Friday, March 28, 2014

Xenosaga 3's Finale

It’s that time again. What time is that? Xenosaga time, that’s what.

What shall I rant about today, I wonder? Despite the dozens and dozens of problems with Xenosaga 3 that I’ve mentioned and criticized in these all-too-regular rants over the past year, there’s still no shortage of flaws both great and minor to choose from. I could analyze the stuff that Virgil says before he fights Shion and company at the church in the past, and point out all the myriad ways that it is poser-intellectual garbled nonsense. I might make critique on how the true explanation for the whole Dicking Around in the Past plot arc of Xenosaga 3 actually makes less sense than completely spontaneous time travel would have. There’s always the fact that for all the hoopla over Betty during that scene in Xenosaga 1, nothing ever actually seems to happen in regards to her. Perhaps I should rant about how no one in the party, not even MOMO of all people, has any sort of reaction whatsoever to the idea of Albedo taking up residence in Jr.’s head?

Nah, you know what? Let’s do something ambitious today. Today, I’m going to look at the finale of Xenosaga 3, and explore every damn thing I can think of that is bad about it. From the moment Shion and company touch down on Michtam, through the final boss fight and the ending, to the moment those credits start to roll, let’s see just how many stupid things Namco managed to cram into the last hours of this trilogy. Things that I haven’t already mentioned in previous rants, at least--I’m not going to go into the many ways that Kevin is revealed to be a complete tool during this time, for example. No sense retreading old ground, and I’ll just work myself into an anger frenzy again.

Facing Off Against Pellegri

Okay, Jin, I know that the Ormus fanatics have done some lousy things for their religion and are bad guys and all that, but really? “History shows that those who speak of the word of God have never represented what is right!”

Uh, way to gloss over a lot of people and history there for an inaccurately over-generalized statement, Jin. That’s the kind of simplistic, black-and-white, close-minded douchebaggery you expect to hear from some raging, poser-intellectual college kid trying to use trendy biases to cover up for his own lack of adequate knowledge and research. Hey, Jin, I’m sure that ordained ministers Martin Luther King Jr. and Fred Rogers would love to hear your no doubt rational and deeply considered reasoning for why they “never represented what is right.” Let’s see what you’ve got, Jin, lay some truth on us!

“All they’ve displayed was deception, falsehood, and aggression!”

Yup, that sure sounds like Mr. Rogers and Martin Luther King Jr. to me. Ass.

Putting aside the philosophical musings of Youtube Atheist Jin,* I’d love for someone to explain to me why Pellegri is so gung-ho about fighting Jin and company to the death once she’s learned that her cause is meaningless and her beliefs are a lie. Because I don’t get it. I mean, sure, fine, I know that kind of revelation is gonna devastate nearly any person, but I’m just not sure I see why she’s so adamantly and suicidally going to do the same thing as she would have done had her beliefs not been shattered.

Maybe if she had absolutely nothing else in her life EVER, then I could see why she’d go through the motions even while knowing their lack of meaning. But we know that Pellegri and Jin had a past together, one that existed outside of her life as a member of Ormus, and Jin’s right THERE. She’s known at least partial happiness and fulfillment in the past with him, an aspect of life unassociated with her religious organization, so couldn’t she just, I dunno, release herself into his custody and see about building a new life? I mean, their past is proof that she has, at some time, in some way, had previous exposure to ideals and a lifestyle beyond those of the belief that’s now kaput, so why can’t she fall back on those? Pellegri’s case is not like the case of Margulis, who we can see and believe has never known any other path. His belief shatters and he has absolutely nothing, has known absolutely nothing else, to fall back upon. Pellegri did have something else once, and the representation of that something else, Jin, is right here in front of her right now. Yes, she did give him up long ago so she could focus on the whole fanatical militaristic cult thing, but still, this isn’t a hopeless situation where she gave up something meaningful for something that didn’t work out and she can’t get that meaningful thing back, because the meaningful thing was a life with Jin, and he’s right there and he doesn’t want her to die so it’s clearly not a door permanently closed to her. Why the devil is she stubbornly insisting on dying for her cause as though she never had anything else and/or has permanently lost the chance for something else?

It’s not like she’s backed into a corner here, either! Neither Jin nor any of his teammates want her to die; guy’s even telling her to bail out as her mech is exploding. The bitch talks about irreversible fate, about how pointless it all is, and most importantly, about how each person walks on their own path and how hers and Jin’s didn’t cross, but it fucking DID before, and it COULD again! If you walk down a path that goes nowhere, you don’t just give up and slit your throat, you just go back and try a different route, dammit! Be fucking SENSIBLE, you nitwit! Or just go ahead and die in your cockpit as your mech robot explodes into flames for no reason whatsoever, instead. Sounds like a plan.

Man, this is the first part of the finale I’ve talked about and I’m already spitting in fury. Efreet help me, this is gonna be more annoying than I thought.

Out and About on Michtam

While they’re wandering the surface of Michtam, Jr. twice questions whether Ziggy’s okay, because he’s being silent and broody. Under normal circumstances, that’s fine. But, see, they’re wandering around in huge robot suits--no one on the team could actually SEE his face so as to notice that he’s troubled. And yeah, a pertinent silence can also be a tip-off, but each time Jr. questions him, he hasn’t been noticeably unresponsive (like, not responding if someone was talking to him, or something like that), he just hasn’t happened to be saying anything. How does Jr. know his lack of talking indicates that he’s conflicted, exactly? MOMO, chaos, and KOS-MOS haven’t been saying much, either, but he never questions them. What is this magical indicator that’s letting Jr. know that Ziggy’s got something on his mind? Is it Ziggy’s “...” text box that pops up every now and then? I don’t think Jr’s supposed to be able to see that, but it’s the only cue he could be taking.

On another note...Jr., what exactly about the giant religious-looking building looks “shady?” All I see is a giant temple-ish building. I know that it actually IS shady in that it apparently has a secret research facility below it, but all it actually looks like is a place of worship. Does Jr. just think religious structures generally look disreputable? Maybe Jin’s not the only randomly irrational religion-hater on the team...

Facing Off Against Voyager

A thought occurs to me as I sit and hear Voyager and Ziggy discuss their century-old grudge. Wilhelm’s bunch of evil henchmen, the Testaments, are comprised of Voyager, Kevin, Virgil (for some reason), and Albedo. Voyager initially offered Ziggy the chance to become a Testament alongside him, as well, back when Ziggy was a human and trying to stop him during the events of the side game of the series, Xenosaga: Pied Piper. Okay, fine, cool. But the events of Xenosaga: Pied Piper took place over 100 years prior to the opening of Xenosaga 1. If Wilhelm was fully capable of making Testament henchmen back then, why did he wait for over 90 years to make his next one (Kevin, after the accident with KOS-MOS’s prototype)? It’s not a serious problem or anything, but it’s nonetheless kind of weird that there’s such a huge gap in time between Wilhelm recruiting his first Testament and his second, especially since once the Xenosaga games are in progress he’s suddenly popping’em out left and right. What, could Wilhelm really not find another human being besides Voyager or Kevin for more than 90 years who wanted to escape the fear of death, or had some stupid grandiose idea of rebooting and reshaping the universe out of a selfish desire of having all of existence be a private honeymoon getaway for he and his girlfriend and the rest of the people who ever did or would exist could just suck it?

...Well, okay, maybe Kevin’s desires are (thankfully) pretty one-of-a-kind, but still, it couldn’t have been that hard to find somebody or other in a hugely populated galactic civilization who wanted to be immortal like Voyager did. Why the weirdly long wait? Surely it couldn’t have been any sort of high standards as to who could become a Testament; Wilhelm let Virgil into the club, and that guy otherwise barely rates higher plot importance than an NPC you pass on the street.

Anyway, enough nitpicking on that. Let’s nitpick something else more to the point during the showdown with Voyager: why the hell does Ziggy get out of his E.S.? The party runs into Voyager, they exchange some sentences with him that make an unusually high amount of logical and emotional sense for Xenosaga, and they battle him in his giant mech suit E.S. Then, after the battle, his mecha is totaled, but Voyager, of course, is fine, because he’s still got Plot God Mode going, and Ziggy...jumps out of his own mech suit to attack Voyager with his personal weapons.

