Poor Geno. Even though he’s the poster boy of my childhood I still have no blog idea planned out for him. (His introduction is definitely dynamic, though. SMRPG sure knows how to give its characters an entrance.)
But yeah, we’re still talking about Mallow. The main reason may be that even though Geno is super swag, he’s kind of Mr. Exposition and therefore a bit of a clunky plot point.
Super Mario RPG was an incredibly fresh game in so many ways: visuals, gameplay, story… *cue old codger voice* Back in the day it was a surprising detour from what we’d come to expect from Mario in years past. Being an RPG in a heretofore platform-specific series, it had to introduce plot and new characters in a way that convinced players this story was worth investing in.
Enter Mallow, the first party member Mario encounters on his quest to save the princess (or IS that the main goal? Plot twist impending…). Mario fans were already well-exposed to smiley-faced clouds at this point in the franchise, so there’s an established familiarity with this fluffy character.
But how (the game writers may have asked) can we make sure he’s immediately intriguing to the players?
Well, how about this: when he cries, it rains buckets. Also, he thinks he’s a tadpole.
From this introduction we understand there’s more to Mallow than meets the eye. Not only does he have some uncanny emotional control over the weather, but he’s also naïve enough to believe that tadpoles can look like cauliflower heads.
So while we help him solve the current dilemma of a stolen Frog Coin, we’re also interested in what more this character has to offer – and where his personal journey will take us. It’s simply done – it’s a simple game, after all – and Mallow’s origin is pretty obvious from the start, but it’s still a clever set-up. From the Exor reveal at the game’s get-go, to this cute sub-story beginning with Mallow, we’re already aware that this game intends to broaden the Marioverse beyond what we’ve previously known.
Honestly, when I first played SMRPG, I was far more interested in discovering Mallow’s home than I was in reaching Smithy to repair the Star Road. The foreshadow was just that appealing to me.
All right, all right, I’ve said all I want to say. But I’m sure I’ve missed talking about quite a few dynamic introductions. Want to share a few in the comments? You know the drill.
Super Mario RPG is the property of Nintendo/Square-Enix. You can purchase it for your own enjoyment through the Wii or Wii U Virtual Console.
As you may have noticed, we’ve got another fifth Friday this month. Which means…it’s time for our second installment of “Fifth Week Fiction”!
Since we’re spending the summer studying dynamic introductions, I thought I’d show some of my own practice in the art. I typically feel confident with character development, but I seem to lack the skill for punchy scenes.
So here’s me having a little fun while (hopefully) practicing what I preach. For this exercise, I present these two characters:
Tainock looked up from his book. There was no one on the walkway near enough to speak with him, but Amadeus had also lifted his head and perked his ears like he’d heard something.
Tainock warily lowered his eyes back to the book. He read an intro concerning the establishment of tachs, the law force instigated by Guardian Bemdin when –
“Important Person, if I could please have a word with you.”
Tainock heard Amadeus rumble. There was still no one around.
“Ye-es?” he mumbled.
The short tree next to him shivered, and Tainock caught a glint of shiny green between the waxy leaves. He heard a branch snap, and whatever was in the tree tumbled into the bushes underneath. Amadeus leaped up and snarled, which began to draw the attention of people nearby.
Tainock put a hand on Amadeus’s neck, hoping to subdue him before too many started staring. He peered into the brush and watched, amazed, as a metallic reptile wriggled on its back, swinging stubby claw feet to right itself. As soon as it had rolled over and turned to face Tainock it continued as though nothing had happened:
“Important Person, I wish to make you aware of a pressing matter – ”
“You’re an iguana,” Tainock interrupted.
“Correct. That is my build. Now, if you give me a moment – ”
“But you’re mechanical,” Tainock said.
“Please, Important Person, focus on the matter at hand. I must caution you on the interaction you will have with a cohort of mine.”
“Matter at hand?” Tainock said. “Cohort?”
Passers-by were definitely gawking now, none being close enough to see the little robot iguana.
“You will meet her shortly. She has a question to ask that is of great importance to her. But I want to clarify matters on two points. One: her question has no validity whatsoever. Two: she has poor social skills.”
“Poor social skills,” Tainock repeated. “What, do you mean she’s shy?”
“Shy?” said the iguana. “I wish that was her problem.”
Tainock heard something like metal striking metal up above, but didn’t have a chance to look up before torrential water gushed over him, knocking him onto the walkway. Water flooded everywhere, even pushing Amadeus back.
Tainock was aware of a cut on his cheek and the sting in his palms and wrists when he’d tried to break his fall. The passers-by who had been gawking he now heard shrieking as they fled the disaster.
Over where he’d been sitting the water had slowed to a spray as emergency shut-off valves began to kick in. And in the mess of flood-flattened and uprooted plants there crouched a girl – dark-skinned with darker freckles, orange hair shaved close on one side and braided down to her waist on the other. She steadied herself by clutching the bench with an odd, bright metal hand.
