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  • So, Steven Universe.

    Steven Universe is an experience.

    The opening episodes are generally regarded as poor, to the point of people making “How to Watch SU” Guides designed around reordering the episodes to […]

    • Just curious, how you would have ended season five?

      We have a highly comprehensive answer to that! …Or we will, in 8+ weeks.

    • I lost all expectations when Steven got resurrection powers.

    • being White the worst offender of this

      White is such a waste. She and her pearl looked so interesting I was ready to forgive Blue and Yellow’s change of heart, and then oh wait nevermind they got over themselves instantly.

    • Indeed Steven got everything he wanted, but that was something that he had to pull through for all these seasons

      The thing is, a lot of what Steven wants is about him pushing things on people, which is why he normally gets mixed results and we get a bunch of lessons about listening to people or about how you can’t do everything for them. The really obvious one is where Steven just hops into people’s heads and shouts away their mental illness after so many episodes about how other people can’t just fix a problem – it having to come from within apparently has a loophole for someone else crawling inside you, even if we had an entire episode about Steven’s attempt at punching away pizza stress wasn’t a viable long-term solution or another entire episode about living Lars’ life for him isn’t a viable long-term solution. And things like Lapis coming back in the nick of time are things both Steven and Lapis presumably wanted, but goes against the Lapis’ arc being about how PTSD  and depression aren’t convenient, doesn’t go away after a bit of soul-searching, and can make it so things people want and the person themselves want aren’t always possible.

      but they couldn’t escape the cycle of abuse and when a third party came to remind them that they could change how things were

      That’s actually what I was originally looking forward to!

      In practice, as soon as we start caring about the diamonds, everything else wrong falls offscreen and Steven keeps interacting with them not as a third party but with the hurt of an actual family member. For example, the scene where they’re threatening Connie if he doesn’t fall in line. Losing it because your parents keep mistreating you and you have to finally put your foot down and assert your own identity is not something an outsider does. The response to complete strangers threatening your friend is to say whatever they want to hear and get out of there, not talk about how hurt you are these complete strangers don’t respect and value you as a member of their family. The ending eats its cake but has it too – Steven isn’t Pink Diamond and she’s (somehow) gone forever, but he’s still slotting precisely into her role in the family and feeling the same things, and so we have him living out every hurt kid’s dream of getting to yell at Mom that I’M DEAD BECAUSE YOU DIDN’T APPRECIATE ME AREN’T YOU SORRY NOW?! …and that’s without even bringing up the broader issue that after four and a half seasons on the subject of “gems don’t have kids or understand the concept of childhood”, both the diamonds and the Crystal Gems as well suddenly get it and accept they’re adults and Steven is a kid and should act accordingly.

      There’s also the fact that White is so well characterized…but as someone who you should run the hell away from. It isn’t that you need to explain she’s hurting you. Hurting you is the point and your explanation just lets her adjust her aim. I understand why it’s such an appealing fantasy that someone you care about does care back but, especially in our culture that already tells people family is forever and your parents own you and you need to keep trying…nobody needed another round of “if you were good enough you could fix this and then everything would be better, even though she did so many horrible things I’m sure she cares about you”. And it’s so particularly tone-deaf when you’ve got a quirky fourth-wall break about telling an adult if you’re bullied followed by trying to deal with a parent bullying you all by yourself and it being a smash success.

    • I wasn’t super upset with the ending, but I did think it was super rushed. That’s sort of to be expected with shows that are expecting their expiration date coming up sooner than later, but I do agree that the relationships weren’t done justice for the sake of tying things up neatly. My favorite two parts of this complex layered social friction are with the Pearl/Garnet arc, when Pearl tricked Garnet into fusing with her, which Garnet (rightfully so) took as an extraordinarily intimate betrayal. That wasn’t tied up in a climactic “let’s hug it out” or even as a two-episode arc. It affected dynamics for multiple episodes and created tension that lasted a good part of the season. That didn’t go away quickly, and I really respected that.

      My other favorite part — and I actually like this more, weirdly enough — is the conflict between Amethyst and Greg. That’s a conflict that’s been going on for a long time, as evident by what was said, how Greg said he wanted to be friends with her, “but she always does this” or something to that accord. That episode was dark, but really satisfyingly so. We got to see two characters that you’ve become very attached with and sympathize with be hateful and toxic with each other. In some ways, Amethyst is as close to a “kid-gem” as Steven is, having been raised away from the dogmatic society of Homeworld, but also not having the respect and experience that bonds the other Crystal Gems from having endured and escaped it.

      Greg’s arrival shortly followed the disappearance of someone Amethyst looked up to and respected, someone who could be compared to a mother figure. And Greg, of course, doesn’t want to shoulder the blame for Rose’s actions, and there’s this whole cycle of people who want to get along, but can’t due to deep-seated resentment, guilt, and/or regrets. I don’t remember if that tied itself up neatly or not, but I really appreciated how it was portrayed that Greg wanted to be friends with her, but the two were just way too toxic for each other. It reminds me of the relationship I have with two (ex?) friends from college, which I suppose is why I like this dysfunctional dynamic’s portrayal the most.

      And you’re right, that the outwardly zany episodes that hide a truly meaningful level of interaction between its protagonists is what made me really enjoy Steven Universe. The ending was a cop-out. It didn’t handle everything the way it should have, but to my understanding, they were staring at the possibility of having no more SU episodes, and no ability to tie loose ends up, ever. I would probably freak out too, if I were in the writers’ position. Personally, the way I would have handled it would have been to address those issues as being present, while still moving forward. Lapis would show up, but be too afraid to fight on the frontlines. She might even relapse into adopting a terrified subservience to Blue Diamond.

      At the end of the series, there could have been a message that addressed Lapis’ unwillingness to help out as much as she could have, but still grateful that she put the effort into attempting to move past things, while acknowledging that they’re still very much there. The end of the series could have had Bismuth talk about how she would never accept the diamonds, and how that was okay. Bismuth lost a lot to the Diamonds. All the Crystal Gems did. I wanted to see Bismuth’s reaction to Steven’s being buddy-buddy with them, and a rejection of the expected “let’s make peace and make up” trope that typically happens with shows like these, which we sort of got. I’m not really sure. That whole bathing and un-corrupting sequence leaves a lot to interpretation. Clearly Jasper was rearing for another battle, but seeing her diamonds soaking with a bunch of other gems must have been surreal to her.

      As for Steven’s being Pink simultaneously, I’ll disagree with you outright, because I really liked how that was handled. Steven has been dealing with an identity crisis for a while, leading up to the last episode. I really liked the message that, at the end of the day, he is who he is. He isn’t Pink Diamond or Rose, and he doesn’t have to be. He has a strong connection with the other diamonds, because part of Pink lives– her emotions and some of her memories– but the consciousness is no longer there. He can relate to them on a familial level because he can understand how Pink felt, because that much is left of her, but that’s all that’s left. That was my interpretation of it.

      Given all the emphasis fusion has on the show, I enjoyed the implications of Steven being a human/gem fusion. It opens a lot of speculation, but that’s something I enjoy. Being able to discuss theories with other fans even years after the show’s ending allows me to engage on the serious, thought-provoking level that might otherwise just have belonged to the time when we didn’t have the answers, and without the virtue of hindsight.

      Also– Saint mentioned a meta post being made soon. Is that up yet? I’m still not 100% sure if that’s been made yet or where on A03 it is, if so.

    • Hmmm. I don’t know if you were trying to avoid spoilers or if you just focused entirely on the target audience of people who already watch the show, but this felt a bit too minimalistic. I would have appreciated some more development on why exactly you felt the series wrapped things up too neatly.

