Saturday, September 24, 2011

Chrono Cross's Accent System

Chrono Cross is a terrible RPG. This is an accepted truth by most people who have played it, and it seems likely that those few pitiable wretches who believe otherwise are a danger to themselves, their minds unable to distinguish between pleasure and horrible agony.

But what MAKES it such a legendary example of poor gaming? Well, the reasons are actually comparatively few, just very weighty. The first I may some day get into, but not today--the fact that the story is about as convoluted, nonsensical, stupid, jumbled, and poorly explained as is humanly possible. I mean, I guess I HAVE seen one RPG plot that was even more tangled and silly, which was the inexplicable, stupid insanity of Robotrek. But in Robotrek's favor, as unmanageable as its plot was, that game wasn't actually trying to pass itself off as particularly meaningful or deep. Chrono Cross you're actually supposed to take SERIOUSLY.

The second, and really only other, problem with Chrono Cross is its cast. Like I said, not very many problems...but those problems encompass pretty much everything that matters in an RPG. The problem with the characters I've delved into once before, in my Chrono Cross's Characters rant, but that rant only really told half the story of why CC's cast just didn't work. And to be sure, a major part of why it didn't function was covered there--namely, how stupid and inane the plot-significant characters were. But the other half of the equation for CC's suckitude lies with the accent system.

See, it's like this. Chrono Cross has a lot of party members in it. A huge lot. As in, over 40 individuals that can join the party exist in this game. That's pretty much the biggest cast you're gonna see in an RPG whose title doesn't start with "Suikoden." This cast's size makes me suspect that Squaresoft really just wanted to have a huge cast for the bragging rights, not because it thought it needed all or even half of the characters for any purpose of quality. The suspicion of mine that this development decision was about quantity rather than quality is supported substantially by the fact that CC's cast wound up including a Mexican wrestler, a bobble-head alien, a talking clown skeleton, and an anthropomorphic turnip. It's a little hard to buy that a story's thematic narrative couldn't have been properly achieved without a walking vegetable swinging a sword around.

So once Square has its cast of mermaids, cyborgs, mutants, beach bum doctors, pirates, and more, it is faced with the enormous task of making them actual characters, personalities instead of just brightly-colored chunks of meat to fill your party with. Trying to give them all their own stories and side quests that develop them is a method far too time-consuming and competent for the writers of Chrono Cross, so almost everyone's defining scenes of characterization in this game are extremely short and choppy, a hurried assurance by Squaresoft that they haven't totally forgotten that the character exists, who's more a momentary distraction from the game than a part of it.

But that's okay! Because, you see, Squaresoft still has its secret weapon for character development, the ultimate tool for setting their characters apart and giving them personality and depth! And that tool is...the Accent System! What is that, you ask, or maybe don't since you would know if you'd played Chrono Cross and you wouldn't be reading this rant if you hadn't? Why, the Accent System takes one line of dialogue and adds one of dozens of different accents to it to make it different! Need a party member to say something, but don't want to write different lines of dialogue for all 40+ possible members? The Accent System fixes this problem in a jiffy! Just write one single line, like, say, "Serge, you are very dull," and throw it into the Accent System, and you're all set! Is the weird alien Starky in the party? He'll say, "Seeeeerge is veeeeery duuuuuull." Is Poshul, the talking purple dog, there, instead? She'll say "Thergy-poo, you are very durr." What about that foreign cook guy, Orcha? He'll say, "Serge, CHA are very dull." Hence, the Accent System makes writing party reactions and dialogue easy, allowing for one set of script to account for the words of 40 characters!

Yeah. Here's the problem with that. An accent should NEVER be the defining characteristic of a character.* Not in RPGs, not in ANYTHING. If the only personality trait that distinguishes a cave girl, a boxing bartender, a revered military general, and a rock star from one another is HOW they say words, not WHAT words they say, then your failure as a writer has brought shame to yourself and every human being you've ever interacted with.

Characters' reactions during a game's course help to develop them in small, and sometimes even big, ways. Even if they share a similar reaction, never should 2 different people say the exact same thing. Because if the only difference between 2 characters is whether they'll say a single sentence with a French or Olde English accent, you don't HAVE 2 characters. You have 1 character that can just change bodies. Each individual personality on an RPG's team that you want to develop through interactions with a plot in motion needs to have their interactions be genuine for them, needs to have the dialogue and actions tailored for them, not the other way around.