She grinned at Tainock.
“You have to be the Guardian, with that star pinned to your chest. But I didn’t expect you to look so much like a Dawnian.”
The robotic iguana sidled up onto the girl’s shoulder and studied Tainock from that perch.
“I apologize, Important Person,” he said. “The warning never comes soon enough.”
Tainock, stunned speechless, had the sense to command a hackled Amadeus down and check to see if anyone else would be in harm’s way should this girl be volatile. A hundred lessons on crisis mitigation scrambled through his head.
What had Uncle taught him? Find the reason before taking action (not that they’d ever applied it in their own interactions). The iguana had said the girl had a question. Maybe in answering it he’d get a chance to hold her in custody –
“You’re quiet,” the girl said. “You think I’m strange. I know. But I hear it’s hard to get your attention, so I had to be drastic.”
Tainock ventured, “The…uh…robot on your shoulder said you had a question.” Oh, yes, THAT sounded authoritative. He tried again: “I’ll give you permission to ask, but then you must come with me for the damage you’ve caused here.”
The girl let free a catastrophic laugh.
“No, that’s not the way it works. If you answer my question, you have to come with me.”
Tainock fumbled. “I…what?” he said. This discussion wasn’t going like the lessons said it should.
“Where’s my family?” the girl asked.
“Family?” Tainock could hear how stupid he sounded. “That’s it? That’s your question?”
“Yes. Where’s my family?” the girl repeated, like suddenly Tainock would understand.
“Wh – Look, I don’t even know who you are.” Tainock’s eyes went from her face to her metal arm. Both arms were metal, he realized. And her feet and legs. “I can’t be expected to tell you where your family is.”
The girl tilted her head, as though resigned. “Huh. Yeah, I was told you wouldn’t let me know. But that’s not going to work on me!”
And then she sprang and threw Tainock to the ground.
You can’t keep me away from my CT. It just ain’t gonna happen.
By the time Crono, Marle, and Lucca run into Robo, we’ve had a great deal of excitement: Crono has just escaped execution, the trio find themselves sent to a dystopian future, and they’ve just discovered a planet-consuming parasite will be the doom of their world.
With so much plot on our plates it’s a good time to offer a more unassuming character introduction – though without losing the pace. This is where it helps to inject a little motivation into the scene. What do I mean?
Well, when the trio meets Robo in Proto Dome, the setting is pretty relaxed. The team is in no immediate peril – unlike in the intro to Frog or Ayla – and it’s a good time to allow for extra character and plot development.
In this case, we begin to learn a little more about Lucca and some of her motivation behind being an inventor. PLUS, when introduced to Robo we learn something of his own background; and his offer to help the team sets in motion his own incentive for helping to save the world.
If you’re looking for the ultimate introduction via motivation, though, it’s really best if we move on to everyone’s favorite blue-haired anti-hero (anti-villain? Whatever): Magus!
Magus has a kind of dual introduction: meeting him results in an almost immediate knowledge of his core motivations, but you also get to dynamically kick the crap outta him while his sweet, sweet theme plays in the background.
What do we learn about Magus upon first meeting him? Well, I’m soooo glad you asked me to answer that in a group of three factoids!
He’s assumed to be Lavos’s creator but is in fact interested in slaying the creature.
He has significant magical prowess – being able to cast all types of elemental magic we’ve seen so far.
He’s certainly interested in the fact that Frog can wield the Masamune, but that doesn’t seem to be his primary concern.
This is definitely enough juicy character background for players to get intrigued. If he already knows about Lavos AND has a vendetta against it, there’s no doubt we’ll become more acquainted with Magus as the game progresses.
And now for a somewhat different take on meeting to establish motivation:
Alena, Kiryl, & Borya: Dragon Quest IV
This is a unique scenario in that the characters themselves already know each other, so the “meeting” is less about introductions and more about how (and why) they all get into the same stew.
Alena, perhaps a pioneer of the “tomboy princess” stereotype, is set on adventure and combat outside her castle walls. She would prefer to travel alone, but her fretful retainers Kiryl and Borya have other ideas (and motivations. See what I did there?).
When we get these three in a party together we’re alerted right away to their individual goals. Alena, we already know, is eager to explore the world. Kiryl makes it quite obvious is totally discreet about the fact that he’s traveling so he can crush on Alena in close proximity. Borya establishes himself as the begrudging papa bear who insists that he finds Alena insufferable, but worries over her nonetheless.
With party chat these motivations are far clearer as the journey progresses, but even without that feature it’s clear from Kiryl’s and Borya’s insistence to accompany Alena that they’ve got their reasons for sticking around.
Using motivation in a character introduction not only makes the meeting of characters more memorable, but it also creates intrigue that can carry through the story and hold your audiences attention.
