Friday, November 28, 2014

General RPGs Theory: Suspension of Disbelief

Greetings, all. I hope all of you in the USA enjoyed your Thanksgiving, and I also hope that you have the luxury to be home and relaxing today. Remember--if you go out shopping today, you're an amoral bastard perpetuating a sickening and staggeringly depraved example of human vice that stands as a reminder of the dark and vile potential of society. Just do basic human dignity a solid and stay home. Here, I'll even make it easier for you with a new rant--spend your time reading it instead of trampling shoppers and your worth as a human being.

Today’s another of those rants that is really more of a general thing, but does apply to RPGs enough that I feel it’s okay to talk about it here, like Unnecessary Paternal Ties Syndrome, or stupid fucking hot springs scenes.

I imagine we’re all fairly familiar with the concept of Suspension of Disbelief, but because I just love the sound of my own typing, a refresher: Suspension of Disbelief, an idea coined by Coleridge in the early 1800s (thanks Wikipedia!), is basically the common act your brain performs when reading, viewing, or otherwise experiencing fiction wherein you accept certain unlikelihoods/impossibilities/fantasy elements in order to enjoy the work. When you play a Final Fantasy game and accept the existence within the game’s setting of magic and monsters that don’t exist in real life (and often seem evolutionarily questionable even within the game’s setting), that’s you suspending your disbelief. When you read comics, you’re suspending disbelief when you accept that Superman is an alien dude who can absorb energy from the sun like a solar panel and that this energy somehow can make him impossibly powerful and capable of flying. When you watch Doctor Who, you’re suspending disbelief...well, about just about goddamn everything, really. When you see an American Pie film, you’re suspending disbelief when you accept the idea that watching it is preferable to, oh say, spraying oven cleaner into your eyes. And so on and so forth; you get the idea and I’m sure I didn’t need to waste time explaining all of this to you to begin with.

How exactly does it work, though? I mean, we get the basic premise, but what are the nuances of this function? As an audience, most of us are still at least somewhat critical. We can still recognize when something is nonsensical and, at times, hold it against that product. Suspension of disbelief is not absolute, not by a long shot. It’s abundantly clear that having all the elemental spirits in Avalon Code be extra weak to even a tiny bit of water makes absolutely no sense, as I have mentioned. The absurdity of having the sacrifice of Fallout 3’s original ending be unavoidable annoyed players so much that Bethesda had to fix it in a later DLC. One of the many annoying parts of the HM element of Pokemon games is that it doesn’t even make sense for a variety of reasons anyway, which I’ve recently covered. And then there’s Xenosaga. It would take a rope woven from the hairs of Superman and God, coated in adamantium and enhanced with enchantments cast by Twilight Sparkle, to bear the burden of one’s disbelief at Xenosaga 3.*

And not only is our ability to suspend belief not absolute, it’s fickle. To make an odd and highly random contrast, take a look at the greatest non-anime cartoon of all time, Gargoyles, and the 2014 Godzilla movie. Throughout the course of the series, Gargoyles shows us magic and science of equally unlikely capacities, containing spells, cyborgs, mutants, and robots in almost equal measure, as it takes us through stories involving time travel, fantasy creatures, religious mythology, and mad science, all of which is encountered by the same few characters. Elisa Maza goes from being a regular New York detective, to a woman who befriends gargoyles, has a brother who gets transformed into a mutant cat-bat with electrical powers and a father who’s spiritually connected to a native american spirit god, opposes a megalomaniacal super-rich genius that marries a werewolf and has a manservant who comes straight from a Shakespeare play, fights shapeshifters and time-traveling wizards as often as she does street gangs, and meets minotaurs, aliens, banshees, immortal knights, ghosts of vengeance, nanomachine hive-minds, the Loch Ness Monster, Odin, King Arthur, and much more, all in the space of, what, 2 years or so? How insanely unbelievable is that?

