Thursday, August 25, 2011

Dragon Quest 5's List

Things That I Believe Are More Exciting Than Playing Dragon Quest 5

Getting into a lengthy debate with a stuffed animal.
Watching C-SPAN on mute.
Singing to John Mayer.
Filling out medical forms.
Plain toast.
Folding laundry.
Dragon Ball Z.
Pocket Lint.
Watching Girl in the Golden Boots--WITHOUT the Mystery Science Theater 3000 commentary.
Slightly moist cardboard.
Sweeping the floor.
Playing Monopoly by yourself.
Hanging out with a slug.
The Family Circus.
Being a judge for a yawning contest.
Water-flavored soup.
A 72-hour Brady Bunch marathon.
An aerobics class led by a sloth.
Waiting in line at the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
Closely comparing toothbrushes at a store to determine which is the truly superior model.
Ricky Gervais...just barely, though.
Walking your pet rock.
Reading through the Megatokyo archives.
Being dead.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Avalon Code's Spirits' Weakness

So. Elemental spirits. Not exactly a new concept in RPGs. Seems everywhere you turn in this genre, some sentient, magical embodiment of something or other is jumping out at you, forcing you to go on quests, screaming plot into your ears, and offering to loan its powers out to passersby with all the discretion of a 50-cent hooker.

Avalon Code has a pretty typical set of elemental spirits to it. You've got one for Fire, one for Ice, one for Lightning, and one for Nature. Granted, most games will have spirits for things like Wind and Earth and so on before they get around to Nature, but other than that, it's pretty standard stuff. They advise the protagonist on where to go through the plot, they know the magical history of their world, they can be summoned for major attacks, they look vaguely know, same old, same old. There's just one thing that sets them apart: their weakness.

Now, an elemental spirit having a weakness isn't uncommon. It'll usually be attacks of the opposite element. You know the drill...Water spirits get electrocuted by Lightning magic, Light elementals aren't fond of Dark attacks, and you can fuck Final Fantasy 8's Ifrit's shit up good with Shiva the Ice lady. Poor, stupid Ifrit. These weaknesses make sense. Or at least, as much sense as elemental weaknesses ever make in RPGs.*

The Avalon Code elemental spirits, however, are a little different. Their weakness isn't their opposite element. No. Their weakness is water.

Yes. Water.

Allow me to clarify. I don't mean powerful Water magic, like you'd usually use against a Fire elemental or something. I mean a small amount of H2O. And I don't mean that it hurts them. I mean it completely disables them. You get an Avalon Code elemental spirit wet, and it is powerless. You could seriously, no exaggeration, POUR A GLASS OF WATER on one and it would be rendered utterly ineffectual.

It's all about lazy writing, of course, as so many problems I rant on boil down to in the end. The writers want the hero taken down at certain points in the plot, the hero's always got those little elemental spirits hanging around him/her, so the spirits have to be taken down each time, too. How will the writers do that? Well, they COULD employ some creativity and come up with some tactical means of defeating the spirits--or they COULD give all 4 the same weakness and make it something that can be easily obtained by any of the people disabling the hero. That way the writers can use the same means of spirit nullification each time and not have to worry about...what was it, again? That thing they're paid to do? Oh, yeah...THINKING. And so, the avatars of all the planet's natural energies, the gods of the elements of life, are easily conquered by anyone with a spray bottle.

But let us consider this in depth. Let us wrap our minds around this phenomenon.

The elemental spirits that embody and maintain the natural forces of the whole world are weak to water. Now, I'm not sure how much of Avalon Code's world is covered with water--maybe they aren't 70% ocean the way Earth is. But even if water only covers 10% of Avalon Code's world's surface, you're talking about one of the most common and simple chemical compounds in the universe. You're talking about a substance that every living organism on the planet needs to have reliable access to in order to survive. The spirits of the powers of all creation, able to raise blazing infernos, rain lightning storms upon the land, freeze the world in huge blizzards...are rendered totally helpless if you splash them with a liquid that any and every person in the world can obtain.

And then there's the elemental side of it. I mean, okay, I get that the spirit of Fire can be beaten by some water. I really think the corporeal essence of combustion should be able to withstand having a wet sponge wrung out over his head, but we'll let it go. Why is the Lightning spirit as weak to water? Why does the NATURE spirit get knocked on her ass by a light sprinkle? I mean, the existence of the watering can would indicate that a little H20 falling on a plant isn't terribly detrimental to it. And while it's been a while since I took a Biology course, I seem to remember that plants, much like every other living thing, need water to LIVE. So I'm not sure why the spiritual embodiment of them is knocked on her ass by anyone holding a squirt gun. And that's just going on the assumption that "Nature" just means plant life, as the game implies. If you expand that idea to include a general view of the basic environmental world, water's a PART of that.

And hey, how about the ICE spirit? It's also been a while since I took a Physics or Chemistry course, but if I do recall correctly, ice. Is. WATER. The Ice spirit's kryptonite is ice at room temperature. She is weak to herself.

