Saturday, September 8, 2018

Shin Megami Tensei 4-2's Navarre's Role in the Final Battle

You know what really feels like a missed opportunity in Shin Megami Tensei 4-2? Navarre’s role in the final battle.

Overall, the conclusion to SMT4-2 is pretty great. Okay, the lead-up dungeon is a little long and irritating (albeit very pretty), but the lead-in to it is solid stuff, and once you get to its end, the final battle against God is hella epic. It’s also really handled well in the sense that it really feels like the final, powerful note to the journey of not only Nanashi and his friends, the heroes of this game, but also of Flynn and his comrades, the protagonists of the original Shin Megami Tensei 4, bringing all parties to the true end of the sort-of-dual-game saga. And the battle itself is handled really nicely in that its gameplay mechanics reflect this climactic final collaboration between heroes, as you control 2 parties rather than just the standard 1, with your normal, Nanashi-led party bringing the damage, and Flynn’s providing support and opening up opportunities for attack. And then, once you’ve succeeded, the ending to the game is really heartfelt, and feels like the emotional, satisfying conclusion that a thoughtful, world-changing epic should have. It’s all just about perfect. In fact, for a while, I thought it was perfect, executed with no oversight or missing feature that could have improved it.

Then I thought about Navarre, and now that damn final battle gnaws at my mind for all it could have been.

Look, this is a small thing. It really is. But it’s 1 of those small details that really just drive you crazy. Like toast crumbs in your bedsheets. Nothing so tiny should be able to frustrate a person so much, but, unless you are a far superior breed of man or woman than I am, you cannot get comfortable so long as you know they’re there. And for me, Navarre’s place in the final battle of SMT4-2 is that way. There’s nothing wrong with that battle--it’s fucking awesome, in fact, as you would certainly hope given the circumstances--but the opportunity that Atlus missed to tie 1 last detail of character development and theme up in a neat little bow is killing me.

And what is that detail, you wonder? Or perhaps scream irritably at me, given that I’ve been leading you on for 4 paragraphs now about it. Well, it’s simply this:

Navarre should have been the support character for Flynn’s team.

Think about it. Wouldn’t that have been the absolutely perfect way to conclude Navarre’s character in Shin Megami Tensei 4-1 and 4-2? Wouldn’t that have been the perfect way to complete Flynn’s team?

Flynn’s team in the final battle is made up of himself, Isabeau, Jonathan, and Walter. This makes sense, of course, in that they’re the party of the first Shin Megami Tensei 4, and it feels really good that they get to be included in such a major way in this final battle for the destiny of the human race, that Walter and Jonathan can put aside their history and their ideologies to stand alongside Isabeau and Flynn as their allies and friends 1 last time. It’s a great way to bring Flynn and company back into a spotlight that, let’s face it, was more or less stolen from them in this second game,* and give them a final and really substantial moment of glory as co-heroes of the mini-saga.

But these 4 weren’t the only samurais of their year--cowardly failure though he turned out to be, Navarre was the last samurai chosen during the ceremony at the beginning of SMT4-1. He couldn’t handle the responsibility then, and wound up endangering them and losing his mind before meeting his untimely end. Since becoming a ghost and going with Nanashi on his quest in this game, however, Navarre has grown into his own, and redeemed himself for his shortcomings in life.

So wouldn’t it have been a really fitting, touching thing if Navarre had left Nanashi’s bunch for this final battle, in order to run support for Flynn’s group? It would have been the crowning moment for Navarre’s character--sure, Navarre has redeemed himself well enough with Flynn and Isabeau earlier in the game, but he could, in this final battle, prove himself conclusively through his actions, and stand with his 4 comrades as he was always meant to. Hell, it would put a whole, more meaningful spin on Navarre’s character arc--he makes his purpose in SMT4-2 guiding and protecting Nanashi during their voyage, but if his final decision in this saga was to stand with his fellows as he had always been meant to, then Navarre’s purpose in his afterlife, the meaning of his character arc, would retroactively shift from the nice but somewhat out-of-the-blue dedication to Nanashi to a story about Navarre growing as a person enough that he can do in death what he could not in life. And given that the whole thing with ghosts is them having unfinished business, that would make more sense, too.

Additionally, beyond Navarre’s character development being neatly concluded, having him join Flynn’s party as the support unit would have also been a nice thematic touch. Like I said, the idea of having both parties of the SMT4 duology teaming up in their entirety for the final battle is a cool and fitting way to conclude this story,** and it feels right for Isabeau to leave Nanashi’s bunch to stand along her fellows from the first game. It gives you the feeling of having the gang back together for 1 last moment of glory, you know? But it would be even more complete if Navarre were there, because, like I said, destiny also chose him to be among their band, even if he wasn’t a strong enough man to fulfill that purpose. As a team 1 last time, Flynn, Isabeau, Walter, and Jonathan are a moment of recapturing what once was--but if the narrative had allowed Navarre to take this last chance to stand with them, it would be more than what once was, it would be what should have been. Which is more epic and thematically fitting, in my eyes.

I’d also like to point out that putting Navarre in as the support unit for Flynn’s party would even have been a good move from a gameplay perspective. Flynn’s party has potential to deal out good damage, but its purpose is primarily to open up YHVH’s defenses, so that Nanashi’s party, which you’ve been developing the whole game and so of course is going to be the more capable of inflicting damage, can focus on attacking. Well, given that Navarre’s major utility as a support unit late in the game is debuffing enemies and eliminating debuffs inflicted on the party, he’d be the perfect cherry on top of Flynn’s sundae.*** And it’s not like removing him from the main party’s use would be a significant blow--yeah, it slightly lessens your options with Nanashi, but Asahi makes a superior alternative to Navarre in terms of buffs and debuffs, in that she can enhance the party’s stats and heal them, while Navarre’s more locked into managing debuffs only. As a loss to Nanashi’s party, it’s basically equivalent to the fact that Isabeau is switching over to Flynn’s bunch: what she can provide (magical damage and some healing) can be better provided by Asahi or Hallelujah.

Like I said, this isn’t a major issue, or anything. It’s not a fault of Shin Megami Tensei 4-2 that the writers didn’t think of having Navarre join Flynn’s party during the final battle. Because that showdown feels awesome and complete the way it is. But, once you think about it, even if it’s not missing, so to speak, it’s still a really great opportunity that they passed over. It makes sense from a gameplay perspective, it’s a nice thematic bookend to Flynn’s party’s role, and it would be a great way to complete Navarre’s personal journey. And so, this little detail that Atlus missed out on really does bother me substantially.

...Someone make a mod! Mod SMT4-2 to have Navarre join Flynn in the final battle as his party’s support, and add just a line or 2 of dialogue to set it up. I know 3DS modding is possible, because that marvelous Unassuming Venusaur lady has been correcting Fire Emblem 14’s oversights for a couple years now. So, readers, if any of you are tech-savvy, I charge you now to tweak Shin Megami Tensei 4-2, just a tiny little bit, and make this idea of mine a reality! I’ll buy you, like, 3 RPGs in thanks.

* Not that I for a single solitary second have any regret about this, mind you. To a man/woman, the party members of SMT4-2 are more interesting, appealing, developed characters than everyone from SMT4-1 was put together. Well, okay, Isabeau is empty and mundane, but that doesn’t count seeing as how she’s in both titles’ parties.

** Or is it 1.5 stories? This mini-saga is kind of weird, narratively.

*** You have my permission to twist this metaphor for use in whatever Flynn x Navarre smut you feel the need to write after hearing it. You’re welcome.

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