Common Game Elements is a feature where I talk about something that reoccurs a lot in video games. It may be something very prevalent or something that I noticed because it has come up a few times in recent memory. Since the last few features have been about characters, I decided to do something different this time. Once again, as primarily someone who plays a lot of RPGs, I’ve noticed that most games in this genre tend to have a legendary city dedicated to either magic or technology. The city is legendary either because it’s highly advanced, the final surviving pocket of an ancient civilization, or the place to go to learn magic or other scholarly pursuits.

This isn’t necessarily a bad trend, in fact, I quite like it because these cities/towns are always something I look forward to seeing and getting absorbed in the magic of the place. It’s also not exclusive to games either. Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, which deals with a group travelling to different worlds, had a world dedicated to the scholarly pursuit of magic as well. One could say this is one of my favourite tropes and if I were to make a general rule about it, it would sound something like this:

“There will be one city renown for its magic or technology.”

Examples:

  • The magical kingdom of Zeal from Chrono Trigger. It is probably the best example of this element.

    Zeal (Chrono Trigger) – The Kingdom of Zeal was a floating island above the clouds that was renown for its magic, scholarly pursuits (3 Wise Sages), and technological advancements (Mammoth Machine, Dark Omen, Blackbird, etc). Its magic was so advanced that individuals on Zeal comment how “weak” your characters own magic is compared to theirs.

  • Lufenia (Final Fantasy) – The city of an ancient technologically advanced people. It is also worth noting that the best magic spells can only be purchased in Lufenia.
  • Mysidia (Final Fantasy II & IV) – Two distinct Mysidias exist in the Final Fantasy lore but both towns are pretty similar. Both are towns of mages and well known for having schools of magic. FFII’s Mysidia is also a guardian town for the ultimate tome of magic, Ultima.
  • Doga’s Village (Final Fantasy III) – A village populated only by Black Mages. It also sells the best spells you can find in shops. Not to mention it is named after one of the great sages in this game.
  • Midgar (Final Fantasy VII) – The elevated city that is renowned for this technological advances and mako harvestation.
  • Zanarkand (Final Fantasy X) – Not really a town or city per se, but pretty in-line with the characteristics of one. Zanarkand is the holy land of the Yevon religion and it is also the place where the most powerful Aeon is acquired. It also contains the ancient ghost of Yunalesca, the very first summoner. It is also the ruins of an ancient, technologically advance civilization.
  • Lumeria (Golden Sun series) – Lumeria is the last surviving pocket of ancient Weywald and is knowledgeable in Alchemy and Psynergery.
  • Fire Emblem – The hidden city (not named) where dragons and humans coexist and where the famous sage, Altos, and Nergal studied magic.
  • Khadein (Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon) – The city renown for its magic school. The most powerful sorcerers live and study here. From the legendary, Miloah, to the majority of magic user you recruit: Merric, Wendell, and Linde. Gharnef, one of the two main antagonists, also takes over the city and becomes the schools leader by force. He happens to be quite a formidable dark mage too.
  • Manarina (Shining Force) – Manarina is renowned for it’s magic school. Anri, the crown princess, studies magic there. The school also contains an underground lake with a connection to the ancients.
  • Wisdon (Breath of Fire) – A magical city that moves. It is home to Bleu, an immortal sorceress.
  • Cadoan (Final Fantasy Tactics Advance) – Although the town looks rather plain, it is described as the seat of knowledge and alchemy. Rather fitting given it’s a Nu Mou town; the race in Ivalice that most specializes in magic jobs.
  • Witch Village (Luminous Arc) – The village where all the witches are located and also the place where Mother Lapis rests, the source of all lapistier, which in turn are highly magical crystals with great power.
  • Carnava (Luminous Arc 2 ) – The magic loving city/country that has a good relationship with the Magic Association. The Magic Association’s most renown school, Rev, is also located within the country of Carnava.
  • Goldenrod City (Pokemon Gold/Silver/Crystal) – Goldenrod City sticks out as an especially advanced city in the Johto region since it is the home of both a radio station and a railway. Most of the other cities have a much more rural feel.
  • Castelia City (Pokemon Black/White) – A big metropolitan city in the Unova region. It’s the only one that has a very metropolitan (and in turn technologically advanced) feel.
  • Vane (Lunar: Silver Star Story/Legend) – The city with the renown magic guild led by the most powerful sorcerer, Ghaleon. It is also where Nash and Mia, the two offensive magic users in your party, studied magic.
  • Kurain Village (Ace Attorney series) – The village of the spirit mediums in the Ace Attorney universe. Most people, especially women, born in this village have a spiritual sense and the ability to channel spirits. Spirit channelling is the closest thing to “magic” in the more modern (and real life) world of Ace Attorney

    kurain village

    Kurain village is the closest to a real life setting for this element.

