Monday, September 28, 2015

Mass Effect 3's Weak Plot Foundation

Well, I’ve mentioned off and on for years now that I’d do this, so...let’s do this.

Mass Effect 3 is, overall, an awesome RPG. The majority of its story events are either thrilling or extremely moving, its characters are, as always with Mass Effect, almost all great, the protagonist is kickass, the themes and messages are good and worth thinking about, the voice acting’s top-notch...if only it didn’t have what is arguably the worst ending in all RPG history, this game would be among the greatest games in the genre. Sadly, Mass Effect 3’s ending is so intellectually and emotionally toxic that I’m starting to shake with rage as I write this just because I’m remembering it oh my Viridi what the FUCK Bioware WHAT THE FFFFFFUUUUUUUUUU--

I’m okay.

Still, even if we set aside the ending, which is so horrible that internet-dwellers still frequently rationalize any tragedy and disappointment they come across as “still a better ending than Mass Effect 3,” ME3 is not a perfect product. Truly excellent, yes, but it has its flaws. It continues its predecessors’ inability to make Ashley a likable or compelling character. There’s really not enough done on the front of love interests. Liara still frequently sounds like her somniloquent voice actress was recorded from the other side of the an aquarium. And Diana Allers. Dear God, Diana Allers. And you could romance her. For the first time in human history (sadly not the last, thanks a bunch, E. L. James), the phrase “still a better love story than Twilight” could not be said.

One of these flaws is, quite frankly, just the whole basis of Mass Effect 3’s plot. No, not the Reapers’ attack on galactic civilization. That part’s fine, and (arguably) what the whole series has been building up to. No, the problem with Mass Effect 3’s plot, that which weakens it as an overall structure, is the Crucible.

By itself, the logic of the Crucible is...iffy at best, and that doesn’t count all the idiotic bullshit it brings about in the game’s finale. You basically just have to take it on faith that somehow multiple completely unconnected cultures of aliens all managed to successively and successfully work on building a weapon during the cyclical armageddon of each one’s civilization, which they managed to keep hidden every single time from an enemy that can mass-brainwash individuals into becoming traitors and telling that enemy everything they know. Secrecy in the face of mass Reaper Indoctrination! Over and over again!

You just have to take it on faith that this super weapon was kept hidden for each following cycle to work on in conditions good enough that this unimaginably advanced technology could last for tens of thousands of years as it waited to be discovered, placed somewhere that the Reapers would not detect it, but where it would be found by its intended recipient society. You just have to take it on faith that the theories and concepts behind this inexplicable super technology that can beat the Reapers, which is so inscrutable to the current civilization cycle that it’s outright stated by the higher-ups within the game that they don’t actually know what the damn thing is going to do once it’s turned on, was somehow understood and worked out by these multiple separate totally different civilizations working on the problem one after the other. You just have to take it on faith that the blueprints just happened to be mostly complete by the time the Protheans (the civilization cycle before our own) had to hide it, that its plans just happened to be discovered now, right when it is needed, that they just happened to be comprehensible in their amalgamation of the technology of multiple alien civilizations set thousands of years and countless light years apart,* and, let’s not forget, that there just happens to be a convenient magical Reaper instant-kill button to begin with.

...You know, there are times when I know that something’s ridiculous, but it never really strikes me just how ridiculous it really is until I write it out in these rants. This is as nonsensical as any given Xenosaga 3 plot point. It’s a different, but completely equal kind of absurdity.

Anyway! The logistical problems of the Crucible aside, and again not counting anything involving the game’s ending because that’s just its own galaxy of putrescence, what really makes this thing a problem is that it weakens the overall plot of Mass Effect 3 and the game’s ultimate goal focus. It basically makes it into the weakest possible version of the cliched RPG formula of uncovering the secrets of the ancients in order to save the world.

