Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Millennium 5's Finale

Millennium 5 is the final part of a series, created by one Indinera Falls, which details the journey of Marine, a girl out to improve the lives of her fellow peasants, who languish unhelped and rights-less while the ruling capital, Mystrock, flourishes from their efforts. She’ll do this by allying herself with the oppressed people across the Mystland nation, and fighting in a ritual tournament spectated by thousands of the wealthy, carefree citizens of the capital city.

It is, perhaps, just possible that Indinera Falls is a fan of The Hunger Games.

The Millennium series is barely known at all, which seems to be how things usually go for games developed with RPG Maker, but it and its creator do have a small but devoted fanbase, from what I can gather, which are pretty positive on the Millennium games overall. Myself, I’m lukewarm about them, but I suppose they’re decent enough. There is, however, 1 aspect of Millennium 5 that seems to get a mixed reaction even from this small fanbase, as well as players in general: the finale to the saga. A lot of people don’t seem to like it, and those that do, nonetheless don’t seem to have especially positive feelings about it. There are a lot of criticisms levied against the tournament and ending which close out the series, and while I think that some are legitimate, I also think that some are too harsh, or, at least, made without due consideration.

So basically, that’s why you’re here today, reading about a game you’ve never played and don’t care about. Sorry, folks, unimportant and extremely obscure commentary is just my thing. Oh, and I’m talking about the final events of a 5-game series, so, y’know, spoiler alert.

Alright, let’s start by talking about what the finale of Millennium 5 does, indeed, do wrong. First of all, a minor annoyance is that none of your characters can equip accessories during the tournament. It’s bad enough that the series decided in Millennium 4 to stop letting the majority of your characters use weapons, because they needed to train in the unarmed combat thing since it’s a martial arts tournament, but that, at least, is an understandable plot thing. Annoying, especially since you still keep finding weapons as you go along with Millennium 4 and 5 that you now can’t even use (what is up with that?), but understandable. But during this period of weaponless combat, you at least get to continue using the majority of helmets and accessories in the game, because, as the games’ dialogue specifically notes many times, the rules permit them. So why are they suddenly not allowed, when you finally enter the tournament? If you’re anything like me, you set your characters up around what accessories they wear, so this totally throws things off. It’s the second most annoying gameplay decision the Millennium series makes.*

Second, and similar to the first, is the fact that the characters in the tournament lose most of their skills going in. These skills are replaced with ones specifically designed to help them in the tournament, which is good and all, but some of the lost skills would have been way, way better, and in no way violate the story of the tournament. Why’d Salome have to give up her skill that hits enemies 4 times in a row? There’s nothing about that which contradicts the tournament’s rules, since she’s just hitting them with her fists. Lame.

Next, I have to say that it just seems a little odd that Marine’s party is so close to evenly matched with the Mystrock warriors by the end of Millennium 5. I mean, I get that Mystrock has the best resources and training and whatnot, and that most of them have been warriors for their whole lives compared to most of Marine’s team not, but come on. 2 days before the tournament, Marine and company were slapping dinosaurs around with their bare hands. I don’t care if Merryll has hit the gym every damn day of his life, there’s no way he or any others of Lord Dragon’s crew should be able to compete with Marine’s bunch. It’d be like saying Little Mac would pose a serious combat challenge to Samus Aran--Mac’s one of my favorite Nintendo characters, but if it ain’t Super Smash Brothers, it ain’t happening.

