Andrew Barker
You Can't Please Everyone ...Can You?
The ups and downs of befriending everyone in your party, even if you're just lying to them all.
11.23.14 - 10:21 AM

RPGs encourage you to take on the role of a particular character (either one you create or one who already exists) and, in many cases, make choices as that persona. In theory, if I'm playing a dastardly chaotic evil barbarian with aspirations of world domination, I'm not going to stop by a village's local quest board and help someone get a kitten down from a tree for a few copper coins. Well, not unless I have a soft spot for cats.

Playing a character unlike yourself in a video game brings with it two primary issues:

  1. You can never entirely separate your own personality from a character you play.
  2. Most video games encourage you to "play the field" and make friends with everybody.

Choices are more commonly found in western RPGs than Japanese ones, but the second issue above applies to both. Most games offer incentives of some kind to befriend characters. By becoming their confidant and friend, you may acquire rare armour, learn more about their back stories, open new areas to visit or learn new skills. As such, isn't it most beneficial to cosy up with as many as you can? Sticking to playing your character as intended may be its own reward, but you'll likely to miss out on many opportunities found only by becoming friends with everyone.

Let's look at a couple of examples. I'm currently playing through Dragon Age: Origins and am pretty much the biggest hypocrite ever. One moment I'll be telling Leliana that the Maker "guides and protects us," then wander over to Morrigan and tell her the Maker is a garbage fairy-tale story because doing so gets me in her good books. If Alistair is in my party then I make sure to defend the weak and needy. If Sten is with me, I'll tell them to get lost because there's Darkspawn to kill.

As for Japanese games, I recently finished Tales of Xillia 2. When a choice was presented to Ludger, I would stop to consider which characters would be in favour of which options and, therefore, which brings me the biggest long-term benefits (read: rewards), not how I actually feel about it. The same goes for visual novels: if it's possible to achieve more than one ending in a single play-through, you'll bet I'll say all the right things to appease particular characters rather than consider how I think my "character" would respond.

Returning to Dragon Age, and other similar D&D-style games, there's one major issue in attempting to buddy up with the whole group: it's very hard to keep everyone happy at once. Not impossible, but you certainly have to sacrifice role-playing your own character in order to do it. Older PC RPGs used alignment systems that made this even more challenging, though you could persuade even opposed characters to eventually see your point of view with effort.

This is one (of many) areas that Baldur's Gate I and II excelled at (and Dragon Age, to a point): party members could become so displeased with each other that they'd leave the party or begin to attack each other. If you wanted to keep everyone happy, then you had to make sure your party was composed of like-minded, or at least tolerant, individuals. Of course, this can be frustrating for a player from a game design point of view, but that was back in the day of numerous optional party members.

As dynamic as a video game may be, it's still a static product that, when you know the rules of it, can be exploited. In a table-top RPG (depending on your GM), this is less likely to be the case; the world is constantly changing and subject to the whims of a person whose goal is to keep you on your toes. For video game players like myself, attempting to keep all characters on one's side is inevitable from a game design standpoint. Even if you take out item or mechanical rewards, if the characters are interesting and well-written then I'm still going to want to learn about their back stories. In fact, it shows how much I'm enjoying a game when I want to experience all it has to offer.

On the other hand, not playing the field provides great replay value. I'm a lot less likely to go back to a game if I managed to learn all about my favourite characters the first time through. For players dedicated to realistically role-playing their characters, the fun lies in that second playthrough where they can take on an entirely different persona. Even if you play a back-and-forth sort of character like me, we're all still role-playing — in-game characters just don't call us out on it.

I'm not implying games should try to further restrict how friendly you can be with multiple characters — on the contrary! I think it's great that role-playing games allow for such diverse choice in how any one player may approach specific details of the story. It's great that some games, such as Dragon Age, allow your party to bicker or chat amongst themselves, depending on who you have with you. Western RPGs have done an excellent job of creating believably dynamic parties. Maybe someday, we'll see that more commonly in JRPGs too.