I mean, think about it. How is the Crucible’s plans, utility, and existence any different from some generic fantasy RPG’s magical sword or other artifact that happens to be the sole key to defeating the game’s villain, and is housed in some ancient ruins created by some generic advanced ancient society that’s probably just outright called “The Ancients?” If the majority of a game’s plot focus is “gather the resources needed to fully construct and use the Crucible,” is that really any different from having a game where the majority of a game’s plot focus is “gather the resources needed to fully empower the Sword of Mana?” Whether it’s a mystical sword or a super advanced off switch, you’re still making the nigh-entirety of your game about running around to fix up some convenient magical plot device** that just happens to have been left to the game’s heroes to save the universe with, rather than come up with their own means to do so.

That’s not to say that making your game’s goals revolve around collecting magical crystals or unlocking seals on a magical sword can’t be done reasonably well. It can, and it usually is. Unfortunately, the Crucible represents the worst possible scenario in terms of this kind of plot. Because, you see, the Crucible is not the means by which the characters of the game are allowed the chance to fight back, it’s the entirety of their hopes. Everything is pinned on the idea that this lazy, magical plot device will just solve all the problems in a single go!

You take, say, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, by contrast. The ultimate plot goal of that game is similar--you seek out each of the ancient 4 giants of Termina to save the land from the moon crashing down onto it. Alright, so, seeking out the means to make an ancient, convenient and lazy plot device (the giants) save the day; seems like the Crucible so far. But the giants’ contribution is not the end-all, be-all of everything! Once they have halted the moon’s descent, it’s still up to Link to face off against Majora’s Mask by himself--the ultimate victory of good over evil, the triumph of the story, must still be won by the actual hero of the story, by his own hand, utilizing his own skills and resources. But the Crucible, it’s just the end of the conflict, the sweeping magical plot device that solves all problems once it’s up and running. Sure, Shepard must, in the ending, face off against The Illusive Man and personally get the Crucible started, so you could say that’s like Link handling Majora’s Mask himself...but ultimately, Shepard’s final contribution is still just to ensure that this lazy inexplicable kill switch gets flipped on. It’s just one last moment of empowering a poor plot device to do everything in the hero’s place. In the end, you feel that Link has accomplished something incredible by his own merits. But even if ME3 had had a good ending that actually made any goddamn sense at all, it’d still be a case of Shepard and all of galactic civilization relying on some piece of technology left to them by someone else to do everything for them, instead of having a story where they were all forced to come together and overcome their obstacles by their own merits.

Gee, galactic civilization relying on some piece of technology left to them by someone else rather than advance by their own efforts...that sure does sound familiar. Oh, right, that’s the trap that the Reapers laid for them to begin with! Advancement before a society has earned it and thus proven ready for it is a huge theme of the Mass Effect series, seen in both the way the Reapers entrap each civilization cycle, and the history and current state of the Krogan species. So the Crucible plot device isn’t just the worst version of a cliche, it’s also in direct contrast to major ideals of the Mass Effect series itself!

Now, to be fair, you might point out that Mass Effect 1 could be seen as weak in the same way. After all, the majority of Mass Effect 1’s plot is spent tracking down Saren, and in that pursuit, Shepard comes across various pieces of the ancient puzzle of the Reaper extinction cycle that have been left behind, which come together at the game’s finale with a plot-convenient portal to the final confrontation, which is what all these pieces of the past have been leading up to. Fair point--but it works for ME1. See, with Mass Effect 1, the uncovering of the ancient secrets, first of all, builds the lore of the series. As the first game, a major part of ME1 is to create the present and past of its universe, and incorporating these ancient puzzle pieces into the plot does just that. More importantly, though, with Mass Effect 1, these bits of the ancient past culminating at the end is not the be-all, end-all that the Crucible is. Shepard doesn’t seek to unravel the ancient mystery of the Reapers because he thinks that will somehow save the day all on its own--he does it in the hopes that it will give him the information he needs to do so HIMSELF. The idea is not putting all the pieces of the past together will stop Saren by itself, just that it will enable Shepard and company to do so; the heroes of the game actually are still expecting to have to overcome their foe themselves. And that’s how it works out--the portal that serves as a backdoor to the final confrontation doesn’t solve everything. Finding it and using it simply evens the odds so that Shepard is provided the opportunity to defeat Saren and save the day himself. Our hero is still our hero, and the good guys’ victory is still their own. Finally, though Shepard comes across the pieces of the past at each part of the story that eventually come together into the backdoor portal thingy, he’s not specifically searching for them at every step. Most of the locations Shepard finds these ancient clues at he has visited for more immediate, doing-stuff-himself reasons, following leads on Saren’s followers and activities. Shepard’s not just pursuing the past to defeat Saren. He’s pursuing ALL the leads available to him, SOME of which include digging up the galaxy’s ancient secrets. So in my eyes, Mass Effect 1 effectively uses this concept, where Mass Effect 3 ineptly leans on it.