Where’s the logic here, Ziggy? Where exactly is it? Your titanic mobile monolith of pure destructive power’s laser is unable to damage Voyager, so your next move is to try using smaller guns? And you jump out from behind the feet-thick ultra-alloy protection of your mech suit to accomplish this? You give up every advantage you have, leap full-speed into his arms, to attack him with weaponry that you already determined earlier in the game has no effect on him. BRILLIANT! Sun Tzu would be in awe.

Not to mention on top of the whole giving-up-your-armor-in-order-to-use-smaller-weapons-you-already-know-won’t-work thing, Ziggy’s decision to leap as close to Voyager as he can not only has him pretty much delivering himself right into Voyager’s favorite chokin’ hand, but also guarantees that Ziggy’s friends, who were smart enough to stay in the giant robot suits packed to the brim with offensive weaponry, are now helpless to use their own mech suits effectively, since any large weapon discharges will hit both Voyager AND Ziggy now. Not that any of them would bother anyway--if there’s one consistent characteristic of the Xenosaga cast, it’s their unflagging commitment to standing around and doing nothing while they watch a friend get the shit beaten out of him/her. I swear they are actually worse on this point than the characters on Dragon Ball Z.


Having wrapped up Ziggy’s side story with Voyager, the party is back to its regular dynamic, and I find myself wondering: Why does Shion get all the sympathy for having to go through a rough time?

Yeah, to be sure, she’s having a crap time of it, finding out she’s dying of plot plague, going through all the traumatic reliving the past stuff, and trying to sort through the emotional pickle Kevin has put her in. But by this point in the finale, Jr. has only recently had to say goodbye to the very last of his brothers. Jin has just been forced to fight his old love and then watch in helpless anguish as she chose to sit and die rather than try to live for any reason he could provide. And Ziggy just had the memories of his wife and son’s murders resurface as he helplessly watched his old friend sacrifice himself for a sin he didn’t consciously commit. Shion may be having a hard time, but she is not the only one, not by a LONG shot, yet her mental pain and turbulence is the only one which is afforded any lasting sympathy whatsoever by herself or the plot--once each of the others’ sad scenes are done, they’re essentially dropped and there’s no further thought of how those other characters might be having trouble getting past their hard times. And unfortunately, this poorly-rationed sympathy just makes Shion’s “Poor ME, Oh Woe is ME, ME ME ME” attitude as things go along all the more alienating as she considers the suffering of no one else but herself even as all the others rally to to support her.

Facing Off Against Margulis

I’m all for cool mech suits doing sword fights, but I feel like the final battle between Jin and Margulis should have been settled face-to-face, by their own hands. “Mecha-to-mecha, by their own joysticks controlling giant robot arms” just lacks the personal touch, and they’re very personal rivals. Further, it would make more sense for them to have their final duel on foot, because their main historical point of contention is centered around the fact that they both learned their sword fighting techniques from Jin’s grandfather. Doesn’t that sort of imply that their final battle should be a sword fight using said techniques?

And no, the fact that their giant robot suits are using swords does not count to that. Battle art or not, that blade-crossing is done through manipulations of electronic controls and levers and whatnot, not through actual employment of sword fighting arts. You could argue that maybe they’re translating those arts into the movements of their mecha, but honestly, are you really going to tell me that the balance, precision, and incredible skill and self-control necessary to master a sword fighting art (let alone one sort of implied to be as special and awesome as Jin’s family technique), which takes years and years to become truly proficient in, can be easily and accurately translated into the controls for a giant robot? Skills don’t work that way. If I hand an Olympic snowboarder a Playstation 1 controller and tell her to impress me with her skills in the snowboarding minigame of Final Fantasy 7, do you think she’s automatically going to be a master at that snowboarding minigame simply because she’s a trained, practiced master at snowboarding in real life? Obviously not! She’d need the same time and practice with the game as anyone else would, because regardless of certain small superficial similarities, it’s an entirely different act. The idea that both Jin AND Margulis would have the time to spend years mastering a fighting discipline and set of sword techniques, and then spend the same amount of years all over again learning how to translate that knowledge and those movements into electronic input well enough to adequately recreate the grace and precision of that fighting style into giant robot form, is ludicrous. Thus, Jin and Margulis’s final battle can’t logically be employing any accurate form of the fighting style that serves as one of the focal points of their personal grudge against one another, and so this duel lacks a simple, crucial level of personal dramatic impact that it could easily have had otherwise.

Also, Margulis? When you say to Jin that his strength means that he’ll “always be alone in this world,” uh, what the hell is that supposed to mean? How? Why? Why do you say that he’s cast away the people who understood him by his own hands? Who were those people? Margulis and Pellegri, maybe? That seems to be what Margulis means, but even if Margulis and Pellegri actually do understand Jin to begin with--and that’s pretty doubtful--Margulis is the one who keeps attacking Jin, and Jin pleaded with Pellegri not to fight him and then not to die; he’s not actively “cast away” either Margulis or Pellegri beyond simply defending himself. Not to mention that Margulis’s defeat may be at Jin’s hands here, but his actual death is quite clearly self-inflicted. Or were these people that understood Jin and were driven away supposed to mean Jin’s family, maybe? Because I’m pretty sure Jin’s parents were killed in an entirely separate matter that Jin had no way of preventing--as we saw for ourselves--and Jin’s difficulty in connecting with Shion is clearly a lack of ability on both their parts to communicate their feelings effectively.

Sigh...I am just so goddamn sick of roundabout, semi-coherent posturing Xenosaga-speak at this point. It’s like an entire game of early 1990s Engrish, only you can tell that this is really, honestly how it’s supposed to be and not just the inept bumbling of a second-rate translator.

Chatting with Nephilim

What the goddamn hell is Shion talking about when she’s ranting at Nephilim in the blue crystal room? She’s denying Nephilim’s statement that everyone knows her pain, and goes on to deny that any of them cares about her, is there for her, and wants to protect her, saying that’s what everyone always says but that they actually stayed away from her and didn’t try to help her.

Which “everyone” is that, I wonder? Because the people she’s surrounded with now have consistently been there for her and endeavored to help her whenever she’s asked for their assistance, and worried for her and sought to help her even when she insists she doesn’t need their concern/help. And that help has usually meant putting their lives on the line for her! In every reasonably possible way, and quite a few ways that weren’t reasonable, these people have cared for, assisted, and reached out to her for the sake of friendship, family, and love.

It has occurred to me that maybe Shion is actually talking about a more generalized “everyone,” referring to non-specific people she’s interacted with and known in her life, but that’s really no better, because A, it’s trying to introduce this faceless, generalized group of people that until now have never been mentioned or indicated in any way, which would be very poor writing, and B, if she’s not talking about the friends she has with her right now then she’s protesting about other people never caring for her and completely ignoring the people in front of her who HAVE been doing all the assisting and caring that she’s saying no one has ever done! I’m going to keep going forward with the assumption that Shion is directly referring to Jr., MOMO, KOS-MOS, Jin, chaos, Allen, and Ziggy, but I wanted to point out that it’s no less rotten and bitchy if she isn’t.

Now I’ll grant you that Shion’s friends don’t often make a huge effort to penetrate her mind and try to understand her, but she makes no effort to make her inner workings known to any of them, either, save KOS-MOS, and she’s always insisting to them that she’s fine and doesn’t need them to worry about her. If your typical behavior is to push people away rather than expose your weaker side to them, then of course they’re not going to know the real you, moron, you didn’t LET them! You can’t have it both ways, you nitwit, you can’t pout and stamp your foot every time someone expresses the slightest concern about your well being, then turn around and pout and stamp your foot about how no one expresses enough concern about you! It’s like if you went around punching people in the nose any time they talked to you, then complained about how no one ever asks you how your day was! Only it’s worse than this example, because despite how much Shion has throughout the game insisted that she’s fine and doesn’t need people showing the slightest human concern for her, they all still do time and time again, so she’s not even now complaining about a situation she has brought about herself--she’s complaining about a situation that just plain isn’t true at all! Ye Christ, what an obnoxious, selfish, loathsome jerk Shion is!

