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  Click here to go to the first staff post in this thread.   Thread: My Thoughts on The Banner Saga

  1. #1
    Backer Korica's Avatar
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    My Thoughts on The Banner Saga

    EDITED

    This review is not for the gaming community so much as it is for the devs. I do not really get in the habit of writing reviews too often. But when it comes to games that I really love, if there are elements I can offer well-worded criticism on, I almost feel obligated to. This is one of those scenarios.

    Let's start off on the good notes.
    I love this game the way I love my favorite band. I don't love every single thing they ever made, I have problems with certain aspects of their music, but literally everything else about them is so utterly awesome and perfect that I am willing to overlook those faults and call them my favorite.

    The art-style of this game is amazing and refreshing. The music is awesome and brilliant. Whoever is responsible for writing the story is a genius, whose talent I envy. I must admit that I really do not care for turn-based combat, but this game made it work for me. I would spent more time singing your praises, but what I really came here to do was to share my thoughts on the parts that I did not like. Just be aware that as much as I may criticize, I do so from a place of love.


    FIRST – Character Loss and Renown

    I’m not opposed to Character Loss. I think it adds a huge amount to these type of games, to be able to lose party members permanently. What I am opposed to, is the unintended consequences of punishing the player with game mechanics for a Character Loss. To put it more simply, if a player spends Renown to Promote a character, and then that Character dies, the player ought to be reimbursed in some manner.

    Renown is not really part of the story, it’s not a tangible thing like gold, but strictly a game mechanic used as currency. If someone were attempting to play the game on Hard and ended up making a lot of mistakes about who to Promote, and ended up losing many of those Characters, it would be quite possible (I think) to reach a point where they would get stuck because their Heroes were too weak and/or too few. I would call that poor game design.

    This is particularly true of scenarios where Character Loss is either unclear or uncontrollable. If you actively choose to let a Character die, you know what you are giving up. But there are multiple instances in the game of Characters being killed (or otherwise removed from your roster) without your consent. I think Character Loss without consent is actually very good for the storytelling, but the problem lies in the player not being reimbursed for any Renown they might have invested into the Character.

    In my own case, I had this happen a few times. I Promoted Gunnulf, and then he died on the cliff. I Promoted Ludin, and then had him sent away. I Promoted Eirik, and then let him leave. I Promoted Fasolt, and then he died on the bridge. Over time I became rather paranoid and started to Promote only Hakon, Rook, Oddlief, and Tryggvi. Not necessarily because I found them the most useful, but because I had confidence that they were the least likely to be killed off. In total I would say I probably lost about 80 Renown, and that is the part that bothered me. Not the Character Loss, but the Renown Loss.
    (And in case you were wondering why I sent Ludin away and let Eirik leave, it is because I was thinking about the story. I was making these decisions based on what I thought Hakon would do, rather than thinking about how many Heroes I as a player wanted in my Roster.)



    SECOND – Lack of Female Fighters

    Sexism is a touchy subject for some people. Banner Saga seems to do what most fantasy stories do, and use our own view of history as a basis for its society, following more-or-less in the footsteps of traditional gender roles. But let us not forget that The Banner Saga draws huge inspiration from old Norse culture and stories. And those stories have ample amount of Viking women fighting alongside the men, with spears, swords and axes. Shieldmaidens were quite a common thing. There are female Heroes in the game, but they are all exclusively Archers.

    I highly doubt that anybody at Stoic stood up on a table and shouted “There will be no Shieldmaidens in this game! If women must fight, they will stand in the back and shoot arrows!” When I learned about this game and bought it, the thought never even crossed my mind that there might not be Shieldmaidens in it. I visited the Fan Art section of the Forums and the first three submissions I saw were all women with spears and swords, so clearly I am not the only one who wants to see this.

    If we look at the entire roster of Heroes, there are only 4 Women. By comparison, there are 10 Men. This is not counting the Varl, of which there are 9. Even if you wanted to, you could not field a team comprised entirely of Women, because there simply aren’t enough. Not to mention the fact that since they are all Archers, they would be unable to form a very dynamic team.

