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Long-time gamer, aspiring writer, and frequent bearer of an afro. As an eternal optimist, I like to both look on the bright side of things and see the better parts of games; as a result, I love a game with a good story and awesome characters...and anything that lets me punch the heresy out of my enemies.

I'm a big fan of Atlus' games, and I've enjoyed my fair share of fighters and RPGs. Just...please, keep Final Fantasy XIII out of my sight. It never ends well for anyone involved.

You can check out some of my game musinga/stories/random stuff at my other blog, Cross-Up. I've also got a TV Tropes thingamajig, and I'm trying to get some freelance work going. Among other things. Like a web serial novel. And getting books published. If ever there was a time for the world to learn the joys of ghost-punching, this is it.

Be a hero. Check 'em out.

Cross-Up -- my personal blog
My Troper profile
My Facebook fan page
My Twitter thingamajig

I Hraet You -- the over-the-top web serial novel...of love, maybe
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All right, look.  Can I be honest with you guys for a second?

Sometimes I feel a little iffy about drawing comparisons to other games when I’m trying to illustrate a point.  It’s an effective method, no question, but I’m worried about potential backlash.  I mean, think about the last post -- when I brought up Gears of War and DmC, it definitely wasn’t in a positive light.  I’ve always felt like I have to be wary about how I talk about those games and others; setting aside the fact that calling out those two is like making a joke about Twilight, I’m certain that the games have their fans.  People like them, even if I don’t.  And I have to respect their wishes as well as their opinions.  And I’m going to as best I can.  

I just thought that I’d give that little preface.  Because now I want to talk about Watch Dogs.  And those of you who like the game MIGHT want to skip the next few paragraphs.  

I don’t have any problems thinking of Watch Dogs as one of the WORST games I’ve ever played.  It is, in my eyes, a spectacular failure in every way imaginable -- a dull, confused mess of a game devoid of ambition or vision, and tries to jam in elements from other, better games without understanding how they work or why they were good in the first place.  The gameplay is a mess, the story is dead on arrival, and it squanders all its goodwill in the time it takes to reach the end of this sentence.

But the reason why I bring up Watch Dogs is because it’s emblematic of the exact problem I’ve had with so many other games in the past -- and only goes to prove the case of Devil Survivor 2.  Ubisoft’s latest was brimming with promise, and had a chance to intelligently explore its themes -- among them, the perils of a wired world and a projection of the future we could be heading for.  That’s not going to happen in a game where some of the most harrowing things you do are make things explode and plaster “U MAD, BRO” on freeway signs.  Certainly not in a game where the inciting incident is a revenge fantasy/IMMA PROTECT MUH FAMILY bit ripped straight out of the RoboCop reboot…itself ripped from any number of other stories.

I don’t understand how you make a game that cost at least sixty eight million dollars for an eighth-generation console, yet somehow manage to make it feel smaller and definitely dumber than a years-old DS game.  I just don’t.  Wait.  Actually, I do.  It’s because in this day and age, it’s not enough to just build some shambling chimera from the pieces of other games (even though Watch Dogs has already become a top-seller, but copies sold don’t always equate to satisfied customers).  It’s about measures.  You measure by design, and judge based on the complexity of the concepts therein.  And on top of that, you measure by execution, i.e. how well a game manages to explore its mechanics -- story-wise, gameplay-wise, whatever -- for your entertainment.  

So will Watch Dogs be a financial success?  Undoubtedly.  It’s already left its mark on sales charts, so I doubt we’ll be seeing the last of Aiden Pearce, The Most Boring Man in the World.  Will it have earned a moral victory, or an emotional one?  Will it have earned loyalty that matches the hype surrounding it?  We’ll see.  But whether it does or not, that doesn’t matter as much to me as you think it would.  Oh, sure, I think we gamers can do a HELL of a lot better than throwing money at such gormless products, but to compensate, we have games like Devil Survivor 2 that can show everyone how it’s done.

And I guess it’s up to me to show you why…while pointing out its faults.


One of the things I couldn’t help but praise in the last post was DeSu2’s forward-thinking.  The underlying question was “how do you rebuild the world?”  And it’s a valid question -- one that I wish more games would tackle instead of fading to black with little more than flimsy promises of hope and better days once the big baddie’s buried.  Mind you, this wasn’t just something tacked on in the last hours of the game; this is an overarching element of Desu2’s story that, while not the key element at the outset, is still one that weaves its way through the entire game.  

The choices therein are as much a slew of interesting story routes as they are a judge of character.  Given the choice, would you support a world of absolute equality, where everyone supports one another but there’s no drive to excel or improve yourself?  Would you support a world based on merit, where the strongest and wisest are given their rightful chance to rule, but at the cost of using a pile of bodies to build your ladder to the top?  Would you forgo the chance to remake the world (even for the better) just so you can bring back the status quo?  Would you kill a god regardless of the consequences?  And even beyond all those options, would you fight -- and even kill -- a friend just for the chance to realize your vision of a better tomorrow?

There are difficult questions being asked here, without a doubt.  Now, admittedly, I think that the issues at hand (meritocracy vs. egalitarianism) are incredibly simplified versions of their usual selves, or at least what Wikipedia might suggest.  There are probably a lot more societal and political issues here, and plenty more beyond that.  But even so, it’s not a deal-breaker; after all, the new world is going to be created by a supreme administrator that looks like a fusion between a giant ice pick and a dreidel and has no qualms about brainwashing humanity to suit your needs.  

Likewise, the people proposing these ideas -- JPs chief Yamato and ace detective Ronaldo -- are repeatedly called out for being too extreme and too stubborn for their own good.  It’s only natural that they oversimplify things and assume that their ideals will fix the world’s problems.  (It’s worth noting that in Yamato’s route, he willingly admits that it doesn’t matter if he’s the one ruling in his merit-based world; all that matters is that the best man for the job takes the throne…though in his ending, he’s the one with his own towering skyscraper, and he stands triumphant while flanked by his comrades.)

As it should be, the deciding factor for whose world ends up being built -- note that I didn’t say “who’s right” -- is the main character.  Or rather, the player; it’s through the efforts of said main character (who for the purposes of this post I’ll start referring to as Hibiki Kuze, in “honor” of the decidedly-awful DeSu2 anime) that the game not only gets its ending, but a couple of its strongest weapons.  Unfortunately, it also comes with what I believe to be one of the game’s biggest faults.

Hibiki’s presence, first and foremost, contributes to the idea of “leadership” that runs throughout the game.  Whether you agree with Yamato/Ronaldo or not, there are others in the game that do, and for valid reasons.  Maybe they wouldn’t if the status quo wasn’t in place, but the world has been wrecked almost beyond repair, and the implication (well before game’s end) is that beyond Japan’s borders, there isn’t even a world anymore.  

In times of crisis, the people need strong leaders -- and there’s no one better for the job in this case than the man spearheading an organization designed specifically to counter the threat of demons and alien invaders.  Well, except for the guy who’s doing his damnedest to gather food and medical supplies and offer his own counter-offense against demons and the organization that’s trying to hoard supplies.  In any case, they’re men with vision, passion, intelligence, charisma, and most of all power.

And that’s where Hibiki comes in.  See, in the DeSu games the stats of the main character are decided solely by you.  Every level-up gives you one point to put into your strength, magic, vitality, or agility.  In theory, this means that with enough patience (i.e. grinding), you can build a character that’s well-rounded, or even one without any weaknesses.  

But I’m convinced that the best build for these games is one that maximizes two stats: magic and vitality.  I find magic to be more useful in these games than physical attacks, because you gain easy access to elemental spells that’ll let you hit enemy weaknesses/earn extra turns, AND boosting your magic stat boosts your highly-critical MP.  

Meanwhile, boosting your vitality stat boosts your HP and defense, and -- much like boosting the magic stat -- gives you access to some of the best offensive and defensive skills in the game.  Think about it: one of the biggest dangers of using a mage in most RPGs is the fact that they can’t take a hit.  That's part of that horrid thing they call "character balance".

If you remove that weakness, then you’re left with a character that can dish out huge damage, hit enemy weaknesses, and not only have the defense to shrug off most blows but also equip skills that further reduce damage from all but one or two attack types.  Simply put, my Hibiki was nigh-unkillable.  Except if he got turned to stone and then got attacked.  Then he shattered like an egg.

The takeaway from all this is that, if you build a proper character and make use of the possibilities available, you’ll be able to make Hibiki into the most powerful member of the entire cast.  You’re ensuring that the potential he has is fulfilled, and justifying his ability as a frontline fighter.  But it’s not just strength that makes him the main character; thanks to the player’s guiding hand (assuming that you can pull off a win), Hibiki is a tactical genius that ensures victory after victory.  Even if Yamato and Ronaldo are the visionaries, and even if they have talent in their own right, it’s Hibiki who’s got the leadership qualities needed to save the world.

And I mean that quite literally.  See, there’s a catch to rebuilding the world via Polaris: the administrator will only do it if humanity’s will is unified.  That is, those with the ability to even make it to his throne have to have a singular belief.  If Yamato goes to the throne with aims of creating a meritocracy, but space-case Joe comes along and he wants equality, then it doesn’t work.  Everyone present has to believe in a singular vision (the lack of which may what caused Polaris to start erasing the world in the first place).  So, how do you get the best of the best to reconcile?  How do you get them to forgo their own beliefs without slaughtering them outright?  

Easy.  You use Hibiki’s second great weapon: kindness.

One of the major additions to DeSu2 (though admittedly one ripped right out of Persona 3 and 4) is the Fate system.  Basically, the more you talk to the cast outside of battles, the more bonuses you all receive.  They’ll get elemental resistances, the ability to trade demons on the fly with Hibiki, and unlock more powerful demons for you to use, assuming you get strong enough demons to fuse into them.  Really though, it’s incentivizing the player to actively seek out character development moments -- a dirty trick on Atlus’ part, but a smart move all the same.  The option to get closer to your party members was there in DeSu1, but the sequel takes it up a notch.  

Each character gets a mini-episode to get fleshed out and face a development-inducing dilemma.  Joe has to deal with the pressure of facing his sick girlfriend in the wake of a collapsing world.  Best bud Daichi learns to be a man, and learns that his inaction could easily lead to the death of the weak and helpless.  But special mention has to go to Io, who not only learns to become more confident, but (if you’re with her at the right time) gets to find the corpses of her dead parents.  And she’s just in time to see one of them die before her eyes, all while surrounded by rows of body bags.  

Consider that just one of several kicks to the balls delivered by DeSu’s narrative.

But the key to advancing each character’s fate (from rank zero to rank five) is going out of your way to heal the wounds in their hearts and minds.  The more kindness you show to your comrades, the stronger they -- and you, by extension -- become.  If you get them to rank four, you’ve got comrades that’ll follow you even if you don’t align with their ideal of choice.  And indeed, you’ll need them for the boss battles that follow; I’m convinced that I was only able to beat the game by exploiting an array of skill combinations and sending in my units to effectively cheat.  

The Fate system is there for a reason, even beyond just aping the most recent Persona games.  If you ignore your party members, then they become impossible to recruit no matter how much you beg.  (Parting with them is a brief, but surprisingly sad affair.)  But it goes beyond that.  I’m pretty much convinced that if you don’t rank up at all, some of them will outright DIE.  And while you’ll have a few strong party members to pick from no matter which path you take, by the time you’ve reached that point you’re probably got a go-to party you want re-assembled ASAP.

In any case, it’s Hibiki’s kindness as much as -- and likely more than -- his strength and intelligence that wins people to his cause.  Remember, Yamato and Ronaldo are extremists; the former is damn near villainous in his pursuits, the latter is a verifiable terrorist, and both of them are destructively determined.  It’s also worth noting that there’s an unmistakable hollowness to both their creeds; Yamato is in control of JPs precisely because his family and lineage put him there, i.e. the exact thing his meritocracy is partly trying to remove.  

