Wednesday, November 28, 2012

General RPG Lists: Weirdest Characters

I bet you thought that I’d have something really meaningful and impressive for my 200th rant, right? Man, were you ever wrong.

Oh, yes, and incidentally, I was gonna update the Mass Effect 3 DLC rant for the Omega DLC released yesterday, but I figured I'd done enough filler lately. I'll get it properly done some time in the future (maybe I'll just do it with the next ME3 DLC, whenever that happens). But, since it's important to be timely on these things, here's the ultimate verdict: DON'T BUY THE OMEGA DLC FOR MASS EFFECT 3. Unless you really, REALLY hate the idea of spending your money on things you could actually enjoy. If you loathe spending money well, then by all means, go nuts.

Anyway, on to the actual rant.



Y’know what? RPGs have some fucking weird characters in them. I mean, you get some odd individuals in any genre of video game, sure, and plenty of bizarre characters in other forms of entertainment, but...I really think that RPGs are filled with more weirdos per capita than basically any other form of storytelling out there. This is a genre where aliens and anthropomorphic creatures are so standard that you don’t look twice at most of’em.

I mean, just look at the list below. Do you have any idea how hard it was to narrow this list down to 15 spots? Well, no, probably not, unless you’ve got me under 24-hour surveillance, and I’m reasonably sure you don’t, because frankly my life is not interesting enough to warrant it. But it was tough. It was very tough. Because there are so many strange RPG characters out there to choose from, and they are so weird. I mean, this is a list of weirdos where multiple anthropomorphic mushrooms, a talking shrimp who controls the weather, time-traveling babies armed with mallets, singing ant cyborgs, and whatever the fuck this thing is, all did NOT make the cut for weirdness.* Hell, who here is familiar with Viki, from the Suikoden series? Viki isn’t weird enough to even be considered for this list. That’s the level of weird that RPGs bring.

So then, who did make the list? Which RPG characters are just the most bizarre of all? Let’s see.

Note: This list only counts specific party characters. In other words, generic, typically non-name characters (like Pokemon, or the various minions of most Nippon Ichi games) are disqualified here. Because Pokemon would otherwise probably occupy at least 2/3rds of this list. I mean, they have a fucking garbage bag Pokemon now.


15. Skelly (Chrono Cross)

Skelly is an animated clown skeleton with a serious love for pasta. That’s really about all there is to him, but really, isn’t that enough?


14. Mao and Nao (Suikoden 4)

Mao and Nao are creepy, antisocial growers of mushrooms and mint, respectively, who cultivate their crop in a room on the ship that its builder doesn’t remember making. They each seem to have a paranoid hatred for the other’s crop, seeing it as some sort of invading army and making complaints to the game’s protagonist about how wrong Mao’s mushrooms are or Nao’s mint is. They’re just really creepy little weirdos, is all there is to it.


13. Dungeon Man (Earthbound)

Really, it’s fairly self-explanatory here. Dungeon Man is a man who is a dungeon. Specifically, he was a guy named Brick Road, whose passion was making dungeons. Then he made himself into a dungeon. Not that Earthbound is at all lacking for claims to weird fame, but I can’t honestly say I’ve ever seen any other game decide to have a freaking dungeon join the party.


12. Mojo (Chrono Cross)

Another instance of how Chrono Cross defeats itself at every turn: Chrono Cross’s plot and ideas generally seem like those of a game trying to take itself as seriously as any other given RPG, but its cast is made up of talking dogs, adorable aliens, clown skeletons, talking produce, and our boy Mojo, who is a giant, walking, talking voodoo doll who uses the giant nail stuck in him as a weapon. Even humor RPGs don’t usually have weird, goofy shit like that in their cast. Just...really, Squaresoft? A living voodoo doll? You were that desperate to pad out your already over-numerous cast?


