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Of Characters

I’ve been playing Bravely Default a lot lately and it got me thinking of good ol’ Final Fantasy, Xenogears and Vagrant Story. It got me thinking about the more recent Final Fantasy games, and how disappointing I find them as character pieces.

As you might know, if you’ve read my old rant about FFXIII, that I strongly believe that in order for a game to have impact, if not be successful, that the players should feel an emotional connection to whatever it is they’re controlling. It doesn’t have to be as deep as empathy if the game isn’t about characters, as even in Pacman you feel connected to the yellow-pizza-face as you run around. You just need to care on some basic level about the story. While in RPGs the connection should be akin to the connection a reader has with the characters in the book, games don’t always work the same way.

I wanted to talk about character creation and development in recent and old games, and what I think makes a good character.

They say that you can tell who the hero of the story is when it’s the character who goes through the most change throughout it. I’ve heard arguments that Han Solo is the hero of the first (original trilogy) Star Wars, since his is a redemption story, while Luke pretty much stays the same.

I agree with that. Bringing up the accursed Final Fantasy XIII up again, Lighting has no

FFXIII-2_CG_Lightning

growth throughout the whole game. She starts off on a mission, knowing what she wants. And throughout the whole game she doggedly chases it. She never doubts it, or changes her mind or anything. She always scowls. Seriously, look online at images of her from the games. She always has the one expression– determined. I know nothing about her except that she has a sister. What does she like to do? Who is she? The game tells too little and if they thought she’d come through as dark and broody, without context she’s just a boring grouch.

 

If they’re faultless, we can’t care for them, because we can’t identify with them or fully understand them, in my opinion. While Lightning is well liked by fans, she’s pretty darn flat as a character. Think about the new Doctor Who companions; Amelia Pond and Clara Oswald. These two are again flat characters without flaws. What is Amy afraid of? What does Clara do that really irritates the Doctor? The answer is “nothing”. Rose Tyler was feisty but she was scared of the things that chased her. Martha Jones was very clever but put in a situation where she wasn’t the cleverest anymore, and Donna Noble consistently kept the Doctor in line with her wit and tenacity. Where are the flaws in the new companions? Where are Lightning’s faults, or Snow’s or Sarah’s? I think the old saying “We like someone for their virtues, but love them for their faults” is very true.  growth or change throughout the game. I don’t know what they thought she was going through in her heart and mind, but it does not come through at all. Look online at images of her from the games. It’s always the exact same dull expression. She’s just cranky throughout the whole darn game, never growing or changing. She’s angry and determined in the beginning, and even three games later she looks to be exactly the same. She reminds me of Ashe from Final Fantasy XII, but at least you could tell that Ashe was forcing herself to act strong, that she was really deeply scared and uncertain. Lightning of FFXIII is scared of nothing. She wants only one thing and nothing else. She has no weaknesses and no faults. I think after Final Fantasy IX they started doing that more– characters without faults.

Another very important aspect of a character, in my opinion, is getting a sense of what they’re like in their mundane life. What were they before this adventure or challenge? What do they do in their down time? The story doesn’t need to spell it out, but the Fei.Fong.Wong.full.872822character’s actions should reflect this. The fact the Xenogears starts with Fei Fong Wong (the main character and the inspiration for Clou’s original design– he still has the bang!) simply painting is a huge draw to the character. Here’s a man who’s more than just a tool for the plot. He is alive. It doesn’t really come up in the story (although it does relate to it), but it just immediately breaths life into him. Baltheir of Final Fantasy XII is never shown to do anything other than fighting and quipping witticisms, but just from his mannerisms a whole world of conjecture can come up: He’s probably a womanizer and a gambler. He probably spends a lot of time on his personal hygiene. Snow from FFXIII? Nothing. I got nothing. He has a motorcycle, I guess. Maybe he repairs it? All the time? I know nothing about him as a person, so why on Earth (or Spira, or Cocoon) should I care about what happens to him? It seems that the newer Final Fantasy games think that they’re telling us about a person in their actions, but they forget about their choices. If there’s one path of action and the hero takes it, I’ve learned nothing about him. If they have to kill and enemy and they do, what have we learned about them? Nothing.

I want to see more characters like Rose Tyler, like Balthier or Edgar Figaro (Final Fantasy VI), or Fei and Bart from Xenogears. Great, layered characters that one can actually feel towards. I know I’m far from an expert on the subject, but I want to have my characters feel like people. They’re imperfect, they make the wrong judgment call from time to time. They’re people with their own motivations, more than just tools for an inevitable plot. I don’t like stories where the plot drives the people. I like stories where people drive the plot.

In short, stop making crappy games, SquareEnix! >_<