It’s so easy to get caught up in the intricate details of the worlds we create. Descriptors are fun and add all sorts of flavor and imagery, but conversations between characters are integral to ensuring believable relationships even in the most fantastical settings. Because Speculative Fiction is my preference, I’ll be focusing on that genre, but make no mistake! Some of these rules are universal.
1. Sentence Structure Over Character Voice
Perhaps one of the most prolific narratives about human trials and adversity is the novel Push by Sapphire. Its narrator, Precious, lives in unfortunate circumstances to say the least. Her education and grammar are limited as a result, and the narration and dialogue cut no corners in delivering this information. A lot of the book is written in broken sentences, with words being cut off by apostrophes and the like. Because of this, the novel is a far more immersive experience. A character like Precious speaking the way I’m speaking to you now would not have been very believable. It might have made for a good story, but I don’t think readers would have connected with her reality as much.
All of this is to say, everyone doesn’t speak the same way. Even though a sentence might sound beautiful, in execution, it can’t subvert our knowledge of a character. The protagonist of my most recent work, Jack Melody, is a rough around the edges young adult. While some of his experiences could be seen as profound, he’s not the type to use a lot of strong literary metaphors. I feel as though writing those in his voice, even in narration, is doing a massive disservice to this character. Keep that in mind. Sometimes a simple “I’m sick of this shit,” is more true to life than “I’m overwhelmed by the purely exhausting nature of your actions!”
2) TOO MANY QUIPS!
I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Let me reiterate that. I LOVE THE MCU! It’s brought me my favorite show in Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, and brought to life my favorite live action incarnation of my favorite hero, Spider-Man. But the introduction of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, and all of the charming superheroes that followed, have left novelists and screenwriters alike in this trap of thinking quips are a supplement for real dialogue.
Think about the last conversation you had with a friend. Allow yourself the freedom to think egotistically here. Are you genuinely creative or clever enough to have a witty response to every single thing that’s said? And if not, why would every character in your fiction be that way? Let me be clear, it’s okay to have a charming comic relief character. You can even have a character who quips a lot, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But if you have everyone do it, it starts to feel like you’re using quips to replace characterization, which then turns into lazy dialogue.
3) Losing Character Positions
I’m very guilty of this one myself. Sometimes, it’s so easy to get caught up in the nonstop exchanges between characters that you lose sight of their position in the world. I don’t mean status, I mean their literal physical position. Did a character just run to get to where they are? Try to express exasperation in their words. Did they just wake up? Make their sentences shorter. Their brain is still getting into the swing of things!
Character personality and situation are two key factors, but they’re not the only two. Time of day, level of consciousness, level of awareness (are they distracted by anything?), and so much more are essential to make sure the character you’re writing is speaking in a way that’s true to them.
4) Not Reading Dialogue Out Loud
Forget how it makes you sound or look, you HAVE to read your dialogue out loud. Think about those trail-off moments when a character is confessing their love or sharing their tragic backstory. Those big romanticized moments can feel so incredible when we’re writing them. They’re over-the-top, they’re dramatic, they’re epic. But are they truly what your character would say? Are they truly what anyone would say? If you ask my friends, I’m immune to this rule, because I don’t talk like a normal human being anyway.
Still, even if you don’t see people regularly, you’ve probably watched a documentary, or reality TV, or even some sitcoms. You know how people talk to one another, and you’ll probably have a gut reaction to a piece of dialogue as you’re reading it out loud.
5) Exposition Dump
Information comes in many ways, and novel writing has the rare advantage of being able to give you descriptors for that. Because of this, we can keep dialogue succinct. Falling into the trap of the exposition dump is common. It’s a phenomenon where we deliver all meaningful information through conversation. This is one of those rare moments where you probably want to subvert reality a little bit. Sure, we do get a lot of information from conversation IRL, but it’s less fun that way when it’s written on the page. If a character is giving information to another character, it should be for one of two reasons. A) this is the only logical way for the character to receive the information or B) this is the most interesting way for the character to receive this info.
I can’t promise that avoiding these potholes will make your dialogue perfect, but I can guarantee that it will be easier to hear your character’s voices when you employ these techniques. Of course, that just opens up a whole new can of worms. Thank you all for reading and come back soon for more from the GAME ROOM!!!
Pavilion Pummel is an award winning game designed and developed for the Gamestock Competition at the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion. This title stars concert attendees as they battle their way across the arena, defeating aliens in an effort to have one good time. My role in this project was a combination of audio design, concept art and direction, and core game design.
Still a favorite of mine, Pixel Commando stars Corporal Carnage as he fights back the Kragosaurian invasion. This game combines 2D character art with 3D environments, and as part of a game jam project, was completed in just 48 hours. I was responsible for the art, story, and some core design elements for this game.
This direct download game allowed me and my team to flex our narrative muscles, with a focus on long-form narrative and thorough audio design. My roles in this game included voice acting, story, level design, and early game design.
Cragnore, Rayne’s Beast: A creature from my MFA thesis novel named Cragnore. This dragon is an extension of the warrior Rayne.
I still remember when Max’s mom died. It was such a weird time for all of us. I had to be about three or four at the time. Lady Lucia was the one who convinced Max’s father, Lord Nathanial, to take me in. She used to bake fresh bread for us. She called me “Lilline.” Then one day that just stopped. Then there was standing before the wooden box that held her lifeless body. Then it was watching Lord Nathanial on his hands and knees, torn apart to the core of his soul. I remember wiping Max’s tears and hugging her close to me.
I still remember when we went to school together for the first time. A young boy stole Max’s comb. He pushed her down, and I remember the hot feeling I got in my chest. I unleashed barrages of fierce punches on this child. I remember the men in white, arriving as they always did. Carrying me away and hooking me up to their machine to drain the bursts of power that overcame me.
I remember when Max and I used to run through the halls. She would pretend to be a villain, and I would be the valiant hero, tasked with defeating her. She had heart, for sure. But that didn’t last forever.