And yet, no one talks about how unbelievable the content of Gargoyles is, at least not that I’ve ever heard. And I’ve certainly never myself complained, or even really considered, that the whole package is a bit hard to swallow. But you know what people HAVE often said is pretty hard to believe? The fact that the main character of the Godzilla movie, this 1 single guy, somehow manages to keep bumping into Godzilla and the other 2 giant monsters over and over again no matter where he goes, and is present at every major event of their rampage--while surviving every encounter. Hard to believe? Certainly! As hard to believe as Elisa Maza stumbling across the biggest collection of mythologies, monsters, and mad science that you’ll ever find outside a Shin Megami Tensei game? Uh, not even remotely. Yet the audience will unquestioningly suspend disbelief for Gargoyles, while Godzilla 2014’s string of coincidences and lucky breaks are noticeably unlikely.

And I’m sure you can come up with other examples of this if you think about it. We laugh when we come across a fanfiction (or an actual, published novel; thanks so much Stephenie Meyer) with an obvious and painful Mary Sue who’s perfect and wonderful and everyone loves her, yet we only vaguely question the believability of Batman being a perfectly fit super sleuth genius strategist master of combat who spends his time as Bruce charming random floozies and spends his time as Batman charming Catwoman, Talia al Ghoul, Batgirl, Lois Lane, Wonder Woman, and who knows how many others (I’m more familiar with the cartoons than the actual comics, in case it’s not obvious). Sure, the long-lost sister of Sailor Moon who’s a born natural at piloting a Gundam and whom Vegeta falls passionately in love with because she solves everyone’s problems easily just by being smart and talented and awesome is a highly unbelievable character--but Batman’s really no more likely!

So what’s the secret variable? Why is it that sometimes we have no problem believing the unbelievable in a story, but at other times, it sends up a flag in our minds even though it’s actually not nearly so bad as some of the other things we’ve taken at face value?

I think there’s a lot to it, but my theory is that 1 major factor of the equation is a rate of exchange. Essentially, your Suspension of Disbelief is strengthened by the quality of the product--you’ll forgive more if you’re getting more for it. Gargoyles may be filled to the brim with fantasy and sci-fi concepts, but it’s handled excellently, and it always has purpose with what it’s doing, and that purpose is a good one, creating and exploring complex characters and interpersonal dynamics, showing us human nature and concepts worth contemplation. When we agree to swallow the incredible events of Gargoyles, we get high quality entertainment and intellectual content back that is well worth the unlikeliness that it took to produce it. The same can’t be said of the Godzilla movie--there’s not a whole lot to take from it, in the end. I’m not saying it’s bad necessarily (though I didn’t like it myself), but it’s lacking enough merit that we aren’t adequately distracted from all of the unbelievable elements. We accept some (such as the existence of Godzilla and the other monsters), but the payout of entertainment and quality just doesn’t add up to enough to cover every unbelievable element. Same deal with the idea of the fanfiction Mary Sue compared to Batman--Batman’s story is epic and interesting, his character deep enough to draw interest and thought, and his adventures are both fun to watch and explore the darkness and light in human nature and develop him by proxy. We accept his hard-to-believe perfection because doing so opens the door to enjoy something seriously awesome,** even as we deride most fanfiction Mary Sues for a similarly unlikely perfection, because the fanfictions involving Mary Sues rarely, if ever, offer anything compelling and worth suspending belief for.

Hm. I’ve actually talked fairly little about RPGs so far. Uh, my bad. Lemme get back on track. This theory of mine helps me to explain how my impressions of believability work sometimes with RPGs. I mean, when you get right down to it, Tales of the Abyss’s world, for example, is pretty overcomplicated and crazy, really only a little less utterly absurd than the events and setting of Final Fantasy 8. Yet I take the whole of Tales of the Abyss in stride, but dismiss FF8 as a ridiculous pile of gobbledegook (which it definitely is). Why? Because in exchange for taking Tales of the Abyss’s magical cloning and 2-tiered world and falling continents and quasi-musical mysticism gibberish seriously, I get a great cast of characters who are nearly all layered and well-developed through the entirety of the game, and I get an adventure that delves well into the themes of defining one’s identity and worth, redemption, the value of life, and the question of free will and fate, among others. Conversely, in exchange for taking FF8’s nonstop barrage of fanciful idiocy seriously, I get an awful cast of insulting teenage caricatures, and an adventure whose only purpose seems to be reinforcing the idea that teenagers love each other in stupid and annoying ways and they just have to make everything that goes on in the cosmos all about that love. Gag me with a gunblade. So, since they’re not building up to anything worthwhile, there’s no reason for my subconscious to gloss over and forgive FF8 its logical inconsistencies, while my mind does so for Tales of the Abyss.

