Sunday, November 29, 2009

Chrono Cross's Characters

Serge: Serge is a silent protagonist. Normally I complain about this type of hero, because they almost never measure up to a main character who actually defines their personality through action AND speech. But when you've got a hero who travels to an alternate reality where he died when he was 10 and is being sought by a cat furry named Lynx who used to be the hero's father but has now had his brain and body rewritten by an AI program from the future that wants to dominate the events of the present by using mind-control Save Points and needs the hero so that Lynx can switch bodies with him in order to unlock the door to an object of space-time-bending power, all of which is also a part of the plan of 6 dragons (from an alternate reality of lizard people that lost an inter-dimensional war with this dimension's future) so that the dragons can fuse together into Dragon Voltron and destroy humanity, all of which is also the plan of a time-traveling wise man from the past and some unexplained heroic ghosts from another country who want the hero to free a magical princess from the clutches of the remains of an evolution-eating alien that exists outside of time...well, I think at that point you're pretty much FORCED to have a silent protagonist, because there is no way in holy hell that you could actually write dialogue for any single human being engaging in and reacting to all this.*

Kid: Kid's story is only a slightly less ridiculous one than Serge's, but I'm not going to go into it, too (I'll give you a sample: magic, time paradoxes, clones).

Kid is annoying. Now, this is probably just my own prejudice speaking, but it is hard for me to have a character with a laughably exaggerated version of an accent that's already distinctive enough to be mildly amusing under normal circumstances that I am supposed to take seriously. As with Final Fantasy 5's Faris and her pirate lingo, every serious aspect of Kid that I could have recognized (not liked, mind; even when I make an effort to see her serious aspects, they're not very well-done), such as her reactions to her place in destiny, her feelings of loneliness and loss after losing her only home and orphanage family to arson, and her almost completely unexplained and unexplored romantic attachment to's all completely made forgettable by that damn, exaggerated Australian accent. All I can manage to see when I read her dialogue is an annoying, loud Aussie thug.** In fact, it's worse than with Faris, because Faris actually had a reason to have her overbearing pirate accent, what with her being, y'know, a pirate. Unless Kid tripped into a dimensional gateway to Australia and spent most of her childhood hunting dingos, kicking cane toads, and taming kangaroos down under before tripping into another gateway that took her back to the game's world, there's really no given reason for her to have this speech pattern.***

Harle: The eventually reluctant catalyst of that 6 Dragon Voltron subplot I mentioned above, Harle's development from shamelessly manipulating those around her into a character who is unwilling to fulfill her role in the planned destruction of humanity because she's grown attached to the people she travels with actually makes her a fairly decent character. Or at least, it would, if that development had really gone anywhere. Unfortunately, what we ultimately get out of Harle is a character who vaguely shows her growing character through subtle indications in dialogue, but never really has her growth as a person actualized because she just completely vanishes once she's fulfilled her destiny. She just disappears forever, leaving you with a character who COULD have been good, who still might be the best in this lousy game, but ultimately just never really had a chance to make her impact before being written out.

Viper: While General Viper has a certain appeal to me because he looks almost exactly like my grandfather (who was also a ranking military man, although not as high as General--almost, though!), I have to say that it's not entirely brilliant to invite a cat of prey that walks like a man who hails from an aggressive foreign nation, has no problems with things like murder and violent kidnapping, and aspires to possess time-space-bending objects of power into your goddamn home.

Fargo: Like Viper, Fargo is barely important enough to include here, but I guess he DOES have enough of a significant impact on the events of the plot that I can't ignore him--or at least, one version of him does. Fargo in one reality is a hardy pirate with little personality beyond being macho, and in the other reality is a wishy-washy captain of a pleasure cruiser who runs a crooked casino and uses demi-humans as slave labor because he's lost his sense of purpose since his beloved Zelbess, a demihuman herself, died, and has had an irrational hatred for her kind ever since. And y'know, as pathetic and annoying as the latter version of Fargo is, I actually wish that it was HIM who joined you instead of the boring pirate captain Fargo. At least pleasure cruise Fargo has some depth and issues he could have worked through. Pirate captain Fargo's big part of the game is slapping sense into pleasure cruise Fargo--why in the world is the character IN the party just a vehicle for the NON-party version's character development? Shouldn't we have gotten the version that was actually dynamic and plot-important to join up, so he could maybe develop further?

