Wednesday, January 8, 2020

General RPG Lists: Funniest RPGs

Happy New Year, Y'All!



I play RPGs for the story. I want to experience new ideas, to see a tale unfold that reveals the truths of the world and our species. I play RPGs for the characters. I want to see the heart of humanity, its every facet portrayed and its complexity multiplied through the factor of interaction and relationships. I play RPGs for the chance to learn about the human condition, and to grow as a person.

And, sometimes, I play RPGs for the yuks.

RPGs devoted to humor are not common by any measure. Oh, certainly, a well-written game will usually make use of humor to an effective degree in the course of its story, as a useful way of ingratiating characters to the player, and easing tension when necessary. Tales of Berseria and Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, for example, each contain no shortage of comical interludes in which the vibrant personalities of their casts bounce off one another in amusing ways, and scenarios of wacky hi-jinks (bro dat dove scene tho). And a less well-written game will also often attempt to force what it ineptly believes is a joke upon you over and over, recognizing neither the line between being funny and being pathetic, and the line between charming recurrence and obnoxious repetition. Tales of Symphonia, for example, really wants us to believe that Raine widening her eyes and babbling in a mildly comprehensible fashion about the archeological lore of its (kind of stupid) fantasy world is absolutely HILARIOUS. And Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4’s running gag of Yukiko being a fairly reserved person in general but laughing super hard when something does tickle her fancy...I think I was gracious enough to give a polite grunt that could be interpreted as a chuckle the first time I saw it, but that was about it.*

But while comedy is frequently a part of RPGs, as it is with most narratives, there aren’t a lot of games in the genre that devote a primary focus to it. Sure, there’s a lot of funny moments in The Witcher 3, but even though the scene where Geralt and his fellows get drunk is some of the funniest shit I have ever seen, it’s quite clear that The Witcher 3’s intent is to tell a serious story. Unexpected, referential, clever, and at times outright wacky moments of comedy are a defining characteristic of the Fallout series (too bad Bethesda can’t be bothered to figure this out), but even if it’s a necessary component to the Fallout formula, it’s not what the series is all about, ultimately. With most RPGs, levity is a tool, not a purpose.

But though they be rare, there certainly are some RPGs that make your laughter Job 1--or at the very least, an essentially equal part of the storytelling process as the more serious stuff. And today, we’re going to sort through them and figure out which are the greatest comedies of all, the hardest of knee-slappers, the most explosive of gut-busters, the most unruly of laugh-riots. These are the 15 Funniest RPGs!

Note: To qualify, the RPG in question has to be, like, at least about 45% devoted to “teh funneez.” It can also have more serious ambitions, too, but the comical must clearly be 1 of, if not the, most important components to the title. So, no matter how much I chuckle at Mint’s diverting shenanigans in Threads of Fate, the hilarious snark of Ryudo in Grandia 2, and the lovably amusing way Rei’s gluttonous 1-track mind keeps mishearing strange food versions of others’ statements in Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Q 1, none of these games is gonna make it onto the list, because even if in varying degrees they have lighthearted stretches, none can really be said to be at least half-ish about the comedy. I’d say that...lessee...Shadow Hearts 2 would be the cut-off point: SH2’s comedy is as pervasive as it can be without actually qualifying for consideration.

With that said, an RPG can be funny AND serious in decent enough mixture to qualify for this list. Secret of Evermore, for example, has a story that is primarily a straightforward adventure of a kid getting stuck in a magical other-world and having to find his way back home (the 80s and 90s certainly were very fond of this trope), but the protagonist is an idiot child who contextualizes everything he experiences against the standard of B movies, and his ever-present partner is a free-spirited dog who possesses possibly the highest disparity between “Trouble” and “What He’s Worth” that I’ve ever seen in a pet, so as a result, even though the story itself is pretty standard, the game as a whole still winds up qualifying for consideration simply because most of what these 2 idiots say and do is funny.



15. Bravely Second

You really have to hand it to Silicon Studio when it comes to Bravely Default. On so many levels, it’s the perfect Final Fantasy title, and within it, the developers seem to just effortlessly coordinate every aspect of a game into a cohesive whole. As a result, among other virtues, Bravely Default’s narrative and approach to characters had an undeniable charisma and personality.