You want an example of how it SHOULD be, let's take a look at a couple other games. For starters, Dragon Age 1. As you go through the game, the members of your party will at times react to what's happening and offer their advice and opinions to the protagonist. What they say, how they react, depends on who is there. If the protagonist chooses, for example, to spare an enemy's life, Leliana or Wynne will approve of the decision, and make their approval known. Morrigan or Sten, on the other hand, may disapprove of this mercy, and say so. Each one will react in a way that is characteristic of THAT individual, rather than just have a generic response that they all parrot with different inflections. This, as much as the private scenes and conversations of character development, develops the party members of Dragon Age 1 and makes them memorable, unique, and worthwhile. In addition, there are certain moments where one character may react to a situation while the other party members may not, simply because the situation has more relevance to that one character. There aren't just uniform places where the characters have to convey something, there are also places where only certain individuals will have something to share. This further cements the individual aspects of each character.

A lot of games do this. And, provided that the people writing the game are reasonably good at what they do, it works well. Come to think of it, I seem to recall one game in particular that had its cast members react to things and say stuff in ways appropriately tailored to them, where even if the script called for any companion to have the same reaction as the others would at that point, they still had their own way of expressing the uniform reaction, the dialogue made for them as individuals. Now what was the name of that game, again?

Oh, yeah. Chrono Trigger.

So it's not like Squaresoft didn't have an example at hand to follow on how to use their characters. They did. It was the game that Chrono Cross was a sequel to. But no, they decided it would be a great idea to write one character's dialogue and then use it for 43 different characters, with the hopes that the player might be fooled into thinking there was some difference between any of these 43 individuals by a few mild grammatical variations.

And hey, I realize that it would be a ridiculous amount of work to have to write an entire game's worth of dialogue for over 40 characters. I do. But you know what the solution to that problem is? DON'T HAVE SO DAMN MANY CHARACTERS. This game wouldn't have suffered from not having a fucking talking voodoo doll in your party. None of its narrative "quality" would have been lost without the addition of the half-man, half-mushroom. This game didn't by any stretch of the imagination need even half of its playable cast. The answer was NOT to find a way to do LESS work than ever by using Babel Fish to cover their asses.

* Not that Squaresoft hasn't tried to have it that way before. I mean, take away the pirate lingo and Final Fantasy 5's Faris is about as bland and uninteresting as...well, every other FF5 character.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fallout: New Vegas's Wild Wasteland Trait

So, Fallout games, like many PC RPGs, start by having the player create a character, choosing skills and stat distributions for their character that will (hopefully) aid the gamer in playing according to their preferred style. One of the distinctions the player may give their character is what Traits the character will have. Traits are certain characteristics that will change somewhat what the character can do in a general sense, almost always having both a positive and negative effect. For example, the Trait Gifted gives the player an extra 7 points to distribute to the character's stats, but at the cost of lowered skills, while the Kamikaze Trait increases a character's battle speed, but lessens the character's defenses. Obviously, it's not always an even trade--Gifted's penalty is paltry compared to its benefit, while in some Fallout titles it takes some work to play in a way that Kamikaze is going to be worth its cost.

Fallout: New Vegas introduces a new Trait called Wild Wasteland. Wild Wasteland basically allows the player to encounter various scenarios in the game which are a bit silly and fun, somewhat zany stuff put in for kicks. For example, the player can find in his/her travels a burnt old refrigerator with a charred corpse inside alongside a hat which suggests that the skeleton was Indiana Jones, referencing one of the most overwhelmingly stupid moments in film history, the scene in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull during which Indiana Jones survives ground zero of a nuclear bomb's explosion by climbing into a refrigerator.* The Wild Wasteland Trait puts a bunch of fun little references like this into the game, as well as adding a few extra lines to the Mr. New Vegas talk show radio station thingy, some comments in the credits, and even a few weapons you couldn't get otherwise, like an Alien Blaster and Holy Hand Grenades. Fun!

Now here's the damn problem: this should never have been a Trait.