Meanwhile, Ronaldo is trying to create a world of equality, but incidentally he’s the leader because he’s the strongest and most capable of the bunch.  Neither leader comes even close to being relatable…at least, compared to the kind, considerate, trustworthy kid roped into this mess like everyone else.  You know, the same kid who has a first-hand account of what’s going on without any dilution via the lens of power, and goes well out of his way to form precious bonds with everyone.  We should be thankful Hibiki didn’t try to install his own new world order.

In any case, the overarching message here is that even beyond societal ideologies, the key to making a better world (or just plain restoring it) is kindness.  Being able to trust in one another and cooperate is a key element, regardless of what you believe in.  Say what you will about society at large, but I think there’s merit to my words considering the amount of effort, manpower, and coordination it takes just to build a house.  Hibiki’s presence lends an element of humanity to whatever side he chooses.

Hell, just being around Yamato probably works wonders for mellowing out the chief’s self-confessed coldness.  Ultimately, that’s the developers’ end goal for showing how to rebuild the world -- an idealized and optimistic version, sure, but if nothing else it makes you want to believe and play along.  It’s thanks to Hibiki’s efforts -- YOUR efforts -- that, no matter which ending you get, you’re bound to have a glimmer of hope sparkling before your eyes.

But for all my praise up to this point, there’s still a major issue I have with the presence of Hibiki -- and you can consider this a problem that extends to the Persona games and the original Devil Survivor.  The thing is…well, Hibiki is pretty much a messiah.

I mean, really.  That’s what he is.  He’s almost immediately established to be one of the strongest demon tamers.  He immediately earns the respect and trust of every character -- even Ronaldo, who at the outset is irrevocably an enemy.  Damn near every girl shows some level of attraction towards him, whether you max out their Fate rank or not.  Even beyond that, the fact that only Hibiki can sort out their emotional baggage (male or female) is kind of distressing.  

You can shift his characterization to be a straight-laced and intelligent leader, a hot-blooded fighter, or a moron, which I approve of…but if you try and act intelligent, too often the game will give you answers to questions that, occasionally, you have no way of knowing the answer to.  And yet the others will applaud you just as quickly.  Actually, they’re quick to applaud you for pretty much waking up in the morning.  There’s being kind and trustworthy, and then there’s being worshipped like a deity.

Now, I know that this isn’t exactly a universal problem; it’s more of a matter of preference.  And indeed, there are theme-related reasons for making Hibiki out like this.  And on top of that, the whole universe doesn’t revolve around him; he’s a silent observer most of the time, and the other characters are more eager to interact with each other instead of just you.  But I can’t shake this feeling that the game’s narrative is warping around to accommodate you and Hibiki, making it so that it’s incredibly difficult to do something wrong.  

It doesn’t matter what the other characters want; it’s all about what you want.  And this feeds into making the Fate system a little insincere (again, a complaint that I could make against the Persona games).  Are you helping Hinako rediscover her passion for dance because you genuinely care about her, and want to hear her story?  Or are you just doing it so you can tick off numbers on a list, or get bonuses in battle?  Do you even care about Jungo’s cat, or Fumi’s research, or Otome’s daughter?  Or do you just want to build their trust so they’ll follow you down your path?  I only ask because it could decide whether you're a hero or an asshole.

I’m willing to let it slide because these points aren’t game-breaking.  Nor are they things that detract severely from the quality of the game.  But they’re still things that should be considered, especially when the point of the game is to rely on and establish strong leaders.   How are we supposed to fully understand and accept the elements here if there’s an inherent selfishness to the proceedings?  How are we supposed to believe that we’re pulling together as a team when your actions are almost saintly?  

Taken on a deeper level, DeSu2 runs the risk of undermining itself by way of its game-based, player-aggrandizing elements.  What if I want to work a little bit harder to build bonds with comrades besides just being a yes man?  What if I want my comrades to disagree with me?  What if I want to struggle to find an answer to the problem, and not just have the best result handed to me?  

What I’m getting at here is that (outside of the punishing gameplay, because Atlus secretly gets sexual thrill out of the pain it brings its players), you don’t really have to work for your happy ending.  It’s just a matter of choosing the right option, or the option you want, from a handful of items.  And in a game where there IS no right answer that’ll save the world absolutely, that’s a bit of a shame.

That’s not to say that DeSu2 is completely worse off for it.  It isn’t.  But there are faults.  The gameplay straddles and occasionally crosses the line between fair and cheap.  You have ZERO ability to plan for what happens in missions on your first playthrough, because some fights change the rules on you in the worst ways.  And story-wise, one can't help but wonder how "deep and meaningful" these characters are, especially since some bank pretty hard on popular anime conventions (looking at you, Airi).  But I can look past those flaws because of the overall package.  And I can present to you, dear readers...



Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand…cue music!

1) Makoto Sako
Easily my favorite character by a long shot -- not just in the game, but one of my top 10 favorite game characters, period.  She’s what you’d expect from a military official, in that she’s tough, competent, determined, and loyal -- BUT the game is eager to remind you that just because she’s part of JPs doesn’t mean she’s not human.  She’s kindhearted, she’s considerate, she’s more than capable of getting flustered, she has her own dreams and opinions…and man, that pixilated smile of hers gets to me every time.  I think I’m in love, guys.   But you didn’t hear that from me.

Seriously, let’s just pretend I didn’t say a word about her being mai waifu.  Not a word.

Story-wise, Makoto’s an important character because she lends a human aspect to an organization that could easily come off as self-serving and, well, evil.  She helps prove that just because you’re on the side of order (relatively speaking) doesn’t mean that you’re automatically a villain; rather, you can use that order to make the world a better place.  It certainly helps that Makoto’s one of the key damage dealers in the game, to the point where my version of her could single-handedly slay a dragon and outperform the average god.  I guess she does some serious heavy lifting in between missions.

2) Jungo is pretty cool, too
And then there’s this guy.  Man, I love this guy.

He’s just this simple-minded chef who wants to be friends with everybody and loves the cat he finds…but he will absolutely wreck anything that crosses him.  Make him one of your main combat units, and you’ve got a guy who can smash damn near everything in the entire game.  Make him an enemy, and he WILL one-shot you for a critical hit that does two thousand points of damage…and by that point you’re lucky to have four hundred HP.  Long story short, if you need something smashed, JUNGO SMASH.

Just don’t do what I did in my first playthrough and lollygag when it comes to finding more RAM for Fumi’s computer.  If you do, Jungo WILL die.  And that would suck.  So don’t do it.

You’ll need him for guys like this.

3) The Septentriones are a good-ass idea
I didn’t know what to make of the Septentriones when I first heard about them (and I still don’t; calling them alien invaders almost seems like a misnomer).  But you know what?  Strange as they may be, I get them.  I get what the developers were going for.

There’s an element of “facing the unknown” that’s woven through the narrative thanks to the Septentriones.  These are incomprehensible, irreconcilable creatures that have neither the desire nor the capacity to compromise.  They’re beings created solely to destroy the planet, or at least have it sink into the void as part of Polaris’ task force.  

Their power and their very presence are to be feared (and indeed, whenever they show up several characters have the requisite “Oh SHIT!” reaction).  A huge part of the game -- pretty much every day of the story -- is dedicated to finding countermeasures against them…and said countermeasures get bigger and more destructive as time passes, to the point where the main cast is semi-responsible for the end of the world.  They’re more than just bosses to be conquered; they’re a vital element to the game.

4) This game is more lighthearted than DeSu1
This is something that’s to be expected.  Part of the pressure and stress on the cast of DeSu1 came from them being completely without creature comforts -- food, shelter, electricity and of course a safe place to sleep at night were all in short supply. In DeSu2, however, Yamato has accommodations prepared for the cast from the night of Day 1 onward.  It contributes to the disparity between the demon tamers -- Japan’s newfound cream of the crop -- and the unlucky civilians/rioters fighting to survive.

So yes, you get a bit more downtime and ability to relax than the original game.  And because everyone’s not stressed all the time, it creates more opportunities for events that wouldn’t be tonally consistent in a more serious game.  So if you ever wanted to see a whiny Hindu deity get flung into the sky to be shot by another Hindu deity, then you’re in luck.  Or maybe an event where an Osaka mascot murders demons to take their money?  Or a sequence where Hibiki, Daichi, and Joe get the chance to peep on the girls during their physical exams (in an event called “Secret Garden”)?  And that’s ignoring all the moment-to-moment jokes and conversations that’ll put a smile on your face.

5) It’s edutainment!
I actually didn’t know about this until I started fiddling with the menus, but apparently you can find out more about the demons you summon/buy through an option in the compendium.  That’s actually pretty interesting, because a lot of names might be familiar to you.  Thor, Odin, Heimdall, and Fenrir all get expanded details (though it seems like the definition of “demon” has been broadened here), so Norse mythology lovers might get a kick out of that.  I haven’t exactly gone through every description -- and can’t until I start a new file -- but from what I gather, pretty much every demon in the game is based on a supernatural creature/deity that exists in a real-world culture.

Take Hamsa, for example (otherwise known as MY SWORN MORTAL ENEMY).  Just a pain-in-the-ass duck soldier, right?  Nope.  Have a gander at this:

“A holy white goose which serves as the steed of the Hindu god Brahma.  During winter, geese migrate over India. These majestic white figures flying through the sky became symbolic of Brahmin dignity as they tried to reach Brahma, the god of knowledge. This may be how Hamsa came to be seen as Brahma`s steed.”

See?  It’s actually a goose.  

6) Go buy this.  Just...go buy this.
Really.  What the hell else can I say?

I will gladly admit that this game isn’t perfect.  I know that it’s got some flaws.  I know that it’s hard.  I know that it’s not the most visually impressive, ergo why I’ve been using pictures from the F-tier anime tie-in.  I know it has a distinct Japanese flair (which I still can’t believe is a problem for some people, but whatever).  But a good product has the right elements to overcome its flaws, or at the very least make you ignore them.  And to that end, Devil Survivor 2 succeeds.  IN SPADES.

This is a game that’ll make you think long after you’ve put it down.  Even if you clear the game, there’s still plenty of content you’ve likely missed out on. The sheer number of combinations available encourages freedom and experimentation.  The challenges on parade here will put you to the test, and push you well beyond your limits.  The characters who you’ll meet will stick with you, and drive you to do everything to help and protect them -- because rest assured, if you drag your feet in certain sequences, they WILL die.

A lot of people will tell you that the JRPG is dead, or that they’re all too clichéd and obsolete to be worth anything, or that they’re all incredibly infantile when you get down to it.  That, or just an offhand remark about schoolgirls.  But don’t you even think about making a mistake on this one: Devil Survivor 2 is a fantastic game.  Seek it out and get your hands on it, no matter who or what stands in your way.  When there are games out there as good as this, don’t EVER settle for less.

Get in there.  See if you have what it takes to survive.

Wow, that’s a corny line to end on.  Play me out, Japanese Spider-Man!

Photo Photo Photo

Don't worry, I'll explain -- as I'm wont to do.

There’s a question that’s been on my mind for a while now.  It should go without saying, but in this day and age we’re fortunate enough to be a society with full, often-instant access to media.  We’ve had books, movies, and TV for decades (books especially, for obvious reasons), but it doesn’t take much effort to get more of that with a few button presses or key strokes.  Maybe not even that, if you’ve got some kind of voice recognition system straight out of The Jetsons.  Or just an Xbox One, apparently.

So in addition to books, movies, and TV, we can practically turn our heads and gain access to video games, comics, anime, and web-based content that no one would have dreamed could be interesting  (who’d ever want to watch someone else play a game, amirite?).  This generation -- and the next, and the next -- is going to be able to observe and draw influence from myriad sources.  That’s how it should be.  Each new generation should overtake the old.

