Other M does a great characterization of Samus Aran. There I said it. You may flame me now. But if you are interested to see why I say that, I will try to elaborate a little. Caution I will use spoilers. And also, while I didnít dislike the voice performances or the dialogue especially, I will set those low points aside and just talk about the character, not the presentation, which, alas, I think that needed a little bit of polish. (On the theme, Siliconera's Ishaan worte a good piece called Characterization In Metroid: Other M [Spoilers]).
One of the things Iíve read a lot about the problem with Samusí character is that she is portrayed ďwhineyĒ, or that she isnít strong anymore, that she isnít a stoic character as in every other Metroid game. I beg to differ. As Oxford Online dictionary is down, let me turn to Merriam-Webster dictionary for the word stoic, ď[Ö]2: not affected by or showing passion or feeling[Ö]Ē. Samus isnít a robot or a psycho, so let us turn to the other possibility. That she is showing her emotions. Is she? I saw her sallow her tears when the third and last father figure of her life knocks her and goes to die. I saw her in front of the man that killed a friend in front of her eyes. I saw her seeing the corpses of friends. I saw her doubting her friends, even her closest relationships, thinking that they wanted to kill her. I saw suffer a lot of things. And not once did she break her passive face. She is like the little Spartan boy.
The Spartan boy. Spartans yeah like Leonidas and the 300 thing, although in real life. This is a little anecdote that my father told me while walking in the center of Rome. There was a little Spartan boy that had a terrible training in the morning. He was starving and the strict regime that the adults forced him to keep didnít satisfy his hunger. So he decided to steal a chicken to eat. But stealing was a grave offense; even for a kid it could mean death. But he did it none the less. He stole the chicken and hid under his clothes. He was running away when a couple of adults saw him and ordered him to come closer. The adults only wanted to talk with him; they didnít know a thing about the stolen animal. Walking away was of grave lack of respect, so the boy followed the command. And he stood there answering the questions and inquiries of his elders. He stood there for so long that the chicken woke up and started to peck him, trying to get free. But the boy stood there, taking inquires and the pain of the pecking in, without flinching a single muscle. Pain, guilt, everything, he took it and stood firm in his ground. He let the pecking go for so long that it broke the abdominal muscles. That little boy was a stoic.
Yes, we as players, because of the form that the narration is done, saw the tribulation that she went through, all that is eating, pecking her mind. But she doesnít know that her feelings are public. To one of the people that she grew up with, someone that should know her better than anyone else has to ask how she is holding up. Anthony has seen her for years, even for a decade, and canít tell how she is feeling. She is a stoic character she doesnít show her emotions to others, she hides them and stays with a neutral face all the time. We are in a privileged point of view, where we canít see her mind. That is the main difference between Other M and other Metroids. We see her as Anthony does, as cold person that has to be asked directly to know what she feels. Here we know at last what is in her mind. She isnít a robot; she has feelings, but hides them from everybody. She is the very definition of stoicism (not the philosophy).
There is a single flinch in the game, one scene where she shows an emotion to the world. One scene that made her demise to the eyes of many fans. The Ridley scene. So I will dissect it. In this moment we donít know of the Galactic Federation experiment, as far as I can recall. So neither does Samus know that there were cloning her archenemy. Most fans cry, ďShe has faced him before and didnít react that wayĒ. That, we donít know. Although in the Prime series he saw him through her eyes, we donít know her mental reaction. And there is the other factor. She stated it before, many times, that she was sure he was dead. That is a first. So dear readers, I would like to walk en her shoes for a minute, no for the requested mile. You have battled for God knows how many years with this guy, at least beaten him 4 more times (Iím missing Metroid Prime 2: Echoes so I canít be sure if there is a Ridley fight there) and thought that youíve finally killed him. Him, that destroyed your family in front of your eyes. Your possible thirst of vengeance, or just your disposition for facing him, is gone because he is gone for good after all this time. You find him, the killer of your parents, appears form nothing, right before your eyes. Wouldnít you tremble? Wouldnít you freeze? I would, and most people would. Samus isnít made of stone, for once, her armor cracked, she fell for a moment. That makes her more human, even with all her toughness, she may flinch. But when someone she cares about is in danger, she jumps at that monster. She flinches but she recovers, that is what makes her a hero. (That aside from the interesting analysis that Samus may have Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
Also let me go a little literary. Let me change to Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Marlow is a tough man, a stoic according to his friends. But he talks about his fear, his doubts in the whole affair of Mr. Kurtz. He is disturbed by the events that he saw, but you can still picture him with a stern look. He mourns his lost friend in a moment, but he still throws him overboard. He suffers, but he endures. The literary skills in Other M is far below to Conradís writing, but it is a similar case. Marlow talks about his insecurity facing the heart of darkness; Samus faces her insecurities about losing someone and his father figure while blasting aliens. A part form the writing, why is Marlow still a great character, a tough man but with fear and insecurities in his heart and Samus is criticized for showing the same problems? Is it a case of Real Women Never Wear Dresses?(caution TV Tropes link). Because she is a woman she needs to be emotionless to be tough? Is she less of a tough character for receiving orders form a man, just as Master Chief? That would be sad. That would be sexism. (And let us not be asking for Conrad level of writing, the medium is well below that).
Yes, the story needs to be better written. And yes, the presentation needs to be better done. But Samus is still a great character, even more thanks to this game. Now, tell me how wrong I am about this topic (or show some support, it would be nice).
