Monday, October 28, 2013

Knights of the Old Republic 2's Restored Content Mod

You know, I just loved Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords. It’s powerful and compelling, taking the already awesome Star Wars universe and adding incredible layers of wisdom and exploration of human nature to it. No, that’s not quite right--KotOR2 doesn’t really add that wisdom, that analysis of the human spirit, to Star Wars, so much as it opens our eyes and makes us realize that it was already there. Through this game’s commentary on The Force and its ways, we find an intuitive understanding of heroism, cowardice, ambition, arrogance, admiration, leadership, of the power of personal and spiritual connections between people and groups and the echoes of actions great and small, and much, much more.

There’s really only one major problem with the game: it was never quite finished.

Oh, KotOR2 has a beginning and an end, to be sure, and it’s (mostly) playable from start to finish, so in certain technical terms. And it’s not like the tragedy that is Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader,* either; its storytelling pace and quality stays pretty consistent throughout the game, save for its finale. But it’s apparent as you play through KotOR2 that it’s just plain missing things. Most notable are a resolution to the subplot involving HK-47 and the HK-50 droids, and the fact that the game’s finale left too much unexplained and had over half the party suddenly absent (in fact, KotOR2’s ending would likely have made my Worst Endings list if it didn’t have a rather great and at least minimally satisfactorily conclusive conversation with Kreia at its very conclusion). Beyond these large, glaring absences, however, there are plenty of times in KotOR2 that feel like they’re missing something, dialogue or actions here and there that might make the general flow of exposition go more smoothly. There’s also a ton of bugs in KotOR2, and it sometimes just handles rather clumsily. All in all, it adds up to one obvious conclusion: the game was released prematurely, with much of its story content cut and without enough testing. It’s always been a damn tragedy in my eyes that this terrific RPG was rushed to shelves before it was ready, and I’ve always wondered just how great it could have been if its developers had just had the time they needed to properly finish it.

Well, I still don’t know the answer to that query, but thanks to the The Sith Lords Restored Content Mod, I at least have a much better idea.

The TSL Restored Content Mod, which can be found at, is an absolute, undiluted Godsend for anyone who appreciated KotOR2’s many and sizable virtues. To start with, it’s easy enough to install and get working. I know this to be true because I managed get it running myself, and when it comes to computers, my intellectual prowess is at about the same level as I would expect from, say, the lovechild of Elmer Fudd and Sarah Palin, if said lovechild hung around Dan Slott and Daniel Tosh on a daily basis, was privately tutored by Peter Griffin, and idolized Homestar Runner. If I managed to install the damn thing correctly, it’s fairly safe to say that absolutely anyone can do it.

More important than ease of use, though, is what the mod actually does. First of all, like any good major improvement mod, it cleans the game up considerably, fixing a metric fuckton of bugs and other, more minor problems (like spelling errors, or coloring issues). I’ve seen buggier games than Knights of Old Republic 2, but certainly not many (and to be fair, most of the problems of Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, and Mass Effect 3’s Multiplayer were eventually fixed (or, occasionally in ME3’s case, lazily covered up rather than actually corrected...whatever works, though, I guess)). So making the game properly playable is by itself quite a nice thing.

But that by itself wouldn’t be enough to warrant a rant. What makes this mod so awesome is that it does just what its title implies: it restores content. It restores a LOT of it. As in, tons of lines of dialogue and dialogue cutscenes that were either cut or simply didn’t activate correctly are brought back into the game, and even some entire conversations. Considering that it’s the characters and plot that really make or break an RPG, that’s gonna be a huge deal for any RPG, but it’s even greater and more important a restoration in a game like KotOR2, where so much of its excellence rests in the insights and nuances of its characters’ dialogue. I’d give KotOR2 another playthrough just to hear Kreia’s restored lines, let alone all the others’ additional content.

In addition to that, a great many parts and qualities of the game’s events and quests have been fixed, restored, and/or added as originally intended. For example, the defense of the settlers on Dantooine is now much more in depth. Before, it was basically just a preparation phase, an underwhelming non-interactive view of the first wave of battle, and then a cut straight to the final fight between your characters and the invader. Now you have a part to play in the battle from start to finish, and it all feels far more real and complete. It’s a real treat as you go through the game and keep running across one thing after another that’s been touched up, added upon, or restored out of nothingness.

