« on: 18 Sep 2005, 05:24 »
Note: (SPOILERS FOR LOTS OF GAMES!!!)
(REALLY! LOTS OF SPOILERS! NO KIDDING!)
In some games, the player is forced to fail at some point, often as a key part of the protagonist's character development. This much is fine. It's a classic storytelling device.
But is it a good idea to have forced failures that cause the death of a likeable character? Is this genuinely involving, or just manipulative? If we wanted to hear a story where our best efforts had no effect, well, wouldn't we just _hear a story_, rather than play a game? When this device works, players try over and over to get around it, and fail, saving and restoring. This probably isn't good for the suspension of disbelief, really...
Often, the True Love or Best Friend is the one to go. I've seen scenes like this praised, but I have to wonder if they're good storytelling, or just apathetic. It's easy to write a Tragic Dead Love, but hard to write a convincing living one.
And the "Lover Girl's Going To Die At the Villain's Hands, RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU" device is overused for another reason.
It slaps the player across the face, because a game, being the least passive form of entertainment short of actually living an adventure, forces involvement in a character. Making a character you've developed happy might give a bit of brief joy, but killing them? Emotional chainsaw! This is great if the game does something with it, but it too often just becomes an opportunity to extract emotion without developing it, without getting the player to think about the implications of what's going on.
(Note that most action games have a lot of forced deaths, but we don't think about those. First-person shooters are filled with forced deaths, unless nonviolence is really a practical way to win.)
That's not to say it always fails. Here are a few uses of the forced failure death that have actually worked to some degree, maybe:
Final Fantasy VII: Let's get this one out of the way. BIG, MANIPULATIVE FORCED DEATH HERE. Good thing or bad thing? You could argue that for some time.
Wing Commander III (or II? I forget which. Maybe both.): A character lives up to her name.
Baldur's Gate II: Best damned thief in the game. And he dies, a traitor all along!
Chrono Trigger: Crono. And the best use of the forced death ever, because it's a fake forced death.
Trinity: A text adventure where you have to be the instrument of an innocent creature's death, for reasons that are unclear at the time. You crush it in your bare hands.
Jigsaw: Another text adventure. You have to shoot the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and start World War I, or else the game ends quickly. Whether this is better or worse than causing a world war is an open question, but you need to do this to win. Chrono Trigger's forced death may be more obviously heartwrenching; in this case, you don't SEE the consequences of your actions. FFVII's is a lot more famous. But this has got to the biggest player-caused forced death ever written, unless somebody's written a game where actually you destroy the world.
Oh, wait... I forgot:
Loom: Wow. What a downer. The innocent guy whose appearance you stole for your own purposes just got eaten by a dragon you released, and now his ghost is really angry, with good reason. And it just gets worse, and worse, even after you resurrect they guy, and you end up involved very closely with the destruction of civilization. But hey, there's hope. For you, anyway. Not for the people ravaged by the undead armies you released.
A few games where forced death fails:
Shannara: Wow. What a flat scene. Wow.
Any game where you run into the Big Bad, and he's TOO POWERFUL FOR YOU, RUN BOY RUN! And there goes your loyal mentor. This kinda worked in Star Wars, but I haven't seen it done well in a video game. I think Gabriel Knight stumbled on a scene like this, badly, though it delayed the death until after the obvious danger had passed.
Forced parental death usually doesn't work.
Is forced failure a design risk worth taking?