So there you go. The Crucible is the worst example of an overused story cliche that takes the destiny of the game’s characters out of their own hands and invests all responsibility and hope instead in a magical plot device that just fell out of the damn sky. Even if all of that had not led up to one of the most sickeningly awful endings of all time, and had instead just led to a logical, decent, artistically consistent ending instead, it would still be a major weakness in Mass Effect 3’s plot. The Crucible is something that was born from carelessness or ineptitude (or both). The game-minus-the-ending is still great in spite of this, but it could have been better still without the writers’ reliance upon this half-assed storytelling crutch.

* To be fair, this is actually the least questionable part. Mathematics, upon which, ultimately, essentially all science and technology is built, is in all conceivable ways a universal language. In addition, it’s an established and extremely vital fact of the Mass Effect series that the Mass Relays and Citadel ensure that the technology of each cycle’s civilizations, once those societies have reached the point of interstellar travel, advances in a predictable way. So the Crucible blueprints would still have to mostly be written in the universal language of mathematics, which our cycle can understand, and be working with an understanding of technologies and scientific concepts only somewhat deviated from the current cycle society’s. While no mean feat, understanding the Crucible’s plans now that they’re nearly complete and (presumably) all the theoretical aspects have been determined by the Protheans or some older civilization would be much less unlikely than all the other stuff I’ve mentioned. But still a little iffy, all the same.

** I’m sorry, the Crucible isn’t magic, it’s advanced technology beyond the game’s ability to actually describe. Because there’s such a big difference between a plot device that you lazily claim is too advanced to be understood, and a plot device that you lazily claim is magic so it doesn’t need explaining.

That difference being that in the latter case, you’re at least being honest about it.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Legend of Korra: A New Era Begins's Non-Bending Element

The Legend of Korra: A New Era Begins is about as half-assed, dull, and barebones in its storytelling as the show it’s based off of is thoughtful, deep, and nuanced. I feel like I should make a rant about how much the game fails at telling its story, but, well, I’ve just said all that really can be said: it fails. It’s boring, meandering, and doesn’t bother to try. And by this point, having spoken of games like Suikoden 4 and Rune Factory 1 in my rants multiple times before, I’m starting to run low on creative ways to describe boring things. The whole problem with boring things is that they are, well, BORING. If there were any part of the experience of something dull that stood out and could be easily remembered and described, then it wouldn’t be dull. So yeah. Probably won’t ever get into any in-depth rant about The Legend of Korra: A New Era Begins’s story and characters, because there’s only so much I can do with Boring.

Stupid, though, now that’s a different matter. Stupid I can rant about all the live long day.

And stupid is how the element of Non-Bending attacks is handled in The Legend of Korra: A New Era Begins. It’s like this: In this game, there are 4-but-sort-of-5 elements. The main 4 are, as one would expect from watching the show, or really just having ever played an RPG before, Earth, Air, Water, and Fire. Their weaknesses flow in a way that is only sensible some the time (Water beats Fire, Fire beats Air, Air beats Earth, and Earth beats Water...for some reason), and actually doesn’t even make a whole lot of sense from the show’s perspective as far as I can tell...but if not always totally sensible, this cycle of elemental weaknesses is at least not all that out there, nor unfamiliar. Air elements being strong against earth ones is a common enough RPG occurrence, water beating fire is as much a staple of the genre as swords and hit points, and fire trumping air really only makes sense--fire is fueled by oxygen, after all. Again, not perfect, given that I really just don’t know how water being weak to earth works, and that the elemental interrelationships described in the show point to different conclusions, but overall, it’s a passable system.

