Saturday, May 28, 2022

Boyfriend Dungeon Doesn't Go Far Enough

ANNOUNCEMENT: I'm taking June off.  May is always a pretty brutal month for me at my job, but this one's put me through a tougher time than usual, and honestly, I've still been trying to rebuild a rant backlog buffer since the year-long employment crucible that was my 2021.  So...I could just really use a little break to build the reserve back up and ease myself out of customer service fight-or-flight mode.  Thus, the next rant'll be published in July, at which point we'll resume our regular schedule.  Thanks for understanding, and I'll see you then.

And now, the rant proper:

Boyfriend Dungeon is another of the Kickstarter RPGs that I’ve backed.  I don’t generally go for dungeon-crawlers, as they usually don’t have as strong a reliance on storytelling, but the premise of the game piqued my interest--it’s basically a hybrid RPG and dating sim where you’re dating (or just being good buddies with) the very weapons you’re using in the dungeon, within this peculiar world in which some people can magically transform themselves into weapons.  The idea sounds fun enough, and I can’t deny that, as a game where the majority of love interests are men (with a masculine non-binary as well) and which clearly has a very modern, progressive outlook on gender identity and sexuality and all that jazz, Boyfriend Dungeon gave me a bit of hope that I might finally find some quality gay male romances in my preferred game genre.  RPGs have always been and still are unrealistically dominated by heterosexual romances, and what few same-sex couples exist in this genre are much more often female ones.*  And frankly, regardless of what genders are involved, it’s harder-than-average to find a love story in an RPG that’s particularly noteworthy, anyway.  So yeah, I had some hopes for Boyfriend Dungeon, particularly when I realized it was being made by the same developer that did Moon Hunters, another RPG I had kickstarted and quite enjoyed.

And make no mistake, it’s a pleasant game.  The gameplay of Boyfriend Dungeon is, interestingly enough, less like Moon Hunters than it is a Supergiant Games title; there were a lot of moments as I was crawling through the dungeons that I was struck by a recollection of Bastion.  Meanwhile, the content of the dating sim stories reminded me in some ways of Shin Megami Tensei Persona 4’s Social Links--and the fact that the dungeons were meant to display and act as analogies for the protagonist’s personal fears and hang-ups increases that sense of SMTP4 similarity.  The game tells a small but recognizable and paced story with a noticeable beginning, middle stage, and conclusion, and having this clearly structured a narrative is certainly more than a lot of dungeon-focused RPGs can seem to manage.  Additionally, BD maintains a very prominently open and modern mindset and theme of respecting personal identity, pronouns, lifestyles, dietary beliefs, all that politically correct jazz--it’s very inclusive, is what I’m saying, so players caught up within or just looking for a game with a strong and positive theme of current sensibilities will probably like Boyfriend Dungeon quite a bit.  And that stuff’s not just the window-dressing to the game, either; the main story of the game is rooted within such concepts.  The protagonist and antagonist serve as mirrors for how to approach a desire for intimacy with others, with 1 doing so in a healthy manner, the other becoming mired in toxic mindsets.  It’s a decent game, Boyfriend Dungeon, is my main message here.

At the same time...Boyfriend Dungeon disappoints me, because it never really seems to take any part of itself as far as it needs to.

Let’s take the dungeon-crawling aspect of it, since that’s where I first noticed this problem.  The dungeons in Boyfriend Dungeon are adequate enough, as dungeons go.  I mean, I didn’t enjoy going through them myself, but I don’t like stomping through any dungeons; the actual act of playing an RPG is boring to me.  I at least think that people who DO like the gameplay of this genre will have a decent time in Boyfriend Dungeon’s...2 dungeons.

Yeah.  2.

Now it ain’t a problem for me personally, the fewer dungeons the better I say, but even I have to admit that I find it odd that a game called Boyfriend Dungeon has only 2 examples of its namesake within its entire course.  Didn’t this game advertise itself as a dungeon-crawler on its Kickstarter?  And Steam page?  And Xbox page?  How do you make a dungeon-crawler, advertise it as such, include the word “dungeon” in its name, and then only put 2 dungeons into it?

I mean, I guess I’ve played some dungeon-crawler RPGs in which there was only, technically, a single dungeon to traverse through (such as some Etrian Odysseys, for example), but even those generally had enough significant differences between floor groups that the effect was that of multiple dungeons.  And their supposedly single dungeon had more (and larger) floors within it than Boyfriend Dungeon has in its 2.  It just feels like the dungeon element of Boyfriend Dungeon was an afterthought more than the selling point they made it out to be.  Again, not a problem from MY perspective, but I would definitely understand someone more gameplay-oriented being put out by it.

There IS a problem with this lack of dungeon-ing that I do myself take issue with, though.  The dungeons are, as I mentioned before, meant to represent personal fears of the protagonist.  I think the idea is for him/her/them to conquer these personal issues and become a more complete and actualized person, as well as a better romantic partner.  But with only 2 dungeons in the game, this storytelling mechanic is pretty damn limited, unable to explore the hero’s mind and personality any further than a mere 2 characteristics.  So even if you care as little about the gameplay elements of RPGs as I do, there is still a flaw within just how limited the dungeon count of Boyfriend Dungeon is.

Although, really, I doubt that more dungeons would actually have done much for the protagonist’s character.  While a good personal story of growth would have needed more than 2 opportunities to tell itself, the fact of the matter is that the 2 opportunities it did have were squandered.  Neither of the fears that the dungeons of the games represent are actually explored at all in their relation to the protagonist, and are barely even acknowledged by the characters in dialogue.  These 2 fears are obviously meant to describe the shy and socially hesitant state that the protagonist is in when he/she/they first arrive at Verona Beach at the game’s beginning, but that’s as far as that goes.  How did Protagonist gain these fears?  What thoughts do Protagonist’s love interests have about these fears in relation to him/her/them?  How is the protagonist confronting these personal issues and moving past them, in the emotional sense?  Why does the protagonist never have any thoughts to share on these fears when their nature is finally uncovered at the dungeon’s conclusion?  How does the protagonist feel about the process of conquering them?  What about the protagonist’s experiences thus far has allowed him/her/them to overcome it?

There’s just so little substance to this concept of the dungeons as the things holding the protagonist’s heart back.  It’s like if you were going through a Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 dungeon, but the character at the end of the dungeon never says anything the whole time, never interacts with their shadow, never expresses any perspective on the process of embracing and overcoming their weaknesses before, during, or after the whole ordeal.  You’d still be able to get something from the metaphors of the dungeon’s enemies, and from the dungeon’s own decor, but the huge majority of the message wouldn’t be there.  It’s not as bad as Princess Aerin’s complete failure in The Princess’ Heart to engage with the personal sins that the 4 demons she fights represent, but Boyfriend Dungeon’s failure to capitalize on their idea of using the dungeons to develop the protagonist is not far off from that, either.

So the dungeon aspect of Boyfriend Dungeon isn’t taken far enough, and its attempt to tell a story of growth for its protagonist isn’t, either.  What about the other major theme of the game and half of its title?  What about the Boyfriends?  And girlfriend.  And...themfriends?  Whatever the non-binary equivalent is.

Well, honestly, the game just doesn’t quite manage to do enough on that front, either, in my opinion.

First of all, the concept itself of dating weapons just...isn’t really explored well enough.  The fact that each of these characters you’re dating can turn into a sword, a scythe, a dagger, and so on, to be held and wielded by you in combat against monsters representing your fears, is a surprisingly minor detail to everyone involved.  I mean, Boyfriend Dungeon doesn’t ignore it or anything like that--Sawyer will sometimes mention the fact that they’re a glaive, Isaac will reference being a rapier often (and this fact is the initial reason for you hanging out with him, to have him train you on how to more effectively use him), and so on.  But the fact that Seven can turn himself into a goddamn laser sword** is somehow never a major, relevant point to his personal story and character development.  Apparently, being a second-banana member of a KPop band is deemed as a more interesting angle of Seven’s character to base his personal story around than the fact that he can turn into the lovechild of a taser and a lightsaber.  Isaac is a fencer who can turn into a rapier, Sunder’s ability to inflict the bleed status relates to his physical condition, and there are some aesthetic connections between the characters’ human and weapon forms, but beyond that, the fact that these boyfriends, themfriends, and girlfriend can transform themselves into weapons isn’t really important, to them or to the story as a whole.  Boyfriend Dungeon’s attention-getting gimmick is that it’s about being able to date your weapon, and yet the character stories for every single 1 of these romantic interests would be unchanged in all significant ways if they were just regular human beings! 

Correct me if I'm wrong, because I've yet to play it, but I think even Xenoblade Chronicles 2 managed to give this duality of weapon and human more relevance with its stupid waifus, yes?  Not the kind of title that it looks great to fall short of, from my initial impressions of it.

Also, I hate to say this, but not a lot of these characters’ stories are all that interesting.  I mean...Sawyer’s generally likable enough, but all that really happens in their Social Link is a bit of worrying about their future prospects in life which, though reasonable and certainly a believable concern for anyone in Sawyer’s age group nowadays, never goes anywhere or has any resolution, and some mildly amusing lessons on how to cook basic low-income meals.  It is not a compelling story of love blossoming.  It’s not a compelling story of friendship forming.  It’s kind of shaky as a tale of becoming acquaintances, really.  And while the rest of the cast at least felt a little more like they were forming a bond of interest and companionship with the protagonist, and/or had a demonstrable attraction to him/her/them, they still don’t really feel all that romantic or interesting.  I’d call Valeria’s the most romantic, but it barely breaks into the territory of average as love stories go, and I’d call Sunder’s the most interesting character study, but it ends on a weak, gimmicky note.

In fact, when I consider it, I think there’s a subconscious reason I’ve equated Boyfriend Dungeon’s romances with the Social links of SMT Persona 4 specifically--because as a general rule, they, much like all but 1 of SMTP4’s love interest Social Links, are more like friendship stories upon which an ill-matched romance was clumsily stapled.

Also, connecting the problems with the protagonist’s personal development with the current subject, I feel like Protagonist isn’t even a particularly deciding or dynamic factor in some of the character journeys of Boyfriend Dungeon’s love interests.  At least as often as I felt like the protagonist was an invested participant in these vignettes, I felt like things were just coasting along, with the protagonist along for the ride of his/her/their boo’s personal journey.  Not always, or anything, but still, I think the protagonist is too often not a strong entity within a love story that he/she/they are supposed to be half of.  And hey, don't get me wrong, this is a common problem with both RPGs and Visual Novels (the latter format is what Boyfriend Dungeon's character interactions mostly mimic), not some failing exclusive to BD.  But signature or common, it IS still a flaw.

