Saturday, January 28, 2017

Mass Effect 2's Krogan Rite of Passage Symbolism

I’ve been looking back on the greatest science fiction epic of our age lately, and appreciating once more its skillful writing, artful lore and themes, and rich and engaging characters. Ah, Mass truly is a magnificent specimen of the space opera, one of gaming’s finest works of storytelling.

Well, until Bioware violently murdered it during its last 5 minutes.

But we won’t get into that again. For now, though, let’s rewind the series a bit, back to a moment of Mass Effect 2 that I think deserves a little extra appreciation: the Krogan Rite of Passage.

This is a point in the game during which Shepard must, to earn his teammate’s loyalty, take Grunt to the homeworld of the krogan to engage in a cultural tradition of battle which will cement Grunt’s place as a krogan. Shepard, Grunt, and the party member of your choice go to a ceremonial battleground, call forth a few waves of enemies to fight, and then have to deal with a hostile krogan asshole who wants to use Grunt for political power while openly treating him as a freak. It’s straightforward, but it’s also a notable moment in the game, because each part of this trial is thoughtful and symbolic of the Krogan people.

The first part of the rite involves fighting a pack of varren, the vicious, fish-lizard-canine things frequently used as attack dogs by mercenaries in the series, while a voice talks of how the krogan mastered their lethal planet. The symbolism here is fairly obvious: varren are native to the krogan homeworld of Tuchanka, so the rite-taker is proving himself a true krogan by mastering the deadly beasts of his homeworld, as his ancestors did. The next part of the trial replaces the varren with man-sized hostile insects, while the voice goes on to talk of the way the krogan were uplifted to defeat the rachni and save the galaxy. The symbolism here is, again, pretty simple and straightforward: the rachni were huge, insect-like creatures, so in this part of the rite, Grunt is symbolically proving that he can overcome the enemies of the krogans’ past by defeating giant insect monsters as his people once did.

The third and supposedly final part of the rite has some pretty cool symbolism. The voice speaks again, this time of the current difficulty that the krogan people face: the genophage, a genetic monstrosity inflicted upon the species by the other council races which causes only 1 in 1000 births to succeed. The genophage is an unconquerable enemy, against which the only victory the krogan race can hope for is basic survival. Once this speech is finished, Shepard and Grunt are attacked by a thresher maw, a titanic, acid-spitting worm that players of Mass Effect 1 know is better engaged with heavily armored, heavily armed vehicles rather than on foot. A timer is started for this battle--the goal is not to kill the monster, simply to abide its wrath. Once again, you get the symbolism of actually fighting against the great nemesis of the krogan race, but this time, it’s not seen as a fight that can be overcome, rather just a simple battle for survival. The genophage is something beyond the krogans’ ability to confront and defeat, and so they must find a way to live with it, bear its harm and fury as a species without going extinct. How neat to have this part of the rite symbolized by a trial of survival against the seemingly unbeatable thresher maw.

Now, what I’ve been saying so far is probably not news to you. The Mass Effect fan community was always ferociously devoted, so chances are good that you heard someone talk about the symbolism of the Krogan Rite of Passage on a forum or chatboard or something at one point or another. That, or you noticed it yourself when you played the game; it’s pretty simple, though effective, as symbolism goes. But, what I haven’t seen many people notice about this mission in the game is that the symbolism of this rite actually goes deeper, in 2 distinct ways:

Way the First: The supposedly final part of the trial, the battle against the thresher maw? It CAN be won. Powerful and deadly though the beast is, it’s possible for Grunt and Shepard to kill the gargantuan worm, a feat which is noted by some krogan bystanders as having not occurred since Wrex, Shepard’s original krogan buddy from the first Mass Effect and current leader of krogan Clan Urdnot, underwent the rite.

Now, you might think, at first, that this actually weakens the strength of the rite’s symbolism. After all, if the thresher maw is supposed to symbolize the genophage, it really should be an adversary that cannot be beaten, only endured, right? That makes sense. But...think about this key fact: the only individuals who have defeated the thresher maw in recent times have been Shepard and Grunt, and Wrex.

