Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Born to Exile (1978)

Born to Exile (1978) by Phyllis Eisenstein is a fix-up, collecting together the stories of Alaric, the wandering minstrel, who has the power of teleportation and a born wanderlust, but isn't so much on violence. The novel won the Balrog award, so it obviously pleased somebody, and I can see why. The story breaks many tropes simply by the main character being anything but a testosterone fueled, square jawed hero. He doesn't wander in, take charge, follow a destiny, or alter the course of history. It's a very human-scale story.

Alaric has the power of teleportation, but because people are afraid of witches, they will only see him as a witch, so they will try to kill him. This keeps him very careful with his power.

The book moves along rather snappily as each story is about 50 pages long, so there's too little time for the plot to drag. We learn lots about the character until the stories end, but you can't really call the ending an ending. The last story doesn't wrap up anything, and you really don't get the feel of a story arc, which is the problem with an episodic story. Even the stories themselves lack a certain punch at the end, just sort of wandering on, happening, and wandering off.

Alaric gets laid a lot. In fact, I think that he gets laid for just showing up. On the other hand, he's not a walking bundle of muscle, nor a walking jerk, and he still gets laid, so hooray on that. Somebody who treats women as people and is generally sociable gets laid.

The women who show have personality, character, and agendas. Most importantly, the women get to be imperfect, and not paragons of anything. They even take

While the book has bad guys, it has a screaming lack of villains, those personalities who have plans. If anything, the villain is the world itself, which is just Alaric walking into trouble and wending his way back out. Just as often, this works against the story, as the character find answers to himself, but never actually formulates anything that he wants, other than moving on.

On the whole, this was a fun read, just right for those times when you want something easy and munchy, like a snack, without too much angst or drama.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Rocannon's World (1966)

Rocannon's World (1966) by Ursula Le Guin is among Le Guin's earliest works, and it sure does read like it. Everything that you enjoy about Le Guin's work is there, boiled down to a dense 135 novella. Not only does this work waste no words, it's so lean that the're barely any muscles on its bones. It's so compact that emotion can't find a way in edgewise (not that Le Guin is known for her emotion).

The book itself is part of her Hainish setting, where time dilation matters in FTL travel, but ansibels enable instant communications. This subject world is primitive, with inhabitants that evoke fantasy peoples, such as elves, dwarves, angels, and faeries, along with flying cats, castles, and other fantasy tropes, making it a science-fantasy novel. While some history of the peoples are dealt with, we are mercifully spared the full details, learning just enough to make the story go.

The characters themselves feel sparse. Each is an archetype more than an actual character. They suffice to progress the story, each being what they need to be, but their depth goes no deeper than that.

The story itself is remarkably simple, almost linear. Like a fantasy, they go on a quest, wrestling along the way with obstacles, but there's never a doubt as to a straight line, each of these episodes doing little to work with each other. You do get a better idea as to this world, but as a fantasy reader, you've already guess what the major parts are, each playing out as you expect.

If you're a Le Guin fan, it's worth a read to see how her earliest work played out, but if you aren't, then there's no much here to recommend.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Saving the DC Cinematic Universe

DC has a superhero movie problem, and the problem is this: they've had so many successful franchises over the years that they've already worked and reworked all their most successful characters. In those years, they had developed a feel and style that worked, and doing that successful work over again is proving rather difficult.

In contrast, Marvel didn't have a deep film legacy when it began its film venture, so it had a considerable number of IPs ready for adaptation. They made many poor to mediocre movies, but once they got their formula going, they changed the way that the audience perceived superhero movies. They changed what the audience expects, meaning that they also changed how the audience receives DC formula.

So what's DC to do?

I think that DC should do exactly what they've already announced that they're doing: treating all films independently, giving each its own tone, and concentrating on what makes each work. They should also do what their fabulously successful TV and animated sections are doing, learning the lessons that those ventures can teach.

