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Panicbox

Why do three succeed where an army may fail?

27 posts in this topic

I was playing Final Fantasy X again and it occurred to me that it was a little unusual that the three party members are able to defeat Sin even though armies could not. Thinking back, this kind of thing is a common feature of many RPG games. Now of course, it's done for gameplay reasons - the game would be boring if the military stormed the last boss without you - but I can't help but feel like this is lazy storywriting to some extent.

So I put it to you: under what circumstances might a small party be perfectly suited to solving the kind of threats present in RPGs where a large organisation is inadequate.

So far: if a small group was needed for stealth reasons or they were a small group fighting [i]against[/i] the large organisation I could see it making sense.

So what do you think?
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That's a fantastic example actually. In fact a large army nearly [i]was [/i]annihilated if I remember rightly.
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@A Brain in a Vat: That's where the stealth comes in. ;-)

Other than stealth, I think a big part of it is that these heroes are the best of the best. The "regular" army either doesn't have magic to protect themselves, or not enough magic. I agree that it could be written better. Like having it so the army engages other enemies while you take on the big bad guys with the special magic/weapons/sacred items that you have.
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Here is another reason it may happen: technological or other restrictions that purposefully limit the party size and can't easily be gotten around.

Imagine that the bad guy has built a moon base, in the style of a james bond film like moonraker. The only way to this moonbase is on a one use rocket of which only one exists which only has room for n people, of course just out of pure luck and game plot you and your party end up on it.

This same 'portal restriciton' may be adapted to any genre. For example, having some form of magical gateway or portal that closes behind the one person who uses it in a fantasy setting, etc.
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When those three are super - human \ meta - human such that they are greater than an army. (This specifically works for pretty much every FF game.)
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I am on a roll here :-)

What if the protaganists are high-ranking members of the military, or even completely in charge of it?

They may then give the order to proceed to the bad guy alone, in an act of valour or vengence...
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This doesn't apply to most games, but covertness is another reason to send in small groups. I contrast covertness to stealth in that stealth involves conducting the mission in an unseen manner for the success of the mission, while covertness involves secrecy for other reasons such as politics or the fact that the activities are illegal.
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Scarcity of talent and resources.

I have a story I'm writing on a lark where some people - a small group - goes into the woods with rifles, which are a new thing. They take some time to load, have some cost, and not easy to master, and there's only a handful of people in the city who bother because they want to go into the woods.

Later on some bullcrap happens and the city now needs to defend itself from some invaders and there's a very short timescale and a lot of untalented or untrained individuals...

Archery isn't good for training either and they're scrawny people. So they gather a large quantity of people, puke out some crappy muskets and train them with that.

Only the small 'field teams' go into the woods, however, with the rifles and difficult to produce fireproof cloaks for protecting the guns from rain while loading.

With the scales present, that means about a dozen people.

In short; a talent scarcity and\or resource scarcity means only a minority are going to be the special forces.

Your three heroes aren't just the special forces, they're the special special special forces!

As a second point, an army might not have tried nor be appropriate. Armies can't fail without... Failing! Why'd they fail? Whatever reason it may be, your three heroes probably don't apply. If they're going at the bad guy with machine guns and the bad guy is some kind of a god, maybe it's just that you need to fashion yourself a god just to be worthy in the first place.

Finally and most obviously, we're often talking of super badasses who have rare material, high power levels and know what to do with it all compared with some conscripts with machine guns who might have 0 chance in any numbers.

FINAL final finally, you can do it the old fashioned way and expose your team to handwavium.
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I don't quite understand. I didn't play entirely through FFX (I never owned it) but I do remember some people fighting of Sin with big machinery, but I don't see how the people and the Machinery would be stronger than the heroes.

I guess the point I am getting at is, the heroes you play as are incredibly powerful, and are stronger than the military. Some of them can bring in summons which are very powerful, and the other heroes themselves are even more powerful. So I guess my question to you is actually why do you think that (in a fantasy game) average military guys would be more powerful than the heroes? If you do respond to that, don't think too heavily in the FF universe. My main point is, the heroes being much stronger in a video game just makes sense.
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[size="5"][color="#ff0000"]Beware, story spoiler for Final Fantasy X![/color][/size]
[color="#ff0000"][size=2]
[/size][/color]

The reason why the heroes beat sin IS NOT because they are stronger than "the people with machina" but because they dare to do it "all or nothing", with a plan and without thinking about the consequences for themselves (at least to some extend).

