Monday, August 28, 2017

Fire Emblem 14's Peri is Toxic

Huge thanks to Ecclesiastes, for giving this a read-over and helping me shape it into something halfway readable. And, of course, also to my sister, who does the same with every single rant I do. You’re both aces, chums.

I like Fire Emblem 14. It’s a good RPG. Not great, but its story is decent, at least, and its cast stands out somewhat for having some compelling interpersonal dynamics (Corrin’s familial bonds with the Nohr and Hoshido siblings, Effie’s devotion to Elise, Leo and Forrest’s father-son relationship, etc), and a few individuals who are legitimately deep and compelling characters, such as Camilla, Selena,* and Forrest. The game’s got some notable flaws, but even those flaws generally have silver linings, or are a case of trying, but just not hard enough. Flaws, yes, but normal ones, ones that could be worse.

There is, however, one problem with this game that is just negative no matter how you look at her: Peri.

As a character, Peri actually isn’t without some depth, in that her mental disorders have a cause and explanation in the game--her mother was murdered when Peri was a young girl by one of her family’s servants, and as a result, Peri never mentally developed as an adult, and remorselessly murdered the servants of her home whenever the whim struck her. That’s actually not a terrible concept for a character to explore.

But what IS terrible, what makes Peri overall damaging to the cast of this game, is how she and her situation are handled, on every damn front. First of all, her presence in Corrin’s army is an ethical contradiction. The fact that Peri is allowed to serve Corrin’s forces and fight for their cause is incompatible with everything the game shows and tells us about Corrin’s character and ethics. Corrin is an overall kind woman/man, who values life to the point that she/he is willing to jeopardize her/his own life, her/his reputation and respect, and her/his relationship with Corrin’s family to preserve the lives of the people of both Nohr and Hoshido, seeking a way to end war as quickly and bloodlessly as possible, and eliminate the ones who pull the strings to start war in the first place. There is no mistake to be made in Fire Emblem 14’s eyes: Corrin is the hero of the story and a highly ethical person.

So how, exactly, does it make any sense that Corrin accepts, without a word of complaint, Peri into her/his army? Peri, who murders innocent and completely helpless people around her the moment they commit even the tiniest offense, and sometimes just for fun? Peri, whose body count, if we count all the servants in her household that she’s murdered over the years, has to be a fairly even split between foe and friend? Peri, who actually, I shit you not, brags to Corrin about taking baths in the blood of the people she’s murdered. I mean, you can say that Corrin has no choice in the matter, that Peri comes along with Xander as a package deal because she’s his retainer, but that doesn’t excuse Corrin from never even protesting it! The most we get in that sense is, during their B rank conversation, Corrin realizing that Peri is seriously out of her fucking mind and regretting letting her into the army...but these natural reservations about having a mass murderer running around your camp are all forgotten by the next support conversation, because OH-MA-GURRD, PERI BAKED FOOD LIKE A GOOD LITTLE WAIFU, ALL IS FORGIVEN.

And it’s not just Corrin’s character integrity that Peri’s position damages, either. Why the hell is she Xander’s retainer to begin with? How does this jive with anything we know about Xander? I mean, we know that Xander recognizes the occasional necessity of doing bad things when it comes to being a ruler and a warrior, but the overall picture that Fire Emblem 14 paints of the guy is of a noble, dutiful man who is characterized by dignified reserve and iron focus. Why the FUCK would Xander of all people take Peri on as his personal bodyguard? Sure, she’s highly competent at combat, and he says herself in his support conversations with her that that’s what initially drew his attention, but surely that can’t be the absolute only qualification that a man like Xander would have for his servants? Surely at some point, Xander should have noticed Peri running around gutting the castle staff, and thought to himself, “Hmmm, now where does Dad keep the pink slips?” Not to mention that if combat prowess really was the only factor that would ever matter, you’d think Xander would have taken Beruka, or Selena, who I’m fairly certain most would agree are, story-wise, superior fighters. Or waited until Effie had finished turning herself into the goddamn She Hulk of Fire Emblem and taken her instead. Effie would fucking annihilate Peri.

