FGC #605 Curses ‘N Chaos

Let's rockSometime around the 14th century, the Black Death was ravaging the European population. Given this highly lethal plague was on everybody’s mind (how could we ever hope to understand?), this seems to have been the time that the anthropomorphism of Death manifested in the public consciousness. As anyone that has ever visited a Spirit Halloween is aware, Death is generally visualized as a skeleton in a black robe wielding scythe. To elaborate for anyone from a foreign culture, the scythe is supposed to symbolize the literal harvesting of souls, and the skeletal body is supposed to be symbolize how bones are scary. Beyond that, ol’ Death is a pretty fundamental part of Western culture, and it is unlikely anyone reading this has missed his familiar iconography.

But what does it mean when Death makes an appearance in a videogame? Well, let us look at how Death has worked his digital magic through the years.

1984
Paperboy

Midway Games
Arcade

Throw some papersWhat’s happening here: Near as we can tell, the first appearance of an active Death in a videogame was in Paperboy. A grim reaper is one of the many, many obstacles that this young boy must face on his way to delivering newspapers to the least appreciative neighborhood on the planet.

Describe your Death: We have a traditional black cloak and scythe here, though it is difficult to tell if we are dealing with a legitimate skeleman. One would suppose this emphasizes the “unknown” nature of Death.

What does it all mean? 1984 was a time for “suburbs fear”, wherein parents were convinced razors were being hidden in Halloween candy, and a scary man in a trench coat was assumed to be on every corner. It was all total nonsense, but it does explain why one would expect to see Death out and menacing an innocent paperboy. Everything wants to kill our innocent young paperboy, why would Death themself be any different?

1985
Gauntlet

Midway Games
Arcade

BEHOLD DEATHWhat’s happening here: Death is one of the many monsters that stalks the world of Gauntlet. They will drain 100 health from a hapless adventurer, and is resistant to all attacks, save the mighty magic bomb. They are not a common creature, but they are a threat every time they appear.

Describe your Death: OG Gauntlet is not exactly known for its huge, expressive sprites, but Death at least has the ol’ black cloak here. If you were to claim this Death was a ninja, you wouldn’t have to change a single thing about their appearance.

What does it all mean? In 1983, Patricia Pulling founded Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (BADD), and significantly contributed to the myth that Dungeons and Dragons was seducing our innocent children to the dark side. This led to years of general concern over D&D, so it was only natural that Death would be haunting dungeons in 1985 videogames. It’s Death! They will kill you! Because of what you are doing! Stay out of fantasy realms, children!

1986
Castlevania

Konami
Nintendo Entertainment System

Sorry SimonWhat’s happening here: Death’s multiple appearances in the Castlevania franchise may be the most iconic in gaming, and it all started here. You can’t have a decent Castlevania game without Death! Eat it, Haunted Castle, you barely get a Frankenstein.

Describe your Death: Skeleton? Check. Scythe? Check. Black cloak? Well… Death has decided to go with something more fuchsia here, but we’re going to allow it. NES color palettes are not kind to classical iconography.

What does it all mean? We will address Death as a greater presence in the franchise soon enough, but this Death is little more than one of many “movie monster” bosses in his first appearance. Apparently he was just a dude in a pink costume going by the pseudonym of Belo Lugosi. That is almost a real person’s name!

1986
Kid Icarus

Nintendo
Nintendo Entertainment System

What’s happening here: Death is one of the first real “challenges” Pit will encounter as he escapes the Underworld and climbs to the Heavens. Unfortunately, Death does not merely hang out below ground, and they and their minions will chase our hero straight up until he can fly away.

Describe your Death: Assuming the dark blue cloak is just a concession to not make this monster wholly black-on-black, this is our first 100% visually accurate Death. And they have a lovely “screaming skull” motif when Pit encounters them, too. Just a pleasant Death all around.

What does it all mean? This Death is simultaneously a generic mook that can be easily vanquished, and one of the most iconic, difficult opponents Pit has ever encountered. Sure, Pit’s Death isn’t a boss, but did you ever get to a boss in Kid Icarus? Of course not, because you were already killed sixty times by Death. It is only marginally possible to proceed past this Death, and if you do survive, you will still see them again and again. Is there a better metaphor for the concept of death? Way to nail it right out of the gate, Nintendo.

