Long-time gamer, aspiring writer, and frequent bearer of an afro. As an eternal optimist, I like to both look on the bright side of things and see the better parts of games; as a result, I love a game with a good story and awesome characters...and anything that lets me punch the heresy out of my enemies.
I'm a big fan of Atlus' games, and I've enjoyed my fair share of fighters and RPGs. Just...please, keep Final Fantasy XIII out of my sight. It never ends well for anyone involved.
You can check out some of my game musinga/stories/random stuff at my other blog, Cross-Up. I've also got a TV Tropes thingamajig, and I'm trying to get some freelance work going. Among other things. Like a web serial novel. And getting books published. If ever there was a time for the world to learn the joys of ghost-punching, this is it.
It’s been a while since I’ve tossed a post up on Destructoid. Let’s change that…with yet another ill-advised discussion on gender politics in video games! Rejoice, sort of! Or, alternatively, despair!
There was an article on The Escapist a little while ago that discussed the controversy surrounding a recent cover for a Spider-Woman comic. Put simply, the art is what you’d call “buttnomenal”. With the emphasis on the butt. It’s not exactly what I’d call the greatest art I’ve ever seen, but then again my comic book collection couldn’t even fill a shoebox. All I know is that I can respect the apparently-famous artist, but the art itself isn’t exactly something I can get behind. Apologies for the pun.
In any case, the article got me thinking. It actually mirrored a sentiment brought up by (the great) Jim Sterling once upon a time: the portrayal of both genders kind of sucks in video games. But the key idea is that there’s a difference: men in games -- and fiction in general, a lot of times -- tend to be idealized. And of course, women (sometimes literally) tend to be objectified. There’s a difference.
So imagine my reaction, reading that article and agreeing with the opinions there. It should go without saying, but making the fabled and elusive “strong female character” is something that means a lot to me. A WHOLE LOT, but I’ll explain that another day, maybe. In any case, I have my doubts that enacting some sort of sweeping change in the game industry is going to happen just by writing one measly little post, and debating the issue at hand in WAY to many words. But as a would-be writing hero, I would prefer to write good female characters instead of, you know, bad ones.
If you’ve read some of my other stuff, you know that I actually have a pretty lax opinion when it comes to female characters and their design. That’s not to say I don’t believe there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed (Mu-12 from BlazBlue comes to mind, because what the hell ArcSys), but as is usually the case, CONTEXT IS IMPORTANT. Just because a character is improbably buxom or wearing a skintight blue suit doesn’t automatically make them the worst thing ever. The issue -- for me, at least -- is that it’s going to be my duty to come up with that context. There has to be some thought put into the character’s particulars. And as such, I had a thought. “So male characters are idealized, and people tend to be okay with that -- consciously or otherwise,” I said to myself. “So maybe there’s something to be gained by doing the opposite.” And then I asked myself a question.
“Wait, how the hell do you idealize a female character?”
Now, let’s be real here. The obvious answer is to not freaking try to idealize characters, male or female. Just make a character. Give him/her a solid personality. Give them strengths and weaknesses, physical and mental. Give them a chance to be more than just basic archetypes; let them do stuff, triumph, struggle, make mistakes, and more. I’ve always been under the impression that if a character is liked, it’s because an audience naturally decides “Wow, this is a pretty cool guy.”
Or to put it a different way: a “cool character”, in my opinion is someone a person would actually want to be around. Someone you’d want to hang out with, or meet in person. Could you do that with an idealized character? Sure, maybe. But (the great) Jim Sterling brought up Kratos as an idealized male -- and for all the fans he may have earned, I can’t imagine that there are too many people out there who’d want to spend more than five seconds around him. Or, you know, even stand in the same city-state.
But let’s get back to the matter at hand. Let’s go ahead and entertain the thought -- follow the line to its logical conclusion. How do you idealize a female character? That’s a question I’m hard-pressed to answer. I’ll be counting on those of you reading this to offer up some strong arguments of your own, but in the meantime, I figure I might as well try to stumble my way towards one possible answer. So bear with me for another few thousand words.
Like it or not, physical appearances are important -- in fiction and beyond. So a character’s look is definitely a factor that goes into the idealization process. But as many, many, many instances in the past have proven, it’s not enough to go MORE BOOBS, LESS CLOTHES and expect accolades. (It’s pretty much the opposite at this point, isn’t it?) So if creating an idealized male character -- who we’ll call IMC from here on -- is about creating a sense of power, then there has to be some sort of equivalent for an IFC, right?
It sounds reasonable enough. So what is it, then?
I’ve always been iffy about the concept of strength when applied to characters, because A) strength AND weakness is important to the process, and B) I’ve seen that quest to create a powerful character go awry all too many times. Sorting out those power dynamics makes a huge difference-- trust me, I know. But an IMC’s strength is likely different from an IFC’s.
Strength for an IMC means power. Domination. Control. They’re ideal because of their ability to stand above others in terms of ability, physical or mental. (I’d put the emphasis on “physical”, though, because at least in terms of games, there’s usually a push to make the player feel powerful -- and there ain’t no book learnin’ that can do that. Not as well, at least.)
It’s a slippery slope, if you ask me. Sure, giving an IFC strength can help, but it has to be the right strength, and not at the expense of everything else. So yes, Final Fantasy 13’s Lightning may be a no-nonsense soldier that can take on all of the bad guys, but at what cost? To what end? So she can get a trilogy largely reviled by the gaming masses?
I'll be the first to admit I've got a grudge, but I've yet to be convinced I'm off-base here. There's enough evidence to suggest that she’s such a terrible character, her awfulness -- which is never, ever discussed in-universe -- ends up causing nearly all of her trilogy’s problems. Even beyond that, what kind of statement is a reliance on strength making? “In order to be an ideal character, you have to have the ability to hurt others.” That doesn’t sit right with me.
I think that what’s important here isn’t just raw power (in the physical sense). Rather, it comes down to two things: agency and legitimacy. As gamers, we’re no strangers to the princesses, mages, and all-around girlfriends that need saving on a regular basis, and it’s a real problem that even now women are getting the shaft just so our games’ leads can have some sort of motivation. I won’t soon forget that Watch Dogs, claimed to be a major foray into the realm of “next-gen”, gave its leading man -- and I use that term lightly -- a push into action by killing off his niece and putting his sister in danger. Then again, I’m under the impression that Watch Dogs was made by a crack team of wombats, so that doesn’t count.
So the solution to the problem, at least a little bit, is to give the IFC agency. Make a character that doesn’t have to stand or hide behind anyone. It’s been done before with characters like Bayonetta and Juliet Starling, and while that does come coupled with their ass-stomping potential (their ASP, if you will), there’s enough to them so that they’re more than just vessels of power. They are people, even if they’re not exactly what you’d call realistic.
But what’s just as important -- maybe more so -- is the legitimacy of the character, in-universe and out of it. People still point to Ivy Valentine circa Soulcalibur IV as THE example of everything wrong with the portrayal of women in video games -- and they’re right to do so. There is absolutely no justification for that, given either by the character or the story (in SC4, Ivy wants nothing more than to die -- so why is she, a well-off aristocrat, alchemist, and maiden, running around dressed like that?).
Now, there are liberties that can be taken, but there’s always a limit. The IFC deserves to be considered as a legitimate character because of all the factors that comprise her -- words, actions, abilities, and yes, looks. Exaggeration of attributes is allowed -- how long are Bayonetta’s legs?! -- but every factor has to have its purpose. If we’re talking about “the ideal”, then everything has to lead to the IFC being someone that an audience member would want to be. They have to be the apotheosis.
So. Let’s beat a horse so dead, its zombified corpse is mush.
I’m going to be honest here: I actually like Zero Suit Samus’ alternate costume. I’m even not joking. I’ll admit that my perception at the time was altered (my dogs have a nasty habit of waking me up well before sunrise), but when I scrolled my way to her picture on the site, my first reaction -- the one that stopped every other thought cold -- was an unbridled “WHOA!” And the more I thought about it -- i.e. when my brain actually started working -- the more I came to my own personal conclusion. I think ZSS looks freakin’ hype. Not enough to play her, mind (Imma play the shit outta Palutena so I can use some sick goddess combos), but for me it works a lot better than it should.
Admittedly the curvature of her torso looks a little off in that screenshot, but I can look past that. (Darkstalkers and other 2D fighters mess with proportions all the time, in action or out of it; hell, Guy in Super Street Fighter 4 had his legs extended past the norm to get his look and motions right.) When I look at that version of ZSS, I don’t think “fanservice”. And I certainly don’t think of “betrayal” by Nintendo, or “disservice” to a legendary heroine. No, the first thing that comes to my mind is “strength”.
As others have pointed out, she looks like she’s ready for -- or just wrapping up -- a workout session. Coupled with a character renowned for her status as one of gaming’s greatest female icons, it’s a combination that leaves one hell of a strong impression. Does it give added emphasis to her femininity? Yes. Is that a bad thing? No. Are Nintendo, Sakurai, and Bandai Namco skirting a thin line? Yes (even if her costume isn't exactly dissimilar to the Wii Fit Trainer of the same game). Are they out to devalue their character? No. If anything, I think they’re trying to enhance her.
Samus means a lot to plenty of gamers. Even when she was just a mass of pixels, her space adventures left an impression -- as did her reveal. Not being much in the way of Metroid, I can’t comment too much about what kind of character she might be. But what I can say, based on my inferences, is that the separate traits -- the perceived masculine and the perceived feminine -- don’t have to exist behind walls as high as mountains.
In the absence of a game that satisfactorily advances either the Metroid canon or Samus’ character, all we have to go by for now are visuals. What can she tell us with her looks? Her moves? Her stances, her strategies, everything? And right now, the message that I’m getting is that she’s still the badass bounty hunter everyone envisioned, no matter what she’s wearing.
She’s just super-proud of her body, that’s all. Given the option, wouldn’t you be? I know I would.
I can’t shake the feeling that the “trap” that comes with creating a female character -- ideal or otherwise -- is that it’s a concept entangled with creating the perfect woman. Going back to FF13, it’s a long-standing joke that the director of The Lightning Saga treats its leading lady as his waifu. (I say joke, but it’s only funny because it’s partly true.) That’s the sort of thing that can cause one million billion problems for a creator and his work -- but the reason I bring it up is because it highlights the disparity.
Lightning is less than ideal for me; I’ve made that clear time and time again. And the same lack of appeal goes to others. But at the same time, even if I’m a guy who doesn’t mind the HD-boosted ZSS, there are those who have every right to believe that her alternate costume -- or even her main one -- is a step backward. It’s hard to come to, or even get a sense for the consensus.
Is the IFC a warrior, or a protector? A thinker, a fighter, or a nurturer? Striking in appearance, or more down-to-earth? Muscular, or waifish? Tall? Short? Colorful? Subdued? Outgoing? Reserved? Brilliant? Foolish? Passionate? Cold? Exotic? Familiar? And maybe most important of all: shattering gender roles and expectations, conforming to them, or twisting them as needed?
Even someone like Katniss takes heat as well as praise. Is she good? Is she bad? All I know for sure is that she’s popular. But popular or otherwise, she’s not the definitive answer to the question.
There may be no definitive answer, because as long as the execution of the character is on-point, they can ALL be viable answers…just not for everyone. Because of that, I suspect that this problem -- the debates that crop up, over and over and over again -- will keep resurfacing every time there’s a new screenshot or some new art.
There may be no definitive answer -- because there have been very few, if any, in the gaming canon that can or will provide one. More often than not, you find examples of what NOT to do.
Hold your horses. And your comments. I’ll come back to this point in a minute.
My gut instinct is that it’s easier to settle on (and accept) an IMC because the route there is a lot more well-defined. It’s true that Kratos in God of War 1 had some juice to him besides just being Anger McMuscles, but what’s the grand summation of the character right now, and what will it be years down the line? That he’s a cautionary tale about the dangers of giving in to desire, ambition, and fury? Or that he kills lots of monsters, screws plenty of ladies (guess he got over his late wife), and gets to be a god just by being the toughest guy in the room?
Conversely, the route to being an IFC is likely much more complex; even one step down a fork in the road -- a use of one of any number of factors, like the ones I mentioned earlier -- can lead to a dead end. Is Bayonetta as a character universally respected? Or are there those who, justifiably, take issue with her being Sexyhair Q. Crotchsplayer? (The less said about how a female character has to flaunt her body to star in a character action game, the better.)
Bemoaning the lack of female characters -- ideal or otherwise -- is pretty much part and parcel with being a gamer these days. That’s a shame. That’s not the way it should be. But I have absolutely no problems understanding why putting them in the game is perceived as such a big risk. No one has the perfect, one-to-one guide on creating an IFC. No one.
And as it stands, I doubt there is one. I’d like to think that the problem could be solved if developers would ask what sort of character women might want, or at least trying to keep a pulse on the matter. Understanding the needs of an audience is important, especially when said audience makes up a good half of the planet. But on the other hand, I was under the impression that caving to demands and “giving the people what they want” is what gave us such memorable titles as Fuse.
Let’s get serious for a minute. See, I’ve always thought that creators were supposed to bear the responsibility. That is, if they’re out for true success, they can’t just “give the people what they want”. They have to give the people something that they never even knew they wanted. The only way to do that is by tapping into their namesake -- by using their creativity, ingenuity, skill, and wit to offer up something that can please others. Maybe not everyone under the sun, sure, but more than enough people. You know, give them something for them to unite under.
Granted we live in a world where there are four -- and soon to be five -- Transformers movies by Michael Bay, so who knows at this stage. Still, that’s no reason to refuse to put in effort. It’s been done before, and it can be done again. It’s all in service of the fans. If you’re looking to entertain, then you’d damn well better do your best to entertain. No exceptions.