Still, I can’t help but wonder: is it going to be acceptable to like those myriad forms of media, especially if it means trying to become legitimate?  I mean, let’s use me as an example.  I want to be a writer, and I’m ready to put in the work to do so -- but I would be lying out my ass if I said video games didn’t have an influence on me.  And as the days pass, I’m getting more into (or being corrupted by, if you prefer) the various Kamen Rider installments.  So if I or anyone else wanted to be a creative tour de force, would those things hamper our chances?  Our legitimacy?

I’d like to think that that’s not the case.  The creator’s skills should speak for themselves, in an ideal world.  And while it’s true that video games don’t exactly have the highest regard, assuming that they’re all mindless gore-fests played by (and pioneered by) screaming, Doritos-stained racists would be like assuming every movie is something not even Michael Bay would put on the screen.  Video games are going to become a medium that is DEFINITIVELY art, not just arguably -- if it hasn’t already, at least.  That much is obvious.

I’ve heard the argument that right now, games are in an awkward transitional phase.  And I agree with that; the past few generations have proven that the industry has -- or has long since had -- the potential to make compelling stories, unforgettable characters, dynamic worlds, and more.  

But at the same time, we’ve seen just how bad things can get.  There are games that assert their legitimacy, but there are plenty of others -- maybe too many -- that do the opposite.  They try, but stumble and fail.  Or maybe they don’t try at all.  Or maybe the minds behind them just aren’t up to it.  Or maybe they’d just rather try to ape the style and successes of the film industry…which strikes me as “giving up”, but whatever.

If this new console generation is going to prove its worth, then it’s going to be by way of developers learning from past mistakes.  They’ll realize that the new hardware and the power within demand more than just better visuals or slight remixes on gameplay.  That power needs to be used responsibly, and thoroughly.  Case in point: Infamous: Second Son has been in gamer hands for a while now, and given its bizarrely-segued presentation last year, I expected a full capitalization on the ideas and topics therein.  It…didn’t deliver.  

The game was an opportunity to do more than just pare down complex issues on personal freedoms and government intervention into “I’m a rebel, you’re the establishment!  You’re mean and you suck!  FREEDOM RULES!”  But the events therein -- up to and including the final boss, which I swear is better-suited for a Disney movie than a quasi-serious investigation of current issues -- struck me as a farce.  I don’t think I’m asking for much when I say I want games that can tackle deeper issues without devolving into dour grit-fests and gormless, hyper-simplified fantasies.

Why?  Because I’ve already had everything I want -- everything -- in Devil Survivor 2.

Let me explain.  You see -- oh, wait.  Hold on.

For never was a story of more woe
Than this, of SPOILERS and her MORE SPOILERS!

(Side note: don’t watch the DeSu2 anime.  It’s awful and completely misses the point of the game.  But for this post’s sake I’m going to use images as needed.)

There we go.  Now, what’s the story behind DeSu2?  It’s fairly simple, actually.  You’re a high school student hot off preparing for exams, and heading home with your buddy Daichi.  As you head for the subway, you run into the school idol, Io.  Just as Daichi tries to get in close to Io, you all get mail on your cell phones -- apparently, from the Nicaea site you’ve all heard rumors about.  Lo and behold, it does just what a “dead face delivery site” is supposed to do: it shows a clip of the three of you dying brutal deaths.  And in the same subway station you’ve just entered.  

Thankfully, the three of you manage to avert grisly fates, but only for a moment; you’re attacked by demons, and while you handle them with relative ease, that’s the worst of your problems.  You head topside to find Tokyo in absolute ruins, with communications almost immediately cut off.  What unfolds is a multi-day struggle to survive, dealing with rioters, the mysterious organization JPs (rhymes with “chips”), and of course the Septentriones -- extremely powerful creatures that are more or less incomprehensible genocidal -- and vaguely geometric -- aliens.  

In order to explain why the Devil Survivor games have good stories, I have to briefly (and controversially) explain why the year-old DmC had a terrible story.  One of the things that bugged me about it -- and the root of many of its storyline problems, I’d bet -- is that it all feels empty.  Shallow.  Incomplete.  It’s a fat load of telling, but not nearly enough showing for the kind of story -- the kind of game it needed to be.  It aimed high, but dragged itself through the earth’s crust from start to finish.  Action game or not, you can’t hide behind that excuse if your PR touted being ready to revolutionize storytelling.

Think about it.  We’re told that a demon-produced soft drink is enslaving mankind, but we’re never shown in what capacity.  We’re told that the demons are watching our every move and have a hand in every entertainment outlet, but we get maybe fifteen seconds of capitalization on that idea.  We never learn the impact of demon control, or the status of humanity, or the aftereffects of both the heroes’ and the villains’ actions until maybe the last hour of the game; it’s a story that demanded narrative focus and a smaller scale.  But because the camera was so far up Donte’s ass, we never got to see anything that would have made the setting more than a multi-million dollar backdrop.  

Compare that to Devil Survivor 2, despite appearing on the criminally-underpowered DS.  For starters, the world actually feels like one that’s lived in, because there are actually other characters besides the main cast.  Granted the main cast is pretty large, but the presence of extras is one that lends credibility to the whole “the world is coming to an end” angle, because it’s through their fear and panic that we players know that things are getting bad.  

If you’ll let me borrow a phrase from the Zero Punctuation lexicon, what’s important to note about the DeSu2 isn’t that “humanity is fucked”, and certainly not “pre-fucked” from the moment you turn on the game.  Things start out normal and degrade over the course of about a week (barring some backstory shenanigans that make the game’s events possible).  What this means is that we have some twenty hours of game time to see things go from all green to OH MY GOD DEMONS EVERYWHERE YO and appreciate the difference between the two states.  

Let me put it this way: in Gears of War, humanity is already in a bad spot, and the planet is essentially wrecked; the COGs are just trying to prevent a bad situation from getting worse.  That’s not necessarily a bad trait to give your setting, but there are problems; the effectiveness and malleability of your setting are capped.  Where do you go from “the world is wrecked”?  Gears’ answer is “Well obviously, you just wreck the world even more!”  

It’s a possible answer, but it’s not automatically the best; it’s an artificial way to raise the tension, considering that outside of a few instances the world is pretty much just a backdrop for firefights.  My basic argument is this: how are we supposed to care about a world that’s already destroyed and get only occasional glimpses at life in this war-torn world?  And Gears has a similar problem as DmC: the focus is put on people who can’t be bothered to dwell on or help color the world, because they’re too busy being snarky superhumans.

Not so with DeSu2 (and the first DeSu by extension, but let’s focus on game two).  The degradation that takes place over the week is almost palpable.  People -- office workers, gang members, schoolgirls, merchants, and even cops -- start abusing the summoning app just to survive.  They may be using what's essentially Pokemon for Satan enthusiasts, but the fantastic elements still ring true in the context and affect of the in-game world -- itself a portrait of the real world in a what-if scenario.

Food and medicine run low, demanding skirmishes in the middle of a street.  Power outages beget civilians gathering into shelters and parks, which beget mass demon attacks…and of course, more riots.  The SDF quarantines a hefty part of Tokyo, and will go so far as to shoot anyone who tries to escape.  And throughout all of this, you get to see people from all walks of life react to -- and collapse because of -- the disaster.

It’s not just NPCs that are reacting to the disasters you face; it’s your party members, too.  Some of them are just one event away from crumbling (and in DeSu1’s case, some of them leap over the line, to the point of committing suicide or enacting some very messy vigilante justice).  Characters start to question their world and themselves, with past mistakes and decisions rearing their ugly heads in the face of adversity and certain death.  

Oppression tracks these people no matter where they turn, either from external sources, internal struggles, divides between one party member and the next, and good ol’ fashioned horrific hellspawn from realms unimaginable.  I don’t know about you, but I prefer a cast that reacts to things -- the world or otherwise -- instead of a cast that…well, doesn’t.

I'm trying not to dump hate on every other game in the universe here, guys.  So let's just have a picture of Deneb from Kamen Rider Den-O and move on.  Dude's got guns for fingers.  You can't beat that.  

So do you remember those Septentriones I mentioned earlier?  They’re in the employ of the world’s administrator, Polaris -- and having believed that humanity has lost its will to live, Polaris decides to erase everything.  So at the end of the game, you’re going up against the guy who makes and maintains the world -- but this isn’t exactly the easy-breezy act of deicide you’d expect from most JRPGs.  One ending suggests that by killing Polaris, the damage done to the world can never, ever be repaired.  What’s left of humanity is all you’ll ever get, and you’ll just have to deal with it.  Rebuild society and all that.

By the way, that “damage done to the world”?  It’s not just demons and alien-type things smashing buildings.  Polaris has been erasing the world by having it sucked into a spreading black nothingness nicknamed The Void.  Kill him, and The Void goes away…to be replaced by nothing but a sprawling ocean.  

And The Void has pretty much sucked up everything but a small section of Japan.

Better call Kevin Costner.

But you know what?  Honestly?  I actually think that’s one of the best things I could have hoped for.  See, the first ending I got -- the “Liberator” route with Daichi, I believe it’s called -- is a cop-out.  It’s the quintessential third option, where a small portion of the cast branches off to find a new path; that is, they don’t want to resort to extremes to create a new world, and certainly not by way of demonic urban warfare.  So they opt to march up to Polaris’ throne and take out the administrator (who, much like the Septentriones, looks like a geometric nightmare creature) on the grounds that a world free from the control of some inhuman administrator trumps anything else.  

Speaking on a long-term level, it might work.  Somewhere along the line, humanity might gain enough strength and wisdom to rebuild a world forcibly left as 99.999999999% water.  But in the short-term, it’s a remarkably shitty idea -- not only is there a currently-capped amount of resources and supplies, but the ending heavily implies that there’s now no god of sorts to protect you from danger.  So if there’s anything out there even nastier (i.e. a key enemy in a potential DeSu3), they’d better hope that the last remnants of society are up to the task.

It’s a harrowing ending -- bittersweet and not necessarily heralding the end of humanity, but the implications are there.  Still, the reason that I call it a cop-out is because, in many ways, that’s what it is.  The route is the “third option”, a medium between extremes.  It’s something there that I think appeals to the player sensibilities; it’s the most peaceable path (relatively speaking), and one that upholds peace and the status quo instead of drastically changing the world.  And maybe that’s its biggest problem.  DeSu2 being a video game, taking a third option is as simple as picking your endgame route from a menu.  It’s all too easy to assume that it’s a right, not a privilege.  

But in a real-world context, what if there WASN’T a third option?

What if, in spite of good intentions and a desire to avoid hurting the feelings of friends -- or just hurting them in general -- opting for a different path wasn’t just difficult, but outright foolhardy?  Daichi and his supporters end up getting called out for being so naïve and childish -- and while the oldest member of the cast is a hoary twenty-six, there’s some semblance of a point in there.   

Even if there was a third option, Daichi’s “let’s not fight, let’s just be friends, and let’s turn everything back to normal” drive comes off as simple-minded and dangerous by the time he proposes it…doubly so because it’s a course sorely lacking in vision, and Daichi himself can’t define it beyond cowardly mutterings.  Given that they only have two or three days max by that point to save the world, it’s understandable that a good two-thirds of the cast writes him off.

So what are the other two options?  Well…the simplest way to put it is that they’re extreme.

In the blue corner, representing order, we have Ronaldo Kuriki.  He’s a detective, and a passionate one at that; ignoring the fact that most of his sprites/assets have him expressing some sort of indignation, he’s the one most likely to start shouting about fighting in the name of justice (in an “aw, bless your heart” sort of way).  But make no mistake, he’s serious about his goals. 

