Sigh. So, over my Christmas break between semesters, I went on a crazy Avatar binge, watching the entire series of Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra from start to finish. I had seen neither before, but always heard only great things about them,* and with Korra having just finished its run, it seemed like a good time to finally get around to checking them out. I was not disappointed with either show; they are both excellent and well deserving of the frequent praise given them.
What I WAS disappointed with, was the Legend of Korra RPG.
“Cheap, lazy cash-in” is basically how I would describe this game. The facile plot barely manages to string itself together in between-battle cutscenes lasting all of a few seconds before the next mindless combat begins, the whole game feels like unimportant filler, and the characters are barely more than mouthpieces for a plot which almost doesn’t even exist. RPGs are a genre thankfully free from the curse of movie adaptations, but this title is clearly no less of a halfhearted, manipulative franchise-milker than any given movie-based game. And while I’m sure she would have ended up just as pale an imitation of her true self as all the rest of the characters in the game do...where the hell is Asami?
It may be a small flaw in a title that’s little more than the video game equivalent of a cheap t-shirt found in a second-rate amusement park gift shop, but the fact that Asami isn’t even in the game at all is nonetheless greatly annoying to me. I don’t deny for a moment that a lot of that annoyance is subjective, of course. I like Asami, I make no pretense otherwise. She’s an enjoyable character with subtle but significant depth who contributes a positive dynamic to the show and connects well with virtually every character and benefits their character development. She’s sharp, active, and dependable, and she rounds out Team Avatar very well. I want to see her in any and all Legend of Korra-related ventures.
But even from an objective standpoint, it doesn’t make any sense to have Asami absent from the game. There’s no plot-related reason that I can think of for her not to be present--the game takes place during a time in the show when she’s as available to be out and about with Korra as any of the rest of the gang is, and the game says and does nothing that would require her to be elsewhere. I suppose you can make the argument that just because Korra has an adventure, that doesn’t mean she always needs to have her friends present (there are plenty of times in the show where she’s going it alone, after all), but Korra’s pals Mako and Bolin are party members. What sense is there in having some members of Team Avatar on the adventure, but not all of them? It’d be like making a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game where you could play as Leonardo, Raphael, and Michelangelo, but for some reason Donatello wasn’t available, or even present, and his absence was never explained or even brought up in passing. It’d be like if a My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic game was released where Twilight goes on an adventure with 4 out of 5 of her best friends, but leaves Applejack behind for no given reason. It’d be like if Kingdom Hearts 3 comes out and it stars Sora and Goofy, but Donald is just completely missing and no one seems to even notice.
It’s not even like party spots are being reserved only for the most essential show characters anyway. Yeah, you’d expect Mako and Bolin to be there, that’s a given, and of course Tenzin is an obvious choice, but while Lin is important in the show, she’s certainly not at the level of main character that Asami is, yet she’s a party member in this game. And Kya? The game throws freaking Kya into the party, but not Asami?
Now, I suppose you could try to make the point that Asami has no elemental bending powers, so she wouldn’t really be able to hold her own as a party member in combat alongside all the other characters who can throw elemental attacks around willy-nilly. And I could certainly understand how you would think that...if you were a blind, slobbering moron, because anyone with even the slightest shred of familiarity with the show knows that non-benders can still be fierce combatants. Lacking bending never stopped Sokka, Suki, Ty Lee, and Mai from being formidable opponents in the first Avatar series, and it sure as hell doesn’t stop Asami in The Legend of Korra. She regularly takes down trained benders and warriors on her own with ease. In fact, I’m relatively sure that if you took all the fights Asami has been in, and averaged out how many of them she won, and then took all the fights Korra the kickass Avatar has been in and averaged out her success rate, you’d find that Asami actually has a way higher win ratio!
And it’s not like the game’s elemental system wouldn’t support Asami as a team member. The game has an element for physical attacks. Plenty of enemies use it, and at one point in the game, Korra has her bending blocked temporarily and has to rely on physical attacks only. So it’s not like the developers couldn’t have just coded in a non-elemental party member if they’d cared to. Hell, it would have given the player a chance to take advantage of the strategies inherent in applying the physical elemental to combat, providing the game with a tiny bit more gameplay variety. Which it could certainly use, since the gameplay of TLoKANEB is only marginally better than its story elements.
Even if you want to take a stickler approach that the combat team has to be benders only, there’s no reason Asami couldn’t have been in the game as a team-helping NPC. There are plenty of times where she could have been driving/piloting an escape vehicle, or flying the team to their next destination, or something like that. Asami’s got mad driving and piloting skills, so she’d do great in the role of the party-helping NPC who ferries everyone around.
I know it’s not a big deal, particularly not when compared to the game’s other shortcomings, but it just strikes me as dumb to leave as major a character as Asami out of The Legend of Korra: A New Era Begins. It would have hurt nothing to include her, her absence is puzzling and conspicuous, and as a character she tends to enhance the depth and development of those around her in the show, so who knows, maybe she actually could have interacted with some of the other characters in the game and made them seem a little more like the cast of The Legend of Korra, and less like standing cardboard cut-outs of the characters that some 6-year-old crudely snipped from the back of a cereal box. Probably not, I suppose, careless writing is gonna be careless writing anyway, but still. And if nothing else, having Asami around would have allowed for at least a tiny extra bit of time she’s spent connecting with Korra (even in as limp a way as this game would no doubt portray), and maybe help make the ending of the series just a little better grounded as a result.** Ah, well. The Legend of Korra’s a pretty popular show, even if it has ended...maybe someone will make another RPG based on it, a much, much better one I hope, and Asami will be invited to the party then.
* Well, almost nothing but great things. I had heard many people mention that Korra’s romance with Mako in Season 1 is stupid, spontaneous, has no chemistry, and, by far worst of all, takes attention and time away from the important parts of the plot and characters rather than naturally work within them. This is all true, unfortunately, but at least that nonsense resolves itself by the end of Season 2, so it’s not a big deal.
** Not to say that I wasn’t pleased that Korra and Asami end up together, or that I don’t think they should. I definitely agree that Asami is the person for Korra; they have such a natural connection from the first season on that their chemistry is almost tangible when they’re on screen together, and they relate perfectly to one another and compliment each other in the best ways. It’s one of those rare times when fictional characters are built right for each other from the get-go; in most romances I see in games, cartoons, animes, comics, and so on, the people involved have to be worked up to the point where they’re a perfect fit for one another. You’re sold on how genuine most characters’ love is through the interactions that play into the romance. With Korra and Asami, the genuine connection is there, clear and easy to see, without any of that work needed.
The only problem is...the romantic work isn’t needed to see that they’re right for each other, but it IS still needed to make their falling in love seem legitimate within the story itself, and Korra and Asami don’t actually spend a whole lot of time in the series together building their natural connection into something more, realizing its romantic potential. Besides the unfortunate fact that the show is skittish about outright showing their interest in one another until its famous ending, they just don’t actually have much together time on screen. What they do have is terrific, of course; I really love the scene at the end of Season 3 where Asami is trying to raise Korra’s spirits after her near death experience with Zaheer, I love the letters they exchange and the fact that Korra feels comfortable sharing herself in a letter only with Asami, I love their talk during the recap episode, and so on. But it should still be more, to warrant an ending as unambiguously about their being in love as The Legend of Korra concludes with. Korra and Asami being together is the right answer, there is no logically or emotionally rational argument to be made otherwise, but the writers rushed past a few steps getting to that correct conclusion.
How fun is it that a Korra RPG essentially gives me full freedom to rant like this on anything I want about the show? Fair warning right now, I may shamelessly abuse this privilege for more rants in the future.