Look, I don’t like to go off on Indie RPGs.  And I also want to reiterate that Boyfriend Dungeon is a fine enough title: I don’t regret playing it, nor do I regret backing it.  I have backed worse and I have played worse Indies in my time.  And to be sure, while I appreciate a strongly inclusive RPG and wish we had more of them, anyone who really thirsts for a game that steeps itself in modern mindsets and perspectives on love and identity will get a lot more out of this title than I could.  But at the same time, Indie RPG or not, decent game or not, Boyfriend Dungeon’s got a persistent, recurring flaw: it just doesn’t take any of its major components far enough.  It doesn’t have enough dungeon content for a dungeon crawler,*** it doesn’t take an active enough hand in telling the protagonist’s story of growth into a healthy friend and/or romantic partner, it doesn’t incorporate and explore its idea of people who are both humans and weapons far enough, it doesn’t tell strong and involving love stories,*** and the player doesn’t feel like a dynamic part of how some of these romances progress.  Each part of Boyfriend Dungeon feels enjoyable, but lacking.  There was more that this game could have been.

* Not that I’m complaining.  As I’ve said before, I still want a lot more of these than there are.  It’d just be nice and refreshing to have an equal number of bros-before-heteros romances, too.

** For that matter, it’s weird that the rest of the cast are normal, tangible, traditional weapons like brass knuckles and talwars, and then there’s just this 1 guy who’s a lightning beam with a handle stuck on it.  What’s up with that?

*** There IS a DLC coming that's going to add a third dungeon and 2 more weapon people to romance, but if it's not a free update (which it might be?  I'd have to look back on all these backer updates I get to know for sure, but I think it'll just be easier to find out when it releases), then these can't really be counted in the main game's favor.  And even if they were, a dungeon count of 3 still seems noticeably low for a dungeon crawler.  Furthermore, even if the 2 new romances turned out to be really good--which there's not much reason to expect if we go by precedent--that's still 2 out of 8, which is not a great showing.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Pillars of Eternity 1's Downloadable Content

I have to confess something.  Something terrible and degrading, a secret which has festered within me for 7 years now, like a lingering, decayed fragment of me at odds with the rest of my soul.  But I’m tired of it--tired of keeping up the facade of a discerning, cultured critic, tired of trying to maintain this farce that I’m respectable, that I’m worthy of your time and consideration.  Because the shocking, dismaying truth is...

Pillars of Eternity 1 just didn’t really do anything for me.

Woedica knows I wanted it to.  PoE1 was 1 of the first RPGs I ever helped crowdfund!  I was enamored by its theme and concepts, and by the idea of the writers behind it being able to make what they wanted without the pressures and expectations of ignorant larger publishers restricting them.  And I DID like it, and appreciate it, make no mistake.  I recognize how interesting and thoughtful its setting and lore are, I recognize that it has a good story, I recognize that much of its cast is terrifically written and unique!  There is a ton about Pillars of Eternity 1 that is great and even brilliant, and I see this and acknowledge it and respect it...objectively.

It just somehow never really managed to get past that point of appreciation from afar, for me.  A few parts of it managed to penetrate deeper, like the Grieving Mother--such a great character!--but not enough that the game ever spoke to me the way I thought it was going to, the way that I think it did most other people.  I don’t know why that is.  I’ll openly admit that Pathfinder: Kingmaker, though most certainly a great RPG, doesn’t have the same weight, intellectual power, or significance that Pillars of Eternity 1 possesses...but I love Pathfinder: Kingmaker, and I only dispassionately appreciate Pillars of Eternity 1.  I don’t know why that is, but I can’t pretend otherwise.

So basically what I’m saying is that you should probably disregard everything I’m about to say in today’s rant and just come back next time, when maybe I’ll have a subject that I actually know something about.

The White March, Part 1: This add-on’s got some definite charms.  You gotta appreciate the polish, for starters--it’s not the only game to do this, but any time a development team pays such attention to detail that characters breathe vapor in cold environments, you’ve got a work that you know the creators truly wanted to do everything in their power to get right.  That and the fact that NPCs trying to put out a burning house are pathed to run back and forth to the nearby water (to fetch it and throw it on the fire) and even exchange dialogue while filling their buckets were examples of the DLC’s high level of polish that struck me right from the get-go.

Beyond the polish, I also laud the extent that the soul-reading was incorporated into the quest to open Durgan’s Battery--it’s as interesting an experience as it was in the main game, and a lot of effort is put into some of the memory/previous life recollections, even when they aren’t relevant to the quest itself.  The mayor’s memory, for example, is not the one you’re looking for in that quest, but it’s an engaging snapshot of her history (as well as that of the town) that’s well-written and spared no effort.  There’s some decent sidequests--I rather liked the one involving the head of the foundry, and the ongoing and evolving history of the quest where you’re collecting relics and soul-reading them is nicely done--and both Zahua and the Devil of Caroc are decently written characters.

With all that said, I gotta say...The White March kinda feels like Obsidian’s team mostly was trying to recapture the glory days of Icewind Dale.*  As a result, a lot of this DLC--most of it, really--feels very Dungeons-and-Dragons-generic to me.  Like most of it could have been taken from any base pre-written adventure outline that a DM might use for a placeholder session between main campaigns.  Durgan’s Battery, for example, doesn’t really feel like it has any actual personality of its own--it just comes off to me like a timid mash-up of a Dragon Age 1 dwarven stronghold and Durlag’s Tower from Baldur’s Gate 1, while not as compelling as either.  The abandoned dwarven fortress trope that Tolkien started is wearing thin these days, and little of Durgan’s Battery stands out enough to refresh the cliche.

Also, what’s even the point of the side story with Concelhaut?  It’s pointless and dull.  If the majority of The White March, Part 1 feels like an experienced DM just buying himself time with a generic premade outline while he works on the next part of his real campaign, then the little sidequest of infiltrating Concelhaut’s pad feels like a first time DM reading lines from a tabletop starter pack.

Lastly, while Zahua’s a good character, he absolutely should have been in the main game, not an add-on character.  Zahua’s quirk of reveling in suffering and discomfort as a way of Keeping It Real Bro is the kind of personality basis that best cements itself over time and quantity of examples.  If he’d been with me for the entire PoE1 adventure, then he’d be a much more singular, stand-out personality to me, because his character would have had the time to fully impress itself upon me.  Like...imagine if instead of being a major character in the show, Ed from Cowboy Bebop was only present in its movie.  She’d still be fun and engaging, but she wouldn’t be memorable, wouldn’t be iconic, as the personality and character she is, not for any lack of skill on the writers’ part, but simply for lack of time to really capitalize on who and what she is.  That’s how Zahua feels to me--a couple DLCs just don’t cut it for a singularly quirky character.

So yeah, in the end, The White March, Part 1 is not a bad add-on, but nothing about it rises high enough that I’d call it a good one, either.  And at an unreasonable $15 (I don’t see most players getting 15 hours out of it), “neither bad nor good” does not cut it.

The White March, Part 2: I guess I’d say this is a step up from the first add-on.  The main story of Part 2 has some significance and actually goes somewhere, for starters, even though that substance only shows up toward the end of the DLC’s overall quest.  Likewise, the side bit about who legally owns Caed Nua is a hell of a lot more interesting than competing with some mercenaries for the right to indulge in some breaking and entering of Concelhaut’s stupid tower.

With that said, it still doesn’t really seem like the whole thing amounts to all that much, as an adventure.  While the choice that the new enemies wind up posing regarding the restoration of the god Abydon, and how one views the past, is compelling material, it takes a while to get there, and until that point, this whole venture just feels like some more generic RPG mush with contrived enemies.  Meanwhile, the new character, Maneha, has 1 of the most thematically appropriate personal quests in the game, in theory, but in practice, it feels rushed and impersonal...and frankly, while she’s pleasant, affable, and outgoing, Maneha herself never really quite feels like she’s engaging with her companions as 1 of the party.  Something about her personality just feels like she took a wrong turn and wound up in a different game than she’d intended.

Ultimately?  While it feels like there’s more purpose and art tying this DLC to Pillars of Eternity 1 as a whole, it still seems, to me, not really worth the trouble to play through The White March, Part 2.  Particularly not when you’re expected to pay a whopping $15 for this one, too--you’re almost definitely not getting that many hours out of it!

And the verdict on PoE1’s DLC scene is: a big, fat, dreary Meh.  Your results may vary, of course.  As I said going into this, for whatever reason, the game as a whole didn’t resonate with me the way it should have, so there’s every chance I just lack the ability to properly appreciate The White March, through no fault of the add-ons themselves.

Still...still, I do think I stand by my feeling that they’re not worth it, at least to a degree.  Maybe I never did feel Pillars of Eternity 1 the way I should have, but I’ve never had a problem seeing why it’s lauded and in recognizing the merits of its story, cast, setting, and lore.  Yet I haven’t been struck by this professional respect for the game at any point through my White March experience...hell, there’ve been more than a few occasions during the course of these DLCs when I just sort of wanted it to be done with, already.  The White March may not be outright stupid, negative, or damaging the way most RPGs’ add-on collections seem to be, and certainly it’s a step up from the last DLC I experienced (that being Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s)...but it’s still just not good, at least not to me.  If Pillars of Eternity 1 is a gourmet meal that my palette just can’t quite adapt itself to, then The White March is the microwaved TV dinner of Fantasy: serviceable, but not much more than that.  It’d be hard to recommend even at a rational price point, but the fact that it comes to a total of $30--which is as much as the game itself is being sold for at this time--I advise putting this on the ever-growing list of add-ons to steer clear of.

** Glory days which didn’t even exist to start with; Icewind Dale 1 and 2 were boring and meandering and can only thrive in an environment of pure rose-tinted nostalgia.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

General RPGs' Late Add-On Characters

Add-ons are, by now, a fact of life for RPGs, and video games as a whole.  Love’em or hate’em--and I know where I’ve come to stand on the matter--there’s a good chance these days that any major RPG release, and quite a few minor ones, will eventually (or immediately) be saddled with an extra adventure that you can pay to experience.  It may be a full-on extra story, or just a minor sidequest, but either way, this additional content almost inevitably comes with various new items, equipment, abilities, and/or game features to collect and earn.  It may even come with a new character who will join your party!

Hey, here’s an idea, developers?  Maybe you could, I dunno, just stop doing this?  Like, for real.  Stop.  Doing.  This.  


