Monday, November 11, 2019


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

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Tales of Series's Naming Oddity

Is it just me, or is the Tales of series very weird in how they name their games? No, I don’t just mean how some of the titles lately are just nonsense words with no meaning (what the fuck is a ‘zestiria’?). Others have poked fun at that far more effectively, not to mention succinctly, than I could. I mean in the sense that every game in the series I’ve come across to date* seems like it’s been mis-titled with the name meant for another installment of the series.

Like, take Tales of Symphonia. Now, given the name, you’d think the game would have a major theme of music, right? Like, the symphony. Symphony --> Symphonia, right? And the game isn’t totally unrelated to music,’s not really a huge part of it, as far as I can glean. Which isn’t by itself odd or a bad thing or anything; it’s not like, say, Vandal Hearts or Legena: Union Tides have titles that really make much specific sense, nor do several dozen other RPGs. It’s kinda the genre’s thing. Still...well, wouldn’t Tales of Symphonia have been a better title for Tales of the Abyss? I mean, Tales of the Abyss makes some decent sense as a title, since the abyss is an actual plot point to the game, but after a while, said abyss is sort of not really that big a deal to the plot. Just becomes a part of the world that you take in stride. But think about it--music is a huge, thematic component to the plot of Tales of the Abyss, because the game’s central, thematic conflict revolves around the question of whether destiny can be (or even should be) resisted and broken, and in TotA, destiny takes the form of a score, as in a song, laid out by some god thing trapped in the center of the earth or some such fanciful RPG gobbledegook. Point is, wouldn’t you think that for a game whose major plot point is a song of destiny, a name like Symphonia would have been a better choice, rather than for a game whose connections to music, tangible and abstract alike, are slight, even tenuous?

And the examples just keep piling up the more I look at the series’s history. Tales of Destiny, for example. Nothing especially strong, fate-wise, in ToD’s plot. But again, Tales of the Abyss would have been a great choice for the name Destiny, since, again, its primary concern is a question of mankind’s reaction to and conflict with inevitability. For that matter, Destiny would have been a fine name for Tales of Legendia, too, since the main point of its second half is that the heroes are opposing a recurring cycle of destiny that will destroy their world. Hell, it’d still work better for ToL’s first half than for ToD’s entirety, since the first half is about whether or not different peoples can come together to work and live in peace, in spite of the conflict and suffering that seems, historically, to be their ‘destiny.’

And heck, while the Abyss might be an alright name for the game it’s given to, and relate to something real and basic in the game, it might be, from a narrative standpoint, a better name for Tales of Zestiria, since that game’s ostensibly about purifying the human heart and pulling people and society up from the malevolence of their darker instincts, which is sort of like the abyss of their hearts. A bit of a stretch, sure, but I personally would like the thematic appropriateness over the simple fact that there’s an actual abyss in Tales of the Abyss. Or Tales of Zestiria could have been more appropriately named Legendia. Legendia is an okay title for the game that actually has it, in the sense that it’s a throwaway RPG title that wouldn’t conflict with like 95% of all fantasy RPGs in existence...but Tales of Zestiria’s got a lot of emphasis on the fabled history of the Shepards, and the events of the past having led to the game’s current conflict. Which would make Legendia fit quite well to it, while the actual Tales of Legendia doesn’t really have much in the way of fact, it’s unusual for how little it has to do with legends. Most RPGs have at least a couple! And for that matter, Tales of Symphonia also has a lot of its plot focus on events of the past and various legends, so that would have been much more aptly named Legendia, too.

And it even seems weird for the games of the series that I don’t know about. Like, maybe Tales of Eternia is, in fact, appropriately named. I wouldn’t know; it’s on my To Play list. But in case it’s not, then Eternia would have been a fine title for Tales of Phantasia, since ToP involves a fair amount of time travel in its plot, and the name Eternia sort of implies a focus on time. Tales of Hearts probably is well enough named, since hearts are a vague enough thing that most RPGs that involve any sort of dynamic characters could apply, but on the off-chance that Hearts doesn’t really have much to do with that title, it sure as hell would have been a great one for Tales of Zestiria, what with ToZ’s focus being on this poorly-explained ethereal miasma that’s born of and/or infects human hearts to make people into secret invisible monsters and so on.

It’s not like it matters or anything, of course. But this unique trait that the Tales of series seems to have of giving its games titles that would have worked better for other installments in the series did seem odd enough to be worth making note of.

* In fairness, that’s less than half the series, but still.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Millennium 5's Spontaneous Attention to Romance

Yes, I know none of you have played the Millennium series. Well, too bad. How am I going to keep my Followers count’s slim figure if I start making rants that anyone wants to read?

The Millennium series is an odd little quintology in numerous ways. The dialogue’s written crudely, with a seeming prejudice against many types of punctuation, yet frequently it’s well-spoken and witty enough that it doesn’t seem like there’s any particular lack of understanding for it that might come from a non-native speaker. It’s a 5-game series, yet feels pretty strongly like it’s just a single slightly long game that’s been chopped into pieces in a very arbitrary fashion...and yet it also does feel very right as a saga rather than a single title. Its setting seems pretty haphazardly thrown together according to what the plot needs when, but at the same time, it sort of does have a decent amount of lore going on with it. Altogether, it’s not a good series, only decent, and yet I found that I came away from Millennium with distinct fondness for the series.

But 1 of the weirder things about it, which I can’t really understand and think is vaguely detrimental, is the sudden decision partway through Millennium 5 to start throwing questions of romance into the mix of the party’s dynamics.

I mean, for the span of 4 games, we’ve got no hint of romantic interests in the cast. Well, besides Jack, of course, and to a lesser extent James, but I don’t qualify “strikes out with every female he sees with every other breath he takes” as romance. Obnoxious, yes, romance, no. Everyone else in the sizable party has better things to do with their time, and there certainly doesn’t seem to be any real chemistry between anyone present. Heck, most members of the party don’t even seem to especially like each other, even by the end of the game. Which is another of those oddities I mentioned about the series; rare is the RPG in which there are multiple characters in the main cast who don’t ever start getting along. Romance is just not on anyone’s radar from Millennium 1 - 4, completely unmentioned, not even vaguely hinted at, and honestly, it’s not really missed at all, when so many members of the cast barely even manage to work together as peers.

So, for 60 - 80 hours of the series, no one’s interested in anyone else, save Jack and James wanting to screw anything that owns a vagina. And then, a third of the way through Millennium 5, Benoit spontaneously develops a crush on Karine.

There’s absolutely no lead-up to this. Like, whatsoever. Completely out of left field. I mean, I’ll grant you, Karine and Benoit have been part of the team the longest, so he’s had the most time to know and appreciate her over anyone else, but no part of their interactions for 4 entire games have given any indication that he’s been developing feelings for her. The majority of their interactions have been Karine urging him to man up and stop being so pessimistic and cowardly, which doesn’t really strike me as the sort of thing that would inspire strong feelings of affection and attraction.* The rest of the time, they’ve just been putting in their 2 cents on the situations that come up around them. Where the hell have these feelings suddenly sprung from?

But eh, alright, whatever. If Millennium wants to suddenly add a forced, nonsensical crush into the narrative, so be it. Rapid Onset Romance is an old RPG tradition, after all.

