I Miss the Sunrise, Episode 0 Part 1 (Guest Review)

Reconstruction Zero: I Miss the Sunrise is the prequel to The Reconstruction, a game you may remember as the subject of my first foray into a multi-part review series. Due to the game’s extreme pacing issues and my own inexperience, that review was a messy affair I don’t wish to repeat, so I plan to do something a little different this time. Like The Reconstruction, IMTS is split into five distinct sections plus a prologue, so I figure I’ll do what I should have done with The Reconstruction and review each arc individually instead of going into the amount of depth usually reserved for books. I will, however, be covering episode 0 – the prologue – in detail, both because it’s pretty dense and because I think it’s helpful to get you established before we take off. There are some episodes I might have to split into several parts, but we’ll see how it goes.

IMTS is very different from its predecessor. The plot is totally unrelated aside from one minor subplot and, of course, thematic similarities. The setting is science fiction rather than fantasy, and I think that’s something that works in its favor, as the author only has to explain relevant divergences from the normal laws of physics instead of trying and failing to explain an entire magic system. It is overall a lot more polished and coherent, and I hope I will have more positive and enriching things to say this time.

The game is freeware, and can be downloaded here if you’d like to follow along.

The game opens with a character creation screen. Unlike last time, there is a proper player character who acts as an extension of the player’s will. You can make choices that influence the plot and everything! This is actually a bit foreign to me, since I grew up on jRPGs and could never really get into western RPGs. I’ll wait until the end to evaluate how well Ros works overall, but for now I will say that I think it addresses the problem of gaps in setting information fairly well – where in TR exposition had to come up organically and piecemeal, here I can just ask for it directly. Ros is also just as clueless about the plot and setting as the player, which helps.

I am male, but I’m picking female because that was what I chose on my first playthrough and now I can’t imagine Ros as anything else. The cast, while better than last time, is also still a sausagefest, so this helps balance things a little.

You can pick one of three races, each of which has a slightly different stat configuration and weapon specialty. The first, “SOL”, is your standard boring human (from the Sol system, get it?), so obviously we don’t want that. The second option is a cyborg (“AUG”, short for “augmented”), which more interesting but I’ve already played as one. Lizard aliens (called “lacertians” this time) are clearly the way to go – why am I looking at speculative fiction if not to experience the fantastic, after all?

This is actually the absolute worst choice, pragmatically: lacertians specialize in contact weapons (that’s what the C stands for), which are short-range and inaccurate, and Ros really isn’t supposed to be a frontline fighter. This is reflective of the problem with this screen in general: no context. Again, this is the very first thing we see, before any explanation of the setting or gameplay mechanics, and the one-line tooltip is not very helpful. What is the difference between act and react time? What are A, B, and C weapons? Players of the previous game can probably intuit that hull, systems, and pilot are just analogs to body, mind, and soul, but it’s bad game design to assume prior knowledge. Plenty of people played this game before The Reconstruction, and I imagine they were pretty confused here. You have no way of knowing which specialty is favorable to your playstyle or what any of it means; you’re just assaulted with a lot of cryptic information and forced to make permanent, crucial decisions before you can even start. I personally restarted after seeing the intro and learning what all the terms meant, and I doubt I’m alone.

Finally, you can adjust Ros’ personality along three different axes. Once again, you have no idea what this will affect or what the labels even mean, which is a problem. The blue titles underneath each category will change to describe the level you set them to, which helps, but it’s still pretty confusing. I think the intent was just to let players experiment, because this isn’t very important in the long run, but I still would have liked more information on what this entails. On my first playthrough I tweaked this obsessively, but now I’m going to keep Ros as a totally blank slate. I think this is more fitting on both a mechanical and narrative level, and you’ll see why when we get to episode 2.

And I know this is nitpicky, but the bar graphic is uneven and this offends my sensibilities. Pushing it all the way to the right produces a full blue bar, but even the farthest setting on the left still has one segment highlighted and that irritates my OCD to no end. If one extreme is neat and uniform the other extreme should be too, that’s just how these things work okay!!! More seriously, I think it’s bad form in general to present these scales as bars that look like they’re being drained or filled up; gamers have been conditioned to want bars to be full, so they will see the right extremes as more desirable, either consciously or subconsciously. It’d make more sense to have two fill colors that war for dominance.

Now, if we got proper information here – either from bigger tooltips, or by triggering character creation at a later point – I think this would actually work well. The layout is as concise as it can reasonably be, all the statistics you need are clearly displayed, and the aesthetics are simple but pleasing, at least to my eye. I also like that Typelog logo – I didn’t realize its all-pervasive nature started right from the outset. Pay attention to it, it’s kind of important.

Okay, so the boring part’s over, let’s start the story.

Episodes all have a full-screen splash title this time, instead of the subdued grey-screen-and-tiny-text-in-the-corner-you’ll-probably-miss thing. I believe this to be an improvement.

The art style is also significantly different than the amalgam of cartoon cut-out people and realistically shaded runtime package graphics. This game is actually notable for using no RTP assets at all, which is sadly a novelty among RPG Maker games. I find uniqueness really goes a long way, especially for people who’ve played lots of RM games and can recognize the generic graphics easily – but on the other hand, art and music are hard and I understand that. I am particularly appreciative here, because the VX default graphics are absolutely godawful. I normally have a really high tolerance for bad graphics (I was barely fazed by The Logomancer’s art, for instance), but the VX RTP makes my eyes want to crawl out of my skull. So thank you, developer, for taking the time to steer clear of it.