There’s plenty of other factors in it, of course--such as, in the last example, the fact that TotA takes the time to really explain its unlikely set pieces to the player, and plays devil’s advocate with itself in the form of Luke’s comments and skepticisms enough that it explains its illogical logic thoroughly, while FF8 just springs Guardian-Forces-eat-your-brain plot twists and the world being okay with no television for like 20 years just because nobody can be bothered to fix 1 single broadcast tower at every turn, and the characters just dumbly nod their heads and move along to the next thing without question. And another factor is how seriously you’re even meant to take the subject--a lighthearted, comical game, movie, show, or whatever obviously doesn’t need much believability so long as it’s funny. Still, I think this exchange rate makes sense of the situation pretty well. You’ll graciously shoulder more disbelief, IF doing so leads to a better payoff. I’m sure I’m not the first to come up with it, and I don’t know if I really had much of a point in telling you about it, Wouldn’t be the first occasion where I’ve shamelessly wasted your time, right?

* But even that wondrous rope of disbelief suspension could not make Indiana Jones surviving a nuke in a refrigerator seem possible.

** Well, I mean, in theory. Linkara has taught me well that not everything involving Batman is a masterpiece. The ridiculous bullshit that Frank Miller pulls alone...but all the same, as a general rule, Batman stuff is awesome.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

General RPG Lists: Most Annoying Characters

Well, this is a right dusty old list rant. Damn thing’s 5 years old now! I reckon it could use a bit of updating, and expanding. Enjoy the new and improved list, all.

Let's face it, folks: there are a lot of RPG characters out there who are just plain crappy. That's to be expected; it's par for the course of any entertainment medium that there are going to be a lot of characters found who are poorly written, cheap cop-outs, shallow husks, unimaginative filler archetypes, and just outright silly.

Of course, just because it's to be expected doesn't mean we aren't going to and shouldn't complain about it, and demand better, mind you.

However, even knowing that disappointingly bad characters are inevitable in the course of RPG-playing, sometimes we encounter one who just bugs the shit out us. Or at least I do; I can't speak for you. You might be such an accepting saint that you’ve never felt the compulsion to wring the neck of that demanding, bratty ingrate Shion (Xenosaga series), or to apply no less than 50 lines of duct tape across the mouth of the staggeringly moronic Gemini (Sakura Wars 5). Maybe interacting with simpering little twits like Chihiro and Ayane from Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 and 4, whose personalities are based entirely around their maddeningly dumb self esteem issues, does not bother you in the slightest. But from what I've seen around the fabled crap-encrusted halls of the internet's gaming forums, most people, at least, have a few characters that they just can't stand. I'd like to think that I'm more accepting than the average internet rambler (I've never decided to hate a Final Fantasy character based on what they wear, so I know I'm at least a more worthwhile human being than 90% of Gaia Online), but after 260+ RPGs, I've definitely encountered a few game people which I'd love nothing more than to shove a hot glue gun into their mouths and just hold down the trigger. Here are the top 10. Or the bottom 10. Whatever.

One note before we begin (have you noticed how many of these provisions and amendments I make to these list rants of mine? It’s like I think I’m writing out legal documentation): Villains are disqualified from this list. Oh, sure, Earthbound and Mother 3’s Porky is incredibly annoying, way more so than many of the individuals on this list, and lord knows Final Fantasy 9’s Zorn and Thorn get real grating real fast. But the thing is that a lot of villains, definitely including Porky and probably including Zorn and Thorn, are bothersome by design. You’re not supposed to like them. And this list is sort of supposed to be a negative criticism of the characters on it, showing examples of characters who almost surely weren’t actually meant to be as obnoxious and grating as they are.

10: Lita (Atelier Iris 1)

Since I can’t just put the entire collective cast of Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals into a slot, we’ll settle for starting with Lita from Atelier Iris.

In most regards, Lita is a bland but inoffensive character, a standard plot-relevant character type. What I really can’t stand about her, though, is the way she acts in regards to Klein. Lita has got it into her head that Klein is her territory; she likes him and other people should stay the hell away from him. Well that would be acceptable, if she weren’t a gutless coward about letting Klein know how she feels. She shies away from any honest expression of her feelings whatsoever where Klein is concerned. I’d say her issue with retreating from honest expression of her emotions is a little less severe than Prier from La Pucelle Tactics, and a little more severe than Allen from the Xenosaga series--and if you have any familiarity with how romantically passive Allen is, that should say something to you.

