Fair warning, this post will contain significant spoilers.
Recently, there’s been a lot of fuss over the ending to Mass Effect 3. After having an opportunity to digest it, I was originally kind of okay with it, even though it kind of left me feeling a bit adrift emotionally. Then I saw a video that made me think. It was regarding something called the Indoctrination Theory and it inspired me to consider other things… from how Shepard was fighting indoctrination to asking how he became indoctrinated to pondering what happened or what would happen if the existing ending was the real ending like I had originally assumed. I’m going to discuss a few of these thoughts now, so please bear with me.
1) The child in the beginning wasn’t really there. During my first playthrough, I saw a young boy playing with a toy in a courtyard. I was like, “okay, symbolic of having no cares in the world.” Later though, I encountered him cowering in a ventilation shaft. I offered to help him and his response of “You can’t help me” made me say out loud, “How do you know that?” In retrospect, I remember the cutscene at the ending of the introduction where the child is near the evacuation shuttles as a Reaper arrives. No one interacts with the child, no one drapes a blanket over his shoulders or ushers him to safety or even helps him aboard the shuttle. That lack of assistance for a child is extremely unlike any human behavior I know. It is in our nature to assist our young, regardless of how deadly the situation is and even if it would do no good.
2) The mass effect relays were destroyed in the end. We are shown the destruction of a relay in the ending of the Mass Effect 2 Arrival DLC when an asteroid hits it. It wipes out the whole system it’s in, including hundreds of thousands of batarians. One of the hardest things to be a part of, in my opinion. If all the mass relays explode in a similar fashion, then doesn’t all life in all the systems with relays die? What happens to the galactic civilization we enjoyed? There aren’t any ships that seem to navigate from cluster to cluster (or nebula) without a mass relay and therefore a large number of non-self sufficient colonies are going to die from the lack of support. Also, the economy is destroyed. Further, even if this particular energy blast (red, green, or blue) made it so that they don’t explode and wipe everyone out, the economy and galactic civilization as we knew it is absolutely over. Without the mass relays, the ending is bittersweet at best.
3) If Shepard is fighting indoctrination, and the child at the beginning is part of it, when did Shepard start becoming indoctrinated? I have a few arguments for different parts in the series. Most recently, it could be that with the sheer number of Reapers, Shepard was initially indoctrinated during the invasion of Earth. We’re told, and we’ve experienced, that indoctrination is more easily affected with close proximity, so that rules that out. In the Arrival DLC at the end of Mass Effect 2, Shepard is knocked out and kept in relative close proximity to a Reaper artifact that has indoctrinated an entire base of Alliance personnel. This is very likely to be the part where Shepard was affected the most and probably had the most significant effect on him during ME3. There is also the time aboard the derelict Reaper in ME2. Your exposure, however brief, could have moved things along a little. You could go back farther and argue that the Prothean Beacon in the very beginning of Mass Effect was possibly corrupted by Saren or by the Protheans who were indoctrinated and that you’ve been getting more and more indoctrinated throughout the whole series. Just a thought on those last two as I’m not sure they’re really the point where indoctrination occurred.
4) Anderson and The Illusive Man at the end are symbolic. I get that they could possibly be both sides of your psyche or something in this fight between the indoctrinated belief that you can possibly control the Reapers somehow and the strongly held, most logical belief, that the Reapers must be destroyed if we are all to be saved. The Illusive Man is definitely in charge at the end there as Shepard is broken and his will is getting kicked around like some kind of rag doll. Even I was thinking, “Damn Shepard, do you need a nap or something? How are you still going?” A good point is made though: how are you beat to hell and barely standing but Anderson is in nearly mint condition? I understand luck, but damn man… you’re LUCKY.
5) The Catalyst gives really crappy options. Initially, I just went with it, but when I had to finally make a decision between Control, Synthesis, or Destruction, I had a real hard time choosing. It had been proven to me by The Illusive Man that the Reapers couldn’t really be controlled, but I didn’t want to destroy EDI and the Geth. So I went with Synthesis and found myself regretting my choice ever since I was given the chance to think about it. Also, I felt it was really crappy that every decision essentially had the same repercussions: I died, something happens to the Reapers, the Normandy crashes, and galactic civilization as we know it comes to a screeching halt. That annoying little boy really pissed me off with his absolutely crappy solutions. Come on, you created the Reapers? Who created you? More importantly, if you’re so powerful, how come you don’t know that I was able to broker peace between us and the AI species of our time? Hell, they’re fighting the Reapers right outside our little conversation! Further, how in the hell would the Destroy option kill me because I’m “part synthetic”? Earlier in the game I was TOLD TO MY FACE BY EDI that I wasn’t synthetic enough to qualify as artificial life or something like that. As an aside, I’m kind of ticked that no one seems to have picked up on that conversation with EDI in Mass Effect 3.
