Mass Effect 1 and 2 Choices Retrospective

Commander Shepard has saved the galaxy twice. Despite thwarting the plans of both Saren and the Collectors, Shepard must take up the fight against the Reapers for a third time.

Along the way he has made a lot of decisions for better or worse, and it’s an understatement to say that some were more substantial than others. Nevertheless, the majority of his actions have served to shape the well being of many groups, individuals and even an entire species that have come into contact with him.

The key to the Mass Effect series is decision making and accountability. As such, the actions the player makes were said have an immediate outcome in the following adventure. I’ve just recently cleared both Mass Effect 1 and 2, and while I’m completely floored by how vast and massive the game universe is, I can’t help but wonder about a lot of plot points that are hoped to be answered in the eventual release of Mass Effect 3. Some of the choices made in Mass Effect 1 had an immediate consequence (or alteration in cut scene) like whether a certain character is alive or not, was addressed Mass Effect 2. However, bigger choices between both games like the ones mentioned below have left all of us hanging.

Cerberus –

It’s very obvious that Cerberus and the Illusive Man had ulterior motives. Much like how a corporation injects large sums of money to help a business, it’s only a matter of time before that corporation starts to try to control that business’ actions from behind the scenes. The Paragon choice at the end of the Suicide Mission results in the Illusive Man’s only show of emotion, as Shepard blatantly disobeys his order. It’s not smart to piss off the only group that took it upon themselves to bring you back to life, especially if it’s Cerberus. The Illusive Man’s connections and intel were what allowed Shepard to assemble his new squad to take on the Collectors in the first place. Needless to say, the team couldn’t have gotten where they did without his assistance. Upsetting him by “doing the right thing” has to have some repercussions in the third game. (Update: the events of the ‘Lair of the Shadow Broker’ DLC may be the answer to this issue.)

Krogan Genophage –

Krogan are the toughest organic species in existence, who were instrumental in saving the galaxy from being overrun by Rachni long before the events of the first game. On the surface, Krogan seemed to be a typical Sci-Fi bloodthirsty race with no goal other than to fight. Learning that each and every Krogan was forcefully sterilized and left to deal with their affliction definitely added a lot of depth to them and rationalized their disdain for other species. The Genophage renders only 1 /1000 births to be viable, while the remaining typically end in stillbirths or serious birth defects, which severely limit their population. The end of Mordin’s loyalty mission makes it clear that the ongoing issue of the Genophage affecting every living Krogan could be rectified, or left alone to run its course. I hope that Mass Effect 3 addresses this decision, because uniting the Krogan to help in the fight against the Reapers would be a definite plus for Humanity.

Legion and the Geth –

Sabotaging or re-purposing a Geth stronghold was one of the more interesting plot points that were posed during Mass Effect 2. Shepard and his crew spent the majority of Mass Effect 1 killing hordes of Geth, only to be helped by an advanced model that had gone “rogue.” In Legion’s loyalty mission, players are faced with the choice of significantly hurting the Geth army by destroying a large amount of them, or reprogramming them into assisting in the fight against the Reapers. Would you kill off machines that could be your enemy, or take a chance in reprogramming them to help further your own goals? In the grand scheme of things, the Geth became pawns to be used for good or evil. Either way, the Geth can become a new ally or continue to be a nuisance in the face of the greater threat.

The Reapers –

It took the combined efforts of much of the Alliance fleet to take down Sovereign at the climax of Mass Effect 1, and even then, there were heavy casualties. The devastation that one Reaper is capable of was apparent, but the image of thousands of them making their way into the Milky Way Galaxy from Dark Space is a bit unsettling. Also, Sovereign was important because he was the only Reaper who wasn’t hibernating in Dark Space to begin with. His role was to send a message to the rest of the Reapers to begin the process of exterminating all life once again. In Mass Effect 2, we’re treated to the disjointed voice of Harbinger, another Reaper that was controlling the actions of the Collectors, the primary antagonist(s) at certain points of the game. If all of the other Reapers were trapped in Dark Space in hibernation, where did Harbinger come from? They seemed to come out of their sleep on their own, which wasn’t explained. How can that many Reapers be stopped, and at what cost? While the final boss in the Collector Base was incredibly large, it was only an embryo compared to what it would be like if it were to mature. Whatever it’s going to take, Shepard is going to need more than a couple shots from a Heavy Weapon or a sniper rifle to take down a fleet of Reapers.

Suicide Mission –

If you’re red, then you’re dead.

It was clear that casualties were to be expected during the Suicide Mission, hence it’s name. However, it’s possible to ensure everyone lives if players are prudent enough to make sure everyone was loyal (And in some ways this is expected, since there’s an achievement / trophy for doing so). No matter what you do, some of the dialogue still implies that people died. This leads to the idea that getting everyone’s loyalty in the first place took a back seat compared to the issue of time constraints. How long of a timeframe did Mass Effect 2 take place? Perhaps Shepard wasn’t intended to take the time to gain the loyalty of each and every squad member, but only a couple of the more important ones. If players were to start a new game in Mass Effect 3, will there be some sort of default roster of squad members who lived and died?

Mass Effect 3 has a lot of plot points to conclude, and having some input on how things go is what makes these choices that much more meaningful. The conclusion of Shepard’s journey has to tie up these loose ends and some others not mentioned here; otherwise the point of playing each of the three games will lose their luster. How will the final game address all of these plot threads?