Well, that’s annoying in and of itself, but the problem here is that despite Lita making no attempt to confess her interest in Klein to see if he’s interested in her back, she is a jealous fucking shrew about him. When one of the item shop NPCs starts to become attracted to Klein, Lita is a complete bitch to her, getting incredibly jealous and acting like the woman is trying to steal Klein away from her. Lita, you nitwit, you have laid no claim on the guy. If you want him to be your guy, TELL him so, and maybe he will be. But if you refuse to inform him of your interest, you do not have any right to actively try to drive off others who are interested in him! What if Lita drives someone off that Klein would actually have been happy with? How is that fair to him? Shit or get off the pot, Lita, either tell the guy and get together with him or stop acting like he’s your fucking property.

9. Arnaud (Wild Arms 4)

Arnaud is the guy who prides himself, and I quote, in “everything from the neck up.” Well, I really hope he just means that he has some outstanding dental hygiene, because Arnaud is an unfiltered, authentic, Class A Moron.

You know Elenor Silverburg from Suikoden 4? She’s your army (er, navy) strategist in the game, and is a chronically drunk, shriveled-up old cat lady, whose much-touted combat genius amounts to nothing more than “Pincer attacks are pretty cool” and “Oh hey if we get behind our enemy that might help.” In a series that has given us the impressive Caesar Silverberg and Lucretia Merces, and the outright awesome Mathiu Silverberg and Shu, we’re supposed to buy Elenor’s Tactics 101 drek as something legitimately insightful. Uh, no.

Well, Arnaud is like Elenor in that the game desperately wants to convince us that he’s really sharp, yet absolutely nothing he says or does gives evidence of this. At the very best of times, Arnaud’s smart enough to come up with a plan that seems obvious to you (such as his stunning insight that his team shouldn’t spend long on a train filled with enemies because it is, y’know, filled with enemies). Most of the time, luck and other people’s talents are passed off as evidence of his intellect. So much like Elenor being passed off as brilliant in Suikoden 4, or Id being passed off as in any way powerful in Xenogears, or that clown Kai Leng being passed off as anything but a laughable little glee club wannabe-ninja in Mass Effect 3, Arnaud is annoying for the game constantly insisting to its audience that he is a worthwhile character for virtues he clearly doesn’t have.

Aside from that, Arnaud is incredibly annoying for being groundlessly arrogant of this so-called intelligence, and he actively takes part in and adds stupid perspectives to the incessant, wildly idiotic conversations and whining sessions of Jude (WA4 protagonist) about adults and how they’re all evil and why that is and how that could be changed and so on and so forth. Arnaud’s not usually the one actually STARTING the stupid conversations, so he’s not nearly as horribly bothersome as Jude, but he does add to the unceasing foolishness, so he definitely earns a place here.

8. Albel (Star Ocean 3)

Much like Arnaud’s misplaced pride in an intelligence that simply isn’t there, part of what makes Albel annoying is that he thinks he’s some super awesome swordsman and that everyone else is below him, when in reality, he’s really quite easily beaten any time you fight against him and he’s honestly not that impressive a team member if you, for some unfathomable reason, want to recruit him. And like Arnaud, Albel is unaccountably arrogant in this inaccurate self-image.

But you know what makes him more annoying than Arnaud on this point? The fact that Albel is a fucking asshole about it. It’s not just that he thinks he’s God’s gift to swordsmanship--he sneers at everyone else, and is so utterly stupid that he is unable to revise his opinion of how great he is and how he should try treating other people even as he’s defeated multiple times. Arnaud may be fantastically dumb, but I’ll take an annoying moron over an annoying jackass any day of the week. Albel is basically Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z--a worthless, selfish, arrogant prick who lacks the basic humanity to learn from his experiences, barely half a step above a rabid dog. Except that even Vegeta eventually, though it takes fucking forever, becomes sort of not a complete dickhead, while we certainly don’t see any indication that the same will ever happen for Albel.