The most I can guess is that maybe Xander figures that this is a way to keep an eye on Peri and keep her from causing too much damage on her own. Sort of like how, on the other side of the continent, Hinoka has somehow become the one who watches over her retainer Setsuna. Except that that reason doesn’t really make any sense, because it would be easier to just have Peri locked away where she can’t harm anyone, and again, she’s a good combatant, not an irreplaceable one. So it just comes back to a puzzling case of an otherwise responsible and decent ruler choosing to contradict every part of his character and employ a psychotic murder doll.

And no, it doesn’t stop there. Peri is directly damaging to the character integrity of Xander and Corrin, to be sure, but she’s also indirectly damaging to the character integrity of...well, pretty much the rest of the army! At least, almost everyone who she can have support conversations with. No one ever calls her out on this shit! Some characters, like Corrin or Laslow, will be perturbed by Peri’s penchant for slaughtering any helpless innocents within reach, but not once does anyone in the cast have the basic human decency to just come out and say, “Cut that shit out, you fucking maniac!”** Additionally, practically no one in the cast cares enough about this matter to actually try to get to the cause of Peri’s behavior and solve the problem. I think Laslow is the only one who can be bothered to. The closest any others seem to come to trying to fix this problem which is killing people is to get Peri to distract herself by baking shit instead, like Corrin does. This entire dozens-strong cast of heroes just collectively shrug their shoulders and look the other way as Peri brags over and over about murdering everyone who annoys her in the smallest way!

Making Peri one of the heroes of the game was just the wrong move. A villain, she would have worked as. But as someone who stands shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Corrin, Azura, Xander, Effie, Elise, Sakura, Arthur, Hinoka, Ryoma, and countless others in the army who are genuinely good people? This does not work. I realize that the cast has its ethical gray areas--there are thieves, professional killers, and individuals with a massive bloodlust on this team. But Shura the thief and kidnapper was doing what he had to for the sake of his people, and he at least has the presence of mind to know that what he does isn’t respectable, and to even have guilt over some of his past actions. Beruka and Saizo the assassins kill precisely and purposefully, not indiscriminately, and they can even, in their support conversations, come to mutually realize the futility of what they do, and recognize that it does not ultimately serve to create a better world. Camilla has an interest in death and has absolutely no qualms about killing anyone who threatens the happiness and safety of those she cares about, but up until you give her cause to eliminate you, she’s a warm and caring person who can welcome and make a beloved ally of even those who sought to destroy her. Keaton finds himself drawn to bloodshed, and Charlotte and Reina are both maniac berserkers who, once they’re going, can’t contain their bloodlust...but all 3 of these characters have enough control and ethics to strictly limit their crazed violence to the battlefield. In all other morally questionable members of Corrin’s army, you can find restraint, purpose, and/or codes of ethics or professionalism. None are wanton murderers of innocents, save Peri.

Also, as I mentioned in my previous rant about the best and worst romances of Fire Emblem 14, Peri is just as damaging a part of the game from the angle of romance. The fact of the matter is that she has the mind of a child, frozen in its development from the moment she saw her mother’s bloody corpse on the floor during her childhood. Now, before I continue, I must say that I give a pass here to Laslow and Peri’s romance. Laslow’s support conversations with Peri result in him helping her to understand the pain and suffering of others when she kills innocents, and realize the source of her psychosis, and so, his influence causes her to become a better person, but also helps her begin to mentally catch up, and begin to become an adult. During their confession of love, Peri has grown to the point that she can will herself to speak and think as a woman, instead of a child, and she takes a moment to tell Laslow what he means to her, as a mature, emotionally aware woman. Granted, she slips back into her little girl mentality a moment later, as it’s more comfortable for her, but the fact that she CAN, at will, function as an adult thanks to him is enough.

