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Posted by WillHeroX (10 posts) -

Hey! There are unmarked spoilers for the Mass Effect Trilogy below! Doesn't really make sense to hide them since they're kinda major parts of this.

Girl, you mean the world to me.
Girl, you mean the world to me.

Video games tend to make me really emotional. Most of the games that hover around being in my "top ten" have at the very least made me tear up if not outright breakdown sobbing. They've ranged from great epics like Kingdom Hearts, to small experiences like To the Moon. Even things like Super Mario Odyssey and Assassin's Creed Odyssey pulled at my heartstrings in certain ways. When I finished Yakuza 6: The Song of Life earlier this year, I played the last stretch in one sitting that took about six or seven hours, and most of that had tears streaming down my face as I participated in Kazuma Kiryu's final battle. This has been how I respond to media since I was a kid, and if my reaction to Mass Effect is any indication, it's going to continue as I get older.

I beat Mass Effect 1 in I think December 2011, or 2012, I'm not sure. I bought 1 & 2 on sale for $5 each on the Steam sale, because of course I did. I played as the default John Shepard, had a decent time, and then bounced off 2 almost immediately for a few reasons. It took Alex and Vinny playing through the first game to inspire me to finally give the trilogy a second chance. I expected to have a decent time, seeing more of Garrus, Wrex and Liara, but now...now I'm just thinking about Shepard. The custom protagonist who became someone I cared about immensely, just about as much as I ever have for a fictional character.

Let's back up for a second.

Mass Effects 1 & 2 feel more about their parties than their shared protagonist. 1 involves copious amounts of exposition, and it's all really good, but Shepard feels like the vessel that you as the player is using to understand this world. This is evident in how much her dialogue revolves around questioning the nature of various races of Citadel space and the functionality of everything from governments to religion. In contrast, 2 is more more about the personalities you encounter, each having a loyalty mission meant to flesh out their place in the galaxy (1 actually does have loyalty missions in some fashion, but they're fairly short sequences, and aren't required to increase a character's chances of surviving the final mission). Shepard emerges more in 2, but like 1 is more a conduit for the player to experience things. Then 3 comes along, and things change. Commander Shepard feels like she's dealing with the consequences of war, and that the losses she's had are coming back to haunt her. The spark of change makes sense; the sense of danger is greatly enhanced in 3 due to the Reaper invasion, and this has the effect of making Shepard the focal point of the resistance, of the galaxy's efforts to survive genocide.

But at the same time that everyone finally knows to rely on Shepard (and thus acknowledge that the fate of everyone rests on her shoulders), she is also really dealing with the ramifications of war. Mass Effect 1 and 2 largely amounted to kinda covert missions. They were events that the public could see but weren't always looking at (see: Feros). 3 is plain war. You run through cities that civilians perished in, and constantly hear about the growing numbers of casualties on many fronts. During the Menae mission, Garrus points towards a large orange spot on Palaven and mentions that it's where he was born. A lot of Mass Effect 3 is gut punches as you run around and try to prepare for the final fight; every moment thousands, if not millions, are dying, and while you can go save some people, that isn't your overt focus.

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You spend a lot of time in Mass Effect 3 on the Citadel running around doing busywork. For a lot of people that's going to be this weird anomaly, but for me it did feel purposeful. It fits into both actively building up your military strength and also makes the characters more human. With the struggles of war so apparent, they need that time off the battlefield more than ever to stop themselves from succumbing to its effects. The Normandy's crew (and the friends you pick up along the way) are pushing themselves to the limit and branching out to do everything and anything to prepare for battle. That means Shepard is stretching herself thin enough to start having nightmares about the war. I feel like I've seen a lot of skepticism around her focusing on the boy who dies on Earth (i.e. why she suddenly has nightmares about loss now considering Virmire, the suicide mission), but to me it felt like that event was a major event for her because of his innocence and youth. In my playthrough, it felt like she was finally there firsthand to see the Reapers' work on normal people, and that got to her. It represented her not having any real rest anymore, as even her dreams aren't safe; that goes back to her needing to withdraw from battle at times and simply be diplomatic, to take the edge off.