11. Donald Duck (Kingdom Hearts 1, 2, and Chain of Memories)

Seriously, though. When you really think about Donald Duck, he’s pretty weird. He’s a walking, talking duck with a shorter fuse than the Incredible Hulk who goes pants-less at all times and has the most distinctive speech impediment ever conceived. What twisted corner of Walt Disney’s mind gave birth to a rage-aholic duck?

Weird by himself, Donald only gets weirder in RPG context. I mean, why is he the magic-user of the party? It’s implied that his magical abilities are the result in some capacity of training in mysticism--does Donald really seem like the type to have the patience for learning the arcane arts? And what about the talking thing? The typical assumption with most RPGs is that spells require verbal invocation to work--this assumption being substantiated by countless RPGs’ status ailment Mute or Silence, as it is only when the magic-user is under this condition that they cannot use their magic. Granted, that status ailment is not actually present in the Kingdom Hearts games that Donald features in, but it HAS been present in one of the recent superfluous spin-off titles, so it is once again reasonable to assume that spellcasting requires a spoken component in the KH universe. How the HELL does this work with Donald? To quote Daffy Duck in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, “Does anybody actually know what this duck is saying?” How do the spells know which one he’s trying to chant?

I’m probably overthinking this (surprise, surprise, The RPGenius overthinking something), but no matter how you slice it, Donald Duck is pretty weird, and weirder still as an RPG character.


10. Turnip (Chrono Cross)

Apparently wanting to one-up the weirdness of having an anthropomorphic frog knight with a Middle English accent in Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross decided to try doing the same thing again, only instead of a frog, it’s now...a turnip. Well...guess they succeeded. I mean, it’s a sword-swinging root vegetable. That’s weirder (somehow) than a frog doing the same thing. Add to that the fact that Turnip is essentially just a random NPC’s dream made flesh (well, whatever a turnip’s made of), and that he questions the nature of personal existence as a result,** and, well, you have a pretty bizarre individual.


9. Minsc (Baldur’s Gate 1 + 2)

What list of weirdos would be complete without Minsc, really? Legendary among PC gamers of old, he’s a perpetually enthusiastic nutjob who thinks his pet hamster is a divine space rodent that talks to him and tells him what to do.

You don’t have to crazy to get on this list, but apparently it helps.


8. Joachim (Shadow Hearts 2)

Joachim is cut from much the same cloth as Minsc, really, as is Flay from Mana Khemia, another weirdo who only just managed to miss being on this list. He’s a muscle-bound vampire who dresses up as a butterfly-themed super hero and arms himself with random large, blunt objects he encounters on his travels, ones which he feels have secretly noble souls--things like public mailboxes, desks, lumber, large frozen tunas, and small buildings filled with miniature people who are angry about their deadlines.

I swear I’m not making this shit up.


7. Domingo (Shining Force 1)




6. Jean (Breath of Fire 2)

Jean’s not all that weird on the surface--sure, he’s an anthropomorphic frog, but c’mon, you’re like twice as likely to see one of those in an RPG than you are to see a human being with dark skin. What makes Jean such a weirdo is his carefree, yet sometimes kind of listless, personality. It’s hard to describe, and the specific examples seem less weird to say aloud than they are to witness in game. He’s like...you ever watch Azumanga Daioh? You know Osaka from that anime? As Osaka is to a school girl, Jean is to a French-ish wandering prince. The guy is just not all there, in an extremely eccentric way.


5. Quina (Final Fantasy 9)

Quina’s one of those perfect examples of weirdness, an individual who acts about as bizarre as they look. Quina’s weapons are cooking utensils, its greatest joy in life is chasing and devouring swamp frogs raw, and...well, just look at the damn thing. And Quina’s odd nature just seems that much more weird in the game’s context--FF9 is a fairly serious and very thoughtful story, whose cast is otherwise made up of deep, multifaceted characters. Where did this freak even come from?


4. Lily (Fallout: New Vegas)

Why the hell would I ever need to do drugs? I have a game where I can travel around with a kindly super mutant grandmother armed with a broken helicopter blade and a seriously violent case of schizophrenia.


