Sunday, February 20, 2022


The new rant, updated on every 8th, 18th, and 28th of the month, is right below this post. Enjoy! But before you do, I have a quick announcement...

Sunday, February 28, 2021

General RPGs' AMVs 18

It’s that time of year again!  Yes, that annual moment that no one but me really likes all that much: AMV Rant Day.  Well, tough lentils; it’s my blog so nyeh on you.  Besides, AMVs represent an important phenomenon in internet history--Cr1t1kal himself has made a compelling case for why Youtube owes its existence to them.  Least we can do is honor a few good ones annually, in my opinion.


Deus Ex 3: Augmented Icarus, by Nostromo
The music used is RoadGame, by Kavinsky, and a remix of RoadGame, by F.O.O.L.  This is a slick, smooth, exciting AMV that plays to the visual and spiritual strengths of DE3 very well, both through its choice of visuals (including a refreshing and effective use of gameplay footage to complement the standard cutscenes and trailer material) and its use of music, creating a really cool homage to the game and its protagonist.  A great way to start off today’s AMV rant, no doubt about it!

Deus Ex 3 + 4: I Am Machine, by Brigi Bodnar
The music used is I Am Machine, by Three Days Grace.  I daresay this song might be 1 of the most perfectly suited pieces of music in existence to be matched to these games, but Brigi Bodnar didn’t just let the song do all the work--the video moves with the song, meshing with the hard tune and its lyrics.  The creator of the video coordinated the power of both game and song, rather than letting the natural connection do all the work, and the result is pretty rad.


Fire Emblem 14: Broken Crown, by PastelClark
The music used is Broken Crown, by Mumford & Sons.  The versatility of FE14’s story and cutscenes is on display once more with this simple, well-made AMV, which uses adept scene selection to lean into the emotional weight of the song’s tune and use it portray Corrin’s personal turmoil in her/his quest.  It’s not something we haven’t seen before in these AMV rants, but it’s still darned good, well worth another go.

Fire Emblem 16: Lean On, by LaTeddyNecto
The music used is a slowed version of Lean On, by Major Lazer.  I'm not currently aware of who made the slowed version.  The sad fact of the matter is that the visuals of FE16's cutscenes hold nowhere near the compelling quality that FE14's seemed to so effortlessly possess, but that hasn't stopped hundreds of AMV creators from doing their best to work with it.  Finally, 1 such individual has made a breakthrough with this video.  First of all, the timing of the visuals to the lyrics and beats of this song are so captivating in their synchronization to the song that you could almost swear that FE16's cutscenes were designed to go with the song.  Adding to that is an honestly surprising marriage of the heavier soul of this song's remixed version to the events and cast of FE16 so well-suited that it's hard to know whether the song becomes more significant because of the conflict and story that FE16 lets it depict, or whether the game becomes meaningful with the weight of the song to frame it.  This is an AMV with great foundations in the hands of a creator who can fully realize that potential...and this isn't even LaTeddyNecto's best FE16 AMV!  We'll see that one in next year's AMV rant.  (Although if you can't wait, leave a comment asking, and I'll happily link you to it).


Lunar 1: The World of Alex and Luna, by Honou Productions
The music used is Two Worlds, by Phil Collins.  This is a pleasant treat--a blast from the past using an RPG not commonly utilized for AMVs, at least not for quite some time.  I’ll be honest: while Lunar 1 had an impressive quantity of anime FMVs for its day, there is not, realistically, a whole lot of material for an AMV creator to work with, a problem not improved by the fact that what’s there is sometimes pretty basic and/or slow (how much animation budget was wasted on Luna’s boring little boat song?).  So the fact that Honou Productions manages to relevantly tie this AMV’s visuals so tightly to the song’s lyrics to create not only a functional and enjoyable representation of the song’s story, but also a very authentic tribute to Lunar 1 as well, is quite impressive.  Not every AMV holds up after 20 years--but this one definitely does.


Nier: Automata: [E]nd of a World, by Moenochrome
The music used is Goodbye to a World, by Porter Robinson.  This is a truly spectacular AMV, as good as such a video can get without quite qualifying for a rant all of its own.  Moenochrome has made a perfect marriage between game and song that epitomizes each in style and idea, but not sat on his/her laurels after doing so--this AMV is full of visual effects that serve to recall Nier: Automata’s own use of meta visual effects to sell its AI protagonists’ perspective, as well as many that enhance the song’s rhythm, notes, and mood.  This is a truly magnificent tribute to Nier: Automata that captures the beauty and sorrow of its emotional side, whose construction, right down to its very title, clearly shows Moenochrome’s deep love and passion for the game.  Superlative stuff.

Nier: Automata: Skydweller, by Miss Gard
The song used is Skydweller by Rave the Reqviem.  You know what?  I get too wordy with these descriptions sometimes, and this is a great opportunity for me to avoid that for once.  Watch this AMV because it’s made well and it’s really damn cool.


Tales of Berseria: Poseidon, by SongBird431
The music used is Poseidon, by Whitesand.  This is 1 of those AMVs where the music is mostly relegated to background, as the video takes center stage to explore and pay tribute to a game or character (in this case, the story of Velvet’s creation, hatred, and vengeance), and it’s effective at what it does, giving us a neat, tidy, and strong view of what led to the fall and demonization of Velvet Crowe.  It’s good stuff!

...Holy crap, that’s 3 AMV rants in a row in which I haven’t had to put a 30 Seconds to Mars video up.  Could the long nightmare finally be over?

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Fire Emblem 16's Dorothea Should have Sung More

Is it just me, or does Fire Emblem 16 fail to take full advantage of the perfection of Dorothea’s voice actress?  I mean, Dorothea’s a wonderful character as a whole, and Allegra Clark, the woman who plays her in the English translation, is actually capable of imbuing her performance as Dorothea with both the warm, engaging friendliness and the gripping, heartfelt sorrow that most define the character.  I honestly find her work here amazing: to be able to keep up with a character as personally nuanced as Dorothea is impressive enough, but Clark has talent enough to go beyond simply being equal to the task, and puts forth a performance that quickly becomes so signature to who Dorothea is that it’s hard to think of any other voice for her.

And she’s got a lovely singing voice!  Now yeah, I admittedly know dick-all about anything musical, but I think I can at least tell this much: Allegra Clark’s got some sweetly sonorous pipes.  And you’d think that’d be a perfect quality for this character, given that Dorothea’s famous across all of Fodlan for being the greatest diva of her time.  Right?

But as it turns out, Clark’s lovely talent for song is barely even touched upon in Fire Emblem 16!  Yeah, you’ve got a character defined in no small part by her status as a nationally renowned star of the opera, and a voice actress that can actually make you believe that, and yet Dorothea sings, what, twice in the entire game!?*

Ferdinand!  Fucking FERDINAND gets to belt out a tune as often as the character who’s an operatic superstar!  And don’t even get me started on Annette.  Annette gets to do some sing-song nonsense 4 times!  I have to sit through Annette’s painfully dumb little songs about her eating dinner or cleaning a room like she’s some Dreamworks princess reject twice as often as I get the pleasure of hearing Dorothea sing?**

Yeah, I know that the translation team probably can’t change Dorothea’s support conversations or main game dialogue just because this side of the ocean really lucked out with its casting call, but honestly, I still feel it’s not entirely unwarranted to complain.  Because really, regardless of the actors for the parts, does it make any sense that of all the characters who are given opportunities to sing in the game, the ones who do so the least often are the opera stars?  It's an error in logic no matter how you look at it.

It just seems like a real wasted opportunity to take advantage of the full range of an actress’s talent, especially when to do so would have been so easy and natural for the character.

* And 1 of those times is for and about Edelgard, of all schmucks!  Jeez, Nintendo, you couldn’t at least have had Dorothea sing about a subject more worthy of her talents?  Manuela, Dorothea’s other friends, the goddess, the war currently raging across the land, a particularly good salad, pocket lint, almost anything I can think of would be more deserving of the praise of Dorothea/Allegra Clark’s musical talent than that gullible moron!

** Yes, yes, yes, I know Annette’s voice actress, Abby Trott, is the woman who sang the Super Smash Brothers Ultimate main theme and thus clearly also has substantial musical talent.  But that was Smash and this is Fire Emblem, and that talent is not on display with Annette.  I frankly think that the tortured groans of Draco as the Super Nintendo’s soundcard desperately threw its every limited faculty into imitating the voice of a human being (or possibly a troll-bulldog-washing-machine hybrid) in Final Fantasy 6’s opera made for a more melodious musical experience than Annette’s little ditties.

Monday, February 8, 2021

General RPG Valentines 4

Big thanks to my sister and to Ecclesiastes, both of whom provide so much help to me in making these stupid things, throughout the whole year, that I wonder sometimes whether these V-Day rants should count as Guest Rants.  Seriously, I'm pretty sure that of the 3 of us, I'm the one who puts in the least work on these things.  Thanks to you both for all your support, both in terms of the rants in general, and especially in regards to this ridiculous little holiday tradition I've imposed upon us!

Ahhh, Valentine's Day.  Silly, fun, and sweet.  Tiresome, stressful, and unhealthy.  Noble in spirit, corrupted by greed and vanity in practice.  It's a day of contradictions (which may in fact make it all the more suitably connected to the concept of Love), to be sure...but not around these parts!  Here at Thinking Inside the Box, we only love the day of love!  And as our tribute to it, below are 20 more RPG-themed Valentines to help you express your feelings to the object of your affections in the least effective manner possible.  Enjoy your special someone's eye-roll today!

