Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mass Effect 3's Ending 2

EDIT 12/29/12: I have since revised my opinion of the new Extended Cut ending of ME3. While I still hold true nearly everything I say below, I no longer can say that I think that the ending is, even incompletely, saved. The fact of the matter is that anyone who plays a Paragon Shepard--and let's face it, Renegade Shepard is fun and all, but Paragon is the only real Shepard--is forced by the ending to either invalidate the beliefs that Shepard holds true and sticks by no matter what, or lose. Control is a violation of one of the most important and powerful themes of the entire Mass Effect series, the danger of advancing your technology beyond what your species is mentally ready for, not to mention the hazard of playing with power beyond your ken. The series shows us that this is a bad thing through the history of the Krogan, the corruption of The Illusive Man, and the simple fact that the entire Reaper trap depends on sentient organics using the technologies the Reapers leave behind and thus developing their sciences along the paths the Reapers want--Sovereign himself says this. Synthesis is everything Control is, and worse, as it violates the right of every individual in the galaxy to make decisions for their own body, and depends on the utterly absurd reassurance that everyone in the universe is "ready" for a melding of organic and synthetic life (proven wrong multiple times over with all the anti-Geth prejudice seen many times from many people in the series). Refuse stays true to Shepard's principles, but ends in failure. Finally, Destroy requires the sacrifice of an entire species of life (and a personal friend of Shepard's) to occur, and it's shown many, many times in Mass Effect to be against Shepard's code to sacrifice the innocent to achieve his ends. Whether the Geth and EDI would consent to this sacrifice is irrelevant--they're not informed of it, not given the option to do so, and so the sacrifice is unacceptable to a Paragon Shepard. So, since anyone who looks at Shepard as a hero cannot win the game without destroying that very heroism, I conclude that the Extended Cut does not, in fact, save ME3. It's a vast improvement over what Bioware gave us originally, but it is not enough to make the ending minimally acceptable.

Anyway, for what it's worth, the actual rant is still below.

Well, 2 days ago it happened. Bioware released the Extended Cut, a free DLC package for Mass Effect 3 that modified the ending of the game to pacify the rage of the vast majority of its fanbase whose reactions were measurable. I, like so many others, spoke about why I hated the game’s ending so passionately, a rant which you can find here fairly easily. And as I did when Fallout 3’s ending was amended, I’m here today to pay penance for my words.

Or am I?

Well, maybe I am, and maybe I’m not. Let’s look at my complaints and see if Bioware actually has earned my apology (not to mention my future business). Let’s list’em out and see how the new ending material does. I’m going to assume that you read the rant on ME3’s ending’s problems, so here I’m not going to explain out the problems I wrote about in that rant, just restate them and consider whether they were addressed.

Additionally, the following basically assumes the best possible scenario of each ending (AKA, that the player has a high enough EMS rating at the game’s end to access the best version of the ending).

And because I’m tired of doing so, I’m just going to stop referring to Shepard as he/she here. My Shepard is a guy, and it makes slightly more sense for him to be (see another previous rant). You want a female Shepard, that’s fine, I’m happy you like inferior vocal work, but the inconvenience of writing it out all the time is annoying me, so you’ll just have to deal with my preferences for my rant.

And finally, as last time, major spoiler alert here. Should be obvious, really, but...

The Small Stuff

- Shepard Dies
Well, this hasn’t really changed all that much. Shepard’s death remains the same in the Synthesis ending. His consciousness DOES live on in the new version of the Control ending, which is actually not so bad, I suppose, but I’m not sure I can really count it, because...well, living on as the Reapers isn’t exactly the living I think most of us would have wanted for Shepard. I was kinda thinking more along the lines of him settling down with his love interest, retiring to the beach Garrus spoke of, meeting Jacob and Kasumi and several other friends for victory drinks, leading reconstruction efforts, and so on. And the Destroy option’s ending has the same thing as before, just the stupid second of Shepard breathing--the only difference is that his crew seems to have some idea that he’s not dead in that one, as the game doesn’t actually show them putting Shepard’s name on the memorial plaque. But there’s nothing more substantial there than before. So in the end, this issue has been made very, very slightly better, but not enough that it’s solved.