Now, you remember how I said there aren’t a lot of examples of an IFC? That’s true -- to an extent. But there is one that I feel like I have to bring up. No, it’s not Alyx Vance. No, it’s not Jade. No, it’s not Elizabeth. No, it’s not Ellie. No, it’s not whoever you’re thinking of right now, so please stop guessing. They're viable answers, but I have one in mind.
It’s Milla. Milla Maxwell.
The leading lady of Tales of Xillia is an interesting case -- because as it so happens, she’s idealizing herself. Relatively speaking (it’s complicated, and full of spoilers), she’s the god of Xillia’s world; her thought processes and concepts are miles past the norm. As it so happens, she mentions candidly in a conversation that she chose that form -- that of “a busty twenty-year-old”, as one party member puts it -- because she thought it would be appealing to men.
I’ll be blunt. You have no idea how much it means to me to have a character explain their looks in-universe. Especially when said appearance is a wild departure, and/or could raise some concerns for an audience out-of-universe. If you compare Milla to every other character in the game, you’ll notice that her waist is tiny, even taking the anime affect into consideration. And why? Because that’s what she thinks looks best. That’s her way of making herself ideal. To say nothing of her potential tastes.
But it goes beyond looks (and that hair, which probably weighs more than the rest of her body put together). She’s a god who lays claim to the ideal form of power, i.e. using summon spirits to guide her -- and when she loses them in the game’s opening hour, she’s left damn near winded just by walking. She seeks the ideal knowledge by reading all the books she can get her hands on. So in theory, she should be well-adjusted, right?
Nope. In practice, there’s a big tradeoff. She’s isolated herself from humans, and as a result lacking in practical applications of her knowledge. Moreover, for a hefty swath of the game sees humans as toddlers she can laugh at, coddle, or punish as needed. Her virtues and her very status are ideal -- but when the big reveals come and go, she’s left with everything she’s known challenged…though surprisingly, she handles everything like a pro. Up to and including a brief sequence where she’s paralyzed from the waist down.
Milla’s a strange character -- with her voice pretty much sealing the deal on her otherworldly nature -- but I’d argue she gets pretty damn close to reaching the optimal state. She’s an IFC in the conventional sense; de-powered or otherwise, she’s a magic swordswoman who can wallop any enemies that come her way, so physical ability isn’t an issue (once she learns how to walk and swim and eat, of course).
Her looks might raise an eyebrow or two, but that’s counterbalanced by her strong personality and development; she’s a decidedly-mature character who stands firm in the face of adversity. And while there is a romance element to both the character and the game at large, it’s done without any hand-wringing moments. Hell, Jude’s the one who’s pining for her, and spends most of the game trying to reach her level; Milla doesn’t have to suddenly get degraded just so Jude can swoop in and catch her in his arms. (Interestingly, Milla is taller than Jude -- officially by a couple of inches, but I swear the game and several art pieces exaggerate the difference.) So at the basest, you can say that she’s got the agency and legitimacy bits down.
But I guess it’s worth adding a third point to the list: originality. This one could easily be the clincher; it’s one thing to try and make an ideal character, but without that spark to call their own -- by just banking on the basic outlines and expectations -- there’s going to be a pretty big gap if you look any deeper than the surface level.
Considering Milla, she’s in a surprisingly good place; she has a unique perspective on the world, she’s got plenty of character (humor or otherwise), she meshes well with the rest of the cast, she has struggles that no one else in the game can have, and…well, it’s not every day you get to experience a story like hers. In a lot of ways, maybe that’s what it means to be ideal: being a character whose life you want to see unfold, however briefly.
…Shit, did I just answer my post’s own question? Maybe. Then again, you could argue I did that by making Black Widow the header image.
Well, I could be wrong on some accounts -- or maybe all of them. I hope it doesn’t come to that by way of some intrepid commenter, but that’s a possibility I can live with. What’s important now is that I get some insights from anyone who had the courage to see this post through to its end. (One day I’ll learn how to write something with a reasonable length. One day.)
So let’s hear it, then. What’s your take? How do you idealize female characters? Is there a secret to it? Some shining exemplar? Is it even worth it, or just a fool’s errand? Say whatever’s on your mind. And don’t think too hard on the fact that I’m purposely avoiding talking about some of my female characters. Just assume that they’re all based on fighting game archetypes, and you’ll be fine. Ish. Assuming you’re okay with grapplers.
Also? EVERYBODY GO PLAY SOME TALES GAMES. THEY’RE SO GODLIKE.
So you know that whole “turn your brain off” mentality that people throw out sometimes? You know -- the idea that if you just go with the flow, you’ll have more fun? I don’t believe in that. Setting aside the fact that such passive action is what allowed stuff like Michael Bay’s Transformers to rise up, that mentality is a disservice to any given art form and the viewers themselves. It’s okay to let nitpicks slide, but playing apologist and buying wholesale into movies and games and stories that don’t deserve it won’t help anyone.
That’s my golden rule. But I’m willing to bend that rule just once if it means getting my brother and buddy to play through Beyond: Two Souls.
The mere prospect brings out my trollface in full force.
Said brother already has plans to pick it up when the price drops, but I’m incongruously hyped over the prospect of him finally sitting down with the game. I might have sweetened the deal by mentioning the co-op aspect, and my buddy’s on board thanks to the presence of Willem Dafoe (and similarly, being able to wreck the world at his leisure as Aiden). I’m assuming that neither of them knows just what, exactly, is in the game. But I do. I watched the Super Best Friends LP, and actually started watching it again semi-recently.
And I know, without a doubt, that they need to see what’s in that game.
If you think I’m trying to endorse the game, DON’T. It’s like a thirty-car pileup on top of a train wreck on top of an oil spill on top of a forest fire, with a ruined birthday party thrown in for good measure. This game -- and I can’t even use the word “game” properly -- gets so much wrong it’s almost fascinatingly terrible. Almost. I’m pretty sure I never bore David Cage and his crew at Quantic Dream any ill will before; that’s true even now, but after seeing them at their “best” I can’t say I have even an eighth of the good will I had beforehand. Whatever they’re cooking up next, if it’s anything like Two Souls they need to start over.
A part of me was willing to start this post by asking “Has David Cage ever played a video game?” It was going to segue into how you could use the medium to tell or enhance a story, given that his game has been done, and done better. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that wasn’t the right question to ask. There isn’t even a question I need to ask. I have a theory.
David Cage doesn’t need to play more video games. He needs to watch something dumb.
WARNING: Spoilers for Beyond: Two Souls AND Kamen Rider Fourze coming your way. One of those is worth caring about. The other isn’t. Guess which one. Also? I FINALLY get to talk about Kamen Rider at length in a DToid post! YES!
Before I get too ahead of myself, let me say something upfront: when I say David Cage needs to watch something dumb, I don’t mean that in a way that makes 2011’s Kamen Rider Fourze out to be any lesser of a show. Indeed, I think Fourze is fantastic -- to the point where I’d say it has no right to be as good as it is, seeing as how it’s more or less a “kid’s show.” I’d sure as hell watch it (all over again) before I played Two Souls.
But with that in mind, I have no problem admitting that Fourze is a dumb, dumb, dumb series. Intrinsically dumb, that is; 75% of its soundtrack consists of blasting guitars, the first episode has a mech suit straight outta Robotech, the [s]collectible toys[/s] helper robots are based on fast food, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the show is pretty much Gurren Lagann meets The Breakfast Club…especially considering that the lead writer for the former is the lead writer for this series.
It’s worth noting that by designFourze is about a guy in a weird suit punching out guys in weirder suits as flamboyantly as possible. It’s a show full of catch phrases, over-the-top personalities, overflowing machismo, and the overriding theme (of course) being the power of friendship. From start to finish, it’s completely unapologetic about what it is and what it’s trying to do.
And in a way, that’s kind of what makes it brilliant.
If you’re wondering what this bout of gushing has to do with Two Souls, then it’s probably because I want to delay talking about that “game” for as long as possible. (It’s not even worth talking about how it botches its game aspect.) Or to be more precise, I want to give the proper setup. If I were to make a straight post about 2Souls, I’d be doing posts on it for several months. So to counteract that, I’m going to do things differently.
There are lessons that we can take away from both stories, regardless of their form and source. As such, this is going to be a compare-and-contrast sort of post. I think I can pare down my complaints and the major issues with 2Souls into three points -- and I can explain what I mean more thoroughly by using Fourze as an example. So, like the Goofus and Gallant comics of old…and new, apparently…let’s go ahead and put these two stories side-by-side, and see what we can learn.
I’ll go ahead and give you the crux of this thing, though: 2Soulsis awful because of its lead character, Jodie. Fourze is awesome because of its lead character, Gentaro. Why, you ask? Well, I’ll gladly explain why…in a whole lotta words. Strap in.
Jodie has no personality. Fans of Mr. Plinkett/Red Letter Media are probably pretty familiar with some of his more poignant ideas Namely, if a person can’t describe a character’s personality, independent of what they look like, what they can do, or what their position in their world might be, it’s a big red flag. I’d like to think it’s a rule that’s more of a formality than an ironclad measure, but when I think aboutthe number of charactersthat don’t pass what should be a simple test, can’t help but get a little nervous. And now I can pretty confidently add Jodie Holmes to that list -- which is a game-breaker when the main character of the game has no personality.
I’ve heard the argument that in a game like 2Souls, the player character(s) can’t have a personality because it would create a divide between the player and the game -- the independent thought versus the narrative. I don’t think that’s necessarily a dead-end (like others have), but this game doesn’t do anything to make an argument for itself. Jodie is caught in a purgatory, torn between being a puppet for the player and a slave to the plot…but neither of them works well together. At all.
What you say and do with Jodie only has the most tangential effect on what kind of person she becomes at story’s end, and that’s not helped by the fact that the story is told in a fragmented form. What could have happened to turn the shy bookworm Jodie into the rebellious punk rocker Jodie? We’ll never know, because there’s no connective tissue between one and the other.
Worse yet, it just highlights how little your input matters; the Best Friends immediately opted for revenge so bookworm Jodie could get back at the teens that mistreated her. So why, post-time skip, would she want to go out and hang with anyone? Wouldn’t she become a bitter recluse after that and other events? If not, then why would she go through the transformation that did? What events made her the person that we see at endgame, and long before that?
With 2Souls, there is no character arc. Just a bunch of random Ellen Page clones strung together.
But the biggest sin that Jodie commits is that she’s got zero emotional range. I’m not trying to take shots at Ellen Page here -- she’s a better actor than I’ll ever be -- but she’s pretty only allowed to have four modes throughout the entire game. The most common two are teary-eyed despair and fury over being slighted. Incredibly pleasant stuff, to be sure.
The other two, eerily stoic behavior and cloying awkwardness, are lucky to appear in more than two chapters -- and that’s a generous estimate. None of those four are very compelling. Nothing noteworthy, nothing to get excited about, nothing to enjoy. And as a result, she’s nothing to enjoy. And that just feeds into another set of problems…but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Let’s switch over to something good.
Gentaro has a simple but effective personality. It’s a strange day indeed when a character with hair like thatis more believable than someone whose face was LITERALLY scanned into a game. But here we are. Now, to be fair, I’m not going to say that a character like Gentaro is one hundred percent possible, or even fifty percent possible. But compared to the sad-sack taking top billing in 2Souls, he might as well be a revelation.
I can describe this guy in three words: passionate, friendly, and forgiving. Those might be the only three words that can be used to describe him (besides dumb, maybe), but that’s all I need out of a character like this. From start to finish, Gentaro’s goal -- something else Jodie lacks consistently, now that I think about it -- is to “be friends with everyone in his school”. And how is he going to do that? With almost manic, feverish dedication. And the occasional experimental weapon module. Times four.
He’ll get in the face of every student he comes across, forcing himself on them and demanding their friendship. He’s consistently entertaining to watch, because his passion has him doing things that no normal person would do. He’s the embodiment of the larger-than-life spirit a fictional character can show. He’s overflowing with conviction and good intentions…and that’s precisely what lands him in trouble on several occasions.
He’s a dumb character, but believe it or not he actually goes through some (subtle) character development. At the start of the show, Gentaro’s got good intentions, but they also make him incredibly inflexible. He wants your friendship, but he wants it on his terms -- he wants you to follow his lead, and screw whatever concerns you might have.
Over the course of the show’s run, he realizes that in order to be friends with a few of the more prickly students of his school (his foil, along with another Rider), he has to understand and accept their circumstances. He needs to learn how to listen and solve their problems, not just march past -- or even over -- them. Does he mellow out? No, of course not. But he does get better about his methodology.
Bear in mind that this is all independent of when Gentaro puts on his suit. But it is worth noting that his personality informs his fighting style -- a head-on attacker who’ll use every weapon he’s got (and then some) to bash the Zodiart of the day. Incidentally, this means that he’ll also willingly use VERY experimental technology -- the Astro Switches -- as his primary weapons. Some of them work out, while others lead to him getting blown up, electrocuted, or otherwise bouncing around like a doof. But over time, he learns the value of practice and preparation, and using his head. Well, somewhat. Relatively.
…Give him a break. He got a 4 on his test.
Jodie is barely a presence, even in the scenes she's alone in. If I had suddenly forgotten everything I know about 2Souls, and you showed me the game from start to finish while telling me that Jodie is the main character, I would have asked you “Really?” And then I would have hit you with a Death Fist straight outta Tekken.
