Saturday, May 23, 2009

General RPGs' Hot Spring Scenes

Hot Spring Scenes. Oh how I loathe them. They are the bane of my existence (well, one of them...I seem to have quite a few). They are almost invariably pointless, crude, and degrading just to have to sit through.

What is a Hot Spring Scene, you may wonder. You also may not wonder that, knowing what I'm talking about or just not caring, but I'm going to explain it to you anyway, because I like the magic words that appear when I hit the letter buttons and want to see more of them. Well, a Hot Spring Scene is a small, but (given its typical lack of importance to the plot) unusually time-consuming event in an RPG (or anime or comic, but I focus on the RPGs) in which the main party spends time soaking in one of those communal baths that Japan is famous for. The guys will be on one side, and the girls will be on the other--in theory, anyways. I'll admit that I don't really see the appeal of sharing the joys of scrubbing armpits and soaping up asscracks in the great outdoors with a bunch of other people a few feet away, but I don't have anything against the idea of a social bath thingy, and the impression that the games give is that they're supposed to be relaxing.

My problem with Hot Spring Scenes in RPGs is that they will, without fail, include at LEAST one of the following stupefyingly idiotic and crude situations* that manage to be possibly the cheapest gags that Japan has to offer. Seriously, fart and dick jokes have no less integrity than this crap:

A. Breast Comparisons. Dear lord. There is some kind of unwritten law in Japan that if any two or more females are naked near one another, they have to, under penalty of death, loudly compare the size and shape of one another's bust with their own. Why? Because the lowest common denominator demands it, of course! I mean, I know that girls probably do talk about that every now and then during their teens, but these characters are often adult women, and it's like they have nothing else they can possibly talk about. And the actual dialogue is always just unbelievably stupid. This is basically how it will go, with only a little variation:

Girl 1: OMG Girl 2 you have breasts and they're nice!
Girl 1: Yeah but ironically the only people in all of anime-RPG land who don't want big breasts are the girls who have them! If only I had your lesser-sized breasts, Girl 2! Which I must, of course, emphasize loudly the niceness of, again!
Girl 3: I am very flat. This is sad, but somehow humorous, as well!
Optional Girl 4: What up bitches, sorry I'm late and/or over in the corner so that my joining the conversation sets up the possibility of my surprising you.
Girls 1, 2, and 3: OMG Optional Girl 4 you have the most perfect breasts of all, even though you are the least likely to have such things, given that you are very innocent, a cross-dresser, or possibly an entirely different species!

I can't help but feel that even the breast-comparing talks that do occasionally occur in real life between girls can't possibly sound so stupid. You could call a phone-sex operator and hear a speech less blatantly (and poorly, for that matter) designed to turn you on.

B. Attack of the Fanboys. What could possibly be more HILARIOUS than the idea that men want to see naked women? Nothing, hope many a game maker.

Many of the Hot Springs have two separate areas, one for men and one for women (which seems too few in some RPGs; you'd think some of them would have more divisions, given how many different species of sentient beings exist in them), meaning that the entire party can bathe at the same time, segregated by gender. Well, fine, right? I mean, most RPG casts are made up of fairly respectable people who aren't indecent savages, so I'm sure they can manage the bare minimum of etiquette and keep to their own side, right?

Ha ha ha, no. Not at all, it seems. These paragons of heroism that we're supposed to respect may be able to resist the temptations of power and the very essence of the forces of darkness, but tell any one of'em that there's a topless girl bathing next door, and suddenly they have less integrity as human beings than Austin Powers. If one of the male party members doesn't outright try to sneak into the girl's side, then he's at least going to find a hole in the wall or boards or rocks or whatever separating the two sides. Of course, he'll usually succeed, because for some reason, not only does every single word whispered on the girl's side carry over to the men's, so that the breast-comparison nonsense can further inspire them to voyeurism, but there's almost always SOME part of the boundary that can be looked through. Sure, you'd THINK that an established business running a Hot Springs area would take some sort of steps toward privacy, but where would be the "humor" in that?

And of course, the finale to all this is usually the girls finding out that one of their friends has developed an instant case of Seriously Creepy Stalker Syndrome, and physically harming him in punishment. While the logical conclusion to this scenario, I would like to note, for the record, that this, like all other parts of the scene, is not really at all funny.

