Friday, December 18, 2015

Annual Summary 2015

Okay but seriously guys, how long can I keep up this whole rant thing? Surely I’m gonna run out of good ideas for rants soon, right?

...Wait, you can’t run out of what you never had to start with. Okay, I guess we’re good to keep going!

2015 was a good year for RPGs for me. Most of the ones I played were at least decent, plenty were great, and considering that I was working AND taking courses to be a teacher all through the year, I’d say I played a good number of them. Here’s what was on the plate this year:

Celestian Tales 1
Defenders of Oasis
Eternal Senia
Gothic 2
Legena: Union Tides
The Legend of Heroes 6-1
The Legend of Korra: A New Era Begins
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons
Mario and Luigi 4
Neverwinter Nights 1
Pillars of Eternity
Shadowrun: Hong Kong
Swords + Darkness
Witch + Hero
Xenoblade Chronicles 1
Zenonia 1

Okay, yeah, not a huge number, but again, I was pretty busy. Heck, even outside of my boring real life stuff, I filled my time up pretty fully.

With what? Why, I’m glad you (almost certainly did not actually) ask! This year, I watched a ton of great stuff. I finally, FINALLY, watched Avatar: The Last Airbender, like everyone has been telling me to for the last decade or so, and quite enjoyed it! It’s definitely a great cartoon. I also watched its sequel series, The Legend of Korra, which was great as well, and also a little more timely. I watched Brooklyn 99’s second season (hilarious as always), the recent anime Sakura Trick (meh), Rick and Morty (a much larger meh), the Dollhouse (quite good), the new show Adam Ruins Everything (fun, informative, socially important, and it stars a member of my first, favorite sketch comedy groups, Olde English!), My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic’s fifth season (great as always), Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (very funny), and The Tick (live action and cartoon, both are hilarious). I also rewatched Trigun and Avatar: The Last Airbender with my mother; she liked ATLA quite well and was absolutely nuts about Trigun. Naturally.

I also watched 3 things which just blew me away. The first was Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. It is, without a doubt, the greatest 80s parody ever made--and I say that now, in 2015, the very year that the indescribably awesome Kung Fury was released. Don’t get me wrong, Kung Fury comes damn close, but Garth Marenghi is just...just sublime parody perfection beyond our mortal understanding.

The second was Daredevil. Just...damn. This is now the golden standard for live action superhero shows, folks. It blows everything else out of the water. Hell, this show is so thoughtful, packed, and excellently done that it’s almost on the level of Batman: The Animated Series.

And...the third and greatest thing I watched this year was Steven Universe. I...really never expected this to happen, but...Gargoyles is no longer the greatest western cartoon ever created. Steven Universe is a thing of art and poetry, and every moment of it is wonderful and unique even as it beautifully pays homage to some of the great works of animation that inspired it. I cannot describe it. Please, please watch this show. Like MLP: Friendship is Magic, it is a show that can and will greatly benefit our society the more people, children and adults, that it touches. Yet even MLPFiM, which you guys know I have extremely high respect and affection for, does not touch the level of excellence that is Steven Universe.

What other non-RPG stuff did I do? Well, I played Kid Icarus: Uprising, and played it obsessively, at that, because damn that game is fun and funny. The quips and shenanigans of Palutena, Pit, Viridi, Hades, and all the minor characters are just a barrel of fun to experience, even several times over. Heartily recommended if you could use some simple, quirky fun. I also played Super Smash Brothers Wii U, because if you’re gonna go non-RPGs every once in a while, you might as well go with the best ever. They really pulled out all the stops on this one, and while I really miss the little story adventure that Brawl had, and my sister laments the loss of Solid Snake, overall this iteration of the series is fantastic. They finally added Little Mac! And Palutena’s there, too! What more could you ever ask for!? And lastly, I replayed both Shadowrun: Dragonfall and Undertale so my sister could experience them. She was duly impressed with them both, and I always have a blast sharing quality entertainment.

I also read a lot of stuff this year. I read books by Isaac Asimov, Peter Beagle, Robert Charrette, Agatha Christie, Mel Odom, and Benjamin Alire Saenz. That may not seem like a lot, but the authors I’m not mentioning are the COUNTLESS HORDES OF WRITERS FROM ALL DISCIPLINES WHOSE WORKS I’VE READ NONSTOP FOR CLASSES. Seriously I think my eyes are gonna pop out of my head pretty soon.

Alright, enough of all that crap. Back to the RPGs. As has become typical for me, a significant portion of my RPGs were Indie and/or crowdfunded titles, though I kept in a good mix of more “mainstream” ones. It was neat because several were games I had helped to fund, so I finally got to see how they turned out. My 3DS was as essential as ever in getting in some RPGs during transits or downtime outside of the house, although, admittedly, not a lot of them were especially memorable. I fear I’m running out of good 3DS RPGs to download which are on the cheap side...

Also, could we now, as a species, stop naming things, “The Legend of ____”? I already had The Legend of Dragoon, Grimrock, Mana, and Zelda on my tally of RPGs I’ve completed, and now I’ve got to add The Legend of Heroes and Korra in there, too. THINK OF SOMETHING ELSE ALREADY.

Anyway, enough boring stuff. Let’s get to the fun part! Well, assuming you find ANY part of these self-indulgent little narcissistic report cards I give myself fun, that is.

RPG Moments of Interest in 2015:

1. Did I...did I just play a Xeno- game that made a lick of sense, had a decent narrative structure and some good characters, and overall just didn’t suck? And in fact, was quite good?



2. In Shadowrun: Hong Kong, you can pickpocket excited convention-goers who are too busy messing with con activities to notice. I don’t know why, but somehow, something about this strikes me as a new low.

3.Have you seen that new Sonic Boom show? I can’t believe it, I really can’t fucking believe it, but it’s actually come to pass: after 24 prolific years of games, comics, cartoons, anime, and God only knows what else, the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise has actually produced something that doesn’t suck ass. Sonic Boom ain’t exactly a work of art, but it IS pretty damn funny, at least, and you can tell that the folks writing it are sharp and have great comical instinct.

It’s also funny to see a lot of long-time Sonic fans react to the show. They have no idea what to make of a Sonic product that’s actually enjoyable, having never encountered such a thing before, and so a lot of them decry it as getting the franchise all wrong. Pretty sure that’s the reason the show’s actually watchable, guys.

(Yes, this counts as an RPG thing. Sonic the Hedgehog had his own (shitty) RPG. Totes legit).

4. One of the many impressive things about Undertale is how it uses the game mechanic of save points and resets as an actual part of its story. It’s very rare for a game to incorporate a meta-game mechanic like that into its the top of my head, I can only think of 2 other RPGs that have done so: Breath of Fire 5 (which incorporates save file resets as a necessary part of seeing the game’s full story), and Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle (which incorporates and gives narrative cause for its multiple endings once you reach a true understanding of what’s really going on with Duchess Catherine). Neither of them, however, so expertly manipulates the system into its plot as Undertale, and it was really neat to see the creativity with which Toby Fox made it happen.

5. Oddly, I encountered 3 separate games this year whose battle mechanic is basically running into enemies to both do and take damage: Eternal Senia, Fairune, and Witch + Hero. Nothing really to say about it, I just find it weird that the first year I come across such an idea, I hit upon it 3 times.

6. A couple of games I’ve played this year really remind you of just how great a product you can get from a single person’s vision. Toby Fox didn’t develop Undertale entirely by himself, but from what I understand, it’s still fair to call the game his personal vision and overall a 1 man show. And Eternal Senia, as far as I understand it, really WAS a case of a single person, going by the name Holy Priest, making the whole thing on his own. Considering Undertale’s excellence and how emotionally powerful Eternal Senia is, it really proves that you can get some pretty amazing results from even just 1 person’s passion.

7. This is going to be the most relevant Annual Summary rant I’ve ever done, because I actually played an unusually high number of RPGs that were released this very year. Celestian Tales 1, Eternal Senia, Legena: Union Tides, Pillars of Eternity, Shadowrun: Hong Kong, and Undertale were all released in 2015. How crazy is that--The RPGenius is actually talking about stuff that’s current!*

Best Prequel/Sequel of 2015:
Winner: Shadowrun: Hong Kong
While Dragonfall is still the best Shadowrun video game to date, this year’s addition to the series is darned good, and it does the Shadowrun series proud, making good use of all the signatures of this awesome franchise: dark, gritty cyberpunk characters and settings, dark threats from both the corrupt corporate society and the forces of the supernatural, wry humor and earnest streetwise philosophy, and a twisting, layered plot. Settling into the Shadowrun universe perfectly to tell its story of greed, regret, and redemption, Shadowrun: Hong Kong is a cyberpunk gem.

Runners-Up: NA
Nothing to say, really. I didn’t play many games that were sequels or prequels this year, and of the few I did play...well, Shadowrun: Hong Kong was the only game that really did well by its predecessors and title.

Biggest Disappointment of 2015:
Loser: Mass Effect 3
You may think that the reason I keep mentioning Mass Effect 3 here every year is just to reinforce my disgust with its ending in an entertaining fashion. And you are not entirely wrong. Nonetheless, this isn’t just for the sake of hyperbolic amusement.

See, 3 years later, the atrocious pile of shit that is Mass Effect 3’s ending is still no less utterly vile and repugnant than ever. And that means, see, that the mere memory of it still brings forth feelings of disappointment that far eclipse any others I have felt this year. Since 2012, there has been no fresh disappointment in my RPG life that is great enough that it competes. Even if it’s just through memory, the ending of Mass Effect 3 really is still the most disappointing part of my year. Eat shit and die, Bioware.

However, if we limit ourselves to fresh disappointment, and reject that of recollection...

