Monday, September 22, 2014

*grunt*

A good final boss in an RPG should kill you. Once.

Role playing games, especially the more traditional, linear style, have the unique ability of allowing the player to get to know the characters very, very well over a long period of real world time. I have been playing Xillia 2 for around a month, several hours a night, almost without interruption. In that time I have learned about their histories and motivations and all the down to boring details like what their favorite foods are. Seeing them taste defeat, get a real game over screen, is the gut punch that makes the final victory all the better.

Bisley, the head of a giant evil corporation who was obviously going to be your final opponent from the very beginning, does this and does it with style. It is a two stage boss fight - as the second begins he changes form, strolls up to Ludger and punches him for 25,000 damage. It should be noted that my Ludger only had around 5000 hit points so Bisley killed him five time with one hit. It was shocking and demoralizing, but when the game had the decency to restart the battle at the beginning of the second stage I was ready for more.

I am not going to discuss how the game plays or how it looks at any length. It is a Tales game, so the combat is fast and precise and the game looks like a refugee from the final days of the PS2. Good combat cover a multitude of sins but it is not why I stuck with the game for its duration. I liked the characters and the trials they were put through were interesting and heart breaking at the same time. This was true for all of the returning characters, at least. The new ones, specifically the main character, Ludger, was boring and lifeless and he didn't have to be.

Ludger was, by design, almost voiceless. His major dialogue choices were made by the player and not voice acted and most of his cut scene interactions were limited to guttural sounds. I mean this literally: bad things happened and he grunted in a vaguely pained way. I suppose this was done to try to inject the player into the story, to be playing as Ludger instead of observing him, but it didn't work. Long form RPGs usually put players into an omniscient role. The player sees the good guys and the bad guys and that is how the story progresses. In Xillia 2 the player was indeed all knowing and I what I knew from the outset was that Ludger was boring.

The same can be said for Ludger's brother, Julious. Julious is introduced as an over protective know it all and he just gets worse as the story progresses. The player never has any empathy for him because his motivations are never explained or even hinted at. Without spoiling too much, Julious makes a tremendous sacrifice near the end of the game and it is not nearly as emotional as it could be because I didn't care about Julious and Ludger never said anything to convey that he cared, either. It was a wasted moment.

There was potential here to hit the same tear jerking levels as Lost Odyssey, Eternal Sonata or *sniff* Shadow Hearts: Covenant. Had one of the characters from the first game been affected I may have been a mess. Instead I focused on the continued tragic relationship between Jude and Milla and how Gaius had gone from homicidal despot to benevolent king who spends his free time drinking with his subjects. I didn't care about Ludger because he was an incomplete character.

It was an interesting idea. The good from the game far out weighs the bad but the jaded gamer in me has a hard time getting past things that I think could have been better. Arm chair game development, I am guilty of it constantly. All the best parts were in the fractured dimensions. Returning characters were put through impossible what if scenarios. Ludger met an evil version of himself and the evil version was more fleshed out in his hour of screen time because he had lines.

Enough bitching. Xillia 2 is the only traditional RPG I will get to play this year. Tales of Zesteria is now the only reason I still own a PS3, assuming it ever comes out. I need to enjoy every last second of this dying genre that I can.

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