Look, sometimes this isn’t a serious detriment to the RPG.  A character like Shale in Dragon Age 1, or Zaeed in Mass Effect 2, the DLCs they’re found within were available on Day 1.  Which isn’t a GOOD thing, obviously, because if an add-on is done at the time of the game’s release, then why the hell isn’t it just a part of the damn game to begin with?  But, at the very least, if you want the full experience of Zaeed or Shale as a party member who interacts with the adventure as it unfolds, it’s there to be had from the moment you acquire the game and start playing.

But generally, DLCs come out for a game after a good chunk of time has passed from its release date.  For example, the Far Harbor add-on for Fallout 4, which introduced the party member Longfellow, was finished 6 months after the game’s release.  By that time, just about any player who had started playing Fallout 4 shortly after its release date would be long since finished with its main plot and side content, so the only content that the player could utilize Longfellow in would be that of Far Harbor itself, and the later DLC package Nuka-World (which introduced its own crappy party member Gaige, who thus got even LESS time than Longfellow).  In a game where the party members to some degree react to and engage with the happenings of the story, and the introduction of new locations, that’s really frustrating.

Admittedly, this isn’t often a problem for me, personally, because I usually don’t play RPGs immediately after their launch.  Hell, it’s a miracle when I get to a game within 5 years of its publication.  So it didn’t cause any irritation for me when I played Pathfinder: Kingmaker a year after its launch, and thus had the DLC characters of Kalikke and Kanerah available to me from the start of the game to engage with and be a part of the plot.  But anyone who started playing the game on the day it released in September would almost surely have finished it, or at least been in its last stages, when the Wildcards DLC dropped in December.  If that player wanted to get the most out of the content he or she had just purchased, he or she would have to play the game through all over again to have the time and opportunity to fully experience all that the tiefling sisters offered as characters.  And hell, I was already planning to play Mass Effect 2 over again when the DLC that introduced Kasumi released--but not everyone was, so suddenly acquiring a character too late to have the chance to involve her in all the plot interactions which she was capable of, having Kasumi wind up as nothing more than an afterthought unless a whole other playthrough was initiated, had to be rather irritating to some.

And hey, I don’t always avoid the brunt of this annoyance.  I don’t actually know anything about the character Oom from Torment: Tides of Numenera, because I started playing that game the hour it came out, and finished well before Oom was completed and released.  And as it turns out, great though Tides of Numenera and its 1000-page-long script is, I don’t have 50 hours I can just conjure out of nowhere to drop on the game all over again to get to know the newbie.  

I do cut TToN a little slack on this matter, though, since Oom wasn’t something that was being sold as an extra so much as it was just a late addition of content that had been intended to be a part of the game but was unfinished as of the game’s release, and they added Oom to the game for free.

I do not extend that same generosity to Fire Emblem 16.

Hey, Nintendo!  The next time you feel like tacking a DLC onto your game that adds a whopping 4 separate characters to the cast, do you think that maybe, JUST FUCKING MAYBE, you could try releasing it just a liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiittle bit earlier?  Say, perhaps, while I’m still playing the fucking game?  It ain’t like I rushed through it, either.  I only started playing 3 Houses a month after its release, and it’s not a short adventure.  Especially when you’re insane enough to go through it 4 separate times to see every path of the game, since no one warned you that you can skip the Blue Lions route and miss absolutely nothing.  Nintendo, you really couldn’t have released the damn Dickensian Sewer Rats DLC at some point before the start of my FOURTH playthrough?

No, of course not, I forgot.  You had to get the DLCs for those lounge wear cosmetics and the game mechanic of cramming rotten fish down stray cats’ throats out into the world, first.  Obviously that’s the REAL priority, here.

Thankfully, Youtube Let’s Plays exist, and I didn’t have to waste my time and money buying a frankly subpar quartet of party members I would have to play the game a fifth time to fully experience.  May the 8 Scribes have mercy on the players who began another round of FE16 in earnest solely for the sake of the Ashen Wolves characters, though.

Just...if you’re gonna add characters to the game, characters who are meant to be a legitimate part of the cast and a part of the game’s story, do it at an appropriate time.  If you HAVE to lock them behind a DLC, which you shouldn’t, because that’s fucking garbage, but if you HAVE to, release that DLC soon enough that they can be an actual part of the damn story without forcing your player to commit to a 40-hour rerun.  Because honestly, at that point, Zahua and Kasumi and the Ashen Wolves and the Devil of Caroc and Longfellow and Kalikke and Kanerah and Maneha and Mintberry Crunch and Gaige and all the rest of these tardy-to-the-party members are almost more trouble than they’re worth.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Mass Effect 2's Thermal Clips

Mass Effect 1 was an inventive, awesome experience that opened a new science fiction world to its audience, one with the best kind of unlimited potential for the imagination to take hold of and explore.  It was more than just a space opera (though it was an excellent specimen of such), it was also a game that captured the exciting beauty inherent in interstellar exploration, the real-world majesty and promise of the cosmos that we as a species are still girding ourselves to engage in.  It was inevitable that ME1 would have a sequel...and while Mass Effect 2 was a far cry lesser than its predecessor, it was certainly an excellent and worthy continuation, and great in its own right.  What separates ME2 from the first game isn’t any particular failure, simply more a case of being unable to quite recapture the same magic that Mass Effect 1 seemed to effortlessly immerse itself within.  Less a shortcoming than just a different direction and perspective.

But Mass Effect 2 does have actual, demonstrable flaws.  And 1 of its more famous ones is the addition of the thermal clip to the game.  Basically, it’s like this: in Mass Effect 1, the firearm technology is so incredibly advanced that guns don’t actually use bullets any more.  Instead, you just stick a rod of metal in the firearm, and the gun’s inner workings shave tiny pieces off the matter, and use that as ammo, because with the technology of mass effects, every weapon can be a goddamn railgun, and that means anything solid shot from its barrel is more powerful than any conventional armament, even tiny metal shavings.  What this basically means is that all guns in Mass Effect 1 have limitless ammo, since you can stick a single rod in there and have enough ammo to perforate half a city.  The guns’ll overheat if you just keep firing them nonstop, forcing you to let them cool for a bit before continuing to fire, so it’s not like you can just run around reenacting Contra, but still, the benefits of guns that have essentially limitless ammo are fairly obvious.

And then, in Mass Effect 2, firearms "advance" again, as the technology of the Geth is reverse engineered, and now guns require thermal clips to fire.  Basically, while the ammo is still technically infinite, guns now refuse to fire if you don’t have a functional thermal clip in them to deal with the heat they generate, and you have to keep replacing these clips if you want to keep firing.  So, technically different from having limited ammo, but in practice, exactly the fucking same.  I think the explanation was that the Geth attack convinced the civilized galaxy that they wanted guns that could keep shooting faster for longer before needing a break due to overheating, or something, because the Geth’s own armaments had a very fast rate of fire thanks to this thermal clip system.


This is not a new subject to criticize.  As explanations for gameplay limitations go, this one rates somewhere between the absurdity of why Fox couldn’t use his blaster in Star Fox Adventures, and that time EA tried to convince us that linear games don’t sell well any more.  Fans have been complaining and pointing out the utterly irrational stupidity behind this change from the moment ME2 hit the shelves.  Bioware’s decision to prioritize a gameplay mechanic they wanted more highly than what was right or natural for their story is well-documented.  And I’m not here to repeat it--the decision to switch from guns with infinite ammo to guns that stop working until you shove a new ammo-analogue into them is so transparently, obviously idiotic that there’s no damn need to; the only way you could possibly not figure it out yourself is if you happen to be a Bioware writer yourself.

So what am I here to do today, then?  Well, I’m here to point out the absurdity of the logistics of this change.

See, when the galaxy’s decision to switch to guns with limited ammunition is lambasted, the criticism is almost always based on how stupid and nonsensical it is to believe that a community of rational, thinking beings would consciously completely abandon weapons with limitless ammunition in all their military endeavors.  But what no one seems to realize is that this isn’t just a failure in storytelling from that angle--it’s also an outright plot hole.  Beyond how dumb it is, the galaxy’s universal adoption of the thermal-clip-based firearm is a logistical impossibility.

Consider the following facts for a moment.  A: In every firefight Shepard gets into in ME2 (and ME3), he can retrieve the thermal clips from the corpses of his fallen opponents.  B: The only guns Shepard has any option to obtain in ME2, period, are the ones that depend on thermal clips.  And most importantly, C: The events of Mass Effect 2 take place 2 years after those of Mass Effect 1.  A and B mean that, by all observable evidence, essentially all armed individuals in the galaxy are using the new thermal-clip-reliant guns (since the models of ME1 did not have thermal cooling capabilities adequate for the new weaponry, or else there wouldn’t have been new weaponry, so Shepard can’t be collecting thermal clips from enemies using the guns from ME1).  This is a conclusion generally backed up by the games themselves, too; I’m using A and B to prove a point that’s already implied anyway.  And when combined with C, this means that within the span of 2 years and no more than that, the entirety of a galaxy’s civilizations completely rearmed themselves with an entirely new stock of guns.

There are more than half a dozen different space-faring civilizations in Mass Effect, and every 1 of them had their entire military completely swap out their old firearms for new ones, uniformly and universally.  And not just their military, but their police, their security guards, their bodyguards, and anyone else whose job entails the possession and potential use of a firearm.  On every official level, military to law enforcement to civilian, a complete overhaul of weapons inventory has occurred   Think about that--think about the logistics of manufacturing literal millions if not billions of handguns, assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles, and so on to completely rearm every Council Race’s military entirely.  Of transporting those millions of guns.  Of retraining all users of these firearms, who are used to working with weapons without a thermal clip mechanic.  Of, for that matter, manufacturing billions of spare thermal clips for those weapons, then transporting them, stocking them, and storing them, for thousands of separate gun-using groups within each species.

It’s legitimately not possible.  If the Council Races had started rearming on the day that Sovereign got wrecked in Mass Effect 1, there’s still no conceivable way that by the time Sleeping Beauty pulls his ass off the lab table, resumes saving the universe, and starts working on hitting that Quarian booty, the entire civilized galaxy has thoroughly replaced every firearm in circulation and reserve.

And that’s generously giving the entirety of the 2 years to this process, which is infeasible in and of itself.  There’s no way that reverse-engineering the Geth weaponry was done immediately, even if the Council scientists were able to get a head-start thanks to Shepard’s general exploits in ME1.  There’s no way that the process wouldn’t be delayed by debate and discussion on every level of the Council and the races within it.  There’s no way every single institution using firearms would be immediately willing or even able to foot the bill to completely change out its inventory.*  A private security firm or a police department isn’t gonna need the latest tech for every single agent and every single operation they undertake--and that’s not even accounting for the usual capitalistic reticence to ever pay for new equipment if it’s in any way possible to avoid it, even when that new equipment is needed.  There’s no way the firearms’ designs would be immediately hashed out and able to be manufactured from the very start, even if the Geth tech had been reverse-engineered on Day 1.  There’s no way the manufacturing facilities wouldn’t need some time to be set up, and the lines from production to transportation established.  Even if it were somehow rationally possible for the entirety of the civilized galaxy to rearm itself entirely in the span of 2 years, it wouldn’t actually have those full 2 years to do so!