Actual Loser: The Legend of Korra: A New Era Begins
Honestly, I didn’t really expect too much of this game, but seeing as the show it’s based on is really high quality animated entertainment--one of the top 10 non-anime cartoons ever, I’d say--I was expecting, I dunno, something decent, you know? This game, though, is just...blah. It’s nothing. The story is hasty, boring, and honestly doesn’t really feel like it belongs in the Avatar universe more than it could belong in any other setting, with minimal tweaking. The characters are bland and interchangeable mockeries of the characters from the show, recognizable only from their appearance, not their personality...if they’re even there at all. When you get to the end and beat the game, you feel nothing, no sense of accomplishment or victory, and for a game based on The Legend of Korra, a show possessing such epic, meaningful, and in-universe historically significant climaxes and finales, that’s damned disappointing.

Almost as Bad: Neverwinter Nights 1, Swords + Darkness, Zenonia 1
No real story to tell with S+D and Zenonia 1--I just went into them as I do any other RPG, with the expectation that there would be a minimally acceptable plot and characters that don’t suck, and I was disappointed. Neverwinter Nights 1, though...if it weren’t for the last third of the Hordes of the Underdark expansion for it, NN1 would have been the most disappointing title for me this year. NN1 made such a splash in the RPG community when it came out, everyone was talking about it and praising it, and yet when I finally played it, all I found was a cliched, repetitive plot with terrible, boring pacing that bided its time with 1 stupid fetch quest after another instead of developing its story and characters in any real way. The main game’s only redeeming feature is Aribeth, and she’s also disappointing because she clearly has some potential as a character and villain, yet the game just doesn’t bother to do a damn thing with it. Some of the official add-ons for the game are good, but overall they’re drowned out by the others’ mediocrity, and even the best of the add-ons have problems, as I mentioned in a previous rant. So yeah...this vaunted Dungeons and Dragons game I’ve heard about for years and years just wasn’t anything of interest. Too bad.

Best Finale of 2015:
Winner: Undertale (True Ending)
Fun, heartwarming, fulfilling, grand in its scope, with a thrilling final battle that resonates strongly with the beauty of forgiveness and peace...the True Ending of Undertale is everything you want from this excellent game.

Runners-Up: Pillars of Eternity; Shadowrun: Hong Kong; Xenoblade Chronicles 1
The final part of Xenoblade Chronicles 1 is interesting and adds a bit of the existential food for thought that Xeno- games are so fond of, without getting its head stuck up its own ass about it, which Xeno- games are also fond of. Pillars of Eternity has a strong finale, clarifying much of its lore and purpose in its final area (without feeling like they were cramming the information in last-minute, as some RPGs do), and concluding with a classic individualized ending, where you’re told what the results of your actions were for each place and important person in the game. Finally, Shadowrun: Hong Kong has a solid final mission, composed of both otherworldly horrors and matters of the human spirit, and ends its tale of regret and redemption as any Shadowrun adventure should: with the pride of a job well done, the satisfaction of a world-altering conflict settled, and yet the casual acceptance that in the end, the status quo of this tyrannical corporate world remains the same, as does life in the shadows. Grand yet also insignificant, as is the story of the individual standing on his or her own in the corporate world--that’s the way of the Shadowrun ending, and Hong Kong does it well.

Worst RPG of 2015:
Loser: Zenonia 1
Honestly, I’m happy to say that none of the RPGs I played this year were truly terrible games. I mean, there was some crap, to be sure, but even Zenonia 1 here is only faulted by being very lackluster and a general waste of time. That’s really nothing compared to the asinine yawn-weaver that won this spot last year, Rune Factory 1.

Almost as Bad: Gothic 2; The Legend of Korra: A New Era Begins; Swords + Darkness
Like Gothic 1, Gothic 2 is an exercise in tedium that wants to trade you 50 hours of your life for absolutely goddamn nothing. The plot of Swords + Darkness barely exists, and is the sort of generic, pointless drivel that tells you that its creators didn’t give half a damn about it. Its story may as well have come from a 1990s side-scrolling beat’em-up title, it’s so phoned in. Lastly, well, I’ve spoken multiple times about what a careless waste of time The Legend of Korra: A New Era Begins is. I frankly wouldn’t be surprised in the least to find out that its entire script had been written on some napkins by a distracted intern on his lunch break, whose only knowledge of the show’s characters came from a brief glance at Wikipedia.

Most Improved of 2015:
Winner: Gothic 2
Gothic 1 was forgettable and let its moderately interesting premise languish in slow and distracted pacing and a thoroughly uninteresting cast. Gothic 2...does pretty much the same thing, but, I dunno, sorta not as poorly as the first game? The story is slightly less boring, the characters are slightly more interesting, the setting is slightly better still doesn’t add up to anything worth playing, but an improvement is an improvement nonetheless.

Runners-Up: NA
Meh. What can I say? Most of the games I played this year that weren’t standalone works just weren’t improvements. Mario and Luigi 4 isn’t any less boring than MaL3, the Legend of Zelda titles are both inferior to Link’s Awakening, and even though Shadowrun: Hong Kong is quite good, as I said, it isn’t as great as its direct predecessor, Shadowrun: Dragonfall.

Most Creative of 2015:
Winner: Undertale
As I said in more detail in my Undertale rant, this is one hell of a creative RPG, from its setting and lore, to its cast, to its style of storytelling, to its gameplay, to its premise, to its deconstruction of its genre, to its use of RPG mechanics within its plot. Seriously, this is 1 of the most creative RPGs you’re ever going to come across.

Runners-Up: Fairune; Pillars of Eternity; Xenoblade Chronicles 1
The world and history of Xenoblade Chronicles 1 is interesting and had some decent thought and effort put into it. It’s nothing mind-blowing, but it’s also a lot more than your standard JRPG package. Fairune is kind of neat, using mostly nonverbal methods to tell...well, less tell, actually, and more imply, a vague but present backstory that makes the game a little more than it seems at first. Makes me think of Crystalis, though for what reason, I couldn't really guess. And lastly, Pillars of Eternity is a classic, yet distinct fantasy world which delves into the concepts of reincarnation and soul, and what meaning and impact one’s life really can have. It’s pretty neat, and I think the mechanics of souls and rebirth that Chris Avellone and company have come up with is quite singular.

Best Romance of 2015:
Winner: Aribeth and The Sleeping Man (Neverwinter Nights 1)
This romance is mostly awesome in a 1-sided way--the history of The Sleeping Man in Neverwinter Nights 1’s Hordes of the Underdark expansion is just terrifically epic, beautiful, and inspiring. He can actually get together with a few of the women in the expansion, but some are disappointing (it’s total bullshit that the disciple chickens out and flees him), and others just don’t feel very genuine. Aribeth, though...there’s something about the idea of the soul of the fallen paladin, as she walks the frozen plains of Hell in an attempt to find redemption and create purpose from her sins in life, finding this divine being slumbering for countless ages as he awaits her with unshakable faith, that I find really, really awesome. He, a man who gave up all he had because he lacked love, and traveled to the center of Hell itself to wait faithfully for it, and she, a woman who turned from all she had and believed in because she lost love, and was condemned to that same Hell to languish, finding one another and completing a destiny written beyond the fates of planes and time just speaks to me.

Runners-Up: Alphys and Undyne (Undertale); Fiora and Shulk (Xenoblade Chronicles 1); Frisk and Papyrus (Undertale)
Eh, Alphys and Undyne are cute. That’s really all there is to it; they work well together. Moving on, Fiora and Shulk have some believable chemistry, and their devotion to each other is romantic. I also like the fact that they just kind of naturally, mostly unconsciously acknowledge and embrace their feelings for one another. I mean, they do explicitly talk about it, too, it’s not all left unsaid, but most of the time, it’s kind of just a case of each clearly showing through their actions, tone, and motivations that they love the other, and understand that they’re loved back. It’s nice.

Finally, skeleton dates are best dates. ‘Nuff said.

Best Voice Acting of 2015:
Winner: Pillars of Eternity
There’s a lot of heavy dialogue with some of the more nuanced members of the Pillars of Eternity cast, and in such a situation, having voice actors who can bring each line alive in the right way for their character can be the difference between an engaging speech of philosophy and inquiry into the nature of humanity, the universe, and the spiritual...and just coming off as being overly gabby. Pillars of Eternity, thankfully, has a vocal cast that really do their jobs well, bringing complex characters like Eder and unique characters like the Grieving Mother to life and shaping their words into personality and depth.

Runners-Up: Neverwinter Nights 1; Xenoblade Chronicles 1
In the case of Neverwinter Nights 1, “Best” voice acting really just means “Wasn’t Bad” voice acting. I didn’t play many RPGs this year with vocal work, and some of the ones I did play had awful voice acting (Gothic 2**), so it hasn’t taken much to make it onto the list this year. Still, NN1 does its job adequately in most cases, at least. Xenoblade Chronicles 1 is better, with a cast that have pretty good and personal vocal work that distinguishes their characters well. I actually quite enjoyed the accents, too--most of the time, English translations of games are released in the USA or Canada first, but this time Europe got the game before we did, so our English dub is done by British voice actors. It’s an enjoyable change of pace, and the acting is competent and fits the characters well...and you just can’t resist the ridiculous, almost campy charm of Reyn shouting those goofy battle quotes of his.

Funniest of 2015:
Winner: Undertale
Among other things like heartwarming and creepy, Undertale is just goddamn hilarious. From bad bone puns and mischievous little dogs to amusing item descriptions and deranged robot TV stars, Undertale doesn’t fail to keep you chuckling.

And Papyrus. Papyrus is comedy.

Runner-Up: Witch + Hero
While nothing special overall, Witch + Hero makes it clear from its opening that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and with what few opportunities it allows itself to develop a tiny story, it’s generally fairly amusing. There’s not much more to the game than a few giggles, but hey, that’s something, right?

Best Villain of 2015:
Winner: Flowey (Undertale)
Vicious, creepy as fuck, infuriating, smart, remorseless...and secretly pretty deep as a character, Flowey is an awesome villain, just another of the many reasons that Undertale is so damn good.

