Tag Archives: JRPGs

Mother 3 Chapter 7: Ambiguity and Concrete Goals

Chapter 7 is by far the longest chapter in Mother 3, and it is where most of the plot actually happens. It begins when you discover a person tied up on the bridge. And who is it but your old friend Ionia! Who is Ionia, you ask? Well, I’ve been waiting until now to talk about the Magypsies. You have encountered them before – they help Flint out in chapter 1, and later Ionia teaches Lucas how to use magic. The Magypsies are peculiar, ambiguous, magical beings, neither man nor woman but something of both. Here they are in all their glory:

The Magypsies resemble nothing so much as caricature drag queens. Their pink hair, swishy walks, frilly clothing, and giggly speech doesn’t hide their receding hairlines, stubble, and masculine physiques. I was going to write a post about gender bending in Japanese games, and I may still do so at some point when I can wrap my brain around everything I want to say, but the Magypsies would be my exhibit A. They are designed to make you uncomfortable. Their flirtatious style (with cheeky little hearts at the end of everything they say) is at odds with their five o’ clock shadows. And mostly, they make the game characters uncomfortable as well. But here’s the thing: for all their swishy, drag queen stereotyping, the Magypsies are ultimately extremely good beings. Here is what you learn from Ionia:

The Nowhere Islands were built on the back of a sleeping dragon. So long as the dragon is asleep, life will go on more or less as usual. The dragon is kept asleep by seven needles, each one guarded by a Magypsy. It is known that one day, someone will come who can pull the needles. When s/he does so, his/her heart will go into the dragon. If this was a good person, the dragon will be good and the lives of the people will be saved, even as the world is reborn. But if this was a bad person, everyone will be doomed. As it turns out, of course, Lucas is the special person who can pull the needles. However, someone else can, too, the masked man in league with the Pigmasks, and he has already begun. Now Lucas has a clear goal…find all seven needles and pull them before the masked man gets to them, because Lucas has a good heart, but the heart of the masked man is clouded and invisible, and he is working with the Pigmasks, so he can’t really be that great of a person to entrust your apocalypse to.

The Magypsies job for thousands of years has been to guard the needles, but when a good person comes to pull them, they willingly sacrifice themselves and disappear forever. We see this over and over. Each time we fight our way to a new needle, we are met by a cheerfully ambiguously-gendered Magypsy, who flirts away, then allows herself to vanish forever, giving his/herself up because it is his/her destiny. For generations, the Magypsies have lived only to guard the needles, and they come to the end of their watch always with grace and willingness to accept the sadness of their disappearance. (About those generations – it does say that the Magypsies’ ancestors guarded the needles before them, even with their very long lives. I’m not sure how future generations of Magypsies come to be, but I imagine they simply explode into being in a shower of fabulousness.) In fact, it is symbolically clear that the goodness of the Magypsies is tied to their genderqueerness. (Major spoiler, more than I’ve already given away.) The seventh Magypsy, one who went missing long ago, is in fact none other than Fassad. When Locria gave up his/her identity as a Magypsy, when s/he lost his/her feminine side and took on only the masculine traits, that is when s/he went astray. Fassad presents as unambiguously male, and when he began to do so, he failed at his job as a Magypsy, to protect the needle and await a person with a good heart who can pull it.

Many people think that the Magypsies are part of why Mother 3 was never released in the US. Maybe if they were presented only as jokes, if they weren’t self-sacrificial guardians of goodness, Nintendo of America wouldn’t have been so frightened of presenting them to an American audience. To have a genderqueer group of characters who are both unabashed in the way they present and also are essentially good people who help our heroes on their quest and know much more about how the world works than anyone else – was it just too much for our culture? And why? What is the Japanese take on all this, anyway? Why is there so much more gender flexibility in Japanese media?

Anyway. Chapter 7 is also where we get a lot of the most memorable and crazy sequences in Mother 3. Here is where we have an underwater dungeon where the only way to breathe is by kissing the merman-shaped oxygen stations:

It is also where we eat some suspicious mushrooms and have some wild and disturbing hallucinations:

It is also where we meet the Mr. Saturns! Oh, all you Mr. Saturns. You make me want to just go “eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” with joy.