He’s not exactly the first or worst character in RPGs to pull this crap--quite a few villains, such as Id from Xenogears, or Kai Leng from Mass Effect 3, or that infuriating little shit Porky from Earthbound and Mother 3, are arrogant and insulting even after getting their ass summarily handed to them multiple times with little effort. But Albel has the distinction of doing this while being a potential party member, not solely a villain. I don’t count villains on this list, but I sure as hell can count this douchebag.

7. Navi (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time)

What is there to say about Navi, really, that has not been said before by so many others? Hell, what's there to say that hasn't been said before by ME, in my TLoZOoT Characters rant? You should probably check that one out for most of my thoughts on Navi, but let me just say that when Nintendo decided to burden Link with this whiny-sounding, incessant, attention-feeding mosquito in fairy's clothes, it reminded we the players, like an all-powerful and whimsical video game God might, that just because it can deliver gaming wonders and hours of happy enjoyment, that doesn't mean that it can't also hurt us very, very deeply and grind our minds to powder with something even so small as a single sound clip saying, "HEY! LISTEN!"

...Y'know, just in case we had forgotten about Nintendo's capability for audible cruelty in the span of time between TLoZOoT and our experiences with Baby Mario's bawling in Yoshi's Island.

6. Rinoa (Final Fantasy 8)

I’m sorry, is there really anything I even have to say here? If you don’t know why Rinoa’s here, then you just haven’t played FF8. Listing out every annoying thing about Rinoa would be like cataloguing every unfunny joke Ricky Gervais has ever made--you’re basically just providing a transcript of every time your subject opens his or her mouth. I guess I’ll just speak about 1 quality of Rinoa’s in particular that bugs the hell out of me, but is a little more subtle than her other incalculable faults which are far more obvious. It drives me crazy how she has to turn every goddamn thing around to be about her, can’t let anyone else have anything that she’s not a part of.

Look at the point of the game where the team is going to try to assassinate Sorceress Edea. The trained commandos have a precise, logical plan for killing her, a plan that even has a backup option if it doesn’t initially succeed, that employs coordinated teams of trained fighters, and has had its timing and method planned out by a military general. What does Rinoa do? She bursts into the room with a, that gives it too much credit. She bursts into the room with a one-tenth-baked notion of finding some way to get the sorceress to willingly slip on a bangle that will, in theory, theory because it is untested, suppress her magic abilities. So again, this is the entirety of Rinoa’s plan:

1. Find a currently unknown way to break into the secured area where the sorceress is.
2. Convince the sorceress that she should put on this suspicious accessory.
3. Just hope really, really hard that it even functions.

Putting aside the staggering stupidity of this plan (I said I’m just doing 1 of Rinoa’s flaws here, and I mean it), she’s coming in when the team is on their way out the door to go on their mission, and she expects them to drop the plan that has been thought out in advance, has multiple methods to accomplish its objectives, and actually knows how to get its players into place without having to rely on climbing up conveniently parked cargo trucks, and go with her cockamamie, vague little tenth-of-an-idea. Then she gets upset when they don’t jump up to follow her idiotic whims, and decides to go out and jeopardize their mission by trying her idea all by herself. And why? Because it’s HER plan and she wants to do things HER way, whether or not that’s the right way, that’s why! Rinoa, not be special and included and important and the star? Impossible!

It’s like this through the whole game. Any time she can insert herself into a conversation and make it about herself, you better damn well believe Rinoa’s gonna do it. Rinoa has a whole bag of annoying tricks that earn her a spot on this list, and this is just 1 of them, but it’s less overt than the others while contributing just as much to how detestable she is. The next time you’re filled with enough self-loathing that you decide to do a replay of Final Fantasy 8, watch for it--the whole “me, me, me, me!” thing starts sticking out like a sore thumb if you’re looking for it.

5. Teddie (Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, and Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Q)

I swear to God if I hear this stupid piece of shit bear talk 1 more time about scoring with chicks or act like he’s some fucking smooth Casanova then I am gonna hop the next flight to Japan and fucking END Atlus.

