It certainly says something about the video game industry that the most anticipated release of the year so far is a remaster of a sci-fi RPG trilogy from a decade ago. Mass Effect has some memorable characters—and a lot of less memorable ones, a fact that many people have fittingly forgotten. On this week’s party member-focused episode of Splitscreen, we judge the studs and the duds of Mass Effect’s cast.
This week’s topic is party members, so Ash Parrish, Mike Fahey, and I get started by discussing our respective first party members ever, in any game. Apparently, they left a mark on us, because Fahey has his first party—the main cast of Final Fantasy 1—tattooed on his body, and some nerd (me) decided over ten years ago that it would be cool to base his Twitter handle on a character from obscure PlayStation 1 JRPG Legend of Legaia. He, now a working professional, definitely doesn’t regret it!
Then we discuss the best and worst party members of all time, including Palom and Porom from Final Fantasy IV (best), basically everybody from Supergiant’s Pyre (best), and Donald Duck from Kingdom Hearts (the worst of the worst, an abomination, a travesty).
For our last segment, we send every party member from the original Mass Effect trilogy on their most dangerous mission yet: A fun game called “Fuck, Marry, Chill”—so-named because killing one of the chosen three would be redundant. The goal: Pick three characters with whom to perform one of the aforementioned acts based on their merits. Everybody else dies. Sorry, Ash.
Get the MP3 here, and check out an excerpt below.
Nathan: This is gonna be an easy start: Kaiden.
Ash: We do not choose him. He gets put in—I don’t know—the mass effect field or something. We’re leaving them on Virmire.
Fahey: We chain him to the outside of the ship and add a little camera so we can watch what happens when we blast off.
Nathan: Yeah, Kaiden is the sequel to Carth from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. They both have the same problem of being a white dude who’s whiny for reasons that don’t make a lot of sense—where you’re just like “I don’t feel anything for you or about you.” I think one of the defining choices of Mass Effect 1 is who you keep between Kaiden and Ashley, and it’s like, well, in the end they both kind of suck.
What about Tali?
Ash: Aw, OK. We chill with Tali. You can’t kill her. You just can’t.
Fahey: I feel like I would not be able to kill the in-game version of Tali, but the version they did where they used the stock photo—I could kill that version of Tali.
Nathan: I think a lot of people like Tali, but I don’t have that strong of feelings about her. Her whole thing is cool. I like the concept of her species, but yeah, I just never got super attached to her.
Ash: I think for a lot of these characters, the fandom does a lot of work with how they interpret the littlest things in codexes and small interactions to build them out into a more fleshed-out version than you would get in the game. I think Tali is one of those characters who, if you just look at what is offered to you on the screen—especially in the first and second games—it’s like “Eh, you’re cool or whatever. I don’t see anything special about you or anything like that.” I personally don’t feel that way. I like her. But I think it’s one of those things where maybe the fandom has built her up to be a bit bigger than what she is. I think they do that with a lot of the characters. I think Garrus might also suffer from that a little bit, but maybe not. We’ll get there.
Nathan: I think we should put Tali down as “tentative chill.” That’s a valuable slot. We don’t want to jump to any conclusions right off the bat. We have a long list to get through, and I think there are going to be many characters we feel conflicted about.
Alright so: Liara.
Ash: Don’t ask me!
Fahey: I want to get rid of her. She’s the one who became a weird boss character between Mass Effect 1 and 2. I didn’t like that arc.
Ash: It seems a little odd for her, honestly. I get that people grow, and they grow in different directions than what you would originally plan for her. And Liara is an Asari. They live for millions of years. If this was a change that took place over decades, I’d buy it, but this is in the three-year span between 1 and 2.
Nathan: To be fair, fighting a massive, universe-ending crisis is gonna do a number on you. Especially seeing it up close as you do at the end of the first game—I don’t know, I think that might cause me to potentially radically alter the course of my life.
For context, for people who haven’t played Mass Effect: Liara starts out as a fairly kind-hearted soul and then she becomes the Shadow Broker, which is what it sounds like, basically: a criminal-type, move-in-the-shadows figure. On one hand, yeah, the change felt like a rapid edgelord-ification process, like BioWare said, “Oh man, she was too nice in the first game; we’ve gotta give her an edge.” But at the same time, I romanced her in the first game, and what I liked is that you encounter her in the second game, and it’s a kind of midpoint for Shepard and her where their lives went in separate directions—
Ash: Well, it wasn’t so much that your lives went in separate directions. Your life ended.
Nathan: True! But it’s this interesting representation of what can happen in a relationship that I don’t think gets portrayed very often in video games. So I mean, I’m partial to Liara, but it sounds like the two of you aren’t, and she may have to die.
Ash: She may. We can only save three.
Nathan: OK, Garrus. I mean, he’s obviously gonna stick around in some capacity.
Ash: We marry him. Maybe he might also be a “fuck.” From what I understand, he’s a good one, too.
Fahey: How do you understand that?
Nathan: Where are you getting your intel?
Ash: I think one of the really sweet things about Mass Effect 2 is the build-up to the love scene with Garrus. You’re a human, and he’s a Turian, and you have complete different biologies and completely different structures. It’s not like a Star Trek situation where it’s like “It doesn’t matter; you’ve got a hole, and I’ve got something to put in it, so we’ll make it work.” They have this whole big to-do where Garrus is like “I’ve been watching porn because I wanted to see how this is going to work. I talked to the ship’s doctor, who gave us some cream because there might be some chafing involved. We’ve gotta take this shot because we have different proteins, and if I kiss you, you might die or go into anaphylactic shock or something like that.”
There was a lot of care and consideration put into the part before doing the thing, which is not something video games do very often. It’s usually like “OK, time to get on the train to bone town.” The way they talked around this was so sweet and endearing. And then afterwards, they were like “Oh yeah, that was actually kind of awesome.”
Nathan: OK, I think you’ve made a very strong case for Garrus being the one we fuck. I don’t think you could make a stronger case, honestly. So Garrus is in the lead for the coveted fuck slot.
Next up is Ashley, the space racist.
Fahey: Kill her.
For all that and more, check out the episode. New episodes drop every Friday, and don’t forget to like and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Stitcher. Also, if you feel so inclined, leave a review, and you can always drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions or to suggest a topic. If you want to yell at us directly, you can reach us on Twitter: Ash is @adashtra, Fahey is @UncleFahey, and Nathan is @Vahn16. See you next week!