You don’t know Nash, because you didn’t play Lunar, but you can assume that he is a complete douchebag.
[Trigger Warning: Nash.]
You meet Nash in a forest, stuck under one of those stick-and-box traps from cartoons. He is obviously a huge idiot, but he pretends that he’s not only not an idiot, but incredibly benevolent, smarter than you, and he assumes you are stupid enough to fall for a similar trap.
He believes he is also trustworthy and professional, and name-drops his boss, the leader of the prestigious Magic Guild of the Floating City of Vane, who trusted him with a mission to the dirty surface world. So Nash is also a classist, elitist, opportunistic asshole.
Nash is also a coward. He has a crushing infatuation for the guild leader’s daughter, but denies it at every turn. Instead of telling her, he is over-protective and condescending toward her. Even after spending a lot of time in harrowing situations with her, he never admits his true feelings.
Nash is so cowardly that, even after a long journey together, he leaves the party and willingly betrays her, you, and your entire traveling party to help the worst person in the world carry out his evil plans and seek mercy from him.
I hate Nash. I love Nash. We need more Nashes.
The other day, USGamer had a bit on the nature of localization in Square Enix games, and how it can improve. I recognized this for the trick question that it is: a translation can never be truly good if the thing being translated is actually bad.
(I say this, of course, trying not to forget that my understanding of Lunar is based on its famously contentious English localization)
It all comes down to the story, and in an RPG that means it all comes down to the characters, and writing characters means writing an ensemble.
Many the relationships in popular Western RPGs are based on mistrust, desperation, and manipulation. Fallout and Elder Scrolls has you constantly second-guessing people’s motives, and fooling people into giving you what you want. In Mass Effect, the crew assembled on the Normandy is made up of people with grudges and trust issues, and some don’t even want to be there. True camaraderie is something that can only be established after these issues are overcome.
In poorly written JPRGs, this is a one-and-done deal. “Oh, we beat that first boss together? Great: friends forever, now. We’ll never disagree again.” Every scene after that is just people standing in a row, being polite to each other and basically all having different visual designs but basically the exact same outlook. Nobody does ever does anything you don’t expect them to. Even good games fall into this trap, like Bravely Default and, by the end of it, Persona 4.
It’s fucking boring, pointless, and possibly a cultural thing, which makes it all the more depressing. Maybe Japanese gamers just want to see beautiful people be nice to each other all of the time, I don’t know.
I mean, shit, there’s a ton of problems with RPGs and their stories, writing original characters and giving them all a believable excuse to stick together. But if I can give one piece of actionable advice to someone making a JRPG, to elevate even the most cliched plot: write a Nash.
The brilliant part of Nash’s character is that his betrayal is surprising at first glance, and then perfectly natural upon reflection. You might wonder how Nash even gathers the conviction to turn his back on the only thing he seems to care about, until you realize that his action is a clue to the deeper meaning behind his shallow behavior up until this point: Nash’s dread of death is deeper than his capacity for love. Typically that’s the kind of sentence you’d use to describe a RPG villain, not a RPG hero. And yet here we have a terrible person standing right next to your other faithful allies.
And even a single Nash allows for so much to play with in a story. What do other characters say about someone like him? Do they show pity or contempt? How far will they go to correct his behavior?
In the end, Mia – the meek, back row, magic-using girl that Nash has been fawning on and patronizing for hours of game time – walks up to him and smacks him in the fucking face, leaving a red handprint that I’m sure many fans still remember fondly. It is the single violent action she commits outside of battle, and it’s the moment she realizes that being docile and accommodating won’t make every problem go away.
Characters doing awful things lets other characters do amazing things. And those ups and downs break up the fucking monotony inherent to all RPGs.
I’m trying to think of any other video game character who pulls a Nash (leaving player control of his own will to act against you), and I’m having a hard time. It’s such a fucking good schtick, why does no one else do it