And to top it all off, guys, the real kicker to this: Shion claims that KEVIN is the only one that was there for her and cared for her. Now that would be fine if he had actually stayed dead, can’t blame a guy for that, but she knows by this point that he has, for some time, been gamboling around as the Red Testament, and has only just in the last few days (hours, even?) revealed to her, after an absence of years and years, that he’s still alive. HE’S the one who’s always been there for you, you stupid cow? Are you serious?

On a similar note, Shion goes on to say, “None of you saved me. Only Kevin has made a place for me.” Yeah, uh, SEE ABOVE PARAGRAPH. The only place he’s made for you is to be around him while he ends all of existence, you self-centered delusional twat, and the rest of the time, throughout the entirety of the games’ course and long before that, he’s left you high and dry to fend for yourself without even so much as alleviating your grief by letting you know he wasn’t dead! He’s pulled a disappearing act for the majority of your adult life and somehow he’s the only one who’s been there for you and made a place for you? WHAT PART OF THIS MAKES SENSE!? ARRRRRRRRGGGGGHHHHH!

I love the next part, though. Shion strides forward, brattily declaring that she’ll open the door to the next part of the plot but that it’s for herself, not for any of the people around her, and when Allen pleads with her, asks her why she takes on all this pain herself, she just pushes him aside and tells him it doesn’t concern him. Well, gee, that almost seems like it’s someone expressing some genuine concern for her and her throwing it back in his face, even as she complained not 15 seconds before about no one caring for her and everyone shunning her! I couldn’t have planned a better validation of my point that Shion is a self-centered, hypocritical bitch; this is the kind of timing that’s usually reserved for parody works!

More of Shion’s amazing ability to be a repulsive selfish contradictory sack of shit in a few minutes. For now, let’s skip ahead to...

Facing Off Against T-elos

The fight with T-elos begins with her demanding that KOS-MOS surrender to her, then immediately rushing in to attack her. Uh...okay...if you’re going to demand that someone surrender to you, shouldn’t you maybe wait for even just one single second to get their answer to that demand before trying to stab them in the face? What’s the point of demanding a surrender if your immediate next act is to attack anyway? I mean, okay, we all know that KOS-MOS wasn’t going to surrender to T-elos, that much is obvious. But if T-elos shares that knowledge and is attacking because she knows KOS-MOS isn’t going to surrender anyway, why did she bother telling KOS-MOS to do so in the first place?

It’s a tiny grievance, true, but it’s still yet one more piece of the puzzle of nonsense that is Xenosaga.

Anyway, T-elos attacks KOS-MOS, KOS-MOS defends herself, and unlike the first time the 2 androids fought, the rest of the party actually attempts to do something useful, with Ziggy, Jin, Jr., and Shion all making their own attacks against T-elos, while chaos and MOMO...uh...sit and watch, I guess. Well, at least most of them actually tried, that’s certainly more than usual. Anyway, there comes a moment in the battle where KOS-MOS and T-elos have one of those running-around-on-walls-shooting-at-each-other contests that animes are fond of, after which T-elos leaps back down onto the ground and grabs Shion in a chokehold from the back, using her as a hostage.

This seems like a sensible thing to do, right? It’s well-established that the safety and well-being of Shion is by far the highest priority for KOS-MOS; we’ve previously seen that the need to protect Shion has given KOS-MOS the power to function even when missing critical components, and when her core operating system had been seemingly irrevocably damaged. With Shion in hand as a bargaining chip, T-elos obviously has gained the upper hand. Logical, right?

Except for one tiny thing: once T-elos has got Shion in her clutches, she shifts all of her attention on Shion and the rest of the party before her, paying no attention whatever to wherever KOS-MOS has gotten to!

Why in the world does she do this? KOS-MOS has been clearly shown to be the biggest threat to T-elos during this fight so far, not Shion or any of the others, and none of them have even had a chance to attack T-elos for the last minute or so while she was running along the walls shooting at KOS-MOS anyway. T-elos only just interrupted her battling against KOS-MOS to grab Shion; by all logic, not only is KOS-MOS the immediate AND greatest threat to T-elos, she’s also the threat that should be most present on T-elos’s mind since KOS-MOS is the one she’s been fighting most recently. Not to mention that this entire fight is all about T-elos trying to beat KOS-MOS specifically; the others are solely collateral participants by her reckoning! T-elos should be using Shion as a shield against KOS-MOS, not the rest of the party, and at the very, very least, T-elos should, while taking her hostage, not have taken her eyes off the enemy who had been actively attacking her!

The idiocy of this fight isn’t done yet, though. I’ve criticized the party for their inaction during KOS-MOS’s first fight against T-elos, at which time each and every one of them just stood there doing absolutely nothing beyond watching their friend get beaten to scrap metal over the course of 8 minutes or so. And I’ve pointed out that this fight is better because half of them start the battle by working together and attacking T-elos as a group effort.

However, once KOS-MOS has knocked T-elos back away from Shion (it is almost as though T-elos taking her focus off of her primary foe for no reason was a bad idea!), T-elos fires an energy blast at Shion, and KOS-MOS shields Shion’s body with her own. T-elos keeps shooting KOS-MOS in the back, knowing that KOS-MOS is unable to move and/or counterattack for fear of leaving Shion exposed. And during this time, again, NO ONE DOES ANYTHING. Jin, Jr., Ziggy, MOMO, chaos, Allen, they all just fucking STAND THERE and watch their enemy shoot their friend in the back OVER AND OVER. They don’t move, they don’t say anything, they just stand and watch in total inaction!

Even if they’ve determined (correctly) that the threat they pose to T-elos is minimal, they could at LEAST occupy her attention to keep her from just shooting over and over again. By forcing her to dodge even one single attack from them, they could give KOS-MOS the time she needed to go on the offensive once more. Or, Ziggy could run forward and grab Shion away, pull her back and protect her with his own body so KOS-MOS could be free to attack again. Or Jr. could even try to shoot the energy gun out of T-elos’s hands, or at least shoot it and damage it. Just do SOMETHING, for Christ’s sake!

Anyway, this scene of everyone just standing around watching their friend get shot in the back over and over again goes on long enough for KOS-MOS and Shion to have a little conversation--which is in itself pretty damn silly, but by this point, my perceptions of normality have been so skewed by Xenosaga logic that it barely even registers to me. Eventually figuring out that she’s really just not doing a lot of damage, T-elos switches tactics and rushes forward to attack KOS-MOS head-on. Well...head-to-back-on. KOS-MOS moves super fast to block the attack in a cool manner, and we see in the next second that she’s holding T-elos’s weapon at bay. But that weapon is the energy pistol from before! Why was T-elos using THAT as a melee weapon? Yeah, pistol-whipping is a thing, but that’s because pistols tend to be harder and heavier and more damaging to swing than just smacking someone with a human fist. But T-elos is not a human, she’s a super powerful android! Her regular fists and feet (well, boots) are a much more dangerous melee weapon than a rinky-dink handgun! Plus, pistol-whipping is only effective because it’s traditionally being used against a human being, whose durability, hardness, and susceptibility to pain make it a very unpleasant experience--but KOS-MOS is, like T-elos, a super powerful android! It’s utterly inconceivable that any energy pistol could possibly have the structural integrity and weight to it that swinging it against her incredibly durable, resistant, pain-impervious frame would have any effect whatever! AND we just saw moments before that T-elos can materialize a laser dagger arm attachment at will, so why wasn’t she trying to use THAT? The hell?

Anyway, that’s all I have to say about that. Let’s remove ourselves from the comparably comfortable confines of simple logistic failures and return to Shion the Whiny Fucktard, Part 2.

Facing Off Against Kevin

Ugh, again with this bullshit.

Shion’s emotional constipation and raging stupidity kick off full swing with a repeat of before, with her again claiming that none of her friends saved her and that only Kevin has made a place for her. Already covered how dumb this is, so let’s move along.

At one point, Jin protests by pointing out the obvious--that none of Shion’s comrades want her to suffer, a fact that is and has been throughout the whole game patently obvious. Shion replies by saying that she knows, but, that that’s why she hates it, because she’s had her fill of pity.

