Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Annual Summary: 2012

Well, the year’s over and done with, for the most part. 2012 was supposed to be the year the world ended, according to a misinterpretation of the Mayans, but since I’m betting it won’t, I guess this rant column’s gonna keep going.*

2012 reminds me a bit of 2011 in that I played a lot of RPGs this year that didn’t leave a particularly strong impression one way or another. Still, there were some particularly good ones that kept things interesting, as well as a few truly vile moments of gaming that kept me cranky enough to keep churning out rant ideas. Again, I had a good mix of RPGs here, spanning a wide range of time and styles. Here’s what I played:

Boktai 1
Borderlands 1
Fire Emblem 1
Golden Sun 3
Hoshigami Remix: Ruining Blue Earth
Icewind Dale 1
Icewind Dale 2
Infinite Space
Izuna 1
Izuna 2
Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days
Knights in the Nightmare
Legaia 2
The Legend of Zelda 2
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Mass Effect 3
Mega Man Star Force 1
My World, My Way
Orcs + Elves
Romancing Saga 1
Xenosaga 3
Xenosaga: Pied Piper

A fair number of games for the year, I’d say. The Nintendo DS and 3DS continue to be instrumental in my RPG-playing efforts, and the weekend sales of Good Old Games.com have ensured that I’ll not be wanting for more games any time soon. Kept busy with plenty of other stuff, as always, and, as always, I’ll pretend you care enough to want to read a brief summary of it all--jobs, rants, fanfiction-writing, the first season of The Colony, seasons 1 through 6 of Doctor Who (rewatching the first 5 with my sister), the second and now third seasons of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (which I still heartily recommend to anyone who has somehow managed to surf the internet up until now without encountering it), the full run of The Sarah Jane Adventures, seasons 1 and 2 of Sherlock (thank God the BBC decided to reclaim the character from the fumbling, undignified slop that Hollywood’s vomit-inducing Robert Downey Jr. movies had reduced him to), Torchwood’s first 3 seasons (rewatching them with my sister), the game Little King’s Story, the game Rock of Ages, the entire run of Scrubs, and several books and stories by Tina Fey, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, George Orwell, Mary Rinehart, Suzanne Collins, Agatha Christie, and Ray Bradbury. I do keep myself occupied.

Incidentally, and kind of off-topic, is it just me, or was this just an awesome year for movies? I mean, every year’s got some that really shine, but 2012 was just smoking hot the whole way. The Hunger Games movie was very nearly as good as the book, everybody seemed obligatorily impressed with Moonrise Kingdom, I hear that Cloud Atlas and Flight are solid, my sister tells me that Silver Linings was really good, Lincoln is great, Argo was quite good (you can barely tell it's Ben Affleck playing the role, which is a HUGE plus in a film starring Ben Affleck), it’s hard to imagine that The Hobbit won’t be a very solid work, and frankly, Wreck-It Ralph is just absolutely fantastic, one of the best animated features that Disney has ever done, and the first time I’ve ever seen Disney manage to out-Pixar Pixar. With this and Tangled under their recent belt, maybe Disney’s finally ready to reclaim their spot at the top of animated movies. Hell, if it weren’t for The Dark Knight Rises, I’d seriously say that Wreck-It Ralph was the year’s best movie. But on that note...The Dark Knight Rises. Just wow. Words fail me for how incredibly awesome it is. Maybe I’m just undervaluing previous years, but 2012 really seemed like a great movie year.

Anyway, on the RPG front, the year started out alright. I enjoyed My World, My Way quite a bit despite its repetitive nature, and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is pretty decent, for a Zelda title. I then got a short series of rather bland and uninteresting titles such as but not limited to Golden Sun 3, Boktai 1, and Icewind Dale 1, but I figured, that didn’t matter, because the amazing, spectacular, sure to be a solid winner Mass Effect 3 was coming out! And then I played Mass Effect 3 and...well, if you’ve been paying me any mind at all, you know how that went. And after that, I...well, I kinda stumbled around in a mental fog for a few months, gaming (and doing most other things) almost more out of habit than interest, until...well, actually, I’m kinda still feeling the natural depression that comes as an after-effect of Mass Effect 3’s ending. But I’m sure it’ll clear up eventually.

Anyway, the one good part of experiencing the keenest disappointment ever conceived is that after ME3’s ending, the normal terribleness of Mega Man Star Force 1 and the narrative approach of Xenosaga 3 seem almost welcome. At least the shocking incompetence of a bad JRPG is a familiar foe to me, unable to penetrate the very core of my mental being as ME3 did. And there were a fair number of good experiences afterward that I was all the more thankful for, too. The year thankfully ended on a pretty high note with Romancing Saga 1, which I was surprised to find very enjoyable and subtly masterful, and Infinite Space, which, despite clumsily jamming everything its 40-hour story had been leading up to into its last 2 hours or so and despite an annoyingly vague ending, is really pretty darned good.

But enough of vague recollections and off-topic digressions. Let’s get to the main event, here.

RPG Moments of Interest in 2012:

1. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was released on the 25th anniversary of the Zelda series, and in some ways serves as a tribute to the long-lived series. For the special occasion, we’re given our earliest look into the franchise’s history, our heroes being the very first Link, what is likely to be the very first Impa, and what is essentially the very first Zelda. The game also has some references within it to previous games and characters of the series, but very little that’s actually overt about it. I kind of like this approach, as opposed to the way that Wild Arms 5 did their anniversary shout-outs, which felt kind of over numerous.

Also of interest about this game is that it’s basically the first time in the series that Zelda and Link are very plainly implied to have a romantic interest in each other (up until now, any such idea for the previous Links and Zeldas was made much more from the fancy of the player than from any substantial evidence provided by the game). What’s more interesting than even that, though, is that the game also gives Link the option to openly court and even become involved with an entirely different individual! It just seems very amusing to me that the one time the series actually will take the plunge and officially recognize an attraction between Zelda and Link, THAT’S the game where they throw in a fully-realized non-Zelda love interest for Link.

2. Mass Effect 3’s Ending. Okay, yeah, I know I harp on this a lot, but A, you have to understand that it really is so horrible that it will make anyone who holds any value for the soul of the series spiritually ill, and B, it certainly WAS a moment of interest this year. If you’ve ever harbored any doubt that it is at all possible to utterly shame, cheapen, poison something substantially beautiful instantly, to reduce to ruin in 5 minutes what took hundreds of hours to build in its telling...well, doubt no more. The Extended Cut to the game that adds to the ending definitely improves it, but it’s the equivalent of treating dismemberment with a Bandaid. Thanks a fucking lot, Bioware.

3. Played another Independent RPG this year, Bastion. Artsy, fun, very impressive. Definitely worth checking out. Hell, it was good enough that playing it after Mass Effect 3 helped to restore me a little. So far, my experience with Indie RPGs has been a staunchly positive one.

4. I finished the Xenosaga series this year, playing Xenosaga 3 from start to finish and even reading the translated script of the small side game, Xenosaga: Pied Piper (since it was never released over here). The series definitely has some creative, complex, thought-provoking content to it. It’s just a damn shame that the actual communication of this content to the player in the second and third games is so staggeringly over-complicated and nonsensical that it actually makes Chrono Cross look straightforward and logical.

5. The Knights of the Old Republic 2 Restored Content Mod had its Version 1.8 release this year, which, near as I can figure, contains more or less all the significant content that the project is going to. Basically, this is a fan-made mod for KotOR2 that, like the Fallout 2 restoration project that I was such a fan of in 2010, fixes bugs and restores much hidden, inaccessible, or outright lost content to the game that was meant to be there originally. Of course, while this was a great idea for Fallout 2, it’s FANTASTIC for KotOR2, because KotOR2 is a game whose missing content and glitchiness was noticeable throughout the entire game. This mod restores sidequests, unlocks dozens of extra conversation paths, recreates an entire area of the game that was cut but obviously meant to be there, and makes the finale far more sensible. And with a game like Knights of the Old Republic 2, which is just absolutely saturated with brilliant insight and fascinatingly powerful writing and voice acting, even the smallest of restorations can go a long way to finding new joy in and appreciation for the title. I’ll probably make a proper rant extolling the virtues of this mod at a later date, but for now, I heartily recommend you go to http://www.moddb.com/mods/the-sith-lords-restored-content-mod-tslrcm and try it out if you’re any fan of KotOR2, because it’s just a blast.

6. It strikes me as really weird that after 20 years of RPG playing during which I only ever played a single RPG with a title starting with the letter I (Illusion of Gaia), I suddenly played 5 separate I games all in the same year. Just one of those odd quirks of life.

7. I'm not sure if this counts as an actual RPG moment of interest per say, but this year some people--namely you--have actually started reading this blog. I've got like 9 people subscribing now, which is a gain of roughly infinity% since a couple years ago. I assure you, this HAS gone straight to my already bloated head.

Best Prequel/Sequel of 2012:
Winner: Icewind Dale 2
I sincerely wish I could have put Mass Effect 3 on here, because almost the entire game is a terrific conclusion to an already terrific series, but, that ending...Anyway, Icewind Dale 2 is the winner this year partly because it’s a very marked improvement on the first game. ID1 was a very, very boring by-the-numbers Dungeons and Dragons adventure, with very little of note to pull you into the game’s world and events--the story was generic fare with few embellishing characteristics, and the cast was utterly uninteresting. ID2 is not amazing, but its villains actually have some character depth, the story is told in a more engaging fashion, and there’s some actual value to said story--it’s more thoughtful, has more significance to its setting’s world and people, as well as the player. ID2 is exactly the sort of improvement that ID1 needed. But at the same time, it definitely connects very strongly to its predecessor, taking place in the same general area many years after ID1’s end, with its core plot being a result of some of the events of the first Icewind Dale. Icewind Dale 2 effectively uses ID1, pays proper respect to it, and then goes in its own direction, as a good sequel should.