But in many ways, I think the strangest thing about this chapter is what happens every time you pull a needle. Usually, when you are asked to collect a bunch of things in an RPG (crystals, for example, are pretty common), you are rewarded with some kind of upbeat musical chime and your characters spin around and hold up their hands in triumph. Not so in Mother 3. Instead, you get this terrifying business:

The earth shakes, ominous low notes blare, and purple smoke vomits forth from the wounded earth. Is it a good thing, what you are doing? How can you tell, when every visual and aural cue indicates that it is bad, but every good person you meet insists that it is good?

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Coming together with purpose: “Mother 3” Chapter 5 (and also 6)

Chapter 5 involves a bit of journeying, a hint of the travels that are to come. In this chapter, the primary team is assembled at last — four characters who wander and fight together. They have all been part of the party before, but they haven’t all been in it at the same time before now. As a reminder, your party consists of:

  • Lucas — a young boy whose mother died and brother disappeared around the time that the evil Pigmasks appeared.
  • Duster — a thief.
  • Kumatora — a rockin’ punkass girl, somewhat older than Lucas.
  • Boney — a dog.

It’s funny that I think of them as the “real” party of Mother 3. I mean, they aren’t all joined up until Chapter 5 in an 8(ish) chapter game, and then they are separated again for a while in Chapter 7. Come to think of it, that’s rather different from EarthBound. In EarthBound, you accumulate characters one at a time until you have a full party of four, and I don’t remember any of them ever leaving the party. I certainly don’t think they are ever replaced by anyone else. In Mother 3, up until now we have also been accompanied by (if not necessarily in control of):

  • Flint (Lucas’s dad)
  • Wess (Duster’s dad)
  • Alec (Hinawa’s dad)
  • Salsa (a monkey)
  • Fassad (a jerkface meany-pants)

In any case, the Lucas and Co. dream team are the ones who will ultimately challenge the Pigmasks, and they start in this chapter. Lucas has kept his head down for the past three years, not agreeing with or going along with the Pigmasks and Fassad’s agendas, but not openly causing any trouble. Now, things are different.

Lucas etc. start out to recover the Hummingbird Egg. Shortly thereafter, they journey to the Thunder Tower — the mysterious structure outside of town that suspiciously appeared shortly before lightning began striking the homes of dissidents with alarming frequency. Lucas is allowed access following a mistaken identity. (Why do the Pigmasks insist on saluting this boy? Why do they fear and obey him? Who do they think he is?) Naturally, once there, Lucas sabotages the structure, destroying this abomination that has been raining lightning down on sleepy little Tazmily.

mother 3 thunder

Interestingly, while you are wandering around the Thunder Tower in your disguises, you get to talk to the Pigmask soldiers. Although they are as identical as Stormtroopers in their masks, the Pigmasks show signs of being people with personalities underneath. They even show signs of self doubt. One private manning a console explains how the lightning machine works, then says something like, “We aren’t doing good things here, are we?” I think this is a bonus for the childlike nature of Mother 3 — the Pigmasks are bad, but they aren’t exactly evil, not as individuals. Even one of the main bosses, a huge horned Pigmask Captain, is a DCMC fan.

mother 3 pigmask

Chapter 6

Chapter 6 is very brief…a moment of motherly love and loss, a dream of that thing which is unattainable, the ache in the center of Lucas’s heart.

mother 3 sunflowers

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Three years later: “Mother 3” Chapter 4

The village of Tazmily was once a sleepy and peaceful place. We have gotten to know it rather well over 3 chapters — we know the people by name, we know the layout, and we have a pretty good idea of the kind of lives that people might live here. But now it is three years later, and the place that we once knew has changed. It is not unrecognizable. The layout is the same, the same people live here, but the way of life has been altered by the twin forces of consumerism and militarization. The training grounds of the Pigmask army occupy the old pasture, the local inn has been replaced by an ugly concrete box of a building, police officers look at you askance when you are just walking around. Lucas, finally taking up his role as protagonist, no longer knows everyone by name — there are strangers now identified only as “Man” or “Woman” … some are just passing through, but others work as cops or waitresses. Instead of simply working together to meet their needs, many of the villagers now commute to a nearby factory/mine, working long and unpleasant hours in order to earn money to buy things that three years ago they didn’t know they wanted. The factory workers are compensated with tickets to Club Titiboo, where the waitresses are expected to look cute and giggle at the end of every sentence, whether or not they want to.