And it only gets worse when you consider that most of Mass Effect 2 takes place in the uncivilized frontiers of the galaxy, outside of Council space.  Are you trying to tell me that in addition to all the legitimate, official institutions of the galaxy fully restocking themselves with the latest weaponry, every single mercenary outfit, crime organization, and terrorist cell also went out of its way to acquire enough brand new guns for their every single member?  The thugs operating in the back alleys of Omega, they’re outfitted with weapon technology that’s on the exact same level as the highest military special forces operatives?  The Batarian Hegemony exists as a hostile faction proudly separated from the rest of the galaxy’s races, which has no reason to care about the threat of the Geth to the races of Council space,** but they’re 100% on board with following the Council’s decision to completely change the way all personal firearms work?  And then they somehow acquire and voluntarily adopt this outside technology, and even stick to the same schedule for this overhaul?

The fact is that when the chips are down, when all is said and done, the writers of an RPG or other work have a bunker they can crawl into when it comes to a character making illogical or uncharacteristic decisions.  George Lucas, the fucktards in charge of Star Trek: Picard, whoever was writing Shion in Xenosaga 3, every creative mind on the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise past the first movie, and definitely Bioware, they’re all very fond of this little impenetrable defense: they’re the writers, and what they say goes.  No matter how out of character, no matter how outright stupid, there is nothing technically impossible about most badly-written character decisions.  So the irrationality of the galaxy as a collective whole abandoning infinite-ammo weaponry entirely in favor of the heat sink system we see in Mass Effect 2 may be truly staggering, and every critique made against it may be completely legitimate, but Bioware’s writers can still dive into their little panic room, the same one they keep on hand for when someone so much as glances inquisitively at Dragon Age 2’s Anders, and insist that thermal clips are just what all the military experts across the galaxy unanimously agreed on, and in the end, that can’t be disproven.  Bioware even used this fact to mock its detractors on this point through the banter of Conrad and Shepard later in ME3, with Conrad pointing out how illogical the decision was and Shepard just coming back with “well that’s what the smart people wanted so I guess you must be wrong, buddy.”

But the logistics of basic possibility?  That’s a different matter.  It doesn’t matter how many battle experts Bioware tells us agreed on changing the system when the scope of that change simply could not be accomplished.  And that’s why I’ve always been surprised that on the many, many occasions when the thermal clip thing is criticized, the arguments almost always seem to be purely based on the irrationality of it, and never mention the fact that, beyond its stupidity, it’s also outright and obviously impossible.  Because it’s the latter point of debate that Bioware can’t just wave away: there is not even the faintest possibility that every corner of the civilized and uncivilized galaxy could have changed their armaments as thoroughly as they’re shown and said to have in the 2 years between Mass Effect 1 and 2.  The thermal clip system isn’t just stupid, it’s impossible, and it represents a failure on Bioware’s part.

* There’re thermal clips to be found during a mission in Mass Effect 2 in which Shepard has to put down some Geth that have reactivated and taken control of a Quarian vessel.  So apparently, we’re supposed to believe either that Tali didn’t happen to notice that every Geth arm she shipped home to be analyzed was holding a gun, or that the Quarians, famous scavengers who as a species can barely afford the duct tape that’s holding half their ships together, splurged on outfitting themselves with brand new guns.  Or maybe the Quarians just purchased a bunch of thermal clips, for guns they can’t afford.  It’s all equally ludicrous.

And that’s not even getting into the outright plothole that is Jacob’s Loyalty mission.

** For that matter, why would the merc groups and criminals care about their weapons being designed to better fight Geth, either?  Everything they intend to use their guns for is going to involve non-Geth targets.

Monday, April 18, 2022

General RPGs' Poison Status Ailment

The most common status ailment in RPGs, besides KO/Unconscious/Dead (which sort of doesn’t count anyway), is probably Poison.  Silence, Petrify, Paralyze, Bleed, Confuse, Sleep, they’re all popular and common enough, but when all is said and done, if your RPG has status ailments, the only 1 that you’re pretty much guaranteed to see within their ranks every time, is Poison.  Hell, the Poison status ailment will even show up to RPGs where it’s completely redundant--Mass Effect 3, for example, already has a Burning status ailment which gradually lowers HP, but it still has Poison, too, to do the same thing.  Poison is as much a bedrock of the RPG formula as swords, menus, and lazily using "The Legend of" as a way of getting out of creating a real title for the game.

Too bad it doesn’t really make much sense most of the time.

See, here’s the thing.  99% of the time, the Poison status effect causes a character’s HP to deplete by a set amount each turn.  Sometimes it can kill a character, but more often, it’ll bring them to 1 HP but never take them below it.*  Either way, though, Poison’s main thing, and almost always its only thing, is a gradual lowering of HP.  Which...really doesn’t have much to do with real, actual poison.

I mean, yeah, you can look at a process of gradually lowering HP as a case of having a poison gradually killing you.  And to be sure, gradually worsening your physical condition is definitely what poisons generally do.  But you could more effectively simulate that through a condition like Final Fantasy’s Countdown status ailment, wherein your character just straight up dies after a set number of turns.  Because, honestly, the symptoms that poisons generally induce really just don’t connect to the idea of constant HP loss.

Here are the most common effects of poisoning upon the human body in real life, according to Nausea and/or Vomiting, Diarrhea, Rash, Redness or Sores around the Mouth, Dry Mouth, Drooling or Foaming at the Mouth, Trouble Breathing, Dilated Pupils or Constricted Pupils, Confusion, Fainting, and Shaking or Seizures.  Quite a nasty little list, isn’t it?  And I think it’s only fair to add Paralysis to that list, because I believe that list is more about ingested poisons, and not toxins that have been introduced into your system by venomous creatures, which is actually the more common cause of Poison status in games.**  And from what I understand, paralysis is a common and very dangerous part of a LOT of venom.

But really, when you look at that list, not a lot of it really seems like it lines up with constant HP loss.  I mean, when you get right down to it, HP loss is pretty easy to define, in terms of its representation in RPG combat: it represents standard, traditional harm upon one’s person.  When an enemy punches, stabs, slices, burns, freezes, melts, electrocutes, crushes, or does some other form of basic, wounding damage to a character, HP is lost to show that damage.  So a status ailment like Bleeding, or Burn, those make a lot of sense as ones defined by a continuous loss of HP, because bleeding represents an ongoing harm that continues to lessen the body’s ability to function and stay alive, and when you’re burning, well, the fire causing the pain and damage is ongoing until it’s put out.

But Poison’s symptoms?  They don’t really seem to add up to the same sort of basic harm that HP loss implies.  Even if it’s a debilitating internal matter, that sort of thing still seems more akin to other status ailments that affect characters’ abilities to act, rather than outright ongoing damage.  I guess nausea and vomiting work for HP loss in a couple of special cases like the Loathing and South Park games, where Disgust is an actual elemental force as much as Fire and Ice, but that’s as far as it goes, really.

What they ought to do is fully commit to the relative newcomer, Bleed, to be the constant HP-draining status ailment for RPGs, going forward,*** and rework Poison into an entirely new thing.  Like, they could make Poison into something really cool as status ailments go, transform it from the mild annoyance it’s been into 1 of the nastier, more powerful inflictions to suffer from.  What they could do is, each turn a character has Poison, they suffer a varying status effect associated with real-world poisons and venoms.  They might be paralyzed this round, or be silenced to simulate their throat closing up, or have a 40% penalty on physical attack damage as they suffer from seizures making it impossible to swing a sword correctly, and so on.  And then the next round, a new symptom of poisoning hits the character...but there’s only a 30% chance that the previous round’s symptom disappears, so as time goes on, these ailment symptoms continue to stack and make the character more and more incapable of fighting.  And you could even have the element of a descent in condition toward death, the way the original HP loss was presumably intended to imply, by having a rule that once a character’s accumulated 4 or 5 symptoms, they die.

That’d be kind of interesting, right?  And it’d certainly give Poison a bit more bite as an ailment, which seems more realistic to me.  Ingested or injected toxins ain’t generally something you can solve or temporarily delay by gritting your teeth and slapping a bandage on yourself.  Poison should be a status ailment with enough gravity that you want to make a priority of curing it.  I say leave the inconvenience of HP drain to Bleed, and make Poison the serious threat that it realistically should be.

* Which is itself something that makes no sense.  Why in the world does Poison in RPGs so frequently refuse to be the factor that kills you?  If someone in real life is brought to the brink of death by poison, and that poison isn’t done running through their system, then it sure as hell isn’t gonna just sit back and wait for them to recover a bit before continuing about its business; it’ll just keep going and finish you off.  But apparently whoever designs the poisons in RPG Land is a downright gentleman about their debilitating toxins.  Of all methods of attack, you wouldn’t think that poison would be the one that insists on giving you a fighting chance.

** And since we’re on the subject, this makes Poison unrealistic in yet another way, since most enemies induce the effect in ways that make it venom, not poison.  I mean, mushroom enemies that release spores in the air that you breathe, sure, poison.  Mages that cast a spell that inflicts the status ailment, alright, poison.  But bites from snakes, spiders, and demons?  Stings from bees, scorpions, and jellyfish?  Wounds from assassins’ daggers, darts, and arrows?  That should called Venom, not Poison, if we want to be technically accurate.

I guess there ARE a few games that distinguish the 2 (Aldorlea Games titles, with their insatiable lust for collecting and inventing status ailments, frequently have both Poison and Venom).  But even they usually just seem to use the distinction as a way of making a more powerful version of the Poison status ailment, rather than distinguishing Venom by its origins and delivery.

*** And if they really want multiple HP-loss status ailments, they can always take a page out of South Park: The Fractured but Whole’s book and have Bleed and Hemorrhage be separate status ailments to accomplish this.  Not to mention that Burn still does the trick, too.

