Part 25: Fixing TLA: Part 1A couple of people have apparently been waiting three months for one of these, and I feel we're about as far into this game as we were into GS1 when I did the first one, so before we continue accomplishing nothing it's time to write essays about video games again!
How to Make Golden Sun Less Terrible: TLA Edition
Ideally, Golden Sun and TLA would be one game, which would fix a lot of the problems the series has with pacing its stories around artificial conflicts and allow Camelot to cut out a ton of filler while still being able to put an "Over 20 hours of gameplay" descriptor on the back of the box. For simplicity, however, I'm going to assume this is released as a sequel to GS1, though I'm also going to assume GS1 is post-my improvements. Most of this would work as a saving throw that tries to pretend GS1 had anything in its plot that was at all worthwhile (a la 6 Days a Skeptic completely rewriting the intention behind going into spaaaace), but it's easier to pretend we care about these characters from the get-go.
For the intro, don't focus solely on Jenna and Kraden. Their story is the less interesting of the two and the story as a whole focuses on Felix anyway, so first show Felix's side. The very first thing we see should be the confrontation on the top of the lighthouse, because it's (supposed to be) important and interesting. Felix tries to run off with Sheba and screams out "we have to save the world", S&M fall into the lighthouse, the lighthouse collapses, Felix jumps after Sheba, and the ocean rises 800 feet. Show that, then a more slow-paced Jenna sequence after our interest is piqued and we've been shown, not told, why we should care about what's happening. The text crawl is completely unnecessary; the few important elements can be gleaned from character interactions and callbacks, and the encyclopedia at the beginning explains almost nothing of importance to any degree.
The chaos at the end of GS1 is forced, but it can stay, especially since the characters themselves show incredulity. The problem, however, is that bad things are chained in such a way that it just becomes ridiculous. Instead, make it so the lighthouse collapsed and caused an earthquake. This caused a tidal wave. The force of the island crashing into another continent shatters Menardi's boat into splinters. The characters wake up having already crashed and try to figure out what's going on.
This scene is absolutely vital to establishing every single thing about the game to come and it's perfectly set up to do that, but Camelot completely ignores this. Sheba in particular baffles me; she's a fish out of water who has no idea what's going on and played a major role in the last game that nobody, including herself, understands. She only now has a moment to catch her breath and it's during an exposition sequence where she has the exact same questions the audience does. I seriously cannot fathom why they didn't have her ask everybody else what their motivations were, as it would have fixed almost every single problem with this game's setup. The only reason I can think of, which is probably the correct one, is that the game's writers knew they wouldn't have been able to answer her questions.
Thus, TLA crashes and burns within minutes because we don't know why we should care about anyone. In theory, we're currently playing as villains we hope don't succeed, but we aren't even confident in that because everything is the complete opposite of what we thought it was in GS1. Felix is traveling with Sheba despite having tried to free her, and nobody can decide if they care about lighthouses in the least. All of this can be fixed by, amazingly, having the characters talk to each other. As before, silent protagonists don't work at all.
Quovak's GS2 Fanfiction posted:
What the hell is going on here? What was that about saving the world?
The lighthouses. S&M were trying to light them and Isaac tried to stop us. We need to hurry back to them.
I don't know, the world will end!
Felix, are you sure about all of that? S&M killed all sorts of innocent people, and even though they told us that Isaac would come to stop them he seemed the same as ever when he came. I know they saved you, and I know you owe them a debt, but do you really know that they were doing the right thing?
It was messy. Sheba, that's why I don't want you to play any part in it. Jenna, same thing; they were using you to lure Isaac, but I don't think we need him. The plan has changed; you're more than welcome to go home and run away from all this.
I don't think we have a choice. We're stranded rather far from Vale at the moment.
Besides, you just risked your life for me, and I don't even know who you are. You can't expect me to just walk away from that like it was nothing.
I've heard about you. I've heard that you fell from the sky and have magical powers, but that you've been used and shoved from master to master your whole life. Babi was using you as a bargaining chip to get a tower built for his majesty, but you had finally earned your freedom when we caught you. S&M just wanted you as a slave again; I couldn't let them do that to you, even if we did need a Jupiter adept.
Well, isn't that chivalrous? I'm flattered, but I can't say I'm in too much of a hurry to head home. Besides, as Kraden said, I think we're a bit too far away for that to be easy. If you don't mind, then, I think I'll hang around for a while.
