Questioning Mass Effect
(Or Suprise JRPG Attack!)
With ME3’s release just around the corner and the uproar surrounding it’s day-one DLC has gotten me reconsidering the series overall. Namely how while the first game has possibly marked a renaissance in how RPGs should be made, that quite simply the franchise has quickly devolved into theatrical driven exploitation rather than the action-oriented, thought provoking sci-fi romp its currently being hoisted as.
These are the self-asked questions which made me come to such a conclusion:
How Did the Reapers Get Here?
Every fifty thousand years the reapers descend upon the galaxy to rid it of any species which has obtained an interstellar level culture. Uses the Mass Effect relay network to both guide these cultures along a certain technological path, and leave them vulnerable to attack upon the Reapers return. This genocidal cycle however is broken with the destruction of Sovereign, a Reaper sentry, caused by warnings left by the Protheans, an advanced race killed during the last Reaper cycle, and the actions of a multi-species group lead by a human named Sheppard. This is ME1’s plot summed up as simply as possible. There’s a lot missing from it including the bits involving sex, which applies in more ways than one.
Given that ME2 was also – supposedly, I’ll get to that later – about stopping the Reaper cycle, something at which you through the persona of Sheppard again succeed at, it comes off to me as a bit cheap that with ME3 the Reapers are simply “here” with no real explanation. Worse yet this comes off as happening mere months after whatever apparent “success” ME2 suggested.
But this is really minor compared to:
What were the Collectors doing anyway?
Yes the Collectors were raiding Human colonies in order to make a Human-Reaper, which offered hints about Reaper intentions, but what exactly was that suppose to do towards returning all Reapers to the galaxy? Were they preparing for another run on Citadel? If so how long – given that in two years they’d gotten up to a skeleton – would this new Reaper take to complete? Why bother building it when considering events detailed in “The Arrival” DLC? The plan to both use and destroy that relay had to be in the works for years, so if the Collectors really had any connection with bringing back the Reapers, why were they uninvolved there?
Honestly this whole line of questioning begs to ask how was there even outside indication of the Collector’s connection to the Reapers. Especially if all of their attacks before Sheppard’s involvement left no evidence. And again, I’m making a case of Mass Effect as a theatrical game. Of things happening because they look cool rather than make sense which is the not necessarily the rotten core of all bad stories.
Which makes me ask:
Why Is the Reaper Threat Recognized Too Late?
Weather or not the Council is saved in ME1, despite Reaper wreckage likely still littering Citadel at the start of ME3, their existence is willfully denied both officially and behind closed doors. Ships lost during Sovereign’s attack have likely been replaced, an assumption of standard military buildups among the races for any lesser reason could be made, but the basic fact is that the galaxy at large isn’t prepared for what’s about to hit it.
Its these conclusions plus the opening cutscenes in the ME3 demo which has me questioning how the good guys are suppose to win. More so than I should be asking at least.
A good portion of Earth’s fleet is in orbit, Reapers arrive en mass rapidly decimating early warning and defense systems, land on the planet at once converting what populace they don’t kill into their own troops, and it is suppose to be believed that Sheppard will be able to gather and unite the forces needed to save both the homeworld of his species much less the galaxy?
I had more trouble believing that surrounding Reapers failed to blow the Normandy II out of the sky than go after a couple of shuttles – one of which should have had Anderson on it. Nevermind some cheap, unnamed Aliens Newt-clone who’s death is suppose to tug at heart strings.
Moving on to the Elephant in the Room of this “article” before getting to its conclusive point:
Why Does Everyone Leave?!
In the literal middle of nowhere every significant Normandy II crewmember boards a shuttle along with Sheppard, anyone who could repel boarders, and leaves. With the ship being boarded shortly thereafter with only its least physically able crewmember not taken by Collectors, who’d been lead to the location by a Reaper IIF signal, and save the ship.
Many will note that while the beginning of that summery made no real sense, the latter did to a degree. The player’s usual story point of view, Sheppard, is temporally ignored as he/she and the other cast of characters you’ve gathered go off stage because something that’s believed needed to happen to progress the plot happens. The rest of the crew need to be kidnapped to give you more of a reason to go where you were going anyway, so the game’s writers decided that they’d be kidnapped to give the game’s ending mission some emotional weight. You as Sheppard were just off somewhere sitting on your hands before that last final game level.
In other words, they got lazy. Doesn’t matter that there‘s an explanation – an adventure – of what Sheppard and gang did while away in some novel or comic book, in the context of the actual game that you’re playing at the time – the writers got lazy.
No, that’s probably not exactly the case and might be unfair. Though it is the point of this article which was inspired by questions raised while playing ME2 and ingesting ME3 hype.
Even before this console generation the most prolifically known type of RPGs, which being made in Japan has labeled JRPGs, had come to be accused of stagnation. Introduction of convoluted story elements if not full plotlines. Character archetypes who were always of a certain age, appearance and even personality. These recursive flaws made it both harder for one time fans to accept the premise of a game’s story, to suspend any real world beliefs which might hold back from becoming enveloped in its presentation, and easy for critics of the JRPG genera to attack it. To also promote the rise of WRPGs such as Mass Effect.
Which features character such as Jack, who can easily take out three heavy mechs at once during her introductory cutscene but is just another squad member in the game. Her assumed full body tattoos also seem to be able to do the job of a spacesuit.
Its things like Jack which causes narrative bumps that are no better than a possible ten year old girl who happens to be a JRPG’s main protagonist. The gap in logic that has you repeatedly taking someone for their word when they’ve knowingly sent you into enemy ambushes at least twice which is exactly similar to repeatedly accepting your back-stabbing best friend back into the party, especially after kidnapping your girlfriend. Spending two years and billions of dollars on experimental technology to revive the body – that fell to a planet! – of someone based on the premise they’re a symbol is the Western equivalent of a pop-star saving the world from Cthulhu with a soccer ball and song she just made up. All are cases of theatrical story telling in games. All have caused gamers at one time or another to question the narrative.
So to sum up: WRPGs = JRPGs. With ME1 the series might have shown promise and originality, but with scheduling and production demands, being viewed as product, a vehicle for merchandising rather than a story told through a game, its quickly fallen into usual and established conventions.