3. Gubibi (The Magic of Scheherazade)

Yeah, so, Gubibi is a living, talking glass bottle with arms, legs, and one eye, who is a wizard of some renown. I don’t feel I need to explain any further than that, really.***


2. Mao (Shadow Hearts 3)

While the Shadow Hearts games have a lot of tongue-in-cheek aspects, and introduce a lot of unusual things into their world, they generally try to stay reasonably grounded in the real world’s early 20th century. The quasi-attempt at a setting that mimics reality is part of why a giant talking alcoholic cat who knows kung-fu and has aspirations of being a movie star in a secret film culture solely involving cat actors seems so strange. The other part of why it seems so strange is did you not just read the previous sentence?


1. Democratus (Anachronox)

You thought it was weird to have a living dungeon in your party? Try being followed around by a planet. Yes, the Anachronox party member Democratus is an entire planet, shrunk down to personal size, its usually disorganized and argumentative leaders cheerfully ready to risk the billions of people living on its surface and its orbital rings for the sake of a grand adventure, and a chance for it to be its own ambassador. Let’s face it: it just doesn’t get weirder than that.


Honorable Mention: Former Enemies (General RPGs)

I know there’s almost always a good plot reason for why a party of heroes will take a former enemy into their midst, but that doesn’t make it any less weird, when you think about it, that these people are basically welcoming into their greatest confidence a person who until recently was attempting to kill them. It’s even quite often done casually. Again, there’s usually a believable and occasionally even rational explanation for this occurrence, but I still maintain that it’s pretty odd.











* Muppy (the one I just showed you) did almost make it, though. In the end, what really kept him off the list is that as odd as he is, you do kind of expect an alien to be somewhat different. Yeah, even by that consideration, Muppy’s a freak show, and the majority of his strangeness comes from his personality anyway, but it does still knock him just a little too low to make it here. Close, though.

** It must be a very sad feeling for a writer to realize that your fucking talking turnip’s got more character depth in his paltry 5 lines of half-assed dialogue than your entire main cast.

*** Fun little fact of further weirdness: Gubibi is not the only talking, arm-and-leg-possessing bottle who can be recruited in an RPG. Among the large list of generic individuals who can be recruited in Phantom Brave are the Bottle Mails. They, however, are generic, so they don’t qualify for the list like Gubibi does. But, man, what does it say for a genre where having a living milk container be your world-saving comrade happens twice?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Icewind Dale 1's Add-Ons

Well, y’know, I enjoyed the Baldur’s Gate series fairly well, so I figured I’d check out some of the other Dungeons and Dragons games made in the same vein, starting with Icewind Dale 1. And lo and behold, what do I find, but another game that had add-ons. Well, it may be over a decade late, and nowadays any reliable retailer you can purchase ID1 from is going to sell the add-ons bundled with it...but like I said in my Baldur’s Gate series add-on rant, some day (soon, for that matter) EVERY add-on rant I do will be out of date as every game is eventually automatically packaged with all its DLCs and expansions, so why not just do a rant rating the expansion and DLC of Icewind Dale 1 anyways?



Heart of Winter: With a story that’s just a tiny bit interesting, a villain with a smidgen of character depth, and a plot whose events actually have some halfway decent narrative structure, the Heart of Winter expansion is leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of Icewind Dale 1. The fact that it contains a guest incarnation of the character Ravel Puzzlewell, of the infinitely excellent Planescape: Torment, is a nice bonus. In fact, even though the Seer of this expansion is at best a weak imitation of the amazing PT character, she’s easily the best part of Icewind Dale 1 in its entirety. Still, even if Heart of Winter is superior to ID1’s main game, I’m not sure I would have advocated paying for this expansion, because it’s still a bit lackluster in its story, and its cast, with the Seer’s exception, is not particularly interesting. Nonetheless, Heart of Winter was at least a step in the right direction from the main story of Icewind Dale 1, so it earns some appreciation from me, I suppose.