The saddest part of the town, the real indication that things are worse, not just different, is the way elders are dealt with. In the previous chapters, two old men (Flint’s and Duster’s fathers) have helped you out. They have fought with you and provided you with information. Both these men once lived independently or with family. Now, they have been moved to the saddest old folks’ home in the world. They have become marginal, no longer a part of the life of the village. In addition to the two grandfather figures, Tazmily also had another old man. Scamp was frail and crotchety. He lived with his son’s family and never got out of bed, but his life was still meaningful — he had his giant teddy bear and his talking parrot, whom he’s trained to say amusing things. Returning to the village three years on, we learn that Scamp has died. His death notice, buried under a ton of others on a bulletin board, is just heartbreaking. I don’t remember exactly, but it says something like:

Attention:

Scamp has died.

That is all.

There is no place in the new town for old folks, and their passing makes people in this new and shiny future uncomfortable. We don’t really know how the Tazmily villagers dealt with natural deaths in the past (we know they were pretty rotten at handling Hinawa’s unnatural death), but I suspect that Scamp’s life once would have been honored with more than this briefest of notices.

A sad visit to grandpa.

A sad visit to grandpa.

The transformation of the town has not been totally forced — most people love their Happy Boxes and see this state of being as progress of some sort, even if maybe they’d rather not work in the mine quite so much. However, there is definitely a sinister element — Lucas and Flint have refused a Happy Box, and find their home and barn to be struck by lightning with eery frequency. In fact, there has been quite a lot of lightning in the last few years, all of it concentrated on the few houses that have remained Happy Boxless. How suspicious! And what is that mysterious tower that the Pigmasks built outside the borders of the town, anyway?

However, there is at least one good thing about the new life of the town. Club Titiboo may be shady have poor policies regarding their waitstaff, but they do allow for something that Tazmily wouldn’t otherwise be able to experience. Live music! The house band at Club Titiboo are a Blue Brothers-like group called DCMC, and they are pretty awesome. But it isn’t just this one particular band that is good, but the possibility of connection with culture. Tazmily was idyllic in its past isolation, but before I get too wrapped up in nostalgia for imagined times past, I will say that connection with larger urban centers, as well as technological advancements, do allow for a cultural life that wasn’t previously possible. There are some bad things about the new future: unnecessary and unexplained militarization, enforced conformity, wage slavery driven by the desire for material goods prompted by corrupting media influences, marginalization of old people, destruction of the old and the natural in place of uncritical acceptance of the new and the artificial. But technological and societal advancement aren’t necessarily bad things…DCMC shows that they can be positive as well. Tazmily was once a lovely place, but it was a bit stuck in a rut and its people were emotionally stunted. As the destroyed castle of Chapter 2 and the poor emotional judgement of Chapter 1 show us, it had some forgotten or overlooked problems of its own that were never really addressed.

mother 3 dcmc

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A Changing Economy: “Mother 3” Chapter 3

Chapter 3 begins with yet another viewpoint shift. The events of this chapter run in parallel to Chapter 2, but this time, we see more clearly what the enemy is really up to. This time, we follow the deeds of the mysterious merchant, a man named Fassad, who, we learn quite plainly, is in league with the Pigmask army. We follow Fassad as he travels through the desert to the town of Tazmily, starts to seed his influence in the town, and tries to track down the Hummingbird Egg. We don’t play as Fassad in this chapter, but rather as Salsa, his unfortunate monkey slave. It is a fairly uncomfortable position to be in. Salsa is just a poor li’l monkey, and Fassad is without a doubt evil. However, as the two of them are traveling together, and as Fassad is much stronger than Salsa, you come to rely on Fassad’s help during battles.

mother 3 fassad

Salsa’s girlfriend is being held hostage. This makes Salsa even sadder than his shock collar does. Poor li’l monkey.