Except that that’s not the end of it. For some reason, after this point, the game seems to feel it absolutely necessary to make romantic feelings and musings a repeating focus, potentially pairing up the ladies in the cast like they’re overstock items that have to be moved out of the warehouse at all costs. Marine gives Jack a moment of actual consideration, for some odd reason, and indicates that maybe she’ll seriously consider his advances if he does well in the upcoming tournament that they need to win (which doesn’t really speak well of Marine’s character, I have to say). A quiet moment between Blondie and Marine that actually provides some much-needed lore and character development for each of them devolves into an unexpected discussion of which boys in the party are cute, with Blondie talking about how Abu is totally her type. And of all the ridiculous things, Salome actually starts acting interested in the Bear. Uh, yeah, okay. No pairing in the history of video gaming has ever stunk so badly of ‘Writer Felt Obligated to Just Pair Every Woman Up with Someone’ as that.

What was it that really got your engine running about the Bear, Salome? Was it the unending stream of verbal abuse that flows from his mouth to every single person he meets, yourself included? His constant insistence that everything you and the rest of your friends are doing is completely futile and that you’re all worthless? Maybe you’re really into men so eternally pissed off that Vegeta himself would say, “Dude, chill the fuck out”? The guy has less emotional depth than Oscar the Grouch, for Kallu’s sake!

This unexpected and out of place focus on hook-ups even goes as far as the ending of the game, in which we’re told (in the cannon, good ending) that Marine eventually falls in love with and marries Lord Dragon. Which, I mean, is fine, I guess; if anything, their brief interactions still manage to form a stronger basis for possible romantic interest than Benoit’s and Karine’s, and certainly anything is better than throwing Salome at the Bear. But it still seems odd that there’s enough time for the ending to tell us what Marine’s love life will be, but not to let us know most other standard, expected ending things. Does her father ever come out of his coma? Does her mother ever have the curse on her lifted? How does every other party member’s life go? Who does what in Marine’s new government? How about some more details about how things progress for Mystland in regards to the rights of the peasantry, and how Mystrock’s society and economy change to deal with this?

Why do I come away from this series with a more complete understanding of the course of Marine’s love life than the resolution of her entire blasted quest!?

I dunno. I know it’s a small thing, but this really does bug me, because the sudden, uncalled for attention to schoolyard crushes in this last leg of the series takes a substantial portion of what little real development of characters’ interactions we get in this game. Maybe if Salome hadn’t been busy poking the Bear about his feelings on the ladiez, and then lamenting to Karine afterward about how it didn’t go so well, we could have instead gotten a scene that actually developed Salome and/or the Bear a little (Gaia knows he could have used it) as they have an honest conversation, followed by a scene in which she and Karine interact about something actually substantial and relevant to them or their quest. Maybe if we didn’t have to make Blondie and Marine’s conversation devolve into a “Well which boy do you like?” chat, we could have gotten more of the serious lore and character solidifying that it had been providing up until that moment.

Then again, maybe not. There’s no guarantee that anything better would have replaced this sudden, inexplicable romantic attention. It’s not like adding this RPG equivalent of preteen slumber party gossip took any actual effort that might have been applied to something else. Still, I hate the RPG standard of viewing romantic feelings as no more than a box to check off, and these insubstantial and completely spontaneous little flirtations with flirtation in Millennium are certainly no more than that.

* Then again, there’s precious little that Shion says to Allen throughout most of the Xenosaga series that doesn’t boil down to the same sort of emasculating criticism, and he’s inexplicably in love with her, too. Is this just a thing? Some trope I’m not aware of in anime/RPG culture, in which a guy just falls in love with a woman for the fact that she constantly criticizes his courage and worth as a man? Because it’s stupid, and offensively unhealthy. I’m not saying that Allen and Benoit aren’t whiny little milksops that need to get their shit together for quite some time in their respective franchises, mind you--they totally are. But I am saying it’s a big problem when those criticisms form the majority of the interactions off which romantic feelings can be based.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Mass Effect 3's Padok Wiks

Occasionally, when an RPG has multiple paths through its story and the gamer’s decisions make a difference to the events that unfold, but of these paths, 1 is clearly the better/best, something that’s legitimately good gets lost in the shuffle. Like, say, Roy’s death scene in Suikoden 5. There’s precious little about Suikoden 5 that’s memorable or interesting, but there is 1 part of the game that’s just legitimately great, a moving moment of selfless courage: the scene in which Roy gives his life in noble sacrifice and buys enough time for the heroes’ reinforcements to save the day. It’s easily the best part of the game, but the funny thing is, it’s not something that’s actually supposed to happen. You only see the scene if you’ve made a mistake and are headed down the wrong plot road. For anyone aiming at the better, true story path and ending, the heroes are never put into the situation that results in this scene, and Roy continues to live on, no one ever knowing what heroism truly lies within him. Which I’m fine with, I suppose, because I like Roy, even if a lot of that affection for him is, paradoxically, born from his death scene that never happened. But it’s still the best part of Suikoden 5, in spite of being 1 that you’ll never know exists if you’re making the right choices and experiencing the true storyline. But you get the general idea here--sometimes there are bits and pieces of non-cannon or otherwise ‘wrong’ story paths in RPGs that are actually real gems, gems that it seems a real shame to miss out on.

And no character better embodies this idea of lost excellence, I think, than Padok Wiks of Mass Effect 3. Most players will never get to know Wiks, because he’s a character whose role in Mass Effect 3’s story is simply to fill in for Mordin Solus, if Mordin died during the events of Mass Effect 2. But the vast majority of players are going to go through the lengths that Mass Effect 2 requires to keep their whole team alive and earn the best ending from that game. Heck, even in the case of players who choose not to finish ME2 with everyone on the team alive, Mordin’s the kind of exceptionally likable character who they’ll probably have made sure survives even when others didn’t. I mean, I can see someone who doesn’t care all that much about the ME2 cast shrugging as they see Jacob kick the bucket, but being much more likely to quit and reload a previous save if the same happens to Mordin, simply because Mordin is far more universally appealing.

So, for most people, the role of salarian hero and visionary who cures the Genophage in Mass Effect 3 will go to Mordin. And that’s good! Because it has more thematic weight when tied to Mordin, and his final and greatest act in life being the salvation and second chance for the krogan as a species and as a culture, is the perfect end to Mordin’s character arc. It completes arguably the greatest and most thoughtful character and personal journey in the series in a way that is satisfying and right. But it does mean that for most players, Padok Wiks will be no more than a minor NPC that Shepard converses with momentarily, never to be seen again. And that’s too bad, because Wiks is actually a terrific character, 1 of the best in the Mass Effect series and, by logical extension, 1 of the best in the RPG genre. So today, I want to make a rant in appreciation of this guy, and whoever the folks were on Bioware’s team who wrote him.

First of all, I want to say kudos to the writers for Padok Wiks just in general for making an awesome character. Padok Wiks manages to walk that line between funny-quirky and deep-meaningful perfectly, with amusing and engaging speech mannerisms and jokes that make his presence enjoyable and allow him to interact with and fit into the cast well, but also frank and creative philosophies governing his actions that draw you in and make you think, give him the depth he needs to stand as a legitimate part of the Mass Effect universe. And it’s such a creative depth, too! Padok’s musings on evolution and cosmic design as higher powers are fascinating to listen to and contemplate. He’s a character of faith in greater designs and fates, whose beliefs and evidence for his religious outlook stem from science itself--very cool. And he manages to be a character of great faith and beliefs without it being the defining trait of how he acts, which is pretty damn hard to pull off--how many other characters do you know for whom religious beliefs are the core of their motivations and depth, but who are subtle and well-rounded enough in personality that they seem as personable and conversationally nuanced as every other character in their group?