      • Yeah, more could be written on Steven’s character alone. He was never supposed to change, just get new powers.

        One the other hand, the show seems like it hasn’t been given enough care by it’s own creators to warrant a long and careful analysis. Even on deviantart, creators know the heights of their character. With that level carelessness, it’s not surprising that you get something like the zoo causally thrown in.

      • Sorry if I was being too vague there. I think that certain plot points were way too cool and way too complex to have been handled effectively in the short span of four episodes. For one, I have no idea why they wasted an entire episode on revisiting those stupid watermelons. If my show was being cancelled, there’s a lot more meaningful character interaction I would do than throwing back to an old gimmick with an “oh hey look how special and awesome my main character is he created them isn’t that a little bit like god, that means he can totally save the day, right?” added to it. That episode really irritated me.

        Get ready for a whole lot of guesswork and theorizing here, because that does tie into my complaint that it was too neatly done– none of this kind of stuff showed up.

        The biggest issue with its being too neatly tied up is White. White was such a phenomenal antagonist. A perfect counter to Steven, the way I interpreted it. Cold, callous, unempathetic to the core. Prone to fits of anger when things don’t go her way. She doesn’t care what you think, because other things– even other diamonds— are unimportant when they don’t line up exactly how she wants them to. It makes the dogma laid down by Homeworld rule that each gem has its own predesigned purpose and should not stray from that enforced destiny, because their leader is so absolutely controlling. Even other diamonds can’t escape it, she’s that influential and presumably strong. If a diamond is a god to a ruby, White is a god to an ordinary diamond, like Blue or Yellow.

        Everything from her design to her voice screamed “This is someone you cannot sway. This is someone who does not want to understand. This person is a threat to everything you hold to be valuable and true.” So for Steven, someone who has always tried to talk things out, this kind of antagonist is the perfect foil. I really wanted to know how they’d explore that dynamic, and that’s the sort of thing that needs its own season, maybe on homeworld for a large part of it, with Lars returning to lead another rebellion.

        What we got was Deus ex Machina. Steven’s diamond powers saved the day. The thing is, I can actually understand how that could have affected the story and made perfect sense, they’d just need more time for it. My take on the purpose of the diamonds is that they’re not just symbols of authority, their very presence affects gems. Blue was very explicit in her ability to broadcast sadness. It might explain why gems under Yellow’s control are so obsessed with war-like properties like authority of command and aggression, while Blue-aligned gems are much more sensitive. Without even one of the diamonds present, it could be explained that a core part of their being could be missing or no longer there.

        Pink’s diamond could represent empathy or inspiration, self-expression. Steven’s very presence on homeworld could inspire gems to feel and rebel against their order. By the sound of things, when Pink was around, White did actually care. The show could have displayed a gradual instability in White as Steven’s presence near her causes her unfeeling, uncaring perfect demeanor to crack, which puts even more pressure on her to find Steven and assimilate him. Because just as Pink Diamond’s thing is self-expression, creativity, etc., White’s thing is conformity. They’re natural enemies in that sense, but the way the diamonds could work is of balancing each other out. It’s kind of like the various aspects of humanity were emphasized in each diamond, and the absence of even one of them can throw the system out of whack.

        Pink’s birth could have been in response to an imbalance within the gems’ society. And her departure only threw things even more out of whack, because they know what they’re missing– Pink was a celebrated and beloved figure on Homeworld. That void turned to regret and guilt for Blue; it hardened Yellow. It could have had a similar effect on White, and Steven could have even managed his typical brand of talking it out, rather than fighting it out, but only after talking failed, and they had to resort to war. I would have really liked to see Steven’s further breaking down in the wake of failure, and what he could learn from that, with everything else going down.

        Or something like that. Most of what I said is either bullshit or speculation that has just a little bit of promise to it. The point of it all was that we didn’t get anything like that. There was no justifiable reason for Steven’s suddenly saving the day, and the victory felt less valuable for it. I don’t fault the show for this because they deal with factors like deadlines and the looming threat of cancellation. I appreciate the ending for trying to tie up loose ends, but it comes off as rushed at times. How could it not? And we still didn’t get to see why Pink/White Pearl has a massive crack through her– evidence of one of White’s tantrums, or if the crack in their planet was caused by White.

        There’s so much that needed to be handled delicately, and so much that’s still left unanswered that it would have been impossible to make an absolutely satisfying conclusion within four episodes. Deus ex Machina saved the day, and we’ll never know if White Pearl has to live with an abuser who may have shattered her freakin’ face for the rest of eternity. They were all happily splashing it up in a pool, and there wasn’t enough (or any) emotional validation from people I would have really liked to hear from! Jasper and Bismuth, particularly.

        Ultimately, I don’t fault the show for any of that, but most of that is from meta knowledge, from knowing or thinking that SU doesn’t get a chance to really flesh things out, so I’m judging it by that standard, rather than if they had unlimited time, money, and a television station willing to broadcast it. Kind of like a teacher grading a timed essay rather than one they’d had a month to do.

        TLDR; My complaints are that everything looked like it was going to be okay in the end, but it didn’t properly earn that right to a happy ending just yet, which could have been out of SU’s creators’ control.

        Let me know if I’m being vague again. I could have gone on one too many tangents to properly satisfy your response.

        • Sorry Reeds, but I’m gonna have to disagree with you on giving the awful resolution a pass because of cancellation panic. There were other ways they could have rushed an ending that weren’t a complete betrayal of everything that came before.

          I mean, they had Lars’ ship en route to Earth already. They didn’t need the diamonds to transport them and they therefore didn’t need the RQ=PD bailout. They could have just had Lars show up with the diamonds in hot pursuit or something if they needed to rush the plot to Homeworld. I would even have accepted hugging it out with the diamonds just as long as they were hugging it out with a commoner gem and thus actually rejecting the harmful caste system.

          None of the awful un-twists were necessary, even if they had to rush it. The writers chose to take a story about caste rebellion and turn it into a story about how the runaway princess’ feelings are the only ones that matter. That’s something I can’t forgive.

          • I could actually get suspicious vibes from Rose Quartz before she was PD, but even that was with Rose as the leaser of a rebellion, a lowly quartz who shook the foundation of gem society. Inspiration to any common gem who dreams of being more.

            The PD thing was a spit in the face of that theme, totally. That was and is galling. I don’t think it contradicted the show’s setup though, necessarily, it’s just that they baited people into thinking one thing about Rose in the beginning and the rest of the show is about realizing the flaws of the idolized Rose Quartz. I think it was focused more on the characters left behind as a result of Rose’s actions rather than one of caste rejection. People predicted the PD reveal, and there was some foreshadowing, but you’re right, it wasn’t necessary. Rose Quartz as a complicated character who made some questionable choices is a lot more interesting than spoiled princess leader playing undercover rebel!princess leader.

            Ultimately, the show shaped itself as a character-driven drama that followed the wake of Rose’s actions. Y’know, the more I type this out, the more I appreciate your ire. That aspect of the show only really works in a non-problematic way if the person whose legacy impacts the plot of the show was from someone other than from one of the 4 gems whose opinions were allowed to at least sort of matter to begin with. It’s totally a slap in the face for everything Rose stood for.

