Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Xenosaga 3 Mini Rants 1

Say, is it...why, yes, it is! It’s time for another discussion of the utter chaos that is Xenosaga 3’s story and characters! Oh, BOY!

Hey, let’s do something different today. Instead of just naming off 4 or 5 of the flaws to be found in Xenosaga 3 before I make a proper rant out of the last one, this time around why don’t I have some fun and give a proper little paragraph to a bunch of them? It’ll be a blast, I’m sure. So without further ado, here’s another compilation of the many storytelling mistakes, big and small, of Xenosaga.

Scott and The Professor: The new role given to The Professor and Scott in Xenosaga 3 is rather strange, even jarring. In the previous games, these 2 have consistently been comic relief characters whose only significance was in relation to tongue-in-cheek sidequests that were almost entirely discordant to the actual plot. Yet now, in Xenosaga 3, these previously optional, out of synch background characters are not only fully validated parts of the plot--they’re actually some of the most important NPCs of all! They hang out in the main characters’ ship and take on most plot-relevant science tasks, such as explaining some of the plot’s events and repairing and upgrading KOS-MOS. It’s like...okay, in Fallout Tactics, you could get into a random encounter where you’d witness Phil the Nuka-Cola dude on his bicycle, riding across the wasteland to deliver Nuka-Cola refills to the various vending machines scattered across the country. The encounter and character are very, very obviously there solely for a quirky laugh, and the circumstances of that laugh are almost certainly not meant to be taken as a serious, official part of the series canon. It wouldn’t fit in correctly with the Fallout series for a variety of lore/atmosphere/logistic reasons. Well, putting Scott and The Professor onto the Elsa and giving them a legitimate role in Xenosaga 3’s plot is basically like if you were to make a Fallout game where Phil the Nuka-Cola dude was an actual, story-significant party member. It’s weird, it’s wrong for the characters, and it gives too much officiality to their previous roles, roles that didn’t mesh especially well with the actual, legit Xenosaga lore.

MOMO’s Abilities: You know what’s kind of dumb? Making all of MOMO’s regular attacks and special abilities too rinky-dink or variable to translate effectively into your FMV cutscenes. I mean, you watch the video footage of the Xenosaga series, and you see Jr. firing his pistols, Ziggy throwing his cyborg weight around, KOS-MOS doing all her crazy super-fighting, Jin slicing things up on occasion with his sword, and even Shion has a couple moments when she actually does stuff. chaos has powers that could easily and effectively be used in the various battles we see the team engaged in during cutscenes, even if for some reason he never does use them. But MOMO? Throughout the series she’s used a lame little staff and a bow* for attacks, and performed special attacks that even Sailor Chibi-Moon would turn up her nose at for being too cutesy. And hey, okay, I guess that’s okay for a little girl character in RPG battles, which are generally kind of weird anyway. But Xenosaga’s a series where you literally watch hours and hours and hours of cutscenes. Cutscenes are the main vehicle of the game’s storytelling. And while no one questions her being able to shoot little star arrows at giant mechanized monsters of destruction and cause damage inside the game’s battle system, where everything is reduced to how many white numbers you can make appear over your enemies’ heads, that shit is not gonna cut it in a cutscene where things are supposed to appear relatively believable. Hell, Jr. packs a pair of pistols and even those seem ridiculously inadequate whenever we see him firing them in the game’s cinemas, so what the hell is MOMO supposed to do with the ability to make a Lite Brite picture of her head to hit someone with? And as a result, every time anyone’s gotta fight in an FMV sequence during the Xenosaga series, MOMO’s just stuck sitting it out. I mean, sure, there are times in the FMVs where she can serve a legitimate support role, such as the awesome car chase early in Xenosaga 2, when she takes the wheel of the car so that Jr. and chaos can concentrate on stopping their pursuit, but generally speaking, if you were just watching the FMV sequences of the series and had no contact with the battle system, you’d have no idea what MOMO is with the group for. Is MOMO a capable member of the team or is she just some NPC the group’s dragging around, Namco? Your games don’t seem to have a sure answer.

For Aslan’s sake, Allen is seen fighting enemies in cutscenes more often than MOMO is. Fucking Allen.

