Sunday, June 28, 2020

General RPGs' Show-and-Tell Writing Method

There’s a long-held wisdom about writing: Show, Don’t Tell. It’s a reliable guideline for all who wish to create and share a story, which advises a writer not to simply Tell an audience, whether through narration or characters’ exposition, something about a character or an event, but rather to create actions, circumstances, and dialogue that display this characteristic the writer wishes known to the audience, and allow the audience to experience it firsthand. Definitely a sensible and worthy method of storytelling, to be sure, because empirical evidence is just generally more compelling than hearsay--the phrase “I’ll believe it when I see it” exists for a reason. Roseportal Games, as an example, can Tell me as much as they like that Aerin of The Princess’ Heart undergoes personal growth during the game’s events and is at the game's end a better, more mature romantic partner than she was at its beginning, but they’ve Shown me not a single piece of evidence to back that up, so I don’t buy it for a moment.

With that said, I think it’s a common mistake that many people believe that Show, Don’t Tell is the final word on quality storytelling. It’s a great and a safe method, absolutely, but not the be-all, end-all of how to write well.

First of all, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If you know what you’re doing, the Tell method actually can work very well. Isaac Asimov used a lot of Telling in his works, especially his famous Foundation series, and pretty much everything he wrote that I’ve come across is fantastic. He knew how and when to rely on his own narration to get the job done, what situations it would work for--the Foundation stories, for example, involve not a small theme of historical documentation, for which the Tell style adds authenticity, since we associate such an approach with things like history textbooks and biographies and whatnot. To bring it back to RPGs, I would say that a fair portion of the narration of Planescape: Torment, and its spiritual successor, Torment: Tides of Numenera, could be considered as Telling more than Showing--and PT and TToN have definitely got the masterful writing talents on staff to make such scenes as brilliant and captivating as all the rest.

More importantly, however, is my belief that Show, while more desirable in general than Tell, is still only a part of the ideal way of writing. In my opinion, you’re at your best when the idea you want to convey is Shown and Told. Yes, you can be Told that some character is amazing and wonderful and/or has undergone incredible personal changes for the better, but the sentiment is meaningless because you’re not able to observe evidence of it. However, you can also be Shown the character’s greatness and how dynamic they are, but not fully appreciate these facts because the lack of a Telling element hasn’t framed these qualities for all they’re worth.

Since I used a non-RPG example initially a moment ago, let’s start the same way with this. You can see an example of what I mean by a Show-and-Tell method in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, specifically with the character of protagonist George Bailey. The key, core element of the film around which every part of its plot, message, and cast revolve is the outstanding virtue of George as a man, and the irreplaceable value he has to his friends, family, and community as a whole. Now, the movie does an excellent job in establishing the greatness of George Bailey through Showing the audience many, many examples of his selfless and kind nature throughout his lifetime, allowing us to see, from the perspective of an observing angel, his past. And for that matter, we also see examples of that generous spirit once the movie catches up to the present: Clarence’s entire plan to keep George from committing suicide revolves around the knowledge that George will put his own despair on hold to save another person, and a little later, George feels compelled, even while still distraught over his own terrible circumstances, to express to Clarence that the latter worries George, and to ask about whether Clarence’s own situation is stable. There’s more than enough Show in It’s a Wonderful Life for us to adequately understand George Bailey’s saintlike qualities.

Yet at the same time, we’d be missing out if the movie were not also Telling us what a great guy George is, too. The fact that we hear angels themselves speak highly of George Bailey helps to confirm what we can ourselves see, and also brings to light which specific merits of George’s are most relevant to our understanding of him and the film as a whole. Furthermore, hearing the prayers at the movie’s beginning from those who know George, prayers which Tell the audience that this (as of this moment) unknown character is a good person, is not just a useful framing device for our perceptions of what we will be Shown, but emphasize and sell 1 of the most important aspects of George’s character, the quality around which Clarence’s plan to help him revolves: his invaluable and wonderful impact upon the lives of all those in Bedford Falls. It’s a confirmation and emphasis that could only go so far with Showing alone. And the movie’s filled with such examples--in another, we can see an individual instance of the Bailey Building and Loan’s positive impact on the community as we see the celebration of Mr. Martini moving into his new home, but that example of Show means much, much more with the context of the audience having been Told by Peter Bailey why this is especially important in a town otherwise run by Mr. Potter, and having also been indirectly Told by George during his angry speech to Potter about the people of the town deserving a decent living situation regardless of their economic situation. What we can be Shown is a single occurrence, what we can be Told is the significance of that occurrence and the great number of times it has happened. There are many reasons why It’s a Wonderful Life is a truly excellent movie, but part of it is that it combines Showing and Telling perfectly to keep every major cog in its narrative machine turning smoothly.

Now, to bring things back to RPGs, think of Commander Shepard from the Mass Effect trilogy.* I think most people would agree that he/she is a pretty awesome hero, and while going through ME, the player gets a personal sense of confidence and capability that I believe few other game heroes can create. I certainly never have felt anywhere near as cool and can-do when playing as any Link from a Legend of Zelda game, for example, nor as inspiring and leaderly as Dragon Age 1’s Grey Warden, and so on. And sure, a lot of that is due to the fact that the Mass Effect series Shows us, time and time again, that Shepard has the brains, the physical prowess, and most importantly, that intangible quality of guts that can carry him/her to victory against any odds. But a huge part of why Shepard stands out as such an iconic action hero isn’t just the fact that we can see him/her acting as such--we can see that stuff in lots of significantly less memorable main characters. It’s also the fact that all along the way, from the very start of the series, other characters frequently point to Shepard as an incredible soldier and leader who can get seemingly impossible shit done. From Anderson’s paternal confidence and encouragement, to The Illusive Man outright telling Shepard that he spent incalculable sums of money to bring Shepard back to life, virtually unaltered, because he/she represents a unique human quality of accomplishment, to Shepard’s closest companions expressing time and again their faith in him/her to pull them through any situation, to even NPCs like the consort Sha'ira showing an almost reverence for him/her...yes, all this Telling would be empty if we weren’t Shown over and over that it’s confidence well-placed, but at the same time, all that Showing wouldn’t be nearly as empowering to Shepard as a hero without the Telling calling appropriate attention to it. Shepard stands out as a hero thanks to a Show-and-Tell process.

This approach is also good as a way of emphasizing the development of a character, too, not just their unchanging qualities (George Bailey and Commander Shepard, while arguably not static characters, nonetheless are most significant for qualities that don’t really change too terribly much overall). Take the relationship between Tear and Natalia in Tales of the Abyss. Early in the game, soon after Natalia has filled the last empty party member slot, it’s clearly shown from their interactions that Natalia and Tear don’t really get along very well; they just rub each other the wrong way. As time goes on, this gradually changes, with Tear and Natalia interacting more and more amiably as they assist one another on the game’s journey, and find neutral or positive ground upon which to communicate in the form of discussions with their mutual companions. It’s a natural alteration of their relationship, which happens at an organic pace, and as such, even though it’s being Shown to the player the entire time it’s happening, it doesn’t usually stand out--eventually Natalia and Tear are on good terms, and it’s happened smoothly enough that it seems like the normal state of affairs to the audience. I think that it’s only late in the game, during a certain skit, that the magnitude of their friendship’s journey is really apparent. At 1 point, as they converse, they look back at what they initially thought of each other, and Natalia reflects that she disliked Tear at first. When Tear prompts her with the question of what Natalia thinks now, Natalia warmly responds that Tear has become very dear to her. It’s a heartfelt moment, but it’s also an interesting one, because this changed relationship is one that wouldn’t have even really occurred to me to pay attention to if I’d only been Shown it--as I said, it’s gradual and natural enough a process that Natalia’s and Tear’s becoming trusted friends is just something you go along with automatically. It’s only once the game Tells us what a difference has come about that we realize the significance of their relationship’s growth, and properly appreciate the warm fuzzies of a sincere friendship between them. The Tell has given us a chance to appreciate the Show to a degree we would have otherwise missed out on.

The old adage isn’t a bad one: if you have to choose between Showing and Telling, then go with Showing, because by itself, Telling is much less likely to get the job done, unless you have a specific style or circumstance that particularly connects to Telling. But I do think that Show, Don’t Tell is a policy that will ultimately limit a truly talented writer if followed too stringently. The best results are going to come from a story that knows how to use the process of Telling to showcase and enhance the strength of what is Shown.
















* Yes, trilogy. Andromeda does not count as Mass Effect.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Tales of Berseria's Final Battle Cutscene

There’s a lot to say about Tales of Berseria that’s positive. It’s an engrossing, terrific RPG with a fresh take on a bread-and-butter RPG story concept, starring a protagonist who is absolutely excellent in both her personality depth and her character development, a striking and perfectly reflective antagonist to her, and a likable, strongly-characterized supporting cast whose hundreds of interactions are unfailingly engaging. It’s got great plot twists, it knows when to be heavy and when to pour on the charming humor, it makes you think, it has so much to say about the human condition and about finding and embracing one’s personal truths and individuality...and it even manages to do all this, and tie itself with masterful care and startling frequency to its predecessor, Tales of Zestiria, making the mediocre latter seem better simply by association. Tales of Berseria is a magnificent RPG for so, so many reasons.

And I have no interest in talking about any of them today.

Because my ranting whims are fickle and utterly ineffable, what we’re here today to laud about ToB is instead just a minor little moment of its epic span, a pleasant quirk that doesn’t really make a whole lot of difference overall, but which I still liked and took note of. In my defense, you can find people to wax adoration of the important stuff about the game in all sorts of places. But for a dissertation on tiny details which would otherwise go completely unnoticed? That’s my specialty, baby.