Even though she is having some downtime (arguably more than the first two games) Shepard feels like she is pouring her entire being into the war effort. She throws herself at challenges, confronts any adversary and meets any ally she can to make any difference possible. I felt like I really saw this in how combat worked in this game; in Mass Effect 1, Shepard is damn near silent during most gameplay (even when performing things like biotic attacks), which was fine at the time, but when 3 rolls around she is yelling in anger when she unleashes a Nova; she calls for allies to get to cover. It feels like her personal stakes have been elevated, and it just hounded in her sacrifices even more.

We did a lot together.
We did a lot together.
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I chose to spend time with Liara and Garrus for most of the series. Wrex's absence as a party member in 3 helped with this, and while I like Kaidan, EDI, and Tali decently enough (James SUCKS though), they aren't Shepard's lover nor her best friend, respectively. The moments between Shepard and her asari girlfriend grew some awkward flirting to real love, to something that made me feel like Shepard absolutely had to survive just to get back to Liara. Garrus had had my back almost since the beginning, always feeling like I could trust him with anything. Running with them across No Man's Land and in the final push to the Citadel beam was heart-wrenching. Having to send them back to the Normandy after Harbinger's attack was painful but absolutely necessary; they couldn't follow Shepard, even if she was ultimately going to live. This was her fight to finish.

From when the Alliance and all the assembled forces began the counterattack above Earth to Shepard crawling across the joined Crucible/Citadel towards the final choice, I was a mess. I was unconscionable. Despite everything, she, one small person, was going to defy reality. Her will was strong enough to do that, and that broke me even more. Everything was coming to a close because she gave her everything. I spent about five hours going from the beginning of the Citadel DLC to the end of the game, and it had me crying from laughter, happiness, and despair at varying instances. Days later I am still feeling the effects of it all, breaking out into sobs many times thinking about Shepard and her journey.

Life is still worth living.
Life is still worth living.

Then comes the choice. I'd known about the choice and the repercussions of the choice for years, since I was a teen who decided that they weren't likely going to get around to 3 and wanted to know why everyone was in a tizzy at the time. There's Control, which has Shepard's consciousness get uploaded to be the new Reaper overseer, or something, and could be argued is the best ending since nobody dies (except her) and the Reapers help rebuild the galaxy. Merge is a similar ending except every being becomes synthetic, which is...weird and kinda invasive in a lot of ways? That one feels wrong to me (at the very least, in the context of my Shepard). And then comes Destroy, which sacrifices synthetic life and is the only ending where one critical thing happens; it is the only one where Commander Shepard can live. If your EMS is high enough, there's a shot at the end that shows her taking a breath, and gives a canon possibility of her surviving the war. That little sliver gave me all the hope I needed.

I knew what I would choose years ago. I knew when I finally committed to playing the trilogy in its entirety a couple weeks ago that things could only go one way.

I couldn't choose anything other than Destroy. There was no way I was going to let Commander Riley Shepard fade away in service of the galaxy. She deserves to live with those she loves, those she fought with and for. I cried for hours not only because she had to give up nearly everything, but because there was the small chance that she would survive, that everything she had done for the galaxy would lead to her possibly living a happy life with Liara. I couldn't condemn her to fully sacrificing everything at the end of the day. I wanted a fluffy happy ending (OK, yea, it's not all sunshine and rainbows, but that's beside the point. Also I'm allowing myself some headcanons) where Shepard saves the damn galaxy, and trillions of lives to come in the future from Reaper threats. She did it with help, but she's the catalyst for everything.. She put on a brave face and held the galaxy on her shoulders. She is the one who fought for others, who gathered allies, made amends, and fought like hell. And she deserves to properly rest.

You deserve everything.
You deserve everything.
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#1 Posted by tricky69 (328 posts) -

This was both beautiful and touching, as cheesy as that may sound. I also have a similar attachment to my Shepard and I recently finished Mass Effect 3 for a 10th and final time.