Number of Villains: There are too many villains competing for top billing in this series. Margulis and his UTIC organization, Albedo, Yuriev, and Wilhelm are all given enough screentime, seeming plot importance, and grandiose plans and speeches that it seems like there are half a dozen different galaxy-shaking villain schemes all crammed together, each trying to claw its way to the top of the plot. It’d be one thing if they were each confined to their own game, like the villain of the between-games episode seemed to be, but no--you’ve got Margulis and his organization being sinister and super important from the first game on, Albedo jumping around in the villain spotlight for the first 2 games and then misdirecting us for much of the third (since we don’t know until the moment it happens that he’s not actually being evil, the overall effect is that of another villain running about through the third game), Yuriev shows up in Xenosaga 2 but relates very strongly to the U-DO and URTV subplot that’s given such large focus in all the games including the first, and Wilhelm’s been a point of villain interest since the first game’s end and is ultimately the true villain of the series. It also doesn’t help that they all end in quick succession, either. If 1 or 2 of them had been taken out earlier in Xenosaga 3, there’d be less confusing competition for the player’s attention, but no, each one is only concluded at the end of the game. Yuriev is taken down at the end of the second to last dungeon, and Albedo with him. Then you finish up with Margulis and his forces about a third of the way through the last dungeon. And then, of course, you handle the final villain Wilhelm soon after. They’re all vying for attention right up to the very end. A couple competing villainies at the same time is manageable; 4 that span the entire series and all only conclude at its very end like dominoes is distracting and confuses the player as to what the true thematic conflict of the series is meant to be.

KOS-MOS’s Third Body: Out of place, completely unnecessary sexual fanservice continues to cheapen everything it touches. Or maybe there’s some combat advantage to having your battle ‘bot brazenly bare her barely-bound boob valley when she’s fighting space ghost-angels that I just don’t get?

6 Games? Really?: I’ve mentioned before that the Xenosaga series was meant to be 6 episodes long (with each game being an episode), and that a HUGE amount of the problems with the plot, storytelling, and characters can be traced back to the writers simply not having the time they’d anticipated and needed for all their ideas to be properly shown and worked through. Another case of the corporate part of a company ruining the integrity of the product. Bad Namco! No biscuit!

But here’s the other side of the matter. Who the bloody fuck writes a story with the serious intent on taking 6 game installments to tell it!? It’s usually pretty ambitious to write a story with the intention of telling it in even 2 parts! I mean, think about it: how many RPGs are there out there that were designed from Day 1 to be incomplete without the next game to follow it? The Golden Sun series, Mark Leung: Revenge of the Bitch, and Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 1 and 2 are the only ones I can think of off the top of my head that were clearly intended from the get-go to have incomplete stories to be concluded in a later game, and those are all just 2-parters! Obviously any writers are going to hope that their game does well enough to warrant sequels, and will have ideas for what can be done, but they’re usually reasonable enough to take these things 1 or 2 games at a time, because you never know how players will receive your product, and what the corporate atmosphere will be with your company in the future. Mass Effect is a series that spanned 3.5 games, but Bioware wasn’t brazen enough to just assume from the moment they began work on ME1 that they’d get the opportunity to make a trilogy out of it, and they planned accordingly. ME1 concludes with the promise of more to come, but it clearly would be able to stand alone as its own game if need be. 6 games to tell one overall story! 6 games, each with hours and hours of FMV! Do you have any idea of the resources it takes to make 6 games happen? How many game series do you know that even keep the same SETTING for 6 installments, let alone the same continuing story? Ultima, The Legend of Zelda (which almost doesn’t count given how tenuous the connections are between most of its games), Kingdom Hearts, and sort of Nippon Ichi’s titles are the only ones that come to mind, and you can bet none of them started out by saying, “This thing is ONLY going to work if we’ve got 6 games to devote to this series.” Because that would be fucking insanity. So yeah, forcing a 6-part story to be crammed into 3 games is obviously a bad idea and will ruin the damn thing, but what the hell were they doing with an inflexible planned length of 6 parts to start with?