            And even that could have worked, dammit, if they just showed enough hurt and betrayal from the gems. Garnet, a fusion of a super common gem and a fusion, period, leading a proper resistance would have validated themes of caste rejection. The ending could have been a compromise made to the leader of the Crystal Gems– Garnet. Not Steven, who would in that case be of lower authority to Garnet. That would have been a satisfying scene, the diamonds being forced to accept Garnet as their leader and a lowly pearl as her second-in-command, probably. The entity they think of as a diamond would be tertiary at best  in the hierarchy of command there– he’s just a fourteen-year-old kid!


            So yeeeaaah, I can get where you’re coming from. I still enjoy it and will likely continue to enjoy it, but it was handled much more poorly than it should have been.

    • I wonder if CN had been on the fence with renewing SU for a while and it spooked the writers. Or just the general… poor scheduling CN has gone with made them feel like cancellation was imminent. And then CN was like “Actually there’s going to be a lot more SU to come! :D” after they finished everything.

    • Reverse/Bechdel test pass/fail. Farla doesn’t like writing them out because she says it looks too much like advertising.

    • “RQ = PD wasn’t planned” is giving the show the benefit of a doubt and assuming the writers just burned out and didn’t notice or care about narrative problems it created.
      If it were planned alongside the caste revolution, then, well, it’s a pretty tone-deaf and thematically incoherent story beat.
      If it were planned while the caste revolution was later development and not a part of the original plan, that would be more understandable: it would be hard to scrap your old ideas and rework the very direction of the show. But, well, that still produced thematically incoherent story, which is worthy of criticism. (It would also mean that a large part of what I liked about the show was incidental to it, which does not exactly endear me to it.)

    • Except it didn’t start out as a story about caste rebellion. It started out as a story about a human-magical being hybrid trying to fill the shoes of his illustrious mother with a group of other magical beings who protected humans from magical monsters.

      There is no contradiction there. Those are the exact same themes: struggling with the expectations other people and external forces place on you, and fighting for your right to be seen as your own person and make your own decisions.

      You talk about RQ=PD wasn’t planned, but why?

      Already talked about this.

    • I really feel and respect the disappointment here because “A common soldier becoming a general who struck down an untouchable queen is the perfect apotheosis of that.” GAHHHHHHHHH

      That said I did end up liking the finale because, well. But more seriously, I valued Steven’s transformation and realization of his identity more than I valued gem society and White Diamond being untouchable and frightening antagonists. The song “Change Your Mind” was basically everything.

      I am sad about losing Actually the System Is Bullshit and You Can Be Anything, but I do still appreciate “Princess Repudiates Her Privilege” even if the allegory kinda breaks down because you’re dealing with people who really do have more elaborate magical powers than those “lower” in the hierarchy. The parallels to being a gifted child and/or a cis heterosexual who doesn’t meet their “potential”/”gives up” their cis-hetero-ness in favor of doing/being something that matches their identity better are way too real. That terrible desire to please your parents/”parents” and do what they say even as it breaks you is uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh pretty personal.

      I do think your AO3 meta is right about the show [so far] failing to confront the reality of the shattered/killed gems in the war and the diamonds’/leadership’s responsibility for that, and I’m curious if that will be a theme going forward. I think the writers are really good at the personal interaction storylines, but how that expands to war/genocide/societal level problems hasn’t been tackled in quite the same way.

      I guess I would say, how do we know that the diamonds’ story is over, given “Instead things will persist. Sometimes they’re offscreen, ready to pop back in a dozen episodes later, sometimes they’re in the background of the episodes the whole time progressing very, very slowly, and generally not in the way people are used to in shows.”? SU is often frighteningly on-point when it comes to abusive families, toxic relationships, etc. and the big tearful hug-it-out moment where everyone makes promises and goes away knowing that everything is fixed… only for nothing to actually change, is suuuuuuper on-brand for that type of conflict.

      Anyway tl;dr I disagree about the finale being bad but understand the disappointment in the House of Farla

      • That terrible desire to please your parents/”parents” and do what they say even as it breaks you is uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh pretty personal.

        I get this, but the thing is, there are a lot of different ways that situation can manifest. The story told by the finale isn’t the story told by the rest of the show. Even just looking at Steven’s arc, the issues he faces are totally different. Steven Universe really isn’t a story about abuse; we touch on it briefly with Lapis and Jasper, but that’s a very different scenario from familial abuse. Steven’s real family is good, loving, and supportive, even if they are flawed and sometimes hurt him with their expectations. I see his narrative as one about imposter syndrome, not about growing up gay or trans in a family that rejects that. Those experiences have similarities, but they are fundamentally different.

        If this was the narrative they always wanted to tell, RQ=PD should not have been a last-minute surprise twist, Pink Diamond should have been the protagonist from the start. Nothing else makes sense. Steven is not Rose and this is not his family; we are required to completely throw out the character dynamics established through the entire rest of the show to accept a completely new one that comes out of left field.

        (And ennh I’m really sorry but I do not like the song “Change Your Mind”. Not in and of itself, the sentiment is great, but the show/tell disjunct is appalling. “I don’t need you to respect me,” says the boy who moved Heaven and Earth and risked the lives of everyone who already loved him just to make his evil mom respect him? If he really believed what he was singing, he would have cut ties and moved on like you should do with anyone like White in real life.)

  • I’ve been getting into Dragon Age after Act and other friends recced it. I played Origins a little while ago, and recently finished Dragon Age 2. But for all the talk of the excellent writing and the meaningful c […]

    • Act replied 5 days ago

      I think it’s pretty unfair to compare DA:O and Torment in this way, considering there was a decade in between their releases and 15 years in between their development. ‘The newer game has more nuance and more complex mechanics’ is not so much a commentary on either game as a baseline expectation after 15 years of progress in the medium.

      I think this review is missing a lot of context in general. DA:O was a hugely ambitious game for the time, and one of, if not the, first big AD&D-style wRPGs to implement this level of choice. In both 2002, when development started, and then 2009, when the final release happened, DA:O offered a kind of personalization and depth that was really innovative. It’s certainly true that its lack of deviation from prior AD&D-style games like is parent Baldur’s Gate left storytelling (and gameplay) gaps in the form of forced combat and lots of dead redshirts, but it represented a huge step forward in the genre and paved the way for future games. Saying ‘why wasn’t DA:O more like T:ToN’ is absurd not least because without DA:O, there is no T:ToN. DA:O pushed the boundaries of the genre at the time and was an important stepping stone in the maturing of the wRPG. For the people who played it when it first came out, it was genuinely mind-blowing, and so that’s how it’s remembered.

      I personally think DA:O, unlike, Baldur’s, holds up for the casual gamer: it has an engaging story, fleshed-out side characters, and gameplay that approaches something mainstream. It’s fun, even today. But it’s not a modern game.

      I also think it’s disingenuous to not mention the difference in reception DA2 and DA:O got; the implication here is kind of that they’re looked on as equally good, which is very untrue. DA2 got much more mixed reviews upon its release, and while people agree it had it moments I’ve generally seen it considered a disappointment as a sequel to DA:O. I personally liked it, I think, significantly more than average, and largely because I first played it shortly before DA:I’s release and playing it as a bridging game between O and I made it work in a Lite sense. The criticisms it got were largely in line with what you’re saying here, too — a sign of how much things had changed in just the 7ish years between the development of the two games. DAII was also the victim of a very short, rushed production cycle, and I think that needs to be at least broached when talking about how small its scope is, because not only do I think DAII had less choice than most players wanted, I suspect it had less than the dev wanted as well.

