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With great power comes great responsibility

Strap yourselves in, kids, we've got a lot to talk about here.

Today, we're talking about Master of the Wind, a traditional, episodic RPG with superhero themes created in RPG Maker XP by Volrath and Artbane, and the winner of two Game of the Year awards at RMN. People who have been following this game, or me, over the years will probably note that I've reviewed this game before! But that review is almost seven years old at this point and only covered early parts of the game. Despite some fairly extensive discussions with the creators on this project over the years, I never gave the full, completed version of the game an official review. I figured it's high time I sit down and lay my thoughts out about this project once and for all.

This game is several years old at this point, and early builds of the game are something of a relic from the early days of the community. I'm not sure, but I think this game has been around in some form or another for over ten years. That's impressive. And the game has certainly evolved in a lot of ways over the years. Since I (and others) have reviewed the nuts and bolts mechanics of this game in the past in detail, this will probably be more of a discussion of the game than an actual review, and will contain minor spoilers. Since the developers have talked about potentially remaking this project at some point in the future, I hope this retrospective is helpful to them. So off we go!

The game follows the exploits of wind mage Cade Mistral, the titular Master of the Wind. By day he is an armorsmith, amateur political pundit, and skirt-chaser, but by night he finds his true calling as the masked spear-wielding vigilante, Shroud, who fights evil alongside his partner, Stoic, a wise and noble undead warrior who has been around for over a thousand years, and thus knows the solutions to all of the puzzles that inexplicably dot the world of Solest. Mostly, they defend their hometown of Port Arianna from bandits and pesky vampires until a larger, more insidious evil raises it's ugly head: big business.

The game was originally released in seven episodes, or 'arcs,' each containing a self-contained series of adventures while slowly developing a larger plot over the course of time. Originally, players could transfer their data from older episodes into newer ones, which has a certain glamour and appeal to it, but now the entire game is available in one package.

So when I was reviewing earlier builds of the game, I generally came away with one conclusion; it's a good game that has some serious problems. Now, years later, looking at the complete version of the game with older, wiser eyes, my conclusion is: it's a good game that has some serious problems.

Right away, the setting of Solest may seem like a really traditional high fantasy world, but there are a couple things that stand out about it: Namely, this is a really modern interpretation of a fantasy world. While all the traditional fantasy races are represented (elves, goblins, and the like) they for the most part manage to live in total harmony. Even skeletons can be found casually wandering the streets of Port Arianna going about their lives like anyone else. The characters also speak in a decidedly contemporary way and have modern day concerns; there's no evil empires beyond the border plotting an invasion anymore, but instead the characters are concerned with politics, business practices, the direction their country is heading, and bigotry. It's an unusual take for a fantasy world and I enjoyed it, although there are some issues here I'll get to later.

So what's the game about? Well, early portions of the game play the suerhero angle for all it's worth and succeeds very well at it. The game is an interesting split between the dungeon-crawling and villain-thwarting exploits of Shroud and Stoic, and the attempts of their civilian identities, Cade and 'Bones' to go about their personal lives while keeping their nocturnal activities a secret. They both have day jobs, hang out with friends, go on dates and have arguments with their annoying neighbors. At night, they pursue whatever case they're currently working on, with generally involves a lot of fighting and puzzle-solving.

I liked these early parts a lot, as it really captured what I think are essential elements of being a superhero; the dual nature of the protagonists, their struggles to balance their civilian lives, their connection to their local setting, as well as the episodic nature of their adventures. I enjoyed getting to know the people in their lives and exploring their local town, with various things changing from day to day and making it feel like a place where people lived and worked rather than just 'the town where you go to resupply.' Things change up though, once the mega-corporation Equipment King, a Walmart-esque superstore comes to town and threatens to put everyone else out of business. As employees of a local armor shop, our heroes are particularly put out by this. But things take an interesting turn when it turns out that the head of the company is actually pure evil, giving Shroud and Stoic license to fight back.