Ros’ sprite looks so stiff and awkward, though. I’m pretty sure her limb proportions aren’t right. That is a problem with the sprites here in general: admirably detailed, but often awkward and lifeless. (If I could make gifs I could show you how stiff the walking animations are, but you’ll have to take my word for it.)

The two people outside the tank banter a bit about awakening Ros, and the man on the left warns the woman to be “gentler this time”, making ominous reference to a “last incident”. He leaves, and the woman, Marie (a name mentioned in Tezkhra’s final communication last game), prepares to extract Ros from the thing she’s in.

It’s pitch black. You feel as if you are being lifted and carried. Something sharp is jabbing you in the middle of your back.

Options! Sweet narrative freedom! Unfortunately, I think the developer didn’t realize just how exhausting this feature would be; the prologue is chock-full of little choices like these, but they abruptly disappear once the plot gets rolling, much to my disappointment. I really like it when games give you these little options – even if they don’t have any long-term consequences, they give you a chance to develop your avatar’s character by choosing specific quirks and ways of reacting to situations, which really helps immersion. The alternative is usually that the player character is the blandest, most inoffensive creature imaginable who rarely does anything on their own, and that’s just boring – and unfortunately, it’s what happens here unless you take Ros’ personality in a radical direction.

I would like to think that I would be able to stay calm in this situation, but who am I kidding, I’m an oversensitive bundle of nerves. It doesn’t make any sense for Ros to stay calm, either – we know that this is probably just a routine medical injection, but for all she knows they’re trying to kill her!

I’d probably struggle and cry out, but since I have to pick, I’ll go with the whinier, more pathetic option. Ros is too weak to manage more than a “pathetic gurgle”, and Marie tells her to take it easy and behave herself. Narration informs me there is more poking and prodding, plus clothing, then Marie takes Ros back to the tank room and asks her if she can talk yet.

If I’m going with self-insert Ros, panic and paranoia is probably the best option to take here. Marie is just annoyed and refuses to explain anything, which seems pretty extreme. Perhaps she’s just asocial and doesn’t like to give the explanations, in which case I can sympathize, but in that case she shouldn’t have volunteered to do orientation. There’s actually a character we’ll meet shortly who would have made a lot more sense for this role.

Marie walks over the computer terminal by the tank and verifies Ros’ identity, at which point Ros interrogates her again – on her own this time, without any input on my part. So, already, player-avatar immersion has broken down. This sets the stage for what is to come: Ros frequently talks on her own, but with the caveat that her tone will shift depending on the personality you selected at the beginning. It’s an awkward fusion of western and eastern RPG design philosophies, and how well you feel it works probably depends a lot on your preferences and what you want out of games. I generally find that whenever a medium tries to blend two wildly different philosophies it tends to produce a muddied mess that doesn’t appeal to anyone, but personally I think this works okay. As I said before, I’m used to the player character being their own person, but I do appreciate some interactivity too. Choosing from a set of tones is a good compromise – it attempts to predict how you would want Ros to act in any given situation without having to create a dialogue tree every single time she has to talk. (This is probably a technical limitation, also, as choice selections can only be one line in RPG Maker, which rather limits Ros’ vocabulary.)

Marie: “[I can’t tell you what’s going on] ‘til I can tell who we’re dealing with here, at least. So, pipe down.

Marie continues to be unhelpful, and I continue to think she’s unreasonable. I believe the idea is supposed to be that the last Ouranos sibling they dealt with was a psycho so everyone’s on edge, but antagonizing Ros really isn’t going to do them any favors in that department. And even if she does turn out to be a psycho, how is she going to use basic, public information against them? Marie is acting like this is some kind of secret society that could be totally destroyed if word gets out, but that’s not the case at all. The game is just pointlessly dragging the mystery out – and I mean, that’s valid in theory, it keeps the player interested and this isn’t a Skint situation where we won’t get resolution for hours, but you do need a solid in-universe justification for it if you don’t want your characters to look like irrational, unreasonable jerks.

Marie: ”So, what’d you do to end up gelled, huh? Lemme guess, you ’can’t remember’, can you?”

Jesus, Marie, did Ros run over your dog or something? I get a choice when responding, but they all just basically amount to confused flailing. Marie then says that it doesn’t matter what Ros’ life was like before, “You belong to us now.” Way to make sure the potential psycho won’t immediately try to run for it, Marie. Ros goes WTF at this and Marie finally introduces herself and provides some basic information: they’re on a spaceship called the “Inquiry”, and Ros is going to work for the commander. I fail to see why she couldn’t have done that to begin with. First, though, Ros has to have a checkup with the local doctor to make sure she’s stable. Again, this is metatextually good because it provides an excuse to introduce us to a new character and get some exposition, but I’m left wondering why they didn’t already do that. They apparently brought Ros to the doctor’s office to revive her, then brought her back to the suspension tanks for no clear reason, then they tell her she has to go to the doctor’s office again? Very inefficient. Ros is incredibly grudging about following Marie’s advice, and yeah, that’s what you get when you needlessly jerk people around, Marie.

Marie: ”Legally, you’re still a captive. If you try anything funny, you’ll earn a one-way ticket out the nearest airlock. So, don’t let us down. You’d hate to know what happened to the last guy. Let’s just say he… couldn’t cut it.”

Christ, Marie, do you want her to kill everyone in their sleep? …And then she walks out and leaves the prisoner to wander freely, because she is the best security officer.

