Everything’s Better With Deus Ex Machina Baked In

July 31st, 2019

Yes, I'm reusing the screenshots. I don't want to load up old saves and spend an hour poking around to get new ones.

Let's wrap up this now four year series of posts by diving right in to its issues as a whole. We'll start with something that a lot of Japanese media abuses, especially light novels; the entire world revolves around Kou, the protagonist. Now, on its own, that's not necessarily a bad thing. You want the main character of the story to be main. We like James Bond, international man of mystery, and don't care much for Ferguson Twiggybottom, junior accountant. Baldr Sky takes it to such a ridiculous extreme that most of the cast is unable to function or exist outside of Kou, like some kind of demented Kou-centric version of failing the Bechdel test. Kou starts the game claiming to be just a regular dude who thinks he should be in regular high school. By the end of the game, it's come out that there's at most two degrees of separation between him and every influential person in the entire world, and usually less. His mother was thought to be the saint of a doomsday cult, his father was the captain of Seal Team Six, his aunt is the trillionaire queen of cyberspace, his girlfriend is the daughter of the commander of the Global Army, his neighbors growing up invented a terraforming superweapon, and his high school tutor is the most famous scientist in the world. Somehow, all of these things come as surprise revelations. And it doesn't even get into the like three or four uniquely engineered super people who just coincidentally ended up around him, past and present.

It still wouldn't be a big issue for him to be the center of the universe if everyone wasn't so infantilized by it, especially the heroines. Allow me to summarize the character arc for every single route right here.
Kou: "You liked me in high school? I never realized."
Heroine: "Yes."
Kou: "ZOMG. I like you too!"

That's their arc. That's all their arcs. Kou accepts his guilt for wronging them in that they can't be complete people outside of his acknowledgement of them, and they are subsumed into the Kou. But it doesn't plumb the depths to how awful and insipid a couple of them are, Nanoha and Chinatsu in particular. Nanoha's schtick is that Kou threw a tantrum one time and said "Dads suck. Families suck." And she decided "Hey, that seems like the creed by which to live my life." Chinatsu manages to be even more appalling. Every single time you run into her, she brings up a promise that Kou's forgotten. The 'promise' was that after he started dating another girl, she told him that he was supposed to be going out with her because she wanted him first and therefore he owed her pity sex. First, that's psychotic. Second, it really makes reflecting on her route kind of hilarious. "The past is behind us. I am a cyborg that feels nothing for anybody. I'm numb inside and out. I'm also 100% DTF in that broom closet for old time's sake." That exchange happens at least three or four times, just with the last part obscured. And it's resolved the same as all the others. Kou says it's all his fault for not realizing she had a crush on him and that he likes her too. Bam. She's a complete person once more. Rain, Aki, and Makoto merely being insecure are almost a relief in comparison to those two fiascos.

 

So what are their routes about if not character development and growth? Well, great question, dear reader. Nanoha's route is easiest to answer that question, as it's more about Naoki, your tutor/head scientist of Assembler, the grey goo project that killed your girlfriend, than her. Except mostly what it reveals is that Kou and friends are profound imbeciles. For Rain's route, Naoki is just some random expert fighter in flashbacks who trained you. In Nanoha's route, every single flashback about him is how he's always been an unstable lunatic maniac with delusions of godhood. He flies into a murderous rage when an experiment fails. He rants about the unwashed not understanding his genius. He keeps asking you what you'd do if someone you knew had a degenerative brain disease and was a literal psychopath. He breaks a kid's arm for heckling him at a lecture, then stalks and attacks the kid's friends in a murder attempt, which you and your friends cover up. He tells you and all your friends to get far away from his lab the night that his project is activated and turns into a grey goo scenario. The crowning moment though may be when he gives you a pill, saying it's super important that you eat it because it'll rewrite part of your brain. And you gormlessly do. It'll be three more routes until that's explained or resolved (he hid a password in your head). So when it's revealed that he's got a Jekyll and Hyde thing going on, a rich history of murdering everyone who tried to stymie his research, is the one who unleashed the grey goo, and is secretly the leader of a doomsday cult trying to unleash the grey goo again, it of course comes as a shock to all characters.

Mostly though, the routes, especially the initial four amnesia ones, are full of a fat lot of nothing. It gets really bad in Chinatsu and Aki's. The final sequence of battles in Chinatsu's route is a raid on Ark, your aunt's company, that you joined the army to do because Ark was… being indistinctly suspicious, I guess. It's a parade of fighting character after character, all telling you that you don't know anything, but also refusing to explain anything. Then you reach the ghost of your girlfriend who… also says that you don't know anything and she won't be explaining anything, but that's enough to finally make you question if being with the luddite-Nazis using their knockoff Metal Gear on civilians might be the wrong side. Even less happens in Aki's route. The big secret everyone refused to tell you about in Chinatsu's is that Ark found a way to maintain people in cyberspace after brain death. So they're planning on doing something with that? Something maybe at least slightly nefarious? Nah. It's just a failsafe in case of apocalypse, which… and you'll notice a pattern here… won't actually come up again for three routes. Chekhov's gun, eat your heart out. It still manages to compare favorably to the other 'reveal' in Aki's route, that she's on record as a clone of Kou's mother, but actually isn't. If not for a sex scene, those two revelations happen about fifteen minutes apart. God only knows why they happen at all. Probably to check off the incest box.