    I would not say this game is overtly sexist, but I think it does carry with it some unintentional sexism which does it a grave disservice. A prime example would be when Oddlief, the Chieftain’s Wife (who is a skilled archer) tells Rook that she believes he should lead because she is a woman – people wouldn’t respect a woman leader, it would put the caravan in danger, etc. There are plenty of more legitimate reasons that Rook should be in charge, some of which are mentioned, but gender seems to be the one which is brought to the forefront and used as the crux of the argument.

    By now it may be too late to change these things for this game, but the story is far from over. You can better in the future, Stoic. I know you can.



    THIRD - Bellower

    Yes, an entire section devoted to one battle. Because it caused me (and others) that much grief.

    I think I can summarize why the Bellower fight is bad in a fairly concise manner. The most basic problem is that it breaks the established rules of the game.

    First, it forces you to bring along Heroes that you might not want to. This is especially a problem if you never use those Heroes and they are still Rank 1. Additionally, when it comes time to fight Bellower, you are not given adequate ability to prepare. For me personally, all my best Heroes were injured from previous fights but I had no option to Rest. I was forced to use either Injured or Low-Ranking Heroes for the Final Battle of the Game.

    Second, it is an incredibly inconvenient fight which forces you to use one particular strategy to defeat an enemy, rather than letting you come up with your own solution.

    Third, Bellower is simply an annoying opponent to face. Boss fights should be fun, not frustrating. Bellower breaks the rules of turn-based combat by getting a free turn whenever attacked, not to mention his ability to regenerate Armor and Strength, or his ability to Damage and Reposition your entire party at once, while also denying one of them a turn. Gods help you he decides to repeatedly Stun somebody who is important to your strategy, like an Armor-breaker.

    I played through the entire game losing in Battle only once. I lost to Bellower about 15 times, even after I turned the Difficulty down to Easy. I’ve seen quite a few other people making posts about them having difficulty with the Bellower fight.


    EDITED: More Below


    FOURTH – Wars

    I was extremely excited for the Wars. Battles are fine, of course, but the fact that extra fighting was added in, fighting that made the caravan seem relevant, was an awesome bonus. But I found myself disappointed with the Wars when I finally experienced them, for two main reasons.

    First, the Choices you are given seem to be rather pointless. I tried them all once or twice and really did not notice any significant differences. I’m sure somebody smarter than me has either looked into the code or run enough experiments to determine what exactly is the difference between Charge and Formations, but I couldn’t see it.

    If you give a player a multitude of ways to response to something, and the player cannot see any difference between the outcomes of those choices, I think that means you have failed to deliver the dynamic and interesting experience that it was meant to deliver.

    Second, the Wars lacked any variation. Every battle goes the same. You are approached by X number of Dredge, you Attack or Flee (as if there is any real reason to not attack), and then you move on. The repetitive nature of the Wars is demonstrated in excess by the chapter in which Hakon leads his Varl caravan through War after War after War.

    I think the War system would benefit enormously from some randomly generated variations in events. Perhaps if you decide to Charge the enemy, a Second army might move in from behind to flank you, and you would then have to decide how to respond to it. Not to mention, it would be nice to fight things other than just Dredge. Bandit ambushes, perhaps?



    FIFTH – Kills for Promotion

    Not a huge issue, but definitely something worth noting. I've seen some other people talking about it already.

    A total lack of any sort of Assist system means that the only way to rank up is to directly get Kills. This means it is possible to bring a Hero into every single battle you encounter, and if by some stroke of bad luck they never land the final blows, they can never be promoted. It inadvertently forces the player to focus less on the overall strategy they might want to use, but rather on setting up the fight so that certain Heroes deal the final blow, which is simply silly.
    Last edited by Korica; 01-22-2014 at 11:15 AM.

  2.   Click here to go to the next staff post in this thread.   #2
    Developer raven2134's Avatar
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    First, 2 words: Awesome feedback .

    Thanks for taking the time to post all this. Really glad you liked the game and even gladder you came to the forums to share. I do think these points can be taken and used/considered in the future. It's all well reasoned, well said, and I can really tell they have at their heart the affection for the game and the want to improve on it.

