Dragon Age: Writing the Bad Villain Well

One thing I’ve always appreciated about the Dragon Age series is their unusual choices in villains.  The strength of the antagonist can make or break most stories, even moreso than the protagonist in a lot of cases.  Dragon Age has been taking a lot of risks with theirs, and that they’ve all worked out decently is quite impressive.  Dragon Age Origins started out by putting you up against the dual villains of a faceless, personality-less horde, and the whims of politics, rather than giving you an actual well-defined character to fight as most other games would.  Sure, Loghain was at the center of the political storm, but the true enemy he represented was wider than just that.  Dragon Age II did not improve on much, but it did up the ante on the central antagonist, pitting you against the city’s commitment to see itself destroyed.  There wasn’t even a real face to the evil, that time.  And yet it’s Dragon Age Inquisition that gives the series it’s most unique antagonist yet.  They pulled out all the stops to bring you the core enemy this game, giving you something most games would not even attempt.  For this game, the central antagonist is Corypheus, the complete stupid loser.

Corypheus

Corypheus is the North Korea of Dragon Age.  He’s dangerous because he’s somehow amassed enough power to do some real harm before he’s taken down, but he still cannot wipe his nose without it blowing up in his face.  There is nothing he does that does not make things worse for him.  Corypheus shows off his sweet immortality power?  Turns out that defused some of the traps lying in between you and the big macguffin he was after.  Corypheus invests the core of himself in a big, intimidating, permanent show of force?  That ends up creating a vulnerability you’ll exploit later.  Even his greatest triumph, marching down to your house and kicking you and all your homies right out of it, ends up being his undoing as it gets you crowned inquisitor and solidifies your political base.  Also, that ended with you hitting him with a mountain.  A whole blasted mountain!

One thing that really strikes me is how easily the writing of this villain could have ruined the story.  There’s a number of ways to have a good antagonist, but usually, you want them to either be threatening or relatable.  Corypheus fails on both counts.  He is absolutely the opposite of what most authors would want in their work.  It’s hard to maintain a sense of danger when every time you see him, he’s in the process of screwing something up, and it should be hard to relate to such a total dickweasel.  Corypheus is not what you’d normally want in a compelling antagonist.  Yet he still manages to make a decent villain.  How is that?

Well, part of it is that the challenges you face are more part of a machine operated by Corypheus than any traditional You vs. Hostile Force conflict most games will present, so he doesn’t really need to be the big bad wolf, he just needs to set things in motion.  But I think most of it comes down to one thing.  Corypheus may not be relatable, but he is at least interesting, because of the way he’s presented.  Corypheus is not the traditional dark force you’ve seen in so many games, the inhumanly wicked being.  He is evil, but he is evil in a very understandable manner.  He is simply a person handed too much power, whose existence is centered around one central flaw that ends up dragging him down.

In this case, it’s all pride.  Pride is his elemental weakness, the vulnerability the plot hits for extra damage.  Every time he loses, every opening he leaves, every resource he lets slip through his fingers, it’s all because he was acting in some way to manipulate other’s perception of him and satisfy his pride.  As flaws go, it’s not particularly subtle, but it does help to round him out, make him more interesting.  Flaws are the building blocks of characters.  Authors have known this since the days of Oedipus.  People are going to be drawn more to a flawed human being than they are the pure white Mary Sue.  And it makes no difference what role they play.  You see flawed characters in the protagonists’ side so often, while the antagonists, evil though they may be, often seem to fit an idealized model besides that.  Yet, as Corypheus demonstrates, flaws are important for villains as well.

I don’t think Corypheus will be topping any character lists.  Though his flaw does demonstrate some thoughtful writing, it doesn’t change the fact he’s still kind of a wiener.  But the flaw that guides him does make him a more interesting and more understandable villain, even as he never puts up an effective fight.

Distractions of Dark Souls

Last time, on Adventures in Oolacile, we had a cliffhanger.  The first in this entire series, I think.  What the hell, Aether?  Weren’t you just complaining about those?  You hack.  Fix it.  Fix it now.

Well, if you insist.

If you’ll recall, we ended things last time with me tromping through a forest then passing through a fog gate.  On the other side of that gate we find a cutscene.  You know what that means.  That means it’s boss time.