So, to whit: I think that the battle cutscene at the end Tales of Berseria, as the good guys* engage in combat with Artorius and Innominat, is really awesome, and more than that, refreshing, as final battle cutscenes go.

The scene is a pretty simple, straightforward one overall: Velvet and her team of misfits approach Artorius and Innominat. Some of your standard final confrontation dialogue is exchanged,** then the two sides begin fighting for a bit in cutscene form, before eventually transitioning into the actual battle system.

But simple as it is, it’s really quite awesome. First of all, on the basic level, it’s a really cool fight. The action flows quickly but intelligibly, and is varied enough that the party members’ diverse fighting talents are shown off well; you get to see swordplay, magic, fisticuffs, spear...play? What’s the word for spear-fighting? Well, anyway, you get to see the whole gamut of their talents at work, and it’s cool.

I also appreciate it for the fact that this fight cinematic even exists to begin with. Most of these final boss confrontations only amount to the party approaching the ultimate villain and exchanging their last-battle speeches, then jumping immediately into the battle screen. You don’t usually get to see any narrative representation of the fight itself, save perhaps a few lines delivered here and there during the fight. Cinematically, final confrontations in most RPGs aren’t significantly different, once they get started, from any given random encounter. The fact that Tales of Berseria was willing to put some extra flash into Velvet’s final battle with Artorius by letting a fully-choreographed, exciting fight scene play out as the first part of the battle is an example of Namco’s willingness to go all in on the quality of this title.

That’s not to say that this sort of thing is never done, of course. Tales of Berseria didn’t invent the practice of amping up the idea of a final battle by actually having, well, battle. But in the already rare case that you get some unique visual action in an RPG’s final confrontation, it’s uncommon for it to be this good. I mean, remember Wild Arms 5’s showdown with its major villain, Volsung? Yeah, you got a pre-battle cutscene with action...but that action was Dean riding that stupid fucking monowheel down a hallway avoiding some lasers, and then trying to use his vehicle as a club against Volsung. Yes, after that point, there was like 30 seconds of some fighting between them that was actually cool, but it was completely overshadowed by the sheer, mind-boggling anime-brand camp of what had come before it. And also by the stupidity of Dean just holding his gun in Volsung’s face for like 10 seconds straight without pulling the goddamn trigger. Point is, even when a game treats the player to some final battle action, it’s rarely as good as Tales of Berseria’s is.

More than the fact that it’s just a high-quality fight scene as a whole, though, it is so, so, so refreshing to see a major confrontation in cutscene format that actually uses the entire party in the battle. Voyeuristic Paralysis Syndrome is an RPG pandemic, and if this were a more typical, lazier RPG, this scene would just be of Velvet and maybe Laphicet stepping forward to do all the fighting themselves while the rest of the party idles about like they’re having a fucking picnic. That’s sure as hell how it goes down over and over again in Xenosaga 3, and a myriad of other RPGs. But instead, the characters decide to take this culmination of a months-long journey to decide the fate of humanity seriously, and actually all join in the fight! They’re willing to prioritize the victory of their ideals over the possible ego of their leader, and not just leave the most important battle in all history up to just a single representative. Miracle of miracles, the party members of Tales of Berseria treat this conflict with enough gravity to pool all their combat resources together--it’s almost as if they have a desire to win.

What a sorry state RPG storytelling is in that I can actually be impressed by an RPG’s willingness to treat its major characters as more than just notaries to its grand conflict. Nonetheless, that’s how things are, and so I think it’s worth giving Bandai-Namco some kudos for making a final battle cutscene that is of exciting high quality, and which possesses enough basic intelligence to involve all parties present within it. Really wish we could see this sort of narrative flare and common sense more often.
















* I mean, sort of. They’re also the villains. Tales of Berseria is fun like that.


** Standard in the sense that it is, as you expect, a reaffirmation that each side is firmly set in their beliefs, and are ready to throw down to the death over it. Don’t get me wrong, though, the quality of what’s actually said is, as with everything in ToB, quite above average.

Monday, June 8, 2020

The Banner Saga

Who's got 2 thumbs and just finished another Indie RPG? This Guy.
Who may or may not have 2 thumbs and is about to hear This Guy recommend it in a rant? You Guy.

So, The Banner Saga is a trilogy of strategy RPGs which basically comprise a single, ongoing story, less 3 games than it is a a single tale split into 3 parts, separated at good intermission spots. While I didn’t play them all at once, I did experience them roughly close together, which was a great benefit of having waited to get started on the series--I daresay it was probably quite difficult for contemporary fans to wait for each installment to come out, because it’s a pretty compelling tale overall. The saga has several earthly draws to it, such as numerous rather inventive characteristics to its battle system, and an art and animation style very much in the spirit of the works of Don Bluth, Ralph Bakshi, and Eyvind Earl (in fact, 1 of the most important characters in The Banner Saga is named Eyvind in homage to Mr. Earl). To me, however, such qualities are nice extras, but not capable of swaying my opinion on whether an RPG is good or bad. For me, that’s a determination dependent entirely on its story, its characters, its theme and purpose...all the juicy food-for-thought stuff.

And happily, The Banner Saga is solid on those points. It’s got a good plot (if admittedly one that feels no particular rush to tell itself), one that’s very much its own as a story more of survival than of heroism for most of its cast, and it’s quite creative in both its premise and its execution. I certainly can’t think of another RPG like it, myself. It’s also got a solid cast, whose main characters are often compelling and developed well. They’re not all winners, mind you--I never had much interest in the Ravens and found even less appeal in their leader Bolverk, despite the games seeming to want me to--but it’s a good spread of personalities overall, be they static or dynamic. I especially like the fact that minor party members (there’s many characters who can be recruited) will occasionally, unexpectedly have a part to play or a conversation to witness here and there during the games’ course, sometimes even a very significant one. Considering how many variables there are to whether they were able to be recruited, whether they might have been killed or had cause to leave the party permanently, and so on, it’s pretty neat that these tiny, mostly-overlooked characters can come out of nowhere and do or say something major. Such instances exemplify just how much the choices you make throughout the course of The Banner Saga have consequences, whether for good or ill--if you’re the type of RPG player who wants to feel the weight and significance of every decision a game offers you, you’ll find very few RPGs more suited to your taste than The Banner Saga.

In addition to being a concretely good RPG series overall, The Banner Saga also has 2 elements in which it truly shines. The first is its basis in Norse mythology. Now, The Banner Saga certainly isn’t the first Norse-themed RPG out there--the famous Valkyrie Profile 1, and its successors, base themselves around the pantheon and general religious beliefs of Norse mythology. Odin, Valkyries, Freya, Midgard and Yggdrasil and all that jazz, it’s all there.

...At least, it all was there, until SquareEnix decided to clumsily, mindlessly retcon half of it at the end of Valkyrie Profile 2, because they’re fucking morons.

Nonetheless, The Banner Saga fulfills a very different, and perhaps more important function in using a Norse foundation. All the jazz that Valkyrie Profile utilizes with the gods and the afterlife and so on, that’s all fine and fun stuff, but it’s the...flashy part of Norse mythology, if that makes any sense. It’s the go-to stuff that everyone always uses if they’re looking to include Viking stuff in their product, the popular (admittedly with good reason) part of the beliefs and stories of Norse mythology that we’re all used to. I mean, it’s such an easy, accessible crowd-pleaser that Marvel Comics just basically stole 1 of the mythology’s leading gods and said “Yeah, he’s totally our guy now.” The Banner Saga, on the other hand, is more concerned with the...perhaps the best way to describe it is the down-to-Midgard parts of Norse mythology. Rather than revel in the lofty rainbow bridges and deities drinking mead in golden halls and all that flashy junk, The Banner Saga builds itself upon the grit and grime of giants, hard-fought battles, beings of iron clashing against bearded berserkers bearing basic axes and bulky bulwarks of wood. It’s inspired by and an homage to Norse mythology in a way that a game like Valkyrie Profile, which for all its laudable qualities is still in many ways a distinct JRPG simply adopting the trappings of a western culture for its own purposes, can’t be. And more than that, The Banner Saga is also, in its style and approach, based in Norse culture as much as in Norse mythology, and in the modern mythology of vikings that we’ve created about what that culture was like.

Basically what I'm saying is that if you are in any way big on Norse mythology and the whole viking thing, The Banner Saga will give you tingly feelings in your pants, and probably to a way greater degree than most other games on the subject can.

The other quality of The Banner Saga that really stands out to me is its long and realistic portrayal of a fantasy end-of-world scenario. Sure, worlds on the brink of destruction are fairly frequent in RPGs, without a doubt. I’d say at least 4 out of 5 times, the stakes of any given RPG you play are going to be of a saving-the-world variety, or possibly even higher. But it’s fairly rare that you get to really see the gravity of a world in its stages of collapse, isn’t it? Most of the time, all you’re gonna get on this matter are perhaps a few scenes of the sky darkening, or an earthquake or two, during the last moments of the game, which are really only there to prompt some NPCs to join hands and sing Kumbaya so that this can (somehow) empower the heroes during their final battle. On the rare occasion that an RPG draws out its world-ending circumstances to any degree, you still don’t usually get a very strong feel for them, or the desperation of the global population over them. Remember in Final Fantasy 5, when the elements that govern the world’s natural forces begin to wane and die, creating a world of stagnant air, machines that can’t function because fire can’t power them any longer, and so on and so forth? That is some terrifying, Armageddon-level shit right there, and yet the game just kind of presents it in a tone like it’s an inconvenience to the world more than anything else, obviously a problem in need of a solution but only one for the heroes to worry about in the backs of their minds. There’s no real focus on the reaction to this world-ending loss of elemental function, nothing in NPCs’ dialogue that comes across as more than a moderate worry about what is a cataclysm!

