Monday, July 28, 2014

General RPGs' Minigames 11: Hide and Seek

Ugh. Hide and seek minigames.

Hide and seek’s one of those things whose real life appeal does not translate well to video games, like fishing, auctions, and, in the case of turn-based RPGs, physical combat. In real life, you’re pitting your mind and, to an extent, your agility and flexibility against that of others, seeing who can pick the best hiding place, who can find it, who has the patience and self control to make the best use of a hiding place, who has the keen sense of sight, hearing, and, on some unfortunate occasions, smell,* to uncover those hiding. There’s usually also some sort of thrill of urgency to the game, as the longer people remain unfound, the more of a chance they have to make a break for home base or something (not that everyone plays like that, of course, there’s no real hard and fast rule about hide and seek beyond the 2 titular activities).

All of that’s pretty much out the window with a hide and seek minigame. You’re only pitting your mind against one or two (probably very bored) programmers, the same ones whom you’ve probably already matched wits with countless times before during the puzzles of various dungeons in the game. You pretty much only ever play the role of the seeker in a hide and seek minigame, cutting out half of the entirety of the game.** Oh sure, there are times in RPGs where you have to hide and stay sneaky, but those are for stealth minigames, and the ones you’re avoiding are inevitably just guards with a set movement pattern. They’re usually not actually seeking you, and in the cases where they are, they’re always doing a piss-poor job of it. There’s only one sense you’re ever using in the minigame, that being sight--there’s pretty much never any sound-based clues to your prey, as there might be in a real game. There’s no real urgency about it save the occasional arbitrary timer; those hiding just sit and wait motionlessly for you the whole time.

As well as all that, most of the hide and seek minigames I’ve played are illogical and dumb. You take the one in Breath of Fire 4, where you play hide and seek with some kids in a desert city near the beginning of the game (at least, I THINK this is an example of what I’m about to talk about; it’s been a long time since I played and I’m in no rush to relive it). Some of the hiding places the kids take are stupid because they’re only hidden from the player’s view of a skyward look. You’ll have to move the camera to locate them, because otherwise they’re out of your personal view. But from the perspective of the game character who is, according to the game’s story, actually looking for them, these spots at times should be very clearly visible!

And that’s the thing with these hide and seek games: so often the hiding places are just absolutely terrible, and would only be challenging for someone looking down from a bird’s eye view. Well that’s just fine and dandy for challenging the player, I suppose, but it sure as hell doesn’t make the slightest pretense at in-game realism. And if the damn minigame isn’t going to try to connect with the actual game events in any real way, why the hell should I give a crap about it? It’s just distracting and delaying me from continuing to experience the RPG’s storytelling properly, breaking immersion so I can go on what amounts, with no other actual human interaction, to a treasure hunt with no treasure.


* Yes, smell. I once played a game of hide and seek in which I located my quarry because no nook or cranny in the world could contain his unique brand of body odor. When I uncovered him and he groaned and whined, “How’d you find me!?” (because his hiding place WAS very good), I had the good grace to say, that I had “just had a feeling,” and not add that the feeling had been in my nose, and that it had been terrible pain.

** Please note that this is not to be taken as a suggestion that a hide and seek minigame SHOULD give the player the chance to be the one hiding. That’s all I need--a minigame where I just sit and wait for half an hour. My point here is only that the concept of hide and seek is irrecoverably cut in half for the minigame, a loss that there is no remedy for.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Lunar Series's Goddess Althena

Hm. Although I’ve spaced’em out pretty well, I’ve done an unusual amount of rants about the Lunar series lately. I guess it’s probably my having played Lunar: Dragon Song last year...until recently, I’d been happily content to let Lunar rest in the back of my mind in static disdain, but once the series was brought back to my attention, I started to not only recognize the unspeakable terribleness of LDS, but also really remember the previous games’ specific problems. And in this renewed attention, I have come to realize something about the series that I hadn’t particularly thought about before:

Goddess Althena sucks.