“Maybe I don’t have what it takes,” Max said. I remember that too. She said that when Lord Nathanial started talking to her about ruling the Shadow Kingdom as its queen. We were fourteen years old.
“It will be fun, Max,” I said. “Everyone will love you.”
“You should know by now, I don’t care about any of that.”
I remember when Max first started skipping school. We were about sixteen years old. I tried my best to keep her focused. One day Lord Nathanial caught her. He took both of us to the throne room and lectured us for hours on what it meant to be royalty.
“Do you understand?” he asked at the end of his lecture.
“No,” Max answered. “I don’t understand. I’ll never understand. My mother spent her entire life caring for others. In the end she died. She died young and sick. I can’t see a reason to uphold these values when I could be dead at any moment anyway.”
“It’s not about that, Maxine,” Nathanial said. “I understand how you feel. I miss your mother very much. But she regretted not one moment of her life. She married a man she loved. She gave birth to the most important person in her life. Just because her life ended doesn’t mean it was not worth living. You just need to find something that makes your life worth living.”
“I will watch over Lady Maxine in the future, your lordship,” I said sheepishly. “I will ensure that she doesn’t miss lessons again.”
I had never seen such a genuine smile from Lord Nathanial.
“Lilly, you have protected my daughter from many things over the past several years,” he said. “I thank you for taking her into your care.”
“I don’t need you to babysit me, Lilly.”
“Max, I’m not trying to smother you. I just want to make sure you get the best out of life. That’s what friends are for.”
Max scoffed and turned away, but through her scowl, I could see her holding back a grin. That was enough for me.
After that, Max didn’t skip school anymore. But she never grew to like it either, going through the motions every step of the way.
I remember when one of our big dances approached and a handsome gentleman asked me to go with him. I remember Max’s scowl. The way her red eyebrows sat flat and low over her blank eyes. She was envious of the boy. So I accommodated. I said no. The two of us would go together as we always had.
I remember when we slow danced together, and she leaned in towards me. I held her tight, and for the first time in our lives, Max asked me a very big question.
“Lilly, what do you want to do? After this is over I mean?”
“We can go back to the palace if you want.”
“That’s not what I mean. Someday I’m going to take the throne, Lilly. I’m going to live in that palace for the rest of my life. But what about you? Don’t you want anything more than that? Don’t you want more than me?”
I remember her face starting to swell and her breaths becoming more heavy. I kissed her on the cheek and she looked at me with puzzled eyes.
“Maxine Avengard, I am going to become your general. I will lead your army, and protect you with everything I have. I don’t quite know how to fight yet, but I’ll learn. I will learn and I will unleash hell on anyone who opposes you. We’ve been together for as long as I can remember. How could I want anything more than you?”
I had never seen Max turn so red. She looked down and started to mutter.
“What did you say?”
“I said, there’s an instructor in the palace who can show us some sword skills. If you wanted to learn how to fight. I’ve never really been interested in combat myself, but if you’re going to fight to protect me, then I’ll protect you too.”
I remember meeting our instructor, Rayne. The days we spent just learning the stances. The forms. Never once even swinging the blade.
“Maxine, you are simply too aggressive,” Rayne said. “You’ll never be a calculated fighter if you’re always leaning towards your opponent. You have to let your opponent’s movements dictate your own. You have to be reactive, rather than proactive.”
“I’m not going to die fighting, Rayne,” Max shouted. “I want to stay in control of the fight.”
“You’re only in control if you always know what’s coming next,” Rayne answered.
I was picking it up faster than Max. My life had always been a chain reaction. The men in white and their machines, that they used to drain my rare energy taught me not to use my powers. Waking up one day and having no parents taught me to keep the ones you love close to your heart. Meeting her. Falling in love with Max. That taught me to wield my heart in my blade and protect her with everything I had.
I remember seeing a side of Max that I never had before. Our final lesson had Max and I facing off against each other. We had to take that precision, and that reactive nature, and apply it in the most decisive match yet. I remember the way Max bolted towards me, still maintaining her proactive nature, in spite of Rayne’s warnings. I parried each of her strikes, keeping her moving closer to my reach. Max’s downward slash gave me all the opportunity I needed to guard and shift, pivoting, while causing her to stagger forward. With a swift kick to the back she fell to the ground.
I reached to pull her up but as she stood, she shook my hand away and returned to her stance. With her aggressive form I was able to predict and avoid all of her attacks. But she kept swinging. Something in her form was changing as each strike missed. I watched her focused expression turn into a vicious grin, her eyes filled with vengeful lust. Each of her strikes, just a little bit harsher than the last, lined with a warrior’s energy. I guarded one last strike with my own blade, but the sword broke against her fierce swing, flying into the air and landing beside me, sticking into the ground. My sword dissolved into black smoke, and I was now at the mercy of her decision. Then she did it. She pointed her blade at me.
I remember when I lost control. Just as they had when I was younger, my eyes changed when I felt the danger. The symbols appeared on my body and that same burst of power from my young days returned to me.
I can’t remember. I can’t remember what I did after that. I just remember feeling like I was going to lose, and waking up in the same machine. I remember the fear. Looking at my hands to see small blood stains. I remember looking around the room, shaking, afraid. Where was she? Where was Max? I jumped out of the incubation chamber and dashed for the palace entrance.
I remember the way the guards met me at the gate, with their spears pointed towards me. I remember the way Rayne looked at me when she gave the order. The guilt in her eyes. That her own training regimen led to this. I was a danger to the crown. A danger to Max. The guards charged at me, and using the very reactive style Rayne taught me, I dodged their strikes and incapacitated them with my blade. Then I ran again. Around the palace perimeter, searching for a way in.
I remembered a special entrance that Max and I used to get into the palace when she’d leave school. It was a small window under the bridge. I climbed through the window and made my way to the infirmary where she was laying. That’s when I saw what I had done.
I remember when Max lost her eye. Watching her lay in the bed with the patch, clutching her wound with shock filling her remaining eye.
“Why would you come here?” she asked.