The army shoots at sin AND really hurts him! He gets hit multiple times, takes damage, counters the attack with his spawns and superpowerfull laser beam thingy killing everybody and leaves to heal. Where did it go wrong? They didn't plan and didn't hit his weak spot.

The heroes go and attack him. They attack his hull, make an opening and go in, killing Sin from the inside.
Why do they succeed? For one thing because Sin wants to be defeated! That is an important fact. He leaves an opening for the heroes because he (Jekkt) want's to be relieved of the burden being Sin. Furthermore, the heroes can defeat him, because they risk their lifes going inside Sin with an airship only they have available, use all their summonings (which are rare in this world and restricted to a small number of selected individuals) and have a plan that allows them to exploit a special weakness of their enemy.

Same applies to the Star Wars Death Star scenarios... and multiple other games/movies.

tl;dr;
[b]Why did the army fail?[/b] They didn't plan. "Head on attack with all we have" isn't going to win if your enemy is a massive monster thing. Think Gozilla...
[b]Why did the heroes win?[/b] Because they went in and attacked a weak spot using knowledge and special powers.
[i][size="1"]And because Sin was emo about being evil...[/size][/i]
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[color="#1C2837"][size="2"][quote]They didn't plan. "Head on attack with all we have" isn't going to win if your enemy is a massive monster thing. Think Gozilla...[/quote][/size][/color]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"] [/color][/size]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"][size="2"]History is littered with the bodies of dumb armies, but the other side of that coin is the smart armies who killed them.[/size][/color][/size]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"] [/color][/size]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"][size="2"]I wouldn't "head on attack with all we have" if I was fighting Godzilla. "All we have" is a lot of very application specific gizmos. It's not like a missile just flies and goes bang.[/size][/color][/size]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"] [/color][/size]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"][size="2"]They would kill Godzilla using a "ground penetrating" bomb guided to Gozilla's torso with a laser.[/size][/color][/size]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"] [/color][/size]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"][size="2"]I'd like to share two weapons stories to give an image of what I mean about "application specific gizmos".[/size][/color][/size]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"] [/color][/size]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"][size="2"]They made missiles designed to kill fighter jets. Fighter jets feature very large, lightly armored, relatively delicate engines, fuel tanks and other complex machinery... A common missile design is to get [i]reasonably close[/i] to the jet, explode with a low-yield warhead and fire [i]shrapnel [/i]at the jet, likely hitting the engines and other equipment.[/size][/color][/size]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"] [/color][/size]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"][size="2"]A missile like this was repurposed to create the first Patriot missile, deployed to Iraq in Desert Storm, and failed miserably. Aside from bugs which caused many to miss, the ones that did hit didn't actually do anything. Why not?[/size][/color][/size]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"] [/color][/size]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"][size="2"]Because a SCUD missile is not a fighter jet. (Neither is Godzilla or Sin.)[/size][/color][/size]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"] [/color][/size]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"][size="2"]It doesn't have "large, lightly armored, somewhat delicate engines". A SCUD missile post reentry is mostly empty fuel tank with a dead engine on one end and a shielded bomb on the other. It is inert, dead, worthless mass, falling with only passive guidance (i.e. relies on its shape). Shrapnel fails to do anything about that.[/size][/color][/size]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"] [/color][/size]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"][size="2"]The missile had to be heavily revised before it actually worked in later engagements.[/size][/color][/size]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"] [/color][/size]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"][size="2"]Story two; it was determined that if you hit a large group of tanks with a hydrogen bomb (most powerful weapon in history), many would survive due to their armor, and so would the crews. The crews, now radiation poisoned, would know they're doomed and have nothing to lose.[/size][/color][/size]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"] [/color][/size]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"][size="2"]Neutron bombs were developed to focus all their energy into neutron radiation which would travel through armor and kill people more effectively at the expense of their kaboom power.[/size][/color][/size]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"] [/color][/size]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"][size="2"]Thus a neutron bomb's explosive yield is minute compared to a hydrogen bomb, but more likely to work against a lot of tanks, and a ground penetrator is more puny still yet even more likely to kill someone in a bunker.[/size][/color][/size]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"] [/color][/size]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"][size="2"]What was my point...Ahh yes. Armies do not naturally just fling all their shit. Crappy armies exist, no doubt, but one feature of effective armies is being able to think like an engineer and craft solutions to unique problems.[/size][/color][/size]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"] [/color][/size]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"][size="2"][i]All that said[/i], if the monster has super magical powers that can kill armies but the 3 heroes specifically have counter powers, than this is what I meant earlier about talent scarcity.[/size][/color][/size]
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Does anyone know why it's double spacing what I type?
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I'd just like to add that personally I'm not so worried about strictness; I love to draw from life by when writing, you do have some freedom to just make up whatever bullshit resonates with people. My next project is going to be a walking tank game (my artist wants to) and while I'm otherwise drawing from life for game design inspiration, the idea of a walking tank cannot be rationalized. It's just dumb.

