There’s a part of me that wants to see Platinum Games make a character action game based on Modern Family.
I’m not just saying that because Platinum makes some of the best games around. Nor am I saying it just because I started watching Modern Family (reruns, mostly) semi-recently. It comes from an honest belief that the show utilizes its characters much better than I would have guessed. We’re talking about a cast of eleven -- a full dozen once new kid Joe starts talking -- with episodes that feature as many as five plots running simultaneously. It’s consistently funny, and that’s largely because it follows the golden rule: characters create opportunities. Plus it can get pretty freaking absurd.
So yes, I want to see more of them, and I think that it’d be nuts to see what Platinum could do for them. Yeah, Modern Family’s not exactly fight-intensive, but imagining the possibilities puts a smile on my face. What if Phil had to stave off an attack from lonely magicians with trapeze skills? What if Jay did sick dog combos to be graded Pure Platinum by a panel of judges? What if Cam had a Devil Trigger that turned him into his clown persona? I could go on, but the point is that there’s so much that can be done with characters -- and whether they’re given the Platinum touch or not, the guys behind Modern Family have done enough. They get the importance of good characters.
Squeenix, however, does not.
Part 4: It’s All About Me
(Or: Pretty Boy Yells at Cloud)
I’ve belabored this point before, but I can’t stress enough how utterly disappointing it is -- if not outright infuriating -- that there are fourteen members of Class Zero, but none of them get any major characterization beyond the occasional quirk. And sometimes not even that; I can’t help but wonder if King doesn’t talk because he’s the quiet type, or because that way the devs could skimp out on having him contribute anything to the story. I mean, I was so ready to save Rubrum with my band of brothers and sisters. I really was. But after some twenty-five plus hours of gameplay, it’s been a damn miracle that I saw any of these characters in a single cutscene.
They are in there, of course. You can find them if you scour Akademeia obsessively. But even then, the interactions last for less than a minute. In a lot of cases, they’re just there to reinforce quirks and archetypes. Nine is dumb. Cinque is dumber. Queen is straight-laced. Trey is a know-it-all. Sice is cynical. Shit, I haven’t gotten anything with Eight, and he’s my favorite of the bunch…which is only because he’s got my favorite fighting style.
It’s as if there was a stark refusal to give these people a character -- as if they wanted to make less fleshed-out fighters than Street Fighter’s world warriors. I’m not even joking; if you look at the character tab of the game’s TV Tropes page, any one of Class Zero’s cadets have less to describe them than any one of the characters in the much-maligned “it’s just a bunch of 3D boobs” Senran Kagura. How do you fail that hard? It’s actually quite simple. First, don’t give any of the characters arcs, conflicts, or scenes to develop. Second, have the moments where they could flesh themselves out be contained in a twenty-second pan across a classroom scene -- where the dialogue therein can be repeated at least twice in a row. Third, gear the story in such a way that there are no personal stakes, but deny any compensation on a larger scale by making everything outside Akademeia’s walls borderline background noise. There you go. Great success!
But maybe that’s too harsh. I mean, I’m getting a little too hasty there. To the game’s credit, there are two characters out of the class that get their due focus. The problem is that they’re not only the absolute worst characters to focus on, but the worst characters in the game -- and very nearly some of the worst I’ve ever seen in an RPG. And yet, ironically, they get no development beyond being the characters focused on the most. Probably because they're terrible…but you didn’t hear that from me.
So. Let’s talk about Rem Tokimiya and Machina Kunagiri.
I had a sinking feeling in my stomach in Rem’s very first scene -- the reason being that in her introduction, she keels over from sickness and needs to be coddled by Machina, only to act all cheery and say everything is fine. Given that Type-0 is allergic to character development, there are only three things I can say conclusively about Rem:
1) She’s nice.
2) She’s sick.
3) She’s Machina’s childhood friend.
That’s really the gist of it. Well, I guess you could add “is cute” to that list, but A) this is a Squeenix game, so it’s a generic, engineered cuteness, and B) I’ve always thought that there’s something unsettlingly dopey about the way she looks -- like she’s been over-engineered. Whatever the case, even anyone who missed the opening cutscene can find out fairly easily that Rem has a terminal illness, but she chooses to die fighting instead of in some bed. An admirable effort, sure, but it doesn’t take a genius to start unpacking all of the problems.