In the face of adversity and a country being completely dismantled by demons and invaders, he starts pulling together dislocated peoples and forming a sort of allied force.  His ultimate goal (once he finds out Polaris exists)?  To have the administrator remake the world in his image -- that is, to create a world of equality, where everyone works together and supports one another without question.  Simply put -- in the game’s terms, at least -- it’s egalitarianism.  

(That bunny hood is why you don't watch the anime.)

Common decency suggests that if players don’t choose Daichi’s route, Ronaldo’s is the next in line.  But what’s important to note is that for all his good intentions, Ronaldo is…well, he’s more or less a terrorist.  The people he brings to his side?  They’re rioters -- and many if not all of them are rioters thanks to Ronaldo’s orders.  He's used his charisma and force of will to put together a band of vulnerable, desperate people; there's something scary about a guy like that, independent of his ability to summon demons.

He’ll gladly break into government offices and steal data, willingly killing anyone that gets in his way.  He has good intentions, but it’s likely that none of them would have been sparked if not for his own quest for vengeance; he’s out for blood, and the very idea of compromise has never occurred to him.  So he’s not exactly a good guy…and his ending isn’t 100% ideal.

And in the red corner (ironically) representing chaos, we have Yamato Hotsuin.  Yamato is probably one of the most inexplicable characters I’ve encountered in a while -- he’s the head of the secret government agency JPs in spite of being only seventeen.  He’s not only a genius, but also the heir to a clan that can harness the supreme energy known as the Dragon Stream.  He’s an unfortunately gray-haired teenager (though not the first Atlus hero to have such colorless locks).  

But no matter his status, his goal is clear: to use his resources and his organization, one well-versed in demon summoning, to rebuild Japan.  Except Yamato has no intention of restoring the status quo; he’s out to create a new Japan, one where the strongest and wisest will rule and be rewarded, while the weak will suffer.  He wants a meritocracy, and he’ll do anything to get it.

It’s easy to label Yamato as extreme, but in the end that’s probably the best description of both his actions and his goals.  If not for his commands and his JPs peons, it’s likely that a lot of the game’s conflicts wouldn’t have happened.  They’re hoarding food and medical supplies for themselves, acting under the impression that they deserve it more than the average citizen.  That’s actually kind of true, given that JPs is trying to fight off the demons and Septentrions with some success (and plenty of support for the main cast).  So even if it’s not the ideal situation, it is a cruel truth that has to be accepted.  
But the cruelty doesn’t end there.  They’re not above using force to suppress rioters -- “rioters” taking on a VERY loose definition in several instances -- and using flimsy justifications at most moments.  Also, for a group that one would think would be the best Japan has to offer, more often than not JPs agents aren’t much more durable than the common redshirt.  And really, do I need to say anything about the nastiness behind a meritocracy?  I’m pretty sure I don’t -- but in case you need a bit more evidence, just imagine a guy who looks like this deciding how the world is remade and you’re halfway there.

(But not Anime Yamato.  He's such a shitass.)

What’s important to remember is that neither Yamato’s meritocracy nor Ronaldo’s egalitarianism are treated as absolute right answers.  Supporters of each ideal (i.e. your party members) will poke holes in both…and they’ll do so even if they’re on the side they want to be on.  Take Joe, for example.  It’s established almost immediately after meeting him that he’s a scatterbrained fool, someone who Yamato only tolerates because he’s a solid demon tamer.  Over the course of the story, though, Joe reveals a certain savvy that makes him wiser than he appears, if only slightly so.  

More importantly, it’s highly probable that Joe was working alongside Ronaldo, gathering and stealing supplies to give to hospitals -- no doubt the same hospital where his sick girlfriend resides.  No small wonder, then, that Joe decides to partner up with Ronaldo when the party splinters; Joe knows he’ll be the first to get the ax in Yamato’s new world, and he’s seen the good work Ronaldo’s done with his own eyes.  But it’s Joe of all people who wonders the loudest if Ronaldo’s world is any good, either -- and I can see why that wouldn’t work.  (The fact that the real world has yet to adopt an utterly-equal society is a hint in its own right.)  

But I’d argue that “who’s right and who’s wrong” isn’t the point.  DeSu2 is asking you a series of questions.  One of them is obvious: “Do you think this new world of Yamato’s/Ronaldo’s/Daichi’s could work?”  And the other one is “How do you rebuild a broken world?”

The second question is one that I want fiction -- games, especially -- to answer more readily.  Look, we’ve all seen something related to zombies at this point in our lives, and we all know that the real danger (and draw) of the stories is the degradation of society.  Humanity is the real monster, we live for chaos, et cetera, et cetera.  Part of the appeal is seeing everything we’ve built either torn down or abandoned -- and while it’s not exclusive to zombie fiction, it IS an incredibly commonplace idea throughout fiction (again, the fact that Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation used the phrase “humanity is fucked” to describe multiple games is a pretty marked signal).  But in my eyes, that’s not enough.  Not anymore.  Not in the wake of plenty of solid games.

IIRC, Gears of War 3 ended with the Locusts and immulsion completely erased; Anya consuls a grieving Marcus and tells him that there’s still hope left…this, in spite of their planet Sera being utterly wrecked.  So you’d expect for them to start showing how they’d rebuild their shattered world, right?  Nope.  Not even an epilogue; it just fades to black with no justification of the hope Anya suggests.  

If you couple that with the fact that Gears of War Judgment is a prequel, it becomes incredibly obvious that the franchise is comfortable with wading in the “humanity is fucked” end of the pool.  You could make the same argument about DmC; it was all too eager to tell us that the world was in sorry shape, but when it came time for genuine reform, all we got was a shot of a smoldering city before -- you guessed it -- fading to black.  

The first DeSu was all too eager to show how society went from all right to all ruined -- the key difference being that putting an end to the disaster was intertwined with creating a safer and/or better world by game’s end.  But DeSu2 manages to take it a step further, letting it be more than just a rehash of DeSu1 as well as carving its own niche.  Putting an end to the havoc is a big part of the story, as expected, but “saving the world” in this case means more than beating the bad guy.  In fact, in a lot of ways the struggle to decide how the world will be rebuilt is more important than beating the bad guys.  And rightly so.

There’s no right answer to the question of whether a merit system, equality, or restoring the status quo should reign supreme.  Like I said, that’s part of the point.  You, the player, have the chance to decide for yourself what “the right answer” will be.  There are faults with each system, but there are positives and benefits as well; even if it takes you a playthrough or two to realize that, you may end up agreeing with Yamato after seeing the game through to the end with Ronaldo.  

Although, to be honest, I think there IS an answer to be had.  Not an immediately obvious one, of course, but a subtle one.  The true answer may very well lie in two qualities -- those belonging to a single person…or rather, the proxy of a single person.

What are they?  Well, I’ll be sure to explain in full -- next time.  Hold on to your Jack Frosts, guys; next time, we’ll get in deeper with DeSu2.  And next time, I won’t just do slack-jawed gushing.

So...what's the tl;dr takeaway from this post?  Play DeSu2 so you can be a cool guy.
Photo Photo Photo

Hey guys!  Want to see me whack a beehive with a hockey stick?  Then let me ask you a question: how do you feel about Zero Suit Samus’ new design?
I’m going to come right out and say it: I think it’s all right.  The high heels are an interesting addition, and one that I wouldn’t have made, but hey.  It’s there, and it’s just a tweak to a character that’s already pretty cool.  But I think the best part of the redesign is ZSS’s face, and head in general; HD graphics have served her well, and believe it or not that’s the part of her I keep zeroing in on.  Now, if only the rest of the internet could do the same, we’d be set.
I was thinking about saying “Didn’t we already have this discussion with Dragon’s Crown?”  But thinking back to that, I don’t think there was ever a definitive conclusion to that argument.  The problem was brought up, and despite opinions being fired everywhere at everyone, it’s safe to say that nothing really came from it.  So it’s only natural that it would show up again, and you’d see stuff like “the new ZSS is sexist, and here’s why” all over the internet.  I’ve already made my peace with the subject in general, but as for the character’s look in question?  Let me just say this: ZSS is not the first fighting game heroine to be a tall, blonde, ponytail-slinging, skintight blue suit-slinking, high heel-kicking martial artist.  Why is it an issue now?  Pardon me for being an apologist, but I guess I see something different than others.

Actually, I can answer that earlier question myself.  It’s an issue now because it’s being done to Samus…if you believe that something has been done to her (read: ruined or besmirched) in the first place, but let’s not get bogged down by semantics.  The first question that needs to be asked in this situation is “Does the Big N want to sexualize ZSS?”  I’d like to say no to that almost immediately, but then I look at some of the official screenshots that go out of their way to remind us that, yes, she’s got lady parts, and I just think to myself “Oh, that’s unfortunate.” 
But if they really wanted to make her any less of a character, I would think that they’d strip her of her style and ability, and leave her tucked away in a corner somewhere.  I was under the impression that sexism implied treating someone worse because of their gender.  And however many missteps have been made, I don’t think Nintendo has any direct intentions of treating their premiere bounty hunter worse.  Especially now that she can apparently do a Dragon Kick.

That’s still some seedy-ass territory, though (being able to fight =/= strong female character, as FF13’s Lightning has long since proven), but there is one thing that I have to ask: what do we really know about Samus?  I’m not trying to be facetious here; speaking personally, I don’t know anything about her, because my first (and last, incidentally) Metroid game was Metroid Prime. All I know for sure is that she’s a freakin’ tall blonde taken in by bird aliens, and went on to become a bounty hunter who fights aliens and doesn’t afraid of anything. 
And even that’s pretty suspect; how do we know for sure that during her adventures on Zebes or Brinstar or whatnot, Samus wasn’t panicking like crazy?  I sure as hell would have in her situation -- but then again, a bug buzzing by my ear is enough to make me leave whatever room I’m in.  So given that the dreaded Metroid: Other M was one of, if not THE first dedicated instance where we heard Samus’ thoughts, dialogue, and emotions, AND given that its story was penned by the Metroid mastermind himself (NOT Team Ninja, as so many would believe), what if we’ve had it wrong all this time?  What if the unbeatable, unflappable bounty hunter we’ve imagined since Day One all those years ago isn’t quite as perfect as we imagined?
I know I asked, but there’s already a pretty clear answer.  Samus was never perfect to begin with.  There’s no such thing as a perfect character, and it’s definitely not going to be her.

Even if you’re a master of the Metroid canon, there have to be gaps and blanks that can’t be filled with wikis alone.  That should seem obvious, but this is actually more critical than you think.  If we don’t know everything about Samus, then how can we be so certain that Samus herself would never wear those heels?  Okay, sure, her creators and designers are the ones with the ultimate control over her looks -- and her fate, though that’s hardly as important, amirite -- but by now I’d assume you know or have heard that “characters can take on a life of their own.”  They can do things in accordance with their beliefs and opinions that his/her creators wouldn’t even think of -- or to put it a different way, consistent characterization makes certain options viable and impossible. 
So what if, underneath that cool exterior (and Mega Man cosplay), it turns out that Samus actually LIKES wearing heels?  Setting practicality aside -- because, you know, video games -- what if she had them made to fulfill a function (rocket boots), but went an extra step and gave them a form that suits her fancy?  What if she enjoys putting on the Zero Suit, and that’s why she keeps popping up in it in games?  Can we really say with any clarity what she wears in her spare time, and how she feels about it?  I’ll tell you what we should never say: “She’s a cool, no-nonsense, badass bounty hunter…and nothing else.”

