Friday, March 25, 2011

General RPG Lists: Greatest Villains

It's been a while now since I originally made a list of the best 5 villains in RPGs--long enough that I've encountered enough villains since that I really should expand this list to 10. So here it is, the updated list of the best villains in the RPG genre. Ahem...

If there's anything that's hard to define about RPGs (and just story-telling in general), it's what constitutes a "good" villain. Everyone's got their own opinions on what a decent villain should be and do. So, a lot of this is gut feeling. I'm gonna stand by my picks pretty adamantly (unless I play games in the future and find new villains that outclass even these ones), but I admit that there's no real set of rules about what makes them great--they just are. I've been mulling over what makes a great RPG villain for quite a while now, and had some good conversations with Queelez about the subject, so I hope to someday have a rant about that. But for now, here are the 10 best RPG villains I've come across, in ascending order.

Oh, and be warned: this list obviously contains major spoilers. At this point, I'm sure you expect that sort of thing with these rants, but even so, it bears mentioning.

UPDATE 11/09/2015: Flowey added; Delita has been bumped off.
UPDATE 10/25/2017: The Changing God and Lusamine added; The Master and Loghain have been bumped off.

10. The Changing God (Torment: Tides of Numenera)

The Changing God is a fascinating mix of good intentions and petty vanities and selfishness. His villainy is in his careless legacy, the fact that his creations and actions across his lifetimes have caused untold strife and chaos to the world, leaving such a profoundly damaging impact upon everything he touches that things such as the Endless Battle are regarded as an unchangeable fact of the world. To bring his daughter back to life, he has, through his abandoned projects, the engines of his plans which he has left running, the castoffs he has created, ruined countless numbers of lives...and he doesn't really care. And that alone would make him a decent villain, but added to that is the fact that bringing his daughter to life again is eventually lost in the shuffle of his's a goal in name only, after a certain point, little more than a hobby he pretends to himself that he's still obsessed over, when, in fact, the Changing God's petty vanity and his own desire to continue surviving at any cost override the initial good intentions he had he began his work. He reminds me of Dio, from Revolutionary Girl Utena--a former hero whose wake now only destroys those caught within it, claiming to do it all for the one he loved most, yet only lazily going through the motions of pursuing his goal, now unconcerned by his failures, but by satisfying his own personal wants. Fallen heroes in RPGs are so often those who were disillusioned, those whose personal beliefs eventually drove them to extremes...the Changing God is fascinatingly genuine to us for having fallen not for such grandiose reasons, but for simple, petty human fears and self-interest.

9. Lusamine (Pokemon Generation 7)

Lusamine's a terrific villain. She has a striking presence, and the madness within her practically jumps out at you--you don't need her to dress up in some clown outfit, slaughter a town, or talk in a weird voice to know that Lusamine is deeply, unnervingly insane, you just have to look at her, feel it through her glares and words. And it's such a personal, compelling madness, too! When you learn of Lusamine's history, see that it was the loss of her husband that drove her to her current state, and see how this harmful madness manifests in a compulsion to seek utter emotional domination over those she desires love from, to prevent the possibility of ever feeling that same loss of love, and to see how easily this madness has corrupted and merged with her instincts of motherhood and her relationship with her's pretty fascinating stuff. And what really sells Lusamine as a villain is how personally affecting and damaging her actions are to those around her. Her plan to enter an alternate world at any cost, which puts the Alola Region at risk, is mild as villainous acts go, and her abuse of Pokemon is, of course, reprehensible...but Lusamine's real evil is the manipulation of, the stunting personal control over, her children, Lillie in particular. Lusamine takes advantage of others' love for her, tries to twist it into the unquestioning, doll-like obedience which is the only love she can accept, and uses it to emotionally abuse and stunt her daughter's growth as a person, and we see this legacy of disturbing, simple evil in everything Lillie is and says, each of her moments of awkward uncertainty and fear to advance herself. It's such a small, quiet thing, to be mad and do evil to those close to you, to have such a personal nature to one's villainy...but it makes Lusamine all the more compelling an antagonist.

8. Flowey (Undertale)

Flowey's a great combination of a villain who's incredibly creepy, like The Master from Fallout 1, and really annoying, like 1 of the villains below, yet he's also a villain who's got a really interesting backstory that explains how and why he is very well. It's hard not to sympathize with this infuriating little psychopath once you know how he became what he is...even though he still revolts your sensibilities. As a representation of the player of RPGs, Flowey is insightful, as a character he has depth and pathos, as an adversary he's downright disturbing, and as a concept, he's intriguing...yeah, Flowey's a pretty excellently crafted villain, no doubt about it.