Seriously, she’s total crap. Consider this: I have played 3 of the 4 Lunar games.* She is physically present and affecting the plot in 2 of those games, and both times, she gets brainwashed to be evil and do the main villain’s bidding. So far, 100% of the time that Althena has been in a game, she’s been duped into being evil. Once, yeah, I was willing to accept that, but twice? 2 for 2? Once is acceptable for an RPG character, happens all the time. I don’t hold the brainwashing against Mary’s husband in Tales of Destiny 1, or Kain in Final Fantasy 4,** or Knights of the Old Republic 1’s Bastila. In fact, in all 3 of those cases, the brainwashing angle is beneficial to the storytelling, adding characterization or providing new, positive characteristics to the game’s plot. But when you’re getting brainwashed more than once, by 2 different people,*** and you’re a freaking goddess? That’s just pretty pathetic, lady.

Not helping that is the fact that neither villain who brainwashes Althena is a particularly compelling character or has a very well thought-out, reasonable objective. One wonders how anyone could be brainwashed by Ghaleon or Ignatius to begin with. I guess there’s some plot-convenient magic going on with it, probably, but again, why the hell is it so easy to do this to the super-powerful deity who created, maintains, and watches over all of Lunar?

That’s certainly not the only beef I’ve got with Althena, though. Here’s another big one: the endings of both Lunar: Dragon Song and Lunar 1 both contain the implication that Althena has decided, in the human forms of Lunar 1’s Luna and LDS’s Lucia, that humanity does not need her to guide them, watch over them, and serve whatever capacity she does as a goddess just sort of sitting around in a glowy chamber that people don’t regularly visit anyway. Well, okay, fine. There’s the message of her children standing for themselves and facing their future with their own strength and so on. Good message, lamely conveyed.****

Here’s the thing, though: her children not needing her to create their own future should NOT the same thing as her deciding to skip out on goddesshood forever. When Luna dies of old age after the events of Lunar 1, she doesn’t reincarnate, and so Althena the goddess is gone forever. Well, that’s fine and all, but she’s taking herself entirely out of the picture when she KNOWS that Zophar, the ungodly powerful villain of Lunar 2 whose destruction of Earth necessitated the creation of Lunar to begin with, could potentially return to threaten the inhabitants of Lunar in the future! Luna-Althena is fully aware of Zophar’s existence, of how incredibly powerful he is and that he might someday threaten Lunar’s people with extinction, and yet she makes no effort to keep herself alive in case that day may come! And you can’t even say she just stupidly forgot or something, because she left a video message for Lunar 2’s Lucia (no relation to Lunar: Dragon Song’s Lucia; why the hell did the writers have 2 separate major characters in the series named the same damn thing?) explaining that she did so.

I’m sorry, but there is a DIFFERENCE between letting your children pave their own way without your guidance or interference, and just carelessly abandoning them to let them face down a monster of pure evil that dwarfs your own goddess-level power! You can WATCH things without interfering with their destiny, you know. I may have every confidence that a child has the coordination, intelligence, common sense, and maturity to use an oven, but that confidence doesn’t mean that the first time the kid tries cooking some mac’n’cheese, I should turn off the smoke detectors, hide the list of emergency numbers, disconnect the land line, toss all cell phones in the garbage disposal, scribble out all the instructions on the mac’n’cheese box, and leave town!

It’s just stupid black-and-white reasoning with no room for the gray area of common fucking sense. If your kid is getting picked on by another kid in school, and you tell him that he should try to solve his own problems, that’s one thing. But if your child later comes running up to you in terror because he’s being chased by a vicious, possibly rabid dog, your response should obviously NOT still be to tell him to solve his own problems! That dog is dangerous enough that it poses a threat to YOU, a full-grown adult, and thus it is NOT reasonable to expect the child to deal with the problem himself. It is CONCEIVABLE that a child might just be able to protect himself successfully from the dog--the same way it’s conceivable to bulls-eye a fly with a snapped rubber band with your eyes closed--but it is horribly wrong to assume that he can and must do so. And that’s what Althena does after her permanent death after Lunar 1--she just leaves a video to whoever’s day she screwed up in the future saying, “You can do it if you believe in yourselves! Hope it all works out for you kids!” and washes her hands of her children forever.