Runners-Up: Aribeth (Neverwinter Nights 1); Colonel Richard (The Legend of Heroes 6-1); Thaos (Pillars of Eternity)
Even though the game doesn’t even attempt to use Aribeth to her full potential, she’s still not a bad villain, and the Hordes of the Underdark expansion later develops her character and villainy nicely, fleshing out her rationale, regrets, and revelations. Thaos is...well, honestly, he’s not exactly compelling, but he does have an interesting purpose and provides some good food for thought while adequately serving the role of obstacle-with-a-connection-to-the-protagonist, so he’s a pretty good villain. Lastly, Richard is decent, a conspirator whose motivation for his well-intentioned but immoral methods is paranoia and a hero-worship that he can’t get past. As I’ve mentioned, I think the fact that he connects to an overall trend of his country’s people that we’ve seen constantly throughout the game, the tendency to credit their country’s success and peace to a single man, is very smart and well-reasoned. Richard’s a good villain; he’d probably have won this year if not for that evil little plant bastard.

Best Character of 2015:
Winner: Grieving Mother (Pillars of Eternity)
Well, hell, what is there to say but that Chris Avellone has done it again? She’s no Kreia or Ravel, but the Grieving Mother is still fascinating and unique, a fresh character in both personality and complexity that I would say is an intellectual highlight of this thoughtful RPG, and certainly the best part of it in terms of emotional impact. Truly an impressive character, to be certain.

Runners-Up: Eder (Pillars of Eternity); Gaichu (Shadowrun: Hong Kong); The Sleeping Man (Neverwinter Nights 1)
You know, for a game I didn’t actually like overall, NN1 seems to be showing up in this rant a lot. Well, I wish I could have put some (or all) of the characters from Undertale in here, because I dearly love them, but objectively speaking, this bunch just has more depth, development, and worth.

Eder is a well written character, great in every aspect: he’s likable, he’s got great depth, he’s interesting to listen to and contemplate, you can see him grow (and help guide that growth) as a person and more importantly as himself, and you really feel for the guy. He’s just a solid character from every angle. Gaichu is a rich and complicated character whose conflict is interesting, and whose warring sense of honor and duty, his acknowledgement of his own rights and individuality, and his brutal instinct makes for a great character. Finally, again, I just really admire the grand romance of The Sleeping Man, the fact that his is a story of inspiration in both love and faith, to be found and cherished at the center of a place for the condemned and the seemingly irrevocably evil. damn epic!

Best Game of 2015:
Winner: Undertale
Undertale really is just a remarkable piece of fun, wit, poignant emotion, massive creativity, and meaningful commentary. It’s an RPG that will stay with you, and which shakes up what we think of as our standards for the genre, becoming a new example of excellence for other games to strive to match. Out of over 280 I've played, this is the eleventh best RPG I've ever encountered--and if you want some context, that puts it higher than Final Fantasy 7, every Mass Effect and Fallout, and Mother 3. I sincerely hope this will not be the only game we see made by Toby Fox, because he apparently possesses the talent and drive to create art of great worth.

Runners-Up: Pillars of Eternity; Shadowrun: Hong Kong; Xenoblade Chronicles 1
Actually, in all honesty, I personally like Eternal Senia better than some of these, but objectively speaking, these are the 3 best non-Undertale RPGs of the year. Pillars of Eternity is great, an RPG devoted to higher order thought which challenges the player intellectually with its plot of previous lives, how a single life can matter, the question of science vs. tradition in a society newly emerging into an intellectual Renaissance, and so much more. Shadowrun: Hong Kong is a solid, interesting cyberpunk venture, as Shadowrun should be, and getting to see the Shadowrun universe’s take on China and the eastern supernatural is a treat. Finally, while I think that Xenoblade Chronicles 1 is overrated somewhat, it’s still a solid, enjoyable JRPG with heart, and content that invites contemplation and attachment.

List Changes:
Greatest Villains: Flowey has been added; Delita has been removed. Sorry, you resourceful rags-to-riches ruffian.
Greatest RPGs: Undertale has been added; Shadow Hearts 2 has been removed. Sorry, you European yarn about Yuri’s yearning.

And that’s it for 2015! Certainly a good year for RPGs and beyond, and 2016 is promising, with many more Kickstarter RPGs I’ve backed set to release during its course, finishing Fallout 4 and playing its no doubt awesome upcoming DLCs, and plenty more RPGs on my playlist to go! I just wonder how much I’ll actually be able to get done as I move from taking classes to teaching them...I hope 2016 won’t be the year I have to permanently throttle back how many rants I’m releasing, but the possibility is there. Of course, if I were to get more Guest Rants from you fine folks, that would alleviate the difficulty greatly, I’m sure...hint, hint.

At any rate, thank you all again for continuing to read this silly drivel of mine, and here’s hoping 2016 will be a great year for us all. I’ll see you then.

* I’m also playing another 2015 release, Fallout 4, right now, but let’s face it, the game’s so massive that I’ll be lucky to finish it in time for the 2016 Annual Summary rant.

** Although it’s certainly not solely the voice actors’ fault. A lot of Gothic 2’s singular vocal weirdness comes from the bizarre choice of the developers to have a few lines just reused over and over again for many varied situations. Like, the line, “Hey, you!” must be said for at least 50 different dialogue openings, and it’s weird because it’s always the same accusatory “Hey, you!” used, even when the protagonist is just casually opening conversation with a friend. The rest of the conversation can be amiable and light, but it’ll unfailingly begin with the guy acting like he’s just caught someone stealing a purse or something.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

General RPGs as Classroom Texts

Check it out: in this rant, I do what I should have been doing for the last 9 years and actually italicize titles! Don’t expect to ever see me fulfilling this fundamental grammatical responsibility again, though. Today’s rant is related to what will hopefully be my career soon, so I feel more compelled to be somewhat professional about it. After this, I’m just gonna slump back into my slovenly, gibbering ways that you all know and mildly like just enough to read this blog sometimes when you’re really bored.

So, as I mentioned in last year’s Annual Summary Rant, I’ve been doing some graduate work to be certified as a teacher. High School English, specifically. It’s a fairly rigorous program (or it’s not, and I’m just not very good at it), so matters of the classroom have been going through my mind quite a lot during this past year. And of course, with my head already so full of all the RPG stuff that I overthink, it was really only a matter of time before a Teacher thought would collide with an RPG thought, and so we come to the question of today’s rant:

Can an RPG be a suitable text for the classroom?

First of all, let’s briefly define what a classroom text even is. We tend to think of texts in school as being things like novels, textbooks, short stories, articles, plays, reports, and various other typed, readable examples of fiction and nonfiction. Which makes sense, of course, as these are all things that communicate their ideas via, y’know, text. In the program within which I am enrolled, however, “text” takes on a broader meaning, associated with any outside work introduced for study in the classroom, regardless of its format. Under this definition, a text could certainly be a physical copy of The Great Gatsby or an online posting of an Emily Dickinson poem, as you’d expect, but a movie adaptation of Hamlet, a picture of one of Jackson Pollock’s paintings, or an audio recording of a speech by the Dalai Lama, would also each be considered texts if used in the classroom.

So, then, if we allow that any work that can be studied is a text, and so long as we also allow that avenues of fictional storytelling are even something that we believe worth studying to begin with,* it is as possible that an RPG can be a text as it is possible that anything else can be. But can an RPG be a suitable text?

Well, the answer to that, of course, is subjective, and also quite dependant on what RPG you’re looking at. Certainly not all RPGs are worthy of study in a classroom. In fact, I’d say most of them aren’t. But that doesn’t really prove much by itself; I daresay even most books don’t warrant focused study. But are there at least some RPGs that have something to offer to a program of study, that are worth the effort of teaching?


As an example: A great many classrooms study Fahrenheit 451, 1984, or some other book that covers the dangers of totalitarian societies, how they are perpetuated and the ways of fighting back against them--or the hopelessness of trying to do so. Some enlightened schools have started incorporating The Hunger Games into this study of dystopias, which I heartily applaud, and hope to do so myself. It’s a good genre to have students study, at least a little. First of all, by directly encountering, studying, and coming to understand this concept of an overbearing, freedom-restricting, anti-intellectual society, the students can come to have a better understanding of important aspects of other works, such as Animal Farm or The Scarlet Letter (the Puritans needed to chill out, man), or even nuances of parts of their history class (such as why it was so important for the institution of slavery that slaves be forbidden to learn to read). Secondly and far more important, learning about this idea of a society which uses meaningless distractions, propaganda, and the destruction and alteration of idea exchange is important in teaching students to look critically at their own society, and recognize dangerous similarities between real life and the dystopias they have read about when they encounter them. Studying dystopias can make students better, more vigilant guardians of their society and their freedom.

Would not the RPG Deus Ex 1 fit into such a unit perfectly? It is, after all, all about dystopia, how it might come to be enacted in our world, the questions of when government goes too far and the means through which it does so, the dangers of propaganda, the questions of total surveillance, and so on and so forth. In fact, while I do think the primary text of a dystopia unit should remain 1984, The Hunger Games trilogy, or Fahrenheit 451, I would say that the second most important text in such a unit would be Deus Ex 1, rather than a second book chosen from that list. Why? Because those three books I mentioned, and most other dystopian works I’ve encountered, all describe to us a dystopia that is already in place. They describe the incredibly difficult, perhaps impossible, struggle to overcome a dystopia once it is a fact of life. The cautions they offer to the reader on how to stop a dystopia from coming to be are all general, non-specific advice--don’t let authority ban or destroy literature or any other free exchange of ideas, don’t let yourself be tricked by doublespeak and meaningless wars, be critical of what you see and read, don’t let yourself be put at odds against those as oppressed as you are by the people causing the oppression, and so on. All very good pieces of advice, of course, but in some ways harder to put into practice because of how unspecific they are.