So this brings me to one of the most contentious points in Master of the Wind, at least for me; the politics. I've seen some people get confused when the politics of MotW get brought up, because they claimed to have not noticed any such things while playing. Well, let me set the record straight here, because the politics in this game are not subtle. This game has an agenda. This is a game world where all races live together in relative peace and harmony, but a shadowy religious organization has a scheme in the works to make all the races hate each other again. (This isn't some side effect of their plan, it's their stated goal.) This is a game world where a weapons manufacturer kidnaps local children in order to convince the people they have to buy weapons in order to feel safe. This is a game with a slow pan in a cemetery over hundreds of graves of those killed by religious intolerance. This is a game where friendly faeries who do nothing but heal people are murdered in the name of a god. This is a game where religion is at the forefront of pretty much everything bad that has ever happened. This is a game where all the heroes are left-leaning politically and the story treats them as being right about everything, while anyone with right-leaning political views is painted as either deluded or just evil.

There's no real discussion on the dangers of unregulated business, or religious demagoguery, we just find out that Don Kovak, the corporate sleazebag at the top of Equipment King, thinks the only way to get ahead in life is to be the king of crime. The religious fundamentalist villain wants to kill elves because his God said so. It really brings up a lot of questions about just how 'misguided' a person can be and still go along with things like this. Throughout the game the villains kidnap a group of children and force them to work in a labor camp, scheme to genocide entire races, and work with a group with a shadowy leader, a themed headquarters and an army of faceless, incompetent mooks. Did any of them ever stop to ask themselves “Huh. Am I working for a super-villain?”

I'm all for using games as a vehicle for political commentary and discussion but a lot of this just comes off as gross and obnoxious. It's made worse by how the various characters react to it. Cade has a tendency to act like a whiny know-it-all who generally believes anyone who doesn't agree with him on anything must be up to no good, but the story constantly validates him to the point of it becoming insufferable. We also learn that Stoic was just as liberal a thousand years ago as he is in the present, as though he didn't have any growing or re-evaluating himself or his outlook on life to do in all that time. Man, even the Solitayre who wrote the previous version of this review and the one who is writing this current one are different people. I can tell you I was a lot dumber seven years ago than I am now, and I'm pretty sure if I lived for a thousand years I wouldn't be looking back on my thirty year old self as a bastion of wisdom who knew everything he needed to about how the world worked.

What's worse is that Finley, the only hero in the game with vaguely conservative views is constantly treated as though he had some unfortunate mental illness by Cade and Stoic, generally blaming his ideas on him being 'slow.' But in a lot of ways Finley is the most reasonable person on the team and his observations tended to make a lot of sense to me, and the heroes come off as slapping him down for not being as judgmental as they are. That's right, in a game that's ostensibly about tolerance and acceptance and fighting bigotry, the two main heroes are themselves pretty notably bigoted, judgmental jerks. Which would actually be really cool if they ever had to realize that and grow as people, but with one possible exception near the end of the game, that never really happens, and the characters are treated as if their being judgmental was the right move. Even over a thousand years of introspection Stoic never seems to have grasped his own hypocrisy. Guess you don't have to if the whole world is telling you you're right.

The game also has some pretty grating jokes referencing political events of its time. Remember the 'bridge to nowhere?' Master of the Wind does! I found these annoying at the time and today they only serve to date the game, but on the other hand it looks like Volrath successfully predicted the future of the internet, so maybe I'm being too hard on him.

Ahhh! A Vampires' Rights Activist!



So after learning that Equipment King is basically planning to turn the world into a corporate dystopia, Shroud and Stoic confront the agents of a mysterious religious cult called 'The Hand,' who are working with Kovak, and set out on a quest across Solest in search of evidence that will prove Kovak is engaged in illegal activities. They make a few allies and tangle with other agents of the Hand as well as other minor villains along the way. At this point the artifice of being a superhero game kind of falls away and the game becomes more of a traditional RPG of traveling from town to town and exploring deserts, ice caves and jungles. While these portions of the game are still competently done I feel like the game lost something special when it wandered away from Port Arianna and the interesting duality dynamic which was so engaging in the first two arcs. The game does explain a lot of the world and history of Solest as you go, and it's a very detailed setting, and we find out it has a pretty bloody history and the races didn't always get along so well. Since Stoic has been alive for so long we even get to see a lot of that history first hand, although I ultimately think this ends up being detrimental to his character. In fact, let's talk about that next.