Shepard, Grunt, and Wrex.

Wrex: the krogan whose uncommon wisdom and drive are, during ME2 and 3, bringing the krogan race back together and forcing it to think in the long term about survival. Wrex is the leader that can bring respect and honor back to the krogan, give his race a real chance at uniting and working toward a future, rather than continuing to splinter and fight themselves to death.

Grunt: a krogan bred to be a super soldier, an unparallelled specimen of his race’s strength, ferocity, and determination. Grunt is the exemplar of what his creator, Okeer, saw as the necessary next step for the krogan race.

And Shepard: the human being who, in Mass Effect 3, assuming that he isn’t a complete fucking asshole, makes possible the curing of the genophage.

So essentially, the ones who defeat the thresher maw in the Rite of Passage, the individuals who symbolically kill the genophage, and thus symbolically kill the concept of the extinction that the krogan race brought on itself, are the individual who represents the intellectual, social, spiritual hope of the krogan people, the individual who physically represents the future of the krogan people, and the individual who will be responsible for the end of the actual genophage. The icons of the krogans’ future are the ones in this rite to take down the symbol of the krogans’ demise--that’s a really cool moment of symbolism and foreshadowing!

Way the Second: I keep saying that the Rite of Passage is “supposedly” finished after the thresher maw part because after the actual rite has ended, there’s a final part of the mission. A krogan clan leader named Uvenk shows up once the rite is over to offer Grunt the opportunity to join his clan. Until now, Uvenk has dismissed Grunt as a freak at best, an abomination at worst, refusing to believe him to be true krogan because he was created, rather than naturally born. Even in his offer, Uvenk is disrespectful to Grunt, being clear that this is just a move for political power, and saying that even as the shiny mascot of Uvenk’s clan, Grunt would still not be allowed certain rights of citizenship, such as mating opportunities. Naturally, Grunt says no to this offer, in the same way that Grunt says no to anything: with his gun. A battle ensues against Uvenk and his henchmen, and it’s only after Shepard and Grunt emerge victorious that the mission ends.

Now, because this isn’t an actual part of the Krogan Rite of Passage, no one really pays too much attention to this spat with Uvenk...but I actually think that this, too, is meant to be a symbolic struggle. See, the rite is all about symbolically overcoming the nemeses of the krogan, the obstacles that they had to and have to overcome in order to survive. The first was the dangers of their planet, the second was the rachni that they were uplifted by the Council races to defeat, the third is the genophage. Yet, there is, truly, 1 more foe to the krogan, the most dangerous threat to their race’s existence by far:

The krogan themselves.

The krogan culture is violent, warlike, and self-destructive. They waged nuclear war and destroyed their planet. They refused to discipline themselves and began a war with the Council races that ended in their being cursed with the genophage. And after that, instead of banding together to ensure that the nigh-complete destruction of their fertility did not ensure the end of their species, the krogan divided into warring clans and sold themselves out as mercenaries, throwing themselves into violence and death even as the genophage made it impossible to replace their numbers. Krogan like Wrex, who see that unification and cooperation are the only way to save their species, are rare indeed.

Now, I’m not saying that the krogan are inherently violent brutes. The existence of Wrex is proof enough that this is not true, and Bakara informs us in Mass Effect 3 that they once had a real, viable culture. This self-destructive society of the krogran is something that has grown far more from their history than their nature, much the same as our own self-destructive and foolish culture of hypermasculinity which we subject the males of our society to.

But if a culture of self-destructive pride and violence is not intrinsically a part of krogan nature, it is, at least, a deeply-entrenched part of their history, and it is the origin of the extinction that the race faces during the events of the Mass Effect trilogy.