Deus Ex 1, on the other hand, shows us the moment at which an oppressive authority takes the final step to become a dystopia, and it details to us the methods that evil authority uses--the kinds of agencies, the kinds of propaganda, the kinds of tools, and the reasons these things work. The books I’ve mentioned give you the grim caution of what could happen, but Deus Ex 1 shows you how it could happen, and so better forearms its audience with the knowledge of specific warning signs of the dangers that the books could only give generalized cautions against. Providing a practical example of how a dystopia could be enacted is a GREAT way to support your primary dystopia text, and DE1 would be able to do that with its level of specific detail.**

...Okay, wow, I didn’t mean to make this one example long enough to be its own rant. Sorry. I’ll try to be less long-winded on these other points.

DE1 isn’t the only RPG that could be used as a great supplemental text, of course. In a unit which examines, for example, the question of Man against God, a number of RPGs could be used as supplements--Grandia 2, some Shin Megami Tensei titles if you want to be literal about the issue, Okage: Shadow King, Star Ocean 3 (if you could really, really abridge the game’s first half), Wild Arms, this is a really, really frequent theme in JRPGs, now that I think about it.

Fill in the blank: It would be _______________ to follow Ahab in his journey in Moby Dick to destroy the white whale and prove he has free will, while playing Tales of the Abyss at the same time, watching Van Grants set forth in his own machinations to break the world free of destiny’s cage, the Score of Lorelei, and draw comparisons between them in class discussions.

If your answer was “Pretty Cool,” give yourself a gold star. If not, see me after class.

You could do a lot with some of the richer intellectual western RPGs in a unit about teaching effective reading--Planescape: Torment would be ideal for it. Any unit involving a look at religion and how it shapes us and our society could be benefited greatly by a number of Shin Megami Tensei titles, or Final Fantasy 10. In a unit that covers the theme of a young adult seeking to find themselves and their place in life, I can see far worse companions to Paper Towns, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and Catcher in the Rye than the games Wild Arms 3 or Final Fantasy 9.*** Surely any unit that uses works like The Great Gatsby, Our Town, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to speak about the social history and personal essence of the United States would benefit from a great deal of the stories and events, both direct and allegorical, found within the Fallout series. And so on and so forth--I daresay there are few typical High School English units (and even fewer college-level ones, for that matter) that I couldn’t associate with at least 1 RPG that could add thoughtful, worthwhile insights into the matter.

And so, coming back to the question of this rant, can an RPG be a suitable text for a classroom? Well, in my reasonably expert opinion, the answer

“Oh COME ON, The RPGenius, you inimitable, self-important asshole!” you grumble now, as your mouse cursor hovers dangerously close over the X button in the corner of your browser. “Did you seriously just waste all that time convincing us that RPGs have as much to offer a thoughtful curriculum as any other method of expression, only to turn around and tell us it can’t be done anyway?”

Of course I did. I’m a total jackass. I thought you guys would’ve figured that out by now. Really, you have only yourselves to blame.

See, here’s the thing. I do believe wholeheartedly in what I’ve been saying here. As methods of storytelling and expressing higher thought, RPGs are no less capable and worthy than any other narrative art form, be it books, television, movies, comics, visual art, theater, or what have you. Obviously those other forms have a huge head start on video games, but I’d nonetheless place the likes of Planescape: Torment, Deus Ex 1, Final Fantasy 7, Wild Arms 3, Mother 3, and many more RPGs at the same level of worth and intellect as the average classic work of literature.****

Here, however, is the “but” that makes that opinion meaningless: Many RPGs are worthy of academic study, but, it is, logistically speaking, impossible to make them a part of any school’s curriculum, for a number of reasons:

A: The time. Even reading a full novel from start to finish, a task that a class unit gives its students a time of about 1 - 4 weeks to complete, is never a task that’s going to take more than 20 hours of a student’s time altogether, and as far as I can tell, most assigned books take considerably less time than that. Heck according to this site, you can read the entire Hunger Games trilogy in less than 17 hours. Obviously the mileage of high school students is going to vary greatly, but still, you get the idea.

Now consider the fact that RPGs average anywhere between 25 to 60 hours to complete. If it takes 2 to 3 weeks to have students read and learn about The Great Gatsby, which averages in at less than 3 hours to read, or To Kill a Mockingbird, which clocks in at less than 6 hours to finish, how the hell would you ever find a way to include, say, Grandia 2, which takes, according to How Long to Beat, about 35 hours? You’d basically have to be including it in your curriculum for an entire term, and probably be well past whatever unit it was meant to coincide with before you even got to the relevant details in the game.

Even Deus Ex 1, a short RPG, takes 20 to 25 hours to complete, which would translate to, what, a month in class? You could maybe make your unit on dystopian fiction last a full month, but you wouldn’t be able to fit in anything but DE1, and while I think it’s an ideal supplementary text, it can’t be the anchor for the unit--you really just need to have Orwell, Bradbury, or Collins serving as the unit’s foundation.

I can’t really see it being possible to effectively teach an RPG as a text in parts, either. While you can take excerpts from some books and such to teach with, RPGs are typically a very linear story that really requires that you’ve witnessed all of what’s come before each scene in order to get what’s going on. Context and background knowledge is too vital for almost any RPG’s significant scenes and dialogues to be able to work effectively with excerpts from the game.

B: The cost. School budgets in the USA are pretty meager. Honestly, most of them are outright pathetic. It is flabbergasting, honestly, the expectations that this country has of an education system that it staunchly refuses to adequately fund at any level of government. There are a lot of reasons for why so little (sometimes even none) of a high school’s English class literature comes from any time more recent than the 1960s, all of them bad, but one of the big reasons is simply that books cost money. Even with the discounts that publishers give schools, it’s a lot easier to pay for a few replacements each year of an older book that the school already has a few hundred copies of, than it is to buy a few hundred copies of a new book that the school’s never taught before. Especially considering that newer books are priced higher.

So really, how would you be able to fit RPGs into the budget? If you have to get enough copies for every student in each classroom, there’s no possible way, even if we assume that you magically always have access to a PC version of the game and don’t have to outright buy the game systems that run the RPG to begin with. You could try to do a school account at GOG, purchase the game once, and have the students download it from that account, but that’s definitely not ethical, particularly when you consider how easy it would be for the student to just keep it for themselves even after the class was done with it. And even if you were unethical enough not to care, I’m fairly sure that the unusual number of downloads would be noticed by the retailer before too long, and they’d take steps to prevent it from happening again.

C: The Inequity. Even assuming, again, that you’re only using computer-based RPGs in a curriculum, not every student has regular access to a computer for the length of time it would take to play the game through to its end. Public-use computers in the library or a school computer lab are great for writing a paper or doing some research, but they certainly aren’t going to do it for something that takes 20+ hours to experience, saved games or no. Not every family can afford a reliable PC, and not every family can accommodate their household computer being tied up for that long on just a single assignment.

D. The Disparity. Plenty of RPGs are completely linear, which would be fine for teaching, but a lot of others provide experiences that vary greatly depending on what decisions the player makes. A player who plays Planescape: Torment without putting a single point in the Wisdom stat is going to have a significantly different (and poorer) experience from the game than a player who properly prioritizes that particular stat, which is all-important to the game’s storytelling. A player who doesn’t bother with the Social Links in Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 in his/her haste to forward the game’s plot will have less than half as enriching an experience as the player who does. Trying to teach a class on the significant stuff in an RPG where player input has any influence on that content would be an exercise in futility.

E: The Teaching. Yeah, it’s easy enough to have everyone look in their books during class to examine a specific passage, or watch a video on a TV or a projector at the front of the classroom, but a game and its console isn’t exactly something you can easily have everyone bring into class and just go to specific scenes within it the same way you flip a page or pause and rewind a video. I mean, it’s not the hardest logistical problem of these, but the teacher would still have to go to extra trouble to hunt down a Let’s Play of the game to show the desired scenes to the class for whatever examination is part of the day’s lesson, then go to further extra trouble to find a Let’s Play that doesn’t involve an awkwardly-voiced idiot chattering nonstop as he plays as though it’s his dull witticisms, inept musings, and garbled mumbling that you’re watching the video for. And if a suitable Let’s Play can’t be found, then you’d need to make videos of the gameplay yourself, which of course adds heaven only knows how much extra time to your class prep.

F: The Administration. Video games as a respectable medium of art is an idea that is new, and not going to take hold of the culture for a long, long time. We might not even live to see the day where games are recognized by the common person as such. I mean, graphic novels and comic books as we recognize them have been around, what, about 100 years now, and there’s still a LOT of people who would scoff at the idea that they can express ideas as well and as worthy as books or theater. Parents and administrators may not question a teacher’s decision to include a movie or recorded play in the curriculum now and then, but even if you could get all your other logistical ducks in a row, actually convincing the people in charge of your department, your school, your students, and your very employment that there’s anything worthwhile to be taught in a video game is a tall order at best. Hell, I don’t even know if I’ve even convinced you of that, and you already came here specifically to read about RPGs!

So in the end, do I think RPGs are worthy of study, as any other form of expression? Yes.

Do I think they are so, to the extent that they are as deserving of academic focus as many accepted novels, plays, and so on? Also yes.

Do I think there is any way at all that you could make an academic study of them work in school? Nope. Not a chance in hell. It’s too bad, but that’s the way it is, from any angle I look at it: it’s a nice idea, but it just can’t be done. If you think otherwise, please do tell me how you’d get around all the problems I’ve listed, because I’d love to be able to make this work.

And finally, am I self-aware enough to realize that no one beyond myself actually cares about this to begin with, and that I have wasted everyone’s time with this rant? Of course. Hell, I just assume that’s true for every rant I post here.

* Apparently a number of high schools across the country are moving to curtail or even altogether eliminate their English programs. It’s quite a frightening social trend.

** You might worry that being more specific could also mean that DE1 would be more dated, given it came out over 15 years ago. After all, the more specific something is in its use of real world details, the more easily it becomes dated as those details change. Well, no worries there. I’m pleased and utterly terrified to assure you that DE1’s portrayal of governmental and private movements to disempower the world’s citizens and restrict freedoms is more relevantly accurate today than ever before!