    I do think your second and third point will add both depth and enjoyment to future work. And I think your first point means it's probably a good idea to mix in some way for players to get something back from losing characters, or to really make some character losses, a conscious and significantly weighted choice. I.e. maybe we should have a choice or 2 in the game where we WILL know this will mean losing something to gain something else and that is a choice.
    Last edited by raven2134; 01-20-2014 at 07:41 AM.

  3. #3
    Skald Aleonymous's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Korica View Post
    FIRST – Character Loss and Renown
    That bothers me too. I want choices to be between equally good (or good) decisions, and not right/wrong or unforeseen (even if it can be eventually reasoned) situations. That Gunnulf-permadeath (vs. Ubin's wagon) "choice" is the prominent example of that...

    Quote Originally Posted by Korica View Post
    SECOND – Lack of Female Fighters
    +1. I'd like to see more female fighters too. Also, I found it quite weird that the Dredge Slingers (the only ranged Dredge attackers) are revealed to be female! A coincidence?

    Quote Originally Posted by Korica View Post
    THIRD - Bellower
    I played the game on Normal and didn't lose a single fight until Bello. I beat him on 2nd try on Normal, and on 1st try on Hard. I understand all those issues you pointed out (bringing specific character, unable to rest/heal etc); they have been raised multiple times. But, in overall, I liked the final battle and I think it serves the role of the "Boss Fight", so Bello gotta be a little tough imo. I, personally, see no harm in that happening by adding "new" abilities that alter some fundamental game mechanics (self-healing on Phase#1, extra-turn on Phase#2). Finally, if you ask me, I'd have the game be a lot harder. Why should anyone be able to beat the game in one sitting (~10hrs), even on easy? Because he purchased it? How about all those who purchased the game seeking a challenge?
    Together we stand, divided we fall.

  4. #4
    Senior Member roder's Avatar
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    i loved the bellower fight! i wouldnt say it was a cut and dry strategy imo, i had to use his own troops as intereference to prevent him from hitting me. im sure there are a lot of strategies that would be successful. think about Skystriker trap to neutralize bellower. stonewall to block off his attacks and take reduced damage. battering ram to hit him past his own units and away from your archer backline (which i kept doing xD)

    all your other points were very reasonable. id agree with them all except bellower :P which i enjoyed fighting, but that is the first battle i lost as well lol
    Last edited by roder; 01-20-2014 at 10:00 AM.

  5. #5
    Since I made an account simply to add similar feedback, I'll put it here. I really liked what the game had to offer and I hope the future installments of the saga will come relatively quickly now that the engine is in place (though I can't imagine the art will be nearly as easy to churn out) I shared the OP's problems but have different proposed solutions.

    1) Renown is an illogical currency

    I've found it totally impossible to internally justify exactly what renown represent. How does it reflect A) a barrier to the development of my characters' skills, regardless of their experience in combat B) A means of paying for goods and C) something that is obtained mostly by fighting enemies but D) is definitely not gold? I understand the resource scarcity aspect of things, but just let players level up their characters and let the currency limit stuff like items, supplies, and maybe equipment, if you'd like to add that aspect. This would solve the problem with lost characters as well. For my part, I had to spend so much on supplies that I only had developed 3 characters to level 5 for the final fight (not counting Eyvind).

    2) The chess-style alternating turns regardless of unit count should be removed:

    For most of the game, this was not a big deal, and actually favored me when I was significantly outnumbered. However, when it came to Bellower, the problems with this setup became pronounced. The easiest (maybe only?) way to get Bellower's armor down was to get yourself in the pillage state where all your characters could move before he does and you could whittle away his health. But before you can get to that stage, as the enemy has fewer pieces, Bellower gets a chance to wipe a character basically every other move. That's going to remain true in any future boss battles you put in. It also makes the "forge ahead" ability way less useful, as you move no more often than you would otherwise. Of course, the added difficulty when outnumbered could be offset if you allowed the player to match the enemy's number of troops if he has the heroes to spare... but no one ever wants to do that.

  6. #6
    I really don't see the problem with the Bellower fight; True, I first tried it on easy mode and it was REALLY easy, much more than some of the other fights. For staters, Bellower is weaker than Destroyers (the blue colored big dredge), I had 3 varl in the fight, one shield and two for damage. All with maximum armor break and no items. Position them in front of Bellower, hit his armor really hard with all the willpower you can and shoot the arrow. Won in the first round. For the second part, just repeat but just damage his armor once and them just go for str. Didn't even kill any of the other dredges.
    I'm not sure if the fight has been changed since launching, but that description holds true as of Jan 20.