“Max, I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened to me. All I ever wanted was to protect you. I’m so sorry.”
“That was both of us. I got caught up in the moment, and I almost hurt you. It was only right that you defend yourself. Besides, not like there was much around here to look at anyway.”
“This isn’t funny, Max. I’ve ruined your eye.”
“You should know by now, I don’t care about anything like that. Lilly, they’re not going to let you stay.”
I remember what Max gave me. She reached into her drawer to retrieve a golden necklace, with a black gem in the center.
“Rayne couldn’t stop you when you were having that burst. You defeated her in a single strike. You’re too strong to exist in this kingdom. But I’m not going to do this without you. I want you to have this necklace. This is my promise to you, Lilly. Get yourself out of here. Go somewhere safe and start a new life. When I take the throne, I will find you. We’ll do this again.”
“How ironic, that you would be the one protecting me. I love you, Max. You’re going to make a great queen someday.”
“You just make it out so you can live to see it.”
I remember Max’s kiss. I remember my tears as they fell down my face, and the realization that I might never see her again. I remember holding her hand. I remember her trembling slowing down to an abrupt stop. I remember her determined smile, and the fire it started in my heart.
I will continue to wait. I will wait as long as I have to for Max to find me. I still remember, and I pray I never forget.
A journey back to the dawn of life would reveal a realm of pure darkness. No land or skies. Void wrapped around the infinite universe and housed a war between three beings of pure energy. Their conflict was illuminated by the distant gaze of Inferno’s Star. The first of these beings was a spirit of flame, known simply as Phantom. The second, a silhouette of shadow with a chilling aura bore the title of Dark Seeker. These companions faced onward to life’s greatest foe. The final being, their enemy, Hades. Hades wore the vivid colors of a swallowed world in his aura. Green emerged upon his flesh while trails of blue followed behind its aura.
“Marvelous,” Hades started. “Just as God intended. The three of us, battling for the essence of life itself. You won’t hold Superbia back. He will have his perfect world.”
Phantom burst with rage, light and heat burning around it.
“Hades,” he bellowed, “your unmitigated lust to wake your deity has ravaged our realm. We will not be subjugated by Superbia, nor will we be destroyed by you.”
Hades changed its posture, leaning and propelling forward with a loud bang behind its . As he prepared to lunge, the Dark Seeker roared with loss and rage churning its insides.
“Hades, you’ve claimed your last soul. We will have our loved ones back!”
Both Phantom and Dark Seeker charged forward, lunging at Hades. Hades’ glow expanded as a dark brown wall emerged before him. Hades used its astral force to project the wall toward his enemies. As the foul beast lunged for Phantom, it lashed out, generating manifestations of its energy and striking its foe. Phantom snapped back as its fire exploded in a wave around its body.
“My flames will incinerate the pages of your destiny, Hades,” it cried out.
As the flames settled and Hades returned to an attack stance, mists of Dark Seeker’s power surrounded the battlefield. Hades slowed its movements as the frost paralyzed its body.
“This is the power of the mighty Hades? I expected more from you. Where is the power that you used to slay my brethren? Where is the strength that you used to massacre all that I love?”
Hades screamed, piercing the void with a burst of energy so intense it shattered the ice around itself. Pieces of Dark Seeker’s form dissolved and melted into space.
Hades generated more energy above itself, this time taking the form of a dark brown sphere. The sphere expanded, reaching indescribable magnitude. The Phantom and the Dark Seeker gathered their own power as they sought a method to destroy the sphere. Hades launched the sphere in their direction but the Dark Seeker lunged forward and unleashed a wave of mist onto the object. Ice shrouded the entire sphere, and it came to a complete stop.
The three spirits took the battle to the surface of this sphere. With each movement forward, Phantom’s radiating heat melted the ice into the sphere.
“Credit is given where due, Dark Seeker,” Hades said. “You are capable of greatness. Become one with me and we can create whatever we want.”
“You are a fool, Hades. You obsess over power that does not belong to you. If you revive Superbia, if you reset the universe, you’ll only bring about sorrows. You are not even immune to the damages of your own actions.
Hades materialized sharp brown rods around itself and launched them toward its opponents. Phantom incinerated the projectiles with yet another burst of light. The spirits found themselves skating along the surface of the sphere, trails of aura lingering behind them as they clashed. The ice and fire crashed against Hades and its barriers.
Each strike became more and more in sync than the last until finally they delivered the perfect synchronized blast. A combination of ice and flame that left a crack in Hades’ being. Hades, now filled with rage, unleashed a wave of energy so fierce and dense the ground shook until hundreds wooden spires emerged from the surface. Its shout shook the foundation of the battlefield, sprouting lush green upon these planetary appendages. Hades sought an advantage as it disappeared into the lush of the world’s first forest.
“The mighty Hades runs? Imagine this,” the Phantom roared. “After everything you claimed to stand for. You wish to dominate all, yet when you face opposition you run and hide? No ruler goes unchallenged, Hades. All the more reason why the position does not suit you!”
“On the contrary, Phantom,” Hades began. “Only a fool stands and fights when they find themselves outmatched. What you deem pride, I would call rash foolishness.”
“Well how far can your cowardice take you, Destroyer?” Phantom snapped. The fiery spirit materialized a spark and expanded created a flame large and wide enough to incinerate the entire forest. As heat incinerated each and every tree, Hades fell back, overwhelmed my the smog’s weight. The fallen trees and the ash they created shrouded Hades, burying it beneath the aftermath of the attack.
Hades emerged from the ashes and lunged toward Phantom, unleashing a shriek that echoed throughout the entire void. Dark Seeker attempted to move, but Hades’ sphere gripped him, trapping him in the ground. Hades finally pinned Phantom, dark power overwhelming it with every strike. A barrage of violent attacks all lead up to a final blow delivered to the center of the flame.
Phantom unleashed the largest flame it could muster, severely burning Hades. Hades dropped to the ground as it screeched in agony. Phantom unleashed a series of flaming spheres at Hades. Each attack burned brighter, smashed harder, expanded the crater beneath.