*** In fact, if you ask me, one of those worse companions for such a unit IS Catcher in the Rye. Yeah, I’m an aspiring English Teacher that doesn’t like Salinger’s most famous work. Bite me.

**** Maybe even above that level, in fact, if you count Kurt Vonnegut’s works as part of the classics canon. Yeah, I’m an aspiring English Teacher that doesn’t like Vonnegut. Again, bite me.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Shadowrun Series Theory: The Shadowrunner's Motto

“Watch your back, shoot straight, conserve ammo, and never, ever cut a deal with a dragon.”

This is the classic motto of the Shadowrunner, a combination of survival advice and well wish that those who live outside the tyranny of corporate law in the Shadowrun universe espouse, the closest thing to a common code that those who run the shadows possess. It’s an iconic phrase of the Shadowrun franchise, which its fans recognize and hold dear the same way fans of Planescape: Torment do for the question, “What can change the nature of a man?”, and fans of Fallout do for “War. War never changes.” It’s a cool phrase, summing up the survivalist mentality and reality for a Shadowrunner in a manner that’s simple and straightforward. there something more within it?

This motto of the Shadowrunner is meant to be interpreted literally, yes. To survive as a free soldier of fortune, you must be wary and ready for attack, you must be competent and possess sharp skills, and you mustn’t be wasteful of your resources. And of course, to survive, you must not let yourself fall into the clutches of that which is too powerful and too clever for you to overcome, the mighty dragons who rule society and claim the world’s resources and people as their treasure hoards. And maybe that’s all there is to it, the literal interpretation. Still...I think that this motto, at least its final part, is also metaphorical. The motto is not just advice on how to stay alive as a’s also the guideline to how to live as a Shadowrunner.

It comes back to what dragons are in Shadowrun. On the surface, the great dragons of Shadowrun are both major characters in the overall story of the Shadowrun world, and essentially a foundational part of the series’s lore. Through one method of control or another (though most commonly via heading the mega corporations that rule and spiritually enslave humanity), the dragons have become the puppet masters of the world, using humanity and metahumanity as resources with which to play a long game of global chess against each other to see who can hoard the greatest wealth of resources.

But it might also be that we’re meant to see the dragons of Shadowrun as something other than just powerful, scaled overlords. More than just physical players in the plot, entities unto themselves and separated from humanity, dragons might also be allegories, representations of greed and covetous control in its highest form. After all, the Shadowrun dragons have, in their short time in the world of humanity, quickly positioned themselves into the places of power over countless others. They are the heads of government, they are involved in organized crime, they head social and religious organizations, and, most importantly, they head the colossal, international businesses, the “megacorps,” that control the peoples of the world over any other force. Follow the trail of any influential and powerful organization, particularly those which are for profit, and you’ll almost surely eventually find a dragon at its end, pulling the strings and consolidating the world’s resources and people as its own, its only true competitors in global manipulation its draconic peers. Sometimes, as in the case of the infamous Lofwyr, you don’t have to follow the trail for very long.

And yet, the ones who cut the trail, who pave it, who serve as its cobblestones, are humans, selfish, short-sighted, power-hungry, greedy little humans. It was no dragon that created the concept of a corporation that puts profits before people, no dragon that invented the concept of political groups and national governments, no dragon that first organized religion. These tools for holding humanity in place and subjugating the everyman were thousands of years old before the dragons arrived on the Shadowrun world scene, created, enacted, and even perfected by human beings. Dragons simply play the game better than people, and seat themselves in the throne that mankind thought it was building for itself. Or at least, its own elite.

In a sense, then, dragons are more than just the characters that the Shadowrun series’s surface presents them as. Dragons are not an alien, outside force, but a foe that lives within our own creation, our own being. I submit that the Shadowrun dragon is intended to be a representation of the extreme of certain faults within humans. They are the embodiment of greed, of corporation, of power lust...they are the embodiment of the desire for the one to make the many dance to his or her whims, and for no sake but simple, covetous want.

Having established that, then, let us look at what a Shadowrunner is. You can find a Shadowrunner in any person. The crusader against social wrongs. The narcissist desiring a bigger piece of the pie than his day job allows. The survivor trying to get out of a bad situation. The ex-soldier who’s lost her way through a combination of circumstances and bad decisions. The anarchist out to disrupt the dragons’ puppet show. A shy computer nerd. A framed cop. A light-hearted street rat with no taste. A selfless community leader. A former lead vocal from a punk band. A psychopath with a vision for humanity. From the virtuous to the deeply disturbed, for grand reasons or petty, it seems that you can find just about any kind of person running the shadows.

There is only one thing that unites them all, and that is the basic definition of a Shadowrunner: one who chooses to live outside the social system, by their own rules. Whatever else a Shadowrunner may be, at the core of their being, they refuse to live within the absolute control of another, refuse to be a cog in the machine, and desire to live free and true to themselves, with only the masters they themselves choose.

“Watch your back, shoot straight, conserve ammo, and never, ever cut a deal with a dragon.”

Thus, I think that the Shadowrunner’s motto is more than just advice or a slogan. I think that when it avows to “never, ever cut a deal with a dragon,” it’s an affirmation of the core principle of what it is to be a Shadowrunner, and thus, a free man or woman. The “dragon” is the system, the means by which the many are controlled by the few, and it is an absolute. You can give into it and be a part of it, or you can stand on your own and never relinquish your autonomy; there is no middle ground. Once you engage with the “dragon,” you are no longer a Shadowrunner, but a cog in the machine and a pawn in someone else’s manipulations, no matter what you may believe. To me, this motto does more than tell how to survive as a Shadowrunner--it also tells how to live as one.

I leave you now with Harlequin’s words of wisdom from Shadowrun Returns:

"The lesson is this - the game is rigged. The cards are stacked. The dice are loaded. It's the same as it always was. Every cycle. People in power exert power. Little people cower in their homes, think what they're told to think, and buy whatever product will help them forget how horrible their lives are for another day. And that's why we don't *play* their fragging game. We don't swallow their drek sandwich and politely ask for another. It's why we run the shadows. That's where real life is, kiddo."

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Undertale's No Mercy Let's Plays

So, for this and any future Undertale rant, I’m just gonna go on the assumption that you know most of the important lore and details of Undertale, have played the game through to its end on at least one path, and that I don’t have to censor myself of spoiler material. Fair warning.

Oh, and get ready for the heaviest load of Taking A Game Too Seriously that you’ve ever seen. Seriously, hardcore Trekkies would say, “Dude, you know this isn’t real, right?” That’s how bad this is. I mean, this rant is basically me seriously engaging in an argument with a fictional character. If you're okay with seeing just how deep the rabbit hole of Utter Pointlessness goes, though, then by all means, continue reading to watch me fall to its very bottom, and then dig that rabbit a new basement.

On with the rant!

It’s okay to watch a Let’s Play of Undertale’s No Mercy path (also known as the Genocide path), rather than play it yourself. You don’t need to feel the lesser for it.

For anyone not in the know, towards the end of a No Mercy playthrough of Undertale (as in, a playthrough in which you intentionally and systematically kill absolutely every last individual that you possibly can), Flowey starts appearing sporadically as you walk through Asgore’s castle to fill you in on some of the game’s interesting lore, most of it specifically related to him. There is a point at which he states, while speaking about how liberating it is to just freely murder those around oneself,

“At least we’re better than those sickos that stand around and WATCH it happen...
Those pathetic people that want to see it, but are too weak to do it themselves.
I bet someone like that’s watching right now, aren’t they...?”

It’s a line that probably just seems like an odd bit of dialogue that means nothing in particular to someone actually playing the game, but to someone who’s watching the No Mercy run via someone else’s gaming video, it’s pretty damn obvious that Flowey is calling him or her out. I gotta hand it to Toby Fox, creator of Undertale: the guy really does think of everything. I saw that line, and I slammed my fist onto my desk because DAMN IT, EVEN THROUGH YOUTUBE FLOWEY MANAGES TO FUCK MY SHIT UP! I swear to Thanatos I hate that little dandelion asshole so damn much!

Ahem. So, here’s the thing. I find this little “Gotcha!” moment amusing and clever, to be sure, and I admire Mr. Fox for being sharp. But I don’t actually feel bad about watching a Let’s Play instead of playing through the No Mercy run myself. And I don’t think anyone else should feel bad, either.

First of all, consider the source of this criticism. I may be being told that I’m no better for watching rather than doing, and in fact that I’m actually worse for it, but...I’m being told this by Flowey. This guy is not exactly the mouthpiece of all that is just and righteous, now, is he? It’s like being rebuked about something by Suikoden 2’s Luca Blight, or Earthbound and Mother 3’s Porky. If Emperor Palpatine started lecturing you sanctimoniously about what was and wasn’t polite, how much attention would you pay to him, really?

But let’s consider the possibility that Flowey is more than just Flowey when he says this. Let’s say that this is meant, as is often the case with lines by Flowey and some by Sans, to be a direct message from the game to you. We’ll say that this rebuke is from the game, and Toby Fox himself, simply delivered through the mouthpiece of an obnoxious little bundle of tea ingredients. Do I feel a little chastised, now that the source of the reprimand is legitimate?

Still no.

See, here’s the thing. You can call it cowardice, sure. I did sate my curiosity about certain events of the No Mercy run, while being too cowardly to make them happen myself.* My reason for watching the Let’s Play was really more about learning the lore that only comes up in the No Mercy path, than “just seeing what happens,” so maybe I’m not even the real target of this line, but let’s say I am. You can call it cowardice. But it’s not equally bad to doing the act myself. Because drawing on the knowledge and experience of others who have done wrong helps us to avoid doing wrong ourselves. It is a GOOD thing to sate your curiosity in simulation rather than in practice. Reading others’ accounts of how it feels to commit wrong helps us to understand the criminal mind, which gives us the knowledge to recognize warning signs of potential criminal acts, and to better track down those who have perpetrated such deeds. It helps us to understand how terrible war is, so that we know better than to hastily wage it without just cause and no alternatives, and seek to bring its end about as quickly as possible. It helps us to find empathy with those who have done wrong, so that we can learn how to understand and help them to become better.

