Thursday, June 18, 2015

Shin Megami Tensei 4-1's Party Members' Strange Immunity

You know, the protagonist and his party in Shin Megami Tensei 4 have a rather inexplicable immunity to various plot-related obstacles.

Okay, remember early in the game, while you’re still samurai-ing it up in the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado? The party’s first encounter with Yuriko ends with her having a horde of Lilims attack them, and use their charm magic to incapacitate all the males of the party (because God forbid we ever include a gay man in our main cast!) as Yuriko escapes. Okay, fine. Standard plot-necessitated hero restraint. At least the party didn’t just stand around and watch like a bunch of ninnyhammers.

But then, later in the game, Flynn and his samurai buddies come face to face with the same bunch of Lilims guarding Yuriko. The Lilims use the same technique, and...this time it doesn’t work. Why? The game has Jonathan or Walter (or both, can't recall exactly) proclaim that the mind control spell won’t work this time, and we’re expected to content ourselves with this not-explanation and keep going. But seriously, why are all the guys suddenly completely immune to this charm spell that seriously wrecked their shit last time? No story-related reason is apparent; they didn’t get some sort of spell of protection against it or a magical "Cold Shower To Go" plot item. Is it just that they’ve gained a few levels, or something? Are we expected to believe that knowing the attack is coming is all it takes for them to be able to completely ignore it? If just some basic willpower not to give in is all that’s needed to resist the spell, you’d think that their dedication to their duty (Jonathan in particular) would have at least slowed the spell down a little the first time, but they all fell under it quite immediately then. Doesn’t really add up.

But hey, that slight oddity isn’t worth any real thought, right? Just one of those little narrative hiccups that happen in practically every story, a one-time thing that we happily ignore for the sake of immersion. Except...this sort of thing happens several times.

You take Yaso Magatsuhi’s gas. The first time the party enters the underground tower that Yaso Magatsuhi guards, they immediately notice a strange, sweet smell in the air, and eventually succumb to the delirium it induces. They are told later that Yaso Magatsuhi’s gas does that to everyone and that’s why all the workers in the place were wearing gas masks. But, later on in the game, you can return to this dungeon, find Yaso Magatsuhi, and beat the crap out of it, and now the gas seems to have no effect on Flynn whatsoever. Charm magic is one thing, that’s based in your mind to begin with so I guess it’s okay, if not ideal, to explain it away as just being resisted through mental preparation, but why is it that the hallucinatory gas doesn’t work this second time? You can say that the second time through the tower, Flynn isn’t exploring the place and finding keys to proceed, so there’s less time for the gas to affect him, but on the other hand, actually facing Yaso Magatsuhi in combat means an extended period of time right at the very source of that gas. The first time around, close proximity to Yaso Magatsuhi immediately induced the delirium, so even if Flynn hasn’t been exposed for very long this second time around to the gas from afar, you’d think that being up close and personal with it for an entire battle would still do the trick. But nope, he’s just perfectly fine, no explanation offered for why.

Why can’t Medusa turn the party to stone early in the game? Her lair’s filled with stone statues that she readily identifies as people who crossed her, so obviously the traditional lore about her petrifying gaze is still relevant. Yet the most that can happen against Medusa is that Flynn might be tricked into looking at her eyes in battle and being paralyzed--paralyzed, not petrified. The legendary instant-kill of Greek mythos has been reduced to a mildly inconvenient status effect. It doesn’t really seem to be a case of nerfing Medusa, because the evidence is all throughout the area that she can turn people to stone with her gaze. It just...doesn’t happen with Flynn and company.

And what about Blasted Tokyo? It’s a major plot point that Blasted Tokyo, particularly its outdoor environs, has poison in its air, pumped out by Pluto, which is basically God’s version of a can of Raid. The people of Blasted Tokyo cover themselves completely and wear air filters at all times in order to stay alive...yet Flynn, Walter, and Jonathan go traipsing around Blasted Tokyo in their regular clothes, noses and mouths completely exposed. Does the poison that the game assures us over and over again is in the air ever affect them? Nope. Not a one of them even so much as coughs the whole time they’re in Blasted Tokyo. You can assume, I guess, that the poison is a more slow-acting thing and only deadly if you’re breathing it over a certain period of time, but the party is walking from one end of Tokyo to the other and back again. That does take a certain amount of time to do, especially if you’re stopping every few minutes to fight a random encounter and doing a bunch of side quests. And they enter Pluto’s HQ and confront the thing face to face--I can only assume that the poison in the air would be much higher that close to the source. You’d think there should be some reaction to the poisoned air after all that, but again, nothing.

It’s not really a huge deal, or anything. Shin Megami Tensei 4 certainly has bigger problems weighing it down than this. Still, after a certain number of times, the oddity of the party’s inexplicable immunities starts to grow noticeable, and the fact that the main characters are only ever affected by this stuff when it’s most convenient for the writing, instead of consistently or at least with some explanation for the inconsistency, is still detrimental in its small way.

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