Two games I picked up in the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality, remakes of two RPG Maker games I played years ago.
They were not very good.
Soma Spirits: Rebalance
A remake of Soma Spirits touched up for commercial release. I think it does improve on the problems I had with the gameplay: There is now a hard mode that is genuinely hard (though mostly in the form of forcing you to spend half the battles healing because the enemies deal ridiculous damage), and several new abilities that allow for more strategical possibilities. (Though the old ultimate physical skills still outdamage the new ultimate magic skills even when they hit a weakness, because of course they do.)
The story has only two differences: The extremist gods are even more secretly evil (there was no actual cataclysm that necessitated the split and they just made that up as an excuse to create their ideal worlds), and the dude who gets scammed into getting a truck when he wanted a boat now has a positive outlook in both worlds. Why they changed that and that alone, I do not know. Also, they changed the final boss’ name from “Ruin” to “Absolution”, which confuses me to the point I have to wonder if they actually know what the word means. Maaaybe it’s supposed to be “absolving” in the sense of removing everything, but it’s still a very weird word choice for an evil eldritch abomination monster. (The cadence just sounds wrong for a creature name, too — I liked the cold simplicity of “Ruin” after the pretentiousness of the previous form, “Quietus”.)
Apparently though the author is now willing to explain that the story wasn’t supposed to have any political implications and the world split was a metaphor for manic depression, which is utterly baffling to me because no character acts either manic or depressed. There is also the fact that your mind is not the entire world, holy crap check your ego.
Brave Hero Yuusha EX
Another remake of an earlier game by the developers of Soma Spirits. I played the original and was pleased to find it in the bundle.
Unfortunately, while I liked the original, I found this didn’t really live up to the nostalgia (rather ironically). It’s an interesting concept, but the story ultimately felt very shallow and didn’t really go anywhere. I ultimately felt Sojourner did a much better job of exploring the same themes.
The premise is this: We start with the same setup as the first Dragon Quest, with a princess captured by an evil demon lord and a chosen hero destined to fight him and save the princess. However, the narrative is hijacked by an individual calling himself The Puppeteer, who rushes the hero into the final dungeon immediately. The princess and demon lord realize the story is off-script, and team up to stop The Puppeteer.
These sorts of meta-narratives always run a danger of becoming too recursive for their own good, and I feel that’s exactly what happened here. The characters are apparently aware they are in a story and remember it every single time the story is told, like they’re actors putting on a play except their roles are also literally their lives? It sounds like a nightmarish existence to me, but the characters only briefly bemoan the limitations of their role before deciding it’s fine because stories make people happy.
The answers to the questions raised about the characters’ purposes and lives felt… frankly childish, to be honest. The demon lord’s ennui is solved by just deciding friends are important? The damsel in distress beats destiny by… shouting at it really hard? The hero’s hatred of their role is solved by them deciding “What I do is meaningful,” followed by them… not doing anything different than before. There is no true meta-analysis of the cultural purpose stories, and especially these mythic archetypes, serve. Why is there a demon lord? What is he actually doing? Why do we equate princesses with reward? What is she the princess of? Why was this the story of the first Dragon Quest, and why do we keep telling it over and over? These are the questions the story should have answered, but it didn’t.
In that regard, the framing narrative didn’t make much sense to me either — I don’t understand why Edward would become so obsessed with such a shallow story. When people become self-invested in stories, it is usually because they relate to the story in some way, but I don’t see what he saw in this story in the first place. If he was supposed to be attracted to the love and fame garnered by the Yuusha, we don’t really see any of that in the story. There is perhaps something to analyze there regarding the nature of power fantasies and gamers, particularly male gamers, to feel entitled for their labors and use vicarious affection to substitute for real… But I didn’t get the impression that was the theme here.
I had also hoped for at least some commentary on fandom and transformative fiction with The Puppeteer’s desire to “rewrite” the story, but I was honestly surprised by how completely the subject was ignored. Despite claiming that he wants to change the story, The Puppeteer never does so at any point after the start, and even then it is only to disrupt it. His desire to destroy the story utterly in the endgame is portrayed as a shocking twist, but… that seemed to be what he was always doing? And given the framing story, was his motivation from the start anyway? Why the bluster about “changing” the story at all?
Gameplay-wise, I liked the change to the final battle, but aesthetically I think I actually preferred the lo-fi charm of the original. The Puppeteer’s final form in the original looked truly horrific, but I thought he was just kind of goofy here, and his dialogue was also way too coherent. I liked the sympathetic angle of him just completely falling apart and fuming incoherently in the original, but in this he’s just cackling and taunting like a regular villain.
(And once again, magic was garbage. The Yuusha’s regular attack frequently outdamaged Glynn’s spells even when she hit a weakness.)
Also, for both games: I think the developer vastly overestimated how cool I would find the Cooler Crusader. Why am I supposed to care about this idiot? Is he from the dev’s prior work? Is there any reason at all we are supposed to be invested in him? I don’t understand.