Friday, April 8, 2022

Final Fantasy Tactics's Faith Stat

The Faith stat in Final Fantasy Tactics is weird and doesn’t make much sense, when you think about it.  I mean, at first glance, it seems sensible enough--a stat representing the power of belief to influence the effectiveness of magic spells.  Magic being a highly indefinite force, what with the whole it’s-literally-magic thing it’s got going on, there’s no particular reason why its power shouldn’t have some basis on how strong its user’s and target’s belief in it, or the divine being it theoretically comes from, is.  And with FFT being a game whose events and setting are so specifically steeped in the actions and truth behind an organized religion that also serves as a world power, it certainly makes sense that Faith would be an appropriate stat to add to the regular mix.  Right?

Except for the fact that Faith isn’t a static, unchanging stat.  While it doesn’t change according to leveling up or changing job classes, like most of the rest of the stats in FFT, it is possible to intentionally raise or lower a unit’s Faith stat through the use of certain combat abilities.  And there’s even a quirky little feature in the game for when a unit’s Faith hits 95 or higher--that individual will decide, at that point, to leave the party due to religious convictions and seek out a higher calling with God.

And if the potential for a character’s Faith to be changed exists, and exists in the capacity that it, in even so small a way, ties to the narrative (rather than just being a strictly battle-mechanic number), then everything about Faith kind of makes no sense, upon any scrutiny.

So let’s assume that Faith indicates just how fully convinced an individual is that God, Ajora, and the general hoopla of the divine and supernatural exist, with 100% being completely and totally convinced, and 0% being an outright, full-on atheist.  This is a reasonable interpretation given that Faith is used, in battle equations, as a percentage (thus 0 is none and 100 is full), and the actual maximum a unit can get is 97 (only Ramza, since he can’t actually leave at the 95 mark) and the actual minimum a unit can get is 3 (except Worker 8, who naturally and permanently has 0), falling within the range of the perspective that it's a percent situation.  It’s also reasonable to interpret Faith as being about belief in God and Ajora and higher powers and so on, given that having a 0 is regarded as Atheist status--it wouldn’t be called that if it was about not believing in anything intangible; atheism is generally associated with a disbelief in religion first and foremost, after all.  This being the case:

How the fuck is it rational for any party member in the game to maintain a low Faith score?

Because I don’t know if maybe they just didn’t notice this, but at a certain point in Final Fantasy Tactics’s story, Ramza and company are fighting real, actual fucking demons, and dealing with events, relics, and beings that very clearly indicate that Ajora was a real person, and that several manners of crazy divinely magical shit went down around him in the past.  Even if Ajora turned out not to be the saint that people thought he was, how exactly can the people following Ramza around rationally simply not believe very strongly in the spiritual when they’re watching the stones of religious yore summon demon lords from Hell and create miracles like restoring life to the dead?

How does a party member with a Faith of 49 watch Rafa use a divine stone to call her brother’s soul back from the heavens and into his body, witness a guy who’s been a roof corpse for at least an hour sit up good as new, and still remain more a skeptic than not that there are higher powers in the world?  Hell, how does Malak himself maintain a Faith score of a measly 31 after this?  Does this asshole just open his eyes after the will of God in Rafa's hands hauls his soul back to the corporeal realm, and his first thought is, "I think there's a better than 2/3 chance that I staged this whole thing about dying.  Can't pull the wool over MY eyes, Me!"

How exactly can your belief in the beings from the scriptures not be pretty damned solid as 1 of them holds you up with 1 hand, beats you raw with 3 more, and tells you to start a New Game, because your save file is his bitch now?

But let’s take a step back.  Maybe that’s not exactly what Faith indicates.  Maybe Faith isn’t necessarily a non-specific belief in God and Ajora and the powers beyond the ken of mortals.  Maybe Faith is supposed to indicate how much a character buys into the teachings of the Church of Glabados, specifically.  It’s not just their faith in God and all His jazz, but also in how God and said jazz are depicted, interpreted, and documented by the organized religion of Ajora.  That’s also a reasonable perspective, since the messages for a unit whose Faith is high enough that they’re leaving the group, and the warning messages for when that point is approaching, by and large show the individual doubting Ramza’s cause because it doesn’t jive with the teachings of the church (or doubting that Ramza can achieve anything through combat when the scriptures preach peace and faith as the ways to heal the world).  We assume, now, that the Faith score directly ties to a unit’s belief in the teachings of the church of Ivalice.  That being the case:

How the fuck is it rational for any party member in the game to maintain a high Faith score?

I mean, as the game goes on, shouldn’t the Faith scores of Ramza’s party start dropping drastically?  What with, y’know, this being the group that’s specifically laboring to expose the lies of the church and the truth of the past events regarding Ajora the false saint?  I dunno, maybe I’m just crazy, but I feel like if someone found hard evidence that Jesus was actually the son of Lucifer, and that his daily routine consisted of poisoning wells, kicking kittens, and being acting CEO of Ubisoft, that might lessen just how much stock the person puts in the Catholic church.  Ramza is holding a book in his hands that proves that Ivalice’s messiah was actually the prototype for Randy Pitchford, and that doesn’t lower his Faith in the church a single point?

Or maybe it’s a different scenario.  Maybe Faith is just a belief in the supernatural as a whole.  Sure, God, Ajora, all that junk is in there, but Faith also covers how much a character buys into magic, ghosts, statements made by Pete Hines, vampires, Santa Claus, the ability for the average citizen of the United States to retire, leprechauns, luck, superstition, and so on.  Faith is exactly as the definition of the word implies, signifying a belief in everything that isn’t immediately real and tangible.  This is, of course, backed up by the fact that the Faith stat directly influences how effective magic is when it is cast by or cast upon a character.

But if that’s true, how can anyone’s stat stay low after any battle with a mage?  What, you don’t BELIEVE that your buddy next to you just burst into flames as a mage pointed at him and shouted a catchy little slogan about it?  A lightning bolt just popped a squat on your ally’s head, he fell down dead on the ground, and that’s, what, a coincidence?  Your white mage wants to do something about the fact that your skin’s draping off you like old wallpaper after your last encounter with a samurai, and you’re gonna say “nuh uh all that hocus pocus is a scam!” rather than clap your hands and declare that you do believe in fairies, if by “fairies” they mean “not being bisected”?  Does a low-Faith character just watch the battlefield around her and genuinely think half of what’s going on is an elaborately staged bit of LARPing?

For that matter, ghosts are enemies that you can actively encounter in the game.  Animated skeletons, too!  And squaring off against a lame-ass vampire is an unavoidable part of the main story of FFT.  If Faith describes belief in the general supernatural, how does any unit’s score in it not rise when a ghost comes up to them and punches them in the face?  Does a party member with a Faith of 49 or lower just stubbornly insist, in this scenario, that there’s an above-average chance that his tooth just decided to dislodge itself?

And forget just fighting mages and ghosts and such.  How exactly does it work when you make a low-Faith character into a mage?  How exactly does a black mage not particularly believe in a spell when she herself casts it and sees the spell do exactly what she intended it to do?  Like, imagine if in the first film Luke asked Han Solo, “You don’t believe in the Force, do you?” and then after Han affirms this, Obi Wan pipes up with a “Yeah me neither.”  While he’s opening Han’s mini-fridge with his mind and floating a cold one over.  That’s what’s happening when a low-Faith character gets put in a magic-using role.

It’s not even consistent, really.  I mean, yeah, Faith will have an influence on the success of any and all abilities that count as “magic” by the game’s technical reckoning, but there is shit in FFT that doesn’t technically get calculated as magic which so clearly is magic.  Holy Knight abilities, for example, work completely independently of the Faith stat.*  Meaning that when Agrias swings her sword, shouts a strangely pithy yet abstract catchphrase, and calls forth a spectral blade up from the earth to give her enemy the worst kind of enema, it doesn’t matter whether or not the foe especially believes in magic ground knives, he’s still not gonna be sitting right for a good long time afterward.

I’m sorry, but how is it exactly that you can atheist away a lightning bolt when a dude in a robe summons it down onto your head, but when some hottie swings her sword to bring it down, THAT one you can’t just shrug off as superstitious nonsense?  I’ll give you that a few of these non-Faith-but-clearly-magical abilities are difficult to dismiss as fake--it would be hard to claim that Meliadoul’s Shellbust Stab is all in your head when the armor it broke is currently sitting in pieces around you--but plenty of these unique unit abilities are quite clearly just as unreal as the actual magic in the game.  More so, really, because things like fire and ice and lightning actually are real, physical phenomena, while I’m mostly sure that glowing broadswords sprouting out of the dirt like crabgrass are not.  Unless moles developing and launching tactical sword warheads is a regular and documented happening in Ivalice,** someone with a low Faith count should be way less doubtful of a spell evoking some fire, which is a thing they’ve seen before, than just about everything in Agrias’s arsenal.

And I haven't even gotten into the fact that monsters and animals also have Faith scores.  So depending on what exactly we believe the Faith stat to represent, at least 1 of the following is a cold, hard fact: that ghosts and animated skeletons in Final Fantasy Tactics are not fully convinced that they themselves exist, that demons in Hell don't completely buy into religious lore that is their own literal past, and/or that every random goblin, panther, and bird in Ivalice has given thought to the matter of, and formed a distinct personal philosophy regarding, the feasibility of a higher power and its presence in the works of man.

Yeah, it’s not a bad idea in theory, but in practice, Final Fantasy Tactics’s Faith doesn’t make much sense.  It’s capable of influencing the game more than just the battlefield alone (in that characters with too much will leave to pursue devotion to God), and it’s not unchangeable by human action, so we can safely regard it as a dynamic trait rather than solely as a battle stat...but once that’s done, as soon as we start thinking about FFT’s Faith at all, it becomes clear that the way it works doesn’t make any sense.

* Which in and of itself makes no sense; of ALL the Job Classes in the game whose abilities should have some interaction with the Faith stat, shouldn’t a Holy Knight be 1?

** Which if it is true, then what are all these idiots doing worrying about stuff like royal succession, societal upheaval, and the invasive incursions of the devil into reality?  They clearly have bigger issues demanding their attention.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Fire Emblem 16's Edelgard is the Worst

I don’t get why so many people sympathize with Edelgard, and even like her.  Because Edelgard von Hresvelg? She is a fucking moron.

First of all, let’s start with the most obvious, glaring fault in everything that Edelgard does: she is the most gullible fucking idiot she possibly could be.  Seriously, with the exception of Byleth herself, it’s like you have to have “CLEARLY EVIL” stamped on your forehead before Edelgard will even consider taking you into her confidence.  First and foremost example?  The Agarthans, or, as she herself calls them, Those Who Slither in the Dark.  Because that’s the title you give to someone you trust enough to watch your back, right?