"This review is BIASED!!!!" how many times have we not read a comment like that. When done in a serious tone it often, if not always, has negative connotations. It means that the reviewer has something like a "grudge" against that specific game or genre or company. Or the other way round, the writer is an inch away of a love affair with someone or something related to said game. They are ruining the games "deserved" reputation, either by praising it when it is not deserved or destroying a good game's name.
But I would argue that even those reviewers or users are making the community a favor. Bias is good for the gamers.
First, I will not "defend" the really, really annoying ones. Trolls making comments about a game to gain attention. Or haters, that bash the game just because it exists, without even going close, not to play it, but even to watch anything related to that "aberration of nature". These people are usually a**h**** and should be ignored at all costs.
Before going to my defense, I'm going to say I'm one of you. When I'm hype about a game and "some journalist" goes and gives that diamond that I can't wait to get my hands on a "bad" or even an "alright" score. "That is not possible! This game must be a master piece! He is just a fanboy that can't recognize greatness when it is delivered to his hands one whole week before the release date!" Phrases like that roar on my mind, indignation running rampant and just a step away from claiming the blood of the heretic reviewer. It even happened yesterday, at this very site. The 6.5 that Nick Chester gave to Metroid: Other M in his review must be wrong. This isn't an alright game, I'm sure it is a great game.
But today I noticed a thing I always do when I go to Metacritic. After seeing that Nick's score I went to the aggregation site to see what other critics where saying. And I repeated a process I didn't stop to think about until today. I opened the critic reviews for Other M and jumped directly to the bottom. I'm really hyped about the game but I first went directly to the negative reviews. So I asked myself, why?
And I found an easy answer. Diversity. When I'm hyped about a game (or on the other hand I'm uninterested and find a very positive acclaim) I want to see what people with different views form mine. I know what I'm hoping for in the game. I know what mechanics I'm interested in; I know what points of the game interest me. So those things that sound so good, what went wrong? People saying that they were great usually confirm what I expected form the game. But those that loathed them, why did they think that? Rather than dismissing the negative reviews.
Bias is giving me, a gamer, with diverse opinions on a game. If nobody used bias to talk about a game I would get the same information everywhere. But when I play a game I feel something. I have a subjective opinion on the game. Bias shows me the subjective opinions of other people. It tells me what people liked and disliked about the expected game. They can tell me if it is almost unanimous that "the story is horrible" or if it a mixed opinion. It lets me know if the game I want has broken controls, or if they are "not for everyone".
I have my opinion. Everybody has their opinion. Thanks to that I can look to things from a different set of eyes. I can get over my hype or apathy and see possible defect in games that I love and virtues in games that I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole.
And it is interesting to see that other people hate things that I like. It shows me a lot of games, of how we each play differently when I read a "There is too much grind" or "It is too obtuse" and when I try that expected game I see that those "horrible" details are part of what I loved in that game.
Don't cry bias as a bad thing. Be thankful of the diversity in opinions. It is better and more fun that way. I want more biased reviews of more games.
Not long ago I was visiting Egypt. I was in awe. Nothing you see in photographs, films, documentaries or whatever medium compares to actually being there. And one of the things I loved was watching the iconography. The hieratic figures of the pharaoh presenting sacrifices to Osiris, Anubis delicate mummification of the corpse seen in the tombs, the incarnation of Horus as the sun God during his hunt of Seth represented in every door for protection purposes. But what has this to do with videogames? Well that is the theme of this blog.
I will ask you, my gamer readers, how many times have you walked through a ruined temple full of deadly death traps? I guess than more than once. But, are many of them evident in their "original" function? Would you believe there was some kind of religious connotation? Yeah, me neither. But then what is missing? Well, in part the iconography is missing.
A way of knowing about the Middle Ages
Every temple, in every religion there are icons. Be it in a Protestant church the simple cross, or the beautiful reliquaries in Catholic Cathedrals, or the huge statues in Greek temples, or cave paintings in ancient shamanistic religions. Each one of them has symbols; representations in the places were the worshipping is done.
So why do I bring this? Yeah, real ruins have paintings, game ruins don't. Big deal. Why do I care? First it helps to the atmosphere. We always cry for immersion in our games. To be pulled into the game, to buy the game world. Well, with good art direction you can create a past for the game; make more believable the ruins you want us to explore. And iconography isn't just in temples. Graffiti, statues, monuments in the landscape, all these help a city to feel more real, more alive. Especially if it is an old town.
Nice but something is missing
And this brings us to the next point in the iconography, history. Long time ago most people couldn't read, so to tell stories they were in visual form, in the monuments or temples. So a lot of the icons tell the story of the religion or the military conquest. How the Roman emperors crush the opposition is engraved in huge columns in Rome.
So let us use the medium to tell stories in other forms. If you tell us how the Great Evil was defeated in the past, not just make it through a NPC telling the tale; engrave the walls of your game with it. In the castle, have a mural painting of the Glorious Hero slaying the Nameless Bane, give us details that if crammed into all the text would just bore us to death. You know, things like if the place of the epic battle was a dessert of a forest, or if the hero was left handed or right. Those little things that matter not to the great picture of the story, but that engross the experience for the players that love to explore and look at every inch of the game world, that make the fan theories go wild and make people to talk about your game for years and years, waiting for the next sequel.
Instead of just making the texture look better, give that texture something more, a little history to share with the gamers.