Character creation systems often leave much to be desired. When given the opportunity to construct an avatar, we sometimes see them as an extension of ourselves, our people, or the kind of person we want to see succeed in a game’s world. For those of us who seek options that include common features of Black and brown folks, the shortcomings quickly become quite glaring. But there’s a new low in Babylon’s Fall.
It’s the new Square Enix and Platinum Games joint that just launched — an action RPG in games-as-a-service form. I’ve been playing it myself, and although I’d love to tell you about just how much of a disappointment it is, you won’t go long before getting a terrible first impression. All you need to do is reach its laughably bad character creator.
Before even getting to the desire for more ethnically inclusive options, you’d probably want existing options to at least accurately show on the character you’re creating. Such is not the case with regards to skin tones in Babylon’s Fall. Not only does it include what seems like 50 shades of white, the darker skin tones are simply not reflected properly on the character model — it’s not even close.
a quick look at some of the character creator options in Babylon's Fall lmao pic.twitter.com/0n4AMGFpoJ
— BRAZYAZN (@michaelphigham) March 3, 2022
It’s perplexing, not just in the way these options look, but also in the baffling decision to have more than half the choices be indistinguishable fair-skinned colors. The few darker tones aren’t even discernable from one another. On top of that, why do they all gotta look so desaturated? I know the state of Babylon’s Fall is dire as hell, but goddamn! What makes this even more odd is that two supporting characters in the beginning of the game seem to have better looking skin tones — one that looks darker and another that looks more vibrant. So, why don’t we have those options for ourselves? It’s just so weird, and it’s hard to find any other way to describe it.
The baffling decisions extend beyond the insulting display of skin tones. I’d also like to ask why we have the option for lip color when maybe four of those choices make a notable difference in appearance. I’m not asking for anyone to roll out a whole line of Maybelline or Fenty lipsticks, but you know, some people have different natural lip colors, in fantasy worlds or otherwise. Furthermore, you get a number of preset face models to choose from, and I’m unhappy to report none of them are meaningfully distinguishable from one another. A variety of facial features — nose shape, eye shape, jawline, cheek bones, face structure, etc. — are sorely lacking in any of the 15 available choices. I can’t even get one face option to look remotely Asian or Latino! If you’re looking for something not Eurocentric, you’re out of luck. Absolutely hate to see it.
Lastly, these hairstyles, man. While I can’t be the sole judge on this, I will say that two reasonable options for locs is not enough. Time and time again, we see a lack of care when it comes to designing Black hair in games. Even some of the highest profile games struggle to get this right. When there are over 20 options for hairstyles and only two of them can represent a Black character, it communicates the developers are ignoring a significant portion of gaming audiences. Combined with the ridiculous showing in skin tones and facial features, it’s clear every Black and brown person is left out to dry in Babylon’s Fall.
In a broader context, the character creator is a straight up mess if you’re trying to make an appealing protagonist. I can’t help but wonder why they bothered having these options in the first place if little-to-no effort was put into making them look right. Part of the appeal with this kind of game is customizing, building, and playing as a character you like. Being a gear-focused third-person action game where your character is constantly in view, style and appearance are vital. You’re supposed to have a cool-looking character who rocks flashy gear that a loot-based game could allure you with. If I’m going to spend a significant amount of time with this game (which I will not), I should at least have that.
Babylon’s Fall blatantly ignores the fundamentals that we’ve already seen and come to expect in character creators for years. At the very least, body types, face models, and voice types aren’t locked to gender binaries, allowing you to mix and match these options as you see fit. This is the one area Babylon’s Fall offers the bare minimum.
However, in contrast to a number of other Japanese-developed games with character creators, Babylon’s Fall conveys a total lack of care or attention in the development process. Games like Monster Hunter World, Demon’s Souls, or Nioh 2 leave it in the dust. And series like Pokémon and Animal Crossing have made strides to be more inclusive. Of course, there’s still work to be done. If I’m being honest, my main game Final Fantasy XIV can stand to include a more diverse set of facial features for its human-like character models (especially with a major graphical overhaul coming in the near future). But that all goes to show just how silly Babylon’s Fall looks by comparison, and that there’s no excuse for what shipped.
At the end of the day, all I ask is: Do better. It’s not unreasonable to expect a character creator to have some basic options, and it’s certainly not unreasonable for those options to actually look proper on the models themselves. Maybe it’s not worth making a fuss about given that Babylon’s Fall isn’t a game worth playing, but it’s indicative of where priorities lie.
Babylon’s Fall is just poor visual showcase, too. It has this watercolor painterly art style in an imposing, techno-ancient setting; however, it’s a woefully unattractive implementation of that idea, like someone threw an ugly brush filter over the whole thing. Everything is all murky, rife with blemishes and no stylistic cohesion. The more you inspect its world design and watch its cutscenes (especially with your character in them), the more confusing things get. This game has no idea what it’s supposed to be, and the visual aspect is indicative of a much larger problem.
Perhaps better options and proper visual representation of characters can be patched at some point, and in the highly unlikely event that happens, let it be known that it was terrible from the jump. The ship has sailed — I won’t bet on a $60 game with a battle pass, premium in-game currency, and a bad foundation and design philosophy making a meaningful comeback.
I can’t believe this is what we got from a new Square Enix and Platinum Games collaboration. As someone who loves the NieR series, with NieR: Automata and NieR: Replicant making such a huge personal impact on my life, my disappointment is immeasurable. I’m ever more curious about where it all went wrong. But that’s besides the point. Babylon’s Fall is simply an example of what not to do.
For a game with very few redeeming qualities from a gameplay perspective, it’s rather hilarious that its character creation system is one of the worst things about it. It sucks to be mean-spirited, but I gotta keep it a buck. This goofy ass character creator is a microcosm of the poor quality of Babylon’s Fall itself. There is no situation in which you could say, “Well, at least the game is good.”
In fantasy worlds where its inhabitants can be whoever we want, Babylon’s Fall lets us be anything but. If you’re going to include a character creator at all, you could at least do the bare minimum. Our expectations were low, but holy fuck.