Oh, and incidentally, you know how I've been "exaggerating" for comical effect thus far the small amount of water it would take to disable these spirits? I have not really been exaggerating all that much. I mean, there is a scene in the damn game where a character takes down the spirits with the water contained in a...pail? Bucket? Glass? I don't remember exactly what the container is--I actually do think it might have been a glass. But it's an easily carried container for liquid that only contains a comparatively small amount of water--and it's enough to take down all 4 creatures of arcane elemental power at once.

By God, this is SO DUMB.

* Why IS Fire so weak to Ice in these games, anyway? I understand Fire being weak to Water, cuz, y'know, water actually puts fire out in real life, but Ice? Fire melts ice in real life; ice only really beats fire AFTER it's melted into water. You can make a fire in freezing temperatures without much extra trouble so long as you have the materials to do so. Fire's second weakness should be Earth, not Ice. You pile a heap of dirt and sand and rocks and such on top of a fire, that'll put it out--hell, it's more reliable than water, even, cuz water won't stop a grease fire. Oh well.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Fallout: New Vegas's Ending

I really did love Fallout 3. It's got a simple yet epic plot, some neat characters, the events that move the plot along are well-executed, there's oodles of creativity to it, and there is, as in any Fallout, just tons of symbolism and references to the USA's culture, ideals, people, history, and place in the world. It was a reinvention of the series and yet a very faithful continuation of it, and there are few things I can really say weren't done well with it. But I do have to say, if there was 1 thing that disappointed me, it was...well actually, I guess it would have been the lousy, pointless Mothership Zeta DLC package. But if there were 2 things that disappointed me, then they'd have been the Mothership Zeta DLC package and the ending.

Now, I already made a rant about how stupid part of Fallout 3's ending was, and I soon after had to retract that rant as the Broken Steel DLC fixed the nonsensical part of the ending. So I don't have any complaints about the part of the ending where the Lone Wanderer must decide who goes in to fix the thingy any more. But the basic ending sequence was still disappointing when compared to that of previous games.

See, in previous Fallout games, the ending would be a sequence of scenes of people and places you encountered in your quest, with a voice-over in which the narrator explained what ended up happening to these individuals and locations after the game's end. In most cases, the future of many people and civilizations would be heavily influenced by your actions in the game. A few things didn't change no matter what you did, like the fate of Myron in Fallout 2, but overall, the game's ending was a chance to hear about the fruits (or ashes) of your labor, and even with the stuff you couldn't change, hearing about what happened later on was still neat.* In Fallout 3, however, you got an extremely brief sum-up of your character's actions that basically amounted to, "The Lone Wanderer was good/bad. The Capital Wasteland was changed for the better/worse because of The Lone Wanderer. The Lone Wanderer decided to purify/poison the water. The End." Not exactly the detailed summary of a quest that took 100+ hours of play time that I would have hoped for. Hell, not only does it not include any proper details for the fates of the places and people of the game, but it also doesn't even do a good job with what it DOES summarize! I mean, you're probably aware of whether or not your main character was a good or bad person, since, y'know, you were there for all the moments that would have determined that!

Thus, I am very pleased that Fallout: New Vegas has returned to the traditional Fallout way of ending a game--by listing off what happens to all of the settings and characters of importance after the game's conclusion, most of which are influenced by the protagonist's actions throughout the game. It's a very rewarding and interesting way to end a game, and is particularly appreciated when that game has taken as much time and attention as a Fallout game tends to.

I'm also pleased that Fallout: New Vegas goes 1 step further than the older games, too--it has more than 1 voice actor doing the narration. See, in Fallout 1 and 2, the ending narration was all done by the same voice actor, Ron Perlman. This was fine, as he's basically the vocal soul of the franchise, and he added a pleasant sense of depth and significance to the fates he was describing. But Fallout: New Vegas goes further: each part of the ending that details the future of a place or person is narrated by a character who had significant ties to it. For examples, the eventual fates of your party members are each narrated by the voice actor who played that character, while the description of what happens to, say, the Kings gang in Freeside, is narrated by The King, leader of the gang. Having narration by the characters relevant to the people and places described in the ending is a nice touch, makes the ending's story come more alive to me. And you still get Mr. Perlman in there for the summary of the Courier, so nothing is lost with the change.

So yeah, kudos to Obsidian and Bethesda for correcting the mistake made in Fallout 3, and not only that, for going above expectations to make the ending's telling even better than hoped for. If they keep making Fallout games in the future, I hope they do the same things for those games' endings as they did did for Fallout: New Vegas, because it's everything a Fallout fan wants and more.

* Of course, there were a few parts of Fallout 2's ending clips that were glitched up and didn't allow you to get the ending you should have due to programming errors, too. There are, thankfully, some fan-made mods out there that fix this, the most notable and worthwhile, of course, being the Fallout 2 Restoration Project patch, made by the most dedicated fan I've ever encountered, Killap. Yes, I know I already advertised this patch in my last Annual Summary, but I feel it really bears mentioning again that you can have a chance to play Fallout 2 the way it was meant to be played if you go here: and download it. It's a must-play for any Fallout fan, one of the series's true classics as it was meant to be.