The Reconstruction Part 47 – “The Encounter” (Guest Review)

Last time, sexism. This time, racism.

The guild recognizes her as Skint’s sidekick. She walks off, they follow.

Our only line of audible Aryn dialogue, and it’s in a language we can’t understand. Why does she exist?

Dehl asks about what he was doing in Fortifel and Skint gets all tsundere:

“What, [did I know you were] in danger? Being stalked? Risking something you didn’t even know you had? Don’t think for a moment we have done your guild any favors, whelpling.”

Yes, elaborate more on how very little you care, that’s convincing. And I still don’t know what he was doing there in the first place. The likely explanation is that he really is shadowing Dehl to mentor him or just to understand him, but that annoys me because I’m really sick of the world revolving around the protagonist. Skint supposedly has plans and ambitions that don’t revolve around Dehl, so why did he drop all of them to follow him? It’s also weird of him to keep up the tough-guy act when he’s actively trying to get Dehl on his side this time. He knows Dehl hates him and he knows Dehl hates the intimidation attempts. He should be smart enough to realize he should try a different tactic.

The game really needed more of Skint, I think. He appears far too infrequently for the player to piece together his actions and motivations. The ~mysterious~ character needs to drop enough hints for a reader to conceivably puzzle them out, but even after reading the external blog post that supposedly explains Skint I’m still scratching my head over him.

Anyway, it’s exposition time now. Skint explains that this is the birthplace of the shra; they appear to exhibit a “delivered by storks” method where babies pop up here to be adopted, so all shra come from the same place despite their myriad destinations. That’s some nice imagery but I’m a bit too distracted by the misogyny (which Skint neglects to mention right now, presumably because LOL like women matter) to appreciate it. Skint also, for once, explains his motives: he really does just want to see Dehl this time, though he’s vague about why because we need to drag this out.

Santes: “Yeah, you ain’t even told us what’s so special ’bout this place! How ’bout a hint?”
Skint: “No whining. It is something that must be seen, not merely told. You’ll not regret it.”

See, this would be fine in isolation because we actually get payoff quickly this time, but the game’s overused this technique so much that it still annoys me.

Skint tells everyone to arm themselves and Dehl is all “but the law says the max party size is six” and Skint’s all “lolwut” so Dehl concedes. It’s a nice exchange that showcases Dehl’s insane lawfulness, but…

“You’re kidding, right, whelpling?”

Nitpicky, but this sounds off to me; “you’re kidding” sounds too modern/informal for Skint, especially right next to “whelpling”.

They keep going and reach a “moat”. This is where they see the female. Skint insists there’s a crossing, they just have to find it. The party will split up to search the east and west sides, so I get to use every character without breaking the sextet rule. It’s a good move, especially now that even the support slots are filling up. It’d be better if this was the standard, but using this as a unique occurrence is effective at amping up the drama of this quest in particular. (And we get a fully-developed multi-party mechanic in IMTS anyway, so it’s all good. Unlike the misogyny.)

You don’t get any control over the groups, but unlike with Asarik they’re pretty well-constructed.

Qualstio points out that Skint is hella suspicious and wonders why they’re blindly following his orders.

Dehl: “Do not worry. [Skint] is no enemy of ours.”
Qualstio: “Yeah, right, and he’s just bein’ all creepy and ambiguous just to amuse himself.”

Pointing out your plot holes does not make them magically disappear, game. Quite the opposite, in fact.

…Why did Dehl permit Moke to go in another group? He’s awfully possessive of him, normally.

We learn that both Dehl and Moke have no memory of this place. This strikes me as a cop-out; Moke has good(ish) reasons for having amnesia, but Dehl? It’d be nice to actually get an understanding of how the Sikohlon get their kids and what makes them different from the others. Unfortunately, it remains a mystery.

Kidra: “Mmm, sooo mysteeeerious! Such a shame you’re so… corrosive, big fella.”

kidra we know your deal now you can stop pretending to be a creepy xenophile

There’s an obligatory battle. It’s fairly difficult because this party isn’t quite as well-rounded as the other ones, but I’ve got Lani for defense and Sirush for offense so it’s all good.

Lani: “That’s the last of ’em. You all okay? I know how squishy y’all are without real armor.”

Haha! Lani tells it like it is.

It starts raining, which is an important plot detail cleverly disguised as a meaningless coincidence. Good job, game.

The one time Santes brings up a valid point and it goes unaddressed because her man is busy having a glaring contest with Skint. There’s some dumb banter. K thinks about how they won’t reach “it” because we have to wring every ounce of anticipation out of this, and Faltiza gives us some obligatory crazy talk:

“This water. It is water of the bad color. The sky does not approve.”

I have no idea why she would say this because it’s meaningless and no one seems to hear her, but whatever.

