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Tales of Graces - Why Must JRPGs Have Such Dumb Writing?
Okay. Okay. Okay. Let me just settle a few things first. Tales of Graces is fun. It's fun! It's a Tales game, which means it's a Japanese RPG with an action-based combat system that up to four people can play cooperatively. There are titles to be gained through all sorts of methods, and there's leveling up, and there's money, and a little crafting, and a few neat little subsystems. Graphics are good, sound is good, music is good. The voice acting is quite nice, and the plot was even kind of dark and rough for awhile (though that disappeared, of course).

But that's not why I'm here. This is part two in my "Why Must JRPGs Have Such Dumb Writing?" series, part one being courtesy of Xenoblade Chronicles. The two bits of writing that piss me off are so very similar despite being different, which makes me think this is some sort of genre or cultural thing. I've seen similar shit in anime, so, I don't know. Maybe there's a connection there.

So let's talk about this bullshit, shall we? Again, to do it, I'm going to need to ruin pretty much everything for you. If you care, leave now.

In Tales of Graces, the main character, Asbel, befriends the prince, Richard, and a girl of unknown origin and strange behavior, Sophie. The three of them hang out as kids for approximately one day, go through some trying circumstances, and form a friendship pact, which involves carving their names into a tree. Bad stuff happens, the group gets separated, and life goes on.

Seven years later, it is revealed that Richard is possessed by Lambda, an (are you ready for this shocking surprise?) ancient being that aims to destroy all life, and that Sophie is Protoss Heis, a robotic humanoid created with the sole purpose of killing Lambda. She's also the only one who can do so (or so she and others tell us).

Richard goes around, absorbing power and throwing the world into chaos. Eventually he forms a cocoon over the source of all life on the planet, with the goal being that he will destroy all life on the planet (let's reiterate: he will destroy all life on the planet) when he finishes transforming and descends to the planet's core.

With me so far? It's goofy, it's dumb, it's trite, and it's a plot JRPGs have done to death and back twenty times, but it has yet to elevate itself - or plunge itself, I guess - to new levels of stupidity.

That begins when Asbel insists that he will not kill Richard, the man possessed by the being set on killing all life on the planet. He will not kill Richard because he doesn't want to kill Richard. Even though the thing possessing Richard will destroy all life on the planet. Including, probably, Richard. And why? Because they spent that one day together seven years ago. Naturally.

It fell to the level of face-in-palm, hit-X-as-fast-as-possible, please-make-it-stop bad after a boss fight showdown, though. Sophie tried to kill Richard / Lambda, even though it would mean her death, because he was going to destroy all life on the planet, and because it was her purpose, and because she had the opportunity. Asbel stopped her, though, because he didn't want her to kill Richard. And because he didn't want to lose her.

I mean, never mind the fucking fact that Richard / Lambda was going to destroy all fucking life on the fucking planet, including Asbel, including Sophie, and including everyone else he loved. I mean, hey, why go through the pain of losing someone dear to you when you could just have all life obliterated? Makes perfect sense. Don't kill that one guy that I hung out with for a day seven years ago! Better to have him, you know, destroy all life. Clearly the better option, as Asbel screamed at Sophie for a long, face-palm-worthy scene that I fast-forwarded through as quickly as possible.

And the worst part of this all? Because this is a typical JRPG, I'm sure that Asbel will find a way to save Richard, save Sophie, defeat Lambda, and make everything okay in the world.

There will be no discussion of the harsh realities of war, no coping with the fact that, in times of great conflict, people - even people who matter to you - will die. There will be no wrenching scene in which you are forced to do something you don't want to, something painful to you, because it's necessary. There will be no weighing of what you want against the greater good. There will be no philosophical points or questions, no emotional impact. The game will end up being a perfect example of wasted opportunity, of avoidance of anything meaningful, controversial, or thoughtful, of why video games are still in the Art Ghetto, of why they're still juvenile throwaway entertainment, of why they're not taken seriously.

Or I could be wrong. But I bet I won't be.

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