So, the battle against Uvenk is actually a final, and probably the most important, piece of symbolism. Uvenk resists Wrex’s attempts to unite the clans. He is set in the traditional mindset of the krogan, one of powerlust, thirst for battle, and self-important pomposity. He spits upon what is new and different, as symbolized by Grunt, yet at the same time wants to use it to his own barbaric ends--he sees the utility of the new only in terms of how it can benefit his self-important old ways, treating it without respect. It is much akin to a major theme of the Mass Effect universe which the krogan as a whole symbolize--the danger of being advanced to a place of technology and society that one is not ready for.

And so, Uvenk is a symbol of the greatest foe that the krogan have: their own selfish, short-sighted, vainglorious, violent culture. Though not an official part of the Krogan Rite of Passage, Uvenk is perhaps the most important component to this ritual of battle against the krogans’ enemies.

The Mass Effect series really is something fantastic for so many reasons, and you really see it in moments like these, where great and layered writing is both easily accessible, and also deep enough to offer rewarding insights for contemplating it at length. No damn wonder I loved this trilogy so much.

Oh also this.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Celestian Tales 1's Downloadable Content

I reviewed Celestian Tales: Old North a little while ago, and was overall pretty positive about the game. It was a Kickstarter RPG which I backed, and I’m pleased with the result and encourage you to try it out some time. Ekuator Games is at work on its continuation, and I look forward to that, but in the meantime, they’ve released an add-on for the game, called Howl of the Ravager. Well, I do DLC rants for the big developers, so I may as well do them for the little guys, too.

Howl of the Ravager is a prequel story to the game, which focuses on the early days of the knighthood of Severin Leroux, who plays a major part in the main game’s plot. It also touches on several other secondary characters of the main game, namely the king, his wife-to-be, and Niena, mother-to-be of 1 of the main game’s protagonists (the best 1, for that matter). As such, Howl of the Ravager provides a great opportunity to expand upon a significant but inadequately explored character of the game, build the Celestian Tales lore, and answer a major question of the original game: why the hell Severin acts as he does at the game’s end.

Unfortunately...well, Howl of the Ravager doesn’t really live up to much of its promise. I mean, it does develop the game’s setting somewhat, but its focus is on a part of the lore (large, sapient tree entities and their relation to the Old North) that doesn’t really have any relevance to the game proper, so while there’s nothing wrong with the lore-building, it doesn’t feel terribly significant, either. And that’s about all that can really be said in a positive way for this in terms of expectations. The king and queen-to-be are okay, but what can be learned from them that can’t already be gleaned from the main game isn’t all that interesting. Likewise, Ylianne’s mother Niena has her character developed, but it turns out that she didn’t really have much of a personality in the past; the entirety of her development as a character in Howl of the Ravager doesn’t hold a candle to the single conversation she has with Ylianne in the main game. The identity of Ylianne’s father is revealed, but it turns out that it’s not especially interesting.

Most disappointing is definitely the main character (sort of) of this DLC, Severin himself. He’s just absolutely wooden. What little real character development he receives is shaky at best--it’s left rather ambiguous how much of his ambitions and frustrations and such are really him, and how much are just the result of the influence of the magical sword he’s using. His relationship with the king is explored a little, but not any further than you could already determine from the main game. I guess Severin’s connection to the queen-to-be is new and somewhat interesting, so there is that, but that’s not a whole lot to ride on. Most frustrating to me is that the question of why Severin acts as he does at the end of the main game is still completely nebulous. Howl of the Ravager brings up the possibility that he might have been heavily under the sword’s influence, but it’s impossible to say that for sure, so all this game presents is a vague possibility of an answer to why Severin is so out of character in Celestian Tales 1’s final moments, rather than any hard facts.

Taken on its own instead of by expectations of expanding on one’s knowledge of the main game, Howl of the Ravager is...okay. Niena and Severin aren’t interesting characters, but they’re not bad ones, either, I suppose, and they do well enough as mouthpieces for lore development and plot points. The DLC’s story is fine, even fairly interesting at times. I’d say I enjoyed it overall, and I have a certain fondness for Celestian Tales 1, so learning more about its world and history was rewarding for me.