I guess that’s the problem with a canon, especially one that so many people have invested their hearts into.  People the world over may love Samus, but there’s always going to be a wall between what we think she is and what she really is.  That wall, I bet, is the creator solidified; so long as he and his cadre have control over the character, they get to decide what’s shown and what isn’t, all while making definitive statements on what counts and what doesn’t.  (Boo and hiss all you want, but Other M isn’t going to go away anytime soon.) 
I would think that by this point, a lot of thought has been put into Samus.  A whole lot -- all sorts of things that won’t even leave the creators’ minds, let alone consumer hands.  And there’s more; if the intent from here on out is to give gamers a glimpse into the character, and offer up the story Metroid…well, I won’t say needed, but it would still be appreciated…then the creators are going to have to bring more info and more revelations about their property into the light of day.  

Even then, there are going to be some unknowable details -- well beyond the mechanics of her Power Suit, or the glimpses into her personal life.  We can make credible assumptions about what she is, but that wall is something we have no choice but to acknowledge.  And as long as that’s there, we’re going to have to accept with nervous smiles whatever the cadre throws our way.  It can’t be helped.  Usually.
Which brings me to the real subject of this post: I want to write a fanfic.

God, I love that JPEG.

Those of you familiar with my posts -- at least those that are immune to the curse of TL;DR -- may know that in the past, I’ve made a very…interesting set of theories about the nature of Princess Peach.  In hindsight, it was kind of a proposition made in jest, a la A Modest Proposal.  Honestly, I know damn well there’s no way Peach is some towering superhuman warrior princess, and it’d be crazy to ever think that the Big N would ever make a game like that.  I’d even think that they’ve got snipers on their payroll to keep dissenters in check.
But for one reason or another, people found my “interpretation” to be pretty great -- good for a laugh, I hope.  And that’s good.  I like that.  I want to be able to entertain people with my writing.  And beyond that, I had fun considering the possibilities; I even thought about making a third post about the relationship between Peach and Mario.  (I sure hope you guys aren’t thinking of what happens when Skitty and Wailord get together.)

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how many opportunities there were.  See, the creator holding so many details close to the chest has a secret benefit: a beloved canon full of mysteries + a dedicated audience willing to ask perfectly logical questions + a willingness to venture into balls-out insane speculation and reimagining = narrative gold.  There Will Be Brawl did it once upon a time, after all -- with sexy results.    
Beyond that, it’s a chance to strike back at “selfish” creators; however slight, a fanfic is a chance for a mere peon -- the lowly, put-upon gamer -- to seize power, if only for a moment.  To take control, and do what no one else has the strength, skill, or wit ever would.  And that’s what I want to do -- admittedly, for my own selfish reasons.

Nothing would make me happier than being able to make as many people happy with my writing as possible, to the point where you could pretty much call it my dream (to a fault, no doubt).  Sure, I’ve got a blog -- just look at my sidebar, the link’s been there for like a year -- and some stuff written up there and elsewhere, but I’m not satisfied.  And I don’t see a reason why I should; I want as many people as I can to be entertained, and I’m more than willing to reach out to people to make that happen. 
But I’m not about to just scramble over the internet and shout “Hey guys!  Read my blog!” or “Guess what?  I’m writing ______!”  I’ll do that occasionally, but I’d prefer to avoid the shameless self-promotion if I can, unless I want to make a joke or try to end on a “funny” note.  I know I have to make people want to come see my stuff, by offering up something to draw them in.  And if people enjoy my cockamamie theories, then taking it up a notch might be the way to do it.  It might put me one step closer to my goal.

I will be up-front, though.  I don’t plan on starting this fanfic anytime soon, if at all.  I want to write it, no question, but that’s something that would HAVE to have to stay on the backburner for a good while.  (Novels don’t write themselves, guys.)  I hope I can reach a point where I can put some real time into it, and go from keeping it in my head to putting it to virtual paper; maybe somewhere down the line, I’ll toss chapters of it up here on Destructoid.  But that point is still a ways away, no matter how much imagining I can do.  So until then, I want to do something constructive with the rest of this post.  I’ll spell out a few ideas I’ve been tossing around and see how you all react to it.  And after that, I’ll see if I can open the floor for some discussion.  More on that later.
For now, it’s probably best to focus on the facets of the currently-hypothetical fanfic -- well among them, reconciling it with the canon.  Much like Metroid, there are plenty of things we don’t know about the Marioverse, mostly because the games have never put too much stock in telling a standard-fare story.  Details on some of the particulars are pretty scant (my brother once asked me if the Toads are mushroom people or just tiny misshapen Arabians in hats, and I couldn’t answer him). 

The only “canon” that one can go by, without resorting to wikis, is to follow the line of progression from game to game.  Mario 64 is one story arc, Sunshineis another, Galaxy adds more, and so on, be it forward movement (3D World) or backward (all the way back to the game that started it all).  If we think of it like that, there are plenty of opportunities -- ways to work the events and areas of those games into a single cohesive narrative.  Or elements from each can be picked and chosen, and used as needed.  They’re assets to use and adapt for a potential “reimagining” of the games we know.  Or think we know.
In any case, it’s safe to say that the fanfic won’t exactly be bound to the canon, and not just because of the obvious reasons.  The games offer up guidelines -- lines to trace and fill in with color and style.  Like I said, they’re assets, and they can be a springboard to help wild-eyed nutjobs get closer to making a rewarding -- if over-the-top -- story.  If the games left behind holes, they can be filled with theories.  We may not know everything, but we can sure as hell make interpretations, however silly, that can offer up some possible (if improbable) answers and scenarios.
And that’s especially true of Princess Peach.

I can tell you right now that not everything I said in those theory posts from before would go into the fanfic -- partly because some of them wouldn’t fit, and partly because I’ve thought of some better things in the time since.  She’s the same person on the outside, sure, but the critical part of the fanfic -- what would make it any good, if at all -- is that it’s important to be able to get a good insight into her; that’s especially true, given than A) as a character we know almost exclusively for getting kidnapped, she hasn’t made a good impression, and B) some real effort has to be put in to try and shift public opinion, as well as set the alternate story apart from the real one in an enjoyable way.  That sounds like a pretty tall order for someone who’s written a whopping twelve words of fan fiction.
But I think I can manage.  Taking a page out of Kamen Rider OOO’s playbook (which you should watch if you like good things and happiness for more reasons than this one), the core element of Fanfic-Peach’s character is “desire”.  It defines her weaknesses as well as her strengths; on one hand, she’s a person who’s never satisfied with the way things are, and always wants more out of life.  More challenges.  More accomplishments.  More glory.  More, and more, and more, to the detriment of others.  On the other hand, her desire lets her climb to higher plateaus, and be the best princess she can be.  And that rubs off on others; she wants them to be the best they can be, and she’ll gladly go out of her way to make that happen.  Like a royally-mandated race track.

Theoretically speaking, I don’t think I’d have to make a lot of sweeping changes for Fanfic-Peach’s personality.  Maybe a few tweaks here and there, sure, but as-is, she’s not a broken character.  Besides, it could offer up a huge contrast to what she could do; instead of making her some stoic super soldier, imagine if she was just the same general person -- cheery, easy-going (to a fault, at times), kind, and spirited. 
She’s a girly, pink-wearing, tea-sipping princess with a little sass to her; she just has to reconcile all that with the incredible disparity between her and her subjects.  How do you think it must feel to be surrounded by people inferior in every way?  How much frustration would Fanfic-Peach be saddled with, knowing that she’s responsible for people who just can’t keep up with her?  There’s potential in there, I’d say…even if those concepts have been explored elsewhere.

And on that note, there would probably be some mix-ups to some of the world-building elements.  One of the questions that would have to be answered is “Okay, how do the power-ups work?”  I might have come up with a solution, speaking solely in terms of a fanfic reinterpretation.  Imagine this: most of the Mushroom Kingdom’s people (Toads, Piantas, and whatnot) can’t use things like the Fire Flower.  But then you’ve got guys like Mario and Luigi -- branded “Supers” in-universe -- that can use them as you’d expect.  Change slightly, get to throw fireballs, can’t anymore when they take a hit. 
But Peach is different; by default, she’s got most of the power-ups stored up inside her, albeit a weaker version of them.  So on one hand, that could explain why she’s so friggin’ huge -- she’s been munching on a diet of Super Mushrooms for years, and that’ll happen, I guess -- and why she can do the things she can in the Smash Bros. games, like make the best of a highly-volatile ass.  But IF she were to, say, grab a Fire Flower out on the battlefield, it would give a drastic shift in her abilities and tool set…but only temporarily, and if she’s not careful she could leave herself exhausted.  The benefit, of course, is that she’d practically turn into the Human Torch.   

I’m not going to commit to that element just yet, but again, it is a possibility.  Tonally speaking, the idea would be to play as much as I can straight while adding in some much-appreciated humor; characters like Peach and Mario wouldn’t even flinch at the sights and insanity, but Luigi -- playing the role of straight man/audience surrogate would be one of the few characters to point out that there’s something unusual about a derrière that doubles as ordnance.
In a perfect world -- in a world where the fanfic was already written, and I could start scattering it across the internet -- I’d like to think that the appeal would come from just how absurd the story is.  If I can get people to shout “Oh snap!  No he didn’t!” or “Ahahaha!  No way!  Did that seriously just happen?” then it’s my win.  It means I’ve done something right.  The readers’ happiness -- laughter, excitement, and sudden inspiration to push out their own works and theories -- is what it’s all about. 

And the best way for me to do that, via this little project, is to make the unbelievable believable, but paradoxically making it even more unbelievable.  We’ve seen the characters and the world dozens of times before, and typically in the same slotted-in positions.  A fanfic is the chance to break the mold, and do what no one else would ever think of doing.  Even though there’s probably a reasonwhy nobody would ever think of it, presumably following rationale beyond Nintendo’s elite gunmen. 
In any case, I can think of plenty of things I could do to break the mold -- way more than I’ve named here.  I could see myself giving Peach an objective she’s had her entire life, and an objective that would form a story-spanning arc: getting herself and the people of her kingdom into space, and as such trying to create the Mushroom equivalent of NASA.  (The Mario canon in space.  Think about what -- or who -- that would entail.)  I’ve got a revamp of Yoshi in mind that wouldn’t just make him a cute little dinosaur; he’d be a real-ass dinosaur with the mind and spirit and skill of a shaolin monk…as you’d expect from the one who saved Mario, once upon a time.  And Daisy?  I finally figured out what Daisy’s supposed to be.  And let’s just say it’s not exactly ideal.  Or original, all things considered.

Until then?  I’m still free to at least imagine the possibilities.  (Worst case scenario, my poppycock will make good fuel for future posts.)  So in the meantime, I figure this is as good a chance as any to open the floor.  Ask me questions that’ll help get me thinking, or just toss in your own observations.  Any suggestions on what I could do or use?  Has there been some piece of the Mario canon that’s always left you scratching your head?  Still thinking about Zero Suit Samus by virtue of me opening wounds left by Other M?  Then you know what to do.  Go ahead and leave a comment.  Say what you think needs to be said, while I get some ointment for all these bee stings.
And that’ll do it for now.  Maybe in the next post I’ll actually talk about some video games.  Until then…seriously, guys.  I’ve got a blog.  If you ever wanted to know what I think about some new-ish games (inFAMOUS: Second Son, anyone?), recent movie releases, TV shows, anime, and of course how I really feel about The Last of Us, go there.  You won’t be disappointed.  But you’ll probably stop liking me in less time than it takes to read this sentence.

And that’s how you dangle a carrot on a stick.
Photo Photo Photo

Hey, happy Valentine’s Day.  Let’s talk about breasts.

A while back, I was on The Escapist sifting through the forums -- something I don’t do all that often, unless there’s an interesting topic listed on the front page.  But as internet-surfing tends to go, one thing led to another, and after a while somebody asked an interesting question: “If Alyx Vance had big breasts, would she be a worse character?”  I don’t know Half-Life well enough to comment, but I’ve heard of her before (since she’s a top-tier female character).  And I know that her abject non-sexualization is part of her appeal.  “She’s got clothes!  She doesn’t have big boobs!  She’s not just eye candy!”  And so on. 