It’s bad enough that Jodie can only be reliably counted on to cry or rage, because the definition of a good character has apparently become “someone you should feel sorry for, so cry for her. Cry, you fools! CRY!” It’s even worse when you realize that her actual effect on the plot is either minimal or contrived -- and no matter which road it takes, it (and she) is never compelling. This is a character that’s put at risk of sexual assault AT LEAST four times throughout the game, forcing the player to step in as her [s]Stand[/s] ghost-buddy to protect her from the big scary men.
She’s constantly getting strung around by forces beyond her understanding -- a patsy who gets used by scientists and the CIA to clean up dumbass evil ghost experiments and kill off African presidents because reasons. Stupid reasons, given that you’d think Jodie the CIA agent would read up on political affairs before going on a mission…but in her defense, she had to make goo-goo eyes at her superior officer, which I’m pretty sure is not something CIA agents are allowed to do. But hey, she’s a female character, so of course she has to fall in love with a plank of wood, right?
Remember when characters were allowed to have agency in stories instead of just getting jerked around by the demands of the plot? I miss that. Oh well. Bring on the faux-epic tales of misery!
Jodie has absolutely nothing of interest about her when it comes to her personality…but things only get worse when it comes to her skill set. As you’ve probably heard by now, players take control of Jodie as well as Aiden, her ghost-buddy who acts on her behalf to possess/choke enemies or interact with the environment. But he has more problems than that; he can put up a shield that protects Jodie from everything, he can use his magic to cure Jodie of anything, and his movement range varies from a few dozen feet to infinity.
So basically, Jodie can solve any problem she comes across. She’s invincible. Her struggles don’t ring true because there’s no tension. No chance of failure, unless the game contrives reasons for danger by way of omission. (Why doesn’t Aiden steal money for Jodie when she’s homeless, since we know he can act autonomously? Why doesn’t Aiden just pull up his shield whenever Jodie’s in danger? Why doesn’t Aiden just kill everybody?)
And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the game warps around to make Jodie useful, at the expense of the player’s suspension of disbelief. A five-foot, hundred pounds soaking wet girl can punch out soldiers? And suddenly wear the uniform made for someone a foot taller than her? And tries to sneak into a Chinese underwater ghost base in spite of being white…when there’s a Chinese guy five feet away from her?
I don’t believe for a second that Jodie is capable of anything but crying and flipping out. And because of that, I don’t see her as anything more than a walking, talking, weeping pain in the ass. Why is she the main character, besides the fact that she’s the person the camera follows the most? That’s a question no man is equipped to answer, at least not without severe brain damage and a swimming pool’s worth of beer.
Gentaro dominates in nearly every scene he's in. There is never a doubt in my mind that this is Gentaro’s show. It goes beyond him being the titular Kamen Rider Fourze; he’s the character that defines and pushes forward the show’s ideas, as any main character should. He is the show’s premiere asskicker, seeing as how the only other character that can even hurt the Zodiarts is another Rider (and the occasional power armor-piloting comrade), but he’s playing a mental game of tug-of-war in-universe and out of it that sets him up as the lead character.
He’s loud, boisterous, and determined. He’s THE embodiment of hot blood, and exactly the sort of character you’d expect from the mind behind Gurren Lagann (so I guess it’s appropriate to call him Kamina 2.0). His passion is undeniable, but it’s part of what makes him a character worth getting invested in. Gentaro strikes me as the type of person who thinks that if you flap your arms hard enough, you’ll be able to fly.
You know it’s wrong, and stupid, and goes against nature, but you can’t help but shake your head, smile, and say “Bless your heart” -- because you know by the time you do, he’ll be leaping off the roof to give it a shot. But he’ll leap right back up, smile, and the two of you can laugh about it over manly discussions on what’s the greatest enka song ever created.
That all said, I feel like it’s important to remember that just because Gentaro is passionate doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s got no emotional range. Granted he’s usually hot-blooded, but he is capable of being quiet, or introspective, or respectful. He just tends to go about things his own, usually dumb way. More to the point, there’s a concept that he (and the writers of Fourze) understands that Jodie (and David Cage/Quantic Dream) doesn’t: the power of going out of character.
The expectation is that at almost all times, Gentaro’s going to be a loud, grinning idiot. And in many cases, that’s true. BUT in the moments when he isn’t -- when he does something you wouldn’t expect of him, like engaging in a rain-soaked duel with a friend-turned-Zodiart with none of his usual gusto -- you know something’s up. And it carries more impact.
I don’t want to spoil too much about what happens in the show (because you need to watch it, otherwise you’re doing the internet wrong), but I will say one thing. When Jodie cries in 2Souls, you just go with it and move on to the next scene, wondering when you actually get to play the game. When Gentarocries in Fourze, you know damn well he’s got a good reason to. And believe me, he does. There are a couple of scenes late in the show’s run that not only exemplify his character development, but make incredible use of going out of character.
Simply put, characters that have been happy, smiling idiots from minute one of episode one are trying and failing to fight off tears -- and you can’t help but do the same. “No, no, no, don’t do that, you’re not supposed to be this kind of character,” you might think (because that’s what I thought while wiping my soaking face). To say nothing of what happens a few scenes later, as well as the final episode at large. Fair warning: the final few episodes may or may not utterly destroy your soul. If nothing else, I get misty-eyed just remembering a few snippets. It’s that powerful, because it understands how to make use of different tones, emotions, and natures of characters.
Fourze -- and Gentaro, by and large -- masquerades as a loud and brash moron, when in reality he and the show have an understanding of emotional depth that a “serious drama” like 2Souls wishes it had. The “kid’s show” has proven its intelligence years before gamers were greeted by Jodie’s immensely zoomed-in, open-mouthed face shoved into the screen. (Because I’m working under the theory that David Cage has some kind of zoomed-in, moist face fetish.)
There’s something wrong with the situation when I get more out of a show with a conehead-suited protagonist than a multi-million dollar pity party starring a Stand user.
Jodie is only someone you care about because otherwise there would be no game. You know, it’s not often that I think to myself, “Gee! I sure know what I’m talking about in this situation! I must be a better writer than I thought!” But I sniffed out a BIG problem early.
See, I didn’t feel like I got the context I need from the demo, and that made me worry that I wouldn’t get it in the full game. So here's a question: in the context of the demo, why is killing the primary option? I didn’t know who Jodie was or what she’s been through besides the experiment and training in a gym. I can deal with her trying to escape, but why did I get railroaded into murder? Besides "because video games"?
If Jodie is so desperate and/or resolute that killing is her primary goal, then aren’t the police and SWAT teams justified in trying to capture her? Why was I supposed to sympathize with someone who choked an officer to death with her handcuffs? Was it supposed to be a bit of subversion? Was the intent to actually have me play as the villain? I sure as shit hoped that was the case, because a tragic backstory isn’t enough to justify the murder of people just trying to do what they think is right, and it shouldn’t be enough.
So, having seen the game played in full, what do I think?
Here's the number one question: is Jodie the villain? Not directly, but that’s only because the plot (such as it is) makes its antagonists into strawmen we’re not allowed to sympathize with -- and before you ask, yes, Willem Dafoe suddenly decides to become the bad guy at the end because A) he’s the number-two actor in the game, and B) rrrrrrrrrrrrreasons! But Jodie doesn’t make a very good argument for herself. There’s no internal consistency to this character, and not just because of the time skips. She’ll flip-flop in the middle of scenes, deciding to punch out or kill people just to fill some “you go girl!” quota.
Remember, no matter what you do the demo ends with Jodie threatening to kill people just trying to do their job, and this is after she’s already taken a few lives. But as it turns out, the context for this is that, because she was betrayed by the CIA and killed one person -- setting aside the dozens she had to hurt, kill, or possess along the way, AND the people she let Aiden harass in chronologically-previous chapters -- she suddenly has the right to hurt everyone in her path. What about their friends and families, Jodie? What about laying low until the heat dies down? What about not using your powers to effectively burn down a block of a town? If you’re going to be a remorseless killer, then there’s a reason why the cops are releasing the hounds on you.
The ending of this game has Jodie (and the player) making the one of, if not the only choice that really matters: deciding whether Jodie, after destroying the government’s big stupid accidental doomsday device -- don’t ask -- elects to go back to the world of the living, or stays dead and travels to “the beyond.” The Best Friends actually discussed this for a moment, and ultimately decided to leave Jodie dead…as a screw you to the game for forcing a romance on Jodie no matter how much they tried to resist.
Now, normally I’d disagree and choose life no matter what, but in this case, they made the right choice. They absolutely made the right choice. In a situation like this, the implication is that Jodie should wave away the beyond -- shown to be a fluorescent paradise -- and head back to the real world to start a new life. She should find new freedom, and new happiness. And above all else, she should believe that she has hope -- and a future created by her own hands. She made it through the rain.
The problem is that in the context of 2Souls, there’s absolutely no reason for Jodie to go back. There’s no reason to believe there’s any hope for her. This is a character that’s consistently under threat of sexual assault, consistently beaten down and lied to, consistently betrayed, consistently left unloved, feared, or hated, consistently forced to face nightmares beyond human comprehension (and nightmares well within them), and consistently shown to be suicidal.
Granted some of those problems are ones she created herself, but the damage has been done. The sheer oppressiveness of the “story” has completely invalidated the message. The intent. The one choice that matters. Why should the player believe that Jodie’s life will get any better when she’s probably in danger of being pinned to a wall as soon as she walks out of the building?
This isn’t just my reasoning. The Best Friends realized the same thing. Any gamer would, too. Any idiot would. Why David Cage couldn’t do the same makes me question the very foundations of reality.
Gentaro is a character anyone would gladly ride with to hell and back. How does the saying go? Every man is the architect of his own fortune? I don’t know how you’d say that in Latin, but it’s still a pretty good line regardless.
It’s true that in spite of being played by a real person, Gentaro is as fictional as they come. He’s the construct of a slew of writers, and probably more than a few business decisions (though in this case, that might actually be a good thing). But as I said, he’s a more believable character than Jodie will ever be. Why?
Because even though he appears in a medium that has an even more passive format than the common video game -- even 2Souls, albeit very slightly -- I believe that this character is living, breathing, and moving on his own. I believe he’s making his own choices. I believe he’s acting not just to fulfill the writers’ wishes, but for his own beliefs and satisfaction. I believe he’s free to choose for himself what he wants to do.
All he wants -- besides punching out the bad guys to protect his school and those in it -- is to make friends with everybody. Why? Because when he was a kid, he told his parents that he made a new friend, and that made them happy, so he kept on doing it. That's it. That's all there is to it, and part of what makes him the character that he is. Besides the hair. (Looking back, I think his pompadour got even MORE outrageous over the show's run.)
It’s true that his parents died in a car accident (something that he mentions off-handedly, and to my surprise didn’t feed into the main plot vis a vis some big reveal), but he doesn’t let his grief make decisions for him. He just believes steadfastly in his goal, whether he strides or stumbles toward it. Not a lot of people, real or fictional, would go to the lengths he does to befriend someone. But that’s precisely what makes him so charming. That’s what makes him such an interesting -- and dare I say it, GOOD -- character.
Gentaro is free in a way that Jodie isn’t. The only reason Jodie saves the day (after spending so much of the game faffing about) is because she just happens to be in the exact place she needs to be to stop the big dumb doomsday machine that shouldn’t have been built oh my God why are you people so stupid.
She has no plan. No will, no personality, no presence; she’s almost as invisible, and unknowable, as her ghost-buddy. She’s just a plot device, and a punching bag whose only merit is giving David Cage a chance to indulge in his face fetish by zooming in every chance he gets. (Seriously, Heavy Rain? 2Souls? That PS4 tech demo? Zoomed-in faces aplenty.)
Jodie is just terrible. Gentaro isn’t. He’s energetic. He’s dynamic. But most importantly, he has something that every character should have, regardless of whether they’re smiling heroes or stone-faced avengers: CHARISMA. If they can do what they do in a way that makes them compelling -- an irresistible force that you can’t help but get swept up in -- then they’re more likely to be a character worth remembering, and help make a story worth adoring.
It’s not that hard. Fourze shows this in every single episode; there are students in trouble, so Gentaro jumps in to help them, be it by taking on their problems or by beating the monster transformation out of them. (It makes sense in context.) He’s the kind of guy you want to see more of…while Jodie’s the kind of thing you can’t look at for long thanks to some uncanny valley swan-dives. And, you know, being kind of shit.
I don’t know how much effort went into 2Souls or Fourze. Nor do I know the exact budgets for each. (I’m guessing marketing cut deep into the wallets of both.) But it’s pretty obvious which one used its effort, talent, and resources a lot better.
I could go on and on about both. I could talk about all the failures of 2Souls, be it with the game design or that ramshackle thread they called the plot. Likewise, I could talk all about what makes Fourze a blast from start to finish, along with what makes it a deeper show than it appears to be at first glance (fun fact: revenge, filial piety, and the effects of drug withdrawal all make appearances.)
That's not to say that there aren't stumbles (example: if you thought the Clark Kent/Superman issue was bad, wait till you get a load of the second Rider). But it’s as I’ve said a hundred times before: the main character defines the story. The main character makes or breaks the story. And for all the effort that went into covering Ellen Page’s virtual face with blood, sweat, and tears, she’s been outdone a thousand times over by a grinning moron with a pompadour.
David Cage? Quantic Dream? Next time, be reasonable. Act within your means. Learn how to make your audience smile before you think you can make them cry.
And that’ll do it for now. See you guys around…when I figure out how to work Kamen Rider W into a post.
All right, look. Can I be honest with you guys for a second?