And of course, it’s definitely worth noting that this mod completely restores the entire HK-50 dungeon and events, AND adds a heap of the cut content from the finale back in, allowing for a proper resolution to the stalemate between the Remote and G0-T0, giving the previously missing crew members actual parts to play, and generally improving substantially upon KotOR2’s ending to make it far more cohesive and satisfying.

I’ve encountered restoration mods before, and they’ve been great, a way for fans to help realize the full ambitions of games’ creators that for whatever reason weren’t complete with the game’s release. There’s a mod for Planescape: Torment called the Unfinished Business mod which adds a few cut quests and dialogues that are enjoyable, which is well-known and respected enough that it’s even officially suggested by that you install it, for example. And I’ve mentioned before how great the Fallout 2 Restoration Project is, how it’s almost like playing Fallout 2 new all over again. Well, I’d say that the TSL Restored Content Mod is even better than that, providing so much more of the rich, deep, insightful content of KotOR2 and making the entire experience of playing the game feel far more complete. If you were at all a fan of Knights of the Old Republic 2 the first time around, or even just disappointed with it because it felt incomplete, then it’s definitely time to dust your disc off (or go purchase it anew from Steam; it’s only like $10) and give it another playthrough with the TSL Restored Content Mod. It’s fans to the rescue of a great game in the best way.

* Obscure old PC RPG by the makers of the original Fallout games. By all appearances early in the game, it was going to be pretty damn cool, but after a little while of playing it basically just becomes a semi-plotless slogfest because the developer went out of business during the game’s development and had to either get it out the door ASAP or never publish it at all.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Xenosaga 3's Kevin

Before we get into the rant today, I have a question for you all. I apparently have the option to allow ads on this blog, from which I would presumably make a small, very small, very very small, veeeeeeery very very very very VERY very very ve-he-he-herrrrrrrry small amount of money. Would you, my loyal reader(s), object at all to my having ads on this site? If no one cares at all, I may as well go for that extra nickel per year, but if anyone has even the slightest wish against it, I’d rather just skip it. Lemme know.

And now, the rant.

I actually had thought I’d be wrapping up my long line of Xenosaga rants by now, but somebody actually said that they like them, so on we go with them. Granted, that means I’m basically only catering to a single person by continuing, but on the other hand, that’s still me reaching out to like 25% of my total readership, so this is totally legit. Besides, it’s not like Xenosaga is running out of flaws to point out and criticize any time soon.

Speaking of those flaws, what shall I speak of today? Perhaps I could question why the hell Virgil is one of the Testaments--he’s a guy who dies an hour into Xenosaga 1 and has a very small and only vaguely tangentially-related history with protagonist Shion, so why the hell is he rubbing elbows with the likes of Albedo, the main villain of Xenosaga 1 and 2, Voyager, the main villain of Xenosaga: Pied Piper, and Kevin, the guy whose legacy is the core of the series from the very start to the very end? Or I could take to task the Professor’s explanation of the hero group’s (supposed) journey to the past, the dangers it poses, and how to fix it, for playing faster and looser with science and time travel than a Star Trek engineer writing a Doctor Who episode. Perhaps I could rant about Past-Virgil’s bizarre and utterly reasonless decision to sacrifice himself for Present-Shion and her friends by holding off a small group of enemies that they had already outrun and could easily defeat anyway. Or maybe I should just do a rant about how the looped repetition of loudspeaker announcements in the background of several areas of the game need to SHUT THE FUCK UP BECAUSE THEY’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY, DEAR SWEET CELSIUS ON A SANDWICH I HEARD YOU THE FIRST TIME YOU ANNOUNCED THAT THE SECURITY LEVEL HAD BEEN SWITCHED TO “A,” STOP TELLING ME EVERY 10 SECONDS!

Er, sorry. My mind seems to have a low breaking point for annoying, useless, repeated vocals. Still, having an announcement for where the Omega Res Novae demonstration’s being held being drilled into your head every 15 seconds as you wander around a facility has gotta be annoying for just about anyone.