Runners-Up: Izuna 2; The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Izuna 2 is a good sequel in that it keeps the whacky, characteristic style that the original Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja had, but gives it a more dynamic plot, with a cast that’s slightly expanded, but more importantly has more significant roles for its individuals. As for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, it helps to set up a lot of the core plot devices of the Legend of Zelda series quite tidily, so it’s a definitely worthy prequel. And...that’s it. Unfortunately I don’t have a third runner-up here. The other sequels and prequels I played this year just generally weren’t very good as follow-ups to the original titles, at least not enough that they deserve recognition.

Biggest Disappointment of 2012:
Loser: Mass Effect 3
I’m sure that you’re as tired of seeing me talk about this as I am of talking about it (probably more so, even), so let’s make it quick: ME3’s ending is a complete violation of nearly every major theme of the Mass Effect series, and it destroys the very essence of the game’s protagonist. The Star Wars prequels, Grandia 3, Indiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the Avatar: The Last Airbender movie, these are all just warm-ups in disappointment by comparison.

Almost as Bad: Borderlands 1; Mega Man Star Force 1
It’s not that Borderlands 1 is bad. I mean, it’s not GOOD, either, but it’s certainly not bad. But after hearing these guys I work with obsess over the series nonstop for like a solid month after the second game’s release, I would’ve figured it’d be better, is all. I can respect that its minimalistic storytelling is just the way it does things, and that it’s at least setting up a semi-sci-fi universe for future games to capitalize on, but I don’t have to like it, and I was expecting more. As for Mega Man Star Force 1...well, I didn’t really know what to expect from it, but I kind of did expect something NOT boring and incredibly dumb. Oh, and Mega Man. I guess I was expecting Mega Man in a Mega Man game, not some half-assed semi-emo preteen who’s clearly somehow misplaced a significant portion of his brain. Thus, I was understandably disappointed.

Best Ending of 2012
Winner: Romancing Saga 1
What you get out of RS1’s ending depends on what you put into it, so admittedly, your results may vary. But if you did most of/all of the sidequests in the game (a challenging but entirely achievable possibility), the ending is pretty darned good, showing you various scenes of the people you helped after the world-threatening crisis, and concluding with confirmation that the heroes managed to beat destiny and survive their final battle, and a personal congratulation from your chosen main hero to you for a job well-done, which is kind of fun, and nice. Assuming it’s a later playthrough than your first and that you’ve pursued the Aldora path of the Who Am I? quest, the ending also has a really nice scene for Aldora, too. All in all, it’s satisfying, and it ties things up neatly while reminding the player of the long journey through the game’s events. What more can you ask for from an ending, really?

Runners-Up: Bastion; Fire Emblem 1; The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Don’t know what to say here, really. Bastion just has a solidly good ending, regardless of what the player chooses for it. The same is true of TLoZSS--it’s properly epic and conclusive and satisfying, bringing everything together in a grand finish. Really, a good ending seems so simple a thing to achieve--just have everything wrap up, and satisfy the player. And that’s what Bastion and TLoZSS do, very well. FE1’s ending is also decent--again, not much to say about it, it’s just a decent conclusion that does well by its game.

Worst RPG of 2012
Loser: Mega Man Star Force 1
Dumb. Dumb! Dumb dumb dumb. There is just no other way to describe this meaningless turd of a game. The protagonist is an unappealing, unrealistic sad sack, his buddy is a vaguely dislikeable jerk, the supporting cast are mostly one-dimensional shells of characters, the plot is cookie-cutter at the best of times, and the whole game revolves rather unsettlingly around the idea of utterly submerging yourself in social networking, and works to devalue the idea that anyone might just want some alone time. The narrative style is infantile; I can’t decide whether it’s a case of being intentionally dumbed-down because of the misconception that young audiences are too stupid to comprehend and follow even the most rudimentary of ideas and plot threads, or if it’s just this way because the writers themselves are genuinely capable of no better storytelling style than an uneducated, inebriated 9-year-old. Either way, this game is a complete waste of time.

Almost as Bad: Boktai 1; Golden Sun 3; The Legend of Zelda 2
I really would have liked to stick it to ME3 further in this category, but I have to admit, everything up until the ending is too great for me to actually call it a bad game. Anyway. Boktai 1’s got some ideas that are basically not bad, but overall it’s got a boring and barely present story and cast. The same is true of TLoZ2, only even more so. I guess I could give it a bit of a break because of how old it is, as console RPGs back in the days of the NES had limited means to tell a story with, but y’know, that didn’t stop The Magic of Scheherazade, Phantasy Star 1, or Crystalis from being pretty decent RPGs, so TLoZ2 gets no free pass--it’s bad. As for Golden Sun 3...well, it’s the only real competition that Mega Man Star Force 1 had for the Worst RPG spot this year. GS3’s plot is generic and stuffed with filler, and its characters are almost all barely mentally-existent annoyances. I was wholly unimpressed with Golden Sun 1 and 2, but they were far superior to this crap.

Most Improved of its Series of 2012:
Winner: Icewind Dale 2
Like I said above, Icewind Dale 2 basically improves significantly upon ID1 in every aspect of storytelling, making the whole adventure into something I actually wanted to play to its end, rather than only felt obligated to.** The developers are taking the great setting of the Dungeons and Dragons universe and actually GOING somewhere with it, exploring aspects of its culture and such, and it really makes all the difference.

Runners-Up: Izuna 2; Legaia 2; Xenosaga 3
Legaia 2 is a fairly average RPG, not particularly special but definitely not bad, but as such, it’s a definite step above Legaia 1, which was plagued with vague storytelling, a crawling pace, and a mostly unremarkable cast. Izuna 1 was enjoyable, but Izuna 2 perfectly capitalizes on its predecessor’s charm, providing more and better plot, a more significant role for its supporting cast, and just enough new characters to round the cast out nicely without overloading it. This essentially means that the quirky, enjoyable humor of the first game, which was its best and most memorable quality, is given far more opportunity to shine. And lastly, well, while Xenosaga 3’s narrative is, as I’ve said, the most incomprehensibly messy nonsense to ever be wrapped around some actually okay ideas, the fact remains that, buried deep underneath every storytelling mistake conceivable, there IS something of worth to find, which is a HELL of a lot more than you can say for Xenosaga 2.

Most Creative of 2012:
Winner: Bastion
It was actually a tough call between this and Romancing Saga 1 in some ways, but ultimately, Bastion’s gotta be the winner. The world of Bastion is not extensive, but it IS pretty unique and interesting, and given adequate explanation to make it so. The plot of Bastion is in some ways fairly standard (most of the time its focus is on finding magical plot doohickeys), but is generally quite interesting and different, as one might expect from a magical steampunk perspective on a post-apocalyptic adventure. The way the game is played and explored is fairly creative, too, being constructed before your eyes with every step you take. Most creative, though, and the real reason it’s the winner for the year, is the way its story is told, through the single voice of a character relating the adventure as it’s happening. It’s a neat method, and Bastion makes it work really, really well.

Runners-Up: Anachronox; My World, My Way; Romancing Saga 1
Anachronox is another interesting science fiction setting which seems to have a lot of neat potential, and many of its ideas are quite interestingly unique--I particularly liked the way in which the universe is threatened. It also pretty effectively adds a lot of humor to the mix, too. Overall, it’s a highly individual sci-fi adventure. My World, My Way is just a load of fun, a game about a bratty, spoiled-yet-not-really-obnoxious princess who sets out to become a great adventurer and who can basically alter reality by pouting hard enough. Half the game is actual standard RPG adventuring, the other half is her pouting until the universe itself caters to her whims. You can’t deny that’s a pretty different idea. And finally, Romancing Saga 1 is exceptionally creative, a non-linear Japanese RPG (which by itself is basically unheard of) where what you accomplish and how long you take to do it both has huge ramifications on future events, and yet at the same time can mean nothing at all, all depending on what you, the player, want to do. Its storytelling elements have a nature like that of classic mythology, and while it has no New Game+ per say, there are many elements to the game that encourage multiple playthroughs--a couple of quests can’t even be completed until a second or third playthrough (and one of them is, to me, a highlight of the game’s story). Having the option of 8 separate characters to play the game as is a neat idea, even though the actual differences to the game’s events don’t usually amount to much. And I have to give credit where it’s due--the actual mechanics of gameplay are almost as creative as they are extensive. RS1 is very creative, indeed.

Stupidest Weapon of 2012:
Loser: Battering Ram (Bastion)
Look, a battering ram is great when you’ve got dozens of people holding it and your intention is to slam your way through a barrier, but when you’re actually attacking people and you’ve only got yourself to lift it, a goddamn tree trunk is not an ideal weapon!

Almost as Bad: Dolls (Izuna 2); Keyblade (Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days)
Remember way, way back, when I made a rant about the stupidest weapons in RPGs, and both Keyblades and Dolls made it onto the list? Go read that.

Best Romance of 2012:
Winner: Shepard and Tali (Mass Effect 3)
It’s sweet, it’s touching, it’s believable, it’s done well, and in some ways it’s even epic. The romance that ME2 started is carried over into the next game well, and it continues to be great.

Runners-Up: Garrus and Shepard (Mass Effect 3); Kaidan and Shepard (Mass Effect 3); Link and Peatrice (The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword)
While Garrus and Shepard was, in ME2, an even better love story than Shepard and Tali, I feel it’s lessened a little in ME3, which does such a great job at making Garrus seem like the ultimate war-brother buddy to Shepard that it almost seems like the romance doesn’t fit right any longer. It’s still really nice, though. With Kaidan and Shepard, I have to admit, I mostly just really like the scene where they get together, provided Kaidan wasn’t romanced in ME1 (most people will see this scene with Male Shepard, since a Female Shepard probably would have already gone for Kaidan back then). It’s convincing, and nice, and it really feels very natural and mature, 2 people realizing after a long time of being comrades that there could be more, and wanting to explore the idea. As Kaidan himself says in the scene, it feels right, somehow. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot to the romance beyond that which is particularly great, but that’s still enough for me (and there wasn’t much competition for this spot, honestly). Lastly, call me crazy, but Peatrice’s transformation from an apathetic market worker (man can I ever relate) to a happy, smitten girl that clearly just adores Link is ridiculously sweet and makes me feel warm fuzzies. I mean, I’ll grant you that the romance’s origins are not exactly inspiring (she assumes Link must be interested in her since he visits her storage service so often, and starts crushing on him back, with Link eventually having to option to just go with it and say he likes her back), but like I said, actually watching her change is nice and done reasonably well, and it actually gets a positive reaction from me, which is more than I can say for most of the other love stories I saw this year, so there you go.

