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Character Development

Character Development

If you haven’t yet, it’d likely be prudent to check out the first article in this series; it provides a proper context for what you’re about to read. You may also wish to read the previous article.

WARNING! MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT!

The following article contains massive spoilers for many of the games involved. Before reading, it might be prudent for you to check the works cited at the end, to see which games I’ll be covering, so that you can avoid them should you have any intention of playing them. You have been warned. In bright red.

Creating characters that are truly great is far more difficult than one might initially imagine.  The characters of a story – in any medium – are their own individual entities; people of their own accord.  To be believable, they must not be the one-dimensional stereotypes we are so used to seeing: the plucky, young hero; the silent colossus; the cheerleader; and the tomboy princess, just to name a few.  Real people are not so simplistic, and so, characters need to have more than one personality trait.  Little quirks are insufficient, too; tell me, do you have only one interest – a single goal – in your life?  Of course not!  I enjoy gaming, writing, cleaning, cooking, and backbreaking physical labor; I’m anti-social, sometimes elegant, sometimes a smartass, and my moods aren’t so much swings as a carousel.  The point I’m making is that I’m more than just “Some unrefined country girl.”  There’s a lot more to my than my character archetype; I could write a novel about myself, and you probably could, too.  Making a great character requires capturing that, which is difficult to do in the context of the whole “saving the world” thing.

This is the problem that writers for video games face: characters are not only individual people with hopes and dreams, but also the driving force of the conflict’s resolution.  Every character is focusing upon the same goal, and that makes it easy for them to get swept up in that.  It’s hard for them to express their individuality in its entirety when the evil demon lord has covered the skies in lightning and piranhas; you’d be a little single-minded, too.  So, sometimes, we have to take characters in a video game for what they are.  This, however, does not prevent them from becoming great.  We go through phases, too; just the other week, I had become so fixated upon ice cream – a desert of which I’m usually not terribly fond – that my lady and I went into town late at night just to pick up pints of ice cream, which I devoured in about half an hour.  With this in mind, it becomes more acceptable for a character to get so caught up in something that it affects his or her personality, altering what we – the players – get to see.  It is best, and perhaps even necessary, to judge character development within the context both of the medium and the game itself.  As the characters drive the story, so does the story shape the characters.

Characters can sometimes be great without doing any of this, however.  Alis from Phantasy Star is a great example of a character who is well remembered despite being a relatively undeveloped character, who winds up saving the world as a byproduct of avenging her brother’s death.  Why is this?  Because she’s a woman.  Just to be clear, I’m not some sort of female fangirl; one who has an obsession with all things female.  Okay, maybe that’s not entirely true, but I can step back from that and look at things a bit more objectively.  While I love being many of the things that typically considered feminine, in a more grounded sense, I’m a vocational virtue feminist; I believe that both genders are equal.  The fact that Alis is the female protagonist in an RPG made in 1987 is incredible on its own, but the fact that she is treated no differently because of it is truly progressive.  They don’t make her overly emotional, or someone too physically weak to fulfill any role other than party healer; she’s the same generic RPG protagonist that you play in the first Dragon Warrior.  As with different races in video games, I think it’s important to treat different genders as nothing more than how the character looks and sounds, unless the game’s goal is to address serious gender issues.