So ugggh there are so many things wrong with this. For once we’re getting a major female character, and she’s an irrational evil harpy who serves the role of an obstacle the player has to overcome. I also didn’t pick up on this my first time around, but her skin tone looks…well I’m not sure what exactly, but definitely darker than just a white person with a tan. So she’s not just the Angry Woman, she’s the Angry Black Woman. For bonus grossness, she is also the only character who wears shorts instead of full pants, so I suppose Star Trek has ensured that all sci-fi women’s uniforms have to look like that forever.

Her hostility doesn’t even make the slightest bit of sense. I think you’re just supposed to hate her and not think anything of it. When I see someone act like this it makes me wonder why they’re doing it; people never act this hostile for no reason. Maybe she had some bad experience with Ros’ predecessor and is unfairly dumping that antipathy on her? Maybe she’s like Murphy and has a terrible job that makes her sick of dealing with people? Maybe she was wronged by Ros a long time ago, and this is the lead-up to some shocking twist about Ros’ past life? Nope, none of that. There will never be any explanation for this and the game will forget about it almost immediately. Furthermore, her threat here is also an empty one. We will learn shortly that Ros is invaluable and indispensable; there is no way they would murder her so casually. Marie is hostile because the story wants some hostility here, not because it makes any sense for her character. She warps to fit the narrative, not the other way around. She is an unrealistic caricature who defies any attempt at pattern recognition or behavioral deduction.

So in other words, the characters continue to have the same issues as they did in The Reconstruction: their behavior makes no sense and cannot be predicted or analyzed through the lens of normal human psychology. We are off to an inauspicious start.

The worst part is, this isn’t even necessary! The whole plot relies on the idea that Ros is willing to work with the Inquiry and ends with her becoming great friends with everyone. Why would she even consider that when her first introduction involves death threats? Now Ros’ behavior, too, makes no sense. This whole scene feels like cheap, manufactured drama made without any consideration for the long-term ramifications.

Well. At least I’m free to explore now and woooah the music sounds completely different than I remember! There’s like a whole other layer I never heard before. I should use headphones more often, I suppose. (Listen to it, it’s pretty catchy.)

Unlike in The Reconstruction, your home base is a normal walkaround area. You can examine basically everyone and there are tons of very informative NPCs and it’s wonderful. Unlike Marie, the workers are all forthcoming with info; one of the guys nearby explains that the ship is composed of centrifugal rings (to simulate gravity), so these areas loop around, which is a nice intersection of science, narrative justification, and mechanical convenience.

Also, black people exist! This is an issue I didn’t bring up in The Reconstruction and for that I apologize. The first game had basically no nonwhites aside from the lower class Nalians, which, wow, bad implications there. The absence of racial diversity was especially awkward in a story about slavery and oppression; shra basically stood in for blacks, which is a pretty questionable trope at the best of times. Fortunately, IMTS is much more diverse. The background NPCs around the Inquiry display the whole spectrum of skin tones, which I think is very good, especially when a lot of far future sci-fi tends to pretend humanity is nothing but Aryan supermen. Unfortunately the game is not quite as great on this when it comes to main characters, as we’ve already seen with Marie, but more on that later.

My escape attempts are thwarted! Ros won’t enter the other rings, either. See, this would make more sense if Ros’ introduction to this place wasn’t so immensely hostile and if she hadn’t just ended the scene expressing contempt at the idea of playing by the rules.

You can spend a lot of time just exploring and talking to everyone, but I’ll focus on plot.

Here’s the doctor and awkward nerd character, Rami Ransend. I’m given a choice when initiating conversation with him, and this time the game informs me that there will be consequences: chatting with characters can increase or decrease “personal trust”, which is basically a relationship meter. High trust makes them fight better, among other things. This is where the personality stuff comes in: responses are (usually) limited by your personality specifications, which may lock off some favorable options in certain conversations. The intent is to make it harder to get along with certain characters, but there are so few options that actually hurt personal trust that it’s pretty easy to max everyone out.

When I first played, I restarted and picked every option so I could see all the branches, all of them. But I’m roleplaying as myself now, so…even I know that calling attention to disabilities is a faux pas, and I’m usually incredibly nervous around people, so I wouldn’t have the confidence for the flippant approach. Neutral option seems best, anyway. Rami’s a little miffed that I didn’t remember his name, but he doesn’t hold a grudge over it. Interestingly, I’m actually allowed to walk over to the scanning pad myself instead of being railroaded in a cutscene. The game sure is big on player agency, huh? This is highly fascinating and unusual to a jRPG player, but maybe it isn’t for other gamers.

And of course, I push at the boundaries because I like messing with games. My escape attempt is thwarted again! Ros checks out and Rami is overall much nicer and more helpful than Marie, which makes me wonder why he didn’t volunteer/get assigned to orientation duty. He then says I have to fetch “Tez” and drag him to the commander, because he’s joining Ros on an assignment.

I am a terrible lazy procrastinator and I can’t deny that. Getting unexpected work dumped on me usually makes me flip out, so this would definitely be my primary concern.

Rami: ”Hoo boy, Marie didn’t tell you a damn thing, did she? All right, just go find Tez for now, then.”

So not only did Marie jeopardize the entire mission by antagonizing their ace in the hole, she seems to have disobeyed direct orders to do so. Why does she hate Ros so much? Unfortunately Rami is also terrible and refuses to elaborate, which further strains suspension of disbelief even though I know it makes sense to save everything for the big exposition scene. But also, why can’t Rami just get Tez himself? He actually knows the guy, it’d make way more sense for him to deliver the summons than a random stranger. It seems like everyone’s just really socially inept and will take any excuse to pass the onerous task of conversation onto someone else.