1987
Wonder Boy in Monster Land

Sega
Arcade

They can't all be winnersWhat’s happening here: About five seconds after Wonder boy starts his adventure, Death is encountered as the opening boss. Kill like three snakes, go in a cave, and there they are.

Describe your Death: Once again, we have a pretty traditional Death that left their good cloak in the laundry. Please enjoy our skeletal avenger complete with scythe and yellow cloak for this battle.

What does it all mean? This Death must suffer the indignity of not only being the first and easiest boss in the game, but also eventually being color-swapped for generic “poverty gods” later in the adventure. Awful! While the message that Death will come quickly and when least expected comes through loud and clear, the fact that Death is so easily trounced and forgotten seems antithetical to their usual purpose. Then again, this is Wonder Boy, and what boy truly considers the ramifications of death…

1988
Ghouls ‘n Ghosts

Capcom
Arcade

Are they ghosts?What’s happening here: The first Ghosts ‘n Goblins started with a pretty generic graveyard filled with remarkably basic zombies (they all were wearing the same clothes!). The sequel, Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, kinda sorta started with a graveyard date, but then quickly transitioned into an executioner’s grounds with plenty of guillotines to go around. And Reapers! Can’t have a place of death without Death stopping by.

Describe your Death: Skeleton with dark robes and a scythe? Yes, doing great here, the only issue is…

What does it all mean? Unfortunately, you cannot have this many Deaths. These creatures are not meant to be some multiple manifestation of our favorite specter of entropy, but demons known as Skeleton Murderers. They still reap souls, and are certainly an active threat, but they’re not the big D in any significant way. Just figured I’d include them because apparently Death has a fan club in at least one realm.

1992
Time Killers

THQ
Arcade

It is timeWhat’s happening here: Videogames got violent in the 90’s, and fighting games where you could routinely introduce your opponent to their death were common across the arcades. Time Killers attempted to ride the Mortal Kombat wave by being the goriest, most violent game you could ever hope to play for a quarter. It didn’t work out. But, appropriately for a game all about killing, the final boss is Death. Fight for your immortality!

Describe your Death: This is one of those situations wherein the directors wanted to convey that this is the “real” Death, and you never knew what Death really could be. Death initially appears in the traditional shadow cloak, but tosses that aside to reveal some kind of flame-haired space creature sporting a less-human, more-demonic skull face. And Death has got, like, Gargoyle feet? It’s weird.

What does it all mean? Making Death the final boss of your fighting game not only showcases Death in a properly lofty position, but arguably justifies the whole enterprise. If Death is in charge of a fighting tournament, he is clearly the reason everyone is always dying and reviving, so fighting for immortality against the big guy only makes rational sense. Or, put another way, eat your heart out, Mortal Kombat, Time Killers might be an abhorrently terrible game, but at least it can excuse killing the same ninja over and over again.

1994
NBA Jam Tournament Edition

Midway
Arcade

He is also on fireWhat’s happening here: We have a 2-on-2 basketball contest featuring some of the most popular stars of the National Basketball Association. And, since someone on the staff decided to have some fun, various NBA Jam editions have included special guests like Santa, the Clintons, and, of course, Death.

Describe your Death: No scythe, and the cloak is kind of implied in the profile picture, but that is definitely a fleshy body with a skull mask dribbling up and down the court. I do not think anyone on the team wanted to work out exactly how a skeleton would be animated while dunking.

What does it all mean? The last enemy to be destroyed is Death. Or the first. Death originally appeared in NBA Jam T.E., but was dropped from future versions and all console editions. This was also the same fate as the Mortal Kombat kharacters that were bumming around the court, so it is assumed this was done at the request of the NBA, and not Midway trying to gum up some cross brand synergy. Does this mean that basketball players and their owners are a superstitious, cowardly lot? Maybe.