6) The ending is an internal struggle against indoctrination. If that’s the case, well, I can see all the symbolism that has trained us to think a particular way during the series being used against us. The Control method is colored blue, and even though The Illusive Man (a man we have struggled against in some form for three whole games) is the one we’re shown attempting it, we still associate this unconsciously as the Paragon decision. The Destroy method is colored red, and even though Anderson (a man we trust and support wholeheartedly) is the one we’re shown attempting it, we still associate this unconsciously as the Renegade decision. In the whole series Paragon is blue and Renegade is red. If you look at it another way, view the final decision room from a top down perspective. You see three choices much like when you’re in conversations with people. The top right is Control and is colored blue. The middle right is Synthesis and is colored green. The bottom right is Destroy and is colored red. You, well, you start in the middle like the cursor normally does. It’s a dialogue choice and it’s designed this way purely to mess with you as the player.
7) This wasn’t the actual ending to the game and there’s still more fighting to be done. If this is the case, I’m all for it. Let me stand back up in the rubble. Let me grab my M-96 Mattock and start shooting again. Let me save Earth. Let me take it back. I’m still here and I’m not done yet. There is a strong question of the ethics in charging money for a DLC that continues the ending of the game or even just changes it. This is beyond the whole “people don’t like your ending” argument, this is a “you released an unfinished product and now in order to finish it properly, you want to charge people for it” kind of issue. I don’t mind paying for DLCs and I find that the extra couple of hours of gameplay that they usually offer encourages me to enjoy the game all over again (especially if the DLCs are semi-frequent and really awesome). I mind buying a broken or unfinished product and I particularly mind the idea of paying to fix said broken or unfinished product. DLCs are optional content that add to the context of the game, but they are first and foremost OPTIONAL and therefore are not REQUIRED to enjoy the experience set before you. Changing the ending or finishing the game can be argued to be both optional and required, so I’m going to leave that up to the internet forums that like to argue about these things to no eventual resolution.
Let’s wrap this up. I’m currently going through my second playthrough. I’m taking my time, I’m finding all the little bits and pieces here and there. Further, I’m keeping a much more open mind to the possibilities that there were messages in the prior games that could help inform me in ME3. In Mass Effect, the final fight against Saren proves that Synthesis with the Reapers isn’t a good idea and I definitely forgot this when I got to ME3. In ME2, the constant back and forth with The Illusive Man starts the argument that we really shouldn’t even try to Control the Reapers as it’ll just end badly. In Mass Effect 3, it becomes more obvious that the only way to win this is to destroy them. I’m going to do that. Also, multiplayer is quite fun.
I hope this article has helped somehow. I hope it makes you think about your preconceived notions about the series, that it makes you look deeper into your favorite stories, that you never stop questioning the world around you especially when you’re surrounded by a fabricated world of wonder created by others and for the sole purpose of entertainment. Take the Socratic method into your heart and wander the world, wherever it may be and however real it is or isn’t. I was swept up in the moment and I learned that I need to pay more attention than ever.
Thank you Bioware. You made an incredible game that you’re not entirely done with. I think you did this intentionally. Well, whatever happens, Mass Effect is one of my favorite series of all time and when all the DLCs have been released and you put this series to bed, I will dust off the original and I will go from beginning to end. I will remind myself of the journey and the friends and the choices I made and I will be grateful for the opportunity to do so. As with the Redwall series, whenever Brian Jacques came out with a new one, I would read all of them again. As I did this more or less with Mass Effect, your games have become akin to grand books. You have truly created something marvelous that transcends mediums. I give you my heartfelt congratulations and say that I look forward to what comes next.
Until next time!
P.S. In the whole of the series, I played a self-sacrificing Shepard. Anything I could do to help those in or under my command, I did it. Yes, I got played by some mean-spirited souls and got screwed occasionally, but I helped more than I harmed. I made some incredible friends through the people who joined my cause and I cite them as the source of the majority of my enjoyment from the series. Kaidan, Ashley, Garrus, Wrex, Tali, Liara, Jacob, Miranda, Zaeed, Mordin, Grunt, Jack, Kasumi, Thane, Samara, Legion, James, Javik, and EDI are all people of whom I can speak fondly. So too do I speak fondly of Joker, Anderson, Adams, Chakwas, the dynamic duo of Ken and Gabby, Chambers, Cortez, Traynor, and Allers. However fictional they may be, I have this to say of them: “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” – Anaïs Nin. When it comes to my friends, I take this to heart: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” – Jesus, John 15:13.