7. The Transcendent One (Planescape: Torment)

The Transcendent One's greatness as a villain comes less from who he is and what he does than it does simply from what he is and what role he fulfills. Without spoiling too much (because I never, ever want to discourage anyone in any way from playing Planescape: Torment), I can say that The Transcendent One, as a remnant of the protagonist's past, is the perfect ultimate obstacle in a game focused on the protagonist's journey of self-discovery and recovery of that which has been forgotten. With a great presence (helped in no small way by solid voice acting), heavy philosophical weight in his mere existence, the menacing threat of an unknowable hunter slowly closing in on its prey throughout the game's course, and the fact that he's the perfect culmination of the unusual journey of a nameless man across the planes of reality in search of himself, The Transcendent One is a character of great storytelling power that should serve as an example to game developers everywhere of how excellently connected great heroes and villains should be.

6. Pokey/Porky (Earthbound and Mother 3)

Most of the evildoers on this list are here because they're deep and interesting examples of villains, giving the player insight on how a person can turn to bad ends and lose themselves to their darker emotions.

Porky is not that kind of villain. Porky is just an obnoxious little shit.

Porky is a selfish, rude, irredeemable brat. While he's not a character with any depth per say, he's nonetheless an incredibly well-made bad guy for how realistic he is and how consistently true to character he stays. He's the essential bad kid. He's spoiled, he's selfish, he jeers and taunts everyone, he's petty, he's convinced that he's the center of all creation, and he demands absolute adulation from everyone around him. Never before have I seen the nastiest traits of children portrayed so completely and convincingly. Despite the fact that he manipulates his way to the top of an evil organization, guides the embodiment of all evil, and creates an army with which he invades and corrupts what amounts to the entire world, he's never more than a rotten child.

He also deserves mention for the fact that he very successfully makes the player hate his heinous little guts. Hate. Every time he opens his pudgy little mouth, I wish I could reach through the screen and choke the life out of him. He's always arrogant, maddeningly condescending, totally unfeeling, and he has an obsession with one-upping Earthbound's main character, Ness, that leads him to insist that he's still the cooler one even when he's running away like a sniveling coward--which happens a lot. Porky flees almost as much as those gutless Turks in Final Fantasy 7, and the fact that he refuses to adjust his narcissistic self-image at all regardless of how sorely the weak, pitiful little bastard's been pummeled just adds to how irritating he is. Porky's the perfect child villain, folks--it's that simple.

5. Wylfred (Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume) (Normal and Bad Ending Versions)

The best villains are often the ones you spend time with during their fall, the ones whose turn to dark means and objectives you can see for yourself. In 2 of the 3 endings of VPCotP (including the Normal Ending, which is canonically factual), Wylfred shows us this. Chosen for his resentment against the goddess of death, Lenneth, to fight and destroy her, Wylfred can be seen throughout the game to develop as a character along the path you set for him by the actions you make him take. Along the Bad Ending path, Wylfred becomes consumed by his rage against Lenneth and the other gods, encountering situations that further infuriate him as he lets his hatred for Lenneth and her kind completely engulf him, becoming, by the end, a spiteful, wrathful man obsessed with vengeance at any cost--a goal emphasized by the player's decision to have Wylfred sacrifice his companions through the game's course to gain power for himself.

Along the Normal Ending path, Wylfred instead develops as a more tragic villain, viewing the same events that the Bad Ending path showed through different eyes. While the Bad Ending path's view of these events encouraged utter submersion into the cause of hate and revenge, the Normal Ending path shows Wylfred perspectives that emphasize inevitable necessity, proving to him that he must carry out his objective of killing the Valkyrie even if the methods for doing so are distasteful. In this path, Wylfred develops into a man resigned to the necessity of his fate, knowing that his sins have committed him to his path and trying to do something right (or at least, what he believes is right) to make the evil deeds he's done to get to the game's finale meaningful.

Whether raging or resigned, Wylfred is a very well-crafted villainous protagonist, and the fact that he can be successfully developed into either version of the bad guy role is a testament to the skill of the game's writers.