- Shepard’s Destroy Ending “Death” Doesn’t Make Sense
Unaddressed. No more information is given than before to explain why the Reaper-destroying energy will also target Shepard as a potential synthetic being.

- The Catalyst Hologram Kid Feels Out of the Game’s Context
The extra options for explanation of the situation with the Catalyst helps a little to make it seem less random, but ultimately, this entire thing still feels like it’s from a completely different science fiction story. The Catalyst, the truth of the Reapers, the choices offered, it all still feels like someone very ineptly attempting to force some Isaac Asimov into their Star Wars.

- The Normandy’s Escape
Completely and adequately addressed now. Admiral Hackett gives the order for them to pull out, the Normandy’s not the only ship escaping, and it can leave the planet it lands on, so if Destroy Ending Shepard does live and all, he can potentially reunite with his crew. Why Hackett orders a retreat right then is somewhat questionable, I guess, but not so much that it’s a plot hole, so this one is fixed.

About time something was.

- Magic Green Space Energy Makes No Goddamn Sense
Yeah, the Synthesis ending still is silly and stupid. Oh, the new ending content adds an extra line or 2 and a visual trying to give it some meaning, but it fails, and the whole thing still makes absolutely no sense and is entirely unbelievable still.

- Synthesis is a Dick Move on Shepard’s Part
This is sort of better now and sort of not. Shepard is still intimately violating an entire universe of life by forcefully changing their bodies without their consent or foreknowledge. The line of dialogue the Catalyst says about organic life being ready for it now should be disregarded as meaningless tripe, as we’ve not seen any indication that the people of the Mass Effect universe are any more intellectually enlightened than people of our own time, and thus we can quite safely assume that a huge number of people in the ME universe would NOT want to be an inexplicable mix of organic and synthetic since a huge number of people from our own reality would not want it. I wouldn’t even buy that “ready for it” explanation if we were using an intellectually enlightened future culture like how humanity is portrayed in Star Trek, and that’s not the case with the populace of Mass Effect.

On the other hand, the new ending content makes it very clear that the people of the galaxy do benefit from the Synthesis ending option, using the accumulated culture and knowledge of all cycles’ species to usher in a new golden age of the galaxy. Everyone seems plenty pleased about it from what we can see. So...I don’t know. I guess I have to let this one go now. I still think it’s wrong to have one person make a decision like this without the consent of the people affected forever, but the smiling, happy pictures and words afterwards say it was good, so...guess Bioware successfully sidestepped this one.

Alright, so we’ve had a few improvements to the minor issues here, but most of them are still as problematic as ever. But hey, these ARE the minor problems. So long as all the big stuff’s taken care of, this is easily forgiven.

But WERE the major issues addressed?

Serious Problems

- Incorrect Colors Associated with Control and Destroy
Yeah, this one wasn’t fixed at all. I really don’t care how nice and happy everything with Control is in the end. You don’t associate the option the villain, The Illusive Man, chooses with the color symbolic of virtue in Mass Effect. And you don’t associate the option chosen by Anderson, the perpetually heroic supporter of Shepard, with the color symbolic of being a Machiavellian jerkwad in Mass Effect. I understand that the Control ending is now shown to actually, really be a good and safe option, but you know what? It’s STILL what the Illusive Man would have chosen, it STILL correlates with previous choices in the ME series given the red Renegade color, IT STILL SHOULD BE RED.

- The Destroy Ending, Which Regardless of Color is Most in Accordance with Paragon Principles, Kills EDI and the Geth
Well...the Destroy ending still is said to kill EDI and the Geth. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is that now, thanks to the Extended Cut’s content showing what happens after Shepard’s choice is made, we can see that the Control ending really ends up being a viable option for a Paragon player. We’re given solid evidence that it works as intended, and that everyone benefits from Shepard’s control of the Reapers, without having to resort to ridiculous, idiotic Synthesis Space Magic* OR killing the Geth and EDI. So, since I think Paragon players now have a halfway viable ending alternative to the Destroy ending, I’ll let this one go.