It’s everyone’s favorite genocidal elitist with delusions of godhood!

Okay, that’s not entirely fair. IMTS almost completely retcons his personality, so I’m going to give him a clean slate. For now.

So, this introduction scene is pretty awkward and unintuitive. You’re supposed to stay quiet, at which point Tezkhra will proceed to completely ignore you, and you need to stay silent a second time to get the relationship boost. Only then will he thank you for your patience and start the conversation. Based on my experience, this is incredibly weird behavior. Surely it’s more rude to ghost into a room and startle people when they finally notice you – especially if they’re working on delicate and possibly confidential machinery? (That option’s kinda tempting, actually – after how terribly the rest of the crew treated her, it would be perfect for Ros to start acting passive-aggressive.) Likewise, it’s pretty manipulative to pretend you don’t notice someone and then act affronted when they try to get your attention. Both of these conversational strategies strike me as somewhat hostile, as they put the other person on the defensive and force them to make the first move.

This gives the impression that Tez has autism or some other social disorder, as I see no other reason why he would be so obsessed with his current task to the point he can’t even ask Ros to wait a minute. But I don’t think this is the defining first impression he’s supposed to present; he is otherwise extremely polite and socially competent, and far more reasonable than the other crewmates. If he acknowledged Ros’ presence initially and then I was given the option to be a dick and interrupt him, that would make more sense. Instead we’re expected to be silent telepaths or something, which is ridiculous.

See? Look at him telling me what I need to know instead of being evasive and pointlessly antagonistic! I get a choice of answers that basically all amount to the saying the same thing, that I already saw him.

Tezkhra: ”Then, [Commander] Sorenson is waiting for us. Do you know the way to Ring-0? I shall escort you if you require assistance.”

And look at him being helpful and professional instead of sniping at me and abandoning his job for no reason! You could even interpret or play this up as sinister if you wanted: If they really did want to imprison or coerce Ros, they wouldn’t leave her to roam free – no, they’d politely offer to escort her everywhere so she’d never be out of their sights. Marie’s “just catch up on your own time, whatevs” moment earlier made it clear there weren’t actually any sinister motives in play, though.

Ros notices he’s a cyborg, which is weird because lizards can’t get augments. HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT. Ros is otherwise portrayed as a total amnesiac who has to be educated on even basic components of society, so this is incredibly awkward. This probably could have been handled better if another character was around to comment on it (ooh, maybe a later party member so you think it’s normal only to get it sprung on you a little ways in), or if Tez explained it himself. He seems like the kind of guy who’s willing to explain things, unlike the previous crew members we’ve seen.

I can now head to the meeting. The NPCs along the way build atmosphere nicely by referencing some important events I’ll learn about soon.

And…this is the first thing I see. Definitely professionals that I definitely shouldn’t ditch at the first opportunity, yep yep.

Commander Sorenson desperately attempts to salvage things. I sympathize. He asks me how I’m doing…

The latter options would be completely justified, given how obtuse these idiots have been, but aggression on my part would be even stupider right now, so we’ll be polite. Rami uses this response as a springboard to toot his horn about how well the check-up went. Uh, kinda weird, Rami, you didn’t actually do much. I do get a relationship boost, at least.

Anyway, Sorenson lays down the exposition that everyone else was too lazy to give. The suspension tanks that Ros emerged from are unusual, and typically used for imprisonment. Ros’ medical records were preserved, but they haven’t found the reason why she was imprisoned in the first place. Marie immediately jumps on this to say that clearly Ros did something so bad they didn’t even want to make a record of it, because LOL women so crazy. Everyone else responds by saying that she’s being absurd, so this isn’t even standard protocol or anything. Why is she so irrationally committed to this? This all points to her having an extremely strong emotional connection to the tanks, the Ouranos siblings, or criminals in general; I don’t see why she’d cling to this conspiracy theory otherwise. But of course this all goes nowhere.

Second option is confrontational and draws suspicion to me, so that’s out. Third option is, I think, the best response in this situation – it calls Marie out on the irrationality of her behavior, and her response might produce a clue to what’s really motivating her. (Of course, she actually doesn’t react at all if you pick it, because you’re very silly for thinking you can make sense of Marie.) I’m not nearly confident enough for such assertiveness, however, so confused flailing it is!

Sorenson: ”Yes, the records of your actions onboard so far seem to indicate a consistent level of confusion.”

MAYBE I WOULDN’T BE SO CONFUSED IF YOUR CREW HAD BOTHERED TO EXPLAIN ANYTHING.

Fortunately, Sorenson is willing to explain: Civilization used to be an idyllic utopia of high technology that spanned the stars, but an event known as “the Shine” obliterated nearly everything in an instant. An energy pulse warped and destroyed machines all across the galaxy, leaving only a few intact. Most people lived in massive space stations, so lots of people died, and the survivors are now desperately fighting over whatever’s left. The Inquiry is committed to restoring peace and order by reestablishing communication networks, rebuilding living areas, etc., but to do that they’ll need to fight off criminals, scavengers, and rogue robots. Ros is invaluable for this purpose: her blood contains a protein that dramatically amplifies the effects of brain-enhancing drugs, allowing her to make complex tactical decisions in the blink of an eye. This is actually used to justify the turn-based nature of the game; the idea is that the protein gives Ros effectively infinite time to make decisions, where normally these battles would be extremely fast and chaotic. I think this is a clever, and a good way of exploring gameplay and story integration: of course you’d want someone who could operate like that to be your commander!