She’s even fully clothed; battle-ready, but still feminine

Sometimes, you like a character just because he or she is screamingly cool.  Fou-Lu, the God Emperor from Breath of Fire 4 is one such example.  People like to call him a Sephiroth clone because he has long, silver hair, but that’s where the similarities end.  He’s no mama’s boy that has a total meltdown because he’s not human; he knows he’s not human, and he’s a man about it.  An insanely powerful, elegant, eloquent, graceful, demigod of a man, who turns into a dragon at will.  Oh, and he speaks the old tongue; that alone is enough to make me swoon.  He’s not the typical antagonist in that he’s not out to destroy the world or to own it; he was the first emperor, and he’s out to reclaim his throne, which was only loaned to the humans who served him while he slumbered.  He’s made the decision to lie dormant until his other half came into the world, at which time, he would blend with said other half (the protagonist) and rule his empire.  The problem is that the humans left to keep his seat warm have grown greedy, lecherous, gluttonous, and all-around morally decadent, using their power not simply to rule, but to grab more worldly pleasures for themselves.  By the time Fou-Lu returns to the imperial capital, he is so hell-bent upon punishing the stupid humans for their disrespect that he goes a little crazy and tries to wipe them all out, ripping the head off of the current emperor without batting a gorgeous eyelash.  Well, you can’t have the antagonist being completely in the right when it’s your goal to stop him, now can you?  Up until his final lapse in judgment, though, he is a wise, kind, caring man who would’ve made a great ruler.

Fou-Lu awakens from his long slumber

Speaking of corrupt rulers twisting men who make me swoon (without reducing my HP to zero), Cecil Harvey of Final Fantasy 4 is one of my favorite video game characters of all time.  When I was just a child, I watched my grandfather play the game, and even though I was too young to truly understand Cecil, he was my hero.  I suppose part of that was the fact that all of the RPGs I’d seen up to that point featured silent protagonists with no personality, but Cecil really struck a chord with me.  As I matured, I came to appreciate not only the depth, but also the nobility of his character.  He began the game having a serious internal conflict; the king he loyally served was attacking innocent kingdoms to steal their crystals.  It became readily apparent that Cecil hated himself for what he did in the village of Mysidia.  While most plucky, young heroes would have immediately chosen to defy authority and save the world with the power of love and friendship, Cecil actually has depth to his character.  He’s a man of integrity, which makes this dilemma a lot more difficult for him; he can’t go on using the world’s most powerful army to rob weaker nations just to gain more power for the hegemony that already is the Kingdom of Baron, nor can he just break off his loyalty with the nation he had served his entire life, for that is just as much a part of his integrity.  The decision is eventually made for him when he tries to reason with his king, who rewards such good intentions by stripping him of the title “Captain of the Red Wings”, and sends him on a suicide mission to wipe out another small village of innocent people.

What makes Cecil truly unique is how he deals with his past transgressions.  It’s not something he does, feels bad about, and then just totally forgets for the rest of the game.  He never forgives himself for the awful deeds that he has done, and he knows that nothing he ever does, no matter how beneficial to those he has hurt, will ever justify or change what he has done to them; it would be nothing short of arrogant to forgive himself.  That never cause him to stop what he’s doing and mope about it, though; he carries on, dragging the burden of self-loathing with him, like a boulder chained to his waist.  He treats the – now orphaned due to his unwitting actions – young girl, Rydia like his own daughter, insisting upon protecting her at all costs, even if she hates him, which is why she eventually comes to realize the nobility of his character.  When the people of Mysidia sent him to Mt. Ordeals, they sent Palom and Porom along, and when the elder apologetically tells him that they were spies all along, his response is, “I deserve it.”  When it is revealed that Golbez, the game’s antagonist, is his own brother and was manipulated into attempting to wipe out the earth, Cecil instantly forgives him and recognizes him as a brother.  Golbez has much the same personality as his brother, but we don’t get to see it as much, since the time he spends within the game during which he has all of his faculties is very short.  The two of them are great aspiration figures for everyone; regardless of your past, you should try to be the best person you can possibly be, but never be so arrogant as to forgive yourself for any atrocities you’ve committed.

Even after he becomes a Paladin and is forgiven by all, he never forgives himself

