I know you would destroy the world if you thought it would be a little fun.
There are two kinds of videogame worlds:
- Our world (but in a videogame).
- Something like our world, albeit possibly at a different point in time. The allowed epochs are “medieval” or “future”. If a director is feeling saucy, “ninja” is also acceptable.
And that’s that. Think about nearly any videogame setting long enough, and you will see that it boils down to one of those two options. And even when you have things like robots fighting or ponies attempting to magic their problems away, it still winds up being a world that is generally recognizable as our own. Is your world full of electric rats and haunted keychains? Well, it’s still got department stores selling bicycles, so it is practically home. And we are all forced to identify with Middle Earth/Camelot environments repeatedly, so if a princess needs saving, we can and will handle it (even if she is a princess of a kingdom of mushrooms).
Of course, this makes perfect sense. A game will always have a win condition. Many videogames will attach a familiar plot to that win condition so as to encourage/enrapture the player. Rescue the princess. Defend the kingdom. Save the world. And why would you do that? Because you’re a good person? Phht, no! Because you recognize this world as something familiar, something like your own. Something worth saving. Even the greatest misanthrope believes we live in a world that is worth protecting against a giant space laser, so why not do the same in a digital world? Even with a slight change in time, location, or planet, videogames tend to include extremely human characters. And you like humans, right? 99% of people that play videogames are humans, so it is generally assumed you are on board with saving humans, even when they’re a little less humany. Close enough, right?
But how about some zombies? Or a kingdom of demons? How do you feel about saving the forces of Hell from… another Hell?
Today’s game is Gargoyle’s Quest II. It is the Nintendo Entertainment System-based (mostly) sequel to Gargoyle’s Quest, an exclusively Gameboy jaunt. The original, monochrome adventure portrayed our titular gargoyle, Firebrand, in his home dimension of the Ghoul Realm in glorious pea green and/or gray. The NES version got a full-color upgrade, and the Ghoul Realm is… well…
Look, I do not want to judge, but if you have seas the color of blood, you are either living on an Earth that has had a few too many Impacts, or you are distinctly somewhere you don’t want to be. And who does want to live there? Why, all the enemies from Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, of course! You have a significant undead population, several demons apparently wearing clothes, and a substantial number of kings and queens who have additional heads on their abdomens. This is the Ghoul Realm, after all, it would be weird if there were not any ghouls running around. Hell, the plot even begins with a quick note that this is all taking place before “Man” even became much of a thing…
But lest you think this gargoyle’s quest is steering toward a twist that involves the rise of a number of boxer shorts-clad knights assaulting Firebrand’s kingdom, do not worry, this is a strictly demon-on-demon violence affair. The “dark light” is sweeping through the realm, and, in its wake are crippled kings, double-deceased zombies, and at least one group of scientists that are reduced to gibbering idiocy. The ultimate source of this destructive wave is Breager, a demon lord that was summoned to the realm by Evil King Goza (granted, we are just assuming Goza is a king because he owns a castle. He could just be ludicrously wealthy). Breager is a four-armed giant (double Firebrand’s height!) that can summon a bevy of fireballs without so much as leaving his throne.
Breager is also indistinguishable from the rest of the “good” demon cast of Gargoyle’s Quest.
Let us examine Firebrand’s allies. Samuel of Sidon is a cross between a dwarf and some manner of furry bug. Hecate the fallen angel is a minotaur/lizard hybrid. Queen Verona is a gigantic chunk of ice-monster. Morock is the infamous Astaroth that rules Ghosts ‘n Goblins as the capital-d Devil. Lethe is that second version of Astaroth from Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. Barr is a boss from Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, and is mostly notable for his detachable head. And Rushifell/Loki/Lucifer is the final monarch of Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. In short, every one of Firebrand’s named supporters is not remotely human at best, and a noted antagonist of humanity at worst. His opponents are not any better, as we’ve got a “head in the abdomen dude” right out of the starting gate, but with a serpent tail in place of legs. Then there’s a Death Balloon (no further explanation necessary), Sand Frog (ditto), and Twin Guardians that could be Firebrand’s evil twins (before you literally fight Firebrand’s evil twin). Then we’ve got the final boss fights, which are back to “more heads equal more evils” thinking.