Anyway! Let’s mix it up today and do a rant about something loathsome, but which may be so by design. Today, I will rant about Kevin.

Kevin Winnicot is a total dick.

Really, Kevin is just a tool. A huge tool. A tremendous tool. A tool of galactic proportions. It may have been intentional on the part of Xenosaga’s writers to have him be as unlikeable as he is, but I’d be inclined to say that they probably were shooting for a sympathetic villain with Kevin, at least partially. And if that’s the case, they failed big time. And here, not necessarily in order of magnitude, are the reasons why:

Reason Number 1: Kevin is a villain. After his death at the hands of archetype KOS-MOS (she must have known he was a douche even before being properly conscious), Kevin was brought back to life to be the Red Testament, right-hand jerk to Xenosaga’s main villain Willhelm. During his time as Red Testament during the events of Xenosaga 2 and especially 3, Kevin uses Shion’s growing confusion, huge emotional turmoil, and old love for him to his advantage, cruelly manipulating her and stoking the fires of her mental breakdown so that he can get her to join him in his scheme the universe, I think, like Willhelm is planning, only Kevin wants to do it so that it’s (somehow) only him and Shion in the universe. At least, that’s what I THINK his intentions are; it’s not like the game makes it easy to suss out what’s going on, why it’s happening, and what the intentions are behind it. There’re times during the game’s finale when you couldn’t understand the dialogue less if it was all in Al Bhed.

So essentially, Kevin’s out to end the current universe and as a result kill every person currently living in it, which is a typical dick move for a villain, but even further, he wants to remake the universe so that it’s only for 2 people. That’s actually a case of being a bigger jerk than the main villain of the whole series--Wilhelm’s at least going through his many machinations and manipulations for the misguided meaning of somehow salvaging the universe by ending it and resetting it or whatever. Wilhelm’s at least not out for a personal, extremely selfish vendetta, and while his plan also kills all things currently living, at least it’s not also with the intention of barring any other people from ever living in the universe again.

Oh, yeah, and the reason that Kevin’s a villain is more proof of what a giant tool he is. See, as a child, Kevin’s mother died as a result of some catastrophe (Gnosis attack, if I recall right), and used her last moments to help Kevin get away safely. Since that moment, Kevin has hated the entire universe, and it’s from that hate that his desire to destroy it utterly springs. Okay, fine. It’s a short-sighted and stupid reaction to have, but nothing unusual in RPGs for a villain, so I won’t consider that by itself as a count of jerk-itude. BUT, during the course of his planning to assist Wilhelm in ending the current universe, Kevin meets and falls in love with Shion. Now, logically speaking, if his original reason for wanting to destroy the current universe is that he feels it’s irredeemable and terrible, as is stated in the game, then shouldn’t his reasoning change a little once he meets and falls in love with Shion? I mean, Shion, like everything else, is a part of and natural result of this current universe. Shouldn’t the fact that he really, really likes this particular part and result of the universe be a fairly obvious tip-off that there are some parts of the universe so significantly good that they’re worth not destroying?

I mean, he wants to save Shion from the end of the universe, so logically speaking, he must think that she’s good enough that nothing should be done to destroy her. But then why is he letting everything ELSE be destroyed? You can point out that in his whole life, she was the only good thing, but that doesn’t make sense as a reason to destroy the whole universe and everyone in it besides her, because Kevin has not BEEN everywhere in the universe and interacted with EVERY person. He cannot say with any certainty that there is NO ONE else out there as good and worth preserving as Shion. To assume that she’s singular in that regard is foolish--in a colonized galaxy with trillions (or maybe more) of individuals residing in it, it’s statistically nigh impossible that, if there really were only 1 single person as good and worth preserving as Shion, he would just HAPPEN across that 1 single person out of trillions. The only reasonable assumption to make would be that the universe was capable of producing people like Shion in a quantity rare enough that Kevin would only ever have a chance to meet 1 in his lifetime, BUT common enough that he WOULD actually have that chance. And don’t tell me not to bring rational logistics into this--Kevin is a scientist, a brilliant one. The basics of logical thought processes and statistical understandings are a core necessity for a huge portion of his life. So if he gave his plans any real thought once Shion’s in the picture, if he had the basic intelligence and human decency to give the extermination of trillions a real, actual second thought at any point, he would almost certainly realize that basic law of averages indicates that his destroying the universe would doom a tremendous amount of people whose goodness and worth are comparable to Shion’s, and since he can’t bear to let Shion be destroyed by his plans, he shouldn’t be able to go through with a plan that would destroy them as well.

