I've been gaming since 1987. I used to be a big Nintendo fanboy, then Square jumped the shark, so I followed. Eventually I realized neither Square nor Nintendo were the only companies out there worth following and my collection more or less speaks for itself now. I love to meet up with people on XBL, though I haven't done much online with the Wii. I've also been writing game review articles since 2004 on the old Project Wonderboy, then Morphine Nation, and now back to the new Project Wonderboy and various other sites.
I also help out in writing for a local videogame store website (VGMX). Not much else to say, really, when it comes to gaming. I wouldn't consider myself an expert, but I would say I'm experienced.
So this time around I figured I'd throw in some stuff that's actually pretty clever. Most of the time games are fairly predictable, so when one can up and surprise me, it warrants attention. It should be noted that the examples I give will almost definitely include spoilers, so just a heads up. Confused? Intrigued? Indifferent? Then read on, my friend!
So I recently got to Maracai Bay in Risen 2 in order to hunt down Garcia, as he is one of the supporters of Mara who holds a weapon, talisman, or whatever that can defeat her. The key objective in Risen 2 is to get these artefacts so that you may defeat Mara, at least as far as I understand currently. The game is fairly straightforward, very open world, and offers a decent amount of exploration.
What I didn't expect was a clever ruse. Really, most of the game plays fairly predictably. Something happened recently, however, that turned that shit upside down. So upon arrival at Maracai Bay, they state that Corrientes, a member of the inquisition, set out to find Garcia, a devious pirate captain, and that they hadn't heard back from him or his squadron.
So you trek through the jungle and find him at the Maracai native village. He tells you that his men were attacked by Garcia's men and that one fled. This next part is important...he tells you that the man that fled needs to be taken down for being a deserter. All of this sounded very plausible, but I felt bad about it. See, you find this guy, discover that he was barely able to escape because of a leg wound and fled in the opposite direction to tend to his wound.
You have a few options here, so I decided to take the high road and instead of killing him myself, bring him back to Corrientes. Well, I do that and the first thing that happens is Corrientes shoots him dead, quipping "I thought I told you to shoot him." He then scoffs and it's over. I decided I didn't like that outcome, so I loaded my game and instead took him all the way to the beach, presumably to see if he'd join my pirate crew instead.
Well, I got kinda cut off by the inquisition members at the beach. I explained what happened and they stated the following: "What? We don't kill deserters! You must have heard him incorrectly, we would never authorize such action." So I was fairly satisfied, though confused with that, until through more conversation you find out that that wasn't Corrientes; it was Garcia.
See apparently, yes, Garcia's men DID ambush the inquisition search party, but none of them survived...save the deserter. Not knowing what Garcia looked like, he was able to throw you off. He would've gotten away with it too, were it not for them meddlin' save files! Honestly, I felt this was a brilliant move that would have been very easy to fuck up for the player (and I did initially) and seeing how both ends turn out, it's, well...brilliant.
Tales of Vesperia - A True Anti-Hero
When we think of an anti-hero, we often think about characters that don't quite match the look and feel of a traditional hero to the point that they're not really a hero at all, yet they still end up being the hero. A good example of this is Squall from Final Fantasy 8. I'm still not a fan of FF8 for many, MANY reasons, but he's a good example because he doesn't really WANT to do anything and he's just kinda forced to do so (by the player's hand, of course).
Often when we consider what a vigilante is, we think Batman. But even then, that's a "controlled" vigilante in that he's disciplined, has unlimited funding, and lives by a strict code. Yuri is neither of these...and yet, he's the very epitome of what it means to be an anti-hero. When you initially start playing Vesperia, you're treated to Yuri's wisecracks and overall sarcastic attitude, but overall he's still a very traditional hero.
Until...a specific incident. Now, my memory's a bit foggy, but there are two specific moments in the game that set Yuri apart from nearly any anti-hero you have or will ever have experienced. There's one point at which a corrupt senator or something is finally found to be corrupt. He's ruined peoples' lives for his own personal gain and, having been found guilty, he's being escorted off to trial where, more than likely, he will get off scot free because, hey, them's the breaks.
But NOT SO FAST. See, this is where the traditional story would've taken over and that would have been that...but Yuri decides fuck that shit, leaves the inn alone late at night, ambushes the escort, and kills the whole fucking lot of them, dumping them in the river. If that's not bad enough, later he finds a fellow knight who's gone totally corrupt and, wouldn't you know, same circumstances.
He's going to fact trial, but will most likely get off. Yuri's solution? Toss his ass into quicksand. The most awkward part to this is there's a rope right there...the knight cries out...and Yuri completely ignores him. Then he's caught by Floyd, a more righteous knight and former friend of Yuri's and the corrupt knight. Not going to spoil it anymore, but ultimately Yuri is a very complex character that deserves a closer character inspection and is easily one of my favorites of all time for any Tales game.