I really wish they’d done better with Pierre, though. His character is supposed to be the moderate, diplomatic voice of reason to counterbalance Severin, and this is usually a character type that I appreciate, but Pierre mostly just comes off as a wishy-washy milquetoast. And his romance with Niena is...well, it’s just crap. It’s one of those annoying love stories where attraction just seems to happen with the flip of a switch; one moment Niena is (with complete justification) put off by Pierre’s clumsy interest and advances, the next moment, she’s considering the question of whether a love between an elf and a human can be made to work. It’s made worse by the fact that the sudden about-turn only happens during a period in which she’s forcing herself to lead Pierre on a bit, at Severin’s request, in the interest of giving Pierre a reason to get his head in the game for their world-saving mission. So the point at which feigned interest becomes real suffers from being immediate and coming out of nowhere, yet is also vague enough that you can’t even pin down when it happens, so you’re left wondering for a while what’s going on as Niena starts showing earnest interest even though you thought she’s just supposed to be pretending. It’s weird, and it doesn’t work. And the final nail in the coffin is just the fact that they have absolutely no chemistry whatsoever, probably in no small part due to Pierre having an overall unappealing personality. So yeah, Pierre is a major problem with this DLC, being that a lot of its story depends on his character (more so than the supposed protagonist Severin, really) and his romance.

So, what’s the verdict, for any of you who have played Celestian Tales 1 and want to know whether they should purchase the DLC?’s not terrible. Despite its flaws and that it doesn’t really accomplish what the main game needed it to, it’s still a decent story and a decent exploration of the Celestian Tales lore. If you played Celestian Tales: Old North and didn’t really care for it, this isn’t going to change your mind, but if you enjoyed the game as I did, you’ll probably find some enjoyment in Howl of the Ravager. If it were any more than $5, I’d be hesitant to recommend it, but at less than the price of a sandwich, it’s a fair purchase. You can purchase it at GOG or Steam if you’re interested.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

General RPGs' Since We're Not Related It'll Be Okay Syndrome

Happy New Year, all! I've finally gotten around to this. Before we begin though, quick question. Reader and buddy Ecclesiastes tells me that the Patreon button over to the right there doesn't show up for him. Now, I would not be particularly shocked if I never get a single Patron pledge, given that this blog has less widespread exposure than the majority of first grade art assignments, but it would be defeating the purpose of having a Patreon to begin with if I didn't just check: can the rest of you see the hopping little Patreon moogle there? If he's not showing up for any of you, let me know, and I'll see about fixing it. Of course, considering that my technical knowledge rivals that of a squirrel's, who knows whether that'll help.

Anyway! On to the first rant of 2017. Time to set the bar low for the rest of the year's rants!

Have you ever noticed that the RPG genre is really, consistently, very inordinately fond of romantic relationships between adopted brothers and sisters? I mean, to the point that it’s basically a storytelling cliche for the genre. Seriously, if your protagonist and his/her sister/brother have been raised together in the same household by the same parents for most/all of their lives, but are not, in fact, blood-related, then it is RPG law that one or both of them want to bone the other. It is really, really weird. And common. So uncomfortably common, that I have been using a term for a while now to describe it: Since We’re Not Related It’ll Be Okay Syndrome.

Before we get into any proper detail about this phenomenon, I should note that, unlike my other Syndrome terms for RPG storytelling diseases, I have appropriated this term from someone else. “Since We’re Not Related, It’ll Be Okay” is the song title for a wildly amusing and uncomfortable fan-created song from the wildly amusing and uncomfortable My Little Pony: Friendship is Witchcraft abridged series. It makes, in fact, a great video prop for this rant, so before we continue, how about you click the link below and we’ll be pretty much on the same page for what this rant’s all about:

Since We’re Not Related, It’ll Be Okay

I do so love Friendship is Witchcraft. It truly is the perfect blend of subtle humor, blatant humor, referential humor, abstract humor, and glorious, glorious uncomfortable humor.

