|Hey, remember when I ran out of the room and let you guys all get captured? Yeah, I was just messing with you. Pretty funny, huh?|
In the comments yesterday several people said they found the politics and scheming in this game to seem small and uninteresting alongside the planet-smashing threats we’ve faced in the past. I said the same thing at one point, but after reading responses from people who like the plot I can see there probably is a gripping tale here. There isn’t any real reason a war and struggle for freedom can’t be just as thrilling as fighting Jenova and Sepheroth or Sin and Seymore, as we did in games past.
The problem here isn’t the scope, it’s the presentation.
If you don’t get a firm grip on things during the game’s laborious half-hour introduction, you’ll spend the rest of the game struggling to catch up. When I entered the mines to rescue Ponello, there was a cutscene with several important NPCs. What they were saying was intended to build suspense and establish relationships between the various factions in the game. But it meant nothing to me because while the scene played I was trying to figure out who these guys were, why the game had switched me to their POV (a hackish storytelling device, in my opinion) and how they related to the main character.
So the game force-feeds the player a half hour of names, nations, conquests, leaders, and events, and then doesn’t allow for the possibility that the player might not have gotten it all down the first time through. Bhujerba, Rabanastre, Nalbina, Dalmasca? A little help reviewing things or giving the player some context would have gone a long, long way to making this work for me.
After sinking over ten hours into my game, I abandoned it and started over. This let me review everything and try to match some names to faces and locations to events in the hopes that I can sort things out. The game makes a lot more sense the second time through, although I still have many nagging questions and I’m not sure if the questions are there to keep me interested and curious, or if I’m still missing something.
Case in point: The party goes to see “The Marquis”, who is named Ondore. (Another nod to realism – there are many different ways to refer to someone. The problem is, if you’re already struggling to keep everyone straight this does a great job of making things much worse.) Ondor secretly helps the resistance, while pretending to support the Empire. (The bad guys.) Basch (a party member) asks Ondore for help in freeing a girl from the Empire. Ondor gives a cryptic answer about needing to keep up appearances. Then Basch draws his sword and darts out of the room. Guards come in and arrest the remaining members of the party. Nobody speaks. I’ve seen the scene twice now and I still can’t figure it out.
|Perhaps you forget all that Ondor has wrought? Well, maybe she does and maybe she doesn’t, but why don’t we go over it again for the benefit of those playing along at home, yeah?|
Actually, I’m fine with a little mystery, but what really eats me is: What are the characters thinking? Do they feel betrayed? Impressed? Angry? Confused? Are they supposed to be in on it? We don’t know. Nobody brings it up. They never discuss this event among themselves. They never say, “I can’t believe he betrayed us” or “Why did you run off, Basch?”.
Then while I’m trying to unravel all of this, the game cuts to the bad guy’s POV and we see that he doesn’t trust Ondore. But does this mistrust come from Ondor’s loyalty to the Empire, or his lack of it? Since the bad guy doesn’t get along with the other nebulous powers within his own Empire, we can’t really tell. Mercy already.
I feel like one of the players in DM of the Rings. I’m hacking my way through a complex plot I don’t understand, the world is filled with confusing and unpronouncable names, and the writer is so enamored of his plot that he forgets that this is supposed to be about the player characters. Kudos to the people who have an appetite for all of this politics and intrigue and who can follow this mess. For the rest of us, a few after-the-fact reaction conversations would go a long way to keeping the player up to speed on what’s going on, as well as filling in these shallow characters. I’m willing to give this game a chance (two now, actually) but the writers need to meet me halfway here.
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