You know what was a pretty neat idea? Breath of Fire 2’s Dragon Tear. This was the little accessory that showed up with every important character’s dialogue and showed through its color the way the person felt toward you. Kinda like a mood ring, if mood rings were in RPGs, and actually worked at all. The idea’s a good one, giving the player a better understanding of their character’s approval of the protagonist’s decisions, allowing for a way of tracking characters’ reactions to the protagonist’s actions and words as dialogue occurs, and acting as a lie detector by exposing how an NPC really feels, regardless of what he or she is saying--all while being much more aesthetically pleasing than just a message saying someone’s approval has gone up/down, or something like that, as you get in later games like Dragon Age 1.
You know what was a pretty useless idea? Breath of Fire 2’s Dragon Tear. What exactly is the point of having this indicator of how you’re doing in a character’s eyes in a game that offers no player interaction? I mean, there is almost no part of the game wherein the player has any ability to influence the plot or character interactions. It’s a completely linear story, and the protagonist rarely actually responds to anyone in dialogue--and on those rare occasions, whatever the player chooses to have the protagonist Ryu say in response doesn’t really change anything. So if almost every emotional response the NPCs and party members are going to have is unchangeably scripted, why bother to let the player track it? The game’s dialogue is usually pretty straightforward; we don’t really need the Dragon Tear to clarify much.
There’s also the fact that the emotional rating of characters never actually makes a difference, except for a single, extremely tiny moment of the game, which has nothing to do with the plot’s events anyway.* Aside from that one moment, nothing ever changes due to the Dragon Tear rating. Whether the Dragon Tear says a party member loves or hates the protagonist, they’ll say the same lines of dialogue, and they’ll take the same actions in the plot. If it makes the slightest difference in battle performance whether your teammate likes Ryu or thinks he’s scum, I’ve certainly never noticed it, and I’ve played the game through like a dozen times.** No change to the game’s dialogue, to the actions of its cast, to the events of its course, or to the specifics of its conclusion, can be effected by the emotion measured by the Dragon Tear. And like I said, NPCs’ actions and attitudes can’t be influenced by any choice on the player’s part. What little the player can do to affect the mood of the people of the world is of no consequence.
Even as a passive storytelling tool, the Dragon Tear actually doesn’t work all that well. Like I said, the dialogue isn’t all that ambiguous for the most part (bad translation moments aside), so it’s not really needed for emotional clarification, and there were times, I seem to recall, when the emotional reading it was giving didn’t even seem to quite match up with the character’s words, actions, and personality, anyway.
Really, the Dragon Tear is very puzzling to me. From one perspective, it’s a terrific idea, years ahead of its time, something I wish would be implemented in many of today’s RPGs. It would be really nice if we saw it, or something like it, on screen during character interactions in games like Dragon Age 1 and 2, or Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 and 4, games where there’s a plot-significant approval rating to major characters that can be bettered or worsened by the protagonist’s actions and dialogue. It’d be so much nicer than just a little message denoting the approval points you’ve picked up, or a rinky-dink little sound effect, which is what we get for the aforementioned games. And yet, this idea ahead of its time has NOTHING to do with the kind of game it was made for! The linear, forward Breath of Fire 2 is a completely different RPG from the kind that could in any way make actual use of the idea behind the Dragon Tear. It’s like a neat idea for a game got lost and accidentally entered the head of a completely different game’s developer.
* Basically, if you sweet-talk a resident of your town enough, he’ll teach you the Missile spell instead of something less powerful. This is IF you chose to acquire him for the town at all, of course.
** Look, I only had so many games as a kid, okay? I played ALL my SNES RPGs at least a few times.