Anyway, we’re on the same page now, yes? Adopted sibling romance is one of those things that’s technically not wrong, but just so damn squicky. To be a brother or sister is not just a physical, hereditary fact, it’s also a mindset. Family is a connection of emotion and spirit as much as, perhaps even more than, blood relations. Like it or not, logical or not, the simple fact is that when you spend most or all of your childhood being raised in the same home, by the same parents, equally as those parents’ children, you are siblings, regardless of whose vaginas you happened to fall out of. And that makes the fact that every damn JRPG protagonist who’s got an adopted sister or brother desires, or is desired by, them really fucking weird.

What is accomplished by this plot device, exactly? Think about, say, Lunar 1, the RPG in which I first began to notice this trend. What is accomplished by having Luna be Alex’s adopted sister? Well, it gives her mysterious origins, first of all, which is an absolute must for the plot-central magical damsel-in-distress schtick. And it establishes a long shared history between both Luna and Alex, which makes it convenient for the writers, since this way their horribly inferior talents at creating and maintaining a romance between the 2 can lean on their vague, offscreen lifetime together rather than have to actually show some concrete examples of chemistry between Alex and Luna, or what draws them together, or what they like about each other, or even just 1 single real, honest conversation between them that isn’t entirely 1-sided.

Okay, so this does accomplish a few things, narratively, for Alex and Luna. So let me rephrase: what is accomplished by having Luna be Alex’s adopted sister, which couldn’t have been easily accomplished otherwise? Mysterious origins for your plot-centric magical girl ain’t exactly a hard thing to accomplish. Magical mystery girls fall out of the sky--and I do mean that both figuratively and literally, just look at Breath of Fire 5--all the damn time in RPGs. Hell, Lufia from Lufia 1 actually just fucking walks onscreen as a kid, and that’s all there was to it!* Deadbeat Master Dyne could have just as easily delivered baby Luna to be adopted by the folks nextdoor, and her origins would have been no less unknown and mysterious. And you don’t even have to sacrifice the lazy convenience of shared history that way--childhood friends is a common element in RPG romances.

So yeah, this approach to character relationships generally doesn’t actually accomplish anything that couldn’t be exactly as easily accomplished in other ways. It doesn’t even do anything unique if a personal conflict about sibling love vs. romantic love is what you want to show! And that’s for 2 reasons. First, you can accomplish the angle of conflicting feelings of sibling love and romantic love without even a situation where the obvious answer should be sibling love. Take The Legend of Dragoon, for example. Dart and Shana are childhood friends, and Shana is in love with Dart. For a while in the game, though, Dart isn’t going for it, because he sees her as a sister, not a love interest. They were NOT adopted siblings, but it’s still fully believable that a lifelong friendship would have evoked familial feelings in Dart, even if it led to romantic feelings in Shana. And both of those results are understandable and believable! Whereas if they’d been raised in the same household, specifically as siblings, then Shana’s interest in Dart would have been much less believable, not to mention pretty off-putting.

...Well, more off-putting than Shana’s clingy chattering stupidity is already, I mean. Jesus, I can’t believe I just used her and Dart’s relationship as a positive example. See what you make me do, Since We’re Not Related It’ll Be Okay Syndrome!?

The second reason that this strange narrative decision doesn’t do anything unique for the possibility of a sibling love vs. romantic love conflict is that THEY NEVER USE IT FOR THIS! And that’s actually the first of my real, major problems with this cliche: it’s just thrown in so casually that it’s like it’s not even there. It seems like the writers’ reflex, unquestioned and unconscious. Like having the protagonist be a sword-user. Of the many RPGs that employ love interests who are also adopted siblings, almost none of them even acknowledge this connection! No one, least of all Alex or Luna themselves, gives even a passing mention to the fact that he and she were raised by the same mother and father in the same household all their lives. Asahi and Nanashi in Shin Megami Tensei 4-2** are both orphans, taken in and raised by the same man, and while he seems to have a more parental relationship with Asahi, it’s clear that the guy acts as and sees himself as parental guardian to both of the kids. Asahi and Nanashi are non-related siblings, beyond debate, yet not even the slightest acknowledgement of this is made in any regard connecting to Asahi’s clear, demonstrable romantic love for Nanashi. Nothing is made of this connection, so why have it in the first place? If making the love interest an adopted sibling does not accomplish anything that an equally simple alternative could, and if you’re not going to use it for anything anyway, then why bother with it over and over again in RPGs?