Oh, so now, you hate that they don’t want you to suffer and have had your fill of pity, Shion? That’s funny, because less than an hour ago, you were wailing about how everyone stays away from you and doesn’t actually care about you at all! WHICH IS IT, YOU SHIT-BRAINED TWIT? Are they doing too little or are they doing too much? You can’t blame them for both at the same time! Jesus H. Christ playing Parcheesi with Peter Pan, there is just no satisfying this crazy bitch and the only consistent thing about her whiny story of woe is that it unfailingly stays completely false!

Anyway, Shion continues on her utterly deranged little bipolar pity parade, and then says that it’s too late for Jin to try to convince her of anything because he doesn’t understand other people’s feelings, and tells him, “If you had, Pellegri might not have had to die!”

You gotta give the writers of Xenosaga credit--every time you think that Shion has sunk as far as she can into the depths of bitchy stupidity, they find a new way to lower your respect for her.

First of all, real fucking classy on Shion’s part. Not a shockingly heartless and morally repugnant thing to say AT ALL. Secondly, how does Jin’s supposed inability to connect to others even relate to the current situation, anyway? How does this totally-crossing-the-line insult even pertain to Shion’s argument that she should be on Kevin’s side? And lastly, beyond being a seriously dick thing to say and, as far as I can see, largely irrelevant, it’s also so obviously bogus that it makes me want to put my head through the screen. Pellegri’s feelings, as we discussed before, quite obviously WERE wanting to die. She attacked unprovoked when her opponent would rather have settled things peacefully, she refused to save herself, and nothing could be said or done to sway her from that course. The only case of emotional misunderstanding that Jin had during that scene was that in pleading with her in various ways not to let herself die, Jin apparently held out more hope than he should have that she could be convinced to abandon her suicidal course. His only misunderstanding of Pellegri as far as I could see caused him to try all the harder to keep her from dying! It should be obvious to anyone who witnessed Pellegri’s death that she was determined to end her life then and there, and no amount of understanding or misunderstanding of that feeling was going to alter that!

Anyway, the scene continues, with Shion continuing to insist on being a moron and siding with Kevin, and her friends decide that they’re not going to allow it and will just have to rescue her from herself. Frankly, it’s the only sensible thing you could possibly do in their position; she’s pretty clearly proven that she’s out of her mind and a danger to herself at this point. Jr. in particular declares, “I’m bringin’ you with us even if I have to beat you up.”

This could just be my Xenosaga-addled mind at this point, but that line just strikes me as silly. This is a life and death moment of decision between sides of an emotional and ideological rift, and “beat you up” is the best you can throw out there? Who the hell seriously says that any more? It’s the kind of threat a grade schooler throws around because they can’t think of anything more threatening or clever. And just how does Jr. intend to accomplish this, anyway? His weapon of expertise is a handgun--exactly how does one beat someone up with bullets? He can’t be talking about beating her up in the traditional hand-to-hand way; he’s significantly smaller than her, and Shion, while admittedly not a powerhouse, has martial arts training and a specially designed close-quarters defensive arm weapon.

Anyway, Allen steps forward and gives a little speech about how they shouldn’t be fighting, and brings up a good point about how even though Allen may be weak and powerless, he’s better than Kevin and his associates, who are actually cowardly and pathetic, which you may remember my mentioning before in my rant about Kevin. Not particularly liking Allen’s posturing, Kevin proceeds to start beating the every-loving crap out of him. And you’ll never guess what the rest of the party does! Surprise, surprise, they stand there and watch! As fucking ALWAYS. Voyeuristic Paralysis Syndrome at its finest. No, that’s cool, guys, you all just fucking stand there while Kevin blasts the crap out of Allen, who has just himself admitted that he’s powerless. Don’t make the slightest move to help the completely defenseless guy out in any way.

Jesus, and I thought it was bad when they were just watching KOS-MOS get punked. At least she could fight back.

How does Allen get the black eye from this ordeal, incidentally? I mean, I know he’s having a lot of punishment heaped on him, but it’s all magical energy pain attacks. He gets up and lands heavily against the ground, I guess, but it’d still be hard to fall on the flat ground in such a way as to specifically bruise his right eye. For that matter, how does this bruise appear this fast? He’s got it fully developed within the first minute of Kevin attacking him.

Anyway, eventually Allen gives another little speech about how much he loves her, during which several lines from both him and Kevin are weird and don’t make much sense, and Kevin acts to finish Allen off, only it seems that KOS-MOS has finally gotten the genius idea that maybe she should actually DO something instead of just watching like a jackass, and blocks the attack. KOS-MOS then makes her own appeal to Shion to get a fucking grip, and this time Shion actually listens (once again, we see that Shion is far more emotionally connected to KOS-MOS than anyone else, including Allen--but don’t worry, Namco, I totally believe your incompetent flailing in this game promoting Shion x Allen, instead of the Shion x KOS-MOS pairing that every damn part of your trilogy’s narrative has reinforced until this goddamn second). So how does Shion break the news to Kevin that she’s gonna pass on his resetting-the-universe insanity?

“Kevin, all I ever...wanted was to be with you, even if that meant I was being used, even if that meant I was being deceived, as long as I could be by your side, I thought it didn’t matter.”

YOUR HEROINE, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! Great self-esteem there, Shion, really great. Truly you are an icon of self-empowerment and feminism to inspire us all.

But okay, fine, this is the beginning of her speech about how she was wrong and why she’s now standing up to him, so the next part’s going to be where her speech becomes inspiring about how she now knows better, that she understands now that she deserves more, and that’s why she’s standing up to him, right? Right, because the next line is, “But, now I know, that’s not true.” You tell’im, Shion, stand up for yourself and tell that rotten bastard that you’re important and deserve better than someone like him who manipulates and emotionally abuses you, tell him that--

”It’s wrong for me to sacrifice others for it.”

What. What. What.

Oh, RIGHT! Sure! Of course! So, it’s okay to stay in an emotionally abusive relationship where you’re used and lied to and you know it, just as long as it’s only hurting you, and not people around you! That is what she’s saying, is it not? She’s saying that all she ever wanted was to be with him no matter how she was being used and deceived, which obviously means she understands that she WAS being used and deceived, and the reason she’s giving, the only reason, for changing her mind on that, is that it would be wrong to sacrifice others in order to achieve that--”that” being the situation of being with Kevin regardless of his manipulating and lying to her.

THERE’S a healthy message! Being with someone who lies to and uses you for his own ends is bad ONLY if doing so hurts anyone other than you! This is an “ends can’t justify the means” moral, except that the supposedly desirable “ends” are to be in an emotionally abusive relationship!

Not a thing, not a single solitary thing, is said by Shion about her refusal to join Kevin having ANYTHING to do with his having done wrong by her. In fact, she reiterates at this point that she does love him, and that she is sure they’d find happiness together, but she just can’t stand the idea of her being the only one that finds happiness, just to really hit home the point that in her mind, it would be 100% fine for her to be with a guy who used and lied to her if it wasn’t at anyone else’s expense.

She can’t stand the idea of her being the only one that finds happiness? What you just described isn’t happiness, Namco you fucktards, it’s an abusive relationship!

Also, this is barely important at all compared to the whole thing of Shion being fine with being in an abusive relationship, but it’s worth mentioning that also missing from Shion’s speech is any displeasure whatsoever for the fact that Kevin just beat the shit out of a helpless dude Shion knows and is friends with. I guess that maybe Allen’s an example in a roundabout way of the sacrifices that Shion’s saying she’s not willing to have for her own “happiness,” but you’d still think she’d have a bit more than a vague disapproval of harming others in general as a response to seeing Allen get knocked around like that.

One more point of stupidity about this scene. Again, this is barely important at all compared to everything else, but Shion has got to be the shittiest scientist ever. I mean, think about the core concept of what it is to be a scientist--it’s a desire for knowledge, a curiosity about the workings of the universe, whether general or specialized, and the ways in which one can manipulate those workings. It is a pursuit of information, knowledge, truth. And here Shion is, actively stating that she would under not-sacrificing-others circumstances have been completely okay with being used and deceived by Kevin. Key word there is “deceived.” Yup, living a lie, never having the slightest interest in the truth of things, that’s all just dandy to Shion, the scientist.

