Monday, October 28, 2019

The Princess' Heart's Characters

I enjoy these character rants of mine; they’re a lot of fun. But most of the time, I have to kind of force it for at least a few characters in a cast, really rack my brain for a way to get a quick laugh out of who and what they are as entities of the game. That’s why, comparatively speaking, I don’t do these ones all that often, even though I like them more and more as time goes on and my rants in general get less and less humor-oriented. It just ends up often feeling like I’m trying too hard.

But sometimes it’s effortless. Sometimes, I play a game like Star Ocean 2, and it’s clear that this game’s cast was made for this sort of thing. They’re all dumb enough, or dislikable enough, or involved in nonsensical enough events and/or development, that it all comes together into this beautiful coordination of dysfunction that makes mocking each and every one of them not just simple, not just obvious, but practically obligatory.

The Princess’ Heart is one such game.

Aerin: Aerin is seriously the most selfish protagonist I’ve ever encountered in an RPG. And to lend context to that fact, keep in mind that I’ve played My World, My Way, a game about a girl who literally reshapes reality by pouting about it. Princess Aerin beats that chick at being self-absorbed, and by a wide margin.

Gavin: Gavin is not so much a character, as he is what you’d get if you took the Loyal Protector Knight cliche, threw it in a blender for a bit, then used a sieve to strain all the bigger chunks of Character Depth out of it, so you were left with only the thinnest liquid cliche goo. He’s basically just a shield that says “Yes, Your Highness.”

Thony: Thony is a good friend who always has Aerin’s back, no questions asked. He’ll gladly help her to brave danger in order to win her true love’s heart, and go on a quest with Aerin to save her soul from the devil himself.

Oh, no, wait, hang on, I mistyped all that. Sorry, let me try again:

Thony is a careless enabler who never bothers to stand up to Aerin when she’s clearly in the wrong. He’ll gladly help her to ditch rehab in order to get the devil to force her ex to love her again, and go on a quest with Aerin to worm out of a deal that Thony’s negligence as a “friend” made possible in the first place.

Aerin: No but really, Roseportal Games, do you or do you not understand that you’ve created a game about a violent, alcoholic murderer who sells her own soul to the devil so that she can violate another human being’s right of consent, endangering the souls of friends and an uninvolved bystander in the process, and then embarks on a journey to beat up the devil solely to avoid ever having to face the consequences of her actions?

The game’s developer has indicated that Aerin’s story is very personal to them. I don’t think they realize just how unflattering that connection they’re drawing is.

Liquan: This guy has so little presence as a character, and even in terms of his role in combat, that I tell you, in earnest, that I forgot he existed until a few minutes ago, when I looked at a list of the game’s cast. Does this dude even have a full dozen lines of dialogue in this game? Is there a single player on the face of the Earth who opted to use Liquan in their party?

These are questions I’ll never know the answer to, because even if someone tells me, it will be too late: by the time I finish typing this sentence, I’m pretty sure I’m gonna forget Liquan’s existence entirely once more.

Serena: “Now, let’s see...where would be the best place to keep the enchanted locket containing my very soul, which the most powerful demon in existence is aching to get his hands on? I wouldn’t want to take any chances with the only thing standing between me and eternal damnation.

“Oh, I know! I’ll keep it in a completely unlocked jewelry box, sitting out in the open on top of my desk, exactly 4 steps away from the spot where I bring complete strangers who I’ve invited into my room! BRILLIANT!”

Aerin: Oh, also? She’s also completely unrepentant for everything. There is only a single time in this entire game in which Princess Aerin actually says she’s sorry for something, and that’s at the beginning, when she’s trying to get Tommy not to leave her after slapping him--far more an empty plea for another chance than an actual apology. Everything else? Not a single pardon begged. Not for killing innocent people, not for causing the death of her own loyal guards, not for making a pact with a demon, not for handing over another woman’s soul to said demon, not for brainwashing her boyfriend, nothing! The only regret Aerin experiences is near the beginning, when she laments the fact that her drunken rampage has made a situation worse, and later on, remorse when she’s a little bummed that Tommy’s profession of love for her is probably the curse talking, and not his genuine feelings.* That is the entirety of the remorse that Aerin feels over her actions. Oh, and that whopping buyer’s remorse at the prospect of actually making good on the deal she struck with the demon, of course.

I’ve seen some morally questionable protagonists in my time. Hell, I’ve played RPGs in which the main character is outright the villain of the story! But Aerin’s the first ethically repugnant protagonist so totally detached from empathy and a sense of decency that she just seems outright incapable of regret for anyone’s sake but her own.

Tommy: Y’know...yeah, Tommy is basically the victim in all this, forced by a curse to love Aerin without his consent, and then forced by extension to risk his life fighting against monsters and demons, but while the situation is morally wretched in the objective sense, it is, at the same time, pretty damn hard to actually feel bad for the guy. From what little we can glean of the real Tommy, he’s kind of a scummy douchebag.

