Thursday, January 15, 2009

Startropics 1's Ending's Worth

Startropics 1 was a terrifically fun game with a lot of heart to it, one of my favorite NES games of all time. It was a very decent action RPG that had a strong devotion to its story, along with a rather unique RPG setting. Its most enjoyable aspect, the humorous and silly dialog and light overall mood, is what makes it notable in RPG history, because it was one of the earliest examples, if not the earliest example plain and simple, of the all too rare humor RPG. Fun, challenging, and silly in a nice way, the game's definitely worth checking out if you ever feel like kickin' it up old school. Or older school, I guess; I think we now consider SNES and PSX1 eras to be "old school."

There is one part of Startropics 1, though, that I feel is largely and unfairly forgotten and under-appreciated: its ending, and the perspective it puts on the game's adventure's purpose. A little refresher on the ending for those of you who haven't played it in a little while (and severe warning to those of you who haven't played it at all not to read further! Startropics 1's close enough to my heart that I don't want anyone to spoil it for themselves): after single-handedly beating the alien warlord Zoda, taking out an entire space ship full of world-conquering, technologically advanced alien invaders, and blowing said ship up, Mike returns to C-Island and brings the three delicious-looking alien sugar cubes to his uncle, who had insisted that they were artifacts important enough for his teenage nephew to take on a world-destroying group of aliens while armed with naught but a yo-yo in order to get them. They put the cubes together, there are some flashy effects (to the extent that the ol' NES can produce flashy effects, at any rate), and 7 kids suddenly appear. Mike and company discover that these children are the last survivors of Argonia, an alien civilization that had been otherwise utterly obliterated by Zoda and his bunch. Mike did more than just beat up bad guys and save his uncle--he preserved the last of an entire civilization from final ruin.

This is something that really impressed me about the game, that it would, at the end, make the otherwise relatively small (and often silly) adventure into something truly significant, arguably as epic a quest as any Save The World RPG plot; perhaps more, even. It doesn't seem that many people really think about this strong moment when they recall Startropics 1, even the many fans, who usually only think of and talk about the game's plot in terms of its fun and light atmosphere. Not that I can blame them entirely, of course, since the ending itself jumps immediately from finding out that Mike saved the remnants of an entire planet's people to someone making a joke and everyone going fishing, but still. It's a neat and fairly moving RPG moment, and I felt it deserved note.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Mass Effect 1's Sex Scene's Inequality

Alright, so, old news: Mass Effect's plot can, with a little effort made to develop a romantic relationship between the protagonist Shepard and one of three of his/her party members, involve a sex scene. How scandalous. This fact caused a bit of a stir for a little while, until people finally realized that there's less adult content in the scene than there is in some "We Are Heavily Implying Sex Is Happening" moments in PG-13 movies, and that the people making the fuss were making a lot of stuff up because they liked attention. Seriously, the scene in Xenogears where Elly's naked, vaguely-defined little sprite gets out of bed after supposedly having (undoubtedly unsatisfying and awkward) sex with Fei shows more and better qualifies as adult content.

Now me, I think that the scene's done tastefully enough, and is relevantly inserted into the plot and characters' relationship's progression well enough, that it's a good, reasonable, and worthwhile part of the game, not excessive or gratuitous. Opened can of worms that it may be to say so, I actually wish a few more RPGs included sex (in this relevant, not excessive way, mind) in their plots, because it IS a consideration for most people in relationships and their average lives--it adds to the relationship of Mass Effect, it helps to nurture the culmination of love and significance in the Aeon Social Link in Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES,* and its less romantic, more casual and corrupt nature in the Fallout games helps to reinforce the savage setting and often amoral people of Fallout.

However, there is something about the situation that irks me greatly. It's been complained about by various people before, but now it's my turn to gripe: Why does the player have the option to pursue a heterosexual and gay female relationship, but not a gay male one?

Now look, I admit, it's not a scenario I would especially want to pursue, myself. But limiting the player's options to heterosexual or lesbian ones cheapens the whole affair. Obviously a significant portion of gamers are heterosexual males, so they're only going to be interested in one of those two options (and you can probably guess which one is going to be more popular with them).** But pandering to the larger audience and ignoring the smaller one this way makes the whole thing look like it's just a cheap, degrading attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator shamelessly, like something Final Fantasy 10-2 would do.

This is the kind of insulting pandering the comic book industry specializes in--pretending to be forward-thinking by including a few homosexual characters, but then making sure that pretty much all the ones that are in any way significant are hot girls. Want a Super Hero who's gay, actually important, and has characterization relating to but also going beyond his sexual preference? Apparently you have to go read a book about a kid named Thom Creed, because you sure as hell won't find an example in the genre's primary mediums.

Look, I want to believe that Mass Effect's sex scene and romantic relationship options were about more than fanservice. All other signs say that they were! But it's hard to argue that opinion with this kind of suspicious omission. I hope that ME2 will correct this with the additional option to pursue a gay male relationship. Heck, even just eliminating the lesbian option would almost be better--I'd rather have homosexuality included as an option in the game, being open-minded and all that jazz, but including one and not the other like this is not a step for equality.

* Look, the way I figure it, having Minato leave a small imprint of his DNA in her core CPU doohickey is, for an android like Aigis, most definitely a sexual encounter. Which brings me to a question I've had for a while that some of you (mostly just Trippy) will no doubt want to weigh in on: is it implied (or even canon) that Minato has sex with each girl that he completes a romantic Social Link with? I had originally thought he didn't, and that people were just, as is almost always the case, inappropriately reading more into it than was there...but since the last and most important romance ends with the robot equivalent of poignant love-making, it occurs to me that the others might have meant to imply sex, too. Thoughts?

** I admit that the lesbian relationship's usually the one I pursue, too, but in my defense, the male Shepard sounds like an idiot and comes off as a high school bully given an automatic weapon, Kaiden (the male romantic interest possibility for female Shepard) is a nice but ultimately kind of boring character, and Liara (the female romantic interest who likes Shepard regardless of gender) is a good character whose romantic relationship with Shepard is the sweetest, to me. Then again, maybe I'm just a horny idiot who rationalizes better than most others.