I also appreciate Wiks for being just an overall stand-up person. Without seeming like a deliberately over-ethical kind of guy, Wiks puts his career and very life on the line without a moment’s hesitation to right what he (correctly) sees as a great cosmic wrong: the slow extinction of the krogan people due to the Genophage. His view of the universe and the grand, overarching purpose of evolution tell him that to destroy the krogan for being what they were both evolved and called upon to be is a heinous mistake, and that they have a purpose and destiny that they must be given the opportunity to fulfill--a perspective which is, once again, quite interesting to hear him speak about, and makes him ultimately a very laudable hero.

Yes, Padok Wiks as a character is terrific, among the best that Mass Effect can offer--and 1 of ME’s major selling points as a story is its engaging and well-rounded cast, so that says something. But I also appreciate the fact that Bioware managed to fit him into the role he has to play as well as they did. First of all, they managed to make a significantly engaging, deep character that you can easily grow emotionally attached to, with only about, what, a fifth of the game’s time to work with? Padok has the screen time and role in Mass Effect 3 that in other RPGs would be relegated to an overall forgettable secondary or tertiary NPC who’s used as a plot device more than a character. No player is going to have anything more than a faint amount of respect and affection for, say, Dr. Emma from Wild Arms 1, or Sergei from Tales of Zestiria, because while these characters fulfill significant roles in the plot, and are overall basically likable, they don’t really have a lot of time to develop in, nor is there any real interest on the part of the writers in having them do so. Characters given the time and significance that Padok Wiks is afforded tend to just be static, reliable friends to the heroes who do and say little that makes them stand out as someone interesting or layered. They’re functional, they’re perhaps mildly likable, but that’s it. So the fact that Bioware makes so much of Padok in such a limited time is impressive.

Of course, that probably is largely because, let’s face it, Padok’s a stand-in for a well-known, well-beloved character in the franchise, so the room and focus is already there on that role in the game--it’d be a dick move, not to mention probably even a little challenging, to fill the role of such character-driven weight as Mordin’s with a character written carelessly. Still, they didn’t have to go as far as they did for Padok to make him work--just look at the Legion VI that can replace Legion in the next major arc of the story--so I do applaud Bioware on this point.

On the subject of how well Padok fits into Mordin’s role, let’s also look at the quality of his motivations and beliefs. I have to once again tip my hat to Bioware on this point, because Padok fits flawlessly as a character into the role of Genophage-curer created for Mordin, for reasons that are entirely Padok’s own. That has got to be tough--to have designed a role to perfectly fit the personality, history, development, and motivations of 1 character (Mordin), yet then have to find a way to fit another character, who has to be substantially different, into the same role, and make it work. We know why Mordin feels compelled to cure the Genophage and save the krogan people--the guilt that he’s become less and less able to rationalize away from the period of ME2 through ME3 about his involvement in continuing the genophage, and the firsthand experience he’s had with the krogans and Tuchanka that has helped him understand the horrors of not just what the Genophage has done to them physically, but spiritually. It’s why the completion of his character arc, which started in Mass Effect 2, is such a profoundly moving and meaningful part of Mass Effect 3, possibly the greatest component of its excellent (until-the-last-second) story.

And yet, somehow, Padok manages to comfortably fit into this story slot written for Mordin, yet for reasons entirely his own! Padok owns none of the guilt of Mordin, and we’ve never seen him experience the Genophage’s horrors up close. His reasons for his unassailable need to restore the krogans are, as far as we can tell, purely philosophical and belief-based, in no way personally motivated, the way Mordin’s are. For Padok, it’s a question of the bigger picture of the universe, a (well-reasoned) faith in the need for each species to serve its purpose or die out naturally. It really is a fascinating blend of the spiritual and the scientific...but in so being, Padok’s cause for solving the Genophage is completely divorced from Mordin’s, yet fits just as well. Mordin is motivated to risk his all for what he has come to understand is right, emotionally, while Padok is motivated to risk his all for what he has come to understand is right, spiritually and logically.* Padok’s sincere belief that all species have a part to play that they must allowed, and in evolution as a form of fate and higher power, gives him just as great a cause to wish to end the Genophage, an artificial limiter placed on a species’ development, as Mordin has. So long as we believe that either character is willing to give everything he has and pursue his cause to the end, each fits exactly what is needed for the game’s role of Salarian who sacrifices himself to save a people not his own. Again, impressive work on the part of ME3’s writers.

Oh, and as an aside, I like the fact that this confirms that the Genophage is an atrocity on every level, in that we see a character that feels its wrong in Mordin, and a character that knows its wrong in Padok. And hey, beyond my personal feelings, that fact does kind of strengthen the impetus that the plot gives us to guide Shepard and company in curing it, so in a small, indirect way, Padok is good for that, too.

I also appreciate Bioware’s making Padok a character that, despite needing to be available to replace him physically, doesn’t attempt to replace Mordin emotionally. Although the characters of the game cannot know, of course, that they were supposed to be working with Mordin in this part of their tale, the presence of another quirky Salarian scientist on the Normandy is understandably enough to remind Shepard, Joker, and several others aboard the ship of their fallen comrade, and even as they talk about Padok and the player gets to know this new character, everyone also reminisces about Mordin. Mordin is not forgotten by the characters, and the player clearly isn’t being asked to ignore him and his history with the series. Joker even calls Padok ‘Not-Mordin.’ If anything, it’s another perspective we’re given of Mordin as a character, to see the emotional hole his absence creates. Hey, don’t knock that--sometimes a huge part of a character, and other characters through their relationships, can only be understood and explored after death. Shadowrun: Dragonfall does this quite well with Monika, and Alice’s death creates a far better and more nuanced character of Yuri in Shadow Hearts 2, for examples. Anyway, Mordin’s far from forgotten with Padok Wiks in his place, and that’s an appropriate, believable, and respectable thing.

1 last thing I want to say in this appreciation for the unsung excellent character of Padok is that, and I know this is heresy but bear with me, in a couple regards Padok is actually better than Mordin. Yes, yes, I know I’m evil, but hear me out. In most regards, I agree that Mordin is a little better as a character, but there are a couple points that Padok beats him out in, minor though they may be. First of all, I would argue that Padok is actually an even better person than Mordin. Wonderful though Mordin is, a huge part of his motivation to do right and end the Genophage is a wish to make up for his past mistake. Now don’t get me wrong, that is a very noble and righteous motivation. But Padok? He has no personal stake like that. He just honestly believes that this is for the good of the universe, and for that, for no more than the very concept of right and wrong, Padok Wiks gives his life. Again, I am not knocking feelings of responsibility and the need to rectify past misdeeds, those are very good causes. But, to me at least, the wish to do good for no more than the sake of doing good is an even greater heroism. I suppose it’s subjective, but that’s how I feel, at any rate.