The Banner Saga, on the other hand, makes you feel every despairing, desperate step of the world’s slide into destruction. You’re not some flashy handful of colorful destined heroes soaring above the people’s problems on an airship. The characters you follow are refugees, trekking across lands embroiled in war and panic as armies of steel-clad monsters from the inner earth pour by the millions across unprepared lands and communities, a titanic serpent born to swallow the world splits mountains and poisons the oceans, and an all-consuming, corruptive darkness continues to spread unabated. The circumstances for your heroes are desperate from the beginning and only become worse with every stop on their journey to escape their world’s end. Panic, hatred, paranoia, mistrust, and worst of all, ambition: these are the everyday facts of the people of an actively disintegrating world, and The Banner Saga displays them all in harsh reality as the caravan of its heroes faces 1 catastrophe after another, and marches more and more desperately in an attempt to survive and find a safe haven whose existence becomes more doubtful with each step taken.

Not to say that The Banner Saga’s an ugly or depressing series, or anything like that. It doesn’t pull punches with showing the end of the world and the plight of a community of refugees, but there’s always just enough bits and pieces of determination, enough opportunities for its main characters to show heroism, generosity, and solidarity, enough small victories even as the war of attrition is slowly lost, to keep you going along without falling into the same despair as the characters themselves repeatedly must fight against. The Banner Saga isn’t an inspiring, good-feelings adventure, but it’s not a downer RPG, either. It just is what it is--and that’s a pretty cool story that lets you feel the long struggle with an apocalypse that no other RPG I can immediately think of can provide. The closest you can get normally is the retrospective viewpoint of a good post-apocalyptic setting, like Fallout, Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon, or Chrono Trigger’s 2300 AD. The Banner Saga’s the first time I’ve seen an in-depth look at humanity’s fall as it happens in an RPG.

And yeah, that’s about it. The 3 installments of The Banner Saga are a solid buy, in my opinion, if you’re looking for a good story and characters in general, particularly if you’re interested in making some choices that’ll have consequences, both immediate and far-reaching. But where it really shines, what I’d most recommend it for, is its great and dedicated use of Norse mythology and culture for its setting and style, and its portrayal of a world’s end from the perspective of everyday men, women, and heroes trying to survive it, 1 catastrophe at a time. If any of that sounds cool to you, then I recommend you check out The Banner Saga.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Fire Emblem 16's Silent Protagonist

It’s long been my opinion that silent protagonists contribute nothing to a game’s quality, but rather have the potential only to worsen it. The general understanding is that the intention behind silent protagonists is to make it easier for the player to personally relate to the main character, but this reasoning is, frankly, stupid. Audiences of all forms of storytelling have been able to identify with characters who speak and act with a definite personality for thousands of years, without difficulty, and frankly, as someone whose communication options aren’t limited to basic hand gestures, I find protagonists’ silence to lessen my ability to relate to them. I’m a hell of a lot more likely to understand and empathize with, say, Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard, or Tales of Berseria’s Velvet Crowe, than I am to my partner in a game of Charades. Even considering that I have not and, hopefully, never will find myself in similar situations to those of Shepard and Velvet, their ability to emote and express themselves verbally connects me to them and allows me to empathize with and understand them as people, and become invested in their adventures and struggles. The idea that I’d have a better chance to form a bond with a silent marionette than with someone animated enough to reflect some form of the human condition is insane.

There’s also the reasoning behind silent protagonists that they allow the player an easier time of enjoying the wish fulfillment aspect of gaming, as they get to, in some RPGs, be adulated as a hero and have all manner of love interests thrown at their feet. I can’t say that I have many positive thoughts on this rationale, either.

There are, however, a few cases in which a game will use a silent protagonist for an actual, legitimate reason. In most Metroid games, for example, Samus, though not unable to do so, never speaks--and this is a shrewd move on the developers’ parts, because a major part of the Metroid style and theme is solitude. Metroid was designed to capture the same terrifying feeling of being alone in a hostile science-fiction environment that the movie Alien created, a survival-terror series rather than survival-horror, if you will. And the later installments of the Metroid Prime trilogy took this in a different direction, lessening the overbearing and frightening atmosphere, and instead making the style of the games about the solitude of exploration, the ability to quietly enjoy natural wonders all to oneself, and the entrancing thrill and fear of being made to challenge the wilds and beasts all on one’s own. Samus’s silence works toward the purpose of Metroid, not out of some idiotic misunderstanding of how human beings empathize with fiction, but rather because that silence allows the loneliness of the game’s atmosphere to be that much more complete.

Bringing things back to RPGs, another example would be found in Undertale’s No Mercy playthrough. Quirky and harmless during the Neutral and Pacifist routes, Frisk’s refusal to ever speak becomes chilling as Chara fully overtakes the final human child and mercilessly exterminates every living thing before them. As many slasher flicks have taken advantage of over the years, a horrifying, murderous figure becomes all the more terrifying when they are silent, unwilling to engage with others in any but a lethal way. Chara’s silence, broken only at the end of the game, substantially adds to the grim, disturbing nature of the No Mercy route.

Now, Fire Emblem 16’s Byleth is an interesting case.* Yes, it’s almost certain that the “put the player in her/his shoes more easily” school of thought was the primary motivating cause for Byleth’s silence--it’s hard to consider any alternative when so much of modern Fire Emblem revolves around the dozens-of-love-interests wish-fulfillment thing I mentioned, and everyone in the cast is always yapping about how great Byleth is at everything she/he does. But Nintendo actually went a step further on this front than most others do, in that they did consciously create a story reason for Byleth’s silence, incorporating her/his non-communicative nature into the actual, established character development and lore of the game. And I appreciate that, because just as confusing to me as the notion that I should find eternal laryngitis easy to relate to is the fact that the rest of the cast rarely acknowledges that they’re hitching their wagons to a leader who speaks less often than most RPG characters’ pets. Unfortunately...the most interesting part of all this is that, unlike Samus or Chara or probably any other silent-for-actual-legitimate-reasons heroes, it’s still a complete failure and Byleth is as crappy, worthless a character as any standard silent protagonist.

So, here’s the deal: Byleth’s schtick is a decent one, if you’re looking to make a silent protagonist. She (just gonna go with the gender that makes more sense thematically for Byleth to be, you’ll just have to bear with it, sorry) is an individual whose heart doesn’t beat, and is instead sustained through the divine magic of the goddess Sothis’s crystalized soul, which was implanted into Byleth during birth. While not explicitly stated, the clear implication is that this is the reason that Byleth has significant difficulty with interacting with others, and feels (and expresses) very little in terms of emotion. It’s not scientific, granted, but the world isn’t anywhere close to giving up that age-old, dumb misconception that one’s emotional nature is located in their body’s equivalent to a municipal pumping station. Anyway, a silent protagonist fits quite naturally to this idea of a character of stunted, bare emotional presence. The restriction of personal interactions to head-shaking and the occasional mildly different facial expression helps sell Byleth’s initial state of being humanely lacking. So even if the main intent was almost surely rooted in the typical, dumb reasons for a silent protagonist, Nintendo was clever enough to make Byleth’s status as such a legitimate part of her character.

Unfortunately, however, they couldn’t keep up with their own pace on this.

See, this all would have been fine if Byleth had been intended to be a static character (which is a trait shared by most other silent protagonists, presumably out of necessity). But she wasn’t. Byleth is meant to have a character arc over the period of Fire Emblem 16, in which her job as a teacher at the monastery and her interactions with the rest of the main characters cause humanity to bloom within her, bringing out new feelings within her and inspiring a fierce attachment to her students, fellow teachers, and (potentially) Rhea. Byleth wasn’t meant to be the reserved homunculus she starts out as all the way to the game’s end, but rather to grow into her humanity.

And that’s a problem, when the silent protagonist schtick she has at the beginning doesn’t likewise change with her. It’s okay for Chara and Samus to never change, because the nature of each’s game doesn’t change--the No Mercy route is chilling and horrible through to the end, so Chara’s silence continues to aid it throughout, and Samus’s solitude is, in most games, virtually uninterrupted, so her quietude never stops being thematically appropriate. But when your character’s development is supposed to go from an inhuman reserve to being substantially more in touch with her personhood and emotional state, the silence and accompanying reserved expressions go very quickly from a boon to a detriment to her character.

Let’s contrast Byleth for a moment to a character whose writers had similar intentions, and pulled it off successfully. There are quite a many RPG characters who go from an unemotional, robotic (usually literally) state to being stirring examples of human nature, such as Aigis from Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, or Tio from Grandia 2, but I believe it’s the nature of Laphicet from Tales of Berseria that makes him our best example. He, too, is a being whose origin causes him to initially be very unemotional and reserved, more like an automaton than a person. And, also like Byleth, his character arc, which is of substantial importance to the game as a whole, is centered around his awakening humanity, and using his awareness of himself as a person to explore what kind of an individual he wants to be. And the result is an excellent, engaging story of personal growth, of the pursuit of personal growth, one which ends with Laphicet being perhaps the most authentically human member of the entire cast, and the player knowing and appreciating exactly how the kid got to that point.

On the other hand, the biggest change to have occurred within Byleth over the course of Fire Emblem 16 is that her hair turned green somewhere along the way.

