Monday, August 13, 2012

A little geekery with old games

Okay, so I like video games.

Also, I'm not rich, and what money I don't spend on paying off student loans, usually doesn't go towards upgrading to the best and brightest game systems.

Which is why I'm only just now playing Final Fantasy XII (on the PS2 that I bought secondhand from a friend of a friend when he upgraded to a then brand-new PS3... don't judge me; I finished both Kingdom Hearts on it first, and played Twilight Princess on the Gamecube in between now and then. Also replayed Chrono Cross and FFVII.)

But I have to admire the game, and not just for its gorgeous graphics, but for doing something that authors struggle with - creating a world so immersive and consistent that it draws you in and never lets you out.

Okay, so I don't have a team of designers behind me to double-check my work and make sure nothing goes against a previously stated principle. I don't have beta-testers to make sure my magic works (although why not?)

But I do have the ability to create a world from the inside out. Its rules are whatever I decide. Its people dress, act, and eat like I want them to. And as long as I remember that they're still people at the core, readers will still be able to connect to them.

FFXII? A princess seeks revenge for her conquered country and murdered father and husband, and then finds that revenge gets in the way of her people's well-being. She struggles with the desire to fight, reluctantly agrees not to encourage a revolt when she wants it the most, yearns for her dead husband, and starts to question her own sanity.

An orphan tries to find purpose in his life after the murder of his brother, trying to escape the relentless anger that pursues him and falling prey to ennui, resorting to thievery as the only revenge he can survive taking. He latches on to the first distraction that comes through, and finds himself swept away in an adventure much bigger than he can handle. But he goes along anyway, because maybe if he's in a purpose so large, he'll be able to find his own. If it doesn't kill him first, that is.

People ride giant birds and cast spells. They wear strange clothes and wield swords larger than themselves. Armies fight in airships, and islands float in the sky. And at the end of it all-

The characters act like people, and so the player can buy into the world and find them believable.

What video games have the best characterization? What makes the characters believable?


  1. I never did play Final Fantasy XII (X was the last one I played) as I began to tire of JRPG conventions around the time it was released and ended up getting into Western RPGs more. I wouldn't mind going back and playing it one of these days, though. I gave XIII a try and really wasn't pleased with it at all (though I'm told it gets better further on than I gave it a chance to).

    Anywho, Bioware has always been my favorite game company when it comes to story and characterization in games. The Mass Effect series, Dragon Age, and the Knights of the Old Republic all had characters that have stayed with me over the years.

    That being said, I think Planescape: Torment might be the absolute best in this category. It's one of the best RPGs ever made, in my opinion, and it's got multiple novels worth of text in the game, all well written.

    Excellent post, Juturna! :)


    1. I'm not thrilled with the online features of XIII, which is why I've never picked it up. Call me old-school, but I like my video games to be one-person so that I can rule the world by myself; MMORPGS just have too many people for that ("everybody's a hero" syndrome). 0.o If I want to do some social gaming, I'll tabletop.

      I've heard great things about the Bioware games, but unfortunately have not played any of them. I'm going to have to add them to my list. I don't think I've ever heard of Planescape, which is a shame if it's that great! Going to have to do some "research" ;)

      Thanks! :D

  2. Ditto on Bioware! The Mass Effect series is my all-time favorite. I've never wanted to choose the "bad" ending before for the sake of one character.
    Rockstar also does some good character development (and they're very subtle about it, which I love)...though their characters are often less than savory. I've played Red Dead Redemption and LA Noire. Both times it felt like they hit the nail on the head in regards to making everyone feel like they actually belonged in that time and place rather than a modern personality transported there (this includes qualities like unabashed racism and sexism). I hated LA Noire because they did such a good job making the characters in it so unlovable (including the frickin' main character). RDR actually had a couple decent characters (including the main guy, who is awesome), but still plenty of people not worth the dirt on your shoes.

    1. Never could get into anything with characters I didn't like. Unredeemable characters just kill a story for me... But the in-depth development might make up a bit for that in a video game, where "character development" is a relative term depending on series. Regardless, I'll have to check them out!

      Hm. "Bad" ending? Now I'm curious... No spoilers!

    2. Don't bother with LA Noire. On top of the lack of investment in the characters, the gameplay is dull. RDR is fun, though, and pretty cheap now.