But Kevin attempts to go through with his plans, so we can only conclude that he is a stupid tool who gives no real thought to his actions even though they affect countless people’s lives. What an ass.

Reason Number 2: Kevin didn’t want to let Febronia save Virgil’s life. He argues against it and is rather annoyed when Febronia does it anyway. Now I’ll grant you, there’s reason to at least hesitate before saving the life of an enemy soldier, and Kevin brings up some piddly little reasons why Febronia’s actions will be mildly risky for her in regards to how the higher-ups on their side will see this. Still, it’s a bit cold and mean-spirited to have a good Samaritan bring in a dying person, and to just shake your head as you watch the man bleed out and say “No, sorry, against company policy.” Febronia comes up with a perfectly plausible way for her to save Virgil without putting herself or others at any particularly great risk, and Kevin is still against it, only begrudgingly letting her do what she wants while wiping his hands clean of the matter. Since she has effectively assuaged all of Kevin’s legitimate concerns, he really shouldn’t have any problem with her making the choice to save a human being’s life, unless Kevin just plain dislikes the idea of not letting people die in agony. But he nonetheless does still have a problem with it, and so, he is a douche.

Reason Number 3: Kevin is a dick to little girls. We see the first time he meets Shion, which is when she’s 10 years old and he's a young man (the game later sort of implies that he loved her from the moment he saw her, incidentally, which is kind of creepy, not to mention very contradictory to this scene, as we’re about to see). Little Shion is trying to grow some flowers outside the “hospital” (actually a research facility) in which her mother is a patient. Her reasoning is that when her mother wakes up, Shion wants her to be able to see pretty flowers from her room’s window, and her dad would be happy to see them, too. Very cute and sweet, just the sort of childlike kindness you’d expect from a loving daughter.

Kevin’s reaction is different. Kevin decides that the appropriate response to witnessing this is to start a philosophical argument with Shion about why the world and everyone in it is horrible, and so doing nice things for other people is pointless.

Seriously. Every time I watch this scene, I can’t believe what I’m seeing. This guy, age range 18 to 20-something, is picking a fight with a 10-year-old. The dude is seriously engaging in a philosophical debate with the intention of relentlessly attacking a preteen’s innocent perspective. I just...I can’t...what do I say here, guys? How does one possibly convey in mere words how unbelievably pathetic it is for a grown man to actually make a serious intellectual assault on the sensibilities and moral perspective of a small child? This is a level of dickery beyond the usual mortal realm; this is the douchebaggery of the gods.

And that’s just the basics of what he’s doing. Let’s examine the details. Not only is he picking a fight with a kid, but he’s doing so with the intention of convincing her that the world and its people are defined only by conflict and struggle, about how pointless this is because life is only about encountering and destroying others in order to survive and have your way and blah blah blah Look At Me I Read Thomas Hobbes Aren’t I Special, which, he says, makes acts of kindness meaningless. He’d be an asshole just trying to convince a fellow adult of that, but for the love of Palutena, he’s trying to tear apart a little girl’s innocence! What kind of asswipe is such a miserable piece of shit that he has to spread his lousy perspective to children? As a bonus, he also tries to convince her that the her father won’t care for the flowers, which really has to just be dickery for the sake of dickery, since there’s no reason that Kevin, as Shion’s dad’s assistant, would know more about what the guy personally enjoys than the guy’s own daughter. And let’s not forget what she did to provoke this attack--she was trying to make flowers grow. So she could make her sick mom happy! It’s not like Kevin doesn’t know this intention, either; she tells him quite plainly what her intentions are. It ain’t like she’s shoving her innocent, kind ideas in his face or anything. She’s just minding her own business, and he starts this shit. Unbefuckinglievable.

Oh and hey, here’s some fun food for thought. Kevin’s perspective of how terrible the universe and its people are stems from the loss of his mother. Little Shion’s doing all this as a nice gesture for her sick mother. Nice empathy there, jackass.