Breath of Fire 2’s Nina has a similar personality, though the atrocities of her past were committed against her, not by her.  She was born with beautiful black wings, which was a portent of disaster in the kingdom of Wyndia.  She was to be executed, but the king, not having the heart to kill his own daughter, sent her into exile instead.  How long she spent in the castle before this happened is unclear, but she was there long enough to have gotten to know her little sister, who was kept blissfully unaware of the whole situation.  Nina is not the slightest bit bitter about any of this, and loves her family dearly.  She stormed the bandits’ hideout to rescue her little sister, and when she escorted her back to the kindgom, she pretended not to know the king and queen, feigning that she was merely a traveler, so as not to reveal what they had done.  When the Great Bird was needed to progress in the adventure, Nina volunteered to sacrifice herself to become your flying vessel, but things only got worse for her when her sister locked herself in the chamber and became the Great Bird instead.  Nina’s character is so incredibly sad not only because of the horrible things that have happened to her over her life, but also that they were all entirely beyond her control; I can certainly relate to someone whose life was rough just because of the way she was born.  Even her portrait in the menu looks very sad; you can tell just by looking at her that she just wants to lie down and die in her sleep, but she keeps pushing on because there are more important issues than her own sadness.  When a sad beauty in a sixteen-bit video game makes you want to jump into your screen and give her a reassuring hug, you know you’re doing something right with your character development.

I know what it’s like to spend your life as a sad freak of nature

Another character doomed to sadness from birth is Terra from Final Fantasy 6Final Fantasy 6 is a very sad game, and a large portion of this sadness comes from Terra’s story.  The world had been ravaged by warfare between two species: the humans and the espers.  After the war was over, the espers sealed themselves away from humans, knowing that the two could not peacefully coexist.  One day, a human woman came through the gate, and one of the espers fell in love with her.  The child they had together was Terra, a hybrid of the two species that could not coexist.  The empire stormed the espers’ world not long after her birth, and abducted her, soon utilizing her special powers for world domination.  A long chain of events leads to an awakening from her hypnotic state, and she is forced to confront not only the horrible things she has done, but also an identity crisis.  She is the only one in the entire world of the humans with the ability to use magic from birth, and as such, people treat her very differently once they find out about it.  She feels like she doesn’t fit in with either humans or espers, and she worries that she will never find love.  She quickly comes to terms with the many she has killed, since she was unable to think and feel for herself while she was doing so, due to a device known as the Slave Crown, but an identity crisis isn’t going to resolve itself.  Well, Kefka goes and destroys the world, and Terra is left to care for a village of orphans, who call her Mama Terra.  The village suffers frequent raids at the hands of the demon, Phunbaba, and she is forced to protect the children.  When the rest of the party meets her, she says that she no longer has the will to fight.  Phunbaba attacks, and they are forced to fend him off.  Upon a later visit, however, Phunbaba proves to be too much for the party, and Terra, complete in her esper form, comes in to save the day.  She finally comes to understand that her status as a hybrid is meaningless in the grand scheme of things, and that the best thing for her to do is to destroy Kefka and make the world a place in which it is worthwhile to live, for her children, and for everyone.

Development in a character can create depth, but if it is handled poorly, it can break the entire story.  When I first began Final Fantasy 8, I had mixed feelings about Squall Leonheart.  On one hand, he was very logical, even to the point of being socially inappropriate.  While this might seem like a negative attribute, I really liked that about him.  He wasn’t bound to social conventions; he always thought in a way that made perfect sense to me.  When he was injured fighting his rival, Seifer, his teacher asked him if he had a good excuse, and instead of making up some bullspit line, he responded, “Not really.”  On the other hand, his honesty was sometimes too brutal.  The aforementioned teacher, Quistis Trepe, who was very kind and patient with him, met him in a secluded place and bared her soul to him, and her reward for giving him a piece of herself was that he snapped at her, telling her he didn’t care about her feelings; he’s kind of a jerk sometimes.  He’s like this for the entire first half of the game.  Very early on, he meets Rinoa Heartily, his polar opposite.  She flirts with him, and despite his disinterest, she grabs him by the arm and drags him onto the dance floor.  She keeps up this sort of behavior and while she’s clearly smitten with him, he just thinks she’s annoying and childish (and I’m inclined to agree).  There’s one point at which she falls into a coma, and he has to take her to someone who can bring her out of it.  This leads to a long scene of him carrying her along the railroad tracks, having this long inner monologue about how he can’t live without her, and how he just wants her to wake up so he can hear her voice again.  Wait, WHAT!?  Didn’t he just hate her, like, five minutes ago!?  From whence came this complete reversal of his opinion of her?  Did the writers just forget his personality?  Perhaps we will never know, but the developers were apparently proud enough of their relationship that they made it the logo of the game, just like how the planetdestroying meteor (kind of a big deal) was for Final Fantasy 7.  I am flabbergasted.