Okay, fine, you can argue that she did, in fact, wind up being correct, and the heroes in Lunar 2 manage to find a way to stop Zophar on their own. You know what? You want to count Althena’s faith that humanity would manage just happening to come true as a point in her favor, go ahead. Just go ahead, I don’t even frickin’ care. But in my opinion, the narrow save for humanity of defeating Zophar isn’t evidence of well-placed faith, it’s just them managing to accomplish something that couldn’t possibly have been predicted or relied upon under even the best of circumstances. Lunar 2’s heroes made it happen and good on them for it, but from the perspective of Althena centuries before, she just irresponsibly rolled some dice and they happened to come up favorably. But that’s just my perspective, I suppose.

And another reason Althena is a shitty goddess: for all the big deal that’s made about her taking a mortal form and letting Lunar’s people move forward without her guidance...well, what exactly was so great about her guidance to begin with? Quite frankly, the world that Althena has only comparatively recently stopped supposedly directly guiding in Lunar: Dragon Song is a pretty bad one. The society of Lunar: Dragon Song, which again is implied to have been until recent years under the more direct guidance of Althena, is racially oppressive! Because beastmen in Lunar are (supposedly) physically superior to humans in every measurable way, they dominate the best parts of the land to live in, rule over both themselves and the humans, enjoy all the best perks of their society’s cities and technologies, and generally just look down on all humans and see them as just a superfluous, lesser species. And don’t give me crap about how Althena has, by Lunar: Dragon Song’s opening, been away in the human form of Lucia for several years now. The idea that humans are inferior creatures is one that is an ingrained part of this society’s mentality, shared and fully accepted by nearly all beastmen AND human beings. Even if we assume that some huge social order rearrangement from a previous society of equality could have happened in the time that Althena’s been Lucia, AND had time to settle down by this point into being everyday life, there’s simply no way that an entire society would so universally adopt a notion such as one race’s inferiority to another in such a comparatively short period of time.***** This is clearly a social idea that has been around for a long, long time, so the inescapable conclusion is that for a significant period of time where Althena has been directly available and supposedly influential on Lunar’s society, she has either overlooked or actively encouraged a society in which one race is looked down upon and subjugated by another one.

And by the way, just to make things clear here for the kinds of folks who think Caesar’s Legion in Fallout: New Vegas was a legitimate social force, the Lunar society, at the time of Lunar: Dragon Song, is one which is more than sufficiently advanced enough that the supposed physical strength of the beastmen does not warrant greater social respect. It’s a well-advanced civilization with political leaders, bureaucracy, the arts, and enough technological advancement that intellect must be socially valuable to some degree. It has advanced to the point where there is no defensible reason to base social worth upon physical prowess, and obviously has been at that point for a long time. So there is no rational survival-related reason for making humans second-class citizens, or anything like that. Not that it would be rational anyway, by the evidence of the series’s own games. I mean, human Jian in LDS is the physical equal of beastmen Gabby and Rufus (not even counting Jian’s ability to attack thrice at once), humans Alex and Kyle in Lunar 1 are physically superior to half-beastman Jessica, and beastman Leo in Lunar 2 is at best only physically the equal of human Hiro.

So let’s count up what we’ve got here, shall we? We have a goddess who is brainwashed into being evil every time we see her, who 100% abandons her people even though she knows that an insanely powerful and horrible monster may someday attack them on the flimsy pretext that she thinks they’re emotionally ready to take it on and have to stand on their own and so on, and she let an inarguably unnecessary racially oppressive society rise up on her watch. So far Althena is sounding like one awesome benevolent, wise, nurturing goddess that everyone loves. Do I have anything else?

You bet I do! How about that Vile Tribe, huh? According to the legends of Lunar, the Vile Tribe were a bunch of no-goodniks who were banished hundreds of years before any of the Lunar games after they rejected Althena and for the bad deeds they did. What deeds were these? Uh, the legends are pretty suspiciously vague on this point, actually, and a quick search at a couple of Wikipedias and Lunar fanpages doesn’t offer any clarification.