There are two important things that happen in this chapter, besides demonstrating Fassad’s allegiance with the Pigmasks. The first thing happens about halfway through, when you have finally arrived at Tazmily. Fassad gathers a group of villagers together and begins speechifying (whilst forcing poor Salsa to do the performing monkey routine). He explains how they are not really happy, that they need him and what he can provide in order to be happy.  Though most villagers wander away, a few stay and want what Fassad’s selling: Happy Boxes. Salsa’s next task is to drag around the heavy Happy Boxes, delivering one to each home that requested one. These Happy Boxes (which suspiciously resemble TVs) are the future source of much of the dissatisfaction which will ultimately destroy what Tazmily once was. As the villagers buy into the idea that they need more stuff to be content, they lose their ability to be satisfied with what they have.

mother 3 happy box

The second important event in Chapter 3 happens at the very end. Kumatora, the spiky-haired princess, rescues Salsa and they flee from Fassad and the Pigmasks. Alas, the Pigmasks and their tanks catch up with them and surround them. At that moment, they are saved by none other than Lucas. Up until this point, poor Lucas has been nothing but a bit of a crybaby. Less brave than his now-missing brother, Claus, Lucas has spent the time since his mother’s death weeping for her. But he somehow recognizes that Kumatora and Salsa need him, and he fetches his Drago friends for an exciting rescue. Not only has Lucas proven that he is not a weakling after all, he also shows that he has not broken with the old ways of the village. Even though his mother was killed by a Drago and it seems likely that Claus was as well, Lucas recognizes that they were innocent, and when he is in need, he calls on them still. He hasn’t let anger change his friendship or his allegiance with the natural world or his old way of life.

Bite him, Drago! Bite his head!

Bite him, Drago! Bite his head!

As Chapter 3 deals with the changing economy of Tazmily towards a consumerist society, I thought I’d take a moment to discuss some of the in-game economy as well. Many games, notably RPGs but also a lot of stealth games and shooters as well, require/allow the characters to carry around a large quantity of stuff at all times. In addition to armor and weapons, there are items which replenish health or eliminate various health problems (like poison or sickness). Game designers have to make a decision at some point on how much stuff a character or team can carry. Often, characters wind up hauling around piles of unworn armor, scores of not-as-good swords,  gallons of health potions, and dozens of antidotes. It is not uncommon for characters to have no upper limit to what they can haul, but it is certainly not the only way to deal with inventory. In early Final Fantasy games, for example, there is an upper bound on what you can carry. On the one hand, it is unreasonably high from a realist perspective (obviously those extra six shields are probably too heavy to go dragging around everywhere you go), but it is also too small for practical purposes. At the end, you wind up trying desperately to figure out what is really disposable, and what might actually come in handy somewhere down the line, besides trying to figure out how many health items you really need to have in order to beat an area. And annoyingly, some things actually are more important than they initially appeared (like the freakin’ Blood Sword in Final Fantasy II — who knew that was the most powerful weapon against some bosses?).

Mother 3 takes a totally different approach. The inventory is actually super tiny. However, I find that the small number of items that I can carry actually makes me be less conservative about using items. I tend to just go ahead and use health items, for example, instead of trying to hoard them, because holding on to stuff that you aren’t going to use isn’t worth it. Instead of relying on your stash of items to get you through to the end of the dungeon to the next store, you have to count on coming across enough stuff as you go to keep you going.

Of course, this being the most adorable game ever, sometimes holding onto items gives you an awesome reward. If you get some Fresh Milk and don’t drink it right away, it turns into Rotten Milk. If you still don’t get rid of it and drag it around with you for a good long time, eventually it turns into Yogurt. This is the sort of detail that just makes playing this game a delight. Even inventory management sometimes gives you an amusing little surprise.

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A Mission for a Thief: “Mother 3” Chapter 2

One of the interesting things about Mother 3 is the changing perspectives – in Chapter 2 we leave behind Flint and his family tragedies for a little while to instead focus on Duster the thief. In a village as perfect as Tazmily, thieves such as Duster and his father know many wily tricks, but they don’t actually steal anything, as the houses don’t have anything worth stealing. That is changing, however. As the Pigmasks begin to wreak their destruction, another force has begun to invade Tazmily in the form of a traveling merchant. You see only glimpses and traces of this man, but he is nonetheless working to change the dynamics of the village with the fiendish new concept he introduces: money. Greed, secrecy, and suspicion come along with money, though the villagers are somewhat baffled by what exactly money is and what it does. By the end of the chapter, Duster’s status as a thief has made him much more suspicious in the eyes of his fellow citizens – after all, now there is something to steal.