Shion x KOS-MOS: I know I mentioned this in passing during my rant on how stupid Allen x Shion is, but I’d like to say again how utterly bizarre it is to witness the interactions of KOS-MOS and Shion throughout the series and scenes like the one where Nephilim tells Shion that she’s “the only one who can open KOS-MOS’s heart,” or where Juli voices her belief that it’s Shion’s wish for KOS-MOS to have a heart, and then not only not see them get together at any point, but also not even have the games acknowledge the possibility of a romantic love between them. I mean, maybe it really is just me here, but I would swear the entire damn series consistently has them say and do things, and have things said about them, that in any other RPG or anime would be considered, would be MEANT, to be evidence of romantic attachment. It’s like watching interactions between Bastila and a female Revan in Knights of the Old Republic 1--you’re seeing 2 characters who are written with the express intention of falling in love, engage in dialogue written with the express intention of causing them to fall in love, having been put into a situation that was created with the express intention of allowing them the circumstances necessary to fall in love, only for no apparent reason, they don’t fall in love. It’s weird and it’s inconsistent with the characters and their relationship to one another.

Sellers: Where the hell did Sellers go? I mean, seriously, what happened to him? The guy’s introduced as a sinster-ish lesser villain scientist guy working for Yuriev, we see him several times as Xenosaga 3 progresses, enough to be quite convinced that he’s reasonably important, he’s got back history and overall plot relevance, and eventually the characters come face to face with him, at which point he gives some exposition and they have to leave to stop Yuriev. And then...Sellers is gone. Just completely gone, forgotten by the plot entirely. We don’t see him again, we don’t hear of him again, there’s no mention of him doing anything further in the codex, nothing. The writers just drop him and forget he ever existed. Every other villain, no matter how minor, is wrapped up by the game’s conclusion--they even include those 2 obscure Richard and Hermann pilot guys, whose roles in the series are so negligible that I just spent about 10 minutes of searching through the Xenosaga Wiki trying to find out what their names were. But Sellers just stops existing in the plot altogether after that first and final meeting, like Rowd in Suikoden 2 or that armored nitwit in Grandia 3.

Vague, Ambiguous Dialogue: This is a pet peeve of mine for RPGs in general, but Xenosaga 3’s got more than its fair share of awkwardly vague, unspecific dialogue exchanged between sinister groups of villains. I think this is best illustrated with an example, so go here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80uG40b3fl4 and watch from 4:38 to 6:01. Now, did you follow ANY of that? I’ve played the damn game from start to finish and even I don’t follow half of it! How does Blue Testament know things are going smoothly just because Red Testament happens to be staring down at the coffin thing? What about the coffin and Red Testament staring at it implies that he’s “pulling out the big guns?” Why won’t he refer to specific objects and people by their designation/name even once, instead ONLY using elusive terms like “this thing” and “she” and so on? What is the nature of the errors you must correct, Red Testament? What does “So you knew all along, huh?” mean--was Red Testament not supposed to know about these errors we know nothing about all along, or is it something related to this situation and/or the errors that they didn’t think he knew about, and if so, what the hell is it, exactly, that he knew all along? Why does having this totally undefined knowledge make him a scary guy? The look on whose face when she knows everything about what, and what does it have to do with Red Testament? Is the “she” they’re referring to meant to be the vaguely described “princess” they then indicate is in the coffin, or is this someone else now? What does she have to do with anything? What the hell is Blue Testament doing sniffing at whatever’s in the coffin and why does no one find this act a little unsettling? And why are the White and Black Testaments present if they’re not even going to say a single goddamn line of dialogue?

Only some of these questions are actually answerable if you’ve played the game, incidentally. I could not, for example, hazard a guess about why the Red Testament’s knowing about the situation would prompt the Blue Testament to proclaim that he’s one scary guy.