  • Mana Sanctuary (Sword of Mana) – The unnamed Village located next to the Mana Sanctuary seems to made up of people who are highly gifted in magic (probably due to the proximity to the Mana Tree). The heroine’s mother is seen teleporting her and Bogard away in the opening scenes and the Heroine begins the game with access to Light Magic, whereas the Hero does not have access to magic until he makes a pact with an elemental spirit.
  • Elvenham (Dragon Quest III) – The city of elves, which are magical beings. The Elf Queen is so powerful that she was able to place a sleeping curse on a whole city.
  • Swinedimples Academy & Observatory (Dragon Quest IX) – Curiously, DQIX has two locations like this. Swinedimples is a world famous academy (so famous for its scholarly pursuits). Whereas the Observatory is the flying fortress of the winged angelic people, who are an ancient race that watches over man and was created by the “Almighty”.
  • Kovomaka (Magical Starsign) – The planet home to the Will-o-Wisp Magic School, the school where all the prominent mages are currently attending or have attended at one point.
  • Radiant Garden (Kingdom Hearts series) – The world that is most associated with the study of Keyblades and Heartless. Home to Ansem the Wise.
  • The Black Lagoon (Knights in the Nightmare) – Home to the Tiamats, a race of ancient dragon people, who seem to pursue knowledge. Cardinal Capehorn, for example, is very knowledgeable and used this knowledge to earn favour with King Wilmgard. They also seem to be the only race aware of what the Arbitrator is and what is really going on (and that is probably due in part to how much knowledge they have accumulated).
  • Almeria (Rondo of Swords) – The magical city that houses the Ark, a school and research facility for mages. Almeria is renown all around as a city for mages and in fact is the only hospitable place in the Almerian desert precisely because the mages were able to enchant their city to allow humans to live there.

Exceptions:

etria

Etria, the sole town you see in Etrian Odyssey, serves as central hub of the game.

Exceptions to this rule tend to fall into three broad groups. First are games based around real-life locations and because they re-create real life locations, they can’t abide by this rule for obvious reasons. I won’t be listing examples of these down below as they are only exceptions because they take place in our world and must fall in line with our towns and cities. So in a sense, they are only exceptions because they are limited by their setting. (Example: Devil Survivor takes place in Japanese cities so no one place is more technologically superior than the other. ) Second are games that are based around one general hub town. These tend to be dungeon crawlers, hack-and-slash, or loot based games that are mainly played inside “dungeons” with no real overworld to explore. Like the former group, these games are limited, not by their setting, but by their gameplay into only having one city and with only one city, they can’t really have a town/city that is renown over others (unless, in the very rare case, the game actually has some world building and does refer to such a city). But for the most part, these genres are not interested in world building outside the single town and dungeon, so you rarely have any details that could lead you to conclude whether the game falls into the trend or averts it. (Example: Etrian Odyssey has a single hub town with a very standard flair: an armoury, an inn, a town hall, a pharmacy, etc. with very little world building outside the labyrinth. ) Like the former, I won’t be listing these because they fall into a very general board category that is hard to call an exception in the truest sense as they only have a single town. Finally, the third batch of exceptions are actual exceptions to the rule. These are games that have vibrant worlds not limited to single town or replicating our own cities, yet fail to have a single town/city that is renowned for its magic, technology, or connection to ancient peoples/civilization. These exceptions will be listed below:

  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – For a game that is based around world building and lore, it surprisingly doesn’t have a single town that really fits the rule. None of the towns are renowned for magic or technology; nor are any of them connected to any ancient races. One could make a case for Hyrule Castle Town being connected to ancient Hylians, but I think since they have lost all knowledge of such a connection, they cannot really be thought to be the last surviving pocket of that ancient civilization, so in my opinion, Ocarina is an exception.
  • Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones – Unlike the rest of the series, this entry doesn’t have any particular city that is renown for it’s magic. There is no magic school named and the mages of this game come from all over the place. None of the 5 countries present in this game are ever mentioned as renown for anything magical or technological either (although one could try to make the claim for Rausten, but I think it is too weak of a claim).
  • Dragon Quest – No towns that are especially technologically advanced or magically inclined.
  • Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure – No towns that were famous for their magic, technology, or their scholarly pursuits. There is a technologically advanced “Ancients” race, but they don’t really have a town, just a dungeon.
  • Breath of Fire II – While there is a magic school in one city, it’s never really made a point that that particular city is special due to this school. No other cities really stand out either. There is the Dragon city, but the Dragon-kin aren’t renown for magic or technology nor is their city special beyond being the home of a race that seemingly disappeared a few hundred years ago, so I’d say this game is more an exception than a rule, even if it does have incomplete elements of the rule here and there.
  • Fire Emblem: Awakening – The game mentions no magic school nor is any particular city renown for its magic or technology. Different countries do have different religious orders and there are quite a few mages and healers attached to these orders, but it’s not bound to a single place nor are these orders the only place to learn magic.
radiant gardens

Radiant Gardens is the city most associated with study of heartless and Key Blades in Kingdom Hearts.

I haven’t come across many exceptions, but it may just be because I’ve played more games that follow the rule than not. That said, I do think this list demonstrates just how prevalent this trend is. But, like I said in my opening paragraph, I don’t think it’s a bad trend. Perhaps maybe a tad bit lazy in certain instances, but overall not a bad trend. I think it is so prevalent because when you think of exploring a whole different world, you often think of how magical and amazing the place would be. Creating a city that encompasses that wonder is a pretty natural thing and precisely because it is supposed to strike a sense of wonder in you, it is made to feel special above other towns via magic or technology (depending on the setting). Likewise, if magic is included in the setting, it is pretty natural to create a town that studies magic. Magic is often thought of as an intellectual activity; mages are often physically frail and there is the idea of chants that one learns to cast spells. As such, it feels very natural to give your setting a magic nation or a school that is sort of the hub for mages. This is a tad lazy sometimes, but if well executed, it feels like an integral part of the lore of the world.

That said, I do welcome more exceptions because I also find it interesting seeing how games attempt to world build without relying on ever prevalent elements like this one. Ocarina of Time is one of the games I especially enjoyed for its lore and it is also one of the few exceptions on this list. So it isn’t impossible to build an intriguing world and lore without leaning on magical cities and lost technologies. Can anyone think of any more exceptions to this rule?

–SW

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