Both characters began similarly, and had comparable goals, narratively-speaking. So what’s the disconnect? Well, for starters, there’s the obvious fact that Laphicet speaks and Byleth does not, which means that Laphicet simply has better opportunities to develop as a character, as the primary vehicle for showcasing character development and personality in an RPG (and most other mediums) is through dialogue and monologue. FE16 tells us, through the words of other characters, over and over again how much Byleth has changed over the course of the game’s events, but that’s all it is: telling. Because she never speaks, we almost never get to witness anything from her that could confirm these assertions--and the fact that her facial emoting is slightly less expressive or humanlike than the pantomimes of Chrono Trigger’s Crono, who was working with the limitations of 16-bit sprites, doesn’t help matters. Tales of Berseria, of course, also has Laphicet’s companions remark, from time to time, upon his growth as a person, but the difference there is that they’re observing something that the player him/herself has also noticed, because Laphicet’s growing personal awareness is shown through how he speaks with others, the topics he becomes interested in remarking on and exploring, the questions he asks, and the desires, preferences and reactions he makes known through his words. When ToB’s cast reflect on Laphicet’s growth, it’s a realistic reaction to the phenomenon the player can recognize--when FE16’s characters do the same about Byleth, it’s solely to convince the player of it, and a rather futile attempt, at that.

But there’s also another angle to the problem of Byleth’s character development being told and not shown, which can be seen once more through a contrast to Laphicet: beside the fact that being verbal affords Laphicet more opportunities to grow, the fact is that just the act of speaking itself is a vital component that Byleth’s character needed to succeed. Forget what is being said: just saying is an important act. After all, as I said, Byleth’s silence is an expressive component of her initial character state...so for the audience to believe FE16’s frequent assertions that she’s grown past that point, she has to talk. Forget the quality of the speech, forget the actual content of her dialogue contributing to character development--just at a basic, fundamental level, any claim that Byleth’s character has moved past its starting point requires her to actually say something, because to maintain her silence is to maintain her inhuman beginning state!

Laphicet, too, begins his character journey very quietly, requiring input from others to prompt him to speak at all, and initially having little to say even then. But as he becomes more and more a person in his own right, so too does he initiate conversation more frequently with others, voluntarily put forth ideas and opinions without them needing to be actively drawn from him, and just generally interacting with others with the same frequency and assertiveness as any given social, healthily self-confident human being. Laphicet could have some of the most ineptly-written dialogue and monologue in the history of gaming, and he’d still be a far, far superior example of the narrative archetype that he and Byleth share simply for the fact that the substance of change, regardless of its quality, is there for him, and it is not for Byleth.

It’s such a shame, because Nintendo could so easily have turned it around. They could have made Byleth silent for the first half of the game, up until the scene in which Jeralt dies--already a powerful scene (especially considering how little dramatic weight you’d expect Byleth to have for it), but imagine how much more moving and significant it would be if the first words we heard Byleth say, without our input and outside of a critical hit quote, were to express a loving goodbye to her father. And from that point on, she could speak normally, as a standard character would. It would give her the opportunity to show her growth as a person rather than having the game keep trying to force you to take it on faith, and having that scene be the turning point of that growth would retroactively sustain the importance and value of her protagonistic silence up until that moment, even when it had seemed to be getting old.

Or hell, they could’ve gone an interesting direction with it: have Byleth begin talking, but only once she had absorbed Sothis into her being and gone all greeny-green. While not a pleasant and rewarding prospect, it would at least pose an interesting question to the player thereon of whether Byleth had grown and the speech was a reflection of that fact...or whether she was no more the person she had been, and the speech was an unsettling evidence of a greater mind and will having largely overtaken the Byleth that had been. I probably wouldn’t have liked it, but at least it would have been interesting.

But no, we just get silent Byleth from start to finish. A self-defeating character created from a halfway decent idea executed in the worst possible way.

And it’s worth noting that this really, really didn’t need to be this way, in this series. Nor should it have been! Fire Emblem isn’t Dragon Quest. FE isn’t a series whose writers use a dogmatic adherence to traditions like silent protagonists as an excuse to never have to do their jobs. Fire Emblem games are ones built on speaking protagonists who interact with the plot, and as such, the FE story tends to be one which personally involves the protagonist as a major psychological focus. Fire Emblem 14 wasn’t a game written broadly and objectively about warring nations in danger of being overtaken by an evil, outside force--it was a game written about 2 specific nations, within both of which protagonist Corrin has a personal family stake, being threatened by an evil, outside force who has significant ties to Corrin’s true heritage. FE14 is a game written for and about its protagonist--and it would be immeasurably the worse if Corrin had not been able to voice her thoughts and reactions, nor possessed the ability to confide with Azura as the hardships of her struggles and choices weighed upon her.

What would FE4 be, if Sigurd could not profess his love for Deirdre? Would Fire Emblem 9 have had as much weight had Ike been forced to convey the entirety of his reactions to his father’s death, and the weight of that legacy, through non-verbal means? How the hell would we even have known Lyn’s deal and who she was as a person in Fire Emblem 7 if she couldn’t talk about herself?

Fire Emblems are written, as most RPGs are, with stories which very personally involve their protagonists, and FE16 is no different. Byleth’s existence has several substantial ties to the game’s lore and some of its most important characters, and several other major characters are written with the idea that Byleth is their rock of stability to depend upon. It’s a role that was written as all Fire Emblem protagonist roles I’ve seen have been--with the idea that the game’s sequence of events is something that she should interact with, be personally invested in, be affected by. And to expect any of that to work with a character who meets virtually every situation with reticence and an arsenal of no more than 3 facial expressions is lunacy!

I can give some credit to the idea of Byleth as a silent protagonist for the fact that it is, for her, a good starting point, as a character who’s intended to grow into her humanity. But the fact that it works for her in that capacity means that it immediately starts lessening her quality as a dynamic character, as visual, hard evidence undermines the game’s other (halfhearted) attempts to show her growth. It also, predictably, limits her depth in the general sense as it restricts her ability to express her personality, and it cuts her off from enjoying the benefits of a story designed to showcase her as its lead and most personally involved participant. Byleth is a colossal failure as a character and as a main hero, and I strongly hope that Nintendo won’t be foolish enough to again arbitrarily force a silent protagonist into a series that doesn’t know how to work around the stupid restrictions inherent thereof. Leave the silence schtick to The Legend of Zelda’s Link, Nintendo; he’s at least got the wide array of expressive constipation noises to make it funny, and his games don't require us to really give a crap about him to work.
















* I’m not sure whether it’s worth even noting, but yes, I do understand that Byleth is not completely silent to the other characters in-game--the idea is, I believe, that she/he IS interacting with them to some degree, and we, the audience, are just not privy to the exact nature of it, save for when we have to choose between 2 replies for her/him to make. This is usually the case with silent protagonists--one way or another, they’re clearly being understood by their companions and other NPCs. But from the perspective of we, the audience, they’re silent.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Earthbound's Ending

You know, Earthbound’s ending was kind of awesome.

Yeah, it didn’t have some huge, overwrought emotional factor, or flashy acts of inspiring heroism, or most of the other stuff we tend to associate with great conclusions. Earthbound’s ending doesn’t have some heavy, beautiful finale that perfectly imparts a great, thematic insight to the player that seeks to help them understand and explore the human condition. It’s hardly a tearjerker. Earthbound just ends with a simple, straightforward, arguably even unoriginal parting of ways for its heroes amidst some basic fanfare for the forces of good having overcome the forces of evil. It doesn’t stand out.

Except that it does, because rather than simply incorporating only the important characters in the conclusion’s events, the entirety of Earthbound’s populace are on display.

What Earthbound did that few since have been able to mimic was to allow you to, in its ending, travel more or less the entirety of the game’s world, and interact with every character, from the major supporting cast like the main characters’ family members and personal friends, right on down the line to the most basic of village extras, the most obsolete of back-ways NPCs. Earthbound allows you to tour its world in totality one final time, and EVERYONE is out there for you to get one last dialogue box out of.

It doesn’t sound like a lot when simply described, but in effect, it’s really great as a way of finishing the game, and a smart, artistically consistent move. 1 of Earthbound’s most compelling qualities is its setting and style, the simple, quirky, abstract world and the appropriately mildly quirky and occasionally spontaneous individuals who populate it. Allowing the player 1 final chance to experience that world* is a great strategy for Earthbound, because it not only gives the player a scope on all that he or she has worked toward having Ness and company save, but also ensures that the final moments of his or her experience with the game is be immersed in the setting and styles--a smart move for most RPGs, but especially in a game for which those are some of its best qualities.

Likewise, being able to interact with the entire cast 1 final time, and have every single NPC in the entire game react to the events that have transpired, is a great way to make sure that the player’s final impression of the game is as positive as possible, by once again putting a special emphasis on 1 of its best qualities. And even beyond that, it’s just a solid play overall, because being able to interact with all the residents of Earthbound’s many locales really helps underscore the enormity of Ness and company’s victory, by showing you all the individuals who have been positively affected by Ness’s quest. Sure, some sweeping shots of happy, peaceful villagers and some key characters will do that well enough in most RPGs...but there’s a big difference between seeing a few snapshots of the citizenry you’ve saved, and actually getting to go out among them and experience each of their quirky little lives continuing.

And hey, if nothing else, you gotta respect the writers and coders of the Earthbound team who came together to put in the extraordinary effort to make sure each and every NPC who could speak, no matter how obscurely hidden in the game, would have something new and relevant to say during the game’s ending. That’s some serious dedication to the craft, there.

In terms of direct storytelling quality, Earthbound’s ending may not seem like much at a glance, but the game expertly puts its less tangible, but best qualities to work in its conclusion, and it pays off very well, allowing the player to build his or her own emotional response greater and greater as he or she explores the world and its peoples at the pace and to the extent that he or she valued them during the game proper. Few RPGs** have the time and inclination to go to such lengths as Earthbound does in its ending, and that’s too bad, because Earthbound’s final world tour generates a last and lasting poignantly positive feeling within the player largely unique to it.

