Thanks to being allowed to pre-load the game, Mass Effect 3 has been taunting me from my desktop since Friday afternoon.
It’s currently less than 15 hours to go until it’s available to start playing and I’m exceptionally excited about this.
Yesterday I watched a video on PATV (Penny Arcade TV) where the folks in the video were talking about the differences between Western RPGs and Japanese RPGs (or JRPGs) and that got me to thinking as to what drew me into Mass Effect in the first place and what’s keeping me here. When I play a Final Fantasy game, I always get to that point right before the end of the game where it’s the last chance you have to wander around and level all the way up if you feel like it and do all the optional stuff left in the game. That’s usually the point where I put the controller down and don’t pick it up again for a year or more. With Mass Effect, I get all the way to the end game and I make that final push after ensuring that I’m ready to go. It’s not about if my characters are ready to go as in the Final Fantasy games, it’s about if I’m ready to go.
Mass Effect holds my attention, it demands I push forward, it encourages me to step up and make that difference in the world that Bioware built. It’s a modern-day Knight Rider… Michael Knight on his Normandy, Shepard in his KITT. One man CAN make a difference Shepard.
Well, that’s a dawning realization if ever I saw one. You see, I grew up watching Knight Rider and now… deep down it its essence of essences, I’m playing it. So, in less than 15 hours from this writing, I will wait anxiously for my copy of Mass Effect 3 to decrypt itself… and I will be ready to make a difference in the universe one more time.
John Shepard the Infiltrator (my ME1 imported character who has a relationship with Liara) will be my first import from ME2. My second import is Cassandra Shepard the Soldier (who has a relationship with Garrus and who I took advantage of the Genesis DLC with and thus never played through ME1). I’m tempted to finish the third game where I have a relationship with Tali… all I have left is the Overlord DLC, the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC, and the Arrival DLC.
I can’t wait. I’ve got to step up and protect Earth from the Reapers. No, wait, I can’t protect it… but I can take it back… and I will. I can promise you that.
Until next time!
P.S. “Just once I’d like to ask someone for help and hear them say, “Sure. Let’s go. Right now. No strings attached.”” – Commander Shepard
P.P.S. “I’m Commander Shepard and this is my favorite store on the Citadel.” – Commander Shepard
P.P.P.S. One of my favorite incidental exchanges in the whole game:
- [While going up or down stairs in the Citadel]
- Garrus: You ever miss those talks we had on the elevators? [Referring to the first Mass Effect game]
- Tali: [perturbed] No.
- Garrus: [slyly] Come on, remember how we’d all ask you about life on the flotilla? It was an opportunity to share!
- Tali: This conversation is over.
- Garrus: Tell me again about your immune system!
- Tali: I have a shotgun.
- Garrus: Mm…Maybe we’ll talk later.
I’m definitely looking forward to Mass Effect 3. As of this writing, I have about a week to wait for it to come out in the U.S. and I’m getting more excited by the day.
I stopped writing about Mass Effect 2 because I was doing it a bit much, but it’s still one of my most favorite games. In a way, I’m a little worried that Mass Effect 3 will possibly trump its predecessor and that I’ll go on and on about ME3 for a while. Alas, I suppose that’s the price of doing business.
Recently I had the good fortune to play the ME3 Demo on my trusty laptop. It runs exceptionally similar to ME2 (which I appreciate to no end). I feel I’m going to have to get used to the expanded melee combat system and the newly in-depth skill ranking system. Further, I think I’m going to need to become a bit more aggressive in how I approach enemies. The issue stems from the enemies using much more intelligent strategies as well as having more equipment. There are these guardian soldiers that attacked in the demo using these massive metal shields. I tried a couple of tricks to little success, such as just shooting at them, trying to find a weak spot for my bullets to exploit, and rushing in and trying to beat them to death with melee attacks. I think the only way that particular guardian died was because I made him turn to face me and Liara shot him in the back.
Oh, by the way, your companions appear to be much more clever and self-supportive in the new installment.