Putting aside the suspicious lack of details to what the Vile Tribe did to deserve this punishment, banishment from the settled part of Lunar is a pretty big deal. Lunar takes place on the moon (uh, spoilers, I guess?), and it seems that most of the greenery and flowing water and all those nice life-sustaining environmental conditions are a result of Althena’s magic having jumpstarted and, at least for a time, maintained them. In most cases, banishment is no laughing matter, but in the case of Lunar, banishment from Althena’s lands to the untouched Frontier is to be exiled to a harsh, very nearly lifeless wasteland. I mean, it’s essentially just the moon as we understand it, except that Althena’s magical air spills over into it, I guess. As far as I’m concerned, the following are all significantly easier to survive over long periods of time than Lunar’s Frontier lands:

The Majority of Fallout’s Wasteland
Breath of Fire 3’s Desert of Death
The Arctic
Baten Kaitos’s Earth
A Long, Thoughtful Discourse between Tommy Wiseau and Sarah Palin

So I have to wonder, what crime was it that all those who would form the Vile Tribe committed to deserve this? This isn’t just your regular banishment where you send someone away to do their own thing and stop bothering you. This is the kind of banishment where you’re sending someone away to die so you don’t have to execute them yourself. This is about a quarter of a step away from an outright mass execution. So tell me, Goddess Althena, always presented as so benevolent, good, and loving, what was this vague crime of the past that was deserving of such an extreme punishment for so many? I’d love to know what they did that could be heinous enough to warrant this.

But you know, that’s not even my point here. Here’s where my real fourth argument of Althena sucking comes in. Let’s assume for a moment that whatever the people of the Vile Tribe did, it really, undeniably WAS worthy of banishment to the edges of Lunar 500 years ago. Swallowing that, let’s consider something The beings of the Vile Tribe aren’t mentioned to be any longer-lived than regular humans and beastmen (and living out on the Frontier, one can reasonably assume that most of the Vile Tribe would actually have shorter lives than the average Lunar citizen), so that means that the people who are forced to live outside of Althena’s lands by the times of the games, forced to subsist in this wasteland to beat all wastelands, are the distant descendants of the original Vile Tribe who committed the crime that we are currently assuming actually warranted banishment.

Ummmmmmmm...yeah, uh, why are they still there?

Althena’s banishment doesn’t just punish those of the Vile Tribe who actually committed the crime, it passes that punishment down from generation to generation! By the end of Lunar 1, 500 years’ worth of generations have been suffering for the sins of their forebears, sins that these children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and so on had NO PART OF! By Althena’s decree, countless people have spent their entire lives in an agonized struggle for survival for a crime they did not commit! That’s...that’s horrifyingly unjust, outright evil!

You can try to rationalize it, sure. Here, let me help you--I already thought of some good ones:

“Ah gee, RPGenius, we don’t know that it was ALTHENA that kept them on the Frontier. Maybe she would have accepted the original Vile Tribe’s descendants back, and it was just the other people of Lunar who didn’t let them back!” Well that’s certainly possible, but I’d like to remind you that the major conflicts of both Lunar: Dragon Song and Lunar 1 revolve around the question of whether Althena should be available to guide and coddle Lunar’s civilization, with the understood implication that she has been doing just that. So even if the people of Lunar are the ones who keep the Vile Tribe exiled (due at least in part to the doctrine of Althena’s followers saying that this exile is a good thing), Althena has long been in a position up until very soon before both games’ beginnings to tell the Vile Tribe that it’s okay to come back, and to tell the rest of Lunar to suck it up and deal with it--IF she was willing to forgive the children for the sins of the fathers. But that does not happen.

“Well shucks there RPGenius, the Vile Tribe members we see in the games are mostly villains anyway. Maybe they’re still there because they’re still bad!” I think not. While Royce is shown to be pretty irredeemably evil and the possibility of Xenobia being capable of any good at all is questionable, Phacia, the third leader of the Vile Tribe at the time of Lunar 1, eventually comes to redeem herself, and from some of the things we learn during the games, the Vile Tribe of current times are doing what they’re doing because they’re justifiably pissed off at their exile and the difficult life they’ve all had because of it. But as at least some of them are capable of accepting and embracing the ideals of Lunar’s society, as seen by Phacia, they’re capable of complex thought and self-awareness of morality and emotion, and they’re capable of following a leader who promises them a better life, so I would say that the Vile Tribe are no more inherently evil than you or I. They possess the human spirit and a human-level intellect and self-awareness, and anyone who does so can, potentially, be a good, worthwhile, and acceptable person, given the chance.

