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.