The previous Tazmily way of life is now changing, but Chapter 2 introduces the idea that there has also been change in the past – that Tazmily has not existed outside of time or been totally isolated from previous tragedies. Duster’s mission in this chapter is to obtain a mysterious shiny object from the ruins of a Oshoe Castle. Duster’s father hid this object inside the castle sometime in the past, deeming it too dangerous for even the presumably benevolent king to have possession of it. But who was this king of Oshoe Castle, and what happened to him? The castle itself is a haunted ruin, uninhabited except by ghosts and the occasional mouse. Whatever disaster befell Oshoe is unknown, at least to us. We are told explicitly that the inhabitants of Tazmily have never known sorrow, but why do none of them recall the abandonment of the castle, the death of the king (for he, too, must have died here)?

In any case, by the end of the chapter, you learn what you were looking for: the Hummingbird Egg, which contains within it all the secrets of the world. With the new pigmask threat changing the face of nature, and with the threat of money changing the hearts and dynamics of the townsfolk, the dangers of the Hummingbird Egg must be faced in order to access the wisdom within.

mother 3 hummingbird egg

On the lighter side, Chapter 2 is also where we first meet Kumatora, the spiky pink-haired tomboyish princess of Oshoe castle. We first see her darting around ahead of Duster, dropping her pendant clumsily on the way, but we only catch up with her when she catches her leg in a trap. Undaunted, she informs us that there’s nothing for it, she’ll just have to cut the darn leg off. Yep, she’s a firecracker!

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A Beautiful Game: “Mother 3” Chapter 1

Sometimes you come across a thing that you love beyond all reason – a thing that someone created that brings you deep and lasting pleasure whenever it is experienced. The films of Hayao Miyazaki are this way for me, as is Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s “The Little Prince.” Every time I return to them, I am filled with the familiar joy and wonder that they inspire. They are infinitely rediscoverable. The game that most inspires the same love in me must be “Mother 3,” written by Shigesato Itoi and released in Japan in 2006. However, unlike “Spirited Away,” which is two hours long, or “The Little Prince,” which can be read in an afternoon, “Mother 3” requires dozens of hours to complete. Therefore, despite the place it holds in my heart, I have only every played through it once, years ago, with my then-boyfriend (now-husband). Until this month, when I began a long-desired second playthrough, this time on my own. Mother3Logo I am far from alone in my love for “Mother 3”; it is shared by many others. As the title suggests, it is the third and final installment in the “Mother” series, though the three games are only loosely and thematically related – they do not share a plot or characters. The first was never released in America, while “Mother 2” was released for the Super Nintendo as “EarthBound.” The fanbase for “EarthBound” is devoted and loyal, and with good reason, as it is a fantastic game. Set in a satirical version of America, it is silly, cartoonish, and yet also sweet and suffused with a deep melancholic nostalgia that gives it a lasting depth and meaning. After many calls for re-release, it is now available for download if you have a Wii U. “Mother 3” never fared so well in America. The final installment in the franchise was beset with all manner of problems and took over a decade to produce, switching systems multiple times in the process and being released on the GameBoy Advance, of all things. After such a tortured process, you would expect the final product to be an overhyped mess and an inevitable disappointment. You would be wrong. “EarthBound” is a wonderful game, but “Mother 3” is a masterpiece. However, for reasons unfathomable, Nintendo of America ignored the desires of the American “Mother” fanbase, and eventually declared that there was no translation of “Mother 3” planned – that it would never be available in America. But this game inspires love like no other, love that drove a group of fans to take on the Herculean task of translating the game and creating an English language patch so the game can be played on an emulator. And no more loving translation can be imagined – it is professional quality and polished so that you would hardly realize it wasn’t official. (You can and should read all about their translation adventures;  instructions for how to emulate and patch the game are here.) So, that brings us to now. The game exists and is playable in America in this odd limbo which may never be resolved. It is sort of technically illegal to download the ROM and play the game, but no other way exists, so that is what must be done. As weird as the process is to play it on the computer, the process is even more strange to make it playable on the original handheld system. But for my birthday this year, my husband jumped through all the weird hoops and purchased all the obscure bits of hardware necessary to make it workable and allowing me to start this second playthrough of what I would probably not even really hesitate to call my favorite game. And as long as I’m playing it and thinking about it, I might as well write about it too. I’ll try to write one post for each of the 8(ish) chapters. There may be some spoilers, but I’ll try to keep them to a minimum. So here we go:

Chapter 1 (and also the Prologue)

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Xenoblade Chronicles — hour 85 (!)