1995
Eternal Champions Challenge from the Dark Side

Sega / Deep Water
Sega CD

The champion!What’s happening here: Eternal Champions was another game that followed the Mortal Kombat route and included bloody finales to its matches, and even went the extra mile by including Death as a playable character in its “Champion Edition” sequel/upgrade. This Death was not the star of the show, but they did stop by to give this group of time traveling mortals a run for their money.

Describe your Death: We have a skeleton utilizing a cloak and a scythe. Good job! Uses that scythe a bit too much like a staff, but the visuals are on point.

What does it all mean? Death is just one of the guys in this game. Yes, they are a hidden character, and there are a few hidden characters that seem like “legitimate” canon entries in this dark tournament, but Death is also on the character select tier with a dog, owl, chicken, senator, snake, and monkey. It is pretty clear that this Death is little more than a joke, which, in a game wherein characters can once again die over and over again, that seems like an appropriate punchline.

1997
Castlevania Symphony of the Night

Konami
Playstation

Gimme back my stuffWhat’s happening here: Let’s check back in on our old friends in Wallachia. Death had been a common (though not universal) boss in the Castlevania franchise, and then graduated to more of a presence in Castlevania: Rondo of Blood with his first turn as a “tutorial” boss. Then, in its direct sequel, Symphony of the Night, Death got to have his first conversation in the franchise. And he has been a Chatty Cathy ever since!

Describe your Death: That cloak is looking a little darker than his first CV appearance, though he does get a purple version for the eventual boss fight. Also, the character portrait grants Death a creepy little skeleton monkey buddy, and I feel like we should see whatever that is supposed to be more often.

What does it all mean? Death was recognized for ten years of exemplary service, and graduated to Dracula’s right hand fiend. So, from roughly this point on in the franchise, Death always had some input on current events, whether he was the final boss of Dracula’s origin story (Castlevania: Lament of Innocence) or a confused bystander when things go cockeyed (Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance). And why wouldn’t he take a moment to weigh in? Death is no stranger to Castlevania heroes, so including a Death that is a little more personal felt like a natural upgrade. Now let’s figure out how he started talking without any visible organs…

1998
Grim Fandango

LucasArts
Microsoft Windows

Let's danceWhat’s happening here: Welcome to the Land of the Dead, home of Manuel Calavera, a deceased soul that has become a Grim Reaper. But being a reaper is not all it’s cracked up to be, as the whole “reaping” thing has fallen by the wayside, and Manny is little more than a travel agent working off his debt. But don’t feel bad for this reaper, as he will eventually find his way to a pleasant afterlife, even if he has to (un)live through a film noir pastiche to get there.

Describe your Death: Manny may not stay in costume all the time, but he does own a cloak, scythe, and unmistakably skeletal face. He even wears lifts in reaper guise to intimidate the rabble! Of course, he eventually graduates to nightclub owner, and that requires attire that is a little more… swanky.

What does it all mean? On one hand, this reaper is the only videogame reaper (that I can immediately recall) that is simultaneously a distinctly Western reaper and a character that draws heavily on Central American mythology (Guacamelee, you need a few more scythes to qualify). It is good to see the traditional reaper man adapting to different regions! On the other hand, this is the rote “reaper as a 9-5 job” route, which is… not great for a videogame. I love LucasArts-style adventure games, but I can see why this wasn’t exactly a commercial success, because “Play as the Grim Reaper! As he plays with office supplies!” is not the greatest intro you can have for an (eventually) exciting adventure.

1999
Final Fantasy 8

Squaresoft
Playstation

CHUGGA CHUGGAWhat’s happening here: Death has been a constant presence in the Final Fantasy franchise. Starting with the “RUB” spell, Black Mages could always summon the Grim Reaper to end an opponent’s life. Final Fantasy 9 would make Death a central part of its narrative, but it seems like everything from materia to slot machines could summon Death across the various Final Fantasy releases. And then there’s Final Fantasy 8. In FF8, Death is a choo choo.

Describe your Death: The skeleton motif is right on, but the scythe has been traded for train tracks. Because, ya know, they’re a train. The train’s piping does look vaguely cloak-esque, at least.