Anyway, do you see what I mean here? Thanks to the excessively vague and ambiguous dialogue here, the player gleans almost no information whatsoever from this scene. About the only pieces of info related to the game’s plot that an audience can safely gather from this is that there is a “princess” of some sort inside the coffin, it/she has something to do with the Testaments’ plot, and, most memorably, the Testaments are sinister dudes planning things secretly (which was already established previously in the Xenosaga series, so there’s no need to establish that anyway). This scene will be almost entirely forgotten by the time the player reaches the point of the game where its relevance can be shown, largely because there’s so little about it that we can grasp onto and understand, and when the plot’s ready to do so, the situation this scene is relevant to will be described much more comprehensibly, meaning that this scene is meaningless and redundant anyway. So it’s as useless as it is poorly communicated on the level of actually conveying plot meaning, which is its primary purpose, and as far as just watchability, it stinks. I mean, look at that dialogue. Who the fuck talks like that, even IF they’re trying to reference secret things without actually saying what they are? It’s like whichever writer put this scene together was using this little gem of translation as a cipher! This is why I hate it when RPGs do this shit, include these scenes of evil guys sinisterly talking in ambiguous terms about plot points that the player isn’t supposed to know yet, because to pull it off, you have to forcefully twist the dialogue into something so completely awkward and bizarre that even when you DO know the plot points they’re vaguely referring to, it still reads like a fucking space alien wrote it!

Scrapping KOS-MOS: So...a subcommittee voted that rather than try to fix the ridiculously advanced combat robot that has proven monumentally effective at combating Gnosis in the past couple years or so after she was damaged protecting a bunch of people from being vaporized by a stray laser during a military demo gone wrong (more on that scene in another rant), they’re gonna scrap her instead? I mean, yeah, I understand that the idea is that the new T-elos model is more advanced and effective and thus will replace the KOS-MOS project, but who the fuck were the morons on that subcommittee? This has to be a committee so short-sighted, brainless, tasteless, and lacking in basic human comprehension that I wouldn’t be half surprised to find out it was also the committee that handed out the Oscars in 2012. When you have a galaxy-wide threat of space monster angel things, you don’t just scrap one well-proven-to-be-effective weapon against them as soon as the next one comes along! The entirety of your galactic civilization is a lot of distance for 1 humanoid robot to protect, don’t you think? Why the rippin’ flippin’ hell wouldn’t they keep KOS-MOS so they could have 2 effective combat robots dealing with the Gnosis threat instead? I mean, for fuck’s sake, T-elos is still only in development when the subcommittee votes to melt KOS-MOS down; they’re getting rid of her before her replacement is even ready to assume duty! It’s not even like it would be difficult to repair her after her loss during the military demo, because when the heroes find her on the scrap heap later on (and by the way, why the hell is she in with all the garbage? You can’t tell me that this kind of super technological hardware wouldn’t be dismantled and disposed of through different means from the rest of the trash), she’s (strangely enough) virtually undamaged and can be booted up with no trouble.

I realize that the real reason for the existence of KOS-MOS and T-elos is, of course, the secret overly complex and weird hoopla about the resurrection of Mary Magdalene and rebooting the universe and so on, not the surface story about them being anti-Gnosis weapons, but it’s pretty safe to assume that since the only ones privy to all of that are the main bad guy Wilhelm, his Testament henchmen, and chaos, the idiots on the subcommittee knew none of that stuff and thought the anti-Gnosis weapon stuff was all on the level. It’s like if you were walking along and happened to see a $20 bill on the ground, and after picking it up, you threw out the $10 bill already in your wallet simply because the 20 is better. KEEP THEM BOTH, MORON.

And I think that’s enough for today. I keep thinking that I’m going to stop being able to think of/remember problems with this game and series, and I keep being proven wrong. I’m already halfway done with the next Xenosaga 3 rant as I finish this sentence, so expect to see more soon.

* Yeah, I know I’ve said repeatedly that bows are badass weapons and I’ll stick by that, but that’s in the context of a more traditional RPG setting. In a futuristic setting with lasers and androids and guns and all kinds of other crazy shit, a bow isn’t gonna do shit.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

General RPGs' AMVs 8

It’s that time again!

As always, if you find any of these videos pleasing, be decent enough to hit the Thumbs Up button, and/or even better yet, leave a positive comment. The world has more than enough terrible, clumsy, careless AMVs, and we must cherishingly encourage and gently cradle those few, precious fans capable of creating something worthwhile.