Oh man, I don’t even get to enjoy the title screen.

Love is a theme that has been done to death.  It seems like every game, movie, and song you hear on the radio shoves love into itself somehow, even though, to them, love just means having “meaningful” sex with someone.  Love is about devotion; if you’re using love as an active verb, rather than as a passive one, the four-letter word you seek is lust.  At any rate, I own some Pop CDs and a copy of Amelie, so I don’t inherently hate love as a theme – not to mention that I’ve been with the same woman for ten years, six of which we’ve spent living together – but it has to be done properly.  While Final Fantasy 8 really blew it in this regard, there have been games that handled the love thing quite well.  Legend of Dragoon tried a staggering number of times, and it got at least one of them right.  It has its fair share of poorly-conceived love stories, like Lloyd and Wink’s “damsel in distress” scenario or, worst of the bunch, Dart and Shana’s brother/sister relationship that turns into them becoming a couple because everyone else tells them to.  There is, however, one relationship that seems very genuine, and that is the one between Zeig and my favorite character of the game, Rose.  Rose is this mysterious badass that saves your hide on more than one occasion; she’s serious, cynical (she makes a crack about convenience when you get your last party member’s Dragoon Spirit), and very much unlike most any character you will meet in a video game.  At any rate, while our exposure to it is fleeting, her relationship with Zeig was one of deep love.  They’re like that married couple you know that are in their late forties and still all about each other; it’s true love.  Their being reunited with one another after so long is what makes the ending one of the most bittersweet you’ll see this side of Terranigma.

Another well-crafted love story that comes to mind is that of Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinestrals.  Now, if you’ve played Lufia and the Fortress of Doom, the game’s predecessor, you already know how Lufia 2 is going to end, since it’s a prequel.  The first game began with this epic (and I don’t use that word as lightly as the rest of the Internet) battle on a floating island, which ends with the deaths of Maxim and Selan, who are husband and wife.  You begin the prequel knowing that from the very beginning, but the game does an excellent job of making you care deeply about both of them by its end.  While the story itself is absolutely nothing special, it is the character development that really makes the game shine from the perspective of scenario.  Maxim is a noble warrior with a formal nature, and Selan is a battle-hardened general who, despite her tough exterior, is very wise and loving.  Not only do the characters really grow on you, but their relationship does as well.  They get into a really tight spot, in which Maxim almost dies, and they’re so relieved to see each other that they get married almost immediately afterwards, and have a child shortly thereafter.  Disaster strikes, even worse than before, and they head out to stop it to create a better future for the world and for their newborn child.  Their relationship is still very young, though, so you get to see them go through their “post-marriage, getting to really know each other” phase as the quests come and go.  They have their occasional squabbles, but always wind up back in each other’s arms.  I knew all along that they were both going to die, but when it finally came, I couldn’t help but get a little choked up when Maxim gave the last of his life to stop Doom Island from crashing into the land below, saving his newborn son.  It takes mastery of the art of character development to invoke that kind of reaction in the player, especially when he or she already knows how it’s all going to go down in the end.