Rem may have good intentions, but it is INCREDIBLY irresponsible for her to go out on the battlefield in her condition -- especially since she expressly refuses to tell anyone about her bad case of melodramatoxosis. What would happen if she was in the middle of a mission, but suddenly her squad had to come to a halt to tend to her because she suddenly had an episode? It actually does sort of happen in-game, but she shrugs it off as an asthma attack. As if that makes things better.
Rem, even if you want to fight, do you not understand that you’re putting your comrades’ lives at risk? If Jack and Sice land in a bad spot and need you to rescue them, what happens if you start coughing up blood and need to rest? What if because you couldn’t get to them in time, they end up captured and tortured to learn Rubrum’s secrets? Is it worth it to do what you want when “what you want” means risking the lives of your friends and your country?
I also have to question the logic of her superiors here. It’s revealed fairly early on (if it wasn’t obvious already) that she and Machina were added to Class Zero to act as spies. Soooooooo…did her superiors put her, the girl who’s dying and needs medication just to stay standing, in a situation where she would constantly be forced into combat? You can’t even join the Air Force if your vision isn’t good enough, so why would the on-the-ropes Rubrum add a dying girl to their ace in the hole?
Squeenix has immensely overestimated the goodwill Rem would generate. Like a lot of (terrible) characters, she isn’t someone we should respect or even enjoy; she’s someone we should feel sorry for. Take pity for. Isn’t this character so brave and selfless and pure by putting what remains of her life on the line? Hell no. She’s being selfish and short-sighted; she’s adding risks that don’t have to be there. But that point is entirely glossed over in the game (much like everything else). Instead, Type-0 would sooner have you believe that Rem is Jesus in a plaid skirt and tights.
You have no idea how much I wish I was joking. Rem gets a disproportionate amount of events focused on or discussing her, and they all amount to nothing. One NPC after another brings her up in conversation; girls will mention how nice and helpful she is, and boys will go gaga over the supposed school idol. It’d be an easier pill to swallow if we actually got to SEE THAT instead of having that TOLD to us, but that’s just how this game works. Her dialogue -- such as it is -- exists to reaffirm two things: she’s sick, and she’s nice. “Don’t worry, I’m fine. Tee hee.” Ad nauseum.
She might also be one of the strongest characters in the game.
If you read the last post, you may have noted that I left off a couple of characters in my little rundown. That’s because I focused on Class Zero; story-wise, Rem and Machina aren’t a part of the original bunch, and may as well be traitors for all the good they’ve done. Moreover, they’re just so awful that I can’t consider them as part of the core cast -- even if they’re ostensibly the two main characters. (Spoony had it right; practically every FF after 9 has had serious problems deciding just who the lead is, and have been poorer for it.)
Whatever the case, Rem. She’s a dagger-wielder whose attack string is…well, it doesn’t feel good. It’s this weird, floaty mess of slashes that has her zipping and blurring about, which means that trying to land Killsights with her becomes a matter of luck. It’s the same problem as Kingdom Hearts II and Dissidia -- there’s so much over-animation that all of the attacks melt into each other and it makes everything feel unresponsive. It doesn’t even look that good, because the HD edition of Type-0 adds an insane amount of motion-blur -- and guess what Rem’s doing constantly with her boosh-boosh-boosh flurry?
The wiki implies heavily that Rem is the game’s best magic user (because of course she is), so I guess that takes the guesswork out of her melee attacks. I’ve kept her on the benches for as long as I could, but I don’t have any problems thinking the wiki is right -- the reason being that early on she unlocks an ability that refills the party’s MP. She has to drain her ability meter to do it, but A) that happens at a slower rate than you’d expect, and B) the only comparable move -- that I know of -- belongs to Queen, and her version drains HP instead. Sorry, Queen; you’re just not pure enough.
What really gets to me (besides, you know, everything else) is that Rem’s gameplay is at odds with Rem’s story. Even if you set aside the fact that she has this disease, an early conversation states that she has to take medicine to stay stable, and
as the game’s premiere martyr she’ll be in excruciating
pain every night. So why the hell does
her style make her so ridiculously mobile?
Why does her version of the Dodge Roll let her fly through the air like she’s doing her best impression of a cruise missile? Even if it’s not done solely through physical means and/or via magic instead, that implies that it’s taking mental energy -- and that means at the very least she’s putting stress on her mind (not to mention that using magic could still very easily take a physical toll on her).
All the devs had to do was swap her weapon. Give the daggers to Cater, and make Rem a sniper; not only would it make sense story-wise, but if she really is the dedicated magic user -- and magic takes time to charge in this game -- then she would serve her role better from the rear instead of fighting on the front lines. There. Simple. Stop trying to shove this character and my face and convince me she’s cool. It’s not going to work.