Finally, and a lot more importantly, there’s the damn ending. Or, honestly, lack of such. You’ve gone through 5 entire games, sat through Marine’s entire continent-spanning adventure, and all that you get in the way of an ending is a few short sentences that give a far too general summary of what happened, and a bit of information letting you know that Marine and Dragon got married, for some reason. Better him than Jack, I guess, but sheesh, talk about coming out of nowhere. But you don’t get to hear any specifics on what happens to any of the 12 warriors who stood with Marine to make this all possible, nor any of the other friends she made along the way. You don’t get to hear or see much about how life goes for her and what the process of the social upheaval that’s been the whole damn focus of the series is like. You don’t get to even know whether or not her father survives and pulls out of his coma--the guy whose actions at the beginning of Millennium 1 kicked this whole thing off. I guess I can’t expect a classic Fallout-styled ending narration for every game I play, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to hope for SOME form of actual closure for the characters and story that I’ve been engaged with for 5 games! If it weren’t for the fact that I played Neverwinter Nights 2 the same year I completed Millennium 5, this game would probably have wound up on my list of worst RPG endings.

So those are the problems--let’s talk about the good stuff, next. Up until that inadequate conclusion, I have to say, the finale is pretty good. First of all, it is, technically-speaking, extremely impressive. The tournament is over 150 battles as each member of the 2 teams of 13 fights against every member of the opposite team once, and almost every battle opens with the 2 fighters interacting with each other. Most of these aren’t just generic lines that would fit any match-up, either. It’s not like the beginning face-off in some 16-bit fighting game--these fighters’ dialogue frequently highlights their personalities; it’s very character-specific for the majority of matches.

To take the time to do that for over 100 fights is a pretty significant amount of effort, but what really dials it up a notch in terms of being technically impressive is that the game’s also keeping track of a lot of factors regarding the victories and losses up until that point. Frequently, the things each side’s fighter says changes to reflect which side is currently in the lead at that moment (and sometimes even changes depending on how much of a gap there is in the win-loss ratio), which is also true of the stuff that Marine, Borgon, Dragon, and some of the others on each side say before and after the matches. The post-match dialogue also, of course, reflects the winner of each round. And on top of all that, sometimes the dialogue in the fight adjusts to reflect the personal wins and losses of the character(s) fighting! I can tell you from personally witnessing it that if you just keep denying that jackass Merryll a single victory the whole tournament, he will, in fact, several times show his growing fury at the fact that these supposedly inferior people are repeatedly proving what a useless sack of shit he is. Likewise, there’s plenty of lines before and after the matches that comment on how that fighter, specifically, has been doing during the tournament. Watching Borgon’s growing frustration with Merryll’s losing streak is a joy.

So yeah, when you really stop and think about it, keeping track of that many variables over the course of potentially more than 150 matches, and staying relatively consistent with the dialogue that’s keeping track of it all...I know very little about programming, but I’m pretty sure that’s a huge feat, and would be a tall order even from a AAA publisher, let alone a tiny indie game developer that I’m pretty sure was mostly a 1-person show.

And it’s all done well enough that it’s pretty enjoyable from start to finish! Even though the tournament is essentially just 169 or so battles in a row, and even though it comes after a whole 5 games of standardly incessant RPG battles, I actually was engaged from start to finish! I mean, okay, I wasn’t on the edge of my seat or something, but the interactions between sides, as well as the dialogue between allies as they encourage or berate their teammates, is done well. It doesn’t really feel at any point like the writer got tired of the characters and seeing how they’d react to each new opponent, in spite of the daunting quantity of such meetings. Other bits of extra effort help keep the tournament interesting, too, like the rewarding feeling you get as Borgon hollers in frustration over his team’s losing streak, the halftime break where each side rallies themselves for the tournament’s conclusion, and the fact that a lot of the enemy’s team have their own battle songs (Gisele’s is pretty rad, in fact). Nothing in the Millennium series is amazing, but Indinera Falls clearly put a lot of extra effort into making the tournament a stronger moment in the saga, as it should be.