Lynx: The semi-sorta villain of the game (I can't really say much about the Devourer of Time, as it, like many of Squaresoft/SquareEnix's villains, only randomly shows up right at the end of the game). I already mentioned the basic back story for Lynx in that jumble of poor plot points I gave for Serge above. I have to say, though, that Lynx is a prime example of what I think I will be calling Unnecessary Paternal Ties Syndrome in RPGs--the totally superfluous act in an RPG of sticking the protagonist's father into the plot in some attention-getting way because God knows no protagonist can possibly be complete without having dad issues. Did Lynx really HAVE to be Serge's mutated pappy? Not really. Neither he nor Serge ever get a lick of character development from the connection, so why have it in the first place?

You could change it around without even having to change the overall story at all; at the time that the transformation from Serge's Dad to Lynx occurred, a friend of the family, Miguel, was present--Square could just as easily have had Miguel become Lynx. In fact, it would have worked out BETTER that way, because Serge and company meet Miguel later in the game, have him explain some of the silly plot, and then they're forced to fight and kill Miguel to continue on with the quest. Given the nature of the scene, the large amount of dialogue, and the unfortunate necessity of the fight, Square could have had Serge's Dad be the one left behind there instead and actually gotten some real conflict out of father and son finally reuniting only to have to fight to the death. Lynx is really just a reconfiguring of the matter that Serge's Dad once was; there's no memories or emotion left in him of Serge to speak of. But hey, he's the semi-sorta main villain, so HE HAS TO BE SERGE'S FATHER NO MATTER WHAT.

Doc, Draggy, Funguy, Glenn, Greco, Grobyc, Guile, Irenes, Janice, Karsh, Korcha, Leah, Leena, Luccia, Macha, Marcy, Mel, Miki, Mojo/Mojoy, NeoFio, Nikki, Norris, Orcha, Orlha, Pierre, Pip, Poshul, Radius, Razzly, Riddel, Skelly, Sneff, Sprigg, Starky, Steena, Turnip, Van, Zappa, and Zoah: Nearly every character in this game just has little or no importance to the plot and has character development--if you can even call it that--that clocks in altogether at 5 minutes or less each and which depends heavily on you discerning some kind of deep insight about each one by their accent. There is an obvious lesson to learn from this, kiddies at Square:


Does not!




*I really wish, incidentally, that I had hit on all of the insane, complicated, nonsensical idiocy of this game's plot right there, but what you just got is an extremely simplified version. The actual details and parts I left out make it all significantly more convoluted and crazy.

** Because I have Australian readers (and friends), I'd just like clarify--I don't mean to say Australians sound silly as a rule, or annoying, or anything like that. I want to mention that what I mean here is that the Australian accent is, as a rule, pretty distinctive--and I just personally feel that ANY accent that's distinctive can be mildly amusing. But my POINT in this, I must emphasize, is that Kid's accent is very exaggerated, and it's the exaggeration that I can't get around. If any of you guys/girls are still offended, I apologize.

*** Of course, this IS Chrono Cross, so really, this possibility isn't all that unlikely after all. Hell, it would be more believable than at least half of the rest of the game.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Shadow Hearts 1 and 2 AMV: As the Warlock Said

I decided, largely on a whim, that the next RPG AMV I'd do would be my favorite of all RPG AMVs I've yet seen, the Shadow Hearts 1 and 2 AMV As the Warlock Said, made with care by the esteemed Resk. This one's made up of FMVs from the first and especially second Shadow Hearts games, and the cutscenes in SH2 portray major parts of the game's events, so this AMV has strong spoiler content. Fairly warned, and all that.

Shadow Hearts 1 + 2 As the Warlock Said:

Poetry in Motion: Visually-speaking, this AMV's definitely got its act together. The scenes shown are all in good condition*, and all of the scenes shown are from the games' FMVs, which as a rule are visually pleasing, and have an artistic atmosphere of heavy, yet shadowy realism, even though they often depict mystical and other-worldly scenes--the Shadow Hearts games' characteristic feel is depicted well by their cutscenes, and Resk's selection takes advantage of this.

As far as visual effects go, this video has a greater number of them used in more significant ways than the last AMV I ranted on (Fallout 3's If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next AMV). Despite this, however, As the Warlock Said shares a certain feeling of artistic simplicity with the subject of my previous AMV rant. The most technical the visual tricks ever really get with this AMV are slow scene changes that transition to the next FMV clip while the previous one is still fading--nice, but ultimately a fairly simple effect. The creator does, however, definitely make the most of this transition, making it less a quick little "that's neat" moment and more a well-crafted part of the work as a whole. For example, there's a moment at 1:08 where the scene fades from one in which main character Yuri leaps back from the top of a train to a scene of time passing over a flower field. The lingering fade that transitions from the first scene to the second makes it seem like Yuri is leaping back into the the speeding, swirling sky of the second scene, bringing the two parts together gracefully, which makes the AMV seem more fluid, more joined, a smoother, more complete offering. There are a few examples of this in the AMV--right after the part I've mentioned, the flower scene's swirly sky begins to fade into the scene where Yuri and Kato face one another, with the previous scene's moving sky combining with the orange sunset of the next scene nicely. And there's also the part at 3:21 where we see Saki's demon form slowly descending suddenly turns into the descending image of Kato, for another example.