But, aside from Laslow? Every single romance that the game’s characters have with Peri is extremely disturbing. And not just because most of them are knowingly getting married to a careless murder machine (although that’s certainly another significantly distressing part of it). No, it’s because, again, SHE IS MENTALLY A CHILD. These rational, reasonably well-adjusted adult men are getting married and sexing up a severely imbalanced woman whose mental development halted prior to puberty!

Look. When we take the time to actually question and contemplate the concept of age of consent, it’s never quite as cut-and-dry as society likes to pretend it is. Most of the civilized world says it’s 16, a lot of the USA says it’s 18, some places are insane and think it has to be 21, some places are insane and think that it can be...a lot lower, let’s say. The only constant is that it’s pretty damn arbitrary. Additionally, the ‘why’ of the matter is also hard to really fully pin down. Obviously, there are ages in which the body is not physically ready for physical intimacy of that nature, and it is wholly immoral to try to push it into that. At the same time, though, the body is nearly always sure as hell more than ready for sex before age 18, or even 16, for that matter, so the question can’t be entirely one of physical readiness. In fact, since the potential long term harm of having sex at an inappropriate age is mostly mental, I think it’s fair to say that the matter is mostly a case of protecting young people from the mental harm that sexual relations can bring before one is ready for them, particularly with a partner whose experience as an adult gives them a dangerously unfair emotional advantage. But that, of course, just makes a hardline number of 16 or 18 or 21 or whatever all the more arbitrary, because we all develop emotionally and intellectually at different speeds, and furthermore, a lot of our being properly ready to pursue a physical relationship comes down to whether our parents, teachers, and other experienced contacts have properly talked to us about the matter.

Now, all of this is a very roundabout and awkward way for me to say that, in the end, the concept of age of consent is both physical AND mental, and that, frankly, I think that it’s more about the mental side. Peri may have an adult’s body, but she is no more emotionally developed than a child, and a really damaged child, at that. To me, a regular adult pursuing a physical relationship with Peri is a violation of the fundamental spirit upon which we have built the concept of age of consent: the idea that physical relations with someone who has not had the experience and mental development to be able to handle the emotional weight of romance and sex is wrong. With the exception of Laslow, because, again, he’s actually helped Peri mentally connect to her adulthood, every single S support romance with Peri in this game is unhealthy, imbalanced, and highly disturbing.

Not every character in an RPG can be a winner. Some are uninteresting, or annoying, or poorly conceived. But there are a few individuals who go beyond just being a bad character, who are faulty enough that their presence is significantly damaging to the integrity of everything around them. Peri is one such character. She is so toxic that her position in the story lessens the rest of the cast by association, particularly Corrin and Xander. And all but 1 of her romances are, franky, ethically reprehensible, and lessen the characters who marry her because it says that they’re men of loose enough moral code that they neither mind falling in love with and marrying a careless killer of the helpless and innocent, nor mind falling in love with and marrying someone with the mind and spirit of a child. Bottom line, Peri is an awful person, and the writers really fucked up by including her in Fire Emblem 14.

* Hot buttered Buddha on a biscuit, a textbook Tsundere who has personality, depth, and mental complexes that actually rationally support her attitude? I had no idea that this was actually a possible thing!

** Well, Leo sort of does, I first. But then Peri starts questioning why one kind of killing is better than the other, and Leo gets caught up in the ethical implications of the matter--which I am not opposed to, mind you; I think that the way we rationalize killing on the battlefield as ‘okay’ is a major problem with our cultural mindset. What I do have a problem with is that by the end of the A rank conversation, Leo’s happy to have her around to make him question stuff, and it no longer seems like he’s going to keep her from doing her thing.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Final Fantasy 8 AMV: Take My Hand

It’s been quite some time (over 4 years, in fact), but I have finally happened across another RPG AMV of such high quality that I feel compelled to make a full-on rant about it! And it’s...about Final Fantasy 8.

Damn it all.