Final Fantasy 8: I Just Wanna Run, by YuniX2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1GYJosKZjM&list=UU_6lJeCDQEqPruQU3rel4EA&index=3&feature=plcp
The music used is I Just Wanna Run, by The Downtown Fiction. This one’s kind of odd, really. YuniX2 crams this AMV full of visual effects (it’s obvious she’s experimenting), and a lot of the time these effects make the video rather neat where it wouldn’t actually be particularly engaging. At the same time, though, like most AMVs containing an overabundance of cinematography and editing tricks, they get to be a little much at times, being distracting or even a bit annoying. And yet, she’s skillful enough at following the music’s beats and flow and matching them to the visual element of the AMV that most of this problem is largely reduced. Ultimately, I think the end product is pretty good, and does deserve some praise.

Final Fantasy 9: I Still Remember You, by SirMichaelValentine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXyrnj2dMPo
The music used is I Still Remember, by Blackmore’s Night. Although it starts to weaken toward the end, this AMV uses the song quite well, letting its soulful tune and singing meld well with the ever-powerful visuals of the game. Nothing to really say beyond that; this is just a generally good video.

Final Fantasy 9: Viva La Vida, by YuniX2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLahbRSo_L4&list=WL7252ED8AF15FA0F7
The music used is Viva La Vida, by Coldplay. More good stuff from YuniX2, this video has her characteristic ability to match scene actions and scene changes very well to the song’s lyrics and tune, used to great effect to make the character of Kuja into an avatar of the singer. This time around it’s basically a video using FF9’s footage to tell the story of the song, and it all works surprisingly well to this effect--Kuja’s actions and expressions and so on work very well with the words and emotions of the deposed ruler whom the song is about, sometimes predictably because Kuja’s generally a good fit since he’s haughty, arrogant, and regal in a self-styled fashion, and sometimes surprisingly because the scenes weren’t really meant to imply what the song does but still work for it nonetheless. While I feel that the latter half of this AMV doesn’t have quite the strength and relevance in its scene selection as the video’s first half, this is a neat, interesting, and of course well-made AMV through and through.


Kingdom Hearts Series: Song of Storms, by Maddy Jayde: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RO2vt_FRdys
The music used is a cover of Song of Storms, from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The cover is performed by LilyPichu, found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKHsN1Nr97E. You may notice I don’t really ever put up any KH AMVs in these little rants. The reason for that is that I generally don’t watch them. Not because they’re never good (although that’s very close to true), but more because of the sheer number of the things--there’s probably twice as many KH AMVs in existence as there are for every other RPG I’ve played put together. But this one happened to show up during my reviewing The Legend of Zelda AMVs (because of the song used), and I find it pretty impressive. It elegantly uses the song to go with its visuals, and the words that Maddy Jayde puts to this tune are very elegant, even beautiful, and they enhance the use of the song with the visuals. This is an AMV that’s actually very good to watch twice--once to take read the lyrics along to the music, and then to watch the video for itself with those lyrics known.


Mass Effect Series: N7, by FatalFrameStudio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gN2W7AGuF98
The music used is Event Horizon, by I am Waiting for You Last Summer. Simple, quite, elegant, powerful, and epic--the song matches Mass Effect very well, and FatalFrameStudio makes the scenes match the song just as well. This is a tribute AMV that captures the events and heart of the Mass Effect series very well, and is a real pleasure to experience.

Mass Effect Series: The Call, by Tales2TellU: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDekS9XtuWo
The music used is The Call, by Regina Spektor. While I can’t say I feel particularly strongly one way or another about the pairing of Female Shepard and Kaiden, this video is a pretty decent one. It’s a little slow and over-emotional, but then so is the song, and overall it does what it intends to, which is to showcase the (potential) love between Kaiden and Shepard, fitting them to the song and fitting the song to them.


Valkyrie Profile 1: Jar of Hearts, by SarcasmYAY: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vvmXduUHePg&list=WL7252ED8AF15FA0F7
The song used is Jar of Hearts, by Christina Perri. This is a very small one, but I think it accomplishes the feeling and ideas that it sets out to, and it cuts from the song well, so it doesn’t leave you feeling like it’s supposed to continue. The creator works well with the slow, heavy tone of the song, knowing how to effectively let the game’s video run its course, but also employing good scene selection when necessary, and there’s no denying that the lyrics fit well with the characters shown and backstory of Valkyrie Profile 1. It’s very rare to find such a brief AMV that doesn’t feel like it’s missing something, AND has some skill and meaning to it, but SarcasmYAY’s given us a great example of the term “short but sweet” with this one.