What does it all mean? Before localization, Doomtrain was known as Glasya Labolas, who has been appearing as a gigas-type creature in the franchise since Final Fantasy 3 (probably most familiar to American players as Borras of Zozo in Final Fantasy 6). For whatever reason, this name was assigned to a rampaging ghost train exactly once in the franchise, and then never again. But that is irrelevant! Doomtrain is clearly based on the Phantom Train of Final Fantasy 6, the bizarre version of the Final Fantasy afterlife wherein dying means that a convoy is your transportation to your final rest… assuming some monk doesn’t suplex the locomotive along the way. So, with the vaguely technological setting of Final Fantasy 6 and Final Fantasy 8, this is a clear statement that the “old” Death can also update for more modern times. All aboard the Doomtrain!

2001
Maximo: Ghosts to Glory

Capcom
Playstation 2

Friendshaped?What’s happening here: Time for another returning franchise! Death has been a continual part of the Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise, but now the big guy is going to try to be helpful! New knight Maximo dies immediately at the start of his journey, but, because his murderer is also disrupting the afterlife, Grim the Grim Reaper revives Maximo to save the day. But don’t get too comfortable, Max! If you don’t pay the toll to revive after every game over, Grim will find a new champion, and you’ll be out of a job and a body.

Describe your Death: Super duper Death here. About the only thing that distinguishes this Death from any other interpretations over the centuries is a prominent, purple necklace. Other than that? This dude is Death from (skeletal) toe to tip.

What does it all mean? Grim is an ally that gradually seems to warm to Maximo over the course of their first game, and then returns in the sequel as a playable “partner”/super move. So this Death can be tamed! Mind you, in both cases, Death has the ultimate goal of saving souls/his job, so it is more of an uneasy alliance… but still! Death can be your friend! Yay friendship!

2003
Grabbed by Ghoulies

Rare
Xbox

Rock outWhat’s happening here: Grabbed by Ghoulies is basically a beat ‘em up with a Halloween aesthetic and a weirdly specific over-reliance on “fat and green equals ugly and funny” (see also Kazooie, Banjo). You are trapped in a mansion that forces you to fight through an army of skeletons that can scare your hapless protagonist into quicktime events. And there are a host of omniscient “rules” in a number of rooms. What happens if you let a rule be broken? Well, say hello to Death.

Describe your Death: Death is very much Death here. The only real deviation is that his signature skull is very pumpkin-like, and his scythe may or may not occasionally be used like a guitar. That cannot be canon.

What does it all mean? The Reaper may be stunned, but never completely banished. Death is immutable, and the ultimate punishment for not following the rules. But Death can be turned to your advantage, as death comes for us all, and will murder ghoulies just as easily as your protagonist. Death is once again unstoppable, but at least they are fair, and follow the same rules for everybody. Except spiders. Death is too tall to deal with spiders. Sorry.

2005
Death Jr.

Backbone Entertainment
Playstation Portable

The music is pretty greatWhat’s happening here: You want to hear about Death, or do you want Death’s cool, teenage son? Let’s go with the latter, as he headlined the supposed killer app of the PSP back when such a boast was something people cared about. Death Jr. is a well-meaning squirt that has a tendency to get into hijinks when trying to impress pretty girls, like Pandora. Yes, that Pandora. For the good of the world, mythological children should not hang out so much.

Describe your Death: Death Jr. looks a lot like his predecessor, though the traditional robe may be traded for a hoodie when available. You have to keep up with the times, old man.

What does it all mean? Death Jr. started its afterlife as a game that was a spin-off of the Spyro the Dragon franchise. While D.J. doesn’t exactly look like a Spyro character, he does retain that “let’s appeal to the kids of the day” attitude that was persistent through the late 90’s. Thus, Death Jr. is the death of a whole generation of idiosyncratic mascots. Basically the point here is that when Sonic the Hedgehog finally bites the big one, there is no way he is seeing any other Grim Reaper than Death Jr.

2006
Persona 3

Atlus
Playstation 2

Watch this guyWhat’s happening here: All those violent fighting games move over, Persona 3 is a JRPG that did its best to be obsessed with death for a solid 80 hours. You cannot cast a spell in Persona 3 without faking a suicide, and the death imagery is so persistent, a personification of death becomes your best friend and nightmare buddy for a solid year. How do you deal with memento mori as a high school student? Well, you can start by battling a pistol-wielding Death while climbing an impossible tower!