And oh, here it comes.  Here comes the major, obvious objection you’ll have to this: “But Edelgard doesn’t trust the Agarthans.  She knows they’re using her, and plans to turn against them after she’s won against the Church!”  And yes, you’re right!  That is completely true--Eddy knows that her secret allies are snakes and evil, and she has every intention of turning on them once she has the opportunity.  Great.  Good.  Yes.  Fine.  Point for Edelgard.  I don’t dispute that.  What I do dispute, however, is the assertion that this clears her of being considered gullible, in relation to her alliance with the Agarthans.  In fact, I assert that if anything, this makes Edelgard even dumber.

Because, see, look at it like this.  Edelgard knows she’s in bed with backstabbers, and she’s taking steps to protect herself from their inevitable betrayal, and all that.  Good.  But HERE is the kicker!  It’s the Agarthans that told Edelgard that the Crests are Rhea’s fault.

So, just to establish and clarify: the Crests are inherited traits that signify individuals who have some demonstrable, though usually tiny, bit of divinity (in actuality, less “divine” and more “dragon”) within them, which can manifest itself as special abilities.  The Crests showed up way, way back in the times of yore as, to crudely summarize, the Agarthans’ original stooge Nemesis injected some of his buddies with dragon blood so they’d be stronger, and Rhea/Seiros responded in kind with a couple of her most trusted allies.  As a way to maintain a controlled society wherein a handful of people had slight superpowers and no viable explanation for why, Rhea invented some jazzy story of these folks being blessed by the goddess, which led to the establishing of a caste system of nobility and commoners (in which having a Crest makes you a noble) which would be a plague on Fodland’s society thereafter, as such systems almost inevitably are.  Hell, it’s even worse than most normal inheritance-based nobility systems, since there’s really no guarantee that a noble’s kid will inherit a crest, so your entire family’s fortunes aren’t even guaranteed to survive another generation once you’ve produced an heir.  So there’s more familial bad feelings and in-fighting and arranged marriage maneuvering and such than there already would be, as a result.  And there’s dark shit that goes on behind the scenes sometimes, because the Agarthans like to perform terrible experiments on Crest-bearers to see if they can make them more powerful, which has led people like Lysithia and Edelgard herself to suffer greatly from it.

Basically Crests are just a raw deal all around.

But the thing is, the Agarthans have deliberately led Edelgard to believe that Rhea is responsible for the Crests in Fodlan.  Which is essentially untrue--it was Nemesis, and thus by extension the Agarthans themselves, who are responsible for humans having Crests, and while Rhea did give some of her own allies radioactive spider dragon blood, it was fewer than Nemesis did, and it’s safe to say that she probably only did so initially as a way of countering Nemesis’s actions.  Hell, she might not have even known it was possible to empower human beings with Crests until Nemesis provided the example.  She sure as hell doesn’t seem the type to think enough of human beings under normal circumstances to have had any interest in doing so (although admittedly most of her disdain for the human species seems to have arisen from the fact that 1 of them ripped her mother’s spine out of her and whittled it into a sword).  While the lousy caste system of Fodlan is largely Rhea’s fault, and shame on her for that,* the Crests that provide the foundation and fuel for that lousy system are most certainly not.

And yeah, okay, Edelgard obviously wasn’t there, and the true events of the battle against Nemesis aren’t exactly easy to find an account of, so it would be understandable for her to believe misinformation given to her about that time period...if she was being fed that misinformation by ANYONE other than the Agarthans!  She knows these guys are assholes, she knows that they’re using her for their own gain, she knows that their greatest and most frequently employed tactic is deception...and she just chooses to completely buy the story that Rhea’s responsible for the Crests that Edelgard hates so much.  She knows the Agarthans are untrustworthy, knows they want to manipulate her, and yet decides to implicitly believe them on the 1 subject that they have the absolute most to gain from lying about.

I’m not saying that Edelgard wouldn’t have ended up making war with Rhea anyways, if Rhea had been a strong enough stickler for the Crest system that no peaceful option was available.  But the fact that Eddy just works on the assumption that peace is not an option from the start, the fact that she hates Rhea so personally that she wouldn’t even want to pursue an option beyond war to deal with her...that all stems from a lie that Edelgard was a fool to believe.

And her gullibility does not end there.  Actually, her idiotic trust in Hubert is arguably worse!

Hubert, who looks like Severus Snape did a fusion dance with Loki, is Edelgard’s second in command, her aide, her go-to guy for keeping her plans proceeding smoothly.  She tells him what she wants, and Hubert gets it done.  Edelgard says she wants him to investigate someone, Hubert gets a spy network on the matter.  Edelgard says she wants him to have her armies in place and ready to fight at a moment’s notice, Hubert sends the messages to her generals.  Edelgard says she wants to rule as a just, ethical sovereign, Hubert disregards this and keeps on having inconvenient people secretly killed, including instances when she specifically ordered them not to be.

Yes, that’s right.  Hubert doesn’t just look, act, and sound like he majored in Wormtongue and minored in Jafar, he follows through on it.  The person that Edelgard places the most faith in to bring her dream of a better society to fruition is also the guy who has no qualms whatsoever in acting 100% contrary to the entire point of that dream.  Edelgard didn’t seem to like it very much, earlier in the game, when she witnessed Rhea order her defeated enemies to be executed, rather than show mercy--but if Hubert is just going to go behind Edelegard’s back and do the exact same thing in a similar situation regardless of Edelgard’s official order to show mercy, then as a ruler, what’s the difference between Edelgard and Rhea, really?  It’s like a few months back, when China voted for the UN resolution to condemn Nazism, even while the CCP was (and is still) actively engaged in perpetrating a genocide on its own people that’s so Nazi-like that it’s hard to tell whether the CCP are plagiarizing Hitler, or just trying to make a loving homage to him.  Edelgard, what you SAY about being a morally good ruler doesn’t really matter if what your administration is DOING is ethically horrifying!

At least with the Agarthans, Edelgard’s (insanely stupid) belief in what they tell her is a case of her being manipulated by an outside force.  Hubert, on the other hand?  He’s on her side.  He’s a major factor in how her ideal world is going to be run, because she’s trusting him to carry out what she says.  In deposing Rhea, all Edelgard’s done, in terms of overall national leadership, is replace a politely openly tyrannical and merciless regime with a more secret tyrannical and merciless regime.  She puts her faith in a guy who’s basically Count Dracula’s creepy little brother, and she gets exactly what you’d expect from that, only she’s too gullible and stupid to realize it.**

And that illustrates another point on why Edelgard is an utter dipshit: she is her own biggest obstacle, and it’s frankly amazing that things go as well for her as they do, even in the paths of the game where she loses and dies.

First of all, of course, there’s the Hubert situation, wherein even if she’s successful and becomes the ruler of Fodlan, her government is in practice still a ruthless, heartless, murderous one in which she’s a goodnatured but utterly helpless and inconsequential figurehead, as Hubert breaks a bloody, nightmarish dawn on the better tomorrow she wanted.  But secondly, there’s who she prioritizes as an enemy.

Forget the moral implications of her alliance with the Agarthans, and forget how she’s an idiot for trusting what they tell her.  Let’s focus more on the fact that any fool can see that they’re a far bigger danger to Fodlan’s people than Rhea’s semi-tyranny is.  She knows from firsthand experience that the Agarthans are the kind of monsters who will do anything and everything they have to in order to achieve their goals (much like her trusted advisor Hubert, I’d like to point out yet again), and that includes awful human experimentation that results in the deaths of its subjects most often, and even in its success winds up causing pain and misery in those subjected to it.  And she knows that they’ll do this to anyone, not just her family, since she can recognize that they’ve done it to Lysithia, too.  Those Who Slither in the Dark are a real and terrible threat to Fodlan, as a whole, not just to the Church.

But what does Edelgard do?  She prioritizes making an enemy of Rhea, instead.  If it’s Edelgard’s intent to destroy both the Church and the Agarthans, then she absolutely should have been going after the latter first!  Simple risk assessment: if Edelgard defeats the Agarthans but falls to the Church, then Fodlan continues on as it has, and that’s not great, but Rhea’s reign and sins are a known quantity and Edelgard hasn’t created a worse situation for her country.  But if Edelgard defeats the Church but falls to the Agarthans, she’s left the entirety of her nation wide open and defenseless against a malicious organization possessing none of Rhea’s moral safeguards against excessive, needless, or extreme cruelty to human beings.  And yet, it’s Rhea, not the brutal terrorists and torturers, that Edelgard decides she needs destroy first and foremost.

Not to mention that Edelgard isn’t exactly chummy with her Agarthan allies.  True, Edelgard’s got a great poker face, owing to her being so stiff and poorly-written that she has all the emotional range of Hillary Clinton, or a block of granite.  But it still isn’t exactly hard for any Agarthan representative to glean, from any interaction with her, that Edelgard is not a big fan of theirs.  With their specialty being deception and back-stabbing, the Agarthans are plenty likely to see Edelgard’s betrayal ahead of time, and plan for it.  This isn’t like in the Golden Deer path, when Claude and company show up on the Agarthans’ doorstep unexpected and steamroll them as a result--the only way these assholes don’t see Edelgard’s betrayal coming a mile away is if they’re somehow even less intelligent than she is.  So they’ve got ample time to prepare countermeasures, a fact which is born out by the fact that the epilogue of Edelgard’s path implies that the war with the Agarthans was a long and difficult affair.

Here’s an alternative path Edelgard could have taken:

1. Establish self at monastery academy adequately, and meet with Rhea.
2. Spill guts about Agarthans.
3. Make a big show of helping Rhea to fight the Agarthans.  Knowing the initial movements of Kronya gives the opportunity to capture her and learn the location of Shambhala--her little panic in the game when Byleth’s coming for her ass gives me the impression that Kronya ain’t gonna be hard to make talk.***
4. During this campaign, do all the same stuff as was planned regarding having the Empire’s nobles replaced and forced to obey.
5. Once established as a hero who helped the Church save Fodlan from a secret threat, capitalize off the positive celebrity and the Church’s gratitude to ask that the Church pass a decree that Crests are no longer to be a determining factor in the selection of nobility.  Who knows, Rhea might just be happy enough at finally fully avenging her mom, and at the fact that she doesn’t have to keep such a close control over this whole Crest issue, that she’ll agree.
6. In the likely case that she doesn’t, however, use the occasion to launch an attack, as was planned originally.  Not only will Rhea expect it even less from Edelgard now that she’s been an ally, and not only will the Church have been weakened from its war against the Agarthans, but there will be FAR more discord within Rhea’s potential allies in the Kingdom and the Alliance over the circumstances.  After all, Edelgard has been established as a selfless hero, and even now her betrayal is coming after being publicly denied a request she’s made with the expressed intention of improving society.  She still may not find sympathizers in the Kingdom and the Alliance, but they also won’t be so quick to stand at Rhea’s side as they would have been.
7. Swiftly defeat the Church, capture Rhea, and display mercy to her in her incarceration, insisting that all that is wanted is the opportunity to create a Fodlan where ability rather than Crests determine worth.  With the Alliance and the Kingdom not already at arms over Rhea’s defeat, diplomatic methods of social change may be possible--and if not, they’re at least going to be easier to conquer and annex while not fully united against their enemy, and when their enemy’s victory would mean an improvement in the lives of a substantial number of rank-and-file soldiers and the majority of the citizens.