But then you get the non-bending elemental attacks. This is stuff like Equalist shock gloves, chi-blocking strikes, and disabling gas--tools used by non-benders to even the odds against their super-powered foes in the show. Well, that’s fine, right? Plenty of RPGs have spells and attacks that are non-elemental, or separated from the regular cycle of weaknesses and strengths somehow. The obvious approach to non-bending attacks is to set them up like that--have them be a thing where they’re neither especially strong nor weak against any single other element, utilitarian but not especially advantageous. No problem.

But that’s not what the game does.

No, instead of doing anything that makes sense from a gameplay perspective, and especially instead of doing anything that makes sense from a making sense perspective, TLoKANEB decides to have non-bending attacks be super effective against the earth elemental. From the gameplay perspective, why give earth benders an extra weakness, while all the other elements retain only their 1 weakness? That’s not balanced. Further unbalanced is the fact that no other element has a strength against non-bending attacks. Also, you don’t get anyone on your team who specializes in non-bending attacks, which is further annoying and kind of unbalanced. If only there were a character from the show who would have fit that role perfectly...

More importantly, though, why, of all the elements, would earth be the one weak to non-bending attacks? I mean, just think about this for a moment. The primary attacks of the non-benders are chi-blocking strikes. As in, physical contact, of their hands upon their enemy’s person. Of the 4 bending elements, wouldn’t earth be the least vulnerable to that sort of attack? What with, I dunno, the fact that the earth benders can coat their bodies in stone or metal with the speed of thought? I’m pretty sure that one of the earth bending abilities in this game is to increase one’s armor with a rock coating. And one of the characters in the party, Lin, specializes in metal bending, and wears armor for the express purpose of having a weapon at all times! Why in the world would she, of all members of the team, be the most susceptible to physical strikes from a naked human hand!?

Okay, sure, being effective against Lin does make sense in terms of the shock gloves that the non-bending element also makes use of. It’s a glove that makes electric shocks, and she’s in metal armor. That’s a guaranteed bad time for her. But...hey, wait a minute.

Why the hell are the shock gloves considered non-bending attacks, anyway?

I mean, being technology-based, anyone can use them, and the non-bending Equalists are the ones who utilized the things in combat, sure. But the glove is delivering an electric shock. Lightning is a subset of fire bending in the Avatar universe, and there are lightning moves in this game that count as fire elemental. Electricity is electricity one way or another, so shouldn’t the shock glove attacks count as fire, not non-bending? You can’t tell me that tasing someone is the same as just punching them in the elbow or wherever those chi pressure points are.

And getting back to what I was saying before, it still doesn’t make sense, the earth weakness to it. Sure, the shock glove would be especially devastating against a metal-clad earth bender like Lin, but Bolin, another team member, can’t bend metal, only regular old rock. Just as he could coat himself with rock to avoid the chi-blocking strikes from earlier, he could do the same to defend against the shock glove.

I just don’t get the logic here. If the point of having this non-bending element be advantageous was to be symbolic of the Chi Blockers’ ability to overcome bending despite being at a theoretical disadvantage, why only make the non-bending element superior to 1 of the regular bending elements, instead of all of them? And if you’re going to pick a single element to be at a disadvantage, why pick earth, the element that logically would be the most able to shield itself from non-bending attacks? This whole thing just doesn’t make a lick of sense.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Legend of Heroes 6-1