NOTE: With Blogger's incredibly obtuse, ineffective, stupid new format that no one asked for, wanted, or preferred, the spacing between images is all wonky, so this looks much less neat and orderly than it should.  I can't figure out how to fix this because Blogger is fucking terrible now.  Sorry.


...Oh, wait, I was wrong.  Valentine's Day is a day of contradictions here at Thinking Inside the Box, after all, because along with all the proclamations of love and affection, we also like to throw in a few proclamations of feelings of a...different sort, as well.  And while I generally try not to indulge in sentiments about the general state of the world on this blog, I think now would be the perfect time to recognize just what a complete shit-show the past 365 days have been with a double dose of Anti-Valentines.  For all you Bitter Bettys out there, this is your year!

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Witch Hunt's Ending is Horrible

You know, I’ve been playing video games, predominantly RPGs, for a good, long time.  Like, almost the entirety of my life.  In the years and years since that fateful day that I hamfistedly shoved a Crystalis cartridge into my NES and turned it on, I have seen the good and the bad of almost 400 different RPGs, and become intimately familiar with the genre’s ins and outs.  I have seen the good of RPGs, and I have seen the bad of RPGs, and though the nuances of each may change from game to game, it’s difficult, these days, for a game to truly just take me aback, completely boggle my mind.

But it does still happen occasionally.

Let me paint you a picture.  Let’s say you’re playing an RPG.  It’s a game whose premise is that a young woman, both a princess and a talented witch, has suffered the unfortunate indignity of having her boyfriend transformed, via another, more evil witch’s magical curse, into a chicken.  This princess, Cybel, thereby embarks upon a quest to lift the spell from her boytoy, renaming him Double 0 for her own amusement and bringing him along for the ride, assisted in her quest by her best friend and a small assortment of allies met along the way.  The plot is pretty straightforward, but enjoyable enough for what it is, as they travel through various settings on their way to confront the evil witch who’s been terrorizing the kingdom.  Fairly average, but pleasantly lighthearted overall, with a slight Halloween-ish vibe with its zombies and graveyards and creepy mansions and skeletons and whatnot.  Appropriate for a game about witches.  It’s even got a between-areas transition map that pulls up as you go from 1 part of the game to the next, very much like the transitions between stages in the Ghosts ’n Goblins, and Ghouls ‘n Ghosts series.  Neat!

Anyway.  The adventure proceeds well enough to its conclusion, with its adventurers determined and in good spirits throughout (well, most of them; 1 guy’s kind of the Shaggy of the party, but an appealing coward is good for levity, anyway).  The heroes confront the evil witch, clean her clock (somewhat literally; part of her deal is throwing a bunch of animated furniture and other household items at her foes), and the big twist is revealed of who she really is (another Scooby Doo-esque element, now that I think about it).  After her defeat and the reveal, the party as a whole gathers in a hallway, and the protagonist goes into the evil witch’s study to demand some answers, and a less avian look for her beau.  Some dialogue is exchanged that better explains why the evil witch was doing her evil thang, and then, at long last, the spell is lifted from Double 0.

And it turns out that it’s the wrong goddamn chicken.

Amusingly enough, seems that somewhere along the way, the party inadvertently switched their own cursed brother-in-wings with another similarly cursed guy.  The evil witch had a fondness for polymorphed KFC menu items, you see, and there was a whole monastery a little ways back filled with literal dumb clucks that the party had passed through, at which point the exchange was unwittingly made.  This ain’t Spirited Away; 1 Chick-Fil-A victim looks about the same as the next to Cybel.  They even have the same profile picture.

Anyway, the blacksmith who has now been uncursed runs around the room, amusingly swearing violent revenge upon the evil witch and, for that matter, all witches everywhere, which I found rather unfair given that 2/3 of the witches he’s encountered in the last few days have been trying to save him from his curse (if admittedly by accident).  The evil witch and Cybel shout at each other a bit about the mix-up and who’s to blame for it, and then...

Oh, wait.  There is no “and then.”  That’s it.  Fade to black, with a vague message questioning whether Cybel would ever see her boyfriend again, the end.  Over.  Done.

I thought I’d done something wrong.  Honest to Irori, I figured this was a feature.  I mean, the game’s treatment of legs of the journey like stages from Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts had me convinced that there was more to this.  See, in SGnG, when you beat the game the first time, the princess tells you, essentially, “Yeah, thanks for stopping by, Arthur, it’s all great about the saving-me-quest and everything--but I can’t help but notice that you’ve come here without my bracelet on your person, and I am not going back to my castle looking anything less than a perfect 10.  Get your ass back out there and bring me my bling; the next time you show up here, you better be putting a bangle on it.”  And then you have to replay the entire game from the start, beating it with the inferior weapon that is Little Miss High-and-Mighty’s enchanted slap-bracelet, before you can see the real ending.

So when I beat Witch Hunt, and saw that ending, my first impression was that Aldorlea Games must’ve taken a page out of Capcom’s book.  No doubt I just had to play through the game a second time, perhaps at a higher difficulty or using the New Game+ carry-over items to enter a secret area inaccessible the first time around, or something like that, and then I could see the real ending to the game.  The idea that this could be the 1 and only ending to this game was so unreal a possibility to me that I had actually booted the game up again to go through it all a second time before I decided, just to play it needlessly safe, that I should probably post on the developer’s forums and get a confirmation that what I knew must be the case was, in fact, true.

It was not.

Indinera Falls himself (who, from what I can tell, basically IS Aldorlea Games all on his own) responded, and was good enough to save me another 10-ish hours on the game by letting me know that this is, indeed, the 1 and only ending.

Witch Hunt is a game which is, start to finish, about saving one’s boyfriend from being cursed to be a chicken.  Saving the kingdom from the evil witch that did the deed is an admirable side benefit, but ultimately, the entire purpose of the game is an NES-era-esque video game quest to save a dude and live happily ever after with him.  And then, after 10+ hours of pursuing that goal, that doesn’t happen.  Witch Hunt is about taking on a classic quest, and then completely failing it.

Except that even saying that isn’t accurate.  Witch Hunt is not “about” that failure.  There’s nothing about the game that prepares one for, that narratively or aesthetically lines up with the idea of, a game where the good guys don’t win.  Witch Hunt doesn’t carry itself like something with a message, or a point to prove, about the unfortunate realities of life, and how one lives with them.  It ain’t Rakuen.  Witch Hunt doesn’t comport itself with the gravity of a game to which a happy ending is questionable, or even unlikely.  It ain’t Shadow Hearts 2.  Sure, it’s got plenty of spooky stuff in it like undead-overrun graveyards and evil hell baby demon things and whatnot, but I can’t emphasize enough how much closer it is to the all-in-good-fun Halloween kind of spooky than it is to something actually frightening or disturbing.  Witch Hunt doesn’t conduct itself like, A, some study of humanity being gray rather than black-and-white, or B, some treatise about the possibility that one can’t change fate, or C, some argument that there are such things as lost causes which we have to accept.  It ain’t, A, Fallout: New Vegas, or B, Fallout 4, or C, someone extensively playing Fallout 76 in an attempt to induce a strong enough case of Stockholm Syndrome that he no longer regrets his purchase.  Witch Hunt just acts like a basic, straightforward RPG about a quest to cure a magically cursed chicken, throughout its entire course.  I won’t go so far as to say that the ending is as self-contradicting as Mass Effect 3’s was (because what possibly could be?), but there is absolutely no part of Witch Hunt with which this abrupt, You Failed ending has even the slightest shred of narrative symmetry.

THIS is the only ending to Witch Hunt.  This.  An ending which gives the player absolutely no closure whatsoever regarding the entire core quest around which the game is built.  An ending which leaves its protagonist’s happiness completely ambiguous.  An ending which won’t commit to whether some poor, innocent kid will or won’t live out the rest of his substantially shortened days watching over his shoulder for Popeyes workers.  An ending which leaves the entire rest of the party, all the other important actors to this play, just sitting patiently in a fucking hallway.  After an entire quest’s worth of trials together, interactions, and cooperation, these major characters are just stuffed into a hallway and written out of the story!

Here’s a freebie to any aspiring writers out there: if you’re not a pretentious foreign film director with ambitions of premiering in the basement of a family-owned antique shop to an audience of 3½, then the process of sitting in your dentist’s office as you wait to get called in for a root canal shouldn’t be an indistinguishable experience from the final moments for 90% of your cast!

Imagine if you went through all the trouble of fighting off an alien invasion in Startropics 1, only to find out that Mike’s uncle was actually kidnapped by an entirely different bunch of aliens and he’d missed his chance to save him.  Imagine if, instead of making a long ending montage of each party member summarizing who they were and as major components to the game’s story, Final Fantasy 6 did that only for Terra and everyone else just hung out in the airship’s lounge offscreen, unacknowledged, forgotten.   Imagine if you got to the end of Chrono Trigger, and beat Lavos, but it turned out that a giant meteor hit the planet 5 minutes later and the future was destroyed anyways, and before Marle, Lucca, Robo, Frog, Ayla, or Magus could even say anything about it, a big ol’ “BUT THE FUTURE REFUSED TO CHANGE” got slapped up on the screen and the credits began to roll.

Imagine if Toad said “But our princess is in another castle!” and it was actually just the end of the game.