Blurrrrgh. Let’s move along to the final confrontation, and hope I can keep from choking to death on my own bile.

Facing Off Against Wilhelm

Question: is 5 minutes before the end of a 3-game series really the best time to reveal the truth of the Gnosis, the identity of chaos, the plans of the main villain, AND both the nature and just plain existence of the Zarathustra artifact and why it needs the little Anima things? I know that it’s a common writing technique to save a twist or explanation or two for the last battle in RPGs, but I feel like somewhere in the great many hours of playtime over the Xenosaga trilogy, they could have cut out a little bit of the nonstop bullshit double-talk running rampant throughout Xenosaga 2 and 3 and taken a moment to explain a couple of these major plot points.

I mean for fuck’s sake, the heroes have been traveling for 3 games with chaos and haven’t once questioned who the hell he is and why he’s caught up in all this with them since that single initial meeting with him in Xenosaga 1 where he gave some non-answer in place of explanation for his powers and Shion just nodded and said “Durrr uh-yup, that’s good enough for me!” One more example of what a great scientist Shion is--presented with an unexplained and highly intriguing phenomenon, she’s completely satisfied to unquestioningly take someone else’s word for it that it’s nothing worth thinking about.

The writers really couldn’t have found a moment in all this time before the last second to address the what-is-up-with-chaos plot elephant in the room? Couldn’t have found a better time before now to properly explain that the Gnosis are the wills of people who reject others and the world? Hell, the Gnosis haven’t even had any real, strong plot relevance by this point for quite some time; the team’s been caught up with U-DO and Yuriev’s ambitions and Mary’s resurrection and Kevin’s antics and getting trippy with the past in Shion’s head for pretty much the whole game, with the Gnosis only really holding any relevance for a few moments. Strikes me that the reveal for them would’ve been better to take place at some point during the trilogy while they still seemed like the major thing. I can’t see how knowing their true nature in advance would have negatively affected the narrative or significantly altered the characters’ actions; on the contrary, having known about the nature of the Gnosis in advance would probably have made the reveal here at the end of the game about Zarathustra’s purpose and the danger to the universe seem much better, like the Gnosis nature angle was a puzzle piece finally fitting into its slot. But nope, Xenosaga writers aren’t capable of that level of foresight--just dump the half-dozen major plot points left all into the same scene over the course of a dozen text boxes, and call it a day!

This is as bad a last-second plot-dump as that vile load of rat shit that Bioware tried to foist on us at the end of Mass Effect 3. Well, almost as bad. Well...not even close, really. But closer than it should be, all the same.

I’d also like to say that a ton of this last-second exposition is still high-and-mighty Xenosaga double-talk gibberish to me. I fancy myself a relatively intelligent person--no genius by any regard, despite my monicker, but a fair ways away from stupid. But I’ll be damned if I understand any more than about 75% of the sentences being thrown around during this conversation with Wilhelm, and that’s after having watched this damn scene like 5 times, once for my initial playthrough and then the rest for this and other rants. In the end, I STILL am not satisfied with my knowledge of what it is that makes the universe’s situation so precarious as Wilhelm says, exactly how or why Zarathustra does what it does, the specifics of chaos’s role, and what the deal is with the Zohar. And arrogant though it may be, I’m going to operate on the assumption here that the fact that my knowledge of these important plot points is more limited than I like is not my fault, but the fault of the game’s inability to make itself clear--if its understanding of itself is any better than what I know of it to begin with. So much of this dialogue during the final showdown with Wilhelm, right to the moment he’s finally dead, is vague references, half-thoughts, and ambiguous platitudes whose relevance is shaky, that I’m actually surprised I can follow any of it as well as I do, even after my multiple viewings.

Hey, quick question that has just occurred to me this second as I write this rant: Why DID God give Mary Magdalene that choice of changing the form of the universe, anyway? Why her? Hell, why anyone? What was the reason she in particular was given that choice, and why is it a thing being given to a human at all? I’m not saying she was necessarily less qualified than anyone else for the job, but some quick little explanation of how that came to be would have been nice. But it’s never explained, and a quick (actually, quite protracted) visit to the Xenosaga Wiki on Mary Magdalene provides no explanation.**

Anyway, back on target. After a momentary flashback in which Kevin remembers a moment in his life when he sort of almost wasn’t a douchebag, Kevin decides he’s tired of watching Wilhelm hurting Shion and goes up to the guy and karate-chops his arm off. He sure took his time coming to the conclusion that he didn’t want the woman he supposedly loves to suffer, but I’ll give Kevin his due on this point--A, no matter how over the top it is, it’s still kind of badass to karate-chop a dude’s arm clean off, and B, regardless of his tardiness in doing so, Kevin IS actually stepping forward to do something, instead of just standing around for minutes on end watching loved ones suffer, which is sure more than you can usually expect from our so-called heroes.

Wilhelm plays it cool, saying this betrayal was also anticipated, and honestly, I gotta say, this sort of thing kind of annoys me. It’s by no means a signature of Xenosaga, though. You want your villain to be a super-cool customer and be a big mastermind manipulator who foresees even the betrayals that (supposedly) the audience is surprised by, fine. But stop having the villains brag about their foresight about said betrayals after the act of betrayal has seriously messed them up. Wilhelm, your arm is lying on the damn floor. You are dangerously close to making me crack a Monty Python joke here. I’m not impressed by your damn foresight if you still lost a limb over it; I don’t care how much you want me to think you didn’t need it. You want to successfully have your villain seem cool for foreseeing his subordinate’s betrayal, then have him acknowledge and stop said betrayal BEFORE someone tears his arm off!

Anyway, some more stuff happens, and eventually Kevin gets another chance at taking Wilhelm down. In an attempt to kill him, Kevin shoves his arm straight through his gut. Seriously, dude punches Wilhelm so hard in the back that his entire arm goes straight through the guy. AND makes a colorful little sustained energy explosion thing.

Wilhelm, of course, being so super powerful and whatnot, doesn’t die immediately, and instead just keeps doing his thing, making more grandiose speeches. All the while that he’s talking and carrying on, Kevin just sort of holds his pose, standing there with his arm sticking out of Wilhelm’s torso for several minutes. In fact, it’s after some of these lengthy speeches that the final boss battle begins, and apparently, Wilhelm and Kevin just stand and chill like this, one’s arm bisecting the other’s intestines, for the entire length of this final boss battle, because once that battle, which takes, I dunno, half an hour or so, is over, we see that they are STILL standing in that position. It’s...kind of strange.

Hallelujah, We’re Finally at the Actual Ending Sequence, I Really Wasn’t Sure I’d Make It

Just once, it might be nice to NOT have to have all the good guys rush out of the final area because it’s magically going to explode once the final boss dies.

Well, the heaviest of the insane nonsense of Xenosaga is, believe it or not, actually, finally, over with,*** but there’s still a few dumb things to make note of. One of those things is when Shion tells KOS-MOS that what she just said is “unusually vague, coming from you, KOS-MOS.” The reason this is dumb is 1, what KOS-MOS just said (that their time apart won’t be too long, and that she knows they’ll see each other again) isn’t actually vague at all, and 2, NO, it’s NOT unusually vague coming from KOS-MOS, because NOTHING coming from ANYONE in Xenosaga is ever UNUSUALLY vague. There is no such thing as UNUSUALLY vague for a Xenosaga character, because EVERYTHING coming from EVERYONE in Xenosaga is ALWAYS JUST vague.

Another part of the ending that doesn’t add up: Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t really get why Jr. is scolding the Gnosis in the ending about how they’re supposed to accept people’s kindness, while repeatedly emptying his handgun into them. Don’t know about you folks, but if someone was shooting me repeatedly with a handgun, I doubt very much that I would consider it an act of kindness on the part of the shooter. Is it something else that he is referring to which is the act of kindness that he is annoyed is not being accepted by the Gnosis? If so, what? Is Jr. not referring to anything, just spouting random words that enter his head that he thinks might sound cool when strung together? I just don’t know. Hell, if I could figure out what this sentence is supposed to mean, I feel like maybe I would have unlocked one of the great mysteries of true enlightenment. I suppose it’s only fitting that Xenosaga 3 should thoroughly confuse me one last time before it’s done with.