Best Voice Acting of 2012:
Winner: Mass Effect 3
Bastion actually gives ME3 a run for its money on this, but in the end, the continued excellence of the vocal work for such classic personalities as Mordin, Wrex, Tali, and Shepard himself, combined with the solid performances by almost the entire rest of the cast, put Mass Effect at the top once more for this category. Yeah, not every performance is good in ME3--Female Shepard still sounds like a run-down RMV worker after a double-shift, Liara still sounds like she’s talking in her sleep about a subject that bores her, and Diana Allers’s vocal work is some of the worst I’ve ever heard in my entire life, but the combined power of the rest of the cast’s positive performances far outweigh the few negatives.

Runners-Up: Anachronox; Bastion; Borderlands 1
Anachronox’s voice acting is all decent, gets the job done and properly portrays the characters. Borderlands 1 only has any significant vocal work from NPCs and the occasional villain, but it’s distinctive and quite good. As for Bastion, well, like I said in the full rant on the game, Bastion entrusts nearly every aspect of its entire plot and character development to a single narrator, so having that narrator be a hell of a great voice actor is absolutely essential--and he definitely is up to the task.

Best Villain of 2012:
Winner: The Illusive Man (Mass Effect 3)
Honestly, while I encountered a lot of decent villains this year, none of them were amazing. Of the decent ones, I’d say The Illusive Man is probably the best, a classic case of stupid pride and greedy desire for power taking him down the path of being destroyed by that which he planned to conquer. How much of The Illusive Man is his own foolishness and how much is the Reapers’ Indoctrination is difficult to say exactly, which provides for interesting speculation. His final showdown with Shepard and Anderson is good, too, even if it’s a bit too close to the showdown with Saren in Mass Effect 1 for my liking.

A lot of people will, of course, disagree with my pick here, saying that ME3 ruined The Illusive Man and Cerberus by just haphazardly crowding them into the Bad Guy role, but I’m gonna say right now, these people are short-sighted idiots. Anyone who couldn’t see where Cerberus was headed in ME2, what it was, was apparently a gullible sap, more than ready to swallow the sugar-coated bullshit that The Illusive Man and his then-sycophant spooned him/her. It was always quite obvious to me, at least, that “protecting humanity” was always just a nice spin to put on “superior power at any cost,” and ME2 had plenty of occasions where reading between the lines made this clear. So to me, The Illusive Man’s character was simply showing itself honestly in ME3, not being altered.

Runners-Up: Girahim (The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword); Isair and Madae (Icewind Dale 2), Zulf (Bastion)
Girahim’s a case where he just pulls off the villain role well, a convincingly and amusingly bad fellow out to achieve villainous goals. I mean, you gotta love a bad guy who says he’s gonna inflict such agony on someone that they’ll deafen themselves with their own screams. That’s pretty hardcore. Zulf, however, is a villain with some actual character depth, a man acting without thought at the whims of his emotions of anger and betrayal. If Bastion had put more emphasis on his character and that character’s relation to the protagonist, Zulf probably would have been top dog this year. But that’s not really how the narrative style of Bastion works. Finally, Isair and Madae are also a case where the villains had some character depth, and their goal in some ways is a noble one, the empowerment of the world’s half-breeds, beings who are made social outcasts through the unavoidable fault of their being born of parents of separate species. In fact, the game makes it sound like their goal wasn’t even all that evil to start with, and their war-making is a result of a deadly insult made by a leader of one of the “good” towns. They’ve got backstory, they’ve got interesting goals...just a little more work and they would have been really great villains. A little more development given to them as the game progressed, a better, more intellectually stimulating final exchange between them and the heroes during the final showdown...it would have really done wonders, I think. Still, they make fine, if slightly too distant, villains.

Best Character of 2012:
Winner: EDI (Mass Effect 3)
EDI’s explorations into what it means to be “human” are not exactly new ground for the most part, nor are they the best example of this idea that I’ve seen (Aigis of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 and Tio of Grandia 2 put her to shame), but it’s still a compelling journey of spirit for her, and I like how her character develops over the course of the game’s events, and the way that Shepard can guide her along in this quest for understanding and self.

Runners-Up: Legion (Mass Effect 3); Padok (Mass Effect 3); Yuri (Infinite Space)
There’s a reason I loved ME3 up until it’s ending, folks. That reason is that it was awesome. Legion is as solid a character as he was in ME2, with his character being further explored through his reactions to and part in the conflict between his people and the Quarians. It’s pretty compelling. Then there’s Padok, the character who assists with the Genophage Cure plot arc if Mordin died in ME2. Padok’s a really neat character, who I don’t feel will ever be properly appreciated because he’s a stand-in for Mordin. His guiding beliefs in the fateful course of evolution are really quite neat, and give him a quirky nobility that’s somehow a bit inspiring. Finally, Yuri’s growth during Infinite Space is interesting in that you can see it happening in action for a while as he has new experiences and learns from those around him, but after the major turning point of the game, his character has become more or less fully developed, and it’s up to you to recognize the how and why of it. But it’s done well, and I would certainly say that he earns the game’s praise of his potential as a man and leader.

And as a note, I would have included Mordin from ME3 on this list, as well (in fact, he would have been the year’s winner), but for the fact that, as great as his character is in ME3, it’s essentially no different from his character in ME2. While EDI and Legion are characters from the previous game who grow in new ways in ME3, Mordin just stays the same. This still makes him probably the best character in the game, of course, because he’s just that awesome, but it does mean that I don’t really feel like I can qualify him for this list again, since he’s remaining essentially static to a personality established in a game from a previous year, y’know?

Best Game of 2012:
Winner: Romancing Saga 1
Mass Effect 3 should have won this category, easily, but Bioware chose to destroy it utterly with that ending.

Anyway. RS1 is really a very impressive game, all told, so long as you’re looking at it for its full potential (as in, you’re judging it by the full scope of its quests and events, even though you can potentially avoid some, many, or nearly all of them in any given playthrough). It pulls off a non-linear plot as well as any game can be expected, and that plot is interesting and at times pretty epic. There are several very impressive emotional moments in it (the possible final scene with Dowd in Jamil’s playthrough, for example, or the later parts of Aldora’s quest), and the general atmosphere is done well. The part of the game where you can travel into the underworld to meet Death, for example, was handled with a great epic gravity in its tone. The game is exactly as it wishes to be--a grand, epic tale, romantic in the classic sense of the word. It was a rocky start for me, but by the end, I was pleasantly surprised by it.

Runners-Up: Anachronox, Bastion, Infinite Space
Anachronox is a very cool, enjoyable tongue-in-cheek sci-fi romp that has some surprisingly dark moments and subtle forms of telling its story (particularly its backstory). It’s definitely one of those hidden gems of forgotten RPGs. As I’ve said here and in the rant on the game, Bastion is very artsy and quite good, a highlight of my year, and definitely worth checking out. Lastly, while Infinite Space kind of takes a little time to get going, has an annoying difficulty level (just do yourself a favor and get some cheat codes going), and rushes its closing events like you wouldn’t believe, it’s ultimately a very impressive, immersive science fiction story with several really powerful scenes, solid characters you really come to enjoy, and a fair helping of creativity.

List Changes of 2012:
Most Annoying Characters: This didn’t actually change, but lemme tell you, Diana Allers from Mass Effect 3 very nearly managed to replace the legendarily irritating Navi here. The single, solitary grace of Allers is that she’s ultimately optional, and not with you every second of the game, like Navi is. Even then, though, it’s really close.

And that’s that! 2012’s over and done with. I’m looking forward to 2013, I must admit, for I have several hidden gems bought at GOG.com to play through, as well as Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 (SMT just never fails to please), and I plan to play The Last Story, as well, which I’m kinda psyched about--it looks like it was made with a lot of care and effort. On the other hand, I’m sure plenty of stinkers await me (Mega Man Star Force 2, for starters), and there’s every indication that Bioware plans to keep releasing one mediocre DLC waste of money after another, so you never know how it will really go. At any rate, thanks very much for continuing to read this awful mess for another year, and I’ll see you in 2013.

Oh, and as a special bonus to any of you who actually took the time to read all the way down here, I’m gonna host a little contest with my readers (all two of you). Send up to 3 ideas for a rant topic I can use to my email (the_rpgenius, at, hotmail.com) by 01/08/13, and the person who sends the best rant idea to me I will buy 2 RPGs for, from Good Old Games.com. The first of these RPGs will be Planescape: Torment, because you all WILL submit to its excellence. The second will be an RPG of your choice, up to $10 (this gives you roughly 95% of their catalogue to choose from). If you already own and have played Planescape: Torment, I’ll throw a different first game your way. So get to it! Send me those ideas!