C. Unintentional Attack of the Fanboys. Like Scenario B, Scenario C involves the boys invading the girls' bathing area (don't ever expect to see the roles reversed, incidentally, because, as we all know, while every male alive has to be perverted, not a single female could ever be). This time, however, it is, incredibly enough, unintentional! Somehow, through a turn of events that is more contrived than the plot of Xenogears, the boys wind up in the girls' area without intending to. Maybe somebody mixed up the time when the girls would be in the bath. Perhaps someone got the directions mixed up. Hey, maybe one of the guys was on his own side, leaned against the wall separating the sides, and somehow the wall caved in and he fell across the side. Nothing is too unlikely or obvious a ploy for this "comedy!"

This scenario, like the one above, ends in the guy being beaten up viciously, only this time he doesn't deserve it. Because, somehow, this is expected to be hilarious.

I swear, the Japanese have a disturbing obsession with men getting the shit beat out of them by violent, short-tempered, and totally unreasonable women. There've been animes where this happens at least twice every freakin' episode.

With few variations, at LEAST one of these scenarios is guaranteed to be in an RPG Hot Springs Scene. While perhaps not THE absolutely stupidest, base cliche scene in anime ever (thank goodness RPGs haven't started incorporating those fucking swimsuit contests that animes throw around all the time...Persona 4 just better not be the one that makes it a norm for the genre), I certainly can't think of a worse one common to the world of RPGs. Hot Spring Scenes are like the perfect mixture of low-class perversion, poor writing, crude semi-humor, and just a whole hell of a lot of "Wow, that's just pathetic" short of actually just being Final Fantasy 10-2. This bad cliche is one that needs to die more than pretty much any of the others.

* The Suikoden series is the only one that's sort of an exception, in that it has a crapload of Hot Spring Scenes that don't have the crappy events I list--but SOME of their scenes DO include the terrible cliches, so they're not really exempt.

Monday, May 11, 2009

General RPG Lists: Greatest Swords

So, as a breather after a few rants of actual significance, I thought I'd do a rather pointless list rant today to answer the age-old question that everyone* has wondered at one point or another: of the many, many swords found in RPGs, which ones are the very most awesome? It's actually not an easy question answer, for, quite frankly, magical, super-powerful swords are a dime-a-dozen in the RPG genre. If we are to determine which unparalleled blade is better than all its unparalleled peers, we'll have to look at them as a whole and find the ones that stand out even when considering magical super-swords. Let's see, shall we?

UPDATE 12/14/16: Aeterno Blade added; Elsydeon has been bumped off.

5. Master Sword (The Legend of Zelda Series)

The Master Sword isn't really all that incredibly powerful, by RPG magical sword standards (hell, it's been outclassed a few times by swords in its own game series). What makes the Master Sword really awesome isn't how powerful it is, but its singular ability to utterly repel evil. It just knocks back dark power like a ball pitched underhanded to Hank Aaron by a 10-year-old and cuts through barriers of evil magic like a battle axe through a birthday cake. The Master Sword may not be able to cleave mountains apart, but there's no better blade for bringing down a true, evil villain.

4. Excalibur (General RPGs)

Good old Excalibur. The greatest sword of legend on this planet shows up in quite a few RPGs, and is just consistently one of, if not the, best weapons in any game it's in. Add to that the fact that it often shows up in RPGs with intrinsic positive qualities (holy elemental, for example, and let's not forget how it had an intrinsic Haste effect in Final Fantasy Tactics, making whoever used it insanely strong AND fast), and the fact that, c'mon, it's freaking EXCALIBUR, and you've got something pretty cool.

3. Lightsaber (Knights of the Old Republic Series)

Yeah, yeah, okay, not exactly a sword, but...close enough, I say. Forget these other swords. This is what power is. The Lightsaber is just pure destructive potential. It just lazily goes through anything it encounters like it was nothing. There have been many other energy swords of various kinds in games and animes and so on, but none of them are so steadily unstoppable as this one. Graceful, simple, elegant, the Lightsaber is a little piece of killing technology that puts all those magical bullshit swords in other RPGs to utter shame. The Masamune, Ultima Weapon, Mana Sword, Eternal Sword, Glance Reviver, and so on...a Lightsaber would melt'em all on contact.