Film being film, we won't see the fruition of these changes immediately. These things take time to conceive, write, produce, and film. They'll have to learn what makes their films tick. The audience will need to learn how to receive these films. Media production exists in a dialog with their audience, with information flowing in both directions.

But what if they give up and stop making DC superhero films? That's not going to happen, at least not immediately. As long as this superhero trend continues, there will be profits. The current market is too large to ignore. And as we learned from Wonder Woman, if a film turns out good, then word of mouth will follow and people will go to see them no matter how poorly their other films fared.

Can you save the DC film universe? Maybe, but it's not worth the bother. Only in the team up movies do you need a shared universe. Despite what comic aficionados assert, the audience can adapt to each film as its own thing. Consider how well the recent Logan (2017) was received. It didn't connect to anything except loosely, and it got praised.

Can you save DC superhero films? Yes, because with each film, you have a new opportunity. It's up to DC to make the most of those opportunities.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Power Rangers (2017)

I was warned about Power Rangers (2017), and all the comments, both good and bad, both agreeing and disagreeing, proved true.

What we have is a solid teen film, a solid team building film, and a respectable Power Rangers finale all bound up in one, with the finale not quite meshing with the rest of the film to jarring contrast.

On the plus side, this film does team building right. It's all about getting to know the characters, and getting to know the people behind the characters. The scene where dad drops his son of for Saturday detention is straight out of The Breakfast Club, and the talking scene later on is directly reminiscent of the floor chatting scene. Good choices. They worked for a reason in The Breakfast Club and they work here for the same reason.

Importantly, they don't try to shove all the characters down your throat. They focus mainly on Billy, Kim, and especially Jason. Only later in the film do you learn more about Zack and Trini. This gives you times to sort everyone out.

The film is about team building because bringing the megazord together is the whole point of team building. Their greatest weapon only works when they work together, and the film firmly supports that theme. You know the drill. They're all misfits who've been thrown off the other teams, the more popular teams. They each bring their own demons and devils with them, and strive to get over them.

The film makes a number of different choices that stand out quite starkly. They don't break convention often, but when they do, you notice because they do it on purpose to great affect, turning the unexpected outcome into a plot twist.

I enjoyed the cinematography and the editing. The cameras do interesting things to tell you about the world rather than special effects. The staging sets up metaphors. There once scene where the rangers finally have their armor, and they're walking out a tube, blocked exactly like a football team heading out onto the field. At the same time, the editors have a good sense of pacing, neither rushing through scenes nor cutting them short. Most of the film flows except for the battle scene, which obviously had to be developed by the FX artists, which is one of the reasons that the finale feels so different.

I enjoyed their use of practical effects. Not only did this safe on budget, but it usually helped a scene by keeping the focus on the characters, not on the whiz-bang.

Where I didn't get hung up was in expecting the old TV Power Rangers. This film changed everything from that series, almost always with the goal of making an engaging film. So it's the Power Rangers that you know translated into today's YA tone.

As fight finales go, it was Power Rangers on a bigger budget. I really do with those scenes had harmonized with the earlier film better. It pretty much goes by the numbers, and FX were able to do something things that exceeded a TV budget. The number of "args", "ahhs," and "oofs" were were comparable to a TV fight. It could have been something more, but wasn't.

Don't be afraid to check it out, and judge it on its own merits. It's a new thing that uses some old names.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

To Ride Pegasus (1973)

To Ride Pegasus (1973) by Anne McCaffrey screams SF for a different age. Even for the early 70's, the stories have  a dated feel, most likely being written significantly earlier. The book explores the emergence of psychic powers in a future and slightly dystopian earth.

The book itself is short, barely out of novella length. They reading easy, if somewhat uninspiring. The text gets the job done. The plot often happens in dialog, meaning that most of these stories could easily convert into radio plays with relative ease. This can make for interesting listening, but often gets tedious on the page. The good news is that the novel is just four stories as dull only lasts so long. The bad news is that the description often descends into mush.