“Maybe Althena doesn’t actually know they’re still out there, and would offer them the chance to come back if she did, RPGenius!” Well, I can’t remember exactly whether the Vile Tribe are a known fact to the society of Lunar in Lunar: Dragon Song and Lunar 1, or if they’re just a legend that people can’t verify or disprove, but by the end of Lunar: Dragon Song, Althena, in the form of Lucia, is very aware that the Vile Tribe exists because they factored into the whole adventure. Yeah, Lucia decides at the end of LDS that the world doesn’t need Althena’s guidance, but we know, given the later events of Lunar 1, that she at some point apparently changed her mind and went back to being a goddess who at least in SOME way had something to do with human and beastman affairs (if she truly had no part in them at all in that form, then she’d feel no need to let herself permanently die as Luna at the end of Lunar 1) for a while. Yet by the time Lunar 1 opens, the Vile Tribe is still forced to be out on the Frontier. Althena knows they’re there, and she’s not changing her mind about it.

“Maybe, RPGenius, they don’t want to go back!” They certainly do want to go back; that’s why Ghaleon is able to get them to build his Grindery in Lunar 1. Now, maybe you mean that they don’t want to go back and be presided over by Althena. That is certainly possible--the original myth of the Vile Tribe does say that they rejected Althena from the start, and if my memory serves, Xenobia and Royce reject Phacia’s idea of trying to return to Lunar peacefully under the rules of Althena. But you know what? That isn’t a reason that they can’t be given a little piece of Lunar for themselves that isn’t the horrible Frontier. So long as they were peaceful and didn’t trouble others, why not let them live somewhere reasonably habitable without having to go around worshipping Althena? They shouldn’t be forced to worship her if they don’t want to, and the punishment for not worshipping her shouldn’t be banishment to a harsh wasteland! If the current generations of Vile Tribe people are seriously being kept out just because they don’t feel like worshipping the goddess that let them suffer a painful, harsh existence as penance for their grandparents’ mistakes, then we can add “raging egomaniac” to the list of Althena’s bad qualities.

“But RPGenius, children SHOULD be forced to suffer for mistakes their parents made!” Please go and be an idiotic asshole somewhere else.

No matter how you try to rationalize it, it always comes down to the same thing: the Vile Tribe descendants unfairly suffer for someone else’s crimes, because of Althena, and are either passively or actively kept in that suffering by Althena.

So yeah. That’s the rant, folks. That’s why Goddess Althena sucks. She’s brainwashed too damn easily, she abandons her people knowing what kind of danger they might someday face and just cheerfully expects them to overcome it without any reason for such confidence, she allows groundless racism to shape and maintain an oppressive society, and she forces descendants to go through the agonizing punishment earned for crimes they themselves did not commit. So essentially, she’s easily the pawn of mortals (and bad ones, at that), she can’t be relied on, her guidance leads society astray, and regardless of her supposed benevolence, she’s actually utterly ruthless and unforgiving, and in a way that’s completely unjust. I actually think that’s a pretty comprehensive list of everything that is the exact opposite of what a deity is supposed to be! It’s a damned shame, it really is, because Althena was a solo-act goddess at a time back when RPGs involving outright gods didn’t really have many such things, only heterogenous pantheons or single male deities (or entirely male pantheons). I would have preferred to like her. But the flat fact is that she really just sucks.

* The 4 separate, actual, original Lunar games, I mean. The Lunar series is bizarre in that it has 10 different title entries in it, yet of those 10, the majority are actually just remakes and rereleases. Seriously--there’s Lunar 1 (The Silver Star), Lunar 2 (Eternal Blue), Lunar: Walking School, Lunar: Dragon Song (Lunar Genesis in Japan), and then the rest of the games in the series are 1 remake of Lunar: Walking School, 1 remake of Lunar 2, and then 4 remakes of Lunar 1. This is a series where the remakes actually outnumber the original games. Even Final Fantasy isn’t that bad...yet.

** Keep in mind that though Kain betrayed the party twice, it was only 1 single brainwashing that caused that--he simply didn’t fully snap out of it the first time. It’s not like 2 separate, successful attempts were made.

*** Er, sort of. Ignatius of Lunar: Dragon Song is supposed to be his own individual character, even if it’s pretty painfully obvious that he’s just a bad copy of Lunar 1’s Ghaleon.

