Friday, February 13, 2009

The Wild Arms Series's Female Characters' Superiority

Y'know, when I was thinking about the Wild Arms series as a whole the other day, I realized something odd--the female characters in the series are way more compelling than the male ones. Now sure, there are plenty of individual games out there for which this is true, as well, and it's not really that noteworthy for them--the characters in them that are the most interesting and have the most depth just happen to be girls. But this is the case overwhelmingly with every game in the WA series to date. I mean, let's look at these things individually.

WA1: Now honestly, I can't say I'm really a significant fan of any of this game's characters. None are bad characters, I guess, but the general cast is just overall bland. Rudy's got all the characterization that having no dialog usually entails, Jack's just there most of the time and his development, which could have been quite compelling with better execution, just comes off as run-of-the-mill, and Cecilia's just another boring magical princess. The villains are no better, just being a collection standard evil-doing demons. Still, if there's one character that stands out in the game, it's Jane. While not a great character, the few poignant moments of the game are pretty much all centered on her, and she certainly has a lot more personality than everyone else.

Good Females: 1 (1 Total)
Great Females: 0 (0 Total)
Good Males: 0 (0 Total)
Great Males: 0 (0 Total)

WA2: Again, not much of a noteworthy cast in general, just your average RPG characters with a little development here and there that doesn't go anywhere you haven't gone before. I suppose Brad is decent enough, and Irving's okay. But the two characters who really make any impression on you are Anastasia and Antenora. Anastasia's a rather neat heroine who has a rather neat and different take on heroism and desire that gives you something to think about, a new perspective to consider. As for Antenora, I've done a previous rant about why she's a pretty cool and different villainess, so check that out for the details. Marivel is also a fairly decent character, so that's another for the girls.

Good Females: 2 (3 Total)
Great Females: 1 (1 Total)
Good Males: 2 (2 Total)
Great Males: 0 (0 Total)

WA3: Ah, my favorite in the series. Hell, the only one I actually really like at all. This game's got some pretty good male characters, actually--I like Clive, Gallows has some good characterization, Asgard is cool, Alfred is neat, Werner's got an interesting gimmick going on (even though he's mostly just there for the protagonist's development), and all 3 of the prophets (2 of which are male) are interesting villains for both their petty, weak human natures leading them to evil and for the fact that they're actually more or less the underdogs the whole time they're villain-ing it up. But even still, the true draw of this game is the main character, Virginia. She's pretty much one of the greatest heroes of the entire RPG genre, characterized beautifully, unique, full of personality, and always being developed, from start to finish of the game. Virginia by herself is about 2/3 of why this game is so good, not only because she's such an excellent character, but because she's so totally immersed in the game's story--everything else in the game that's good becomes better because she interacts and reacts to it, be it plot, character development, or themes. And there's also Maya, Virginia's antagonistic rival, who perfectly compliments and contrasts Virginia, she has some pretty decent characterization herself (which is a nice change for an RPG rival), and has a crazily appealing personality--I've yet to meet a WA3 player who did not love Maya. There may be a lot of decent male characters in WA3, but Virginia and Maya just completely overshadow them in quality and appeal.

Good Females: 1 (4 Total)
Great Females: 2 (3 Total)
Good Males: 7 (9 Total)
Great Males: 0 (0 Total)

WA4: God I hate this game. The characters sucked, the villains sucked, the NPCs sucked. Gawn was decent, but nothing special. However, as terrible as the rest of the cast is, Racquel is such a great, original, and even inspiring character that she almost balances them all out. She's not only the best character in the game, she's its ONLY virtue.

Good Females: 0 (4 Total)
Great Females: 1 (4 Total)
Good Males: 1 (10 Total)
Great Males: 0 (0 Total)

WA5: Once again, a game without many characters that evoke strong feelings (well, besides Dean and Volsung, but I meant POSITIVE strong feelings). Still, if there are any characters that are anything more than standard and boring, I would say they're probably Avril (sure, she does the tired old "Magical Girl with a Faulty Memory and Lack of Understanding of People/the World," but she does it better than most, and she's moderately likable) for the heroes and Persephone for the villains (on the grounds that she's the only villain with any depth at all, even if it's really only a little, and/or the only villain who has depth that is not laughable and stupid).