* In the context of having beaten the game and saved said world, I mean. You can gallivant 1 last time around most RPG worlds to say goodbye before you go into the final battle, after all, but the atmosphere of having finished one’s adventure, the finality of Earthbound’s last tour, gives the experience a lot more power than just electing to randomly exercise your right to backtrack.


** Few, but not none, it’s only fair to note. While I’m fairly sure that Earthbound was the first to have this “walk among the people” approach, there have been a few RPGs since that followed its example, to positive results--in fact, I’d argue that, like all other Earthbound/Mother-signature qualities it borrowed, Undertale took this concept and refined it into a better form. Undertale’s NPCs are no less quirky and thematic to its compelling setting, but they also tend to have a style of personality that more deeply connects to the player, so Undertale’s True Ending’s walk-among-the-people approach has all the setting and style benefits of Earthbound’s, plus a stronger emotional pull.

Friday, May 8, 2020

General RPG Lists: Worst RPGs

Good Palutena in Skyworld, has it really been 5 whole years since I last made an update to this rant? Is this rant really still only 15 places long? That’s ludicrous; have you seen some of the shit I’ve played in these past 5 years? And frankly, there were plenty of turd grenades lobbed at me prior to 2015 that really deserved a spot here, too. Well, this just won’t do. I think it’s time to again update this bad boy with some bad boys, add another 5 placards of shame to the rest.

...Jeez, how is it possible that Star Ocean 2 and Xenosaga 3 still managed to avoid this thing?



Simple truth: some video games are bad. And chances are, if you're reading this, that you have encountered at least a few in your time. Hell, if you're a regular reader of these rants, I know you've at least read about quite a few. Cuz lemme tell you, after close to 400 RPGs, I've seen my share, and probably a couple others' shares on top of it. But which are the worst? Which are the true crap of the crop, the ones that rise up the ladder to stand above their peers only so that they can take a suicide plunge downward? Which RPGs should you never, ever play because they are just irredeemable piles of putrescent trash?

These.



20. Conception 2 (3DS)

You know the Shin Megami Tensei: Persona series? This is basically a trashy, tasteless bootleg of that. It substitutes thoughtfully edgy references to teen suicide with clumsy and disturbingly enthusiastic themes of teen pregnancy, and genuine side-stories of the merit and depth of connecting with other human beings for a set of dating sim subplots that are shallow and dumb even by harem game standards. The plot, if one were to spit on the very concept of storytelling so vehemently as to call Conception 2’s careless sequence of events such, is pointless, 1-dimensional, and built upon lore that is ridiculous and frequently distastefully unexamined. The villain is utterly terrible, and most of the cast are condemningly concrete evidence that no one involved in the process of writing Conception 2 has ever met or perhaps even heard of a female human being outside of the lowest forms of anime--a failing that I’m sure Conception 2’s developers felt was acceptable, since this abomination was clearly created specifically for an audience that shared that flaw. It is with complete sincerity that I tell you that I have played some outright hentai games that treated themselves, their players, and the human species as a whole with greater dignity than Conception 2 does...in fact, I don’t even think it’s "some;" ALL of my experiences with flat-out porn in video game format have comported themselves with greater respect than Conception 2!


19. Lufia 1 (SNES)

Ah, Lufia 1: a "classic." I've discovered that the world's opinions of what RPGs are "classics" often do not mirror my own--for a while after playing Xenogears for the first time, I was convinced that the RPG-playing populace had been pulling an elaborate prank on me for years, and that I would soon get a letter or email from them all that read, "Ha ha ha! You gullible dweeb, you BELIEVED us when we said it was good! What a rube!"

Back to the so-called classic at hand, though. Lufia 1 is terrible. The characters are transparent and little more than plot-advancing automatons, and this is at the best of times--the rare times they do get what passes for character development, it's simplistic and stupid to an almost shocking degree. And the plot? Take a look--if there is any single part of this that seems original and/or interesting to you, then, uh, congratulations on your charmed existence of cliche ignorance.

1. God-powerful Bad Guys are out to destroy stuff for no adequately-explored reason.
2. Descendant of a previous hero sets out to stop them for generic reasons with a magical girl whose origins are mysterious.
3. Excessively long progression of traveling from one subplot quest to another that lead in a very, very roundabout way to stopping Bad Guys.
4. Magical girl's mysterious origins happen to be directly tied with Bad Guys and the world's fate! Who would have guessed?
5. Magical girl is confused for a little while.
6. Hero convinces her that her crush on him is way more important than her destiny, history, and/or other desires.
7. Bad Guys beaten! Ending where things seem like they might end sadly but everything winds up happy fun times after all! Yay!

Lufia 1's plot is unoriginal garbage, its characters alternate between being boring and annoying, the actual play experience of it is excruciating (level-grinding over and over in a terrible battle system is a must thanks to an excessively high difficulty level mixed with poor design making strategy nearly nonexistent), and the game leaves you with absolutely no point or theme. I have no IDEA how they managed to create Lufia 2 out of this crap, tie them together so strongly, yet somehow make the second game almost the exact opposite in quality.


18. Basically Just Kemco (3DS)

Kemco RPGs are not all completely equal to one another, I suppose--I actually sort of liked Infinite Dunamis, even--but as a whole, the games that Kemco creates average out to be some of the most generic, lifeless, meaningless drivel you can find. If you were to equate RPGs with baked goods, then each of Kemco’s offerings would just be cornstarch. They’re generally not actually RPGs so much as they are the most basic, flavorless raw components of RPGs, lacking the creativity and talent that would make them a finished, whole product.

Do you know why these are below Lufia 1 on this list? Because Lufia 1 is a terrible, boring, unoriginal collection of cliches that offers its audience absolutely nothing of worth or even note...but Kemco is basically a factory that produces Lufia 1 over and over and over and over again.


17. Project X Zone 1 (3DS)

I've already done a whole heaping rant of hate for this piece of crap over here. You should probably just refer to that. To summarize, though, this is not just a boring, pointless game that fails even in its very simple task of making a big crossover entertaining. It is a methodically boring, pointless game that fails. It repeats the same uninteresting plot events and approach to each mission over and over again, dozens of times, as the joke characters keep harping on the same boring throwaway 1-liners, the villains keep repeating the same uninteresting plot-teasers, and the characters keep beating the crap out of the same dozen villains, again and again, for more than 40 missions, all to no greater purpose than a tiny, dumb, generic-crossover-story plot that was stretched out over 4x as long as it could possibly have required. This is a game so relentlessly uninteresting that it makes your average Kemco title look snappy and engaging.


16. Final Fantasy 12: Revenant Wings (DS)

Hi there, folks, and welcome back from our commercial break! I want you to picture this. You’re sitting in the gutter, stinking of stale booze and soiled pants, minding your own business, when all of a sudden, the CEO of a major video game developer comes up to you and asks you to make a game for him! You’re too polite, not to mention completely inarticulate after shooting up what you only hope was heroine, to say no, and now you’re sitting in a cubicle at his company, deadline looming, with no idea what to do!

Has this ever happened to you? Of course it has! Those Sonic the Hedgehog games have to be coming from somewhere, after all. Well, you’re not alone, and we’re here for you. So today, on Cooking with SquareEnix, we’re going to help you make that deadline by showing you how to make a bad game into a worse sequel!

Step 1: Preheat oven to 358/2 Days° Fahrenheit.

Step 2: Take Final Fantasy 12.

Step 3: Remove the incomprehensible, self-important, boring, meaningless mess that is FF12’s plot. Once done, haphazardly cram a new plot in, one which can actually be followed and is a little less high and mighty, but is also twice as dull and pointless. Rub in just a pinch of stupidity, for flavor.

Warning: Be very careful that your new plot does not in any way involve the many locations from Final Fantasy 12 that your repeat audience would be familiar with and actually want to see. Instead of revisiting the visually striking but totally soulless locations of FF12 that desperately need the life and character which a new adventure could provide them, just use some stupid generic floating island.

Step 4: Take everyone in FF12’s cast except Balthier, all those boring, dumb, poorly written characters, and begin mindlessly mashing them until they’re little more than pulverized granules of the characters they used to be, even less nuanced and compelling than ever before. Put them back in, but be sure to keep them separated from your new plot by taking away virtually all personal stake any of them have in the story’s events. Your goal is to make the characters all seem more like intruders in the story than participants.

Step 5: Take the Balthier that you set aside in the last step and begin mercilessly smashing his character into atoms, as you did for the others. Since Balthier was the only good part of FF12, this will be a much more difficult process, but you must be sure to make him exactly as crappy and indistinguishable a lump of character paste as you have made his constituents. When putting this miserable, generic mush back, be sure to remember that he, too, should not have any personal connection to the plot.

Step 6: Lightly sprinkle some characters and villains who actually have any-goddamn-thing to do with the plot, but make absolutely sure only one of them is a party member. You don’t want to saturate your major cast with characters who are actually relevant in any fucking way.

Step 7: While you’re adding Step 6’s new faces, you’ll want to throw in a couple of intensely annoying, loud children whose youthful “personality” (if such it can be called) is clumsily exaggerated at every turn. If possible, use ones who were completely unimportant NPCs in the first game, so as to infuse that special why-the-hell-are-they-even-here zest. Be sure to apply them liberally to every inch of your product, from beginning to end; you wouldn’t want these obnoxious little crapwads to miss any opportunity to open their stupid mouths and make an already poor scene worse.

Step 8: Put it in the oven and let it bake for a couple weeks or however long you think they actually spent developing this miserable turd. While it’s cooking, decide on a name for your product. The name should be 2 words picked at complete random from a list of entertainment culture buzzwords. It is preferable that you not actually know the meaning of 1 of these words.

Step 9: Remove the game, but keep the oven on for the moment. Set the game out to cool. Congratulations, you have made your very own Final Fantasy 12: Revenant Wings!