Incidentally, since I'm not going to rant about a game I don't know about, these are the RPGs I've played:

The 7th Saga; Alundra 1 + 2; Anachronox; Arc the Lad 1 - 5; Avalon Code; Bahamut Lagoon; Baldur's Gate 1 + 2; Baroque; Bastion; Baten Kaitos 1 + 2; Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled; Boktai 1; Borderlands 1; Breath of Fire 1 - 5; Castlevania: Lament of Innocence, Order of Ecclesia, Portrait of Ruin, and Symphony of the Night; Children of Mana; Chrono Cross and Trigger; Crystalis; Dark Cloud 1 + 2; Disgaea 1 + 2; Dragon Age 1 + 2; Dragon Ball Z: Legend of the Super Saiyen; Dragon Quest 4 - 6 + 8; Earthbound; Eternal Poison; Evolution Worlds; Fallout 1 - 3, New Vegas, and Tactics; Final Fantasy 3 - 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 12: Revenant Wings, Crystal Chronicles 1, Mystic Quest, Tactics, and Tactics Advance 1; Fire Emblem 1, 4, 7, and 9; Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon; Glory of Heracles 5; Golden Sun 1 - 3; Grandia 1, 2, + 3; Hero's Saga: Laevatein Tactics; Hoshigami Remix: Ruining Blue Earth; Icewind Dale 1 + 2; Illusion of Gaia; Infinite Space; Izuna 1 + 2; Kingdom Hearts 1, 2, 358/2 Days, and Chain of Memories; The Kingdom of Loathing; Knights of the Old Republic 1 + 2; Knights in the Nightmare; La Pucelle Tactics; Lagoon; Legaia 1 + 2; The Legend of Dragoon; The Legend of Zelda 1 + 2, A Link to the Past, Link's Awakening, Majora's Mask, Ocarina of Time, Phantom Hourglass, Skyward Sword, Spirit Tracks, The Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess; Live A Live; Lufia 1 + 2; Lunar 1 + 2; Magic Knight Rayearth RPG; The Magic of Scheherazade; Makai Kingdom; Mana Khemia 1; Mario and Luigi 1 - 3; Mark Leung: Revenge of the Bitch; Mass Effect 1, 2, and 3; Mega Man Star Force 1; Monstania; Mother 3; My World, My Way; Okage: Shadow King; Orcs + Elves; Paper Mario 2; Parasite Eve 1; Phantasy Star 1 - 4 and Universe; Phantom Brave; Planescape: Torment; Pokemon Generations 1 - 5; Quest 64; Radiant Historia; Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure; Risen; Riviera: The Promised Land; Robotrek; Rogue Galaxy; Sailor Moon: Another Story; Sakura Wars 5; The Secret of Evermore; The Secret of Mana; Seiken Densetsu 3; Shadow Hearts 1 - 3; Shadowrun (SNES and Genesis); Shin Megami Tensei 1 + 2, Devil Summoner 1, Devil Survivor, Digital Devil Saga 1 + 2, Nocturne, Persona 3 FES + 4, and Strange Journey; Shining Force 1, 2, and EXA; Skies of Arcadia Legend; Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood; Soulblazer; Star Ocean 1 - 3; Startropics 1 + 2; Suikoden 1, 2, 3 - 5, Tactics, and Tierkreis; Super Mario RPG; Tales of Legendia, Phantasia, Symphonia, and the Abyss; Tenchi Muyo RPG; Terranigma; Treasure of the Rudras; Valkyrie Profile 1, 2, and Covenant of the Plume; Vandal Hearts 1 + 2; Wild ARMs 1 - 3, and 4 + 5; The World Ends with You; Xenogears; Xenosaga 1 - 3 and Pied Piper

Any and all rant ideas must be about one or more of them, or about RPGs in general. Happy Holidays!

* Actually, I theorize that the Mayans were predicting 2012 as the year Daniel Tosh would get his own cartoon, and thus was simply the year when we all would want the world to end.

** Yes, I feel obligated to play my RPGs to their end, regardless of quality. It’s just an RPGenius thing. I definitely don’t recommend it as a gaming style for anyone else, though. Sometimes I like to imagine a world, a much happier world, in which I had turned off Phantasy Star 3 when I first wanted to (at the title screen).

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Suikoden Series's Casts

Suikoden’s known for a fair number of things, but I’m fairly sure that its biggest claim to fame has got to be the enormous cast of every game (besides the side-story Suikoden Tactics). In addition to whatever significant NPCs and villains are necessary to tell the story, each Suikoden game has 108 recruitable characters. In fact, it’s often more than that, since some minor recruitments (the dogs in Suikoden 3, for example) don’t actually count toward the 108 standard, and there are a few instances in the games where you have to choose between 2 different characters to fill a single roster slot (such as in Suikoden 2, when you have to decide whether you want Kasumi or Valeria, or Suikoden 5, where you have a choice between Eresh or Euram), meaning that there’s often MORE than 108 separate entities who can join the protagonist’s team in some capacity. That’s a damned big cast; the closest any other RPG (that I’ve yet seen) gets to it is Infinite Space, which as an impressive cast of a little over 80 possible party members, and then Chrono Cross, which has a little over 40 party members.

Here’s the amazing thing, though. These ridiculously huge casts? They’re generally well-characterized.* I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we’ve got a hundred+ individuals each game who’d give Virginia of Wild Arms 3 or Kreia of Knights of the Old Republic 2 a run for their money, or anything like that, but they’re all generally pretty solidly explored personalities. Hell, the minor characters of a Suikoden title can have stronger characterization than plenty of other games’ main characters. I’d have a hard time finding any of the Suikoden games’ 108 Stars who couldn’t beat out every major party member of Final Fantasy 5 for character depth, that’s for sure.

So how does Suikoden do it? Because it’s not an easy thing to achieve. Infinite Space does a pretty good job of it with its 80+ characters by having minor characters occasionally have scenes during tavern conversations, but ultimately there are a lot of characters who just fall to the wayside after a bit and get ignored (poor, poor Katida, her character had so much more to offer!). And Chrono Cross, working with less than half of a Suikoden game’s cast, couldn’t work significant character depth and development into a full dozen of its characters, nor did it even try to.** No plot could reasonably expect to include over a hundred individual characters within it in a significant enough way that you strongly connect to and have a great understanding of each one.*** But with Suikoden, somehow, you always seem to have at least a small insight into all or nearly all of its cast, despite the size. So, again, how does Suikoden do it?

Well, for the major characters in the Suikoden games, the answer’s the same as any other RPG--character development, plot interaction with them, and sometimes just simply a lot of screentime. Characters like Flik, Viktor, Chris, Hugo, Lyon, Georg, Chrodechild, and Liu, well, they each have huge roles in the stories of their respective games and lots of time to interact with the other major players in those stories, so in those cases, what’s conventional is what works.

But for all the minor characters, the ones who are recruited with little to-do and have no real significance to the party and the plot? Well, the answer is that sweating the details really does matter. Each Suikoden game offers countless optional little scenes and involvements of the various dozens of denizens of the game’s HQ in a number of different ways, all of which help to show and explain their personalities to the player. There are a TON of ways this occurs, more than I really want to get into (more than I even clearly recall, for that matter), but I’ll go into a few of the best ones.

First of all and probably best of all, the Detective Agency. Starting with Suikoden 2, Suikoden games will often have a private detective character in the HQ whom you can hire to investigate any of the 100+ individuals you’ve recruited a few times, with each report giving you any and all kinds of miscellaneous information--what the character likes or hates, their relationship to certain other characters, their history, their aspirations, their personality quirks, rumors about them, etc. This is a very neat idea, and a wonderful way to flesh out the game’s cast without having it distract from the plot’s events, since this, like all the things I’ll be mentioning here, is entirely optional. It’s concise, but effective.

Then there’s the Suggestion Box. Again an invention of Suikoden 2 (I think), the Suggestion Box is just what it sounds like--a box in the game’s HQ into which any and every recruited character can place suggestions for and small communications to the game’s protagonist. These are usually mildly amusing, and don’t really tell you all that much about the character making the suggestion as compared to the detective reports, but at the same time, they keep the many incidental characters fresh in your mind and help to cement their personality quirks.

Then, of course, there’s the famous staple of the Suikoden series, the bath house. This one I’d usually be a little iffy on. See, in theory, it’s a great idea--when you take certain character combinations into the bath house at the game’s HQ, you can activate hidden scenes where the characters interact with each other in various ways. That’s a good little way to not only once again explore the personalities of various minor characters, but also to explore how the many, many party members in the game interact with one another, seeing how their personalities connect with or bounce off of one another. The reason I normally would be hesitant about this idea is...well...it’s a communal bath. In an RPG. An RPG that follows many anime-standard forms of storytelling. Thus, it’s an invitation for the stupid, tasteless “humor” that abounds in ALL such communal bath scenes in games and animes and manga and whatnot. BUT, the Suikoden series actually has enough dignity to generally avoid the obscenely stupid, overused anime cliches of communal baths--I believe there’s only 1 bath scene in the whole series where breast sizes are compared (what a shocking thought, women able to converse together for a full 3 minutes without loudly proclaiming their cup sizes to one another!), and I can’t recall ever seeing the “hilarity” of some guy making a worthless, scummy asshole of himself by trying to invade the privacy of the women’s bath for a peek. So kudos twice over to the Suikoden creators for this one, because they not only have another way of cementing their characters through minor interactions and further exploration, but they do it without lowering themselves as human beings.

And there are, of course, the various little minigames and quirky bits and pieces that each game has on its own that continue to further emphasize their minor characters and help us familiarize ourselves with them. For example, the cooking minigame in Suikoden 2. Besides being perhaps the only cooking minigame in the history of RPGs to be enjoyable in any way, the cooking minigame uses, for each round, a randomized (I think) panel of judges taken from the current residents of the game’s HQ. Okay, yeah, being told what the characters’ taste preferences are isn’t exactly Shakespearean character depth, but it does, all the same, keep its minor characters in the player’s mind and give us new information about them, no matter how small that knowledge may be. And then there’s the plays in Suikoden 3. You can choose almost any of the characters in the castle-mansion thing to play roles in a half dozen or so plays, and watch them as they act it out. Some do well, some do poorly, and some, like Viki, are just hilarious. It’s another little way of including the minor characters in something, and helping to remind you of their personality quirks while you’re at it.

And these are really only a handful of the various little, optional sidequests, minigames, and quirky features Suikoden games have that involve and flesh out minor characters who would otherwise be left behind by the game’s main events. And that’s how Suikoden does it, how the series manages to have over a hundred cast members in each game but almost never**** feel like its characters weren’t properly developed or like it had too many of them. It’s another example of the little details of character development really pulling everything together, like the skits in the Tales of series, or the campfire scenes in Legaia 2, or the wonderful dinner conversations in Grandia 1 and 2. The major plot can take care of establishing a character and the major aspects of their psyche, but little stuff on the side, that’s what really tells the player who they are, and the identity of the characters as a group. Any RPGs in the future that try to pull off an excessively large cast would do well to follow Suikoden’s example of optional, small side content for their cast, lest we get another Chrono Cross.