It requires a few lucky moments, but most of them are the same lucky moments that Edelgard’s existing canon plan relied on.  The main thing I’m trying to express here, is that there was an entirely separate gameplan that could have been explored by uniting with and manipulating Rhea, rather than the Agarthans, who are transparently as evil as Edelgard incorrectly believes Rhea to be.  And this alternate strategy provided more opportunities to change the world for the better peacefully, and gave her potential enemies less cause to unite against a clear villain.

But no, Edelgard’s let herself be convinced by the Snidely Whiplash Foundation that Rhea’s too evil to even bother trying to negotiate with, or treating humanely as a prisoner of war.****  So Fodlan’s transition to a Crestless society is going to have to come at the cost of a bloody, protracted war, at least 1 war crime, and then another bloody, protracted war right after the first.  Because Edelgard is an amoral nitwit.

You know, had Edelgard bothered to look into who her most prominent classmates at the monastery were, a longer but far less violent option for her social revolution could have presented itself.  I mean, consider this: during the same year as her own attendance, Sylvain, Claude, Mercedes, Lysithea, and Marianne are all her fellow students.  Sylvain, who hates Crests with a passion.  Mercedes, whose familial miseries are all founded in the Crest she and her brother bear.  Marianne, who feels that her Crest is a curse upon her existence.  Lysithea, whose future has been robbed by Crests.  Claude, who has an outsider’s perspective on the traditions of Fodlan and can see that there’s a lot about the country that doesn’t work well.  And hell, plenty of other significant figures of the Kingdom and Alliance would take very little convincing to agree that the Crest system is wrong--Felix values personal ability (as evidenced by his single-minded drive for combat perfection) and would thus likely be amenable to the idea of a society where that’s the measure of worth.  Hilda, meanwhile, hates the expectations people have of her due to her family, which is only a step away from the way the world views the holders of Crests.

These are all individuals who would have major influence on the Kingdom and the Alliance once they graduated.  Had Edelgard made a bid to win them to her way of thinking, she almost surely would have been successful, and at that point, she’d have the leader of the Alliance on her side, as well as nobles from the Kingdom who could bend Dimitri’s ear to support her (as Dimitri doesn’t really care 1 way or another about Crests, and his confessional note proves that he genuinely cares about the common people of his nation greatly).  Being at Gareg Mach means that Edelgard is rubbing shoulders with the leaders of nations and the most influential figures below them, and half of them already have good reason to want the same world that she wants.  If she’d made even the slightest effort to capitalize on this amazing opportunity to form friendships and make pacts, there’s every chance that upon graduation, the new leaders of the people of Fodlan would by and large be united in the cause of eliminating Crests from the social structure of their joint nation.  At that point, there wouldn’t be anything Rhea could do about the matter, even if she really did care about the Crest social foundation that much.  What’s she gonna do, declare war on 3 nations at the same time, all of which surround her?

Edelgard’s also a self-defeating dumbass in a few smaller ways, too, all of which are illustrated in the Blue Lion route of the game.*****  First of all, she’s 1 of those morons who remain tight-lipped for absolutely no reason even though it’s only going to cause her a bunch of problems due to misunderstandings.  When Dimitri decides, for some inexplicable reason, that Edelgard must have been responsible for the Tragedy of Duscur, Edelgard makes absolutely no attempt to correct his assumption.  Allowing this misunderstanding to stand makes her Dimitri’s sworn enemy and drives him to relentlessly pursue her death, which will eventually lead to her downfall.  And while she can’t know that this guy in particular is going to be the one to defeat her, what sense does it make to just allow a heated enmity to be formed over the only crime she didn’t commit?  What is there to gain by not saying, “That wasn’t me” even once?  Sure, there’s a good chance Dimitri isn’t gonna believe her, but surely she should at least make the effort, right?

She’s even more stupidly close-lipped later on in the Blue Lions story, too.  Once Dimitri finally snaps out of his tiresome Enraged Goth phase, he sets up a private meeting with Edelgard, because he wants to understand why she’s doing all this, what purpose she had for overthrowing the Church and trying to conquer the entirety of Fodlan, with the intent that perhaps it’s not too late for a resolution that doesn’t end in violent death for everyone on the losing side.  Which is surprisingly levelheaded, decent, and patient of Dimitri, honestly, and good on him for it.

So Edelgard shows up at this private meeting, and...refuses to tell Dimitri anything.  The leader of the opposing army--one which is currently kicking her ass, incidentally; it’s late enough in the story that Eddy’s steadily losing ground to Dimitri’s forces--asks her to explain her actions, clearly hoping that her reasons might be good enough that he doesn’t have to pursue her death.  And all she does is answer with a bunch of vague platitudes about how this will change the world for the better and it’s the way with the fewest possible casualties and blah blah blah.  At no point, at NO POINT, does Edelgard actually give any relevant detail or clarification of what she wants, why she wants it, how this was the only possible way to achieve it, ANYTHING.  She doesn’t explain why she believes Crest-based society and the Church need to be abolished, she doesn’t explain how she concluded that a backstabbing military coup championed by murder-obsessed mental patients like the Death Knight and amoral scumbags like Hubert would be the best way to bring about a just and peaceful world, she doesn’t explain why she (incorrectly, stupidly, gullibly) believes that the Crests are Rhea’s fault...Edelgard can’t be bothered to tell Dimitri ANYTHING beyond overgeneralized, grandstanding vagaries in this entire conversation.

Nor does she even make an attempt--hell, she doesn’t even seem to consider the possibility--to settle this conflict with Dimitri by, I dunno, saying that she’d leave the rest of Fodlan alone if he agreed to revolutionize society the way she desires.  I mean, if what Edelgard really cares about is creating a better world, and truly isn’t just seeking power for her own selfish ambitions, then shouldn’t she make an effort, when her enemy is approaching her with the intent of hearing her side, to offer an alternative resolution to war that will still accomplish what she most cares about?  Especially since, at this point, Dimitri’s army is basically knocking at her goddamn door; there is every reason for Edeglard to believe, going into this meeting, that she will lose this war.  She should be jumping at this opportunity to make her enemy understand how important her cause is since he’s looking to perhaps be the one who’s gonna wind up ruling this nation after all, and even more, she should be scrambling to make the most of this chance to find a solution that might accomplish what she set out to or at the very least allow her social revolution to live on in her Empire, if nowhere else.

But instead of laying her cards on the table, instead of pursuing a chance to turn her greatest foe into an ally and save the cause that she claims is more important than anything else, Edelgard doubles down and refuses to consider any possible alternative route to what she wants to achieve, even as her preferred method is falling apart around her.  Why did she even show up to this meeting if all she wasn’t gonna bother to talk?  It’s idiocy, lunacy, or egotism at work, and whichever it may be, it just proves that much more concretely what a stupid fool Edelgard is.

And there’s 1 more instance in this route where we see that the biggest obstacle to Edelgard’s cause is Edelgard herself.  At the end of the game, when the good guys have finally overcome her armies, stormed her palace, and defeated her, Edelgard spurns Dimitri’s attempt to spare her.  He offers her his hand, and she spits on this kindness as violently as she possibly could by throwing the dagger that symbolizes their former friendship straight at him, presumably aiming for his heart, given how close it winds up being.  This, of course, prompts Dimitri to finish her off, which one can hardly blame him for at this point.

But tell me: if Edelgard truly values accomplishing her goals for a new, better world as much as she enjoys claiming, then shouldn’t she have accepted Dimitri’s mercy?  If creating a more just, righteous society in Fodlan really is her greatest priority, then Edelgard is truly a self-defeating fucktard to provoke Dimitri into killing her.  Even defeated, even imprisoned, even put on trial, Edelgard would at least have some tiny chance of influencing Fodlan for the better.  As a prisoner she could still be in some contact with Dimitri as he begins the process of ruling and rebuilding Fodlan and might have some opportunity to convince him to work to undo or at least lessen the hold of Crests over Fodlan’s social structure.  Had she lived, there’d be no way Dimitri wouldn’t have needed to consult with her on many aspects of his becoming ruler of the former Empire’s territories; she absolutely would have had opportunities to convince him, to beg him, not to let her dream die in entirety.  Even if she were put on trial for her villainy, it at least would provide her with a platform to speak against the social structure of Fodlan and perhaps convince some of the war’s victors that change was still needed.

But no.  She’d rather die and accomplish nothing than to live and strive to accomplish at least a little.  For all the lip-service Edelgard pays to her goal of a free, merit-based society for Fodlan, the truth is that she only cares about it enough to accomplish it 1 way and 1 way only.  If Edelgard doesn’t get to have a better Fodlan her way, exactly the way she wants it, then to her it’s simply not worth fighting for.  What a self-important fucking child.

Oh, and let’s not forget, Edelgard hurls Dimitri’s mercy in his face and dagger in his shoulder without saying a single word about Those Who Slither in the Dark.  With her dies the knowledge of their existence, meaning that the Blue Lions route concludes with the greater villains of the story alive, well, and now able to operate entirely unchecked within the shadows.  Dimitri will take the throne of a land completely and utterly at the mercy of heartless, monstrous villains hidden behind every curtain of his throne room.  She could’ve said something to Dimitri, now the most powerful man in Fodlan, about the Agarthans, warned him, so that he could lead his forces against them while there’s still a chance to end the threat they represent, but nope, she chooses to silently defy him and force Dimitri to finish her off.  Because Edelgard may pretend to love Fodlan and want what’s best for it, but in reality, she’s a sore enough loser that she doesn’t mind condemning its people to the cloak-and-dagger terror and torment that the Agarthans will inflict upon it now that everything holding them back has been eliminated.

Edelgard is not a particularly likable, well-written character overall.  She’s stiff, defined largely by vices like stubbornness and spite, and she manages to somehow be shockingly 1-dimensional even while having more time and character development than just about any other character in the game.  But though her personality and lack of depth make her mildly unlikable, what truly condemns Edelgard as a person and a leader is the fact that she is incredibly gullible, has no sense of priority, chooses to close her mind to all alternatives to what she wants to do and believe, possesses catastrophic taste in allies and subordinates, and prefers complete failure to partial success, even if it means death and great harm coming to countless lives as a result.