One of the best-written married couples in a video game

If course, I can’t mention characters permanently dying without talking about the big one; spoiler alert: in Final Fantasy 7, Aeris dies.  Yes, it is the most famous death in RPG history, and bafflingly so.  Everyone knows about it; I remember walking into my kitchen during the summer that I got my Playstation (Final Fantasy 7 being my first game for it), and my mother, whose exposure to video games was relegated to a very tiny collection of well-known NES titles – mostly Puzzlers – asked me, “So, did Aeros (her pronunciation; not a typo) die yet?”  I understand this to a point; it was many people’s first RPG ever, and for even more, it was the first RPG in which a main character permanently dies, but even the aforementioned Lufia 2 had done it nearly a full two years prior.  That doesn’t count several others, even the series’s own Final Fantasy 2, which had many party members permanently die, as well as Final Fantasy 4 and 5, the former of which was released in North America, and was a pretty big deal at the time, as it was a launch title for the SNES.  There was nothing special, groundbreaking, or even worth noting about Aeris’s death, aside from the fans’ reactions.  So no, I didn’t care when she died, and do you know why?  Not because I’d seen it done several times before, or because I’d known about it ahead of time, but because the game never gave me any reason to care.

Final Fantasy 7’s writing – in terms of character development, at least – is a classic example of quantity over quality; I cared deeply for the vast majority of the characters in Final Fantasy 6, of which there were a staggering fourteen.  I can honestly say that, despite the script size being roughly triple the size of that of its predecessor, I don’t care about most of the characters in Final Fantasy 7, aside from maybe Vincent and Red 13 – both of whom have a deeper back story than the rest, though Vincent’s is never explored that well – of which there are only nine.  They’re all fairly bland and/or archetypical; they’re fairly flat.  Yes, Cloud suffers from psychosis brought on by post-traumatic stress disorder, and that was kind of a neat plot twist, but he has very little actual personality.  Aeris in particular is just a situation similar to that of Terra from 6, but without any of the qualities that made Terra so lovable.  She’s not even that great in battle; her biggest asset is her magical prowess, but, thanks to the Materia system, anyone can be good at magic.  Her Limit Breaks heal and buff the party, but so do healing and buffing spells, which, again, anyone can use.  Her death didn’t even mean anything, anyway.  She was killed because she was trying to cast Holy in order to stop Meteor.  If you’ll recall, you eventually release Holy when you kill Sephiroth, and all it does is strengthen Meteor; it was the planet that saves itself from the impending disaster.  Yes, you had to stop Sephiroth to do this, but Aeris contributed nothing to that either in life or in death.  Aside from that, your goal was to kill Sephiroth from the moment that you knew he was still alive, so it had no bearing on your quest’s direction, either.  It would be like if an Allied soldier saw Adolf Hitler kicking a puppy during World War II; you already want to kill the guy for the atrocities he has committed and plans to commit, so it’s just a relatively insignificant reason to add to the already novel-length list of reasons to do so.  Death scenes can be powerful when handled properly, but Final Fantasy 7 really dropped the ball.  You may now hurl your flaming refuse and hate mail in my direction.

I’m going to compare this scene to one similar in scope; another surprise scene with only one woman dying fairly early into the game.  Phantasy Star 4: End of The Millennium also had one of your party members permanently die, and it was quite a shock.  From the very beginning, Alys Brangwin is a tough old warrior, who becomes something of a mother figure to the whiny protagonist, Chaz Ashley.  She’s often short with him, and seemingly doesn’t treat him very well, but you can tell that she does genuinely care about him; it’s like when your mom used to yell at you for putting your hand near a hot stove.  You’re chugging along in your quest – and if you’re anything like me, you’ve really grown to love Alys – and all of a sudden, the antagonist, Zio, casts a powerful spell that invokes dark energy.  Alys jumps in front of Chaz, absorbing it entirely, and causing her to die an agonizingly slow death.  I was upset at having lost a quick and powerful member of my team, at having lost a character whose personality I really liked, and at Chaz not having taken this opportunity to grow up; at best he becomes only slightly less whiny.  Someone should have pushed him in front of Alys at the last minute, instead.  Why not?  The protagonist died in Chrono Trigger, and it left quite an impact, at least until you revived him – if you did, that is.