The World Ends with You: Fooled by Your Emptiness, by Yodizzle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iifyQqI3RCE&list=WL7252ED8AF15FA0F7
The music used is a remix of Room for Happiness, by Kaskade. The remix is also done by Kaskade. While I am reluctant to give credit to any individual who willingly calls him- or herself “Yodizzle,” this is a definite winner. The song coordinates with the visuals well, lending and combining its meaning and emotion with that of the game itself, and the scene editing helps to emphasize this connection. Yodizzle adds to the theme with dialogue taken from the game, emphasizing the meanings of the song, the game, and the amalgamation that is this AMV, and does so expertly, inserting the dialogue in when it can have great impact, while at the same time carefully avoiding letting it distract from or drown out the song. Good, good stuff, and it’s a nice change of pace to have a quality AMV whose song is slow and gently takes its time.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

General RPGs' Clear Data Bonuses

I am generally a big fan of Clear Data Bonuses.

The skinny on Clear Data Bonuses, for those who don’t already know: Sometimes, when a sequel is made to a game, that sequel will provide a bonus to the player if the player has a saved file from the game’s predecessor. Baldur’s Gate 2, for example, can be played using a saved game from Baldur’s Gate 1, which will allow you to use the same character (or characters) in BG2 as you played in BG1, and start the game with higher levels and the opportunity to pick up a few of the items you had in BG1 again (in fact, one of BG2’s best pieces of equipment can only be created by using items carried over in this way). A few of the player’s decisions in BG1 will be reflected over the course of BG2’s plot, as well, if I recall correctly, although only in minor ways. In this way, players who put the time and effort into playing the first Baldur’s Gate to its finish are rewarded with bonuses that reflect their efforts (more experienced characters and their previous actions reflected). A surprising number of games have Clear Data Bonuses in one way or another, too. Arc the Lad, Xenosaga, Suikoden, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Baldur’s Gate, and many more series utilize this idea. I think Suikoden 2 was the first to come up with it, but I can’t honestly say I know that for sure.

It’s a great idea, really, one that generally benefits both the game’s players AND its creators. The positives for the players are obvious--a gratifying bonus to their new game experience that rewards them for playing previously, vindicating the dozens of hours they invested in the previous game. Not only are the bonuses typically enjoyable, but it makes the gamers feel like their patronage and dedication* mattered, and were appreciated by the game’s makers. And on the other side, it benefits the developers because it fosters a bit of good will between them and their audience,** and more immediately relevant to a company’s interests, it provides that little extra incentive that might just encourage some newcomers to the series to pick up the previous title. It’s also beneficial often to the product itself. Many RPGs have a least a couple moments which are non-linear, where a player’s actions and/or skills cause a deviation in potential plots, and having these potentialities be addressed according to what actually happened instead of simply an assumption*** of what was done improves the product as a whole. Doesn’t it make more sense that the characters of Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2 would start off more powerful if they were super beefed-up in the first game? Doesn’t it make sense that Humphrey wouldn’t just throw away the ultimate armor he’s equipped with in Suikoden 1 by the time Suikoden 2 starts? It doesn’t have to be too much (in fact, it really shouldn’t be--more on that in a moment), so it shouldn’t be much work for the developers to set up, and so I think there’s always reason to make use of Clear Data Bonus options.

That said, there ARE a few guidelines to Clear Data Bonuses that I think should reasonably be followed. The first is that they have to come in moderation, to keep things fair. I don’t think it’s right to give a previous game’s Clear Data too huge a bonus, particularly regarding the current game’s story and characters. What I mean here is that if a gamer’s choices in the previous game are going to make an impact on what happens in the new game, that impact has to be mildly limited. Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2 and Dragon Age 2 are good examples of this, I think. In addition to giving the player a few special accessories for each optional boss beaten in SMTDDS1 and some stat bonuses and such according to the strength of the characters in the SMTDDS1’s Clear Data save file, SMTDDS2 reflects the dialogue choices of SMTDDS1 by having, at the end of the game, the character of Roland replaced with Heat instead, if the player chose certain statements during the course of both games.**** Dragon Age 2 uses DA1’s save files in much bigger ways, often referencing the events of DA1 in its main plot and using many of the player’s choices in DA1 to unlock/alter several sidequests. These changes and additions are significant enough to be enjoyable and worthwhile to the game’s story, but they ultimately don’t have any real bearing on DA2’s main story--its core plot proceeds basically as it would without that save file. So what you have with Dragon Age 2 and Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2 is a great balance--the storytelling aspects of the games are beneficially added to for the player who gets a Clear Data Bonus, but not to the point where a new player who doesn’t have that bonus is unfairly stuck with an incomplete experience.