In a state of vulnerability, Phantom remembered those that Hades consumed on its quest for power. Phantom remembered the Crimson Spirit, whom it had loved. Phantom remembered reaching for Crimson’s touch as it fell into the abyss that was Hades. With this grief overpowering it, each attack grew stronger. Hades’ form distorted as its shape shattered. Phantom approached Hades, preparing one final strike. As the energy between the two spiked, another jagged spire tore through the ground and impaled Phantom.
“No,” The Dark Seeker cried out. “Phantom, get out of there!”
“Prepare to become a part of Hades,” Hades shouted. “Goodbye, Phantom.”
Hades took hold of the Phantom’s very essence. Hades then opened its mouth and the inside flashed with a bright yellow light. The flames of Phantom dissolved as the spirit faded into the aura of Hades.
“Mark my words, Hades. Even you, with strength this great, can never truly extinguish the flames of the Phantom.”
As the Phantom fully vanished, a faint red aura surrounded Hades. The beast slammed its body to the surface as its mass expanded. Hades growled ferociously as its celestial shape continued to expand. Dark Seeker looked in shock as Hades reached the size of a titan.
“You are the last spirit I have yet to consume. When I feed on you I shall become a truly omnipotent being. How can you hope to defeat me without the help of your precious friend? The Phantom is part of me. The only way for you to be reunited with those you love is to follow their path. We can awaken god together, Dark Seeker.”
Dark Seeker trembled in a state of terror. Looking in horror the being of darkness finally attempted to escape. Dark Seeker’s speed increased as it skated along the surface. Dark Seeker’s mind was shrouded in an overwhelming sense of fear and isolation; being the last of its kind. As Dark Seeker focused its mind, the image of its comrades burned brighter through its mind. The beautiful Crimson Spirit that stood against Hades. The Jade Spirit that was itss lover. Even the Phantom Spirit that was its best friend and bravest ally. Dark Seeker had lost all of them to Hades. When things seemed to be at their worst, something happened to the Dark Seeker. A golden aura surrounded it, encasing it in a warm glow. The Dark Seeker could feel its aura radiating with every passing second. Feeling this increase in strength, the Dark Seeker charged toward Hades.
“You would still oppose me? This will make swallowing you far easier than I thought it would be,” Hades said before striking Dark Seeker.
The Dark Seeker flew low to the ground avoiding Hades’ strike and charged directly into it. Hades clutched the impacted area and fell forward. The Dark Seeker flew toward Hades and delivered a slashing strike, launching the evil spirit into the atmosphere. The Dark Seeker ripped toward Hades but was blocked by a brutal and decisive strike. As the Dark Seeker went crashing into the ground, it created a pillar of ice and latched to its side, landing on the ice pillar and gently sliding down to the surface. It used the ice to project itself back into the atmosphere with Hades.
“This is it, Hades,” Dark Seeker shouted. “The end of this battle is upon us. I will destroy you and all that you are.”
Hades charged down upon the Seeker, and with its substantial size created a quake that launched the two across the surface. Dark Seeker managed to stop its own momentum. Upon stopping, it created a large ball of ice and launched a barrage of shards. The shards of ice slashed through Hades.
“Is that the last of your power?” Hades asked as it unleashed waves of fire upon Dark Seeker. Dark Seeker continued to fly away from every wave; dodging, surviving. Suddenly, however, a voice echoed throughout its soul. A familiar voice forged in fire.
“Have we fallen for naught?”
“Phantom,” Dark Seeker internalized its words. “The Destroyer is more powerful than we can hope to match. I cannot stand against this beast. Not alone.”
“You are never alone, Dark Seeker. We are all one. We are all pieces of the universe. Show Hades the might of those it would destroy. Use the power we share to end this war!”
The Dark Seeker slammed the ground as the yellow aura expanded around it. Dark Seeker started to grow as well, expanding to the size of Hades.
“I am forever tied to those I love, Hades. Prepare to perish beneath the might of all of the spirits.”
Dark Seeker subdued Hades with a full-bodied charge, and, as the large titan fell to the ground, the giant ice shard impaled it. That ice melted and the water filled the crater beneath. Hades kicked the Dark Seeker, and he fell into one of the other craters. Dark Seeker then launched itself into the skies with ice, which would melt and fill the crater shortly after, creating the oceans.
The two landed on opposite sides of the surface. The two engaged in one final charge towards one another. Hades delivered a deadly strike to Dark Seeker. As this strike connected, Dark Seeker created a large blade of ice and impaled Hades. This strike created a massive shockwave and melted ice spread across the surface.
The two dropped to the ground, and this battle was truly over. Hades and the Dark Seeker dissolved slowly. Hades fell through the surface and changed shape, becoming spherical as it melded with the core of the sphere. Finally the flames of the Phantom lit brightly around it creating a burning core. Dark Seeker shed tears, even in triumph. These tears would bring life to blades of green across the sphere. An entire sphere once completely barren was now covered in green and blue. But it was still empty.
From within the center, the flames of the Phantom rose to the surface. These flames didn’t burn any of the matter on this sphere, however. These flames took the shape of new spirits. Spirits of creatures that would swim throughout the oceans, or dance upon the grass, or grow from the dirt. What arose from this battle was neither chaos nor the Hell that birthed it. The battle between Phantom, Dark Seeker, and Hades created the world.
I felt the cold touch of Lucia’s frail hand as it brushed my stubble. I sat on the bed, dropping my armor and wiping the dirt from my arms. She hated when I got the bed dirty, but she let me today. She knew what I was dealing with.
“Yet another day on the battlefield?” She asked. “Is it not unbecoming of a leader to hold a grudge so strong he refuses to let his knights fight?”
She was right. I picked up the armor that I had shed from my torso and examined it, running my finger along a large gash at the center.
“Why are you looking so intently?” Lucia asked. “You’ll simply get replacement armor before your next departure.”