I’d also like to say that the emotion of the finale is spot-on. It definitely feels like the epic culmination of Marine’s quest, from start to finish. The night before the tournament as Marine and Jeanne talk is quiet and touching, the words of thanks and encouragement Marine gives her team are warm, the final battle between Marine and the Dragon feels as climatic and desperate as it should, and Jeanne...actually, I take what I said before back, there is an amazing moment in Millennium, and it’s the last-minute sacrifice of Jeanne in the very final battle. It’s sudden, it hits you hard, and it’s all the sadder because she doesn’t have enough time to say goodbye, to prepare herself. Somehow, it feels very real, and much more moving, for the facts that it’s immediate, it’s unexpected, and it’s something that Marine will never know the truth of. That, to me, is the most tragic part...that Marine will forever have to wonder what became of the little fairy that made her dream of an equal society possible, wonder why she never spoke to Marine again...maybe even wonder, eventually, whether Jeanne was ever real to begin with.

Anyway, yeah, the finale does a lot of stuff well, and I think most people will agree with what I’ve pointed out as its highlights, and its flaws. Here, however, is the thing that a lot of people take issue with, which I think is worth defending: how, precisely, you get the true ending. There are 3 endings, you see, of which only 1 is the good, actual ending. The first bad ending is as you would expect--you get it if you lose the tournament. The second bad ending, however, is the major stumbling block for people, because you actually get this ending if you win the tournament.

Yeah, I’m not kidding. If you win the tournament, which is the goal that you’d think you’re supposed to be shooting for, it triggers a bad ending! Being sore losers and all-around jerks, Borgon and several of Dragon’s team start an insurrection, and the people of Mystrock by and large go with it, losing their shit over the fact that some dirty old peasants beat their finest warriors. You lose the game because you won.

What you have to do to get the real ending, is lose the tournament, but by a score deficit no greater than 10. When that happens, you find out that there’s some archaic old rule of being able to challenge the result if it it was a close score, and have the leaders of each side face off 1 last time to determine who really wins the tournament.

How magnificently convenient.

So for there to be any hope at all of success, Marine has to have a rematch with Lord Dragon, even though it’s damn clear that she can’t possibly win it. But at the eleventh hour, Jeanne comes through, finding a fairy spell powerful enough to overcome the anti-magic seals on the arena, as Marine buys her time by enduring Dragon’s blows as best she can, even though she’s exhausted and barely able to withstand them. This is the scene which I mentioned as a major point in the finale’s favor, for the spell’s power comes at the cost of the caster’s life, and, I reiterate, it’s a pretty powerful scene. With Jeanne’s sacrifice, the spell hits Dragon, and knocks him out of the ring, resulting in a win for Marine. She collapses a moment later, caught and respectfully carried out of the arena by Lord Dragon. Unable to determine any other possibility, since there’s simply no way any human magic could ever overcome the arena’s seals, Mystrock by and large decides that the miraculous spell that granted Marine victory had to have been an act of their god, to show beyond any doubt that Marine is meant to take the nation in a new direction.

Well, that’s all well and good, a fine way to close out the tournament and win the game, yes, but, you wonder, why does it have to be that way? What was wrong with just having the game be won when it’s, well, won? Surely complicating matters with this hairsbreadth victory was not necessary, when the result is still that Marine wins the tournament?

I suppose that’s fair enough. Here’s the thing, though, and the reason that I actually defend this seemingly unnecessary and picky decision on Indinera Falls’s part: when you think about it, Marine’s quest isn’t supposed to be about proving her people’s superiority over the people of Mystrock. She doesn’t embark on her journey with the specific desire to rule over Mystrock (and by extension Mystland). She isn’t motivated by some belief that she’s the better qualified political leader, nor is she specifically trying to prove something to herself or to Mystrock. Marine just wants the peasants of Mystland to be treated as equals of the citizens of the capital city. She just wants her people to have the same rights and privileges of everyone else, to help end the poverty and suffering she sees all around her. She enters the tournament to become Mystrock’s new governing figure solely because being the leader is the only way she can make this dream a reality; if there had been another option presented to her, she would just as likely have pursued that, instead. Though she may become personally incensed by some of Mystrock’s cruelties along the way, ultimately Marine’s quest is about a desire for equality.

