Cutscene Costume Confusion and the Call for Continuity Correction

Have you ever watched a movie and after a huge action-packed sequence, the main character starts talking to his team and is wearing a completely different outfit? Same scene. Same place. Same situation. Just a completely different outfit.

No? Me neither.
So, then why is it okay for games to behave this way?

I’m talking about cutscene costume changes. You spend time finding the right armor set or color palette for your main character’s wardrobe, but never get to see it in its full glory during the pivotal moments. Why? Because the dreaded “default” outfit, the character’s original garb, is the only one rendered out for the cutscene. If you’re a fan of role-playing games, you’ve likely seen this.

The problem is real. Nothing pulls me out of a story faster than the continuity error of my character’s costume. I’m a very visual person; I often times find myself thinking only about the change and the disappointment of it all instead of really immersing myself in what is going on in the cutscene itself.

The Tales Of …series has been one of my favorite RPG series since I discovered Tales of Symphonia for the GameCube many, many years ago. Not only was the story rich, but the amount of content in one game baffled me. This was/is a game that basically requires you to play again… and again… and again to experience everything. Including unlocking the characters’ “titles.”

Titles in the Tales Of … series serve as extra customization for the characters. Some titles you unlock by achieving certain feats in battle – such as killing so many enemies or performing so many combos – while others are unlocked through the story or by completing side quests. Even further, some select few titles also change the appearance of your character for the in-game scenes and battles.
But, as soon as the glorious anime-style cutscenes are triggered, you’re back to the basic character designs. And I’m instantly reminded that my title choice means nothing.

Alternative costumes have become so popular that they’re starting to be released as downloadable content. Final Fantasy XIII-2 had multiple costumes that you could purchase for both Serah and Noel, including crossover N-7 armor from the Mass Effect series. 

But, don’t fear. With the power of game engines improving and the beauty of in-gameplay graphics evolving with the times, several games have already started to break this trend.

One of the games that I must highly commend for this is Xenoblade Chronicles for the Wii – and now Nintendo 3DS. Not only does every individual piece of headgear, body armor, footwear, and weaponry have an individual design or color palette, but they all carry over for the conversation cutscenes. Think Reyn needs to be shirtless the entire game to show off his muscles? Like Shulk running around in booty shorts? Want Sharla to have glasses because of the irony of her using a sniper rifle? You can do that. In fact, I did during my playthrough…. Just sayin’.
I think part of the reason this is able to happen in Xenobladeis because of the lack of non-in-game cutscenes. All of the breakaway story segments rely on in-game models; the graphics are that good that they don’t need that extra oomph of pre-rendered cutscenes. Instead, we get to see our character in shirtless glory during emotional reunions and epic battle sequences.

This, I feel, is where the industry needs to head. Sure, pre-rendered cutscenes are beautiful. And, you know what, I totally support them for the opening image of a game’s story – when you don’t have a choice in what costume or outfit your character is wearing. But, with the crazy technological advancements of in-game graphics… if you present the option to swap out the design of your characters, why not shoot to make those changes happen throughout the experience. After all, it’s all about continuity, right? 

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