Edelgard is the worst.

* Although I do want to say that it doesn’t take much imagination to see the way the Crests in Fodlan turned out to be a case of Rhea making the most of a bad situation she hadn’t been able to prevent, and just not being able to think of any better way to maintain some control over the land.  Frankly, it’s not exactly difficult to conceive the resulting class system being more or less the same even if Rhea hadn’t had any part in its creation, because, as the history of our own Crest-less world bears out, we human beings are drawn to creating these stupid shitty societies all on our own, anyway.  She’s obviously not blameless by any stretch of the imagination, but I do have a certain respect for Rhea trying to oversee, protect, and be caretaker to a species of creatures she despises out of love and honor for her mother’s memory, and the fact that she’s not able to do so perfectly can only be held against her so far.  If my own mother had been brutally murdered in her sleep, and had her bones turned into weapons that had been used in attempts to kill me and my siblings, you better believe I probably wouldn’t be as gracious and hard-working a caretaker to the people I blamed for it as Rhea is to Fodlan’s humanity.

** In fairness, if you pursue the support conversations for Edelgard and Hubert, she does get an understanding by their end of what he’s doing.  But this might actually be even more damning, because Edelgard doesn’t actually tell him, or even lightly suggest, to stop pulling this Yakra XIII shit.  The most that comes of this is basically just that she insists on knowing about the immoral acts he performs for her benefit, which, to me, sounds like an unspoken agreement to condone them.

*** This may seem like a slight leap of faith, but I’ll remind you that Edelgard’s canon actions are to wait until the Agarthans launch a nuke to figure out where it’s coming from.  She doesn’t have any real guarantee they’re ever going to do so (or that she’ll necessarily be out of its way when they do) before she finishes her campaign against the Church, so my proposal is no less a case of hoping things just work out than what actually happened in the game.

**** Just 1 more in the long list of Edelgard's fine qualities: crimes against prisoners of war.  Rhea can barely stand by the time she's rescued from Edelgard's clutches, and in most endings never recovers from this ordeal.  And keep in mind, Rhea is a goddamn DRAGON, a living goddess by the Fire Emblem series's reckoning.  She's not a frail, easily harmed being.  To bring Rhea to such a state, the only reasonable conclusion we can draw is that Edelgard was treating her defenseless prisoner terribly, and quite possibly actively torturing the woman.  And did so for years.  Because that's just the kind of Class Act that Edelgard is.

***** It took a couple years, but I finally found something this stupid route was good for!

...Although I already was well aware that Edelgard is a fucking idiot, so maybe not, after all.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Final Fantasy 7 Remake's Downloadable Content

So, I’m not exactly sure how this all will work, but what I think I’m gonna do is just put this out here now, and then update it later on when new installments of FF7’s unnecessary-but-surprisingly-not-terrible remake come out with their own add-on packs.

I don’t have much knowledge of what SquareEnix is like as a DLC creator in modern times, but knowing what the company's like just in general, particularly when it comes to creating new stories in the FF7 franchise, I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume that this is going to be crap.  But hey, I’m always open to, and desperately hoping for, a pleasant surprise.

INTERmission: Oh, THERE it is!  THERE’S the excessive, out of place, completely unnecessary, tone-deaf self-indulgence of Tetsuya Nomura, a man who’s made a career out of being a 14-year-old writer!  I knew it had to be somewhere in FF7 Remake.  I didn’t expect it to take as long as the DLC for him to finally rear his ugly head, but Thinks He’s Being Deep Nomura is back, baby!

Was this really what Yuffie needed?  Shallow, forced melodrama induced by a spontaneous villain whose graceless edginess makes Kingdom Hearts villains look subtle and well-rounded?

So basically, this little side-story is the completely superfluous tale of Yuffie happening to be in Midgar during the events of the game proper, but not actually doing anything that makes any difference whatsoever, teamed up with Sonon, a guy whose first line of dialogue might as well have been “I was specifically designed to die so you could have the feelz.”  Actually, no, the possibility that this DLC will never make any difference to anything in the main story is a best case scenario; the far worse probability is that the villains introduced at the end of this DLC, Nero and Weiss, will actually graduate into main plot relevance at some point.  I mean, Nero already clearly escaped from an adolescent’s moody album art doodles, so there’s no reason to think that this DLC will hold him.

EDIT: I'm told by Ecclesiastes that Nero and Weiss hail from FF7: Dirge of Cerberus, and are not original villains invented for this DLC.  Nothing could possibly be a better confirmation to me that my choice to never play that garbage was the right decision.  It only amplifies the negative impact they have on this DLC, though, as their presence means that INTERmission has committed the greatest sin it possibly could: canonizing FF7's abysmally shitty spinoffs.

Beyond just the overall story, purpose, and approach to INTERmission being an attempt to inject some of the excess Kingdom Hearts melodrama that Nomura’s glands produce instead of sweat into Yuffie, I’m fairly ambivalent about this venture.  I have no idea, for example, how I feel about making Yuffie so much cuter and peppier than she was originally.  I mean, it’s nice to have a more appealing character, but it also makes her seem so much less real a person than she used to be, particularly in terms of being a teen.  In FF7, Yuffie felt like an actual teenager--which could be annoying at times, admittedly--but here, she feels like the generic upbeat anime “teen” that typically gets written by people who must have been born 40 years old for all they can accurately represent adolescents.  It does make her more immediately approachable for the audience, I admit, and I actually find myself liking Yuffie probably more times in this DLC than I did in the entirety of the real FF7...but a hell of a lot of personality and uniqueness is lost in the process.*

Also I’m not sure how much of her appeal, for the first half of the DLC, is more due to her wearing a moogle cape and cowl than to anything she actually does herself.  Look, I can’t help being a sucker for moogles, and I’m not gonna apologize for it, either.

Anyway.  Beyond our protagonist Yuffie, the other members of this story’s cast are pretty weak.  I’ve seen vegetables that I’ve gotten more personal nuance and human authenticity from than Sonon, and the supporting NPCs in AVALANCHE are empty.  And yeah, okay, Sonon DOES have emotional baggage with his dead sister, which the writers drop right the fuck out of nowhere and start laying it on THICK once it’s out there, but frankly, it’s so transparently there for the purpose of having him sacrifice himself for Yuffie later as penance that it completely falls flat.  It almost feels a little insulting, how obvious it is that Sonon’s backstory is just a setup for some cheap, manufactured drama for Yuffie.  For a guy who already was giving off a strong Red Shirt vibe, Sonon’s character backstory does nothing to humanize him.  Finally, the villains suck--I cannot overemphasize just how laughable the try-hard edgelords Weiss and Nero are, from what little we encounter of them, and the rest of the time, Yuffie and Sonon are squaring off against Scarlet, who was not particularly engaging as a villain even in the original FF7 and certainly has had no favors done her by the modern take on her character.

Beyond Sonon’s listlessly screaming “I’M GONNA DIE SOON” at you and basically every time Scarlet opens her stupid tiresome mouth, the writing’s also just not great in general.  Yuffie’s new quirky little Dachao Bean thing is stupid and weird and cringy as hell.  The dialogue is often weird and stilted to an almost Xenosaga-esque degree--there’s this moment, going into the Advanced Weapons section of Shinra’s HQ,** in which Yuffie just out of nowhere starts talking about how her dad is a lazy jerkwad, with absolutely no provocation whatsoever, like someone on the team realized they’d forgotten 1 of the boxes on their checklist of what this DLC was supposed to introduce for Yuffie’s character and had to jam it in somewhere last-minute.  It gets all the weirder when Sonon responds to the tune of “Hey dude like maybe chill a bit” and Yuffie decides to just drop it because it’s not her favorite subject.  Uh, then why did you bring it up out of nowhere, stupid?

And sometimes things just don’t make sense.  Why the hell doesn’t Yuffie just kill Scarlet while she’s got her tied up and helpless?  Like, okay, interrogation, fine, but once Sonon seems to be in danger and the interrogation’s over anyway, why the hell not just kill Scarlet, real quick, and THEN run to help Sonon?  It’d be the work of a second, and Yuffie knows she’s the head of the Weapons Division.  What’s the point in Yuffie going out of her way to leave Scarlet alive?  Usually it’s the villains pulling the tired old “refuse to kill their enemy when they have the chance,” but apparently heroes can suffer this same brain fart, when the writers have tunnel-vision.

The peripheral stuff of this DLC isn’t all bad, in fairness.  The scene that Yuffie witnesses between Barret and Tifa after losing Cloud during the second reactor mission is quite good...I almost feel like maybe the characters of FF7R are each written by different teams, and the ones in charge of Tifa, Barret, and Aeris are made up of the people at SquareEnix who have actually played Final Fantasy 7 before, while everyone else are the ones who wrote for Yuffie...and also every single sequel, spinoff, and prequel that FF7’s had previously.  Also, the end of the DLC, which returns focus to the main party as they leave Midgar on foot and take their first real steps of this journey together, is quite good, and a nice finish to this first installment.

Overall, though, INTERmission can only generously be called empty and unnecessary.  It’s a story that didn’t need to be told that stars a character who doesn’t have anything to contribute yet, getting hit with tedious drama she didn’t need instigated by villains who aren’t appropriate to the game originating from a spinoff whose existence shouldn't be acknowledged.  What arguably positive changes are made to her character come at a price they may not be worth, and that dumbass Dachao Bean gimmick is so awkward and overplayed that the rest of this DLC could be the second coming of goddamn Mask of the Betrayer and I’d still be forced to question whether it was worth it.  It’s pretty telling that this add-on’s best parts are the ones that focus on the main adventure and don’t actually have anything to do with INTERmission’s own events and story.

Final verdict?  It’s bad, and you shouldn’t bother buying it.  Frankly, INTERmission’s not even worth the time it takes to play it (or watch a Let’s Play of it, as I did), so I can’t even recommend giving it a go if you get it for free.

Well, so far, I’m neither impressed nor surprised.  We’ll see what future DLCs for FF7 Remake shake out to as the story continues to unfold, but I’m not holding my breath, that’s for sure.

* I do, at least, appreciate that they remembered Yuffie’s crippling, hair-trigger motion sickness.  It’s not much, but it’s the little details of characters being remembered that are sometimes the most reassuring.

** Because we certainly didn’t spend NEARLY enough time in the depths of the Shinra building already during the main game, right?  How great to be back again for another extended visit.