Putting aside the possibility that he did cheat on his then-girlfriend at the beginning of the game (which is never verified, and it’s not like it’s hard to believe Aerin would fly into a rage over something she had no proof of), the guy outright poisons his own guards without a shred of regret, just for the sake of getting some alone time with Princess Aerin. Now sure, his intense infatuation with Aerin at that moment is a result of the curse she’s put on him, but I don’t see how that absolves him of the coldblooded murder he’s committed--he hasn’t asked to be made crazy into Aerin all of a sudden, sure, but taking “3’s a crowd” to a fatal extreme is still the decision that he has made in response to this admittedly artificial desire. If someone were to use magic to make me incredibly hungry, like I hadn’t eaten anything in an entire week, that wouldn’t absolve me of guilt if I decided to sate that hunger by gruesomely killing and devouring my neighbor’s pet cat, rather than suffer the minor inconvenience of driving over to Chipotle.

He also subsequently drugs his paramour and her friends with fortunately non-lethal sleeping potion so he can abscond with her comatose ass to a secluded cabin in the woods, which is also bad, but, in spite of being the plot of a tacky psychological horror thriller screenplay and/or documentary on the life and times of Bill Cosby, maybe not quite as bad as the aforementioned apathetic murder thing.

And even if you could prove that the curse Tommy was under was wholly responsible for his decision to assassinate innocent bystanders because he couldn’t be bothered to just hang a sock on the damn doorknob, he’s still a jackass for the fact that he just doesn’t give a shit about it. At no point at the end of the game, when he’s finally regained his senses, does he express the slightest displeasure at having killed his employees with his own hands. And it’s not like the issue doesn’t come up at all, or anything; Aerin notes that she’s in the clear for what she did to Tommy, because if he were to try to tell anyone about it, he’d have to account for what happened to his guards. And Amaterasu forbid someone actually face some consequences for their actions in this rotten story, right? So yeah, best case scenario, Tommy is an apathetic jackoff who couldn’t care less about whether he personally murdered innocent people who put their lives on the line to keep him safe.

The romance of this game is utter trash, but I’ll give it this: you really can’t argue that the conscienceless maniacs involved in it don’t completely deserve each other.

Maota: In most games’ casts, a catgirl party member whose only defining character trait is being promiscuous would be a shallow, deplorably stupid waste whose only function would be to showcase the writers’ failure. In this game’s cast, she’s practically a godsend.

Aerin: Did I mention that absolutely everything works out perfectly for this heartless monster? She gets to back out of her deal with the devil, she faces no punishment for skipping out on rehab for an entire quest’s worth of time (which was itself a punishment for her having gone on a violent rampage, so she’s basically getting out of punishment exponentially), none of her friends hold a grudge for endangering their lives and souls, and the guy she brainwashed, once free, doesn’t even manage to wait a full 24 hours before he forgives her and asks her to marry him. There is literally nothing that Princess Aerin wants that she does not get to have as a result of taking careless, utterly immoral actions that she never offers the slightest apology for.

I mean, damn, Roseportal Games, I know that lousy people come out just fine more often than they should, and I don’t need every game I play to sell me some heavy-handed moral, but maybe you could’ve told a story that withheld even just 1 single thing from the worst person in the world?

Splendora: Splendora is a fairy child, and you’re charged by her mother to find her and bring her home safely. Well, I guess you’d better resign yourself to an incomplete quest log, and add “Kidnapping a Minor” to Princess Aerin’s long list of fine personal qualities, because this kid is going nowhere. Roseportal Games decided to take a page from Bioware’s book, and make “optional” Splendora’s support abilities as utterly indispensable to the player as the equally “optional” Cream’s were in Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood. So if you want to beat this game without breaking multiple keyboards in half out of pure rage at The Princess’ Heart’s ruthless and poorly designed challenge curve, you’re gonna be holding this kid captive in your active party through to the game’s end.

Izdul-Kalag: It says something when your game’s antagonist, a demon from Hell that embodies 1 of the great sins of mankind, does not seem anywhere near as cold and evil as your game’s "heroes."

Elias and Rylm: Elias and Rylm are the faceless grunts who fill out your party at the beginning of the game just for the sake of gameplay purposes, like Wedge and Biggs in Final Fantasy 6. They’re forced, reluctantly, by order of Princess Aerin to assist her in her inebriated spree of violence, and then, once the prologue of the game is over, they’re executed for it, and never mentioned ever again. Pressed against their will to protect and indulge the demands of a selfish, berserk overlord, then put to the guillotine for fulfilling their duty.

That may seem too small a part to even warrant their inclusion here, but dammit, SOMEONE'S gotta remember these two everymen carelessly trodden over by an aristocrat and a plot that both care equally little for them. Who cries for Rylm and Elias? Not the compassionless serpent responsible for their deaths, that’s for damn sure.

* Protip: If at any point you have to ask “Is it him, or the mind-controlling curse talking?” in response to a confession of love, your relationship sucks.

Also, if simulated affection just isn’t going to be enough for you, why the hell did you brainwash him to love you to begin with?

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