As much as I harp on the writing, the concepts behind the writing are very interesting, if a little dissonant. The emergence of psychics would naturally bring up legal, ethical, and social consequences, so Anne strives to explore that in a future which feels a little tyrannical and dictatorial. While at one point, the psychics are talking about ethics, they are also hiring out to companies and governments to act as crowd control, literally manipulating others. When normal people fear psychics, they don't fear them because they're different, they fear them because the ordinary people can see the obvious that the psychics can't. This mind control stuff is authoritarian. Ironically, Anne played this all straight, not realizing the dissonance of her own setting.

(If this books was written as a black comedy, it certainly didn't come across that way.)

It's a curious future. Everyone seems to be unionized, even the waiters. Free speech and performances require licenses. If you want to do anything, it seems like you must ask permission. The world seems a bureaucratic nightmare to live in even while is posits itself as a well run society. Add psychics on top of that, and you have a means of suppressing the plebeians by using a well padded iron gauntlet. They literally don't know what's hitting them, or that they're being hit. Considering that her other works feature benevolent dictators guiding the group well while selfish dictators would guide the success for themselves, this continuing theme here should not comes as a surprise.

While I can't call these the best of Anne's stories, they're far from the worse. Enjoy them for the casual reading that they are.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Pirate Freedom (2007)

Pirate Freedom (2007) by Gene Wolfe is a historical pirate book with just a touch of SF or Fantasy, depending on your opinion. In this first person narrative, a young man finds himself in the deep past, eventually falling in with pirate for fairly reliable pirate adventuring. The twist here is that the piratical adventures had a larger touch of historical accuracy, with ever-shifting crews busily seizing ships and cargo. The other main twist is that he's come back forward and time and become a priest reflecting on his time as a ruthless, murderous pirate.

Not too surprisingly, every woman throws herself at Chris, the protagonist. Every single one. There don't seem to be any issues with pregnancy in this historical continuity.

The story is all told in Gene's detached, almost emotionless style, which in many places is a shame as the drama depicted should have hit harder than it did.

All told, the book moved along well, always keeping up a peppy pace. You never wound up in any situation too long, which usually works for the work, but occasionally doesn't. Aside from a few characters who have depth, most just fade into names thrown across the page, little differentiating one from another. I cannot call them memorable. Even Chris, the protagonist, often doesn't feel very memorable.

The pirate life, however, is a character, and it's memorable.

As books by Gene go, this one is very approachable, readable, and doesn't leave you screaming profanities on confusion, which is saying a lot. Maybe Gene's mellowing in his old age? Who know? I certainly had more fun with this one than I've had in any of his for a long time.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Converting the JRPG Story Structure into a Novel

I've played enough JRPGs over the years to get a good feel for the genre. While there are better experts out there, they aren't writing this article, and they are not novelists. I like to think that I have my own interesting perspective to add to the lore. Here are the elements of a JRPG that I think extract well into novels, and the solutions that I picked.

Overall

Overall, a JRPG has a single game-spanning arc, usually dealing with saving the world or your own country from something or another. It may be the fate of the world, or just your own country. It's a tried and true, somewhat impersonal arc which allows for many different characters to join the rescue endeavor for their own reasons.

That impersonal arc is important. That's the key to getting an ensemble cast motivated. Because each character gets their own reasons for acting, you get to see the great problem from many different angles. This lets you bring very diverse characters with conflicting motivations and distinctive story arcs.

The JRPG story itself is usually a multi-act structure due to the way that the game works. While it's possible to stuff the story arc into a three act structure, that structure doesn't work well for a JRPG, which spans far more time than a play or a film. Better to think about this style of story as an opening act, a closing act, and all the acts in between. The more acts, the longer the game.

The acts themselves can be group into movements, sections that have their own emotional and thematic feel. While many games have three movements, mimicking the three act structure, that's not always the case because many games have a scale larger than three movements.