4. Orsted (Live-A-Live)

Knowing a villain's motivation and background, their personality and beliefs, is, to me, perhaps the most important aspect in separating an excellent villain from a crowd of mediocre ones. Let's face it, the number of villains we see whose writers have put any strong effort into developing is shockingly small--and of the ones who do have strong backgrounds and motives we can see, many are just those annoying Good Intentions, Stupid Methods misguided anime losers I mentioned above at number 8. Knowing the villain as a character, seeing what he/she thinks, why he/she acts as he/she does, and how he/she got to this point in the story is what can really distinguish a villain as great--because really, how great can any character be if you don't know him or her? And yet, knowing a villain well is sadly pretty uncommon--most I've seen in RPGs are empty, meaningless plot vehicles, doing evil for barely any reason because it's needed for their to be a game at all.

This is why Orsted is so extraordinary. In Orsted's chapter of Live-A-Live, the player controls him as any of the other 7 (or 9, depending on how you view it) protagonists of LAL as he goes through a small, personal quest as the rest of them do. Thus, the player has a front row seat to all the events that result in Orsted falling from a national hero to a hated, pitiable fiend. Orsted loses everything important to him thanks to the petty vices of the people he trusted most--his fame, his honor, his hero, his friend, his love, and his aspirations. In the space of two days, the man who had everything to live for instead has everything he wanted and cared for, everything he desired to be a hero for, either taken violently from him, or worse, turned against him. By the time this horrible series of events conclude, you find no surprise at all as he bitterly curses the human race for its sin and weakness, and pledges to become a demon and eradicate it from existence utterly. This is a more powerful fall than Wylfred's was--Wylfred's descent into villainy is begun by his own feelings of bitterness and resentment against the deity of mortality; he was already facing the wrong moral direction before fate gave him the push down the villain's path. Orsted's fall is sheer and shocking, knocking him from the top of the world down to the very bottom and then rubbing his face in the dirt. You know exactly why he's doing this, but more than that, you even feel a great degree of sympathy to his position--because you've seen all that led him to this moment, and it was tragically unfair. Square very uncharacteristically* takes the time to show and develop their villain in Live-A-Live, and it really pays off with one of the best to grace the genre to date.

3. Luca Blight (Suikoden 2)

Now, I value creativity a lot. This is tied in with viewing villains as better when they're well-developed characters--it is, after all, a lot more creative to see a villain with a story than just some empty idiot who does bad things for the sake of it. As a rule of thumb, I want to see originality in my plots and characters first and foremost. But, as casts of games like Grandia 2 and Tales of Legendia have taught me, excellence really is all in the execution. Sometimes, if you do a damn fine job of portraying something well-known and typical, you still can make it excellent.

This is the case of Luca Blight. Luca is a power-hungry, war-mongering, bloodthirsty, genocidal madman out to personally kill everything he can--in other words, nothing new to the world of video games. He doesn't really have much character development, you don't know much about his back story that has any significance (even Final Fantasy 6's Kefka gets more background, and Square certainly didn't even put in their usual minimal efforts on villain background with him)*, and goals for his conquests certainly don't seem much more evolved than those of typical character-lacking RPG villains like Star Ocean 2's Wise Men, or Pokemon Generation 1's Giovanni.

But Luca is very, very different. Because Konami really sells you on how nasty this guy is, how great and terrible his rage and hatred is. You don't just get vague acts of destruction out of him. The game doesn't just show you some pretty cinemas of towns burning, things blowing up, maybe an NPC or two getting tidily struck down or laser beamed. You see him doing his thing, and you feel a chill at how utterly, unmistakably evil he is. He doesn't just order the slaughter of helpless civilians he's captured, he lines them up and personally kills each one with his own hand, laughing at them, insulting them, brutally humiliating them in their last, terrified moments. They mean nothing to him, yet he all the same makes their murders into a personal joy. He's vicious, willing to kill youths of his own army for his gain, and has the general demeanor when speaking, even to his own allies, of a rabid dog only barely held back by his leash.

He's also insanely powerful, and it seems that his power comes from nothing more than his all-consuming hatred and rage. In a world where magical Runes are more or less the be-all end-all of high power, Luca Blight surpasses most holders of True Runes with his strength of will and sheer evil alone. His death comes after:

1. Archers send a volley of arrows into him.
2. Archers send more arrows into him.
3. 6 of the best warriors that the good guys have attack him with all their might.
4. Archers shoot him a bunch more.
5. 6 more of the good guys' best fighters hit'im with all they've got.
6. He attracts another wave of arrows.
7. Another 6 of the good guys' best fighters give him all they have.
9. Riou, the main character, has to finish him off in a one-on-one duel.