    Cheers!

  7. #7
    Junior Member dufake's Avatar
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    Female Fighters

    It appears that there are a lot of female dredges on the battlefield, and their starving children.

    Bellower

    Agree. It's like fighting a cheater.
    I lose my armor breaker in that backstab event, and the game punish me with an ultra armor enemy.

  8. #8
    SECOND – Lack of Female Fighters
    Human woman would be the only posibility, if I am not wrong, as the Varl only can come to existence through creation. Not sure if this implies that there are no female (ore at least female looking Varl) existent.

  9. #9
    the part of losing characters to see a reward later,be it story wise,+ supplies sent from gretefull departing character would be great,but its not currently in game is it? the Eikil example,i kept him around,but escorted the family to Strand and sent 15 Varl to gather the treasure and sent it to Strand again,so even while it s a vipers den pollitically i send some kinda reinforcements i guess,let me know any new info on this,as i also fear to lose Fasolt but break the alliance as well,is it confirmed to have repercussions on chapter 2 of the Saga??please developers help me out there

  10. #10
    Administrator Unconfirmed Account Myll_Erik's Avatar
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    Thanks for your feedback/review
    Trample the weak - Hurdle the dead

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Korica View Post
    I would not say this game is inherently sexist, but I think it does carry with it some unintentional sexism which does it a disservice. A good example would be when Oddlief, the Chieftain’s Wife (who is a skilled archer) tells Rook that she believes he should lead because the people of the Caravan would not want to follow a woman. Another example would be, if Oddlief starts training the women of the Caravan to shoot, their husbands come to Rook to complain about it.
    I just wanted to address this point, as it seems somewhat misplaced. I don't think the example you bring up with Oddlief was unintentional at all. I think it was there to explicitly drive home that this is in fact a sexist world. However, I don't think there's anything wrong with that. The story strongly hints that Oddlief might be the best person to lead the caravan, but she isn't because of the sexist nature of the world. This serves to highlight the injustice of these sexist views, which is a good message in my opinion.

    So yeah, yes there's sexism, but IMHO it serves a good purpose in the story.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by illathid View Post
    I think it was there to explicitly drive home that this is in fact a sexist world.
    That's how I understood it, too. If I remember correctly, you can ask her, if she could lead (implying that she's the best candidate), but she denies, saying that the men would just not respect her as much as a leader and especially other leaders might not consider her an equal.
    Seems like a rather serious approach to this issue, showing the problems of sexism instead of ignoring it by saying "Here women are completely equal"

    But I also hope, that there will be a female melee class in the next game and hopefully also a female main character.

  13. #13
    Senior Member loveboof's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by illathid View Post
    I just wanted to address this point, as it seems somewhat misplaced. I don't think the example you bring up with Oddlief was unintentional at all. I think it was there to explicitly drive home that this is in fact a sexist world. However, I don't think there's anything wrong with that. The story strongly hints that Oddlief might be the best person to lead the caravan, but she isn't because of the sexist nature of the world. This serves to highlight the injustice of these sexist views, which is a good message in my opinion.
    Spot on! This perfectly explains why the game itself is not sexist, but rather the game world. Which can actually be a powerful means of exploring an issue like sexism. Who needs a bland, politically correct game world where there is no space to analyse wider issues? Especially in a game with a fair amount of darker themes (even if it does look so darn pretty...)

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by GreenDread View Post
    But I also hope, that there will be a female melee class in the next game and hopefully also a female main character.
    Agreed. I would love to see something like a Shield Maiden as a new class. As for your second point, well, I suppose that would depend on the choice you make at the end...

  15. #15
    Junior Member Mhorhe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Korica View Post
    SECOND – Lack of Female Fighters

    Sexism is a touchy subject for some people. Banner Saga seems to do what most fantasy stories do, and use our own view of history as a basis for its society, following more-or-less in the footsteps of traditional gender roles. But let us not forget that The Banner Saga draws huge inspiration from old Norse culture and stories. And those stories have ample amount of Viking women fighting alongside the men, with spears, swords and axes. Shieldmaidens were quite a common thing. There are female Heroes in the game, but they are all exclusively Archers.