Thankfully, Little Shion manages to withstand the slings and arrows of Kevin’s douchebaggery in this scene, but that’s not the only moment where Kevin is a dick to her. A little later on, the flowers Little Shion’s been growing get trampled by the hustling of soldiers as they prepare for the area to become a war zone, since their enemy, the Galactic Federation, has just begun to make its all-out attack on the city. Kevin happens by, and finds the poor kid weeping profusely as she kneels over them, heartbroken that all the work she put into making something nice for her parents has been so carelessly destroyed. It’s the kind of simple, sad loss for a child that gets to ya. Makes me feel like shedding a tear for the kid myself. What’s Kevin do? Why, he stops to gloat, of course. He reminds her that he told her not to bother, and reiterates that this won’t make anyone happy, before telling her not to bother wasting her time trying to grow any more.

CONGRATULATIONS, ASSHOLE, YOU WON THE ARGUMENT AND HURT THE FEELINGS OF A CHILD. Thank God you had nothing better to do, like maybe help prepare for the imminent attack, so that you could take the time to rub the failure a heartbroken child in her tear-streaked face. BIG MAN.

Oh, yeah, and here’s the kicker about this scene: Little Shion’s resilient enough that she refuses to give up, so she announces she’s going to go to Febronia and get more flower seeds. Kevin allows her to run off.

Oh, what’s that? You aren’t sure how that’s a moment of dickery? Well let me rephrase that. Kevin allows her, a young child, to run off alone in a war zone as a major military battle is beginning.

What a fucking tool.*

Reason Number 4: The shit he puts Shion through. You know, for someone who claims to love Shion more than anything else and never want to hurt her, Kevin sure doesn’t have much of a problem of putting Shion through absolute fucking hell. On the night that Shion’s mother and father were murdered before her eyes, Little Shion experienced such unimaginable mental pain that the magnitude of her suffering actually tore the fabric of time and space a new asshole and summoned the Gnosis. She was just a child at the time, and blocked out much of the details later, so she didn’t realize the magnitude of what she’d inadvertently done.

Kevin’s plans for rebuilding the universe for just him and Shion, plans which he’s convinced himself are in essence “saving” Shion, involve having Shion relive this night. Not just remember it, but relive it. That’s why Shion’s sent back in time (sort of but not really), so that she can be on the scene as an adult to see her recently murdered mother and father, and to watch her younger self be so overcome with pain that her screams of anguish call forth lost souls to ravage the galaxy. That is an actual, significant part of Kevin’s plans--to force the woman he supposedly loves to relive the worst night of her life, to once more feel and understand what the game tells us was the most powerful suffering of any human being in the universe, with the added bonus of her being mentally aware enough this time to understand that she’s responsible for calling forth the Gnosis. I find myself once again staggered by how unable I am to find the words for this level of douchebaggery.

Oh, and it’s against this backdrop that he decides to reveal himself, step back into her life after pretending to be dead for, what, 7 years? AND he drops the bombshell of her connection to KOS-MOS draining her life (a claim that’s never verified, and kind of just dropped fairly shortly afterwards). So let’s just review here: Causes Shion to relive the greatest pain in her life, the greatest pain in all the universe. Blows her mind in the process because she now knows that it’s her fault the Gnosis are destroying the universe. Further wreaks havoc on her mental state by revealing that he’s still alive, AND working for the same team as her enemies. And reveals that her connection to KOS-MOS, the strongest and most trusted personal relationship Shion has by this point, is killing her. It’s after all of this happens that he says he wants her to join him. That’s what all this was leading up to. His plan to get Shion on his side is to cause her to spiral into a complete and total, incredibly painful mental breakdown, reduce her to an emotional shambles so she won’t have enough shards of coherent thought left over to resist him.

Best boyfriend ever. I cannot believe I’m saying this, I really can’t, but I think Kevin Winnicot actually surpasses Edward Cullen in the Emotionally-Unhealthy Romance department.