“I want to see where the cracks are,” I said. “I need to find the flaws to my form.”
“You have warriors who will fight beside you,” she said. “You alone cannot stop the beasts.”
“It’s not about stopping them,” I said. “It’s about proving how far I’m willing to go for my people.”
“Your people already know how far you’re willing to go, Nathanial. Shadola knew what he was doing when he picked you,” she said. “He trusted you more than anyone else. My brother died believing you could protect our people. I choose to believe the same.”
I felt tears welling up again. It was so scary, seeing her this way. I brushed my hand along her pale face and leaned forward, kissing her, letting the tears fall.
“I don’t want to do this without you,” I said.
“I’m not going anywhere,” She said, now crying with me. “I am going to survive, Nathanial. I am going to live, and we are going to raise Maxine into a strong young woman, together.”
As I slept that night I tossed and turned, feeling the pain of Lucia’s sickness in my gut. I stepped out of bed and walked into the throne room. I equipped myself with a new suit of armor and departed for the courtyard. The large open space with its blue grass, moving with the gentle breeze was home to the last three dragon attacks. I could feel the energy of the beast approaching. I extended my hand, allowing the energy to flow through my arm until I felt warmth gathering in my palm. My large two-handed axe materialized out of my own dark energy. The blade looked like it was forged by Hell’s own blacksmith. A large glossy black blade attached to a long rod with encryptions throughout.
The dragon landed in front of me, with its long black claws, stabbing into the ground. A long scaly tail and glowing red eyes. But this time it wasn’t alone. Standing on its back, was a young girl. As she jumped down from its back, her white hair parted from in front of her eyes. She had to be about fifteen years old, far older than my daughter. But still very young. Why was she out here fighting?
“Are you the one who keeps sending these dragons?” I asked.
“It’s one dragon, fool,” she said. “Yeah. I was the one who sent him. Have to take out your stupid palace somehow, right?”
“What do you mean one dragon?” I asked. “I’ve fought and killed several. Who or what are you?”
“I’m not gonna tell you Cragnore’s secret,” She said petting the dragon on the snout. It appeared to enjoy it. Creepy.
“So Cragnore is the dragon,” I said. “What does that make you?”
“You’re persistent. My name is Rayne,” she said. “I’ve been sending Cragnore to get a decent read on the type of fighter you are. My poor baby was sliced into pieces by you on numerous occasions. But this works for me. I can finally make you experience the sorrow you put us through. Lord Nathanial Avengard, in the name of the inquisitors, I shall finish you off!”
“Inquisitors?” I asked. But there was no time. She ignored me and materialized her thin sword of darkness, targeting me with full force and speed. Children aren’t this precise. That’s all I could think as I struggled to guard each of her attacks. She was so nimble, and decisive. Several attacks were aiming for vital points. Finally I was able to overwhelm her with a fierce axe swing that shattered her guard. She stumbled back and fell to the ground and I pointed my axe at her.
“Are you calm enough to talk now?” I asked. “I have no intentions of murdering a child. I just want to ask you some questions.”
“Murdering children is what you do,” Rayne said. “You don’t care if you’re killing women, children, animals. None of that matters to a scumbag ruler like you!”
“You’re in no position to be barking at me, pup,” I said. “I demand to know why you pursue my land.”
“Your land?” Rayne asked with a look of fury in her eye. “The inquisitors were your people too. My mother and father were your people. Yet your army wiped them all out.”
What? What she said was true, the inquisitors were supposed to be destroyed. They were a menacing group of elite assassins and they were after my head. So I bit back. I protected the throne with everything I had.
“You should know that the inquisitors were in no way innocent,” I said. “They targeted me and my family. I had no choice but to wipe them out.”
“You always have a choice. We all do,” Rayne said. “For example, I’ve made the choice to sever your head.”
Cragnore swung its long tail, violently slapping me away from Rayne. She climbed to the back of the dragon immediately.
“I’ve learned a lot from you today,” she said. “I know exactly how I’m going to kill you. I’ll be back.”
Limping home, a defeated man, I removed my armor once again. As I ran my fingers along the gashes, I felt rage curdling inside of me. I had to kill the inquisitors. But how could that girl be so proficient at such a young age? I mean, they were the enemy, right? I was doing my job. The gashes in the armor were located around the chest, meaning somewhere during this battle she must have broken or passed my guard. Would I want Maxine to grow up without parents? If I took a strike to the heart, she’d have to endure that pain. Pain that nobody should ever have to go through.
The next day I returned to the same spot at the same time, and sure enough, Rayne was waiting for me. Sword, Cragnore, and all. I materialized my axe and took my stance, and she readied herself as well. Each of her strikes maintained the same level of passion. But every single time she fell, she would jump to Cragnore and retreat. Days went on with me fending her off, and fighting harder to let go of the guilt that surrounded me. She didn’t deserve this. She wasn’t fighting with technique or sword skills. She was fighting with all of her heart’s passion. She was unleashing her heart. She was being vulnerable. That was it. After days of fighting Rayne, I finally realized what I had to do. I returned to the courtyard the following day, and she was waiting for me as normal.
“What is with you?” I asked. “Why do you refuse to reason with me?”
“You killed my parents,” she said. “You killed all of the dragons. You wiped out my people, and yet you look at me as a criminal? You are the bad guy Nathanial Avengard. I, Rayne the Shadow Tamer, shall claim your life in the name of the inquisitors.”
That’s it. I dropped my chest plates to the ground and wore simply my long shirt and pants, while still wielding my axe.
“You removed your armor?” She asked.
“Correct,” I said. “I understand now. The flaw to my form. I was going to save this for later.”
I pulled a piece of red fruit from my pants pocket and tossed it in Rayne’s direction. She simply slashed it in half with her sword and watched it drop to the ground.
“You bring me food?” Rayne asked. “You can’t wash away your transgressions with such a pitiful bounty.”
“I have no intentions of making you forgive me. I just wouldn’t want you to fight on an empty stomach.”