- EDI and the Geth Prove the Catalyst Wrong
Bioware TRIES to address this with the new content. They come up with this cockamamie explanation that the evolution of organic culture and synthetic consciousness inevitably leads them to conflict as those paths clash with one another. It’s one of the more ridiculous piles of rubbish I’ve heard in my time, and while it attempts to engulf the actions and personalities of EDI and the Geth in its explanation, ultimately it still fails to address the fact that for all intents and purposes, the peace between the Geth and the Quarians, and the strong emotional attachment EDI feels toward her crew, Joker in particular, proves that peaceful coexistence between synthetic and organic life is possible. Is it possible that conflict will arise at a later date between them? Certainly, but then, that’s a possibility between ALL thinking, free-willed peoples, now isn’t it? The important thing is that EDI and the Geth prove that peace IS possible, and so long as it is a possibility, the Catalyst’s belief that conflict between organics and synthetics is inevitable and permanent is, simply and emphatically, WRONG.

- The Cast and Events of the Game Are Not Adequately Depicted
This one is mostly addressed. I mean, a lot of the major war assets gathered during the game still aren’t properly depicted (STILL we see NOTHING of the Rachni, for example), but there is a bit more to the ending content now that does show scenes of the major characters of the series, and some of the major races and their battle against the Reapers, as well as how things go (at least a little) for several of the major characters of the series. Could’ve been a lot more and a lot better, but it’s there now, at least This one’s taken care of.

- Beating Saren was Pointless
Well, I suppose on the technical level, this one actually was subtly addressed. The Catalyst does make a comment that he’d tried previously to merge synthetic and organic life, but it never worked out, and was now an option only because of the Crucible and Shepard’s presence. I suppose this means that even if Saren’s dream of doing so had been something the Reapers would be down for (and it’s always been implied that it was just their way of dangling a carrot in front of his indoctrinated nose), they couldn’t have until now anyway, so defeating him was still necessary. From a thematic point of view, though, this is still just as big a problem as ever. If Shepard chooses Synthesis, it’s still basically saying that Saren’s belief, goal, and dream, at least, were acceptable and apparently, in Shepard’s opinion, right. Which still makes resisting Saren in the first game pointless. This one’s still a problem.

- Synthesis Doesn’t Actually Solve the Catalyst’s Problem
Still completely unaddressed. Unless the Green Space Magic also turns every atom of metal in the galaxy part organic, there’s still nothing to stop the new organic-synthetic hybrid life from creating fully synthetic life all over again, and to stop that life from going down the developmental path that the Catalyst says leads to conflict.

Uh...okay...a couple of the major flaws with the ending are fixed now...but most of the ones I listed above are still open, festering wounds in the game’s story. Not good. Still...we haven’t gotten to the biggest problems yet. Even with as many problems remain in the ending that I’ve listed, they only make it a bad ending, not an intolerable, godawful mess. If the following issues, the biggest ones, are solved by the new ending content, I can at least accept ME3’s endings, tolerate them, even though they’re bad. Let’s move on to the most important stuff.

Inspire Nigh-Universal Disappointment and Rage Problems

- The Ending Goes Against Everything Shepard Stands For
Mostly addressed. Unfortunately, Shepard does not argue properly against the Catalyst (he should have mentioned a lot of the stuff you’ve read above), but he at least is asking questions now, at least is able to argue a little with the Catalyst thanks to the new content. And more importantly, a fourth option was added: the option to refuse the Catalyst’s choices. Shepard can refuse to take the options presented by the Catalyst (or even attempt to shoot him), insisting that he and the races of the galaxy will fight the Catalyst on their own terms, and if necessary, die free rather than compromise. Sadly, this WILL be the doom of all the current major intelligent species of the galaxy--but the important thing is that there’s at least the option for Shepard to refuse. I do hate to give Bioware the point on this one because the Refusal ending SHOULD have had a possibility of defeating the Reapers (that’s the POINT, that Shepard can fight on his own terms and WIN), but...the basics are there, the option to throw the Catalyst’s stupid choices back in his face and have Shepard give a speech. And even in the defeat, there’s victory of sorts, for it’s shown after the credits for the Refusal ending that though humanity and its allies failed to beat the Reapers, the information they left for the next cycle’s species allowed THEM to defeat the Reapers once and for all. I have to admit, I’m way more okay with the idea of the galaxy’s people going the way of the Protheans, saving those of the future even though they could not save themselves, than I am with the foolish, inherently racist, and absolutely ridiculous concepts behind the Synthesis ending. Hilariously, Refusal, the ending that Bioware clearly considers the worst option, the “Bad Ending,” is STILL far superior to the ending that Bioware wants so hard to convince us is the best one.