Now, the perceptive among you may have noticed in my various summaries so far have been devoid of anything that Kou actually does. The reason for that is the sixty ton bugbear squatting on the game's chest. I touched on it already in my initial impressions post way back when with my frustrations that you kept showing up five minutes too late to do anything before being sent to timeout. While true for the first route (and due to the massive reuse of text, the second route as well), it's far more accurate not to say that you do nothing, but that nothing you do matters, period, which, unless your goal is existential helplessness and despair, is a pretty damn awful place for what's supposed to be the hero of the story to end up. This isn't to say that it doesn't frequently spawn a dozen random metal spiders and go "Oh no, who will save these nameless NPCs and/or your girlfriend from them? If only someone big and strong was nearby. *wink* *wink* *nudge* *nudge*" It certainly likes to do that.

There are two main aspects to this. The first is that every major event up to the climax of each route follows a very set formula. Kou infiltrates some place and makes his way to someone who delivers the following speech: "Welcome, Kou. I knew you were coming and have been waiting for you. There is much you don't know. …Well, bye." You hear this speech from everybody from doomsday cultists to your zillionaire aunt to your extranged former classmate to the ghost of your dead girlfriend. That's bad enough, but you'll also learn as you proceed through the routes that no fewer than three factions are infiltrating pretty much anywhere you go. The nuclear plant raid at the end of Rain's route (and about the midpoint of most other routes) is especially galling because by the end of the game, you've learned that no fewer than four factions were attempting to nuke it at the same time, including the faction that made it their base. It's difficult to feel like things would have turned out any different had you slept in.

The other big aspect is worse. The climax of every route alway ends with a countdown timer ticking down. Someone jumps out and goes "Ha HA! I'm the boss of this route!" So you beat him (and it's always a him, because, weirdly, there are no female antagonists in the game), and then everyone stands around going "Wait a second, that didn't fix anything! …Why did we think that would fix something?" Then, assuming you're on the good ending path, a wizard pokes her head in, says "Wow, looks like you messed things up here," waves her wand, and everything gets fixed. You read that right. A wizard. Sometimes, they even call attention to how little sense it made. Characters will remark "Boy, that was quite the miracle, but we may never know what happened. Perhaps in some other time or reality, those questions will be answered." No, Baldr Sky. Bad Baldy Sky. I will whack you with a newspaper.

There's not even a logical connection between the wizard appearing (ie a good end) and the other ones. Often, it's contingent on how long you took to save the heroine of the route from her obligatory molestation scene. Being molested for two minutes means that three chapters later, a wizard appears, but three minutes? You've angered the wizard. There's no cause and effect whatsoever. It's all up to whether you satisfied the invisible off-screen wizards, which is almost kind of meta commentary on visual novel arbitrariness. The normal and bad endings do tend to be much better since they don't involve wizards, but more than a few of them are bonkers. My favorite was Chinatsu's 'normal' ending, where Kou becomes a cyborg and is exiled to an orbital slave camp with all the other cyborgs where they have sex all day. Another great one is Nanoha's bad end, where you get turned into grey goo alongside her, but survive as a Cronenberg monster constantly having sex with itself as it roams the wastelands. Try and tell me those aren't better endings than wizards teleporting in. You can't.

So you end up with the perplexing juxtaposition of Kou being unable to effect meaningful change on the world, yet the world and everyone in it revolves around him. Now, if you've played Baldr Force, you'll remember the climax of the game where the entire cast is killed and absorbed into a Legion-like monster/girl's disembodied cyber-soul where she can manipulate their memories and perceptions of reality which she uses to keep people pacified. It's heavily implied all the other routes are illusions she's using on the other heroines. Also, she uses said power to role play a sex scene with her onii-chan, but of course it does. *ahem* With the whole world revolving around Kou, and him having his own personal reality administrators popping in to repair the world whenever it gets too messed up, you might think you know what Sky's going towards, especially if you've seen the rather imprecise spoiler that Kou is an AI. You're wrong though.

 

What's being foreshadowed is that there exist benevolent omnipotent interdimensional wizards constantly babysitting you and only you. You see, the central 'twist' or reveal or whatever you want to call it of Baldr Sky is that infinite dimensions exist (by infinite, I mean, of course, six, one for each heroine), and AIs have superpowers. Which superpowers? Whichever they feel like. Mostly, they like to selectively stop time (usually to tell Kou how little he understands), but my favorite, because it's revealed at the end of the first route so seems important and then never comes again, is completely brainjack people, rewriting their memories and fundamentally altering their perception of reality. You'd think that would be foreshadowing of some kind, but nah. It's just a power they get to fix a corner that they've written themselves into, and then *poof* it's gone as quickly as it came. Just like when they purge your girlfriend of a biological superweapon, or rewriting another one's brain from being hijacked by a genocidal pseudo-AI, or when they bring the dead back to life. Yeah, they do that too.