However I am going into detail in this thread because that's the topic.
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[quote][color="#1C2837"][size="2"][b]Why did the army fail?[/b] They didn't plan. "Head on attack with all we have" isn't going to win if your enemy is a massive monster thing. Think Gozilla...
[b]Why did the heroes win?[/b] Because they went in and attacked a weak spot using knowledge and special powers. [/size][/color][/quote]


Yes! And also because if the Hymn of the Fayth. It was very important to get everyone singing that as it calmed Sin. If you don't understand WHY the Hymn calmed Sin, I aussure you it was for very plot spoilery reasons, which best not be stated without some kind of spoiler tag ;)


[quote="PanicBox"][color="#1C2837"][size="2"] Now of course, it's done for gameplay reasons - the game would be boring if the military stormed the last boss without you - but I can't help but feel like this is lazy storywriting to some extent.[/size][/color][/quote]

I don't think it's always a good idea to explain this kind of thing. A large part of playing these games is getting caught up in the grandeur of it all, and you wouldn't be filling the shoes of a very grand and exciting hero if he had to defer to reality all the time. I admit there are times when this kind of thing goes a bit far... FFVII really did push it's luck when the final boss [b][i]caused the sun to expand and incinerate the entire world[/i]...[/b] for 3000HP damage and occasionally turning someone into a frog.

But pretty much anything shy of that, I look at the kind of game it is and think... well, the hero is badass. The whole point of journeying to the center of the planet with my three buddies is the escapism; to feel like Frodo and...hmm. Well to feel like Legolas or someone at any rate. If I wanted it to make total sense I'd go get blown up by a nuke in CoD4 again! :) I wouldn't (usually) call it lazy storytelling; rather prioritizing something else and pushing the suspension of disbelief a little. Of course, most games get around this problem by not sending the army after the bad guy in the first place. And thinking about it, why not!?
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"[color=#1C2837][size=2]I don't think it's always a good idea to explain this kind of thing"[/size][/color]
[color=#1C2837][size=2]
[/size][/color]
[color=#1C2837][size=2]I agree with this. It's almost always superior to err on the side of less explanation, especially if that explanation doesn't fit in the writing structure well.[/size][/color]
[color=#1C2837][size=2]
[/size][/color]
[color=#1C2837][size=2]"[/size][/color][color=#1C2837][size=2]FFVII really did push it's luck when the final boss [b][i]caused the sun to expand ..."[/i][/b][/size][/color]
[color=#1C2837][size=2][b][i]
[/i][/b][/size][/color]
[color=#1C2837][size=2]I loved that! However it wasn't the storytelling. Basically they were screwing with how radically divorced the battles were from the game's own internal reality. They've been firing machine gun bullets and lighting each other on fire for the previous fifty hours of game.[/size][/color]
[color=#1C2837][size=2]
[/size][/color]
[size="3"][color="#1C2837"][size=2]"[/size][/color][/size][color=#1C2837][size=2]Of course, most games get around this problem by not sending the army after the bad guy in the first place"[/size][/color]
[color=#1C2837][size=2]
[/size][/color]
[color=#1C2837][size=2]Turok might be worth thinking about.[/size][/color]
[color=#1C2837][size=2]
[/size][/color]
[color=#1C2837][size=2]In Turok 2, in a few levels you can see signs of other armies trying to fight the bad guys who are themselves an army.[/size][/color]
[color=#1C2837][size=2]
[/size][/color]
[color=#1C2837][size=2]If you'd ask why Turok can do it, well, "he's Turok".[/size][/color]
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Superior tactics..

Battle of Thermopylae is a perfect example of this...
On the Greek side roughly 1000-7000 soldiers
On the Persian side between roughly 100,000 and 3,000,000
That's a difference of 10-300:1

Imagine a regular dude fighting these odds. That's what you see in most Kung Fu movie. It's unwinable odds by most standards and you're not going to even last long no matter how good of a fighter you are.

