Editorial: Characters To Die For

Seriously, though. What a shitbag.
With great characters, comes great respo–er, loathsome villains.

When it comes to gaming, I am typically late to the party. I get the invitation and even occasionally fill out the RSVP, yet I show up just as everyone else is leaving. I am not positive if there is a term for people who unintentionally wait six or more months to purchase a title, but through no conscious effort on my part, I embody that term. The wonderful thing is that I still, by some solipsistic metrics, wring just as much reverence and joy from these games even though I might be expressing it in what amounts to an empty room since everyone else has moved on to the next big thing. I blame the Internet. Having picked up Bravely Default only last week, the minutes that I am not playing it are spent thinking about the last few games that have absolutely engulfed my free time to the extent where I have lost a hours of sleep simply because I cannot put them down.

Bravely Default has me by the throat, but in that way where I am submitting to it and do not wish to utter the safe word. I am around fifteen hours in and my interest is still happily hanging its head out the car window like a dog enjoying the passing scenery on a warm summer day, rather than having given up, curled into a ball on the seat, and waited for the ride to be over. Making it to more than ten hours into a game without getting bored is a big thing for me. It is not just the lovely visual design of Bravely Default (Ancheim, anyone?) that has me on the hook, but the story it tells is one I wish to devote my attentions to, no matter how many times I have saved worlds by dealing with crystals before.

When I am about to hand over my grubby dollars for an RPG, there is an unspoken demand that I be told an interesting story. Note that it does not necessarily have to be original. The only way I can think to simplify this notion is to say this; make me give a shit about the characters. It really does come down to that, even if the author is employing every archetype in the book. In Bravely Default, I actually want to see Agnès succeed and am looking forward to seeing if she gets to meet the other vestals, or if she is to find she alone remains, despite the glaring reality that she is a cookie cutter demure female lead. Ringabel, with his tired model of womanizing panache, has my curiosity looking for clues of his past, even though the amnesia horse has been beaten to death by a million other stories. All the common ingredients are there, but it is the care with which they are combined that makes the tale worth being told.

Probably in front of your tv, like everyone else.
Do you remember where you were when Aerith died?

The last game to have me pinned to the screen in such a way where I intentionally replayed areas not to find secret loot, but to ensure that I was following the story to the letter, was, of course, Final Fantasy VII. As I recall, I did not get around to this one until well after release, but needless to say, it has been awhile. However, do not mistake this temporal lapse for a failure of the gaming industry to have produced a great title since then. I have played many, many wonderful games, enjoying each for different reasons, but none will ever recreate the shock and dismay my unprepared young self felt when Sephiroth ran a sword clean through Aeris. Witnessing that event left such a tough scar that even the likes of George R. R. Martin can never hope to penetrate it. I was already enjoying every minute of the story, with its memorable characters and colorful world, so when my healer was turned into a flowery kebab, it left me ravenous for whatever was to come next through two entire discs.

Thankfully, I live in a hermetically sealed bubble when it comes to spoilers, so even though I exude an odd tardiness toward jumping into these great games, I am always surprised. When Earthbound weirdness was stuffed into an emulator ROM, I managed to snag it before Nintendo of America started protecting its interests (yes, it was years after release, no, I do not ever encourage the pirating of a game). Even then, I did not play it right away, and grabbed it on the sole notion that I had heard it was a good time. What a neat little treat that one turned out to be. In fact, I am glad I waited to play the game until I was of an age where the intricacies of the story were not completely lost on me. A wee Java would have likely accused the game’s creators of being lazy and eating mushrooms, whereas the aged me decided that there was something interesting going on with this Ness guy, and I was participating in a story that would beg for pseudo-philosophical discussion and creative interpretation.

Thomas wasn't really THAT alone, though.
Minimal visuals, maximum depth.

There are tons of honorable mentions I could probably burden readers with, but getting back to cherishing characters, I can not help but bring up Thomas Was Alone. If this were a post about my favorite literature, here is the part where I would start talking about terrific short stories. In a span of roughly four hours, I found myself taking a singular interest in the existential crisis of a rectangle. Once again, I had questions about the life of geometry that demanded answers, much the same experience I had when one of my high school teachers bestowed the gift of Edwin A. Abbott’s Flatland into my appreciative hands, a story which I still cherish and reread today. While I am on the subject, indeed, there is a Flatland video game, which I have not played (yet), and a Flatland ARG, which I will propose be the mandatory fun activity at the next Lusipurr.com company “picnic.”