Step 10: Is your oven still on? Okay, good. Now, stick your head inside and slam the door shut on yourself a couple times, you wad.


15. The Princess’ Heart (PC)

So, this is basically a story in which Princess Aerin, the worst person in the world, drags a bunch of boring 1-dimensional characters along for a quest to prevent herself from having to suffer any negative consequences--even just simple remorse--for selling her soul to a demon in exchange for the demon mind-controlling Aerin’s ex into loving her again. I have played RPGs in which you can outright play the villain which have left me feeling less unclean than I did in helping Aerin cheat karma. It’s like a fairytale written by and about someone in the 1%.

Also worth noting is that when it’s not morally nauseating you, The Princess’ Heart bores you with fumbling character dialogues, generic filler quests, and a complete disinterest in developing or exploring its characters or plot, even in situations where the game outright said it was going to. Really, it’s basically a Kemco game, just also ethically repugnant.


14. Mega Man Star Force 1 + 2 (DS)

First off, I’ll be honest: I’m going to keep an open mind, but I have a feeling that once I play Mega Man Star Force 3, this spot is going to go from being 2 games jammed in a single space to 3.

Overall, there is really only 1 thing to say about Mega Man Star Force and why it’s here. Dumb. Dumb. Duuuuuuuuuuuummmmmmmmmb. These games are so fucking dumb that I almost can’t believe they actually exist.

There are plenty of other flaws with them, of course. Flaws like the protagonist. Mega Man Star Force 1 stars Geo Stellar, a half-assed semi-emo preteen who seems to have misplaced a significant portion of his brain somewhere and is in no particular hurry to recover it. He at least stops being quite such a sad sack in the second game, but he is definitely still a complete moron. I don’t know whose great idea it was to make this completely unappealing little doofus into a Mega Man, but whoever it was should not be allowed to express a thought ever again.

Flaws like the fact that the supporting cast are one-dimensional shells who act not so much like human beings as they do like things that were written by someone who has heard of human beings. Flaws like the generic, paper-thin plots of each game. Flaws like the first game’s unsettling message that it’s wrong to want to ever have alone time and that you should completely submerge yourself in social networking. Flaws like bad writing/translations leading to remarkably bad dialogue, such as when a space monster tells a 12-year-old, “I’ll tell you about your father if you let me use your body, kid!”

But really, all of these flaws in plot and presentation and attitude and cast, it all adds up to the same, single word that represents everything that is Mega Man Star Force: Dumb. Inescapably, indescribably, intrinsically, iconically dumb.


13. Robotrek (SNES)

I challenge anyone to tell me that they understand the story to this game. No, seriously, I really don't think it is possible; I defy you if you say it is. Robotrek is not a game that is unnecessarily complex with a few plot holes scattered around that make it difficult to understand what's going on (Xenogears). Robotrek is a game that just does not make sense. And I don’t mean not making sense in the way that Chrono Cross makes no sense, where it’s just ridiculously over-complex and stupid but if you try VERY hard to untangle its many plot threads it actually IS possible (but certainly not rewarding) to follow them. No, I mean that Robotrek does not make sense in the way that a mentally unstable homeless man who has very liberally abused a wide assortment of narcotics improvising a surrealist poem doesn’t make sense. And yet that raving lunatic STILL is probably more coherent than this game is.

You know what? Words ain’t gonna cut it on this one. Here, let me break out The RPGenius’s Scale of Nonsensical Insanity and show you where exactly Robotrek falls on the incomprehenso-meter.

The RPGenius’s Scale of Nonsensical Insanity

Note that the scale does not begin at a normally rational, understandable point. It starts with Ghost Dad, a movie considered one of the least comprehensible works in human history. And from there, Robotrek is aaaaaall the way down near the end. That is how absurdly out of human comprehension this game is.

It’s also kind of lazy about its insanity, too. The game eventually gets so wrapped up with time traveling, vampires, aliens, and all kinds of other crap that it doesn't even try to make it plausible. It seems totally unable to untangle itself from the various paradoxes it's made and just says "Screw it" and continues forward. Robotrek is a game where everything's silly and stupid, nothing makes sense, there's little to no point, and there's really no motivation to brave the excessively steep increases in difficulty to reach the end. I can't think of a single reason to play this game whatsoever.


12. The 7th Saga (SNES)

I used to hold that this was the worst RPG ever. While certain other RPGs I've played in the past several years have changed this sentiment (Obvious and Unnecessary Hint: they're the ones below), both in that they are worse than The 7th Saga and that they have expanded my understanding of the concept and nature of “bad,” The 7th Saga is still one of the worst RPGs out there, and below only Rune Factory 1 and Suikoden 4 in how obscenely boring it is. Unlike most bad games, you don't just get one hero with absolutely no personality, you get to choose from more than half a dozen! The game's story doesn't really change at all depending on your choice, though, and it's frustrating and requires hours of level-whoring and money-gathering no matter what, of course. It's blocky, awkward, and ugly as anything--and that doesn’t matter, but it’s worth noting because it looks and feels the same way it’s written and expresses itself. You basically spend most of the game on a long, often aimless journey to gather magic Runes. Once you have them, you are blandly betrayed and have to save the world from the evil entity who was actually after the Runes all along. And as it turns out, the secret to beating him is...the Runes! What a twist. It’s like the creators of this game took the cliched basics of like half the fantasy stories ever written, shook free absolutely every single aspect of personalization that gave those cliches any flavor, and just used that for their game. Even Kemco ventures have more heart and effort put into their creation than this game, and that is a statement that pains me to make. Poorly-made tedium incarnate, The 7th Saga has nothing good and plenty of bad.


11. Fallout 76 (PC)

If you need me to explain why this is here, I can only assume that either you don’t know what video games are and have been reading this rant thus far simply out of a wish to be polite, or you have only just awoken from a cryogenic slumber that you entered into on or before November 13th, 2018. Still, you can check this rant out if you want a reasonably in-depth accounting of my opinion on why Fallout 76 is unspeakable garbage, and frankly, all of the half-hearted so-called work Bethesda has put into it since I wrote that rant has not made it any less of an embarrassing, broken, franchise-damaging failure. Hell, those few, limp improvements of bug fixes and finally adding some unappealing, tepid story elements aren’t even enough to make up for the gaffs and failures Bethesda committed in that same post-rant period!

But if you’re not interested in that long-winded complain-fest I wrote, this is the long and short of it: the crass, soulless, mindless Fallout 76 is a samurai sword of failure, countless grotesquely incompetent blunders being folded into one another again and again to create a layered blade of bungles. If you need proof for the concept that everything in the universe is perfectly balanced, look no further than Fallout 76, a game so amazingly horrible that it actually cancels out 5 of the greatest RPGs ever created and brings the Fallout series as a whole to a dead even state of overall quality.


10. Lunar: Dragon Song (DS)

Lunar: Dragon Song. I’d say it’s garbage, but for the fact that festering carrion rats frequently use garbage as a squalid staging ground within which to uncontrollably breed both their rancid vermin spawn and the plague-ridden parasites that prey upon every filth-soaked inch of their scabby flesh, all of which gives garbage a level of value to the world that Lunar: Dragon Song can’t possibly compare to.* No one who’s familiar with this game could possibly be surprised to see it on this list; its shortcomings are well documented and universally reviled.

Still, it bears noting why it takes this spot in particular. When people think of what’s wrong with Lunar: Dragon Song, the phrase “worst gameplay in the history of mankind” is probably what springs into their mind first. And to be sure, the act of playing this game is tortuous. If I gave playability any consideration in what makes an RPG good or bad, Lunar: Dragon Song would be taking the very first spot on the list with no competition whatsoever (not even from Phantasy Star 3 or Fallout 76, games that feel like they were released in the middle of their development). But no matter how vile, gameplay is not a consideration for me when it comes to RPGs, and that’s not why Lunar: Dragon Song is here. It’s here because everything that matters in it is just as terrible. The characters are empty and vaguely dislikable. The plot’s presentation rarely rises high enough to be considered generic. Said story is completely banal, and it’s actually worse than pointless. Lunar: Dragon Song has a purpose, but the message it conveys (regarding the lack of need for the goddess Althena’s influence in the affairs of human- and beastkind) is just an extremely poor rehash of an idea that Lunar 1 and 2 already covered! And considering that Lunar 1 and 2 are already pretty subpar offerings, it’s really bad that they look positively masterful next to the spontaneous, half-assed attempt this game makes at conveying that idea.

And remember, all of that is what you get out of playing the game and dealing with its legendarily awful gameplay. Those vaguely repellant characters and that sallow plot are the reward you get for suffering through a set of play mechanics so painfully counterintuitive and infuriating that they’re almost like some unholy miracle. There are worse RPGs out there (9 of them), but this is the one that makes you work the hardest for its worthless crap.


9. Chrono Cross (PS1)

Chrono Cross is the story of an overabundance of nothing. Over 40 characters, yet no characterization. 2 worlds (and some between-dimension stuff), yet nothing worth seeing. 12 endings, yet no satisfaction. Multiple plot viewings, yet nothing compelling. 30 - 60 hours of playing, yet nothing worth your time. It’s packed to the brim with plot details to the point that it’s almost as bafflingly convoluted as Xenosaga 3, and they all just add up to a story that does little and says even less. It’s packed to the brim with promising concepts like travel across dimensions, a future that forcibly guides its own past, and lost timelines that aren’t willing to disappear without a fight, but its pacing, general explanation style, and over-complicated bumbling cause them all to be a confused mess of poorly assembled parts instead of a smooth narrative machine. It’s packed to the brim with party members, but can’t be bothered to give any depth or relevance to 90% of them (and the few characters the game does actually pay attention to are crappy, to boot), and just simulates individuality for them with one of the worst storytelling ideas ever conceived. It’s got all kinds of great established characters and ideas it can borrow from its widely beloved predecessor, yet everything it does to connect to Chrono Trigger seems dissatisfyingly tangential (even when those connections are an integral point of CC’s core plot!), and often it seems to just use those pre-existing concepts for the sake of destroying them (Robo was on screen for, what, 45 seconds before he was unceremoniously killed off?).

