Tuesday, December 8, 2009

General RPGs' Unnecessary Paternal Ties Syndrome

This is going to be another one of those trends in story telling that exist significantly in more than just the RPG media. Today's subject, however, IS nonetheless a worse problem in RPGs than I think it is in any other media form I've seen.

Unnecessary Paternal Ties Syndrome. Like Love Hina Syndrome, it's a little phrase I've coined for RPG discussion that you'll probably see me use now and then. Basically, it refers to instances in RPGs (or anything else) in which the father of the protagonist (and, to a lesser extent, other major characters) is thrown into a prominent position in the plot for no special reason beyond just the sake of having him there because his son* happens to be the main character.

It happens all the time. I mean, granted, you do get one or two really great father-child stories in RPGs, to be sure--Tidus and Jecht's connection was interesting and mostly well done in FF10, for example. And I can't pretend that there aren't many occasions where the father-son connection truly is legitimately necessary to the plot--Fallout 3, for example, has the game's entire central plot's purpose as the protagonist following his/her father's lead, and then completing the father's work and enacting (or corrupting) his/her father's life's goal. And then there are the plots where the protagonist's position in life, which is determined by his heritage, is a core part of the game's focus, making the father's being an important part of the plot unavoidable--Suikoden 5's events, as an example, rely heavily on the protagonist being the prince of the queendom he's trying to save. Since a story about a struggle for control over a country is kinda hard to tell without all the major players who would be involved in that struggle, one of whom would be the husband of the queen, the protagonist's dad's importance to some of the plot's events isn't coming out of nowhere.

But overall, this idea has been used to death since the first Star Wars movies. I've mentioned the pointlessness of the paternal connection in Chrono Cross in the last rant, but it certainly doesn't stop with just that game. Unnecessary Paternal Ties Syndrome happens quite often:

Does it really HAVE to be Arc's father who guides him behind the scenes in Arc the Lad 1 and 2? No. You could have had any random behind-the-scenes guide do it, and Arc's father dies so quickly after finally showing up in person that the character development Arc gets from it is quick and minimal--I mean, it's decent while it's happening, to be sure, but it just doesn't go for very long, and doesn't leave much in the way of lasting impact.

Did Kratos really HAVE to be Lloyd's dad in Tales of Symphonia? Not especially, since not a lot of character development for either of them came out of it and the tie between them served no particular purpose to the plot in general.

Did it really HAVE to be Dart's dad in Legend of Dragoon who was mistakenly thought to be the villain but later found out to be pretty okay? Nope. Really, the plot would only need slight tweaking to take Zieg out, or at least put him somewhere that's not the pointless spotlighted potential villain for daddy's boy to have to fight against. His entire presence in the game actually seems, in the end, to have been a lazy attempt by the writers to appease the players of the game by providing Rose with a romantic consolation prize after Dart inexplicably chooses to return the affections of Shana (number 2 on my list of Most Annoying Characters in RPGs) instead of the infinitely more appealing Rose. I mean, Zieg's just violently inserted into the plot and becomes a huge part of it after previously being little more than a vague memory late in the game, right around the time Dart's starting to take Shana seriously as a love interest. Coincidence? Or already bad writing compounding its inadequacies by adding Unnecessary Paternal Ties Syndrome at the last minute to unsuccessfully try to solve another of its problems? You be the judge.

And finally, seriously, did the main villain of Wild Arms 4 really HAVE to be Jude's father? Hell no. Jude doesn't even ever find out; what the hell's the point?

And the list just goes on. Here's an idea. Maybe, if there's no significant reason for the father to be involved in the plot, he could...not be involved. The only superfluous plot element that RPGs incorporate more often than Unnecessary Paternal Ties is the unexplained, poorly developed, there-just-for-the-sake-of-being-there romance, and frankly, those have a slightly better chance of being interesting to watch. Writers should try to find something ELSE to include. Hell, why not set up some issues with the protagonist's MOTHER for once? We get plenty of stories where the father's important and the mother's never/barely seen, but on the off chance that a protagonist's mom is important in any way, the father's still nearly always also important--more important, for that matter. If you've got to add in some familial issues for nearly no reason, how about some gender equality?

* I say "son" because this is almost always an event exclusive to fathers and sons. If female protagonists have family issues, it's usually, from what I've seen, with both parents--although there ARE some cases with female protagonists whose major family connections are with their dad, I suppose, like Final Fantasy 6's Terra, and Wild Arms 3's Virginia. Still, they don't exactly apply here, because Terra's heritage of human and Esper is a major part of the plot in general, particularly the Esper side of her family tree, so her relationship to her Esper parent IS necessary. And with Virginia, well, while I suppose Werner could have been anyone, not just her father, and still have been effective, her relationship with him and the character development she gets from it are excellently established and explored. About the only female protagonist I can think of with legitimate Unnecessary Paternal Ties Syndrome would be Chris from Suikoden 3, and her dad really wasn't too excessively plot-important even then.


  1. Rogue Galaxy Spoilers

    What about Jaster? His dad exists solely to give him a sword and fuck off, and his mother is some sort of ghostly spirit animal guardian for a village of ten people or something. I may be cheating because there isn't a single moment that isn't contrived*, but it was almost comedic in its non-necessity.

    *Test that claim, I fucking dare you.

    1. Oh, yeah, Jaster. I usually forget that he exists...certainly nothing about him seems to demand otherwise. Yeah, he's a prime example of this.

  2. One of my favourite examples of this is Final Fantasy VIII, because the game never bothers telling the player directly that Laguna is Squall's dad (but it has a lot of hints that help make sense of a few mysteries in the game). There's never a dramatic reveal, and you can play the whole game without even knowing about the connection (I didn't, the first time I beat FFVIII). It's actually one of the few storytelling parts of the game that I praise since it's subtly done and doesn't feel like it's trying too hard. However, typical of the game, while FFVIII gets this small part of the story right, it gets so many of the bigger, more important parts wrong (like the nonsense that is Time Compression, Rinoa, Squall).

    1. Oooh, yeah, another good example. Hadn't even thought of that one. It may be unusually subtle and, arguably, well done, but you're right, it's also completely and totally superfluous--it doesn't have any influence whatsoever on Squall or Laguna's characters, nor the plot and themes, and not a single substantial aspect of FF8 would have changed had Laguna been a random guy and Squall been just a normal orphan. Nice observation.