Sometimes I feel a little iffy about drawing comparisons to other games when I’m trying to illustrate a point. It’s an effective method, no question, but I’m worried about potential backlash. I mean, think about the last post -- when I brought up Gears of War and DmC, it definitely wasn’t in a positive light. I’ve always felt like I have to be wary about how I talk about those games and others; setting aside the fact that calling out those two is like making a joke about Twilight, I’m certain that the games have their fans. People like them, even if I don’t. And I have to respect their wishes as well as their opinions. And I’m going to as best I can.
I just thought that I’d give that little preface. Because now I want to talk about Watch Dogs. And those of you who like the game MIGHT want to skip the next few paragraphs.
I don’t have any problems thinking of Watch Dogs as one of the WORST games I’ve ever played. It is, in my eyes, a spectacular failure in every way imaginable -- a dull, confused mess of a game devoid of ambition or vision, and tries to jam in elements from other, better games without understanding how they work or why they were good in the first place. The gameplay is a mess, the story is dead on arrival, and it squanders all its goodwill in the time it takes to reach the end of this sentence.
But the reason why I bring up Watch Dogs is because it’s emblematic of the exact problem I’ve had with so many other games in the past -- and only goes to prove the case of Devil Survivor 2. Ubisoft’s latest was brimming with promise, and had a chance to intelligently explore its themes -- among them, the perils of a wired world and a projection of the future we could be heading for. That’s not going to happen in a game where some of the most harrowing things you do are make things explode and plaster “U MAD, BRO” on freeway signs. Certainly not in a game where the inciting incident is a revenge fantasy/IMMA PROTECT MUH FAMILY bit ripped straight out of the RoboCop reboot…itself ripped from any number of other stories.
I don’t understand how you make a game that cost at least sixty eight million dollars for an eighth-generation console, yet somehow manage to make it feel smaller and definitely dumber than a years-old DS game. I just don’t. Wait. Actually, I do. It’s because in this day and age, it’s not enough to just build some shambling chimera from the pieces of other games (even though Watch Dogs has already become a top-seller, but copies sold don’t always equate to satisfied customers). It’s about measures. You measure by design, and judge based on the complexity of the concepts therein. And on top of that, you measure by execution, i.e. how well a game manages to explore its mechanics -- story-wise, gameplay-wise, whatever -- for your entertainment.
So will Watch Dogs be a financial success? Undoubtedly. It’s already left its mark on sales charts, so I doubt we’ll be seeing the last of Aiden Pearce, The Most Boring Man in the World. Will it have earned a moral victory, or an emotional one? Will it have earned loyalty that matches the hype surrounding it? We’ll see. But whether it does or not, that doesn’t matter as much to me as you think it would. Oh, sure, I think we gamers can do a HELL of a lot better than throwing money at such gormless products, but to compensate, we have games like Devil Survivor 2 that can show everyone how it’s done.
And I guess it’s up to me to show you why…while pointing out its faults.
And also, SPOILERS. INFINITY SPOILERS.
One of the things I couldn’t help but praise in the last post was DeSu2’s forward-thinking. The underlying question was “how do you rebuild the world?” And it’s a valid question -- one that I wish more games would tackle instead of fading to black with little more than flimsy promises of hope and better days once the big baddie’s buried. Mind you, this wasn’t just something tacked on in the last hours of the game; this is an overarching element of Desu2’s story that, while not the key element at the outset, is still one that weaves its way through the entire game.
The choices therein are as much a slew of interesting story routes as they are a judge of character. Given the choice, would you support a world of absolute equality, where everyone supports one another but there’s no drive to excel or improve yourself? Would you support a world based on merit, where the strongest and wisest are given their rightful chance to rule, but at the cost of using a pile of bodies to build your ladder to the top? Would you forgo the chance to remake the world (even for the better) just so you can bring back the status quo? Would you kill a god regardless of the consequences? And even beyond all those options, would you fight -- and even kill -- a friend just for the chance to realize your vision of a better tomorrow?
There are difficult questions being asked here, without a doubt. Now, admittedly, I think that the issues at hand (meritocracy vs. egalitarianism) are incredibly simplified versions of their usual selves, or at least what Wikipedia might suggest. There are probably a lot more societal and political issues here, and plenty more beyond that. But even so, it’s not a deal-breaker; after all, the new world is going to be created by a supreme administrator that looks like a fusion between a giant ice pick and a dreidel and has no qualms about brainwashing humanity to suit your needs.
Likewise, the people proposing these ideas -- JPs chief Yamato and ace detective Ronaldo -- are repeatedly called out for being too extreme and too stubborn for their own good. It’s only natural that they oversimplify things and assume that their ideals will fix the world’s problems. (It’s worth noting that in Yamato’s route, he willingly admits that it doesn’t matter if he’s the one ruling in his merit-based world; all that matters is that the best man for the job takes the throne…though in his ending, he’s the one with his own towering skyscraper, and he stands triumphant while flanked by his comrades.)
As it should be, the deciding factor for whose world ends up being built -- note that I didn’t say “who’s right” -- is the main character. Or rather, the player; it’s through the efforts of said main character (who for the purposes of this post I’ll start referring to as Hibiki Kuze, in “honor” of the decidedly-awful DeSu2 anime) that the game not only gets its ending, but a couple of its strongest weapons. Unfortunately, it also comes with what I believe to be one of the game’s biggest faults.
Hibiki’s presence, first and foremost, contributes to the idea of “leadership” that runs throughout the game. Whether you agree with Yamato/Ronaldo or not, there are others in the game that do, and for valid reasons. Maybe they wouldn’t if the status quo wasn’t in place, but the world has been wrecked almost beyond repair, and the implication (well before game’s end) is that beyond Japan’s borders, there isn’t even a world anymore.
In times of crisis, the people need strong leaders -- and there’s no one better for the job in this case than the man spearheading an organization designed specifically to counter the threat of demons and alien invaders. Well, except for the guy who’s doing his damnedest to gather food and medical supplies and offer his own counter-offense against demons and the organization that’s trying to hoard supplies. In any case, they’re men with vision, passion, intelligence, charisma, and most of all power.
And that’s where Hibiki comes in. See, in the DeSu games the stats of the main character are decided solely by you. Every level-up gives you one point to put into your strength, magic, vitality, or agility. In theory, this means that with enough patience (i.e. grinding), you can build a character that’s well-rounded, or even one without any weaknesses.
But I’m convinced that the best build for these games is one that maximizes two stats: magic and vitality. I find magic to be more useful in these games than physical attacks, because you gain easy access to elemental spells that’ll let you hit enemy weaknesses/earn extra turns, AND boosting your magic stat boosts your highly-critical MP.
Meanwhile, boosting your vitality stat boosts your HP and defense, and -- much like boosting the magic stat -- gives you access to some of the best offensive and defensive skills in the game. Think about it: one of the biggest dangers of using a mage in most RPGs is the fact that they can’t take a hit. That's part of that horrid thing they call "character balance".
If you remove that weakness, then you’re left with a character that can dish out huge damage, hit enemy weaknesses, and not only have the defense to shrug off most blows but also equip skills that further reduce damage from all but one or two attack types. Simply put, my Hibiki was nigh-unkillable. Except if he got turned to stone and then got attacked. Then he shattered like an egg.
The takeaway from all this is that, if you build a proper character and make use of the possibilities available, you’ll be able to make Hibiki into the most powerful member of the entire cast. You’re ensuring that the potential he has is fulfilled, and justifying his ability as a frontline fighter. But it’s not just strength that makes him the main character; thanks to the player’s guiding hand (assuming that you can pull off a win), Hibiki is a tactical genius that ensures victory after victory. Even if Yamato and Ronaldo are the visionaries, and even if they have talent in their own right, it’s Hibiki who’s got the leadership qualities needed to save the world.
And I mean that quite literally. See, there’s a catch to rebuilding the world via Polaris: the administrator will only do it if humanity’s will is unified. That is, those with the ability to even make it to his throne have to have a singular belief. If Yamato goes to the throne with aims of creating a meritocracy, but space-case Joe comes along and he wants equality, then it doesn’t work. Everyone present has to believe in a singular vision (the lack of which may what caused Polaris to start erasing the world in the first place). So, how do you get the best of the best to reconcile? How do you get them to forgo their own beliefs without slaughtering them outright?
Easy. You use Hibiki’s second great weapon: kindness.
One of the major additions to DeSu2 (though admittedly one ripped right out of Persona 3 and 4) is the Fate system. Basically, the more you talk to the cast outside of battles, the more bonuses you all receive. They’ll get elemental resistances, the ability to trade demons on the fly with Hibiki, and unlock more powerful demons for you to use, assuming you get strong enough demons to fuse into them. Really though, it’s incentivizing the player to actively seek out character development moments -- a dirty trick on Atlus’ part, but a smart move all the same. The option to get closer to your party members was there in DeSu1, but the sequel takes it up a notch.
Each character gets a mini-episode to get fleshed out and face a development-inducing dilemma. Joe has to deal with the pressure of facing his sick girlfriend in the wake of a collapsing world. Best bud Daichi learns to be a man, and learns that his inaction could easily lead to the death of the weak and helpless. But special mention has to go to Io, who not only learns to become more confident, but (if you’re with her at the right time) gets to find the corpses of her dead parents. And she’s just in time to see one of them die before her eyes, all while surrounded by rows of body bags.
Consider that just one of several kicks to the balls delivered by DeSu’s narrative.
But the key to advancing each character’s fate (from rank zero to rank five) is going out of your way to heal the wounds in their hearts and minds. The more kindness you show to your comrades, the stronger they -- and you, by extension -- become. If you get them to rank four, you’ve got comrades that’ll follow you even if you don’t align with their ideal of choice. And indeed, you’ll need them for the boss battles that follow; I’m convinced that I was only able to beat the game by exploiting an array of skill combinations and sending in my units to effectively cheat.
The Fate system is there for a reason, even beyond just aping the most recent Persona games. If you ignore your party members, then they become impossible to recruit no matter how much you beg. (Parting with them is a brief, but surprisingly sad affair.) But it goes beyond that. I’m pretty much convinced that if you don’t rank up at all, some of them will outright DIE. And while you’ll have a few strong party members to pick from no matter which path you take, by the time you’ve reached that point you’re probably got a go-to party you want re-assembled ASAP.
In any case, it’s Hibiki’s kindness as much as -- and likely more than -- his strength and intelligence that wins people to his cause. Remember, Yamato and Ronaldo are extremists; the former is damn near villainous in his pursuits, the latter is a verifiable terrorist, and both of them are destructively determined. It’s also worth noting that there’s an unmistakable hollowness to both their creeds; Yamato is in control of JPs precisely because his family and lineage put him there, i.e. the exact thing his meritocracy is partly trying to remove.
Meanwhile, Ronaldo is trying to create a world of equality, but incidentally he’s the leader because he’s the strongest and most capable of the bunch. Neither leader comes even close to being relatable…at least, compared to the kind, considerate, trustworthy kid roped into this mess like everyone else. You know, the same kid who has a first-hand account of what’s going on without any dilution via the lens of power, and goes well out of his way to form precious bonds with everyone. We should be thankful Hibiki didn’t try to install his own new world order.
In any case, the overarching message here is that even beyond societal ideologies, the key to making a better world (or just plain restoring it) is kindness. Being able to trust in one another and cooperate is a key element, regardless of what you believe in. Say what you will about society at large, but I think there’s merit to my words considering the amount of effort, manpower, and coordination it takes just to build a house. Hibiki’s presence lends an element of humanity to whatever side he chooses.
Hell, just being around Yamato probably works wonders for mellowing out the chief’s self-confessed coldness. Ultimately, that’s the developers’ end goal for showing how to rebuild the world -- an idealized and optimistic version, sure, but if nothing else it makes you want to believe and play along. It’s thanks to Hibiki’s efforts -- YOUR efforts -- that, no matter which ending you get, you’re bound to have a glimmer of hope sparkling before your eyes.
But for all my praise up to this point, there’s still a major issue I have with the presence of Hibiki -- and you can consider this a problem that extends to the Persona games and the original Devil Survivor. The thing is…well, Hibiki is pretty much a messiah.
I mean, really. That’s what he is. He’s almost immediately established to be one of the strongest demon tamers. He immediately earns the respect and trust of every character -- even Ronaldo, who at the outset is irrevocably an enemy. Damn near every girl shows some level of attraction towards him, whether you max out their Fate rank or not. Even beyond that, the fact that only Hibiki can sort out their emotional baggage (male or female) is kind of distressing.
You can shift his characterization to be a straight-laced and intelligent leader, a hot-blooded fighter, or a moron, which I approve of…but if you try and act intelligent, too often the game will give you answers to questions that, occasionally, you have no way of knowing the answer to. And yet the others will applaud you just as quickly. Actually, they’re quick to applaud you for pretty much waking up in the morning. There’s being kind and trustworthy, and then there’s being worshipped like a deity.
Now, I know that this isn’t exactly a universal problem; it’s more of a matter of preference. And indeed, there are theme-related reasons for making Hibiki out like this. And on top of that, the whole universe doesn’t revolve around him; he’s a silent observer most of the time, and the other characters are more eager to interact with each other instead of just you. But I can’t shake this feeling that the game’s narrative is warping around to accommodate you and Hibiki, making it so that it’s incredibly difficult to do something wrong.
It doesn’t matter what the other characters want; it’s all about what you want. And this feeds into making the Fate system a little insincere (again, a complaint that I could make against the Persona games). Are you helping Hinako rediscover her passion for dance because you genuinely care about her, and want to hear her story? Or are you just doing it so you can tick off numbers on a list, or get bonuses in battle? Do you even care about Jungo’s cat, or Fumi’s research, or Otome’s daughter? Or do you just want to build their trust so they’ll follow you down your path? I only ask because it could decide whether you're a hero or an asshole.