Saints Row 2 - Monster Truck Rally
In a game like SR2, you expect death, destruction, and all kinds of crime-related activities. What you don't expect, however...well, I'll just come out and say it. So upon arriving back in Stilwater, you find that new gangs have taken over the Saints' territory you worked so hard for in the last game. Naturally, you want it back. You have multiple informants who do their share of spying and whatever on the individual gangs.
Carlos is sadly looking into the latino gang (don't remember what they're called, sorry). Well, after a few missions, one of which involves you getting some nuclear waste to poison the water lines of a local tattoo parlor so that the gang leader gets a ridiculous amount of permanent facial scarring (yeah, very roundabout passive aggression), Carlos gets dragged by the face behind a truck.
When you finally free him, he's barely alive, so you put him down and GET PISSED. Alright, cool...so what's your retaliation? Well, let's see. First, you kidnap the gang's boss. Then, you drive her to the monster truck rally that the gang's about to compete in. Okay, so what? Well, what happens next is the most horrifying thing I've ever seen in any of the Saints Row games.
You lock her in the trunk of your car and line the car up with the other cars in the monster truck rally...you know, the ones that get smashed. And wouldn't you know...the gang's leader then amps up the audience, then proceeds to unknowingly obliterate his girlfriend with his monster truck. I don't think I even need to say any more about that.
Xenoblade Chronicles - Reyn And Shulk's Co-Dependency/Bromance
Initially Xenoblade's characters seem fairly normal...and really, they are. Actually, that's what I like about them. There are a few quirks in their personalities, but it's nothing obnoxious or forced. They all seem very believable and overall "normal." But I think the two characters I like the most, especially with the chemistry between them, are Shulk and Reyn.
Shulk is the main character, of course, destined to wield the monado, a sword of ultimate badassness that can destroy mechon. Reyn is, well...a big, dumb idiot. But here's the thing...Shulk ISN'T a badass, no matter how hard he tries. For the greater part of Shulk's life, Reyn has had to step in and protect him like a big brother.
But that all changes when the monado is activated again and causes Shulk to get all kinds of wacky superpowers like the ability to see possible futures, stun enemies, put up shields, and all kinds of stuff. But, well...two things. Firstly, though Reyn can't wield the monado, he's still the stronger of the two. Through most of the game (or at least that I've played), Shulk is still very uncertain, unconfident, and hesitant.
Even when he knows something's about to go down, he still wembles and worries about it, often opting to keep the information to himself until he learns more about what's going on and what may happen. As a result, despite all the power he's been handed, Reyn often steps in to take control because he feels he needs to. He also begins to feel useless as he's no longer a match for Shulk himself and his only real strength is...well, strength.
The chemistry between the two is very buddy buddy at all times, but you're constantly left wondering what will happen next because of the constant changes within both characters. It's not as though we haven't seen a good "buddy story" before, but it's interesting how it plays out here because of the circumstances at play.
Final Fantasy 4 - Cecil, Ex-Dark Knight
From moment number one in FF4, we know something's up with Cecil. He's supposed to be this big, bad, intimidating dark knight...but he constantly feels remorse for what he knows is wrong, so much so that even in the opening scene he questions his king's motives. Those are some serious balls right there. I mean, they don't really go into it in the game, but he could've just as easily been executed right then and there and considering how bastardly the king had been acting up to that point, I'm surprised that ISN'T what happened, looking back on it now.
In any case, through the course of the game, Cecil is revealed to be...a pretty good guy, actually. It's almost like playing as a demon in the game, but being an absolute saint. It just doesn't work, really. Even still, I don't think anyone really predicted Cecil becoming a fucking paladin of all things! Now, it's been a number of years, so I don't remember the scene entirely, but if I remember correctly, Cecil must fight his past self in order to become a new man.
It's an interesting take on the development of characters because often, yes, a character will undergo a transition upon his journey, but it's often one that's more subtle and told through the story, not an actual physical transition. The reason I find this so fascinating is that even though it was totally unpredictable, it also felt necessary and unforced.
Cecil's an interesting character anyway, but seeing the story evolve as it does and seeing him become a paladin is one of those nice little moments in gaming that make you feel good for the character.
I've been gaming for 25 years, so it takes a lot for a game to surprise me...and no, I don't mean jump scares. There are actually quite a few other examples I could've cited, but most people either know them already or they weren't that interesting. Here's to hoping that game devs will continue to intrigue us with interesting stories, characters, and twists! Don't forget to check out my site when you get the chance!