Regular reader Humza did me a solid a little while back when he linked the inestimably awesome Chris Avellone to one of my rants here, which garnered a positive reaction from Mr. Avellone that my self-esteem still feasts upon to this day. Mr. Humza waved away my offers to thank him through (sort of) material means, instead asking me if I would play one RPG in particular, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, which I will henceforth simply refer to as The Legend of Heroes 6-1, and then rant upon it. I think Humza’s idea was that if I were to call attention to this game in a rant, it might generate some extra interest in the series and a few more sales of the game, which would further encourage XSEED Games to translate the next game in the series for a western release. This plan is ridiculous given that, A, XSEED Games had already confirmed they’d be releasing the next game in the series some time this year by the time Humza made me aware that this series even exists, and more importantly, B, the number of people reading this blog is almost as small as the number of people with a clear conscience who work for Fox News, so it’s not likely that anything I say is going to influence anything. All the same, I owed Humza a debt of great gratitude, so I purchased The Legend of Heroes 6-1, played it, and now I’m here to do a broad, unfocused review of the game. I don’t usually do overall reviews of RPGs (unless they’re so unspeakably awful that I have to attack every single facet of them for my own personal peace of mind), so bear with me--this is going to be long, barely structured, and incorporate several parts that would otherwise have been rants of their own.

So what were my impressions of The Legend of Heroes 6-1? Well, this game and I didn’t get off on the right foot, that’s for sure.

See, you may have picked up on this just from my general way of sorting titles of both rants and the games I play, but when it comes to RPGs, I very much like a neat, orderly classification. And The Legend of Heroes series...pretty much has the most annoying taxonomy in the entire RPG world. The franchise started as a spin-off of a wholly separate series (Dragon Slayer), has mini-sagas within itself (the entry we’re speaking of today, TLoH6, is the first of 3 TLoH titles in the Trails in the Sky sub-series), and had title mismatching like the Final Fantasy series did in the days of the SNES (as in, the third TLoH game was released in the west as the second, because the actual second was never translated, as well as some titles just having their numbers removed altogether once translated). To top all of that off, The Legend of Heroes series sometimes, but not always, counts entire mini-sagas as single entries in its history--today’s subject is the sixth game in the overall series, but the next 2 games, as part of the same trilogy-within-the-larger-series, also count as the sixth entry, with the series only moving onto the number 7 after the trilogy is ended, at its ninth title (thus why I’m calling this The Legend of Heroes 6-1). This is in spite of the fact that earlier in the series there was a trilogy (known as the Gagharv trilogy) in which each title was counted as separate, numbered installments of the overall franchise. It’s all madness!

That said, once I actually turned the game on and started playing it, The Legend of Heroes 6-1 drew me in pretty effectively. I haven’t played a good, classic old JRPG for a while now, having mostly played western RPGs and more modern JRPGs in the past couple years. TLoH6-1 was a comfortable return to a style of RPGs that I hadn’t realized how much I missed: the late Playstation 1, early Playstation 2 era. So much of the style, presentation, and atmosphere of this game reminds me of pleasant times spent with Grandia 1 and 2, Breath of Fire 3 and 4, Arc the Lad 3, and Wild Arms 2 and 3, among several other JRPG classics of the age. That’s not to say that I judge this game good because of this nostalgic atmosphere--I do my best to maintain as much objectivity with judging RPG quality as I possibly can. But I can’t lie that the feel of TLoH6-1 did make me more receptive to the possibility that this was a good game.

And it is! In an occurrence so rare that one might almost call it miraculous, XSEED Games actually picked a good RPG to translate. Last time I personally saw that happen was Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon. But there’s no denying it: this is a quality title.

First of all, the plot is quite solid. I wouldn’t say it’s incredible, but it does the job from start to finish. The story is both personal, small, and also grand and overarching, and offers several interesting and pleasantly unexpected developments throughout. The story is paced very well, developing its smaller events into the cogs of a grand quest to save a nation, and doing it effectively enough that even though you recognize the plot strings that will eventually coalesce into a greater purpose, when it finally happens you’re still struck by the gravity of what is occurring. The story never gets so slow that you lose interest, and whenever it picks up, you’re interested and excited to know what happens next.