Trials of the Luremaster: Released after the Heart of Winter expansion, Trials of the Luremaster was a free additional DLC to go with Heart of Winter that added a challenging extra dungeon to the game. As the story goes, according to Wikipedia, there was some criticism by audiences that the Heart of Winter expansion wasn’t big enough, so Black Isle Studios whipped up this lengthy super-dungeon to compensate.

By itself, I can’t say I really think much of Trials of the Luremaster. All it is, honestly, is a new dungeon with some (admittedly excellent) stuff to loot, a lot of tough battles, a few puzzles, and a very weak story. The premise is that the adventuring party is tricked into being taken to a dangerous, cursed castle, and they have to match wits and swords against the ghost bard that runs the place to put him to rest and escape. The story behind the castle, which is mostly revealed through reading some of the literary items you can find within it, is okay, I suppose, but it’s kind of generic, really, and not very interesting. I’ve seen this kind of DLC before a couple times now (Dragon Age 1’s Warden’s Keep, and Baldur’s Gate 1’s Durlag’s Tower, for examples), and honestly, this is the weakest iteration of the Cursed Historical DLC Castle/Tower/Fortress idea that I’ve seen. DA1 did it well enough with the Warden history tied to the place and thematic use of blood that relates to the rest of the game, and I actually thought that BG1’s Durlag’s Tower had an almost riveting way of telling its tale. Highest praise I could give to Trials of the Luremaster is that it’s dead-middle okay.

However, I still judge this DLC positively, because, well, they made it free of charge, so it’s not like it cost any extra to experience, and it’s not like it’s bad at all, or anything like that. And I really appreciate the idea of a developer taking the time to make something like this, responding to its customers’ disatisfactions in a positive and proactive manner by giving them what they felt was missing, and doing it all free of charge. And all of it seemingly without complaint, or smug, snide PR statements about the grandness of the favor! Really puts Bioware to shame by comparison, doesn't it? Yeah, I'll give Trials of the Luremaster a thumbs-up.



And that’s it; Heart of Winter and Trials of the Luremaster were the only add-ons made for Icewind Dale 1. How do they measure up? Eh. Could be worse. If we compare to ID1’s peers, they were certainly better than the Tales of the Sword Coast expansion for Baldur’s Gate 1, but at the same time, the Throne of Bhaal expansion for Baldur’s Gate 2, released the same year as Heart of Winter, is a heck of a lot better. Still, it’s not a lot of add-ons I can definitely say are better than the main game. I mean, if you can already put up with the nigh-mindless slog-fest that comprises 90% of Icewind Dale 1, then Heart of Winter and Trials of the Luremaster are worth checking out and will seem really good by comparison. In the end, Icewind Dale 1 gets a pass from me for its add-ons.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

General RPG Retailer GOG.com

Alright, quite honestly, I don’t really know how to do this rant without making it just sound like an advertisement, so, apologies for that.

I discovered a website a little while back, Good Old Games.com (commonly just called GOG.com). It’s pretty awesome. The long and short of it is that GOG.com sells digital, downloadable copies of a large number of older (and even a couple fairly recent) PC games. From games as popular as Unreal Tournament to games as obscure as Anachronox, from old classics like Zork to new titles like The Witcher 2, you can find a ton of great games to buy there, games which quite often are so old and/or obscure that you’d have a good bit of trouble locating a legal copy to purchase nowadays.

Now, I probably don’t have to tell you why this is a really good thing for me. If you’ve read any of my Annual Summary rants, you’ll probably notice that most of the RPGs I play in any given year are at least a couple years old, most of the time older. Oh, sure, I play a couple games inside a year of their release, but generally I’m always just playing catch-up with the RPG genre. Heck, there are still plenty of RPGs for the NES I still haven’t played yet (I just completed The Legend of Zelda 2 a few months ago, for example). So a website that specifically focuses on providing older games is ideal for me.