And you have to then hand it to Silicon Studio again when it comes to Bravely Second, because they knew exactly how to follow up on such a grand epic as BD: they didn’t try to outdo themselves, but rather, took the strengths of the first product, and found a new way to play on those merits. And with that great personality of storytelling and characters, Silicon Studios made Bravely Second a fun mix of engaging adventure...and quirky comedy. Bravely Second uses its characters and situations to great comical effect (particularly Edea; God I love that girl), with its villains it frequently mixes dark pasts with moments or styles of levity with surprising success, it reuses supporting characters from the first game now with a comically light touch, and it wraps it all together by doubling down hard on Bravely Default’s fondness for puns. The devotion to amusing the player was an unexpected direction for the sequel to Bravely Default, but it really works, and Bravely Second will have you chuckling from start pretty much to finish.


14. Okage: Shadow King

Imagine if someone looked at Henry Selick’s career, and said to themselves, “Well, I like it, but what if, instead of a story that’s weird in an understated way about a bunch of quietly oddball characters that could’ve just as well starred in a Wes Anderson flick, we up the Quirk Meter to a 10 and everyone’s a wacky nutjob?”

When a game’s opening gambit is a girl getting cursed to speak only in pig-latin, with her parents’ reaction being to summon a self-important demonic spirit of evil to lift the curse (a deal which requires them to sell the son’s shadow as real estate to the evil spirit, which they’re more than happy to), you know you’ve found something special.


13. Mark Leung: Revenge of the Bitch

As time marches on, much of Mark Leung: Revenge of the Bitch’s jokes, which borrowed a fair bit from then-current events and internet culture, have become dated, and so it’s moved down on this list from where it might have been had I written this rant 10 years ago. In spite of that fact, however, MLRotB is still an obscure classic of comedy, following a grumpy, down-to-earth ginseng-harvester as he reluctantly travels a crazy world of memes and low-budget live-action cutscenes in order to stop a pushy cult from coercing people into eating their vegetables with the threat of turning them into cockroaches if they don’t. Incredibly silly and so heavy-handed that it can’t help but be all the more funny for it, I’ll always carry a torch for this bizarre little Indie title, and keep hope alive for a sequel no matter how unlikely.


12. Ring Runner: Flight of the Sages

Honestly, when I hear about a sci-fi combat flight sim starring space monks who bend the universe on a conceptual and spiritual level, my first thought isn’t, “That sounds like it’d be the perfect vehicle for lighthearted, random and off-beat comedy in a style not unlike Freakazoid or Monty Python.” Well, after hours spent watching my protagonist do stuff like get into a dogfight with the PTA as a tactic for aggressive salesmanship of DVORAK keyboards while a voice in their head pleads unendingly for peanut butter cups, in a galaxy where people view gun turrets as pets, all I can say is, shows what the hell I know!


11. Anachronox

Another RPG that draws you in with random weirdness in both its situations and characters, Anachronox also does a fine job of letting its characters’ amusing personalities bounce off each other and create laughs simply from working together. Additionally, the games I’ve mentioned so far are all very funny, and it’s obvious each time they’re telling a joke, but Anachronox is interesting, and perhaps a little funnier, for just how smoothly its comedy fits into its spontaneously silly universe--much of its comedy feels less like the writers maneuvered it into place, and more like these funny situations and interactions are simply the natural course.


10. Makai Kingdom

Nippon Ichi is a little bit overrated. People generally like to pretend that everything this developer’s created is gold, but only half of the NIS games I’ve played have been particularly good, and most of that inferior half’s titles were, frankly, quite bad.

But when Nippon Ichi is on point, it is on point. A story of quiet love and out-of-control egomania, Makai Kingdom brings NIS’s full talent for singular personalities and silly antics to bear, and it’s a hell of a humdinger. If the classic JRPG/anime approach to humor appeals to you at all, then Makai Kingdom’s gonna have you grinning over and over again.


9. Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle

I play RPGs all goddamn day long. Of course I’m gonna find especial enjoyment in a game filled with jokes that poke fun at the genre! So I might not be a particularly objective judge on this. But this naughty, full-hearted little Indie work of passion thoroughly charmed me, as much with its ever-present, lighthearted wit and whimsy as it did with its poignant romance and fascinatingly understated darkness.


8. South Park: The Stick of Truth

Look, it’s South Park. Do I really need to explain this?


7. South Park: The Fractured but Whole

The South Park RPGs are pretty close to equal in terms of how funny they are, but I think the sequel has the original beat just a bit. The Stick of Truth was great, but a lot of the time, it was very focused on jamming as much of the show’s history into 1 game as possible, and that meant that sometimes the joke was simply that there had been a joke at 1 point. Which is fine, honestly, because they did it mostly well enough, but still...The Fractured but Whole had only a few years’ worth of new material to do that with, so the game seemed to try harder to find new gags to pull with what it already had in place, and I think it succeeded. The Crab People as service providers in SPTFbW was funnier to me than their just existing for the hell of it in SPTSoT, for example. And at times, the sequel’s just funnier overall--I can’t remember any part of The Stick of Truth making me laugh as hard as Randy’s bit, or the raid on the police station, or the genetics lab in The Fractured but Whole.

