothing but enemies and water for God knows how long on your trips in between each island. It gets old REAL fast. But, y'know, I still liked TLoZWW. I liked it because it had a pretty original plot for a Zelda game, and getting originality out of a Zelda title can be like looking for meaning in an episode of FLCL. But still, playability-wise, it could have been MUCH less irritating if sea voyaging had been faster, less boring, and didn't have random monsters appear every few minutes to harass the player.

I said it was strange that this boring experience of Sailing was featured in (and, to my best knowledge, created by) a Nintendo game. This is because Nintendo, more than any other game company on the planet, seems to know and value the experience of actually playing a video game, and Nintendo games are typically among the most fun to actually play. So for Nintendo to release a title for one of their big-name series that was just so boring to play is surprising. But what followed was even worse.

See, the thing about Sailing in TLoZWW is, even though it's long and boring, it still controls smoothly and skillfully. When you're sailing along in your crappy little boat, you get the feeling from the controls that, yes, it's really not very good, but it's the CONCEPT that sucks, not the execution. Things are relatively smooth and responsive in their controls. It all feels polished, at least. But in the next and hopefully final RPG with Sailing, all that is totally lost.

I speak of Suikoden 4, renowned by Suikoden fans far and wide to be an utter disgrace to the series. It sits like a freshly-secreted mound of dung on a 3-tiered wedding cake. Now, as I've mentioned in a previous rant, just about every aspect of it earns this, and the worst parts of it are definitely related to how utterly pointless its plot and cast are. But Sailing is definitely still a very big part of why this game is so terrible.

See, they basically took the idea behind TLoZWW, and said, "Okay, how's this for an idea: there are even fewer islands to visit, they're further away from each other so you spend more time looking at the endless waves while you get to them, you go about one quarter of the speed, extremely repetitive random battles happen approximately every 30 seconds, and the ship controls like a tired sloth that just got off a 6-hour carousel." To get from one island to the next in this game, you will be staring at nothing but ocean, sky, and an extremely sluggish boat for the better part of half an hour, at least. Your only distraction will be the incessant random battles with enemies that stopped giving you significant experience at least 7 hours before. It's just about the most boring video game experience I've ever had, and considering that I've played Quest 64 from start to finish, that's saying something.

I actually timed myself on one voyage from one island to another that was roughly halfway across the map to see how long it would take to get there, if I ran away from every random encounter and made no stops. Turns out that, if you want to make a trip even halfway across the map in Suikoden 4, you'd better get ready to stare at the never-changing ocean waves for a good while, because your ship is going to spend almost 45 minutes meandering its way to its next destination, assuming you don't take the time to actually kill the random baddies accosting you every 20 seconds. Better figure in an extra few minutes in case you have trouble getting into the tiny port area for your destination island, too, since turning and getting around land masses is a ridiculously awkward and slow ordeal. And that's for 1 trip. Although the game's fairly short when you don't figure in the endless Sailing, you'll still be making many such trips over the course of the game. I figure about half the game's just monotonously getting from one place to the next. That's a good 20 - 30 hours of being bored out of your mind. And all presumably because some jackasses in Japan thought it would be a good idea to realistically show how much trouble and time is involved in traveling by sea. Probably the same idiots that came up with the realism of having to repair your weapon every 10 minutes in the Dark Cloud games or it'll oh so realistically break and leave you fucked.

Fuck Sailing. It just better damn well not become a trend.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

General RPGs' Dreams

You know, there's something that has always seemed a bit odd to me is RPG characters' dreams. Do they EVER just have regular, non-plot-essential dreams? I mean, if an RPG character has a dream, at LEAST 75% of the time it's a vision telling them of some immensely important upcoming event, usually one that spells doom and destruction for all they know if they don't go out and level up at least 40 times while procuring some holy super-powered divine object/weapon/maiden. They never just have a normal dream about random crap their minds throw together. It's ALWAYS prophetic somehow; even the purpose of the vision can't just be some made up crap. If they dream that they're the chosen one and that a race of aliens are gonna attack their world and they're the only person who can stop the aliens by finding 7 magic rings that can forge the Hyper Force Sword, then EVERY PART of that is true. Not one part of it can be made up, even though, for some reason, most of the characters who have the dreams ignore them until the predicted stuff is currently about to happen or IS happening. Even though EVERY dream has huge significance, they seem to treat the things with as little or even LESS interest than we do with our dreams.

The only real exception that accounts for the 25 or lower percent of the time is when a dream is showing a character some part of their past. And again, there's no possibility that this part of their past isn't incredibly important. Shadow of Final Fantasy 6 never just dreams about how fun it was to go hang-gliding with Baram that one time. He has to have dreams remembering monumental moments that changed his life forever. Karen from Phantasy Star Universe doesn't have a memory dream of a conversation she had with someone last Friday about what kind of boots she prefers. She has a traumatic memory dream of her mom dying when she was a little kid. I mean, I know that these are the kinds of moments that do stay with a person forever, and compared to the 100% accurate prophetic dreams, these ones are pretty believable, but still, no one dreams about massively significant memories like that all the time.

Y'know, I had a dream last week. I don't remember too many particulars (frankly, I'm surprised I remember it at all, because I usually forget dreams the moment I wake up), but I do remember that for some reason or other, I was talking to God about roast beef sandwiches. I really kinda wish I could remember the set-up to that conversation, and what I and God said exactly, because I know I really enjoyed it while it was going on and it would definitely be fun to relate, but that's life.

Anyways, living in this world, which makes more sense than it doesn't, I know I can disregard that dream as probably unimportant overall. But if I were living in an RPG world, this dream would have been a holy vision, and I would know for sure that God himself was granting it to me, and telling me that I must go on a journey to find the legendary Roast Beef Sandwich of El-Al-Eeal, lost since ancient times and key to the salvation of my world from the heinous Bologna Demons, summoned forth every thousand years to bring ruination to all. Not only that, but the dream might have then gone on to display a memory I had of my father leaving on a journey to discover the truth behind the Whole Wheat civilizations of old that created the sandwich I was now to find.

Seriously, though, I know this isn't a big deal or anything, but it still IS kinda silly. I know it would get boring if every time you slept at the inn you had to watch an inane dream sequence that means nothing, but still, it would be a lot more realistic if every now and then your sad-hearted pretty-boy protagonist just had a non-plot-significant dream where he was in front of his entire graduating class from Generic Main Character Mercenary Academy in his underwear.