The other noticeable visual trick that Resk employs is a vague overlay of one scene over the other--basically, to have one FMV scene from the game playing as a background, while another one, which is translucent but more prominent, is shown as well (I believe the film making term for this is "matte"--I don't pretend to know many of the technicalities of this stuff; I only know what I like and what looks good to me). This also creates some neat effects, such as at 2:47, where Karin's face is momentarily laid over a scene of Yuri after he's said goodbye to her, presumably to show his thoughts at that moment and what he's given up, and at 3:04, where the image of Yuri's soul caught within a tree (it's symbolic and means something in the game, trust me) is shown over the image of Alice, who is in a similar position. Neat as they are, though, I do feel that they're probably the only part of this video that I can really offer negative criticism for--while well-done and interesting, they are at the same time a little distracting, and even a little confusing while you're watching and trying to determine exactly what they're showing before they're gone. Still, overall I do like them.

We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams: I have a mild fondness for the song used for this video, Gravity of Love, by Enigma. It has a certain feeling of epic mysticism, but in a modest way; its tune, vocals, and lyrics don't seem to be as direct in addressing the listener as most songs are for most of the song, like it's singing more generally of something great and wondrous, for all to hear instead of anyone specific. This effect works very nicely for the AMV in general, and the scenes fit it well in a general sense, along with being shown and emphasized well to match the music's tone and direction. The AMV also matches the scenes to the lyrics in a more specific sense, as well, doing such things as at 0:27, which has a shot of Yuri that turns around him just as the lyric "Turn around" is sung, at 0:33, where the scene shifts from Yuri with his eyes closed to a scene of Alice just as the words "Close your eyes, it's so clear" are sung--Yuri's got his eyes closed, and is clearly imagining Alice, which not only fits the lyrics perfectly, but also directly fit the actual characters and circumstances of the game, as well. Heck, even the opening is matched well to the song, when there aren't really any lyrics at all--the opening of Gravity of Love is taken from O Fortuna velut Luna, which has an epic choir bit, and during this opening the AMV shows still images of a map of Europe, warlocks in a circle, and so on--images of power and importance to match the choir's tone. These instances of directly tying what's shown to the lyrics sung help to further mesh the video's components together into something that feels like one functioning creation rather than just separate parts pushed together.

But what's it all mean, Basil?: While this anime music video doesn't exactly have a specific message to convey like the Fallout 3 AMV I showed last time, it most definitely has purpose and meaning. As the Warlock Said emphasizes the romance between Yuri and Alice from the games, showing them by themselves and with each other as souls locked together by love, whether together or separated, through life and death both. The song selection is absolutely perfect for it--when you actually just look at the lyrics all together, you can draw immediate parallels to the story of Alice and Yuri--and the scene selection is no less perfectly chosen, visually tying the lyrics and tune of a song already wonderfully suited to these characters to the games.

In addition to showing the story of Alice and Yuri's love, though, the AMV also serves as a great symbol of the game itself. Much like that Parasite Eve 1 AMV I showed in my original rant on RPG AMVs, this one seems to be a summary of the feeling of the games themselves, showing their atmosphere, darkness, monumental events, and most importantly, the simple feelings of emotion and mysticism that seem to be the true defining aspects of Shadow Hearts 1 and particularly 2. You don't just see the powerful love story of Alice and Yuri when you watch this AMV, you also see the greatness of the games themselves. This song and these games are wonderful matches for each other in both their tone and their lyrics/events, and As the Warlock Said is a perfect mixture of them.

* Although the Youtube version that I linked to above isn't quite as good quality as the original AMV; if you're a member of Anime Music Videos .org, you can find the better quality version there. You might also want to check out the other AMVs Resk has made on either site--some are definitely pretty decent. I'm quite fond of his Legend of Dragoon Strength of Sacrifice one, myself.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

General RPGs' Resurrection Abuse

As with many of my General RPG rants, this is less an RPG problem than it is an issue of several entertainment mediums--hell, this problem's no less typical with anime and manga, and it's WAY more prevalent (and absurdly done, for that matter) in western comics. Still, RPGs do it plenty, and this is an RPG rant blog, so here it is.