* As well-characterized as you could reasonably expect given the overall quality of the game, that is. I wouldn’t say Suikoden 4’s cast is particularly interesting, for example, but then, playing Suikoden 4 is about as stimulating as being in a coma (less so, in fact, given that in some comas one can supposedly have dreams), so if we grade to scale, Suikoden 4’s cast is adequately developed.

** Not that the ones who did receive any character development got anything worthwhile.

*** Well...probably. Hang on...lemme go count how many characters and NPCs there were in Planescape: Torment. There are people you meet wandering on the street in that game who have more depth and human insight than the entire cumulative cast of characters made for some game companies.

**** Again, Suikoden 4 is just crap no matter how you slice it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

General RPG Lists: Weirdest Characters

I bet you thought that I’d have something really meaningful and impressive for my 200th rant, right? Man, were you ever wrong.

Oh, yes, and incidentally, I was gonna update the Mass Effect 3 DLC rant for the Omega DLC released yesterday, but I figured I'd done enough filler lately. I'll get it properly done some time in the future (maybe I'll just do it with the next ME3 DLC, whenever that happens). But, since it's important to be timely on these things, here's the ultimate verdict: DON'T BUY THE OMEGA DLC FOR MASS EFFECT 3. Unless you really, REALLY hate the idea of spending your money on things you could actually enjoy. If you loathe spending money well, then by all means, go nuts.

Anyway, on to the actual rant.

Y’know what? RPGs have some fucking weird characters in them. I mean, you get some odd individuals in any genre of video game, sure, and plenty of bizarre characters in other forms of entertainment, but...I really think that RPGs are filled with more weirdos per capita than basically any other form of storytelling out there. This is a genre where aliens and anthropomorphic creatures are so standard that you don’t look twice at most of’em.

I mean, just look at the list below. Do you have any idea how hard it was to narrow this list down to 15 spots? Well, no, probably not, unless you’ve got me under 24-hour surveillance, and I’m reasonably sure you don’t, because frankly my life is not interesting enough to warrant it. But it was tough. It was very tough. Because there are so many strange RPG characters out there to choose from, and they are so weird. I mean, this is a list of weirdos where multiple anthropomorphic mushrooms, a talking shrimp who controls the weather, time-traveling babies armed with mallets, singing ant cyborgs, and whatever the fuck this thing is, all did NOT make the cut for weirdness.* Hell, who here is familiar with Viki, from the Suikoden series? Viki isn’t weird enough to even be considered for this list. That’s the level of weird that RPGs bring.

So then, who did make the list? Which RPG characters are just the most bizarre of all? Let’s see.

Note: This list only counts specific party characters. In other words, generic, typically non-name characters (like Pokemon, or the various minions of most Nippon Ichi games) are disqualified here. Because Pokemon would otherwise probably occupy at least 2/3rds of this list. I mean, they have a fucking garbage bag Pokemon now.

15. Skelly (Chrono Cross)

Skelly is an animated clown skeleton with a serious love for pasta. That’s really about all there is to him, but really, isn’t that enough?

14. Mao and Nao (Suikoden 4)

Mao and Nao are creepy, antisocial growers of mushrooms and mint, respectively, who cultivate their crop in a room on the ship that its builder doesn’t remember making. They each seem to have a paranoid hatred for the other’s crop, seeing it as some sort of invading army and making complaints to the game’s protagonist about how wrong Mao’s mushrooms are or Nao’s mint is. They’re just really creepy little weirdos, is all there is to it.

13. Dungeon Man (Earthbound)

Really, it’s fairly self-explanatory here. Dungeon Man is a man who is a dungeon. Specifically, he was a guy named Brick Road, whose passion was making dungeons. Then he made himself into a dungeon. Not that Earthbound is at all lacking for claims to weird fame, but I can’t honestly say I’ve ever seen any other game decide to have a freaking dungeon join the party.

12. Mojo (Chrono Cross)

Another instance of how Chrono Cross defeats itself at every turn: Chrono Cross’s plot and ideas generally seem like those of a game trying to take itself as seriously as any other given RPG, but its cast is made up of talking dogs, adorable aliens, clown skeletons, talking produce, and our boy Mojo, who is a giant, walking, talking voodoo doll who uses the giant nail stuck in him as a weapon. Even humor RPGs don’t usually have weird, goofy shit like that in their cast. Just...really, Squaresoft? A living voodoo doll? You were that desperate to pad out your already over-numerous cast?

11. Donald Duck (Kingdom Hearts 1, 2, and Chain of Memories)

Seriously, though. When you really think about Donald Duck, he’s pretty weird. He’s a walking, talking duck with a shorter fuse than the Incredible Hulk who goes pants-less at all times and has the most distinctive speech impediment ever conceived. What twisted corner of Walt Disney’s mind gave birth to a rage-aholic duck?

Weird by himself, Donald only gets weirder in RPG context. I mean, why is he the magic-user of the party? It’s implied that his magical abilities are the result in some capacity of training in mysticism--does Donald really seem like the type to have the patience for learning the arcane arts? And what about the talking thing? The typical assumption with most RPGs is that spells require verbal invocation to work--this assumption being substantiated by countless RPGs’ status ailment Mute or Silence, as it is only when the magic-user is under this condition that they cannot use their magic. Granted, that status ailment is not actually present in the Kingdom Hearts games that Donald features in, but it HAS been present in one of the recent superfluous spin-off titles, so it is once again reasonable to assume that spellcasting requires a spoken component in the KH universe. How the HELL does this work with Donald? To quote Daffy Duck in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, “Does anybody actually know what this duck is saying?” How do the spells know which one he’s trying to chant?

I’m probably overthinking this (surprise, surprise, The RPGenius overthinking something), but no matter how you slice it, Donald Duck is pretty weird, and weirder still as an RPG character.

10. Turnip (Chrono Cross)

Apparently wanting to one-up the weirdness of having an anthropomorphic frog knight with a Middle English accent in Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross decided to try doing the same thing again, only instead of a frog, it’s now...a turnip. Well...guess they succeeded. I mean, it’s a sword-swinging root vegetable. That’s weirder (somehow) than a frog doing the same thing. Add to that the fact that Turnip is essentially just a random NPC’s dream made flesh (well, whatever a turnip’s made of), and that he questions the nature of personal existence as a result,** and, well, you have a pretty bizarre individual.

9. Minsc (Baldur’s Gate 1 + 2)

What list of weirdos would be complete without Minsc, really? Legendary among PC gamers of old, he’s a perpetually enthusiastic nutjob who thinks his pet hamster is a divine space rodent that talks to him and tells him what to do.

You don’t have to crazy to get on this list, but apparently it helps.

8. Joachim (Shadow Hearts 2)

Joachim is cut from much the same cloth as Minsc, really, as is Flay from Mana Khemia, another weirdo who only just managed to miss being on this list. He’s a muscle-bound vampire who dresses up as a butterfly-themed super hero and arms himself with random large, blunt objects he encounters on his travels, ones which he feels have secretly noble souls--things like public mailboxes, desks, lumber, large frozen tunas, and small buildings filled with miniature people who are angry about their deadlines.

I swear I’m not making this shit up.

7. Domingo (Shining Force 1)

6. Jean (Breath of Fire 2)

Jean’s not all that weird on the surface--sure, he’s an anthropomorphic frog, but c’mon, you’re like twice as likely to see one of those in an RPG than you are to see a human being with dark skin. What makes Jean such a weirdo is his carefree, yet sometimes kind of listless, personality. It’s hard to describe, and the specific examples seem less weird to say aloud than they are to witness in game. He’s like...you ever watch Azumanga Daioh? You know Osaka from that anime? As Osaka is to a school girl, Jean is to a French-ish wandering prince. The guy is just not all there, in an extremely eccentric way.

5. Quina (Final Fantasy 9)

Quina’s one of those perfect examples of weirdness, an individual who acts about as bizarre as they look. Quina’s weapons are cooking utensils, its greatest joy in life is chasing and devouring swamp frogs raw, and...well, just look at the damn thing. And Quina’s odd nature just seems that much more weird in the game’s context--FF9 is a fairly serious and very thoughtful story, whose cast is otherwise made up of deep, multifaceted characters. Where did this freak even come from?

4. Lily (Fallout: New Vegas)

Why the hell would I ever need to do drugs? I have a game where I can travel around with a kindly super mutant grandmother armed with a broken helicopter blade and a seriously violent case of schizophrenia.

3. Gubibi (The Magic of Scheherazade)

Yeah, so, Gubibi is a living, talking glass bottle with arms, legs, and one eye, who is a wizard of some renown. I don’t feel I need to explain any further than that, really.***

2. Mao (Shadow Hearts 3)

While the Shadow Hearts games have a lot of tongue-in-cheek aspects, and introduce a lot of unusual things into their world, they generally try to stay reasonably grounded in the real world’s early 20th century. The quasi-attempt at a setting that mimics reality is part of why a giant talking alcoholic cat who knows kung-fu and has aspirations of being a movie star in a secret film culture solely involving cat actors seems so strange. The other part of why it seems so strange is did you not just read the previous sentence?

1. Democratus (Anachronox)

You thought it was weird to have a living dungeon in your party? Try being followed around by a planet. Yes, the Anachronox party member Democratus is an entire planet, shrunk down to personal size, its usually disorganized and argumentative leaders cheerfully ready to risk the billions of people living on its surface and its orbital rings for the sake of a grand adventure, and a chance for it to be its own ambassador. Let’s face it: it just doesn’t get weirder than that.

Honorable Mention: Former Enemies (General RPGs)

I know there’s almost always a good plot reason for why a party of heroes will take a former enemy into their midst, but that doesn’t make it any less weird, when you think about it, that these people are basically welcoming into their greatest confidence a person who until recently was attempting to kill them. It’s even quite often done casually. Again, there’s usually a believable and occasionally even rational explanation for this occurrence, but I still maintain that it’s pretty odd.

* Muppy (the one I just showed you) did almost make it, though. In the end, what really kept him off the list is that as odd as he is, you do kind of expect an alien to be somewhat different. Yeah, even by that consideration, Muppy’s a freak show, and the majority of his strangeness comes from his personality anyway, but it does still knock him just a little too low to make it here. Close, though.