I'd come to realise that I needed to retire my Xbox 360, which meant no more Mass Effect. Even though there's backwards compatibility with Xbox One it just wouldn't be the same, plus you have to repurchase all the DLC. So with that I played through the trilogy once more.

Playing Mass Effect 3 and knowing that it be the last time I saw my Shepard and her friends was also going to be an intense emotional rollercoaster ride. But I never anticipated how upset I would get.

The ending is always a heart string pulling, gut punch of emotions and I usually take a breath whilst the credits roll and simply pull myself together... Not this time though. It hit hard and I couldn't stop crying.

So thank you for opening up about your experience with the Mass Effect universe and again for typing what was both beautiful and touching.

Have a fantastic New Year.

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#2 Posted by WillHeroX (10 posts) -

@tricky69: Ahhh I'm glad you enjoyed it! I can't imagine having to do that-I've managed to keep cartridges and a system at least for all the really important games in my life so far, and losing the ability to play one of them would suck. I've definitely had games affect me more on subsequent playthroughs (recently had that happen with Ace Attorney 6), but...I can't think of anything on that level.

It is nice to know that others did respond to 3 similarly though, since in my newfound love for the series it's bummed me out to reflect on 3's reception at release. I hope at some point, if you're ready, you get to go back and spend time on the Normandy again! You have a nice New Year as well!

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#3 Edited by tricky69 (328 posts) -

@willherox: Hey there. My 360 has simply been packed away into its box so there's always the possibility of a revisit to the Normandy. I also finished off the last of my backlog of games on my 360 so it was time to give it a much needed rest. But it'll always be there if I need it.

I'm always holding out for a remastered trilogy though 😉

Persona 4 was another game that got me good on the emotional scale. There were others that had similar reactions but Mass Effect 3 is the one that always pulls really hard on the heart strings, especially as it feels like I'm really saying goodbye to my friends. In all honest I'd love for Bioware to make a full on sequel with Shepard, but we all know that's not gonna happen. I'm probably gonna lose some brownie points here but I also enjoyed Andromeda and became very attached to those characters.

Anyway, enough of my ramblings. Take it easy.

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#4 Posted by someoneproud (481 posts) -

Good stuff, thanks for sharing! I've been relaying ME trilogy lately and it really does do a phenomenal job of getting me attached to that story and world. I couldn't agree more with Yakuza 6 and The Moon too, they really got me in the feels by the time they wrapped up. Any game (or anything I suppose) that can affect us emotionally is something to be treasured. Now I really want to play To the Moon again...

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#5 Posted by loafofgame (162 posts) -

Good to read an experience from someone who actually enjoyed ME3. This is a nice way of viewing Shepherd's arc.

I consider myself lucky I got into these games relatively late. I was able to play the games with all the dlc and without being aware of all the unfulfilled promises Bioware had apparently made regarding ME3. I didn't really have any expectations going in and I thoroughly enjoyed the trilogy for the space opera that it was. Not to take anything away from the valid complaints other people had, but I certainly am happy all that stuff didn't apply to me.

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#6 Posted by an_ancient (303 posts) -

Hmm, you do touch the Liara relationship which I think was more of the initial upset for me than any of the ME3 endings thing. I think you made me realize why ME1 Shephard and Liara work as Shepard is a questioning vessel for the player, but Liara was also pretty naive, which made them kind of cute together. However as things went on, her characterization made her less appealing. I get that they wanted to Break The Cutie and 2 is the dark middle chapter for Shephard too, but when they rejoin, even by the end of Lair of the Shadowbroker, I felt like too much time had passed. Their kind initial summer of love didn't reappear and I do not feel like either made an effort to understand the other. Sure it's games, but there's not much in the way of any real visible effort. I guess it's war and they fast-track because of the mind meld.

With that being said I do agree that for at least half the cast, the sendoff was bittersweet. I kind of wish they had left the ending more ambiguous though as I kind of liked everyone's dark head-canon.