    I highly doubt that anybody at Stoic stood up on a table and shouted “There will be no Shieldmaidens in this game! If women must fight, they will stand in the back and shoot arrows!” When I learned about this game and bought it, the thought never even crossed my mind that there might not be Shieldmaidens in it. I visited the Fan Art section of the Forums and the first three submissions I saw were all women with spears and swords, so clearly I am not the only one who wants to see this.

    I would not say this game is inherently sexist, but I think it does carry with it some unintentional sexism which does it a disservice. A good example would be when Oddlief, the Chieftain’s Wife (who is a skilled archer) tells Rook that she believes he should lead because the people of the Caravan would not want to follow a woman. Another example would be, if Oddlief starts training the women of the Caravan to shoot, their husbands come to Rook to complain about it.

    By now it may be too late to change these things for this game, but the story is far from over. You can better in the future, Stoic. I know you can.
    Like others before me, I too would like to address this. While sexism is undoubtedly a real and aggravating issue, talking about sexism in Banner Saga is being a tad too politically correct.

    1) The "issue" of women "only" fighting with bows and arrows (and the equivalent dredge slings) is faintly ludicrous. What's next, comment that Varl being femaleless (and sexless..) is also sexist? Women obviously play a major role on the battlegrounds of the Banner Saga world, on both sides of the fence. So they're not hefting shields around.. it's not exactly a chainmail bikini issue. Why is it sexist to have them as archers only? If we follow that logic through, I'll call it.. uh..reverse sexism? that no man but Rook seem to be able to use a bow. What, are they inferior? How dare you Stoic? HOW DARE YOU?
    Firing a bow with enough strength to penetrate obsidian is not quite the same as needling. If it quells your anger any, the one time we have a woman going mano a mano with a man (Alette versus Ekkil) the man gets stabbed through the heart. With an arrow. BY HAND.

    2) The husbands' complaint example. The women Oddi is training are quite obviously farmer wives and daughters. They have not trained or prepared in any way for war, let alone war against an enemy so utterly alien and terrifying. The reaction of their husbands, fathers and brothers is only natural. By contrast, no one bats an eye about Oddi or Alette (who have received extensive training) going into battle. Because it's something they've prepared for, at least in some manner, and it's something expected of them.

    3) The Oddi discussion example. I don't agree that this is an example of a world being inherently sexist (like Westeros) - or if it is, it's only slightly so. Even Skogr's chieftain relied heavily on Rook. It follows that he's become sort of a figurehead for the entire town. He's also a pathfinder, a hunter - what better guide for such a journey as they face.
    Note that Oddi and later Alette are pretty essential to keeping the whole thing together, especially Alette. Who's basically spelled out as being half the leadership of the caravan (the conversation with Ekkil). In point of fact, female characters in Banner Saga rank amongst the best fleshed out and strongest in the game. Oddi, Alette, Juno..
    Last edited by Mhorhe; 01-20-2014 at 06:51 PM.

  16. #16
    I playd the Campaign on normal and need at last around 10 hours. The Bellower fight i beat too at my second try it was so easy. No battle or war was hard in this Game. I dislike the complete Game (not for the difficulty level, i play it on normal if that was my Problem i play again on hard). You fight only dredge and the Campaign is again a booring Fantasy Crap, Sorry.

    What i like was the Landscapes and the Music thats a Pice of Art.
    The characters were ok but too superficial for an RPG. For a shooter RPG mix it would be appropriate. But in principle, the game was indeed a shooter like RPG MIX.

    To 90% only kill those boring gray black dregde. I had to force myself then literally end the game. I would have liked more caravans management and role-playing. But that was a waste Dredge slaughter after another. A handful of fighting against non-dredge were also there ok, but it was just too little.. I had expected against wolves and similar animals / monsters to have to fight and my camp having to manage. It was really short and disappointing the game.
    Last edited by EinarNordwin; 01-20-2014 at 07:48 PM.