It's crazy. This kind of evil-fueled immortality would do Rasputin proud. And after all that, he still has the strength left to him to stand, laugh insanely, and deliver this immortal quote that shows you just how remorseless he is:

"Listen, Riou!!!!!!!!! It took hundreds to kill me, but I killed humans by the thousands!!!!! Look at me!!!! I am sublime!!!!!! I am the true face of evil!!!!"

Indeed he is.

2. Fou-Lu (Breath of Fire 4)

Honestly, it's hard for me to decide on who's the greater villain, Fou-Lu or Luca. But in the end, I think it has to be Fou-Lu.

Like Orsted, the major aspect of Fou-Lu that makes him such a remarkable RPG villain is how well you know him. Although most of BoF4 has you playing as Ryu, the hero, the game also has you often control Fou-Lu as he makes his own journey. As with Orsted, you come to understand Fou-Lu by his actions and words, and to understand why he comes to his beliefs and resolution, for you experience the events that drive him to his path as they happen, instead of just in some rushed flashback or spoken back story.

What sets Fou-Lu apart as a superior villain to even Orsted, though, is another aspect of what I believe really makes a great villain: the reflection he is to the main hero. Orsted is a villain in and of himself; Fou-Lu, however, is a villain who stands directly opposed to the hero, linked with him as two parts of a whole. Both Fou-Lu and Ryu see good examples of human nature in their travels--yet each also sees many tragedies brought on by the ugly parts of the human spirit. In the end, what Fou-Lu takes from his experiences is that humanity is too fundamentally corrupt and dark to deserve to live, while Ryu sees the good of some of the people he's met that surpasses the evil of the others (well, presumably; you actually have the option to choose how Ryu feels in the end, but the "real" ending has Ryu stand against Fou-Lu). Fou-Lu is great because the player can understand him and perhaps even sympathize with him, but the fact that you can see the contrast between his perspective and Ryu's over virtually the same experiences and evidence adds an extra aspect of excellence to him.

1. Kreia (Knights of the Old Republic 2)

Actually, sorry to disappoint you, but I don't really have much to say here--I already did a rant on Kreia a while back that had pretty much all I needed to say about her here. Check back on it if you want to know the scoop on the best RPG Villain of all. Suffice to say, Kreia has unparalleled character development, brilliant execution as a villain, and is pretty much a step up in every significant way from just about every other villain I know of, RPG or not.

Honorable Mention: Lavos (Chrono Trigger)

We're all familiar with the more humanized RPG villain, the one that talks and plots and menaces, but there's a whole other category of major RPG villains that I haven't gone into--the big, unnatural disaster-type villains. These are the huge, world-threatening catastrophic world-ending villains that quite often aren't even sentient--huge beasts like Gaia in Grandia 1 or the Archdemon in Dragon Age 1, godlike avatars of destruction like Nyx of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 or Malpercio of the Baten Kaitos series, and otherworldly menaces like Dark Force from the Phantasy Star series or Sulpher from Phantom Brave. They're world-ending monsters that often don't even seem self-aware, going about their destructive business by instinct or unconscious obedience to another villain's demands. As such, they're not that interesting as villains, being more like obstacles than any significant part of the story's intellectual aspect, but they deserve some mention all the same.

Of these doomsday beasts, I think Lavos is the best to me. For starters, once it gets started destroying, Lavos gets the job done in record time, bringing the ruin of the entire world about in, what, hours? Minutes? There's no steady progressing destruction like with Grandia 1's Gaia or anything. It's just over as soon as it begins. I also think Lavos's design is really pretty neat and appropriate, because it really LOOKS like the alien monstrosity it's supposed to be. Method of world-destroying's pretty neat, too, shooting out explosive spines so fast, high, and wide that they rain absolute destruction across the globe.

What makes Lavos stand out to me, though, is its motivation for its habits. From what little can be gleaned about this beast, it's a member of some immense alien species for whom the destruction of the world it infests is simply a natural part of the life cycle. It lands on a planet, digs deep down within its surface, and simply waits for aeons, somehow feeding on the evolutionary changes of the world's life over countless years, perhaps even directing some of them itself. Eventually it rises from the ground to bring about apocalyptic doom to the world's life (presumably to spark a huge feast of evolutionary energy in the world's few surviving organisms as they have to adapt to a radically different environment), and soon after spawns its own offspring (perhaps fertilized by the combined genetic data of all the planet's biological history) which will eventually leave the dead planet to find another and begin the cycle anew.

A planetary parasite that drains, affects, and kills an entire world's life like a disease-ridden tick spreads Lyme Disease to the host it sucks blood out of, so immensely powerful and steeped in the life essence of its planetary host that it distorts and rips the fabric of time itself--and never any indication or even hint that this could be anything but a non-self-aware animal acting solely on instinct. You can't tell me that isn't a damn cool idea.