The first movement is usually about getting the player up to speed with the story, the game mechanics, and the world at large. They players are kept on strong rails with minimal freedom. As the rails come away, the players get some freedom to wander about. When most game mechanics are fully activated, and the player knows generally what's going on, that's usually the end of Act 1. While there may have been other boss fights along the way, the main boss fights signals the climax of the movement, followed by a denouement where more is learned, the beginning concluded, and our characters sent out to the next adventure. This first movement often contains only one act, but just as often spans several acts.

Most of the stories occupies the big sections. The acts and movements can be longer or shorter depending on all the twists and turns that the story line takes. Each act contains its own story arc, be it about a location, a series of adventures to collect MacGuffins, or some other trial. Each act may have its own little boss fights along the way to keeps up the pace and excitement of the story, but it's the big boss fight central to the act's goal that signal the end of the act. The denouement of each act progresses the epic story further along and points the characters forward.

The final act usually has a feeling, if not the literal fact, of no turning back. The characters cross the Rubicon. They know that this is the end. The player knows that this is the end. This will be the final battle. They will face their most powerful enemy. From here, it is victory or bust. The denouement  of the story wraps up the few remaining plot lines, and is often set in the future as an epilogue.

Boss Fights

While there are many fights that take place in JRPGs, the ones that matter are the boss fights. These creatures are bigger, badder, and nastier than most other fights in their acts. Not only are they tougher than normal fights, they aren't random. They are placed at specific points by the designers as trials for the player to pass, with the boss's defeat either opening access to an area or progressing a plot line.

Within a a movement, the overall stakes for any particular boss fight tend to stay the same. Minor boss fights keep up the excitement of the game or give access to special rewards. Major boss fights signal the upcoming end of an act, progressing the story. The act ending boss fights are usually well telegraphed, coming as no surprise to the player, and therefore, as no surprise to the reader.

The bosses need to have different weights. If each boss fight were to be equal in weight, the story would have too much sameness. The player or reader wouldn't know which is really important. The intermediate bosses are there to challenge the characters but not to be unduly dangerous. These are there to teach the player how to fight a boss, so that when they hit the tough bosses, they have the skills necessary to work out how to win. The same is true in a novelization. The middle bosses are there to develop your characters' abilities, so that when they hit the big boss fights, your players and readers have a good understanding of what you characters can do. The big boss fights are where you can press your characters to the wall.

The boss fights in the final movement and the final chapters build. They eliminate recurring villains, settle scores, conclude plot lines, and generally wrap things up before the last boss fight, the big one. The last boss fight wraps up the entire game. The final boss is unique in that it usually comes back multiple times, each time more powerful than the time before, having combined powers and abilities that nobody else could put together.

Bosses frequently gloat in boss fights. This is their chance to give their side of the story, to tell the player why the villain fights and what his goals are. With a novel, this doesn't have to be quite as prominent as you can tell more of the story from the villian's point of view and reliable introduce more information at earlier points. However, that doesn't mean that the villains don't gloat. Gloating villains are an important part of the genre. This battle may be their last moment to shine, so let them shine.

Pacing

Each chapter in an RPG takes an estimated amount of time, usually 1/2 an hour to two hours, depending on the game, the chapters, the dungeons, and the goals of the game developer. Too quick, and the game becomes a speed run, too slow, and the players don't have fun. Quicker games have quicker dungeons, while some games have utter grindfests for dungeons and call it content. Meanwhile, towns have people to talk to, side quests, and loot to find. Taken together, these activities pace out the acts, determining how fast the game moves. (Some optional or post-victory dungeons may require even more time, but they're special cases.)

Books don't work the same as games. Many of the activities that give a game more value make a novel dull as wallboard and decidedly less interesting. Fights are interesting, not because they exist, but because they exist within a context. The fights either blocks our heroes from proceeding or threaten the already tenuous status quo. Because of this, the mass of the story must consist primarily of social and relationship problems so that when the fights occur, the fights have gravitas. Because more development happens in front, the reader understand the stakes of the fights even before the fight begins, while the fight itself may reveal even higher stakes than the characters suspected.