The development of the game’s world is handled well, too. I’ll grant you that the world of TLoH6-1 is definitely standard RPG fare, but its magical, political, technological, and social details are all explained and utilized frequently as the game goes along, from its start to its finish, in a way that feels natural. There’s no huge lore dump exposition dropped on you at the beginning of the game, or at just 1 or 2 important plot points, like many other RPGs unfortunately do. You learn about the world as you go, its details surfacing when knowing them is relevant, fitting the feel of the story. For example, your first understanding of the emotional weight of the Hundred Days War, which is an integral piece of backstory to the game, is not just hastily told to you in the intro to the game--it’s instead communicated later as Estelle recalls the day her mother died during a battle in their hometown. And it’s not just thrown out there solely so you’ll know about it, though that’s part of the reason. Estelle is reminiscing about it because she’s using that memory as an emotional springboard to make her own point about something, to contextualize a current, relevant situation, feeling, and decision of hers. This piece of lore isn’t brought up just so the player can study it for later--there’s a reason in-game that Estelle is speaking of it; it’s a piece of the past that frames where the future is headed. TLoH6-1 certainly isn’t the only RPG to be able to skillfully handle world development in its narrative like this, not by a long shot, but that doesn’t make this any less a quality worthy of praise.

Speaking of storytelling quality, it’s worth noting that the translation XSEED Games has done is very good. Dialogue feels natural, and the phrasing and vocabulary feels very western overall--yet at the same time, there’s plenty about what characters say and how they say it that feels strongly tied to the communication patterns of the game’s country of origins, so it always still feels like the JRPG that it is and should be. Hard to explain, but hopefully you get the basic idea.

Also, I have to give XSEED a thumbs up for the treasure box messages. This is actually a treat that we western gamers get which Japanese players didn’t: basically, the game was programmed with all kinds of different lines of text for when you examine a treasure chest you’ve already emptied, but in the original version, all the text just said the same thing. XSEED, however, decided to make use of this strangely unused text differentiation, and put in a couple dozen different amusing messages that make examining treasure chests you’ve plundered just as fun as actually getting the treasure was, sometimes more so. It’s quite amusing to walk up to a recently looted treasure chest and have it indignantly declare, “YOU again!” or ask me when I plan to return the stuff I borrowed from it. Fun little touches like this, and a photographer during the game’s ending telling his subjects to say “Fuzzy Pickles!”, tell me that the folks at XSEED Games have a genuine enjoyment of RPGs (even if they can’t seem to find many good ones to translate), and enthusiasm for your art counts for a lot with me.

I’ll also note that all the little stuff adds up well in the game, even though none of this junk matters in the slightest as far as how good an RPG TLoH6-1 is. The music is always serviceable, and there are several themes that are pretty darned good. As RPGs go, the gameplay is fine--nothing to write home about, but certainly functional and well designed. I mean, I think it’s boring as hell, but I don’t actually remember the last time I played an RPG where that wasn’t the case, so, y’know, I’m not the best example to go by on that count. The PC port, which I played, works fine and doesn’t seem to have any bugs that I could find, which is always nice--as is the fact that offers a PC port of a game developed for a console to begin with. I definitely hope to see that happen more in the future. And lastly, as far as graphics go, they’re...fine, I guess? You can tell what you’re looking at, and that’s all that matters, as far as I’m concerned.

Next, the characters. Overall, TLoH6-1 has a strong showing here, with a memorable, colorful cast that interact well. The important NPCs are reasonably distinctive, and the game never discards any of them, giving the impression that everyone that you meet and everything they’re involved with truly was significant, which is nice. Most of the party members are likable with good personalities and an acceptable level of depth to them. I appreciate that the game actually puts a bisexual man into the main cast, but at the same time, the guy’s kind of a circus act, and his sexuality is laughed off as part of his comic relief weirdness, so it’s a wash.

I do have to say that Agate is a jackass. Yeah, yeah, he’s supposed to be filling that role as the emotionally stunted tough guy whose hostility covers up his concern for others’ welfare, and we’re supposed to look past his thorny exterior to appreciate the good man within. You’ve seen the type before, I’m sure, unless you found this blog by mistake while looking up Rocket-Propelled Grenades. Yeah, well, too fucking bad, Agate’s still an asshole. Fuck that manly-tsundere crap, Agate’s too heavy on the hostility with barely a shred of the decency that’s supposed to balance it out. I don’t care how well he may mean--when a little girl’s grandfather and sole guardian gets kidnapped before her eyes by dangerous armed men, that is NOT THE TIME to slap her, say it’s her fault for trying to help at all, and tell her to man up about it! Hey, Agate, here’s an idea: maybe if you’d let Tita (the kid in question) come along from the start, like she wanted to, her presence wouldn’t have been the unknown factor that threw your strategy off! It ain’t like she can’t pull her own weight--in fact, at that stage in the game, her AoE attack and skills make her much more useful in general combat than Agate! A child has to watch the person she loves most in the world get taken away, never knowing if she’ll see him again, and then Agate hits her, tells her she’s useless, and blames her for the whole thing. To hell with social awkwardness and gruff exteriors as excuses--Agate’s a fucking asswipe.