For now, though, I’m waiting patiently. I’m playing Mass Effect 2 and setting up my own FemShep for a second path through ME3. I’m playing Star Wars: The Old Republic off and on (I’m looking forward to update 1.2). I’m playing lots of Star Trek Online as the new Feature Episode reaches its fourth part this upcoming Saturday.
Until next time!
P.S. “[P]atience can’t be acquired overnight. It’s just like building up a muscle. Every day you need to work on it.” – Eknath Easwaran
As you can tell from my scientifically derived title, I’ve come up with a rather rudimentary scale for action games that shows a spectrum of difficulty for me. If I may, allow me to define a few things first, and then the scale.
So, the action category contains a wide variety of games. Just looking at the Steam Store, I can see: Scrolling Shooters, First Person Shooters, Third Person Shooters, Action/Adventures, and even some Role-Playing Games. I mean, case in point, on Steam right now are 22 single-player games with a metascore of 90 and above AND are under $20. Here’s that list:
Battlefield 2: Complete Collection
Call of Duty
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Company of Heroes
Deus Ex: Game of the Year Edition
Grand Theft Auto 3
Grand Theft Auto IV
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Half-Life 2: Episode Two
Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II
Street Fighter IV
The Longest Journey
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell
Unreal Tournament 2004: Editor’s Choice Edition
Unreal Tournament: Game of the Year Edition
Now, ignoring iterations on the same game (because there’s not exactly an appreciable play difference between some games and their sequels) we’re seeing a few different types defined as action. You have your third person shooters in Splinter Cell, first person shooters in UT, Quake, BioShock, and a few others, there’s the sandbox third person shooter/RPG in Grand Theft Auto, a platform beat-em-up in Street Fighter IV, and… I don’t know enough to say anything about The Longest Journey, but I do know the graphics look a bit funky (it was released in 2000, so I don’t really know).
So, I made that list to make another list… here’s my spectrum of action games that I find fun, interesting, and captivating all in order of the difficulty it provides for me:
Mass Effect Series
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Assassin’s Creed series
Splinter Cell series
These four games/series share many common mechanics and are all third-person with varying levels of environmental navigation, puzzle solving and so forth. For me, I think when Mass Effect landed in my home it became akin to catnip and I never wanted to stop playing it (my first run through the original Mass Effect was so thorough that a second playthrough later that month actually put me to sleep, but ME2 didn’t have that effect on me because it was more action oriented – something that Steam doesn’t really notice and has put the original Mass Effect in the Action category, but not ME2, which is odd considering the faster pace of the game). Assassin’s Creed requires a certain level of skill and drive to complete each game and contains a variety of methods for handling every fight and navigation puzzle thrown at you. Batman is some sort of hybrid between Mass Effect and Assassin’s Creed in the way that you can navigate the world in pretty much any way you want, you can fight however you wish, and (unlike Assassin’s Creed) you can beat the game in rather quick order thanks to having a lot of free time and three days (tops).
Splinter Cell and Assassin’s Creed, being made by Ubisoft, are exceptionally similar in gameplay. Hell, if you look at Prince of Persia too, you can see all sorts of things being used between the three games. Prince of Persia aside though, Splinter Cell is a more difficult Assassin’s Creed. For one, you can’t just walk out in the open in Splinter Cell and expect to survive your stroll across the room and for another, Splinter Cell is a stealth-based game that relies on you solving puzzles through a judicious application of stealth and stealth-based kills whereas Assassin’s Creed relies on you solving puzzles by using a judicious application of terrain negotiation and any weapon that comes to hand. Further, as Batman contains stealth mechanics and the ability to track enemies, the Splinter Cell connection is obvious here.
However, I did point out that my scale was built on difficulty for me to play. Mass Effect just came easy to me. I pick up science fiction based worlds very quickly (but I’m a big fan of that sort of stuff and there isn’t a lot of really truly good sci-fi that gets made into a successful gaming franchise). Batman was one of those games where I played it on the console, didn’t do too well, ignored it for a while, then on a whim picked it up via Steam and beat the crap out of it in less than three days. Easy, but I did have some issues with certain fights and the game really did a good job of creeping me the hell out.
Assassin’s Creed games have always been difficult for me. I’ve never actually finished the original all on my own (it was too slow paced and a lot of the side quests seemed kind of frivolous to me). I have finished the second installment and I’m about halfway through Brotherhood (even though I know how it all goes and so forth). Assassin’s Creed bridges the work/play dynamic a lot. Sometimes I just suck at the “being publicly stealthy” mechanic that AC has and it frustrates me and forces me to put the game away for a few months. Likewise with Splinter Cell. SC is a case of “too much stealth” sometimes. If you screw up once, you’re done for, whereas in AC if you screw up once, you’ve got a good chance of recovering from your mistake.