Now, in the interest of giving the full story, I should note that Indinera Falls has explained his motivations for this ending as being rooted in an enjoyment of open-ended conclusions, a greater appreciation for unhappy endings than the alternative, and a wish to emulate the kinds of endings one may find within a horror movie.  I have...many thoughts on that, most of them strong, and very few of them complimentary.  But I try to go a little easier on Indie creators, and I already said my piece to him directly on his forums anyway, so I’ll just point out a few brief rebuttals:

A: As mentioned before, Witch Hunt is a far cry away from having the kind of dark, twisted style and sensibilities that could make a horror movie’s kind of ending work for it.  It’s a damn game about saving a guy from being a chicken with generally positive and determined, even plucky, party members, a good-natured and well-intentioned protagonist, a comical profile portrait of the chicken in question, a mildly Shaggy-esque complaining coward character, and so on.  Not a cynical, twisted tale by any means.*  I mean for heaven’s sake, the cause of this unfortunate ending is that someone grabbed the wrong chicken at some point--that’s the kind of setup you see for a gimmick in a sitcom.

B: Different media have different narrative conventions that do and don’t work for them.  Different media have different avenues of telling their stories, different levels of engagement in an audience.  What works well in 1 format doesn’t necessarily work well in another--just look at Cats’s transition from Broadway to film.  An empty, meaningless conclusion of doubt, despair, and loose ends may very well work for a horror movie, but a movie occupies its audience’s attention for roughly 2 hours and has to be, as a result, focused very strongly on the events that move it forward, in most cases.  Witch Hunt is a game that took me over 10 hours to beat, with lots of interactions between party members who established themselves and their personalities well, and a strong focus on its (many times) stated goal of saving a guy from being the prop to a Game of Thrones meme.  Completely abandoning these characters and this cause to deliver an “open interpretation” unhappy ending like this is a completely different thing for an audience who’s only given 2 hours to simply watching a bunch of events transpire around some lightly-defined characters than it is for an audience who’s invested over 10 hours into actively assisting a party of personalities that they’ve gotten to know with some relative intimacy!  Even if Witch Hunt HAD been a game akin to a horror movie in its tone, it’d still feel insultingly careless and stingy for its reward of its player’s hours of efforts and for its payoff for its developed, familiar cast’s involvement to be so ambiguous, empty, and curt!

C: Making something open-ended is not the same as just suddenly dropping it altogether.  Witch Hunt’s conclusion feels like a discourse that ends because your phone died, not because you intentionally ended a conversation to keep it short.

D: Unhappy endings can be truly great ways to conclude a work, to bring forth its message.  The sadness of Rakuen’s ending gives us inspiration in seeing that it’s possible to weather such tragedy and be all the greater for the memory of that which has been lost, and that a short existence can still be one that had great meaning.  The tragedy of Shadow Hearts 2’s ending is a testament to the character of Yuri, to the love between him and Alice, and to the idea of being able to die as oneself rather than lose what makes one the person one is.  Severed, Eternal Senia 1, Grimm’s Hollow, Children of Zodiarcs, each has an ending with at least a hearty dose of unhappiness to it, and each unhappy ending fulfills a powerful purpose of emotion and/or philosophy.  But Witch Hunt has an unhappy ending that’s only there for its own sake; there’s nothing it does, no narrative quality or idea put forth, nor emotional poignancy created.  An unhappy ending doesn’t have value just because it happens to be less common than the alternative; it still needs to do something useful to the work as a whole, like any other part of a story.

You may recall that while I found the overall finale to Millennium 5 to be pretty good, the ending itself was surprisingly, even shockingly, brief and meager, leaving the player starved for details of the outcome to a quest they’d invested 5 separate games’ worth of effort and time into.  I’ve always just assumed that this was an isolated case of tripping at the finish line...but now, after my second foray into the creations of Master Indinera Falls has found a similarly but more even more harshly flawed ending, I worry that this may be a signature flaw to the developer.  I’ll give the Aldorlea Games catalogue a few more tries, of course--heaven knows I’ve extended many more chances to less deserving developers in the past, so it’s only fair--and hopefully I’ll be proven wrong and bad endings aren’t a trend with Aldorlea Games.  But even if that does, hopefully, come to pass, the ending to Witch Hunt will remain a noticeably black mark on this developer’s record.

* And I think it’s probably worth pointing out here that Aldorlea Games DOES know how to create an RPG that’s got a level of darkness to it.  I’m almost done playing Laxius Force 1 as I write this rant, and although it is mostly of a fairly average fantasy atmosphere, there are a good number of moments in this game where some serious, shockingly gruesome shit goes down.  That’s not to say that an ending as awful as Witch Hunt’s would work at all as the ending of Laxius Force (and here’s hoping it won’t be), but at the very least it would have a more understandable thematic connection to a game that at 1 point has a surprise gunman start blowing heroes’ heads into gory chunks than to Witch Hunt, a game whose darkest characteristic is that its set design looks like something inspired by the shelves of a Spirit Halloween store.  Had Indinera Falls wanted to design a game whose story and approach could adequately accommodate his preoccupation with lazy horror movie endings, it seems reasonable to believe that he could have, making the disparity between Witch Hunt and its conclusion all the more baffling and inept.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Deus Ex 4's Downloadable Content

Well, I beat an RPG with DLC again recently, so y’all know what comes next: The RPGenius talks about years-old add-ons as though what he says could possibly influence your buying decisions or really anything else, ever.  Because damn it all, DLCs make for easy rants to write when I’ve got nothing better to offer, and after over 10 years of running this blog, my general lack of ideas has happily transitioned from a character flaw to an understandable result of having done this for so long.*  So let’s take a look at the 3 DLC packs for Deus Ex 4.  I found DE3’s single add-on to be quite good, if you recall...let’s see if the next title in the franchise managed to equal its predecessor.

Desperate Measures: Desperate Measures was, from what I can gather, 1 of those sneaky little free DLCs that companies will sometimes use to soften you up to the idea of acquiring the ones that come later, which will cost money.  It’s not a terribly honest business practice, but I guess I can’t fault it too strongly when so much else connected to microtransactions is so much worse.

Anyway, Desperate Measures is kinda blah.  There’s nothing especially wrong with it, or anything, but it just feels totally unimportant, and you don’t get anything from it.  The premise of this side-story seems to be based on answering the question of who the train station bomber was...which would be quite significant, of course, if not for the fact that the main game already provides you the opportunity to discover the bomber’s identity on a computer during Adam’s visit to Golem City.  And Desperate Measures really just doesn’t go much further than said computer’s emails did in rounding out the bomber’s character and answering players’ questions about him, either; what you learn about him is more peripheral (some light information about his family) than relevant.

So the stated purpose of this DLC is totally superfluous.  The biggest service it provides narratively, in that case, is that Desperate Measures explains why the police’s recording of the bombing incident (which Adam has to retrieve and have his coworkers analyze early in the game) was corrupted.  Which is, honestly, such a tiny lore detail that it didn’t even occur to me to ask or care during the main game’s course why that might be the case.  I dare to presume that most other players paid it as little mind as I did.  Beyond that, there’s really nothing story-wise...there are a few tiny ambient stories going on in emails and texts you can find, I suppose, but the DLC’s specific central character is pretty basic, Chang is no more than a plot device, and after delivering just enough decent lines to make for good trailer material, Adam is just there to get the quasi-plot done and move on with his life.

Bottom line, Desperate Measures is a fine enough extra level to sneak or run-and-gun through, I suppose, but only really worth the time if you’re very fond of Deus Ex’s gameplay.  Which I am, I guess, but still, I would’ve hoped for a lot better.  Still, it’s free, so I guess I can’t judge it too harshly.

System Rift: This add-on has some decent little perks to it.  It’s good to see Deus Ex 3’s Francis again, and the grudgingly respectful antagonism that he and Adam mutually share for one another is fun enough to see in action once more.  As someone who enjoyed the little side game Deus Ex: Breach more than he probably should have, I also thought it was neat to involve ShadowChild; I wasn’t expecting DEB to get a tie-in to the main series, and I liked the surprise.  And it’s neat that Stanton Dowd makes an appearance (well, a line of dialogue, anyway) here; concrete ties to the overall series lore is appreciated when one finds them.

With that said, this DLC is almost as pointless as the first.  It’s really not so much a side-story as it is a side-transition (which does, I suppose, make it fairly authentic to DE4 as a whole, as this game ultimately feels more like a transition between the series’s really important events than it does a story in its own right).  The premise of System Rift is that Adam’s old “friend” Francis wants to have him investigate Santeau, so Adam has to break into the infamous Palisade information bank to grab any of Santeau’s dirty little secrets off the servers.  But you get basically no payoff to that premise!  We’re given no substantive peek at the data Adam gets ahold of, and even secondary aspects of interest inevitably fizzle up similarly--Stanton Dowd really is nothing but a tiny cameo and we’re left with no understanding of what he’s up to with Palisade, and Adam and Frances are all too happy to refer to the mysterious period of Adam’s life between Deus Ex 3 and 4, without going into any actual goddamn detail about it.  It’s almost as bad as the cliched vague villain meetings you get in JRPGs where everyone talks in the most stiff, ridiculously inefficient manner possible about “that guy” performing “these actions” to accomplish “those goals” and so on.  Hell, the game even seems to know what a frustrating tease it is on this matter and revels in it, having Adam actually fucking hang up on Francis at the DLC’s end just as the latter was about to mention a single specific detail that the audience would find interesting about Adam’s recent past.

There’s really only 1 thing that System Rift tells us that’s of any consequence whatsoever, in that it is, unexpectedly, basically the story of how Deus Ex: Breach exists.  Yeah, thanks to System Rift, now we know the story of where the titular breach in Palisade’s network came from, which is, “1 time Adam Jenson did some stuff.”  I guess it’s nice to know that detail, but it’s also thoroughly unnecessary.  I guarantee you that no one, no matter how huge a fan of Deus Ex, was asking to know the Breach’s origins.  In fact, much like Desperate Measures revealing to us why the police evidence was corrupted, I don’t think it ever would have even occurred to me to wonder about something that small.