But anyways, yes. This issue has been addressed adequately, if not in the way I would have preferred.

- The Endings are Basically the Same and Thus Player Choice Means Nothing
Addressed. While the endings (besides Refusal) are almost all still fairly similar, sharing structure and several cinematics, there are enough differences to them now that you can feel that you did, in fact, get a significantly different ending for each ending option. This is accomplished mostly through the narrative of Hackett, Shepard, or EDI (depending on which ending was chosen), but there’s nonetheless a goodly amount of differences in the FMV and presented cinematics that it’s no longer just 1 ending in 3 different colors. And hey, Refusal may be the short “Bad Ending,” but it’s nonetheless very different than the other endings, so the variety is there. In addition, smaller player choices are also reflected more adequately in the endings, with many small differences shown depending on who Shepard’s love interest is, who died in the course of the game, decisions made with party members throughout the series, and how Shepard handled the major plot events of the Genophage and war for Rannoch. I think that player choice has been adequately represented with the new content.

- The Ending Says That Differences Inevitably Result in Conflict
Well, it’s sort of addressed, but sort of not. By going into more detail about why, exactly, synthetics are supposedly fated to rise against their creators, the Catalyst actually makes it out less to be a case of differences inherently leading to conflict, and more to be a case of the general psychological development of synthetics inherently leading to conflict. While I wouldn’t say that’s any less illogical and silly than before, it at least is less easily turned into an argument for destroying those who are different. On the other hand, the Synthesis ending is still presented to be the ideal solution to this problem. So it’s still basically saying that the best way to avoid conflict is to make everyone the same. Still...still, I suppose the major problem I had here was that the conflict itself seemed rooted in the idea that physical and cultural differences between 2 individuals makes peace impossible (and the idea that Shepard wouldn’t speak up against this foolishness), and that much has been addressed by refining the problem to a question of how synthetic life desires to evolve. The new question is, again, somewhat illogical and silly, but it’s not thematically repulsive any longer, so...I guess I’ll let Bioware have this one.

- The Mass Relays are Destroyed
Addressed. Destroy, Control, or Synthesis, all say or show that the Mass Relays can and will be repaired, and so, galactic society and Shepard’s works are preserved. Probably some people will still have died before the relays are repaired (particularly in the Destroy ending), but all in all, this complaint, the biggest I had, is completely corrected.

Hm. Well, thankfully, we had some better luck with this round. While not always doing so wonderfully, Bioware did manage to fix all of these tremendously important points with their new content.

So, in the end, is it enough? Does the Extended Cut save Mass Effect 3’s ending?


Yes, with reservations. Most of the small and large problems I had with ME3’s ending were not corrected with this content. The ones that were, usually could have been fixed much better. There are still SO many plot holes that I haven’t even mentioned, and a few new ones with the new content. No matter what, the endings are bizarrely unlike the entire series leading up to them, an entirely different form of storytelling violently jammed into the tale’s last 5 minutes. Though no longer the thematic antithesis to the game, the endings are still largely irrelevant to the most important themes and ideas of the Mass Effect series. As it stands now, Mass Effect 3 has 4 endings of various levels of bad quality, and no good one.

But 4 bad endings is better than a single, tri-colored ending that is thematically repulsive and completely intolerable. The endings dreamt of by fans in the Indoctrination Theory and the Marauder Shields comic series (found here: ) are inestimably superior to what we now have, and it’s rather sad to see just how greatly the fans have outdone Bioware this day. But I nonetheless now have a finale that is only bad, not awful beyond comprehension, and a bad finale is something that I can (very unhappily) accept. And I can appreciate that Bioware did take the time to make this, even if I have the feeling that a lot of it was driven by a hope to win back the potential DLC customers who were leaving in droves. So I won’t cut my ties to Bioware as I have with SquareEnix. I’ll be a much wiser customer now, to be sure--no more pre-orders for Bioware no matter what the product is, and I’ll wait to know about the product’s quality before I commit to a purchase. But the important thing is that I will still be a customer. They’ve won back that much, at least.