As an arc, most games take have an introductory movement of 1-4 acts, a finale movement of 1-4 acts, and 2-4 chapters in between, depending on total game length, with 3-5 acts per chapter. This is all terribly loose because the acts serve the needs of the game and the story. A movement needs to last long enough to feel significant, but not so long that the player gets bored.

Characters

The story almost always focuses on one character to begin with, adding in other characters as the story goes. These characters may be new, or people that the protagonist is already familiar with. As the story progresses, the party grows larger, and their circle of allies and enemies grows larger still.

The protagonist stands in for the ordinary kid or reader. He might be something special or nothing special, but at his core, he's just a guy (or girl). Even if he is something special, he often winds up as a fish out of water where he can't apply what he special at. His plot is the main plot line. He may have smaller plot lines, like a romance, but he's intimately tied to the main plot line. He can't resolve his problems without resolving the world's problems.

Despite the story having a protagonist, whose plot line is connected to the overall plot line, the story is really an ensemble piece. Each character has their own story arc, their own trials and tribulation to overcome. They often want to do this alone, not burdening others, but they succeed because they're helped by their friends. One of them is often a girl, and she's the pretty obvious love interest. There may be other girls, and they obviously won't be love interests.

While the characters are predominantly young, like all good YA stories, there aren't any adults around unless there needs to be adults around. Sometimes the adults are friendly advisers, and sometimes they're part of the party. Their part is not to drive the story, but to hold the protagonist accountable, slowly reveal information that they should have rationally revealed immediately, and generally act as the more experienced voice.

In combat, each character usually has a strongly associated weapon. In some early games, that wasn't too important, but once animation got expensive enough, animating a character for many different weapons became prohibitive, so each got a unique weapon instead. This generally works as it gives each character a strong flavor and the players knows who is supposed to get which weapon. In a book, it means that tracking weapons is fairly easy and predictable. The sword swinger is the one predictable one for a weapon upgrade, which is why sword swingers get magic weapons.

Travel and Locations

The adventure may be fairly divided into traveling and locations. Traveling is all about getting from one place other another and the challenges that entails. Locations are all about that location and the challenges those locations entail.

Traveling separates locations. It gives a feeling of getting from here to there. In a game, traveling is usually hazardous as you must fight off all the wild thing, face numerous random encounters, and survive in a hostile world until you can get to get to a either a safe location or a dangerous location. The hazards aren't usually too bad while traveling, and only rarely do you face a boss. The fights are routine, generally predictable once you know the area, and relaxed. Their only real chance to kill you is by wearing you down.

Because traveling takes time, it puts space into the story, giving you the feeling of moving from here to there. That is, travel acts both as a transition, in going from one act to another, and as a pacer, keeping the story from bunching up on itself.

In text, traveling does the same thing. You don't get the random encounters, except when you need a bit of action, but that sense of controlling the overall pace of the story still applies. The entire point of traveling is to help the reader to transition from one place to another, from one frame to another. In general, I spend a page or two on most travel sequences simply to transition the reader. An character moment or two is enough to provide enough character.

Locations act as story hubs. There are two types of locations: safe places and dungeons.

A location that is a safe place can be a town, a castle, a house, an inn, or any other location where the player won't get attacked randomly. (Usually.) In these locations, characters can rest, trade, explore, buy and sell, and most importantly, talk to people and advance along the plot. If anything does go bad, the event will be scripted and the safe place will become an unsafe space. This is the home of the cut scene. Most are informative, but some transition into boss fights.

Locations often have plot points unique to them. In that way, they work as story hubs. The stories for that locality begin and end in that place, while outside plot threads may also be affected by the location, but far fewer. Not unsurprisingly, solving a problem will require hiking off to a dangerous location and defeating a boss.

