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.


  1. Hi, I haven't posted in a while.

    First, I need some background: Are the characters essentially Pokemon in that each is of an elemental type (unlike say a wizard in a standard rpg who learns mostly fire attacks but who has no special weakness when hit with water attacks)?

    If that is so, I think the weakness is more about playing loose with a theme in the show: earth-benders getting crapped on (not a lot, but their power being not as useful or negated in certain situations came up fairly frequently). Wearing super-strong metal armor that prevented ki-blocking was useless against shock-gloves/batons/mech-claws. Ki-blockers are agile and can use your attacks as terrain to go right for you. They can't bend non-earth-containing super pure platinum. So, yeah, there's not a whole lot of logic there, but a recurring theme in the show was Equalist stuff has earth-bending's number.

    1. Nice to have you back, Giauz.

      Yes, essentially Pokemon. Hell, the characters in this game even have about as much character depth as your average Pokemon.

      I'll admit that you're right in earthbenders getting crapped on in the show fairly often, but, like, all that stuff you just said is pretty much exactly as effective against benders of any other type as it is against earthbenders. It doesn't make sense that earthbenders would be MORE susceptible to it; you can at most only argue that they're not any less vulnerable to Equalist stuff than anyone else. The Equalists simply planned their offenses out to be effective against all benders, earthbenders included.

    2. Unfortunately, that logic supplied in your comment can't be zapped into the finished game. We'll just have to settle for, "Heh, remember all those times awesome earth and elite metal-benders like Bolin and Beifong got one-uped by Equalist stuff in the show? We should totes make that an overly simplistic mechanical "feature" of our game!"

    3. I suppose so, though only if we even want to attribute that much thought to them on the issue. I have a sneaking suspicion that you've given this matter and their decision more contemplation at this point than the developers did.