We learn best from mistakes. But they don’t have to be our own. When one commits a mistake to public record, it is for the benefit of all to learn it, to lessen how many times it must be repeated. I think it’s reasonable to say that the No Mercy playthrough of Undertale is “bad.” I would feel guilty (sick, really) if I did it myself. And if no one ever did, I still wouldn’t do it, even at the expense of not knowing what happened within it. But some people have played the No Mercy run of Undertale, and they’ve posted their experience online, and I’ll watch it, and satisfy my curiosity, and I won’t feel any less for it. Regardless of what Flowey’s incomplete and unexamined philosophy on the matter may be, there’s no shame in the knowledge of evil passed on by another, only in the knowledge of evil gained through experience.

Sorry, Flowey, but I’m not gonna feel bad about NOT killing people.

* I personally would call it simply loving the characters too much to commit harm against them myself, though. Of course, that opens up a whole new can of worms about what difference that makes, whether I’m a hypocrite for it, and so on. Oh well.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Legend of Heroes 6-1's Cassius Bright's Shadow

Well, I did my positive piece on The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. My debt to Humza is paid. Now for the fun stuff. On with the complaints! At least, sort of.

Be warned, this rant contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.

Cassius Bright, the plot jack-of-all-trades for the kingdom of Liberl. Brilliant military strategist who turned the tide of the Hundred Days War! Unequaled swordsman AND peerless master of the bo staff! Internationally celebrated Bracer superstar for whom the unofficial, classified S-Rank was invented! Savior and redeemer of child assassins! Devoted father of protagonist Estelle Bright! If there’s anything important that’s happened in Liberl within the past 20 years, Cassius Bright was a key player in the event or was good friends with someone who was. He knows everyone important everywhere and has a finger in every plot pie conceivable. And that...

Gets really, really old.

If I have any complaint about the story as a whole, I think it’s probably the inescapable weight of Cassius Bright throughout the whole game. Estelle cannot go anywhere or meet anyone without being in her father’s shadow. I’d say at least 75% of the important figures in the story knew Cassius Bright and have something to say about him, and as I’ve just said, just about every important thing that happened in the past and half the ones happening in the game’s present are directly tied to the guy. Introduce herself as a Bracer in training, as a person in her own right, and Estelle barely gets a nod from any plot figure. Let them know that she’s Cassius Bright’s daughter, and suddenly she’s a celebrity by association, and everyone magically now has confidence in her abilities. Estelle somehow manages not to develop a huge anxiety disorder from all of this, but it still gets kind of tiresome to just keep hearing all the damn time.

I mean, look, I can appreciate a story where an important figure’s legacy is a constant presence whose influence is frequently felt. Done right, it can contribute to the creation of a very strong and meaningful story. I think that Shadowrun Dragonfall did this terrifically with the character of Monica. So much of the story and setting was determined by the legacy she left behind after her death, and through that ever-present influence from beyond the grave, Monica was made into as well-developed and deep a character as half of the party members who were actually alive for the game’s events.

Rose Quartz from Steven Universe is another great example of this idea of a non-present character’s legacy nonetheless shaping and influencing a huge part of the story and characters. If you’ve seen Steven Universe, then you know exactly what I mean, and if you haven’t seen Steven Universe, then why haven’t you seen Steven Universe. Stop wasting your time with this drek I’m typing and go watch Steven Universe. Seriously, it is one of the highest works of art produced by humanity to date.

But Monica and Rose Quartz are characters whose presence is always there silently, remembered, referred to directly only sparingly and when naturally appropriate. You’re allowed to mull over how much of the characters and plot you see are because of their memory, their beliefs, and their passing--the game and the show will tell you to a certain extent, but allow you a lot of room to extrapolate and contemplate on your own. But no one will goddamn shut up about Cassius Bright! Everything, everyone, comes back to this guy, and the game wants you to know that fact beyond any shadow of a doubt! It’s like the nation of Liberl is entirely populated by 6-year-olds who are at that stage where they find 1 thing in the world that they think is super cool and talk obsessively about it to anyone who will listen. I GET IT. CASSIUS BRIGHT WAS AND IS A BIG DEAL. SHUT UP.*

...But, repetitive though this does get, I can’t complain too seriously about it. See, even though I find it annoying, it...kind of is thematically important in terms of the main villain’s role. In fact, it might just be the most intelligent narrative aspect of the entire game.

See, the villain’s entire motivation for his schemes IS that he, like everyone else, saw Cassius Bright as an unequaled hero who singlehandedly saved the nation and united its leaders together for the good of all. Colonel Richard’s motivation for his evil machinations is his inability to believe that the the nation can otherwise be safe without Cassius Bright’s leadership, and thus Richard must do bad things to gain tyrannical control of his country and gain control of (what he thinks is) an ancient magical super weapon. That motivation is kind of a hard sell under normal circumstances, but I found that I completely understood Richard’s perspective when his motives were revealed, sympathizing more with him than I have with any other villain this year.

And why is that? Because the game shows you, firsthand, how much the people of Liberl depended on Cassius, how they idolized him and saw him as the sole reason for the happy outcome of the war and the current freedom and security of the nation. And that reliance on Cassius by the nation’s leaders and military heads is echoed in the present with the Bracer Guild’s adoration and dependence on the man--capable Bracers lament that their obstacles would be easily solved, or never have arisen to begin with, if Cassius weren’t away on his secret mission, powerful and renowned Bracers like Scherazard and Zane consistently refer to themselves as small potatoes by comparison...even the Bracer who seems the most self-reliant, Agate, gives the impression that a major part of his motivation is just to equal and surpass the vaunted Cassius Bright.

In the face of a nation wherein its protectors, its leaders, and even its great scientific minds all idolize Cassius in such a regard that they minimize their own accomplishments and abilities, is it any wonder that Colonel Richard attempts his coup against the queen? You can fully understand why he feels his country is helpless and vulnerable without Cassius Bright to run its military. Even though Cassius himself believes and strongly states that the salvation of Liberl during the Hundred Days War was a team effort, that no matter how great his role was, he was unable to do anything alone and even failed in some regards (such as his inability to keep his wife safe), Richard and so many others see only a war won by a single man. To some degree, nearly every major figure of the nation of Liberl has convinced themselves of their own powerlessness by comparison; Richard just believes it to a greater and more paranoid extreme than most.

Man, Knights of the Old Republic 2’s Kreia would have a field day talking about Liberl’s situation.

At any rate, that’s pretty much all I have to say on this matter, in my long, winding, and ultimately pointless way. The constant references to Cassius Bright in TLoH6-1 do get tiresome, but that’s all part of a clever, larger narrative plan to really persuade the player of the authenticity of Colonel Richard’s motivation for his villainy, and it works.

* I am joking. Please do not actually tell 6-year-olds to shut up. Who are you, Kevin Winnicot?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


When I play through an Indie RPG, I generally try to make a rant devoted to creating awareness for the game, since most of them don’t get the press that larger developers’ works do, and also have limited options for advertising. Also, in all honesty, I’d rather support the smaller mom-and-pop type of game developer, simply because I believe they have greater potential to push the RPG as we know it into new, exciting, and meaningful directions. I certainly don’t want to see the Big Developer RPG disappear, of course, because there are things that both sides of the industry can offer that the other really just can’t. Of them, though, the Indie RPG is the one that has the greater need, so that’s the one I try to plug, when given the opportunity.

And damn, does Undertale ever give the opportunity.

So, Undertale. As Indie RPGs go, this is the new big deal, making the biggest splash I’ve seen an Indie RPG create since Bastion. It has as close to a universal appeal as an RPG can possess. A lot of people say that it should be the Game of the Year for many trusted, respectable gaming sites. And IGN, too. There are some who say that it’s their new favorite RPG, period.* So, the question is...does it live up to its underground hype?

Pretty much, yeah.

Having revealed this rant’s conclusion too early, I will now proceed to continue writing as though you have any reason to read further after the above sentence. Undertale is incredible. It’s very, very smart, it’s quite funny, it’s one of the most creative RPGs I’ve come across, it plays to nostalgia while never treading within another game’s footsteps, and it’s emotionally gripping to an extreme, able to give you rich, heartwarming enjoyment, or deeply disturb you. I really wish I had known about its Kickstarter campaign, because it’s one of those games that I would feel a tremendous pride in knowing I contributed to its existence.

But I know about it now, thanks to my longtime buddy and, it turns out, reader, Angahith. I’ve mentioned him here a few times (he was the guy who prodded me to play my first Indie RPG, Mark Leung: Revenge of the Bitch), but it bears stating that the guy is just the salt of the Earth, one of those folks you come across sometimes who you’ll just never have anything bad to say about. Or at least, I don’t. I really don’t give frequent enough praise to my friends and family who contribute to my rants, including those who point me in the direction of great RPGs to talk about here, and Anga’s one of them. Good on you, sir, if you’re reading this.

Anyway, Angahith told me about Undertale, I tried it out, and I found it to be the best Indie RPG I’ve played to date. By a significant margin. Seriously, when I do my end of the year calculations, it’s going on my Greatest RPGs List, and it won’t be occupying a low spot, either.

So, let’s get the nitty-gritty. What makes Undertale so great? Well, first of all, from start to finish, it is just incredibly creative. I mean, the creativity infuses pretty much every part of the game. The setting and world of Undertale (as much of it as we’re made privy to, at least) is thoughtful and interesting, and puts a highly creative spin on the existence of monsters in RPGs. The plot is creative, wrapping around itself in deliciously complex and thought-provoking ways, while somehow remaining appealingly simple and straightforward. Relating to that is the clever way that the most fundamental of RPG mechanics are incorporated into the game’s story, events, and lore. It is something I’ve seen before in small ways in Breath of Fire 5, and Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle incorporated some RPG mechanics into its overall plot in a similar way...but if BoF5 and EoWC take a few tentative steps forward into the concept of using conventional game mechanics within storytelling, Undertale runs a marathon with it.