But unlike Desperate Measures, you have to actually pay for System Rift.  In fact, you have to pay a fucking lot for it; this add-on is sold at a whopping $12!  Considering that there isn’t anywhere even close to 12 hours of content to this thing, that would be a hell of a steep price even for a really good DLC, and this sure as hell ain’t that.  I would struggle mightily to call System Rift even minimally adequate, frankly.  I, thank Palutena, bought Deus Ex 4 a few years ago during some kind of Steam ultra-sale on SquareEnix products, paying only $4.50 for its DLC Season Pass (so essentially, $2.25 for System Rift and A Criminal Past each), or I’d really be kicking myself right now.  But even a measly 2 bucks is still overpaying for System Rift, a story that doesn’t want to actually tell you its story.

A Criminal Past: At this point, SquareEnix stopped even pretending that it had the slightest interest in using Deus Ex’s add-ons for anything relevant to Deus Ex.  I mean, Desperate Measures may have had very little to say about nothing, but at least it was connected to DE4’s plot and made the pretense of having some significance to it.  System Rift may have performed no greater storytelling task than to give the origin story of a goddamn mobile tie-in game, but at least it pretended to have substance to the series by leading you on with promises of extracting corporate secrets and finding new, interesting information about major players in DE4’s story.

A Criminal Past?  This is just a DLC that uses the backdrop of Deus Ex to tell a surface-level cop-goes-undercover-in-prison story that has nothing, and doesn’t even pretend to have anything, to do with the events, themes, values, or characters of the DE franchise.

Don’t get me wrong, if this had been, say, a movie belonging to some other franchise, or its own venture altogether, A Criminal Past would be okay, I guess.  Not good, mind you--not enough exploration into Mejia’s character and motivations, too much left open-ended about Fixer’s significance, and lacking a personal connection to the protagonist.  But it would be okay.  I guess.

But A Criminal Past isn’t it’s own thing, it’s a side story in the Deus Ex franchise.  A side story that has nothing to do with conspiracy theory fundamentals, examining the movements of human beings within their society, the question of where the line is between being a human being and being something more, or the grievously flawed foundations of a world in which the greedy and selfish few are overlords to the incalculably many.  A side story in Deus Ex that has none of that.

It’s not like it couldn’t have been an adequate representation of the series.  The undercover-in-a-prison schtick isn’t an especially on-brand move, but A Criminal Past could have used its setting as a way to show a hard, inside look at the prison system’s workings when used by corrupt social overlords as a tool for getting rich off of what effectively amounts to slave labor.  That ain’t even conspiracy theory; that’s just the current, factual corporate-run prison system of the USA right there.  But it can also tie very neatly into the theories of methods by which humankind is suppressed by its elite ringmasters, so with some decent talent and really not even all that much effort, A Criminal Past could have been a compelling part of its series.  But nope, rather than any of that thinky-thinky stuff, the bad guys in this DLC are the tired old cop-story mainstays of organized crime and officers going bad in favor of said organized crime.

At the absolute most, you can read significance into the final little summary scene with Adam and Delara, in which it is maybe implied that Adam is beginning to suspect that Delara is untrustworthy.**  But an entire DLC adventure is a hell of a lot of rigamarole to go through for such a tiny snippet of overall series plot advancement, and other DLC stories could have accomplished the same, such as ones perhaps crafted to in any goddamn way have an actual involvement of or connection to Delara.

A Criminal Past is highly pointless, plain and simple, and I’m honestly baffled by its existence.  How did such a completely irrelevant, tone-deaf thing come to be?  The best I can figure is that someone in SquareEnix had it in their head that it’s the basic, surface-level work that Adam does for TF-29 that fans of DE are interested in, and nothing more.  Of course, that would require SquareEnix to have misunderstood their franchise to a similar bungling extreme as Bethesda misunderstood (or intentionally ignored) the point of Fallout when they made Fallout 76, which seems impossible--surely no one is as stupid as Fallout 76-era Bethesda?  But then, SquareEnix is the company that gave a major narrative spotlight to Organization 13, refused to let Bravely Default bear the Final Fantasy name, and made Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals.  So I guess no level of incompetence is truly beyond them.

With some work, A Criminal Past could have been great.  Because Deus Ex 3’s DLC, The Missing Link, was great, and that, too, was a side story in which Adam was stripped of all his augmentation advantages, imprisoned in a detention facility, and forced to bear witness to gross violations of ethics as human beings were viewed as hardware to be used and destroyed.  But A Criminal Past can’t duplicate the significance or quality of the DLC it’s plagiarizing, not even remotely, so it’s not worth the asking price of $12.  It’s not worth the effective price I paid for it of $2.25.  In fact, it’s not even worth the time it takes to play it, not unless you’re just a huge fan of the undercover-agent-in-prison schtick and don’t especially give a damn about whether it’s Deus Ex or not.  If that’s your thing, then by all means, go for A Criminal Past if you can somehow possibly get it for free, but for everyone else, I’d advise not even wasting your time on it.

And that’s it!  So how does Deus Ex 4’s add-ons compare to its predecessor?  Well, if you’ve read this far, you probably have gleaned this already, but for the heck of it, let’s go ahead and just say it for posterity: it’s crap.  None of these 3 stories are particularly exciting, interesting, or otherwise gripping, they don’t offer a proper ratio of content-per-dollar-spent, and all 3 of them weirdly share the unfortunate trait of being UTTERLY POINTLESS.  We already got about the same level of insight into the identity of the bomber and we never thought twice about the corruption of the footage.  We didn’t get to learn anything from the data we busted our hump to steal and we never felt the slightest need to know where the breach in Palisade’s firewall came from.  And we got exactly what significance to the series out of Adam’s little stint as a clank in the clink we were offered: none.  If Deus Ex 3’s downloadable content was a refreshing sample of high-caliber work sadly uncommon to the DLC landscape, then Deus Ex 4’s add-ons are a souring specimen of bilge, equally uncommon for how inconsequential they are.

* Hey, cut me some credit.  My content’s still fresher after 10+ years than the Simpsons and Family Guy were by Season 10, right?  For that matter, it’s better than Family Guy was by Season 1.

** This is inexplicably linked to his experiences with Mejia, somehow, as Adam wonders what else (besides the fact that the supposed terror attacks used as a story element in this DLC were bogus) Mejia might have been right about.  What the hell else did Mejia even really talk about that he could be right about?  At least, in connection to Delara, or the nature of Interpol, or whatever?

Friday, January 8, 2021

General RPGs' Puzzling Use of the Term "Goddess"

Thanks to Ecclesiastes for letting me bounce the banter that became the backbone of this bunch of blathering off him.  As always, you’re a damned fine (and patient) fellow, Ecc.

You know what’s weird about certain RPG worlds?  The word “Goddess.”

Now, the existence of the word “goddess” makes sense, in our own world.  The fundamental, earliest hierarchies of our historically and developmentally dominant societies, here on Earth, were largely male-centric to varying degrees, as were the systems of faith they by and large believed in, and the evolution of language depicts that.  Most of the religions of the human race’s foundational societies have either been A, centered around a single deity who is male, or B, had a pantheon of deities of both genders, but the most important and/or foundational deity or deities in that pantheon were male.

It follows that the default gender of the term “god” is regarded as male.  “God” is the root term for this concept of a deity, and generally speaking, the first, primary gender of deities in our species’ religious history, particularly the religions which have had the greatest influence on our society as a whole, is male.  So it makes sense that if you want to, in this world, refer to a specifically female deity, the term “goddess” is employed, because when you want to denote something as the gender opposite of what the thing is typically seen as, you either make a new word altogether, or add an addendum to the word to differentiate it from its original, base concept.  If the base state is male, then a suffix like -ess or -ette is common to tack on to denote that it’s a female version you’re talking about (a female “baron” becomes “baroness,” while a female Mario series NPC goes from “Toad” to “Toadette”), while (less commonly) if the base state is female, then a suffix like -er is added to denote that it’s a male version (such as a male “widow” being a “widower”).  Obviously some terms encompass both genders without need for differentiation (a “dancer” can be male or female, as can a “doctor”), but if you do have multiple versions of the same word, the simple, baseline word also inevitably corresponds with the gender most traditionally, originally associated with it.  As a result, the term “goddess” has been created to distinctly denote a female version of a god, because the history and nature of our society and our religions have by and large focused on male deities first and foremost.

But that means that it’s really weird that the people of Hyrule, for example, use the term “goddess” at all.

Because female deities are the only kind that Hyrule has.  To my knowledge of The Legend of Zelda series, all the deities of the land’s tales of creation and forms of worship are female.  Din, Farore, and Nayru are the 3 deities who created Hyrule and the Triforce, and then there was also Hylia at some point, who made the land’s people, if I recall.  And she was (and is) also a chick.  While there are male sages, and male spirits of the land, and stuff like that, the entirety of Hyrule’s religious pantheon has always been strictly female.  So by basic rules of thumb, the nomenclature in Hyrule should refer to Hylia, Din, Farore, and Nayru as “gods”, and the term “goddess” shouldn’t even exist.  Either they should only have the single term, or, at most, they should have the term “god,” to denote female deities, and a term such as “godder” to denote the theory of a male deity.

You see this sort of thing fairly frequently, and it just doesn’t make a lot of sense.  The titular land of Ys was created by 2 female deities and, to my knowledge (I’ve so far only played the first game), had no male equivalent of them running around anywhere, so they should refer to that pair as “gods,” not “goddesses.”  Fodlan of Fire Emblem 16, meanwhile, is a land with a single, all-powerful organized religion devoted to Sothis, a female deity.  Granted, other lands in the world of FE16 have different belief systems (Brigid, for example, believes in multiple divine beings), so the concept of male and female deities isn’t as unknown as it would be for Ys and Hyrule, but given Fodlan’s near xenophobia and aggressive belief in Sothis as the only true deity, you’d think that the only acknowledgement of the outside world’s beliefs in their language would be to invent a term like “godder” for foreign male gods, rather than adjust how they refer to their own single, female deity from the base “god” to “goddess.”  