But Bioware is on thin ground with me now, and it won’t take many more Day 1 Paid DLC packages, outright dishonest advertisements,** inept and insulting PR statements, or awful misunderstandings of their own products for me to leave the company behind for good.

* Admittedly, Control is kind of implausible, as well, and could also be ridiculed as Space Magic. But it’s still SO much less absurdly stupid than Synthesis.

** You want a laugh some time, find the interview in Game Informer Issue 217 (May 2011) with Casey Hudson, main writer for Mass Effect 3, and see what he had to say about what ME3 would be like. The one where he insists that the plot of ME3 won’t be dictated by finding “some long-lost Reaper “off” button,” and that Shepard getting to live in the saved ME universe was an important goal for the conclusion. If ME3 were any other product than a video game, its creators would be legally punishable for false advertising and selling a defective product. As it is, though, unethical and often illegal business practices are a daily routine in the video game industry. If game testers can regularly work unpaid overtime without breaks every day of the week, official gaming news outlets can be bribed into giving better reviews, and virtually unplayable products can be regularly rushed out the door to meet arbitrarily set deadlines, I shouldn’t be too surprised that a game developer can be allowed to tell you that you’re getting the exact opposite of what you’re actually purchasing.

Monday, June 18, 2012

General RPGs' Protagonist - NPC Romances

Ah, love. Love, the overpowering emotion we desire to give and receive, that permeates nearly every story told in modern times regardless of format, flooding our movies and books and shows and cartoons and video games and comics and songs, conditioning us to blindly want it and feel empty without it, yet cheapening our concept of it through relentless over saturation. No matter what work of fiction you're watching, playing, listening to, or reading, chances are good that a romantic angle is to be found in it, whether one was needed or not.

With all the romantic subplots going on in RPGs, whether or not they're well-written and/or relevant to the game's purpose,* it never fails to surprise me how unvaried they can be. The number of RPGs out there whose main romantic coupling can be described as "Protagonist x Girl With Healing Spells = OTP 4EVA" is a little high for my liking, and that sure isn't the only romance archetype that gets reused a lot. Even many of the good ones, and creative ones, in these games are just superior iterations of common themes of romance. Take Selan and Maxim from Lufia 2, one of the most unique RPG love stories I've encountered. The first part of their romance is a tough warrior chick coming to respect and trust the protagonist as an equal (a sexy equal, apparently) after he proves himself to be both a nice guy and pretty tough and capable in a couple dangerous situations. Not exactly award-winning creativity on that connection, even if they portray it well. What makes Maxim and Selan so unique is that the game actually hooks them up during its plot's progression, has them marry, and then shows their adventures as husband and wife, instead of just perpetuating a journey between Guy Who Likes Girl In A Non-Committal Way and Girl Who Likes Guy In Much The Same Way until hooking them up at the very end, like most RPGs would do it. But this (sadly much too) unique spin still does originate from a fairly standard romance subplot.

One kind of romance I'd like to see more of which has most certainly not been overused is the love subplot which pairs the game's protagonist with a character in the game who is NOT a member of the party. Now how often do you see that happen? It always just seems a given that if the story's hero or heroine is going to fall for someone, it's got to be one of the folks traveling with them on their quest. And sure, there's a substantial logic to this, that I do not deny. Strong feelings of companionship, be they romantic or platonic, are a natural result of spending large amounts of time with another person, particularly through dangerous and emotionally-charged events, all of which are intrinsic parts of most RPG quests. Nonetheless, the idea that one would have a loved one at home to fight to protect and come back to is also a believable (and in real-world practice, far more common) idea, as is the possibility of finding love in one of the many people that one might meet on one's world-saving journey, and these 2 options are uncommonly explored to any real degree in RPGs, and only very rarely with application to the game's protagonist.

Why is that, I wonder? Or I would, if I wasn't fairly sure that it's probably just because it's easier and more expected to have a romance in a game between major party members, and the thought of trying for something outside that box is frightening to some game writers, and utterly unrecognized by others. Nonetheless, there's really no acceptable reason for this trend against romances between protagonists and NPCs. It wouldn't have to impact a lot of games' plots negatively (since so many main romances of RPGs don't have strong relevance to the game's events overall (Final Fantasy 4 and Tales of the Abyss, for example)...and for that matter, some of the times that the plot IS importantly tied to the romance (Legend of Dragoon and La Pucelle Tactics, for example) would have been BETTER without the trite romance slapped on). There's room for creativity since it's done so infrequently. And I don't think there's significantly less potential for love and relationship depth with a Protagonist x NPC couple than there is with a Protagonist x Party Member one.