Of course, slightly hypocritically, my other major problem with this cliche is, well, when it DOES amount to something in the plot, and that something makes things really, really uncomfortable. You take Legend of Heroes 6-1, for example. The fact that Estelle and Joshua were raised as brother and sister since Joshua was mysteriously adopted (there is no such thing as a non-mysterious adoption in RPGs) when they were 11 actually IS brought up in regards to their unspoken romantic interest in each other, and IS present and utilized, unlike pretty much every other example I can think of. And given that they have only lived together as family for 5 years rather than all 16 years of their lives, you’d think this would be an example of adopted sibling love that I wouldn’t have a problem with, right?

Except that unlike the norm for this story decision, Estelle and Joshua actually act like siblings. The way they interact with one another, understand each other, share memories of home life, view their father and household dynamics...they are a perfect example of a sibling relationship. And that’s actually pretty rare for an RPG, I should note--on the off-chance that major story-important siblings aren’t long-lost and battling one another as hero and villain, siblings in RPGs rarely have a compelling, believable family dynamic. It usually winds up being a case of the game constantly telling you they’re siblings, than convincingly showing it to you. But Estelle and Joshua really create a genuine brother-sister dynamic like you rarely see in the genre! Which is why it’s extremely uncomfortable to have Estelle begin feeling and getting emotionally constipated over an inexplicable and honestly completely phony-feeling attraction to Joshua. Uncomfortable, and so damn frustrating, because an authentic, interesting, engaging relationship of siblinghood, so annoyingly uncommon in RPGs (and honestly, most other forms of media), is being forced out in favor of an unwelcome, inferior romantic relationship. I hope that when I play Legend of Heroes 6-2 and return to Estelle and Joshua, things’ll get a little more convincing, but taken at face value from LoH6-1, I am not not impressed.

Other moments where the already vaguely uncomfortable Since We’re Not Related It’ll Be Okay Syndrome gets way worse: Shin Megami Tensei 4-2, again. See, Nanashi is the reincarnation of a plot-important guy named Akira. And supposedly (I haven’t found conclusive evidence of this, but I’ve been told by multiple hardcore SMT fans), a part of the official art book for SMT4-2 that was not translated for the English release indicates that Asahi is a reincarnation of...Akira’s sister. Thanks, Atlus. Asahi wanting a VIP pass to inside her adopted brother’s pants wasn’t off-putting enough. You had to multiply the factors of Almost Incest by a power of Reincarnation.*** And the other moment: Fire Emblem 14, having Corrin hook up with any of her/his Hoshidan siblings. As I noted in a previous rant, unless you yourself have outside knowledge of the game’s lore, you go into an S Rank conversation--that’s synonymous with a confession of love, in the FE series--believing that Corrin is actually, legitimately related to her/his Hoshidan family. Corrin only finds out that the brother/sister that she/he is hot for isn’t her/his family by blood during the same conversation. The Hoshidan royalty romantic options in FE14 are Since We’re Not Related It’ll Be Okay...And Damn Is That Ever A Lucky Coincidence Syndrome.