The next guideline I’d recommend for Clear Data Bonuses is on the other side of the equation--just as it’s not a great idea to have too MUCH of a bonus, one should also be careful not to have too trivial a bonus, as well. Xenosaga 2 and 3’s Clear Data Bonus, for example, is such a complete joke that I originally planned to make a rant specifically about it. You know what your reward in Xenosaga 2 is for having a cleared Xenosaga 1 save game? You get the option to have KOS-MOS and Ziggy wear swimsuits. That’s it. That’s ALL. If the only reward you’re going to give a player for busting their hump for 40+ hours in your last game is some stupid, completely pointless, incredibly lame semi-fanservice, don’t fucking bother! To make it known that you think THIS is what your audience wants and will appreciate...it’s not just disappointing, it’s insulting! And yeah, I realize there probably WERE some people who liked it, but just because a FEW fans are hormonally-driven morons who apparently don’t know that they could find ACTUAL porn of KOS-MOS very readily available to them with a single Google search, that doesn’t mean that ALL of your audience are easily-amused, slack-jawed drooling fucktards! And then there’s the Clear Data Bonus in Xenosaga 3. While it’s not as insulting to its audience in its nature, it is, believe it or not, even LESS than Xenosaga 2’s. For playing Xenosaga 2 from start to finish, for inflicting on yourself such viciously boring torment as to actually sit through the nonsensical, insane gibberish that comprises its entire plot, you know what your reward in Xenosaga 3 will be? The option to have Shion wear her costume from Xenosaga 1. And that’s it. I mean, that’s IT. There is NOTHING else that is given or changed in Xenosaga 3 other than that one utterly insignificant detail. Again, why did they even BOTHER?*****

Hell, it doesn’t even really make sense. Shouldn’t Xenosaga 2’s Clear Data give an item to change Shion’s clothes to the ones she wore in that game, not its predecessor? Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather see her in the first game’s outfit, as it’s slightly less dumb, but given that Xenosaga 3 has several other appearance-altering clothing, they could’ve just stuck the first game’s clothing item into the game later, or something, and have Xenosaga 2’s save file unlock that game’s awful outfit instead, have it be more appropriate. I know it doesn’t matter much, but it still doesn’t make that much sense.

Hey, you know what might have been a much better Clear Data Bonus for Xenosaga 3? Clothing for Shion that DIDN’T look stupid.

One last guideline I’d give to any company looking to inject a Clear Data Bonus into their sequel: Actually make it work right. Really, basic functionality should be an obvious necessity for ANY aspect of a game, but stupid programming mistakes do sometimes happen regardless. On this guideline, my angry gaze descends, as it has so often in the last year, once more on Bioware. In Mass Effect 2, one of the many sidequests that were unlocked by a saved game from ME1 was glitched. In ME1, Commander Shepard may come across an NPC named Conrad Verner, who is an amusing, yet also annoying, fanboy of Shepard. Shepard has the option to either gently encourage Verner away from getting himself killed by trying to emulate Shepard, or to shove a gun in his face and insult him. Mass Effect 2 is glitched in that it won’t read the save data right, and always concludes that Shepard went with the latter option. Thus, no matter what happened in ME1, Conrad will always mention in ME2 that Shepard shoved a gun in his face and made him feel pathetic, even if that wasn’t the case. It kinda invalidates the entire idea of having a previous game’s save data make a difference if a programming error keeps the save data from making a difference, wouldn’t you say?