**** For the sake of the rant’s integrity, we will forget, for a moment, that it’s illogical and stupid for Lunar: Dragon Song’s Lucia to come to this conclusion, when she will, some time later, be Althena doing Althena world-guiding things in time for Lunar 1’s events to occur, at which point she’ll apparently relearn the same damn lesson. If you’re going to make deity non-involvement your message for your prequel game, Game Arts, then you might want to make sure that your later, already well-established game doesn’t hinge on that message never having happened.

***** Actually, I can think of one single way that would happen in a short period of time--if Althena had herself said that beastmen were better than humans and should lead society in totality. But that possibility would just directly prove my point that she sucks, wouldn’t it?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Shin Megami Tensei 4-1's Fiend Hunting

Remember the third rant I ever posted, way, way back years ago, on Rare Item Drops? Of course you don’t. None of you read my rants when I first started; it was the only time in the history of this rant blog that I’ve had fewer readers than...well, all the rest of the time. But 8 years ago, I ranted about how frustrating and utterly idiotic RPGs can be with items (and other occurrences) that only have a teeny-tiny statistically infinitesimal chance of showing up. It’s one of the few of my really early rants that I stand by 100% today and have not in any way changed or advanced my opinion on.

Well as it turns out, I jumped the gun on that rant by about 7 and a half years. I apparently should have waited until the latter half of Summer 2013 to write that one, because holy shit guys, Shin Megami Tensei 4’s Fiend encounter rates.

I’ll note right off the bat that SMT4 already has a few Random Number Generator transgressions before the Fiend business. The Incense drop rate is slightly annoying at times, although I suppose that’s not necessarily a big deal--if you’re farming Incense (or anything else in an RPG), you’ve pretty much got to have resigned yourself to wasting a lot of time on nothing important. More than that, there’s an entire line of demons in SMT4 that you can ONLY get from an accident during demon fusion, the Hero line. That’s annoying to any completionist who wants to get a full bestiary, and even annoying to someone who plays more casually like me, because Jeanne D’Arc is in the Hero line and I’ll be DAMNED if I’m going to play an RPG with a recruitable Joan of Arc and NOT have her on my team. The chances of a Fusion accident are tiny, the chances of that accident making one of the Hero demons instead of some random other one is small again (and the only way to feasibly make it happen (fusing dead and Foul-line demons) is not made known to the player), and the chances that the abilities the Hero demon inherits are ones you’d want them to have are random, too.*

Sigh. At least Atlus has finally done away with randomized skill inheritance in normal fusion, anyway. Maybe somebody in the company read my old rant about that. Or just turned on their fucking brain.

So anyway, SMT4 already has some moments where you’ll be cursing the Random Number Generator gods with some venom. But that’s child’s play compared to the ultimate of horrible randomized rate situations...the Fiend Encounter Rate. Capitalized because I think I might make that a thing, one of my special terms in this blog, like Sailing.

So here’s the deal. There are a small group of demons known as the Fiends. They are David, Chemtrail, Plasma, the Matador, the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse (The Red, Pale, Black, and White Riders, aka the infamous Famine, Pestilence, War, and Death), the Trumpeter, and Mother Harlot. They’re pretty cool because, vaguely, they kind of all represent Death in all its forms as we know it--more on that in a later, more interesting rant. In Shin Megami Tensei 4, you can encounter, defeat, and gain the ability to create and recruit David and (in the Chaos path) Mother Harlot from a couple of sidequests. If you purchase one of the especially pointless DLCs, Death has its Applications, you can also encounter, defeat, and then create and recruit Plasma. The rest (Matador, Chemtrail, the 4 Riders, and the Trumpeter) can all be just be encountered by passing by certain spots in the game and getting into a random encounter with them, and after defeating them, you can create and recruit them.

Simple, right? Yeah, ha ha ha ha, fucking no.

See, it’s like this. Let’s say you want to run into the Trumpeter. He is a super cool concept, the angel of death who announces the end of all things by the notes of his trumpet. It is he who sounds the coming of Judgment Day. Who the hell WOULDN’T want him in their mythological dream team roster? So you find out where he’s supposed to show up by looking online (because you will NEVER find out otherwise, my friend). It’s a certain spot between some trees in a certain forest. Cool. You go there (assuming you’re on the Neutral or Law path, that is; can’t get’im on the Chaos path, I think), and go to the spot. And...nothing happens.

