I’ve been playing video games for most of my life, so it makes sense that I’ve learned a lot from them over the years. They are more than just a way to have fun, though I suppose that is the initial draw to them. They’ve expanded my vocabulary, taught me about ethics and morals, and exposed me to the depths of human nature. One thing that stands out to me in regards to all this is the aspect of loyalty. Through several different games, I have noticed a common theme: victory is impossible alone. It takes loyal companions fighting alongside you to ultimately reach the final goal: beating the game.
One of the first games I remember playing is Final Fantasy VII. Sure, in any Final Fantasy game, it’s impossible to not play in a party simply because you’d be decimated in seconds. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make. Who do you choose? I find myself even today picking the exact same people with every play-through. Somehow I feel loyal to them. Somehow I was taught to be loyal to these pixilated characters. End game, I remember always having Cid and Vincent with Cloud. I picked them because I liked them, not for any battle or strategy related reason. When I play it now, I have to have them in my party. If I try to throw Barrett or Red XIII in there and build them up, I lose interest and can’t play anymore. After playing with those characters over and over again, I can’t imagine playing with anyone else.
Another game I’ve played extensively is Baldur’s Gate II, probably my favorite game of all time. This is a game that has way more character choice. Some of the characters that are available to you are completely optional; you never even have to meet them if you don’t want to, (this is especially true with the first one). So here’s a game that gives you complete control over who is in your party, and yet I still always pick the same people. I can’t play a game without Minsc in my party for the duration, and I can’t play a game without dumping Jaheria the first chance I get. But even with the same people over and over again, it’s never boring.
I think part of it has to do with the Tree of Life segment, right before the final boss. Before you descend into the depths to what could be your death, you take the time to ask each party member if they’re really up to it, if they’re really loyal to you. And they all reaffirm that they are. There’s nothing quite like the feeling when someone infallibly tells you that they trust you and would never let you do this without them. Gaining that kind of loyalty is priceless, and it’s something that stays with you. Perhaps that’s why I always keep the same party. I want to experience that feeling again and again.
Developers have started to recognize this phenomenon as well. An early version of this, if rough around the edges, is seen in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. In this game, the influence system was implemented, (it was also in the first one, but this game gave it a name). The more influence you gained with a companion, the more their alignment shifted toward your own, and the more they revealed about themselves. Simply, the more influence you had with them, the more loyal they were to you. Influence was mostly gained by dialogue choices, (some of your actions did as well). Certain responses had the ability to either gain you influence, or it could drastically lower it. You really had to get to know each companion to figure out what response they would lean towards. What was so powerful about this system was the fact that your companions would literally change themselves because of you. They became so loyal that they would change their alignment and class to match yours. For example, (if you’re light-side), Atton would become a Jedi Sentinel if you gained enough influence with him. On the other hand, if you had no or negative influence, he would go the opposite route and become a Dark Jedi Sentinel. The fact that your character would have any effect at all on your companions is amazing, and truly expresses the power loyalty has.
More recently, Mass Effect 2 implemented the now-famous loyalty system. In this game, loyalty was gained by undergoing a mission for each companion. Once that was completed, they were loyal for the rest of the game. The rewards were the unlocking of a fourth ability, as well as an alternative outfit for further customization. This is all well and good, but there are real consequences for not gaining loyalty. On the end suicide mission, any companion that is not loyal will die, and die for good. They’ll be gone if you choose to play after the end, and they’ll be gone if you load your save for ME3. ME2 really stressed how important loyalty is. No other game has had such dire consequences for not gaining the loyalty of those with you.
After being reminded over and over how important loyalty is from all these different games, it isn’t hard to see why it’s something that I’ve carried with me in my own life. For this reason, I am so proud that I had video games during my childhood, and that I still do now. Ironically, playing a game by myself has made me a better friend to those around me than some others I know who are exclusively around people all the time. I have become an extremely loyal person to the people I care about, and I have video games to thank for that.