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Fynn's positive life blog

On story expectations

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So this is kind of a general discussion, but the general rant I have is based on three popular 3DS RPGs: Bravely Default, Fire Emblem: Awakening, and Shin Megami Tensei IV. Sorry if this is chaotic, as I'm just writing this as it comes into my mind. Also, spoilers from the three games abound.

All of those games were very well received, though for different reasons. SMT is kind of here to serve as a neutral ground, as the evaluation of its story is pretty divided, whereas the consensus on the story of the other two is pretty much the opposite of what I believe.

So my general theory is that JRPGs have moved on from traditional stories but not in a way that would be expected (i.e. not relying on cliches and making new stuff). In a way, post-modernism now seems to be more and more en vogue, as evidenced by things like Danganronpa with its clashing tone and meta humor (and even more exaggerated in the sequel), and Bravely Default. This brings me to the first point. What Danganronpa is generally hailed to high heaven for, Bravely Default is slammed. On one hand, I can see why. The repetitions may have been interesting from a mets standpoint, as the player truly experienced the hopelessness that the characters did and it really drove home the main message of the game = that you have to keep moving forward, no matter what, without taking shortcuts - but then, it was a very tedious element of the gameplay and story. So here I can understand why that's considered a downside, as I personally am on the fence about this.

But it's the rest of the story that I really can't agree on with the consensus, and this really ties into Fire Emblem: Awakening. Both Fire Emblem: Awakening and Bravely Default rely heavily on anime and JRPG cliches, and yet, one is praised for its epic, incredible story, while the other is criticised for the very same thing, despite relying on similar cliches. I really struggle to understand why Awakening's story is so adored, as is really lacks a good structure and never does anything groundbreaking with any of its characters and plot elements. The support system is nice and all, but the role of the characters in the plot is negligible, the time travel twist is incredibly underutilized and underwhelming, and the villain is the most basic of basic villains. Garland had more depth.

Granted, Ouroboros from Bravely Default was also a "MUAHAHA destroy EVERYTHING!" bad guy, but the primary antagonist of the game is your exposition fairy from the beginning which is just such an awesome twist because it just plays with your expectations so much. Throughout the game you rely on her because you really have no other way of knowing that something is wrong and needs fixing and how to fix it. Then it slowly seeps in that you've been making the whole thing worse, despite making it better as well. Behind the cliched characters (that turned out to be very memorable and not so cliche after all in later chapters) is a story that deconstructs not only its initial premise, but basically everything we know and love about the genre as a whole. First, we have an evil atheist group picking on the innocent religious folk, which is a twist on the evil church trope, but then it turns out that not only what you're doing as you follow the teachings of that church is wrong and that the church is corrupt, which is a more typical trope, BUT THEN, it turns out neither side is completely good or bad and that people can coexist by talking to the members of the opposite faction and working together for a better future hand in hand. And that's just one plot thread and it's really smartly executed how it turns on tis head what we've come to expect from JRPGs.

Shin Megami Tensei IV suffers from another problem. And that's the exposure of the people to its subseries, Persona, clouding everyone's expectations. SMT by nature is very different than Persona, as Persona relies on character interactions in scenarios close to real life, where you get to know the characters from inside and out. The story of SMT IV is more focused on the world and the characters that make up that world, but in a much broader perspective. And that perspective works really well, IMO, as the terrible things that happen later you can really see how they impact the characters and their tragic friendships, despite us not knowing what soup Isabeau likes best.


I think that the reason why Danganronpa gets a pass and Bravely Default doesn't can be either the system it's released on, or the target audience. Or both, really, as there's overlap. Nintendo lives off simple games that reach a broad demographic, so perhaps a more postmodern approach is a bit too alienating for people just expecting a traditional fantasy story that Fire Emblem delivers? Or perhaps Danganronpa, being a visual novel, appeals to a more meta-liking crowd than a traditional turn-based RPG with an audience that grew up on, say, FFVII? SMT IV illustrates how the expectations can really influence that, as the people who did enjoy the story were fans of older, mainline SMT titles, whereas it was mostly the Persona 3 and 4 fans that criticised it.
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