Hm. Odd. You leave the forest and come back to it, and go over the same spot. Still nothing. Well, that’s just weird. Time to look online to see what’s wrong. Lessee...Google, GameFAQs, SMT4, Discussion, then one of the countless topics about the Fiends. Alright, let’s see...oh, here’s the problem!

You only have a 1 out of 256 encounter rate chance.

That’s right. 1 out of 256. 1. Out of. 256. Any time you cross over the one single spot where the Trumpeter, or any of the other Fiends I mentioned, is supposed to show up, the game is gonna pull up a list of 255 boxes saying NO and 1 box saying YES, and pick a single box from that list at random to decide if the guy you’re looking for is there. 1 out of 256. I would like to remind you that the Final Fantasy 4 Pink Puff enemies, those elusive fuckers who can drop the Pink Tail, are famous for how low their encounter rate is, and their encounter rate is 1 out of 64.

Now I think most of you know what I’m getting at here, but for those of my readers who are, I dunno, SquareEnix Executive-level morons, allow me to make my point clear: 64? It’s a LOT LOWER than 256. It is, in fact, 4 times less than 256. Meaning that the Pink Puffs, held up as the standard of stupidly rare enemy encounters in RPGs, mentioned in my own Rare Item Drop rant so long ago, are actually 4 times more likely to appear than one of the Fiends in Shin Megami Tensei 4.

Not fun. But not the end of the story, either. Remember what I said about that single spot that the Trumpeter might show up in? Well, you can’t just run over it back and forth for an hour or two to get him to show up. See, the chance of his showing up there is generated when you enter the area of the forest in which that spot resides. Meaning that if he’s not there the first time, that’s not going to change until you turn around and leave the area altogether, then come back to try again. So you’re not just wasting time going over this spot a few hundred times--you’re wasting time getting to the spot, going over it, then turning around and running all the way out of the area so you can do it again.** Over and over and over again.

And one more thing about the whole shows-up-on-a-single-specific-spot thing. It’s a small spot. So let me tell you something. When you’ve run over the same spot over 200 times and have yet to see results, you start to wonder. To doubt. You start to ask yourself, “Am I even running over the right place? This internet picture and map diagram is specific, but not absolutely perfect. Could I have been going over the wrong spot all this time?” You torment yourself with this doubt, making it worse with every screen reload, thinking each time louder and louder with ever growing horror, “Have I perhaps been going over the wrong spot for the last hour?! Have I actually been wasting my time this whole while!?”

(The answer is yes, yes you have, whether or not you have the right spot).

And we’re still not done. Let’s say, amazement of amazements, you run into the Trumpeter at long last. He probably kills you, but that’s okay--hell, it’s almost a GOOD thing. If you have Charon bring you back to life where you were, you’ll be right beside the encounter spot and Trumpeter is guaranteed to be waiting for you to walk over it. Just save, and you can fight him at your leisure. So you save, you get your team better prepared for the attacks that you now know he has since you fought him once already, and you try again. You beat him this time! THANK. GOD. Phew. Okay, FINALLY, since you have beaten him, you have unlocked him and can now fuse him and put him in your team. Alright, open up the menu, go to the fusion part, check out the Special Fusions...

...Um. Hm. Where is he?

Did you miss him? Go back. Back, back, yup, further,, you’re at the beginning of the list. He’s not there. What the hell. Back to the internet! Google, SMT Wiki, look up the Trumpeter, find his game-specific it is, his fusion requirements...oh, THAT’S why he hasn’t shown up on your list! In order to fuse Trumpeter, you’ll have to have the 4 Rider Fiends available to you, and since you haven’t encountered any of them, he’s not on the list. Well that’s simple enough, you’ll just have to go find them and beat them so you can...can...


Oh right. THEY’RE all Fiends, too! Yes, that’s right, reader peeps. If you want to fuse the Trumpeter, the best of the bunch, you will have to encounter ALL 4 FIEND RIDERS as well. You will have to repeat this agonizing 1/256-chance-per-screen-load-in-a-tiny-spot all over again. And you will do it 4 times.