Now, I can occasionally see an exception to what the rule should be.  The Lunar series, for example, has only a single deity within it, Althena, but I actually think that the term “goddess” makes sense for her.  Because, see, Lunar takes place in the far, far distant future of our world, at a time when humanity has fled to the moon, and forgotten its Earthly heritage.  So ultimately, you can make the logical argument that the conventions of language used in Lunar are directly related to the history of our own language conventions.  Just because the people of Lunar don’t actually have the slightest recollection or record of the time in the distant, distant past when the default term “god” was created in association with the, at that time, more standard idea that deities were male, that doesn’t mean that the term “goddess” wouldn’t have survived far past the point at which its denotation of gender has any value.  So in some rare cases, the strictly-female-deity society using the term “goddess” can still make some sense.

But in most cases, it’s something like Hyrule/Ys, where the default term of “god” would undeniably have implied a female, and/or Fodlan, where keeping that default term’s gender association would have been a matter of pride.  And yet, there’s a ton of RPGs out there with exclusively female, or at least clearly predominantly female, deities and pantheons, and they all throw the term “goddess” around willy-nilly.  Doesn’t make sense.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Annual Summary 2020

Holy crap what a year.

Here’s what I played.

Adventure Bar Story
Adventure Labyrinth Story
AeternoBlade 2
Al-Qadim: The Genie’s Curse
The Banner Saga 3
Beautiful Desolation
Dark Half
Deus Ex 3
Deus Ex 4
Deus Ex: Breach
Etrian Odyssey 5
Grimm’s Hollow
I Am Setsuna
I Have Low Stats But My Class is Hero, So I Recruited Everyone I Know to Fight the Dark Lord
The Longest 5 Minutes
Romancing Saga 3
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Q2
Unlucky Mage
Witch Hunt
Ys 1

Definitely a longer list than last year’s, in spite of a fair number of sizable games on it, but, well, that’s what happens when you’re furloughed for half a year, I suppose.

...Alright, look, I know this makes me sound like a complete asshole, but I can’t lie: purely in terms of the RPGs I played, 2020 was a good year for me.  All the rest of life around me might not have been particularly great, but I hit some nice RNG results with those RPGs.  Some great mainstream titles like Okami, Deus Ex 3, and Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Q2, a solid handful of high-quality indie titles like Rakuen and The Banner Saga, some great recent titles and some solid classics...alright, yes, there were some disappointments and some downright bad titles in there, too (as if 2020 weren’t bad enough already, I subjected myself to another Kemco game; goddamn their affordability and the severely diminishing number of 3DS RPGs I haven’t yet played!).  But overall, damn enjoyable year, strictly in terms of the games I played.

Of course, the world’s shutdown gave me plenty of time to do other stuff, too, and because I’ve somehow hypnotized myself into sincerely believing that anyone cares, I’m gonna tell you what else I was up to!

Anime: This year I watched Flip Flappers, a creative show which I quite enjoyed.  Flying Witch and My Roommate is a Cat were pleasant little shows, and Konosuba was dumb, but undeniably funny.  I also watched Re:Creators, which is a very cool analysis and treatise on the act of creation of fiction, on just about every level.  And lastly, I watched Puella Magi Madoka Magica and its third movie, which is without a doubt 1 of the greatest, most artful works of anime created, truly amazing as a whole--if you can emotionally handle it (spoiler: you can’t).  So yeah, very good year in terms of anime for me.
Books: It was actually a pretty disappointing crop this year, until right at the end.  After struggling on and off for the last 2 years to do so, I finally buckled down and finished reading Herman Melville’s Pierre or The Ambiguities, and dear Gozreh, it’s fucking TERRIBLE.  Look, if you loved Moby Dick, as I did, and are looking to see what else Melville penned, that’s great, but avoid the foolish mistake I made and steer the hell clear of Pierre or The Ambiguities.  It will not reward your persistence.  Aside from that, I read Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn because someone at some point had recommended it to me, and it was very meh, as well as Agatha Christie’s They Came to Baghdad, which was alright, but not up to her usual level of quality.  I also read Tortilla Flat, by John Steinbeck, and...I guess it’s probably good?  I didn’t personally like it, but that’s subjective; I am, by this point, just really tired of Steinbeck’s adoring preoccupation with extremely selfish hobos.
Luckily, my reading list for 2020 started to turn around with Thornton Burgess’s Blacky the Crow, which was a fairly decent kids’ book that got me nostalgic for back when I was a kid and an avid reader of his many works.  After that, I read the Dalai Lama's Ethics for the New Millennium, which is great.  I finished the year with 2 final books, the first of which was Jerry Spinelli’s Milkweed, which is just gut-wrenchingly powerful, a work so excellent that I think it manages to dwarf the likes of Maniac McGee and Stargirl.  The second and last novel that I had the absolute, rapturous pleasure of reading this year was Suzanne Collins’s The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, which is simply brilliant.  I fully believe that Collins is one of the most purely talented and significant authors within the last hundred years at least, and reading her latest work fully transformed 2020 into a great year for me in terms of what books I read.  I could have read a dozen Pierre or The Ambiguities, and The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes still would have managed to balance my year out as a net positive.
...Well, it could’ve balanced out at least 4 or 5 PIerre or The Ambiguities, at least.  Seriously, that thing is so awful.
Non-RPG Video Games: I actually played a few of these this year, besides just Super Smash Brothers.  I played a couple of visual novels, for starters: Heart of the Woods was pretty good, really like how well it does with setting its atmosphere, and VA-11 HALL-A, recommended to me by a former work friend, is really cool--I would never have thought that I’d be into a bartending simulator, but even if this one hadn’t been cyberpunk in a pleasingly 16-bit style, it’d definitely be a winner for its engrossing characters and understated story.  Strongly recommend it.  That same work friend also had me play Gris, which I recommend even more highly, because it’s just outright, lovely art, through and through.  Lastly, on a whim, having enjoyed that super old predecessor, I picked up the new XCOM: Chimera Squad, to see what the series has been up to in the past decade(s).  It’s not bad.
TV and the Like: Damn, I actually watched a ton of stuff this year.  My family all watched the old John Adams show together, and it’s pretty darned good, 1 of those little historical miniseries that tells a good story and informs at the same time.  I checked out the first season of the new Harley Quinn cartoon, and I liked it quite a bit...but then my interest immediately dwindled, because I next watched the new DC Super Hero Girls, and damn is it fun and clever.  Just bad luck for the Harley Quinn team to have to compete with Lauren Faust this year; better luck next time, guys.
Speaking of DC, I also watched the second season of The Flash with my sister, which is a fun show.  Of course, in terms of live-action superhero shows, nothing’s ever gonna beat Daredevil, which I finished watching this year, and goddamn am I gonna miss it--whoever’s responsible for canceling it, seriously, fuck you.  I also completed the new She-Ra, which has a lot of substantial ups and downs but is overall a solid show, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, whose final season is still fun but lacks a lot of the heart and charm of the first 3 and, at times, starts crossing the fine line it’s walked until now between an assertive mentality of empowerment, and certain unhealthy attitudes towards men.*  I also finally got around to watching Gravity Falls, which is good, and checked out the new Owl House, which is better--it’s kind of like if you put Futurama, the very few good parts of Harry Potter, and a couple Dali paintings into a mixing bowl and went nuts.  Also, I watched the eighth season of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  And yes, I know there’s a ninth season and I’m behind, but goddammit, it’s so hard to say goodbye to this great show that I can’t help but draw it out a bit.
What else...oh, I also rewatched Scrubs and Star Trek: The Next Generation with my mother, who enjoyed both (the latter, admittedly, with a lot of selective curation on my part of which episodes she saw...look, STTNG is an elegant, thoughtful, amazing show and it will make you a better person for watching it, but let’s face it, grandma-banging alien ghosts in Space Scotland and that one where Picard became a kid for a little while prove that not every episode of that show is a winner).  I also rewatched The Good Place with my sister, because The Good Place is awesome.  Lastly, I watched the new Steven Universe Future, and I found that, unsurprisingly, it’s pretty excellent--it seems at first just to be a quirky little bit of tying up loose ends, but then it starts hitting you with that good old-fashioned Steven Universe mental-emotional turmoil and redefining how you look at other people yet again, and earns its place alongside the main show as a true work of excellence.  I tell you, we’re lucky to live in an age in which we get to enjoy a show of such substance as Steven Universe.
Other Crap: Well, it wasn’t in session for like half the year, but a lot of my time nonetheless was spent upon my job (and briefly on a second, and even more briefly on a third), and I still like spending time playing with my lizard (not a euphemism...well, okay, I guess I do spend some of my time doing that, too).  Also I spend time writing these rants, and often I am le tired, so, y’know, that all takes up time, too.

Okay, enough of me indulging myself as I ramble on about all the non-RPG stuff I have opinions on this year.  Let’s move on to the main event: an even more self-indulgent bunch of rambling about the yes-RPG stuff I have opinions on!

RPG Moments of Interest in 2020:

1. I love the fact that Nigerian Prince scam emails are not only still a worldwide phenomenon in Deus Ex 3’s vision of our future, but a thoroughly unstoppable one, able to make it into the accounts of even top-level Illuminati operations no matter how much they try to keep them out.