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And here’s our opponent.  Look at him.  All bobbly and spindly and totally smaller than me.  And here I thought the DLC was supposed to be hard!  I could totally take this guy.  I could totally take like, 20 of this guy.  I could…

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My reflections on how awesome I am in comparison are interrupted as someone else jumps in and totally takes that guy.

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Dude lifts his sword a bit, then stabs the guy again for good measure.

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Then he seems to notice me.  Dark energies begin gathering around him.

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I’m… not entirely sure I can totally take this guy.

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Dude roars at me, strikes this pose, then hurls the impaled corpse of that guy right at me.

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The corpse doesn’t quite clear the distance, it skids to my feet, but the meaning is clear.  And aww, man, Artorias?!  We were supposed to be buds!  I’d impress you with my awesome swordwork, we’d bro out and save the princess, and then be generally cool guys together until I had to return to my time!

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New Eden, Page 24-Catching Up Edition

Hey boys and girls, just back from a fortnight sojourning across the parts of America nobody likes to admit exist.  Still not done with life stuff, but until we’re ready for regular content to resume, have some more of this.

New Eden Page 24

Transcript

Panel 1

AGLA:  Well, not really a guardian.  More like a steward.  An archangel, one of God’s most trusted, left to manage the place.

Panel 2

Smythe: You know what?  Just take that somewhere.  We’ll look over it once we get back to the states.

AGLA: What do you suppose happened to them?  The guardian, the archangel?

Panel 3

AGLA: How about another old testament story?  Are you familiar with Noah and the Ark?

Panel 4

Goon: Urgh!

Panel 5

Smythe: What the hell?  What was that?

Panel 6

Goon: The engines!  Something’s wrong!

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The Dark Souls Nature Trail

Last time, on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dark Souls, we got taken someplace a long, long time ago, in a land far, far away.  Oolacile.  What I know as Lost Oolacile.  A fallen land that no longer exists, because, much like me, it is just too pretty for my blighted world.  Whatever happened to pull me here must have somehow yanked me across time, too.  I’ve followed Dusk to her home.

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Look at that.  Sunlight streaming through the trees onto a sacred copse in the woods.  Anor Londo, Firelink Shrine, and the Undead Burg all have some direct sunlight, but it just feels different here.

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A bunch of humanoid statues that are, admittedly, creepy as all blazes, but hey.  At least these people have some art and culture in them.  That’s beautiful on its own.

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And of course, the giant mushroom man, well renowned for its wait WHAT?!

I’ve been pounded by these guys too many times.  Wary, I raise my shield and approach.  The mushroom does nothing.  In fact it doesn’t even have limbs.  Slowly, I lower my guard.  Then it… she… speaks.

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If blood and sewage and whatever Frampt’s been eating smells like human to you, I’m not sure I want to see who you hang around with.  Also, how do you tell that when YOU DON’T HAVE A FREAKIN’ NOSE?!

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Oh, wait, Dusk’s been talking about me?  She, uh, say anything good?  Like how gorgeous and powerful and totally dating material I am?

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“…snatched away by that horrifying primeval human.” she says.  Yeah, she was kidnapped the last time I saw her, too.  Can that girl keep out of distress?  I get that she’s a princess, and getting kidnapped is like, what they do, but that still seems excessive.

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Oh fair knight, canst thou pleasest saveth our princess and smiteth the evil dragonst Generica plaguing our landst and liveth literally every classic Heroic Romance ever?  Let me guess.  The princess will be set up to be sacrificed to fuel or satisfy some greater monster.  A false hero will appear, who will seem cooler than me in every way, but ultimately fail in his endeavors.  Then it will be up to me to save the day in which I need to slay the dragon and dispel some lie the princess believes and then she’ll fall in love with me and I’ll hang up my sword and buy a farm.  Eh.  I’ll think about it.

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The Sins You Committed Will Never Disappear! The Persona 2: Innocent Sin Retrospective COMPLETE!

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Persona Retrospective Introduction

(Revelations:) Persona

Here’s the director’s cut of the Persona 2: Innocent Sin Retrospective we’ve been running.  All the bit by bit portions of our Retrospective all stuck together in one big massive document, for those of you who prefer it that way.  We’ve got some more editing and better clarification on the points I was making, but if you’ve been following the piece by piece portions, none of the actual content here is new to you, just some minor differences in the way it’s presented.  If you’d rather have the section by section breakout, you can start here.  Otherwise, enjoy.

