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It's Not Dark But It's Hardly A Shining Dawn

Philip Bloom


Now, I did defend myself last week in the forums, but I think it's worthwhile here to take a moment and also respond directly to the editorial in the column itself. It should be noted that, like most things here, I was referring to RPGs specifically. Of course there are plenty of such heroes showing up in action games, just as there are plenty of all other kinds. Thinking on it, they actually seem to be doing a more representative job on types of heroes in that genre.

Pezman though did offer some RPG examples. The problem though really is that all of them are old; really, really old. When you're making a claim that a character type is not underrepresented, it's good to have somewhat current examples of that type appearing. Locke and Lucca are both old, coming from eleven and ten year old games respectively. Boy, that's not too good a sign. Now, I could be brutal here and just use his examples, but that wouldn't really be fair. It isn't quite that bad. We can point back to Skies of Arcadia, which while it wouldn't be a superb example at least is pretty close, and it's Vyse, only four years back. We could also, if we so choose, pick one of the best and most beloved games of this year, Tales of Symphonia, and note that for all intents and purposes, Lloyd was a fairly heroic character. He was hardly covered with flaws that make one question why the heck he's there or dealing with dozens of things outside of the quest in question. He's also a bit away from the archetypes I was kind of speaking of, but close enough to make me a happy camper. He was also a pretty happy character, which is always a nice touch these days. So, there's a bit of it out there. It's not vanished.

I still hold though that these types of characters are both under-represented in the general scheme of things compared. If I worked, I probably could think of a few more examples over the last half decade. Comparatively, if I worked to think of relatively overtly complicated characters, I could think of hundreds. This though doesn't get at the main response to my editorial. Whether underrepresented or just properly appearing, it was stated that you could not have a simple hero and a rich story. I'd like to disagree with that from two points: A)A story has to be very complex to be enjoyable and B)You cannot have a quality game with a simple character.

Why is the first point important? You didn't really contest it actually in your editorial rebuttal, instead merely making the swipe at 'quality', but I think it's really at the heart of the matter. Games can be deep, games can be shallow, and all manners of inbetween, but one of their first obligations is to be enjoyable. The implication that a story made with a simple character cannot be enjoyable and even further cannot be a quality production is pretty much blatant falsehood. Some of our longest lasting and most beloved stories in history are exactly that, stories about simple heroes covering themes that can continue to touch the heart. These stories have persisted for eons and can claim more popularity and life then many a complicated book. To make a claim that these stories are at odds with either quality or enjoyability is ludicrous. I like my Gandalf the Grays and I think claiming that they don't belong in a game because they are simply heroes and are not buried in complicated woes is crude.

What about the second point? Well, I do think Tales of Symphonia, if it doesn't take game of the year, will come pretty close. I'd note on several sites, Dawn of Souls has been ranked among the top games of the year despite being a new coat of paint on a twenty year old game with larger than life heroes. To claim that the Mario RPGs lack 'quality' in general would be a claim I think many would find funny. Tell me a story about how folks don't find Earthbound awesome in general and aren't pining for the sequel to Brave Fencer Musashi in the forums, a game with a pretty simple character. Better yet, try explaining why the Dragon Quest series or Chrono Trigger, both having simple characters throughout and being among the best selling games in the history of RPGs, lack 'quality' because their characters generally aren't taking five or six psych disadvantages on top of their character concept. In other words, the supposition that quality is directly linked to the complexity of the character is a false supposition.

My basic point behind the first editorial was a nostalgic remembrance of a simple hero and how he contributed to the game and how we see so few of these types these days. I think a lot of people have forgotten that many a good story can be told with those characters and many a more pure story cannot be even touched when every character in the world has to rage like a drunken goth at the world before coming to love it. And yes, I'm being hyperbolic in my comment about complex characters.

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