4. Squall (Final Fantasy 8)

You know, I have to admit, I was somewhat surprised with myself when I made this list up. I mean, I knew Squall would be on it somewhere, but I wouldn't have thought, initially, that he’d have actually topped Rinoa (nor, for that matter, Teddie and Albel) for being an irritating twit. I mean, Rinoa's personality is that of a remarkably stupid, attention-starved little Daddy's Girl who throws a polite and subdued (usually subdued, anyway) tantrum whenever things don't go her way, and as I mentioned above, hates to give up the spotlight in any conversation to another person. It's really a good thing for the player that every other character in the game inexplicably wants to indulge her, or we'd have to put up with little hissy fits from her the whole game.

But back to Squall. Squall is, initially, not as annoying as Rinoa, or some of the others lower on this list (fucking dumbass Teddie). He IS a pain in the ass, though, make no mistake. He's a lackluster, sullen jerk who pushes everyone who gives half a shit about him away with as much hostility as his half-assed personality can muster. If you took away all the amusing and clever dialogue, the passion for knowledge, and all depth whatsoever from Dr. House of the show House MD, keeping only the caustic nature and whiny desire not to have to ever do anything for anybody, you would basically have Squall.

But like I said, even though every single thing Squall says or does makes all but the most patient person, shallow looks-swooning fangirl, and/or idiot teen who doesn't realize that Squall is an insulting caricature of himself want to kick him in the balls until a response is gotten that isn't just a belligerent scowl, he's still not as bad as Rinoa. The thing is, though, with Squall, you get TWO incredibly annoying characters in one package. See, I've mentioned this before, but partway through FF8, for reasons no logic can explain and with 0 warning whatever from the game's character development, Squall falls crazily in love with Rinoa. While you will still be subjected to Squall Version 1's capacity for being a jerk at times after this point (basically whenever he interacts with non-Rinoa human beings about non-Rinoa subjects, which happens less and less frequently), for the most part he becomes an insensible, lovesick idiot whose sole conscious thought and desire is to be around Rinoa. Now look, I'm all for strong, loving devotion in relationships, and I know romances in RPGs tend to be a little wonky, but it's just silly, stupid, and irritating. Squall Number 2 is an entirely different, but equally stupid and irritating, teenager stereotype from Squall Number 1, the stupid teenager stereotype that loses all concern and sense of identity to the idea of being in love with someone that they know little to nothing about and only met a short time before.

So that is basically why Squall earns his place here over the competition--because he's not just one incredibly annoying character, but two.

3. Jude (Wild Arms 4)

There's a LOT of competition for the title, but I think that Jude is perhaps the Stupidest RPG Protagonist of All Time. And not in the amusing way, like Terranigma's Ark or the Secret of Evermore kid. Now sure, you can argue that a Fallout 1 and/or 2 main character with an Intelligence score of 3 or below is technically less intelligent, but in neither Fallout will your character spend the entire game theorizing about why adults do things that aren't nice, as though reaching the age of 21 somehow mutated people into an entirely different species of alien bug-monsters. I know that kids don't always get adults and don't always agree with their actions, but by 13 years old they ought to at least know SOMETHING about human beings' actions and motives. He wasn't raised by wild animals all his life or something.* And the damn kid never shuts up. On the off-chance that he can find a topic of conversation besides how evil everyone who shaves must be, he's still yapping, asking stupid questions, getting typically obvious and simple answers, having said answers explained, and then having to be reminded 5 minutes later what the answers were because he still didn't understand them then and forgot them anyway. Jude is just the kind of dimwit that makes you want to bang your head against a wall--and then, on second thought, makes you want to bang HIS head THROUGH a wall much more.

2. Shana (The Legend of Dragoon)

To be honest, I thought for years that I would never encounter another character in ANYTHING, let alone RPGs, that could be as infuriating as this whiny, clingy idiot. Just describing her adequately is challenging; I feel like I'd have to be quinta-lingual just to find enough words for how repulsively needy and aggravating she is. I recognize that even good game girls end up needing rescuing sometimes (although I think it's stupid and needs to stop happening all the damn time), and I don't hold it against one if they end up needing to be bailed out once or twice, but Shana needs to be saved over and over and over, at times when the heroes actually have something important to be doing. And her personality! If you can even CALL it that. Imagine Rinoa. Now try to imagine, if it is within your mental capacity, that she is more clingy, sappy, and childish, while being less useful to her friends and boyfriend, and that her existence is not only a pain in the neck to the player, but also legitimately to her entire species. This is about as close as I can get to describing how annoying Shana is.

