Part 54: Bonus Can We Fix It: CharactersCan We Fix It? Part 2: Characters
Characters are generally a stronger point in Tales games than plot. That is why skits are awesome, because it's just characters interacting.
Unfortunately most of ToS2's characters are kinda... well, shit.
Can we fix that?
Note: For puproses of this mental exercise, I'll be holding the plot semi-constant with what actually was delivered.
Shinji Ikari was "cool" thirteen years before this game was released and we weren't expected to think he was awesome (but a bunch of morons did anyway). Emil is not cool. He's whiny and a bitch so much that by the time he does something resembling manning up it's way too late. Ratatosk, on the other hand, is Emil discovering the miracle of testosterone and teenage angst. "Waaa Marta doesn't like me because I'm a psychopath WAAAA!!"
So what the fuck do you do with this guy? How about a radical spine transplant, for starters. Emil is still a twerp who doesn't fit in, but he doesn't apologize like he's trying to beat Colette's record in a game half the length. Mostly he's confused as to what to do with his life after the attack on Palmacosta. Does he go back and try to rebuild? Does he follow whatever his uncle does for a living? Does he make his own road? He can't choose, and does nothing. Uncle Alba is less an abusive twit and more concerned that his son isn't capable of pulling his weight.
When Richter, Tenebrae, Marta, and Aqua show up for a throwdown in the caves, Emil takes this opportunity to do SOMETHING important. At first, he doesn't care if it's right or wrong. He just likes the feeling of making a difference. But after a while he comes to understand that what you do is just as important as doing something. Needless to say this would occur before the very end of the damn game.
Also, I'd mess around with the nature of "Emil" a bit. Having two separate identity red herrings was annoying. Why not go for "all of the above"? Martel was made from more than one person's soul, so why can't Ratatosk put himself back together in a similar manner. Imagine how much fun Richter would have trying to figure out what to do if Emil was Ratatosk, but also Aster! Say Ratatosk is in pretty bad shape after Richter's beatdown, and absorbs Aster's spirit to try to repair the damage, but it's not enough. Then Emil is mortally wounded a few alleyways over while in Palmacosta. Jackpot! Ratatosk puts himself back together in Emil's body and then saves Marta.
Yeah having Emil actually save Marta would probably be a good idea. The fact that Lloyd was the one that actually saved her would have added irony if we knew it before Lloyd joined forces with us, but instead it just makes Marta look like a dumbass. Instead Ratatosk instinctively knows that the Vanguard around him intend bad shit with his core and begins slitting up evil dudes. The fake core on Marta thing can still happen because Ratatosk is always and will always be a bit of a douche.
After this Emil regains control of the gestalt and heads over to hear his mother's dying words. Things are a bit hazy in his head, since he's got two other people up there.
Later on in the game the conflict between Emil, Aster and Ratatosk will play out sort of like this: Emil just wants to be a hero and "get close to" Marta; Aster wants to save the world
Control would occasionally transfer between them, and would be indicated by changes in speech, posture, and eye color. Aster's eyes would be blue. Also, this means that when they try to vote on things in weird blue/green floaty mindscape, there are fewer ties.
Also Aster being in the mix makes it remotely plausible that Emil would trust Richter for any reason at all ever after the first time he tried to kill Marta, let alone the events of chapter 4.
I'm not sure what I'd do as the ultimate "solution" to Emil's multiple-personality problem. Splitting the combined being back into three might be the best way here, since they actually are three separate individuals.
Also, at some point in the game, it might be nice to unlock the ability to switch between Emil's personalities in combat. Maybe make Aster a half-elf so we have the option of having a combatant caster around.
Marta really needs to have personality traits other than "might chain Emil to a bed" and "daddy issues".
The most obvious one is "hates injustice" since she's a founding member of the Vanguard back when it wasn't full of total dicks. Something like Lloyd from the first game, she'd always want to go over and solve injustice with stabbing and/or holy magic.
Going hand-in-hand with that is being a bit impulsive. She acts before thinking, and this can get the party in trouble a bit. So far she's shaping up into a
Her history with Colette really needs to last longer, the resolution to that took what, five minutes tops? That kind of thing never goes away, it just simmers under the surface. Instead, Marta resents being saved by Colette and resents having her help with the stone dais, but Emil points out that Colette will be going there anyway and they might as well stick together. Instead of Colette flying off to search for Lloyd, she gets sent off by Marta who wants her out of her sight. Marta probably shouldn't really try to forgive Colette until chapter 8, when Yuan takes her off to the side and explains that it's his fault.
Now for the big one, her relationship with Emil. Let's say Marta regains consciousness in the middle of Ratatosk ripping up the vanguard who were chasing her and thinks "man that is totally sweet, I should join up with that guy since I'm on the run from a terrorist organization and all". Emil/Aster/Ratatosk is however too confused and wanders off, Marta losing track in the fire.
