Sunday, February 12, 2012

Top Five Weirdest RPG Party Members

I love me some videogames, and my favorite genre of game is probably the RPG. Defining an RPG is tricky, but it usually involves directing a team of characters to accomplish objectives; swords are involved more often than not. Over the years, RPGs have developed traditional character archetypes, and several times down the line game designers have introduced characters who exist to defy those archetypes. Here are five of the crazier ones.

First, obligatory explanations. These characters are all supporting party members of various RPGs. I judge their weirdness primarily on appearance, skills, and their circumstances for joining the team and less for personality or backstory - as such, expect to see a lot of not-humanoid WTF characters and no mostly-human characters that are just batshit crazy. Basically, the more out-of-place a character is, the better candidate for this list it is.

Honorable Mention: Sharpe (Cthulhu Saves the World)

(sorry! couldn't find a good picture)

CSTW is an RPG that deliberately tries to use its diverse and bizarre cast of characters to break RPG conventions, so really any wacky characters fit right in. However, I wanted to give this game a shout-out so I'm going to give a fake spot to Sharpe, the disembodied talking sword. Yup, that's right. Cthulhu journeys to the top of a sacred temple intending to use the heroic sword as, well, a sword, but to his surprise Sharpe doesn't need wielding at all! Devoted to justice and having blades and hilts as his weapons and armor, Sharpe is a solid physical character in a very weird but rewarding RPG (that only costs 1-3 bucks!).

5. Mao - Shadow Hearts: From the New World

 This is a little unfair, picking one of the strangest characters in an RPG series where strange is the norm, but I feel it's justified. From the New World's cast includes a young boy from New York, two American Indian warriors (one shaman and one brave), a lolita vampire, a Spanish-American latin-jazz guitarist, and a World War I vet who lives his life as a ninja in the Amazon rainforest.

Nope, none of those is Mao. Mao is the sensei of Frank (the aforementioned ninja) and master of drunken fist kung fu. He lives his life boozing around Chicago bars, and finding new liquors for him unlocks new techniques. Did I mention that Mao is a large, cartoony, overweight cat?

Yup, that's right. Mao is a big, fat cat with a staff that fights like Jackie Chan in Drunken Master II. He's a boozehound (boozecat?) that shares several traits with similar hard-drinking RPG characters, but pulls it off and overall comes across like a slovenly drunk version of the Cheshire Cat. But the best part: only Johnny, the game's protagonist, seems perturbed that there's a giant talking cat on the team. The rest of your party (again, a bunch of normal-ish humans plus one vampire) treats Mao like he's any dude, while Johnny is left alone saying things like "am I the only person even surprised that there's a GIANT TALKING CAT HERE!?" Love it.

4. Chu-Chu - Xenogears

 Chu-Chu probably wouldn't be out of place in a game starring a large cast of furry space hamsters, or even any game that stars cute and cuddly animals. Xenogears, however, is a huge giant-robot-martial-arts RPG starring humans, beastmen, androids, and the giant robots that they pilot. Chu-Chu is a little out of place, so much so that XG's protagonist, Fei mistakes her for a stuffed animal at first.

But Chu-Chu's appearance isn't the weirdest part about her. Her incredibly awkward romantic crush on Fei isn't the weirdest part, either. No, the thing that sets Chu-Chu apart is her Gear form. In Xenogears, each character has a giant robot, or Gear, that they pilot for use in some battles. Chu-Chu lacks a gear, and instead increases in size by about 70,000% to turn into a giant furry space hamster that can heal giant space robots with hamster magic or some shit. Not making this up.

3. Morte - Planescape: Torment

 Morte is maybe a little less bizarre than the other characters on this list, but he still stands out as Planescape: Torment is for the most part a very traditional D&D-based western RPG that takes itself quite seriously. Morte is floating, talking, wisecracking skull that is the protagonist's first companion and a shockingly effective one at that. Morte can only equip Teeth as a weapon or armor, and gets by with surprisingly solid damage on top of being nigh-unhittable on account of being a small, floating target with good freedom of movement. Really, for being a such a weird character in such a serious RPG, and managing to fit in the way he does, Morte deserves props.

2. Cait Sith - Final Fantasy VII

 Your cast for the first 1/3 of Final Fantasy VII: sword guy with spiky hair, big dude with a gun-arm, martial arts girl, mage girl, and talking dog. So far, not so bad. Then you meet a fortune telling kitten riding a giant Moogle who joins your party without asking. Seriously, he walks into Cloud and appears on your menu screen without warning and sort of against your will. And he fights by blaring his trumpet signaling the Moogle to punch dudes. I think. Really, it's not very well explained.

Cait Sith is the standout bizarre character in Final Fantasy VII, and paved the way for future FF weirdos like Quina and... well, pretty much only Quina. Cait Sith isn't a popular dude, but his alter ego (avoiding spoilers...) is a good character and most fans seem to at least appreciate Cait Sith's redemption when it takes place in the game's second disk. Even if I'm not the biggest Cait Sith fan, I appreciate his weirdness. it weird that half of this list is giant furry cats and rodents? Do Japanese game designers have a weird thing for furry cats and rodents? Maybe.

1. Democratus - Anachronox

 (this was the best picture I could find)

I love me some Anachronox. It's a really funny RPG with some crazy characters, none crazier than Planet Democratus. You see, near the middle of the game your group manages to thwart an alien invasion of Democratus (at least I think so... it's been years). Anyhow, to save themselves from future invasion and to thank you, the Council of Democratus shrinks the entire planet to human-size and becomes a full-fledged party member, allegedly making its decisions in combat via a planet-wide vote as part of a massive reality show. Democratus attacks with tractor beams, laser arrays, and missile systems that would be catastrophic at full size but are more like bursts from a pistol now that the planet is about four feet tall.

Look, I dunno how to make this more clear: an entire planet joins your party. And the government convinces its denizens that the rest of the game is a huge reality show. Anachronox is a crazy-awesome science fiction RPG from around ten years ago that sadly left its story mostly unfinished and has no sequel to its name. But for setting a new standard of craziness in a genre full of craziness, Planet Democratus is a worthy number one and Anachronox needs all the exposure it can get. Come on, Steam/GOG/D2D, give us a digital re-release. Ball's in your court.


That's all, folks! I'm still playing Grandia II and Star Ocean: Second Evolution, and my current goal is to finish both by the end of the month. Gotta set aside space for when Mass Effect 3 lands.

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