Freedom Force: Legion

I’m well over halfway through Freedom Force now, and slightly into the bits I’ve never seen before. And at last, I remember the game’s greatest cruelty: the cruelty of choice.

Progressing through the game means gaining access to more and more heroes. Some of them are simply slotted into your roster automatically. Others are made available for hire, and must be purchased with Prestige points. But you can only take four of them into a mission — and sometimes not even that; sometimes a slot has to be kept clear for a new arrival. And when I say “mission”, understand that most missions consist of two or three levels, with no opportunity for swapping in different heroes between. Furthermore, you don’t get the full experience of playing with a particular hero from just taking it out on a single mission as soon as it joins the team. Every hero needs to level up in order to get their full set of powers. The game is considerate enough to level up heroes that are just cooling their heels back at base, but at a slower rate than the ones in the field. If you want a hero to reach its full potential, you have to neglect others.

Pokémon had a similar dynamic, but with one crucial difference: there, you could always go back to places you had already visited for the sake of leveling up the newcomers. In Freedom Force, there is a finite sequence of missions. A single play-through is simply not long enough to fully explore the potential of all the heroes, and the closer I get to the end, the more I become aware that my opportunities are dwindling, even as my choices grow. It’s like a metaphor for mortality. I suppose the real point is to encourage replay, but that’s not something I’m likely to do soon, enjoyable as the game is.

4 Comments so far

  1. tempestdash on 30 Aug 2010

    This characteristic is endemic in RPGs and honestly I can’t figure out why. I know it was birthed way back in the old days of cRPGs but it always seemed a little punitive to me.

    The old excuse is “so you use all the characters” but if I was interested in that, I would have, without motivation through penalty. Final Fantasy 6 was the first game that really irritated me about this. I’m not sure I’ve ever used Relm or Strago in the main game except when you had to break into three parties. They seemed interesting, and their powers are worth exploring, but they started at a deficit with my principal 5 characters and it never seemed worth it to go back and bring them up to speed.

    The cynic in me makes me think developers were targeting completionists (like yourself) and flipping the bird to the rest of us. It’s like they said: “Getting the best experience in this game means methodically using each character for a set period of time in rotation. If that doesn’t appeal to you, then soon enough half of your roster will be completely useless in battle, sucker!”

  2. Jason Dyer on 30 Aug 2010

    At least it isn’t as annoying as methodically leveling a character only to have them perma-die or betray the party.

  3. malkav11 on 30 Aug 2010

    I’ve always hated this tendency in RPGs. Freedom Force isn’t nearly as bad about it as some, but in general, I do not want to have 9 characters, 3 of which I can actually use. And I certainly don’t want to add new characters throughout that will probably not get used due to coming in underpowered or simply after I’ve already formed my preference. I’d rather get exactly as many characters as the developers would like me to play with, and no more. I suppose I’d make an exception for D&D games where you create a single main character, on the basis that the choice of class in D&D will have a large impact on what sort of party composition would be ideal…but only if they take that into account and don’t, for example, stick you with a very frail wizard NPC as your only party member for a significant chunk of game when you yourself are playing a wizard. (NWN2: Mask of the Betrayer).

  4. josh g. on 30 Aug 2010

    If the experience you’re looking for is to explore the strategic play of each character, you can always load up a skirmish map and try them out. I won’t pretend that’s as satisfying as the narrative levels, but getting to at least experiment with them in combat (with their full set of powers, IIRC) means you can get a more complete experience than most cRPGs.

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