Regarding that last one, I do freely admit that almost all the really great romances I've seen in RPGs to date, as you can see if you refer back to the list I made of the best ones, have been between a protagonist and a majorly important party member (and the 1 of the list that wasn't was between a party member of minor significance and an NPC). I perceive this as a result of the number of protagonist x party member romances in RPGs so far outweighing the alternative, however, not as any real indicator that protagonist x NPC couples are inherently inferior. After all, few though they are, I have seen some really decent love stories between a protagonist and a character not actively on their journey or part of their team. The one in Arc the Lad 3, for example, between Alec and Kulara was honestly pretty sweet. They hit it off with that usual inexplicable quickness that RPGs are so fond of, yes, but the quiet mutual attraction they share and their small but sweet exchanges each time Alec returns to Kulara's orphanage on a mission seem very genuine and emotional. It's not an amazing tale of love or anything, but its gentle emotion grips the player a lot more than quite a few of the standard RPG love stories that try so hard to be epic and important.

As another example, what about Souji and Ai, from Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4? Souji has the opportunity to court every lady in his party in that game, but it's Ai, an NPC, whose romantic Social Link chain of events are by far the most touching, deep, and romantically rewarding. Granted, this is partially because nearly all the other romances in that game are honestly pretty lousy, usually seeming spontaneous and forced. But even if Ai had any real competition, her love story would still hold up well, as a story of Souji's devotion and companionship, his good influence, helping Ai to rediscover herself, and grow to care about her true self and about those around her for more than just their appearance. It's also convincing in that Souji rejects her at first, implied to know her and have strong enough insight into her character that he'd rather wait until she's truly ready for a relationship than just dive in at the first opportunity with no regard to her real needs. I really do like this small protagonist x NPC story, and it would probably make it to my Top Romance List if I extended it to cover 10 spots--it certainly would make a top 15, at the very least.

There aren't many examples of this rare coupling between an RPG's protagonist and a character not actively traveling with them, but there are just enough to tell me that the idea has some real potential, and I want to see more. Too often this idea is relegated down to party members of lesser importance, and even then given too little attention and development. Game developers need to give the healing mages of the RPG world a little breather, maybe a chance to get up off their backs for a moment, and start exploring other romantic options for their games' main leads.

* Protip: Way, way too many of them are not.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Pokemon Series's Gym Hazards

Well, THAT was a bust. I take a month off to shore up my rant reserves, and what do I have to show for it? This.

So! Pokemon. While the RPG series sometimes has some merits, there’s no denying that the world of Pokemon and its society are one of the craziest, least sensible settings one can find in gaming, save for the occasional game that is deliberately trying to be bizarre. Why do people let children just wander aimlessly across the country, unsupervised, looking to provoke and catch creatures of immense power that could easily destroy them? If Pokemon are so easily trained, why aren’t they weaponized, given their limitless potential for destruction? How the bloody hell does a Pokeball work, and where does the technology come from in a world which is otherwise fairly comparable to ours in terms of scientific advancement? And so on and so forth. To pick apart the logical gaps in the world of Pokemon would take hours, days, weeks, pages and pages of questions, and honestly, almost all of them have been asked and mocked before dozens of times, so I’m not going to bother with it. There IS, however, one aspect of the Pokemon world that is confusingly illogical that I DON’T think has been particularly widely questioned yet, so I’m going to waste your time with it today: the safety hazards of the Pokemon Gyms.

What the HELL is going on with the Gyms of the Pokemon world? Oh, sure, plenty of them are innocuous enough. A swimming pool area for Misty’s Water-Type Gym, a forest maze for Bugsy’s Bug-Type Gym, an actual gym for Maylene’s Fighting-Type Gym, that sort of thing. They create an appropriate background environment for the theme of the Gym Leader’s specialty, and often use the layout themes to create obstacles and puzzles for the challenger to overcome before battling the Gym Leader. Decent idea, harmless enough.