Then it’s obligatory battle time. A huge platoon approaches Skint while a piddling force approaches the guild, and Skint dispatches the bigger group to show off how awesome he is. It’s kind of annoying that this group has the easiest battle when it’s the strongest party (because it has Santes). Afterward Zargos resumes his death glare and Skint finally relents.

“I never turned a sword against Wadassia. There. Is that what you wish to hear?”

WHY DID YOU DRAG THIS OUT SO LONG. WAS THAT REALLY SO HARD.

Santes: “Well sheesh, why didn’t you say so sooner?”

Okay, this better be good.

Skint: “And present myself as caring about some petty Human conflicts? Never. Hah.”

It isn’t, of course.

Presumably the tsundere-ness is intentional here since he does care a lot about it so he’s clearly lying, but I still don’t get why he refused to tell Zargos. If he admitted he was trolling him or playing mind games or whatever that’d be understandable, but… he doesn’t. This is all we get. We never learn why this stupid subplot was dragged out so long when Skint could have ended it with a single line, and by all appearances he had no reason to do so since now he’s just doing it to get Zargos off his back. This kind of padding, where plot arcs have easy and obvious resolutions but are pointlessly dragged out for no reason, is a really amateurish writing technique and I’m disappointed to see it.

Tehgonan points out that for supposedly hating humans Skint sure acts a lot like one, which is nice foreshadowing but Skint goes back to mysterious mode so we’re not getting anything more out of him. This would have been a good point to drop some hints toward his Sikohlon background.

We then cut to the western group, but they just hit a dead end and obligatory battle, nothing important. I can see why it had to be this way since there’s only one crossing, but it would have been nice for this branch to not be a total waste of time. Extended conversations for characterization purposes, if nothing else, would have made it worthwhile. The eastern group gets that in addition to advancing the plot, so it’s a bit weird that this branch is devoid of any substance whatsoever.

Over in the east, we get more lovely fem-shra scenes. Moke tries talking to her in Human because he’s an idiot, then instead of translating her speech when Lani asks he walks up to her without saying anything even though he knows she’s terrified of him. What is he even trying to do?

Then a patrol shows up.

This choice doesn’t affect anything as far as I can tell. Like the choice back in chapter 2, it’s just… there. I don’t understand the motivation behind it. No matter what you do, the female runs off and you have to fight the shra. (If you try to negotiate, Moke again talks in Human, because he’s an idiot.) Afterward, Moke explains she thought he was a si’shra… which is why he walked up to her intimidatingly instead of saying otherwise? I feel like something’s up with this because his behavior is just so weird, but I don’t know what. Sequel material, maybe.

This is Skint’s destination. It’s the shra “capital”, built eons ago, and has no known entrance. This is where the guild figures out the godawful reason for why there are no female shra in this game.

Skint says the point of bringing them here was to show off the capital because it proves what the shra are capable of when they’re free, that being locking up all their women for no reason. Apparently, shra are subservient by nature, blindly following the strongest individual they see and oh gods this probably ties into the gender segregation doesn’t it. In terms of plot points the game actually cares about, this is why there have been no slave revolutions even though shra could easily overthrow their masters; when humans dominated and enslaved the shra, they ticked that “pack leader” identifier, and now only the strongest shra are willing to defy them. This is an interesting twist, and it makes sense as an extension of how a sentient pack species might behave, but it pretty solidly divorces it from any real-life connection to racism or slavery, at least to my limited knowledge. Maybe there’s a deeper theme here that pasty white me just isn’t seeing, but it seems like something that makes a good story more than good commentary. An important part of civil rights movements is that they don’t need special, unique supermen to rally the masses to action, and implying they do is just a means to rob the oppressed of hope and motivation. Sad is not the country that has no heroes and all that jazz. I’ll grant that, as a heroic fantasy focused on a few individuals, using a single person as a representation of the movement may be necessary, but it does weaken the message somewhat.

Anyway. Skint wants to displace humanity as the pack leader and lead the shra to freedom. The guild solidly rejects this because they are both horrible protagonists and horrible people.

Dehl: “We cannot risk upsetting the balance of the world for the good of a single minority.”

Our hero.

*sigh*

In addition to being yet another example of characters having a vendetta against doing anything, this, I think, is the first time Dehl’s character arc really falters. It’s been good up to this point, but now it goes into a head-on collision with Skint’s plotline, and the results are messy.