Reason Number 5: Allen has a point. At one point, Allen berates Kevin, saying that rather than having a strong will, as Kevin clearly thinks he possesses, Kevin and the rest of the Testaments actually lack resolve. He points out that they all accepted and used the great power given to them by Wilhelm only to run away from the reality of death. For all of Kevin’s lofty plans and arrogant talk, he’s still just a coward terrified by the shadow of the Reaper. It’s a pretty accurate assessment. And as he’s presiding over the pain and deaths of many others because he can’t accept the simple facts of life, causing others to suffer the same thing that he himself is trying to escape, so do I declare him (and the other Testaments) a tool once more over, on grounds of malicious and cowardly hypocrisy.

Reason Number 6: The shit he puts Shion through, part 2. I’m still a little hazy on whether dying at the hands of the KOS-MOS prototype was or was not part of Kevin’s plan, since dying is a prerequisite to becoming a Testament and gaining the power that comes with that position but otherwise it didn’t seem like something he’d intended. Nonetheless, intentional or not, he wound up being resurrected by Wilhelm to continue with his plans resurrect to Mary Magdalene and gather Anima and activate Zarathustra and all that jazz, and he never once told Shion that he was back from the dead. For...what is it, 7 years between his death and the opening of Xenosaga 1? Can’t remember. We’ll say it was 7 years. For 7 years, Kevin’s death has haunted Shion, the death of the man she loved, the end of the only time in her life that she can remember being happy. Kevin couldn’t just once in all that time have popped in and let her know that he wasn’t actually dead? Couldn’t once have alleviated at least that one scar of the past that she’s carried in silence?

Of course not. Because if he’d done that, he couldn’t have as effectively broken her mind later by showing up, and that would’ve made it harder to save her, since you can’t save anyone without first severely damaging them emotionally! Ass.

Reason Number 7: He beats up Allen. Now yeah, Allen’s standing up to him and calling Kevin out on being a bad influence on Shion and saying that Shion shouldn’t go with him, but here’s the fact of the matter--Allen couldn’t have done a thing to stop Kevin from walking off with Shion. He’s incapable of harming Kevin or physically stopping him, so any violence on Kevin’s part is strictly gratuitous.

Uh, yeah, awesome, Kev, way to show how much of a man you are. Beat the guy who isn’t actually a threat to you at all (Allen even SAYS that he’s powerless right before the beatdown commences) into the ground. You’re, like, so totally tough and manly, using your superpowers to pummel the completely helpless. What’s your encore? You gonna go to a local nursing home and smack around some bedridden retirees? Maybe get into a fist-fight with a week-old kitten? Match wits with a 10-year-old? Oh, no, wait, you already did that one. You’re a real champ, Kevin.

Oh, and hey, that’s not all there is to his mercilessly pounding the weak and defenseless Allen. As Kevin is finishing up with his completely needless beatdown, he begins to taunt Allen about it! Just knocking someone who can’t fight back senseless isn’t enough for Kevin Winnicot, apparently. No, he’s got to gloat about it, too, because apparently he’s no more mentally mature than some random middle school hoodlum. And he’s doing it like it was some sort of significant victory for himself! News flash, Kevin: you won that fight because you had a superior, superhuman power that you acquired as a gift from Wilhelm! You didn’t earn any of that strength yourself! Jeez! It’s like if someone handed you a baseball bat, girded you in a full set of plate mail, and injected you with Captain America super serum for good measure, and then told you to beat the crap out of Moss from The IT Crowd. If you taunt your victim in a fight that one-sided, that makes you a titanic tool! Which is precisely what Kevin is. Sheesh, what a prick.

Reason Number 8: Yet more of the shit he puts Shion through. Rather than accept Shion’s final choice to leave him, he decides to kill her friends, because they’re “confusing” her. First of all, way to respect the wishes of the woman you supposedly love, asshole. God knows she couldn’t possibly make a decision for herself, right? Secondly, yeah, THAT’S sure as hell gonna make the situation better, you idiot. I mean, murdering people Shion cares about right before her eyes in order to make her want to be with you? How could that possibly backfire? And lastly, you just have to love the hypocrisy of it all. Kevin won’t accept her decision because THEY’RE confusing her? I’m sorry, Kevin, buddy, but refresh my memory--when was it, exactly, that you first made your bid for Shion abandoning her friends and coming over to your side? Wasn’t it right after you’d done everything in your power to give her a mental breakdown? I’m pretty sure that as far as “confusion” goes, it doesn’t get much stronger than reliving the horrific and savage deaths of your parents as you learn that you called forth the destruction of the world and also just found out that your most trusted personal connection is killing you and your dead boyfriend isn’t dead and now has evil superpowers. You didn’t seem to object to her making decisions in confusion THEN, when it would work in your favor! Hypocritical prick.

