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Money can buy everything except “love”, “friendship” and “exp points”.

It’s Like Flatland All Over Again June 14, 2008

Filed under: Specific games — haounomiko @ 12:27 am
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So, like I said the other day, the second Phoenix Wright game, Ace Attorney: Justice For All, surpassed any standard I’d ever expected it to meet near the end. I will try to explain why without giving away too much. See, the Ace Attorney series is pretty much a comedy, a silly comedy with broadly-drawn caricatures who have names like “Dick Gumshoe”, “Wendy Oldbag” and “Lotta Hart”. You don’t take these people that seriously. They shave their faces with a knife while testifying, and spirit channeling by a medium is legal evidence (as is anything the witness says, but only if they say it in green.) One-dimensional is what we’re looking at, here– no change or development. They aren’t even lines, just points. Funny points. But points.

Justice For All began hinting at a bit of development for Edgeworth. Just a touch– that he changed his tune for some reason, and became a different person. Then we launch into the final case, and suddenly the whole game takes on three dimensions. It gets complex. Not only do people learn and grow, but there’s more than one way for them to decide. There are serious moral dilemmas without any easy answer, and the player is forced to make the choice. I can count on one hand the games that I’ve seen do this. This is pure, three-dimensional, not-one-simple-direction development for Phoenix and Edgeworth. Standing ovation from me.

In other Wright-related news, I mentioned the other day that I felt bad for Gumshoe because he’s a pretty good detective, and Karl objected (heh) that he’s not that great. Well, I countered, he always gives us useful evidence when we need it, even if he does always accuse the wrong suspect. Then I thought– wait a minute. He’s a detective. Accusing the wrong suspect is a pretty big flaw in that. Why did I think he was good nonetheless? It took me a while to puzzle this out.

Then I realised two things. One, accusing the wrong suspect is a gameplay constraint. The police department always gets the wrong person in the beginning. They have to (with special exceptions, but I said I wasn’t going to give too much away). It’s not just Gumshoe who gets the suspect wrong; it’s the whole world; and that’s because otherwise there’d be no game. So I’d been automatically forgiving him that flaw on the basis that even Sherlock Holmes would have to accuse the wrong suspect if he turned up in a Phoenix Wright game; that’s how it works. Two, though, Gumshoe presumably doesn’t know he’s in a work of fiction, so what he’s doing is accusing the most likely suspect. That’s what anyone would do, given that they didn’t know there are no easy open-and-shut cases to be had and that the likely person never turns out to have done it. I’m sure that, upon finding some strong evidence for a certain suspect, I’d accuse them too. Gumshoe operates by Occam’s Razor, and that’s a pretty sensible way to go about detecting, unless one knows they’re in a mystery that has to be complex.

 

Another Boy Meets Another Girl June 12, 2008

I’ve been fairly busy with non-game-related matters, but I’m nearly halfway through the third Ace Attorney game, so today I picked up Apollo Justice– I have to feed the addiction. Sometime I mean to blog about the ending to the second game and why I think it was a huge leap in quality for a series that I was already enjoying, but for now you get a quick critique of love stories.

Sasarai and I have been discussing Tidus and Yuna (or Tuna, as I hear the shippers have amusingly labelled it) from FFX. Specifically, the two seem to have very little in common, and we were wondering what could make this relationship tick. What I’ve been thinking is that perhaps they aren’t compatible at all– perhaps they are in love with the idea of love itself. Tidus has always been so popular, he may have been more interested in impressing lots of girls than in really devoting himself to one beloved person, and Yuna likely hasn’t explored relationships too much because everyone acts like it would be selfish given her future. So perhaps neither of them has ever been in a serious relationship, and suddenly they’ve realised how nice it would be to be in one– the rush of love itself, without necessarily any foundation or strong connection to the other person to back it up. It would be quite easy, especially for teenagers as naive as that, for them to mistake interest in love itself for interest in the other person. Perhaps what they love is the idea of being in love with each other, which doesn’t bode well for a lasting relationship.

I think that Squall and Rinoa from FFVIII have a similar lack of apparent compatibility, but the big difference is that FFVIII isn’t just a love story, it’s a story about love. Its theme is love– as Square told us from the very beginning– and it explores people’s insecurities and problems relating thereto. If Squall and Rinoa don’t last, that doesn’t make the whole relationship futile; the point is that Squall has learned that it’s okay to love and trust someone, and it will always be good that this has happened. This lesson is far more important than whether this particular teenage relationship lasts forever. Tidus and Yuna, though, don’t make any such personal progress through each other. They’re just two teenagers with hormones in overdrive, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Where I’m going with all of this is that there is a good way and a bad way to do love stories. Most RPGs have them; Final Fantasies make a good example because they often completely revolve around them; but they’re not often done well, despite the huge amount of focus they tend to get. Need a plot element, a motive, or a sidequest? Add a romance! (It’s either that or cloning.) Romance is so often used as a MacGuffin that the ones with the most justification tend to be the incidental ones between minor characters, the ones which do not serve a plot function and seem to happen in the background just because those two characters have so much in common (since we’re pointing at Final Fantasy, I’ll nominate Beatrix/Steiner as an example). The worst ones are often the ones that drive the main plot; in order to make the heroes relatable, developers tend to make their interactions so generic that they are rarely unique, memorable, or driven by anything that could show a very private bond between them. Such a bond would be exclusionary of anyone else, including the player, which I think the developers try unduly hard to avoid. And we can’t share in the hero’s experience of love anyway; the game can dramatize all it wants, but it can’t guarantee that we will fall in love with– or even like– any given character. But because it’s the main plot, it drags on… and on… and on.

I think it’s no wonder that many of us– myself included– groan when the main plot of a game turns out to be a love story. They’re so often generic in a way that leaves one cold and emotionless, watching some teenager embrace the lovely girl beneath the setting sun in a dramatic cut scene while the music swells, and thinking, I need to remember to equip her before we leave town. If the developers can’t do better than this tell-don’t-show expression of love and bonding and personal connections, they should stay away from love stories and get back to the part about saving the world already. Most of us probably don’t want to sit through a love story unless it’s a good one.