To start with, we’ve all heard that excuse time and time again from fandom. In our favorite shows, movies, books and other media, there’s always someone who shouts two simple words into the void; “bad writing!”. They shout this before leaving the matter at that.
I’ve seen messy writing in plenty of pieces of media, I’ve seen poorly executed writing even beyond that. However, bad writing is an outlier in such a drastic way that it actually annoys me to hear this turn of phrase more often than not…
Typically a person says this if they don’t agree with a narrative decision within the media presented to them. There’s plenty of discourse to be had about how something could have been done better, sure enough. No story is flawless, after all.
In point of fact, and I say this very adamantly, I tend to find that the “bad writing” argument crops up more often when a person can’t pin down why they dislike the writing so much. That’s why I’m very unrepentant when I say that the “bad writing” argument is a misnomer for greater prevailing issues.
The issue itself could be many things. Perhaps a personal chord was plucked to make someone feel that way. A story could in fact have “bad” moments of “writing” within the material to upset a person. To someone directly and pointedly offended, “bad writing” might be a solid critique of the way a certain theme was handled… I see that argument a lot in the RWBY fandom. Certain subject matters aren’t always handled with care and concern, so that’s why the critique crops up… but really, in that example, the writing isn’t “bad” per-say, just poorly executed.
There are occasions that it could just be “bad writing” though, truth be told, because there are very rare circumstances when what lies before you is actually little more than a pile of irredeemable drivel. The issue is, that’s an oddity, not a rule… but I have located an oddity recently.
As a gamer, I’ve seen poorly contrived plot elements take a back seat for the sake of bombastic gameplay more times than not. In gaming, this is sometimes a serviceable tactic, but not always… a most recent example comes to mind in Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin. You can watch our gameplay of that over on our Twitch channel…
What makes writing bad, generally comes down to how core issues present the themes in the game. To another point, I find the characters themselves generally unlikable. I find this to be the main problem in Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin.
To be pointedly clear though, this really only applies to the beginning and middle of the game. The last hour and a half, two things happen. Firstly, the cut scenes vastly improve. Secondly, the story actually gets VERY, VERY good!
However, the very good part only applies to the latter section of the game, not everything preceding it, and that’s the reason I’m using it as an example today.
In the earliest parts of the game the plot line often comes down to finding a way to cram the word “Chaos” into as much of the dialogue as humanly possible… in some cases, the story itself jumps the shark by doing a fast-forward to skip an event or two that was obviously deemed required by the writing staff.
Let me walk you through why this is “bad writing” directly on its face. Three guys meet, and immediately after introducing themselves, we get a “bro-fist” as they decide to join together. Then, directly after the very questionable act of deciding to become best buddies, we get two throw away paragraphs about what happens after, with no context or plot driven narrative to fall back upon.
That problem is, that jump in content reduces down to explaining the events that took place, without player related input, or even screen splash showing the event. It’s just a black background with white colored words explaining what players should have gotten to experience…
That’s it, just those two plain black images about visiting with the king, who refuses to allow them to take on their intended mission. Instead, they spend weeks together slaying monsters, and that’s it… literally, that’s all you get before the screen fades to black.
Why were they refused? Why do these supposed crystals look like giant cockroach turds? Why are these characters joining forces simply because the crystals can “sense each other” as one of the characters says they can? Why, amid what amounts to be a throw-away paragraph does it seem like a total and complete afterthought?
It feels like either pure laziness, or a decision compounded by some freakish lack of planning, or a budget crisis. Bad design, no cookie for you. Either way, the story goes on from there… a game shouldn’t feel that way, if it could in any way be avoided.
As a player, you return to these characters, who by now know each other, although we the players still know nothing of them. They’re all sitting upon a boat, complaining about how bored they are, and how they want to do the job they came for already, defeating “Chaos”.
We still don’t have a “why” for any of the above that feels reasonable, and you’d be correct to call that “messy writing” by video game standards. You’d be fair to call it lazy in general. In that singular case, where neither gameplay nor firm story-line exists yet, you could go so far as to call it bad writing. You’d even be right to do so… because at this point, we know next to nothing about these characters, or their deeper motivations.
I don’t often care much for the “show, don’t tell” rule in writing. There are times you do have to “tell” an off-screen plot element or two instead of showcasing it… but this use of “telling” is much too flagrant here. It is bad writing, firm and flat out… that’s why I fall to Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin as my foremost example of “bad writing”, because frankly, there was just no excuse.
As I said before though, in gaming, a good story-line typically takes a back seat to bombastic gameplay. To be honest, that game is very bombastic, over the top in the best of times.
According to Kresh, who is playing the game on the stream, it’s also pretty fun on occasion. Perhaps that’s a saving grace, but the story-line and the occasional direct lack of it, does hinder the game too.
I cannot personally comment on how “fun” it is to play. I can only speak upon the theatricality of the combat itself. However, I’ll say this, you’d be hard pressed to call the gameplay itself boring, as even your small, typically encountered leveling fodder have a habit to explode in bright, if ominous colors.
This tends to leave a crystalline residue of their exploded corpses in their wake… and frankly, as I said, it is bombastic. I don’t think you could call it brilliant, or even tangentially metaphorical to the plot-line at all. It has ties to the deeper themes, sure enough… but it doesn’t lend to the world building in a way that feels satisfactory. It just looks cool.
All-in-all if you need a very recent example of bad writing in game design, look no further than Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin. Does it entirely ruin the game? No, not exactly. It’s still a serviceable gameplay experience. It’s interesting enough for me to watch, and for Kresh to play… so there is that at least. That said, if you want a solid narrative, this isn’t the Final Fantasy title for you… far from it.
This has been Kernook of The Demented Ferrets, where stupidity is at its finest and level grinds are par for the course. I’ll see you next time.
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