Nonetheless, the fact is that, personal tastes notwithstanding, Argol has created a damn fine music video that deserves exposure and praise. And today, we’re gonna check it out and appreciate the merits of Argol’s work.

Final Fantasy 8: Take My Hand:

Look. Look With Your Special Eyes: The visual quality here is quite high, which is nice, since most FF8 AMVs tend to be a bit grainy. Through no fault of the AMV creators, of course; it’s just a fact of graphics meant to be depicted by the Playstation 1. With the high-resolution rerelease of Final Fantasy 8 for the PC, however, music video editors have access to FMV clips of the highest quality now, and Argol is obviously using those here.

The visual effects in this AMV are used well, just flashy enough to grab attention and help convey ideas, without ever getting distracting and messy. Scenes and changes between them are well-paced to give the video a fast, restless sense of energy, even when using the slower footage, keeping in tune with the active pace of the song, and recalling the action and excitement that Final Fantasy 8...well, didn’t really possess, but did try to convince us it had.

Beyond that, Argol also overlays some scenes and objects over the changing scenes, which can help emphasize the ideas presented by the video and song. For example, you see such an effect at 0:58 through 1:04, in which the floating rings that symbolize Rinoa and Squall’s connection and faith in one another are skillfully overlayed over the scene of Rinoa finding Squall’s body and getting upset over his seeming death, right before the clouds are cleared away for the sunlight and the setting becomes a wildflower field in full bloom that couldn’t be more clumsily overt in screaming “resurrection” at the player if it was a scene of Jesus and Jack Harkness dual-juggling Dragon Balls. FF8 never is found lacking for ways to underestimate its audience. Anyway! The overlay of those symbolic rings creates the idea that their love and connection is powerful enough to overcome death, which, of course, connects perfectly to the music at the moment, which proclaims that “our love will never die.” Argol employs several such overlays throughout the video, many of which add or enhance a layer of meaning.

Of course, sometimes the overlays seem to just be simply for fun visual effect, and there’s nothing wrong with that, either, since it helps convey a sense of interest and enjoyment which is well suited for a tribute AMV. I like overlay effect at 2:50, for example, where we see Squall’s face faintly in the background as the feather comes to a rest, and the way Squall moves in the original scene seems to suggest that he suddenly notices the feather as it reaches the ground. It’s a small, but interesting visual trick, and those make their contribution to an AMV’s quality, too.

If Music be the Food of Love, Play On: The song used in this AMV is Take My Hand, by Simple Plan. I’ve heard it before, but I wouldn’t say I’m familiar with it, nor the group. Personally, I’m pretty ambivalent about the music...doesn’t do much for me, but I also have no objection to it. Which I guess is actually close to a thumbs-up from me, given how inordinately picky I am about music.

I think that the music is the most powerful factor of this video, although the visual component is obviously not left far behind. True, the AMV does come off like the music was selected based on what the video was intended to be and convey, so it could seem like a secondary force, but the fact is that the tempo, mood, lyrics, and volume of this song largely dictate the video’s pace and content. And in that regard, Argol does a terrific job of combining audio and visual together into a single, moving entity. When the song opens, the images and scene transitions used are fast-paced and active, as the music is, and this is true frequently throughout the video, keeping the pace with the quick and energized tune, while the slightly more drawn out moments of the song are given scenes that last a little longer and have less movement--although, as is appropriate for the song, it never really feels like it slows down. Likewise, the lyrics dictate the scenes that play, as appropriate video is matched to each line--you gotta love an AMV whose first lyrics, “Sometimes I feel like everybody’s got a problem,” are paired with a full-on shot of Seifer. Hard to think of a better song lyric to describe that dingus.