Secondly, epic and inspiring as Mordin’s speech is, is pretty damn hard to top Padok’s final words to Shepard as he goes to give his life for his cause. They’re awesome in text form, but honestly, a lot of it is in the voice actor’s delivery, too, so I’m just gonna link you to it. 0:55 - 1:16 of this: Damn if that’s not magnificent to me. Mordin’s great in this scene, but Padok’s is a final speech for the ages.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: when you discount the ending, Mass Effect 3 is a truly spectacular RPG. Really, you can see the transition from Mass Effect 3 into its ending as the symbol of Bioware’s transition from a dignified collection of storytellers capable of creating excellent products into the sloppy shit-show the company is now. But if I am to frequently point and laugh at the garbage Bioware presently makes, and criticize their now constant failures as creators and people, then I must be fair, and remember to credit them for what they once were capable of. And few of their accomplishments is as underappreciated as Padok Wiks. So I give full praise to Bioware for this character. Not many players may know Padok, and fewer still may care to pay attention to him enough to appreciate him for his unique traits...but to me, at least, Padok Wiks is as much and as worthy a part of Mass Effect as any other among its unforgettable cast.

If you’re interested in getting to know this character, and either enjoying him as much as I do or shaking your head in disgust and wondering what the hell I’m going on about, you can find a compilation of pretty much every part of Padok’s time in Mass Effect 3 here:

* Not to say that Padok is some stoic Spock type, or that Mordin isn’t thinking long and hard about the important long-term, or anything. Padok is very warm and engaging with everyone, including the krogan Bakura, and Mordin has clearly put significant thought into what the future holds for the krogan, as seen by his assessment, once the Genophage cure is about to be put into effect, of how the krogan as a whole will be as they go forward, depending on whether Wrex and Bakura have survived. I’m just saying that the primary motivation for Mordin is what’s morally right emotionally, while for Padok it’s what’s morally right intellectually, and what justifications they have beyond that starting point are simply built upon their primary motivator.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Fallout 4's Best Mods

Fallout 4 is awesome and I love it. I wouldn’t change a thing about it!


No, wait, I totally would. And so would quite a damn lot of other people, it seems, because the modding scene for Fallout 4 seems to be even more ferociously prolific than for the previous installments in the series. The mods for this game range from the useful (such as many fixes to bugs in the game--it may not seem like much, but those sparking wires and misplaced elevator buttons were really driving me crazy!), to the shamelessly bizarre (wanna fire baby-shaped nuclear explosives at Macho Man Randy Savage as you travel the wasteland with a supermutant wearing a milk vending machine, searching for hidden caches of cadbury cream eggs to steal from Doctor Zoidberg? Go right ahead, my friend).

Beyond outrageous fun and improvements to basic functionality, however, there are also many mods for Fallout 4 which legitimately improve it as a Fallout title, mods which I, personally, believe enhance the game to an extent that they should be included in any playthrough, not just for fun or utility, but because they make it a truer Fallout experience. And so, as I did for Fallout 3 and may at some point do for Fallout: New Vegas, I’m going to share with you all a list of the Fallout 4 mods that I believe are an essential addition to Fallout 4, which capture its essence and enhance it.

Do keep in mind, of course, that there are many enjoyable and well-made mods out there in addition to the ones below which are quite good--I’m quite partial, for example, to We are the Minutemen, which basically solves a bit of a logic hole regarding the representation of the faction’s strength over time, Diamond City Expansion, which makes Diamond City feel more like the major city it’s supposed to be, and The Secret of Huntress Manor, as it’s pretty much the only campaign mod I’ve seen in a Fallout game that’s immersive and captures the feel and style of the series. What’s below is just a list of mods that I believe, in 1 way or another, make Fallout 4 a more whole experience overall. Like, if a flavor mod such as The Secret of Huntress Manor is icing on Fallout 4's cake that enhances it without any contradicting flavors, then the mods below are the ingredients you add to the cake to make it the best that it can be.

I'm not sure that metaphor is especially good, but I'm hungry.

The Wild Wasteland: 1 of Fallout 4’s few real weaknesses as a Fallout game is that it’s largely forgotten that occasional random silliness is a core element of the series. From the very start, the Fallout series has been an entrancing mix of 90% serious, thoughtful storytelling and cultural analysis, and 10% ridiculous gags. Dead red shirts, seeing the TARDIS taking off, encountering characters from Monty Python or Pinkie + The Brain, finding a bar in which character models from the first Fallout gripe about their roles (or lack thereof)...the first couple Fallouts have tons of instances of wacky nonsense scattered throughout, and Bethesda just doesn’t seem to remember/know/care about it. Fallout 3 didn’t have nearly enough goofy little scenarios and references, and Fallout 4 has even fewer.

This mod, however, takes a page from Fallout: New Vegas’s book, and adds a ton of locations, encounters, and items to Fallout 4, scattered around the wasteland, that you can stumble upon and chuckle at, all denoted by New Vegas’s little weird sound chime when you find them. From a Steven Universe reference, to an alien outcast who seemed to go renegade for his obsession with Giddyup Buttercup, to a gaggle of callbacks to previous games in the series, this mod’s got a lot of fun stuff to find, and is a worthy part of the Fallout 4 experience by not only restoring the comedy to the soul of the series, but also adding a substantial amount of locations to the game to explore and enjoy. I will say that at times The Wild Wasteland feels a little like it’s going overboard, or adds an item or reference that does feel slightly out of place even considering the spirit of the mod...but ultimately, the increase and improvement to the Fallout experience that it brings to the table far outweigh these slight and insubstantial misgivings.

Beantown Interiors Project: Remember that great Fallout 3 mod, my favorite of the ones I outlined as improving that game, DC Interiors Project? Well, in that same spirit comes Beantown Interiors Project!

As I said while recommending its predecessor, a huge part of Fallout is the exploration of the post-apocalyptic wasteland. Fallout’s setting is the most integral part of the series, and exploring it is a vital part of Fallout’s soul. Much of the series’s gravity and narrative comes from its ambient storytelling, which is only accessible through exploration. Fallout 4 is leaps and bounds above New Vegas and 3 in this department, with far more settings to explore, dotting a larger map, than any other installment of the franchise to date. And yet, in spite of the vast number of buildings you can enter and explore in this game, there are still significantly more that are boarded up, inaccessible, just soulless scenery. Boston, Cambridge, Lexington, Concord, and so many other locations have so much more potential than is being used! So, any mod that expands this unused real estate into more immersive, interesting locales for us to explore and experience the postapocalyptic Commonwealth is a very good one, in my book.

With that said, Beantown Interiors doesn’t entirely live up to its legacy. DC Interiors, I think, had far more creativity and detail put into most of its locations...Beantown Interiors has a bad habit of simply filling the buildings it opens up with a tremendous amount of debris and clutter, and calling it a day. Which is still a positive addition, make no mistake, and admittedly does mesh better with the whole post-nuclear-war thing than much of the actual game’s content does. But it does seem like less thought went into this iteration than DC Interiors, at times. Also, I don’t really see the point of adding the lawn gnomes and the mad bomber items; it’s like someone just mashed 2 separate mods into this project because Beantown Interiors is the only mod of the 3 that anyone’s gonna pay any attention to. Nonetheless, it’s still a positive addition, and there are some spots that Beantown Interiors adds that are pretty neat, so I do definitely recommend it.

Everyone’s Best Friend: Alright, which moron at Bethesda did it? Who was the guy/gal with the IQ of a mollusk who decided that you have to choose between having Dogmeat or any other companion accompany you? This is Fallout. You’re not supposed to have to make a tradeoff to have Dogmeat. You’re supposed to just be able to have a dog at your side, always! No questions, no sacrifice of having any other party member! 1 of the biggest inspirations for this series is the (fairly disturbing) 1975 film A Boy and His Dog, for Garuda’s sake!

