Friday, February 24, 2012

The Top 16 Mass Effect Squad Members Part II: The Mediocre Three

Yesterday, I went over the bottom of the Mass Effect space barrel. Today, things continue to improve. These characters aren't great, but they certainly don't have the myriad of flaws that yesterday's bunch had.

11. Kasumi Goto (Mass Effect 2)

Tragically, Kasumi Goto was born without a forehead.

 Kasumi Goto is different than all the other characters I'll discuss. She's the only one to be made available after the game was released, coming out via downloadable content (DLC) a few months after Mass Effect 2 came out. That means people had to pay $7 if they wanted this character. As a result, BioWare tried their damnedest to make this DLC bundle worthwhile. And they succeeded at making the bundle a great value for $7. The shame is none of it has to do with Kasumi. Specifically, her loyalty mission is both fantastic and unique. It requires you to infiltrate the party of a interstellar arms dealer, James Bond-style. Schmooze up the host and impress some people with your tuxedo wearing prowess (or dress wearing prowess, if you're a Lady Shepard) all while scouting out the party and sabotaging their defenses. And the practical reward for the mission is a fantastic new submachine gun that is the most accurate and deadly of all the SMGs in the game. The thing is Kasumi herself is entirely forgettable and not needed for this mission at all.

As a character, Kasumi strives for that Joss Whedon style best seen in the short-lived but oft-cited cult TV show, Firefly. She'll make sarcastic quips and never take things as seriously as she should. Honestly, you'd think I would love this. But it really just undermines the tone of the much darker Mass Effect 2. It's not that characters can't be funny or make wise-cracks, there's just nothing else to her character and that won't cut it in a game of this caliber.

Maybe her motive was to wear leather pants?
From a broader standpoint, she has no reason to work with Shepard and Shepard has no reason to work with her. Kasumi is a master thief, so that means she's good at sneaking around and taking things. But Shepard is on a mission to fight a bunch of enigmatic aliens and their cybernetic monsters. I don't think the Collectors really have anything you could steal from them. Certainly nothing that requires a specialist. And what does Kasumi get out of it? Is it money? Revenge? Boredom? To appeal to RPG fans who adore Japanese culture and would typically not try out a Western RPG like Mass Effect, thus broadening the game's market to an untapped demographic? Is it fashion? I honestly don't remember. It's a bad sign if I can't remember why a character would sign up for a suicide mission.

10. Zaeed Massani (Mass Effect 2)
Cool guys don't look at explosions. They blow things up and then walk away.
 Zaeed Massasni was another DLC character. Unlike Kasumi, he was available on Day 1 of the Mass Effect 2 experience for anyone who bought the game new. There's a whole raging debate about the merits of these kinds of decisions in the video gaming world, but I'll save that for another day. For now, let's talk about Zaeed and his delightful English accent. Zaeed is a complete badass. Plain and simple. He's embraced the most fundamental aspect of being: living for revenge. On top of that, he's the most feared bounty hunter in the Terminus System (read: No Man's Space) so he's the Boba Fett of Mass Effect. If you help him track down the guy who betrayed him and get revenge, he shoots his nemesis in the leg and then knocks him into a puddle of fuel and burns him alive with the discarded ammunition. And in that same mission, he also shoots his gun into the air and says "AAAAAAAAAGGGGHHH" which, as Hot Fuzz teaches us, is the definition of badass. On top of that, he has a very clear motive for joining Shepard's suicide mission. He's not doing it for the money, he's doing it for a whole s***load of money! So this guy has simultaneously reminded me of Space Balls, Hot Fuzz, and the good Star Wars.