A dungeon is an unsafe space that is the meat and potatoes of the RPG world. This is where fights get harder, stakes get higher, and the battle to not only survive, but reach the end where a challenging boss fight will try to kill you. At the end of a dungeon is your goal, something that you want, something that you need to do, or information that you need. Dungeons take a while to explore, battle, gain experience, and in the end, fight a boss to achieve your ultimate goal.

Writing a dungeon crawl in text can either be boring or interesting, depending on your writing style, but ultimately it's tricky. The "crawl" part of dungeon crawl can't be there unless your readers really want to hear about all those little battles, yet you still need to get across the feeling of fights and exploration. How you solve the problem depends on the dungeons and the characters who explore them, so there aren't any rules other than avoiding dull Myself, I'm not too great at them, so I use them as character bonding moments, breaking them apart with scenes from elsewhere.

Extra circumstances make dungeon crawls more interesting. Exploring while up against a deadline or needing to remain hidden produces tension. By putting together clues, all the details become part of a mystery. In general, mixing exploration with something else usually results in a more interesting story than just wandering around until something attacks you.

The end every dungeon crawl is a boss. It may or may not be connected to the plot, but its destruction means that you get access to your goal.

In the end, everyone goes back to the location, wraps up the local plot threads, and the story moves on.

Quests and Missions and Goals, Oh My

Quests and missions and goals can either be easy to define or hard, and I'm coming down on the hard side. What's the difference between a story segment, a quest, and a mission? These all flow around in an RPG like mixed paint, creating swirls withing swirls, and layers within layers.

Quests are usually very formal, having a clear beginning and end. At the end, there is a reward for success, with the reward being proportionately more interesting depending on the importance of the quest. Small rewards might be money or consumables, middle rewards are useful combat items, and major rewards move the plot line forward or open a new line of options for the player, such as new classes or interesting powers.

Think of this type of quest as reactive. In a novel, this sort of quest can wind up feeling very stiff if applied crudely, and feel absolutely naturalistic if given well.

Not all quests are well telegraphed. They exist, but there's no check box for them. You as a player need to see them, note them, find them, then work out what to do to get the reward at the end. These sorts of quests work very well in text as that's the sort of initiative which make characters and stories work.

Think of this type of quest as pro-active.

Side-quests are story arcs that have nothing to do with the main arc, but give the players a pleasant diversion. These are usually optional, but can be quite rewarding if followed. In text, it could be a few character hopping off to something extra, or some request that the characters don't want to say no to. They're tricky in that they divert the reader's attention from the main story. Used sparingly, they provided some extra flavor to the tale, but used extensively, threaten to swamp the main narrative.

However, quests do not cover every type of goal in either the game or the story. A character's desire to find a long lost parent isn't a quest, but it's definitely a character goal. Think of goals as things that the characters choose for themselves, for their own reasons, with no promise of reward other than accomplishing the deed. In the story, these are far more powerful than any quest. Goals are some of the primary motivators behind a character and their actions.

Where a quest describes a goal and rewards, I use "mission" to describe the story arc that ties together multiple quests. A mission is a goal multiple fights and quests down the line that the game is aiming for. At any moment, it may be impossible, but eventually, the party will grow powerful enough to attempt the impossible.

The design of bosses, their types, and their uses easily exceeds my space here. I don't fully know the industry vocabulary. As a writer, you don't need to know that either. As long as you know why your characters are doing what they doing, and articulate that to the reader, then this criteria will be satisfied.

Equipment

Characters begin with poor equipment and upgrade as they go. In JRPGs, this equipment is sometimes meaningful and sometimes not, depending on the game. Essentially, each area gives you enough wealth to buy better equipment, and the only thing to spend the wealth on is equipment. Depending on how you spend your wealth, the characters might be a little ahead of the power curve or a little behind, but usually not enough to matter.

