Oh, simple Sandles, you’re doing it wrong.
When the power came flooding back into my world this past weekend, I sat down to play Dark Souls with a newfound lucidity. I become distinctly aware of an issue I have when playing any game in which I control a lone digital avatar: an inefficient focus on appearance. By inefficient, I mean that by focusing on my character’s appearance, I actually increase the game’s difficulty for myself. My vain accomplishments span several titles, and now, I will share them with you so you may gawk into them dumbly like a vagrant gazing into the sun.
This is easily the most recent example, therefore the most relevant. In Dark Souls there are several factors to consider when choosing what armor to wear. What kind of defense does it provide? There is magical damage, elemental damage, and even status effects, all of which can be altered by your armor. How much does it weight? A suit of plate mail is obviously going to weight you down more than some light, breezy thief’s gear. Depending on your equip-load and Endurance, heavy clothing can actually begin to have an effect on your character’s movement. And finally, how does it look. Does it make you look like a chewed up hollow, or a cunning witch? Obviously, the last feature is the most important.
This leads to my story. You see, there was this helmet I wanted badly, called the Fang Boar Helm. It offers incredible defenses at a rather hefty weight. It also looks badass, essentially giving your character a gleaming metal boar mask. Here’s the kicker: the drop rate is shit, and it’s only dropped from a boss (which does NOT respawn) encountered relatively early in the game. In the process of wrapping my mind around Dark Souls I probably made around ten characters, all of which slayed said boss. Not a single Fang Boar Helm was dropped. But I wanted it. I wanted it bad. So what did I do? I preceded to repeat the process of racing to the boss, killing it, and deleting the file if I didn’t get the helm. I don’t know how many times I did this, but finally, bless that boss’s enormous black heart, he dropped that fucking helm. It was a good feeling, and 40 hours in, I still revolve my outfit and weaponry around that helm.
There was a time when I wasn’t the Monster Hunting expert I am today. I was a noobie, just like we’ve all been at one time or another. In the early stages of Monster Hunter Tri my grasp on the armor skill system was flimsy, so I saw no issue in simply wearing a mish-mash of whatever armor was on hand. I took to arranging armor and trying to coordinate them to make my character look how I wanted. Despite being a female avatar, I hated armor sets that had a huge, bell-shaped dress look. So I generally dismantled those in favor of belts or some kind of chaps.
Finally, a seasoned veteran of the series took me aside via Twitter and explained that this was a noobie mistake. You see, armor sets should consist entirely from the same monster so that each piece’s armor skill points can accumulate, unlocking extremely beneficial skills for the player. I was taken aback by this. Playing dress-up was a huge draw for me, but now it was something I needed to avoid. Still, I played on and eventually learned to combine my love of Monster Hunter dress-up with the game’s armor skills system. The end result was several armor sets that not only were stylish, but had beneficial armor skills for certain situations. This accomplishment would probably never have come to fruition without a thorough web-based armor generator and a collection of videos showing off what each set looks like.
Fallout: New Vegas
To say I was inordinately excited for Fallout: New Vegas is easily an understatement. I went to the midnight launch, was one of the first in line, and stayed up to make my character before going to bed. That is all on the schedule of a full time employed, 9-5 wage slave, mind you. It took me at least an hour or so to adjust all the various sliders to make my character’s face acceptable by my standards. Then, I was set free on the Mojave wasteland.
This brings us to, what I like to call, the helm dilemma. You’ve all experienced it I’m sure in numerous other games. What it basically entails is that by beginning a game you are prompted to create a character, which you slave over to get just right. Once you are let go in your sandbox of a world, the best armor you can wear as a headpiece covers up your face essentially negating your efforts. This was, for the most part, the case in Fallout: New Vegas. However, I did fall in love with one particular piece of headgear which, while offering very little protection, looked comfortable to don under the Mojave sun. It was a simple light scarf wrapped around the head.
Now you may notice there are two varieties of the same item if you followed that link. I am not concerned with the one that resembles, for lack of a better term, a doo-rag — I’m talking about the one that looks like a scarf. If you look at locations where they can be found, you may also notice that either type isn’t guaranteed to show up anywhere, meaning a bit of luck is required when the game randomly generates which type is on which corpse/soon-to-be-corpse. But with each character I created, I would make my runs scouring the desert for one of these humble scarves. I would often wear them beyond the point of repair as I never needed to remove them.
This example may be somewhat of a mold breaker as you arguably don’t control one character in Phantom Brave (Changebook, haters, look it up). However, this being NIS’s second attempt at revolutionizing SRPGs, a massive number of features were customizable. One feature I loved was how you could attach different titles to your characters which would adjust their stats and, best of all, sprite color. By the end game you can actually jump into the world of a title (similar to the Item World in Disgaea) and increase the stat benefits of a title up to 200%.
Now I have a habit in SRPGs of imagining backstories for my characters. My Amazonian in particular I decided was a loud, obnoxious alcoholic. She would bully my Saber Kitty and then pass out on the island under only the shade of a mountain of empty bottles. Imagine then my astonishment to discover there actually was a “drunk” title. The only catch was that the drunk title was a hindering one, meaning it actually significantly lowered all stats. However, and this is a testament to the customization in Phantom Brave, I could enter the item world for the title and boost it up to 200%. It would just take twice as long. And it did. But I got my Drunk Amazon.
So now you know the extent of my digital vanity, or at least a few examples. I will work harder, and longer, and less efficiently all for the sake of an acceptable digital extension of myself. Does this need come from a refined sense of style? Or perhaps it’s an inferiority complex — is a big sword the new red convertible? That’s probably a topic for another day. All I know is whatever game I’m playing, I look good.