|The Archer (Maple Story DS)
Maple Story DS is an odd game in that it has four equal-time protagonists following different paths of two intertwining stories, but the Archer definitely deserves special mention out of the four. This is a lady who begins as the ultimate jaded MMORPG character, having fulfilled so many pointless fetch quests for the villagers that she's come to the conclusion that the rest of the world is filled with spineless, gormless, useless pansies who could hardly tie their own shoelaces without filing a quest for help with the local Maple Agency.
She's been at it so long, in fact, that she's the only one of the four protagonists to not start at level 1, but actually level 20. The only reason she does her tutorial area at all is because a nastier-than-normal beastie has wandered in off the mountains, and the village elder wants it taken care of with little muss or fuss, and before any of the skill test applicants get hurt. It's hilarious how she barely swallows her pride through the tutorial exercises, disdainful of both the obstacles and the trainers who are oblivious to her actual status. When practicing her charged arrow shot, for example, she hits the poor mushroom monster so hard that it takes quadruple-digit damage. The trainer's reaction? "Um, that's... wow... really impressive..."
So when she gets word that she has to take a mission to escort a Mage (one of the other protagonists) to the Toy City of Ludibrium in order to save the world, she's equal parts excited and put out. Why, she asks, should she drag around some useless little special snowflake of a wimpy magic user, when she's got all the strength of arm needed to save the world by herself? She sets off by herself, misses meeting the Mage by a few minutes, and actually mugs a poor fairy for an airship ticket to Ludibrium. Three times along the way, she's met by a strange woman who questions her motives and sincerity, and three times the Archer brushes her off.
To Ludibrium, down the tower, and after defeating a boss, the Archer has a nasty shock. The mystery woman is in fact Minerva, tutelary goddess of Maple World, and she is divinely pissed. Pride and disdain were what nearly ruined the world in the far past, Minerva says, and so the Archer will ruin it again unless she gets her act together. Also, that was the goddess's pet that just got perforated by arrows, so that's another strike against the Archer.
ZAP! goes the magic, and our heroine is thrown from the tower to the ground far below, landing in the middle of a war zone as a measly level 1. On this green, grassy plain, Men in Black join forces with the Maple World Defense Force to repel an alien invasion (yes, seriously), and no one has time for a piddly level 1 civilian who's lost her way. The Archer does not take this well.
In fact, she decides to infiltrate the enemy territory, in what has to be one of the most challenging segments of the entire game. She's level 1; the aliens are on average level 15. Arrows do no damage to them, but they can kill her in one hit. For all that, the Archer sneaks through four maps of near-certain death, aggros the alien mothership, and then races BACK through the same maps until she can lure it into range of the MWSDF laser cannon emplacements.
In the aftermath of all the explosions, the Archer gets herself abducted, then released in mid-air, to land in the official newb sector of Maple World. This is the site of the DS standalone game's sole pointless fetch quest, to gather ten snail shells, and what would normally be a time-wasting excuse to make the player spend more time on the game instead turns into a fascinating exercise in humility and introspection.
From this point on, the Archer is given a chance to really develop and figure out what life's all about, so by the time she and the Mage face the final boss of their half of the game, she's truly the hero she assumes herself to be at the start. It's one of the best character arcs I've seen in any game, much less a DS single-player spinoff of an MMORPG, of all things, and my hat goes off to Nexon for managing it so well. — Michael Baker