See, Fallout? The series? It's filled with this stuff. As a general rule, any Fallout game you play will have a load of special, goofy encounters you can get into that are just there for shits and giggles. In Fallout 1, you can, during your travels across the wasteland, stumble across Doctor Who's TARDIS, or a herd of talking cows, among other things. Phil the Nuka-Cola guy in Fallout Tactics, all the Monty Python references in Fallout 2...hell, the entire (crappy) Mothership Zeta add-on for Fallout 3 falls into the category of these bizarre, odd little events that Wild Wasteland encompasses. Hell, some of the Wild Wasteland stuff has been done before previously in the games--the Timmy-falling-down-the-well gag in Fallout: New Vegas was already done in Fallout 2 (and not even as a special encounter, but rather right in the middle of a normal town), and, while not normally accessible due to a bug, Fallout 2 also had the Holy Hand Grenades first, too. The Alien Blaster's been a part of the series since its appearance in a special encounter in Fallout 1 as a joke weapon (albeit a devastatingly powerful one). There were comments for the credits in Fallout 1 and 2 just as there are for Wild Wasteland-enabled Fallout: New Vegas.

In short, interjecting the occasional bit of goofy humor is meant to be an inextricable part of the Fallout series. It has been that way from the very start! It's part of the charm and atmosphere of the series, and Fallout isn't complete without it. So why the hell is it an optional trait in Fallout: New Vegas?

I know, it seems like a small thing, but it nonetheless does bother me quite a bit. The idea behind this was that it was a compromise between members of the creative team behind Fallout: New Vegas who thought these wacky ideas would be fun, and other members who thought it would be out of place. So basically, a disagreement between people who people who knew anything at all about the game they were creating, and humorless nitwits who had no idea what they were doing. The thing that gets me riled up over this is the fact that there could be a significant number of people on the staff developing Fallout: New Vegas who had such a poor idea of what a Fallout game is supposed to entail. It worries me that future Fallout games could see less and less of these tidbits of humor and fun that have been a complimentary, necessary companion to the series's solemn and gritty atmosphere from the start.

And to give myself a little ground to stand on besides just vague worries, I'd like to note that having the Wild Wasteland Trait present in the game means that those who want a true Fallout experience will have one fewer Traits to choose from for their character. You only get to choose 2 at the start of the game, and a player might not want to have to give up a desirable Trait, gameplay-wise, just because someone on the developing team didn't have the sense to make the Wild Wasteland stuff a normal part of the game.

I'd also like to point out that if there is ANY Fallout title where the Wild Wasteland components were appropriate, it would be this one! I mean, Fallout 3? The setting and theme of that Fallout were just overall more serious and epic than previous games, so I could see someone arguing that too much goofy stuff could interfere with the game's intent. The game's focus is on Washington, D.C., and several themes strongly tied to America's policies, history, and human rights are prevalent. Heavy stuff. Fallout: New Vegas, on the other hand, is focused on Las Vegas and its surrounding area, and the majority of its themes and plot focus relate to the parts of American culture that Las Vegas influences. Oh, there's plenty of other great references to and examinations of American culture in Fallout: New Vegas not directly tied to Las Vegas, but still, the ideas and ideals of Vegas are predominant.

So how, exactly, is it NOT appropriate to the game to include a bunch of weird, silly, fun stuff in it? Really bizarre shit is PART of Las Vegas. A BIG part. One of the only decent comedy movies to come out in the past decade, The Hangover, built its entire premise around how much crazy, over-the-top shit you can encounter in a single night in Las Vegas. It's like a goddamn paradise for hedonistic insanity. If there was ever a Fallout where the Wild Wasteland stuff wouldn't be out of place, it would be this one! Playing without it is removing an (albeit small) aspect of the game's symbolic qualities.

So yeah. Wild Wasteland's content should be part of the game and not just optional, and forcing the player to give up on one of the regular Traits to experience the Wild Wasteland stuff is unfair. I sure hope they never have such a divorce of the zany stuff from the game proper in any future titles.

* Thank GOD I don't do a rant blog on movies. I could scream at the sheer, unparalleled idiocy of this scene for at least 20 pages.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

General RPGs' AMVs 4

Yes, folks, it's that time once again...that magical time where I avoid having to say anything meaningful or worthwhile about RPGs, and instead just throw a bunch of Youtube links your way. Let's see what AMVs I've got for us to share today!

And as always, if you like any of these, please, vote them up or, better still, leave a comment saying what you thought of them. Quite a few of these seem to be almost completely ignored, and it really is a damn shame for someone to take the time and spend the effort to make a good product in a sea of lousy ones and then have it passed over.