Good Females: 2 (6 Total)
Great Females: 0 (4 Total)
Good Males: 0 (10 Total)
Great Males: 0 (0 Total)

So yeah. While there are some decent male characters in the series (mostly all found in one installment that's focused on its main females anyway), the female characters are consistently the ones worth noticing in each game, and the best characters in the series are all women.

Why am I bringing this up? I dunno; no reason, really. Just seemed like an interesting quirk when I thought of it, something I don't think any other RPG series does, and made all the stranger by the fact that the WA series purports itself (very falsely) to be a Wild West-style series, which would make you think that the really important and good characters (note the qualifier "and," important and sucky ones don't count) would be male.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

General RPG Lists: Stupidest Weapons

If there's one thing I could say is the most varied and creative part of the RPG genre, I would probably say it's the cast. You get just about every conceivable kind of person in RPG casts sooner or later. Some games kind of go crazy with it (ever look through the list of party members for Shining Force 1? Actual human beings are outnumbered something like 2 to 1; hell, there's about as many centaur characters in that game as normal people), but most have at least one quirky cast member that stands out.

But the second thing I would say is the most varied aspect of RPGs is definitely the weapons. Modern, futuristic, or (most of all) past weapons are everywhere, pulled from cultures across our globe. And not just actual weapons, either. Even humanity's impressive ingenuity for creating implements of death can't seem to satiate RPG creators' thirst for creative ways to smack people, so you quite commonly see even regular objects never intended for battle being used to kill stuff, and encounter weird weapons the RPG creators thought up themselves.*

While this does give us a more varied RPG experience in general than just seeing a random hero poke stuff with a sword thousands of times in every game, it also means that we come across a great many characters armed with items that are just ridiculous for use in combat. Here are the 10 RPG weapons that I think are the absolute stupidest.

UPDATE 12/01/2018: Serina's Figure-Skating Mecha-Pegleg has been added; Keyblades have been bumped off.

10. Books (General RPGs)

I can almost understand a mage being armed with a magic book if they're shown to need to read it before casting a spell, but:

A: Most of the characters who use books as their physical weapon that I've seen don't actually seem to look in the things at all for their spells.
B: What would be the point of having to flip through the damn book to the right page every time they wanted to use a spell, anyways? Even with bookmarks, that's a waste of time in battle.
C: It really wouldn't kill them to keep a knife or something in a pocket. Even a freakin' paring knife is going to be more effective than trying to bludgeon someone to death with bound paper.

I'm not asking for RPG mages to suddenly become great physical fighters or anything, but could we at least be given the impression that they're TRYING to defend themselves?

9. Gunblades (Final Fantasy 8)

Here's an idea: Stick a sword onto a gun handle. This way, you'll have to specially learn how to swing it since the weight and holding angle are completely different than a sword, it'll be more complicated and less usable in close combat than just a regular sword, you'll have a lot of trouble using it for long-distance battling since your aim's thrown off by the fact that there's a sword on your barrel both adding tremendous weight and disrupting vision, and you'll probably need twice as much training to use it competently than you would to totally master using a sword or a gun separately! But hey, it's a gun that is a sword, so it MUST BE COOL.

I'm really just waiting for webcomic Adventurers!'s joke about combined weapons to come true with SquareEnix, at this point. After key sword-axes and emo pistol-swords, you just KNOW that their next invention really is going to be the Sword-Bomb.

8. Musical Instruments (General RPGs)

Look, I'll be the last person not to acknowledge how painful bad sound can be. My sister used to listen to Tatu with her speakers cranked up in the room next to mine. I understand the sheer destructive agony music can impart.

But you know what? If some talentless Russian chick imitating a cat being drawn and quartered by unlubricated robot tigers running on a chalkboard with their claws out can't inflict physical wounds on me, then some bard managing to hurt a monster by plucking on a harp is stupid. And using musical instruments to inflict physical trauma is even worse. I'm not anything even approaching knowledgeable about musical instruments, but I'm still fairly certain that they're meant to be reasonably delicate tools relying on careful balance and structure to produce their sounds correctly, so taking your guitar and smashing people over the head with it is going to ruin it for its intended purpose of creating music,** and if you don't want to use it for music, then why the hell would you carry it around instead of a club or dagger or something?