I’m a little dubious of the science on this, though. If she’s just genetically modified to produce the special protein, couldn’t you just take it from her blood and inject it into someone else? I presume it degrades over time or something, but still. Plus if they have any half-decent biologists on board, they should be able to cut out the middleman: scan her genome, locate the relevant gene, and splice it into everyone else. This is a kind of thing where science and fantasy clash; fantasies are big on unique special powers, but science enables us to tinker with and mass produce just about anything. With advanced enough tech, any unique trait that isn’t supernatural in origin can be understood and from there, replicated – but this naturally conflicts with the fantasy of being unique and special and it’s all up to you. If this was really cutting edge science using secret processes that no regular engineers could decipher in the given timeframe that could work, but a single protein? We’ve been mass-producing those for the better part of a century. This would hold up better if her macro-scale physiology was abnormal, like if she had a different brain structure, since that’s not so malleable or easily transferred. Even if the Inquiry’s researchers could figure out what caused it, it’s a developmental change so they could only replicate it by raising a clone from birth, which is obviously a much more prohibitive undertaking. But even then – in the modern day we’re seeing advances in stem cell research that might be able to modify post-differentiated tissue, so in the far future I doubt it’s beyond people’s capabilities to replicate even large-scale developmental changes.

Still, this doesn’t break the story or anything, so I’m willing to suspend my disbelief. It sounds sciencey enough and the exact mechanism ultimately isn’t important.

Oh, and also there were two other people like Ros, as was pretty obvious from the other suspension tanks. Sorenson just says ”The other two are… no longer of concern. You are our primary interest,” which sounds a lot shadier than it has to be. If I want to be generous, I would say he’s either upset by their deaths or knows Ros would be upset, so he doesn’t want to go into details. He still could have phrased it in a way that doesn’t make it sound like he killed them himself.

I’m not even sure why the first option is here, they just explained it so it just makes Ros look dumb.

As stated before I am a lazy thing who is full of laze, so I’m going to heckle them about my qualifications. It’s a reasonable question, actually; I don’t even know if Ros can pilot, so it’s good to get some details on her capabilities or lack thereof.

Sorenson: ”All of the others on your craft knew how to fly. We can assume you do as well? There is no use in hiding it.”

Oh whoops actually I look like an evasive liar because the game neglected to tell me important information. This is a really rookie mistake. If you’re going to give players the ability to respond to things and ask questions like these in good faith, the player must know everything the character knows. Otherwise their responses will look like nonsense or will have a different effect than what they intended, like we have here; it’s bad design. If you’re going to give me agency, I need to know how to use it.

I actually feel so betrayed by this I’m going to restart and change my response to “So I have to fight for you?” Sorenson clarifies that it’s not completely necessary, as they primarily want Ros for her strategic capabilities, and it might actually be a better idea for her to stay out of harm’s way. This is actually good gameplay advice, as we’ll see soon.

Ros ends by asking if doping her up on nootropics is actually safe. Tez says yes, but Marie’s personality suddenly and inexplicably does a 180 as she suddenly becomes very concerned and says Ros can totally back out if she wants. I am utterly flabbergasted. She was just threatening to throw Ros out an airlock five minutes ago! Pick a personality for your characters and stick with it, game! Anyway, Ros gets to make her decision:

You know what, sure. Rebuilding society is a good cause, I’ll be kept out of harm’s way, and I’m not brazenly selfish enough to haggle over this. It’s not like I have much choice, anyway, they’re pretty insistent on this. …Marie is the only one who gets a relationship boost from this, for some reason. Tez and Rami aren’t pleased by my enthusiasm but the person who hates my guts is?

Marie: ”That’s the spirit. I knew we could count on you.”

YOU WERE THREATENING TO MURDER ME LIKE TEN MINUTES AGO. WHO KIDNAPPED YOU AND REPLACED YOU WITH A POD PERSON. That or she’s trying to get me to lower my guard so she can stab me in the back later.

Seriously I don’t even. I knew Marie became a lot less antagonistic really quickly, but I didn’t realize it happened literally in the span of a single scene! Was she ninja-swapped with her good twin while I wasn’t looking? I mean, I’m not complaining, at least she’s acting like an actual person instead of an Angry Ambiguous Race Woman, but still, what the heck.

(And just to make things even more confusing, she goes right back to death threats if you pick the third option, and nobody else even reacts. Gah.)

Now that exposition is out of the way, we move on to mission briefing. The music changes, which I would recommend listening to. I may rag on this guy’s writing but his music is beyond reproach.

Marie: ”Aww, man! Another excavation? C’mon, Commander. Give the hot shot somethin’ fun for her first foray!”

Yeah, she’s definitely plotting how to make it look like an accident. Sorenson explains that we’re not just looking for spare parts, we’re going to seal a trade agreement with a group called the Sikohlon (HMM HOW INTERESTING). Marie calls them a “creepy lacertian weapon-building cult.”