But yeah, anyway, South Park. It’s funny shit.


6. Borderlands 2

After never getting off the ground during the original, the irreverent, off-kilter comical style of Borderlands really hits its stride in the second game, taking you across a wild planet and adventure filled with hilarious violent wackjobs constantly cracking wise at one another. It’s a real testament to Borderlands 2’s writers that this game’s as hysterical as it is, because, honestly, the format for its narrative is a huge impediment. 95% of the method of delivery for the game’s jokes (and plot, and character development, and everything else of mental substance) is, after all, just having some off-screen voices sporadically chatter at you as you wander around and shoot stuff almost entirely independently of their input. To have made that work as a storytelling design, those writers have got to be have been some high-powered comedians. But they managed it, and Borderlands 2 is an appealing off-road excursion in absurdity.


5. Disgaea 1

Nippon Ichi at its best. What more is there to say than that? There are multiple reasons why this is the game that really put them on the map, and its signature ludicrous mirth is definitely 1 of them.


4. West of Loathing

Off-kilter style. A fantastically effective use of stick figures. An utterly ridiculous (yet somehow very authentic-feeling) Wild West setting. A deeply clever narration. A perfect sprinkling of references and low-brow humor. Word play of such quantity and quality that I daresay Shakespeare himself would tip his hat. And glorious, glorious pottyspittoon-humor. You just aren’t gonna find many greater comedies in this world than West of Loathing.


3. Undertale

You know, when we think of Undertale, what we remember most is always the heavy, fascinating ideas and messages of the game. Or it’s the secretive, poignant lore. Or it’s the engaging, incredibly lovable cast. Or it might even be the chilling, disturbing other side of its coin. But what we so frequently forget--and I’m certainly as guilty of this as anyone--is that it’s also relentlessly goddamn hilarious. From dad jokes to jabs at RPG conventions, from engaging physical comedy to a gentle touch of absurdity, from funny memes** to characters so vivacious that you can’t help but laugh at their simply being themselves, Undertale is never at a loss for a way to tickle your fancy. When you see its jokes coming, you still giggle at their arrival because of just how appealingly they’re told. Frequently you’ll find yourself laughing in delighted surprise as a jape falls into your lap unexpectedly.

And it’s all so well-conveyed, so pleasingly accessible--with every other game on this list, the comedy feels as comedy usually does: like its creator is out to make you laugh (and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, of course). With Undertale, though, it feels like Toby Fox (its creator) is creating jests and hi-jinks that make him laugh, and he’s just eager to share them with us. I don’t know if that’s a good way to describe it, but the overall effect is very disarming, very much like a friend who thought of something hilarious by accident, loved it, and just has to pass that jocular appreciation on to you.

Undertale is a masterful work in a myriad of ways, and 1 of them is the effortless way it keeps you invested by putting a smile on your face with nigh every step.


2. The Kingdom of Loathing

Basically, everything positive I said about West of Loathing is true with Asymmetric’s original RPG, except that KoL is a browser-based MMORPG that has been going on for over a decade and a half now, so when you play it, you’re basically getting all the hilarity of West of Loathing in exponentially greater quantities.


1. Barkley: Shut Up and Jam Gaiden

It’s a cyberpunk RPG in which Charles Barkley, his son Hoopz, and a dwarf with a basketball for a face, among some others, fight to survive in a post-apocalyptic dystopia in which basketball has been outlawed for years, ever since Barkley performed a dunk with such power that it caused a nuclear explosion. The premise alone is a side-splitter, but what really makes this sequel to Space Jam filled with save points that write treatises to the failings of RPGs the unassailable king of comedy is that everything, everything, is played totally straight. It’s like someone wrote in earnest a solid cyberpunk adventure of regret, rebellion, and redemption, and then, when that first someone was finished, he got up to go celebrate its completion with a sandwich and a nice glass of ginger ale...and then some internet wiseguy grabbed the script, broke out a red pen and a bit of white-out, and went to town on it, changing the names and details of lore into a mad mixture of basketball and absurdity, while never altering the tone or style in any way. The end result is the most utterly, hysterically ludicrous story ever told, made all the more rich for the fact that the game’s acting as its own straight man the entire time.