2. Few things in life are as pleasing as the sight and sound of that little lightbulb lighting up as your Romancing Saga character suddenly learns a new way to kick ass during the heat of battle.  Like, I’ll never do this because down that road leads madness, but I feel like any Top 5 list of the most gratifying sights and sounds of RPG gameplay would have to include this.

3. This year, I realized for the first time that developer Roseportal Games can be seen as having the acronym RPG.  Just in case you ever need ammunition for an argument that I am, in fact, incredibly obtuse, there you go.

4. I know it probably is just a coincidence, but the fact that the dinosaur boss in SMTPQ2 is weak to lightning gave me some great Chrono Trigger nostalgia.

5. Forget that Coronavirus nonsense--the real world-changing event of 2020 is that Final Fantasy 8’s Zell Dincht is no longer the sole connoisseur of low-quality hot dog obsession.  It’s kind of cruel, really--Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3’s Elizabeth already had other distinctive quirks of personality, and now, in Persona Q2, she has stolen 1 of Zell’s exact 2, and showed him up by making it cute and far more amusing.

6. The only way I can wrap my head around AeternoBlade 2’s voice acting is to sincerely believe that the recording took place no greater than 5 minutes after the actors had been introduced for the first time to the concepts of acting, English, speaking, communication as a whole, and possibly just the mere act of existing.


8. There are some uses in Beautiful Desolation of certain basic vocal software programs.  This adds the authenticity of the whole robot-speech thing, but at the same time, it was hard to stay immersed when I felt like I was having a conversation with The Great Boot-Leg and Bootleg Jacques from Jontron.

9. This year was a sobering disappointment when it came to personal heroes of game development, with CD Projekt Red turning out to be as abusive to their employees as Bioware, as willing to fellate the CCP as Blizzard, as shamelessly dishonest as Bethesda, and as incompetent at releasing a functional product as all 3 of them.  And, much greater a blow to me personally, Chris Avellone turned out to be a predatory piece of shit.  Is there anyone in this accursed industry that can manage to be extremely talented AND not a douchebag?  Does Toby Fox host clandestine dogfights in his attic?  Is Laura Shigihara secretly running a human trafficking ring?  Will the Scooby Doo gang reveal in the coming months that underneath the mask, Yoko Taro was Old Man Randy Pitchford all along?

...Nah, that last one would require Pitchford to actually possess talent.  Might be safe on that one, at least.

10. Jesus Christ, Aldorlea Games!  28 different status effects in 1 game!?

11. What I like most about Unlucky Mage is the moment when the party uses their substantial endgame wealth to buy a horse to save it from an abusive life...and this transaction, and the little self-congratulatory back-patting session about how kind they are which follows, takes place in front of a large cage with 3 human slaves watching.  Yeah, the horse is absolutely the only individual whose situation you compassionate heroes should be focused on improving.

12. I finally filled out all the alphabet with Ys 1 this year!  By which I mean, I’ve now played at least 1 RPG for every single letter of the alphabet.  Took me over 30 years, but I got it done!

Quote of the Year
“What person on Earth has bowels filled with such charity?”
  --Sardonis, Unlucky Mage

Best Prequel/Sequel of 2020
Winner: Deus Ex 3
Deus Ex 3 is a great continuation of its franchise, a prequel to the first game that recaptures the compelling, conspiracy-driven story focus and the broader analysis of the nature of human society that made Deus Ex 1 such a powerful work.  Admittedly, DE3 is not quite as great at it as the founding work of the series, but it sure as hell comes close, and it makes up for this slight deficit by improving upon Deus Ex 1 in other important ways--DE3 adds an engaging focus on the question of what it is that makes us human, and whether part of what makes us human is the desire to surpass the restrictions that being human entails, for example.  The game also surpasses its predecessors by giving its protagonist, Adam, a defined personality, and relevant character depth that gives the entirety of the game’s events personal importance to him.  It’s a terrific upgrade--as engrossing a treatise as Deus Ex 1 is, DE3 manages to be a treatise of its own and a solid story with appeal to the emotional, human element.

Runners-Up: Deus Ex 4; Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Q2
As with last year, The Banner Saga 3 is not counted as a sequel for the fact that it’s basically a continuation of a single tale spanning the 3 games rather than a story in its own right.

Yeah, okay, Deus Ex 4 is, in terms of purpose and philosophical basis, the low point of the Deus Ex series.  No argument there.  It also has some major problems with its conclusion’s being a dissatisfying sequel-bait transition to the (theoretical as of this moment) next game.  The people writing DE4 don’t seem to have really gotten what the franchise is actually about, using the conspiracy stuff and major social commentary as the window dressing and building the house itself out of the surface-level events and issues of the setting, when it’s supposed to be the other way around.  Even so, DE4 is, at the very least, a pretty good story, that stays accurate to its heritage in body if not in spirit, and there are good ideas and messages to take from it on a basic level.  If Deus Ex 5 can manage to return to the higher level that DE1, 2, and 3 were at, and maintain the storytelling strength that DE3 and 4 possess, then I think that Deus Ex 4 will be retroactively vindicated as the title that led into it.  But I suppose we’ll see how it goes.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Q2 is great.  Q1, I admit, hit me harder and has a more powerful and important message, but the quality of Q2’s story and central character would do any series proud, make no mistake--and it’s paced a hell of a lot better than the first Persona Q, which only revealed its terrific quality in its last quarter.  SMTPQ2 also uses its cast to strong effect, juggling 3 different games’ worth of casts well enough to stay true to them all** and even managing to still find ways to explore some of the members of SEES and the Investigation Team in new ways.  And, as with Persona Q1, the game feels like a drawn-out, really well-conceived Social Link, which all the more connects it to its series overall.  It was honestly a pretty difficult choice between this and Deus Ex 3 for which is the best sequel/prequel this year.

Biggest Disappointment of 2020
Loser: Witch Hunt
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: going into a game hoping for something good and getting something bad is a let-down, but nothing is ever quite as disappointing as when the game leads you on, gives you the taste of decent quality...and then pulls the rug out from under you and turns into a complete crapfest.  It’s what absolutely kills me about the Xenosaga series, and La Pucelle Tactics.

Now, Witch Hunt ain’t Xenosaga, and it ain’t La Pucelle Tactics.  It didn’t start out seeming like some fresh, grand new epic, nor did its protagonist seem like a genuinely awesome, freshly unique and appealing person.  The most I would really call it, in general, is adequate, with a few decently fun moments.  It’s a decent RPG for the most part, but it didn’t have the great qualities that Xenosaga and La Pucelle Tactics decided to just carelessly throw away.  But even if Witch Hunt is otherwise just an averagely alright RPG, its ending is so shitty that the game still manages to leave you feeling extremely disappointed as it finishes, not to mention irate and empty.  This game’s conclusion is so terrible that my first reaction was to assume that I’d done something wrong--played on the wrong difficulty setting, missed a vital item or sidequest, something along those lines--and triggered a joke bad ending as a result.  I had to be told by the creator himself that this was the real, only ending to the game, a revelation which flabbergasted me because it is just so bad.  I’m not gonna go into details just yet, because Witch Hunt’s ending is the kind of thing that deserves a spot on my Worst Endings list AND a rant all in its own right, but it is absolutely the sort of thing that can turn even an unobjectionable, mildly positive, but generally unremarkable title into a tremendous disappointment.

Almost as Bad: AeternoBlade 2; Etrian Odyssey 5; Romancing Saga 3
As someone who liked AeternoBlade 1 a lot (way more, objectively speaking, than I should have), AeternoBlade 2 was kind of a bummer--the first game was an interesting tale of escaping the cycle of hatred that one creates for oneself, using the manipulation of time to make that premise more literal than most games could, and that plot’s central figure, Freyja, was necessarily compelling.  AeternoBlade 2, though...the plot overall is far more along the lines of the genre’s standards; there’s not much to separate it from any other given RPG wherein a guy starts doing villain stuff so he can attain some problematic power over the world to undo/prevent something he didn’t like from happening.  The new characters don’t have much going for them, and while I still like Freyja well enough, she lacks the nuance she possessed in the original.  Also, not for nothing, but the writing starts jumping choppily around with portions of the plot, it’s hard to tell all the guardian time spirit things apart and remember how any of them actually matters, and the voice acting delivering all the dialogue and plot and characterization is, put frankly, awful.  In spite of it all, I don’t think AeternoBlade 2 is actually a bad game, per say, but yeah, it’s definitely a disappointment after the admittedly crude but still perceptible elegance of the first game.

Etrian Odyssey 5 and Romancing Saga 3 are also examples of being unable to achieve the expectations set by predecessors.  While RS3 keeps up the series tradition of being very complex with what events lead to what and its open-endedness, the story itself, when you stop for a moment and just put it all together, is pretty meager and doesn’t really say or do all that much.  EO5 is even worse--the plots and characters of Etrian Odyssey 2 and 4 are pretty ho-hum and forgettable, but at least they’re there.  Etrian Odyssey 5 just gave up the pretense of having a story altogether, introducing its only narrative-significant character in its last dungeon, and then waiting until the last 2 floors of that dungeon before having her actually tell you what the goddamn plot and purpose of the game was.  I may not go into every RPG expecting great things, I may not even go in expecting particularly good things, but I do go in expecting things, at least, and that’s precisely what the narrative of Etrian Odyssey 5 thoroughly fails to deliver.

Best Finale of 2020
Winner: Rakuen
This might seem like an apt place to pull the “I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying!” joke, but let’s face it, I am crying and we both know it.