After finally completing Xenoblade Chronicles last night, I figure it’s a good plan to give an overall review of my impressions about the game. I meant to update more frequently, but I guess four posts on this game is more than enough (first three posts here, here, and here).

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Quick Overview: Xenoblade Chronicles is a very classical JRPG. There is a big plot – the world is at stake – that hinges on the decisions on one key character, a smart and very morally developed teenager. There are a number of smaller enemies to beat, many of whom eventually come out on the side of righteousness. There is an angry god to contend with. Most of these things are present in most of the JRPGs I have played. Xenoblade does what it does very well, though.

The plot, as in all JRPGs, gets progressively more complicated, but unlike, for instance, Xenosaga, it isn’t hard to follow or understand. There are two civilizations that live on the bodies of each of two giant beings. The organic creatures of the Bionis contend with the mechanical forces of the Mechonis. The game follows a young humanoid (a “Homs”) named Shulk, who is the only one who can wield a mysterious weapon called the Monado. Shulk and his friends travel all over the Bionis, and eventually the Mechonis, fighting for survival, and later, for a peaceful end to hostilities.

Setting and characters: First of all, the setting of the game is great. It is extremely fun to crawl around on the body of these continent-sized giants. On the Bionis, one of the two collosal titans who make up the world, it is also very beautiful. Here are two of my favorite locations: Sartol Marsh and Valak Mountain:

The marsh is bleak and foggy and grey during the day, but at night, the trees all light up with this strange spectral glow. The mountain is harsh and isolated and beautiful, and at night, giant ice crystals shoot beams of light into the sky.

As lovely as the setting is, though, it’s nice to be able to explore it in the company of interesting people. The characters that make up your party are all decent, moderately interesting people. Their dialogue can be clumsy, cliched, and repetitive (they use the term “reason for fighting” way too often), but overall, I liked these people and enjoyed spending time with them. Shulk is a bit bland, but curious and inventive and passionate nonetheless. His best friend Reyn is funny and tender about their friendship. The exception was Riki, a sort of animated beach ball, whose cutesiness, annoying voice, and irritating diction were rather grating, at least to this curmudgeon.

They all get along rather too nicely – there really isn’t much intragroup conflict. This is emphasized by their constant references to “teamwork”. Again, the crank in me would like to see a little more fractures in their unity for the sake of spicier dialogue and deeper character development. As nice as it was to spend time with this, they weren’t overall that memorable, I’m afraid to say.

Fate and the gods: Like many JRPGs, Xenoblade ends with a struggle against an unloving god. I’m not sure why this theme is so common in Japanese media, but it certainly does seem to come up a lot. Oh yeah, spoilers ahead…

Shulk & Co. initially set out to battle the mechon, a hoard of mindless and probably evil robots. However, in the third act it is revealed that the world of Mechonis is not the true enemy. Instead, the Bionis itself is revealed to be the initial aggressor. The Bionis is (sometimes) mobilized by a soul/god named Zanza, who wishes to wipe out all life and restart creation because the beings it created want to fight against fate and therefore negate the gods (or something). In the end, Shulk is given the option to destroy fate and the gods and leave the future in the hands of the citizens of the world.

As an atheist and a rationalist, I have to say I am very sympathetic with the ideas portrayed. Not that I am necessarily out to destroy God or convert anyone to my way of thinking. Rather, I, too, believe that there is no Fate or Destiny, and that’s a good thing. I don’t believe that there needs to be a higher purpose in order for people to have meaningful lives. Living each day is good enough. On Bionis, before Zanza was killed, there was a higher purpose for each life – to die and feed Zanza with your energy. But life is sweeter without one’s place in the universe being pre-determined.

