Monday, April 8, 2019

General RPGs' Dying Breath Syndrome

I’ve come across more than a few speech impediments in my time of playing RPGs, no doubt about it. I’ve seen Scias stutter in Breath of Fire 4, and I’ve seen Micky lisp in Makai Kingdom, which are 2 kinds of speech disorders quite common in real life. I’ve also seen some real life speech disorders that are less common, such as Final Fantasy 9’s Garnet, who loses her ability to speak for quite some time as a result of mental trauma and guilt. And, of course, I’ve seen quite a few speech impediments that I’m fairly sure the RPGs just made up for the sake of adding quirks to their cast members, such as Fujin’s only being able to communicate by shouting a single word at a time in Final Fantasy 8, the guards in Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle speaking in emoticons, Cyan of Final Fantasy 6 speaking in an old-fashioned middle english manner in spite of the fact that nobody else in his country or even the entire world speaks that way so where the hell did he pick that up, and Wild Arms 4’s Jude, who’s unable to speak a single sentence that isn’t incredibly stupid.

Also, I think at least a few of the variations in Chrono Cross’s accent system really count less as manners of speech than as disorders. No one else uncontrollably elongates their vowels with every sentence they speak, Starky. You don’t have an accent, you have a communication problem.

But of all the many speech impediments I’ve seen in RPGs, from the disorders one can observe in the real world to the irrepressible compulsion to add “kupo” to the end of every sentence, by far the most frustrating has to be the one where an important character can’t bring themselves to cough up any important information until the moment they’re gonna die.

Dying Breath Syndrome: my newest term for these rants, which shall be defined as the complete inability to communicate basic, easily-understood facts of the plot until you’re dying and your previous silence has screwed things up beyond repair. Certainly not unique to RPGs, this genre nonetheless seems to be far fonder of the annoying trope than most other storytelling mediums, from what I can glean. It seems I can’t go a whole 3 RPGs in a row before someone important to the game’s story decides that the best time to spill their guts is while they’re literally spilling their guts.

Does it annoy anyone else that an inexplicable lack of ability to express essential yet simple ideas is such a staple of RPG storytelling? Like, how many times have you played an RPG in which the heroes are manipulated into killing the wrong person or helping the wrong cause, and they’re only told the truth of the matter after there’s no going back, even though the entity telling them this could have just told them this important shit before getting stabbed through the heart and saved him/herself a painful death?

It’s always such a clumsily-handled narrative device. Like, let’s use the example of Asdivine 4’s Shadow Deity.* During the first half of Asdivine 4, the heroes are tricked by the Light Deity, who secretly wants to kill all humans and restart the world with better indigenous life forms and so on, normal RPG villain stuff, into thinking that the Shadow Deity is the source of their world’s recent problems. So the heroes bumble along on their quest, defeating the 2 guardians who are basically glorified padlocks on the Shadow Deity’s front door--neither of whom, incidentally, see fit to say anything to the heroes about their mistaken goals save for the most cryptic and vague warnings possible--and eventually meet face to face with the Shadow Deity. Before they begin combat, does the Shadow Deity tell them something like, “Kids, the Light Deity is manipulating you. She wants to destroy the world, and I’m the only thing in her way”? Does he yell, “JUST COOL IT FOR A SECOND YOU IDIOTS, IF I DIE THIS WHOLE WORLD IS GONNA FOLLOW ME”? Does he communicate any information that is direct, clear, and useful?

No, of course he doesn’t! All the Shadow Deity does prior to battle is utter some non-specific warning that this isn’t a good idea. And then, during the entire battle that follows, he keeps mum. Even as he’s slashed and punched and blasted closer and closer to death, the Shadow Deity doesn’t see fit to spend a single turn of combat to just outright say “You’re being tricked and I’m actually the good guy.”

But after it’s too late, after he’s dead-ish and can only speak to the party as a helpless spirit projection thingy? Oh, then this mouthy motherfucker’s got all kinds of useful plot information to share.** He’s more than happy to tell the (so-called) heroes alllll about how the Light Deity’s gonna destroy the world and everyone in it then, after it’s too late to go back. Somehow, dying seems to have enabled the Shadow Deity to clearly lay everything important for the heroes to know out in the open, all the information that would have been most beneficial to know prior to killing him.

And of course, there’s also the equally common scenario in which an NPC had vitally important plot information that they only choose to share with the heroes after someone ELSE fatally wounds them. This case has a better chance of having some logical reason why King Plot Twist IV couldn’t be bothered to reveal all prior to this moment, but there’re still plenty of occurrences of this brand of Dying Breath Syndrome in which there was absolutely no rational reason why the NPC would hold onto all this useful information until after their kidney had been punctured. Hell, considering how often these characters are killed specifically to prevent them from telling the heroes what they need to know,*** a lot of them could’ve saved their own lives by just being forthcoming about what they knew as soon as they had the opportunity to do so.

It doesn’t always have to be plot-essential info, either. Dying Breath Syndrome can also apply to situations of emotional relationships between characters, too. Like scenarios in which someone who seemed like they were Important Character A’s enemy reveals, after the fatal battle, that they in fact always admired Important Character A, or loved them, or were their brother/father/etc, and some inconvenient and usually stupid plot device always prevented them from being able to properly connect with Important Character A, leading inevitably to this battle in which they have now been killed by Important Character A’s own hands. Inevitable, that is, but for the fact that had this dying dimwit bothered to explain all this about 5 minutes ago, Important Character A wouldn’t have felt the need to kill them to begin with!

It’s not even like there aren’t easy ways to achieve the same necessary plot results that make more sense. If you’ve absolutely just gotta have your important NPC only reveal important shit after it’s too late, then you could at least have the heroes launch a sneak attack on them, to prevent their having the chance to reveal that it’s all a misunderstanding until afterwards--same result, but at least it doesn’t seem so idiotic that they waited until the most unnecessarily worst time to spout their exposition. Or maybe have the heroes be given the expectation that they need to cover their ears going into combat to prevent a mind-control or sonic attack or something, so prior to engaging with the important NPC they take a page from Startropics’s Mike’s playbook and stuff some bananas in their ears and can’t hear the NPC shouting to them that they’re being morons. Or maybe--and this one’s a really crazy thought, I know--maybe writers could just try prioritizing a logical narrative of character interactions instead of assigning inflated importance to plot twists that aren’t that creative anyway and cheap, forced emotional drama coming from needless character death.

* When you want to illustrate a clumsy and thoughtless RPG cliche, you just can’t go wrong looking to Kemco for an example.

** In fact, it’s actually kind of amazing how MUCH can be said with one’s dying breath, according to RPGs. I daresay that many of these final speeches would cause a healthy person to get out of breath while trying to expunge all this information at once. Yet apparently having a lung collapse does the exact opposite of what you’d think it would for one’s ability to verbally convey large amounts of information! Really putting the “die” in “verbal diarrhea” there, RPGs.

*** Thinking about it, the villains would have been better served just not killing the important NPC at all, since apparently they would’ve just continued to hold out on the heroes forever otherwise.

No comments:

Post a Comment