There are a lot of characters in this game, there are seven playable characters, over a dozen named villains, and a vast web of supporting characters, but we observe the world mostly from the point of view of Shroud and Stoic. As I mentioned above, I view them as flawed characters, but they're certainly not bad ones. They have great chemistry and a lot of fun dialogue, as long as the discussion doesn't turn to politics, at which point Shroud tends to become annoying really quickly. We have the opportunity to see a great deal of Stoic's history as Arc V of the game is devoted almost entirely to telling us his entire history. While it's interesting to see what happened in Solest's past I felt like seeing everything Stoic had done for the last thousand years ruined the mystique of his character. His ubiquitous catch phrase 'I know all” sounds pretty awesome coming form a guy who's lived that long but rings a little hollow when you find out he spent half that time crying in a cave by himself. I still liked him as a character after this, but ironically filling out his entire history only served to make him feel smaller.

Outside of the main duo are a secondary tier of heroes who often accompany Shroud and Stoic on their adventures. Finley Donner is an adventurous wisecracking gun nut who is treated like a dolt by the rest of the cast, but amusingly (and tellingly) he is the first to recognize Shroud and Stoic's true identities, and joins in their adventures as 'The Baron.' Finley is by far the most fun of the main characters and makes for a great sidekick while also providing an interesting counterpoint to Shroud and Stoic's views. It's a shame they dismiss him out of hand so often.

Laurel Hargrove is a priestess with telepathic abilities whose role in the story is to have her faith shaken and come out stronger for it, but I personally wasn't very invested in her story. It probably doesn't help that the scene of her spiritual transformation comes at the tail end of a very odd series of events culminating in a battle with two comic relief villains which was utterly devoid of any sense of seriousness, an arc that felt more like a fever dream than the culmination of a character's growth. I personally found vampire hunter Gabriella Robin to be a much more interesting and engaging take on this kind of story, to the point where Laurel almost feels superfluous by comparison.

Finally there's Auburn Illiaca, a martial artist and fire mage who serves as a love interest for Cade, which is complicated because she is Don Kovak's bodyguard. To her credit, she's perhaps the most honest character in a story filled with liars since she's very open and unrepentant about the bad things she's done in her life. Bad things which the incredibly judgmental Cade is suddenly very willing to forgive if a hot redhead is the one doing them. I was never sold on her chemistry with Cade since the two don't seem to have much in common. She's like eight years older than him too. Man, talk about a cradle robber! Once again I felt Gabriella would have been the better pick here for a love interest, as the two played off of each other better and, despite their differences, seemed to have similar goals in life. I guess the take away from the last few paragraphs is I like Gabriella? CadexGabriella OTP

There are too many villains to talk about them all individually, but together they create an interesting series of challenges for the heroes to overcome, and a few of them are a lot of fun. All have unique and interesting powers that make for interesting challenges, and I can forgive there being a lot of villains for the sake of having a lot of cool ideas for boss fights (and there are a lot of these, too!) The extended cast is definitely starts to feel a little too large towards the end of the game, which is compounded by the final arc revolving heavily around an entirely new group of characters who were the main heroes in one of Volrath's previous games in the Solest setting. Which would have been neat if that game had ever been released prior to this game, but since it hadn't it doesn't even work as fan-service.

So that pretty much covers things from a writing and story perspective. The writing in this game is ultimately really strong and enjoyable even if it occasionally gets a little too full of itself. I felt the story was at its best with the original premise of two heroes living their lives, finding love by daylight and fighting evil by moonlight, in a dynamic and evolving setting. While the rest of the game is still very good nothing that happened in the later arcs captured the same energy. But I said in m previous review that characters are a game's 'soul,' and I still think that's true. And I still think Master of the Wind has a lot of soul.

But while Volrath handled things from a story perspective, the equally impressive gameplay sections were designed by ArtBane, and let me tell you, the dungeons in this game are some of the best you'll find anywhere. Each dungeon in this game is a veritable labyrinth to be mastered and conquered, filled with puzzles and minigames to solve and foes to vanquish. The imagination and creativity in the puzzle sections was really on another level compared to its contemporary games and are still impressive now. In a few places they even approach Zelda quality. A typical puzzle presents the characters with some sort of organic problem to solve and they come up with a unique solution, generally by applying one of the group's abilities. Shroud can use his wind magic to jump and levitate objects, Finley can shoot distant objects, and Stoic is a walking battering ram. Each of these abilities has consistent mechanics across each dungeon and later puzzles will require you to master using more than one of these in tandem. Once again, I found the early dungeons more interesting and fun than the later ones. While early dungeons tended to experiment broadly with a range of puzzles, later dungeons tended to focus on variations of the same puzzle to the point where it started getting stale. The game also has its share of logic puzzles that require the player to study their environment of think abstractly to proceed. Unfortunately there are a few puzzles that pretty much require the player to memorize the world's history and answer questions in a quiz format. While it's different I find it a little self-indulgent to force players to study the history of a fictional world.