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And the Winner Is…

Japanese Role Playing Games have been a cornerstone of the realm of video games for years. When we’re tired of shooting, platforming or sports games, there’s nothing like an adventure that features memorable characters, a well written narrative that appeals to the fantasy fan in all of us. Most gamers have been fans of RPGs in general due to the many entries of the Final Fantasy series, as it’s consistently been one of the biggest gaming franchises of each console generation. Although one would think the winning formula that Final Fantasy always has to offer would be just that, a lot of unrest has been circulating over the past few years. The majority of JRPGs follow a number of the same troupes; which include effeminate male characters, cliché storylines to name a few, along with other points that often cross with anime, manga or Japanese culture in general. Many people have begun to call out why this has been happening, and have even shined the spotlight on Final Fantasy.

2010 was a year of turbulence in the Role Playing Game realm, because many household names suddenly found themselves having to fight to stay relevant and viable. Of the games that I reviewed this year, I feel that Final Fantasy XIII was the one who took up this challenge and responded to the growing concerns that ridiculed its waning popularity.

There are several vexing features that are unique to Final Fantasy XIII, which largely served to disgruntle many players who were used to many traditional concepts in the long running series. These changes, while unexpected, were the essence of moving the series forward in its own way.

Here’s what some of you elitists missed out on

Let’s talk about the biggest complaint people seem to have with Final Fantasy XIII: “It takes twenty hours for the game to get fun.” “Half of the game is an interactive tutorial.” “It’s too linear.” Every time I hear these comments, I can’t help but cringe. Yes, the game doesn’t “open up” until the group is fully assembled, and that doesn’t occur until the end of Chapter 9. (There are a total of 13 Chapters, of varying lengths.) In light of that, it would be pretty ridiculous to think that the player is being “held against their will” and forced to not get any enjoyment from the game for such a long time. While the player is “restricted” in that sense for this portion of the game, let’s look at why this seems to be complained about.

First, character growth is capped for each chapter, to discourage power leveling. Fortunately for those who didn’t notice, this maintains the challenge for the player. Secondly, each chapter introduces a new concept during combat for the player to grasp and master. This game features a new rendition of the Active Time Battle system that many of us are used to, and without learning the nuances of it, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. For example, during a boss fight in Chapter 3, players are faced with learning the importance of effective Paradigm Shifting. Near the end of the battle, the boss unleashes a desperation attack that will put each party member in critical health, and it soon follows up with another attack that kills everyone off. The player can only get through this boss fight once they understand that they have to shift to a Paradigm that focuses on healing to survive the rest of the encounter. If they are successful, the party switches to “healing mode,” and weathers the oncoming attacks with ease. Soon after the party is healthy again, they can finish off their adversary with little trouble. A quick decision like that was mandatory for this boss fight, and must be second nature for the player in order to make it through the more difficult fights later in the game. Each chapter during this linear section of the game has lessons that the player needs to understand fully in order to survive, because when the game finally affords more freedom to the party, any encounter can result in a game over if the player wasn’t prudent enough to understand the mechanics of the game while the training wheels were still on.

“So we’re all here to save the world; not just me, right?”

As I mentioned before, the party is split up for the first nine chapters of the game. One of the key reasons behind this is that the player is treated to one-on-one character interactions that really help to delve into each characters personality with as little interference from the rest of the cast. Ironically, most of this development occurs during the early part of the game that many players glossed over. Here’s a clip demonstrating the growing camaraderie between Lightning and Hope during some of the cut scenes throughout Chapter 5.

Video Credit: TheShatteredElement, Square Enix and Final Fantasy XIII.

Bonding like this isn’t possible in a group setting; and this is especially true in real life as well. Since the team was divided, it allowed more energy to be put into each character at each turn of the plot. In turn, players could better understand their personalities and make connections to them. For once, each party member had a direct stake in the mission at hand, and there wasn’t a character that was “just along for the ride,” or lacked any pertinent dialogue. When the team finally was formed, this cohesion continued to the end.

Multiple discs still work

Although we always thought the concept of console loyalty would still be upheld by Final Fantasy (despite it’s past on Nintendo’s systems), this too unraveled. Although this game was originally planned to only be on Playstation 3, an Xbox 360 port was also announced. Whenever a game has a port coming along for another system, development often has to be scaled back so the finished product can run nearly identically for each console it’s released on. The differences in graphics were notably small, but definitely blown out of proportion by elitists. A funny complaint involved the minor difference that the Xbox 360 version had multiple discs, while the Blu-Ray only needed one. The bottom line here is that the entire Xbox player base that may have never experienced a Final Fantasy game before now had its chance. This is just another idea of the changing landscape in the video game industry – There’s not much reason not to limit your audience, especially if the game in question is Final Fantasy. Playstation fans shouldn’t be whining, as they’re receiving the same olive branch with the soon to be released Playstation 3 port of Mass Effect 2.

It’s pointless to compare Final Fantasy XIII with the other big titles in the series, like Final Fantasy VII or Final Fantasy X. Each of those games had their own changes and additions that helped make them notable games that fans could easily identify with. Although their changes were much more subtle, they weren’t met with as much resistance as Final Fantasy XIII is facing. No two entries are the same, because there’s always a new story to be told, and new ideas and ways to help move the game forward.

Moving forward, like it or not

If you examine anything well known- be it a famous band, television or video game series, there will always be people who have problems when the franchise is taken in a new direction. Whether it’s because a long standing tradition has been broken, or new ideas have taken prominence over the old, it’s impossible to disagree with the fact that change is going on. It’s painfully clear that nothing is really safe in video games. In this landscape, a game that wasn’t afraid to leap into the unknown and to try something new, like Final Fantasy XIII has this year, is without a doubt deserving my choice for Game of the Year 2010.