The Expanse has been canceled. You bastards...


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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.

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TenSteps2275d ago

It was difficult and took a lot of effort but I managed to fap to the Shepard in that pic.

Hovis2275d ago

1. Pic is sweet

2. Why the hell did everyone leave the shuttle at the same time? No seriously!?

I played Mass Effect 2 times more over the last month (wanted a few more files to import) and I just couldn't get over the fact that everyone on the team just gets up and leaves. Then Miranda has the nerve to have a go at the guy with brittle bone disease for not saving the day...the fudge?!

Anyway I had a go at Uncharted 3 for the same reason really. Plot points which happened solely to keep the story going (somehow washing up on the beach where he needed to be after being shipwrecked in the middle of the ocean(!) and surviving for days in the desert etc). When you stopped and thought about the events in question it just ruined the immersion completely.

It's an established part of the entertainment industry. It's like when you watch a Bond film and the villain has many opportunities to kill Bond but talks to him instead. Obviously in real life Bond would've just been shot but because it's a film they have to build tension and show the hero miraculously survive the odds etc etc.

Anyway the only real way to get over such plot problems like these is to just ignore and go along with them. It's not all bad though and the films/games are still enjoyable at the end of the day.

Good blog though :)

teething2257d ago

I agree with your suspension of disbelief point.

I went through a phase where I criticised the plot of every movie I watched... nothing made logical sense. I did not enjoy watching those movies. When I turned my brain off and just went for the ride, I again started to enjoy movies.

The crew leaving the Normandy was simply a plot point to make the story work. Just like when characters decide to split up in horror movies.

"It is dark, we don't know where we are, there is a killer monster on the loose, we are safer if we stick together." "How about we split up?" "Great idea."

Christopher2275d ago

Because post-Mass Effect, the writing took a turn not towards logic but towards extending the concept and forcing 'new beginnings' with each game.

Perhaps it was a fault of the first game's writing in that it should have resulted in continued fight against the Reapers, but the problem is that instead of writing about the political concepts and continuing affect of Reapers on the people, they instead made it all about one man, Shepard. Only Shepard can save us, only Shepard can find the answer, only Shepard can find answers for his squad members to gain their loyalty, only Shepard can open this can of Peanut Butter.

Rather than continue the story from the first game that was only played by about 2 million gamers, they instead created a new beginning focusing on the same person while drastically changing gameplay so as to shoe-horn more people into the game. After all, you're not going to make people feel like they have to play the first game to understand it all, are you? No, you gotta present them something completely new that they can understand from the get-go.

And with the third game, they are doing the same thing. Instead of continuing on with the previous story, they instead progress the timeline and redo the same thing, Only Shepard.

And you can't have a single person save the galaxy without a ship and his crew to back him up. So, in a place where everything including the smallest of shuttles is getting shot out of the air, you can't have a large one get shot out. Shepard needs it, it must survive, so that he can go and save us... well, those of us that aren't currently being blasted to pieces or turned into Husks.

Godmars2902274d ago

Thing is with the second story - there was no story. The Collectors where just doing something which happened to be Reaper related and you stop them after coming back from the dead.

Also think for what its worth Bioware failed to explain the actual arrival of the Reapers, which in itself would have been a colossal narrative event, is largely because they would have had to present Sheppard - the player - as losing. Or for whatever reason the gamers of today can't stand to lose.

Hovis2273d ago

Just in regards to the first paragraph of your comment.

So is the problem of the middle game.

Number 1 sets up the franchise.

Number 2 can't really develop the story that much or characters so can only really saunter about looking good

Number 3 finishes the story that was started.

This is the problem that comes with basing you games/films as a trilogy because number 2 can't end it. If you took Mass Effect 2 out of the equation and just had Mass Effect 1 & 3 story wise I believe there wouldn't be much difference overall.

Mass Effect 2 as good as it was could only really add depth to the galaxy because that's all it really could. More locations, characters and choices.

teething2257d ago

You have to admit though, sheppard getting shot out of the sky at the start of the game would be realistic... but make for a crappy story and game.

SageHonor2275d ago

Wait until you play the entirety of Mass Effect LOL

Captain Tuttle2274d ago

I've learned that it's not a good idea to look at ME2's story too closely. I loved the game, the characters were well written. Bioware forgot to fit it into the big picture.

You want a well written story in a videogame? Play Planescape: Torment. Or even Fallout New Vegas. There's too many holes in the ME series.

Christopher2274d ago (Edited 2274d ago )

Planescape: Torment, really wish someone with the talent would redo the art assets at 1080p resolution and release it without any other changes. What a masterpiece in gaming.

Christopher2272d ago (Edited 2272d ago )

@Captain Tuttle: Yeah, but that's still limited to at about 720p.

The Gibberlings 3 mod doesn't do well at much above that.

I play the game about once a year and always look for new mods. Took a bit to get it to work on Windows 7, which was weird, but got it to work eventually.

teething2257d ago

ME2's story is pretty light, but the intention was always to focus on the squadmates and their stories and relationships. I thought it was an interesting change for gaming.

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