Monday, January 18, 2016

RPG Talk: Ys Origin - Part 2: Hugo Fact

Part 1 can be read over here.

Right off the bat, Hugo Fact's name carries baggage, so I purposely chose to play him second. Yunica's descendants are all helpful people to Adol, but Dark Fact is the final boss in Ys I, making him one of Hugo's descendants. It was an interesting move to make the ancestor of a final boss a playable protagonist.

Hugo turned out to be a lot of fun. Though his play style is unique to Ys since he's a ranged spellcaster, it's his dialogue that makes him my favorite character. Unlike Yunica, who wears her heart on her sleeve, Hugo is not the aloof badass he pretends to be, and he spends the game trying to figure out who he really is (while climbing a crazy demon-built tower to rescue goddesses).

Compared to Yunica, Hugo is mouthy and arrogant. He's been trained to take over as head of the Fact family, which means that eventually he would ascend to the priesthood and serve directly under the goddesses, and on top of that he's considered a magic prodigy. His skills are actually the result of a lot of hard work, but no one looks at it that way.

In the early part of the game Hugo talks down to enemies, which is fun, but also demonstrates his lack of social skills (due to too much time studying and not enough time socializing), which is also fun. The great part about it is that Hugo is frequently convinced he's being considerate rather than condescending.

The reality is that Hugo is a nice guy, but is saddled with crazy expectations from his father and from himself. His older brother Toal was supposed to be the heir, but ran off to join the Holy Knights and Toal didn't care about being disinherited, leaving the much younger Hugo to pick up the slack. (The game doesn't mention the age difference, but from flashbacks they're probably at least ten years apart.)

Just when Hugo had thought he'd gotten out from under his older brother's shadow, Toal was one of the two knights who stayed behind in the face of certain death to buy time for Ys to rise into the sky, making him one of the greatest heroes of Ys and a martyr besides.

So Hugo has a lot of baggage. His father's expectations. His own wanting to be like his brother while at the same time loathing his brother, especially since Toal does not turn out to actually be dead and Hugo's father has sent him on a secret mission to kill Toal while looking for the goddesses. Toal appears to be working with the Darklings, foreign humans who are able to command the demons and the main villains of the game.

It quickly becomes apparent that Hugo is tied into the story way more than Yunica was, which is a shame. While Toal shows up in her storyline, including a confrontation with Hugo, his name and background aren't explored.

Yunica's actions are predictable, as are the results of her actions, because of her character archetype, and while to a lesser degree Hugo seems to fall into the badass loner trope, the writing is savvy enough that we don't know where being a pompous jerk is going to take him.

For instance, there's one scene involving a magically sealed door. In Yunica's storyline she encounters it with a group and everyone gives it a fair assessment as bad mojo that should not be touched. They'll need to find a way to trick it.

In Hugo's storyline he encounters it alone and convinces himself that because he's the heir of House Fact he should be strong enough to be able to punch through it... and promptly gets his ass handed to him when the magic rebounds and knocks him unconscious.

It's hilarious, because that doesn't happen in most games, and it's a great way of breaking down who Hugo is trying to be versus who he really is.

In most games, when the main villain offers the hero a temporary taste of demonic power, the correct answer is no, or at least not on the villain's terms. Because of who Hugo is, his need to be powerful for his father and his inferiority complex compared to his brother, it's not quite as stupid when he lets the main villain embed a sliver of demonic essence in him.

Well, okay, it's still stupid, and he gets called out on it, but it's at least believably stupid.

Most of this calling out comes through his relationship with Epona, and this is where his story works so much better than Yunica's even when treading the same ground.

Epona is one of the Darklings, and as such, she tussles with Hugo a couple times, but she's a free spirit (even as a villain) and after he helps her out of a pinch in exchange for information about his brother, they develop this frenemy rapport where they trade smack talk with each other. Unlike Hugo's companions from Ys, she's unrestrained in her observations about him. When he protests that he is neither cocky nor dumb (adjectives no one else in the search party would ever use with him), she comes back with this zinger:

...Eloquently proving the point that for everything Hugo pretends to be, sometimes he is a cocky dumbass.

Epona shows up regularly in Hugo's storyline. While I haven't counted how many times Roy has appeared in Yunica's, Epona's visits are definitely more memorable, because it's usually just her and Hugo present, since other characters would prevent any bonding.

Because she's an outsider and is unintimidated by his reputation, she's the one who gets Hugo to realize that he still cares about his brother and that his life has revolved around trying to become someone else. Epona helps Hugo grow, whereas Roy at best does nothing to help Yunica and at worst is holding her back.

Though Hugo and Epona probably only know each other for a few days at best and Yunica and Roy have known each other for years, as the reader who knew both pairs an equal amount of time, I bought into Hugo and Epona more and felt it more when Epona was killed.

I can't really complain about the love interest being killed while/because of saving the protagonist when the plot does it for both genders, but Epona's death means more, because she means more. The writer saw to that in her banter with Hugo and because he appreciates what he learns from her, painful though it is, we know what she means to him as well.

When it looks like Hugo's going to die in the cut scene before the final boss fight, the name he thinks in regret is Epona's, because he's afraid he's not going to be the person she saw in him. Tellingly, Roy is not on Yunica's mind when she goes through her version of the same cut scene.

After playing through Hugo's storyline it became glaringly obvious where the deficiencies in Yunica's were. Her story is fine for emulating an early 90s style of video game storytelling, which I had taken it for, but knowing how much more depth was in Hugo's story left me with a bad taste in my mouth because Yunica's could have been so much better.

Hugo's story probably leaves the player with the most unanswered questions though, including how he already knew his brother was alive before heading down to the surface and why his brother joined up with the Darklings, since it becomes clear that even though Toal is working with the bad guys, he's not entirely on their side either.

Fittingly, Toal is the third protagonist, and is only available after beating the game at least once as either Yunica or Hugo, though I don't think it's good idea to jump directly to Toal after playing Yunica because his story spoils a lot of what happens in Hugo's without necessarily giving all the context.