Dehl’s arc is highly personal. It’s all about his feelings, his regret, his trauma. His resolution revolves around his personal decisions and outlook. It’s the breakdown and analysis of the individualistic hero. This plotline isn’t about that, though. It’s about the faceless masses, the people who aren’t fortunate enough to ever be heroes; communal rather than individualistic. It makes sense that Dehl would be against Skint’s plan, but he’s never called out on his vile stance. This specific viewpoint is never challenged, just dropped in favor of analyzing Dehl’s personal issues. And that, I think, is a point where the game betrays itself: for all it talks up how the individual isn’t as important or capable as we like to think and that we should focus on a wider scope of issues, it’s too fixated on a single person to properly address those themes. Dehl is supposed to be a deconstruction of the individualistic hero, but part of that deconstruction should have been pulling back to demonstrate that the world doesn’t revolve around him. That crucial element never occurs, because the game can’t follow through with it. It loves its hero too much to make a story that’s not all about him.

This must be terrifying to Skint, honestly. Dehl doesn’t seem affected by the subservience hack because he gets twitchy when people call him a slave, so this is all him. He’s internalized all of this independently.

Then Skint reveals he was the one who freed the slaves back in Nal.

Qualstio: “What the hell, man! You got any idea how much trouble it was to clean up your mess?”

Yes, Qualstio the supposed shra sympathizer, who explicitly chose to confound the authorities and aid the slaves based on a choice I, the player, made, objects to this course of action, because it personally inconvenienced him. That is like a double player agency denial and character derailment combo. I don’t. I can’t. I ghghgghghgh

I hope you don’t mind if I borrow one of your reaction gifs, Act? Because I need one right now:

Skint: “Hah. T’is a crime to deshackle one of your own now? Are you truly so senseless? […] Law only applies to those who reap the benefits as well as the consequences.”

Why isn’t Skint the protagonist? He’s the only character who isn’t a horrible person. Unfortunately he then picks up the idiot ball and immediately asks if they’ll cooperate with his plan, ignoring the fact they all expressed utter contempt for the idea and Skint’s entire philosophy. He really should have tried harder to convince them if he actually cared, this is just so obviously setting him up for failure.

Dehl: “It is against all I live for to incite such chaos and war for the empowerment of so few.”

To be honest, I don’t actually know who the game expects me to side with, which is pretty terrifying. Is Skint a strawman here? Personally, a decision like this marks the guild as solidly villainous in my mind – they’re actively fighting for the suffering and oppression of many people now. It’s not just that they reject this offer, they refuse to negotiate or accept any compromise. When they’re expected to put forth real effort and make real sacrifices, the concept of relieving people’s suffering is totally anathema to them. Yet they’re never called out on this, and continue being portrayed as heroic as if nothing happened.

I think a more likely explanation than evil strawman is that it’s supposed to be a “neither side is totally right” sort of deal where Skint is this well-intentioned extremist, but honestly that’s even worse. His proposal seems extremely reasonable to me; he isn’t advocating death to all non-shra or anything like that. For all Dehl knows, he just plans to free all the slaves and return them to Berylbrine or whatever. There will likely be some conflict, but all-out war is by no means guaranteed, even though Dehl seems to assume it would throw the world into chaos. (And you know, if the world is so dependent on slavery that this does throw it into chaos, maybe it deserves it.) The guild, on the other hand, is apparently fine with keeping up the awful status quo, even after seeing its awfulness firsthand on many separate occasions. Theirs is an argument for apathy and sloth. That is far more monstrous than anything Skint suggests here. The philosophies are not equal by any means.

Also? If Dehl joins Skint, he has input. He can, at the very least, slant the revolution toward a more peaceful approach. If he refuses, Skint will mount his revolution anyway. Dehl’s actions are at odds with his own logic; by his refusal to take responsibility, he will indirectly cause exactly what he fears.

For some reason Skint seems surprised at Dehl’s rejection, even though it should have been obvious after spending even five minutes with the guy. Better luck next time, Skint.

Skint: “While you’re out rescuing lost animals, we’ll have swept the world clean beneath you.”

YES. I need Skint RPG like six years ago.

Is this some kind of Spec Ops: The Line style reversal where the protagonists are supposed to have been the villains all along? For chrissakes, they’re in favor of slavery and are directly opposing a civil rights leader. Please tell me this is all some kind of brilliant satire.

Skint, putting forth a valiant effort to keep the plot moving, summons some wild shra and starts a boss battle. It looks legit; there are six enemies exactly, and a fight woosh!

But no, Dehl shoots that down too because nothing can ever happen in this game.

“I’ll not let senseless violence transpire over a simple disagreement of terms.”

But he will let senseless violence transpire by letting Skint go.

Skint is pulling Dehl into what should be a trap: either he commits violence by striking Skint down now, or he commits it indirectly by letting Skint leave to launch the revolution. The true solution here is what I outlined above: join the revolution and reform it from within. This is not brought up because like I said, the game ignores the larger picture wherever Dehl is concerned. Scope, eh?