      In the end I’m just not sure how useful it is to apply modern questions about wRPGs to one game whose script was drafted in 2002 and another game that was both rushed through production and with a legacy of mediocre writing. I guess it’s a testament to how far the genre has come, but that doesn’t seem to be among your points, so…

      • I mean, I could say a lot of the same about your reviews of the Final Fantasy series. Works that are held up as classics still relevant to the conversation are fair game for modern analysis. The sad thing is, for all my complaining, Dragon Age genuinely does still feel at the cutting edge of video game writing to me. It’s trying, and is one of the few that’s succeeding, if only in parts. I think there is still a lot to be learned by looking at where it goes wrong, especially when it goes wrong in the particular way I see similar games keep going wrong.

        without DA:O, there is no T:ToN

        I find that a strange statement when Planescape: Torment predates it by a decade and still manages to avoid several of the issues I bring up here. (I probably should have cited it instead, but my memory of it is hazier.) Comparing P:T to T:ToN definitely does showcase how much has changed in the intervening time, but the Torment games aren’t very representative of the genre as a whole; they are very purposefully doing things that most RPGs don’t. T:ToN is an unusual alternative, not just a modern example of the genre.

        I’m aware I’m not as enmeshed in wRPG history as I am in jRPGs and that there is certainly historical context here, but these problems go deeper than what can be explained by different eras and rushed development. They’re born of entrenched and unexamined assumptions about how game narratives need to be structured, and that’s worthwhile to point out.

        If this has changed, it has changed only recently — I will admit I don’t know, because I can’t play any PC games more recent than the past few years because my PC is crap. Could you point me to some examples of the games you have in mind? I have heard good things about Fallout: New Vegas.

        • Fallout: New Vegas is pretty good, yes. It follows in the spirit of the first two Fallout games a little more, being made by one of the (just how many are there?) Interplay offshoots, Obsidian, under contract with Bethesda. I recommend it, and its DLCs.
          I personally enjoyed DA:O a lot when I first played it, but I do see how even back then it was very much a Bioware RPG with a focus on combat. And for what it’s worth, I very much loved the DA:O characters, setting, and lore. I wasn’t really looking for the same things you were from it, thematically, so to me it was just a tightly-crafted wRPG. DA:II absolutely killed the series for me and I haven’t played Inquisition because of it.
          Like Act said, comparing it to T:ToN is a little unfair, but wRPG developers have been making games where non-violent solutions are encouraged since at least Fallout in 1997, which is one of the first wRPGs that let you “talk down” even the final boss. Another game in the early aughts that I’d point out would be Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura. RPGs with stealth/dialogue/nonlethal elements are less about the player character making moral choices in dialogue and more about the player themselves doing it through mechanics, I guess, but Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines and Deus Ex would both be examples of that.
          Incidentally, I do find it funny that this is basically another ‘false advertising’ kind of review, like the Monster one, and indeed, ‘meaningful choice’ is one of, I’d say, the most commonly advertised mechanics that the advertised games don’t have.

          • Arcanum has made a bizarre choice to give you xp per hit at the enemy, which, once totaled, tend to exceed actual quest rewards. So, like, yeah, you can resolve things without violence, but why would you? There are also plenty of locations where enemies attack you on sight and where stealth is not really feasible.

            VtMB is a better example as it rewards you for completing the objective rather than for specifically killing anyone (and often give you additional xp for using stealth), and your ability to gather loot is limited (only one weapon of each type, and enemies generally don’t drop anything else). It falls apart in the final third of the game, however, which is essentially all the fighting, all the time.

            • Arcanum did have a bunch of mechanical quirks, but I wouldn’t equate that with a conscious design choice to promote violence over dialogue or other means of quest resolution. I, for one, didn’t even notice that violence was mechanically superior for leveling purposes. Also, Arcanum is actually full of non-lethal combat options like sleeping poison and stun grenades. That, I think, is a stronger indicator of the dev’s attitude/willingness to let the player do other things than Apply X Weapon to Target Face.VtMB’s final romp devolving into violence is honestly just the standard for RPGs. Like 99% of RPGs end up like that, sometimes with the excuse that the situation has escalated beyond talk. I see that as less of a choice regarding the promotion of violence in the game overall, and more a desire to end the game with a bang, and violence is just the simplest way to accomplish it. I almost want that assumption to be challenged, that the third act must involve some climactic battles, more than the attitudes towards violence in general.

              • Oh, I don’t think it was intentional on devs’ part. Pretty sure they followed the principle laid down by the original Fallout games, which states that, as much as possible, there should be three solutions to any given quest/challenge: fight, stealth, diplomacy (Fallout, incidentally, also fails at stealth hard). It just didn’t work out as well as they wanted to.

                But then, I don’t think that DAO consciously promotes violent solutions either. Part of the issue probably does come down to devs failing to consider the implications of their design choices, but another part is most likely technical constrains (consider that DAO goes for fully voiced dialogues, which increases the cost of branching conversations).

                It is, however, interesting to consider what effect design choices – whether conscious or born out of technical limitations – have on the final product and what incentives they produce in players.

                Somewhat unrelated, but it’s interesting to consider Persona 3-4 in that light (Act, you may want to skip it, though I would mostly avoid spoilers, certainly won’t talk about any important ones).

                A big theme in those game is the importance of social connections, expanding your mind through considering different perspective and gaining inner strength from it.

                In game, it is represented via Social Links mechanic: you can hang out with various characters in a VN-style gameplay, which increases the level of an Arcana corresponding to the given character (so, hanging out with a Student Council President allows you to level up the Emperor). That, in turn, gives Personas you create extra xp. The higher your SLink, the more xp they get, often jumping a couple levels and gaining powerful abilities without the need for tedious grinding.

                By itself, it’s an OK metaphor: by hanging out with drastically different people, you understand their perspective on life more and become more attuned to Personas similar to them, which allows you to wield them with greater efficiency. There are, however, some… curious issues with it:

                – The VN-style segments allow you to pick between several different responses. Some of those responses are strictly better than others, allowing you to progress faster, those gaining more power faster. Often, the actual in-universe difference between them is minimal. We aren’t talking about a choice between an insult and a compliment, but about, say, picking which kind of flowers you like the best.

                – Once you finish a storyline of a given character, you receive a message that “your bond is now unbreakable”. While you can hang out with some of them afterwards, there is literally zero need to do so. You won’t be rewarded with new content and you won’t get anything gameplay-wise.

                – Some of the available characters are… not people I would want to hang out with. Like, one of the first SLinks is a guy with a storyline revolving around his grand desire to bang a teacher. He befriends you because he thinks you’ve banged a classmate of yours. Why the fuck would I give him a time of day? Right, he’s a Magician Arcana, and I like fire.

                All of those factors combined give rise to a narrative contrary to the game’s intended themes: what the game teaches you is to learn to read people, to say to them what they want to hear regardless of your own feelings because it gives you power, and to discard them once they’ve outlived their usefulness. It is not a message the game wants to send, but the understandable limitations of mechanics coupled with some shoddy writing in places certainly allow for it to be a valid one.

                (OK, that’s a huge tangent, but it was kinda on my mind lately.)

              • I would like to point out, while we’re talking about failure to design stealth in RPGs, that no game in the world failed harder than DA:O. Not only can you not use stealth to avoid combat, you can’t even use stealth to set ambushes. You are always ambushed, no matter what. In Fallout and Fallout 2 stealth was unwieldy but could still be done if you had the knowledge and patience. There’s a decent LP of Fallout 2 in the archive which shows various possible playthroughs, one of which is a Metal Gear Solid-themed stealth run which, I believe, kills all of 3-4 humans.  
                I’ve never played the Persona series, but I’m not surprised to hear that it’s steeped in some gross anime bullshit. It was kind of possible to tell at a glance. Though, interestingly, I have seen the VN-style concept of raising affection scores in another RPG series, the Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel. It’s also a very high school romcom-inspired RPG, though it’s in a military academy in a belligerent, expanding empire. So that’s different.