Finally, there's the combat, about which I have many mixed feelings. Dungeons all have random encounters and they can become tedious quickly while you're trying to solve a puzzle or just get from one area to the next. Even random enemies can be a major pain to deal with without some grinding, the chances of running from a battle are low and the consequences of failing can be devastating. This is partially the consequences of the very low HP totals your party has for most of the game and the fact that multiple enemies ganging up on one target can put them on the ground quickly. It becomes less of a problem later on, when you have more HP and more party members. But on the whole, random encounters in this game can be a real slog.

Bosses, by contrast, are an absolute joy to fight. There are no monsters out of nowhere in Master of the Wind, every boss has a name and a purpose and a distinct style of fighting that you'll often have a lot of foreshadowing on. This leads to some of the most interesting and fun battles in any RPG Maker game as each boss has a unique gimmick you'll be forced to study and understand in order to over come. From the deadly illusionist who makes copies of herself to the necromancer who summons new undead minions over the course of the fight, each boss will keep you on your toes and some of them can get downright epic.

This fight is even cooler than it looks.



That's not to say the bosses can't be mean too, but they feel engaging and rewarding in ways that the merciless random encounters don't. And towards the end of the game as you confront the main villains in the final showdowns, it makes for some pretty intense and dramatic battles.

While the combat can be mean, the game does make some concessions here. Healing items are abundant and very cheap and effective. There's even an item to fullheal your entire party from anywhere. On top of that, every dungeon has a number of friendly faeries who will heal you and let you shop for items, tell you how many chests are remaining in the dungeon, and give you hints for fighting the boss. They'll also appear right before every boss to give you a chance to save and prepare (although some bosses are mean and won't let the faerie do its job.) So the game is very friendly in that regard.

So while it probably seemed like for every glowing thing I had to say about this game, I had something negative to say about it. And that's a fair assessment. In spite of its flaws I like this game a lot and recommend it to anyone who likes traditional RPGs and superheroes as long as you can stomach the grindy combat and the politics, as you'll be rewarded with some excellent dungeons, fun characters, and a really interesting world to explore. But I feel like that as good as Master of the Wind is, (and it is very good), that it could have been more than it is. Like a superhero, it has great potential, and if there is ever another iteration of Master of the Wind in the future I hope that it will use that potential wisely. For with great power, comes great responsibility....

Posts

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Frogge
I wanna marry ALL the boys!! And Donna is a meanc
18521
In the first screenshot, I read the dialogue very quickly so I thought it said ''panties'' at the part where it said ''paths'' XP
Wow, some deja vu here. Well, there wasn't much here that we haven't discussed before so I don't want to be redundant. However, given the introductory paragraph, I was a little disappointed that the story elements of the final two arcs weren't referenced much, especially since the earlier stuff has been heavily evaluated by you and others. I like to think there's a thread of reconciliation and growth that completes some of the character arcs, especially Cade's. For the record, I don't see him as right all the time. Many reviewers have the tendency to assume he's just a mouthpiece for me the writer even though I've never said that. Anyone can figure out I agree with him broadly on issues but he's a poor advocate for his ideas and towards the end, I tried to have him learn a bit of humility.

That said, I am older too and I would do plenty differently ten years later and should that remake ever emerge (it's a daunting project although I'd still like to try it), the thematic stuff will be different, if still reaching similar conclusions. But when something I'm writing has no connection to the world in which I live in, I get bored quickly. Even BroQuest was meant to be a fun tweaking of how rude goons in fiction often don't get called out because the audience is expected to see them as "authentic." These days I like to focus on one issue or a few connected issues rather than try and solve all the world's problems at once.

As for Clean Slate, it was too full of huge WAV files to ever upload anywhere but I did do a whole Let's Play of it for anyone who wanted to know the story details. Here it isif you've got like 18 hours to spare. But be warned, if you thought MotW's politics were too blunt you'll be about ready to explode after playing this one for a while. I was a college student and in full on "I'm 18 and hate President Bush and I'll show all these rude conservatives on the internet a thing or two" mode.

At any rate, I'm glad the game left such a strong impression that you're still trying to reconcile your feelings about it.