1. Alfina (Grandia 3)

And yet, just as Shana surpasses Rinoa at her own game of driving players crazy, so, in turn, does Alfina beat Shana. The personality is mostly the same, save for an extra dose of nauseating, meaningless saccharine that comes from a voice actress who somehow manages to make already repellently stupid lines even sappier. Everything else I have to say on this little twit can be found in my rant on Grandia 3, but let me just say that without Alfina, Grandia 3 would have been a boring, mildly bad RPG. With her, it's one of the worst in existence. Navi and Teddie couldn't ruin their games, Lita and Shana couldn't make their games bad, Albel couldn’t sour his game, and Arnaud, Rinoa, and Squall come from games that suck all around even without their contribution (though they sure as hell didn’t help matters). Even in the case of Jude, whose ceaseless, chattering stupidity is the focal point of Wild Arms 4, the game would still have been a wretched, obnoxious waste without his influence. But Alfina directly, immensely worsens her game; she is the most significantly faulty, unenjoyable part of Grandia 3 and makes it a drastically worse title simply through her presence within it. It is an RPG that would have been, if not actually good, at least not a horrendous catastrophe, had it not been for Alfina. That is how annoying she is.

Dishonorable Mention: Lynette (Fallout 2)

Okay, Lynette is kind of a stretch here, because even though she’s not really a villain, I’m reasonably sure that Fallout 2’s developers didn’t exactly intend her to be particularly likable. Still, I want to throw her in here. Part of that desire comes from just how incredibly obnoxious I find her--she’s an arrogant, smug, self-assured power-hungry bigot and she doesn’t exactly make a grand effort to cover it up as she condescends to you.

But the main reason I think First Citizen Lynette should have a place on this list is that she is sort of a miracle of unlikeability. I don’t think I’ve encountered a single Fallout 2 player, ever, who didn’t find Lynette at least a little distasteful. I’ve met people who like Rinoa. Just like with My Hero Academia's Bakugo, many people have no problem forgiving Albel for his shitty personality and lack of character depth because they somehow misidentify him as being cool. There are players who don’t find Arnaud or Jude particularly annoying when they play Wild Arms 4. Teddie is actually a fairly well-liked character. There are people who believe Sarah Palin has the slightest goddamn clue about what she’s talking about, fans of Chris Brown and Robin Thicke still exist, and plenty of worthless asswipes think Hitler was onto something.

But Lynette? No one likes Lynette. No one. How does that even happen? I mean, obviously the sampling of people familiar with her is going to be a hell of a lot smaller than the number of people familiar with most of the individuals, fictional or real, that I just mentioned, but still. It may not be an admirable distinction, but being the most universally annoying character I’ve ever seen is definitely notable enough for a spotlight in this rant.

* This wouldn't even be an excuse anyway; Tarzan and Mowgli get the hang of human beings about 10 times faster than Jude does.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Final Fantasy Series's Yoshitaka Amano's Art

I remember ranting about this back on Gaia Online like 10 years ago. Good times. Well, not really.

Many thanks to Ecclesiastes for looking this rant over for me. Truly, he is the greatest of proofreaders: the kind that doesn’t ask to be paid.

Yoshitaka Amano is the famous character artist of the old days of Square, the guy who designed the characters of Final Fantasies 1 through 6. Or at least, he’s credited as such. Frankly, I don’t think he should be. Because, see, Amano’s artwork? It is complete and utter garbage.

Yes, I’m sure that there are countless fanboys and fangirls spread across the land whose panties just twisted painfully into a knot from some instinctive knowledge that Amano is being badmouthed somewhere, but that’s the plain, simple truth. As an artist, Yoshitaka Amano is horrible. His lazy, ugly creations are almost excruciatingly unpleasant to view. Any clothing or machines or background he creates is messy and over complicated, yet colored either in a crude and overbearing fashion, or halfheartedly, like someone started to give it some watercolors but got bored and left halfway through. 90% or more of his characters are the same starving albino goth woman (who is sometimes passed off as a man) perpetually wearing the same listless, apathetic expression, like a lazy, half-asleep cat who can barely summon the energy to open its eyes just a slit to glare at you. Essentially, Amano’s idea of art is a world of uglily-detailed objects and scenery populated by a clone army of anorexic blonde vampires. If Hitler ever wanted to have some concept sketches made of how his Aryan utopia would look, I’m pretty sure Amano would be his go-to guy. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if there was a book of Amano’s art underneath the bed of more than one member of the KKK.