I’m willing to let it slide because these points aren’t game-breaking. Nor are they things that detract severely from the quality of the game. But they’re still things that should be considered, especially when the point of the game is to rely on and establish strong leaders. How are we supposed to fully understand and accept the elements here if there’s an inherent selfishness to the proceedings? How are we supposed to believe that we’re pulling together as a team when your actions are almost saintly?
Taken on a deeper level, DeSu2 runs the risk of undermining itself by way of its game-based, player-aggrandizing elements. What if I want to work a little bit harder to build bonds with comrades besides just being a yes man? What if I want my comrades to disagree with me? What if I want to struggle to find an answer to the problem, and not just have the best result handed to me?
What I’m getting at here is that (outside of the punishing gameplay, because Atlus secretly gets sexual thrill out of the pain it brings its players), you don’t really have to work for your happy ending. It’s just a matter of choosing the right option, or the option you want, from a handful of items. And in a game where there IS no right answer that’ll save the world absolutely, that’s a bit of a shame.
That’s not to say that DeSu2 is completely worse off for it. It isn’t. But there are faults. The gameplay straddles and occasionally crosses the line between fair and cheap. You have ZERO ability to plan for what happens in missions on your first playthrough, because some fights change the rules on you in the worst ways. And story-wise, one can't help but wonder how "deep and meaningful" these characters are, especially since some bank pretty hard on popular anime conventions (looking at you, Airi). But I can look past those flaws because of the overall package. And I can present to you, dear readers...
SEVERAL MORE UNSORTED POINTS AS TO WHY
DEVIL SURVIVOR 2 MAKES MY BRAIN STIFF IN THE TROUSERS
1) Makoto Sako Easily my favorite character by a long shot -- not just in the game, but one of my top 10 favorite game characters, period. She’s what you’d expect from a military official, in that she’s tough, competent, determined, and loyal -- BUT the game is eager to remind you that just because she’s part of JPs doesn’t mean she’s not human. She’s kindhearted, she’s considerate, she’s more than capable of getting flustered, she has her own dreams and opinions…and man, that pixilated smile of hers gets to me every time. I think I’m in love, guys. But you didn’t hear that from me.
Seriously, let’s just pretend I didn’t say a word about her being mai waifu. Not a word.
Story-wise, Makoto’s an important character because she lends a human aspect to an organization that could easily come off as self-serving and, well, evil. She helps prove that just because you’re on the side of order (relatively speaking) doesn’t mean that you’re automatically a villain; rather, you can use that order to make the world a better place. It certainly helps that Makoto’s one of the key damage dealers in the game, to the point where my version of her could single-handedly slay a dragon and outperform the average god. I guess she does some serious heavy lifting in between missions.
2) Jungo is pretty cool, too And then there’s this guy. Man, I love this guy.
He’s just this simple-minded chef who wants to be friends with everybody and loves the cat he finds…but he will absolutely wreck anything that crosses him. Make him one of your main combat units, and you’ve got a guy who can smash damn near everything in the entire game. Make him an enemy, and he WILL one-shot you for a critical hit that does two thousand points of damage…and by that point you’re lucky to have four hundred HP. Long story short, if you need something smashed, JUNGO SMASH.
Just don’t do what I did in my first playthrough and lollygag when it comes to finding more RAM for Fumi’s computer. If you do, Jungo WILL die. And that would suck. So don’t do it.
You’ll need him for guys like this.
3) The Septentriones are a good-ass idea I didn’t know what to make of the Septentriones when I first heard about them (and I still don’t; calling them alien invaders almost seems like a misnomer). But you know what? Strange as they may be, I get them. I get what the developers were going for.
There’s an element of “facing the unknown” that’s woven through the narrative thanks to the Septentriones. These are incomprehensible, irreconcilable creatures that have neither the desire nor the capacity to compromise. They’re beings created solely to destroy the planet, or at least have it sink into the void as part of Polaris’ task force.
Their power and their very presence are to be feared (and indeed, whenever they show up several characters have the requisite “Oh SHIT!” reaction). A huge part of the game -- pretty much every day of the story -- is dedicated to finding countermeasures against them…and said countermeasures get bigger and more destructive as time passes, to the point where the main cast is semi-responsible for the end of the world. They’re more than just bosses to be conquered; they’re a vital element to the game.
4) This game is more lighthearted than DeSu1 This is something that’s to be expected. Part of the pressure and stress on the cast of DeSu1 came from them being completely without creature comforts -- food, shelter, electricity and of course a safe place to sleep at night were all in short supply. In DeSu2, however, Yamato has accommodations prepared for the cast from the night of Day 1 onward. It contributes to the disparity between the demon tamers -- Japan’s newfound cream of the crop -- and the unlucky civilians/rioters fighting to survive.
So yes, you get a bit more downtime and ability to relax than the original game. And because everyone’s not stressed all the time, it creates more opportunities for events that wouldn’t be tonally consistent in a more serious game. So if you ever wanted to see a whiny Hindu deity get flung into the sky to be shot by another Hindu deity, then you’re in luck. Or maybe an event where an Osaka mascot murders demons to take their money? Or a sequence where Hibiki, Daichi, and Joe get the chance to peep on the girls during their physical exams (in an event called “Secret Garden”)? And that’s ignoring all the moment-to-moment jokes and conversations that’ll put a smile on your face.
5) It’s edutainment! I actually didn’t know about this until I started fiddling with the menus, but apparently you can find out more about the demons you summon/buy through an option in the compendium. That’s actually pretty interesting, because a lot of names might be familiar to you. Thor, Odin, Heimdall, and Fenrir all get expanded details (though it seems like the definition of “demon” has been broadened here), so Norse mythology lovers might get a kick out of that. I haven’t exactly gone through every description -- and can’t until I start a new file -- but from what I gather, pretty much every demon in the game is based on a supernatural creature/deity that exists in a real-world culture.
Take Hamsa, for example (otherwise known as MY SWORN MORTAL ENEMY). Just a pain-in-the-ass duck soldier, right? Nope. Have a gander at this:
“A holy white goose which serves as the steed of the Hindu god Brahma. During winter, geese migrate over India. These majestic white figures flying through the sky became symbolic of Brahmin dignity as they tried to reach Brahma, the god of knowledge. This may be how Hamsa came to be seen as Brahma`s steed.”
See? It’s actually a goose.
6) Go buy this. Just...go buy this. Really. What the hell else can I say?
I will gladly admit that this game isn’t perfect. I know that it’s got some flaws. I know that it’s hard. I know that it’s not the most visually impressive, ergo why I’ve been using pictures from the F-tier anime tie-in. I know it has a distinct Japanese flair (which I still can’t believe is a problem for some people, but whatever). But a good product has the right elements to overcome its flaws, or at the very least make you ignore them. And to that end, Devil Survivor 2 succeeds. IN SPADES.
This is a game that’ll make you think long after you’ve put it down. Even if you clear the game, there’s still plenty of content you’ve likely missed out on. The sheer number of combinations available encourages freedom and experimentation. The challenges on parade here will put you to the test, and push you well beyond your limits. The characters who you’ll meet will stick with you, and drive you to do everything to help and protect them -- because rest assured, if you drag your feet in certain sequences, they WILL die.
A lot of people will tell you that the JRPG is dead, or that they’re all too clichéd and obsolete to be worth anything, or that they’re all incredibly infantile when you get down to it. That, or just an offhand remark about schoolgirls. But don’t you even think about making a mistake on this one: Devil Survivor 2 is a fantastic game. Seek it out and get your hands on it, no matter who or what stands in your way. When there are games out there as good as this, don’t EVER settle for less.
Get in there. See if you have what it takes to survive.
Wow, that’s a corny line to end on. Play me out, Japanese Spider-Man!
There’s a question that’s been on my mind for a while now. It should go without saying, but in this day and age we’re fortunate enough to be a society with full, often-instant access to media. We’ve had books, movies, and TV for decades (books especially, for obvious reasons), but it doesn’t take much effort to get more of that with a few button presses or key strokes. Maybe not even that, if you’ve got some kind of voice recognition system straight out of The Jetsons. Or just an Xbox One, apparently.
So in addition to books, movies, and TV, we can practically turn our heads and gain access to video games, comics, anime, and web-based content that no one would have dreamed could be interesting (who’d ever want to watch someone else play a game, amirite?). This generation -- and the next, and the next -- is going to be able to observe and draw influence from myriad sources. That’s how it should be. Each new generation should overtake the old.
Still, I can’t help but wonder: is it going to be acceptable to like those myriad forms of media, especially if it means trying to become legitimate? I mean, let’s use me as an example. I want to be a writer, and I’m ready to put in the work to do so -- but I would be lying out my ass if I said video games didn’t have an influence on me. And as the days pass, I’m getting more into (or being corrupted by, if you prefer) the various Kamen Rider installments. So if I or anyone else wanted to be a creative tour de force, would those things hamper our chances? Our legitimacy?
I’d like to think that that’s not the case. The creator’s skills should speak for themselves, in an ideal world. And while it’s true that video games don’t exactly have the highest regard, assuming that they’re all mindless gore-fests played by (and pioneered by) screaming, Doritos-stained racists would be like assuming every movie is something not even Michael Bay would put on the screen. Video games are going to become a medium that is DEFINITIVELY art, not just arguably -- if it hasn’t already, at least. That much is obvious.
I’ve heard the argument that right now, games are in an awkward transitional phase. And I agree with that; the past few generations have proven that the industry has -- or has long since had -- the potential to make compelling stories, unforgettable characters, dynamic worlds, and more.
But at the same time, we’ve seen just how bad things can get. There are games that assert their legitimacy, but there are plenty of others -- maybe too many -- that do the opposite. They try, but stumble and fail. Or maybe they don’t try at all. Or maybe the minds behind them just aren’t up to it. Or maybe they’d just rather try to ape the style and successes of the film industry…which strikes me as “giving up”, but whatever.
If this new console generation is going to prove its worth, then it’s going to be by way of developers learning from past mistakes. They’ll realize that the new hardware and the power within demand more than just better visuals or slight remixes on gameplay. That power needs to be used responsibly, and thoroughly. Case in point: Infamous: Second Son has been in gamer hands for a while now, and given its bizarrely-segued presentation last year, I expected a full capitalization on the ideas and topics therein. It…didn’t deliver.
The game was an opportunity to do more than just pare down complex issues on personal freedoms and government intervention into “I’m a rebel, you’re the establishment! You’re mean and you suck! FREEDOM RULES!” But the events therein -- up to and including the final boss, which I swear is better-suited for a Disney movie than a quasi-serious investigation of current issues -- struck me as a farce. I don’t think I’m asking for much when I say I want games that can tackle deeper issues without devolving into dour grit-fests and gormless, hyper-simplified fantasies.
Why? Because I’ve already had everything I want -- everything -- in Devil Survivor 2.
Let me explain. You see -- oh, wait. Hold on.
WARNING: For never was a story of more woe Than this, of SPOILERS and her MORE SPOILERS!
(Side note: don’t watch the DeSu2 anime. It’s awful and completely misses the point of the game. But for this post’s sake I’m going to use images as needed.)
There we go. Now, what’s the story behind DeSu2? It’s fairly simple, actually. You’re a high school student hot off preparing for exams, and heading home with your buddy Daichi. As you head for the subway, you run into the school idol, Io. Just as Daichi tries to get in close to Io, you all get mail on your cell phones -- apparently, from the Nicaea site you’ve all heard rumors about. Lo and behold, it does just what a “dead face delivery site” is supposed to do: it shows a clip of the three of you dying brutal deaths. And in the same subway station you’ve just entered.
Thankfully, the three of you manage to avert grisly fates, but only for a moment; you’re attacked by demons, and while you handle them with relative ease, that’s the worst of your problems. You head topside to find Tokyo in absolute ruins, with communications almost immediately cut off. What unfolds is a multi-day struggle to survive, dealing with rioters, the mysterious organization JPs (rhymes with “chips”), and of course the Septentriones -- extremely powerful creatures that are more or less incomprehensible genocidal -- and vaguely geometric -- aliens.
In order to explain why the Devil Survivor games have good stories, I have to briefly (and controversially) explain why the year-old DmC had a terrible story. One of the things that bugged me about it -- and the root of many of its storyline problems, I’d bet -- is that it all feels empty. Shallow. Incomplete. It’s a fat load of telling, but not nearly enough showing for the kind of story -- the kind of game it needed to be. It aimed high, but dragged itself through the earth’s crust from start to finish. Action game or not, you can’t hide behind that excuse if your PR touted being ready to revolutionize storytelling.
Think about it. We’re told that a demon-produced soft drink is enslaving mankind, but we’re never shown in what capacity. We’re told that the demons are watching our every move and have a hand in every entertainment outlet, but we get maybe fifteen seconds of capitalization on that idea. We never learn the impact of demon control, or the status of humanity, or the aftereffects of both the heroes’ and the villains’ actions until maybe the last hour of the game; it’s a story that demanded narrative focus and a smaller scale. But because the camera was so far up Donte’s ass, we never got to see anything that would have made the setting more than a multi-million dollar backdrop.
Compare that to Devil Survivor 2, despite appearing on the criminally-underpowered DS. For starters, the world actually feels like one that’s lived in, because there are actually other characters besides the main cast. Granted the main cast is pretty large, but the presence of extras is one that lends credibility to the whole “the world is coming to an end” angle, because it’s through their fear and panic that we players know that things are getting bad.