It's really cause you know the game is right about most issues but are too aghast at the game's bluntness to admit it. I mean come on it's not the intervening ten years have made religion or big business look like more benevolent institutions....
NeverSilent
Got any Dexreth amulets?
6280
As far as I can see, most of this review is (again) very fair, and I'm glad you still found so many positive things to say even after all this time. I very much agree with all of the things you said about the gameplay, and you make a lot of good points about some of the writing as well.
Yet, the one thing I just can't understand in how you usually talk about this game is your view on the game's agenda, as you call it, and the way it's conveyed. From where I'm standing, a lot of your complaints are contradicted by things you say later, and it seems like you focus only on the evidence that supports your claims while ignoring everything else. Here's some examples:

This is a game world where all races live together in relative peace and harmony
Not true. Solest is a world full of prejudices, racism and genocide, as you point out yourself, and that's very noticeable even at the time of the game's setting. Port Arianna, as it is repeatedly stated, is still an exception, not the rule.

This is a game where religion is at the forefront of pretty much everything bad that has ever happened.
Not true. The Solendian Knighthood, the Ember Mages, and Kovak's crew by themselves, to name a few examples, don't make use of religion to justify their evil acts. On the other side, Dasani, Laurel, Daphne and to a certain degree even Stoic are examples of religious characters who are by no means bad people.

There's no real discussion on the dangers of unregulated business, or religious demagoguery
Not true. Characters discuss these issues all the time. The trial scene is an especially good example., but also the impacts of Equipment King's Business model and Gallia's legacy directly exemplify this. Show, don't tell, isn't that something people say?

But in a lot of ways Finley is the most reasonable person on the team and his observations tended to make a lot of sense to me
This also confuses me. I agree that Finley is not stupid, but he can be extremely superficial, and rather than him being "slow," I'd say his manner of thinking just seems very unreflecting. Let me ask you this: Can you really point out one single instance where Finley's world views make more sense than Cade's and Bones' before the time where they begin to really learn from each other? I can hardly imagine it.


But what irritates me the most is this claim you make:
Even over a thousand years of introspection Stoic never seems to have grasped his own hypocrisy. Guess you don't have to if the whole world is telling you you're right.
I have no idea how you managed to arrive at this conclusion, but what you say here is just completely and utterly incorrect. Right from his childhood on, Stoic receives almost nothing but scorn and dismissive reactions from his surroundings because of his views, and this keeps happening constantly, with Gallia being the climax. The same goes for Shroud: You claim that the viewpoints that oppose those of the heroes are either underrepresented or casually dismissed, but what about Violet, Emma, Auburn, Finley, and Barry, just to name a few? All of them attack Cade for his views, and I found that the strength of the game narrative for a large part came from the fact that the "other side" and even the villains can provide reasons for why they believe in their principles or act a certain way. In fact, often enough it's not the villains who are in the minority with their opinions, but the heroes.


To move it to a somewhat different point at the end, here's something else you point out that I don't quite agree with:
At this point the artifice of being a superhero game kind of falls away
Sure, the game starts focusing less on the small world of Port Arianna later on, but the constant concern of having to keep their identities a secret and not meeting certain people to avoid suspicion still plays a large role. Also, slowly but surely dissolving the whole superhero trope and showing that the mask is just a very thin veil, figuratively speaking, is a major plot point of the game, so I don't really see what the problem is.


All this isn't to say that the storytelling is flawless or beyond criticism - it's true that quite a bit of it is everything but subtle, and parts could have been handled in a better way. Yet it seems to me that some kind of early impression or unstated opinion still rules your perception of this game and causes you to see some problems that aren't actually there. I'm sorry if any of this came across as rude or dismissive, but that's genuinely what it appears like to me.
Solitayre
Circumstance penalty for being the bard.
18257
Me!
There's no real discussion on the dangers of unregulated business, or religious demagoguery, we just find out that Don Kovak, the corporate sleazebag at the top of Equipment King, thinks the only way to get ahead in life is to be the king of crime. The religious fundamentalist villain wants to kill elves because his God said so. It really brings up a lot of questions about just how 'misguided' a person can be and still go along with things like this. Throughout the game the villains kidnap a group of children and force them to work in a labor camp, scheme to genocide entire races, and work with a group with a shadowy leader, a themed headquarters and an army of faceless, incompetent mooks. Did any of them ever stop to ask themselves “Huh. Am I working for a super-villain?”

Four years later and I am man enough to admit when I have to eat my own words.
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