That's exactly what I'm talking about, though. S&M were terrible people; they took us as hostages and were only a step or two above slavedrivers. I know you want to follow in their footsteps, but I'm really not sure it's the best idea.
Then what do you propose we do? Twiddle our thumbs?
I don't know.
I'm afraid I don't know either. For as much as I've studied alchemy, S&M clearly had direct experience with it. They seemed to know what they were talking about, but I also have to agree with Jenna.
What about Alex? Maybe he can give us a better idea of what to do.
That sounds like as good an idea as any. Let's try to track down Alex.
Sheba, are you sure you want to do this?
Are you kidding me? If saving the world is involved that seems like a fairly important role for me to play. And so far you seem to be quite the travel partner; I don't know too many boys who would jump into the ocean to save a girl they just met. Trust me, I have my reasons.
Alright, sure, but we should at least be keeping an eye out for a way to get to those lighthouses. [Internal Monologue] S&M… You saved me from that terrible storm and kept me safe for months after the fact. You were like a set of parents to me, so of course I would fight for you. But if my own sister doesn't think so… It's not important. We're strangers in a strange land right now. I suppose we should at least try to get our bearings, and maybe if we wander around long enough we can run into Alex somewhere along the lines. Well, whatever happens, at least we're all alive.
(Hint: When a random nerd who plays games he doesn't like for the internet can write bad fanfiction with more depth than your million dollar video game project, it's time to dramatically reassess your writing ability.)
So, our characters have personalities. Felix is determined and tenacious, though he can often be unpredictable. He realizes the depths to which he's sinking but doesn't care about protecting himself at all. Jenna is uneasy and over her head. Sheba is self-confident and eager to strut her newfound sense of adventure, and she also clearly knows more than she's letting on. If Felix has principles, it's much easier to accept him as a hero while also letting him have the flaws Alex pretends he has. The party's doubt about their objectives mirrors our own and prevents us from feeling too lost or too evil. The party members have a temporary truce that can grow as the game progresses to give us a sense of attachment to the characters, while also giving them an immediate reason to travel together. There's also both a short-term and long-term goal but with an easy-going feel. None of this was even remotely difficult to introduce.
Now, we're strangers in a new and inhospitable land, so the first town gives us an opportunity to try establishing a foothold. People mention having seen Alex but are hesitant to give out further information to complete strangers they don't fully trust, so we need to somehow prove our worth. Riki and Tavi have gone missing, and we volunteer to track them down in what is essentially the tutorial mission of the game. Going to the Shrine of the Sea God we should be able to see that both of them are stranded, getting rid of the "Why not go get help" factor. Ropes are terrible obstacles that anybody should be able to find a way around, so they should instead just be on the opposite side of a cliff. The townspeople mention asking Mr. Eastern Mysticism for help instead.
Mr. E.M. should be teaching levitation and actually testing levitation; we can just get around the levitation-requiring puzzles with the psynergy we have. Upon reaching him, he should be so impressed with our abilities that he actually does give us levitation. Levitation not only makes more sense as a power but it can be used on the exact same obstacles; just make it so you can only float vertically about one square. It's incredibly easy to design walls around not letting you abuse this, it lets Camelot use terraced dungeons that give across the illusion of freedom like they started doing at the end of GS1, and it also seems far more special than just staring down a rope. Going back to the Shrine, some levitating up a cliff wall and block pushing or something lets you clear a path for the kids. Going back to the village, you now meet up with Alex.
Alex should be acting obviously strange. He blows you off, refuses to acknowledge that you were ever working together, and suggests you just go home. Felix and Jenna can tell Sheba (and thus remind the player) what his role was in all this and how odd it is that he's abandoning them despite having been there since the beginning. Still, he does reveal one piece of information: that he's going to Madra for a ship. Your characters decide to chase after him since getting a boat will be vital regardless of what they end up doing, and getting some answers out of him will be at least a tentative goal. The town is thankful that they rescued the children and point them in the right direction, giving them some provisions for the trip. They do mention that you'll have to pass through a mountain range that's never been conducive to traveling, but now you can levitate (or, if you absolutely insist, throw some ropes, but I prefer the idea of having fun).
The main problem that's still left is the lack of any urgency, especially since there really isn't an antagonist for the first half of the story, but this can be put on hold at least slightly. Really, TLA is going to be much more difficult because there is, quite literally, nothing motivating any of the characters to accomplish any goal, but having them acknowledge this point and act on tentative goals is at least something.
I really, really don't like the story in Golden Sun.