              • I would like to point out, while we’re talking about failure to design stealth in RPGs, that no game in the world failed harder than DA:O.

                Yeah, that’s fair.

                Though I’m somewhat surprised that someone went to trouble of using stealth in Fallout. I mean, it’s physically possible, but why would you even?

              • Shit, forgot to add:

                In Arcanum, at least, there are stealth-based quests, so even though investing in stealth and other thief skills is not optimal, the game does go out of its way to create situations where they’re useful. If you want to feel like a clever rogue pulling off ingenious heists, you can, which is appreciated.

              • Well, yeah. The smart thing about Arcanum, ignoring the technical limitations of RPGs at the time, is that the devs made concerted efforts to cater to certain playstyles in specific parts of the game, rather than diluting the bulk of it, Fallout-style, in your aforementioned “3 solutions to every problem” method.
                There’s no way, for instance, to convince the exiled king of dwarves to return to his throne through violence or subterfuge. You must not only convince him with the Persuasion skill but also delve into multiple characters’ dialogue trees to learn what he needs to hear before you can even unlock the right options. That was one of the more well-realized quests in any game.
                Re: Fallout stealth, it’s definitely more icing than cake, and doing a 100% stealth playthrough is an exercise in stubbornness. wRPGs unfortunately inherited their stealth design from D&D, where stealth is a series of skillchecks. It’s almost destined to be unfeasible and/or unfun.

              • Fallout Tactics actually made stealth great. You would have a job to pacify a fortress and you could sneak in through a side entrance, take out everyone, and then open the front gates and shoot the clueless guards out front in the back.

            • Speaking of VtMB, it seems VtMB2 was announced today. How about that.

              • Let’s hope this one isn’t released riddled with bugs. Still, I’m moderately excited about it! (Although I do wish they’d also release a Werewolf game.)

              • I wanted to say that games being virtually unplayable at release is a relic of the past but, haha, I guess not. I can think of a few relatively recent examples.
                There are some good names attached to this new project, which gives me quite a bit of hope for it. They’re bringing back the original’s director and the ever-present Chris Avellone, whose life’s work seems to be catering to people with nostalgia for 90s-era wRPGs.
                I think the biggest danger with this kind of revival is that the new company will often have a shallow understanding of what made the original great, and I hope literally having the director on board will mitigate that.

              • Well, it’s something to look out for.

                Lore-wise, I have some concerns. What the devs revealed so far (you’re playing a thin blood but get a couple of powerful abilities like flight, mist manipulation, etc. nearly at the start) seems to indicate the game is going to play fast and loose with VtM lore.

                I mean, granted, VtM is not actually all that friendly to the usual wRPG formula unless you use Diablery as a core advancement mechanic*, and the original VtMB also deviated from the original in how concepts like Generation and especially Humanity are handled, but, well, we’ll see.

                *Which, to be fair, would rock. For those who don’t know, Diablery is when you drink the blood of an older vampire so hard, you eat their soul and gain some of their power. It’s actually a very thematically important mechanic since it allows the younger vampire generations to rise up and devour their elders (at the cost of their humanity, so they become just as much of callous monsters as their predecessors).

                Giving you power ups for nomming on bosses would be fun and entirely doable on technical level.

                @SpoonyViking But Werewolf kinda sucks. Like, all oWoD is steeped in 90s attitudes, but Werewolf antagonists is literally what happens when you take Captain Planet villains and make them grimdark.

              • VtM’s Generation system for power is pretty dumb for a wRPG, but like you said, Diablery as a mechanic would go a long way towards fixing it. I could see myself appreciating a game that does away with the incremental Experience -> Level system and instead gives you generous payouts when you Diablerize a boss.
                VtMB had canonically accurate thin-bloods but otherwise ignored the Generation mechanics. The player character should not have been able to resist LaCroix’s domination without Diablery.
                Humanity always seemed a little dumb to me as essentially a Morality-That-Matters bar. As if humans can’t be shitheads without supernatural baggage. They could replace or remove that and I wouldn’t be bothered, or solely make it a measure of how much faith-based abilities hurt you.

              • Humanity is… not a well implemented or explained mechanic. It was one of the first attempts to provide mechanical backing for Themes in a TPRG, and it was a pretty awkward one, often turning into a GM stick.

                It can sorta work OK once you realize that PCs are supposed to drop to 3-4 Humanity over the course of the game and stabilize there, but in the end even the devs lost faith in it and created Paths of Enlightment (which was a terrible stopgap measure in its own right, but that’s another story).

              • “Diablerie”.

                @iillhousen: but what’s wrong with that? The idea that a culture which normalises violence, prejudice, and all forms of exploitation feeds quasi-demonic beings from a different reality, beings which, in turn, take advantage of society’s power structures to encourage said culture is prime material for some good horror stories.

                Granted, that concept can be – and often was – explored in a heavy-handed and simplistic manner, but let’s be honest, most White Wolf sourcebooks were guilty of that.

                Plus, my favourite part of the game was the exploration of anthropological archetypes in the spirit realms anyway. :-P

        • I’m pretty beat, so apologies if I suddenly vanish or stop making sense.
          I mean, I could say a lot of the same about your reviews of the Final Fantasyseries. 
          True! I don’t care for the FF games, but I’m happy to admit how hugely influential there were and how at the time they were taking risks even if I don’t think they hold up. The old FFs are more like Baldur’s Gate for me, where I’d only rec them to people really interested in the history of the genre. I think the biggest difference between DA:O and FFIV, for instance, is that I really couldn’t even enjoy the old FFs, while I do think DA:O is still a fun game. FF also lives in a kind of weird place because they get rereleased every new console gen so Square-E is kind of resubmitting them for consideration in a way that doesn’t happen them with a lot of old games. But yeah, definitely tablespoons of salt to be taken with my FFVI post.
          I find that a strange statement when Planescape: Torment predates it by a decade and still manages to avoid several of the issues I bring up here.
          I was thinking about this, and I think that the big difference between games like DAO and PST is that despite a lot of very long branching conversations and some alternate endings, PST and its ilk were still very linear. Which isn’t a bad thing, but the idea that you could have a deeper story and lore like PST and also the intense customization of BG and accessible gameplay was really the new thing.  To get more customization and choice, you generally sacrificed the breadth of the lore and story. DAO was a major release that had its cake and ate it too, and I think that is what really impressed people, was the marriage of kind of all the disparate things wrpgs had tried to be. Or basically just what Roarke said below. I also think it’s in this marriage of big-stakes plot and tons of choice that lets you draw a line between DAO and TToN, not the thematic elements, if that makes sense, cuz yeah thematically it’s much more similar to Planescape.
          If this has changed, it has changed only recently — I will admit I don’t know, because I can’t play any PC games more recent than the past few years because my PC is crap. Could you point me to some examples of the games you have in mind?
          I’m a little confused here, sorry — not 100% sure what you’re referring to by ‘this’. But to take a stab: I do think the past few years have seen a huge cross-genre conversation in gaming about violence and choice and power fantasies and how they relate and what they say about us, and TToN is part of the reaction to the vices of past games, a reaction that includes everything from Undertale to Spec Ops to Dishonored. I think a lot of the assumptions of DAO about battle and redshirts and such were a mix of 1) assumptions by and about gamers in the early 2000s and 2) an artifact of Bioware’s earlier games that included these mechanics but weren’t trying to tell meaningful stories. There’s definitely a dissonance that develops, and it’s a dissoanance we’re still working through, but I’m not sure it’s directly connected to what made DAO such a classic, if that makes sense.
          edit: ugh, sorry, I feel like none of this makes any sense, I need to just not talk to people for like another six months until I’m normal again

          • Your comment is very coherent. In fact, I’d say your and Elmo’s discussion of how we can fairly judge older video games is the most important part of this page. University English/Literature departments all over the world could learn from you two.