And then there’s Machina.
Remember what I said in an earlier post? About how I wanted the characters to be cut off from their superiors and forced to tough it out on their own? And for them to decide the tone and add the drama on their own terms? That actually happened…for about ten minutes. They spend ten minutes in game time cut off from Akademeia, stuck in enemy territory, only for them to receive a transmission that an airship would come pick them up. They just had to take a short hike across the world map. Which I did. Which cut all of their conversations short. Which took me right back to No-Stakes High.
I’m actually not all that hung-up about it, though. The context prior to it not only soured me on the experience, but in a single masterstroke soured me on the entire game. I genuinely considered dropping Type-0 right then and there and go back to playing Smash Bros. Or Wind Waker. Or any number of good Platinum games. It’s been a while since I’ve been this pissed off at a game, but if anyone could do it, it’s the double team of Squeenix and Machina Kunagiri. And I guess it’s up to me to explain why.
Whereas most of the other characters at least have quirks and archetypes to go by, Machina doesn’t have anything. He’s just kind of there, as the generic hero. He gets some scenes to himself as well, but unless they’re related to one of the game’s major subplots, they’re insubstantial (and even then…). The subplot in question: Izana Kunagiri, Machina’s older brother, was the one KIA in the game’s opening hours, and the rest of Class Zero has to deal with the ramifications along with the player. And by “the rest of Class Zero” I mean Ace and Machina.
There’s a quirk of the game’s world I’ll have to come back to another time, but for now it’s worth noting that Izana is handled in a good way and a bad way. Ace handles things the good way; he dreams about prior encounters with Izana at Akademeia’s chocobo ranch, which adds some flavor to both of them. We get to see what sort of person the elder brother was -- a good guy who died fighting for the sake of pride and envy as much as for his country -- and we get to see Ace acting and reacting sensibly. Like a normal person, relative to his status and situation. There’s something strangely mature about the character that makes him feel less like the typical JRPG hero and more like a seasoned soldier; in a different world, he’d definitively be the main character, and his game would be better for it.
But the problem is that we have to view the story from behind Machina’s back -- and he goes from having no personality for about twenty hours to having the worst personality you could ever imagine. I guess if I absolutely had to, I could deal with him being a mole for Class Zero (even though there’s been no indication or need for treachery on their part), but the problem is that everything about him is based on the faultiest logic imaginable. Or in fewer words: Machina’s an idiot.
He gets told by some sleazy commandant that the higher-ups know he’s been looking for info on his dead brother. As such, the commandant explains it flat-out…or rather, in the most loaded language possible. He says that Izana was pulled into the mission for the sake of Class Zero, and declares that it was actually Class Zero that killed Izana. It only took me a fifth of a second to say “That’s not even remotely true, and you’re probably one of the bad guys”; Machina, on the other hand, buys into it one hundred percent. “Class Zero killed him?” he asks, using some dopey tone as if this is some major revelation.
He doesn’t even give it a second thought. He doesn’t think about who this information is coming from and what the intent behind it might be; the commandant is a man who doesn’t trust Class Zero because reasons, and wants to keep his spies on a leash. He’s not exactly a neutral party in this situation. But in the span of a few minutes, Machina goes from being a borderline background character to a moron who rages at Class Zero -- and directly accuses them of killing his brother.
Where. The hell. Do I even. Begin?
All right, look. I get what they were going for. Machina’s hurting over the loss of his brother; he’s frustrated and confused, and he needs something to rage at for a little while. But for fuck’s sake, guy! If you’re going to rage, rage at the right target! Class Zero didn’t kill your brother. The Militesi Empire did -- the guys who invaded your country, razed your villages, and came within inches of turning your academy into powder.
Further, Class Zero doesn’t have the authority to decide who goes into battles and who doesn’t; they’re just grunts, albeit elite ones, who just follow orders. So why blame them when they’ve done nothing but try to defend their homeland? Why blame them when there’s an enemy you have to project your hate onto within spitting distance? Why blame them when it was your brother who willingly became a part of Rubrum’s army and knew the risks going in? Why blame them when not one of the cadets has shown anything resembling malice or hatred toward their countrymen -- when more than half of them are genuinely nice people, and at least two of them are too stupid to consider treachery?