But would making her improbably buxom automatically hurt her appeal?  Her credibility?  Well, yes and no.  “Yes” in the sense that a bust boost threatens to head into seedy territory, and couldbe exploited.  “No” in the sense that just because a character is busty doesn’t make them a bad character.  (See: Lulu, Cortana, Juliet Starling, Bayonetta, Elizabeth Comstock, several Mass Effect characters, several Dragon Agecharacters, at least one character per Talesgame, and virtually every female character in the Devil Survivor games.)  If a character only exists to be objectified, that’s a problem.  If a colossal chest -- for a variable definition of “colossal” -- is used to make a character visually distinct, and as a trait of a character than a defining characteristic, then it makes for more stable ground.
Which brings me to Senran Kagura -- the seediest of all seedy games.

I don’t think I need to go into grave detail about the kind of content that’s in what’s now a healthy franchise (for better or worse), especially seeing as how I’ve already talked about it in the past.  Nearly any given screenshot will have generously-proportioned ninja schoolgirls, who range in size from extra-large to back-snapping delight.  Nearly any given article will bring up the clothing damage or maelstrom of panties therein.  Nearly any given video will have more bouncing than ten years’ worth of basketball seasons, offset only by blushing, doe-eyed maidens.  They’re not the sort of games you’d want anyone knowing you own, much less know about.  Unless you belong to your town’s chapter of the Breast Enthusiast Society. 

In a medium that’s struggling and often failing to find a place for females in their narratives, Senran Kagura as a whole feels like a step back.  This is a series that was literally conceived when one man realized he could use the 3DS’ power to create dimension-crossing breasts.  I have my sincere doubts that anyone cares about the plot of the games, because there’s a lot of focus on the…plot.  

And while I’m a supporter of distinct visual design, SK almost gleefully straddles the bra straps (in more ways than one).  When everyone is improbably buxom, no one is improbably buxom.  They’re getting diminishing returns on their efforts, and the only way they’ll be able to counteract that is by going even further beyond and just adding a boss fight against barn-sized sentient breasts.  But then they wouldn’t be able to add any butt shots, so they’ll just have to come closer and closer to a schoolgirl singularity.

It’s easy to look down on SK scornfully.  Very easy.  Would the series be what it is without its supremely-squishy swordswomen?  Not a chance.  I’m sure it’d have its fans, but as a game series -- based on what I’ve seen in videos, admittedly -- it’s hard for me to think that they’d sell based solely on the quality, or lack thereof, of its combat systems.  I’ve had a look around on TV Tropes and the wiki and know that there’s an overarching plot, as well as a story behind each character, but I wonder if that’s enough to leave an impression -- or if the story is even remotely well-executed.  I’m willing to give the franchise the benefit of the doubt, because once upon a time I did the same with Dead or Alive.  But I understand why people take issue with SK.  I really do.
And yet, despite that, a funny thing happened a while back.  There was a Destructoid post (and a Siliconera post, and probably posts elsewhere, for obvious reasons) on one of the upcoming games -- a cooking battle/rhythm game, of all things.  I’d heard favorable comparisons to Iron Chef, so I thought, “Eh, why not?  Let’s see what those madmen are up to this time.”  So I watched the video from start to finish.  It would have been the perfect opportunity to laugh, point, shout “LOL, Japan!” and leave it at that.  And in a sense, I did laugh…but not in a way I expected.  It felt more like I was laughing with them, not at them.  Or rather, laughing because of them.  I didn’t exactly know why, but as I thought about it -- as a result of this post, and ponderings beforehand -- I think I’ve realized something. 
Something about that game makes me happy.  And I bet it makes others happy, too.

Not that kind of happy.
When all’s said and done, I have to admit that I kind of like the franchise’s visual flair.  Not necessarily the sweater-Cerberuses the cast seems to be packing, though I can and have looked past that before.  I just kind of like the way the characters look and act.  They may not be the deepest characters, but if nothing else they convey their personalities -- their archetypes, in the worst-case scenario -- pretty well.  (It certainly helps that they each have a distinct weapon of choice, which says a lot more than just “guns guns and more guns”.)  They’re colorful, they’re energetic, they’re distinct, and perhaps most of all they’re expressive.  When a SK character smiles, it makes me want to smile.  Breasts or otherwise, there’s something strangely pleasant about the proceedings.  One of those intangibles, I suppose.
It’s certainly preferable to DOA, at least in my opinion.  My first experience with the franchise was DOA4, and while I have fond memories of the fights in that game -- nothing beats hammering a teleport-happy ninja out of the sky with some sick wrestling moves -- there was always something that freaked me out about the game.  Not because of the obvious reason(s), but because they felt like creepy dolls.  I couldn’t bear the sight of Kasumi, much less be attracted to her, because back then her eerily-still face and constant look of pensive worry made me feel uncomfortable even recognizing that she had eyes.  That's the case, even to this day. 

Look at that last picture.  Look at it.  LOOK AT IT!  OH GOD, WHY?

The same goes for the rest of the female cast, to varying degrees; they’re all swimming in the uncanny valley, and even the most asynchronous breast bounce isn’t enough to sway me.  Not even a graphical update/reboot with DOA5 did the trick; they might have made the breasts smaller (for a debatable degree of “smaller”), but the faces are just as lifeless.  Their eyes are just as hollow, if not more so.  And on top of that, despite claims that they’d make the girls more than paper dolls, when push came to shove they didn’t even hesitate to give them sexy outfits.  Nor did it stop them from continuing to release sexy outfits.  How does the saying go?  Something about a fool and money and soon being parted?  It’s on the tip of my tongue. 

The two franchises may have similar affects, but what sets them apart is the philosophy behind them.  If you ask me, DOA comes off as something trying to be erotic.  It’s aiming for stiffened trousers, no matter what half-hearted attempts they make with their “I’m a fighter” mantra.  (Remember Christie’s ending in DOA4 where they just made her a stripper?  I sure do.)  I probably don’t need to elaborate, considering that there have been two games designed to capitalize on the eldritch creatures masquerading as curvaceous young women (three including a handheld game, if I remember right).  You could safely argue the same about SK -- it, too, is exploiting “sexiness” for fame and fortune -- but to me, it comes off as being enticing.  There's an ever-so-subtle difference. 

It wants your attention, but it has something different in mind.  “Hey, gang!  You like boobs and butts?  Well here’s ten million of them, each one the size of a regulation volleyball at a bare minimum!  And then on top of that we’ll add in over-the-top special moves, ninety-nine hit aerial raves, breakdancing ninjas, and school life shenanigans!  And now we have cooking competitions!  You bring the money, we’ll bring the fun!”  I suspect that not everyone who buys this game is in it for arousal, because the bonkers-as-sin physics and post-pubescent bodies of these girls alone make the whole franchise a farce.  You saw that opening, didn’t you?  They have to know that the female form doesn’t work that way.
They have to, but they do it anyway -- probably because they think it’s hilarious.  And they want you to think it’s hilarious.  They’re not in it to make you go “Aw, yeaaaaaaaaaaaah.”  They’re in it to make you go “HAHAHAHA!  No WAY!  I can’t believe they did that!”  I certainly hope that’s the intent -- but even if it isn’t, they’re doing it anyway.  They’re making people happy, because that’s what they wanted in the first place: their design philosophy, unabashedly, is “to wrap the world with happy boobs.”  They’re a company that wants your money, but they’ll achieve that goal on their own terms.  They know that they exist to serve the customer.  They know that in order to survive, they have to make people happy.

Part of the reason I like reading posts on SK is so I can see the comments that pop up.  Seeing how people react and joke is a treat just as much as the games themselves could be -- probably more.  Is it easy to snipe at the franchise?  Yes.  Are those shots justified?  Pretty much.  But it really is interesting, seeing people aim for their own laughs, because a “game for perverts” prompted them to.  It’s throwing fuel onto the fire, along with a barge-load of bras soaked in gasoline. 

And despite the eyebrow-raising material, it’s remarkable seeing how many people shout “localization, please” or “I want it” with all the force their keyboard strokes can muster.  To say nothing of people who actually are fans of the franchise; they have their reasons, and it’d be outright silly to shrug them off.  Even if it’s only for a moment, people are willing to drop their shields of cynicism and gather around the campfire.  That’s a lot more than I can say about a game like Fuse, or Dead Space 3, or pretty much anything in a franchise featuring guns, QTEs, or EA these days.

Don’t get me wrong, though.  I’m not trying to pardon SK from anything.  It’s a franchise that has a built-in air of cynicism, considering that on some level (maybe all of them) it’s high-grade otaku pandering.  The devs knew they had an audience; they just had to tap it with the promise of supreme secondary sexual characteristics.  They just had to put the bait on a hook and cast out a line.  The fish would practically catch themselves.

Likewise, the fact that the entire franchise is built on the aching backs of its chesty champions will always be something worth contention; instead of building an engrossing world, complex narratives, or characters whose arcs take them to heaven, hell, and everywhere in between, the devs were content with shouting “BOOBS!” and working their way out from there.   They may have found success, but no one forced them to do it the way they did.  No one ordered them to be “a part of the problem”.

And yet, contentious as it may be, ludicrous as it may be, I can’t help but admire what they’ve done.

They had an idea, and they went with it.  They created their own style, and didn’t even think of backing down.  They found their hook, and dragged gamer after gamer after gamer out of the water.  They’re doing their best to spread the word that “Hey, if you love some hefty PLOTS, get over here on the double!”  (Yes, this time I’m talking about thoseplots.)

Their games may vary in quality, but if their latest announcements and videos are any indication, they’re dead-set on boosting their games’ standards to the next level, so that they can be about more than just well-insulated perpetual motion devices.  They’re putting in effort, because they want to fulfill their creative vision -- even if that creative vision makes the average Joe want to do a spit take.  With the industry the way it is right now, I’ll take an absurd vision over none at all.  And by extension, I’ll take an absurd vision over one that’s treading well-worn ground.  What was the last big shooter that didn’t take itself seriously?  BorderlandsBulletstorm?  I’d say Duke Nukem Forever, but I suspect that one was a joke for all the wrong reasons.  (Seriously, look at its Wikipedia page -- it links directly to continued obsolescence.) 

But if there’s one lesson I think is worth taking away from this, it’s that creative intent.  I’m the Eternal Optimist, so every now and then I don’t mind taking someone’s idealized claims at face value.  So when somebody says “I want to wrap the world in happy boobs”, I focus more on the “happy” than the “boobs”.  Making people happy with one’s creation is a good goal to have, simple as it may be.  It shows a sense of focus, good nature, and humility. 

They weren’t out to make an “epic, cinematic, filmic experience” or “take video game narratives to the next level” or “use the medium to make social commentary”.  They just wanted to make a game, and make people feel good about it.  There’s a real earnestness in there that keeps them from reaching for the fruit at the top of the tree, and tumbling into a clump of brambles because of it, as so many others have.  Granted they did that by swiping at the low-hanging fruit, but as a whole SK strikes me as the type of series that would paint the apple in zebra stripes instead of just eat it…but then eat it anyway just because it could.  That level of conviction, zeal, and all-out ballsiness is something to appreciate. 

So, bottom line.  Is this franchise actually brilliant?  In terms of the actual game(s), probably not -- at least for a while yet.  In terms of the underlying thought current, yeah, I think SK has something special.  Something that’s worth remembering, when all’s said and done.  Will it ever break out of the rut it carved for itself, and become more than just Estrogen: The Game?  No, it’s going to stay in that rut, and just dig more so more people can nestle up beside it, just like DOA.  But unlike DOA, I do believe that it can become more -- it can have better gameplay, a better story, better characters, better everything.  There isn’t a single game or franchise out there that’s perfect, but anything can improve if they’re willing to put in the work.  As far as I can tell, Senran Kagura is -- and that just might be one more facet to its brilliance.
You and your giant breasts have got our attention, guys.  Now it’s time to bust out.  For all our love. 

