Phew! Thinking up slightly amusing Valentine messages and slapping them on pictures of RPG stuff really took it out of me. I couldn't possibly make another rant so soon after that ordeal. Luckily, I don't have to! Today, my generous reader and friend Humza has provided me with another fine guest rant. I get to take a ranting breather, and you folks get to read something good for once. Everyone wins!
Disclaimer: As before, I don't own Humza's words, and they don't necessarily reflect my own opinions and observations. In fact, since I haven't played either of the Bravely games, it's a hard certainty that they don't. But who knows, they might someday. Time will tell.
Bravely Second’s Sidequests’ Failed Potential
November 28, 2016
I thought of writing about the sidequests from Bravely Second a while ago, but I thought it would be appropriate to submit something sooner rather than later since it shares some thematic relevance with the GrandLethal16’s submission considering how choice is a significant (maybe even the central) component of Bravely Second’s sidequests.
The basic premise is shared between all of the sidequests in Bravely Second: there are two parties (usually the asterisk holders from Bravely Default) that are in conflict, and they appoint Edea as a mediator (since she’s the daughter of the Grand Marshal and is expected to succeed her father as Eternia’s leader, which requires solving conflicts like this) to judge which side is morally superior.
The first sidequest that is available revolves around a conflict between Jackal and DeRosa, who argue about what the Wellspring Gem (which functions as a source of water) should be used for. Jackal wants to use it to sustain the people of the oasis as it traditionally has (a case that is made more compelling considering that there is currently a water shortage), while DeRosa wants to use the gem to produce somnial energy from water (which is similar to nuclear power, in its ability to produce immense amount of energy, but holds the destructive power to annihilate entire cities; DeRosa hopes that the power would help attain world peace since any aggressing country has the threat of being wiped out by other countries with the energy).
Ignoring logical errors on DeRosa’s part, this is a variation of the well-known trolley problem: would you rather save the people of the oasis at the expense of preventing any wars, or is their sacrificing a necessity for preventing even more lives from being lost?
At the same point in the story that the sidequest is made available, a city is enveloped by a wind spell cast by Norzem; those within it cannot leave and those outside it cannot enter the city. Norzem’s intent is to destroy the flying castle above the city, which also requires murdering the people inside the city. This could be interpreted as another variation of the trolley problem since the people of Ancheim would die, but many more lives would be saved as a result. This ties the sidequest neatly into the plot since both have a common theme that connects them.
The problem with Bravely Second’s sidequests is that none of the others follow suit in establishing a thematic connection to the plot. This might seem like nit-picking, but most of the other sidequests seem like short stories that the plot does not benefit from having (the game did set up these expectations itself, so it would be reasonable to expect the game to deliver on them). This is still quite good compared to most RPGs’ sidequests, which don’t provide much emotional investment to the player, but adding thematic relevance would likely make the side quests more memorable since there’s more significance attached to it (and it would also erase the feeling of disappointment from people that interpreted the first sidequest as I did, but it’s probable most others would not have cared or noticed the relevance while playing for enjoyment).
I’m aware that there would be some problems in tying each sidequest to the plot, but I think these problems would not outweigh the added benefits, and that many of them could be dealt with in some way.
The main problem is that the sidequests would need to be rewritten to some extent (or perhaps scrapped entirely), but I do not see this as a problem since some of the sidequests do not present an interesting moral problem (does anyone care about Gho summoning Amaterasu or continuing his current job, or who gets Arca Pellar’s lost song when there’s no clear positive or negative consequences on either side?) and those sidequests would likely be improved or replaced with better ones with such a rewrite, and most of the better sidequests in the game could be tied to the plot without losing any significant details. For example, the conflict between Ominas and Artemia could be moved to the point in the story where Revenant tries to avenge Geist since both involve the potential loss of a few innocent lives at the expense of [removing] a threat to more lives (I guess the writer likes trolley problems since this is another variation, albeit with the opposite outcome).
Another problem with the proposed improvement could be that the choice loses value because the plot would have reflected the “canon” choice that the player should have made, but a sidequest wouldn’t need to reflect a choice the party makes in order to establish a connection with the plot. Also, the main narrative purpose of the sidequests is to help Edea develop as a leader for Eternia (which is shown in the final sidequest) when the Grand Marshal retires, but there’s already a “best” or “canon” choice for Edea’s final choice*, which already makes it seem like the other individual choices don’t matter since the overall ending doesn’t matter (and you could make a case that the choices already have little significance since the localisation seems to have erased the bad consequences from the ending of each side quest).
I don’t know how something like this might be received on the blog since it reads more like feedback that one would send to a developer (it looks like Square Enix takes feedback seriously, at least for this series, so that might not be entirely worthless), but I’d be interested to see if others feel similarly or disagree.
*I wanted to add this as a note since it’s a significant spoiler (I tried to be vague about aspects of the plot beyond the beginning) and a spoiler warning wouldn’t flow well above (although I’d argue this criticism doesn’t really flow well in general...). For the final sidequest, Edea has the choice to use a sword or a shield to symbolise whether she rules with submission from her citizens or to protect them, and she would be judged depending on what she equipped. The decision treated as canon is if Edea were to get both the sword and the shield, but equip neither of them.