And because of this, I think that it does, in fact, make thematic sense for the ending to the Millennium series to require this eventuality of neither defeat nor victory. Just writing it so that Marine succeeds by outright winning the tournament seems at first glance to make more sense, in terms of gameplaying conventions, but nothing about that scenario really resonates with what the quest has been all about. A rout of the opposing team proves the peasants’ superiority more than their equality to the people of Mystrock, and the point is to win the rights of the commoners to be treated as equals, not betters. By contrast, the true ending has a tournament whose results are so near to even that equality is inescapably implied, decided by a match that appears to be close enough that it requires a divine third party to settle. Additionally, the events of the final match give Lord Dragon cause and opportunity to show his respect for and support of Marine’s victory, in a way both powerfully meaningful and indisputable to the citizens of Mystrock who watch. This is the sort of hard-won, miraculous victory that you can actually believe would, indeed, lay the groundwork for a revolution of social equality to come. By comparison, the idea of a happy, successful ending coming from a situation in which a population with long-held prejudices is forced to obey the woman whose victory hurt their pride, solely because the rules say they have to...maybe it makes sense from the perspective of gameplay conventions, but Indinera Falls is right: it doesn’t hold up logically.

The path of the true finale to Millennium 5 has its issues, to be sure. It’s not quite clear enough what has to happen to achieve it, and having to keep an eye on your ranks throughout the tournament to budget your victories is somewhat annoying--particularly when there are plenty of matches whose outcome you either can’t predict with certainty, or can’t influence (you cannot force the Bear lose a match, for example, making it dangerous to hover near the edge of overall victory). Nonetheless, even though you wouldn’t think it at first, going against gaming convention to make a true ending out of a near loss instead of a victory is the right call in this game, because it’s truer to the heart of Marine’s quest, and it provides a more believable scenario of success in accordance with the game’s lore and characters. Millennium 5’s finale has its flaws, but I don’t believe the unusual requirements of the true ending is 1 of them.

* The first, of course, is that Salome gives up on being a mermaid, which I’ve noted before was pretty awesome, not to mention pleasantly overpowered! Why, Millennium 3, why? It’s not even sensible from a plot perspective; transforming into a mermaid is clearly shown not to inhibit her ability to traverse or stay on land at all, so there’s nothing she would have to give up by remaining ‘cursed’.


  1. Having not played a Millenium game, particularly 5, perhaps some narrative lean toward the player to keep the tournament close would have alleviated some of the salt, assuming said lean isn't already there? The archaic rule should logically be applied whether it's a close win *or* loss, making the condition seem less arbitrary than it reads here. The point is that both sides are equal, after all, and an overwhelming victory either way either reinforces social conventions or causes social upheaval. But again, I haven't played the game.

    Considering the fullness of Samus's background, athleticism, and grit, I'm pretty sure she could chokeslam and murder anyone in the Smash roster who isn't a wizard without her armor, with only Shulk being a real contender if she's fully loaded. Mac's a great guy, but he's done, son.

    1. That would make more sense, yes, although I suppose the bad ending where Marine's bunch wins does indicate that the sore losers pretty much immediately start pulling shit, so the judges could be a bit too distracted (or annoyed) to remember the rule. But yes, it would have been less provocative to the player had the archaic "Close Only Counts In Horseshoes And Handgrenades...Oh, And Also The Fate Of Our Entire Nation, Apparently" rule been applied as evenly as it's supposed to be, and given us a little greater margin to work with.

    2. To be fair, being within ten wins in a tournament of 150+ matches is arguably within the random variance of of how tasty breakfast was or the sabotage of burnt toast(in which case a side still wins, but not in any way that would satisfy the people), in which case it becomes a decisive game of champions. More than it already is, I suppose.

      I failed to mention it previously, but having to become the rule does sound lame.

      The Bear. Is that an alias, or is one of the characters on Marine's side an honest to goodness bear?

    3. God, I wish. Honest to goodness bears can't assault everyone around them with a nonstop barrage of needless verbal abuse.