Save Point

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

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.


6 Responses to “Another Boy Meets Another Girl”

  1. Karl Says:

    Hehe, Tuna. Also overdrive.

    Now that I think about it, it seems like a lot of romances in Final Fantasies – and perhaps fictional romances in general, although I don’t really read/watch enough to generalize so much, and certainly there are videogame couples that do not work this way – are about people who just happen to mutually provide what was missing from the other person’s life. Setting aside issues of whether this is a good relationship model for real life (maybe it is sometimes, but definitely not all the time), I’m guessing it’s just way easier to portray than the sort of very personal connection that other people just can’t see, especially when that connection is based on more interactions between the prospective couple than can really be shown. Although Suikoden V manages this well, as do the Xeno* games (module annoyance with certain characters), Lufia II, and (if you’re willing to interpolate quite a bit) Illusion of Gaia.

    In FFX, I think both Tidus and Yuna have only ever been able to be seen by others in certain lights, and the fact that they’re incapable of being seen by each other in those ways – because they lack the corresponding cultural contexts – is probably very refreshing. And Tidus definitely starts taking life more seriously on account of Yuna, while Yuna’s ability to eventually break with the Yevonites probably has a lot to do with having a confidant who isn’t tied up in that culture. Which is great, but none of this necessarily implies romantic love – Jecht a similar experience in going from jock to guardian, and… ok, I’m sure there’s lots of Jecht/Braska fic out there (and Jecht/Braska/Auron), but that wasn’t really part of the game, while Yuna also has that whole Al Bhed side of the family to give her perspective. So yeah, in the end a lot has to be blamed on hormones.

    I’m sure I’ve mentioned that my favorite main character romance in a Final Fantasy is between Locke and Celes – although I understand that people coming to FF6 with different ideas about romance might have seen things in that game very differently from how I did – and that a lot of this is because it stayed in the background. Aside from that, I liked Cecil and Rosa because, despite being the stereotypical warrior and healer (which wasn’t even a stereotype back then), they seemed like a mature, established couple (and I’m disappointed in the idea that they may have been less so in the original Japanese). I didn’t mind any of the suggested couples in 9, be it although I can’t say how much of that was just on account of how adorable that game was in general, and the lack of emphasis on romance in 7, the variability of the date scene, and the… unconventional resolution of it all worked out fairly well, in my opinion.

    …and I guess since 1, 5, and 12 don’t really have romance, and since I still haven’t played beyond the beginnings of 2 and 3, this is really just a roundabout way of grumbling about 8 and 10. Eh, I consider it justifiable grumbling.

  2. haounomiko Says:

    I actually liked Locke/Celes too, for many of the same reasons, although a lot of people seem to dislike it on grounds that Locke wanted someone who was dependent on him and Celes isn’t and never would be that. Locke might not need to have someone dependent; maybe it’s just that that’s the only relationship model he’s seen, and he could approach the thing with Celes from another angle once they actually have a talk about how they feel and what direction they want to go with it.

    I’m not so sure I’d call the resolution in FFVII unconventional, though, except maybe for games. For TV and movies and books, it’s a pretty easy and obvious out, plus you get to ratchet up the drama and tears.

  3. Karl Says:

    Hmm, I guess I got the opposite impression, which was that Locke needed someone to knock him out of his perpetual atonement thing, and Celes was able to do that. But yeah, I came into FFVI practically a blank slate when it came to relationships, and there are a lot of things (like Locke’s looking after Terra and breaking Celes out of South Figaro) that I took as completely platonic, and I’m only now becoming aware that other people saw them very differently.

    And I think FFVII would still be unconventional by TV/movie/book standards for reasons coming from the other direction, which is to say that it doesn’t dwell on her death, or on the idea that there is some sort of love triangle – which you can even plausibly interpret as not being the case at all, depending on how you play the came.

  4. haounomiko Says:

    Oh, while I agree that FFVII doesn’t dwell on the love triangle (which is refreshing), I absolutely disagree that it doesn’t dwell on her death. The characters react afterwards with, “We have to go on so her sacrifice isn’t in vain”, and all through the rest of the game you will hear them say that they’re doing this for her, that it’s all for her memory, that she’s the only reason they’re still going, and the like. (Never mind the giant meteor about to kill them.)

    It rather feels that once she dies, the whole rest of the game revolves around that fact; I find it to be simultaneously extremely-well-done from a storytelling standpoint in a way that puts it up among the greatest RPG stories ever told, and also kind of immature as a worldview. The latter especially given that FFVII was for me the chaser to Suikoden 1, where things have to go on with no time to mourn and no stopping for favourites no matter how hard it gets. (Of course, this is where my personal biases definitely start showing up.)

  5. Karl Says:

    It does dwell on her death in comparison to Suikoden; I guess I was… well, to be honest, I was comparing it to Ponce de León’s death in Clone High, since that has become my standard for people not getting over deaths. But there were no sadly staring off into the distance and then transition into a flashback montage while sad music plays moments, nor did Cloud obsess over her while he was in Mideel, which are definitely things I’d expect from a typical drama-heavy movie or TV series.

  6. haounomiko Says:

    I think today’s conclusion is that RPGs have different standards for “heavy drama” than TV and movies.

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