How is this difference over come?
Personal training as a fighter. Obviously Batman or Bruce Lee or Jet Li or Jackie Chan is able to take on more combatants at a time than a normal person, but there is a tipping point
Superior Tactics. This is what wins the day when you are facing huge odds and i what every fighter in every one of these situations uses.

If I have 100 soldiers running after me swords I have an advantage when I run into a hall. Those soldiers with swords have to go slower as to not hurt each other and most halls are going to bottle neck the 100 soldiers. This bottleneck will make it a 1vs1 or 1vs2 match up rather than 1vs100 and at that point it is an endurance and luck match up more so than anything else for the superior fighter. If you can keep fighting and not making any mistakes to take on 100 1vs1 matches you win. Simple as that.

This is also the tactic the Greeks used at Thermopylae. They used a bottle neck to force the Persians to fight 1,000-3,000 vs 100,000-3,000,000 but rather 100 vs 100. There is only 2 reasons the Greeks lost at Thermopylae. Betrayal which lead to the finding a pass that allowed the Persians to flank the Greeks and Endurance wore thin after 3 days of fighting.

The end results of the battle were something like
4,000 Greeks died
20,000 Persians died

That's a 5 to 1 ratio and the deciding factor of whether the Greeks won or not was a small tactical team that flanked them from behind from the Persian side... not the whole army.




There is also the matter of kill the leader, beat the enemy. Its a lot easier to sneak a few guys into a building to kill one guy than it is to storm a castle because the defenses are designed to stop an army not a person.
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[quote]... Batman ... [color=#1C2837][size=2]but there is a tipping point[/quote][/size][/color]
[color=#1C2837][size=2]
[/size][/color]
[color=#1C2837][size=2]Not for Batman.[/size][/color]
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In FFX it was destiny- blood ties between father and son. It was a personal battle. Sometimes it's childhood friends, ex-partners, master and protege. By nature, fiction dictates the hero faces his ultimate threat at the end, and the dark god tearing up the world fits the bill. We accept it- make it personal to the character, and we understand it.

Logistically, no. Three heroes working solo, not incognito, would have all eyes on them. Even with demi-god powers, it'd still be like cutting a rock with a weed-whacker. They might be able to lead a suicidal-last-stand-distraction, though.
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Having been in the military it is actually pretty simple. Quality versus quantity. Most armies consist of highly unskilled folks and their danger is only in numbers. Numbers don't work in tightly controlled situations and as such you call in the special forces which are the cream of the crop. 1 seal team could probably take out a full regiment of army without a whole lot of work, it's just a matter of training and proper tactics. I don't mean to be offensive to non special forces but I worked with (not one of) those guys and they are just scary competent in their chosen field. So, a set of folks that learn to work together "in actual reality" can easily take out 2+ times their numbers, of course in the games they are "the chosen" so say 10+ times is not impossible. :)

Most games just take "special forces" and exaggerate things a lot. :)
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Logistics also come into play here. Coordinating a large number of people and making them do precisely what you want is difficult to achieve. Other factors, such "too many chiefs, not enough indians" scenarios could also hinder the effectiveness of an army.
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I remember a scene in FFX (or was it X-2?) where you pretty much fight the Yevon army...and win. It's pretty much the game saying "These few people can destroy an army, so why not Sin?"

Most JRPGs (and probably WRPGs, but I haven't played much of those) like to just suspend your disbelief to the point where you believe you're more powerful than an army. And even then, most games have you kill a ton of enemy NPCs (those random encounters) so you've already been killing "armies" of critters.

So really what causes you to not stop and think about that is because the game has been repeatedly telling you through random encounters and such that your party is capable of killing tons of people, probably without even breaking a sweat.
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[url="http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ConservationOfNinjutsu"]Tropes Ahoy![/url]

Jingo, by Pratchett, has a nice example of few vs many - The Protagonists are surrounded by an army of conscripts expecting a massive suicidal charge. Instead they wait until night, steal into the enemy lines and start making a lot of noise. In the confusion and darknedd the enemy start attacking each other, both due to internal conflict and the general raucous.

Basically: Make the weight of the enemy work against it whilst the good guys don't actually fight.
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There's a similar scenario in Captain America movie.
the Captain gets in with his small detachment. Even though he is technically part of the army, they are 150km inside of the enemy lines, fighting a different enemy for different reasons.
Obviously, being undercover plays a big part in smaller teams. The idea is that you are a commando so to speak. Resource management comes into play.
This is why I don't quite get the rpgs that employ more than 5 or so characters (who says 10+?)
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