** It must be a very sad feeling for a writer to realize that your fucking talking turnip’s got more character depth in his paltry 5 lines of half-assed dialogue than your entire main cast.

*** Fun little fact of further weirdness: Gubibi is not the only talking, arm-and-leg-possessing bottle who can be recruited in an RPG. Among the large list of generic individuals who can be recruited in Phantom Brave are the Bottle Mails. They, however, are generic, so they don’t qualify for the list like Gubibi does. But, man, what does it say for a genre where having a living milk container be your world-saving comrade happens twice?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Icewind Dale 1's Add-Ons

Well, y’know, I enjoyed the Baldur’s Gate series fairly well, so I figured I’d check out some of the other Dungeons and Dragons games made in the same vein, starting with Icewind Dale 1. And lo and behold, what do I find, but another game that had add-ons. Well, it may be over a decade late, and nowadays any reliable retailer you can purchase ID1 from is going to sell the add-ons bundled with it...but like I said in my Baldur’s Gate series add-on rant, some day (soon, for that matter) EVERY add-on rant I do will be out of date as every game is eventually automatically packaged with all its DLCs and expansions, so why not just do a rant rating the expansion and DLC of Icewind Dale 1 anyways?

Heart of Winter: With a story that’s just a tiny bit interesting, a villain with a smidgen of character depth, and a plot whose events actually have some halfway decent narrative structure, the Heart of Winter expansion is leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of Icewind Dale 1. The fact that it contains a guest incarnation of the character Ravel Puzzlewell, of the infinitely excellent Planescape: Torment, is a nice bonus. In fact, even though the Seer of this expansion is at best a weak imitation of the amazing PT character, she’s easily the best part of Icewind Dale 1 in its entirety. Still, even if Heart of Winter is superior to ID1’s main game, I’m not sure I would have advocated paying for this expansion, because it’s still a bit lackluster in its story, and its cast, with the Seer’s exception, is not particularly interesting. Nonetheless, Heart of Winter was at least a step in the right direction from the main story of Icewind Dale 1, so it earns some appreciation from me, I suppose.

Trials of the Luremaster: Released after the Heart of Winter expansion, Trials of the Luremaster was a free additional DLC to go with Heart of Winter that added a challenging extra dungeon to the game. As the story goes, according to Wikipedia, there was some criticism by audiences that the Heart of Winter expansion wasn’t big enough, so Black Isle Studios whipped up this lengthy super-dungeon to compensate.

By itself, I can’t say I really think much of Trials of the Luremaster. All it is, honestly, is a new dungeon with some (admittedly excellent) stuff to loot, a lot of tough battles, a few puzzles, and a very weak story. The premise is that the adventuring party is tricked into being taken to a dangerous, cursed castle, and they have to match wits and swords against the ghost bard that runs the place to put him to rest and escape. The story behind the castle, which is mostly revealed through reading some of the literary items you can find within it, is okay, I suppose, but it’s kind of generic, really, and not very interesting. I’ve seen this kind of DLC before a couple times now (Dragon Age 1’s Warden’s Keep, and Baldur’s Gate 1’s Durlag’s Tower, for examples), and honestly, this is the weakest iteration of the Cursed Historical DLC Castle/Tower/Fortress idea that I’ve seen. DA1 did it well enough with the Warden history tied to the place and thematic use of blood that relates to the rest of the game, and I actually thought that BG1’s Durlag’s Tower had an almost riveting way of telling its tale. Highest praise I could give to Trials of the Luremaster is that it’s dead-middle okay.

However, I still judge this DLC positively, because, well, they made it free of charge, so it’s not like it cost any extra to experience, and it’s not like it’s bad at all, or anything like that. And I really appreciate the idea of a developer taking the time to make something like this, responding to its customers’ disatisfactions in a positive and proactive manner by giving them what they felt was missing, and doing it all free of charge. And all of it seemingly without complaint, or smug, snide PR statements about the grandness of the favor! Really puts Bioware to shame by comparison, doesn't it? Yeah, I'll give Trials of the Luremaster a thumbs-up.

And that’s it; Heart of Winter and Trials of the Luremaster were the only add-ons made for Icewind Dale 1. How do they measure up? Eh. Could be worse. If we compare to ID1’s peers, they were certainly better than the Tales of the Sword Coast expansion for Baldur’s Gate 1, but at the same time, the Throne of Bhaal expansion for Baldur’s Gate 2, released the same year as Heart of Winter, is a heck of a lot better. Still, it’s not a lot of add-ons I can definitely say are better than the main game. I mean, if you can already put up with the nigh-mindless slog-fest that comprises 90% of Icewind Dale 1, then Heart of Winter and Trials of the Luremaster are worth checking out and will seem really good by comparison. In the end, Icewind Dale 1 gets a pass from me for its add-ons.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

General RPG Retailer GOG.com

Alright, quite honestly, I don’t really know how to do this rant without making it just sound like an advertisement, so, apologies for that.

I discovered a website a little while back, Good Old Games.com (commonly just called GOG.com). It’s pretty awesome. The long and short of it is that GOG.com sells digital, downloadable copies of a large number of older (and even a couple fairly recent) PC games. From games as popular as Unreal Tournament to games as obscure as Anachronox, from old classics like Zork to new titles like The Witcher 2, you can find a ton of great games to buy there, games which quite often are so old and/or obscure that you’d have a good bit of trouble locating a legal copy to purchase nowadays.

Now, I probably don’t have to tell you why this is a really good thing for me. If you’ve read any of my Annual Summary rants, you’ll probably notice that most of the RPGs I play in any given year are at least a couple years old, most of the time older. Oh, sure, I play a couple games inside a year of their release, but generally I’m always just playing catch-up with the RPG genre. Heck, there are still plenty of RPGs for the NES I still haven’t played yet (I just completed The Legend of Zelda 2 a few months ago, for example). So a website that specifically focuses on providing older games is ideal for me.

There’s a lot more to how great GOG.com is than just my personal convenience, though. First of all, there’s the pricing. The vast majority of the GOG.com catalogue is priced at $10 or less, which is a really, really good price for a game. Okay, yes, they ARE old, so yes, it makes sense that they’d be priced low, but that doesn’t make it less of a good deal. I don’t know about you guys, but I’d generally rather buy 6 old games at 10 bucks a pop than spend $60 on a single new title, all things being equal. And that’s assuming you buy the games at full price--GOG.com has a sale every weekend, during which they price several of their games (usually a set of similar titles, or titles all by a single developer, or something) at significantly reduced prices. These can wind up being really good sales, honestly. The last 3 titles I’ve purchased from GOG.com on sale were $2.39 each. Now I don’t care WHERE you’re buying from or how old the game is, that is a mighty fine price for a legal copy. You’d have trouble finding a price that low on a used game in poor shape from any regular retailer, and unlike purchasing a used game, buying from GOG.com indirectly supports the companies that own the game, rather than just the retailer itself, since GOG.com has paid them for the ability to distribute it.

This all makes for a very convenient and affordable business, but I probably wouldn’t have written a whole rant about this site if it were just for that.* Well, GOG.com’s also great for its general quality standards. The actual process of getting the game is very simple--it would have to be, for me to be able to figure it out. After purchasing it, you just download this one single installer package, open it up, and it pretty much takes care of everything from there. They remove the copy protections from the games, so that you can re-download the game to more than one machine without a hassle. In addition, when you purchase a game, you usually get a lot of stuff that goes with it--in the same bar where you get the game installer, you can also download various extras for it, such as the instruction manual, game avatars, official game art and/or wallpapers, and sometimes even the game’s soundtrack, some Making Of videos and developer interviews, and walkthroughs. Additionally, if a game had any add-ons produced for it (expansions, downloadable content, that sort of thing), you can generally rely on GOG.com having that included in the game’s download files. They definitely go all out on providing the customer with everything they might need or want--Planescape: Torment, for example, has in its description a link to a guide for installing several game mods that fix its bugs, make it run better, and restored content. These are things that anyone playing PT for the first time really should have available for the best experience, and GOG.com makes sure they do.

The GOG.com staff also, from what I’ve seen, provide swift and effective customer service. I noticed last month that the soundtrack provided for download with Icewind Dale 2 was disorganized, and its files weren’t named at all, leaving me, and apparently a few other customers, confused as to which songs were which and what the tracks were meant to be called. This was mentioned in the GOG.com forums devoted to the game. Within a couple days, a GOG.com worker had noticed the complaint (even though no one had, I believe, thought to actually officially contact the site over the issue), and cleaned up the soundtrack, after which said worker courteously let those who had posted the complaint know that it had been fixed. That’s quick, dedicated, and friendly service, right there. Maybe it’s just because I’ve spent the last half a year at the Bioware forums watching the company dodge customer complaints, outright lie to its fans, arbitrarily and rudely close topics about improving Mass Effect 3’s ending, and utterly fail to improve its multiplayer servers and/or fix several severe bugs and gameplay issues for months and months, but GOG.com’s willingness to treat the people it owes its existence to as actual human beings with valid concerns favorably impresses me.

And that’s about it. I think GOG.com is a great source for old and obscure RPGs. It’s simple, cheap, and it’s clearly run by people who take an active interest in the games they sell. Check it out.

And as a side note, if you are a reader of this blog and you have for some reason not played Planescape: Torment yet in spite of my mentioning how great it is roughly every 5 rants or so, now you really do have no excuse. Go to GOG.com and buy it and play it and love it. NOW!

* “Probably” being the key term. Sometimes I get low on rant ideas, and suddenly ideas previously discarded as not being good enough for rant subjects start to seem a whole lot better.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

General RPGs' AMVs 6

Because I just know you all love and adore these so much. I’ve decided to cut the number of AMVs in these rants down to 8. 13 strikes me as maybe being too much all at once, and 8 is the best number of all, anyway, so it all works out.

I know I sound like a broken record at this point, but please, if you watch any of these, and agree with me that they’re good, just take those few, precious seconds to hit the Thumbs Up button, or better still, leave a quick comment mentioning that you enjoyed it. With so many subpar RPG AMVs out there (like, literally thousands), finding a notably good one is exceedingly rare, and I definitely want those with the skill to make a decent video encouraged to do more.