“Probably poison,” she said spitting on the ground.
“I have been checking every single day after fighting Cragnore,” I said. “I look closely at
my armor to see where the damage is. I look to improve my form so I can avoid taking damage. But sometimes, damage is necessary. Sometimes we have to take damage to grow. I understand the flaws now. If I remove the armor, I’m allowing myself to be vulnerable. You deserve that Rayne. After everything I’ve done to you and your family, I want to fight you in a way that allows us to understand each other.”
“That’s honorable,” she said. “Unfortunately, I’ve moved beyond wanting to reconcile.”
Her words hushed our surroundings. The two of us simply stared at each other with our energies rising. Cragnore stepped forward appearing as though he was going to defend her. But then, he bent down extending his neck, and started eating the fruit off the ground. I saw Rayne’s eyes widening at her pet’s gesture. Tears filled her eyes, and she shook her head in denial for a second, stepping back and staring down at her hands. Then she let out a chuckle and looked directly at me with a somber smirk on her face.
“Do you want to know Cragnore’s secret?” Rayne asked. “I can summon and rebuild him as many times as I wish no matter what happens to him. The only way to kill Cragnore is to kill me. He is an extension of myself. As such, he expresses what I feel. I think he trusts you, but I can’t imagine why. I don’t know what would make him feel so safe near you, who killed our family.”
I looked her in the eyes, and walked forward crouching down to her level. Maintaining eye contact, tears started to fall down my face.
“My wife is dying,” I said. “She’s been sick for a long time, and I don’t believe she’ll ever recover. Watching her deteriorate right in front of me, I can only imagine what I put you through. I thought I was doing what was best for my people, but you are one of my people. Rayne, you can have a future in the palace. Live among me and my family. I will adopt you, and teach you how to fight properly. I will build a whole new wing just for Cragnore to explore and play. I can help you become a truly great warrior.”
I knew what I was feeling. I knew what I owed this girl. Tears started to form in her eyes, but that didn’t change her angry expression. She refused to accept my offer. She knew there was some pain she was supposed to be feeling. She just couldn’t bring herself to fight me anymore. She dropped her sword and it shattered into pieces, dissolving into black smoke. I could hear her tears, but all I could feel was Cragnore, licking my face.
I know it’s been some time, but I felt very strongly about this one. I truly wanted to pay tribute to my favorite series of all time, and so, I present to you without further ado, my top ten Xenoblade Chronicles moments. I will be capturing cutscenes or clusters of cutscenes that I feel speak to the specific quality of the series in ways most scenes just can’t do. It’s a long list with a lot of explaining, so I’m just gonna get to it. Note that these moments are ranked across all three games, Xenoblade Chronicles, Xenoblade Chronicles X, and Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Also, literally the biggest spoiler alert you’ve ever seen in your life.
10) Invasion of New LA
Xenoblade Chronicles X was very different from its predecessor, offering a more linear mission based experience by comparison. The lack of freedom lent itself to a bit of a predictable/formulaic main story. While I realize that the exploration was the big pull of the game (and man, that exploration was incredible) it’s still important that a main story has some twists and turns, and this one was perhaps the best. Really speaking to the quality of the series, the best aspects of a Xenoblade Chronicles story directly change the way the game is played, and turning this game’s hub world of New Los Angeles into a war-torn battleground definitely shifted the landscape of this adventure. From the siren blaring as the Ganglion marched upon the wall, to holding them off at the gates, to battling throughout the commercial district, this experience marks a pivotal turning point for the game. Even the seemingly unshakable presence of Lin is rattled by this attack, and the game never quite recovers from this massive tonal shift. In addition, the sheer fact that this chapter starts off like any other, and is then interrupted by a literal game changing series of events knocks the player off guard in such a way that makes for a much more thrilling experience than any of the previous chapters.
9) Lao’s Betrayal
If you’d been paying attention since the start of the game, Lao turning traitor was probably not a big surprise for you. He’d been behaving suspiciously the entire game, so it definitely seemed like the more obvious direction. From the perspective of actual plot relevance, other plot twists might deserve this spot, such as the reveal of mimeosome bodies or the big reveal about the lifehold. But this one is different in its entirety. Lao’s developed relationship with Lin, who obviously draws a strong parallel to his own daughter, creates a genuine sense of loss for a character that we spend a lot of time with. There’s this overwhelming feeling that Lin has been truly betrayed. Lao’s convictions feel strong in delivery, and the score truly compliments the tragic undertones of his story. While I found Lao’s betrayal obvious, I admittedly didn’t expect it to be such a crucial point in the endgame. Its predictability, combined with the avatar character’s bland presence are probably the key moments that prevent this sequence from being higher on the list. But all in all, this is the second best betrayal in the series. *Epic Foreshadowing*
8) Confronting Dickson
Xenoblade Chronicles did something that few narratives ever manage to do. It shows a protagonist in an out of character moment that disrupts their arc completely, but feels incredibly natural while doing so. Shulk alludes to wanting to kill someone a collective three times throughout the duration of the game. Two of those times, he’s talking about Metal Face. Yet when finally confronted with the opportunity to kill Metal Face, Shulk decides not to. As he does with Egil. As he does with pretty much every major foe he encounters throughout his journey, except a Telethia or two. This all changes when he has his final confrontation with Dickson. Dickson, who has betrayed his brethren to serve Zanza/The Bionis. Dickson, who adopted Shulk and raised him for the sole purpose of destroying the world. Who saw to the death of Meyneth, whose entire character can be summed up as “pretty awful man.” Shulk has had it. He’s run out of patience, and he knows that if he doesn’t bring his all to a fight with Dickson, that he’s going to lose everything. So he says this insane line. “Dickson, if you’re so determined to stop us, then we will kill you.” In that moment, Shulk shows a degree of resolve that speaks to what truly makes him a good leader. Everyone stands by him because of his willingness to self-sacrifice. He’s standing before his adopted father, preparing to abandon all of his morals, everything that binds him to his soul. He’s doing this because he knows Zanza is not going to wait around while he lives in his feelings. Shulk knows that if he doesn’t kill Dickson, everyone he loves is going to die. This moment screams of conclusion, and to be completely honest, even if Zanza was nowhere to be seen, this felt like a suitable ending for the game all on its own.