Persona 2!  I’ve been looking forward to doing this one.  I’ve got a lot of history with the Persona series, and it’s grown some deep, deep roots in me.  I’ve spent a good long while immersing myself in the series, and it’s one of the few franchises I actually consider myself passionate about.  I’ve carved out a good bit of prime brain real estate for each game in the series.  Yes, even the bad one.  Even dreck like Persona 1 has some value

Each game, that is, except for Persona 2.  Well, the first half of Persona 2.  See, the second installment in this series has a really weird presence here in the western world.  Persona 2 is a duology.  Atlus has experimented with the one game for the price of two deal a few times, and one of those experiments turned up here.  There’s Persona 2: Innocent Sin and Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, each telling half of the story.  And way back when these games were new, Atlus, far from the bold and expansive localizer they’re known as today, decided to only release the latter game in the states.  The second half of the story.  Flipping to the middle of the book and just starting from there.

There’s quite a few theories as to why that might be.  Maybe it was because Atlus USA was a small department with too much on its plate at the time.  Maybe it was because they couldn’t get it ready in time for the rush.  Maybe it was because of the gay options in a time before America was ready for it.  Maybe it was because of Hitler.

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Nobody knows!  But the fact of the matter is that we missed out on the first installment of Persona 2.  Eternal Punishment came out, and trust me, it was a bit of a challenge making sense of that alone.  Still, I powered through it, and while I know that game well, Innocent Sin was always a gap in my Persona knowledge, only experienced vicariously, until finally, the game got re-released on the PSP a few years ago.  It’s still the game I’m least experienced in.

So this installment of our retrospective series covers the first release in the Persona 2 duology, Innocent Sin.  Eternal Punishment will get its own, probably shorter post.  Just seemed like the best way to do things.

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Depression and Dark Souls

Last time in Dirty Deeds Done Dark Souls, we pretty much became a killer for hire.  Oh sure, it may have been a wicked mercy, and it may have been for the fate of the world and all that best chosen one business, but the fact remains that I killed both two of the Izalith family members as well as the twisted, misshapen Witch of Izalith herself just because my lady of the flame asked me too.  It was a dirty deed, but one that needed to be done, but, I hope, one that bought them all some measure of long-deserved peace.

Also, I slew the well from which all my  wicked inferno magic is drawn!  I’m pretty awesome, aren’t I?

Eh.  Have to joke.  Have to try and keep the spirits up.  Humor’s most important in the darkest hour, right?  Truth is, I’m just about at the lowest point I’ve been in since I left the Undead Asylum.  Laurentius of Great Swamp went hollow and died by my hand long ago.  Solaire of Astora, I’m not sure whether he went truly hollow rather than just being driven generically mad, but either way, he lost his will, then lost his mind.  Siegmeyer of Catarina, well, I’m not entirely sure what happened.  He seemed depressed, over his lack of success, over the amount of times I bailed him out, whatever, but I don’t think he was ever expecting to survive his charge against those demons.  And even as far back as the beginning of my journey, that knight that opened the way to my escape from the Asylum in the first place, before again, going hollow and dying by my blade.

Oh, Geezer Zeus, I’m going to have to tell Siegmeyer’s daughter.

And all the while I roam this blasted land where anyone normal seems to have perished years ago, in this dying world, working on the vague promises of that stupid snake whose words coming out of his mouth is worth no more than the dung pies I’ve shoved in, and that bloated goddess, who for all her divinity has done absolutely nothing that a simple box couldn’t have.  I’m the Chosen One, I’m the one who’s supposed to link the fire, cure the undead plague, renew the world, and succeed a god, and yet I’m the only one who actually does anything towards that goal.  Frampt, the Lords, anyone else who ruled in this land?  They’ve all either vanished, twisted themselves into uselessness in ages past or are actively making Lordran worse, now.  And what does succeeding Gwyn even mean?  I am already immortal and monstrously powerful.  What more can becoming a god gain me?  In pursuit of that, I have killed so many people, some of whom deserve it, but what good has come out of it?  Whose lives are better for my actions?  Sure, some of those I killed played some part in how screwed up Lordran’s gotten, but I feel like even with their deaths, I’ve only just put a bandage on a mortal wound.   I’ve got promises that by fulfilling my station as the Chosen Undead, I can at least purge the undead curse and bring life, true life, back to this world, but most of that comes from sources I know aren’t telling me the whole story.