When writing a story, most of this buying and selling amount to administrativia. In a game, it occupies the player, giving some illusion of choice. In a story, readers are likely to get a big glassy eyed over who gets what, and they'll end up skimming over the exchange. So, selectively highlighting equipment upgrades is generally a better storytelling strategy. Characters can see something that they want or need, and there's nothing that drives a story so well as want or need.

Quest items are things that have no real power, but allow you to either traverse further into the game or access new powers or abilities. Essentially, they act as check boxes for the computer. If you have an item, then something else can happen. It's a clever hack. In most ways, these quest items are even more useful in a novel because they are powerful story elements. Being connected to the story makes them memorable.

In general, I find that tracking too much equipment confuses both me and the reader. I like to concentrate on key pieces of equipment, those that matter the most, making them iconic to a character or the pary. So a wizard would have his spell book because it's used frequently, while an archer would have his bow. Because the items are often referred to, the reader will track them better. A reader may also be able to track the number of your healing potions, but they won't be able to track a list of twenty different things. You track what makes a difference to your story. An ever dwindling supply of something irreplaceable adds tension, while lengthy lists don't.

Getting About

In most games, characters begin their adventures walking, with the map acting as their boundaries. Mountains, rivers, and seas restrict their movements. Later on, the characters acquire the use of a ship, granting them access to more of the map. Even further other, the characters acquire a flying vehicle, which grants them access to the entire map.

Vehicles and mounts represent specialized pieces of equipment, or even specialized characters. In most cases, mounts are generic, allowing faster travel. Even seagoing boats allow for faster travel, but don't have much character. Getting more exotic, you might find a submarine, and that changes how the game plays, so it becomes even more memorable. But the thing that changes the game the most is the airship. It may just be a vehicle, but in many games, it's a mobile location, a base. This gives the airship the most personality of any vehicle, which makes it a character.

Of course, there are other ways of getting about. One is fast travel, where you cut out all the tedious middle stuff and just go someplace that you've already been for pretty much the same reason that you skip over all the tedious traveling in novels.

There may be some sort of public transportation, like trains, wagons, ships, or magic portals. You pay and go. There might be a boss fight along the way for some routes, but for the most part, they work and they're reliable.

The most impressive way of getting about is the magic portal to another realm. That bit of travel signals the end. Often, passing through means no going back, but that also occurs at other points. This sort of travel usually comes near the end.

Often, boss fights have warnings. Beyond here, your party knows that they will face something dire. This works both well in games (fair warning to the players, don't save over your last saved game) and in novels, as it adds a layer of tension, lets some plot lines wrap, and lets characters come to terms with the reasons that they'll go forward.

The End

The end almost always happens in some sort of sky or ethereal realm very different from normal reality. It's here that the ultimate boss battle takes place. The end is well announced. Your characters prepare for the battles there, knowing that there might be no going back. Like any good work of literature, the end is the culmination of everything that's come before, the resolution of the primary plot line, the symbolic resolution of every bit of evil done to all the characters that motivated them to fight in the first place, the literal protection of all the good people, and a heavy dose of dread knowing that the battle ahead will the the most difficult battle that anyone has ever faced.

The End breaks rules that haven't been broken before. The fights don't get harder than this. You will be pushed outside your comfort zone.

Because the end is a story point, what makes a good end of a JRPG is the exact same thing that makes the good end for a novel. Everything has come down to this roll of the dice. It's winner takes all, and nobody's backing out. Unfortunately for our heroes, in this no holds barred fight, the villain has still found ways to cheat, and he's escape death until he finally runs out of dirty tricks.

After the end comes the epilogue, usually taking us into the future, showing us the good that's been done, wrapping up the remaining plot lines, and showing us that the better future that the characters fought for has come to pass.

Wrapping Up

There's more to say, but I've gone way beyond this post. I now need to do an entire post on the prevalent themes in JRPGs.