Compounding all of this is a matter of timing. After a good twenty hours of being silent on the matter, Machina suddenly decides to lash out at Ace and the others over something that isn’t remotely their fault. Two problems, of course; the first is that Machina’s blow-up is following one mission after another where Class Zero has come together to beat back the empire -- meaning that even if we haven’t seen the bonding happen (RRRRRRRRRRRGH), a player can still assume that it happened off-screen. Machina’s decided to say screw you to all of that just ‘cause the game “needs” a shot of melodrama.
But the second problem is much bigger. This goes back to the whole “I want Class Zero to be on their own” thing; I’ll save the details for another post, but the end result is that Machina throws a fit and decides to storm off. Yes, that’s right: Machina storms off. Machina storms off, while Class Zero is in enemy territory -- so basically, he abandons the only people who could possibly save him if he lands in trouble, because of something they had virtually no power over, because somebody who doesn’t have his best interests at heart decided to manipulate him, because he’s an idiot.
It’s worth noting that in this scene, Queen calls Machina out and tells him to stop being such a shit. Almost immediately after, I put her in my main party. It was the only way I could possibly pay my respects to her -- though my opinion of her did jump up about a dozen slots.
I’d call what happened a “character assassination”, but that would imply that Machina had a character to begin with and wasn’t just a vessel for angst and poor decisions. On the other hand, this isn’t the first time he’s displayed sub-protozoan levels of intelligence. I doubt it’ll be the last; as of writing, he’s missing from the party, and my guess is that it’s going to be either him or Rem that screws things up for everybody just ‘cause. (I have a theory about the prophesized “terrible ending”, but I only have it because it’s the stupidest thing imaginable.)
He gets all huffy over the fact that a ceasefire gets called during a mission at an enemy R&D lab, which might have hurt the empire’s offense…which ignores the fact that A) Class Zero already did more than enough damage to the lab, and B) prior to getting called back, the player has to face an unwinnable boss fight -- meaning that going back to that place (or staying there) meant facing certain death.
The only other defining trait Machina has is that he’s obsessively protective of Rem. He says he’ll be the spy on her behalf, even though she’s already been added to Class Zero (and Machina actually sucks at his spy duties, considering that he turns up nothing). Every other line he has is about how much he wants to protect Rem, or how much he worries about Rem. Caring about someone is fine, of course, but the way the game plays it, Machina would only be at ease if she was locked up in a tower somewhere.
Beyond that, not one bit of their relationship is earned; in the fashion of the average harem anime, Machina and Rem are childhood friends -- which equates to “we don’t have to do anything to show how or why they care about each other, ‘cause that’s all in the past so shut up.” All that’s missing is a shot of Rem blushing and going all deredere. And also panty shots for some reason.
Oh wait, this game actually made it a point to give all the girls different (and visible) panties. Shit, we’ve got a masterpiece on our hands!
I don’t understand the thought process here. There are fourteen playable characters, and one of them, at the absolute least, has the potential to be good -- and make the game good along with it. Why in the world would the devs choose to focus the story on two of the blandest characters of the bunch? Why would it proceed to ruin them further by making them based on some of the most contrived and ludicrous circumstances possible? If they needed to add in a surrogate character or two, that’s fine -- but the whole point of surrogates is that they make sense to the audience. That’s who they imprint on, and understand without a hassle. How can anyone understand Rem and Machina when nothing about them makes sense?
But yes, these are the game’s main characters. Machina doubles down on that with the gameplay; with his two swords, his biggest weakness is that he’s not the fastest fighter -- and even then he’s still able to move at a standard clip. He’s got good range, he’s got good power, he’s got good magic, and one of his techniques -- his starting one -- might as well be an instant kill for all the power it’s packing. But on top of all that, Machina has a move called Awakening; in a nutshell, it heals him fully, gives him a buff to his speed and power, and changes his melee hits so that he attacks at a frantic rate.
So basically, they gave a character with no weaknesses an X-Factor. Because that’s fair.
At best, Machina and Rem are a couple of “safe” characters. He’s the generic hero; she’s the generic heroine. (That goes double for Rem, because Class Zero already has the “nice girl” archetype in Deuce and ostensibly Seven.) Characters like these aren’t a problem exclusive to Squeenix games, but seeing them pop up in a Final Fantasy game -- let alone this one -- is still a borderline insult. They had this interesting premise filled with all of these possibilities, but they didn’t capitalize on it. I’m not mad at them because they focused the game on these characters; I’m mad at them because they focused the game on these characters, and made them terrible.
But hey. There’s always the gameplay, right? I mean, that battle system is pretty cool. There’s no way it’ll let me down in the future, so long as I get to punch mechs and do sick dodge rolls. Right?
*prepares to check blood pressure*