Now, before we finish up with this rant, I do want to make something very clear: I am not automatically against the concept of adopted siblings falling in love. I’m open-minded enough that if a love story actually does really work, I’ll totally be on board for it, and this has happened with considerably more questionable pairings than this (for example, if you recall, I have mentioned that the Xenogears romance between Bart and Margie, while not especially interesting, is nonetheless better than any others in the game (definitely including the main romantic drivel between Fei and Elly), and Margie is Bart’s underage cousin). In that Fire Emblem 14 rant I mentioned earlier, I said unambiguously that I think the best romance, out of the over 300 possible ones in the game, is between Camilla and Corrin, who are adopted siblings. Camilla just really sells the audience on her complete and total adoration of Corrin, and Corrin’s return of affections is quite genuine, as well. And it’s pretty much the exact opposite of the problems I’ve spoken of so far with this plot device: Corrin’s being the adopted sister/brother of both the Nohrian and Hoshidan royal families is a vital part of the story of FE14 in that she has important ties to both sides of the conflict, and it affects her/his personality and characterization, so her position as Camilla’s non-blood-related sister provides important parts to both her character and the plot that couldn’t have been achieved through a simple alternative. The connection isn’t inexplicably ignored; Corrin’s sisterhood/brotherhood to all the game’s royals is a constantly relevant relationship (and with none more so than Camilla, for that matter). And the awkward parts of this romantic interest are put forth in the S Rank conversation, and maturely addressed in a way that makes it a lot easier to accept, namely when Camilla points out that since they’ve apparently both always loved one another in ways that go beyond familial, their union now should be looked at more as childhood sweethearts who have finally grown old enough to be together. Camilla and Corrin’s love for one another is executed well, and while I can’t deny that there’re parts of it that are weird and even perhaps a little unhealthy, that’s more related to the characters themselves (Camilla’s adoration is genuine and even heartwarming, but it is also, let’s face it, really obsessive) than the situation they’re in.

Sadly, though, Camilla and Corrin are the exception to how Since We’re Not Related It’ll Be Okay Syndrome works. Ultimately, these adopted brother-sister romance situations generally could be accomplished just as well (if not better!) without the non-blood family connection, they usually don’t even address the situation to start with, and on the off-chance that they do, it turns out to be detrimental and uncomfortable if it's not handled skilfully enough.

And even if every single 1 of these cases were as compelling, true, and acceptably executed as Camilla and Corrin, it would still be really weird and a bit distressing that this theme is just so damn common. Out of over 300 RPGs I’ve played, I can only immediately think of 2 examples in which a protagonist and his/her non-biological sibling have no romantic interest in each other: the protagonist and Duncan in Shadowrun: Hong Kong, and Kairu and Aurora from the exceptionally obscure Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled. Besides those 2 examples, it’s just some sort of unspoken understanding in RPGs that there’s going to be some sort of romantic connection between a protagonist and his/her adopted sibling...and that’s a really weird and uncomfortable norm to set.

* Although I’m not sure I should be bringing Lufia up here as an alternative example, because I think, when you consider her to any great degree, that she’s actually another example of Since We’re Not Related It’ll Be Okay Syndrome, herself. I mean, let’s consider it: the only adult figure in her life seems to be the innkeeper she meets on the day she just wanders the hell onscreen, and the innkeeper’s familiarity with Lufia later implies, I believe, that he became her parental figure. But when you consider the protagonist of the game, who Neverland Company very frustratingly went out of their way to keep unnamed...well, to my recollection, neither his father Jeros nor his mother Nameless Faceless Female are ever seen or heard from. In their absence, the only other adult who appears to have any guiding influence on the guy is...the innkeeper. So there we go. Another example.

Correct me if I’m wrong, by the way. It has been, happily, over a decade since I played that crappy game, so even my memory might not be reliable. But I’m pretty sure that what I’ve said is true.

** Proof, by the way, that it’s not just bad and/or obscure RPGs in which this cliche happens. Even genuinely excellent, huge RPG series apparently cannot escape.

*** Just in case that wasn’t weird enough for you, Asahi’s outfit coloring is designed to reference Pascal from the first Shin Megami Tensei (and this connection is further hinted at by the fact that Pascal is 1 of the hunter names Asahi considers taking on as her own). For those not in the know, SMT1’s Pascal was the protagonist’s pet dog. So Nanashi’s primary love interest is his adopted sister, the reincarnation of his past life’s outright biological sister, AND the spiritual semi-reincarnation of Megaten Dogmeat.

Still a more psychologically balanced romantic choice than Toki, though. Which in itself might just add to its disturbing factor.