Well, I have to be honest with you, dear reader; so much is missing, here. My original draft was twice as long as it needed it be, and it still felt woefully incomplete. There are just some games out there that I still think about to this day, and it is likely that Bravely Default is already among them. To those of you out there who fancy yourselves writers, be it for a game or otherwise, what do you think it is, exactly, that makes a character someone you want to see to the end of the game? What about story? What elements do you look for? What draws you in? I do not know about anyone else, but that sounds like a delicious discussion just waiting to happen.

8 comments

  1. Nothing–no moment in gaming, no shock, no drama–will ever be able to compete with the moment I saw Sephiroth kill Aerith.

    First, it was something entirely unexpected. I do not mean that I was unaware that Aerith dies as a part of the storyline, true although that may be. What I mean is that, in RPGs released in the west at that time, it was NOT A DONE THING to kill off a central party member who had been with one since the very beginning of a game, and whose very character was deeply central to the storyline itself.

    At that time, it was far less about ‘not knowing’ that Aerith died, and very much about ‘not being aware of even the possibility that she COULD be killed off.” And so, when it happened, the very landscape of RPGs seemed to be shaken.

    That can never be recreated.

  2. I totally agree with the “Aerith Dies” thing. I think I had heard of it happening before I played FFVII, but it was still a shock when it actually happened.
    The other revelation that blew my mind was in Knights of the Old Republic. Finding out that at that Darth Revan, the super-evil badass who would put Darth Vader to shame and who every character constantly talked about, to the player no less, was actually your character after his/her memory was wiped.

  3. I recall waiting for her to return. I think that was the saddest part. I wanted my healer, not some ethereal echo.

    Yeah, there is no comparison, and Lusipurr is spot on as to why.

    There are other times where the emotion seems to mean more in the moment. Bup will probably remember how taken with Bioshock Infinite’s story I was. Even in retrospect, it has heft, which may have had a lot to do with where I was at my life when I played it. There is a lot to be said about the state of mind, or stage of life one is in when experiencing a powerful story, as well.

    However, FFVII seems to ring universal.

  4. Back in the day, there were rumors floating around of various ways to prevent Aerith from dying. Around my school it was circulating that if one could play without saving up until the moment of here death, she would remain alive due to a bug.

    I tried this, but died within a couple of hours.

  5. Aerith’s death was a little meaningless to me, but this is because of my own perspective and circumstances at the time. FF7 was the first Final Fantasy game I played, but I completed FF9 before I ever got to the part when Aerith dies and I had sort of immortalized the beginning of FF7 by that point, having played it over and over again. So when I finally strapped myself down to beat FF7, I didn’t really care about what was happening. The characters didn’t hold up to me for whatever reason, and I felt so much pressure to care about when Aerith died that I essentially watched the scene with apathy. I didn’t get it. Now I just accept it as something that I was not a part of and missed out on. I like FF7 a lot, and it’s the only non-Ito FF that I consider to be a favourite, but I just never really cared about Aerith, and was bracing for losing her from my party from the get-go, so it didn’t have an impact on me. Like I said, I missed out.

    Anyway, this is just a response to the comments. I haven’t even read the article yet!

  6. Ethos is my favorite Lusipurr.com character. I sure do hope he never goes away!

    But seriously, interesting to here a different take on the FF7 Moment, Ethos. I have to admit that I probably assumed it hit everyone the same way, which is why it was a big deal, but that you “felt so much pressure to care” makes a lot of sense for the opposite to be true, as well, since that has ruined other stories for me before, now that I think about it. Literary or otherwise.

  7. *Hear.

    Wow. Just fire me now. My searing shame shall be my punishment as it continues to flay every inch of skin from my face.

  8. *Mel considers firing Java*

    *long pause*

    Naaaah, you’re fine!

    *thumbs up, friendly wink*

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