Yet even so, I know I’m going to stay the course.  I have to.  If I stop, I know I’m going hollow.  The knight at the Asylum lost his mission.  Solaire got discouraged.  Siegmeyer seemed to have given up.  And they are all no more.  That will not happen to me.  I need to keep moving forward.  And I have no other direction than the quest of the Chosen Undead.  And you know what?  I’m starting to find myself not caring about killing these people for their souls.  The holder of the Lord Souls have all needed a good killing thus far.  For all I know, Nito might be the same.  And even if he hasn’t gone full-blown malevolent, at the very least, he’s done nothing about Lordran falling so hard to the darksign.  I’m sure I can make much better use of his Lord Soul than he is.

Still, even the most epic of quests could do with a break now and again.  And I really need something to feel good about right now.  And honestly, I could do with someone to talk to.  My best friend just tried to kill me, I watched another friend die, and the pressure of being chosen are getting to me.  Even the strongest of warriors need a shoulder to lean on, and I am getting to that point.  I head first to Quelana.  I don’t expect much empathy from her, but I at least need to let her know the deed is done.

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She, at least, is happy that her family’s been released from their twisted, chaotic forms.  Well, except for the Daughter of Chaos, the waifish, spidery, fire-keeper.  As dire as her situation is, she at least seems to have retained something of her self.

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You know, that’s a big expression of endearment from her.

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She teaches me the Fire Tempest pyromancy.  I’ll have to try that out sometime.  She calls out to me as I’m leaving.

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Well, I seem to have helped her out at least.  Now, I just need to keep this up for, oh, the rest of the still-living world?

While I’m in the area, I pick up the treasures left behind in the Demon Ruin’s magma, the ones that were by that pack of Taurus Demons.  There’s a bunch of souls on one, and a Chaos Ember on the other.  I take it to Andrei, who reports that he can’t do anything with it.  The Giant Blacksmith has no interest in it either.  And Rickert, as he proudly claims, doesn’t deal in embers.  I hold onto it for now.

It’s starting to occur to me that I could do with an upgrade in equipment.  I love this Black Knight Sword.  It has been my most constant companion in the Chosen One quest.  I would marry this sword if I could.  The nuptials… would be awkward.  But even so, I’ve upgraded it as much as I can, and I’m not going to be getting much stronger than I am now.  My damage output with this blade has peaked, and while still considerable, I’m worried it may not be enough for some of the future challenges facing me.  I’m not in a hurry to replace it, but I am going to be keeping my eye out for a new weapon.  Maybe I’ll learn to love it as much as I love this one.

In the meantime, my mind drifts to one other person who I’m pretty sure would do me good to talk to.  Someone who I’ve unequivocally saved.  Someone who’s not completely steeped in the despair that pervades those under the undead blight.  And perhaps most importantly, someone who hasn’t yet rejected my requests for a date.  Dusk of Oolacile.  The lady trapped for untold ages in the body of the golden golem, before I rescued her and she used her magic to return to the past.  She left me a summon sign, to speak with her again.  And if ever I needed it, it’s now.  I venture back to the lake at the Darkroot Basin.

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New Eden, Page 23: Anti-life edition

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Life’s getting the better of me again.  Have some art while I sort things out.  Eventually, we’re going to get to the point where I start realizing I need to make text larger to show up on screen.  I look forward to that day.

Transcript

Panel 1

AGLA: That’s what this is about?  You abducted me over a video game?

Goon: Don’t play dumb.  We’re not the Japanese police, we won’t fall for that.  Our citizens have been disappearing directly after playing your game, and nobody knows how your machine works.

AGLA: That’d be more a failing of American engineering than anything else, right?

Goon: Do you even realize the trouble you’re in?  If we’re not happy with the info you give us, you’ll be spending the rest of your life in a prison on the ass-end of the Earth!  Now, what is your game doing to our citizens?

AGLA: Are you a man of faith, Agent Smythe?

Smythe: Answer the question.  What has your game done to our people?

Panel 2

AGLA: Do you believe in Heaven?  Hell?  Valhalla?  Hades?  Different worlds the soul travels to after death?

Smythe: Are you refusing to answer the question?

AGLA: What about the Garden of Eden?

Panel 3

Smythe: Refusal will have consequences.

AGLA: The paradise God cast Adam and Eve from when they gained the knowledge of Good and Evil, and lost their purity.

Panel 4

AGLA: God left a guardian there.

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