Runners-Up: The Banner Saga 3; Dark Half; Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Q2
The concluding events of Dark Half are when a lot of the creative nuances of its plot get their payoff, and we come to fully understand the dark and dichotomous story we’ve witnessed in full.  When combined with the endings, with their bittersweet sense of significance and at times resignation, Dark Half has a strong finish, to be sure.  SMTPQ2 likewise concludes well, with a final dungeon and confrontation that’s very on-brand for how personal they manage to feel even as they engage the cast in generalized heroism, and the ending hits you in the feels with how right it seems for all involved.  Lastly, even after an entire trilogy of ramping up the tension of a world’s people having to struggle harder and harder for survival in a world in the midst of its end of days, The Banner Saga 3 still manages somehow to deliver a finale of the greatest nail-biting anxiety yet as the trilogy’s survivors pour the last of civilization’s resources into a truly desperate last stand, and their final hope travels into the darkness to reveal and confront the human weakness that birthed an early cataclysm.  It’s every bit as dramatic and stirring an end as this epic demands, and had Rakuen’s conclusion not been the breathtakingly beautiful emotional tour-de-force that it is, The Banner Saga 3 would’ve had Best Finale in the bag this year.

Worst RPG of 2020
Loser: Etrian Odyssey 5
You know what?  I’ll say it.  I’ll say it, here and now, because apparently I have to.  I’ll say it because I guess not everyone knows this, even though you would think they would.  I’ll say it, because it seems it’s not as obvious as it really should be.

The plot of your game shouldn’t make its first appearance 2 dungeon floors before the final boss.

And hey, as a freebie, because I’m just a generous kind of guy, I’ll throw in this extra tidbit of wisdom: that plot also should leave your player feeling something more than mild confusion about what the point even was of it.

Almost as Bad: Al-Qadim: The Genie’s Curse; Unlucky Mage; Witch Hunt
Oh, a Kemco game that’s bad.  What a surprise.  Actually, I guess I’d say Unlucky Mage is among the developer’s better offerings, but that’s really no more flattering an appraisal than saying that a splinter is a more pleasant thing to receive a puncture wound than a rusty nail--it’s not a fun prospect either way.  As for Witch Hunt, well, as I said above, it’s actually a relatively okay RPG for most of its course, but it’s got 1 of those endings that’s just so vigorously atrocious that the entire work is retroactively ruined by it.  You may absolutely depend upon a rant in the coming months about this catastrophe of a conclusion; merely a spot on my Worst Endings list is not going to cut it for Witch Hunt.

You know how I wanted more Arabian Nights styled RPGs a while back?  Well, after playing Al-Qadim: The Genie’s Curse, I can safely say that if it means ever having to again spend a third of the game running back and forth doing errands for a bunch of genies carefully crafted through scientific process to be as infuriatingly annoying to converse with as possible, then I take it back.

Most Creative of 2020
Winner: Dark Half
A reader suggested this SNES hidden gem a while back, stating that it had a very creative premise, and they were not kidding.  The act of telling a story from both the hero and the villain’s perspectives is a sadly under-utilized method, and Dark Half was 1 of the first to try it--Live-A-Live is the only RPG I can think of which did so earlier.  By itself, that wouldn’t be enough to propel it to the top of this year’s creativity category, but the purpose to which the game’s narrative is split, the truth behind the game’s lore and the villain’s journey, and the overall aesthetic and method to its story, make Dark Half in many ways a pillar from which later RPGs’ story concepts could draw, and in other ways a unique entity even now, 25 years later.  Innovation of a high quality, is Dark Half!

Runners-Up: Beautiful Desolation; Okami; Rakuen
Maybe the general plot concept of Beautiful Desolation is a bit generic, but as the game pulls together the classic, striking aesthetic of isometric RPG titans like Planescape: Torment and Fallout 1 and 2, an adoring devotion to Africa’s aesthetic and spirit, and a gaggle of future-tech concepts like what you’d find in a collection of science fiction short stories from the 50s and 60s, it’s strikingly creative on aesthetic merit alone.  Rakuen, meanwhile, is singular as an RPG that tells a very real, relatable story of love, loss, comfort, and coming to terms with oneself, grounded fully in a real-world tragedy of our recent past.

It was difficult to rate Dark Half higher than Okami when it comes to creativity, because Okami’s got bundles of it.  From its fresh take on a protagonist, to the ways it incorporates the full host of Japanese folklore into its narrative without ever feeling any less its own distinct entity, to the twists of its plot, to its unique incorporation of brush calligraphy, to the way it manages to translate the aesthetic of traditional Japanese art into a functionally animated, living world, all with an atmosphere of both straightforward adventure and lighthearted character...I give Dark Half the win for what a unique direction and intent it has with its many singular ideas and twists, but it’s a damn close margin with Okami, that’s for sure.  I sure had a great year in terms of creativity in the RPGs I played.

Best Romance of 2020
Winner: Gemma x Winston (Rakuen)
While I think that most of the other personal stories of Rakuen are more compelling, the story of Gemma and Winston’s love is a classic tale of romance and devotion in the face of cultural biases that effectively plays at your heart.  I won’t say that’s an amazing romance, but it’s a solid one, no doubt about it.

Runners-Up: Flash x Haru (The Last 5 Minutes); Oddleif x Rook (The Banner Saga 3)
There wasn’t a lot in the way of the lovey-dovey in this year’s batch of RPGs, and truth be told, I can’t pretend I feel too strongly about either of these couplings.  Still, even if it doesn’t truly move me, Flash and Haru’s story has a simplicity and sincerity that’s appealing.  And Oddleif and Rook do make a rather good couple, complimenting one another as people and bonding believably over the events of the world’s end--I just can’t get too strongly behind this pairing because I think that Alette is a much better and more narratively meaningful protagonist than Rook (and I even think that Oddleif’s relationship as a mentor/advisor/maternal figure to Alette is at least as strongly written as her love story with Rook).  Still, it is good stuff.

Adjustment to 2019: Dorothea x Manuela (Fire Emblem 16) = Best; Runners-Up = Catherine x Shamir (Fire Emblem 16), Dorothea x Ferdinand (Fire Emblem 16); Octavia x Protagonist x Regongar (Pathfinder: Kingmaker)
Remember how last year I mentioned that I hadn’t accounted for the Fire Emblem 16 romances in this category, as I hadn’t seen them all?  Well, now I have, and here’s the adjustment.  Displacing Pathfinder: Kingmaker’s awesome polyamorous trio, Dorothea and Manuela were the best love story of 2019.  It’s a hard decision to make, because I really like the romance between Octavia, Regongar, and the Queen/King of Pathfinder: Kingmaker, and I respect the hell out of Owlcat Games for putting that level of effort into writing a serious 3-person love story as something real and worthwhile rather than just a throwaway harem situation...but all the same, Dorothea and Manuela together really, honestly moves me; I find their connection a truly touching one, as I mentioned recently.  Additionally, the romances between Dorothea and Ferdinand, and Catherine and Shamir, are substantially superior to the Stella Glow couples I initially credited as runners-up last year.  So, as promised, those are the updated rankings for last year.  Nice work, Nintendo.

Best Voice Acting of 2020
The Absolute Antithesis to the Very Concept of Winning at Voice Acting: AeternoBlade 2
I can’t believe I was actually ragging on Tales of Eternia’s voice acting a couple years back.  I’m sorry, ToE.  I didn’t understand how good I had it.

Anyway, Getting Back on Track...Winner: Deus Ex 4
Simply put, everyone’s on point in their voice work, and Elias Toufexis puts in a great performance as the protagonist.  He may not quite be Commander Shepard or Geralt of Rivia, but Adam Jensen nonetheless has a very signature style and tone, and it’s a major factor in making this game stand out for its acting.

Runners-Up: The Banner Saga 3; Deus Ex 3; Rakuen
It’s kind of a toss-up as to whether DE3 or 4 is the better in terms of acting, really; each has almost the exact consistent high level of performances and a few characters that stand out.  I think Adam’s voice as a character comes together much better in DE4, so that’s why it won over DE3, but they’re both great.  There’s not much to say about The Banner Saga 3 and Rakuen--their voice acting is sparse, saved for special occasions, but when it’s there, it gets the job done very well, and the singing in Rakuen is, as far as I can tell (I have very little knowledge of such matters), solid work.

Funniest of 2020
Winner: Okami
Look, I could talk about the pleasantly lighthearted tone of most of the game’s NPCs and plot events.  I could praise the fun dynamic between Amaterasu and the self-important flea riding around on her, and the enjoyment one gets out of her overall canine demeanor.  There is, in fact, just a lot about Okami that’s tongue-in-cheek funny.

But none of that crap matters.  Because even if Okami had not a single other joke or jape in its entire course, it would still win for being a game in which you can literally kill demons by making divine doggy tinkles on them.  That’s just not something you can compete with.

Runners-Up: Gurumin; I Have Low Stats But My Class is Leader, So I Recruited Everyone I Know to Fight the Dark Lord
I didn’t know what to expect from Gurumin, getting it solely because it was a 3DS RPG on sale, so it was a pleasing surprise to find it a largely lighthearted kiddie adventure with the occasional chuckle-worthy line or shenanigan.  As for IHLSBMCiLSIREIKtFtDL, it’s pretty obvious from the title that it’s silly by design, but I give it credit for the fact that it keeps up a humorous levity for more or less its entire run (which turns out to be longer than one might expect), and doesn’t rely solely on its premise alone to provide the giggles.  I’m still waiting for the day (which may never come) that You Are Not the Hero is finished, but in the meantime, IHLSBMCiLSIREIKtFtDL makes for a good tongue-in-cheek Kickstarter RPG with the same foundations of poking fun at RPG narrative conventions.

