Saturday, February 19, 2011

Some thoughts on character (part 1)...

Part One: In which there is mostly fangirl squee...

First of a few-parter musing. I've been stewing on a lot of character-related things lately and to put it all in one entry would be far too long. Yay for my first foray into multi-part blogging!
I've never really made a secret of the fact that I am very character-oriented. I wasn't always this way (as evidenced by my flirtations with plot-based outlines) but I'm very firmly convinced that character is key. Plot is certainly vital as well, but you can't have a plot without characters and the plot arises from those characters. You'd be surprised what you can get away with plot-wise if you have characters that an audience can become invested with. Though, on the other hand, you'd be shocked how much you can not get away with character-wise once that investment is made.

A bit of video game talk follows, but I do have a point. I'll get to it eventually, I promise...

Some might remember my ramblings about receiving the sequel to my most favorite video game of all time. I finished it a little while after that and I have to say: I didn't like it as much.

The plot for Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World was quite contrived.  It was rather short comparatively and I hated quite a few of the puzzles. But the real gamebreaker was the cast.

The original Tales of Symphonia wasn't perfect. I hated some of the puzzles in that game too, some of the storyline is painfully predictable, and let's face it, upwards of fifty hours of gameplay (just in the story, not going into sidequests or anything) is a long time to spend with a group of pixelated folks. But you want to spend that time with them, even through the frustrating boss re-fights and pushing oodles of boxes around all the time. Their trials and tribulations are so engaging, the relationships, the friendships, between the group are so endearing, so well-rounded that you just want to see it through to the end, to make sure everything is going to turn out all right.

Dawn of the New World, on the other hand, didn't know what it had. The romantic couple is forced into a relationship almost immediately. It seems like the entire point of the game is to show how perfect they are for one another, and yet... I don't really see the attraction between them. Character development doesn't progress to a point where I could realistically see these characters liking each other. Most of the in-game banter is backbiting, most of the original cast has been flanderized for their cameos and it just seems like the members of the party don't really like each other at all. I didn't feel the tight-knit family atmosphere of the first game, the atmosphere I fell in love with. And because I didn't have that redeeming quality, the game fell through for me.

Do I regret playing it? I don't think so. If I hadn't, I likely would have been driven crazy with curiosity. So if nothing else, it gave me some moments of nostalgia and a few lulz. Would I recommend it? Meh, probably not, or at least not until you've played better Tales games.

Because Tales of Symphonia was not a fluke. A few weeks ago, I bought Tales of the Abyss, another (completely unconnected) game in the series and after many gaming sessions that stretched waaaaaay longer than they should have, I finished it just yesterday.

First, because I am such a fangirl, the intro:
I actually hated the music here the first time I heard it. Used to the lovely orchestrations of the Tales of Symphonia beginning, this rockin' intro was a bit jarring. After a time or two though, it really grew on me and I would actually watch the entire thing every boot up. Plus, this remix later in the game seriously gave me chills.

The story here was far more complex than Tales of Symphonia, with a much darker tone and a whole bunch of international politics and the hard decisions therein. But it all boils down to a young man named Luke and his life after he accidentally gets kidnapped. A lot of debating about person-hood, a lot about trust and friendship, a lot about growing up.

It isn't a perfect game either. I hate hate hate the map, the loading time is a little lengthy and sometimes the story is, again, a little contrived. But again, it is the characters that make it worth sticking around for.

I plowed through this game because I cared so much about them. I wanted to see what was happening to them, why such horrible things were going down and how exactly they were going to go down. Even with the occasionally predicable twist, I cared about the characters. The protagonist starts out as a real jerk. He really does. But he has a heart of gold in there somewhere and it shines through enough that you care about him. You want him to get better and let everyone else see that heart of gold. And so stuff happens to him that breaks away his jerkish exterior. But boy does he suffer in the meantime. There is a lot of death in this game, not all of it anonymous mooks. There were several scenes of genuine heartwrench.

But I kept playing, despite being mildly confused at times, despite the stupid map, because I was watching the characters grow together. Unlike in Dawn, where the characters' awkward "attraction" is shoved down our throats from moment one, these characters start out not liking each other. And they have very good reasons not to like each other. But they grow into it, everyone having to give (some more than others) in order to take. And because there is growth, there is change and because there is change, there is a little leeway in what I am willing to accept from these characters.

These characters can fight and I can't be assured that they will make up. They felt like real people in that sense. And if they were to make up, they would have to apologize and really change. A great deal of the story was about people atoning for their mistakes and mistreatments of the other characters. But not everyone does. Because these were people, not ideals. They went kicking and screaming into their plot and they weren't compliant for one minute of it. And it was awesome.

Part two will hopefully have less of the nerdy game references and more of the actual thoughts on original character development.

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