7) Best Guests (Shulk’s Return)
Another moment for Shulk. What can I say? The kid has guts. Man, if this scene doesn’t speak to that. Trying to find even the slightest glimmer of hope in this moment is as close to impossible as it gets. Zanza has won, Meyneth and Egil are dead, and Shulk isn’t moving. Not that it would really matter if he were, because the Monado is now in the possession of the enemy. Nobody is able to defeat Dickson and his Telethia, and with the Monado in Fiora’s chest gone, her life is about to be cut short as well. Everything is as dire as can be, and at this point, there’s seemingly no turnaround. We get to witness Shulk struggle with this from the depths of his consciousness, and then, in the most crucial moment, he returns, easily executing two very large telethia with just two quick swings of his sword. His sword. A replica of the Monado. A power that no longer belongs to the gods, the homs, or the Mechon, but Shulk alone. Then this character, who throughout the entire game has been calm, collected, focused, breaks for just a second. He looks upon Dickson as he flies away and they have this exchange of lines. “We’ll be waiting on our best behavior.” “And we will be the best guests you’ve ever had.” Shulk says that unblinking and unmoving. His posture like a stone. It’s powerful and effective. There’s something about seeing our main character speak with confidence for the first time since these events occurred that really speaks to a larger idea here. We’re about to see a big conclusion, and Shulk couldn’t be more confident.
6) That Night on the Beach
This moment has the best placement of anything in the entire game. The intensity of the first confrontation with Egil, followed by the mystery of falling off of a titan (which previously had been established as a one-way ticket to certain death) left our heroes a little rattled. Split into three different groups, we got to see an incredible side of this journey, and one that consistently left me in tears throughout. First, a long awaited reunion between Shulk and Fiora. This marks an incredible turningpoint for the game as well. Shulk and Fiora finally have a candid conversation about the entire journey. But more importantly, it’s all over. Metal Face has been defeated and Fiora is rescued. This is when our adventure stops being a revenge quest, and becomes a story of heroes. A transition very well illustrated by our main heroes revealing quite a bit of inner turmoil. Reyn is feeling useless in the face of Shulk’s newfound strength, Sharla is still no closer to finding Gadolt, Dunban feels as though he failed to protect Fiora. These separate plots provide us with an opportunity to watch the team grow together. All of it culminates in a truly heartfelt reunion between the likes of Fiora and her brother. Dunban’s look of approval, which has a much stronger much louder meaning in the context of his previous conversation with Riki lends itself to a much greater form of symbolism. Shulk, Reyn, and Fiora have truly come of age. But it also plays as a catalyst to an incredible shift in the narrative. Metal Face is dead and Fiora has been rescued. The question rings louder than ever. The mission has been won, so are we satisfied?
5) Lao’s Redemption
I’ll probably catch some shade for choosing this “villain reformed” moment over the other big one, but I’ll admit it flat out. I’m not a very big fan of Egil. I find the character to be very interesting, he has a lot of parallels to Shulk and I think that’s really cool, but he just wasn’t as entertaining on screen for me as characters like Lao, or Malos, or (my personal favorite) Dickson. While Lao’s redemption had the same qualities of predictability as a large portion of the game’s narrative, it doesn’t stop the moment from being just as impressive. It’s not as though Lao jumps in with this whole “I’m a noble hero now” approach. He’s still honest with himself about what he’s done and the type of person it makes him. It manages to create a huge moment of resolution for a lot of the game’s cast. In fact, the only character who doesn’t feel like they’re properly resonating with that moment is the avatar character (perhaps the biggest issue with the game’s narrative altogether). To see Lin moved to tears by her friend’s noble sacrifice, and having to come to grips with the reality that this path will end in death was probably one of the best moments in the game. I’ll be the first to admit that this is where the story starts to go off the rails, but Xenoblade Chronicles X was a game about exploration, developing relationships, and fighting incredible battles. The characters still stand as good examples of consistent quality writing, and the battles at the very least look pretty cool.
4) Burdened No Longer
I know, we’re very far up for Xenoblade 2 to be getting its first crack at the list. It’s not that the game didn’t have its moments, it’s just that the ones that really hit hard came close to the end of the experience. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was a game largely about the theme of reflection. At least, based on my interpretation. You had seemingly immortal characters like Pyra, Mythra, Jin, Malos, all had this obsession with death. The power of Aegis’ and flesh eaters were a consistent pain point throughout the story. Bearing this in mind, it should come as no surprise that Nia, arguably the game’s best character, spends a lot of the adventure hiding the fact that she is really a Flesh Eater. A blade that has been fused with human DNA in order to gain greater power at the cost of immortality.
The moment when Nia reveals herself as a blade could have been tragic or sad, but instead it’s a truly beautiful sequence. It follows one of the most well choreographed fight sequences in the entire game, where seeing Rex and company in danger Nia has a beautifully tragic trip down memory lane. Every major death or injury since the start of the game flashes through her mind, and she questions the moments in which she could have made a difference had she not been afraid of what she was. It was intense, and then culminates in her revealing her true power.
Nia being a blade didn’t come out of nowhere, the game all but says it outright. You first see signs of this during your fight with Torna in Uraya, where she clutches her chest in slight pain as Ahkos reverses the ether waves of blades. Then again in the hot springs and when she saves the emperor in Indol. And this moment, where we finally see her, combined with the instrumental version of Drifting Soul and the equal parts surprise and support of Zeke and Morag, Nia makes the leap from my favorite in Xenoblade 2 to easily hitting my top three characters in the series. Then she goes to Rex and says “I love you” which in all honesty, I would have preferred if it were meant in the most platonic way possible. They’re just kids, and their ability to make each other feel more confident and proud of themselves in a “best friends” sort of way overall would have made for better characterization in my opinion. In fact, that’s the main reason why this spot isn’t higher on the list. Which isn’t to say there aren’t more big contenders to come, because this next one is a real doozy.
