Thursday, July 18, 2019

General RPGs' Party Members Going Their Separate Ways

Quick Question Before We Begin: Are any of you fine folks good at getting assets out of games? I'm looking for a picture of the infamous chair from Xenogears, but I can't find a sprite of it online that doesn't already have 1 of the idiots in the cast sitting in it. Can anyone help me out on this, find or rip the sprite of the stupid thing by itself? I'd be very grateful!

Anyway, on with the rant.

It’s finally over. You stand and watch in awe at the sight of the crumbling sky fortress that you’ve only just escaped from, as a spectacular light show ignites the atmosphere above it, spreading divine healing across the weary world: a world that you’ve traversed these past few months from 1 end to the other, overcoming seemingly endless obstacles and overwhelming emotional hardships all along the way, a slew of trials both physical and spiritual that have forged you into an unstoppable force of heroism in both body and mind. But it was all for this moment: this moment, in which the world has been saved from the twisted and misguided monster that sought to remake it as he saw fit. And as warm, healing drifts of luminescence gently rain upon you like the cathartic petals of a new spring, you turn to your companions, to the men and women who have shared this quest with you, the ones who have grown with you and supported you in both the best and worst of times, your new family without whom you never could have made it, with whom you have forged unassailable bonds of friendship and love. They look to you, and in this climactic, moving moment of your journey’s conclusion, you smile at them, and say,

"Whew! Alright, GG, guys! I’m out-ski. Catch ya later, gaywads!"

Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but...does it ever feel weird to anyone else, sometimes, when you watch these RPG endings which, at some point, do a short time-jump forward to show you what life is like for each party member after they’ve all gone their separate ways?

It’s just, like...some RPGs’ casts go through so much together, and bond so naturally, that it feels like they pass a point of camaraderie where going back to their lives after the adventure, or even finding new roles for themselves in accordance with what they’ve learned/what’s happened during the game’s events, feels out of character, somehow. Like this team has formed connections so strong, each individual has developed themselves in ways so strongly tied to their comrades, that for them not to continue all being a part of their everyday lives doesn’t even feel true to who they’ve all become by the game’s end, either individually or collectively. There are times when the "show what everyone ends up doing with themselves after everything’s over" ending feels wrong to me.

And there are times when the game itself almost feels like it agrees with me on this point. Like, you take Grandia 2--yes, that’s right, I’m about to speak negatively about Grandia 2, so now is the time to pop some medication if you’ve got a weak heart. In Grandia 2’s ending, you get to see what everyone in the party’s doing after the adventure’s all done, and it’s...kinda off! It’s a little weird, and more than a little random, to see that after all that, Millennia winds up being a teacher, while Elena becomes a traveling performer, and neither they nor anyone else in the party seems to interact very much with each other these days, or feel the need to. It’s like...yes, there are merits to this narrative direction, and I’ve defended this ending in conversations with other players in the past, but even though you can chart how each character’s personal growth could have led them to this point, it feels out of place, like the writers had been so focused on everything in the game proper that, when they reached this point, they realized they’d never really thought about each character’s future, and just went with the first ideas they had that seemed like they might sort of reflect the characters’ development. These were personalities that were intertwined so well by the game's finale that separating them seems to have been an unnatural act.

Of course, there are also times when breaking up the band is a bad move objectively, too. My finding fault with this happening in Wild Arms 4* is certainly not just a subjective matter. The game spent a truly agonizing number of hours letting Jude babble on and on about what great friends he and the others are and about how they’ll always be besties 4eva. Wanting to surgically fuse his palms to those of his friends so they could all hold hands for the rest of their lives is 1 of exactly 2 character traits the kid possesses, the other being an unshakeable distrust of anyone old enough to shave. For Jude to not stalk his friends until their dying day is just outright inconsistent to his character, and for him to instead essentially become a hermit is fucking ridiculous.

And don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of games where this isn’t a problem at all. As well as everyone in Final Fantasy 9 works together, and in spite of the fact that they’ve grown substantially as a group of allies and friends, it somehow doesn’t feel wrong at all, at the end of the game, for them to go their separate ways and return to their lives, or find new lives altogether to live.** They just always seemed to have enough substance and separation as individuals that they didn’t need one another to feel narratively complete, I suppose? Same as with the party in Tales of Berseria--the fact that each party member goes his or her separate way feels natural and right, because even though they all did form a compelling accord as a team of misfits, they’re far more defined as individuals with specific plans, personalities, and values. There was never any doubt that Eizen would return to his life as a pirate (his inability to compromise his free spirit even for the sake of his loved ones is, in fact, a major part of his character), it’s unquestionable that Eleanor would continue to strive to do right by others independent of her allies’ plans, it’s hardly surprising that Rokurou would detach himself from the others to keep pursuing conflict, and so on. They’re far more strongly defined by isolated character traits that neither require nor mesh with their friends than they are by their connections with one another.

And that’s just fine! Final Fantasy 9 and especially Tales of Berseria’s casts have been written in ways that specifically make their groups' separations a normal act--it’s when RPG casts have been created in such a way that separating them seems contrary to their design that I feel put off, not just by the act of dispersal itself.

And there are those games in which the cast’s breakup is an expected and inevitable, and thus acceptable, consequence of the lore itself--it’s sad to see Frog, Robo, Ayla, and Magus leave in Chrono Trigger, but they all come from different times, and must return to them. Under different circumstances, would it feel unnatural for the CT cast not to stick together to some degree? Possibly, at least for some of them (not Magus), but the game’s quite clearly established their origins and necessary roles as making separation unavoidable, so we accept this fated eventuality. They aren’t all just arbitrarily deciding to wander off even though there’s no actual reason they couldn’t keep being a constant in each other’s lives--there’s an unassailable fact of the game’s setting that drives them apart.