Speaking of hypocrisy, the whole Kevin Is A Dick package ties up neatly for me with this one line, spoken by Mr. Winnicot to Shion: “I don’t want to hurt you either.”

What do you think you’ve been doing this whole time you moron.

As I said before, I’m not sure what Namco’s intention was with Kevin. Did they intentionally make him this much of a tool, wanting the player to hate his lousy stinking guts with a passion? Maybe. If so, great job. But my gut says that they wanted Kevin to be a sympathetic villain, yet another misguided soul whom we would empathize with on some level rather than despise. They tried too hard to emphasize his supposed love for and devotion to Shion, they portrayed his past moments with her too positively, and they had him too honorably betray Wilhelm and die for her for it to be anything but Namco attempting to make Kevin out to be a misguided but ultimately sympathetic antagonist. And if that’s the case, then they failed, big time. Because his tiny moments of decency are utterly swallowed up in the huge tidal waves of douchebaggery that I mentioned above. Kevin Winnicot is a tool, plain and simple.

* Now, technically speaking, we only see all this stuff with Little Shion as part of the story arc where Shion and company are sent to the past (but secretly aren’t), so technically we’re seeing Past Events as they’d have happened if Present Shion were meddling with them. Still, since this representation of the past is otherwise supposed to be 100% accurate, and since Present Shion’s meddling didn’t seem to cause any significant differences with regards to the interactions of Kevin and Little Shion, AND since we see from Kevin’s recollections later in the game that he does remember meeting Little Shion under those same circumstances, we can very safely assume that all the events as we witness them of Kevin’s interactions with Little Shion are in all significant ways accurate to how it actually happened. So yes, he WAS a dick back then by all logical accounts.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2's Yamato's Folly

Shin Megami Tensei Year continues, but before we get to the rant proper, Imma just plug this Kickstarter project right here: Cosmic Star Heroine. All told, it looks like it'll be a rather creative and fun RPG, so take a look and consider backing it.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled rant.

Honestly, there’s a lot about Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 that doesn’t impress me. I mean, it’s an alright RPG, but come on! “Alright” may be acceptable for a game in some other series, like Final Fantasy, “alright” may even be a tremendous achievement for a few series, like Dragon Quest, but “alright” is just not worthy of the prestigious name of Shin Megami Tensei! What’s the deal, Atlus?

But anyway, there still aren’t that many things about the game that merit outright criticism. Nonetheless, there ARE some, and I AM running an overly critical RPG blog here, so...let’s talk Yamato!

I gotta say off the bat that I don’t much like Yamato. He wants to reshape the present world into a meritocracy, an unequal world where the strong rule absolutely over the weak. Although it’s not precisely like the brutal might-makes-right world that Chiaki wishes to create in SMT3--Yamato’s intention is to maintain a clear and strong society, and the “strong” refers more to individuals who are more skilled, who perform more essential functions than others. A brilliant scientist would, I believe, be a very powerful person in Yamato’s merit-based society, regardless of their physical strength. Though I find this vision of a new world order to be leagues better than Chiaki’s nasty, brutish, and short ideal, it’s still one that I’m philosophically opposed to, and since Yamato stakes so much of his own character depth upon this idea, I can’t help but dislike him as much as I do his meritocracy.

Nonetheless, I’m fairly convinced that his vision’s got some flaws in it beyond what my bias can concoct on its own. The game offers a half-hearted argument against Yamato’s meritocracy on grounds of human equality and how we should all get along and so on, but beyond theoretical social arguments, Yamato’s vision is seriously flawed, for a couple reasons.

The first reason comes from a scene you can witness during the game’s course that’s meant to develop Yamato’s character. It’s actually rather reminiscent of some of the character development of Mitsuru from SMT Persona 3. Yamato and the Protagonist, whose semi-canon name is, I think, Hibiki, happen across some takoyaki, which he views as beneath him, since it is commoner food (good thing he explained, because I sure as hell wouldn’t have known myself). He does try it, however, and immediately finds that it is delicious.