Any further inquiries as to her age or any other stupid questions will be met with an open palm

I also couldn’t mention dead characters without mentioning the game with likely the highest percentage of them in RPG history, Valkyrie Profile.  Due to its nature, the only non-dead party member you have is the protagonist, Lenneth (unless you’re in the bonus dungeon, but that’s not part of the story).  She’s a valkyrie, after all, and valkyries’ entire purpose is to gather the worthy souls among the dead to fight in Odin’s army at Ragnarok, the battle that ends the world.  Meeting each character is preceded by a cutscene detailing his or her grizzly death.  Of course, some will have greater impact than others; since there are so many, you become desensitized after a while, and some characters are bound to resonate with you more than others.  It’s a neat way to introduce them, though; despite the large roster, you’ll get to know the personality of each and every one of them, along with their respective back stories.  Sadly, we don’t get to know Lenneth very well, since she’s essentially a puppet until the very end – and that’s only if you get Ending A – and by then, there’s very little time to develop her personality; all you really get to know about the real her is that she’s very compassionate.  Still, she gets the chance to start her personality over as an adult, and given the chance to do so, who would you be?  Lenneth decided to be a loyal, noble warrior, concerned only with righting the world’s wrongs; I think I’d do the same, given the same chance.

The Einherjar that I liked most is one who plays a major part in the events leading up to Ending A: Mystina.  She and Lezard Valeth, the local mad scientist, know each other fairly well.  They’re both prodigies that attended the magic academy, and, as such, are something of friendly rivals.  That is until Mystina goes into her chamber to dream and Lezard freezes it shut, essentally causing her either to freeze or starve to death – it isn’t entirely clear which.  She’s sassy, sarcastic, and very capricious, which I normally don’t like in a character, but she pulls it off quite well.  How could someone like myself not love someone who’s last words in life were, “Reality is so boring; I’d choose to sleep forever, if it meant I’d never stop dreaming.”?  Her wit and tongue are razor sharp, as well; a student of the academy asked her where she’d been, and her response was, “I was feeling a bit melancholy after a particularly debauched midnight tryst.”  After a few seconds of gawking from the student, she responded, “I’m kidding, of course.”  I have no idea why a smartass character like this would resonate with me.

Truly, a woman after my own heart.

The Einherjar aren’t all gems, though; Badrach is one of the worst people I’ve never met.  Some of the less scrupulous Einherjar have to prove themselves to Lenneth before she’ll accept them, and Badrach is no exception.  You briefly meet him in the very beginning; you’ll recall him being the one who says something like, “Screw honor; I’m outta here!”  When Lenneth confronts this charmer after his death, he keeps trying to come up with good things he’s done, but mugging an old lady doesn’t really count.  Finally, he comes up with something.  He was transporting a little girl from a slave trader to her new owner.  He decided instead to drop her off at a church instead, allowing her to live a much better life, convincing her with the lie that it was his house, for which he then ridicules her.  Did he do this out of the goodness of his heart?  Of course not!  He did it because the slave trader did something that irritated him, so he gave the guy the royal screw job; it was never about the girl.  My hero.  What’s even worse is that Lenneth decides that this makes him worthy of joining Odin’s ranks!  Sometimes, game developers make a character join your party who’s just such an awful person that you wonder why you’re supposed to like him or her.

Of course, sometimes, it’s your main character.  In Grandia, you’re given that delightful scamp, Justin, who makes me want to rend the skin from my flesh and go swimming in isopropyl.  I understand mischievous, and even childish – Ark from Terranigma begins the game a little hell raiser, and I eventually grew to love him – but Justin is that in excess.  He begins the game by breaking into someone’s shed and wrecking the place, looking for treasure, and when the guy screams at him, his response indicates that he’s not even listening.  He’s always causing trouble, and it’s usually something significant, like when he threw three cats at an old man, ruining his garden.  Of course, as his diary indicates, he “shouldn’t have done that.  Maybe next time [he] should just throw one cat at a time,” and when you read that passage, he chimes in and says, “Yup.  I really thought about what I did!”  It’s not from poor parenting, either; his mom doesn’t take any crap from him.  She’s always scolding him or striking him with various pieces of dinnerware.  He’s just a clueless, self-centered, annoying, virulently mischievous ass, and like it or not, he’s your protagonist, so you’re stuck with him.