If you’ll let me borrow a phrase from the Zero Punctuation lexicon, what’s important to note about the DeSu2 isn’t that “humanity is fucked”, and certainly not “pre-fucked” from the moment you turn on the game. Things start out normal and degrade over the course of about a week (barring some backstory shenanigans that make the game’s events possible). What this means is that we have some twenty hours of game time to see things go from all green to OH MY GOD DEMONS EVERYWHERE YO and appreciate the difference between the two states.
Let me put it this way: in Gears of War, humanity is already in a bad spot, and the planet is essentially wrecked; the COGs are just trying to prevent a bad situation from getting worse. That’s not necessarily a bad trait to give your setting, but there are problems; the effectiveness and malleability of your setting are capped. Where do you go from “the world is wrecked”? Gears’ answer is “Well obviously, you just wreck the world even more!”
It’s a possible answer, but it’s not automatically the best; it’s an artificial way to raise the tension, considering that outside of a few instances the world is pretty much just a backdrop for firefights. My basic argument is this: how are we supposed to care about a world that’s already destroyed and get only occasional glimpses at life in this war-torn world? And Gears has a similar problem as DmC: the focus is put on people who can’t be bothered to dwell on or help color the world, because they’re too busy being snarky superhumans.
Not so with DeSu2 (and the first DeSu by extension, but let’s focus on game two). The degradation that takes place over the week is almost palpable. People -- office workers, gang members, schoolgirls, merchants, and even cops -- start abusing the summoning app just to survive. They may be using what's essentially Pokemon for Satan enthusiasts, but the fantastic elements still ring true in the context and affect of the in-game world -- itself a portrait of the real world in a what-if scenario.
Food and medicine run low, demanding skirmishes in the middle of a street. Power outages beget civilians gathering into shelters and parks, which beget mass demon attacks…and of course, more riots. The SDF quarantines a hefty part of Tokyo, and will go so far as to shoot anyone who tries to escape. And throughout all of this, you get to see people from all walks of life react to -- and collapse because of -- the disaster.
It’s not just NPCs that are reacting to the disasters you face; it’s your party members, too. Some of them are just one event away from crumbling (and in DeSu1’s case, some of them leap over the line, to the point of committing suicide or enacting some very messy vigilante justice). Characters start to question their world and themselves, with past mistakes and decisions rearing their ugly heads in the face of adversity and certain death.
Oppression tracks these people no matter where they turn, either from external sources, internal struggles, divides between one party member and the next, and good ol’ fashioned horrific hellspawn from realms unimaginable. I don’t know about you, but I prefer a cast that reacts to things -- the world or otherwise -- instead of a cast that…well, doesn’t.
I'm trying not to dump hate on every other game in the universe here, guys. So let's just have a picture of Deneb from Kamen Rider Den-O and move on. Dude's got guns for fingers. You can't beat that.
So do you remember those Septentriones I mentioned earlier? They’re in the employ of the world’s administrator, Polaris -- and having believed that humanity has lost its will to live, Polaris decides to erase everything. So at the end of the game, you’re going up against the guy who makes and maintains the world -- but this isn’t exactly the easy-breezy act of deicide you’d expect from most JRPGs. One ending suggests that by killing Polaris, the damage done to the world can never, ever be repaired. What’s left of humanity is all you’ll ever get, and you’ll just have to deal with it. Rebuild society and all that.
By the way, that “damage done to the world”? It’s not just demons and alien-type things smashing buildings. Polaris has been erasing the world by having it sucked into a spreading black nothingness nicknamed The Void. Kill him, and The Void goes away…to be replaced by nothing but a sprawling ocean.
And The Void has pretty much sucked up everything but a small section of Japan.
Better call Kevin Costner.
But you know what? Honestly? I actually think that’s one of the best things I could have hoped for. See, the first ending I got -- the “Liberator” route with Daichi, I believe it’s called -- is a cop-out. It’s the quintessential third option, where a small portion of the cast branches off to find a new path; that is, they don’t want to resort to extremes to create a new world, and certainly not by way of demonic urban warfare. So they opt to march up to Polaris’ throne and take out the administrator (who, much like the Septentriones, looks like a geometric nightmare creature) on the grounds that a world free from the control of some inhuman administrator trumps anything else.
Speaking on a long-term level, it might work. Somewhere along the line, humanity might gain enough strength and wisdom to rebuild a world forcibly left as 99.999999999% water. But in the short-term, it’s a remarkably shitty idea -- not only is there a currently-capped amount of resources and supplies, but the ending heavily implies that there’s now no god of sorts to protect you from danger. So if there’s anything out there even nastier (i.e. a key enemy in a potential DeSu3), they’d better hope that the last remnants of society are up to the task.
It’s a harrowing ending -- bittersweet and not necessarily heralding the end of humanity, but the implications are there. Still, the reason that I call it a cop-out is because, in many ways, that’s what it is. The route is the “third option”, a medium between extremes. It’s something there that I think appeals to the player sensibilities; it’s the most peaceable path (relatively speaking), and one that upholds peace and the status quo instead of drastically changing the world. And maybe that’s its biggest problem. DeSu2 being a video game, taking a third option is as simple as picking your endgame route from a menu. It’s all too easy to assume that it’s a right, not a privilege.
But in a real-world context, what if there WASN’T a third option?
What if, in spite of good intentions and a desire to avoid hurting the feelings of friends -- or just hurting them in general -- opting for a different path wasn’t just difficult, but outright foolhardy? Daichi and his supporters end up getting called out for being so naïve and childish -- and while the oldest member of the cast is a hoary twenty-six, there’s some semblance of a point in there.
Even if there was a third option, Daichi’s “let’s not fight, let’s just be friends, and let’s turn everything back to normal” drive comes off as simple-minded and dangerous by the time he proposes it…doubly so because it’s a course sorely lacking in vision, and Daichi himself can’t define it beyond cowardly mutterings. Given that they only have two or three days max by that point to save the world, it’s understandable that a good two-thirds of the cast writes him off.
So what are the other two options? Well…the simplest way to put it is that they’re extreme.
In the blue corner, representing order, we have Ronaldo Kuriki. He’s a detective, and a passionate one at that; ignoring the fact that most of his sprites/assets have him expressing some sort of indignation, he’s the one most likely to start shouting about fighting in the name of justice (in an “aw, bless your heart” sort of way). But make no mistake, he’s serious about his goals.
In the face of adversity and a country being completely dismantled by demons and invaders, he starts pulling together dislocated peoples and forming a sort of allied force. His ultimate goal (once he finds out Polaris exists)? To have the administrator remake the world in his image -- that is, to create a world of equality, where everyone works together and supports one another without question. Simply put -- in the game’s terms, at least -- it’s egalitarianism.
(That bunny hood is why you don't watch the anime.)
Common decency suggests that if players don’t choose Daichi’s route, Ronaldo’s is the next in line. But what’s important to note is that for all his good intentions, Ronaldo is…well, he’s more or less a terrorist. The people he brings to his side? They’re rioters -- and many if not all of them are rioters thanks to Ronaldo’s orders. He's used his charisma and force of will to put together a band of vulnerable, desperate people; there's something scary about a guy like that, independent of his ability to summon demons.
He’ll gladly break into government offices and steal data, willingly killing anyone that gets in his way. He has good intentions, but it’s likely that none of them would have been sparked if not for his own quest for vengeance; he’s out for blood, and the very idea of compromise has never occurred to him. So he’s not exactly a good guy…and his ending isn’t 100% ideal.
And in the red corner (ironically) representing chaos, we have Yamato Hotsuin. Yamato is probably one of the most inexplicable characters I’ve encountered in a while -- he’s the head of the secret government agency JPs in spite of being only seventeen. He’s not only a genius, but also the heir to a clan that can harness the supreme energy known as the Dragon Stream. He’s an unfortunately gray-haired teenager (though not the first Atlus hero to have such colorless locks).
But no matter his status, his goal is clear: to use his resources and his organization, one well-versed in demon summoning, to rebuild Japan. Except Yamato has no intention of restoring the status quo; he’s out to create a new Japan, one where the strongest and wisest will rule and be rewarded, while the weak will suffer. He wants a meritocracy, and he’ll do anything to get it.
It’s easy to label Yamato as extreme, but in the end that’s probably the best description of both his actions and his goals. If not for his commands and his JPs peons, it’s likely that a lot of the game’s conflicts wouldn’t have happened. They’re hoarding food and medical supplies for themselves, acting under the impression that they deserve it more than the average citizen. That’s actually kind of true, given that JPs is trying to fight off the demons and Septentrions with some success (and plenty of support for the main cast). So even if it’s not the ideal situation, it is a cruel truth that has to be accepted.
But the cruelty doesn’t end there. They’re not above using force to suppress rioters -- “rioters” taking on a VERY loose definition in several instances -- and using flimsy justifications at most moments. Also, for a group that one would think would be the best Japan has to offer, more often than not JPs agents aren’t much more durable than the common redshirt. And really, do I need to say anything about the nastiness behind a meritocracy? I’m pretty sure I don’t -- but in case you need a bit more evidence, just imagine a guy who looks like this deciding how the world is remade and you’re halfway there.
(But not Anime Yamato. He's such a shitass.)
What’s important to remember is that neither Yamato’s meritocracy nor Ronaldo’s egalitarianism are treated as absolute right answers. Supporters of each ideal (i.e. your party members) will poke holes in both…and they’ll do so even if they’re on the side they want to be on. Take Joe, for example. It’s established almost immediately after meeting him that he’s a scatterbrained fool, someone who Yamato only tolerates because he’s a solid demon tamer. Over the course of the story, though, Joe reveals a certain savvy that makes him wiser than he appears, if only slightly so.
More importantly, it’s highly probable that Joe was working alongside Ronaldo, gathering and stealing supplies to give to hospitals -- no doubt the same hospital where his sick girlfriend resides. No small wonder, then, that Joe decides to partner up with Ronaldo when the party splinters; Joe knows he’ll be the first to get the ax in Yamato’s new world, and he’s seen the good work Ronaldo’s done with his own eyes. But it’s Joe of all people who wonders the loudest if Ronaldo’s world is any good, either -- and I can see why that wouldn’t work. (The fact that the real world has yet to adopt an utterly-equal society is a hint in its own right.)
But I’d argue that “who’s right and who’s wrong” isn’t the point. DeSu2 is asking you a series of questions. One of them is obvious: “Do you think this new world of Yamato’s/Ronaldo’s/Daichi’s could work?” And the other one is “How do you rebuild a broken world?”
The second question is one that I want fiction -- games, especially -- to answer more readily. Look, we’ve all seen something related to zombies at this point in our lives, and we all know that the real danger (and draw) of the stories is the degradation of society. Humanity is the real monster, we live for chaos, et cetera, et cetera. Part of the appeal is seeing everything we’ve built either torn down or abandoned -- and while it’s not exclusive to zombie fiction, it IS an incredibly commonplace idea throughout fiction (again, the fact that Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation used the phrase “humanity is fucked” to describe multiple games is a pretty marked signal). But in my eyes, that’s not enough. Not anymore. Not in the wake of plenty of solid games.
IIRC, Gears of War 3 ended with the Locusts and immulsion completely erased; Anya consuls a grieving Marcus and tells him that there’s still hope left…this, in spite of their planet Sera being utterly wrecked. So you’d expect for them to start showing how they’d rebuild their shattered world, right? Nope. Not even an epilogue; it just fades to black with no justification of the hope Anya suggests.
If you couple that with the fact that Gears of War Judgment is a prequel, it becomes incredibly obvious that the franchise is comfortable with wading in the “humanity is fucked” end of the pool. You could make the same argument about DmC; it was all too eager to tell us that the world was in sorry shape, but when it came time for genuine reform, all we got was a shot of a smoldering city before -- you guessed it -- fading to black.
The first DeSu was all too eager to show how society went from all right to all ruined -- the key difference being that putting an end to the disaster was intertwined with creating a safer and/or better world by game’s end. But DeSu2 manages to take it a step further, letting it be more than just a rehash of DeSu1 as well as carving its own niche. Putting an end to the havoc is a big part of the story, as expected, but “saving the world” in this case means more than beating the bad guy. In fact, in a lot of ways the struggle to decide how the world will be rebuilt is more important than beating the bad guys. And rightly so.
There’s no right answer to the question of whether a merit system, equality, or restoring the status quo should reign supreme. Like I said, that’s part of the point. You, the player, have the chance to decide for yourself what “the right answer” will be. There are faults with each system, but there are positives and benefits as well; even if it takes you a playthrough or two to realize that, you may end up agreeing with Yamato after seeing the game through to the end with Ronaldo.
Although, to be honest, I think there IS an answer to be had. Not an immediately obvious one, of course, but a subtle one. The true answer may very well lie in two qualities -- those belonging to a single person…or rather, the proxy of a single person.
What are they? Well, I’ll be sure to explain in full -- next time. Hold on to your Jack Frosts, guys; next time, we’ll get in deeper with DeSu2. And next time, I won’t just do slack-jawed gushing.
So...what's the tl;dr takeaway from this post? Play DeSu2 so you can be a cool guy.
Hey guys! Want to see me whack a beehive with a hockey stick? Then let me ask you a question: how do you feel about Zero Suit Samus’ new design?
I’m going to come right out and say it: I think it’s all right. The high heels are an interesting addition, and one that I wouldn’t have made, but hey. It’s there, and it’s just a tweak to a character that’s already pretty cool. But I think the best part of the redesign is ZSS’s face, and head in general; HD graphics have served her well, and believe it or not that’s the part of her I keep zeroing in on. Now, if only the rest of the internet could do the same, we’d be set.