The really perceptive among you will have also noticed so far that I've only talked about the amnesia routes. That's primarily because they comprise the first ~70% of the game. After that, things get weird, on both a plotting level, and a meta level. After finishing the first four routes, you're forced to play a pseudo-route compilation of the high school harem antics scenes referred to in-game as Reminiscence. Reminiscence is a staggering 16,000 lines long. That's I believe approximately half the length of Kamidori's entire script, and around 140% the size of Bunny Black's. Aki, Makoto, and Sora's routes (the Dive 2 routes) all put together are about 31,700 lines. After already having to sit through these flashback asides, many twice, you're forced to go through them a third time. The game already had pacing problems, and Reminiscence slams the pacing into a brick wall. There are quite a few new scenes mixed in, but the 'point' of Reminiscence is to show how Kou and Sora started dating. It's because Aki accidentally created a cyberspace feedback loop that amplified their attraction to each other. That's the big secret Aki dare not mention. Never mind that we've been dosing ourselves and each other on brain altering programs doing the same thing every single route, either to infiltrate orgies (because of course) or by antagonists for the obligatory slime torture sexual harassment scenes. This time was different, somehow. And definitely needed sixteen thousand lines, half of which were copy and pasted from previous routes.

*ahem* But terrible pacing isn't new for the game, and certainly doesn't qualify as weird. The other thing that happens is that the writers decided they were tired of the cyberpunk setting, and we just had a sixteen goddamned thousand line interlude of corny high school harem slapstick and wanted to be Final Fantasy instead. Specifically, they wanted to be Final Fantasy 4, right down to the nihilistic space Mengele living on the moon world zero mind controlling Golbez Naoki with dreams of destroying the planet because humanity sucks. You will, of course, be summoning the hopes and dreams across all dimensions to expose his true form, because of course you will. After all, the final route pretty quickly establishes that you're the AI Kou simulcra first revealed a few routes back with access to AI wizard powers, which in this case, apparently means turning feelings into a power level.

  

I'm pretty sure they realized it too, because there's some super random philosophical rambling entirely confined to the final route. "I'm the same as Kou, but then I found out I was an AI, but maybe I am a real Kou? Is there really any Kou? Aren't we all just simulations in the scheme of life? Anyway, now I'm a Kou in a physical body, but does that make me a Kou-Kou? Makes you think, doesn't it?" What the ever loving nonsense are you on about, Baldr Sky? You answered the philosophical question you're claiming to pose in the premise and then started rambling incoherently until… well, wizards showed up again. And this was after harnessing your interdimensional infinite Kou powers to beat up a brain in a jar who spends its time hopping across dimensions pretending to be a death-worshipping priest. I should also mention that after beating Zeromus, AIs meander out to go "Hey, so, yeah, this world was destroyed a while back, but we can also bring the dead back to life and turn the planet into a utopia, so, uh… just putting that out there." Bold coda to end things on Baldr Sky.

There are certainly more things I could rant about, the racist caricatures, the fetish baiting, the sex slime, the nakedly tsundere writing around his father, easily two to three more paragraphs on all the ways that Chinatsu as a character is petty entitlement personified, but we're at double digit paragraphs in this post alone after almost as many just on how awful the editing and purely technical parts are, so I'm sticking a pin in it. I fully understand if people want to praise the presentation or gameplay of Baldr Sky, but anything complimentary one might have to say about the story and writing writ large, especially the pacing and plot, is plainly incomprehensible to me. Probably the same people who are responsible for Sword Art Online continuing to get sequels.

Thank you for attending my TED Talk on why Baldr Sky is a smoldering trash fire that I wish I had never gotten involved with. Now get the hell off my lawn.

Posted in Baldr Sky | 4 Comments »

4 Shouts From the Peanut Gallery

  • Anonymous says:

    Baldr Sky is one of those games that actively requires turning your brain off and becoming as retarded as Kou to enjoy it. It’s actually great as long as you just strap in and enjoy the ride, but the moment you look at it from the outside observer’s perspective, literally everything falls apart. And that’s why playing outside observer’s role is a meme.

    Of course, there’s *a certain group of people* who don’t even need to pretend to be retarded since they are already retarded, but let’s not talk about them here.

  • Aroduc says:

    It’s way too long and way too repetitive to zone out to. And doesn’t explain why it has the reputation it does but things like Material Brave or the later Baldrs are fairly reviled. Really, most of what you’d need to do to make it palatable would be to just cut out all the flashback and highschool crap. That’d also reduce the length by nearly half.

  • Anonymous says:

    I don’t mind “highschool crap”. Most of it was more fun than run-away-from-riots crap in the present. Two main problems with it is that more than half of it is recycled shit with broken “skip read text” button that does nothing (actual routes also suffer from that) and the fact that it’s placed right before two last routes. Just splattering Reminiscence content over the remaining routes by having more flashbacks and fixing broken technical shit would’ve fixed at least one third of Baldr Sky problems, IMO.

  • Kaleidonec says:

    So you’re saying aroduc has a perfectly functional version of the game he can’t release because of sekai?
    And better than Ludo’s too.

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