This whole thing of splitting up RPG parties in a manner that doesn’t feel right is not a major problem, or anything, mind you.*** It’s a minor complaint, at best, for there are far worse ways for an RPG to treat its cast in its ending. At least this isn’t the "Rocks fall, everyone dies" garbage of Neverwinter Nights 2’s main campaign, nor the needless ambiguity of Final Fantasy 7, which decided to leave the fate of every single member of the cast in the entire game up in the air, save a single character whose development and relevance to the game’s events was finished back on Disc 1. Or worst of all, narrative slash-and-burn finales which are so destructive to their game (and even series) that how everyone ends up in the future is no longer even relevant, like Valkyrie Profile 2 and Mass Effect 3.

Nonetheless, it’s still a weird, slightly unsettling thing, sometimes, to spend 40, 50, 60, even 100+ hours watching a team of characters grow together, coalesce emotionally, become indispensable partners to one another who are closer in mind and heart than even most lovers...and then just go their separate ways, as though, in spite of having developed together through their joint efforts like 2 plants using one another as support to grow ever higher together, there’s really nothing more holding them together than between any given coworkers. Before writers go and decide what everyone in the party is going to do by themselves after the adventure’s done, perhaps they should first take a good, hard look at the characters they’ve created, the party dynamics they’ve formed, and figure out whether it even feels right for that party to be fully dissolved to begin with. Because sometimes it isn’t--sometimes you’ve got a band of friends who have gone through too much together, become too close to one another, to ever feel right anywhere else. I think we need more games like Tales of Legendia, games which can look at their cast after the adventure is over, and realize that these characters’ places are in each other’s lives, as neighbors, friends, and family.

* Dear Palutena in Skyworld, the greatest RPG and the worst actually have something in common. I’m...feeling a little disturbed about that fact.

** Admittedly, I’m not a fan of how Freya ends up, as I’ve mentioned a few times previously, but my issues with that conclusion are unrelated to the matter at hand.

*** At least, it's not a major problem in most cases. It IS a substantial flaw with Wild Arms 4, though, because the party separation at the game’s end in WA4 runs blatantly contrary to 1 of the major messages of the game, and its protagonist’s character.


  1. Did you know Xenogears was originally pitched as Final fantasy 7 but they didn't want to make it that because it was so dark. Man after we learned a lot of the game industry and crunch this year, must be interesting to look back at Xenogears and the problems Square placed on the Dev team.

    Anyways is this more of a rant of this in general or these two games? Since these seem oddly specific and you only give two examples. Honestly I can't recall any VG ending with this sort of ending off the top of my head aside from maybe Final Fantasy XIII-3 but that's a 13 game and it's a bit complicated

    1. I had heard that, yes. Definitely a boon for the FF series that they went with the FF7 they did.

      In general. I think there are quite a many RPGs in which this is true; I just believed 2 main examples would be sufficient to give you the basic idea.

  2. I agree that the group of an RPG game splitting and everyone going separate ways can be odd, but, as far as I know, there hasn't been an RPG ruined by this occurrence. Generally, if the player cares that the group is separating and feels bothered by it, that means that the game did something right before the ending in order to endear the cast to the player, so the ending would have to be spectacularly bad to end that good will. While I can think of RPGs with endings bad enough to undo said good will, I don't think any have been catastrophically bad due to everyone going separate ways.

    Two Trails RPGs are recent games I've played with this type of ending. One of them, Trails in the Sky 3, makes a lot of sense in the game's context (and I'll say no more), while the latter, Trails of Cold Steel 2, feels incredibly contrived in the manner it separates everyone (but there are two more Cold Steel games, so I dunno how separated everyone actually ends up).

    The main way I think this trope can backfire is if the player does not care about the connections between the characters. I'm primarily thinking of Zelda games here because, I'm sorry, Nintendo, but I'm not going to feel sad about Link parting from buddies like Navi and Fi if I absolutely detest Navi and Fi (it doesn't help that Link's model is terrible at expressing emotions in Ocarina of Time).

    Here are some variations of this trope that I thought of:

    1. The Hero parts from everyone else. It's not a total group separation, as only the one guy leaves. Possibly, the Love Interest leaves along with the Hero, or the Hero leaves to be with his Love Interest, like in Lunar 2. In the case of someone like Adol from the Ys series, this trope can feel ridiculous after it's happened half a dozen times.

    2. Partial separation. I would put Chrono Trigger in this category, actually, since while most of the gang splits up, Crono, Marle, and Lucca do not actually leave each other. I think of this a "common sense" variation, since groups of friends often break off into smaller groups over time.

    3. Every one goes their separate ways...but the game is nowhere near finished yet. I actually quite like it when this happens, as in Final Fantasy VI. I think it only works if the player actually wants to bring everybody back together, and if the cast isn't too large. I shudder to think of needing to recruit 100+ characters a second time in a Suikoden game.

    1. Like I said, it's a small problem. I certainly hope I didn't imply that it was the sort of thing that could ruin an ending.

    2. I don't think you implied that! After reading your post, though, I do wonder if it's possible for party members going separate ways to be done so poorly that it ruins an ending.

    3. Well, Wild Arms 4's ending did unabashedly suck, and the sheer stupidity of Jude's Where Are They Now certainly contributed its part to that. Of course, everything else about the ending sucked, and some aspects sucked more (the narrative's betrayal of Raquel), so it wasn't just that, but I suppose if you could manage to fuck up just as badly for everyone in the cast as you did for Jude, you could maybe ruin the whole ending.