          • I did still like Origins and I do think it’s good for what it is, it’s just, geez, high body count, Batman. It was only less noticeable there because it was high rather than low fantasy and therefore pit you against more monsters than people; I think it was the move to low fantasy, more than the rushed development or anything else, that created the problems I had with DA2. It’s just so, so silly to have Big Choices revolve around “This person killed someone! Judge them!” when you’ve waded through corpses to get to them.

            It really is a shame, I really did want to seriously engage with the Anders choice — it’s an incredibly good setup in theory. If it truly was possible to get to that point without killing anyone and still believing compromise was possible, it would have been a genuine betrayal for him to force you into a violent choice, and his speech about the impossibility of compromise would hit home with the player, not just the characters. It had the potential to be as effective as the Legato vs. Vash confrontation from Trigun. But when the game doesn’t allow you to make your methods meaningfully different from his… I just can’t.

            I don’t know why so few wRPGs are willing to just declare battles nonlethal like so many jRPGs do — that would solve so many of the story problems while still letting you have a combat focus. I’d feel a lot less weird about Dragon Age if my enemies didn’t all gush blood and turn into bones afterwards. But then I’ve also complained about how jRPG battles have no consequences, so both genres could stand to learn from each other.

            • I don’t know why so few wRPGs are willing to just declare battles nonlethal like so many jRPGs do

              I mean, they do, just not consistently. Even in Dragon Age there are battles where victory activates a cut scene showing enemies beaten up but mostly fine.

        • I probably should have cited it instead, but my memory of it is hazier.

          PST is kinda uneven in this regard. Considering battles specifically, the devs proudly claim that there are only three obligatory battles in the game (a zombie at the very start, Ravel and the fallen angel). This is technically true, but in practice you’re going to kill far more people.

          Like, random bandits deciding that your party of world-weary murderhobos is a perfect mark are here. You can technically run away from them, but it’s honestly just easier and more profitable to kill them off (I also don’t remember if they disappear if you leave the location or just stick around forever, and I’m pretty sure fighting blocks dialogue, so killing is just more convenient). There are other instances where going along with fighting is just massively easier than the alternative, like the Fortress of Regrets and its shadows, the rats in the catacombs, etc.

          There is also the mausoleum quest at the first location after the Mortuary wherein you go into a mausoleum, kill various undead, encounter a necromancer disturbing the spirits here and kill him as well as the only possible quest resolution. It’s honestly such a cliche quest, it belongs inside the Mordon Cube rather than PST proper.

          Overall, PST is a far less violent game than most, but it still exists within the paradigm of BG and its ilk, and some of it bleeds into its design.

      • I think, peering through the mists of time, that what DA:O really had that hadn’t already been done was the scope of it, and the depth of its lore, rather than, say, how reactive the game was to your choices. It was also much more tightly crafted, mechanically, than others of its time.  Like you pointed out, DA:O is more favorably compared to Baldur’s Gate; I’d say DA:O is BG perfected, in fact. It’s the quintessential Bioware RPG. Tactical combat, snarky characters, edgy setting… Bioware. Rather than breaking new ground, it raised an old bar.

        • how did you say in two sentences what took me an essay

          • Being lazy helps. It means I spend most of my effort on pithy quips like “Rather than breaking new ground, it raised an old bar,” which I’m still patting myself on the back for.

        • If we’re talking about evolution of wRPGs, Dragon^ Mage Origin should probably be compared to the Pillars of Eternity, if anything, since it’s actually trying to be modern BG in the same way Tides tries to be modern PST.
          I actually have few recollections about Pillars. I found it aggressively OK, so I guess I would hand the victory here to DMO.

          • Pillars was actually trying to be modern Torment as well, though it did include some BG staples. Maybe “Modern Infinity Engine Game” would be most accurate. Pillars, like DA:O, tried to be a game with rich story and lore while also having an extreme level of character customization. It succeeded at those things, and I honestly liked its setting far more than DA:O. DA:O kind of jumped too hard on the grimdark wagon for my taste. Elves are in ghettos! Mages are in concentration camps! Dwarves are crazy oligarchic isolationists on the front lines of Sauron’s encroachment! Humans are bastards as per usual! Meh. If you could lighten the game up by about 20-33%, I’d be happier.  

  • Part of the chapter review exchange.

    I appreciate that you’re not capitalizing pokemon.

    [A little ‘serendipity’ in his childhood resulted in an fate he could not escape from, whether he wanted to or not. […]

    • Eh, it can be a little awkward to include anime hair colors in a non-visual medium, as they’re almost never meant to represent what’s actually there. It might be less distracting to flatten them to the closest real-world color – blue hair in anime generally represents a stylized black, for instance.

      Oh, this reminds me: How do you feel about this with something like Exalted, where people might just naturally have green hair because genetics? I was actually wondering about that earlier. Really convenient this came about, actually.

      • If it’s there for an in-story reason, that’s fine. Gods and Demons does that, for instance.

        • DO NOT talk about hair color unless your headcanons are THIS elaborate

          I’ve spent some time on the roleplay side where a lot gets started but never continued, let alone finished, so as time goes on I get more and more I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE, DO SOMETHING

          balance is needed, of course

  • So I recently took a look at the anime Monster (commonly referred to as “Naoki Urasawa’s Monster” to help you distinguish it from the pages of porn you’ll get by searching “monster anime”). When I saw the pitch, […]

    • I read Monster some years ago and I remember essentially none of it, so yeah I’m going to go with ‘unmemorable’. It is interesting that a work failing to follow through on its own premise can be seen as false advertising in a sense, though really I think that kind of extends to mediocrity itself. I mean, isn’t everything promising to be good? Or at least decent?I was re-reading Farla’s Let’s Read of uhh Battle Royale, and I really did appreciate that, despite its flaws, the book had a strong narrative and thematic vision that it held to throughout. Funnily enough, the biggest flaw in that vision seemed to be Kazuo Kiriyama, the psycho student who upended the ‘normal people stuck in extreme situation’ thing by becoming a supervillain. Not too different from what happened here!

    • The bait-and-switch thing is one of my least favorite “plot twists.” I had what would have been my favorite anime go from a nice, dystopian story to Aliens, and it made no sense, did nothing to serve the plot, and was just freakin’ weird. I didn’t even watch the rest of it, it pissed me off so much. I agree; it’s really annoying when a story betrays the basic premise it sets itself up as for some odd gimmick.

    • Well I like convoluted mysteries, evil genius and conspiracies, but I was still disappointed by Monster . Very draggy and melodramatic. Also, as you said, it thinks it’s doing deep ethical dilemma, but it’s ultimately super conventional morality: killing is never okay! Never heard that one before.

      Another thing it did which drives me nut wherever I see it (for example in Sherlock) is the tropes of the super smart and/or super strong antagonist who could destroy the protagonist at any time, but doesn’t because they finds the hero “fascinating” or whatever. This is bad story-telling because it’s purely arbitrary. It gives the writer a blank check to do whatever they want without having it makes sense. And it makes the hero extra-special with no effort.