  17. #17
    Senior Member Rensei's Avatar
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    FIRST – Character Loss and Renown
    Hurt me too - badly. Still, it kinda made me think really hard about my choices, and I felt really hurt, really emotional about the random act of betrayal - maybe it's not a necessarily bad thing?
    I mean it felt a bit lame and made my final team weaker, but it took me very little time to get emotionally attached to my "vikings". Kinda like with XCOM soldiers - You realize they can die any second, and suddenly You care about them.

    SECOND – Lack of Female Fighters
    Female. Couldn't care less.
    OK, I guess it would be great to see a bad-ass shieldmaiden (preferably looking like Lagertha from Vikings series <3), but it's not like all Saga women were hidden in the Kitchen. You are sounding like the guy from few months back arguing there should be black people in the game. He even came up with some politically correct term for them - People of Colour O_o, glad You're asking for females, not People of Boobs.

    THIRD - Bellower
    Easiest fight possible, that can be made more challenging if You, for example, decide to kill every other dredge, before even touching Bello. If You end up with lvl1 Rook and/or Alette and are forced to use them, You'r A team is badly hurt etc. You are free to take full advantage of the battle's specific mechanics and end it in few moves.
    It's as linear as You make it. Looking for a challenge? End it in set amount of turns, after defeating the bodyguards, only indirect lightning strikes and clever diagonal positioning (this one is great - super challenging)... the possibilities are endless. Feel tired after fighting through entire game again? Go linear.
    He gets free move after hit only in P2, and it's NOT a free move - he replaces someone else. This mechanic is his ultimate downfall and makes P2 disappointingly easy - once You get his hp down a bit You have a funny little doggy running between Your guys trying to hurt them.
    His ability is willpower dependent - lure him to use some to shorten distance to some juicy target You prepared as a lure or just endure the 2-3 he usually tosses.

  18. #18
    FIRST – Character Loss and Renown
    This didn't bother me to be honest. Hard loses is pretty much what this game is about.

    SECOND – Lack of Female Fighters
    I was also a little bugged with females-as-archers-only, and no male archers too (aside from Rook who's a special case), my thoughts were on it largely being related to budget restraints. On the other hand a male-centric culture in a work of fiction doesn't bother me, I felt Oddelief made very good points during that conversation. As you said though, a different game with a different setting could have a more gender-neutral thing going on, to be honest when it comes to videogames I consider a win when there's simply no oversexualized females, which is something I appreciated with The Banner Saga

    THIRD - Bellower
    I didn't find problems here but I agree on having an option to rest there.
    Last edited by Tychoxi; 01-20-2014 at 10:28 PM.

  19. #19
    Backer Korica's Avatar
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    In response to all the people claiming that my comments about the need for Shieldmaidens or the game being sexist...

    I must say your reactions have disappointed me. When somebody calls for a bit more equality and the crowd shouts back "That's insane! You're being too PC!" I think that says a lot more about you than it does about me.

    Sexism in a story can serve a purpose, just like racism can, or most other "-isms". But if you are going to include those things, you ought to actually make something useful out of them. Just because the story is set in a sexist world is not a valid excuse to says "Whelp, that's just the way the world is..." and leave it at that. You can use that narrative to bring up topics of gender inequality in a manner which is positive. (By way of example, since the Varl are essentially genderless, perhaps they might find the Human notion that women are weak to be completely idiotic.) As some of you pointed out, the game is not devoid some positive messages on equality, but they do seem outnumbered or inconsequential against the story as a whole.

    I think many people fail to realize how many potential gamers feel alienated by this consistent attitude that making games inclusive to all genders is somehow unnecessary or "not their problem". It's not about political correctness. It never has been. Stop trying to use that as an excuse for your own apathy about the subject of sexism.

  20. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by Korica View Post
    Sexism in a story can serve a purpose, just like racism can, or most other "-isms". But if you are going to include those things, you ought to actually make something useful out of them. Just because the story is set in a sexist world is not a valid excuse to says "Whelp, that's just the way the world is..." and leave it at that. You can use that narrative to bring up topics of gender inequality in a manner which is positive.
    Yeah, and I would say that bringing up the "topics of gender inequality in a manner which is positive" is explicitly what the game is doing, at least in the two examples you mentioned. If you have some other example where that isn't happening, such that it outnumbers the two you listed or makes each of them inconsequential, that's another matter.

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