Does that example seem small and unimportant? It is! Which is why I have another one. And whaddaya know, it’s another error by Bioware. Apparently lacking the basic human trait of being intelligent enough to learn from past mistakes, Bioware accidentally programmed Dragon Age 2 in such a way that if the main character of DA1 romanced Leliana, DA2 would never recognize it and instead proceed under the assumption that Leliana and the Grey Warden never hooked up. In fact, the game wouldn’t recognize the romance flags for any of the DA1 love interests! This is definitely more than some NPC sidequest, here. The romantic subplots of DA1 were pretty major aspects of character interactions, and let’s face it, most Dragon Age players really enjoy and get invested in the love stories that they have their main character pursue. You certainly may recall that I thought the romances involving Zevran and Alistair in DA1 were worthwhile, and that I really enjoyed the one for Leliana. In fact, the romance between the Grey Warden and Leliana is, at the time of writing this, on my Top 10 RPG Romances list! So because of a careless glitch, the entire romance of DA1, so personally important to so many players, is erased from existence in DA2. It’s especially bad for Leliana, at least to me, which is why I mention her specifically. She just shows up in DA2, with no explanation of why she’s fooling around as a church spy ninja instead of being with the DA1 protagonist, as the end of the game SAID was the case. And what makes it worse for her than for the others is because unlike other returning DA1 characters in DA2, Leliana’s also a part of Dragon Age 2’s (horrible) ending, which means that on top of all the other lousy crap the player’s had to go through during DA2’s finale, said player also then gets a quick reminder that he or she still has no earthly idea what Leliana’s doing here.

Anyway, that’s about it for the guidelines for Clear Data Bonuses I’d give. Don’t give so much as to be unfair to new players, don’t make the bonus so small as to be trivial, and for Arek the Absolute’s sake, make sure it actually works. Despite the few bad apples I’ve mentioned here, though, the majority of cases where an RPG includes Clear Data Bonuses that I’ve encountered have been very positive, and I give a big round of kudos to the RPG genre and its many developers for coming up with and almost always properly executing this very cool idea.

* Yes, dedication. Yeah, it’s only a video game, but we’re still talking (in the case of RPGs, at least) literal days’ worth of time put into it. We’re not talking about some platformer you can power through in 6 or fewer hours.

** And make no mistake, good will IS important--you foster enough of it early on one way or another, and you’ll have a customer for life. There is a significant number of people on the Bioware forums, for example, that are as angry about Bioware’s failures with The Old Republic, Dragon Age 2, and Mass Effect 3’s ending as anyone else, yet STILL say they’re sticking with the company and pre-ordering its next title (Dragon Age 3) because they have faith that Bioware’ll turn it all around and stop being arrogant, incompetent nitwits. A lot of these optimistic fools are the hardcore, entrenched fans that Bioware earned in its distant-to-middling past, when the development of products like the Baldur’s Gate games, Knights of the Old Republic 1, and Mass Effect 1, among others, showed that the company actually gave a shit about its art and its audience. Every indication of the past few years suggests that these days of Bioware’s humble dignity are gone forever, but these fans’re still there, weathering the shitstorm. That is the power of good will.

*** Example: Game A has a secret, optional character. Without Clear Data Bonus use, Game B, a sequel to Game A, will likely just assume that the secret character was recruited, and tell its story under that assumption. But if Game B uses Clear Data from Game A, Game B may be able to set up 2 separate paths of storytelling, showing what differences, if any, it makes to the plot for Game A’s secret character to have been recruited. Game B then becomes a more complete storytelling experience, accounting for a continuation of Game A’s story in ALL aspects.

**** Why you would WANT this, of course, is beyond me. While I have a certain sympathy for Heat’s character given the origin of his flaws, he’s still a huge jerk.

***** Okay, actually, according to Television Tropes, there IS one extra benefit of a previous save file for Xenosaga 2 and 3. Apparently, it can give the characters in the new game a few extra levels, but it’s barely anything. I never even noticed it myself, in either game, and if Television Tropes is reliable (and I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t be; I don’t think that many people care enough to give misinformation about something this unimportant), it appears that you only got like 4 or 5 extra levels in Xenosaga 2 and 3 for maxed levels in the previous game. Frankly, a ratio of 1 extra level to every 20 or so in the previous game is so small that I’m still gonna stand by my statement that it’s nothing.