But some of these places are fucking death traps. In Skyla’s Flying-Type Gym in Pokemon Generation 5, for example, challengers have to climb into and be shot out of cannons to advance forward, which is just a tragedy waiting to happen. But hey, I’ve played the Mana series. I’m accustomed to the immensely ridiculous idea of using human artillery as a means of travel. So I can certainly look beyond this.

But peeling the remains of 10-year-olds off Skyla’s walls is just the start. How about Mauville City’s Gym from Pokemon Generation 3, which has big, live tesla coils just randomly scattered around the floor, running lord knows how many millions of volts between them right out in the damn open? Good God, I know the place has an Electric-Type theme, but it seems just a little extreme to me to have a setup where any wrong step by a visitor (or trainer flunky, for that matter, they hang around awfully close to these giant electrical coils) is gonna light them up like an overclocked Christmas tree. And what about the Gym for Violet City? Yeah, no giant unguarded volt machines there, but I’m not sure incredibly narrow platforms, ones without any kind of guard rails whatsoever, suspended hundreds of feet in the air so that any challenger can have a good few moments to consider that last misstep as they plunge to their death, are much better. And hey, yeah, how about that Blackthorn City Gym? You know, the one where all the little kids hoping to win a Gym Badge are running around on platforms floating over molten fucking lava?

Normally I’d snarkily criticize the fact that several parts of the place don’t have any safety railing (and those parts are the moving platforms, even!), the way I did for Violet City’s Gym, but really, it’s a public meeting place for preteens that’s filled with lethal, boiling melted rock. I think that once you’ve got overactive ten year olds running around on rocks floating in a roiling fire sea of death just because you like the atmosphere the lava gives the place, safety railings are a moot fucking point!

By far my personal favorite for hazardous Pokemon battling environments, though, is the Icirrus City Gym. This is a Gym where the challenger has to make his/her way around the Gym by sliding uncontrollably forward over icy patches. Now, this has some potential for injury, but you’re thinking, well, that’s not nearly as dangerous as cannon travel and live electrical coils. Right? Well, see, the Gym is split into 2 separate sections, one on the left, and one on the right. What separates them? A huge, black void. It’s pretty certain for a hole to be that huge and that black, it must be a long, LONG way down. As in the fatal-several-times-over form of long, LONG way down. And how do you get from section of the Gym to the other, and back again? By running onto an icy ledge hanging out over the pit and sliding along it until you hit a ramp that sends you flying through the air to an identical icy ledge with a ramp on the other side. I don’t have a picture of this, but if you go to 3:29 in this video, you can see it in action.

I just love the idea of this, in a sick, twisted way. All you need is for some clumsy kid or adult to accidentally step foot on that patch of ice leading to the ramp, and start sliding forward. That’s all. It’s too smooth and slick to stop yourself; the game shows clearly that one has no control of one’s momentum once on that ice. And just accidentally sliding forward means they’re going slowly--easily slow enough that they won’t have enough speed when they hit the ramp to make it to the other side. They’ll just gently be lifted into the air a foot or so, and fall to their death. No railings (AGAIN) or anything that they could grab onto to steady themselves or anything. Just an irreversible slide to their death plunge. What happens if a kid has the speed, but loses his/her balance while sliding toward that ramp? Ice is slippery, sliding momentum is tricky, accidents happen. I guess he/she just slides on the ass or side along, hits the ramp, and tumbles through the air in a flailing mess, most likely hitting the other side’s ramp end and falling into the pit. Or how about if a challenger judges the path wrong, approaches the thing at an angle? They may have the speed and balance just fine, but be irrevocably heading in a diagonal direction and miss the other side’s icy ledge altogether.

It’s one thing to be instantly electrocuted or have a second-long plunge into an immediate fiery death, but if anything goes wrong on that icy ramped ledge of death in Icirrus City, you get to watch, to know, your death as you approach it, and there’s nothing you can do. Damn, man, forget the rest, Icirrus City’s Gym is the worst of the bunch.

And so it is proven that the world of Pokemon is really pretty messed up if you look at the details. Again. For like the millionth time. But hey, at least it’s been proven in a way that, to my knowledge, hasn’t had much discussion previously, right? That’s gotta be worth something.

I’m sorry, I’ll have a real rant next time. Probably.