Worth noting is also that the lyrics-to-video match-up is sometimes intuitive rather than simply obvious, which is another plus. What I mean is, quite often, AMVs that match scene to lyrics tend to lean heavily on the literal--the lyrics talk about running, you show a scene of characters running, the lyrics talk about the singer’s heart flying, you show a scene of someone or other flying. And there is plenty of that here, to be sure (I’d never have realized just how often in FF8’s cinematics someone reaches their hand out or joins hands with another character, without the chorus of this song). But I like it when an AMV maker thinks creatively enough to take it a step forward, showing video clips that don’t literally visualize the lyrics, but require a quick (but simple) intuitive leap to connect them, and Argol does this. For an example, take 0:48, in which we see Squall driving at a breakneck pace down the road, to the lyrics “Let’s not think about tomorrow.” Not a literal representation of them, but it’s an easy logical step to connect the concept to a symbolic image of a lone driver traveling down the road, living in the moment, which seems portrayed by Squall in this scene. This kind of little moment of mental exercise not only keeps the video and music well-connected, but also keeps the watcher’s attention more active.

Guy, You Explain: I think the purpose that this AMV serves is as a tribute to Final Fantasy 8 as a whole. It’s not as focused and interesting a calling as exploring Yuna’s journey or analyzing the relationship between Shepard and the Illusive Man, I suppose, but as nice as it is when you can get an AMV that reaches for (and achieves) a deeper purpose, it’s not a requirement for a solid RPG music video. Sometimes, all an AMV really needs to be trying to do is to show its game off, to convey a great enthusiasm and appreciation for its subject matter and remind you of how great it was.* Plenty of my other favorite AMVs aspire to no higher purpose than glorifying their subject, after all.

And so, as a labor of love for Final Fantasy 8, I have to say, this is a pretty great AMV. It’s fun and exciting to watch, and uses FF8’s cutscenes expertly to portray the game as fast-paced, engaging, sincere, and even deep. The reality of SquareEnix’s plodding, pandering, pointless, preposterous fever dream could not be more different, of course, but even I found myself momentarily nostalgic for Final Fantasy 8 thanks to the great way this AMV presents the game. This is simply an excellently crafted send-up to FF8 that’s fun and worth spending a few minutes to watch.

* Or, in cases like this, less reminding you of its greatness, than deceiving you into thinking it was great at all.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Dragon Age 2's Friendship/Rivalry System

6 years since I played it, Dragon Age 2 continues to confuse me, and it probably always will. Not in the way that Chrono Cross confuses me, wherein the plot is simply too needlessly and stupidly convoluted to ever be fully disentangled into a comprehensible whole, nor in the way that Lunar: Dragon Song confuses me, wherein I simply cannot fathom how such a godawful piece of rubbish was ever created by thinking, feeling human beings. No, DA2 confuses me in the sense that I am still, and probably always will be, unable to tell whether it’s a good or bad RPG. I’ve just never been able to figure out which of its ideas make it work, which are too poorly executed or fundamentally flawed to forgive, where to weigh the lopsided personalities and character developments of its cast, and whether or not the major decisions of its storytelling process and thematic focus, in the context of its being a continuation of Dragon Age 1, are a step in the right direction or a tremendous blunder. Hell, so long as I overlook its horrible finale (great job on creating 40% of the worst RPG endings I’ve ever seen, Bioware!), I’m not even sure whether I, personally, liked the game!

One such puzzling aspect of DA2 is its system of Friendship and Rivalry between protagonist Hawke and her/his party members. For most RPGs in which companions’ loyalty to the main character involves player input, things work in a pretty simple way: when you have the protagonist do/say stuff that a party member likes, that party member’s approval/affection will go up, and once you hit a certain point of approval, they’re, like, totes BFFs, for legit. It’s a functional enough system for most RPGs, and Dragon Age 1 itself had a similar linear affection system. The trick to building lifelong friendships between DA1’s Grey Warden and her/his party members boils down to giving the right gifts to the right people, speaking to them in a way they like, and not having Morrigan in the party any time you want to say or do something intelligent, or display the barest shred of human compassion.

God, Morrigan was such a pill.