So of course Dehl gets to have his cake and eat it too. He gets to have the moral high ground here, and the revolution is never launched even though it sure sounded like Skint has the resources to do so immediately, so he never has to face the consequences of his actions.

After Skint leaves, Dehl has the nerve to claim “We serve all the people, not just some.” I guess shra aren’t people then, because he plans to do absolutely nothing about their predicament.

Then they see the youngling nest and the female. They startle her and she runs off, presumably to her death, but she’s just a nameless woman so who cares.

And then. AND THEN.

Dehl: “I’ve a feeling Skint wished us to see this as well, as one final insult.”

Congratulations on making the suffering of other people all about you.

Oh, but we’re not done yet.

Dehl: “Qualstio, I thought for sure you’d sympathize with him, given your respect of the Shra.”

Oh, that’s rich.

Qualstio: “N’aw man, I wasn’t gonna backstab you like that.

Sure, just like how you didn’t backstab him in your character-establishing introduction?

Besides, he’s going about it all wrong.”

Just in case you forgot he’s the BESTEST MOST WONDERFULEST, the white Fortian guy is here to tell you that the oppressed guy is doing it wrong. Not how he’s doing it wrong – he doesn’t elaborate further – just that he is doing it wrong. Because upsetting the status quo is evil.

If the guild formulated a real counter-argument and actually came up with a solution that saved the shra without endangering anyone else, this could work. Then we could have a discussion and commentary on a fast but damaging liberation versus a slower but more peaceful one. Which approach is really the best, is it really possible to walk the high road without betraying the movement itself, and so on. That would be a worthwhile discussion to have, and a truly heroic goal for the protagonists to pursue for the rest of the game. Instead, as always, the guild just throws a tantrum at the prospect of doing something, so we continue to have a gaping nothingness where plot should be.

So, just like we’ve seen again and again on this blog, the story admits the status quo is bad but the people who want to do something about it have to be equally bad for… some reason. The only way to be good is to be a bumbling fool who drags their heels in when given the opportunity to do anything. Then and only then will the solution magically fall into your lap.

Finally. Afterward, there’s a scene where Zargos upgrades his armor based on something Skint told him (making him resistant to crushing attacks). In a better game, this would coincide with the actual conclusion of this subplot and Zargos’ character arc, with him having learned something about the world and/or himself. I believe that’s how this is supposed to be framed, but no, it’s just sort of there.

Now that I think of it, it would have been really clever if Skint told Zargos about the upgrade way earlier, during their first confrontation, and Zargos just refused to act on it because of reasons. Then this scene would have real impact, because it would represent Zargos moving past his stubbornness and realizing Skint might not be Satan after all.

Well, at least stuff actually happened this time! It’s like the plot was being hoarded for this all game. This kind of thing shouldn’t be an exceptional, one-off event, though – every quest (or at least every major one) should have been this juicy. It’s really a shame it had to be ruined by the misogyny reveal.

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5 Comments

  1. actonthat says:
    Hi, late to the party.

    Just wanted to say that, holy shit, what is going on in this game. At first I thought you were being a little harsh on it, or maybe that you were leaving out character developement, but then they’re helping slavers and telling fantasy MLK to go to hell? And we’re *not* supposed to think they’re terrible people?

    Honestly if I were playing this for the first time, I’d think the resolution would be we find out everyone views them as the bad guys and even though they’d started the guild to help people they ended up doing tons of damage– narrow focus and all that. But based on your commentary this is all played straight? The hell.

    1. Guest Reviewer says:
      But based on your commentary this is all played straight? The hell.

      Ayup. Just wait until I get to the ending, which should be coming at the start of next month. I’ve actually already covered the resolution to Skint’s plotline in part 65, which is…interesting. In the ending they do at least admit that slavery is bad and end up banning it, so there’s that?

      I still kinda wonder if I’m being too harsh. I think I was purposefully being hyper-critical to compensate for my previous fondness, but by this point I think I’ve cracked.

      1. Guest Reviewer says:
        Wait actually that might be a little premature. I think it’s not played 100% straight; there is some halfhearted acknowledgement that Skint wasn’t evil and they midjudged him later on, but it’s still pretty unapologetic. I think it is supposed to be the “neither side is totally right” thing, or it’s just really amateurish writing that focuses entirely on the heroes’ own experiences – the guy they thought was evil turned out not to be, SHOCKING PLOT TWIST, now let’s not address any of the issues he actually brought up. Or something? The narrative structure is all sorts of weird, so it’s not always easy to tell.
  2. Niesse says:

    I was so sure we were going to help the shra woman. So sure. Confused the hell out of me when she runs off and we never see her again and that’s that.

    1. In all fairness, when have they ever helped random bystanders? I don’t think I can even claim sexism here, the heroes just aren’t any good at being heroes. Havan is right, they really don’t have stones to throw against him.

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