It sucks when you have to put up with a poorly-written character for a whole game. RPGs average 50 to 60 hours, and that’s a hell of a long time to be stuck with an incessantly chatty dumbass like Wild Arms 4’s Jude, a thoroughly obnoxious asshole like Star Ocean 3’s Albel Nox, a nauseating simpleton like Grandia 3’s Alfina, a self-righteous hypocritical bitch like Dragon Age 1’s Morrigan, or absolutely goddamn everyone in Mega Man Star Force 1.
But you know what’s much worse? Having to put up with a poorly-written character who was, in more capable writers’ hands, previously someone you actually liked. You know what I’m talking about: you had a cool character from a game, and then, in some sequel or spin-off, that character was used again, only this time, they were suddenly really crappy, a poor caricature of their original concept, or not even close enough to be called that. Think Samus, in Metroid: Other M. Usually this is caused by an inept idiot ruining someone else’s work, like the characters of Avatar: The Last Airbender being horribly mangled by the live action movie adaptation of the show, but not always. Sometimes, the same company can utterly misunderstand and cheapen their own characters, like what Disney does to Jack Sparrow after the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, and on rare occasions, the original creator him/herself will destroy his/her creation, like George Lucas did with Darth Vader. And, well, pretty much every other part of Star Wars.
Sometimes you’ll luck out, sort of, and the damage will be relatively minor. Suikoden 4 managed against all probability to make Viki boring, but as much as I do adore Viki and her hapless antics, messing up a character whose story contribution is basically just humor isn’t a comparatively huge transgression. Plus, Viki was back to her amusing Viki-ness in the next game, and adorably voice acted at that. Or you’ll get a creator who does not, nor makes absolutely any goddamn effort to, understand the characters they’re borrowing, but is only using those characters in a small way that doesn’t have the time or importance to really damage the character, like when Tetsuya Nomura uses any Final Fantasy character not from his own games in a Kingdom Hearts title.
But more often, the damage done to a beloved character, one whose influence over the audience significantly affected their enjoyment of the game as a total, is a lot more dire. Good characters can be ruined by a stupid misunderstanding of them, the way Cloud was in Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children--his character had basically regressed back to the state it was in at the end of FF7’s first disc and then multiplied its teen angst twice over. It was like watching some self-indulgent mopey teen’s fanfic misinterpretation of the character brought to CGI life, complete with the questionable black Hot Topic ensemble. Good characters can be ruined by sheer, stupefying incompetence, like the poor cast of Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals. You’d never know it from the remake, but Maxim and his companions actually had some dignity and weren’t just laughable, illogical caricatures back in the original Lufia 2. Good characters can be ruined by some writer’s arrogant impulse to brutally twist the character to fit the writer’s needs instead of who the character actually is, leaving a personality so disfigured that the character is pretty much unrecognizable, like Bioware did to Anders in Dragon Age 2. And of course, good characters can be ruined by all of these factors coming together at once, a repulsive maelstrom of careless, incompetent arrogance that strips everything that was good and worthwhile about a character away, leaving only Final Fantasy 10-2 Yuna behind.
It’s bad enough when someone takes a great plot or setting and lore, and ruins it. It was aggravating to play Shadow Hearts 3, for example, and see the inept handling of the series’s atmospheric, gloomy, yet strangely quirky image of real world history as the game bumbled its way through a slew of crappy misconceptions of the Americas. Very aggravating. It’s one of many reasons why that game just blows. And it’s even worse when important parts of a plot are ruined. It was so disappointing to see Final Fantasy 7: Last Order retroactively cheapen one of the greatest moments in the Final Fantasy series as it changed Cloud’s inspiring victory over Sephiroth at the Nibelheim Reactor to looking like Sephiroth thinks it barely an inconvenience.*
But for a large majority of RPGs, the characters are truly the heart and soul of the game, our guides and translators of the plot and its themes, the components which invest us emotionally.** So if you fuck up a character that the audience liked, you’re not just souring that character, you’re worsening everything that character touches and contributes to, the product as a whole. When that character was written correctly, he or she (or it) was one of the paths the audience took toward enjoying the work, and now that you’ve spoiled that character, he or she (or it) will just as easily become a path for the audience to take toward disliking this new work. You’re poisoning the game from the inside out, and probably spreading that poison retroactively to the original one, too. When continuing or remaking an RPG, game creators should be careful to do well by the source material, but they should exert extra caution in the case of reusing or remaking the original’s cast. Screw up there, and they have fucked up something fierce.
* Hey, Nomura, do you think you could maybe just try to go a full 5 minutes without fellating Sephiroth? Just once? For the sake of artistic integrity? No, I guess not.
** Mind, not ALL RPGs are like this. There are some RPGs that are excellent solely by virtue of story, themes, and whatnot, without any real influence from the characters. Deus Ex 1, for example, is a terrific RPG, but it owes almost none of its quality to its cast--they all just fit their roles as needed and don’t get in the way of the gripping and thought-provoking plot. Earthbound, as another example, is a game whose main characters barely have any real narrative presence, yet there are more than a few who think it quite a decent RPG, just for other reasons. Still, most RPGs have a strong focus on their characters, and those characters being good or bad may make or break the title.