Okay.  Next post needs to be about something manly...in a sense.
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8:50 PM on 02.04.2014

Fair warning: this is probably going to be the stupidest post you’ve ever read.  Or if not the stupidest, then the one that’ll draw discussion away from the topic and put me under (or on) fire.  Or if not that, then at least make you wonder what in the name of Paul Bunyan’s button-down flannel shirt I was thinking.  So to temper whatever rage and disdain may come this way, let me start by bringing up Kamen Rider.

I’ve been checking out bits and the pieces of it recently -- as early as Den-O, as recent as Wizard, if those words mean anything to you -- and what I’ve seen of the decades-long franchise has been supremely rewarding, and supremely entertaining.  What should ostensibly be a slew of big dumb kids’ shows have shown a level of depth that no one would expect, and married nigh-flawlessly to a spirit of fun and excitement.  To use a food analogy, there’s something to lick for a quick sugar rush, but there’s a legitimate buffet to sink one’s teeth into.  Although that’s probably not too good for the stomach, but whatever.  Totally worth it.

But not too long ago, a funny thing happened.  Apparently, someone saw a post I made on a forum a couple of years ago asking for the name of a song I’d heard.  He (or she, possibly) not only gave me the name of the song, but a hearty recommendation for its series of origin: HeartCatch Precure.  A show that, on occasion, looks like this:

Now, being an S-class nerd I’d known beforehand that HeartCatch Precure -- and as far as I know, most of the Pretty Cure installments -- have a lot of overlap with some of the more…shall we say, “masculine fare”.  And HeartCatch encapsulates that nature very intently: music that wouldn’t be out of place in Guilty Gear, fights that wouldn’t be out of place in Dragon Ball Z, and dare I say it a procedure that wouldn’t be out of place in Kamen Rider.  (Or if you prefer, Viewtiful Joe.)  Evil invaders, a call to action, a doodad that turns a mere mortal into a distinctly-costumed hero, OTT fights, finishing moves…you know, the usual.
I haven’t seen enough of HeartCatch to make any sweeping judgments about it -- although I will admit that at times, the show’s package almost feels like something out of a fever dream -- but for what it’s worth, I like it.  I want to see more of it, even if I want to watch Kamen Rider more (because wouldn’t you know it, there’s a Bruce Lee-style Rider who transforms with the power of disco).  I don’t care if it’s “girly”.  I care if it’s good.  And it IS good.  It’s feminine, but in a sense it has no shortage of manliness.  I suspect this is one of the few shows in the universe where the lead character worries about looking like a doofus in class in one scene, and has a punch-up with a house-sized demonic doll in the next.

Whatever the case, Kamen Rider and Pretty Cure have gotten me thinking about video games (even though a gentle breeze is enough to do that).  I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that KR and PC are inherently different from one another, given how much overlap there is with their setup and execution.  But it’s something that’s fed into a question I’ve been pondering over for a while.  Something I’ve been nervous to think about, because there’s a LOT of potential to get into some nasty territory.  Still, I figured I might as well get opinions from others.  See where they stand on the topic.

It should go without saying that as games continue to evolve and come our way -- as games continue to try their hardest to give us stories instead of just a chance at a high score -- they have to give us more and better elements if they want our support.  The standards of many of us gamers is on the rise; topics are getting discussed (however shakily), and tolerance for the same old tricks is (hopefully) going to one day force devs to stop banking on them so heavily.  And of course, one of the big topics is how women appear in games.  How should they be portrayed?  How should they appeal to others?  How should they take the leading role?  All questions worth considering.

But there’s an underlying question that’s been niggling at me for ages now -- something that makes me wonder if that’s the real (dumb) reason why getting women in games is such an uphill struggle these days.  The question is: does being a strong female character automatically deny being a feminine character?

The obvious answer to that is no, of course not.  But the way games are now, I can’t help but wonder if there are people out there who answer with an innocently naïve “yes”.  There may very well be people out there trying to give gamers what they want, or what they think they want (or worse yet, what they think we want).  There’s a dangerous line of reasoning in there; “Because gamers want high-octane action, we need to have characters that are nothing but pure action.”  Stupid as it may be, I suspect there’s an association with women and inaction; if they want to be in a game, they have to be willing to bust up a few space aliens.  They have to be active, stalwart, and “can play with the boys.” 

Again, that’s not a line of reasoning I agree with -- and I hope to God it’s just me overreaching -- but I understand where it comes from.  We’ve long since moved past the days when saving Princess Peach was just a thing to do, and that’s definitely a good thing.  But I’m not wholly convinced that the answer we’ve come up with nowadays is that much better.  Having a damsel in distress is no good, but I can’t shake the feeling that the intent is to overcorrect by leveling the playing field.  Games seem to have an issue with sanding down identifiable character traits (see: every third game released in the past decade), making them avatars for action and little else.  On one hand it’s a disservice to female characters -- any character, really, but the female perspective is one worth appreciating -- but on the other, it strikes me as an unspoken, agreed-upon necessity by creators.

This isn’t a problem unique to video games, even if it’s a problem that has yet to be ironed out in this industry of ours.  Characters can (and should) define themselves with their actions, so a character that doesn’t runs the risk of being a bad character.  That’s part of the stigma of Princess Peach and other damsels, I’d bet; time and time again she’s been kidnapped, and the most she could do was send letters and items.  Thing is, I suspect that in order to fix that, there’s a conception that a female character has to act more like a male character -- going beyond just getting knee-deep in the action -- to avoid being considered “weak”.  That’s not to say that women who kick ass are inherently bad; what I’m saying is that women (and men) who are only defined by being able to kick ass are problematic in their own right. 
Take Violet from Ultraviolet or Alice from the Resident Evil movies (both incidentally played by the same actress --hmmm).  They’re both women of mass destruction, but I defy you to describe their personalities with at least three adjectives.  I sure couldn’t.  Their personas start and end with “badass”, and rather than being memorable for what they did, they’re inherently forgettable for what they didn’t do: be human.  It’s a problem that I suspect is being duplicated by video games; in making Final Fantasy XIII, Square-Enix gave us two monster-slaying ladies, but couldn’t be bothered to go any further than their character designs and skill sets; that’s especially worrisome when you consider that one of them started out as a man.  And the less said about the treatment of some of these heroines to prove their mettle and toughness, the better off we’ll be.  Adversity builds character, but you can only go so far before it turns into a farce.  Just ask Jodie Holmes. 

(So try-hard...)

So what’s the solution, then?  Am I saying that from now on, in order to gain respect and even a chance at being used well (or at all) in a game, female characters have to wear bright colors and act emotional?  No, of course not.  That’s just silly.  What I want is for some trace of femininity to be a part of their character -- not in a way that demands a love for baking and ponies, but in a way that emphasizes their humanity.  Their personality.  Their emotional spectrum.   Their strengths AND their weaknesses.  Their concerns, hopes, fears, and more.   I want something that sets them apart from others, be it in their game of origin or in games across the board.  I want them to do it on their own terms, in a way that’s believable, understandable, and enjoyable.  (We can’t go overboard, lest we birth another Alfina.)

That may seem like a tall order for a medium that can’t even get a space marine right, but it’s not impossible.  I’ve seen it done before.  Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance had Titania, who not only expressed her care and concern for her comrades -- along with some good old fashioned motherly scolding -- but was also one of THE most powerful units in the game AND in the story. 

More recently, we’ve been delighted with a character like BioShock Infinite’s Elizabeth, who has the power to tear apart reality, but more importantly sees no harm in dancing, singing, enjoying the sights, and using crocodile tears to clock Booker when he least expects it.  Nearly ALL the party members in Persona 4 struggle with the concept of femininity and the social norms surrounding them, and learning to accept or reject certain concepts and assets is as much a part of the game as it is vital to their characters.  I know it’s kind of cheap to bring up an Atlus game, but it was either that or invoke the spirit of Beyond Good and Evil.  So here you go.

One of the most interesting examples, if you ask me, is Juliet from Lollipop Chainsaw.  (Note the use of the words “most interesting”, not “best.”)  It goes without saying that she’s THE asskicker of the game, but she does so with a distinct and colorful style -- a reflection of her personality and character via gameplay, as it should be.  It would have been easy to make her Mademoiselle Panty Shot and leave it at that, but there’s more to her than her curves OR her zombie-killing capacity. 

She’s sweet, but she’s got a real mouth on her.  She cares about her boyfriend and family, but she’s clearly a short a few dozen marbles.  She’s heroic in the sense that she’s trying to fix the mess created by the baddies, but she’s flawed in the sense that she’s more than willing to ignore her boyfriend’s pleas to satisfy her needs.  She’s cheerful in spite of the zombie apocalypse, but she’s cheerful in spite of the zombie apocalypse.  She’s a juxtaposition of extremes just as the title implies.  She’s a berserker with a seriously demonic edge -- and at the same time, she’s a warrior with the sensibilities of a high school cheerleader.  I find it infinitely interesting that a character that looks like nothing but fanservice bait has some real depth to her.  More so than plenty of other characters, regardless of gender.

Juliet is just one of many possible examples, I’d say.  Not every character has to be like her, but she does show what can be done when a character is allowed to a bit of self-expression in the medium.  As I’ve said before, games express themselves by way of their mechanics -- combat, most of all.  That isn’t automatically a bad thing, of course, but at this stage, when there are scores of tinkerers trying to give their game an “epic” tale. It’s not enough to scream “ACTION!” and leave it at that.  

Strength and weakness are things worth valuing.  The fight is important, but so is the reason behind the fight -- the personbehind the fight.  That’s not to say that femininity is inherently weak (anyone who’s had or seen a mother in action, myself included, can attest to that); no, it’s the qualities of femininity that can make for a stronger character overall, precisely because there’s a level of thought beyond “kill” or “survive”.

It’s enough to make me think about something tangentially related.  To be honest, I’m a guy who appreciates a manly character; being able to play as (and lose with) Haggar was one of the main draws for me to play Marvel vs. Capcom 3.  Manliness is something to be admired, but as with all things, it’s something that has to be used and added in moderation.  There has to be something there besides just the spectacle or the basic skill set.  Otherwise, the manliness is hollow.  A character might merely end up as “okay” just by being able to zap a bunch of aliens -- but a great character is one that has charisma while zapping aliens.  There’s something to get attached to beyond just the action itself.

One of my personal experiences -- by which I mean biggest surprises -- came from Far Cry 3.  I gave the game a shot not knowing what to expect, but I walked away from it with a positive impression.  I’d say that’s partly because of the (unfortunately-named) lead, Jason Brody; the first part of the game shows him scared and at wit’s end, whimpering and panting as he should.  But later on when he’s reunited with one of his friends, he actually ends up bursting into tears.  It came as a surprise, but it didn’t hit me until later when I went to go grab some hot dogs; I suddenly thought to myself, “Holy hell, did that guy just show some emotions?”  He did indeed.  And it was so refreshing, especially since I’d just come off of Halo 4.  A male character allowing himself to cry?  Letting himself be afraid?  Not being in total command of the situation to the point of indifference?  That’s the bee’s knees right there!

I’m not about to conflate things like fear and sorrow to femininity.  But if nothing else, I’d like to think there’s an emotional freedom -- one mixed with a sense of stability -- that shouldn’t be ignored.  There’s a concern for the self, for others, for the rules, and for the world that doesn’t have to automatically be a weakness.  Nor does it have to just be about things that are traditionally considered girly, or inherently something associated with women.  