Describe your Death: The Reaper is a Death that decided to spruce up their look at Hot Topic. The cloak is all there, but now we have some lovely chains to add to the ensemble. The scythe has been forsaken for a pair of pistols with extremely long barrels, and a presumably skeletal visage is hidden behind an executioner’s burlap sack. That’s a thing, right? Those sacks do seem to pop up a lot.

What does it all mean? In a game about death, Reaper is the only shadow that is all but guaranteed to kill you. You are warned repeatedly of their presence in Tartarus, and if you chose to ignore those cautions, you will once again be prompted to run at the start of a Reaper encounter. Disregard that, and even a Level 99 party is going to have problems with a monster that will recklessly target weaknesses and soak enough damage to sink an aircraft carrier. It is possible to conquer this Reaper, but the odds are not in your favor. And isn’t that how Death should be? You can survive… but you should listen to the people that tell you otherwise.

2007
Odin Sphere

Atlus / Vanillaware
Playstation 2

Fight the death!What’s happening here: Another game all about death and resurrection, Odin Sphere focuses on the tales of five separate adventurers who all come together to fulfill a prophecy that leads to the destruction (and rebirth!) of the world. And, since there are multiple death gods running around this plot, it is only natural that a reaper or two snuck into the proceedings.

Describe your Death: Known as Haljas, Wraiths, or Shinigami, these creatures are numerous, but they all look like the traditional Grim Reaper. They definitely have exposed, skeletal hands gripping their scythes, so it seems like a reasonable assumption that they would have a boney face under those cloaks.

What does it all mean? Odin Sphere has more death than you can stick a spear at, so having a veritable army of reapers at hand seems like the best way for Queen Odette to manage the underworld. While seeing Death as a toady is never ideal, at least the Haljas are confirmed to be the “generals” of this afterlife, and not quite the generic mooks you might see in other games. And, hey, when you eventually must face the Five Beasts of Armageddon, maybe it is a good thing to already have the experience of putting down a few reapers.

2008
BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger

Arc System Works
Arcade / Playstation 3 / Xbox 360 / PSP

Other characters can have scythes, tooWhat’s happening here: The BlazBlue franchise has quite the cast of characters, but its main protagonist, Ragna the Bloodedge, has been there right from the start. And, while Ragna is more or less the generally human star of the BlazBlue franchise, he is also known as the “Grim Reaper”, so we’re going to toss him in here.

Describe your Death: The white/silver hair is kind of skull-like, right? That red coat is not going to be mistaken for a cloak anytime soon, though. But his “battle effects” do seem to evoke death-based visual motifs. Oh, and his sword turns into a scythe! That has to count for something!

What does it all mean? Ragna’s status as the Grim Reaper seems to wane as the franchise goes on (he even earns two wholly separate nicknames that have nothing to do with reaping), but Ragna’s inception does portray him as the shonen hero version of Death. He may not literally reap souls, but he is an unstoppable force that is going to cut down anyone in his path. And he does it all with good, albeit violent, intentions! Just like that skeleton guy!

2009
Scribblenauts

5th Cell
Nintendo DS

Write it downWhat’s happening here: In Scribblenauts, if you can name it, you can summon it. “Scribble” all sorts of whacky things to solve puzzles and/or cause general chaos. See how many puzzle pieces you can earn by throwing a dinosaur at every problem! And, if you need some reaping done, write “Grim Reaper”, and guess who is going to show up.

Describe your Death: Back to normal ol’ Death here. Grim keeps his signature scythe for his initial Scribblenauts appearance, but he forgets it for later editions. Though he gains the ability to ride ATVs in those eventual games, so it is a fair tradeoff.

What does it all mean? Death seems to be at their most accurate in Scribblenauts. On the good side, the player can summon them at will, and utilize that instant death touch for any puzzle that might require the gentle, bony hand of oblivion. On the bad side, however, once Death is summoned, they do not give a flip about anyone, so prepare to run for your life if they start shuffling towards you. And that’s Death! Mess with the (skeleton) bull, you’re gonna get the (skeleton) horns!