There have been those who have played the mischievous card a bit better in RPGs, such as Zidane Tribal from Final Fantasy 9.  He’s a little more grown up, and his heart’s in the right place, but he still has that little spark in his eye.  He’s always quick to make wise cracks, and he’s always hitting on women (not that he’s very good at it), sometimes even going as far as groping them.  Now, it usually fails miserably when a story tries to get you to take a goofy character seriously, but in this case, it’s done well.  You see, it is because he is so goofy that he has trouble expressing his true feelings for the girl with whom he has truly fallen in love.  He’s just so used to speaking only for the sake of verbal calisthenics that he doesn’t know how to be serious.  I know that you know at least one person like this and I also know that you’ve seen how difficult it is to take that person seriously when he or she is upset or passionate about something.  He does eventually grow up through the course of the game, and that’s character development, folks.  Say what you want about Squaresoft and melodrama, but they knew how to deal with some fairly deep and obscure issues, and made some excellent points in doing so.

Perhaps one of the strangest tragic heroes of all time.

Of course, goofy characters aren’t always handled well. Dragon Quest 8 was a game that I would’ve absolutely despised were it not for the classic gameplay and gorgeous visuals.  There are very few characters, NPC or otherwise, that don’t act like complete buffoons.  A little chicanery can be entertaining once in a while, but almost every boss and major NPC in the game acted like something you’d see in a children’s cartoon, and they really hammed it up.  The first two bosses in particular acted and sounded like something a parent would do to make his or her toddler laugh; I half expected one of them to blow a raspberry on Yangus’s exposed belly.  The main antagonist sounds like a five-year-old trying to imitate a witch; it’s bad.  Sometimes, even the most insignificant of characters would put on some over-the-top performance, which was like the dramatic equivalent of breaking a sweat making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  While the previous installments – at least from 4 on – tried to hide their fairly weak narrative behind a clever storytelling device, this game attempts to drown it in wacky shenanigans.  I could almost take Final Fantasy 5 seriously, and its plot was that an evil tree takes slams two planets together and tries to erase them with the void that is created by doing so; Dragon Quest 8 was just too much.  Now, Yangus made me chuckle on occasion with his malapropisms, because I know people like that, who say words like supposably and think that authorizing one’s voice means speaking loudly and clearly, but the rest of the party was insufferable, and so were the people I met on my journey.

So, as you can see, characterization is just as important as story.  You can use characters to make statements, set the story’s tone, and to change people’s lives by giving them an aspiration figure or even a non-example of how to conduct oneself.  In any medium, it is the balance and cooperation of story and characters that makes a truly great experience.  They are the north and south poles of a battery that cause the whole thing to work or not.  After all, characters are not merely people, but people within the context of a particular situation, and when these two aspects work together, they can tell us a lot about ourselves and our society as a whole.  With the addition of characters, a work can tackle social issues deriving from the likes of class, gender, race, and sexual orientation, and that is what makes a work poignant and relevant to us.

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Works Cited:

Format: Game Title (Alternate title: Region). Developer, Original system of release, Original Release Date.

Breath of Fire 2 (Breath of Fire 2: Shimei no Ko; Japan). Capcom, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, 12/2/1994.
Breath of Fire 4. Capcom, Sony Playstation, 04/27/2000.
Chrono Trigger. Squaresoft, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, 03/11/1995.
Dragon Warrior (Dragon Quest; Japan). ChunSoft, Nintendo Entertainment System, 05/27/1986.
Dragon Warrior 4 (Dragon Quest IV: Michibikareshi Monotachi). ChunSoft, Nintendo Entertainment System, 02/11/1990.
Dragon Quest 8: Journey of the Cursed King (Dragon Quest 8: Sora to Umi to Daichi to Norowareshi Himegimi; Japan). Level 5, Sony Playstation 2, 11/27/2004.
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Final Fantasy 8. Squaresoft, Sony Playstation, 02/11/1999.
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Grandia. Game Arts, Sega Saturn, 12/18/1997.
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