Sorry, I get a little carried away when it comes to ragging on jerks. Anyway. By and large, the cast is strong and memorable. The protagonist Estelle and her companion Joshua are good, too, though only to a certain extent. I like Joshua just fine, but very little about him is developed, nor is much about him known until the game’s final moments. He’s mostly a foil to Estelle. Which is fine, he fills the role well enough, but it does mean that he doesn’t stand out or compel the audience as much as I think he was supposed to. Estelle’s better, growing a bit over the course of the adventure, and possessing a distinctive and enjoyable personality. I wish we’d gotten a chance to see a few more of the smaller peripheral details of that personality--elaboration of her little quirks, like the interest in sneakers and her fishing hobby*--but overall, Estelle is a decent heroine and an enjoyable character to watch for the 50 hours or so that you spend with her.

The villain’s decent, too. I wish we had seen more of him, given him a little more chance to develop himself, but his overall motivations are strong, and supported very well by the well-developed lore and the constant hero-worship by the game’s characters and nation of Cassius Bright--more on that in a later rant. You can definitely understand where he’s coming from and sympathize to a good extent. He kinda reminds me of Dragon Age 1’s Loghain, actually, though definitely an inferior version. A good cast isn’t complete without an appropriately decent villain, and the antagonist of TLoH6-1 fits the role quite adequately.

I will say, though, that the characters department does suffer in 1 very noticeable way: the love interest angle for Estelle and Joshua is terrible. I don’t want to get into it here in any great detail, though--their romance thing is going to have to be its own rant. Let’s just say for now that this is the worst case of Since We’re Not Related It’ll Be Okay Syndrome** that I’ve ever seen. I sure hope the next installment of this trilogy can do a better job of selling their romantic love, but I’m not gonna hold my breath.

Speaking of the next installment, let’s finally get to the ending of The Legend of Heroes 6-1. The finale is fast and exciting, and the ending to the game is a perfect stopping point. This first major adventure is concluded, yes, but questions remain, and it’s clear that the heroes have uncovered a far greater threat and mystery which must be investigated. With Joshua’s revelation, which is not unexpected but nonetheless makes an impact on the player, and the foreboding of darker, grander schemes to uncover and thwart, the player is left ready and raring to see the next part of the story. It’s a transition point almost as well-constructed as the ending of Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 1, combining the satisfaction and closure of a great adventure concluded and a job well done, with the thrill of knowing that it was all only a step toward the true conflict.

And so I am very glad that XSEED Games will soon release the next installment of this story, because with a good plot, a memorable cast, strong storytelling and writing skills, and a conclusion that leaves me hankering for more, I find that I may be on my way to being an avid fan of the Legend of Heroes series. My interest is piqued, at the very least. So thank you, Humza, for having me give The Legend of Heroes 6-1 a try. And as you hoped I would, I now make my recommendation. To anyone looking to play a classic, quality JRPG with a lot of heart, you could do a lot worse than The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. Head over to Steam or GOG, or find a hard copy for your PSP, and check it out.

* Actually, on second thought, maybe not exploring Estelle’s interest in fishing was a blessing after all. The last thing I want is ANOTHER major fishing minigame to deal with.

** This is a term that I will detail in a later rant. Basically, it’s going to stand for the disturbingly frequent occasions when RPG characters who are not biologically related but have been raised in the same household for a significant period of their lives and thus are, in mind and spirit, siblings, decide they have the hots for each other.