Also, why does Allen look considerably less beaten-up during the ending escape scene than he did a mere half hour or so earlier?

And one last thing about this ending. I know I made a rant about how utterly unbelievable it was that the writers would actually have MOMO’s final line of dialogue be to tell Jr. to say hi to Albedo for her, but an anonymous reader actually pointed out a way in which this line is horrible that I hadn’t thought of, but definitely deserves mention. Besides just being disturbing and infuriating as I mentioned in the rant on it, this being the last line that MOMO says to Jr. is also incredibly lame considering all the work that was put into sort of hooking them up. The connection between Jr. and MOMO was shown right from the start of the series and had more screentime for showing and developing their interest in one another than Allen and Shion got, and yet here they are, about to be separated for who knows how many years as Jr. leaves with Shion to find Lost Jerusalem and MOMO stays behind to try to get civilization back on its feet...and all we get is “say hi to Albedo for me?” And a hilarious joke about how Jr. will do that, but who knows when Albedo will be awake for it because he’s lazy? No “I love you,” no “I’ll miss you,” not even a “take care of yourself.” The writers spent so much time establishing that these characters care for each other deeply, and THIS is how they choose to handle MOMO and Jr.’s goodbye. Fantastic work as usual, Namco.

And that’s it. I guess. I mean, that’s probably it. Maybe. Honestly, I don’t know. There could be all kinds of additional logical inconsistencies and poor narrative choices and lousy characterization and who knows what else in the finale that I’ve missed here, that just haven’t occurred to me as I watched it as being off. This rant has given me such an overdose of Xenosaga that by this point I feel like someone has replaced my brain with a lumpy pile of mashed potatoes. And while you might think this would give me extra insight into Xenosaga 3, since it’s clear that this is the exact condition all of its creators were in when they wrote it out, no such enlightenment into idiocy has come to me. So this will be it for today. Xenosaga 3’s finale is silly, stupid, infuriating, confusing, poorly communicated, and flimsy, has a very poor understanding of basic human nature and interaction, explains itself poorly and too little, has a completely inept narrative plan and flow, and is generally just a nonstop circus of repulsive stupidity and staggeringly bad writing. But you have to give it credit for 1 thing: at least it’s going out true to itself all the way.

But I hope you’re not too tired of Xenosaga just yet...I think I’ve got one more Xenosaga rant in me to go. Stay tuned...

* All credit for the the term “Youtube Atheist” goes to reader Ecclesiastes. He originally used it to describe Dragon Age 1’s Morrigan--and a more appropriate title for her there has never been--but I’m pretty sure it applies quite well to Jin’s little bit of bonehead pretend-wisdom here, too.

** It DOES provide all kinds of plot history and details regarding Mary and WIlhelm and chaos/Yeshua, though, heaps of information that just outright isn’t in the game at all. Some of it even sort of makes sense at times! I’d be annoyed that all this information isn’t actually available in game, but it doesn’t actually answer or clarify anything from the game at all, anyway. It’s new information, just not about the holes in the plot that you’re actually wondering about.

*** Besides the part where MOMO tells Jr. to say hi to Albedo for her.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

General RPG Lists: Pokemon

It’s not exactly a particularly meaningful subject, nor does it strike me as something that any of you were particularly curious about, but what the hell, I’m doing it anyway. These are my 10 favorite Pokemon. In fact, out of over 800 different candidates, these are indeed almost all of the Pokemon I even particularly like. I dunno, the pocket monsters themselves have never really impressed me all that much, I guess.

UPDATE 10/21/17: Mimikyu, Ninetales (Alola Form), and Primarina added; Barbaracle has been bumped off.

10. Dialga

I’m sure it’s cliched to have Legendaries in a list of favorites, but what can I say? The Pokemon of Time is pretty nifty. It’s got a neat backstory, controlling time is an awesome schtick, and its design is damn cool. Being a major component of the story of Pokemon’s Generation 4 games, the first games in the entire series with anything approaching a worthwhile story, conflict, and villain, does not hurt my estimation of Dialga, either.

9. Primarina

Someone at Game Freak deserves a pat on the fucking back, because that someone was, at some point during the development of Pokemon Generation 7, told by their boss "We need a Water/Fairy pokemon that's a sea lion, but also a a mermaid, and it has to be evolved from and still significantly be part clown, but also an opera singer. And it has to look elegant and ethereal as heck. Have it on my desk by 5." And that someone actually, inconceivably, managed to deliver. How you can start with that goofy-ass Popplio thing and end up with this mystical siren, I do not know, but Primarina is cool and otherworldly and I think she's pretty rad.

8. Dragonair

I’ve always loved Dragonair. It just looks so elegant and slick. It’s definitely an oddity, though--Dragonair seems like it should be a Water and/or Ice Type rather than a Dragon--even by the Lame As Hell Giant Snake standard of dragons, it’s not very draconic. I’ve also always thought it odd that they could come up with such a sleek, classy snake-thing as Dragonair, yet in the same generation have the actual snake Pokemon wind up being as goofy and dumb-looking as Ekans and Arbok. Odd as well is the radical change in appearance between Dragonair and the Pokemon it evolves into, Dragonite. But odd or not, the majestic, graceful appeal of Dragonair has always guaranteed it a spot in my favorite Pokemon.

7. Rapidash

Not to sound too much the hipster, but unicorns? I liked them first, guys. Before My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic took the world by storm, I thought unicorns were awesome. Before things like Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim and Charlie the Unicorn gave the collective internet community an interest in them, I knew the righteous excellence of unicorns. As such, you can likely understand why Rapidash, a totally bitchin’ fire unicorn with a blazing mane, eyes of a deep red inferno, and fetlocks-aflame, would strongly appeal to me. Hell, even if I weren’t such a lifelong unicorn fan, this thing is still too damn cool not to be included on any favorites list.

Now if only we could get a third, final evolution of this line at some point: a flaming alicorn. Tell me that wouldn’t kick ass like nothing ever before.

6. Jigglypuff

Quite simply, Jigglypuff was the cutest fictional creature ever devised until the year 2013, when the world was introduced to Baby Applejack. Just look at that sappy, silly, dumb little big-eyed ball of cheer. It transcends the traditional understanding of the word “cute” and reaches a new level of adorableness.

Not only that, but Jigglypuff’s also quite often very amusing. I mean, she’s hilarious in the anime, the eternally self-unaware diva who gets infuriated at her audience for always falling asleep from her singing--never quite making the connection in that dim, fluffy little mind that singing a psychically-powered lullaby that causes the Sleep status effect might be the cause. And how does she punish them? By doodling silly faces and drawings on them as they’re asleep. Yes, this cute little ball of innocence IS the frat douchebag who draws a dick on your cheek after you pass out at the party.

Whatever wound up happening with the anime Jigglypuff, incidentally? I didn’t watch the show much further than the boring Orange Islands saga, so I never did see how things ended with the roly-poly little stalker. If there ever was a conclusion at all, that is--for all I know, the little nutcase might STILL be following Ash to this day.

She’s also funny in the other media I’ve seen her in. Her role in the Magical Pokemon Journey comics is amusing (then again, everything in that series is), and you gotta love her in Super Smash Brothers--yeah, it’s a pretty whacky set of fighting games, but even considering how many odd match-ups it can create, it’s still fun to see this tiny little ball of pink engaging in fisticuffs with space dragons, elite stealth commandos, and Gannondorf, King of Evil. And her Final Smash is just standing there and getting really, really big. Which doesn’t SOUND all that interesting, I know, but trust me, that dopey, blank happy expression? It only gets funnier the bigger it gets.

Anyway, yeah. Gotta love the Jigglypuff.

5. Mimikyu

Yup, I jumped on the Mimikyu bandwagon as much as everyone else. I'm not ashamed to admit it. The plight of this little ghost, so desperate for love that it dresses up as the undeservedly popular Pikachu yet doomed to never show its true face since it will fatally curse any who sees it, is too adorably tragic not to absolutely love. Frankly, if you can hear Mimikyu's Song through to the end and not want to grab this ghostly little cosplayer and give it a great big hug, then you're a goddamn liar every time you fill out a Captcha box.