Not that Xenoblade is really making any complex philosophical arguments or anything. I’m just inclined to agree with the fairly simple proposition that it lays out.

Pacing and gameplay: A big issue with RPGs, as I’ve mentioned before, is pacing. Xenoblade drags badly, especially near the end. According to the cutscenes, the characters really need to book in order to prevent the destruction of all life. However, it is perfectly acceptable for them to spend weeks of game time running favors for random people, trying to get through doors that were locked, rebuilding a town that may very well be demolished again if they don’t hurry up and get to the world-saving. In many games, there is are huge tradeoffs between exploration and plot – from watching my boyfriend play, the Rockstar games (Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption, and LA Noire (which we played together)) are prime examples of this conflict. If you have a huge, cool world to explore, there is naturally a temptation to blow off what you are supposed to be doing. I think this is a normal part of game playing, and is to be expected.

The problem with Xenoblade and other similar RPGs is that it can be really difficult to actually move on and finish the game. You have to be at a certain level in order to have a chance of beating the final boss. If you aren’t at that level when you decide to face him, then you have no choice but to continue messing around, fighting random monsters, running more favors for people, etc. etc. We spent probably five or six hours after we were pretty much mentally done with the game just getting our characters to the point of being able to actually do the thing that they had been not doing for who knows how long. It’s a very frustrating way to end a game.

Really, these games are just so dang long. There is a lot to do and a lot to explore, but the fact is that by the end, the game has long run out of ways to surprise you. A game (or book, or movie, or piece of music) should end when you still think you want more. You shouldn’t end on a note of desperation to be completed, but with a feeling that it was the perfect length, or maybe, just a page or a minute or a note too short. This is why I don’t watch dramatic television until the series has ended and I know just how long I’m in for. This is also why I don’t really read interminable fantasy/sci-fi series.

One more gripe: I thought about having a post on this topic earlier (maybe ten or fifteen game-hours ago), but I never got around to it.

This is Sharla:

Sharla is a practical-minded person, a medic, cool-headed, sweet, sensitive. And yet, when I look at her, the only thing I can think is “What on earth are you wearing, woman?”

I hate, hate the way women dress in video games. This isn’t some one-off goofy special outfit for Sharla. All her clothes are like this. Now, I’m not complaining because I think women need to dress conservatively, or that strong women can’t be sexy. But Sharla spends approximately 18 hours a day either jogging or shooting a ridiculously large gun at robots. And she has zero support for her gigantic, buoyant, independently mobile breasts. It has to be extremely uncomfortable! Not to mention terribly dangerous.

Furthermore, and this is really what gets to me, Sharla wouldn’t wear something like this. Not based on her personality, the way she talks, the way she acts, the place she lives, the culture she grew up in. There is no way I can imagine her waking up in the morning and electing to wear something that just barely covers her nipples into battle. It’s distancing and alienating – her mind becomes a puzzle a person can’t hope to understand. What this tells me is that the game designers don’t ultimately care about empathizing with Sharla. They assume that the player (an adolescent or post-adolescent male) will be more interested in ogling than in understanding. And that’s fine – she’s just here for the eye candy.

Now, to be perfectly fair, I don’t think that’s the message Takahashi was trying to send – he clearly cares about Sharla. But somewhere in the design process, it was pretty much accepted that she was going to be “sexy,” dammit, and that was that. Again, in the interest of fairness, I have to admit that Xenoblade shows much more male skin than is usually seen. All the men can fight shirtless, and if that’s not enough, there’s this little number on Reyn:

But I still think there’s a difference between the way the male characters dress and the way Sharla does. The male characters all at least have the option to dress in normal, protective, chest-covering clothing. Sharla doesn’t.

So, to conclude: I think I ultimately don’t have that much more to say about Xenoblade Chronicles. As an example of the JRPG genre, it is quite good, but not as unique or fresh-feeling as my favorites. It suffers from many of the flaws common to the medium. In particular, it is longer than it really needs to be, and although it gives you plenty of things to do, it runs out of surprises long before it ends. However, it also highlights a lot of what is enjoyable about these types of games, providing an exiting world, decent characters, and an original, involved, and inventive plot. I enjoyed my time with Shulk and the others, but I’m happy to let them go on without me…

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