As a sequel to one of the greatest RPGs ever created, Chrono Cross is a horrible disappointment. But even on its own merit, it’s just outright awful, a rotten mess of incompetence and meaninglessness bound together by one of the most tangled and poorly executed plots I’ve encountered. Do you know what a rat king is? In case you don’t, picture a large collection of squirming, vicious rats whose tails are all so badly tangled and/or glued together with dried filth, blood, and feces, that the diseased little monsters can’t even extricate themselves, and so become a roaming, squealing, noxious vortex of entangled vermin. That’s a rat king, a snarled and snarling mass of totally inextricable plague rodents. And that’s what Chrono Cross is: the RPG version of a rat king.


8. Final Fantasy 8 (PS1)

Sometimes I feel bad about ragging on FF8 so damn much around here. I mean, sure, it wasn't good, but I totally hated some other FFs more. It wasn't nearly as boring as Final Fantasy 5, for one, and unlike FF12, FF8 actually seemed to know what the hell it wanted to say and where it was going.

Then I look at the game's cast, and my guilt melts away.

FF8 was Square's first (definitely not last) truly sickening attempt to cash in on their audience by demeaning them and selling to the lowest common denominator. Sure, I can't pretend that FF5 was much more than a cheap cash-in itself, but at least with that crap heap, Square was putting little effort into a piece of trash that they hoped would sell because it imitated an RPG. With FF8, they made a cast of shockingly shallow stereotypes of their intended audience, and had them act out a silly, stupid love story clearly pandering once again to the shallow interests that Square imagined its teenage target demographic had. Squall's the caustic loner who just secretly wants someone to wuuuuuuv him but at the same time doesn't want any of the actual affection and attention that caring for people entails, Rinoa's the preppy spoiled idiot who not-so-secretly wants someone (really, anyone) to wuuuuuuuv, and the rest of the cast members meekly fall into their lunch table-inspired social roles as the main couple dominate the plot and make everything about how much they're in love after knowing each other for a few days, days during which they didn’t get along and Squall couldn’t stand her.

Not that the plot would be all that much better off without them--it's about a Sorceress in the future (what exactly makes a Sorceress, incidentally, is not really defined, since anyone in the game can use magic if they want) who decides to take control of Sorceresses in the present to enact a plan to compress time for no given reason that will involve connecting a magical pathway from the moon to the planet that will allow a huge horde of moon monsters that appear every 1000 years or something to come and ravage a technologically advanced super city that was once ruled by a mean Sorceress but now has a president whose adopted daughter can make people's brains go back in time and be in someone else's body...wow, summarizing the story is making me realize that it's even sillier than I thought, and I haven't hit on HALF of the craziness in it yet. No, really, not even half. There’s a part of this game where you get lost in space on an abandoned dragon-shaped spaceship with alien dinosaurs on board, for Christ’s sake. This game’s world and story seem more like a fever dream than something intentionally imagined.**

But anyways, back on point. The game is about a poorly-written cast being involved in a tasteless and overblown romance that only vapid, bored teenagers could be so stupid as to be a part of, with the backdrop of one of the sillier time-traveling plots out there (and God knows that's saying something), with the clear hopes that the stupid teens in the game would appeal to the supposedly stupid teens playing the game and make it a financial success. FF8's here as much for the fact that it insults your intelligence while it panders, as it is for actually being terrible.


7. Rune Factory 1 (DS)

I think I said it best in my 2014 Annual Summary rant: this is one of the most dull RPGs I’ve ever come across. Just thinking about it is making me want to take a nap. Ugh. There’s nothing worthwhile about this game, plain and simple. Its plot is bland and generic, and just getting to the point where the plot is actually starting to show up at all takes fucking days of repetitive busywork punctuated by subpar dungeon-crawling. Compounding this fatal flaw, the supporting cast are utterly lackluster, overused tropes, and the romance aspect is trite and unconvincing, not to mention essentially the same regardless of which character’s affections you choose to pursue. This is a game that delights in all the mind-numbing side crap that annoys me in RPGs (item maintenance, item creation, item growth management, fishing, repeated dungeon-crawling that explores the same goddamn dungeons over and over, etc) and makes actually telling a fucking story and saying anything meaningful into a secondary priority. No, scratch that, storytelling and meaning is a tertiary priority. No, scratch that, everything that actually engages your mind and imagination in any capacity is a non priority in Rune Factory 1.

The game is just nothing, there’s nothing that it offers, there’s nothing that it says, there’s nothing that it does or attempts or demands or means or possesses. Chrono Cross, Final Fantasy 8, Mega Man Star Force 1 and 2, and even most of the worse RPGs below--these are all abysmal titles, but every one of them has SOMETHING to offer, even if it’s bad, even if it annoys the hell out of me with its stupidity. I can still get something out of these dismal failures. Rune Factory 1? Nothing. Just. Nothing.


6. Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals (DS)

Should a botched remake even count for this list? I mean, I don’t even count it as an individual RPG that I’ve experienced. And yet, how can I not include this abominable, wretched heap of vile, vomitous refuse?

Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals is a remake of the classic Lufia 2 for the SNES, recreated by SquareEnix from the ground up. Now, allowing SquareEnix to handle your franchise is like giving a child a loaded gun: you may get lucky and no one gets hurt, but more likely than not, someone is going to end up getting shot in the face. And in this case, that someone turns out to be the unhappy soul who plays the game.

Anyway, I did a rant where I went into specific detail about everything this game does wrong, and I’m sure as hell not going to reproduce that 81-strong list of this game’s sins here. I certainly encourage you to read it if you want the full scoop on this utterly repugnant monstrosity, though. But if you want the bare bones summary, here it is. Almost every aspect of this game, every plot event, is lousy to some degree. Sometimes it’s just mildly poor, like idiotic character designs or stupid and irrational dialogue. And sometimes it’s so awful it offends your very heart and soul, like the romance between Maxim and Selan or the cowardly and artistically catastrophic changing of the ending. But whether a little or a lot, virtually every moment is bad. And if you knew the original Lufia 2, and ever held any positive feelings for it whatsoever, then Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals is all the worse. Either way, this game makes me fucking sick.


5. Shadow Hearts 3 (PS2)

I did a rant on this game's characters which also mentioned some of its other problems, so most everything you need to know is there. I'll just say here that this game hasn't even an ounce of the thoughtful story-telling, humorous and/or deep characters, and reasonable creativity that the first and especially second Shadow Hearts games had, and completely botches its attempts to tie in with its real-world settings by taking the series's traditional creative liberties with its settings about 3 steps too far. A boring and somewhat annoying protagonist, a personality-lacking villain, a cast of empty followers and perpetually-repeating gags that aren't funny, and an awful, thoroughly meaningless plot that screws up in a major way all its attempts to connect with its setting, all work in tandem to make this game one of the worst video game turds to ever be squeezed from a developer's ass out onto store shelves.


4. Suikoden 4 (PS2)

Sorry to keep copping out, but I did a whole rant on Suikoden 4, and a General RPGs rant on Sailing that largely featured the game, so I recommend you check them out for a proper take on this interactive sedative. Suffice to say here that it's not actually as horrible as most of the games on this list, but it IS probably the most boring game I've ever played, bar none. In fact, it may be the most boring experience I’ve ever had in my life, plain and simple. Suikoden 4 is more boring than just staring at a blank wall.

I’m not exaggerating. I mean that. And not in the Wilson-Fisk-staring-at-the-wall way, I mean just putting your peepers to the wall and not moving them. Honest to God, between spending an hour playing Suikoden 4 and spending an hour focusing intently on a bare, blank wall, you will be more entertained by the wall. Because when you stare at a blank, expressionless place for long enough, doing nothing else, your imagination will automatically begin to activate itself, and you will start thinking about other things in the meantime. It’s a natural reflex of the human mind, when you focus on nothing, to start distracting itself with ideas, questions, stray thoughts, and mental scenarios. Whereas when you play Suikoden 4, you are playing a game that is at least as monotonous and devoid of appeal and meaning as a bare, blank wall is...but the animated visual stimulus of the game is tricking your subconscious into thinking you’re actually doing something. So even though you are equally bored as, probably more bored than you would be if you were just looking at the wall, your imagination isn’t going to bail you out this time, and so the wall leads to a more enjoyable experience. That is how boring this game is. After playing Suikoden 4, you will forever be able to find utter nothingness captivating by contrast.


3. Phantasy Star 3 (Sega Genesis)

This is it, y’all. This is a very, very special bad game. This is the RPG that inspired my very first rant. If it weren’t for Phantasy Star 3, this blog might not even exist.*** Cheers, PS3: every single one of the literally hundreds of thousands of words I have typed here is thanks to you. You suck that much.

Basically, this game would shame an unpaid amateur game coder. It looks horrible, it plays badly, the battle system is frustrating and yet as dull as reading nutrition labels, the music is like badly synthesized elevator music...and to get to the actually important parts, the plot's shaky and somehow just seems unimportant to the whole thing, there's barely any connection to the Phantasy Star universe as a whole and what connection there is makes this game canonically null and void, and the characters are basically just walking dolls meandering their way very slowly (like, over entire generations' time) to one of several endings that range from pointless to weird and inexplicable. From the visuals to the plot, the gameplay to the characters, the negligible to the crucial, the game seems like it was released while only 40% through its development process. Of all the games on this list, Phantasy Star 3 is the only one that is so poorly made in every way that I think a person, any person, using RPG Maker for 5 hours couldn't help but make something better.