4. Blaziken

Well come on! It’s a flaming kung-fu chicken! If there was ever a concept that hit the So Stupid It’s Actually Amazing target, it’s this one! Not just that, but they legitimately make this thing a badass powerhouse, which somehow just makes the whole concept even more absurd, which in turn somehow makes it even more amazing. Live on Blaziken, you preposterous broiling Bruce Lee bird!

3. Mewtwo

Mewtwo is just pure, awesome power. You can keep your Arceus and your Deoxys and your dragons of time and space and dimensions and all the rest! For me, Mewtwo will always be the most unstoppable, badass Pokemon out there, the height of pure godlike power. That’s what he was created to be, and that’s what he damn well is!

Beyond that, he’s not just a sappy, personality-lacking chum like nearly every other Pokemon in existence is supposed to be. Nor is he just some vaguely-defined raw plot deity to be sought after and abused by some Team of morons, like nearly every other plot-significant Legendary Pokemon in existence. Mewtwo is an actual character (well, when further defined by the Pokemon media beyond just the game; there’s not a lot to go by in the game alone). He has a backstory (a good one, at that, of genetic experiments and the horrors wrought from man playing God), he has goals, he has a personality shaped by his experiences, and he has the capacity to intellectually defy humans and yet also to reason with them, as an equal and even superior, which is a far cry better than the at-best-second-class-citizen treatment that all the other, clearly equally sapient Pokemon get.

So yeah. Mewtwo is both the most awesome of all Pokemon, and an actually decently-crafted antagonist character. That’s a hard combo to beat, right there.

2. Ninetales (Alola Form)

The Ice-type version of Ninetales is so elegant and aesthetically striking that the damn thing takes my breath away. Small wonder this Pokemon was once considered a deity--I can't think of an actual god or goddess of cold and ice in fiction or real life mythology that comes even close to possessing the commanding grace that Ninetales does. There is no question in my mind that this, to quote my friend Ecclesiastes, fashy-as-fuck fox is the coolest Pokemon ever created.

1. Gardevoir

You know why I like Gardevoir the most, even beyond the incalculably kickass Mewtwo and the soft magnificence of Ninetales? It’s not because it looks elegant and neat, nor is it because it’s actually now, as both a Psychic and a Fairy Type, a very reliable Pokemon since 2 out of 3 of its Type weaknesses (Ghost, Poison, and Steel) are the least dedicated to outright offense. Though that stuff helps.

And no, it’s not because I think it’s hot. Normally I wouldn’t think that need be said, but apparently Gardevoir gets a hell of a lot of Rule 34 attention. Although from what I’m told, that’s pretty much the case of ALL Pokemon these days.

The internet’s a weird place, man.

Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes. No, the reason Gardevoir is my very favorite Pokemon is for its selfless, loving nobility. No matter what generation’s Pokedex you’re looking at, one of the key features to a Gardevoir’s essence is that when its trainer is in real, actual danger, Gardevoir will pull out every stop to protect its trainer. It will unleash its full mental power in an effort to save the trainer’s life, even create a miniature black hole* to keep them safe. In fact, it’s stated that the true peak power of a Gardevoir can only be reached under such circumstances. And if even the full output of all Gardevoir’s psychic energies at once isn’t enough to dispel the danger, Gardevoir will actually put its own life on the line for the trainer, ready to sacrifice itself to save the life of its keeper.

It’s that, that level of simple, pure, loving devotion to the point of self-sacrifice, that deeply impresses me and puts Gardevoir at the top of my list of favorites. Gardevoir is so deeply devoted and noble that it is willing to die in its trainer’s place. That’s a pretty incredible thing, if you ask me. Yeah, you could say that any sufficiently caring and devoted Pokemon could be willing to do that--there’s no question that Pikachu would do that for Ash in the anime, for example--but that’s on a case by case basis. For Gardevoir, this is an ingrained part of its essence, its soul. That selfless devotion is as much a part of Gardevoir as its little white skirt thing or the weird red knee reflex hammer head jutting out of its chest; you can’t BE a Gardevoir without that loving desire to protect. And that’s what makes me put it on the top of this list.

Honorable Mention: Mega Absol

Fucking Dark Types! They can kiss my ass! They RUINED the damn balance in the series. I realize that Psychic was overpowered in Generation 1, but that was because its predators (Bug and Ghost) didn’t have any offensive attacks to speak of, and all the Ghost and Bug Pokemon in the original generation were also Poison Type, which made them weak to Psychic. All that was needed for proper balance of the games was to introduce non-Poison Ghosts and Bugs, and some attacks for those types that were functional. Which happened! What was NOT needed was a new Type altogether that was inexplicably completely immune to Psychic and also only had 2 weaknesses! Game Freak, you idiots, you “balanced” (read: actually nerfed) Psychic by creating a Type that was even more broken! And after 4 generations of this bullshit, they’ve only finally taken an inadequate half-step to fixing the problem with Fairy Type’s strength against Dark. Ugh. It doesn’t even make sense, plot-wise! A third of all the damn Legendary Pokemon, including the supposedly insanely powerful Mew, Mewtwo,** Lugia, and Deoxys, are Psychic Types. Why the hell would you go and change something you associate in-plot with the most powerful Pokemon into one of the most fragile Types out there? And what the fuck is a Dark Type, anyway? Just how much of a distinction can there really even be, thematically, between the powers of death and the afterlife (Ghost Type) and the powers of darkness in general (Dark Type)? URGH. Anyway, this all is the reason that I’ll never have a Dark Pokemon on my team, let alone on this list.

Buuuuuuuuuut, if there were an insanely cool Pokemon that looked like the most awesome possible combination of angel, demon, sphinx, death, and the yin-yan, and it did happen to be a Dark Type, I SUPPOSE I could at least give it the Honorable Mention spot. What can I say? Prejudice against Dark Type Pokemon be damned, Mega Absol is pretty much the second most spectacular Pokemon design ever.

Well, that was fun. But we’re not done yet! Let’s take it in the opposite direction and see which 5 Pokemon I think are the dumbest!

5. Cubchoo

Cubchoo is a small bear who has a huge, drooping droplet of snot perpetually hanging from his nostril. This is the defining characteristic of this Pokemon. It is gross, and it is stupid. But what makes it more gross and more stupid is the fact that this ursine snot ball is what it uses for a weapon. Seriously! Apparently, any time this disgusting little vermin uses an Ice attack, what it’s doing is using its frozen snout booger to perform the attack! What the HELL, Game Freak? I cannot decide whether that is more dumb or gross, but what I do know is that it is definitely very much both.

4. Vanillish, Vanillite, and Vanilluxe

An ice cream cone Pokemon. ICE CREAM. You’re actually expecting me to do battle with living, smiling ice cream. What the real, actual hell is this crap? No. Just no. Get out of here and come back when you’re serious, Nintendo. I’m not having this.

A fucking ice cream cone Pokemon.

3. Klefki

A...keychain Pokemon? Really? I’m still waiting on a winged upgrade to my flaming unicorn, but a KEYCHAIN made the cut. Jesus. There must have been someone on the planning team for Pokemon’s sixth generation who was either very tired, drunk, or drugged out of his/her mind the day Klefki was imagined.

2. Dragonite

Why? WHY, dammit!? Why does that very picture of grace and elegance, Dragonair, have to evolve into...into THIS stupid thing? Dragonite looks like the brain-dead lovechild of Dino from the Flintstones and Barney the Dinosaur, splashed with some orange-yellow paint. There is nothing majestic, nothing regal, nothing cool, nothing ANYTHING but dumb and dopey about this Pokemon. It looks like a cheap mascot suit that some underpaid wage slave might have to wear at a second-rate theme park. How did this come about as a result of the sleek, cool Dragonair? Why couldn’t Dragonair have had a final evolution that actually improved upon its visual grandeur, instead of eliminating it altogether? I’ll never know.

1. Garbodor and Trubbish

Let’s talk seriously for a moment, Game Freak. You made a Pokemon out of a bag of garbage. You made a Pokemon. Out of a bag. Of garbage. You made a Pokemon out of a bag of garbage. And then you made the evolved form of it a Pokemon that is a bag of garbage that has burst open.