So why is he so low? Do I have a grudge against badasses or Englishmen? No! In fact, I think the English Badass has been completed neglected on this side of the world, in favor of the foppish Englishman (but seriously, the stiff upper lip is a remarkably important component of being a badass, more on that another day). The problem with Zaeed is there's nothing to him but being a badass and getting revenge. He doesn't learn anything and he doesn't really have any other interesting opinions. He's been consumed by his badassery. Besides an intense hatred of things in his way and a love of money, I can't tell you a thing about how he thinks. Additionally, I think he's a bit too badass. He doesn't feel like a real person, just a parody of one. A violent, angry, pyromaniac of a parody. But importantly, Zaeed is the first character whose strengths outweigh his weaknesses. His loyalty mission is really strong, but I think it missed the opportunity to ask a truly profound question for the badass generation: is it better to live for greed or to live for revenge?

Answer: Revenge. Because people who live for greed never get to walk away from a burning building.
9. Grunt (Mass Effect 2)

"Your weapons cannot harm me. I'm the Grunt-er-naut, bitch!"
 All right, we're done with both DLC characters and ethnic stereotypes for the time being, so let's get back to the crazy aliens. Grunt is a particularly special krogan, the most badass alien warriors in the galaxy. Why are they the most badass? Besides being bigger and stronger than any other species and having a culture obsessed with warfare, krogan biology is perfectly adapted to warfare. They have backups of every organ in their body so you literally have to kill them twice before they stay down. Grunt is a genetically engineered super-soldier from a race that already borderlines on super-soldier to begin with.

"Hava nagila! Hava nagila! Hava nagila ve-Thresher Maw!
But the catch is Grunt is a clone (for reasons that make sense if you've played the game but are long and complicated if you haven't) and, despite being fully grown and capable of rational thought, is really a newborn and doesn't understand anything about the world or his people. So, in other words, he's a teenager. He's trying to figure out what his purpose is in life, where he belongs. He's designed to be a killing machine, but he doesn't know why he should kill. He's extremely confident in his "perfection" but has achieved nothing in life. His loyalty mission is, naturally, the coming of age rite for the krogan people. It's essentially an alien bar mitzvah. Only instead of lifting you up on a chair, they have you fight a giant space worm that breathes acid.

Grunt is a pretty cool character who has a strong arc and finishes the story in a much clearer state than when he began. He's fighting for purpose as well as glory. Fortunately, the quality of the writing is so strong by now that having a good character arc, clear motives and goals, and an interesting character are the standard.

Come back tomorrow, when we get to the characters who are all really good!


Dan Jones said...

The best part to consider is that these guys are really great, even though they are part of the bottom half.

Kasumi Doesn't really seem to fit in, but at the same time, she is pretty cool, and is definitely an asset.

Cloud said...

Yeah well put Hunter. Also Dan for pointing out that even the mediocre of the bunch are great.

Was anyone else reminded of Firefly Episodes 13 "Trash" and Ep 6. "Shindig" during Kasumi mission? I think this was totally worth the DLC price. But you're right Kasumi is kinda boring, lacking in depth, as a character. Unless the graybox decision has huge ramifications in ME3.
Also, Zaeed is a total bad ass! Thanks for not including him in the lower tier. Since we're on the Firefly comparison, I always put him in a "Jane" category but maybe minus some of the humor. Not much depth but a good grunt in a firefight. Also has a rifle named after a girl. Zaeed's Jessie; and Janes's Vera;

Teachermedic said...

Have we forgotten about Kasumi's loyalty mission impact? The gray box contains vital information that could impact and implicate the Alliance for whatever reason. Her character is indistinguishable if we're going solely based on personality but remember...she is a thief and has quirks that come with being a self ousted member of society. Her mission and her character are more vital than we think....I think we'll see it pop up in ME3.

Dan Jones said...

Well put, Eric. I think that if you are a thief for hire, and the best in the business, you are definitely an asset to the team. I bet Cerberus paid her a LOT of cash to help out.

Hunter Barry said...

But why do we need a thief? The mission is to investigate the abduction of human colonists and then to curb stomp the Collectors right in the thorax. You could be the best first basemen in the world and not have a place on a football team.