I greatly appreciate the four franchises I’ve outlined above in my spectrum. They cover different periods, different genres, and take different approaches from each other (more or less) while maintaining a high sense of self/world. If I had to pick, I’d take Mass Effect any day over the others, but I’m silly that way. I’m quite happy ME3 is coming out in March (reportedly) as I dunno if a 6th playthrough of ME2 would be capable of sating me again. Further, now I’m looking forward to even more the release of Batman: Arkham City and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. Initially, I’ll just watch my friends play those last two, but once Steam gets its paws on them (and runs a sale of sorts possibly) then I may indeed jump in.
Until next time, keep enjoying awesome game experiences!
P.S. My playthrough of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic continues! Considering that I’ve spent 30 hours playing it before, it’s going to be quite a few videos if I intend to finish the game and post it all online. Something like 180+ 10 minute videos. Sheesh, at least I’ll have plenty to post! Should keep me busy through the very near release of The Rise of Isengard expansion for LOTRO and the release of Star Wars: The Old Republic.
P.P.S. “Experience needs distance and what you write of at a distance tells not so much what you were like as what you have discovered since.” – David Wade
The hardest part of creating a new character for a game (new or old) is the name. Seriously. In the 10 or so years I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons, the name is the last thing I think of and it usually takes the longest to come up with. It’s really no different with MMOs and so forth.
Occasionally I get really lucky. I was walking through the store not too long ago with my friend and I was reading the labels off of things as I walked past (something I love to do). There was some packaged gouda cheese and it had a single word or phrase describing the flavor. So I saw “Gouda: Intense” and turned to my friend and went “Intense Gouda?” At this time, I was trying out Champions Online to see if I really liked it or not, so I was looking anywhere for a superhero name. We kept on going on about Intense Gouda until I finally said, “You know, that’s a great superhero name!” Thus, Intense Gouda was born on the Champions Online servers.
I have a pile of names I go to whenever I really need something in a game… I pull from books no one really reads any more (Enchanted Forest Chronicles anyone?) and I tap a couple of names I’ve been using for the last 10 years. When these fail me, I do my best to pull stuff together (Saxolfyr my Dwarf Guardian in LOTRO was one such name).
When a game chooses names for me… well, it’s almost a vacation. I don’t bother to change Shepard’s first name in Mass Effect, I keep the baseline names in Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI, and I kick back and enjoy the show.
On a side note (now that I’ve mentioned Mass Effect 2) I think I want to replay Mass Effect 2. Here’s why: I was shown the weapons from the Firepower Pack DLC and dear lord, I want to use them! Unfortunately, I beat the game very soundly (including the Arrival DLC) and I’ve got nothing left to do in the game! Maybe this play through I can finally grab those pesky side missions that require you to scan the planet.
Until next time!
P.S. “For those lucky enough to be baptised with a middle name, they don’t ever have to wonder what it would be like to be without one.” – Franklin P. Jones.
P.P.S. “Bending is my middle name. My full name is Bender Bending Rodriguez.” – Bender
There are a great many games out there that allow you to choose your gender when you’re generating your character. In the game Mass Effect, Shepard can be male or female and you can import him or her into the sequel so you maintain your preferences. Some games have genders specifically picked out for what you want to do like in Diablo II where the Sorcerer is female but the Paladin is male. Still, there are other games where you’re stuck with the gender chosen for you like in Assassin’s Creed where you’re male or Tomb Raider where you’re female.
When playing games, I typically play a male character. I find it easier to identify with a male character, to put myself in their shoes, and wherever possible, that male character is an extension of myself. Coincidentally, I’m a male, so this is understandable.
The reason I’m bringing this up? Well, I was reading the news post that Tycho posted on Penny Arcade this past Friday. In it he mentions that he always plays females. He states his reason being: “These are truly alien experiences for me, and I’m exposed to them and enriched by them…” This makes perfect sense to me.
