In my Under the Scope series, I take a look at a specific item, commonly used character, or whatever and expound upon it in ways we as gamers may not have previously thought about. Sometimes it’s just something that’s been bothering me and other times it might be something of an epiphany that I want to share. Yet even other times I just have no idea what to write about and something comes to me, so shoosh.
What defines a character? Well, in an RPG, usually you say actions, dialogue, and situations define a character, but then in the case of games like Chrono Trigger or the original Final Fantasy, what then? Well sometimes one feature we often remember about the character is the clothes. Maybe it was something odd, just a little off, interesting, or completely bizarre that helped define the character.
Or perhaps their sense of style was fairly muted in such a way that we almost don’t remember what the hell they were wearing. What I mean is take just about any character from Final Fantasy 12. Can you even tell me what they were wearing? I mean, it looks like they each grabbed something fairly random from a renne fest table and strolled out into the countryside.
You go outside dressed like that? Really?
It’s all fairly generic and forgettable. Now recall Cloud Strife, Mayor Mike Haggar, Chie Satonaka, Chun Li, Ryu (from any Breath of Fire), and Crono. All very different characters and from equally different games, but there’s a good chance you have a general idea of what they were wearing, at least if you’ve played the titles. So one might say that what the character wears is highly important as to what you remember about the game.
But then again, another newer feature has come up more recently to mix things up a bit: the idea that anytime you change any piece of armor or weapon on your character that it totally changes the overall visceral look of the character. So for example, this is seen in games like Torchlight, Dragon Quest 9, Mass Effect, Xenoblade Chronicles, Rogue Galaxy, Fable, and much more.
The question is does it hurt the game or draw away from character recognition? See, one thing I noticed was in the case of Dragon Quest 9, often I couldn’t tell who was doing what in battle. What would happen is often I would craft or buy some new type of equipment, but only enough so that one or two people could equip them, thus having to do a “hand me down” measure with former equipment for the other allies, which would constantly confuse me as I couldn’t keep track with who was wearing what.
And now I’ll put the bunny ears on him to complete the ensemble.
Worse still are games that allow for full helmets to the point that everyone looks exactly the same and you can’t even really see your characters emote anymore during cutscenes. Now strangely, Xenoblade seems to get it right, but I still can’t help but feel like even it’s a little much. For example, in one area, the best armor has you looking like evil villains…then in the next area, the best armor has you looking like you have tribal clothing on.
So one way to view it is why the rapid change, while the other is how the fuck is tribal clothing somehow more resilient than spiky armor? And yet, there’s a part of me that’s somewhat annoyed when there isn’t at least some level of customization. Like, okay…older games like Final Fantasy 6. You go through all kinds of armor and weapon updates over the course of the game, but all you really have to show for it (besides the numbers) is often having a slightly differently colored attack animation.
At the end of the day it really does feel like a lose-lose situation. You can allow for all kinds of wacky customization, but more than likely you’ll only be equipping the best weapons and armor, which means only equipping certain things and having your characters look exactly the same as everyone else at that point in the game, meaning the customization is TECHNICALLY there, but it’s fairly obvious the path you’re given.
“Hey guys, look how I re-dressed my priest!”
Strangely, Fable 2 is the only game I know of that’s gotten this right lately. See, in Fable 2, there are no actual armor effects. Even if there were, there’s auto-recover and no true death in the game. As a result, you can customize your character as you see fit, though there are obvious reasons you may customize them one way or the other. They see this through completely by allowing you to dye your clothes as well.
In fact, Fable 3 takes this full tilt by encouraging you to get all available dyes, then allowing different vibrance of dyes and multi-layering. Actually, I remember spending several minutes at a time customizing my character’s full layout so that I could look a certain way…just because I bloody well could…and I never felt like my character’s identity was ever compromised.
So I guess it CAN be done, but often isn’t. It’s a very thin line to tread for a developer. Personally, I like the idea of customization, but only if it really is true customization that doesn’t subtract from the characters’ individual identities. Clothes make the man, but apparently, sometimes the man gets lost in the process.