Basically, there are too many goddamn resurrections going on in RPGs these days. I mean, it is getting seriously ridiculous at this point. In any given RPG, you're more likely than not to encounter at LEAST one method of bringing back the dead, which will inevitably be invoked at some point in the game to do just that.

You know, I remember back when death was considered to be, y'know, PERMANENT. When somebody died, they were supposed to actually be GONE. There wasn't some cheap, convenient magical stone to bring their soul back. There wasn't some techno-magic way to recreate them in their dad's basement. They didn't just have to wait until the next time they resurrected for no apparent reason to continue trying to take over the world. It used to be that defeating Death was the great, miraculous triumph of Jesus Christ, one of the most awe-inspiring moments of proof of God's limitless power and wonder. Now every character and his grandmother keeps half a dozen magic stones in their basement for quick resurrection jobs.

I don't mean, incidentally, items like the Final Fantasy Phoenix Downs, or Shin Megami Tensei games' Revival Beads/Gems/Orbs. In-battle resurrection doesn't really count to me, since most games, despite the names of their bring-back items implying actual return from death, simply regard going to 0 HP in battle (and, in a stupid few, 0 MP) to be a case of the character fainting, being stunned, or getting KO'd, to name a few game terms for it. If a character CAN be brought back to his/her/its feet during battle from 0 HP (in some games, like the Fallout series, 0 HP really is just plain death with no remedy), it's very rarely referred to as death. So when I talk about cheap resurrections, I mostly mean ones that occur via plot.

Now, it's not that it's ALWAYS cheap and empty in RPGs, mind. I can think of a few moments where I don't mind it. Chrono Trigger, for one--the journey to take Crono back from the grasp of death is one that involves great struggle, the great knowledge of not one, but two insanely wise sages, and winds up bending the laws of the universe to go back in and then FREEZE time--an action that's not even so much resurrection as it is causing the death not to happen in the first place. Then there's Shadow Hearts 2, which resurrects Alice using the knowledge of Roger, who is a scholar-of-all-trades who's lived for centuries, and a book of forbidden knowledge of unknown origins--for a moment. But then the process goes wrong, and fizzles out, and Alice dissolves back into nothingness--because defeating Death simply can't be done by mere mortals, even with all the knowledge and science in the world on their side.* The games hammer home the fact that bringing someone back from the dead is actually a BIG DEAL, instead of just coming up with one excuse after another involving Farplanes and Lifestreams and other such magical plot contrivances to bring back a lame villain half a dozen times.

And of course, there are a couple of times where it's been an integral part of an extremely well-devised plot that I won't complain about. The resurrection of the characters in Shin Megami Tensei 1 is acceptable to me, given that the game is an insanely brilliant analysis and commentary on Christianity and thus the resurrection helps to draw necessary parallels with Jesus Christ that are fun to mentally chew on and dissect. And the implied reincarnation of the cast of Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2 also is quite acceptable, given that the game is based on, analyzes, and comments on the theology and philosophy of Hinduism and Buddhism, of which reincarnation is a very integral part. These are cases where death being temporary is a necessary component for a highly intellectual and fascinating plot. It's not just another typical case of, "Well, we know we killed this guy, but we really liked him, so let's bring him back just because!"

But overall, seriously, enough of this. Enough of the Dragon Balls, the villains that just grow back like crab grass, the dead characters coming back to life at the end of the game for no adequately explored reason, and so on. I may be happy to see a character I like get a second chance, but it just overall cheapens their original death scene, and begs the question of why they'd be killed off to begin with if the writers couldn't take not having them around to complete the story--a question that can almost always be answered, "Because we wanted a quick and easy emotional scene, and couldn't be bothered to come up with anything but the cheapest, most typical way to get it." Why have a villain die if dying isn't going to cease his machinations at all? Doesn't that defeat the entire purpose of killing him? Death should have consequences. It should mean permanent loss of life for the characters and all the emotional hardships that go along with that for the people who mourn them...and it should also mean permanent loss of that character for the writers. It shouldn't be a thing the writers flip like a switch. If they want to use a character's death to enhance the telling of their story, then the writers should be prepared for the downside that the character is gone. Because when they don't, the entire thing just starts to lose all meaning.

* This good idea and lesson is, of course, totally disregarded and crapped on by Shadow Hearts 3 later saying "lol n00b ur doin it wrong" to Roger, and has some random middle-aged bozo complete the resurrection process. But if the only good parts of SH2 that you counted for anything were ones that SH3 didn't ruin, you'd practically have to disregard the whole game.