...And here I thought that List Rants would be shorter and quicker than regular ones. So much for that idea.

* Yes, I know, Squaresoft/SquareEnix DOES actually have 3 villains on this list, so my comment here doesn't appear very fair, but I'd like to stress that these good villains are VERY much the exception to the rule with the company. While really good villains are rare all around, few RPG makers so consistently make terrible villains as Square does. Yeah, you've got Delita (formerly on this list), Lavos, Wylfred, and Orsted on one side...but the other side has maniacal idiots with less character depth than a Care Bears villain (X-Death of Final Fantasy 5, Ultimecia of Final Fantasy 8, Magic Emperor of Final Fantasy Mystic Quest), misguided nitwits who have the most idiotic reasoning for their actions that you can possibly conceive (Seymour of Final Fantasy 10, Feolthanos of Final Fantasy 12: Revenant Wings, Krelian of Xenogears), and puzzling dolts whose motivations and methods are so ridiculously complicated, contrived, and outright dumb that they just come off as silly and annoying (Vayne of Final Fantasy 12, Mydia of Final Fantasy 12: Revenant Wings, every single original villain of the Kingdom Hearts series besides Dark Riku). And there's also Sephiroth, who is basically a combination of all of those types. Oh, and did I forget the groups of completely ineffectual, lame, and annoying minor villains that never shut the hell up and remain cocky despite having never succeeded at anything, ever (The Turks of Final Fantasy 7, Organization 13 of Kingdom Hearts 2, Id of Xenogears--okay, he's not a group, but he does the same thing)? With Square, you breathe a sigh of relief when you just get a standard bland, uninteresting villain whose motivations are never adequately explored (Carltron of The Secret of Evermore, Thanatos of The Secret of Mana, the Omnidragon of Chrono Cross) because you know it could have been so much worse.

Monday, March 14, 2011

General RPGs' AMVs 2

Well, by now you guys have probably figured out that I am quite partial to a truly excellent AMV, given that every time I find one I feel is really great, I do a whole long rant on it. Of course, one does not often find a fantastic RPG AMV whilst browsing the fact, given the number I've found that are so great that I deem them worthy of personally keeping and subsequently ranting about, I'd say, quite seriously, that your chances of finding a great RPG AMV are about 100 to 1. I mean, that really seems to be the ratio I've experienced.*

Still, even if a truly skillful, exceptional AMV is extremely rare, that's not to say that there aren't a good few AMVs out there that are, if not great, at least decent, sometimes even good. I'm sure has hell not going to spend 2 - 4 weeks writing out an analytical rant for each of them,** but hey, just because they're not amazing, that doesn't mean they don't deserve some note for at least being competent, right? Just the ability to rise above flat mediocrity with RPG AMVs is uncommon enough that it ought to have some recognition. Hence, here is a list of 13 RPG AMVs that are at least pretty good, and worth a watch, organized by game. Why 13? Because it's enough to give you a good handful but not enough to overwhelm you, and because superstitions are for wusses.

And hey, by the way, if you watch one of these and like it, be responsible and give it a Thumbs-Up, or even leave a positive comment. It distresses me how few views and feedback quite a few of these AMVs have, considering that there was clearly some decent effort put into quite a few of them.


Chrono Cross: Plastic Blue, by xXOverXStudiosXx:
The music used is Blue, by The Birthday Massacre. Can't say I'm a fan of the music in any capacity, but ah well. The visual nature of this AMV is very impressive, using tints and visual effects up the wazoo to create a music video that nearly perfectly portrays the surreal, turbulent emotions and twists of the music. This is done so well that I was very tempted to keep this AMV in my personal collection as one of the very best ones out there--but in the end, I opted not to, because while Chrono cross's videos work well enough for the song, I feel like you could have taken a great many games' FMVs and gotten an equal result with the same amount of visual effects. In essence, there's not much to this AMV that ties it more strongly to the game it uses than would tie it to any other game whose visuals it could have chosen instead. Nonetheless, a pretty impressive offering.

Chrono Trigger: Chronology Anthology, by Parasite02:
The music used is Book of Days, by Enya. This is a pretty good tribute video, with the music and scenes being well-coordinated. There's a lot of neat visual artistry, too, although there are times when it gets excessive and distracting.