      • I disagree where Sherlock is concerned. Giving the protagonist/antagonist conflict one of a more personal conflict can be a very feasible reason for sparing someone, from past ties to being family, etc. In the case of Sherlock, I think that it’s unfair to say that the hero is special with no effort; the effort, in this case, would be in convincing the reader that Sherlock is indeed a genius beyond a nigh-magical ability to pick up clues that aren’t there to solve the whodunnit. The plot has to be as clever as the main character is proclaimed to be, or the reader/viewer-base will pick up on this and punish the author for it. 




        • So, what you’re trying to say is… it’d have been okay for Moriarty to keep sparing Sherlock because he found him fascinating… if Sherlock was actually a fascinating character, and not an aggressively bland when he’s not aggressively unlikeable one?
          (Of course, what they should’ve done was make the show as episodic as Sherlock Holmes stories were written, but modern television absolutely hates the episodic story format for anything but for comedy cartoons for kids, and Steven Moffat makes the average showrunner look like an episodic series fetishist in comparision, despite his sole strength being episodic stories for standalone episodes.)

          • [So, what you’re trying to say is… it’d have been okay for Moriarty to keep sparing Sherlock because he found him fascinating… if Sherlock was actually a fascinating character, and not an aggressively bland when he’s not aggressively unlikeable one?]

            Pretty much. I think 98 percent of Tumblr disagrees with you on Sherlock being bland, seeing as he practically has a cult following, but I can’t vouch for the series myself, having never watched it. But yes, it’s okay to have intense personal conflicts fueled by something strange, so long as the plot and everything of the show, book, etc. backs up the character’s being worthy of being spared. 

            • Sherlock is bad. Really, really bad. I’d be willing to bet good money most of its tumblr fanbase is due to all the shipping between Sherlock and the non-entity that Watson becomes.

              Honestly, Elementary is a much better show to watch, even if its not without its flaws.

              • Since I managed to derail the post about Monster being bad into a conversation about Sherlock being bad, I might as well post this link, lol.

              • I’ve only started seeing hbomberguy’s videos recently, after I heard of what he did for the Mermaids charity, but that video and the one on Doctor Who’s 2017 Christmas special perfectly sum up my feelings about Moffat’s writing in general and the problems with Sherlock specifically.

    • Act replied 1 month ago

      I had this exact experience with Tokyo Ghoul, which was pitched as being about what it means to be human and the morality of death but was actually about heaping superpowers and specialness onto the protagonist. I had the exact reaction as you: why even bother creating a setup that asks these questions if you don’t actually give a shit about them?

    • Act replied 1 month ago

      Unfortunately I can’t speak to the anime; I read the manga and quit like 20 chapters in in favor of a plot summary when it became clear it was glossing over the stuff I was interested in.

    • I always meant to watch Monster but would always procrastinate because ass-long anime intimidate me.

      Now I feel validated.

    • Nerem replied 4 weeks ago

      Johan fits into probably one of my most disliked character tropes ever: The idea that ‘being a genius’ means ‘you’re hyper smart at literally all things innately and are also are physically superhuman at the same time’. All the genius characters from, say, Ender’s game fits into this as well as a LOT of anime and it drives me nuts.

      I’ve been reading The Promised Neverland lately and it’s fairly enjoyable and manages to avoid that pitfall, and really you should just read/watch it instead of Monster, which I could never stand.

  • Some anime I like! Two old classics, and one newer one I saw recently.


    I’m surprised to see I haven’t reviewed this yet! This is one of my favorite animes of all time, so let’s fix […]

    • Oh, hey, I’ve read/watched Mob. It is indeed pretty good. It should be noted, however, that the manga is drawn in the signature style of the author, which is to say, it looks like doodles in the margins of a notebook. It’s charming, but not conventionally pretty.

      The anime does a good job of going completely mad with visuals, but it currently covers a rather limited amount of the material.

      • Mob’s been something on my to-watch list for some time. I’ve seen OPM, and I liked that one. I really liked Act’s (I think it was Act) deconstruction of the plot and how it would probably end. As someone writing a female main character, The Vision of Escaflowne might be especially useful for me to watch, especially as my main character isn’t a powerhouse either, and even has pseudo prophetic visions, to boot!

        • I also suggest reading the Escaflowne mangas (yes, plural). They made a shounen one and a shojo one, and at the very least, its interesting to see how they differ. The shounen one is much longer (about ten volumes as opposed to getting axed at about ten chapters) and features a much more violent and action focused storyline (but closer in level to the anime than the shoujo one) and a very different heroine than either the anime or the shoujo version. The shoujo version is much more heavily focused on character interaction than the shounen version or even the anime, to the point that Escaflowne itself barely appears at all, though the heroine is far more like the heroine from the anime.

          • I am a fan of manga! It’s a lot easier to read those than to sit down for the full 30ish minutes required for an anime episode. I’ll put them on my reading list, thanks.

            • That said, though, as I recall (and I highly doubt my memory is wrong in this instance), the anime is superior to either manga adaptation. It’s best to think of them as three separate stories entirely.

    • I think, as the trappings are pretty unrelated to the real content. Here’s the back-of-the-box pitch: it’s a far-future post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure on a desert planet, starring a superhuman pacifist gunslinger. Here’s what the story is actually about: a deconstruction of absolute pacifism and selflessness, and the worth of ideals compared to human lives. 

      You know, I feel like that just suddenly clicked when you brought it up.

      As time goes on it the series shows that the stuff isn’t there just because aesthetic, but the actual elements are so buried under cliche and overuse it’s hard to really look at them directly.

      It starts off just being a bunch of roving assholes Vash is mysteriously invested in not shooting, but soon we see it’s the social group nature of humanity that underlies the predatory behavior. People can’t survive alone  and the only reason civilization is even managing to limp along is group effort. But the best way to survive is to take the work of a large group for your own personal benefit, and that kills the people you take it from, which reduces both the overall resources and the people available to do the work needed to survive, which makes survival harder and violence more necessary…

      So – post-apocalyptic scifi = this system of fighting over and blowing up vital, lifegiving resources had consequences and the longer it continues the worse it gets for everybody. Desert = but it’s not just that the nature of man is to suck, there really is a resource problem going on here and people really do have to weigh their wellbeing against a stranger’s all the time. Gunslinger = we are so so tapped out that a random dude with a gun vs another random dude with a gun is how we resolve things. There’s no higher authority Vash can appeal to, no broader system that’s wrestled with these problems and found a non-bullet solution. He, the moral system he cobbled together as a baby, and the genocide gun his brother made him are on their own.

      • The Mad Max series also deals quite well with those themes.

        I loved the Trigun anime! Never read the manga, though. I found it particularly poignant with how it didn’t shy away from the heavy price exacted by Vash’s philosophy – he’s a literal super-human, and his body is a mass of scars and bruises.

  • And now, the finish!

    This is delightful in a horrifying sort of way. What I like best is how the trainer isn’t really trying to trick the ralts into doing this, because that’d require actually looking at the […]

  • Bunch of people tripping over their attempts at realism, an increasing amount of stuff that’s just humans having relationship drama, and a fic about something horrifying that apparently happened in the anime after […]

  • A shiny gardevoir pokefucking fic. Several outright disasters. Some that sort of but don’t quite work without more polish, and one that actually got polished up.

    You wouldn’t capitalize animal or mouse or d […]

  • Lot of fic that isn’t really fic.

    [Italics is for thoughts, psychic speech, and to show emphasis.]

    Thoughts and psychic speech are really the worst place to overlap. One marks private information no one else […]

    • It’s been going on so long I think there’s different waves.