Just think about some of the most-beloved games to come out in the past year or so, like BioShock Infinite, The Last of Us, and Telltale’s The Walking Dead -- all of them put a younger sidekick in your midst, and came out stronger because of it.  (Granted my understanding is that barring TWD, those were more about protecting the “child” instead of nurturing them, but it at least shows that a parent/child relationship can be explored in games.)  What I want most is for characters to be free to find and define their own strength, on their own terms.  And I want them to do so independently from their fighting prowess.

I get the feeling that the games industry associates femininity with weakness and masculinity with strength, even if that’s just a fat load (or, I dearly hope, me jumping to conclusions).  But I think the terminology, the definitions behind the mindsets, need to change.  Maybe instead of strength and weakness, we should use “hardness and softness.”

One of them is partly about taking on challenges with gusto and force, but has an obvious harshness that harms friend and foe alike.  The other is partly about being able to perceive the nuances and niceties of life -- all the better for protecting it -- but can struggle against major odds and challenges.  The mix of the two is important, regardless of the gender.  The mix of the two, and the balance that results, can make for a phenomenal character.  Stalwartness as well as sensitivity.  Endurance as well as expression.  Conviction as well as compassion.  That’s something the industry should aspire towards.

I’m willing to assume that some of you reading this are thinking that, even if my ideas are airtight (and that’s a big if) there’s no way what I’ve suggested will be viable for a wide audience.  The dudebros and kiddies and whatnot want to play as Coolly McCoolerson; may the feminine touch be damned.  That’s a concern, sure, but that’s no excuse.  Putting out “the next big thing” isn’t about caving to audience interests or expectations.  True success may very well come not from giving the people what they want, but giving them something they didn’t even know they wanted.  That’s the clincher.  That’s how we’re going to take the industry to the next level -- as consumers, and as its future creators.  And if getting girly is the key to that evolution, then so be it.  That’s a future I’ll gladly welcome.
And that’s the end of that chapter.  Now do something important and go watch some Kamen Rider.  It’s the only way you’ll get context for this:

Huh.  You know, this clip actually brings another possible topic to mind.  But I think I'll just hold off on that until I'm certain I can make it not-stupid.  Maybe someday...

Man, why is Kamen Rider so godlike?
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I don’t think I’ve had an existential crisis this bad since I watched Transformers: Dark of the Moon and legitimately wanted to bash my head against something until everything went black.  Just thought I’d throw that out there to set the tone.
So.  In a few weeks, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy 13 is going to be on store shelves and ready for purchase and digestion by gamers all over the states.  And frankly, I’m ecstatic -- not about the game, of course.  At long last, this so-called, ill-advised, and poorly-executed (in my humble opinion, of course <3) “Lightning Saga” is finally going to come to an end.  For the foreseeable future, at least; I get the feeling this isn’t the last we’ll be seeing of Miss Farron, even beyond an appearance in a hypothetical third Dissidiagame.  It’s safe to assume she’ll be popping up in the new Kingdom Hearts.  I’m really looking forward to seeing the ever-energetic Sora talking to someone who's shown an emotion less than half a dozen times over some eighty hours' worth of canon.  And when she does, it comes off as kind of creepy.

Brrr.  Think I just got the chills.

But like I said, I’m ecstatic.  I’m happy.  FF13 was the game that “broke” the franchise for me -- a game so bad that it makes Transformers look good.  (At least they have the good grace to end in three hours or less; FF13 made empty promises of getting good eventually, asking players to tough it out for about twenty hours.)  And as if that wasn’t bad enough, FF13-2 was significantly worse; I not only consider it the WORST game I’ve ever played, but so unbelievably bad that it makes vanilla 13 look good.  That level of failure is like going up to 18.0 on the Richter scale.  So at least by this time next year, it’ll all be over.
And that just brings up a new problem.  The Lightning Saga is coming to an end in terms of production.  But in terms of this story?  In terms of this one-sided rivalry of mine?  It’s not over.
Lightning’s calling me out.  Calling me to the ultimate ring.

I’m going to go ahead and assume you’re at least vaguely familiar with my work.  If you’re not, then I’ll be brief.  I can and have written multiple posts dissecting the previous two games in this so-called Lightning Saga.  I’ve used my unreasonably large head to reason and argue that Squeenix’s golden girl is (by way of incompetent writing and blind glorification) actually the villain of her saga, and more likely to destroy her world instead of save it…or if not that, then at least be responsible for everything that’s gone wrong with the saga.  Simply put, if there was no Lightning, there would be no conflict.  Period.
I have a hard time supporting or even liking a game if its main character is complete garbage.  But that’s precisely what Lightning is to me -- and even if she wasn’t in the “Saga”, that would still leave two games with barely-there gameplay, a world that might as well be painted on, a story that the common ostrich would call stupid, and a level of gravitas that makes the “serious” tale that much sillier, and threatens to strangle the player with hands that would make Hellboy feel inadequate.  If I was ever going to play the betrayal card, it would be for these games -- and merely the fact that a third game is just weeks away from release makes me want to choke on my rage.

But I know how this goes.  I have a very strong hunch that my brother’s going to grab the game, because he grabbed the other two -- and thanks to LR having an action-oriented bent, he has an even better reason to give it a shot.  More to the point, I have a very strong hunch that he’s going to ask me to play through the game, even though he knows how much I loathe the “Saga”.  I suspect on some level he wants to see me play through it, since I’ve beaten plenty of RPGs he couldn’t -- or more appropriately, because he wants to see me suffer as revenge for that one time I tainted his shake with mayonnaise and pickle juice as per the greatest April Fool’s Day ever.

He wants me to see it through to the end.  And now there’s a part of me that wants to do the same.

I haven’t beaten a single game in this “Saga” yet, but not for lack of trying; I threw up my hands when dealing with the last boss of vanilla 13 (random chance that he’ll instantly kill my leader and force a Game Over?  Do not want), and it took all of my willpower to keep myself from taking a jackhammer to 13-2 when it expected me to do a time-wasting fetch quest after suffering through a cockamamie subplot -- which paradoxically might have gotten more attention in the story than the main plot.  So on one level, clearing LR is a chance to reclaim my honor, and reassert my pride as a gamer.

Setting matters of pride (the greatest sin of all!) aside, I can’t shake the feeling that how I approach LR could say certain things about my character -- as a gamer or otherwise.  I’ve been burned twice by this “Saga”, and badly.  But the Final Fantasy brand used to mean something to me.  FF10 was a fun little romp that, while certainly not perfect, is still something I don’t mind admitting I like.  I spent many more hours than I should have creating an unbeatable task force in FF8, and got a kick out of the proceedings that followed.  FF7 was my first, and in a lot of ways it opened my mind -- not just to the potential of video games, but the possibility of one day dreaming up my own tales of heroes.  I’m no die-hard fan, but I don’t have to be.  The series already had its effect on me.

With this howling hydra that Squeenix calls The Lightning Saga well in our midst, I have to admit that I’ve decided to sever ties to the franchise that once inspired me, and once counted on.  But it’s not something I did with ease.  In fact, even now I feel kind of guilty about making such a bold declaration.  “Is it really okay to turn my back on them?” I asked myself.  “What if they turn it around with the next game?” I wondered.  “Can I really call myself fair and just if I heap on the hate?”  I thought.  Indeed, hating a game that I never even touch would make me the worst sort of person -- something very near one of the fabled and reviled “nostalgiatards” that dwell in the annals of darkness. 

And as you can guess, I have a personal stake in the matter.  If the hydra really is coming my way, I have my doubts that I can just turn my back on it.  Call it perversion if you will, because it’s probably something very close to it.  I have to know how the story ends; if I didn’t, I would have spoiled the ending for myself a long time ago.  I want to believe that there’s still a tiny glimmer of hope, some minute fragment that makes the “Saga” worthwhile.  I want to play the game, and by some miracle have it offer something substantial to me.  Something that’ll put my mind at ease, and heal the scars left by its gnashing heads.
I don’t want to be afraid to play another Final Fantasy game.  But the fact that I feel that way in the first place has me worried.
I’m beginning to think that my instincts are a lot better than I give myself credit for.  I was worried about DmC, and you just have to spot the tactical omission of the subtitle to know how I feel about that.  I had my suspicions about Beyond: Two Souls, and wouldn’t you know it, everything that I suspected would be a problem became a problem.  And when I was wrong, I was wrong in the worst way possible; The Last of Us went past just being a not-quite-worthy GOTY contender and became something not-even-mediocre, popular opinion be damned.  So is there a chance that Lightning’s Last Hurrah will give me what I’m looking for in a game?  Yes.  Will it deliver?  Sign after sign after sign seems to suggest that I should stay the hell away, to the point where I’m afraid the demo alone will scare me off.  It wouldn't be the first time a demo has given me warning signals.

Like I said, I’m not a die-hard FF fan.  But isn’t this the exact same thought process thousands of other gamers have gone through?  Haven’t they been burned by a FF game in the past, but bought the next one anyway because there’s a chance the new one will recapture the magic?  What kind of message would I be sending if I gave Squeenix the satisfaction in knowing that I played one of their post-Sakaguchi games?  What kind of standard would I be setting for myself if I caved after saying “No more Final Fantasy” and played the sequel to a game that was effectively the cringe-worthy Apology Edition to a game that made me want to cry tears of blood?  Wouldn’t caving in make me part of the problem, and not the solution?
And beyond all that, I have my doubts I’d be playing the game for the right reasons.  I can tell you right now that I’m not the type who buys into the “turn your brain off” practice of entertainment; if you have to turn your brain off to enjoy something, then the story doesn’t deserve to be enjoyed.  So whether the game is good or bad, I expect that if I play it (or rage-quit and watch the rest through an LP, as I did with 13-2), I’ll likely be posting my needlessly in-depth thoughts of it across the internet.  And frankly, I wonder if that’s the only reason I’m interested in the game.  Do I want to play it because I want closure on multiple levels?  Do I want to play it so I can put another notch on my gamer belt?  Do I want to play it just so I can revel smugly over how bad the game is, or how bad the franchise has gotten?  Do I want to play it just so I can have something to complain about, or prove that I’m right?  Do I have any intention of engaging with the game on its terms -- as a game designed to be rewarding in some form -- or just as proof that the joke’s still being told by Squeenix?

…It’s very possible that I’m over-thinking this.  I do that sometimes.
Let’s be real here.  The days when Final Fantasy and its creators -- Squaresoft, Square-Enix or otherwise -- ruled the roost have long since past.  If I want a consistently-good franchise, I have the Tales Series.  If I want a once-in-a-blue-moon but oh-so-satisfying release, I’ve got Atlus.  If I want one-off games that come out of nowhere but hit like Muhammad Ali with rocket boosters in his gloves, I’ve got Lost Odyssey, Xenoblade Chronicles, and Ni no Kuni.  And those are just the JRPGs.  I have a feeling that Squeenix thinks it’s doing something revolutionary by making a FF gamethat’s action-oriented -- and as such, I have a feeling that their vision is being distorted by the vacuum they make their games in.
I don’t think I’m going to lose any sleep over another bad FF gameNor will that be the case if (or when) I swear off the series for real, despite its best efforts to pull me back in.  But in order to bring this story to an end, I have to drop down into the coal mines one last time -- to go deep into the bowels of the earth, and say goodbye to the stars above.  The question is, do I have the willpower for it?  Do I have the justified reasons to give it one more shot?  Do I have the courage to ride with the devil?
Kamen Rider W reference.  Yes.

I’m going to go ahead and assume that there’s no clear-cut answer to all of these questions, so I’ll clam up here.  And I’ll let you all weigh in on the subject.  Should I take the plunge?  How should I approach this game?  Is anyone else struggling with the decision?  Ever felt the same way?  By all means, go on and chat it up in the comments.

As for me?  Well, I’d say something about getting ready to weather the storm, but that’s way too obvious of a pun, don’t you think?
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