Fallout: New Vegas: Citizen Soldier, by Joylock:
The music used is Citizen Soldier, by 3 Doors Down. Really, I don't know what to say about this. Joylock's Fallout 3 AMVs have made it into this rant blog twice before, once as part of one of these General RPG AMV rants and once as being so great as to deserve an individual rant. If you've seen them before, this is just more of the same--Joylock manipulates the Fallout game's engine to set certain scenes using certain characters, and basically creates a series of clips that not only connect strongly to the music that's playing in terms of lyrics and tone, but also shows the fundamental conflicts between good and evil contained within Fallout: New Vegas through the actions of the characters he manipulates, in a sense paraphrasing the game yet also exemplifying it. Great stuff, to be sure.


Final Fantasy 8: My Heart Will Go On, by T0mb0ner:
The music used''s My Heart Will Go On, by Celine Dion, okay? Yes. YES. I know. Look. Just...just watch the AMV, okay? As long as you can hold back the thick, hot bile that creeps up your throat at the thought of Squall and Rinoa, and as long as you can keep yourself from giggling at how unbelievably over-the-top this song's sappiness is...and I'm not saying that's can actually recognize that this AMV is honestly pretty good. The video works with the song and makes sense with the mood and lyrics, the effects are good, it all just works. God, I can't believe I actually like an AMV to this song. A Final Fantasy 8 AMV, no less! About Squall and Rinoa! Some dark magics must be at work here.

Final Fantasy 10: Burning in the Skies, by Junpei19870:
The music used is A Thousand Suns: The Full Experience, by Linkin Park. This video's good overall, and I particularly like the way it cuts to and from the Sending ceremony and the tragedy that led to it. Shows that Junpei19870 had ideas and some creativity in conveying them. The mood of the song works with the video very well overall, and there's some good moments of connection between the video and the lyrics, too. Overall, a nicely solemn and touching AMV that combines well the solemn and touching nature of both the song and a large portion of Final Fantasy 10's plot and themes.

Final Fantasy 12: The Last Conquest, by Resk:
The music used is Preliator, by Globus. Resk has had one of his AMVs featured here before, the Shadow Hearts: As the Warlock Said one, and gives another quality video with this offering. Resk's use of FF12 clips in conjunction with the epic, call-to-war music is so skillful, inspiring, and gripping that you can actually pretty easily forget how terminally boring and directionless the game actually was. Hell, this AMV is what FF12 SHOULD have been like; I feel like Resk has far better captured the essence of Yasumi Matsuno's vision for FF12 far better than the game itself did.


The Legend of Dragoon: Strength of Sacrifice, by Resk:
The music used is Hour of Destiny, by Junichi Nakatsuru--I think. The credits aren't clear. Hey, another AMV by Resk. I like that there are a few AMV-makers out there that don't just stop with one really good AMV, but manage to keep making them. The instrumental song is complimented very well by the LoD visuals, with Resk's editing present as scenes and events are matched to the tune's pitch and tone, and with a great many fades and overlays* and such effects to make it that much more visually appealing. A very nice work, indeed.


The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: The Real World, by SpeedDemon070:
The music used is Real World, by All-American Rejects. This AMV is just very well constructed, coordinating the scenes and effects to the music's lyrics and especially tone and shifts. There's really not much to say; it's just a very solid AMV.


Mass Effect 1 + 2: Alive, by Vendo233:
The music used is New Beginnings Remix, by Future World Music. Mass Effect gets more tribute videos like this than it does normal AMVs, but sometimes they're really very good. Most of these good ones are, of course, done by Geno|3oost, whose channel I directed you to last time. But Vendo233 does very nicely here, combining powerful, significant background music with appropriate visuals and the ever noteworthy dialogue of the games to create a tribute AMV that is pretty darn inspiring.


