RPG Musings – Final Bosses and Murder Mysteries

I like twists and surprises in stories. On occasion, I even like when they’re completely out of left field with little to no lead up or foreshadowing (only if the twist is particularly brilliant (and even then not all the time (fickle, I know))). But lets be honest, in any truly good murder mystery, all of the information is available, just waiting for you to assemble the pieces yourself. It’s the poorly written story looking to provide amusement without understanding how that pulls a conclusion out of nowhere at the absolute last second. I’m talking to you, jRPGs.

There’s a strange habit (custom? technique?) of having the final boss of a jRPG (and a lot of video games in general, really) being completely unrelated to the story and only introduced at the very last moment with no real lead up. It’s important to note that there’s a different between a deus ex machina explanation and a well crafted aspect of the setting that’s well hidden and peeks through in subtle locations.

I’ve had people tell me before that it’s unfair to compare the storytelling in games and the storytelling in proper books, which is just absurd. Sure, it’s unfair to expect NES games to have rock solid storytelling – it was a new medium and there was a lot to still be learned regarding just making a game that’s fun to play. But by late SNES era, I’d say we they had the aspects of fun game design pretty down. Story can be conveyed in a vast variety of ways in games (see Dark Souls, where everything regarding the wider picture is contained in item descriptions that you have no need to ever read), but that doesn’t mean it’s okay for the story to be completely obfuscated. Some of the more interesting stories I’ve read have been told in incredibly unconventional ways (see House of Leaves for how to tell a good story without following the normal rules of book media). So shouldn’t the stories be at least as good as a decent book, and told in a more interesting way (instead of being worse than a bad teen paranormal romance and told through text boxes and a couple anime or cgi cutscenes)?

In a well written murder mystery, multiple suspects are presented, and enough information is conveyed to the reader that they have a chance to puzzle out at least some of the story. With a bad murder mystery, everything important is hidden from the reader til the last moment until it is finally revealed and the puzzle solved. I like when an author tricks me, but not when they do it unfairly by simply not giving me most of the information. The same thing can be said of final bosses in jRPGs. Introducing a space flea from beyond the stars that was pulling all the strings and wasn’t even hinted at isn’t good storytelling. It’s not even fun storytelling. It’s just sad, and it’s sadly common (especially since Final Fantasy IX and X made this the standard).

I guess the bottom line is this: twists are cool. Twists for twists sake are not. Don’t believe me? Ask anyone how they feel about M. Night Shyamalan movies. A lot of people feel the same way about Final Fantasy final bosses.

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