…None of these sound like good things to say. First sounds like I’m being deliberately obtuse, as I’d think the much more obvious reason for her distaste would be the “weapon-building cult” part. Second sounds a bit like I’m saying it’s unsurprising for lacertians to be violent savages, which has to take the world medal for idiocy when there’s one sitting right next to me, and the third option sounds flippant and dismissive. I personally find her reaction interesting and would like to learn more about the situation… and I guess the first option comes closer to that. And Ros is a lacertian, so it makes sense for her to be a little defensive. Marie clarifies that her concern was, indeed, about the cult part. They seem very secretive, as the fact they’re all lizards is pretty much all that’s known about them.

Marie: ”They’re dangerous! They’re an unchecked militia, and shrewd as hell to boot! Who knows what they’re up to?”

Huh, so they’re basically the Space NRA? That is pretty creepy, now I’m having second thoughts about this. Sorenson asserts that they’re totally trustworthy, and in fact he’s been in contact with their leader for some time and he just neglected to mention this important information to his crew because he’s a troll I guess?

Tezkhra: ”So the communication relays for that area were not damaged? Then, why is the habitation area in ruin?”

Ooh, that’s a good observation. Could the Sikohlon have had something to do with the Shine, or at least known some way to protect against it? It could be something as simple as having backup relays, but even that’s a bit suspicious; later, we’ll learn that communication technology is monopolized.

Sorenson: ”These questions are not within the scope of your assignment. Reach the protected zone, do the trade. That is all.”

Definitely not a villain.

First option is, again, a question they already answered, and second option makes me look weak. Plus, again, I don’t really have a choice. Best to tell the scary people what they want to hear and at least look like I know what I’m doing. My crewmates are all pleased by this.

Rami: ”Haha, really? You know how much cryin’ and screamin’ and arm twistin’ the last two went through the first time?”

Okay, Rami’s horrible too. Great job convincing me you’re not all psychos.

I’m dismissed and told to get started on the mission, but first…

It’s time to explain the best game mechanic.

In my The Reconstruction review I complained, loudly and often, about how pointless and shallow the characters felt. Outside of their adventure mode descriptions, they basically had no presence or personality at all. IMTS attempts to rectify this by allowing you to have full, one-on-one conversations with every single crew member after every single mission. Characters will sometimes comment on plot happenings, so we get a diverse set of second opinions on important stuff, and everyone, even the joke cameo character, gets at least something of a coherent character arc through their conversations. It is wonderful, I love it, and I wish more games would do something like it. The only problem is I’m not entirely sure how to format them in these reviews; mission-by-mission, as a side-post after each episode, or character-by-character at the very end? I’m leaning towards the second option, but we’ll see.

Here, though, I’ll review them in real time, since their comments are time-relevant. You can actually talk to everyone right now, before you even go on the first mission, so I’m gonna do that.

Marie has been swapped back with her evil twin and hates Ros again, saying that she could be faking the amnesia.

Marie doesn’t like this.

Marie: ”Why bother? The Shine changed all the rules. You could be a clean slate, here and now.”

Uhhh…? But I thought your whole objection was that she wasn’t a clean slate and you wanted to know what she did before…?

Okay, this is one problem with the chats: Ros has a huge number of possible responses depending on personality permutations, but there’s not a one-to-one correspondence with what answers the characters give. It seems the developer tried to save time by trying to make character responses general enough that you could end up there through multiple routes, but in practice that doesn’t always work out so well, as you can see.

She goes on to rant about how I’m a psycho who could snap at any time. I’m going to assume she’s projecting.

urgghhhhh

So, first time we get a major female character, and she’s an evil ice queen who’s terrible for badmouthing the protagonist. The rude option more tempting than it should be, because she is being cartoonishly unreasonable, but I will be tactful and try to change the subject.

Marie: ”He’s smart, but at the same time he’s a complete idiot. You know those types? We like him enough, I guess.”

And yet he’s still better at talking to people than you.

She says she’ll respect me more after I’ve made it through a mission, so alright, I’ll come back later.

Rami is more cordial, and lets me get a real question in edgewise. I ask him why he’s on the Inquiry; he says he and Tez joined together, and that they were desperate for safety after the Shine. Intriguing personal connection there, I’ll see if I can grill Tez on it later. He asks if we can talk again after the mission, noting that people don’t like cyborgs so he’s been kinda lonely.

This is an element of the setting that doesn’t make much sense to me. Why would such an advanced society have prejudice against cyborgs? Cyborgs are awesome, they’re like humans but better, without all those fleshy limitations getting in the way! And the better technology gets, the better cyborgs will get, to the point that pretty much everyone would want to be one. I think a society that refers to them as “augmented” would agree with me on this. I might be able to see friction if cyborgs were snobby elitists and people were pressured into getting their limbs replaced or something, but that’s not at all what we see here. The closest I can tell, it looks like the game is trying to use them as an analogy for disabled people, which…no. Just no. The reason our society has issues about disabled people is because they are literally disabled, they can’t do the things other people can do. If your arm gets blasted off and you replace it with a better arm that’s stronger and can do ten times as many things as a human arm can, you aren’t disabled, fleshy people are. It shouldn’t be awkward to hang out around them, and you don’t have to make any accommodations for them. The only other thing I can think of is that we tend to have a visceral aversion to the disabled, because damaged bodies are upsetting…except these people have prosthetics, so their bodies look whole. And we’re already developing pretty good skin-like coverings for prosthetics, so I’m sure in this far future society you won’t even have the problem of them looking creepy and metallic. AND that’s not even accounting for the fact that social norms can shift with proliferation; if cyborgs are common, I think unaugmented folks would be pretty used to them, and cyborgs can always hang out with other cyborgs.