2. Dual Blade (Lufia Series)

(Note: The version of this sword from the beyond shitty Curse of the Sinistrals remake does NOT count).

Not only is the Dual Blade crazily powerful. Not only does it have a spiritual energy like that of a god's. Not only is it so powerful that you could theoretically suggest that it can distort the fabric of time and space around it over time (best explanation I've got for how jumbled and buggy-looking the area around it is in Lufia 2, besides it actually being bugged--but there's something about the area and the fact that it happens again at the bottom of the Ancient Cave where the ultimate monster is found that tells me that the Dual Blade's resting place was intentionally left looking like the universe's coding exploded). But the Dual Blade also resonates its spiritual power with and against your own, enhancing your strength with its power and using your determination to become deadlier itself. Its wielder can also use it in battle to completely recover their health and greatly increase their strength and ability. You practically become a deity just from wielding it--assuming that you're worthy enough for it to choose you. Now that's a legendary sword worth noting.

1. Aeterno Blade (AternoBlade)

This sword provides such raw, inconceivable power that it's hard to fathom. The Aeterno Blade gives its wielder the ability to rewind the entirety of time around herself, while she can move freely, and every attack she scores on an enemy unknowingly going back in its own timeline will remain, leaving that enemy to, from its perspective, suddenly sprout dozens of fatal wounds from nowhere. How unimaginably overpowered is that? What foes could possibly counter such an ability? This is more than a time stop, such as a few of the most impressive spells in RPG history are capable of performing (such as Feena's power in Grandia 1, or Sailor Pluto's in Sailor Moon: Another Story, both of which are insanely overpowered). This sword's power gives all the benefits of a time freeze spell, but also the added bonus that since the foe is retreating backward in time, the Aeterno Blade's wielder knows exactly what actions the enemy is about to take when she chooses to end the time rewind. Time stopping AND effective precognition! And if that weren't enough, the blade also allows its user to frequently make tiny hops through time-space in which she is invulnerable (think Tracer's blinking ability in Overwatch), and (also like Tracer, only better) to rewind her own time line several seconds (or even close to a minute) to heal herself from fatal injuries she might have sustained, and allowing her to recall this averted fatal future so that she can avoid the same mistake. The sword even allows its holder to do this for a few seconds after death, it seems, since in the game it'll give you a bit of time after Freyja's HP has hit 0 to go back and fix things. And there are also certain relics one can equip that resonate with the sword, conferring even more insane power from it, such as the ability to heal oneself while rewinding the rest of the world instead of just oneself. Whoever wields the Aeterno Blade is effectively immortal and unstoppable.

Honorable Mention: Star Dragon Sword (Suikoden Series)

While not enormously powerful (although its ability to kill immortal assholes is a nice plus), I'm rather partial to the Star Dragon Sword because it talks. And through talking you find that it is grumpy, vain, and just a jerk in general. If I were a sword, I'd be like this one.

...HA! Finally, a short list rant! It CAN be done!

* "Everyone" may need to be read as "me, and me alone."

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Shin Megami Tensei 3 Theory: Isamu's Folly

Time for another theory rant, this time perhaps a little more intellectual-sounding than my previous "KAIN = GAYZ" one.

Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, henceforth referred to as Shin Megami Tensei 3, is a pretty neat game, following much of the spirit (if not even close to the brilliance) of the original two Shin Megami Tensei games as a semi-sorta-kinda-not-really sequel to them. As with SMT1 and 2, you get to choose a side between several warring factions, according to which side you believe is the better one. With SMT3, though, the lines aren't so cleanly cut between Heaven, Earth, and Hell, between Logic, Balance, and Emotion. The disciplines you have the opportunity to endorse are all more basic, human views of what the world should be, and as such, each one clearly has its elements of truth but also clearly is flawed in certain ways. And the game's fairly careful, as SMT1 and 2 were, not to show a particular bias for any path beyond the one you'd expect for choosing not to give in to any side's dogma and instead fight them all.