I was thinking about saying “Didn’t we already have this discussion with Dragon’s Crown?” But thinking back to that, I don’t think there was ever a definitive conclusion to that argument. The problem was brought up, and despite opinions being fired everywhere at everyone, it’s safe to say that nothing really came from it. So it’s only natural that it would show up again, and you’d see stuff like “the new ZSS is sexist, and here’s why” all over the internet. I’ve already made my peace with the subject in general, but as for the character’s look in question? Let me just say this: ZSS is not the first fighting game heroine to be a tall, blonde, ponytail-slinging, skintight blue suit-slinking, high heel-kicking martial artist. Why is it an issue now? Pardon me for being an apologist, but I guess I see something different than others.
Actually, I can answer that earlier question myself. It’s an issue now because it’s being done to Samus…if you believe that something has been done to her (read: ruined or besmirched) in the first place, but let’s not get bogged down by semantics. The first question that needs to be asked in this situation is “Does the Big N want to sexualize ZSS?” I’d like to say no to that almost immediately, but then I look at some of the official screenshots that go out of their way to remind us that, yes, she’s got lady parts, and I just think to myself “Oh, that’s unfortunate.”
But if they really wanted to make her any less of a character, I would think that they’d strip her of her style and ability, and leave her tucked away in a corner somewhere. I was under the impression that sexism implied treating someone worse because of their gender. And however many missteps have been made, I don’t think Nintendo has any direct intentions of treating their premiere bounty hunter worse. Especially now that she can apparently do a Dragon Kick.
That’s still some seedy-ass territory, though (being able to fight =/= strong female character, as FF13’s Lightning has long since proven), but there is one thing that I have to ask: what do we really know about Samus? I’m not trying to be facetious here; speaking personally, I don’t know anything about her, because my first (and last, incidentally) Metroid game was Metroid Prime. All I know for sure is that she’s a freakin’ tall blonde taken in by bird aliens, and went on to become a bounty hunter who fights aliens and doesn’t afraid of anything.
And even that’s pretty suspect; how do we know for sure that during her adventures on Zebes or Brinstar or whatnot, Samus wasn’t panicking like crazy? I sure as hell would have in her situation -- but then again, a bug buzzing by my ear is enough to make me leave whatever room I’m in. So given that the dreaded Metroid: Other M was one of, if not THE first dedicated instance where we heard Samus’ thoughts, dialogue, and emotions, AND given that its story was penned by the Metroid mastermind himself (NOT Team Ninja, as so many would believe), what if we’ve had it wrong all this time? What if the unbeatable, unflappable bounty hunter we’ve imagined since Day One all those years ago isn’t quite as perfect as we imagined?
I know I asked, but there’s already a pretty clear answer. Samus was never perfect to begin with. There’s no such thing as a perfect character, and it’s definitely not going to be her.
Even if you’re a master of the Metroid canon, there have to be gaps and blanks that can’t be filled with wikis alone. That should seem obvious, but this is actually more critical than you think. If we don’t know everything about Samus, then how can we be so certain that Samus herself would never wear those heels? Okay, sure, her creators and designers are the ones with the ultimate control over her looks -- and her fate, though that’s hardly as important, amirite -- but by now I’d assume you know or have heard that “characters can take on a life of their own.” They can do things in accordance with their beliefs and opinions that his/her creators wouldn’t even think of -- or to put it a different way, consistent characterization makes certain options viable and impossible.
So what if, underneath that cool exterior (and Mega Man cosplay), it turns out that Samus actually LIKES wearing heels? Setting practicality aside -- because, you know, video games -- what if she had them made to fulfill a function (rocket boots), but went an extra step and gave them a form that suits her fancy? What if she enjoys putting on the Zero Suit, and that’s why she keeps popping up in it in games? Can we really say with any clarity what she wears in her spare time, and how she feels about it? I’ll tell you what we should never say: “She’s a cool, no-nonsense, badass bounty hunter…and nothing else.”
I guess that’s the problem with a canon, especially one that so many people have invested their hearts into. People the world over may love Samus, but there’s always going to be a wall between what we think she is and what she really is. That wall, I bet, is the creator solidified; so long as he and his cadre have control over the character, they get to decide what’s shown and what isn’t, all while making definitive statements on what counts and what doesn’t. (Boo and hiss all you want, but Other M isn’t going to go away anytime soon.)
I would think that by this point, a lot of thought has been put into Samus. A whole lot -- all sorts of things that won’t even leave the creators’ minds, let alone consumer hands. And there’s more; if the intent from here on out is to give gamers a glimpse into the character, and offer up the story Metroid…well, I won’t say needed, but it would still be appreciated…then the creators are going to have to bring more info and more revelations about their property into the light of day.
Even then, there are going to be some unknowable details -- well beyond the mechanics of her Power Suit, or the glimpses into her personal life. We can make credible assumptions about what she is, but that wall is something we have no choice but to acknowledge. And as long as that’s there, we’re going to have to accept with nervous smiles whatever the cadre throws our way. It can’t be helped. Usually.
Which brings me to the real subject of this post: I want to write a fanfic.
God, I love that JPEG.
Those of you familiar with my posts -- at least those that are immune to the curse of TL;DR -- may know that in the past, I’ve made a very…interesting set of theoriesabout the nature of Princess Peach. In hindsight, it was kind of a proposition made in jest, a la A Modest Proposal. Honestly, I know damn well there’s no way Peach is some towering superhuman warrior princess, and it’d be crazy to ever think that the Big N would ever make a game like that. I’d even think that they’ve got snipers on their payroll to keep dissenters in check.
But for one reason or another, people found my “interpretation” to be pretty great -- good for a laugh, I hope. And that’s good. I like that. I want to be able to entertain people with my writing. And beyond that, I had fun considering the possibilities; I even thought about making a third post about the relationship between Peach and Mario. (I sure hope you guys aren’t thinking of what happens when Skitty and Wailord get together.)
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how many opportunities there were. See, the creator holding so many details close to the chest has a secret benefit: a beloved canon full of mysteries + a dedicated audience willing to ask perfectly logical questions + a willingness to venture into balls-out insane speculation and reimagining = narrative gold. There Will Be Brawl did it once upon a time, after all -- with sexy results.
Beyond that, it’s a chance to strike back at “selfish” creators; however slight, a fanfic is a chance for a mere peon -- the lowly, put-upon gamer -- to seize power, if only for a moment. To take control, and do what no one else has the strength, skill, or wit ever would. And that’s what I want to do -- admittedly, for my own selfish reasons.
Nothing would make me happier than being able to make as many people happy with my writing as possible, to the point where you could pretty much call it my dream (to a fault, no doubt). Sure, I’ve got a blog -- just look at my sidebar, the link’s been there for like a year -- and some stuff written up there and elsewhere, but I’m not satisfied. And I don’t see a reason why I should; I want as many people as I can to be entertained, and I’m more than willing to reach out to people to make that happen.
But I’m not about to just scramble over the internet and shout “Hey guys! Read my blog!” or “Guess what? I’m writing ______!” I’ll do that occasionally, but I’d prefer to avoid the shameless self-promotion if I can, unless I want to make a joke or try to end on a “funny” note. I know I have to make people want to come see my stuff, by offering up something to draw them in. And if people enjoy my cockamamie theories, then taking it up a notch might be the way to do it. It might put me one step closer to my goal.
I will be up-front, though. I don’t plan on starting this fanfic anytime soon, if at all. I want to write it, no question, but that’s something that would HAVE to have to stay on the backburner for a good while. (Novels don’t write themselves, guys.) I hope I can reach a point where I can put some real time into it, and go from keeping it in my head to putting it to virtual paper; maybe somewhere down the line, I’ll toss chapters of it up here on Destructoid. But that point is still a ways away, no matter how much imagining I can do. So until then, I want to do something constructive with the rest of this post. I’ll spell out a few ideas I’ve been tossing around and see how you all react to it. And after that, I’ll see if I can open the floor for some discussion. More on that later.
For now, it’s probably best to focus on the facets of the currently-hypothetical fanfic -- well among them, reconciling it with the canon. Much like Metroid, there are plenty of things we don’t know about the Marioverse, mostly because the games have never put too much stock in telling a standard-fare story. Details on some of the particulars are pretty scant (my brother once asked me if the Toads are mushroom people or just tiny misshapen Arabians in hats, and I couldn’t answer him).
The only “canon” that one can go by, without resorting to wikis, is to follow the line of progression from game to game. Mario 64 is one story arc, Sunshineis another, Galaxy adds more, and so on, be it forward movement (3D World) or backward (all the way back to the game that started it all). If we think of it like that, there are plenty of opportunities -- ways to work the events and areas of those games into a single cohesive narrative. Or elements from each can be picked and chosen, and used as needed. They’re assets to use and adapt for a potential “reimagining” of the games we know. Or think we know.
In any case, it’s safe to say that the fanfic won’t exactly be bound to the canon, and not just because of the obvious reasons. The games offer up guidelines -- lines to trace and fill in with color and style. Like I said, they’re assets, and they can be a springboard to help wild-eyed nutjobs get closer to making a rewarding -- if over-the-top -- story. If the games left behind holes, they can be filled with theories. We may not know everything, but we can sure as hell make interpretations, however silly, that can offer up some possible (if improbable) answers and scenarios.
And that’s especially true of Princess Peach.
I can tell you right now that not everything I said in those theory posts from before would go into the fanfic -- partly because some of them wouldn’t fit, and partly because I’ve thought of some better things in the time since. She’s the same person on the outside, sure, but the critical part of the fanfic -- what would make it any good, if at all -- is that it’s important to be able to get a good insight into her; that’s especially true, given than A) as a character we know almost exclusively for getting kidnapped, she hasn’t made a good impression, and B) some real effort has to be put in to try and shift public opinion, as well as set the alternate story apart from the real one in an enjoyable way. That sounds like a pretty tall order for someone who’s written a whopping twelve words of fan fiction.
But I think I can manage. Taking a page out of Kamen Rider OOO’s playbook (which you should watch if you like good things and happiness for more reasons than this one), the core element of Fanfic-Peach’s character is “desire”. It defines her weaknesses as well as her strengths; on one hand, she’s a person who’s never satisfied with the way things are, and always wants more out of life. More challenges. More accomplishments. More glory. More, and more, and more, to the detriment of others. On the other hand, her desire lets her climb to higher plateaus, and be the best princess she can be. And that rubs off on others; she wants them to be the best they can be, and she’ll gladly go out of her way to make that happen. Like a royally-mandated race track.
Theoretically speaking, I don’t think I’d have to make a lot of sweeping changes for Fanfic-Peach’s personality. Maybe a few tweaks here and there, sure, but as-is, she’s not a broken character. Besides, it could offer up a huge contrast to what she could do; instead of making her some stoic super soldier, imagine if she was just the same general person -- cheery, easy-going (to a fault, at times), kind, and spirited.
She’s a girly, pink-wearing, tea-sipping princess with a little sass to her; she just has to reconcile all that with the incredible disparity between her and her subjects. How do you think it must feel to be surrounded by people inferior in every way? How much frustration would Fanfic-Peach be saddled with, knowing that she’s responsible for people who just can’t keep up with her? There’s potential in there, I’d say…even if those concepts have been explored elsewhere.
And on that note, there would probably be some mix-ups to some of the world-building elements. One of the questions that would have to be answered is “Okay, how do the power-ups work?” I might have come up with a solution, speaking solely in terms of a fanfic reinterpretation. Imagine this: most of the Mushroom Kingdom’s people (Toads, Piantas, and whatnot) can’t use things like the Fire Flower. But then you’ve got guys like Mario and Luigi -- branded “Supers” in-universe -- that can use them as you’d expect. Change slightly, get to throw fireballs, can’t anymore when they take a hit.
But Peach is different; by default, she’s got most of the power-ups stored up inside her, albeit a weaker version of them. So on one hand, that could explain why she’s so friggin’ huge -- she’s been munching on a diet of Super Mushrooms for years, and that’ll happen, I guess -- and why she can do the things she can in the Smash Bros. games, like make the best of a highly-volatile ass. But IF she were to, say, grab a Fire Flower out on the battlefield, it would give a drastic shift in her abilities and tool set…but only temporarily, and if she’s not careful she could leave herself exhausted. The benefit, of course, is that she’d practically turn into the Human Torch.
I’m not going to commit to that element just yet, but again, it is a possibility. Tonally speaking, the idea would be to play as much as I can straight while adding in some much-appreciated humor; characters like Peach and Mario wouldn’t even flinch at the sights and insanity, but Luigi -- playing the role of straight man/audience surrogate would be one of the few characters to point out that there’s something unusual about a derrière that doubles as ordnance.
In a perfect world -- in a world where the fanfic was already written, and I could start scattering it across the internet -- I’d like to think that the appeal would come from just how absurd the story is. If I can get people to shout “Oh snap! No he didn’t!” or “Ahahaha! No way! Did that seriously just happen?” then it’s my win. It means I’ve done something right. The readers’ happiness -- laughter, excitement, and sudden inspiration to push out their own works and theories -- is what it’s all about.
And the best way for me to do that, via this little project, is to make the unbelievable believable, but paradoxically making it even more unbelievable. We’ve seen the characters and the world dozens of times before, and typically in the same slotted-in positions. A fanfic is the chance to break the mold, and do what no one else would ever think of doing. Even though there’s probably a reasonwhy nobody would ever think of it, presumably following rationale beyond Nintendo’s elite gunmen.