Thankfully, this mod exists, and with it, you can have Dogmeat stay by your side, without having to go without a regular party member. Having Dogmeat by your side is a Fallout staple, and hearing the reactions of the various party members to new locations and situations is an important part of the narrative of Fallout 4, so this mod is definitely 1 that I think every player should make use of.

Combat Zone Restored: A lot of the intended content of the Combat Zone in Fallout 4 didn’t manage to make the deadline, and unfortunately, it shows. Sometimes stuff cut for time isn’t obvious--I like the mod The Lost Building of Atlantic, but I wouldn’t have been able to tell there was anything more that had been planned for Atlantic Offices on my own--but since the Combat Zone is where you recruit Cait, it piques your interest a lot more than a random raider location otherwise might, and this extra scrutiny highlights just how abrupt it seems.

This mod restores the content that was cut, and adds/fixes what’s missing/bugged to bring the place up to the standards that were originally set for it. The Combat Zone Restored makes the process of recruiting Cait more involved, which better fleshes out her character and the character of her manager, and recovers the Combat Zone’s functionality as an arena. It’s good for both the character and the lore, so it’s worth having.

Piper Interview Restored: Not everything can make the cut in any game. Hell, not everything should. Still, sometimes you have to look at what got left on the cutting room floor, scratch your head, and wonder why in the world it didn’t make it in. Such as the content that this mod restores. Some of the questions and responses during Piper’s interview early in the game apparently didn’t make it into the finished product, yet, from every way I look at it, they’re completely compatible to the lore, character integrity, and themes of the game. Not only that, but these extra bits make the interview better overall, and assist in developing the Sole Survivor, as well as potentially underscoring the major message of Fallout. Reminds me a bit of Bioware’s inexplicable removal of several lines from Anderson and Shepard’s final conversation in Mass Effect 3. Anyone playing Fallout 4 absolutely should have this mod installed, so they can hear the full thing.

Cut Content: Sanctuary Terminals: Another bit of content that it just doesn’t make any sense to have cut from the game, here. There’s a couple terminals that were created for Sanctuary which didn’t make it into Fallout 4, but they’re still coded and have the entries in them, and given that they better develop Nora and Nate as people (in ways that are completely compliant to their characters, I want to emphasize), I think it’s preferable, even advisable, to use this mod to restore them.

Stumble Upon Interiors: This, to me, is a truer successor to DC Interiors than Beantown Interiors is. This mod adds 8 new interior locations to the Commonwealth, utilizing several otherwise unused boarded-up locations scattered about Fallout 4 to provide you with a bunch of new places to explore and experience, all of which feel completely true to the game, in both their construction and in their light ambient storytelling. Great stuff!

MsRae's Commonwealth Interiors: In the same vein as Stumble Upon Interiors, this mod also adds several new locations to the Commonwealth that you can come across while exploring, all of which, again, feel authentic to the Fallout universe. I had an issue with a couple of the new locations causing slowdown for me, so be aware of that, but since this mod is pretty new, I can only assume that will be addressed in a future update, and all but 2 of the locations worked just fine. This is another mod that provides more of the classic Fallout exploration that the game, huge though it may be, could use a lot more of, so check it out.

Inside Jobs: Same deal as Stumble Upon Interiors, really, in that this, too, adds many interiors to those unused buildings in the game, which all feel authentic. And I gotta say, a lot of these locations look great; the author of this mod really knows how to create atmosphere with lighting. Seriously, some of these locations are basically art. I absolutely love this mod, and heartily recommend it.

Atomic Radio: The last mod I’ll be recommending today is also my absolute favorite of all the ones I’ve seen for Fallout 4, Atomic Radio. This is a rather simple mod that adds a new radio station to the game for you to listen to whenever the mood strikes you. Not a big deal, right? There are tons of radio mods out there. But what I really love about this 1 is that in between playing the standard Fallout music that you can find on Diamond City Radio, Atomic Radio has all kinds of commercials and radio shows which use Fallout 4’s lore. There are ads for dozens of the items you find in the game, from Nuka Cola on down to brands of the junk items you find, such as Suprathaw Antifreeze and Abraxo, as well as various prewar businesses whose locations are found in the Commonwealth, such as Wicked Shipping and Joe’s Spuckies. There are also various trailers for old timey movies, as well as for episodes of Grognak based on the covers of the Grognak comics you can find in the game. Added to that are various Cold War era-esque propaganda PSAs, a couple lore-friendly talk shows and game shows, and several radio skits dramas, including little Twilight Zone-styled episodes. Remember how much I liked the Fallout 3 mod that restored cut commercials to Galaxy News Radio? This is like a whole radio station of those enjoyable tidbits!

And it’s worth noting that the execution is as great as the idea itself. The voice acting in these is clean, clear, and spot-on, and the production value is so high that you would never know this wasn’t intended to be a part of the game. It’s all written really well, too, with most of these ads and programs having the same sort of commentary on American past and present culture as Fallout itself makes. Not to mention, almost all of it is really funny, and a few of those little dramas are actually pretty cool and/or compelling. And, of course, it checks out completely in that most important of categories to me: it’s completely, 100% immersive; Atomic Radio feels truer to Fallout than some parts of the actual game do! Kris Takahashi, the mod’s creator, clearly possesses a perfect understanding of and appreciation for both the lore, and the heart, of Fallout, not to mention a great sense of humor. This is professional work, no 2 ways about it, and it’s a great way to give yourself something new and fun to listen to as you explore the wasteland and build up your settlements--especially since this mod does not skimp out on the content; back-to-back, all the shows and ads and whatnot in Atomic Radio total to around 4 hours! When regularly interspersed by the normal radio songs, this mod will last you a good, long time. It’s definitely my favorite mod for Fallout 4, and I heartily recommend it. No playthrough of Fallout 4 should be without Atomic Radio.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Energy Breaker's Attention to Background Details

Energy Breaker, an SNES RPG that has had a fan translation completed for it, seems to be a big name in obscure 16-bit RPGs that never got a release in the United States, like Terranigma and Bahamut Lagoon. I’ve had a couple of people put it on my radar, including our very own Humza, with his neat guest rant a little ways back. And honestly, now that I’ve played it, I don’t see what the big deal is. It’s alright, maybe even good, but little about its story and characters really stands out to me. Playing it wasn’t a negative experience by any means, but I thought I’d get more from it.

There is, however, 1 aspect of Energy Breaker that I really was impressed with, small though it may be: the care and attention that the game’s background details got. As you go through this game, Myra can examine and comment on a remarkable number of objects and nuances of the background. She can complain about the dustiness of a bar’s counter, or admire how great she looks in the reflection of a bucket of water, or comment on the weather though a window...there’s all sorts of stuff she has to say about her environment. It actually serves to characterize Myra a bit, in that her flippant and spunky personality and outlook is quite well-cemented simply by the way she frequently cracks wise or grumbles about all sorts of stuff as she comes across it.

Now, of course, this is not unique to Energy Breaker. Plenty of RPGs do this, having protagonists comment on the various objects of interest in towns and dungeons as they come across them. Sometimes games even make it a recurring joke, like Atelier Iris 1’s odd thing of having party members shout “Barrel!” every time you investigate one, or make these comments on surroundings into an entire conversation, as some Tales of games have conversation skits devoted to landmarks and oddities you discover while wandering around towns and dungeons. And there are certainly some RPGs out there in which there are as many and as frequent opportunities to have characters comment on (or the narration do so) the various parts of the environment you can examine. Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle and Undertale are quite amusing and charming in this, with lots of quirky and funny comments to be found throughout each game, as are Earthbound and Mother 3.