Chrono Trigger: This War is Ours, by Smndo:
The music used is This War is Ours, by Escape the Fate. Lots of visual effects thrown in here, and most are pretty well-used, although there are several times during this video during which I wish things would slow down and be less rapid and confusing. However, putting that (and the, er, less than perfect English used in the video) aside, this is a really neat AMV, using the song to its full extent at several times (particularly at the part starting at 1:15) and including visuals not only from the FMV anime cutscenes, but also from official art, AND the pixellated gameplay itself--and always effectively. I'm often annoyed with the fact that AMVs are as a general rule afraid to include video of actual gameplay for any RPG made before the Playstation 2 era, because if you use it effectively in the right doses, as this AMV does, it enhances your work without being distracting. This is especially handy with a game like CT, whose FMV offerings are distinctly limited to work with.


Dragon Age 1: In Paradisum, by Darkozl:
The music used is Requiem for a Tower, by Clint Mansell. This AMV is an enjoyable tribute to the game, and uses speeches from the game well with the song's prominent build-up. That's all, really, I can't say much more about it--it's just pretty darn good.


Fallout 3: My World, by FalseEmperor13:
The music is My World, by Brand New Sin. You may remember FalseEmperor13 from one of my earlier AMV rants, Fallout 3: If You Tolerate This, Then Your Children will be Next. This AMV isn't excellent like that one, but it's a pretty solid offering, using the heavy, action-oriented tune and lyrics well with the game's visuals to illustrate the idea of a world that's forsaken anyone who wants to live decently in it. The AMV also uses Tenpenny and Dukov from the game to embody the lyrics referring to the one who gets what they want from the world, which is a nicely appropriate connection.


Final Fantasy 9: Bloody Nails and Broken Hearts, by LeviSouthward:
The music used is Bloody Nails and Broken Hearts, by Billy Talent. For a game that is so often paired with calmer, more melodic tunes, this AMV surprises you with how well FF9's impressive visuals can also work with a harsher, faster, more action-oriented song. Several good choices on what clips to match to certain parts and lyrics of the song make it that much better.

Final Fantasy 9: Dragon Boy, by Thistledemon:
The music is Dragon Boy, from the Spirited Away soundtrack. The visual beauty and grandeur of Final Fantasy 9 is a perfect match to the comparable beauty and grandeur of Spirited Away's music, and this song in particular works very nicely to make a tribute to FF9's epic, gorgeous world and adventure. Many good cases of scene selection here, too, that help emphasize the music's qualities. I just wish it didn't end so abruptly, because the AMV winds up feeling incomplete, particularly since the final scenes didn't seem to conclude the video in any particular way.

Final Fantasy 9: She's so High, by Fellow Hoodlum Inc:
The music used is She's so High, by Tal Bachman. This song really works for Dagger as a character, the scene selection to go with the music is usually well-chosen for working with the tune, and how can you not love using Kuja to portray Aphrodite?


The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: Girlfriend, by Amandamaya123:
The music is Girlfriend, by Avril Lavigne. Honestly, this song is annoying as hell to me, but I must say, the scene selection is at several times damn clever, and fun to watch. The expressions and actions in the scenes used often match up extremely well to the (obnoxious) lyrics of the song, and make for a rather fun watch, even if the idea that Link and Midna have any particular romantic chemistry is...fanciful, to put it mildly.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: Hand of Sorrow, by 00peachy00:
The music is Hand of Sorrow, by Within Temptation. This AMV uses the artistic and powerful visuals well to match the strong, epic feeling of the music, and there are also several nice visual effects thrown into it that enhance the AMV but never go overboard (which is a common problem with AMVs that add visual effects). The one major flaw to this AMV is that it's simply over too soon; the song cuts out before it's finished, leaving the feeling that there should have been more.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: High School Never Ends, by Amandamaya123:
The music is High School Never Ends, by Bowling for Soup. This one's just clever and amusing overall, using visuals of the game's characters to illustrate the song's lyrics from start to finish. Sometimes the connection's vague, but often it's done very well, and the overall effect is lighthearted and fun.


Parasite Eve 1: Parasite Eve Blinded me with Science, by Fellowhoodlum:
The music is She Blinded me with Science, by Thomas Dolby. It seems strange, but this light-hearted, quirky song winds up working really well with Parasite Eve's disturbing visuals, changing them from creepy and at times gross to entertaining and mad-science-y. But hey, PE1 is a present-day science fiction RPG, so everything really does wind up fitting pretty well with the song, aided by the AMV maker's talent at selecting scenes and transitions that work with the song's tune and lyrics.