Best Villain of 2020
Winner: Rugga (The Banner Saga 3)
It’s strange.  The Runners-Up below may have more depth as well-intentioned villains or be far more compelling and elegant forces of fate and divinity...but there’s just something about Rugga that makes him stand out above them all to me.  Something about the petty, unreasoning ambitions and schemes of a self-important asshole who’s clever but not smart speaks to me in terms of villainy.  The world falls apart around him, all of civilization being undone as all races are swallowed by calamity and ever-approaching doom, the time remaining to him and all other living creatures is measured in mere hours...and Rugga’s determination to be the guy in charge never wavers, only grows.  Rugga’s villainy is the sort of single-minded pride and ambition that’s unreasoning, destructive to everyone it touches, and utterly, wholly, irredeemably pathetic.  He doesn’t care how tiny, twisted, and ruined the throne is, he wants to sit in it, and he’ll do anything to do so, even if it means worsening the very heap of refuse he wants to rule over!

It’s the kind of worthless, small-minded evil that I wish were confined to the world of fiction...sadly, Rugga’s is the mindset of countless cutthroat little ladder-climbers in innumerable companies and corporations, not to mention quite a number of politicians.  It’s the reality within Rugga, the man who’d rather rule scraps and shreds than let them be pieced back together by anyone else, that makes him the greatest villain of this year for me.

Runners-Up: Enlil (Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Q2); Hugh Darrow (Deus Ex 3); Ryukyu (Dark Half)
Much like Orsted in Live-A-Live and Fou-Lu in Breath of Fire 4, Ryukyu benefits greatly from the fact that the game’s structure gives him an amount of screentime comparable to the hero of the game (in fact, Ryukyu and the hero share the role of protagonist), and I would actually say that he embodies the game as a whole far better than his heroic counterpart, with Dark Half’s themes of inevitability, and despair over mankind’s shortcomings, and the tragedy of humanity being so awful as to require a Jesus-like savior to give their existence in exchange for a chance for humanity to be redeemed.  Ryukyu doesn’t measure up to Orsted or Fou-Lu, of course, because while theirs are journeys whose stories we can see actively shaping them (or verifying what they suspected already), the core of Ryukyu remains a mystery to us until the game’s end, and much of his metric for judging that which he sees in the world is difficult to pin down in several regards.  He’s just a bit less dynamic and fleshed-out than Orsted and Fou-Lu, I think.  Still, Ryukyu’s a great villain who embodies the spirit and atmosphere of his game, a shining example of innovative writing and design which I would have no trouble believing was a huge inspiration for Fou-Lu several years later.

Enlil and Hugh Darrow are both solid villains of the “doing evil with the intention of good” type that RPGs and anime are both so very fond of.  As is usually the case, their actions are absurdly exaggerated as a solution to their problems, and the logic that led them to their solutions of inescapable pocket dimension prisons and world-wide cyborg murder rampages can generously be described as poorly-reasoned, but each is still a pretty decent, compelling villain raising questions of humanity’s obstacles, and frankly, anything better than an outright badly-written villain is part of a minority in this genre, so kudos to the creators of Mr. Darrow and Ms. Enlil.

Best Character of 2020
Winner: Hikari (Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Q2)
She’s no Rei from SMTPQ1, and it’s much easier to see where the game’s going with her (unlike Rei, whose personality plot twist was far more cleverly subtle), but Hikari’s a well-explored, engaging person whose depth and development are more than up for the responsibility of being the centerpiece of the game’s narrative.  And just because you can probably see the reveals coming for most of the game, that doesn’t make the journey of her self-actualization any less engaging, touching, and inspiring as it’s told.  Hikari’s a damned good character, and she’s easily 1 of the best in the SMT Persona series.

Runners-Up: Alette (The Banner Saga 3); Boy (Rakuen); Sue (Rakuen)
Alette’s growth into a leader, and her doubts along the way, as well as her dealing with the loss of her father, make for a protagonist whose personal journey holds a natural appeal and even feels gratifying to witness.  The stories of Sue and the Boy are some of the most moving in Rakuen, and the Boy in particular is a character of emotional simplicity and complexity both, whose tale is tear-inducingly inspiring.  They also both feel very authentically like the children they are, which seems to be a tricky prospect for quite a few RPGs to manage to pull off, so Sue and the Boy are all the more a feather in Rakuen’s cap.

Best RPG of 2020
Winner: Rakuen
With its use of significant real-world events as a backdrop, a smooth back-and-forth between reality and a colorful fantasy world that’s nonetheless at least a little bit real, and focus upon the sorts of difficulties in life that anyone could and may experience, Rakuen’s already a unique experience unto itself.  And then, with a wonderful understanding of the fragile beauty of existence, and of the weaknesses and stalwart warmths of the human heart, Rakuen leverages its signature components to tell a thoroughly moving tale of courage, both one’s own and the ability to inspire it in others, and the process of loss, and the power of love and heroism to give us the ability to carry on.  And it’s beautiful, and simple, and dammit I’m starting to tear up again as I remember some of the more amazing of Rakuen’s scenes...look, the game is just wonderful, okay?  Go play it.

...But make sure you do so with the Sprinting Patch installed, because honestly who the hell has time to dither around with slow character walking speed?

Runners-Up: Deus Ex 3; Okami; Shin Megami Tensei: Persona Q2
Shin Megami Tensei rarely fails to please, and Persona Q2 is a fine installment in the series, an entertaining adventure with a lot of heart that feels like a great Social Link skillfully expanded to the size and scope of a game in its own right.  Its main character, Hikari, is well-constructed and likable, and it adeptly utilizes the casts of the modern Persona games towards its purpose and as foils for Hikari to help her growth--and it gives a bit of spotlight to Aigis and Yosuke along the way, which is pleasing, since each is arguably the best character in their respective game’s party, and a nice surprise, since I would have thought the developers would favor the more recently popular Persona 5 party in the story than the older casts.  Solid stuff.

Deus Ex 3 is a great game for all the reasons that Deus Ex 1 was, using the foundation of conspiracy theories to both warn its audience of certain unpleasant potentials before us, and to draft compelling observations and analyses of humanity, both on the level of the individual and, much more, as a social animal overall.  Absolutely a worthy successor to the first title, and I could easily see the argument being made that DE3 even surpasses it.

You know how Bravely Default is pretty much the most true embodiment of the classic, core of the Final Fantasy series?  I think it’s safe to say that Okami is much the same to The Legend of Zelda.  Beating Nintendo at its own game, and beating it within an inch of its life at that, Okami is a grand, marvelously fun adventure that perfects every gameplay signature and even the atmosphere and personality of TLoZ, while maintaining a strongly defined, highly unique character of its own as a collection of and joyous glorification of Japanese folklore and traditional culture.  And it does so with such a good-natured, frequently tongue-in-cheek approach that it never seems stuffy or overly self-indulgent, as, I find, games and anime tend to feel when they attempt to do the past Japanese culture thing.  And on top of all that, it’s a pretty neat adventure with characters you get invested in, and the best Silent Protagonist that I’ve seen to date.  Damn good stuff, Okami is, and major thanks to Ecclesiastes for gifting it to me!

List Changes
Greatest Deaths and Worst Endings: So, here’s an interesting thing: there’s gonna be a few General List changes in the upcoming future to account for games I’ve played this year, but, interestingly, there’s enough changes within each rant that it makes more sense to update the rant with an expansion  The Greatest Deaths rant is 1 such case--I really have to put a couple characters in Rakuen onto the list, but it kills me to think of pushing certain others off, so, with it being a few years since I made the list, it seems reasonable to expand it out a little (even considering that it is, admittedly, a pretty long list already).  The other case is the Worst Endings rant, because I can’t possibly let Deus Ex 4 and Witch Hunt escape that list, but fuck me if I’m gonna let Neverwinter Nights 2 get a break and be shuffled off.  So expect to see an update in 2021 to each.
Weirdest Characters: Actually, this one isn’t changing, either.  But I thought it was worth emphasizing, once again, what an incredibly bizarre genre RPGs tends to be in terms of its casting, because this year I played RPGs including party members who were anthropomorphic lobsters, boyfriends who had been cursed to transform into chickens, whatever the hell the Dredge are from The Banner Saga, and an honest-to-Iomedae living snowman.  And none of them are weirder than that list’s gatekeeper Skelly.

Well, that’s it for this year.  I know it’s been a hell of a year, but I hope that you’ve all managed to find some good and enjoyment in these past 365 days.  I’m grateful to have had a lot to feel fortunate for, myself, not the least of which being my sister, Ecclesiastes, and Angel Adonis, all of whom have contributed in many, many ways both great and small, but always significant, to making these rants as good as they can be.

I’m also very fortunate, not to mention pleased and proud, to have gotten my first regular, sustained Patron (at least, the first who didn’t rethink the matter after a couple months) this year - a tremendous and heartfelt thanks to you, Dan Brandt; your support is so generous and SO cool to have!

And lastly, of course, even if many might look at it and think it small by internet standards, I think that the fact that I have a readership, that there are people out there, whether in the billions or just a handful, who are interested enough in what I have to say, is something fortunate and flattering indeed--so thank you all, as always, for hanging out with me here and reading my rants.  Here’s hoping for a 2021 as prosperous and enjoyable as 2020 was difficult.  Adios until the new year!

* Which may not mean much coming from a guy, admittedly, but I actually only really noticed some of Kimmy Schmidt’s final season’s unhealthy messages when my sister got uncomfortable with them and pointed them out to me.

** At least, I think.  I can verify how well it does with the Persona 3 and 4 gangs, but Q2 is actually my first time encountering the Persona 5 bunch.  Still, from what my limited knowledge can tell, they did right by the Phantom Thieves and Caroline and Justine, too.