But even if Energy Breaker isn’t the only RPG to use commentary on its environments as a method of characterization, or even the only one to do so to a major extent, I can say that it’s still the most impressive to me for how meticulous it is with it. Because, see, Myra’s observations on a bit of the environment around her are not necessarily static. Oh, certainly, some things never change--she’ll be forever annoyed with the lack of dusting the innkeeper does in Myra’s room, for example--but where appropriate, Myra’s commentary changes as the game marches onward. When looking out the window, for example, Myra may comment on how nice the day is...but later in the game, after there’s been some huge explosion, examining the same window will see Myra commenting on the plume of smoke she can see in the distance. Later still, when some serious plot shit goes down and the world’s ending with the sky turning red, examining the window again has her comment on the current situation.

The game’s even careful of details for small stuff. I mean, the window thing gives you an idea of how much focus Energy Breaker’s creators put on having the ambient details of the game line up correctly, but you could point out that the window is slightly connected to plot events (in that the changes to Myra’s observations always seem tied to things that are actually happening), so it deserves a little extra focus. But Energy Breaker even makes accommodations for the changes to game environments that are too tiny to have any story importance. For example, there’s a married couple who stay at one of the Olga Town inn’s rooms for...let’s say about half the game, or so. If you have Myra examine the beds in the room, she makes a comment for each on the state the bed is in. After the couple leaves the room, however, if you have Myra examine the beds, her commentary changes. Now, really think about how tiny a thing that is. The developers of this game wanted to make sure that, on the off-chance that a player actually cared to examine the beds not just once, but multiple times through the game, Myra would have a relevant observation to make at all times, whether it be noting that 1 of the beds smells of man sweat while there’s a man staying in the room, or later discovering that said smell is no longer present now that the room is empty of boarders.

Most other RPGs would just have Myra’s initial comments on the state of the beds stand, unchanged for the rest of the game. There’s no substantial cause to go to trouble to change examination script for any given object in the whole damn town each and every time the slightest event might, conceivably, alter how a character sees or otherwise interacts with that object. As far as most games care, no amount of washing and changing will ever remove those bedsheets’ saturation of masculine stink. But Energy Breaker has such incredible dedication to keeping every tiny part of its environment alive and flexible that even tiny things like this are carefully kept up with. And while the dividends of this focus and effort may seem quite meager, it nonetheless does promote a greater desire to keep interacting with Energy Breaker’s world in the player, a greater immersion into the game, and also assists in giving the protagonist a little extra personality here and there. I’ve said it before on issues like the skits from the Tales of series, or party members bantering with each other during/after battle, but when it comes to creating memorable characters in your game, the little stuff is at least as important as their major, plot-related character arcs. And that’s true here, too, for a lot of the quirks in Myra’s personality really come out and stick in your head through her interactions with the world around her.

So kudos to Energy Breaker on this point. Not a lot about its story and cast stands out to me overall, but I do think that its dedication to its ambient details is very laudable.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

General RPGs' AMVs 15

Yup, I was short on rant ideas again. Sue me.


Final Fantasy 8: Final Devotion, by Lunarstudios:
The music used is To the Moon and Back, by Savage Garden. This is 1 of those AMVs that’s so damn good that it’s really just barely shy of deserving its own rant. The timing and scene selection is excellent, perfectly following both the mood and rhythm of the song, and its lyrics. And the latter is a real accomplishment, because this is a long song, and it’s 1 of those songs whose focus is on telling its story, making the act of following along with said story much more challenging. The only flaw I can say this video really has is the fact that it’s kind of hard to sustain a roughly 6 minute song with FF8’s FMVs alone, particularly when they’re so carefully restricted to coordinating with the song’s nearly always present lyrics...but even as it gets a little old, it’s still really good. Really, this is just an expert AMV from start to finish; that’s all there is to say about it.

It’s a shock to me that this isn’t the best AMV of today’s lot, actually, but I suppose that really just emphasizes how truly excellent All About Us one further below really is.

Final Fantasy 8: Mentos, by Jimbo Studios Entertainment:
The music used is from a Mentos commercial, by who the hell knows. There’s nothing to say about this. It’s just glorious.

Final Fantasy 9: Demons, by Argol:
The music used is Demons, by Imagine Dragons. This is a really well-made AMV that consistently matches the scenes of Final Fantasy 9 to the lyrics of the song extremely well, and has a good eye and ear for keeping the visuals of the AMV appropriate to the tone of the song, as well. It’s one of those cases where it’s more the game being worked to fit the song, rather than the song fitting to the content of the game, but there’s still plenty of synergy between them that goes both ways. Overall, this is just a really strong AMV.


Fire Emblem 14: Believer, by TheHeroStainedRed:
The music used is Believer, by Imagine Dragons. This is a solid AMV that shines for how well it pairs the game’s footage and action to the heavy, powerful beats and tone of the music. I hadn’t really noticed just how much of FE14’s cinematics were devoted to pain, death, and heavy movements, but apparently there’s enough there to adeptly coordinate with this entire song.

Fire Emblem 14: Hey Brother, by Artishe:
The music used is Hey Brother, by Avicii. Alright, in fairness, when it comes to making a Fire Emblem 14 AMV, pretty much half the job is already done for you the moment you get a song primarily about brothers and sisters. Still, this is a skillfully made AMV which competently takes advantage of the automatic connection between song and game, and ties them together into a solid video about the focal point of Corrin’s character and motivations: her family. The tone of the song is pretty well connected to the scenes shown, too, which is also nice.

Fire Emblem 14: This is War, by Hawkscape:
The music used is This is War, by 30 Seconds to Mars. Again. Ugh. Okay, so this is a very strange AMV, because its first half is such a creative, thoughtful, and well-executed take on the lyrics of This is War that it actually makes the song seem fresh and interesting again. Awesome! And then...the AMV transitions into the second half, skipping to the end of the song and the end of the game, and it’s just boring. I mean, the scene and actions in it fit to the song well enough, but overall you’re just watching an almost unaltered video of the end of FE14, to a song which sucks. It’s baffling, honestly; this boring section is by the same guy who actually managed to breathe new life into the song in the first half of the AMV?

As it stands, the first half’s quality still outweighs the second half’s lack of originality or skill, to me, so I’m still sharing it here. But what started out looking to be a truly excellent AMV turned out to just be a fairly okay one, and that’s pretty disappointing.


Kingdom Hearts Series: Wide Awake, by Sarady:
The music used is Wide Awake, by Katy Perry. Kingdom Hearts has a natural resonance with certain types of songs, and that’s definitely present here; Wide Awake definitely holds the kind of tune and lyrics that really just meld well with the game. That’s not to say that Sarady deserves no credit for this combination, however. To the contrary, this AMV’s creator has skillfully used the song and game footage to glimpse at the stories of the Kingdom Hearts series’s protagonist Sora, and 2 semi-protagonists Roxas and Aqua, and the result is a high-quality AMV that’s engrossing from start to finish.


The World Ends with You: All About Us, by Digital Surgeon:
The music used is All About Us, by t.A.T.u. Ugh, t.A.T.u. What is this, 2002? I thought I was done having to listen to this duo’s shitty music after my sister moved out for college. I guess I should just count my lucky fucking stars that Digital Surgeon didn’t go with All the Things She Said.