So, yes, if you, the fleshy human reading this article, ever encountered one of Firebrand’s friends or foes, you would run away screaming. Yet you, the player controlling the Red Blaze, are saving these unknowable horrors from slightly different unknowable horrors. Why would you do such a thing? You are saving a world of “people” that are only going to live on to make Arthur’s life that much harder! Why are you even entertaining this nonsense?
The answer is simple: because you can.
Let’s not pretend you have to play videogames. “But thou must” may be how Dragon Quest starts, but you absolutely have the choice of turning off the NES and grabbing a whole different game off the shelf. No one is making you play Gargoyle’s Quest anymore than anyone is forcing you to play Super Mario Bros. one world at a time. There are warp zones for a reason! But you can beat every last Bowser if you want, just the same as you can maneuver Firebrand into banishing all those demon-demons. It is not about the story, it is about the challenge. It is about taking this unique hero, be they pink puff or bat-winged monster, and seeing if you can succeed. Are you saving a kingdom of fungi or fun guys (that eat people)? Immaterial! Videogames offer the only story telling medium wherein you can actively and continually loathe the protagonist, but enjoy exploring the world that they inhabit. Or, to put a point on it, hate the player, love the game. Particularly if the player hates you.
So, yeah, you’re gonna save the Ghoul Realm. You are going to save every last monster that will one day define the concept of monsters. You do not have to. No one is saying you must. But you will. It is fun, and you like fun things, right?
The world is going to burn, and you lit the match. All because you liked flying with the silly little red dude…
FGC #602 Gargoyle’s Quest II: The Demon Darkness
- System: Nintendo Entertainment System, and an enhanced, region-locked Gameboy version.
- Number of Players: Firebrand simply cannot work with others.
- Port-o-Call: If you can stomach the lack of color, the Gameboy edition does seem to be the definitive version. That desert that is completely devoid of landmarks in the NES edition has a whole dungeon now! And you can earn a homing-fireball! Tell me that wouldn’t make a few fights about 200% easier.
- Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Like Kirby’s Adventure, this is one of those great, late NES titles that wholly justifies platforming games by granting some limited flight options. That was just what everyone needed after experiencing the glories of raccoon-travel. Other than that, it is basically a Mega Man game, and who can say no to that?
- RPG Elements: The world map is entirely perfunctory, and adds pretty much nothing to the gameplay experience other than an easy way to backtrack. However, it does go a long way toward making the Ghoul Realm feel like a big, wide open area. The Ghouls ‘n Ghosts version of it is, like, three lil’ levels.
- For the sequel: Demon’s Crest is the sequel, an unfortunate end to any and all gargoyle quests. Now, that plot learned a thing or two from its prequels, and you are now actively avenging Firebrand against a world/Phalanx that has wronged him. See? It is not about saving demons, it is about making demons feel bad. Totally different universe of storytelling there.
- Story time: Gargoyle’s Quest 2 is actually the prequel to Gargoyle’s Quest (1), and is another one of those situations wherein almost the exact thing happened to an ancestor/descendant pair. However, it is worth noting that the Firebrand of Gargoyle’s Quest (1) is almost certainly the same protagonist of Demon’s Quest, and probably the jerk that directly deals with Arthur on a regular basis. Of course, I am no authority on the subject. All these red, winged demons look the same to me.
- An End: The penultimate boss is the hardest boss in the game. There, I said it. You unlock unlimited flight, high jumps, and dragon-fire breath before the real final boss, and then that donk doesn’t even get out of his chair. Meet the Red Blaze, dumbass, and burn until my grandson kicks your ass all over again.
- What’s in a name? The Twin Guardians are clearly a pair of malevolent gargoyles. This is Gargoyle’s Quest. Is there a reason they can’t just, ya know, be called gargoyles? Did Disney copyright that, too?
- Favorite Boss: I appreciate the Maze of Mirror’s Doppelganger boss, and how attacking your own reflection will only hurt you. And it utilizes Firebrand’s “enemy” attacks of shooting fire and randomly swooping around! Hey, wait a minute, why can’t my Firebrand swoop like that?
- Did you know? The original, Japanese version of the title screen is kickin’ ass with a cool, animated frame of flames. The American/European title screen is so, so boring by comparison.
- Would I play again: This game gets breezier every time I play it. I would be down for a new gargoyle-based quest, but, until that surfaces, I will happily give the old one a go.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dante’s Inferno for the Playstation 3! Folks, it looks like ROB wants me to go to Hell. Please look forward to it!