My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic: Ponysona 4, by MrSirPGW:
The music used is Pursuing My True Self, from the Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 soundtrack. Alright, I know I often pretend to know what words are going through my readers' heads, and I'm probably often wrong, but I'd bet good money that right now you are thinking to yourself something along the lines of, "That idiot, My Little Pony is not an RPG." And hey, no argument here. BUT! This AMV DOES still count as an RPG AMV, because even if the visual aspect of the video primarily uses footage from the MLP: Friendship is Magic cartoon, which, yes, again, I DO watch and think is pretty awesome, and I encourage you to watch it if you don't already because it will genuinely just make you happier...the overall premise is more strongly tied to an RPG (Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4) than many other AMVs I've listed here are to their respective games. See, this is basically an AMV that takes the opening to SMTP4, from its visual style and backdrops to its music, and puts in the main (mane) characters from the My Little Pony cartoon. It's extremely faithful to the original opening video to the Persona 4 game, basically having the new characters do the same stuff in the same way as the original video made the Persona 4 characters. For example, the original opening takes off with the main character Souji spinning to face the watcher with various words and sentences of significance from the game in the background, while this one has the primary (pri-mare-y) character of MLP, Twilight Sparkle, do the same thing, using text from the show's opening (and a plea for Persona 4 fans not to kill the author) in the background. It's like this from start to finish, a well-planned and executed AMV that matches up really well to be a fun homage to the original opening video from Persona 4. Here, here's the original SMTP4 opening, if you don't have it handy: . Watch them back to back--see what I mean? Since the majority of this semi-AMV's content is undeniably based on the RPG and not the non-RPG cartoon, I consider this one fair game for this rant. And while it's not incredible or anything, this AMV is harmlessly amusing, and its combining of Pony with Persona is basically seamless. You can tell it's not a half-assed effort or anything like that; someone wanted to make an AMV that was fun for its concept and for the fact that it's faithfully paying homage to the original SMTP4 through careful imitation.


Parasite Eve 1: Killers Within, by Auron:
The music used is Hands of Death (Burn Baby Burn), by Rob Zombie. What can I say on this one, really? If you want an AMV that uses a dark, heavy, creepy song and a dark, heavy, creepy game to make a dark, heavy, creepy AMV, you probably can't do any better than this one. Sure, it doesn't seem to have much of a point, and while most of the effects are really cool, the black strobe thing is overdone...but this is still pretty darned slick.


Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES: Minato Will Leave Out All the Rest, by TsubasaArisato:
The music used is Leave Out All the Rest, by Linkin Park. This AMV has its moments where it just seems to coast along without doing anything noteworthy, but overall it works with its tone and the song's ideas and theme quite well, making it a solid music video in the end.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES: South Texas Deathride, by Aneinokaijin:
The music used is South Texas Deathride, by The Union Underground. This AMV represents a combination of things that are...HIGHLY unlikely to elicit a positive response from me. First: Honestly, much as I love SMTP3, its FMVs are sparse and short, so it's tough to really make a worthwhile video out of them. Second: Grittier, harsher, and/or darker music styles don't often impress me all that much, and frankly, they usually don't make for good material for an AMV, because their louder/darker nature just kind of overwhelms everything and is often too constant; too much of one tone makes it hard to properly connect a video to a song in any concrete way. Third: The AMV uses a lot of visual effects, and while I think such things can be VERY beneficial, AMV creators, when they decide to really start mixing up the visuals, tend to go overboard with them to the point where it's distracting. Fourth: It's pretty short; only a little over a minute and a half long. AMVs that are this short tend to feel incomplete, often because they have to cut out of their song before it's done. But despite all these factors...this AMV really works. The scenes' actions nigh perfectly mesh with the music's tone and, at times, lyrics, the mood of the song works well with the mood of much of Persona 3's scenes, the many visual effects are employed with what I might almost call grace--they're numerous, but they're pretty much always effective at heightening the video's draw and the connection between scene and music, and never distracting. It's dark but not over-bearing, its brevity doesn't seem forced, and everything meshes into a single product exceptionally. Damned good work here; if they'd been able to keep up the quality for the length of the entire song, I probably would have kept this one for a rant all its own.


The World Ends with You: The World Ends Without You, by Sunrise Studios:
Youtube upload found here:
The music used is Pressure, by Paramore. Good effects, the scenes and effects have a good connection to the music's lyrics and changes...another basically solid, well-made video on this list.


Xenogears: AERIALS, by Lulu:
The music used is Aerials, by System of a Down. This AMV has nigh-perfect synchronization between visual and audio, the effects are great...there are a few scenes that kind of just seem like filler more than anything (unsurprising, given how little FMV Xenogears really has to work with), but all in all, this AMV is great; it makes Xenogears look so cool that I almost forget when watching what a godawful mess the game actually was.

* I THINK they're fades and overlays...I believe I've mentioned before that my technical knowledge of cinematography is lacking, yes?