Sadly, that’s more or less all the scene amounts to in the game, save some possible mention later on of his new fondness for takoyaki. I think it was only intended for the humor value. But take a look at this scene more deeply: we have an instance here where Yamato has a predetermined notion that something having to do with the common people, those who he considers beneath him, is bad. But when he actually gives it a chance--the very instant he does!--he finds that his belief was completely wrong, and that there is pleasing merit in this food, this product of the commoners, this representation of the weak! Although surely in a small way, this scene is a very effective metaphor for his views upon the supposedly lower people of the world and as a metaphor shows just how fragile and inaccurate his view, a view based on little to no actual, personal experience, can be! Honestly, it’s fucking tragic that this scene is never built off of later in this direction, because it would have turned this occasion into a strong and worthwhile argument and point of character development. As it is, its lack of impact on the plot and cast simply makes it a lesser shadow of a previous game’s better character and better scene. But the point is still completely reasonable to be inferred--Yamato’s views are flawed by inexperience and his own admission that the weak can provide a product, a service, that he desires.

Far more compelling, however, is my second argument for how the game itself shows the folly of Yamato’s beliefs--that argument being Protagonist Hibiki himself. It is well-established in SMTDS2 that Yamato has spent his life as head of his organization seeking out the best and brightest individuals possible as recruits, those whose skills, abilities, and intellects will be able to serve him best. And it is likewise well-established, by Yamato’s own words, that Hibiki is better and more useful than most, perhaps even all, of the agents that Yamato so carefully selected. Hibiki, who is only a volunteer, not an actual organization member. Hibiki, who Yamato never knew of until this crisis. Hibiki, who comes from the lower rabble that Yamato’s philosophy dismisses.

Question for ya there, Yamato. If you’ve crafted your organization to be as perfect a representation of your philosophy as possible, and the random bystander Hibiki has turned out to have hidden talents that make him better than any individual in your organization (and by a significant margin), doesn’t that sort of, y’know, completely invalidate your idea that the regular, unexceptional people you so casually dismiss can have no worth? You can’t even say Hibiki’s that much of an exception to the rule, because most of his party members are also civilian volunteers, and are more effective than the majority of Yamato’s elites.

Now, there is a seemingly strong argument against this point. You could say that Hibiki actually proves Yamato’s point, because Hibiki only became exceptional once the game’s events are in motion--essentially, he only excels when adversity comes to him, when it becomes a matter of survival, and that could reasonably be inferred to be the sort of circumstances that Yamato’s world order of meritocracy would naturally create.

There’s some good sense to this argument, but one must keep in mind that the dire circumstances of SMT Devil Survivor 2’s events are very different from the ones of Yamato’s meritocracy. Yamato’s meritocracy is shaped from from his view of an ideal world, and as such, the details of how the environment will pressure people to do well or be dominated will be based on his conceptions. Hibiki represents a potential of common people that Yamato has already previously failed to discover through Yamato’s methods of determining merit, so there’s no reason to think that a world based off of the beliefs and mental processes that created those faulty methods would be any less flawed in its assessment of people. If his judgment of merit failed before, and nothing significantly alters that judgment, it will fail again.

Yamato’s philosophy is flawed, flawed not by the game’s intended counter-position of a possible society of equality and share and share alike, but flawed rather by a demonstrable lack of experience and by strong representational evidence. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not unhappy to have his philosophy’s arguments weakened, being that I disagree strongly with it. But what I am unhappy about is that the game doesn’t seem to realize that it’s given itself a good setup to better explore the personal failings of Yamato’s vision of meritocracy, never acknowledges or capitalizes on these pieces of evidence and the arguments inherent within them that I’ve outlined here, but instead offers nothing but theories against the meritocracy that are just as hypothetical and insubstantial as the ones against the other side. Shin Megami Tensei usually humbles me with its subtle nuances of’s a very strange feeling to think that I might actually have noticed a significant avenue of their theme and plot that was apparently, to use the words of another SMT game’s character, outside the bounds of their own conjecture.