Save in one instance. Now, it may be small, and unimportant, and I may be reading too much into this, but there's one moment of SMT3 that sticks out to me as being, for this game, bizarrely uneven. It's like this: in the ending of the game, your main character, known semi-officially as Naoki Kashima, gets to speak with the leader of the group that he has sided with, provided he's sided with one at all, and hear that person tell him how totally awesome he is for making the world they desired come to be. Just about what you'd expect, really, right? If you sided with Chiaki, who believes in a world of eternal struggle and violent rule by the most powerful, you meet with her, and she gives you the verbal equivalent of a thumbs-up. If you sided with Hikawa, who wants a world of absolute reason and logic with no emotions or passions, he gives you the verbal equivalent of a unemotional raising of one's thumb to indicate satisfactory-but-not-emotionally-stimulating results. And if you sided with Isamu, who more or less advocates a world where everyone leaves everyone alone and has anything they want at all times so long as what they want isn't contact with any other living being in existence, his ghost will give you a verbal version of a thumbs-up that wouldn't be corporeal anyway, given his state.

To quote the bard, "One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn't belong."* Yes, Isamu dies no matter what happens. Assuming that you ally with one of them, Chiaki and/or Hikawa will live to see her/his dream world's beginning, but even if it's not by your hand, Isamu's destined to go and get himself killed by Chiaki. Although, as I said, it may be nothing, it seems like an odd discrepancy.

What reason could there be, I've wondered, for singling out Isamu to die? Is it just because he, of the three discipline leaders, seems the weakest in power? I guess it could be as simple and harmless as that, but it seems odd nonetheless that they would take the time to emphasize that point. Yes, Chiaki does die if you follow her path, as well, but that's as a result of her intentionally fighting the protagonist to the death to determine which of them is the stronger and therefor the one to properly lead the way to the new world--it's the natural, acceptable result of her philosophy, a successful death, while Isamu's is against his will. And, as I said, Isamu's the only one whose death is emphasized during the ending conversation. So, as I said, it seems an odd discrepancy.

I then considered whether his death, and the idea of dying in general, could maybe just be emphasizing some part or concept of his discipline or the world he wanted to form, like Chiaki's is. But that also seemed to be a dead end. I mean, death does sort of remove you from the reach of all other people, but not in the idyllic way that Isamu wanted. And if you think of death as a way to get to Heaven or some other afterlife paradise, well, that doesn't quite work either, because those are typically thought of as places with lots of people (all the saved, chosen, virtuous, etc, depending on the version), which is definitely not what he advocated.

So it's probably not a simple show of power, and it's probably not some attempt to emphasize some aspect or virtue of his beliefs. It could just be nothing, but I couldn't very well rant about that. And anyways, I might accept most game plots not having any specific purpose in doing such a thing, but SMT games, as a general rule, have a design in every significant aspect of their story-telling. From what I've seen, at least. So I'm left with the (fairly reasonable) idea that Isamu is set apart from the others by a worse fate for a reason, something that he does or believes in that is different enough from the others that it's worthy of reprimand from the writers as being more flawed.

What I think it is, is this: Isamu's philosophy is based on inactivity, escapism, running away from reality instead of actually DOING something. Hikawa reasons out what he thinks is right and sets plans in motion to accomplish his goals, and wants to create a world of silence, logic, order. His actions and his world are about what to do, and how beings should live with each other. Chiaki, after experiencing life as a helpless wanderer in a hostile world, comes to covet the strength she lacks, comes to the conclusion that the world is and should be about the strong overcoming the weak, and sets out to gain power, and to create a world in which that is completely true. Her actions and her world are about what should be done and how beings are meant to interact with each other.

But Isamu? He isolates himself from the world in despair, and just happens across the means to change the world by fateful accident. He not only wants to run away from reality instead of dealing with it and working to change it, but he wants to create a reality that is paradoxically about rejecting itself. I mean, think about it--his world isn't one where no one else exists; it's just one where each person has his own little perfect fantasy life completely isolated from every other person having his or her own fantasy life. The reality would still be that other people existed, yet the world would be shaped in such a way to perpetuate a denial of that reality.

All three of the game's leaders have flawed visions, but Hikawa and Chiaki at least share the virtue that their disciplines are based on actually acting, working to better the world (in their eyes). Isamu just outright denies it and advocates escapism. And I think that's why he has such a notably worse fate than the others--the SMT3 creators couldn't help but subtly show his folly as worse than the others'.

* Assuming that "the bard" you're referring to is Sesame Street's songwriter.