Tuesday, January 15, 2008

La Pucelle Tactics: Why I Was Disappointed With It

Before I make this rant, I'd like to say, for the record, that La Pucelle Tactics is a decent RPG. Its plot is dead average, but not BAD, and its characters, though they disappointed me terribly, are ultimately fairly decent, I guess. In most ways, the biggest disappointment of Nippon Ichi's RPGs is easily Disgaea 2; that was just a lousy RPG, plain and simple. If you play LPT, you will more than likely enjoy it. So keep that in mind.

That being said, the game is a tremendous let-down to me. Not so much because I'd heard or expected it to be good and it wasn't, as most RPG disappointments are, but rather because the game disappoints the expectations that it, itself, gave me.

La Pucelle Tactics follows a girl named Prier, her brother, and their friends as they perform duties for their small Christian-esque religious group which is more or less dedicated to protecting people and ridding the world of evil crap like demons and zombies and so on, in a land where people have this legend of a holy maiden once beating this super evil dark demon, and all that usual back story jazz. It starts out very well--the premise isn't exactly unique, but as is the usual for Nippon Ichi, the characters are incredibly appealing, and most have deep and engaging development. Prier's brother Culotte is pretty good, as is the object of his boyhood affections, Alouette, Homard is mildly amusing, Croix is okay, and Eclair seems, early on, to have a heck of a lot of potential as a character. As for Prier, early on, I just loved this gal. She's a breath of fresh air from your regular RPG protagonist (good or bad). She's outspoken, fun, cheerful (but not in a sappy or grating way), strongly independent, and amusingly direct (her philosophy seems to be that any problem can be solved with a good enough kick or uppercut). She's also got plenty of heart-warming and well-executed development as a character, too. For the first half of the game, she's one of the best main characters in an RPG that I've seen.

But then...jeez. It's like...okay, think back to Final Fantasy 8. Yes, yes, I know that you probably don't WANT to, but do it anyways. Now, you know how about halfway through the game, Squall does a complete and totally bizarre 180 from being an apathetic, miserable, totally loathsome asshole to being a love-sick, clingy, equally loathsome nitwit who is head-over-heels infatuated with a woman who, five minutes before, he couldn't stand the presence of? And how after this totally out-of-the-blue event, the entirety of the plot from then on is focused on their lame and nonsensical romance? To such an annoying degree that most of the rest of the cast's development was from that point on was focused on new ways to enhance and develop this flawed and moronic love story? That's what happens to La Pucelle Tactics. Seriously. I mean, it is just as unexpected and groundless as Squall and Rinoa's romance, completely overruns every aspect of the plot just like theirs, relegates other characters' development to only growing in ways that enhances this pointless theme of love, everything. And it's worse than FF8, because with FF8, at least the characters being twisted and ruined were lousy and shallow anyways.

Now don't get me wrong. I don't have anything against romance in RPGs or anything. I like a good love story as much as anyone, possibly more. But the key idea there is that I like a GOOD love story. Not a crappy, unnecessary and undesirable one like this. It all starts when Prier spends a story chapter helping two NPCs get together. At seeing their love, she suddenly realizes that she's never really thought about love before and wonders if she maybe should love someone. And from that point on, every part of her development and the story's progression become about nothing more than her having a crush on her teammate Croix. And we're not talking a good love story here, folks. We're talking the most cliched anime crap you can imagine. Thrill as Prier privately blushes each and every time Croix talks to her, looks at her, or just happens to stand within eyesight of her! Ooh and ahh as she proves just how much she loves him by doing everything within her power to avoid admitting that she has any feelings for him at all! Feel awe at the incredible originality as Prier gets upset and violent to anyone who dares to point out her extremely obvious infatuation! Be amazed as Croix predictably doesn't notice a goddamn thing! Well actually, I guess that IS rather surprising, just not in a good way. If it's a tired and painfully stupid anime cliche for romance, it's here.

And of course, not being content to utterly destroy the previously best character in the game, LPT's writers also included a stupid little side-romance for the second best, Eclair, who had the potential to be an even better character than Prier, with Homard, using even LESS believable circumstances to do it (Prier and Croix, at least, knew each other for more than 10 minutes before Prier dove into her crush on him, and actually got along). They argue about something (and the argument itself, incidentally, doesn't seem to make much sense anyway), Eclair admits that she was wrong eventually, and...that seems to be the only thing necessary for these two to be crazily into each other. It's made even worse by the fact that Homard is like 18 or so, and Eclair, near as I can figure, is 11. Maybe she's a little older and I just didn't figure the arithmetic right from the game's few clues about her age, but I can't be off by more than a year or two. I don't care how unrealistically developed Dark Eclair is physically, that's just creepy.

A romance plot in an RPG (or anything, really, this rule doesn't just apply to games) can be a great thing. It can be a fantastic way to get a new perspective into a character and all the other aspects of that character's personality. But it can't just REPLACE all the other parts of the character's personality, or it utterly ruins that character, which it did with LPT. Same is true with a romantic subplot being a part of a main story--if it just overtakes everything else, the whole thing is cheapened and loses its worth. And when the love story that takes everything over is bland and poorly-conceived like this one, that makes the situation worse. And what makes the whole thing both crappy AND disappointing is how much potential the game had that was was lost in the process.

It's not like Nippon Ichi can't make a decent love story. I've seen'em do it. I liked the small but sweet one in Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure, the one in Makai Kingdom was fantastic for how quietly profound it was, and hell, the NPCs of LPT that got Prier mixed up in the love concept actually had a pretty nice story themselves. NIS can do it, they just...totally flubbed it up on this one. Stick to the smaller, less plot-dominating romances, NIS, or we'll just keep getting more disappointments like LPT and yawn-fests like Disgaea 2.