Let me put this another way… I play games to insert myself into the world and experience the world through some sort of extension of myself. I try to make characters that are like me or that I can identify with easily because that helps me to feel like I’m a part of the world I’m participating in and attempting to make a difference in. It helps me to become invested. I believe that Tycho is looking for new and strange experiences and in doing so he’s looking to, well, enrich himself through them. Neither is more right than the other and both are important to us. I very much respect his approach to gaming and readily admit that, from time to time, I have also built a female character or have played as a female character either through a desire to experience something very different or because the game forces me to (not in a bad way though).
When I’m playing games with my character-who-is-an-extension-of-myself, I become a part of the story, I become a member of the cast, a part of the team, and when I step away from the game, the experiences that I accrued while playing are a part of me. It gives me a great sense of being there, of connectedness… and that’s what I look for.
Until next time,
P.S. “It reminds me of when I first saw Samus Aran’s face in Metroid: Prime, my face, flashed inside the visor, saw my eyes, which were her eyes, blinking at the brightness. These are truly alien experiences for me, and I’m exposed to them and enriched by them because I didn’t have to fill out some questionnaire before playing the game to make it aware of my sacred boundaries. I wasn’t given the option to check the “No Homos” box, or to choose an elf with a less bewitching accent. Instead, I was dropped hip-deep into the Inferno Round of a moral quiz show. I just want to shake these people sometimes. Hey. That feeling, the one that you’re feeling? That is the game.” – Tycho, Penny Arcade
Characters are around us every day. They’re in what we see, what we do, what we hear and watch and read. Have you ever seen the commercials for the USA Network? Yeah, those are characters alright. Characters are how we identify with the story or event. We look at certain characters and think, “Hey, that could be me,” or, sometimes, “I wish that was me.”
Games have developed to the point where you can barely see past the deep and highly developed characters sometimes. Take a look at the latest Splinter Cell game, Conviction. This game is about a man searching for his daughter and anyone who tries to interfere with that will not live to see the next day. The story is full of moments of frustration, of anger, and of a strong desire for revenge. Sitting and watching Sam Fisher go through all these things, the player can feel sympathy and their own desire for revenge on behalf of the main character. Sam isn’t a young character either, as this is the fifth game he’s been the main protagonist. In fact, if you go back to the first game in the Splinter Cell series, there’s very little character development aside from playing a super black ops guy. As the series went on though, you began to wonder about this man you controlled and this last game with its serious story and amazing developments was just inevitable. The game of Splinter Cell: Conviction IS the character of Sam Fisher.
Characters can have a lasting impression on players. From my own experiences, I know that I’ll never forget Captain William Eisen for coming to the rescue on the TCS Mount St. Helens supercarrier when my little Durango-class BWS Intrepid was getting kicked around by the TCS Vesuvius and Admiral Tolwyn. I’ll never forget Winston “Vagabond” Chang and his incredible card playing skills or even Todd “Maniac” Marshall for his insane style of flying. In fact, the TCS Victory (“Better known as Tin Can Sally”) was a character in and of herself. Take a look at the Wing Commander CIC and the Wing Commander series of games for more.
Sometimes the characters don’t have to say a lot for you to even identify with them. Take a look at Chrono Trigger. The main character Chrono only ever says one word and I believe it was “Huh”. In fact, the dialogue in Chrono Trigger wasn’t the best or even particularly revealing of the characters’ natures. For some reason, I know that I kind of clicked with these youths and somehow belonged among them. I suppose this sentiment was common as Chrono Trigger is one of the most popular Japanese RPGs of all time.
I recall reading a book once where there was a secondary character that I was particularly fond of. When he clashed with the main character (as it was inevitable) my favorite secondary character was slain. I was crushed. Similar things happen in games today, like in Mass Effect where you’re forced to choose between Kaidan or Ashley in the later portion of the game and in Mass Effect 2 where if you weren’t thorough enough, you could lose all your friends and could even die because of a lack of support.
Characters help you develop an interest in the game. They pull you in and ask for your help. They give you a reason to come back and keep playing and they give you a sense that they don’t know what they’d do if you hadn’t come along. They become friends, enemies, companions to the end of the adventure. They might not like each other (see Miranda and Jack in Mass Effect 2 for a great example of this) but they’ll push past that if you ask them to (just tread lightly).
Games without a population just feel empty. Games without characters aren’t necessarily bad (see Solitaire or any number of casual games) but if you want a story, you need characters. If you want a GOOD story, you need deep characters. If you want a great game? You’ve got to have great characters.
Until next time, be a great character possessing great character.
P.S. “A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you, and were helped by you, will remember you when forget-me-nots are withered. Carve your name on hearts and not on marble.” – Charles Spurgeon