Okay, well, regardless of my at this point arguably lifelong dislike of t.A.T.u, this here is a damned good AMV. The tone of the song coordinates nigh perfectly with the style of The World Ends with You, both in terms of its art style and its sequential-art-esque animations, and the AMV’s creator does a spot-on job of coordinating scene changes so that almost all the actions and scenes shown are matched to not just the lyrics, but the beats themselves of this energetic, aggressive song. I just freakin’ love the part from 0:59 - 1:10, for example. The chorus...the obnoxious, incessant, so-repetitive-that-level-grinding-in-The-7th-Saga-is-starting-to-look-fresh-and-interesting-by-comparison chorus...obviously works very well conceptually with this game, a game all about finding the value in bonds with other people. This is one of those cases where you almost don’t know where the game ends and the song begins, because they’re fitted together so well that you can’t tell which is supposed to be the one supporting and emphasizing the other.

My one complaint is that the video uses a few lines of dialogue from the game, which should be a plus (why do AMV-makers shy away from this so much?), but unfortunately, the music isn’t adequately subdued during these moments, and so everything said is completely lost in the noise. It’s too bad, because a few well-placed lines from TWEwY would have doubtless been solid gold for this AMV. Even with this flaw, though, this is a really great music video.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

General RPG Characters' Preoccupation with Hand Warmth

Time for another rant about a trope that’s broader than just RPGs (this one’s quite popular in anime), but which does show up in them frequently enough that it annoys me. Yes, it’s time to talk about Warm Hands!

So, something that happens now and then in RPGs is that you have a character, almost invariably female, and also usually sappy and annoyingly positive, who takes someone’s hand in theirs, and from this small touch divines that the person whose hand they grasp is a good person with a good heart. What is the source of this intuition, you wonder? How have they so confidently inferred the hidden nature and plumbed the depths of the soul before them? Why, it’s very simple!

That person has warm hands.

Yup. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. The person has warm hands, so according to your oracular party member, they must be trustworthy. Background history? Discussion of one’s ethics and beliefs? Personal experience with the individual? Considering the person’s actions to this point? Even just looking them in the goddamn eye? All unnecessary. This person’s hands possess a higher temperature than the party member’s own, so they must be a trustworthy and laudable person within.

It’s idiotic. I don’t even know where to start with this trope. I don’t know why I should HAVE to. Hey, uh, assorted RPG writers of companies both big and small, did you guys just...miss fourth grade science, or something? See, there’s this thing about human beings. And that is that we’re mammals. And mammals, it turns out, are warm-blooded. It means our blood--the blood that circulates through our body, including the extremities like the hands--is meant to stay at a specific, constant, regulated temperature, regardless of the environment around us. And 1 of the side effects of that usually-learned-in-elementary-school fact is that we give off body heat. Like...ALL of us. Regardless of the moral fiber of our character!

How exactly does this reasoning work, anyway? The person’s heart must be warmer if their hands are warmer, and warmer heart = better heart? Or maybe the person’s heart is extra functional, pumping their warm blood into their hands much faster than a regular person’s? Because I’m fairly sure these are less a sign of moral integrity than they are of cardiovascular diseases!

And even from the perspective of whatever bizarre reasoning RPGs have for this trope, it still doesn’t make much sense to use as a moral barometer. I mean, even if having naturally heated hands were somehow indicative of a good person, it’s still not a reliable measure to use. What if a decent person happens to just have bad circulation? What, no good human being ever got diabetes, or had a blood clot? For that matter, no evil person ever had a fever?

What about characters like Deekin from Neverwinter Nights 1, Mipha from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Frog from Chrono Trigger, Koops from Paper Mario 2, and Psybe from Cosmic Star Heroine? You’d have a hard time arguing that any of them weren’t highly decent people, but lizards, fish, amphibians, turtles, and most insects are cold-blooded; there’d be no warmth in any of their hands. Or characters like Spar from Breath of Fire 2, and Camellia from Arc the Lad 4? Pretty sure that anthropomorphic plants wouldn’t have much in the way of body heat, but that doesn’t bar either from being decent individuals. There’re plenty of ethical characters in RPGs who are aliens, like Raja from Phantasy Star 4, and Garrus and Padok from the Mass Effect series. Even if they might be warm-blooded, their physiology could be such that the warmth was less than our own. And then there are good-hearted vampires like Joachim from Shadow Hearts 2, helpful ghosts like Pamela from Mana Khemia 1, friendly skeletons like Papyrus from Undertale, and just a whole hell of a lot of nice robots. Go ahead and try to tell me Aegis from Shin Megami Tensei: Persona isn’t a truly wonderful person. Go ahead, try to say it. You’ll live the rest of your life knowing you’re a fucking liar.

And even beyond the fact that body temperature can be affected by health problems, and the problems that arise from RPGs’ trend toward especially peculiar casts, it also seems like it would be easy for a villain to dupe this format of moral checkup. All any villain needs to do is keep his hands in his armpits for a few minutes before shaking hands with the heroes he wants to dupe, and he’s golden! Or hell, why settle for his pits? He’s a villain! He can shove his hand down between his asscheeks for a bit--he passes the moral test, and gives the heroes a good stink palm at the same time! Effective, and diabolic!

It’s just a really stupid, nonsensical trope. It’s silly and dumb to anyone with common sense and even a beginner’s grasp of human biology, and even if you were to take it as somehow legitimate, it still seems absurdly unreliable and easy to fool. Thankfully, though it does pop up now and then in games from developers both mighty* and minor**, this bizarre little cliche shows up in RPGs far less frequently than it does in anime. Still, every time I come across it, the sappy stupidity of the warm hands = good heart thing just makes me groan and shake my head.

* No, Grandia 3’s Alfina, Yuki is not a good person because his hands are warm. He is a good person because he keeps saving your stupid ass.

And maybe also because he actually has the patience to be able to put up with you. Hell, if the measure of character actually were hand heat, then that level of sainthood would require Yuki’s hands to be outright on fire.

** No, Marine from the Millennium series, Bokden showing up and proving that your faith in him was justified is an occurrence independent of the fact that his hand was a degree hotter than yours when you grabbed it.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

General RPG Valentines 2

It's that time of year again, ladies and gents! Yes, that magical, wonderful time of year in which we celebrate Love, that highest virtue of humanity, by ritually sacrificing it to our soulless corporate masters on a holiday that twists the concept of human affection into an economic obligation. In spite of my cynicism, however, I wholeheartedly love any holiday devoted to the concept of reminding others of just how important they are to you, and so, I have created for you all 20 more ways to tell someone you love them while being an RPG dork of irredeemable magnitude. Enjoy, and have a Happy Valentine's Day!

But of course, if you're a sourpuss about Valentine's Day and want everyone to know about it, while also letting them know that you're an RPG addict beyond saving...well, I've got a few of these things for you, too!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Tales of Zestiria's Sorey's Sacrifice

Heroic self-sacrifice is a pretty major part of storytelling, no matter which side of the ocean you’re on. 1 of the greatest and most inspiring acts of good that our heroes can perform is to give their lives for the sake of the well-being and happiness of redeems villains, it cements the good and worth of minor characters, it makes unforgettable icons from our heroes. Heck, 1 of the most prevalent religions on Earth, Christianity, is based on the concept. The selfless greatness of a man or woman who gives up all he or she has for the sake of others, others whom he or she does not even personally know, is something which we are drawn to.