The style of the game is also creative. Now, yes, it’s pretty clear that Undertale adopts more than a little of the Earthbound/Mother style, so you could say that it’s not as creative for that fact, but, well, to be quite frank, this game uses the Earthbound method and surreal quirkiness significantly better than any of the games it borrows from, even the excellent Mother 3. This is a game that out-Earthbounds Earthbound, and by a lot, so I’d say that it’s still creative for that, because it’s forging into new territory with the Earthbound formula.

Also, the premise is creative. This is an RPG where you can go from start to finish without killing a single enemy, if you so choose. Oh, certainly, you can choose to kill any that come across your path, or all of them, just like in a regular RPG. But you also have the choice not to kill your opponent in every scenario, which is pretty damn rare when it comes to RPGs--as far as I know, such a thing has only been made intentionally possible in the Deus Ex series before now. And, at the risk of being spoiler-y, your battle decisions make a major difference to the progression of the plot, to the ending you get, and even to what message the game has for you and what emotional impact it makes upon you--how you treat your foes has as much or more weight upon the meat of the game’s story and characters as any choice made in games touted for player decision-based plot pathways, like Dragon Age or Mass Effect. Which puts Undertale’s premise and practice of providing potential pacifist play paths in its plot pretty far past its Deus Ex peers. Which makes it all the more creative.

Lastly, and related to the premise, the battle system is creative. Now, I generally don’t care about gameplay features, as you well know, at least not to the extent that they sway my opinion on a game at all. But I can (and have) acknowledge when gameplay is done well or poorly in an RPG, and Undertale’s battle system is simple but highly effective for working around its premise. As a seamless blend of traditional turn-based RPG combat and, believe it or not, the Bullet Hell genre, Undertale’s combat is, so far as I can tell, utterly unique to RPGs even as it functions on a very traditional and generic foundation. And by making the primary mode of action in this battle system a form of Bullet Hell gameplay, Undertale very effectively accommodates the play style of pacifism that the game touts as a feature, since the gaming skills of a Bullet Hell game are, first and foremost, about dodging and surviving attacks, less than concentrating on your own offense.

So yeah, the game’s creative. Very creative. One of the most creative RPGs you’ll ever come across. But creativity alone doesn’t make an RPG great, of course. Anodyne was very creative, but ultimately underwhelming because it didn’t know how to use its creativity to any effective end, in my opinion, while Grandia 2 can be seen as incredibly uncreative since it pretty much entirely employs overused tropes in its plot and characters, yet the way they’re used is so masterful that every cliche seems fresh, thoughtful, and engaging. So what about the rest of Undertale?

Well, the plot’s really strong. Whether you’re a saint, an amoral abomination, or somewhere in between, the simple story of Undertale is engaging, particularly in its beginning and later stages, and it expands its scope and its depth with masterful subtlety. This is a story which is simple and straightforward, yet it is also layered, nuanced, and ripe with the opportunity to mentally pick it apart in minute detail, to theorize about its behind-the-scenes aspects, to recognize tiny connections and recurrences within itself that betray its storytelling artistry, to rejoice as you hit upon a private insight on subsequent playthroughs. Rarely do I see such far-sighted care in arranging even the tiniest details to have significance, whether light or heavy, that can be found later. It’s a clever, secret subtlety that you see in creations of high care, precision, and vision, things like Embric of Wulfhammer’s Castle, or Steven Universe. Like Planescape: Torment or Revolutionary Girl Utena, you’ll never truly know Undertale without viewing it from start to finish multiple times, even if you’re just repeating the same playthrough style. That’s not because it’s clumsily over-complex (like, say, Chrono Cross), but rather, because there’s just a lot of layers to everything, and you need time and repetition to peel them away. Mind you, it’s definitely not on the same level of brilliance as PT or RGU, but frankly, anything that’s in the ballpark enough to warrant significant comparison to either of them is doing something really, really right.

The characters are good. They’ve generally got a good level of depth and complexity, and they are extremely personable. Each makes his or her own unique bid for your affections, and I’d have some trouble conjuring up the kind of player who could resist the cast’s charms. Which is good, because this story of the value of connections and making peace with others, and/or of the disturbing, nay, horrifying repercussions of apathetic malice and self-interest, really would not work without a cast as lovable as this one. Likewise, the game’s got a good villain.** The villain has depth, performs the role really well (he will infuriate you, and also freak you the fuck out), ties strongly to the messages and themes of the game, and is a great foil for the protagonist.

Also, Undertale is funny. Or disturbing. Sometimes both. Like I said before, this game basically out-Earthbounds Earthbound. Included in that is the fact that it is terrifically funny in a quirky fashion, and the fact that it can seriously creep you out. But generally, it’s a lot of fun, and much like Mother 3 does, Undertale uses its quirky humor as an expert way to invest you all the more so that the meaningful moments have greater impact. I wouldn’t say it’s better than Mother 3 in this regard, but it’s close enough to be quite adept at playing with your joy and sorrow.

The music’s pretty nifty. Not as big a deal as the other stuff I’ve mentioned, but it sure does its part, and then some, to create the mood and underscore the emotion of whatever’s going on. If you’re really into the soundtrack of the games you play, I daresay this one is another selling point for you on the game.

Creative, funny, with a great, simple-yet-complex plot, and characters you really connect with. What else do you need from Undertale? Well, you’re the readers of an RPG blog written by a guy named The RPGenius so I’m gonna go and make the crazy assumption that you just might have some interest in RPGs, and that being the case, you’ll likely also really benefit from the interesting deconstruction of RPGs that Undertale performs. Now, it’s not exactly unknown for a game to look at and play with the conventions of its genre within its own story, but any time this happens with RPGs, it’s usually just to make lighthearted references and jokes about it. Which is fine, of course, I rarely tire of having my genre of choice poke fun at itself.

But Undertale goes a considerable step further with it. While it does make a few jokes about RPG conventions, Undertale is much more interested in looking at some of the things we take for granted about RPGs, looking critically at their moral and philosophical ramifications, questioning them and what they imply about we who take part in them. It’s interesting to see the game go about this, and I’ve been privately interested, perhaps even a little concerned, for a few years now about certain aspects of RPGs that we just take for granted but seem disturbing when you think about them. So yeah, that’s another point in Undertale’s favor for me.

Also, while this is something that some players have bemoaned, I like the fact that Undertale remembers. What you choose to do in this game matters, and it stays with you. You may be surprised at just how seriously Undertale wants you to understand that actions have consequences. I don’t want to spoil things here about the game...but I know that there are players out there like me, who are capable of attaching a real, meaningful value to the fictional individuals they meet in a game, and care about what happens to them, and if that describes you, I’d feel bad if I didn’t provide proper warning to you. So here it is: in this game, think about your reasons for taking any action you think you could regret if that action stayed with you. If your only reason is “to see what happens,” just...maybe think it over a second time. All I’m saying is, Let’s Plays exist.

So...yeah. I think that’s enough of a recommendation, right? Undertale is 1 of those real gems that has pretty much no flaws (besides a lack of a run button; backtracking for dialogue completionism takes forever), and a hell of a lot of virtues. I definitely recommend it, and if that recommendation holds any weight, you can head over to the official website to buy it. You can also get it from Steam, if you prefer that, for some reason. It’s only $10, and that’s a steal for an RPG of even half the quality as Undertale. Check it out.

* Enough to be noteworthy, that is. When it comes to RPGs, there seems almost invariably to be at least a couple people for any given RPG who will say it’s the best one ever. I’ve even seen people claim that they’ve never played a better RPG than the Mega Man Star Force titles, for Hades’s sake. Still, Undertale has more people making this claim than the standard.

** Or villains, you could say. Depending on things. A lot of things. Complicated things. Play the game.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

General RPGs' Dungeons and Dragons Helmets

Why are helmets in Dungeons and Dragons based RPGs so rarely actually protective?

D+D has been the backdrop to a lot of video game RPGs, many of them extremely famous titles of the genre (such as Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, and, of course, the incredibly excellent Planescape: Torment). And in each of those games, the average helmet really doesn’t do much for your defense. Until you get far enough in the game that you start encountering a ton of enchanted equipment and may then come across a helmet with some trait that’s actually useful, the only thing a helmet does is prevent critical hits. It doesn’t add to your Armor Class, or reduce damage, or anything.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s nice not to have to worry that some punk ass little goblin’s gonna roll a critical right when he’s beating otherwise ineffectually against your mage, but this setup doesn’t seem logical to me. Yeah, I can kind of see the reasoning behind it--your head’s a pretty important and vulnerable spot on you, so you could say that any critical hit is an attack on your head, and thus a helmet is protecting you from those. But your heart, your liver, your stomach, your neck, and your genitals are all extremely vulnerable areas, too. The whole human body is basically one giant weak spot, really. It’s only reasonable to assume that attacks that penetrate those areas would be critical hits, possibly even more so than several parts of your head (which does have that thick, or even utterly impenetrable if you work at SquareEnix, skull around it). The regular armor covering those areas doesn’t protect against critical hits, despite being, often, considerably thicker than a helmet--it just increases the Armor Class.

Of course, Armor Class is kind of logistically bizarre already, so I don’t know why I’d expect the helmet situation to make a whole lot of sense, either.

It’s not a big deal, I know, and the games themselves aren’t solely at fault--they’re just following the way that the armor system worked in the actual version of Dungeons and Dragons that they were based on. I’m sure that the role of helmets in D+D were determined with gameplay balance in mind more than making sense of the armor defense system. It’s just weird to see what would normally be a vital part of one’s defensive equipment relegated to such a tiny protective role, that’s all.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Lunar: Dragon Song's Final Showdown

Amongst the many, many accolades for atrocity one can attribute to Lunar: Dragon Song is the fact that this game may have the lamest final confrontation of all RPG history.