Final Fantasy 8: Dancing in the Dark, by ChadVisionAbridged: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQhX2wShd2w&feature=plcp
The music used is Dancing in the Dark, by Bruce Springsteen. This is one of those AMVs you just never see coming, but work out surprisingly well. It’s silly but enjoyable, and its coordination between the song’s lyrics and the game’s visuals and text is surprisingly accurate. There’s a cheerful, slightly tongue-in-cheek energy that ChadVisionAbridged has instilled into the game clips that bring them together with the music. I also very much appreciate that this AMV makes excellent use of actual game footage, not just FF8’s FMV sequences--a lot of the connection between the audio and visuals comes from the right application of game footage that most people wouldn’t bother with just because it’s not an FMV. Even considering how statistically rare a good Final Fantasy 8 AMV is, this one is a pleasant surprise. And I just love the end, makes me laugh aloud. Solid AMV, this one.


The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask: This is Halloween, by DemonLordChuck: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8cUal__hBk
The music used is This is Halloween, from the Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack. There’s not a whole lot to this AMV, but it has good editing, and frankly, the bizarre, unsettling, and sometimes downright freaky setting and visual tone of this game lend themselves perfectly to the nature and feel of the song. That vague, disturbing sense of wrongness of this game’s world just meshes very well with the song, and makes this video enjoyable and appropriate.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword: United We Stand, Divided We Fall, by Enlistedman92: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1Mdk2Anrek&feature=plcp
The music used is United We Stand, Divided We Fall, by Two Steps From Hell, and then a tune from the TLoZSS soundtrack at the end. As epic trailers/tributes go, this is about as good as you’re gonna get. The music and game footage meld together excellently to portray the game as an epic adventure. The scenes selected are perfect, and tell the story of the game with good enough flow to be understandable, yet loosely enough that you’re having very little spoiled, as a trailer/tribute more or less should. The editing is done very well, too; I very much liked the parts where the Goddess Sword’s power-ups were put together and where the Triforce appears in parts on Link’s hand. A shame Enlistedman92 isn’t on Nintendo’s payroll, because this is better quality than most professionally-made tributes/trailers. If it weren’t for the totally pointless bit at the end that completely jars you out of the mood that the AMV created, I’d probably keep this video in my personal AMV collection, and devote an entire rant to it. Even still, though, check it out, because it’s awesome.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: Kryptonite, by Gurglesnurp: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwWFPpbkHCY&feature=plcp
The music used is Kryptonite, by 3 Doors Down. If you can manage to sit through the half-minute intro,* you’ll find this is a very decent, solid AMV. Not perfect by any means, but overall it meshes the video to the lyrics and tune pretty well, the simple editing is done well, and it’s engaging from start to finish. Not much more to say, really, it’s simply a good AMV.


Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3: The Answer, by XcoxmoX: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fuw59uslUaQ&feature=plcp
The music used is To Die For, by The Birthday Massacre. First of all, ignore the length the video indicates--there’s some odd glitch of sorts on this AMV, such that after it’s done, it starts up again without sound, so the actual length of the music video is only about 5 minutes, not the 10 it says. At any rate, this AMV is not perfect, as there are times when the musical tone doesn’t seem particularly well-synchronized with the game video, and a lot of the lyrics don’t seem to hold much relevance one way or another to it. But overall, the tone of the music works well with the game’s clips, there are times when the lyrics do match up to what’s shown, and I feel that the overall feel of the song works nicely with the overall tone of the video’s progression and events as a whole.


Xenosaga 2 + 3: Breath, by ShionStrife: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J85LYsk5iAI
The music used is Breath, by Breaking Benjamin. The subject matter of this one, pairing Shion and Jr. up, is ludicrous and dumb, of course, but surprisingly, this video’s actually a pretty solid work. I suppose it just goes to show you how far effective use of game footage and coordination with the song can really go. The scenes match up to the lyrics and the mood of the music extremely well, and are arranged in a terrific way for conveying Hell, it’s done well enough that if someone who was not at all familiar with the Xenosaga games and characters were to watch this, they would probably wholeheartedly believe that there really were some sort of romantic subplot in the game concerning Jr. and Shion.

Xenosaga Series: The Awakening, by Tabichan8: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6MgwLiB4JQ
The music used is Prometheus Ring, by Immediate Music. This one’s a KOS-MOS tribute/trailer AMV, and it’s pretty awesome. The scenes are great with the music, the quotes used are perfect for the purpose, and overall, it gets your blood pumping, it shows KOS-MOS as being awesome, and it totally psychs you up for the Xenosaga series by being pretty damn epic. You could easily believe this to be an official trailer from how well it’s done.

Xenosaga Series: The Saga Begins, by GunnerRikku75: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06b5KRhpz_Q
The music used is The Saga Begins, by Weird Al Yankovic. Given that it’s a 5+ minute joke AMV to a joke song cover to a song that is itself bad enough to also be a joke, I’m kind of surprised that this video’s actually pretty darned good. The video clips are well-timed and a good match to the Star Wars-ish lyrics, and it all winds up being a nice bit of tongue-in-cheek fun, which is just what it should be with a Weird Al song

* I feel like I want to make an entire rant devoted just to this one thing, but it’s not RPG-related enough to do so, so I’m gonna just post my complaint here. These stupid, pointless intros to people’s AMVs have got to STOP. If someone wants to quickly stick their name up at the start of the video for 1 to 5 seconds, well, that’s alright. But a ton of AMV makers have these elaborate, 30 - 45 second intro videos to their music videos! It’s distracting, it’s annoying, and frankly such flamboyant narcissism in thinking anyone cares at all makes me very disinclined to even give the actual AMV, when it finally starts, a chance. You are not an acclaimed fucking director or movie studio! You’re putting up fan music videos of video games on Youtube, you self-important twats. Get a grip, stop boring your audience, and get on with the actual AMV already.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Xenosaga 3's Boss Fights

After screwing up my courage for years after the mess that is Xenosaga 2, I finally got around to playing and beating Xenosaga 3 recently. While the phrase “narrative clusterfuck” is a tremendous understatement when describing this game’s plot and characters, and I’m fairly certain I could easily create a list of 50 mistakes Xenosaga 3 makes in its storytelling just off the top of my head, I actually did enjoy it a good deal more than Xenosaga 2, and I’d even say it has some worth and meaning in it...if you really, REALLY go diving in deep for it. But heavier discussions such as those are for another day (or maybe never; if I got started talking about the problems with Xenosaga 3’s story, I might never stop, and I’m saving my “Never Ending Discussion of Why it’s Stupid” energy for an eventual rant on the Synthesis option of Mass Effect 3’s ending). For this rant, I’m just going to pose this annoyed question, instead:

Why the hell can’t the player ever seem to actually win in this game?

I’m talking about the boss fights, specifically. Oh, sure, you get into a boss fight in this game, well, you can pretty much always actually beat the battle itself (kinda have to, or it’s Game Over). I mean...okay, look, there are, basically, 26 bosses in this game, not counting the 2 super special ultra bosses. Now, after winning the boss battle, these are the bosses who are, once the battle is over, completely gone, completely dead/destroyed, or thoroughly defeated and unable to fight more or flee: Sigdrifa, Aludra Calf, ES Nephtali, Mai and Leupold, Pellegri, the three Asura Series 27, Citrine, each of the 4 elemental thingies in Abel’s Ark, ES Gad and ES Joseph, ES Issachar (piloted by Pellegri), ES Levi (piloted by Margulis), and the final boss, Zarathustra. That’s 15 of the boss battles in this game where you actually can beat the boss. Just a little over half.

That means that almost half of the rest of the boss battles in this game end up having the enemy either being quite strong enough to escape, strong enough to keep fighting, or, most often, shrugging the whole fight off and behaving as though they were not hurt at all. The first time your characters fight Margulis in the ES Levi, he is, immediately after the boss battle, still up and ready for more. The Omega Universitas is clearly damaged by your boss fight against it, but more than capable of escaping (which seems pointless; it’s never seen again to my knowledge, so why not just have it get scrapped?). Beat Virgil and Voyager in combat, and each time they’ll obviously be totally unharmed afterwards, taunting the player’s characters about it. Yuriev is only defeated when an outside party steps in after the battle (as was the case with Virgil and Voyager, for that matter). And so on.

I mean, alright, this sort of thing is not exactly unknown to RPGs. It’d take me a while to name a full dozen RPGs in which there are no instances of the plot dictating the heroes be unable, at one point or another, to defeat an enemy. Lavos is supposed to win in the Ocean Palace in Chrono Trigger, Kefka perpetually gets away from every battle he loses in Final Fantasy 6, and and the Exile can’t manage to counter Darth Sion’s regenerative powers during their first battle on Korriban in Knights of the Old Republic 2. And those are all games of distinctive quality. Plot happens, certain individuals can’t be eliminated too early, I get that.

But 11 times in one game? And nearly always these instances occur when the Xenosaga cast is engaging in combat with anyone of any significance. I mean, most of the boss battles in Xenosaga 3 that you CAN beat are just the random filler enemies--large monster-ish things, momentarily misguided good-guy NPCs, flunkies, etc. It seems like any time you actually fight someone that matters, it’s utterly pointless; they’re either going to be totally fine after the boss battle and get away, or they’re going to be totally fine after the boss battle and require defeat through some other story-driven means. What’s the point of fighting the game’s villains at all if you’re never going to be the one to actually defeat them?

Is this a small gripe? Well, yeah. Certainly not worth even the time it’s taken to write this rant. But all the same, it DOES get annoying at a certain point, and I believe that it does lessen the narrative strength of the game (in addition to the countless flaws that already turn Xenosaga 3’s storytelling into a horrible mess, I mean). Because after a certain point of watching deus ex machina get called in for the tenth time to take care of an enemy that you just spent 20 minutes beating on, you start to wonder why the hell you’re being partnered with heroes who can’t actually accomplish their goals themselves, and question the strength of a plot which would necessitate so many of its important conflicts be rendered bogus.

