The plot of Palimpsest, which is one of my favorite novels ever, goes something like this. Four diverse misfits (and they really are broken people, and each is heavily obsessed with something, whether it's bees and making lists, or medieval literature, or trains, or their dead sister) discover a crazy beautiful (sexually transmitted) city just on the other side of sleep. A city made of ritual and meaning and pain and beauty, a city that fulfills wishes to a certain extent. And they proceed to move mountains, to do everything in their frail human powers in order to visit that world again and stay in it permanently. To immigrate. To a certain extent, they almost destroy their lives and themselves, and given a chance, I'm certain they would have killed for it.
Whether or not they get to that world permanently I will leave for the reader to discover (though given that this is Valente, what do you think?). The point is, the book is all about longing for the Other World, and mad balls-out desperate action to get there and stay in it.
Background Item #2:
Also by Cat, this is a brilliant essay on why it it imperative to Western literature to Choose Life, to choose RL, to choose This World. Go read it. I have to quote from it, though:
It all goes back to Homer. See, in The Odyssey, Odysseus hooks up with this nymph Calypso, and after nine years of snuggling, she offers to make him immortal and ever-young, a god in his own right--and Odysseus refuses. It's a key moment in Western literature, and one that sets up an essential choice that informs almost every human decision (yes, even what books to read). Odysseus praises the real world, the small beauties of his wife (which didn't keep him from a decade of adultery, naturally), the honor and pride of working the land of Ithaca, the joy of his son. He chooses life over apotheosis.
And so goeth Western protagonists, all of whom long to go home, escape the strange realms in which they find themselves, be they Dante or Dorothy. Their longing for home is a chief virtue, their rejection of the fantastic in favor of Kansas or Italy a valiant stance in the face of the forces of the Other, the false world, the shadows in the Platonic cave. Mimesis, or mimicry, representations of the real which are not themselves real, are demons in the divine machine. To reject them and all their works in order to embrace wife, home, land, children--this is an essential human act that we must all perform in order to go on living in this, the real world. You must choose this world. Those who do not are beyond redemption.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is an excellent Tactical RPG. But its plot is the exact diametrical opposite of Palimpsest. I LOATHED the plot of this game, and went through most of it in mild astonishment.
As the game opens, we meet Marche, a young kid in some generic wintery mid-western (or northern US) town in the 1950s (judging by the cars). We also meet his friends: his younger brother, Doned, who's in a wheelchair, a girl named Ritz with white hair, and a young boy named Mewf, who has lost his mother, and whose father is drinking himself into oblivion. All of the kids are unpopular, and picked on at school.
In the opening sequence, the kids find a mysterious magic book, like you do, and pore over it and read it excitedly, then head to bed. In the night, the book activates, and they all wake up in another world, changed.
This world they find themselves in is pretty great (we quickly come to find out that it's made out of vague recollections and dreams of Final Fantasy XII, a favorite game of Mewf's). It's a land of magic, monsters, intrigue, fierce beauty, and best of all, the kids are transformed into able and competent warriors. Marche starts out as a soldier and joins up with a mercenary clan that befriends him. Doned is no longer wheelchair-bound, but can run and quickly becomes a rogue. Ritz leads a clan of fierce warrior girls with bunny ears (hey, it works). And Mewf? Fairly quickly into the game, you come to find out that Mewf is a child Emperor of this world, much beloved by his (now living) mother, and his father is now the Head Judge (and no longer a drunk auto mechanic).
Are dark forces threatening the kingdom? Will the heroes be called on to save the innocent fantasy world? No, actually. Not in this game, anyway. They can just run around and have fun, fight other clans, garner glory and reputation, and have adventures. Most importantly, you cannot die in combat. Magic law exists in this land, and Judges preside over each fight so that combatants are KO'd instead of killed, and are alive after the hostilities end. (There are specially designated badlands where there are no such laws, but the point is, you don't have to die).
And what does our hero do, faced with this world? He IMMEDIATELY decides that this world is an evil illusion, and that he must get home no matter what. There is no "oh hey, this is pretty great, I can at least take a vacation from snowy Midwest and enjoy this beautiful warm desertlike (but flowering) world for a while". Instead, he quickly figures out that the only way to get back home is to destroy the very foundations of this world, the crystal pillars that hold it together. SO HE IMMEDIATELY PROCEEDS TO DO JUST THAT.
He literally begins to travel the land, seek out the Crystal pillars that hold the world together, kill the gods of the world that are protecting them, and shatter them.
And how do his friends feel about it?
Ritz: I don't want to go back. My hair is awesome and red in this world, I lead a clan of Viera warrior girls, and I kick ass. I don't want to go back to school and to the snowy Midwest, and in fact I will oppose you with all of my might, so as not to go back.
Marche: Too bad, we have to go back. This world must be destroyed. I will fight you and win.
Doned (Marche's brother, wheelchair-bound in the real world): Marche, I don't want to go back. I can WALK here, I can run! I like this world! In fact, I will KEEP SELLING YOU OUT TO TEAMS OF ASSASSINS AND MERCENARIES so that they foil your progress, so as not to go back.
Marche: Too bad! I don't care if you can't walk in the real world, it's STILL THE REAL WORLD and therefore better. I will fight you, my own brother, and drag you kicking and screaming into the real world. But it'll be ok, I promise. (SPOILER: It is not ok in any shape or form, even when this happens).
Judge Cid (Mewt's father): Hey, this world is pretty great. My wife is alive, and I'm the head judge, and not a failed auto mechanic.
Marche: But Cid! THIS WORLD IS AN ILLUSION! You're actually a drunk failed auto mechanic drinking yourself into oblivion. Surely you must realize that it's better for your kid to live in the real world!
Judge Cid: You're right! I've been living a lie! I will no longer be judge! I will aid you in the process of dragging my son, kicking and screaming, back to the real world!
Mewt Ok, Marche? MY MOTHER IS ALIVE HERE. And my father is the Head Judge, and loves me. AND I'M THE EMPEROR OF THE WORLD. I certainly do not want to go back. I will use all of my powers as Emperor to stop you.
Marche: No. Illusion, remember? You must go back to RL, because it's awesome there. I will proceed to dismantle your empire, destroy the pillars of this world, kill all of its gods, and drag us all (even you my unwilling friends) back. But we can still be best buds, right?
And so that's what he proceeds to do. Fight his way through the world (not really enjoying it in the process), kill all of its
Because, you know. Real world. Awesome. Must choose it no matter what, kids.
So yeah. This is what I've been playing for a year now. And to the very end, I was hoping that somebody somewhere would smack some sense into Marche. But no. He succeeds, and we're supposed to laud him for it. RL restored. The end.
I have never hated a plot to a videogame this much.
(Edit: I then found out that if you grind through all 300 missions programmed into the game, there is an alternate ending, and Marche stays in the magical other world, and all is ok. What... I don't even know how to feel about that. Why..? Why toy with me thus?)