Parasite Eve 1: Superstitious Feeling, by ShawnDDude:
The music is Superstitious Feeling, by Harlequin. This tribute is really very good, with the music portraying just the right mixture of mystery, tension, and urgency to match the atmosphere of PE1.

And that's it for now. Hope you found at least a few of these enjoyable. Since I only rarely stumble across a truly amazing AMV, expect to see more 13-pack rants like this one about the decent AMVs I happen across in my searches for greatness. Although even decent AMVs can be uncommon, so even these will only happen once in a while.

* Of course, take out Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy 8, and Final Fantasy 7-related AMVs from that mix, and you're probably down to a 50 to 1 chance.

** That really is how long I usually take to get my AMV rants done. Yes, I do, indeed, sometimes suck to a ridiculous degree.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Fallout: New Vegas's Lousy Karma System

Traditionally, Fallout games keep track of a player's actions using Karma. For doing something good, like giving a thirsty beggar some water, asking for no reward for a service rendered, or seeing how many rounds of ammunition one mob boss's head can hold, you get Karma. For doing something bad, like selling your friends to slavers, blackmailing merchants, and setting off a dormant nuclear warhead in the middle of a busy town because a neighboring town leader thinks the place is an eyesore, you get negative Karma. Your Karma score would influence various things, mostly the way that NPCs would react to you, your available options for a few quests, whether bounty hunters or mercenaries will eventually start hunting you down, and most importantly, whether potential party members would join you, and if so, which ones. It's a nice little idea that enhances the game's enjoyment and gives extra emphasis to the idea that your actions in the game have consequences by giving your actions overall some long-term results to accompany whatever immediate effects you've caused.

Fallout: New Vegas introduces an accompanying system in its installment, that of Reputation. There are several groups of influence and power throughout the Mojave Wasteland in Fallout: New Vegas, and what you do for or to them affects how that faction as a whole sees you, which in turn determines how they react to you and what quests and rewards they're willing to give you.

I like the idea in theory. After all, not everyone on one side or the other of Good vs. Evil should have the same values. If you get a bunch of Negative Karma because you can't help stuffing people's pockets with live grenades, it follows that a bunch of chaotic, anarchistic, crazy drug-users might react well to you, but a company of organized slavers probably wouldn't be all that impressed, even if both groups are on the Bad side of Karma. Having individual Reputation scores for each faction provides a chance for more plot relevance for your actions, making things more realistic, and also emphasizing the importance of the different factions to the Mojave Wasteland setting. Good idea!

Bad idea: relegating EVERY major effect traditionally associated with the Karma system to the Reputation system for the factors. They left Karma in the game, but it's almost entirely irrelevant now. First of all, there's barely ANY result of really high or really low Karma. The companions who can join you are dependent on your Reputation; the only one that actually cares about you being a psychotic mass-murderer is Cass, and she can be talked out of leaving you for your baby-eating ways, anyway. NPCs' reactions to you only seem to significantly change from Reputation--whether angels sing in your presence or you kick puppies with lead boots on, all any given NCR official cares about is whether or not you've been helpful to his country previously. Few NPCs have any biases beyond those faction-related. What quests are available to you are the same way--if there's any discrimination going on for whether a quest is offered to you, it's based on what factions you're friendly with, not whether or not you're a trustworthy individual in general. With few exceptions, the Reputation system has made Karma irrelevant.

Second problem: at least half the NPCs in the game belong to a faction, so killing them only affects your Reputation, not your Karma rating. So, hey, if you're not a fan of the New California Republic and want to serve another faction, feel free to open fire on a squad of unsuspecting NCR soldiers sitting down to have lunch. Sure, the NCR won't like you gunning down defenseless peace-keepers...but it won't make you a bad person, apparently! Now the only people you have to worry about killing indiscriminately are independent NPCs (which will give you bad Karma) and gang members (which will give you good karma). So if you actually CARE about what your Karma score is, your options for affecting it the way you want to are much more limited than they used to be. And who you're shooting at isn't the only thing that doesn't work the way it used to regarding Karma--while it was frowned upon in Fallout 2, grave-robbing is apparently A-OK in Fallout: New Vegas. You'd think someone in the town of Goodsprings would care that you're violating their grandmother's corpse on the off-chance that she was buried with a Stimpack hidden in her coffin, but nope.