I want you to just stop for a moment, and think about that. Let that ruminate in your mind for a bit, and then answer me this question: Do you think that maybe, just maybe, you are running out of ideas at this point?

Dishonorable Mention: Igglybuff

“A baby Jigglypuff!” I thought to myself in excitement, years ago. “Wow, I gotta check this thing out! It’s gonna be so cute I’ll probably have a heart attack just from looking at it!”

I wasn’t entirely wrong, actually. My heart did give a slight jump, but it sure wasn’t from adoration. See, the problem with Igglybuff is that they tried to improve upon the cuteness of something that was already at the end of the then-known Cute Spectrum. So trying to heighten the cuteness just pushed it right past the Cute Scale altogether, and back around to the Mild Nightmare Fuel scale. Seriously, look at that red-eyed, insincere little hellspawn. I know there’s not a lot that visually separates it from a Jigglypuff, but what differences are there are enough to clearly mark this creature as a minor demon that wants to suck your soul out through your eyeballs. Or, I dunno, maybe it’s just me. I don’t think I hear of anyone else getting freaked out by this little, well, freak, so it could just be my own issue. But I’m sticking by it nonetheless; Igglybuff is evil and it is out for you.

And that’s that, the Pokemon I love and the Pokemon I think are stupid as hell. I’m sure absolutely no one could possibly care enough about this subject to have read down to the end here, so, since it doesn’t matter anyway, instead of a proper conclusion, I’m going to end this rant with some random gibberish that is fun to say. Boozop! Bibble yab yarb gruppa lallee snee-yarng. Rallafith garzorfine. Nyii nyii!

* Which I guess somehow doesn’t further endanger the trainer, even though I’m pretty sure a black hole of any size is a dangerous thing to be in close proximity to.

** Why nooooooo, this particular Legendary that nonsensically got de-powered by Dark Type’s introduction has nothing to do with my annoyance with Dark Type. Don’t, uh, don’t be silly.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2's Trumpeter Scene

I feel like keeping today’s rant quick (for me, anyway), so let’s skip the usual intro nonsense and get right in. The scene in SMT Devil Survivor 2 is lame and disappointingly disrespectful.

Quick description to this scene: In order to counter the vaguely-defined sonic waves of the seventh Septentrione (doomsday monster thingy), the heroes of SMTDS2 decide to unseal the Trumpeter, an angel of death from Christian lore who is said to herald the end of days when he sounds his trumpet. They reckon the soundwaves he produces can block out the Septentrione’s waves. Once unsealed, the Trumpeter is angered by the presumption of mere humans to use him, the bringer of Armageddon, for their own ends. To get him to cooperate, Fumi (scientist lady on the heroes’ team) begins to smack him repeatedly with a laptop offscreen, to comical sound effects. Eventually, the beatdown ends, and the Trumpeter is cowed into submission by her meanness.

What the hell? Atlus, did you just...did you just turn the Trumpeter into a cartoon gag? Did you just reduce the divine sounder of apocalypse to a Looney Tune?

Sorry, but that’s just stupid, and annoyingly disrespectful. Now look, when I say that, I’m not getting all ultra-Christian, how-dare-you-not-revere-all-things-associated-with-my-religion-y here. You can bet I wouldn’t be playing SMT games to begin with if I were overly sensitive about that. I say it’s disrespectful in the sense that the character and idea of the Trumpeter deserves much better. I say it as I would say it would be disrespectful to see, oh, a serious and significant hero like Geralt suddenly doing the Macarena for some cheap laughs in a Witcher game. Or a dignified and deep character like Final Fantasy 10’s Yuna suddenly turned into an air-headed stereotypical anime girly-girl for no justifiable reason in a sequel. Or if Spider Man, a superhero who’s so strongly set apart from and above other lesser heroes due in significant part to his long history of marital commitment, were to inexplicably decide to magically sell his marriage to the devil because he couldn’t stand the thought of the oldest, frailest crone in all comic history finally dying. Or if Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard, the most badass sci-fi hero ever and consistent, unrelenting achiever of impossible victories, were to just roll over and abandon his morals without a fight because a space ghost said he had to for the most absurd, illogical bullshit reasons ever conceived by madmen and idiots.

It makes me very sad that 3 out of 4 of the above scenarios of utter and complete disrespectful destruction of a great character for no good reason have actually come to pass.

Anyway. That’s what I mean by this scene disrespecting the Trumpeter. For heaven’s sake, Atlus is having one of the top Fiends of the SMT series, the proclaimer of the end of all things, get beaten into submission by a laptop. That’s just stupid.

It’s not even like this approach to the scene serves a purpose. First of all, it’s not actually funny. It’s just cliched. If you’ve seen a normal amount of cartoons and/or anime, you’ve seen many better versions of this scene’s humor before. It’s one of the few narrative gags that bridges the cultural gap between East and West. Secondly, even if the scene were funny, so what? SMTDS2 is not meant to be an overly funny game. It has some humorous moments and characters (well, moments and characters that TRY to be humorous, anyway), but overall, it’s meant to be taken seriously, as is the case of most SMTs. Being as close to the endgame as this scene is, there’s no reason to be reaching for laughs; things would’ve been better if they’d stayed serious until the end by this point in the game. It’s also not like it’s an important moment of character development for Fumi. She’s already been established adequately as a quirky, irreverent, and forceful goal-oriented science person. This doesn’t tell us anything about her character not already known. Had the game played the Trumpeter’s summoning straight instead of comically, nothing would have been lost.

I know that there’ve been other times in the SMT series where the games have used mythologies in humorous ways, but they’ve all generally been done in a better way than this. The shenanigans in SMT2 concerning Puck and his fidelity sap, for example, may be a strangely amusing story arc for a game as serious overall as SMT2, but that’s a case of the game accurately representing a well-established bit of mythos concerning the fairies Puck, Oberon, and Titania--the game’s basically just adapting the events of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream to its purposes. The source material itself was comical, so of course it’s fine for the game’s interpretation to be.

And most things in the SMT Devil Summoner Raidou Kuzunoha games have been represented in at least a mildly humorous fashion, but that’s the style of the games in that miniseries; they’re meant to have a lighter personality as a whole. And even then, the Raidou Kuzunoha titles’ attempt at poking a little fun at the mythologies they cover is still often more subtle and balanced than the Trumpeter scene. You take the part of SMTDSRK2 when Raidou locates, unseals, and uses the dark god Taotie. Taotie looks like a mean little sheep in the SMT series, and as such is a bit comical in appearance. The game makes mention of this, and it’s a bit amusing, and then later, Taotie sits upon Raidou’s shoulders when he’s doing his space-eating thing, which is both cute and funny. But the humor in how Taotie looks and in watching him sit on stoic Raidou’s shoulders is allowed to be funny in its own right; the game doesn’t clumsily exaggerate this with a bunch of goofy sound effects and heavy-handed narration, the way SMTDS2 does with the Trumpeter. Even the purposefully humorous game has more subtlety in its approach.

Sadly, this Trumpeter scene isn’t the first time SMTDS2 reaches painfully for some cheap laughs at the expense of a previously dignified figure. The scenes involving Shiva and Kama earlier in the game are idiotic, as well, with Shiva swooning over the least movement-oriented dancing ever, and Kama being obsessed with teen girls’ belly buttons. The only reason I’m not making a rant about that story arc as well is that I’m not familiar enough with these Hindu figures to know for sure that there isn’t supposed to be at least some humor involved with them, whereas I’m reasonably sure that the Trumpeter is not meant to be a lame joke. But even if the story and characters of Shiva and Kama is meant to have at least a partially amusing nature, SMTDS2’s attempt at funnies with them is still incredibly stupid, and, again, not particularly relevant to the game’s overall tone.

I miss the first Devil Survivor game, which actually used its mythologies well. The incorporation of the legend of Beldr, the idea of the competition of Bel entities uniting various cultures’ mythological figures...that stuff was cool. All we get with the sequel are awkward teen stripteases and angels getting concussed by laptops. The Trumpeter summoning scene in SMTDS2 is stupidly over the top, serves absolutely no useful purpose, and makes a fool out of one of the cooler recurring icons of the SMT series. Really, what the hell was wrong with Atlus when it was writing this game?