Sunday, April 8, 2018

Millennium 5's Spontaneous Attention to Romance

Yes, I know none of you have played the Millennium series. Well, too bad. How am I going to keep my Followers count’s slim figure if I start making rants that anyone wants to read?

The Millennium series is an odd little quintology in numerous ways. The dialogue’s written crudely, with a seeming prejudice against many types of punctuation, yet frequently it’s well-spoken and witty enough that it doesn’t seem like there’s any particular lack of understanding for it that might come from a non-native speaker. It’s a 5-game series, yet feels pretty strongly like it’s just a single slightly long game that’s been chopped into pieces in a very arbitrary fashion...and yet it also does feel very right as a saga rather than a single title. Its setting seems pretty haphazardly thrown together according to what the plot needs when, but at the same time, it sort of does have a decent amount of lore going on with it. Altogether, it’s not a good series, only decent, and yet I found that I came away from Millennium with distinct fondness for the series.

But 1 of the weirder things about it, which I can’t really understand and think is vaguely detrimental, is the sudden decision partway through Millennium 5 to start throwing questions of romance into the mix of the party’s dynamics.

I mean, for the span of 4 games, we’ve got no hint of romantic interests in the cast. Well, besides Jack, of course, and to a lesser extent James, but I don’t qualify “strikes out with every female he sees with every other breath he takes” as romance. Obnoxious, yes, romance, no. Everyone else in the sizable party has better things to do with their time, and there certainly doesn’t seem to be any real chemistry between anyone present. Heck, most members of the party don’t even seem to especially like each other, even by the end of the game. Which is another of those oddities I mentioned about the series; rare is the RPG in which there are multiple characters in the main cast who don’t ever start getting along. Romance is just not on anyone’s radar from Millennium 1 - 4, completely unmentioned, not even vaguely hinted at, and honestly, it’s not really missed at all, when so many members of the cast barely even manage to work together as peers.

So, for 60 - 80 hours of the series, no one’s interested in anyone else, save Jack and James wanting to screw anything that owns a vagina. And then, a third of the way through Millennium 5, Benoit spontaneously develops a crush on Karine.

There’s absolutely no lead-up to this. Like, whatsoever. Completely out of left field. I mean, I’ll grant you, Karine and Benoit have been part of the team the longest, so he’s had the most time to know and appreciate her over anyone else, but no part of their interactions for 4 entire games have given any indication that he’s been developing feelings for her. The majority of their interactions have been Karine urging him to man up and stop being so pessimistic and cowardly, which doesn’t really strike me as the sort of thing that would inspire strong feelings of affection and attraction.* The rest of the time, they’ve just been putting in their 2 cents on the situations that come up around them. Where the hell have these feelings suddenly sprung from?

But eh, alright, whatever. If Millennium wants to suddenly add a forced, nonsensical crush into the narrative, so be it. Rapid Onset Romance is an old RPG tradition, after all.

Except that that’s not the end of it. For some reason, after this point, the game seems to feel it absolutely necessary to make romantic feelings and musings a repeating focus, potentially pairing up the ladies in the cast like they’re overstock items that have to be moved out of the warehouse at all costs. Marine gives Jack a moment of actual consideration, for some odd reason, and indicates that maybe she’ll seriously consider his advances if he does well in the upcoming tournament that they need to win (which doesn’t really speak well of Marine’s character, I have to say). A quiet moment between Blondie and Marine that actually provides some much-needed lore and character development for each of them devolves into an unexpected discussion of which boys in the party are cute, with Blondie talking about how Abu is totally her type. And of all the ridiculous things, Salome actually starts acting interested in the Bear. Uh, yeah, okay. No pairing in the history of video gaming has ever stunk so badly of ‘Writer Felt Obligated to Just Pair Every Woman Up with Someone’ as that.

What was it that really got your engine running about the Bear, Salome? Was it the unending stream of verbal abuse that flows from his mouth to every single person he meets, yourself included? His constant insistence that everything you and the rest of your friends are doing is completely futile and that you’re all worthless? Maybe you’re really into men so eternally pissed off that Vegeta himself would say, “Dude, chill the fuck out”? The guy has less emotional depth than Oscar the Grouch, for Kallu’s sake!

This unexpected and out of place focus on hook-ups even goes as far as the ending of the game, in which we’re told (in the cannon, good ending) that Marine eventually falls in love with and marries Lord Dragon. Which, I mean, is fine, I guess; if anything, their brief interactions still manage to form a stronger basis for possible romantic interest than Benoit’s and Karine’s, and certainly anything is better than throwing Salome at the Bear. But it still seems odd that there’s enough time for the ending to tell us what Marine’s love life will be, but not to let us know most other standard, expected ending things. Does her father ever come out of his coma? Does her mother ever have the curse on her lifted? How does every other party member’s life go? Who does what in Marine’s new government? How about some more details about how things progress for Mystland in regards to the rights of the peasantry, and how Mystrock’s society and economy change to deal with this?

Why do I come away from this series with a more complete understanding of the course of Marine’s love life than the resolution of her entire blasted quest!?

I dunno. I know it’s a small thing, but this really does bug me, because the sudden, uncalled for attention to schoolyard crushes in this last leg of the series takes a substantial portion of what little real development of characters’ interactions we get in this game. Maybe if Salome hadn’t been busy poking the Bear about his feelings on the ladiez, and then lamenting to Karine afterward about how it didn’t go so well, we could have instead gotten a scene that actually developed Salome and/or the Bear a little (Gaia knows he could have used it) as they have an honest conversation, followed by a scene in which she and Karine interact about something actually substantial and relevant to them or their quest. Maybe if we didn’t have to make Blondie and Marine’s conversation devolve into a “Well which boy do you like?” chat, we could have gotten more of the serious lore and character solidifying that it had been providing up until that moment.

Then again, maybe not. There’s no guarantee that anything better would have replaced this sudden, inexplicable romantic attention. It’s not like adding this RPG equivalent of preteen slumber party gossip took any actual effort that might have been applied to something else. Still, I hate the RPG standard of viewing romantic feelings as no more than a box to check off, and these insubstantial and completely spontaneous little flirtations with flirtation in Millennium are certainly no more than that.

* Then again, there’s precious little that Shion says to Allen throughout most of the Xenosaga series that doesn’t boil down to the same sort of emasculating criticism, and he’s inexplicably in love with her, too. Is this just a thing? Some trope I’m not aware of in anime/RPG culture, in which a guy just falls in love with a woman for the fact that she constantly criticizes his courage and worth as a man? Because it’s stupid, and offensively unhealthy. I’m not saying that Allen and Benoit aren’t whiny little milksops that need to get their shit together for quite some time in their respective franchises, mind you--they totally are. But I am saying it’s a big problem when those criticisms form the majority of the interactions off which romantic feelings can be based.

1 comment:

  1. On that bit about verbal abuse, if you heard me talk to my girl in public, it'd probably sound quite demeaning and borderline abusive. But there's a familiarity and chemistry there that doesn't seem to exist in this game.

    I appreciate characters in stories that don't need to get along all that well to work towards a common goal. If anything, it lends more credibility to their cause than the usual road trip scheme in RPGs. This change sounds highly unfortunate so late in the series, and something I'd take with less dignity and poise than you.