7. Dolls (General RPGs)

Despite what the horror film genre would have us believe, dolls are not very menacing. They're small, they lack flexibility in their limbs, and they're usually made of either very soft or very breakable materials. If an evil doll is trying to kill you with a knife or something, you really shouldn't have all that much trouble with surviving. Just kick the damn thing away as it stiffly toddles up to you and then go somewhere else. Simple.

And it's not even like RPG characters who use attack dolls even do so as well as I noted above. Lulu of Final Fantasy 10 just has her diminutive, cute plushy tackle an enemy. Yeah, because a cotton-stuffed foot-high muppet wannabe is really gonna meet with success when body-slamming a dragon. I know mages are meant for magic, but come ON. And Shadow Hearts 2's Gepetto's no better. If you're gonna have your damn doll do your attacks for you, ARM it with something; don't just change its dress and pretend that makes a difference.

6. Figure-Skating Mecha-Pegleg (Serina, Conception 2)

The name says it all, really.

5. Headdresses (Red XIII, Final Fantasy 7)

Seriously? You have a lion dog wolf thing with claws and teeth, and the way he inflicts damage is...hitting people with his headdress? I don't think I need to go into detail about this one, folks.

4. Straws (Norma, Tales of Legendia)

Yet again the mages get shafted--although Norma's the kind of kooky nut who you would expect to want to fight enemies by blowing bubbles at them rather than actually attacking. But seriously, this is just ridiculous. Drinking straws are not goddamn weapons.

3. Ridiculously Huge Weapons (General RPGs)

While most often and certainly best known for being swords, any weapon that is so goddamn huge that you could never actually use it in any capacity is just annoyingly stupid. A weapon that should be too heavy to hold and too large to direction is idiotic.

2. Semi-Bladed Hand Cannon Thingies (Dean, Wild Arms 5)

I covered why these things are totally silly in my annual summary for 2008. Go check that out, because I don't feel like trying to describe these stupid things again.

1. Trumpet Gun (Lyude, Baten Kaitos 1)

One is a firearm that propels objects at lethally high velocity at a target to penetrate its defenses and fatally smash its internal workings apart. The other is a comparatively high-pitched member of the brass family of musical instruments, known especially for its prominent role in classical and jazz music. Together, they are...the TRUMPET GUN.

Seriously. It's a gun. That is a trumpet. Trumpet Gun. A trumpet that shoots things as a gun. Trumpet. Gun. A gun that is also a trumpet.

Why have you forsaken me, God?

Dishonorable Mention: Fatman and Experimental MIRV (Fallout Series)

Okay, now, this one kind of doesn't count as a stupid weapon, because, well...the Fatman and Experimental MIRV in Fallout 3 basically fire small nuclear bombs. So unlike the rest of the attack tools on this list, they're actually extremely effective weapons. I mean, if you want to kill stuff, and you don't mind a tad of overkill, you won't find many better options than tossing a nuclear weapon at someone. It's certainly the most destructive attack in the game, and I daresay most people who play Fallout 3 have plenty of fun with it (myself included, I fully admit).

The stupid part that qualifies them for this list in some way, however, is that these weapons' throwing range barely qualify them as grenade launchers. They seem closer to kids' slingshots, really. So basically, someone developed a weapon that would launch a nuclear bomb*** to land about 20 feet away from the holder. Raise your hands if you can think of a reason why this wouldn't work out so great, class!

* These are usually the really stupid ones that would never actually work or be effective, of course. Creativity is not always the same thing as intelligence, and boy, do RPG-specific weapons ever prove that. You and your stupid Keyblade, SquareEnix.

** So, for that matter, will stuffing a rocket launcher and flamethrower inside of it. You and your stupid guitar weapon, Shadow Hearts 3's Ricardo.

*** 8 Nukes, in the Experimental MIRV's case.