There’s a lot more to how great GOG.com is than just my personal convenience, though. First of all, there’s the pricing. The vast majority of the GOG.com catalogue is priced at $10 or less, which is a really, really good price for a game. Okay, yes, they ARE old, so yes, it makes sense that they’d be priced low, but that doesn’t make it less of a good deal. I don’t know about you guys, but I’d generally rather buy 6 old games at 10 bucks a pop than spend $60 on a single new title, all things being equal. And that’s assuming you buy the games at full price--GOG.com has a sale every weekend, during which they price several of their games (usually a set of similar titles, or titles all by a single developer, or something) at significantly reduced prices. These can wind up being really good sales, honestly. The last 3 titles I’ve purchased from GOG.com on sale were $2.39 each. Now I don’t care WHERE you’re buying from or how old the game is, that is a mighty fine price for a legal copy. You’d have trouble finding a price that low on a used game in poor shape from any regular retailer, and unlike purchasing a used game, buying from GOG.com indirectly supports the companies that own the game, rather than just the retailer itself, since GOG.com has paid them for the ability to distribute it.

This all makes for a very convenient and affordable business, but I probably wouldn’t have written a whole rant about this site if it were just for that.* Well, GOG.com’s also great for its general quality standards. The actual process of getting the game is very simple--it would have to be, for me to be able to figure it out. After purchasing it, you just download this one single installer package, open it up, and it pretty much takes care of everything from there. They remove the copy protections from the games, so that you can re-download the game to more than one machine without a hassle. In addition, when you purchase a game, you usually get a lot of stuff that goes with it--in the same bar where you get the game installer, you can also download various extras for it, such as the instruction manual, game avatars, official game art and/or wallpapers, and sometimes even the game’s soundtrack, some Making Of videos and developer interviews, and walkthroughs. Additionally, if a game had any add-ons produced for it (expansions, downloadable content, that sort of thing), you can generally rely on GOG.com having that included in the game’s download files. They definitely go all out on providing the customer with everything they might need or want--Planescape: Torment, for example, has in its description a link to a guide for installing several game mods that fix its bugs, make it run better, and restored content. These are things that anyone playing PT for the first time really should have available for the best experience, and GOG.com makes sure they do.

The GOG.com staff also, from what I’ve seen, provide swift and effective customer service. I noticed last month that the soundtrack provided for download with Icewind Dale 2 was disorganized, and its files weren’t named at all, leaving me, and apparently a few other customers, confused as to which songs were which and what the tracks were meant to be called. This was mentioned in the GOG.com forums devoted to the game. Within a couple days, a GOG.com worker had noticed the complaint (even though no one had, I believe, thought to actually officially contact the site over the issue), and cleaned up the soundtrack, after which said worker courteously let those who had posted the complaint know that it had been fixed. That’s quick, dedicated, and friendly service, right there. Maybe it’s just because I’ve spent the last half a year at the Bioware forums watching the company dodge customer complaints, outright lie to its fans, arbitrarily and rudely close topics about improving Mass Effect 3’s ending, and utterly fail to improve its multiplayer servers and/or fix several severe bugs and gameplay issues for months and months, but GOG.com’s willingness to treat the people it owes its existence to as actual human beings with valid concerns favorably impresses me.

And that’s about it. I think GOG.com is a great source for old and obscure RPGs. It’s simple, cheap, and it’s clearly run by people who take an active interest in the games they sell. Check it out.

And as a side note, if you are a reader of this blog and you have for some reason not played Planescape: Torment yet in spite of my mentioning how great it is roughly every 5 rants or so, now you really do have no excuse. Go to GOG.com and buy it and play it and love it. NOW!










* “Probably” being the key term. Sometimes I get low on rant ideas, and suddenly ideas previously discarded as not being good enough for rant subjects start to seem a whole lot better.