Monday, October 8, 2012

General RPGs' Anime Retellings

Good lord, this was supposed to be a short rant, and just LOOK at it. I’m hopeless. Anyway...

There are a lot of animes that have been born from popular Role Playing Games. Tales of the Abyss, Final Fantasy 7, Star Ocean 2, and many other games have had animated series and/or movies created based upon them. And generally, I’m all for this idea, because 1, I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing many of the games I play and enjoy continued in some way (as long as it’s done well, of course), and 2, because to create a new form of art based on a different medium is a sign that the original medium is taken seriously as a potential artform itself (yes, I’m one of the advocates for the consideration of video games as art (or at least, for having the capacity to be art; I’m sure as hell not going to pretend even 10% of them actually do qualify as such)). But what I DON’T like about this phenomenon is the fact that most of these derivative animes and movies wind up being adaptations that retell the game’s events.

Now, let me clarify something--I don’t necessarily dislike adaptations. You take something like the Nolan trilogy of Batman movies. Sure, they’re essentially just adaptations and retellings of ideas from the Batman comic books, but they’re significantly altered and adjusted, becoming different (and remarkable) stories in their own right. They share much similarity to the original source material, but the director takes the stories and characters and uses them in significantly different ways, to tell new stories and explore ideas in unique ways. That kind of adaptation, which significantly departs from the original while staying acceptably true to its ideas, aspects, and direction, that I like. But I also approve of something like the old Fox Kids X-Men cartoon, or the Hunger Games movie, because even though they’re far more literally true to the original works, the mediums are significantly different from the originals. There’s a lot of difference between a comic book or book and a cartoon or movie. You’re reliving the stories in a whole new way, through the vision of the creators of the new adaptation. It’s a significantly new experience.

But that’s not the case with RPG anime adaptations. When an anime retells an RPG’s story, you’re not really creating anything new. RPGs (the Japanese ones, at least, but those are the only ones that this so far applies to) typically have storytelling methods that are already pretty similar to those of anime as it is, and most of the RPGs whose stories have been retold in anime form have been visually advanced enough that the animated version is not really showing you anything different. It’s not like you get anime versions of old 16-bit RPGs, or at least, I’ve yet to find one. The mediums are too similar for the adaptations to be considered a new experience.

So what’s the point? Some animation studio is going to blow thousands and thousands of dollars and hours producing a story that’s already been told? Why? I don’t get it. I already played Tales of the Abyss. I already beat Xenosaga 1. I already completed Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, AND analyzed the hell out of it in my head. Why would I want to just see the same thing all over again? And if that impulse DOES strike me, couldn’t I just, y’know, play the game again?

It’s not like the anime version of a game is going to garner all that much of a new audience to generate new revenue, either. I mean, a movie adaptation of a book, well, I can certainly see the reasoning there--there are a LOT of people who just don’t generally read books, so releasing, say, the trilogy of The Lord of the Rings in movie form is going to garner a huge new audience who didn’t want to read through the original works.* But there’s not a huge divide between anime-watchers and game-players in Japan, and I imagine most of the people who are going to recognize and show significant interest in an anime based on a video game are the people who are already fans of the video game. I guess there must be SOME new people in an audience for an anime version who aren’t gamers, but given how closely the industries are culturally tied over there, I just can’t imagine it being all that many. And if a large portion of your audience are fans of the source material, why show them the same damn thing all over again?

Why not something new? That’s what I want to know. Why not something new. Look, most RPGs last a good 40 to 60 hours, and involve the creation of a whole different world full of unique individuals and histories of varied complexity. If you were a creator, and you had spent so long making the world of your RPG--even a very basic RPG world still takes a lot of time and effort to think up--wouldn’t you WANT to use it more than once? Instead of telling us the same story all over again, animes could detail momentous historical events of the RPG world they’re based on. They could focus on the back stories of the game’s characters. They could show us other perspectives of the events of the game, scenes and side-stories that occur during the game but that we didn’t get a chance to see in the original. Or, most obviously, they could create new adventures for the game’s cast to engage in, taking place some time after the game’s conclusion.**

The Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children movie and the Sakura Wars 5 anime may not have been very good (although if you already liked the silly and somewhat stupid nature of Sakura Wars 5, you probably will actually enjoy its anime sequel), but in my mind, they’re way, way better products than the anime retellings of Disgaea 1 or Tales of the Abyss, even if those had far superior stories and characters. Sure, FF7AC may be a nonsensical load of special effects and gratuitous fight scenes competing with the emo fumblings of a protagonist whose character has actually regressed to where it was partway through the game instead of basing itself on how Cloud had developed by the game’s end, but at least it was (ineptly) trying to tell us a NEW story about the characters and world that we loved, not just rehashing everything we already knew for 2 hours. Sure, Sakura Wars 5 doesn’t make good use of its cast and focuses on the stupid machinations of a reborn Egyptian Pharaoh whose only vaguely interesting quality is that he’s pretty hot for protagonist Shinjiro when Shinjiro’s in drag (and man does Shinjiro seem to dig him back), but it gave us a new adventure for the characters of the game, tried to please its fans with a new story about the characters they enjoyed. I’d still count watching each of them as having been more worthwhile experiences than viewing a single episode of the Xenosaga 1 anime, even though I liked Xenosaga 1’s story.

I also have a couple of minor pet peeves with these anime retellings of RPGs, beyond the principle of it being a waste of time to tell the same story over again in a generally similar format. First of all, the small changes. Even though an anime may just be retelling the story of a game, there are almost inevitably going to be some changes made to events and characters here and there. Not big enough that the events and characters are significantly altered, but still, there will be some slight difference between the original version’s telling and the anime’s, even though the story’s major aspects will be the same. Why do this? It’s not enough to change the anime enough to be a new story, but now I, as an obsessive fan (and don’t kid yourself, there are a LOT of people as obsessive as or more than I am, so I’m not the only one), am never going to know which version of the story’s events is real. If I want to write a fanfic about Xenosaga 1, do I consider Virgil as having died on the Woglinde star ship, as happened in the game, or later on, as happened in the anime? The animation’s change has no significant effect on the overall events of the plot, as Virgil will still die in basically the exact same way, but I’ll never know how the hell this detail was actually supposed to play out, and it’s going to bug me any time I happen to think of it. And you probably know by now just how often and much I think about RPGs.***

And don’t even get me started on the Final Fantasy 7: Last Order anime. The way they changed the scene where Cloud gets stabbed by Sephiroth...it makes me shake with fanboy rage just thinking about it. They just have Sephiroth decide to jump off the reactor platform on his own. They RUINED one of the greatest moments in Final Fantasy 7. Cloud was supposed to get stabbed, then, through sheer strength of will and heroic quality and all that awesome inspiring jazz, he was supposed to grab the sword in him, use it to lift Sephiroth (who’s too surprised to actually let go of the hilt) up into the air, and then throw his ass over the side of the reactor to what they both clearly thought would be Sephiroth’s death (and it did at least knock him off his ass for a few years, forcing him into hiding in the North Crater’s Lifestream center to heal). It was heroic, it was awesome, it was inspiring. It was a victorious turn-around on the villain who had seemed to have clearly won, then suddenly found himself utterly defeated by one of the supposedly helpless victims he’d just run through. But no, now, thanks to this goddamn anime retelling, Cloud’s amazing act of strength and will is diminished, and Sephiroth gets to give a smug little smile and hightail it outta there, which was what he wanted to do to begin with. Yeah, Cloud spooked him a little still, but ultimately Sephiroth is now the one who comes out ahead. I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised, since SquareEnix is has a George Lucas-like talent for destroying its own best work, but still.

And what about when one of those small changes is just adding something in that wasn’t there in the original game? Like the Realian girl that was just added out of the blue to the Xenosaga anime. Her role changes more or less nothing important, so again, it still qualifies as us being expected to sit through the same damn story all over again, but the small alterations her presence and character provide are not in the original game, and I have to wonder--why not? Was this addition something that the creator of Xenosaga wanted in her work, in her vision of her story? Is the game that I spent 50+ hours playing NOT all that it was supposed to be? Because that really doesn’t make me very happy to consider.

And as a last little gripe, I admit to feeling childishly resentful about the time difference. I mean, look, a full season of an anime is more or less 26 episodes, right? Some animes go longer and some are shorter, but the standard is 26. If you get a video game turned into an anime, then you’re providing the same story to any newcomer who may not already know it in 13 hours’ time--26 if you get full-hour episodes, but I don’t think I’ve heard of a game anime that has episodes that long. I spent 40+ experiencing that story, as one of the original fans that made the game’s commercial success possible (I assume it wouldn’t get an anime if it weren’t successful). So now any jerk can have the experience in half that time? Less, even? I feel like an idiot for investing so much time into the original product when all I apparently had to do was wait a year or 2, and I could have more or less the same experience without the repetitive random encounters adding an extra few dozen hours on. Like I said, kind of a petty feeling, but I don’t deny it.

Pet peeves aside, though, I seriously dislike the idea that an anime made about an RPG would just be a retelling of the game’s story, and I don’t think I’m being unreasonable here. I am not a baby penguin. I do not enjoy my meals regurgitated to me. Whoever makes the decisions on these matters, take the stuff I like, the stuff enough fans liked to warrant further focus, and go forward with it.

* A sentiment which, in that particular case, I can sympathize with. Tolkien had some awesome ideas and creativity, but sweet heavens, he had a ponderous and dry writing style.

** As a note, I would like to say that a new story such as I mention should, of course, still be related to and based on the video game in some way. I’m not looking for something like the Wild Arms: Twilight Venom anime, which, as far as I could tell, had no actual connection to any Wild Arms game and only had any relation to the series through using certain basic concepts like the ARMS weapons and Crimson Noble species (and even then, many of these things seemed only loosely based on the original concepts found in the games). The anime should have some strong, solid relationship to the original games, because otherwise, why the heck name it after the game series to begin with? If you took the words “Wild Arms” out of the title of that anime, you’d sooner think of it as its own show than anything related to the game series.

*** For new readers: It’s a lot. I think about them a lot.