Here’s the deal. The sad sack villain of the game, Ignatius, is sitting in his Final Boss Castle, right? Jian, the “hero” of the game, if such he can really be called, and Jian’s faithful bland companions, must go through the castle to save Lucia, a human reincarnation of the goddess Althena who actually manages to make even Lunar 1’s Luna look interesting by comparison, from Ignatius’s clutches. Ignatius, you see, intends to awaken Althena within Lucia, and use her, as well as his powers as the Dragonmaster, to take over the world, because he’s evil, and also a transparent rip-off of previous Lunar series villain Ghaleon. It’s like the LDS writers just copy-pasted Ghaleon into the game and changed his name.

Okay, tangent here, but I’d like to note that I can still barely believe how lazy a villain Ignatius is. I mean, the Ghaleon archetype wasn’t exactly unknown in RPGs to begin with, but in Pandora’s name, Game Arts, what the hell is wrong with you? It’s one thing when a series like, say, Final Fantasy has villains that seem suspiciously similar to one another. Final Fantasy has over 30 distinct titles. The Lunar series has 4. And Ghaleon already acts as the major antagonist in half of them! How can the writers at Game Arts be so staggeringly lacking in basic human creativity that they cannot write more than one single villain?

Tangent over. So, as you can see, the stage is set at the end of Lunar: Dragon Song for a pretty standard face-off between Ignatius and Jian. Tried and true RPG formula’s in full swing. It’s not exactly creative, and given all that the player has suffered from LDS already, it sure as hell ain’t going to be enjoyable, but at least the player knows what’s coming and is prepared to ride the generic finale out. It’ll even be a bit of a relief, to finally be done with this wretched title. This is a finale to look forward to, if for all the wrong reasons. Right?


So, you go along through the final dungeon, and have another confrontation with Gideon, the large, persistent monster follower of Ignatius whom Jian and company have already had previous run-ins with. No surprise there. You beat him, and you go on for a while more, fighting through legions of lazy palette-swap copy-enemies and lazier copy-environments because hey, who wants to spend the time designing new textures and tiles? Certainly not Game Arts. You get to the last part of the castle, and have to beat Gideon yet again. Stupid git don’t stay dead.

With this most recent victory over Gideon, you move on to the final area, which is your standard divine staircase set against a background of stars and space. I’m fairly sure, being RPG players, that you are familiar with this sort of setting. And the first thing that happens is that Gideon comes up from behind the group and attacks once more. Well, it’s annoying, but eh, annoying recurring boss henchmen will be annoying recurring boss henchmen, right? So it’s time to put this monster down once and for all. It’s a tough battle, but eventually, Gideon is defeated. With Gideon dead, there is nothing between Jian and the showdown that his long, trying journey has been leading up to! Now, the party can finally confront Ignatius...Ignatius the head honcho, Antagonist Prime, Ignatius the power-hungry manipulator of the Vile Tribe who seeks in his hubris to usurp a goddess’s power for his own selfish ends!

Oh, and hey, congratulations on beating the game.

No, that’s not me expressing confidence that you can do so. No, I’m not accidentally putting that sentence too early. The game’s over. You won. Killing Gideon for good was the last battle in Lunar: Dragon Song. There is no final battle with the villain of this game. This is a game that denies the player the most basic, intrinsic aspect of a story’s finale. Lunar: Dragon Song flies in hundreds, really thousands of years of successful storytelling in order to deliver you the lamest finale possible.

But hey, hold on. Can I really say that, just from not having a final fight against Ignatius? I mean, just because the player himself does not take part in defeating the villain, that doesn’t mean Ignatius’s defeat has to be bad, right? It could still be fine just watching Jian beat Ignatius instead of taking part in it ourselves. Most of the important points and narrative of an RPG are told through cutscenes anyway. Right?

Sooner or later you’re going to wise up and stop giving this shitty game the benefit of the doubt.

You want to know how Jian takes Ignatius out? You want to know how the villain of the game, the mighty Dragonmaster* who commands violent legions of exiles and has entrapped a goddess within his clutches, is defeated?

He falls down.

In what may be the first time in history that any important RPG character actually dies from a fatal drop, Ignatius is overcome by losing his footing. See, it goes like this. Gideon’s finally beaten. Ignatius enters and shows Jian that he’s brainwashed Althena-Lucia, because apparently, as the game explains, reawakening as a goddess leaves her with no memories of her human life just like being reborn leaves her with no memories of being a goddess. Perhaps realizing that this makes no damn sense, the game hurriedly moves onto Ignatius waxing idiotic on how love only hurts people, or some such pretentious stupidity, and then offering to finally settle things with Jian, as, y’know, you’re expecting to happen. Jian makes some emotional bid to Althena-Lucia to remember him and go back home with him, which would be touching if you had any investment in their relationship, but you don’t. Ignatius decides to hit Jian with a rather underwhelming fireball which manages to drop the stupid kid to his knees, and then Jian goes...ugh, look for yourself:

“Ignatius...You still don't get it, do you? We can't solve this by fighting! I may defeat you, or you can defeat me, it does not matter! One of us will end up defeated!”

Yes, I think that’s what the man had in mind, Jian.

Captain Tautology tries a bit more to persuade Ignatius, for some reason certainly not related to anything we know about Jian’s character, Ignatius’s history, or rational thought. It doesn’t work. Ignatius, perhaps annoyed that someone else is spouting ridiculous pseudo-psychological drivel that means nothing, decides to lightly tap Jian with another fireball, and Althena-Lucia picks that moment to run out from behind Ignatius to get in the way of his attack and save Jian.

She runs out from behind Ignatius to get in the way of his attack.

Runs out from behind Ignatius to get in the way of his attack. Runs out from behind Ignatius runs out from behind runs out from behind Ignatius to get in the way of his attack.

Doesn’t use her advantage of being behind Ignatius to attack the jerk before he can shoot the fireball to begin with! Doesn’t use her power as the reawakened goddess of all of Lunar to stop the fireball in any way! Does not even push his arm a little to the left so he misses since she’s right there beside him! Runs out, from behind him--runs out ALONGSIDE the fireball as it flies! This fireball is so slow that she is able to keep pace with it and OUTRUN IT so she can throw herself in front of it! This isn’t like your standard scenario where someone throws themselves in front of someone else as a gun fires or a sword comes at them or something. In those situations, the person sacrificing him/herself is close enough that he or she actually COULD get into position to act as a body shield. Althena-Lucia is further away than the attack itself! It’s like if you had a scene where a truck is bearing down on someone in the street, and the heroic savior who wants to shove the would-be roadkill out of the way comes running from behind the truck to do it!

Sorry. Tangents. I do them. My intent was to point out how lame this finale is, but I suppose I can’t help but draw attention to the fact that it is also very, very stupid.

Anyway, Althena-Lucia’s down for the count, and Jian and company are pissed off at Ignatius. Given that this situation only came about because Jian is such a sucky fighter that he can’t anticipate and dodge an attack he was just hit with a minute ago that’s also so slow that someone wearing a ball gown can outrun it, I really think that he and Ignatius should share the blame 50-50, but no one consulted me, so whatever. Ignatius laments over losing control of Althena after all that work (if she can be taken down by a single fireball that wasn’t even enough to kill a regular human earlier, exactly how much use could she possibly have been to him?), and then Ignatius once again indicates that he’s ready to fight Jian. As she’s dying, though, Althena-Lucia tells Jian not to fight Ignatius, and urges him to remember what he learned during the Dragons’ trials,** telling Jian to instead forgive Ignatius.

Good message and all, but maybe not the right one for when a dude wants to kill you and conquer the world.

Althena-Lucia goes on to blabber about not being needed any more, a conclusion that comes from absolutely nowhere whatsoever and is utterly invalidated as a personal revelation by the previous games in the series that have existed for 20 damn years, and fades away, with Jian telling her she can’t go because he loves her. I guess it’s good that he mentions it, because she, like anyone else, would never have picked up on it otherwise.

With Althena-Lucia gone, Ignatius reaffirms his plans to rule the world, making the player once again question why he bothered taking control of her to begin with if he felt completely capable of fulfilling his plans without her. He says he’s going to kill them all now, and then the place begins to shake. Everyone is surprised by this, including the player...usually, final boss dungeons don’t start shaking themselves apart until after the villain is dead. My guess is that even the scenery is in a hurry to get this shitty game over with. The screen goes black for a second, and the next thing we see is that the floor below Ignatius apparently fell away and he’s holding onto the edge of where Jian and company are standing for dear life.

Yes, this game can’t be bothered to animate changes to the background, not even for its grand finale. Sigh. Take it away, Robot Chicken.

Jian’s holding onto Ignatius, trying to help the guy back up, while Gabby and Flora just stare mutely, probably struck dumb by the unfathomable stupidity of it all. Ignatius asserts that he doesn’t need Jian’s help, and then immediately proves himself wrong by falling to his death as Jian backs off.

And that’s it. That’s it! This may not be the worst finale ever (fuck you, Bioware), but it sure as hell is the lamest. Your final battle in this game isn’t with the actual villain, but his lackey. The expected fight with the villain himself is teased several times in the dialogue--dialogue that takes its sweet time to say absolutely nothing and is punctuated by sad, slow little fireballs that devastate the hero we’re supposed to believe is strong--but that fight never comes. And then, after an off-screen moment because the game can’t be bothered to animate itself properly, the villain just falls down.

That’s how Ignatius, evil Dragonmaster and self-styled overlord of all of Lunar, prominent antagonist of Lunar: Dragon Song, is defeated. Killed by scenery.

* Not that the fact that he’s a Dragonmaster is ever given any real weight in this piece of trash game. LDS clearly expects you to have played previous Lunar games to know that being a Dragonmaster is a big deal; here it’s a name drop whose significance is never explained. Look, guys, you don’t need to go into huge detail about every part of your lore in a sequel, but you can’t just assume that every player is going to have played the 20-year-old games that came before this one and not explain ANYTHING. Come on, now.

** Trials which Jian passed by fighting the Dragons.