2. Grandia 3 (PS2)

3 is not the magic number where the Grandia series is concerned. Being the next (and currently last) installment of the Grandia series directly following Grandia 2, this game may be the biggest RPG disappointment I've ever had (besides the ending of Mass Effect 3, which is in its own league of let-down). But it's not just bad because it's a disgrace to its series; it's bad because it's really, really bad. The short story is, it stars a typical (for anime) stupid, airplane-obsessed teen hero as he starts a cutesy little journey to fly away from home and, through unlikely yet boringly predictable circumstances of an equally predictably boring plot, gets roped up into saving, protecting, and more or less playing nursemaid to a magical healing girl just as typical and uninteresting as he is, named Alfina. It's like an RPG that Hayao Miyazaki would make, if Hayao Miyazaki were talentless and addicted to crystal meth.

You may remember the name Alfina from an old rant I did, incidentally. The Top 5 Most Annoying Characters of RPGs. She was number 1. Yeah.

This game is pretty much the ultimate culmination of boring, overdone cliches of anime-esque story-telling. Its plot is hackneyed and covers no new ground whatever, its themes are either vague or run-of-the-mill, and either way are executed in an idiotic manner (its attempt at "Love of Family Can Overcome Evil" is to have Alfina tell her groundlessly villainous brother that she loves him, and this simple statement makes him SEE THE LIGHT even though not 5 seconds before he was about to fucking sacrifice her to a dark god), and its cast ranges from yawn-inspiring support characters to stupid and unlikable heroes and villains. There really isn't any redeeming factor here; it's just the perfect example of bad cliches and bad execution of them making a bad game. If you want more details, see my old Grandia 3 rant; it'll break everything down for you case by case.


1: Wild Arms 4 (PS2)

Time does not make the heart grow fonder with Wild Arms 4. When I played it, I hated it, but if you had asked me what I thought was the worst RPG ever, I would have been torn between Grandia 3 and The 7th Saga. When I finished playing it, I hated it even more, and did a rant on how much I hated it, but if you had asked me what I thought the worst RPG ever was, I would have had to think hard about whether it was Grandia 3, The 7th Saga, or Wild Arms 4. But as time goes on, and I continue to remember this unspeakably wretched time-vampire, the sheer animosity I feel toward this game only grows, and now there's no question in my mind: this is the worst RPG that I've played to date--that I can officially rant on, at least (see Dishonorable Mention below for explanation). Like I said, I did a rant on this one, so I suggest you check it out for exactly what's wrong with this game.

But the general idea here is, this is a game about the stupidest kids in the world on a quest to save their friend Yulie, who is so passive and compliant that I swear someone in the group must be slipping her roofies throughout the entire journey. They use this quest as an excuse to complain about how evil adults are, how terrible the world is (because of adults), and how unfair life is (also because of adults), as well as to spout completely irrational theories about why adults do mean things, because God only knows that children are utterly incapable of doing bad things themselves. These kids would make Peter Pan want to grow up. Occasionally you get a break from their chatter when the game decides to show you what the adults are up to (hint: it's evil), or shows you the idiot pretty boy on his motorcycle feeling conflicted in ways that you don't care about and have probably already seen more appealing characters handle in better ways in superior games/animes/whatevers. Most of the time, though, it's just one inane philosophy about how hitting the age of 21 erases all your moral values completely after another.

Wild Arms 4 isn't supremely boring like Suikoden 4 or Rune Factory 1. It's not a complete mess like Phantasy Star 3 or Fallout 76. Its plot isn't just an assemblage of crappy cliches like Grandia 3, or completely incomprehensible like Robotrek. It doesn’t give you feelings of guilt for assisting a genuinely terrible person to get everything she wants, like The Princess’ Heart. It wasn’t made with no effort or care whatsoever, like a Kemco title. It's not even that it doesn't have any single redeeming quality like Shadow Hearts 3; the character of Racquel is actually pretty damn great in WA4, if not nearly great enough to justify playing it. The game is just infuriating, plain and simple, and continuously makes you hate the hell out of it as you play; there's just no escape from its grating prattle and rampant stupidity. It deserves its place as bottom of the barrel here, no question in my mind.


Dishonorable Mention: Final Fantasy 10-2 (PS2)

Here's the deal, folks: this is the only time I will ever seriously include FF10-2 in a rant of mine beyond a quick snipe or two. I generally follow the rule of shunning this game's existence. I don't include it in the list of RPGs I've beaten, and I won't officially rant on it. But I'm breaking the rule for this list and putting it in here as the Dishonorable Mention because, if I were to pay this game even the iota of respect I hold for Wild Arms 4, it would be Number 1 on this list of worst RPGs, without any competition whatsoever.

Games on the list above do many sucky things. Some are obscenely boring. Others are just unimaginative and stupid. But with the exceptions of Final Fantasy 8 and Fallout 76, none of them insult my intelligence, and that's largely why I hate FF10-2 above all games of all genres--because it is a slap in the face to the consumer who plays it. And unlike FF8, which was intended as a crass marketing ploy but actually had some effort put into building a game out of that foundation (failed effort, but effort nonetheless), and Fallout 76, whose intent and construction insult one’s intelligence rather than its (basically nonexistent) content...FF10-2 is, from beginning to end, nothing whatsoever but a blatant attempt by Square to pander its way into your wallet. Square didn't put any effort into making this game at all. It was an obvious, cheap attempt to make money from the get-go. The plot is boring and stupid, the characters are either reused, yet more intense archetypes from previous games (Paine is just an even less likable Squall, if you can even believe such a thing possible, while Rikku's air-headed, high-pitched annoying nature and lack of intelligence are increased), or shallow, audience-appealing stereotypes (Look everyone! Yuna the J-Pop Anime Girl doesn't have depth any more, but she DOES have a Spice Girls-esque go-get'em girl-power attitude! And also sexier clothes! Oh boy!), and, most notably, a crapload of stuff was just reused from the previous game in the most cheap and obvious ways imaginable. And I don't just mean stuff like settings; that's to be expected in a sequel taking place in the same world. I mean to the point that they reuse character models for Wakka and Lulu while loudly noting all the fat that Wakka has put on and how pregnant Lulu is, neither of which can be seen in any way. No, seriously, look.


FF10 Lulu

FF10-2 Lulu


Clearly a woman in her last stages of pregnancy. And while that example is probably the most famous, the evidence of apathetic laziness on the part of the game's creators is just found all over the place throughout the whole game.

It's already a bad game because Square didn't try at all to make it good, but the fact that they spent so little energy on anything beyond the sparkly effects and sexy dresses just makes it that much more blatant that they're pandering to their audience with the lowest common denominators possible, hoping that playing magical dress-up with spunky, entirely predictable girlies will appeal to their female audience, and that playing magical dress-up with spunky, entirely predictable hot chicks will also appeal to their male audience so long as they add in enough revealing outfits in poor taste. They clearly expect you, their target audience, to fall for appearances and not care a lick about actual quality. So, to whit, they're hoping, nay, assuming that the people that their company owes its existence to are crude, shallow, tasteless morons.

Now granted, the general success of FF10-2, not to mention its many, many fans clearly prove that Square was entirely correct in this assumption. Nonetheless, it's just about the most insulting product that I've come across. That, combined with the fact that it's a truly abhorrent game just on its own, and that it utterly ruins a previously extremely deep and well-created character (Yuna) by making her as shallow and stupid as everything else in it,**** makes it the true worst RPG I've ever seen, and, hopefully, ever will see. I could go on for pages and hours about how bad this game is and how much I hate it (and I have plenty of times before through chat software and forum posts), but frankly, I don't think I'll ever find numerous and nasty enough words to fully detail how loathsome this RPG is, so I'll stop now. But yeah. Final Fantasy 10-2 is in its own league of putrescence.














* Okay, okay, so I reused this opening from the LDS Characters rant. Cut me a break, I really liked it.


** In fact, there is a theory that some people prescribe to that when Squall is impaled by the ice javelins that Edea plunges into his chest during the failed assassination attempt, it’s a fatal wound, and everything in the game after that point is actually just a hallucinatory dream he imagines as his dying mind begins shutting down, with the events and twists becoming more illogical and unlikely as his brain dies and his mind unravels. You can read the details here. The sad thing is, this is pretty much the only way that Final Fantasy 8 could ever make sense, and if this were actually the truth of the matter, and what Squaresoft intended, then this game would actually be fascinating, artistic, and I would actually respect it to a degree. But of course, thoughtful and articulate though this concept is, it’s obvious that Square meant FF8 to be entirely on the level (and there was plenty of stuff before the point of Squall’s supposed death that made no sense), and this is sadly just a charming idea that will never be endorsed. It reminds me of the Indoctrination Theory that fans created about the ending of Mass Effect 3. Like the Indoctrination Theory, the Squall is Dead Theory is a case where the fans have shown infinitely more intelligence and insight than the actual creators, and provided those creators with a way to make the work something worthwhile instead of something awful...but the creators will never, ever be smart enough to go for it.

Good God, what does it say about a game when it would be immeasurably improved if 70% of its events were reduced to a dying man’s hallucinations?


*** Yeah, right, like a rant blog wasn’t inevitable for me one way or another. No one as long-winded and self-important as me could possibly avoid having a blog forever.


**** Don't even try to give me that crap about "WELL PEOPLE CAN CHANGE A LOT OVER 2 YEARS." When people change completely (and I mean COMPLETELY) due to a tremendously inspiring and touching event/person, it's not to become a careless idiot who disregards and disgraces everything they learned from and cared about the event/person that changed them.