3) Dickson’s Betrayal
Of course this one was on the list, are you serious? I can very confidently say that this was the most well-foreshadowed, well-executed, powerful reveal I have ever seen in any game ever. No, that’s not hyperbole. I’m not being dramatic or overselling. I mean it. From the time the game starts, the Bionis is the most aggressive figure. Shulk admits to having a voice in his head telling him to kill every mechon.
Zanza and Meyneth have an argument at Prison Island. Dickson admits to feeling guilty about betraying the team. Alvis, Lorithia, Dickson. Everything has been building so aggressively to reach this moment. “The moment of Lord Zanza’s return!” It feels earned, and while certain aspects of it may not come as a surprise, others definitely do. Zanza’s soul has been hiding in the Monado. The visions that Shulk has had have all been for the express purpose of administering the return of the game’s most powerful bad guy. All of this, and we’re getting this exposition dump from Zanza’s disciple.
Dickson, who for the whole game has been at best a completely non-malicious force. The game opens with him protecting the Homs from the Mechon. But there’s no time to process any one detail of Dickson’s betrayal. Not for a long while at least. You have the moment he turns, then Zanza awakening, Shulk being “dead” and Egil turning good. The world is shaking, High Entia are SCREAMING in Alcamoth. Then Meyneth and Fiora start flying through the air and launching a full assault on Zanza. Two Monados do battle and create the most epic grandiose exchange we’ve seen yet. In a game where despite the world being at stake, everything felt as though it was pretty grounded. But this sequence LITERALLY takes to the skies, in a way that while truly as anime as can be, doesn’t make it any less gripping. At the center of all of this is Dickson. Dickson, who has the most aggressively disrespectful taunting dialogue we’ve seen so far. Dickson, who admits that he set a lot of the game in motion. Dickson. Xenoblade Chronicles’ best villain.
2) Locked Out of Aion
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a strange beast. I think we all know that. Its name is considered more of a reference to the fact that it is a narrative driven experience. Less to do with it being a direct sequel, which we are led to believe is simply not the case. That’s perhaps the key factor that puts this moment so close to the top. There’s a moment where a purple symbol appears on Malos’ sword, and you best believe I shrieked. Then the dude whips out a bunch of Monado arts in his boss fight, and if the fight itself wasn’t so infuriating, I would have been losing it even more. So you could imagine then, why watching the opening of the game’s final chapter sent me into a screaming frenzy.
This weird space station, this lab. Then someone says “we’re locked out by Professor Klaus” and I lost it. Then we get a beat for beat recreation of the moment in which Klaus, better known as Zanza, destroys his universe and creates a new one in its place. But to find that the world of Alrest that we’ve spent the entire game in is that universe was just incredible. That in the skies of his own world, Klaus created yet another plane of existence separate from the one we came to know in the original game. Also, the glimpse of Klaus as a sympathetic character really adds new layers to what we know of Zanza in the first game. It brings an epic story full circle and proves that the events of the first game directly influence the events of the second one. Also, everyone believes Alvis to be the third Aegis. I hope this information gets resolved when the story DLC launches this October. Still, kudos to Xenoblade Chronicles 2 for taking the first game’s most underdeveloped character and giving him a level of depth that he desperately needed. Truthfully I think there’s only one moment that speaks to the identity of this series more than this reveal.
1) Prison Island
Yes, I mean the first time. The big turning point for the first game where the basic revenge plot is turned on its head. Where the game starts screaming its ethical questions from the mountaintops. The moment where Shulk and company arrive on Prison Island and do battle with Metal Face. The scene starts with the introduction of Zanza. In this sequence he is in the body of Arglas, the giant, who is unlike anything else we’ve seen in this game. The High Entia bare a pretty striking resemblance to Homs give or take a couple of weird head-wings. Even the Nopon, while very different in appearance, are so naturally built into every environment of the game that by the time you reach Frontier Village, they make a lot of sense artistically. But Zanza/Arglas the giant is weird. He looks almost disturbing comparatively speaking. Then he is the first person of the game to really speak to the fight between the Bionis and Mechonis. As a witness of the grand battle (and as we later find out a participant) Zanza offers new perspective into the scale of this journey. Before this can go too far, we get an
attack from Metal Face who essentially destroys the giant body. This makes sense, as Egil, who leads the mechon, is doing all of this for the express purpose of destroying Zanza. It’s truly some great insight into the game’s most contentious conflict. But even this fails to take the game away from its central focus. In the end Xenoblade is a series about connections. Primarily those of people like Shulk and Rex, who despite legendary weapons and magic powers will never amount to the warriors they need to be without the bonds at their sides. So seeing as the most crucial bond of Shulk’s life is brought back into the game in such a plot-relevant way is a major risk. Bringing a character back to life sometimes significantly undermines the sense of loss you felt watching them die. But this is the opportunity for the game to start wrestling with some very important topics. As people, do the Mechon deserve to be spared? I mean, even as Zanza increases the Monado’s power, the symbol that appears translates directly to “person.” It’s giving Shulk the ability to pass judgment and execute other Homs. But his world is rocked when he realizes that the Face Mechon have Homs in them. Particularly that Face Nemesis, an entirely new Mechon is inhabited by none other than Fiora. This plot twist works to set up the parallels between Shulk and Egil early on. It allows us insight into Zanza’s influence. It provides a compelling new goal to rescue Fiora. It executes all of this with a great score, a fantastic performance by Adam Howden, and a wonderful cliffhanger moment that truly embodies everything that this wonderful series stands for.
Yeah this was a post and a half I know. But it’s something I’m passionate about. Xenoblade Chronicles is my favorite game of all time, and it’s really cool to see its themes executed so thoroughly across a three game series. Thank you all for reading and come back soon for more from the GAME ROOM!!!