Honorable Mention: Fallout: New Vegas’s Old World Blues Downloadable Content

Yeah, there are humor RPGs, but did you know there are also humor DLCs? It’s true. When I stop to think about it, there are a good handful of add-ons devoted to comedy. Mass Effect 3’s Citadel, Fallout 3’s Mothership Zeta,*** that sort of thing--and of course most DLCs for games like Borderlands, which are already devoted to comedy. So, might as well honor these, as well, right?

While not especially lacking in funny content as a whole, Fallout: New Vegas very unfortunately followed Bethesda’s lead far more than the original Fallouts’ when it came to humor’s place within it. The Old World Blues DLC, however, made up for lost time in a major way, with its goofy premise, a cast of delightfully bizarre mad scientists, and singularly hilarious supporting personalities, providing a merry experience from the moment it starts. Honestly, this add-on would win by virtue of Muggy alone.













* Now that I think about it...in spite of being a very good RPG as a whole, SMT Persona 4 was absolute shit at being funny, wasn’t it? Yukiko’s schtick is tedious. Occasionally poking fun at Kanji’s sexuality and masculinity just comes off as being tacky. The camping trip shenanigans are so overused and unfunny that they offend one’s dignity just to suffer them. There’s an NPC spontaneously thrown into the game solely so the writers can make fun of fat people.

And then there’s the game’s favorite by a wide margin, Teddy trying to hook up with chicks, which is quite possibly the most exhausted, loathsome, braindead “joke” ever conceived by the human species. I swear to the Loom-mother, whoever at Atlus came up with that bit, and then insisted that it be done over and over, should know nothing but suffering until the end of their days. I want them to be put through a deboning machine. I long for their days and nights alike to be defined by varying states of incontinence. I wish that sharks would learn to walk on land to the specific aim of tracking them down.


** Interestingly, I don’t feel like Undertale will ever suffer the same problem that Mark Leung: Revenge of the Bitch did, with its humor fading somewhat over time because of its basis in internet comedy, which is a famously temporary and constantly-shifting entity. I can’t say for sure, of course, as Undertale’s still relatively recent, but that’s the impression I get. I think the trick of it is that MLRotB used the entire, specific details of its memes, while Undertale kind of makes its humor from the core ideas and feelings of the social media humor it works with. Will the online landscape ever change to the point that Alphys announcing she has a picture of herself and then posting a pic of a trash can ever be dated? To some extent, I’m sure it will be, but most of the joke is rooted in a lighthearted moment of self-deprecation after making a gaff on social media, and I daresay that’s a feeling and intent that’s always going to have relevance.


*** Granted, Mothership Zeta was a colossal failure at being funny, but just because Bethesda’s capacity for joviality is strictly limited to companions’ quips, that doesn’t mean that Mothership Zeta didn’t count.

4 comments:

  1. I haven't played too many RPGs that meet your criteria, so I wouldn't be able to make even a Top 10 in this category. Personally, I'd just drop the stipulation about intent to be a comedy and just go with games that succeed at being funny.

    As far as games I've played that meet this criteria and aren't on this list go, the only one I can think of that I like is Earthbound. I know that people regularly compare Earthbound to Undertale, so this list is yet another reminder that I need to play Undertale (I'll get to it, eventually).

    My only comment on the list itself is that I found the Stick of Truth funnier than The Fractured But Whole. It's not so much because the earlier game has funnier scenes (I think they're about equal), but because I played The Stick of Truth first. The Fractured But Whole re-uses one of the key gags (about them being kids and literally role-playing their characters), and the jokes in general (especially about the New Kid's farting prowess) felt less fresh to me the second time around. I still like both games, though, and don't think there's much of a right or wrong answer about which is funnier, humor being so subjective and all.

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    1. Well, outright humorous RPGs are certain an uncommon specimen, so that's not too surprising or anything. Heck, the idea for this rant list was one that I had years ago, but it's taken this long for me to find and play enough that I feel I can make a list like this and not have it also be a list of the only 15 humor RPGs I've played.

      But yeah, you totes should play Undertale. Great stuff.

      Yeah, I've seen a lot of people who think the Stick of Truth was funnier, and I can certainly get that (particularly since, yes, there are some parts of TFBW's humor which are retreading old ground--but then, I feel that TSoT's humor is 65% retreading the show's old ground, so, I dunno?). Just subjective, as you say.

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  2. Have you by chance played Radiata Stories? It seems a shoe-in for this sort of list, though it's been a long time since I've played it, and it may or may not fulfill your loose 45% threshold.

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    1. I have not! I'll have to try it out sometime; I do love a good, funny RPG.

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