In any case, I can think of plenty of things I could do to break the mold -- way more than I’ve named here. I could see myself giving Peach an objective she’s had her entire life, and an objective that would form a story-spanning arc: getting herself and the people of her kingdom into space, and as such trying to create the Mushroom equivalent of NASA. (The Mario canon in space. Think about what -- or who -- that would entail.) I’ve got a revamp of Yoshi in mind that wouldn’t just make him a cute little dinosaur; he’d be a real-ass dinosaur with the mind and spirit and skill of a shaolin monk…as you’d expect from the one who saved Mario, once upon a time. And Daisy? I finally figured out what Daisy’s supposed to be. And let’s just say it’s not exactly ideal. Or original, all things considered.
Until then? I’m still free to at least imagine the possibilities. (Worst case scenario, my poppycock will make good fuel for future posts.) So in the meantime, I figure this is as good a chance as any to open the floor. Ask me questions that’ll help get me thinking, or just toss in your own observations. Any suggestions on what I could do or use? Has there been some piece of the Mario canon that’s always left you scratching your head? Still thinking about Zero Suit Samus by virtue of me opening wounds left by Other M? Then you know what to do. Go ahead and leave a comment. Say what you think needs to be said, while I get some ointment for all these bee stings.
And that’ll do it for now. Maybe in the next post I’ll actually talk about some video games. Until then…seriously, guys. I’ve got a blog. If you ever wanted to know what I think about some new-ish games (inFAMOUS: Second Son, anyone?), recent movie releases, TV shows, anime, and of course how I really feel about The Last of Us, go there. You won’t be disappointed. But you’ll probably stop liking me in less time than it takes to read this sentence.
Hey, happy Valentine’s Day. Let’s talk about breasts.
A while back, I was on The Escapist sifting through the forums -- something I don’t do all that often, unless there’s an interesting topic listed on the front page. But as internet-surfing tends to go, one thing led to another, and after a while somebody asked an interesting question: “If Alyx Vance had big breasts, would she be a worse character?” I don’t know Half-Life well enough to comment, but I’ve heard of her before (since she’s a top-tier female character). And I know that her abject non-sexualization is part of her appeal. “She’s got clothes! She doesn’t have big boobs! She’s not just eye candy!” And so on.
But would making her improbably buxom automatically hurt her appeal? Her credibility? Well, yes and no. “Yes” in the sense that a bust boost threatens to head into seedy territory, and couldbe exploited. “No” in the sense that just because a character is busty doesn’t make them a bad character. (See: Lulu, Cortana, Juliet Starling, Bayonetta, Elizabeth Comstock, several Mass Effect characters, several Dragon Agecharacters, at least one character per Talesgame, and virtually every female character in the Devil Survivor games.) If a character only exists to be objectified, that’s a problem. If a colossal chest -- for a variable definition of “colossal” -- is used to make a character visually distinct, and as a trait of a character than a defining characteristic, then it makes for more stable ground.
Which brings me to Senran Kagura -- the seediest of all seedy games.
I don’t think I need to go into grave detail about the kind of content that’s in what’s now a healthy franchise (for better or worse), especially seeing as how I’ve already talked about it in the past. Nearly any given screenshot will have generously-proportioned ninja schoolgirls, who range in size from extra-large to back-snapping delight. Nearly any given article will bring up the clothing damage or maelstrom of panties therein. Nearly any given video will have more bouncing than ten years’ worth of basketball seasons, offset only by blushing, doe-eyed maidens. They’re not the sort of games you’d want anyone knowing you own, much less know about. Unless you belong to your town’s chapter of the Breast Enthusiast Society.
In a medium that’s struggling and often failing to find a place for females in their narratives, Senran Kagura as a whole feels like a step back. This is a series that was literally conceived when one man realized he could use the 3DS’ power to create dimension-crossing breasts. I have my sincere doubts that anyone cares about the plot of the games, because there’s a lot of focus on the…plot.
And while I’m a supporter of distinct visual design, SK almost gleefully straddles the bra straps (in more ways than one). When everyone is improbably buxom, no one is improbably buxom. They’re getting diminishing returns on their efforts, and the only way they’ll be able to counteract that is by going even further beyond and just adding a boss fight against barn-sized sentient breasts. But then they wouldn’t be able to add any butt shots, so they’ll just have to come closer and closer to a schoolgirl singularity.
It’s easy to look down on SK scornfully. Very easy. Would the series be what it is without its supremely-squishy swordswomen? Not a chance. I’m sure it’d have its fans, but as a game series -- based on what I’ve seen in videos, admittedly -- it’s hard for me to think that they’d sell based solely on the quality, or lack thereof, of its combat systems. I’ve had a look around on TV Tropes and the wiki and know that there’s an overarching plot, as well as a story behind each character, but I wonder if that’s enough to leave an impression -- or if the story is even remotely well-executed. I’m willing to give the franchise the benefit of the doubt, because once upon a time I did the same with Dead or Alive. But I understand why people take issue with SK. I really do.
And yet, despite that, a funny thing happened a while back. There was a Destructoid post (and a Siliconera post, and probably posts elsewhere, for obvious reasons) on one of the upcoming games -- a cooking battle/rhythm game, of all things. I’d heard favorable comparisons to Iron Chef, so I thought, “Eh, why not? Let’s see what those madmen are up to this time.” So I watched the video from start to finish. It would have been the perfect opportunity to laugh, point, shout “LOL, Japan!” and leave it at that. And in a sense, I did laugh…but not in a way I expected. It felt more like I was laughing with them, not at them. Or rather, laughing because of them. I didn’t exactly know why, but as I thought about it -- as a result of this post, and ponderings beforehand -- I think I’ve realized something.
Something about that game makes me happy. And I bet it makes others happy, too.
Not that kind of happy.
When all’s said and done, I have to admit that I kind of like the franchise’s visual flair. Not necessarily the sweater-Cerberuses the cast seems to be packing, though I can and have looked past that before. I just kind of like the way the characters look and act. They may not be the deepest characters, but if nothing else they convey their personalities -- their archetypes, in the worst-case scenario -- pretty well. (It certainly helps that they each have a distinct weapon of choice, which says a lot more than just “guns guns and more guns”.) They’re colorful, they’re energetic, they’re distinct, and perhaps most of all they’re expressive. When a SK character smiles, it makes me want to smile. Breasts or otherwise, there’s something strangely pleasant about the proceedings. One of those intangibles, I suppose.
It’s certainly preferable to DOA, at least in my opinion. My first experience with the franchise was DOA4, and while I have fond memories of the fights in that game -- nothing beats hammering a teleport-happy ninja out of the sky with some sick wrestling moves -- there was always something that freaked me out about the game. Not because of the obvious reason(s), but because they felt like creepy dolls. I couldn’t bear the sight of Kasumi, much less be attracted to her, because back then her eerily-still face and constant look of pensive worry made me feel uncomfortable even recognizing that she had eyes. That's the case, even to this day.
Look at that last picture. Look at it. LOOK AT IT!OH GOD, WHY?
The same goes for the rest of the female cast, to varying degrees; they’re all swimming in the uncanny valley, and even the most asynchronous breast bounce isn’t enough to sway me. Not even a graphical update/reboot with DOA5 did the trick; they might have made the breasts smaller (for a debatable degree of “smaller”), but the faces are just as lifeless. Their eyes are just as hollow, if not more so. And on top of that, despite claims that they’d make the girls more than paper dolls, when push came to shove theydidn’t evenhesitate to give them sexy outfits. Nor did it stop them from continuing to release sexy outfits. How does the saying go? Something about a fool and money and soon being parted? It’s on the tip of my tongue.
The two franchises may have similar affects, but what sets them apart is the philosophy behind them. If you ask me, DOA comes off as something trying to be erotic. It’s aiming for stiffened trousers, no matter what half-hearted attempts they make with their “I’m a fighter” mantra. (Remember Christie’s ending in DOA4 where they just made her a stripper? I sure do.) I probably don’t need to elaborate, considering that there have been two games designed to capitalize on the eldritch creatures masquerading as curvaceous young women (three including a handheld game, if I remember right). You could safely argue the same about SK -- it, too, is exploiting “sexiness” for fame and fortune -- but to me, it comes off as being enticing. There's an ever-so-subtle difference.
It wants your attention, but it has something different in mind. “Hey, gang! You like boobs and butts? Well here’s ten million of them, each one the size of a regulation volleyball at a bare minimum! And then on top of that we’ll add in over-the-top special moves, ninety-nine hit aerial raves, breakdancing ninjas, and school life shenanigans! And now we have cooking competitions! You bring the money, we’ll bring the fun!” I suspect that not everyone who buys this game is in it for arousal, because the bonkers-as-sin physics and post-pubescent bodies of these girls alone make the whole franchise a farce. You saw that opening, didn’t you? They have to know that the female form doesn’t work that way.
They have to, but they do it anyway -- probably because they think it’s hilarious. And they want you to think it’s hilarious. They’re not in it to make you go “Aw, yeaaaaaaaaaaaah.” They’re in it to make you go “HAHAHAHA! No WAY! I can’t believe they did that!” I certainly hope that’s the intent -- but even if it isn’t, they’re doing it anyway. They’re making people happy, because that’s what they wanted in the first place: their design philosophy, unabashedly, is “to wrap the world with happy boobs.” They’re a company that wants your money, but they’ll achieve that goal on their own terms. They know that they exist to serve the customer. They know that in order to survive, they have to make people happy.
AND THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT THEY’RE DOING. EVEN THOUGH THEY’VE ALREADY WON.
Part of the reason I like reading posts on SK is so I can see the comments that pop up. Seeing how people react and joke is a treat just as much as the games themselves could be -- probably more. Is it easy to snipe at the franchise? Yes. Are those shots justified? Pretty much. But it really is interesting, seeing people aim for their own laughs, because a “game for perverts” prompted them to. It’s throwing fuel onto the fire, along with a barge-load of bras soaked in gasoline.
And despite the eyebrow-raising material, it’s remarkable seeing how many people shout “localization, please” or “I want it” with all the force their keyboard strokes can muster. To say nothing of people who actually are fans of the franchise; they have their reasons, and it’d be outright silly to shrug them off. Even if it’s only for a moment, people are willing to drop their shields of cynicism and gather around the campfire. That’s a lot more than I can say about a game like Fuse, or Dead Space 3, or pretty much anything in a franchise featuring guns, QTEs, or EA these days.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m not trying to pardon SK from anything. It’s a franchise that has a built-in air of cynicism, considering that on some level (maybe all of them) it’s high-grade otaku pandering. The devs knew they had an audience; they just had to tap it with the promise of supreme secondary sexual characteristics. They just had to put the bait on a hook and cast out a line. The fish would practically catch themselves.
Likewise, the fact that the entire franchise is built on the aching backs of its chesty champions will always be something worth contention; instead of building an engrossing world, complex narratives, or characters whose arcs take them to heaven, hell, and everywhere in between, the devs were content with shouting “BOOBS!” and working their way out from there. They may have found success, but no one forced them to do it the way they did. No one ordered them to be “a part of the problem”.
And yet, contentious as it may be, ludicrous as it may be, I can’t help but admire what they’ve done.
They had an idea, and they went with it. They created their own style, and didn’t even think of backing down. They found their hook, and dragged gamer after gamer after gamer out of the water. They’re doing their best to spread the word that “Hey, if you love some hefty PLOTS, get over here on the double!” (Yes, this time I’m talking about thoseplots.)
Their games may vary in quality, but if their latest announcements and videos are any indication, they’re dead-set on boosting their games’ standards to the next level, so that they can be about more than just well-insulated perpetual motion devices. They’re putting in effort, because they want to fulfill their creative vision -- even if that creative vision makes the average Joe want to do a spit take. With the industry the way it is right now, I’ll take an absurd vision over none at all. And by extension, I’ll take an absurd vision over one that’s treading well-worn ground. What was the last big shooter that didn’t take itself seriously? Borderlands? Bulletstorm? I’d say Duke Nukem Forever, but I suspect that one was a joke for all the wrong reasons. (Seriously, look at its Wikipedia page -- it links directly to continued obsolescence.)
But if there’s one lesson I think is worth taking away from this, it’s that creative intent. I’m the Eternal Optimist, so every now and then I don’t mind taking someone’s idealized claims at face value. So when somebody says “I want to wrap the world in happy boobs”, I focus more on the “happy” than the “boobs”. Making people happy with one’s creation is a good goal to have, simple as it may be. It shows a sense of focus, good nature, and humility.
They weren’t out to make an “epic, cinematic, filmic experience” or “take video game narratives to the next level” or “use the medium to make social commentary”. They just wanted to make a game, and make people feel good about it. There’s a real earnestness in there that keeps them from reaching for the fruit at the top of the tree, and tumbling into a clump of brambles because of it, as so many others have. Granted they did that by swiping at the low-hanging fruit, but as a whole SK strikes me as the type of series that would paint the apple in zebra stripes instead of just eat it…but then eat it anyway just because it could. That level of conviction, zeal, and all-out ballsiness is something to appreciate.
So, bottom line. Is this franchise actually brilliant? In terms of the actual game(s), probably not -- at least for a while yet. In terms of the underlying thought current, yeah, I think SK has something special. Something that’s worth remembering, when all’s said and done. Will it ever break out of the rut it carved for itself, and become more than just Estrogen: The Game? No, it’s going to stay in that rut, and just dig more so more people can nestle up beside it, just like DOA. But unlike DOA, I do believe that it can become more -- it can have better gameplay, a better story, better characters, better everything. There isn’t a single game or franchise out there that’s perfect, but anything can improve if they’re willing to put in the work. As far as I can tell, Senran Kagura is -- and that just might be one more facet to its brilliance.
You and your giant breasts have got our attention, guys. Now it’s time to bust out. For all our love.
Okay. Next post needs to be about something manly...in a sense.