Asking a few people points her in the direction of Luin, and she goes there with Tenebrae to recruit Emil for her counter-revolution. Once there, Emil likes the idea of helping a cute girl and teenage hormones being what they are tries his hardest to impress her. Marta regrets using his feelings, and gradually acknowledges that he's pretty cool, even if he does have some issues. At some point early in the game, she makes a point to promise Emil to fix his issues.
Ratatosk is a dick, and the game's attempts to claim he isn't at the end are kind of weak.
Ratatosk was created a goddamn long time ago, probably well over 10,000 years since the tree was transplanted from Derris-Kharlan at that time. Presumably he was created by the elves, since it was their tree and all. I'd guess he's also fairly loyal to the elves, since he specifically excluded them from the "kill everybody" order he gave. Presumably he was created by the elves as an unstoppable badass to protect the tree from any dipshits. Unfortunately he was a bit obsolete in the face of the Kharlan War era magitechnology and wasn't able to save his tree.
At some point he presumably charged the Four Seraphim to get the Great Seed and germinate it to save everybody, but felt miffed about their plan to split the world. Instead of going after them, he sulked, set traps, and eventually fell into a slumber due to low mana.
Now let's get to what I'd change. First of all I'd make Red-Eyes-Mode a little more disturbing. While he's controlled by Ratatosk Emil occasionally makes horrible shrieks of fury (like an evil killer squirrel) and doesn't give much of a shit about piling up dead bodies. That will give us an early hint that something's up other than merely being high on Ratatosk energy. Then, we start the "Ratatosk takes over Emil outside of battle" stuff a little later. And it's not linked to anger, it's linked to the presence of a threat. Ratatosk only gets to come out when Emil isn't protecting everyone properly - which becomes a lot as the Vanguard gradually activates more and more of its resources to deal with this problem.
Ratatosk pretends to give a crap about Marta because he pretends that she has the core, but over time he actually does start to appreciate her. She shows kindness to him when he was injured, which the elves never did. They regarded him as a tool and a servant.
Also, there's one thing I really wanted to see in chapter eight that never happened. That being a face-to-face between Martel and Ratatosk. You'd think they'd have a lot to talk about, regarding the mana and their history of cooperating/opposing each other and all. Since we're imagining a hypothetical fix, let's go ahead and do that. Martel presumably would want to keep control of the tree (since she has it in Phantasia), but leave the Ginnungagap to him. Ratatosk might acquiesce to this, especially if Marta had opened his mind regarding his treatment by the elves and hence the duties they had assigned him.
Tenebrae is probably OK as is. Oh wait, there's one problem with him: he doesn't fucking pull his weight. It would be really nice if you could use him (and maybe the other Centurions) in a battle. It's not like he can't affect physical objects (since he can) and he never mentions any specific reason Centurions don't fight.
It's not like he'd be the first quadrupedal party member in a Tales game. That year.
Maybe have the other Centurions fight for us too, and ditch the mons system.
Really Richter needs to stop being like Kratos, and stop being like Mithos.
I mean seriously, everything about him is from one of those two. Check this out:
Motivated by dead Loved One: Mithos
Hair Color: Kratos
Fighting Style: Kratos
Joins the Party, then Betrays You: Kratos
Inspires and helps Train Hero: Kratos
Final-Boss-Fights Us Even Though He Really Shouldn't: Mithos
No Interest in Women: Mithos
Ok technically Mithos and Richter aren't interested in women for completely different reasons but still, there's a whole lot of resemblance.
Let's change that up. First of all he should probably ditch the Kratos-with-fur-trim look. I'm not a character designer, but that color scheme has got to go. Second let's ditch both the moveset and the half-elf bit, taking away the "magic" part of "magic knight". As Mint would point out, it's entirely possible for humans to heal, so he can have stabbing and healing, making him a kind of dark mirror of Marta. We could even play that up when Aster's loyalty to Richter floats to the top. Portray Emil as having to choose between the two. And now we can give him a color scheme that's sort of opposite to Marta. She's white and pink with some brown? He's black and dark green with some silver. It's rather the opposite of subtle, but this is the game with Commander Brute.
Second of all his plan stinks. I mean has anyone gotten away with double-crossing demons in the history of ever? Instead of trying to revive Aster, instead have him obsessed with destroying Ratatosk. He doesn't really think the demons are that big a deal and isn't making any deals with them or anything. He just doesn't give a shit. Or maybe keep the plan the same and acknowledge that it's completely batshit. Maybe have Richter getting some psychiatric help after he's beaten.
Like Tenebrae, Aqua is a character that is mostly non-terrible. She has a personality - she's rude, doesn't like authority, and is in love with "Master" Richter, possibly because as a Spirit she doesn't entirely get the concept of homosexuality.
Obviously since Tenebrae now fights for us, Aqua now fights alongside her monsters.