And by the way, this does not get much better if you’re not that interested in the Trumpeter, so long as you have an interest in almost ANY of the Fiends. Yes, Chemtrail and Matador can be fused from demons you regularly have access to, so once you (finally) encounter and defeat either of them, you can immediately fuse them. BUT, the Pale Rider, White Rider, Black Rider, and Red Rider ALL have fusion requirements that require previous Fiends. One basically leads to the next in order to fuse it--in order to fuse the Pale Rider, you must have a Black Rider, in order to fuse the Black Rider, you must have a Red Rider, in order to have him, you must first have a White Rider, and to fuse a White Rider, you must have a Matador. All of them require you to have encountered and defeated them to unlock them. So actually, if you want the Trumpeter (and Mother Harlot, for that matter, since her fusion needs a Trumpeter), you’re not doing the horrible process only 5 times (1 for him, 4 for the Riders), you’re doing it 6 times, because you need that initial Matador to start the whole thing off. That’s struggling 6 times against odds of 1/256. Finding the spots, and going over them again and again hundreds, thousands of times, waiting for something to happen.

They say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Atlus is actually making its players crazy.

Okay okay OKAY, yes, obviously this is pretty clearly self-inflicted frustration for any gamer who goes into it. All the Fiends are entirely optional to encounter (even the ones who are a simple matter of going on a side quest), and though they’re very powerful, it’s not like you can’t make a huge, powerful team without them just fine (in fact, if you work the system properly, pretty much ANY demon can be a titan of pure unbridled power--when I was done with the game, my Pixie was tearing through Hard Mode’s shit like if you dropped Pinkie Pie in Sugar Rush). The only reason you’d need to go through all this bullshit for the Fiends would only be your own misguided need for completionism, or if you just really, really like 1 Fiend in particular.*** This isn’t really a case of a company outright abusing its audience, like a disturbing number of other creators do nowadays (by this point, I think you might actually be able to diagnose fans of Bioware or Spider-Man with Battered Person Syndrome--and you may think that’s just a joke made in bad taste, and it mostly is, but I’ve read some of the things fans have said on Bioware’s forums, and it’s actually kind of creepy how close some statements can sound to the BPS mentality). This is just them going too far with something that’s ultimately very unimportant. Like Game Freak does with the whole Shiny Pokemon thing--although to be fair, at least with the Shiny Pokemon, the regular, non-rare version of the damn thing is readily available to capture and recruit, while this Fiend Encounter Rate nonsense is the ONLY way to get these demons. Ultimately, I can’t hold too much of a grudge against the folks at Atlus for this nonsense; the person who decided to waste my time with getting the Trumpeter is me, not them.

But all the same...Atlus, please, for the love of everything good and just in the universe, don’t ever do anything like this ever again.

* SORT OF random. Technically speaking, you can rig it--figure out what the Hero demon is automatically going to have (their starter moves, essentially), then, using creative fusion skill inheritance, make sure that the demons you’re fusing to make the accident to create the Hero demon ONLY have the skills you want the Hero to have and that there are EXACTLY as many of those skills between the 2 parent demons together as there are free skill slots for the resulting Hero demon (FREE skill slots, as in, not the ones that will be used for the natural skills the Hero starts with anyway). This at least takes the randomization out of the skill inheritance aspect of Hero demon fusion accidents. By replacing it with tedious planning and executing of long chains of parent fusions. Joy.

** There’s a slight work around for this. If you own one of the stupid DLCs that take you to an Experience/Money/App farming area, you can stand in front of the Fiend’s encounter spot, open the DLC and go into it, quit it and come back, and that will re-generate the Fiend’s encounter area. This is incredibly tedious to do 400 times in a row, but still faster in most cases than turning around and leaving the area and then coming back again that same 400 times, particularly since you can add a complex save-reload trick to this process to shave a few more seconds off, a trick that is way more work to explain than I really think is necessary at the moment (but if you really want to know, say so). This is, however, obviously not a good enough solution that it makes the situation any more excusable, especially since not everyone wants to waste money on meaningless DLC nonsense.

*** Why oh why must I be such a sucker for the Trumpeter?