Anyway, Dragon Age 2 had an idea that shook things up a little. Instead of just playing nice with each party member in the way that they most approve of, you can also forge just an ironclad bond by doing...well, basically the opposite. Yeah, you can be a flippant, careless jerk in Dragon Age 2, and Hawke’s Friendship points with Isabela will go up...but you could also choose to be selfless and demand a higher standard of dignity from your friends, including Isabela herself, and Hawke’s Rivalry points with Isabela will go up, instead. But rather than just being a measure of disapproval, Rivalry is a path of its own for Hawke’s relationships to go down, one which deepens and develops as the story progresses, just as much as the Friendship does. As one might expect, a fully developed Friendship results in an extra combat ability/bonus for each character, which has become a standard in such situations for RPGs, but a fully developed Rivalry also results in such an ability/bonus, should you decide to take that route.

It’s a truly interesting dynamic to me. First of all, it allows for the protagonist of the game to have a more concrete set of morals and personality, I think. I mean, often when playing an RPG involving party members with approval ratings, a player may bend their perception of their character slightly in selecting dialogue and actions, in order to have a chance to witness a party member’s character development in full, since that usually requires a maxed out approval rating. A good RPG will always provide you with enough chances to max a character out without absolutely needing to uncharacteristically bend a protagonist’s moral code in dialogue or actions, but it can get tricky. I recall, for example, that it’s difficult to really get in good with Kreia in Knights of the Old Republic 2 if you’re sincerely devoted to the Jedi way (and the same is true for Sith playthroughs; Kreia’s not much for falling in with either side), and it would be a damn shame to miss even a single sentence of the philosophical excellence that is Kreia. But with a dual Friendship/Rivalry system for each character’s approval of the protagonist, you can have a protagonist with a more concrete, defined set of personal ethics, and not have to give up on seeing a party member’s personal story through to completion. Is Hawke a generous, compassionate, stalwart defender of the right, uncompromisingly good and just? Well, obviously she/he will get on just fine with Aveline and probably not have any issues with Sebastian, but the shenanigans of Isabela and the selfishness of Merrill won’t sit right with Hawke. Well, thanks to the Rivalry option, they don’t have to; she/he can butt heads with Isabela and Merrill all she/he likes without sacrificing a relationship.

I also appreciate the fact that this system recognizes that strong, positive personal relationships don’t have to always be about hugs and kisses. Sometimes, the person you value most in life may very well be your polar opposite; you may even both frustrate each other more often than not! But our opposites can be our most valued companions for the fact that they challenge us, they view the world differently and offer insights we simply couldn’t have seen ourselves, and sometimes, they’re the ones we need to force us to be better than we think we can be, who drag us into the light to keep us on the straight and narrow. In this way, a Rivalry can be as valuable, or even more than, a Friendship.

And I also like the Rivalry option presented in this game for the fact that, well...good rivals, specifically ones who aren’t murderously hostile, are damn hard to find in RPGs. Frankly, I feel that most of the time in this genre, characters get put into the “rival” category not because they genuinely deserve to be there, but because the writers felt, for whatever reason, that the protagonist needed it. I mean, in Mana Khemia 1, did Roxis really feel like his personality, his values, his goals, etc., were authentically opposed enough to that of protagonist Vayne that they really should have been considered one another’s rival? To me, Roxis felt like a character who should have held a small dislike for and competitiveness with Vayne initially, and gotten the hell over it because there wasn’t really anything about either of them to sustain either negativity or especial competitiveness. The writers just twisted the character they had to fit a mold they wanted to fill, rather than accept that what they’d created really didn’t feel right for it.

With DA2, on the other hand, there’s potential for Hawke and her/his party members to be sincerely on opposite ends of certain personal values, such that, while their experiences together and reliance on one another guarantee that they share a strong bond of companionship, you can genuinely see that they stand in true disagreement with how the other lives and thinks. You can actually develop rivalries in this game that feel organic and right for the characters.

So yes, the Friendship/Rivalry system has some definite potential benefits, and on the conceptual level, it’s not only a creative and refreshing take on party member approval systems, but also perhaps ahead of its time. And the same time, it has its downsides.