This fact, however, means that we may be a little too eager, sometimes, as creators and as audiences, to jump into this idea more than we should. Villain redemption through heroic sacrifice is so common that half the time it just doesn't make an impact, characters that the writers aren’t finished with can get axed off prematurely because someone wanted a dramatic moment which just means that they need to be half-assedly resurrected later, and sometimes characters kill themselves when a much simpler, non-fatal course of action was readily apparent.* And on the audience’s side, sometimes we’re too eager to get carried away and make more of heroes’ sacrifices than they’re actually worth.

Such is the case, I feel, of the sacrifice made by Sorey at the end of Tales of Zestiria (obvious spoiler alert here, by the way). From cruising through a few message boards and looking in on some conversations between Tales of fans, I’ve gotten the distinct impression that most players of ToZ view Sorey’s sacrifice as having the same gravity, tragedy, and nobility as any other RPG hero’s sacrifice possesses, like, say, Maxim in Lufia 2, or Tidus in Final Fantasy 10. And I think that may be just a tad of an overreaction to Sorey’s case.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I respect the sacrifice Sorey makes at the end of the game. He chooses to leave his friends and world, to chain his spirit to that of the god of Seraphs, so that Sorey can undertake the process of purifying said Seraph and save the world from the malevolence that has afflicted it for so long. This will take centuries to accomplish, meaning that Sorey is going to sleep through the chance to see the good that his actions have brought to the world, and will never again see his human friends again. It’s a heavy sacrifice to have to make, to be sure, and he’s a brave, heroic man to take it upon himself.

But all the same, to view this in the same lens as your typical end-of-adventure protagonist self-sacrifice is, I think, maybe to exaggerate its level of tragedy a bit. Let’s really look at what Sorey’s actually having to give up here.

First of all, the guy ain’t dying, in any sense of the word. It’s a known fact, going into the final battle, that for Sorey to do this is for him to simply be isolated for a few centuries. Barring some extreme outside event, Sorey will be waking up good as new once he’s done with this whole purification hullabaloo. And since he wouldn’t normally have lived centuries anyway, one can only conclude that this act will not shorten his lifespan in any way, like, say, going into a coma would (since one continues to age in a coma). There’s no ambiguity about this: he’s not dying. So that alone cuts down on how tragic this sacrifice can really seem--we rightly make a big deal of Yuri choosing to die for his love of Alice at the end of Shadow Hearts 2, because the understanding is that he’s, y’know, not coming back, but we rightly don’t make a big deal of Bleu/Deis going back to sleep at the end of Breath of Fire 1, because even though it won’t be for centuries, she will, eventually, wake up right as rain.

Of course, one’s simple physical and mental existence are not the only things one can give up, and the weight of Sorey’s sacrifice comes from what else he’s losing. By having to leave for centuries, as I said, it means he’ll never get to see his human friends again, and the world will be drastically different from what he knew. Well, that’s certainly a sizable loss for him, and it does make his sacrifice meaningful and heroic...but even then, I have to say, it’s not quite as heavy a thing he’s giving up as you might initially think.

Let’s look at the friends he loses in this deal. Is it tragic that he’ll never again get to hang with his BFF Rose, or see Alisha again? Absolutely! Very sad on both sides, especially for Alisha, since she doesn’t know what he’s doing in advance and thus has no chance to actually say goodbye to Sorey. But...besides Rose and Alisha, every one of Sorey’s meaningful relationships is with a Seraph. His lifelong buddy Mikleo is a Seraph. The friends he’s made on his journey, Lailah, Edna, and Zaveid, are all Seraphim. And all the people of the town in which Sorey has lived his whole life are Seraphim, too. Given Seraphim’s long, perhaps even outright endless lifespans, this means that nearly everyone in Sorey’s life that he really cares about will still be alive centuries later, when his life resumes! It’s tragic that Sorey will never again see Rose and Alisha, but this is a far cry away from giving up on all the people he loves; at least 2/3rds of them are going to be kicking around when he wakes up.

I feel like I did when watching that episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic in which Rainbow Dash is going through the stages of grief because her pet turtle’s going to be hibernating through the winter--like I’m expected to be devastated by a tragedy that isn’t happening. It’s unfortunate when you have to be separated from someone you care about for a while, but it’s not an adequate narrative substitute for death! It’s sad, but not THAT sad. That turtle’s gonna wake up in a few months just fine, and Sorey’s still gonna be able to continue all but 2 of his meaningful relationships.**

In addition, having to give up on his world, awakening centuries later to a world of countries and societies that he knows nothing of...that could be a big loss, for most characters. A lot of protagonists are defined by a love for their world, and their dreams and ambitions in life. But, uh...Sorey’s case is actually remarkably free of tragedy, here. Sure, it kind of sucks that Sorey won’t be able to witness the kingdoms of Rolent and Hyland as they enter a new golden age thanks to the efforts of Sorey and his friends, attached can he really be to the world as a whole, honestly? Guy only left his super-isolated little Seraph town a few months ago! He hasn’t seen enough of the world to be able to really miss it. The only thing he might lose is his hometown, but his attachment to it seemed more based on his relationship to the residents of his community, rather than the place itself, and as stated above, they all have the potential to still be alive and kicking. Waking up in a new era is going to be little more than just the same experience of stepping out into a new world that Sorey had early in the adventure.

And finally, Sorey doesn’t have to give up on any of his life’s ambitions or interests. Although a decent character, Sorey really only has 1 interest and life dream: to explore ruins. Well, the great thing about ruins is that they aren’t going anywhere, especially not in RPGs, in which leftover locations from lost, legendary eras are usually somehow so perfectly preserved that every damn puzzle switch in the things still works over a thousand years later. So Sorey has every chance once the world’s saved and the land is purified to go back to his life’s passion of ruin-exploring.*** Hell, a few centuries later, there’s probably MORE of the things to go spelunking in, and there’s certainly going to be more history for him to read up on. This sacrifice of his actually does his hobby a favor!

So, ultimately, is Sorey’s sacrifice at the end of Tales of Zestiria sad, noble, and meaningful? Absolutely. I don’t want to imply that it’s not. But should we see it on the same level as other heroic RPG sacrifices? Not really. A character like Lufia 2’s Maxim gives up his life, gives up on a world he’s been a part of for a substantial amount of time, gives up a chance to raise his infant son, gives up on ever seeing any of his friends again. Sorey’s sacrifice just doesn’t compare to that.

* Flash Season 1 Spoilers: Dammit, Eddie, you didn’t have to shoot yourself in the heart to save the world! You could’ve just shot yourself in the balls instead, and actually lived to see Season 2! Hell, a stern promise to get a vasectomy might’ve been enough!

** Not counting the meaningful relationships that were forcibly ended by different circumstances. Sadly, Dezel and Gramps are gone, and I feel for Sorey’s loss on both counts, but those have nothing to do with the losses associated with his end-of-game purification sacrifice.

*** Why does he even want to, though? I don’t mean that archeology and history and all that jazz isn’t interesting, mind you. I mean that just about every ruin you encounter in Tales of Zestiria is incredibly basic and boring! Even by RPG ruin standards, ToZ’s dungeons are dime-a-dozen copies of one another with little to differentiate each from the last. It’s like Bandai-Namco outsourced dungeon creation to Bioware’s Dragon Age 2 team, or those clowns who programmed the dungeons in Conception 2. Just seems ridiculous to me that ToZ would make the passion of its protagonist and his besty archeology, and then put almost no effort into more than half of the historic sites you can visit in the game.