Coupled with all of this, the only logical reason this would persist is with the idea that disabled people, even if they have prosthetics, are just inherently lesser and broken people, and everyone just intrinsically understands this, including them. Disabled? Life sucks, in every possible universe.

In sum, the whole thing is pretty contrived. The comparison doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and is pretty sketchy besides.

I do get a relationship boost by agreeing to hang out with him, at least.

Hello, giant lizard friend. I can ask him how he got the implants, why he’s on the Inquiry, or about his interest in weapons. While I am curious about the first option, Rami made it clear that that’s a pretty personal question, so I’ll hold off for now. The second question seems like the most prudent thing to learn about right now. He just tells me stuff I already know already: that he’s a pilot and researches stuff in his lab. He also says he plans to investigate the nature of the Shine, though I imagine every physicist is doing the same so that’s not terribly surprising. The biggest point of interest is that he doesn’t mention Rami at all. He refuses to share any more personal details, on the basis that Ros must be overwhelmed enough without knowing irrelevant trivia about her teammates. Nooo, tell me your secrets! I say he’s interesting and that I’d like to know more about him, which he appreciates.

Aaand one last thing.

The Reconstruction had a glossary of terms and information to maintain the illusion that the setting made sense. However, it never updated and rarely had any direct relevance, making it rather unapproachable. IMTS provides these articles instead. Some of them are general setting information like the previous game’s glossary, but some are opinion pieces from other characters. This is overall a massive improvement; the terms are interesting and worth reading even though the plot provides any essential bits you need to know, and the opinion pieces make the world feel larger than just the main characters. Both sections also update as the game progresses, encouraging players to keep up with them and making them feel dynamic and exciting. This feature alone makes the worldbuilding massively better than before.

And yes, this is describing Havan’s artifact. The emitters are probably the most “magical” part of the setting, but any spacefaring story needs to bend the laws of physics to justify interstellar travel. I’m actually glad the story went with this instead of faster-than-light travel; it’s a more creative solution that provides all sorts of other societal implications to explore. Immortality is a big theme here and the characters will talk about it a lot, so keep an eye out for that.

And…hm. The AUG article goes some ways to explaining the rift between them and biologicals by saying they’re dependent on materials, but I don’t buy it. I doubt repairs and check-ups require much raw material, so they’re largely a one-time investment. Besides, they’re living in a society where everyone needs massive space stations and supercomputers! A few robot limbs should be a drop in the bucket compared to that. Possibly it’s trying to play up how savage and cruel people have gotten after the Shine, but Rami complains that even the good guys hate him. (The article also says that cyborgs were rare before the Shine, because prosthetics are the only reason anyone would ever want awesome robot parts, evidently.)

Currently, the opinion pieces aren’t much – just people pining for the utopia lost and freaking out over humanity’s descent into savagery. One has more of a “we’re all in this together” bent, while the other is more “every man for himself”.

This has gotten obscenely long, so I’ll cut it here now that there’s a good stopping point. I am still new at this, so tell me if you’d like to see me do things differently.

NEXT

15 Comments

  1. Nerem says:
    It says I can’t access the NEXT link.

    But otherwise, this is interesting enough. The comment about cyborg hatred kind of reminds me of the ‘Natural’/Coordinator divide in Gundam SEED, though in that show it developed out of a very coordinated and intentional campaign by a terrorist group that stoked hatreds and killed people until both sides ended up fighting and irreconcilable. For clarification, Coordinators are genetically modified humans, while Naturals are not. Coordinators derived from technology given out by a genius scientist who wanted everyone to become Coordinators, but not everyone was viable, and a group of non-viables started the Natural movement and used their political and personal power to deliberately cause the rift.

    I do agree that it developing like that in that kind of society is off though.

    1. Mini-Farla says:
      It says I can’t access the NEXT link.

      That’s because the next post doesn’t exist yet! I’ll fix it when it goes live.

      By the way, do you think the cutoff point is awkward? I’m considering moving the articles to the next post, but I hate doing the “but before we start the main event, let me babble about minor setting trivia for three pages” thing.

  2. Nerem says:
    Oh well, there was a link so I had to click it!

    As far as the cut-off goes, that’s perfectly fine. Small summary describing the game and what it is about, link where to get it, and cut-off before you get to the meat of the post? Looks good to me.

    1. Mini-Farla says:
      Oh, I meant the cutoff at the end. I wrote the whole coverage of episode 0 in one go, and had to choose where to split it in two.
      1. Nerem says:
        Blah replied to myself by accident. Putting this here so you know I responded. I’m reading over the Reconstruction let’s read, and it makes me think about the game balance and stuff in the game I’m making.

        Also, what makes this a guest review? I never saw an explanation about that.

        1. Mini-Farla says:
          It’s a guest review because I’m not Farla and I don’t have a Blogger account of my own, so I’m using her account. We’ve considered making an actual “guest” account for this, but Farla thinks it’s funny, so we’re going to keep doing this.
          1. Nerem says:
            Oh ok, it had me confused. I actually JUSt caught up to the Reconstruction update where it was explained. You know, one of the things I kind of like about it that is kinda rare in RPGs is that the protags actually fight and don’t always like each other. One of the few RPGs I’ve played where that sort of thing happens is Endless Frontier, where most of the cast really doesn’t get along on a personal level but are willing to tolerate each other for the sake of the adventure.
            1. Mini-Farla says:
              You know, one of the things I kind of like about it that is kinda rare in RPGs is that the protags actually fight and don’t always like each other.