You know what time it is now: sharing time! Talk about your own favorite character motivations in the comments below!
Chrono Trigger is the property of Square-Enix. There are many ways you can purchase and enjoy this game.
Dragon Quest IV belongs to Square-Enix. You can purchase it to play via Nintendo DS or as an app on your phone. (Go with the phone for party chat.)
I’m starting to realize the value of a dynamic introduction.
Typically, I adopt the Dickensian manner of characters meeting each other: an individual bumps into another individual and discovers a memorable quirkiness about this new acquaintance. These two characters now proceed to quip about their backstory at length (or sink into a tense silence where they hide something important about themselves) and join each other for my convenience as a writer who wants people to meet because plot, that’s why.
But far better introductions are made out of need or a certain character’s motivation. It gives a better glue to the upcoming relationship between characters than if they were just to meet by happenstance.
Video games by rule must pull this off if they want to keep a good pace in gameplay. So over these summer months we’re going to have a look at the ways we can adopt a VG method of character introductions.
(These introductions will mostly include heroes meeting fellow heroes/anti-heroes. I feel like the subject of meeting the villain is a whole ‘nother topic on its own.)
COMMENCE WITH PART ONE!
Part I: Meeting Out of Need
Frog & Ayla: Chrono Trigger
In an attempt to rescue Queen Leene and restore the timeline’s continuity, Crono and Lucca find themselves in a pinch when they’re assaulted by Fiends at a highly-suspect chapel. Just when they think the battle is theirs, one Fiend catches Lucca off guard and assaults her. Is it all over for Lucca? Will she die a brutal death 400 years in her world’s past??
No, because outta nowhere this frog warrior springs in and cuts that Fiend in half (at least, that’s how I interpret the flickering pixels). And he’s like, “Don’t let your guard down, fool.”
And Lucca’s like, “AAH, GROSS, A TALKING FROG.”
And Crono’s like, “…”
The party of three goes on to form a brief alliance based on their mutual search for the Queen, but already we know a great deal from Frog’s dynamic entrance with him having to explain very little:
He is in some way connected to the Queen.
He’s more than skilled with a blade.
His physical appearance is unnatural (revealed by Lucca’s shock upon seeing him).
How would it have been different if Crono and Lucca just randomly bumped into Frog while they were exploring Guardia castle? They might spend a few dull text boxes explaining to each other why they mutually need to find the Queen, then figure out why they should join forces; and if the writer was feeling particularly verbose he could add in a dash of Frog angsting about his appearance.
Instead, since the three of them must meet in the immediacy of a search-and-rescue mission, the introductions have to be brief – and give just enough intrigue for us to wonder how this Frog fellow is going to contribute to the rest of the story.
Ayla’s introduction is practically identical to Frog’s, but it drives home the same point: introductions made out of need reveal the essentials of a new character. This primal woman can mow down six imposing Reptites. BY HERSELF. Ergo, the player knows right away, “Dang, don’t mess with this chick.”
Her scenario also establishes the setting, as well as many of her own plot points:
There’s man-dinos terrorizing the prehistoric era.
Humans and man-dinos are apparently not on friendly terms.
…I don’t really have a third point. I just like writing things in three’s.
In summary (wow, this went all “college thesis”, didn’t it?), Frog’s and Ayla’s intros play out brilliantly when it comes to setting up their interaction with other characters in the party – as well as drawing the players into their personal stories. We don’t need long exposition telling us who they are or why they’re intent on joining up with our heroes.
Oh, but don’t you dare think we’re done yet. We’ve got to talk about one more character from a different video game:
Who doesn’t love this nerd? And why DO we love this nerd? Is it the diverse array of firearms at his disposal? That stylin’ green slacks-and-coat combo? The fact that he can create a beam gun out of a broken harmonica?
Well…yes, actually. ‘Cause that’s all pretty boss.
But alongside all that, he’s a character that arrives out of need, which gives the player a sense of purpose as we lead him toward rescuing Ness and Paula.
Our introduction to him is far different from how we’re introduced to Frog and Ayla. We don’t get to see his interactions with the other characters immediately; instead, we’re brought into his personal world and shown what he must leave behind and face in order to help a couple of strange kids he doesn’t even know.
We’re essentially drawn into his needs as he tries to respond to the needs of new friends. This is itself a genius move, because it creates empathy without requiring excessive explanation about this new character.
So now that I’ve geeked out for lines and lines on this post, here’s a question for the comments section: what makes a character introduction stick with you?
Next month we’ll look at “Meeting to Establish Motivation”. No sneak peeks at the characters I’ll pick for that topic; you’ll just have to come back to find out!
Chrono Trigger is the property of Square-Enix. There are many ways you can purchase and enjoy this game.
Earthbound is the property of Nintendo and Shigesato Itoi. You can play it via the Wii U virtual console.