      The original was absolutely just a situation where they were already older than ten but wanted to write about someone like them getting their first pokemon, and often a side of wanting to have a romance subplot between the traveling companions. And there’s a huge overlap between people who want to write about older teens and people who make a big deal about “realism”, so saying that actually in their fic pokemon training is super dangerous the way it SHOULD be (but their teen self-insert is totally old enough, Mom!) was particularly common. And they very commonly failed at actually presenting a more dangerous world because the whole point was really to let their character have the standard pokemon trainer experience, not because they had any interest in writing about it being way harder and more dangerous.

      Now that there are all these fics with reason to insist that older trainers are just realism and not sues, new people read those those and come away with the impression that this is just how it works and everyone in fandom agrees that ten year olds leaving home is ridiculous garbage that could never, every happen, and they can show they’re part of the smart true fans by agreeing!

  • This is terrific.

    The description as a whole is lovely but I particularly like how you zig with stock descriptions – instead of “this is/was a human but I can turn off my empathy and pretend otherwise” it’s ” […]

  • A PMD fic that actually kept my attention!

    [“It’s better than the marshes,” I reminded him. He’d given me the cold shoulder the entire month we’d patrolled the swamps of Route 120, but it was secretly one of my […]

  • A lot of grammar errors but some rather unorthodox first-pokemon-gettings as well, including one where the pokemon gets to have a name of their own. Also, a straight up isekai fic and it doesn’t even involve […]

  • A reasonably varied bunch! Also, the counter-reviews are getting particularly mad.

    [ I don’t really have a specific reason for deleting it, I just felt like some chapters were not as well-written as they […]

    • The nuzlocke one was pretty cute.

    • This introduces questions – is he better by fifteen? Will things start off okay because he’s scared so he treats his pokemon with kid gloves, but if things go okay for him, he’ll lose that fear and start ignoring his pokemon’s feelings again and end up in the same situation (and this time with a much stronger, more dangerous pokemon)?

      Hoo hoo hoo, this is a fun idea.

      • Yup! (Really, more fic could do with trainers having personality traits in general >_>) I can think of a very few times trainers ended up having their now-stronger pokemon decide to fuck off but that’s treated as the worst case scenario when it’s actually one of the better outcomes.

        And the bit about the bulbasaur really ties it together – so many trainers pick a pokeball, not a pokemon, so many fics have the mild drama of a pokemon not liking their new trainer and their trainer not taking no for an answer, and he obviously didn’t learn much of a lesson given his own recounting of events is just “my bulbasaur didn’t like me and then it didn’t like me so hard my arm broke” as if none of that had anything to do with him.

  • Act wrote a new post, Gungnir 2 months, 2 weeks ago

    Finally wrapping up the Dept. Heaven series, Gungnir.

    This was easily the weakest of the four games. It felt very rushed to me, and kind of all over the place as a result. It’s likely the only one I wouldn’t […]

    • I forget, did you get to play the Japanese-only games? Blaze Union and Yggdra Unison specifically. They’re both sequels of sorta to Yggdra Union, with Blaze Union being a prequel that sets up Yggdra Union and Yggdra Unison being a ‘fandisk’ that mostly expands on Yggdra Union’s characters and lets you play pretty much every major character in a very diferent version of the gameplay.

  • And now it’s reply time! Some authors are angry. Some authors are fine. Some third parties are not okay with some authors being fine and would rather insist they’re idiots who can never improve, and somehow that […]

    • You’ve got a lot of broken line breaks here. Remember that they’re not visible in the editor; you have to line break the first seemingly unbroken line of every message to be sure.

    • RandomGuyontheStreet13 was just… weird. I think he was really defensive about getting criticism and decided to go about it by attacking you instead of really acknowledging what you said. He also seemed quite (ironically and hypocritically) contradictory. Seeing an amateur tell someone clearly much better and more experienced at something how to do the job is always both cringy and entertaining.

  • Arg, something messed up and the document reset, so I may have lost some reviews. Edit: okay, found the original, none were lost!

    [I decided to leave this child by the fountain since it is the place where all […]

    • [Also, you need to really think about the demographics here. How is society functioning if most of the the adult population is completely gone? Because that’s what all the men and a whole lot of the women adds up to.]

      It’s just a little casual pokemon communism. It just works.

      The story is gone. I have no clues about aspects of the society not written here.

      • They reposted it, if you’re interested. 

        • Tried to review that but interestingly, I was blocked.


          [Speaking of universes, this is kind of an AU: all the places, organizations, and even some of the events are the same, but all the characters—gym leaders, champions, and other side characters—are different. You can imagine it as an alternate universe, or simply as a time decades or centuries ahead of the games and anime, it comes down to the same thing.]

          That’s basically a stop reading now instruction to me.



          • What’s so bad about that? Fanfiction overwhelmingly writes characters so out of character that they might as well be completely different, so what’s wrong with a wholly original cast?

            • The writer doesn’t even pick a direction of why thus doing it for “because he wants to.” Replacing everyone for the sake of it doesn’t really do fanfic justice.




              • … Why not? What’s wrong with using the setting, but not the original characters? The setting is usually the thing that survives more intact to begin with.

              • It’s how he framed it in the vein that he doesn’t care. If he doesn’t care, why should I?

                AU, decades or centuries later (doesn’t matter) whereas a futuristic story would be kind of cool, an AU (depending on what) doesn’t justify replacing everyone. 

                Decades might be too small of a time jump for a radical shift.





      • I dunno, the society might be completely unpopulated by adults, but I still don’t think it’d function as poorly as a communist society.

    • Okay, so I appreciate that you didn’t completely gender this by saying “a lot” of women leave too, but it really didn’t need to be gendered in the first place.

      Yeah, women are just as capable as men of being irresponsible assholes who’d abandon an entire town of children!

      Plenty of idiots manage to be good in a fistfight due to strength, and you can totally beat people to death with sticks – honestly, given people train with sticks all the time, it’s not even that big of a problem for the samurai and he’s still got a big advantage if it’s a fistfight and the other guy’s completely unarmed

      It is almost comically easy to fatally injure someone with a bokken. They’re made of extremely dense wood, can be swung wicked fast (especially compared to something like a baseball bat, which is very top-heavy), and the wounds they leave are usually internal and sometimes can be hard to recognize the seriousness of (if even recognized at all). Imagine if someone optimized a baseball bat for use as a melee weapon.

      Omnivore solely refers to what they consume and has nothing to do with how they get it, if there are other bits they’re not eating, or if anyone dies in the process. Possibly you mean “predatory”?

      And if they’re only eating the metallic portions of pokemon, they’re not omnivorous no matter how they get it.

      Should be [said, “Pi].

      Should also be unincluded. Even if you’re going to make them talk like in the anime, summarizing the tone is always going to be less cringe-inducing than writing out their “dialogue”.

  • A story where pokemorphs coexist with various civil rights movements without there being the slightest connection, one where cutting edge technology lets battles be even more boring, porn, Hala using the tapu to […]

  • Let’s start off on a high, if pre-2019, note:


    Penguins are just so, so adorable doing anything.

    And now, onward into January.

    [ not really any Pokémon attributes, but the world it takes part in is a […]

  • Over the Edge is a classic TRPG that’s getting a new edition soon. The game revolves around Al Amarja, a fictional tiny island nation that survives by virtue of basically having zero regulations on anything and […]

  • “Let me make it clear now that if you do CTRL+F, I only used an exclamation point ONCE, and that wasn’t even a combination with CAPS LOCK. I only use CAPS LOCK when I’m angry or want to prove a point. In this […]

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