              It can certainly be interesting when done well, but you have to know what you’re doing with it. The conflict should be a major part of the characters and their interactions — it should inform us about the plot, setting, and characters, and make us wonder how it’s going to turn out in the end. You can also have characters be initially hostile towards one another but slowly come together, showing that they’ve come over their initial biases and grown as people.

              The problem is that The Reconstruction doesn’t take either tack. The characters have no important, ideological reasons for their conflict. They’re just awful, awful people who are nasty to each other for no reason, right up until the end. (The game insists they’re totally friends in the ending, but I don’t see the transition.) That’s not enjoyable to read about, that just makes me feel sad and bitter.

              Reply
              1. Nerem says:
                Yeah, that’s true. I mean, Endless Frontier is the second type in that they just don’t personally like each other but they’re not actually bad people (and they kind of have reason to dislike each other) but of course they’re not suppose to be prior friends here, whic his probably the biggest thing that makes it an issue in Reconstruction. Whereas Endless Frontier makes no bones that they’re originally more or less enemies bonded together by a common cause and eventually do BECOME friends.

                Probably the best example of the concept is Super Robot Wars Z1: Into The Chaos. Where two factions slowly grow in the good guy army, and hostilities are fed by them splitting apart and their mutual distrust being grown by the villains feeding both sides misinformation about what they were doing while apart, which eventually boils over into the two factions breaking down into battle and basically airing their grievances.

                Of course this ends with them realizing that what they’re yelling at each other isn’t quite lining up and something is wrong, and ends up pulling mending the pre-existing rifts and allows them to put aside their ideological differences for their common goal.

    2. Nerem says:
      Oh, well it seems fine. I’m eager to see how the gameplay and stuff is, but since this seems to be the leadup to the gameplay, I think it’s okay. I’m just going to be waiting on that next post.
  3. DarkStarRises says:
    Marie’s early hostility seemed pretty forced, as if she was deliberately pushing you away to avoid getting to know (and potentially like) you. Given you’re the third one they’ve woken up, it seems quite likely you’re not going to last long, so she’s trying very hard not to care about you. I don’t recall if we ever find out if she was close to one of your predecessors or not, but that would explain a lot. I’m not sure this really makes things better; without the later reveal of something traumatic in her past to justify this, our first female character comes off as emotional and immature instead of being a plot device. Characters with real flaws can be good, but our opening cast features ‘the woman’, ‘the geeky scientist’ and ‘the robot’, all with very stereotypical flaws…
    1. Mini-Farla says:
      Marie’s early hostility seemed pretty forced, as if she was deliberately pushing you away to avoid getting to know (and potentially like) you.

      I don’t think even that works. In that case she should be cold and aloof, like “I’m not here to be your friend, just do your job and leave me alone.” But that should still mean answering Ros’ questions and telling her what she’s supposed to do, since orienting Ros is her job. “I’m not telling you anything but if you do anything wrong I’m totally gonna murder you” really goes above and beyond, into the territory of outright malice.

      Characters with real flaws can be good, but our opening cast features ‘the woman’, ‘the geeky scientist’ and ‘the robot’, all with very stereotypical flaws…

      Come to think of it, I like Tezkhra but he is pretty cliched. I do think he gets better after his suppression wears off, but until then he really is a Spock clone, down to having “logically I must act totally illogical” as a flaw. I’ll talk about this more in episode 1.

      1. DarkStarRises says:
        You’re right…if Marie didn’t want to get close to Ros, cool distance would be the reasonable attitude, and the game could even get away without explaining it, since it would be an understandable, human behavior. Instead, she dials the sentiment up to eleven, putting on an overtly hostile act, but keeps slipping and forgetting to be nasty, creating the apparent mood whiplash. The problem is, such extreme behavior doesn’t make sense unless she has a long history of losing the people she’s close to, or at least a very recent and painful loss. Without that, she’s basically a child who lost a toy and spitefully breaks the replacement. Y’know, maybe it is better to just say she’s a plot device and move on…
      2. Farla says:
        My guess with Marie’s problems with Ros from what you’ve shown is that something really bad happened with the previous pilots, she’s upset about it, and she’s trying to make herself feel better by insisting you’re horrible and they were horrible and you deserve whatever bad thing is going to happen and they deserved whatever bad thing already happened.

        Given people are suddenly dealing with having emotions at all, it would make sense that a lot of the first attempts would be terrible ones. They don’t know how to deal with bad feelings or even fully remember how those work, so it’s easy to make a jump from “thinking about this person makes me feel bad” to “I HATE THEM FOR MAKING ME FEEL THINGS oh hey that makes me feel a bit better, keep going that”.

        1. Mini-Farla says:
          That would make a lot of sense, actually! Unfortunately the game never acknowledges that this is unusual, though. I’ll get to this in the ep 1 personal chats, but she never apologizes, she just suddenly flips to being nice with no explanation. That’s a problem with the characters in general, but it’s especially noticeable with Marie. I’ve heard the developer wrote the personal chats as the episodes came out instead of all at once, so that might be the reason why they’re so picemeal.

          (Actually, I didn’t bring it up because it was in a dialogue branch I didn’t use, but there’s one thing in Rami’s personal chat that directly contradicts something he says in episode 1 — here he says something about how people are “supposed” to die and the emitters are bad, but in episode 1 he’s all IMMORTALITY IS AWESOME TECHNOLOGY IS SO GREAT. Marie is kind of similar, but her inconsistency bleeds into the main plot because she’s a more important character.)

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