And y'know, getting back to the idea that faction-specific kills don't influence your reputation, there's one aspect of it that I really have to say is ridiculous. Now, in the example I gave, you're killing a bunch of soldiers for the New California Republic faction in cold blood. Now, that's a pretty immoral act that you'd expect negative Karma for, but I can almost understand why you might not have a Karma penalty applied. I mean, it's hard to argue that the NCR isn't at least partially good, but they're very imperialistic, and even if they're bringing about a far safer, better form of life for the people of the Wasteland, they ARE doing it through fairly standard imperialistic military methods. You could be a good person and still disagree with the NCR's way of doing things, and support another fairly good faction instead. So even if it SHOULD be an evil act to kill such soldiers if they're not attacking you, I guess I can accept that it's associated with the act of opposing a faction that you could object to while still being a good person.

But the same Karma problem is present with members of Caesar's Legion! Kill a Legion recruit, and you'll only be awarded negative Reputation for them, but your Karma won't be affected. Now seriously...why the HELL do you not get good Karma for killing a Legion NPC? Come on. Other factions may have aspects of moral ambiguity, but you can't honestly try to tell me that a morally decent person could support Caesar's Legion. This is a faction that burns, pillages, and murders everything in their path, destroying every male it can't make one of its own, and enslaving every female as a supposedly inferior being. Sure, they exemplify militaristic discipline and abhor the drugs that run rampant throughout the Wasteland...but that discipline is savage brainwashing, and they act on their hatred for chems by crucifying anyone they suspect of using them. In fact, the Legion just crucifies just about anyone it dislikes for any reason--they're big fans of horrible, tortuous public death. And hey, might I again mention, ENSLAVING HALF OF THE HUMAN RACE. Being sexist asswipes convinced of the inferiority of women in all things is bad enough as it is--using that philosophy to enslave all women to serve all their labor needs is amazingly evil. I'd say it's worse than just having normal slavery, but slavery is already the absolute polar end of the moral spectrum in my mind, so I guess it can't actually get worse.

So, essentially, Caesar's Legion is a group that combines the cruelties, barbaric violence, and dogged imperialism of Rome, the brainwashing power of the Third Reicht, the empire-built-off-slaves part of Ancient Egypt or the deep pre-Civil War US South, and the gender philosophies of...well, pick just about any society and go back a little ways to the point where women had absolutely, 100% no rights and were considered inferior in every way. Some cultures won't require you to turn too many pages of history back to find it.

Can someone PLEASE explain to me why feeding a Legion member a bullet breakfast does NOT give me positive Karma? Is there REALLY any moral ambiguity associated with this faction that could reasonably lead a good person to support them?

And when I ask for explanation, I mean a REAL one. Not the lame-ass failure of an excuse that's been going around, claiming that since Caesar's Legion is using all these terrible, evil acts toward the goal of creating, maintaining, and spreading a form of civilization, it falls into a neutral zone for morality to the Fallout universe. No. That is fucking stupid. Maybe if Caesar's Legion had been a faction existing early in the series, like within the first few decades following the world's destruction, that claim could be made, because at that point, there really wasn't anything anywhere resembling civilization that I know of, so perhaps seeing the Legion as the ONLY alternative to chaotic, violent, deranged anarchy would have been able to make it a "neutral" kind of choice. Maybe. But in the setting of Fallout: New Vegas, having the Legion be considered anything but brutal, heinous evil is, and I can't emphasize this enough, fucking stupid. Because by that time, that area of the Fallout wastelands has got the New California Republic as an option for civilization, and Mr. House, the New Vegas families, the surrounding towns, and the various smaller factions ALL present viable opportunities for civilization. You're not choosing between Caesar's idea of civilization or none at all. You're choosing between one legitimate form of civilization (the NCR), another conglomerate of legitimate civilizations (the towns and factions of New Vegas and the surrounding area as they already exist), or a form of civilization that finds honor in brutality, enslaves half its population for a condition they can't change under false claims that it's inferior, and delights in monstrous torment. So saying that Caesar's Legion could be considered a "neutral" moral choice in any way for the setting of New Vegas is so arrogantly short-sighted and reeking of idiocy that I wish I could hit each and every person who makes that claim in the mouth so hard that they'll look like a checkerboard the next time they grin.

Anyway...I think I've gotten a little off-topic. Back to business. There are many good innovations with Fallout: New Vegas, and the Reputation system works very nicely by itself, but they really just dropped the ball completely on properly incorporating the traditional Fallout Karma system for New Vegas. It's so totally insignificant to the game's entirety that it might as well not even be there, and the developers were so obsessed with making the faction Reputations a big deal that they created a separation between Reputation and Karma that at several times, like with the Legion somehow not being considered evil, seems outright stupid.