Just because Aqua has a personality doesn't mean we can't flesh it out a little. Maybe she's always been disgusted with Ratatosk's violence. Most of the healing spells are associated with water, so maybe she's the most gentle-natured of the Centurions. The whole "attempted genocide" thing pushed her over the edge and she turned on Ratatosk, helping Richter kill him. Also, some time before she taught Richter the secret that lets humans use the healing arts. This secret goes by a really, really stupid name in Phantasia.
Also, I'd have Aqua be the one to have advised Martel in the past, so that she can act as a go-between between Lloyd and Richter, acting in secret in the hopes that Lloyd will confront Ratatosk and weaken him for them.
First, don't fucking call him "Brute". I mean, sure, the Japanese don't speak English that well. But imagine an American company calling a dude "Commander Diablo". Let's call him Joe for the purposes of this exercise.
The thing about Joe is that he lost his faith as a result of the destruction of Palmacosta in the first game and the ensuing death of his wife. Then when the Church of Martel became part of the Tethe'allan attempts to rule everything he decided "fuck Tethe'alla" and started a revolutionary army.
The second major change is to not have him be driven insane by the core. Maybe even drop the "cores can make you nuts" thing altogether. It's just not very interesting and they don't have the balls to do it right. Instead he was simply mislead by his advisor Richter and slowly slid down the slippery slope until the next thing he knows he's burnt down Palmacosta again. Now he's got to succeed or all that carnage was for nothing! Time to fight even harder.
Really we need to get the impression that the Vanguard is dangerous earlier. Maybe have them execute or try to execute one of the old Priests Colette knew from the first game. Maybe have them attack one of the church's tour groups and harm innocents. Create the impression that their leadership is desperate and it trickles down to their men.
As for his relationship with Marta, really his daughter just doesn't understand. She's too innocent to understand that he's making the hard choices and those guys should be happy to have given their lives (involuntarily) to the cause. Better to be dead than in chains!
At some point Marta has to face the fact that her dad has chosen a bad path and may never return from it. Maybe Joe can pull off some sort of last-minute redemption (Darth Vader did and it worked pretty well). Say after he's beaten and he goes over how we're dogs of Tethe'alla and all Richter sneaks up behind us and goes for a killing blow on Marta. He shouts "Richter don't" and then blasts him when Richer tries to anyway. Then he dies from blood loss. Obviously that scenario needs work but it's an example.
Hoo boy. The fact of the matter is that Alice is more silly than scary. I don't think she ever actually killed anybody on-screen and her weapon isn't actually something that would normally be lethal. Genis got away with this but he didn't fucking Kendama people to death, he had magic spells and shit. Alice's magic spells are mostly healing.
Alice is really let down by the game's rating and aesthetic. Scary little girls work, but there needs to be something really bad associated with them. If everything is bright and cheery all the time there's no way to establish contrast.
I'd say do a significant changeup on Alice. Really there are only a few attributes that are essential to her role: female, Decus's love interest, evil as hell, disturbing, only interested in power.
So how about this: Alice is a seven-foot tall amazon. She fights with a giant, wicked, serrated two-handed sword. She wears black leather armor and gets all huffy and puffy when the prospect of murder and mayhem come up.
This version of Alice is still a fetish (albeit a different one) but it's disturbing in a way that gets people killed, not seated in front of Chris Hansen.
Also, this version of Alice is the one that torched Palmacosta disguised as Lloyd. She exceeded her orders a bit (there weren't supposed to be any civilian deaths), and the justification was made up after-the-fact by Decus.
If we're inverting Alice into an amazon, we might as well invert Decus too to give them contrast. Decus is now a nerdy little dweeb like Emil. Maybe he even wears glasses. Oh, and now he's a half-elf, so he uses powerful magic and he's the one with the monster pets (since in Tales enemy casters just don't work too well without backup, seriously you saw how many images I posted of me just wailing on a guy trying to cast and getting knocked out of it).
Decus desperately wants to be with Alice still, but she calls him a useless bookworm. He tries to take out the party once or twice but gets smashed for his troubles. However he's generally less evil than the other Vanguard. He's really just doing this to impress Alice. Maybe at one point he saves our asses from somebody else, or saves someone else from some sort of random danger. Now it makes more sense for us to worry about him following Alice into evil and such.
As before, Decus was saved by Alice as a kid and feels he owes her his life.
After the collapse of the main Vanguard offensive, Alice learns about the demons and wants Decus to enable her to contact them. Thus, they're in Ginnungagap for a different reason than Richter.
When the party fights Alice and Decus, Decus blocks an attack that would have killed Alice with his body and dies. Alice has a similar freakout but is already too battered to move, so she begs Emil to kill her immediately. Emil says he wants her to answer for her crimes in Palmacosta, whereupon she takes Decus's dagger and cuts her own throat.
This scene isn't too different from the one in the game, but I feel it would be more effective because we have a reason to sympathize with Decus. Sympathizing with a disturbed and violent individual like Alice isn't something I'm willing to attempt to force.
Next Time: I should be back home on Monday or Tuesday and have Gladsheim written up on Wednesday. Sorry about the filler