One of the major downsides is that, quite frankly, it’s not a universal enough idea for the workload it’s stuck with in this game. In many cases, the possibility of 2 different paths a personal bond can take will work just fine. But at the same time, it doesn’t really work for every character, and it certainly doesn’t seem right for every member of the cast. Sure, I can totally see Isabela greatly valuing a rival who tries to force her to be a better person, just as I can see her greatly valuing a friend who just joins her for her fun and agrees with her on everything. But by contrast, the character of Aveline in DA2 is that of a hardline, black-and-white good person who does not appreciate or want challenges to her rigid, though largely adequate, view of morality. Isabela may be annoyed by selflessness and virtue, but she’s the kind of character who can reluctantly allow for it, and even be changed by it. Aveline, on the other hand, really just does not come across as a personality who can accept certain kinds of selfish behavior, and as a result, a Rivalry with her seems forced and insincere in its attempt to convince you that Aveline genuinely values a Hawke so much an opposite to herself.

Similarly, while it’s believable that a party of friends who you’ve gone out of your way to support all throughout the game will stick with you through thick and thin, it’s...kinda hard to buy the idea that you can treat everyone around you like shit enough times that they’ll be similarly devoted to you.

It’s also worth noting that the quality for these Rivalry relationships isn’t always all that great. I mean, I appreciate being able to create a Rivalry with Merrill, because for Salamando’s sake, someone has gotta be there to make sure she damn well knows that the tragedy that comes from her personal quest is entirely of her own making, and ensure that she will learn from her selfish mistakes. And honestly, I think that the Rivalry romance with Isabela is definitely the best romance in the game, creating an interesting and touching story of tough but genuine love that inspires a woman to become something better than she thought she could be for the sake of the woman/man she’s fallen in love with, culminating in a conversation that is not just a confession of love, but also a pledge to become worthy of it. Solid stuff.

But aside from those 2 cases...the Rivalry friendships and romances generally range from being a bit uninteresting, to subpar, to, at times, kind of indistinguishable in any major way from the Friendship path. I mean, hey, whether or not you’ve given Anders a big hug every time he mutters something dark and extreme, or perpetually told him to cut that revolutionary shit out, the shortsighted asshat’s still gonna become the Fereldan Unabomber, so what was the point of trying to Rivalry him into being less of a jackass? Not to mention, some of these Rivalries kinda lessen Hawke as a person. I mean, how unpleasant a person do you have to be to be the polar opposite of Aveline? In the end, not a lot of real, actual cases of character depth and value get added to the cast thanks to adding the Rivalry duality to Hawke’s relationship paths, honestly.

And yet, there’s the confusing part. It doesn’t pay off well, but is that the problem of the dynamic itself, or simply Bioware’s inability to use it effectively enough of the time? The writing quality for the game as a whole is a chaotic grab bag, so this could just be an extension of that. And even if not much good really came of it, is it still worth it, as a storytelling tool, if it did provide probably the best moment of romance and character development in the game (via Isabela)? Is the Friendship/Rivalry system truly a good idea at all, when it so clearly has limitations to how far it can extend over a whole cast, limitations which standard approval systems don’t have to worry about? Then again, isn’t it just a bit of a relief to see any system, even if it’s only viable every now and then, that can offer a more functionally complex system of approval and relationship-building than a Youtube Like/Dislike bar?

I guess in the end, much like the rest of the game, I just don’t know how I feel about the Friendship/Rivalry mechanic. I’d like to think it has better potential than was capitalized in Dragon Age 2, but I can’t really imagine how you could make it work for any standard-sized cast in a way that would seem realistic in general and provide worthwhile alternative friendships for all possible characters. Nonetheless, I can say that whether or not I ever determine whether the Friendship/Rivalry mechanic was a positive or negative for Dragon Age 2, it’s still an approach that was interesting to see in action, at least this 1 time.