All that said, Amano’s shitty art style is not the reason I think he shouldn’t be given the credit as a character designer for the earlier Final Fantasy games. At least, it’s not the reason in and of itself. After all, I don’t deny Tetsuya Nomura his credit for the character designs of the games he’s been a part of just because half the characters he makes betray some strange, sort of disturbing fetish Nomura has for size 25 EEEE shoes.

No, the reason I don’t think that Amano should be counted as the character designer for Final Fantasy titles is...well, here, I think a couple visuals will help here. Consider the following characters:

Even Copy-Pasting Taxes My Image Software Skills to Their Limit

First of all, be honest with me: if you were to dress them all in the same outfit, how many of the above characters would you be able to identify? If your answer is more than 3, I’m not sure I believe you.

In case you can’t immediately tell--and who could possibly expect you to?--those characters above are, in order, Faris, Setzer, Edgar, Faris again, Celes, Faris again, Cecil, Terra, Rosa, Lenna, and Butz. Note how the males are virtually indistinguishable from the females, which are in turn virtually indistinguishable from each other, except for Faris, who, paradoxically, can look like 3 separate characters who all look like the same character. Try to wrap your head around that.

Now I want you to look at the way these same characters are seen in the games themselves:

More Super Basic MS Paint Skills

Do you notice something significantly different in this second picture? Maybe the fact that they look like separate people, ones which you could actually differentiate from one another? You don’t have to squint your eyes and concentrate to realize that it’s not the same person being put in different attire and poses. You don’t have to rely on the articles of clothing to make a positive ID. You don’t have to look at the first 3 characters there and try to recall which barely distinguishable cloak belongs to which pasty bleached famine victim. You just know, by looking, that you’re seeing Faris, Setzer, Edgar, Celes, Cecil, Terra, Rosa, Lenna, and Butz lined up there, without having to pause and figure it out. What an astounding idea--individualized physical characteristics!

Now, I don’t know for sure what the development process of Final Fantasy 4, 5, and 6 was like, and what the exact responsibilities of each job position was, but I feel relatively safe in the assumption that Amano was not the guy who actually constructed the sprites and portraits of these characters in-game. Partially because most people hired as concept artists aren’t also the ones in charge of the sprite art and character graphics in-game, and partially because, as stated above, in-game the entire cast doesn’t look like Cersei Lannister’s idea of the perfect orgy.

So since Amano wasn’t the guy actually building the sprites in the games, I don’t think it’s correct to count him as the real designer of the characters’ appearance. Because I don’t know about you, but I think of Terra as a woman with green hair, as seen from her sprite and menu portrait, not blonde-with-the-slightest-green-tint-that-looks-almost-exactly-as-blonde-as-Celes-and-Edgar-and-so-many-other-characters hair. I think of Rosa as being a woman with a normal, human expression, as seen from her menu portrait, not whatever frozen, otherworldly visage of apathy Amano thinks passes as a human face. When I think of Butz and Cloud, or Locke and Squall, I have very definite mental images of each of them, and they’re all reasonably dissimilar from one another. And the reason why I have a clear idea of what each and every Final Fantasy character I’ve encountered looks like, and why very few of them could be confused for one another, is because the thing that formed my visual perceptions of these characters is the game itself in every case. Each time, the game’s sprite-graphic artists embellished enough on Amano’s scribbles that the cast members resembled real, different people.* Thus, if you ask me, the true artists of the early Final Fantasy casts were not Amano, but rather the spriters of the games, who labored on Amano’s work in order to create the images of the casts we know and remember.

* Except in a few rare cases where Amano really did manage to create a character who wasn’t the same malnourished blonde Snow White copy. Like I said earlier, not EVERY Amano drawing of a character is identical to the others, just something like 9 out of 10. Cyan, for example, looks pretty much exactly the same in-game (allowing for the limitations of sprites, I mean) as he does in Amano’s art, but then, he doesn’t look anything like Amano’s typical character, so there’s no need to correct what he looks like in-game.