2010
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

Konami / MercurySteam
Xbox 360, Playstation 3

Too friggin coolWhat’s happening here: The Castlevania franchise earned its own reboot after bumming around videogame consoles for two decades. The new Castlevania put a much greater emphasis on realism (or at least however much realism you can squeeze out of a universe with actively malevolent bats) and the involvement of a generally powerful church. Gabriel Belmont is set forth by said church to stop the eponymous Lords of Shadow, and is aided in his quest by a friendly fellow by the name of Zobek. But, gasp, Zobek is one of the Lords of Shadow. And, double gasp, he is a champion necromancer that puts him on par with… well, you can probably guess at this point.

Describe your Death: Zobek definitely has a “form” wherein he looks like the traditional Death (albeit with a disproportionate skull-to-cloak ratio that kind of makes him look like his head shrunk in the wash), but he spends most of his time as a helpful British fellow. And then there’s the sequel, wherein the Grim Reaper is continually wearing a dapper suit and tie. Looking good, Death! Maybe too good…

What does it all mean? The greatest sin of the Lords of Shadow spinoff franchise is that it tried to make a series that was previously pretty nerdy into something that was inordinately cool. Not everything has to be Metal Gear, Konami! Sometimes you just want to fight a Medusa that explodes into a bunch of little medusa heads! And Death is now best described as “stylish”? He commits the super chic crime of smoking? He is voiced by friggen’ Patrick Stewart!? Damn, son, you literally cannot be cooler than that! Bring back the big dork in the clocktower!

2011
Arcana Heart 3

Arc System Works / Examu
Xbox 360, Playstation 3

What’s happening here: Somewhere around the turn of the 21st Century, it was determined that any and all genres that could no longer support seventeen releases a month had to find fun and new ways to attract customers. One common method was grafting cute anime girls to any and all things. Dungeon crawlers now involved breast expansion missions, shoot ‘em ups aimed for deathsmiling, and the fighting game genre began to include more than a few inexplicably combat-ready maids. The Arcana Heart franchise has a magical girl ready to appeal to this audience, and she deals in death.

Describe your Death: Yoriko Yasuzumi is wears a purple cloak, wizard hat, purple-rimmed glasses, and a short skirt. Not very reaper! But her arcana is Dieu Mort, the Arcana of Evil. Once a vile murderer, after his own death, Dieu Mort became a purple cloaked, scythe-wielding shadow creature. Now that’s a reaper!

What does it all mean? We had to find one of these in gaming somewhere: Yoriko is the typical clumsy bookworm that is in way over her head and now has to fight others with a sentient skull staff because she inadvertently became the avatar of evil and death. It’s Death as an anime high school comedy! And that is bound to be somebody’s fetish! So go pick up Arcana Heart 3, kiddies! In 2011, Street Fighter 4 has only been out for three years, and it has zero Grim Reapers!

2012
Darksiders 2

THQ
Xbox 360, Playstation 3, WiiU

Creepy dudeWhat’s happening here: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are angel-demon hybrids that are charged with preserving the balance of the Universe. Unfortunately, they were terrible at their jobs, and that whole “Apocalypse” thing kicked into gear without their explicit consent. The first Darksiders saw War tromping around a postapocalyptic world trying to redeem his good name, while Darksiders 2 followed the parallel adventure of War’s best, murderous bro, Death.

Describe your Death: This Death is not entirely skeletal, so his cloak has been forsaken for showing off those monster abs. But he does have a skull face, so good job on keeping it classic. He also wields a magical scythe that can be two scythes; and who needs to steal your brother’s handguns when your hands are full of scythes? Nobody, that’s who. And don’t forget Death’s “Reaper Form” which is… pretty self explanatory.

What does it all mean? In much the same way the Grim Reaper had to get in on the fighting game boom, Death of Darksiders is a clear attempt to modify Kratos and God of War-alikes to be a little more reapy. And it works! Death might be stuck in a universe that is more Diablo to his brother’s Zelda adventure, but he is dressed for the part, and seems to possess a “gruff but fair” personality that is appropriate to a potential arbiter of existence. You might be an obvious clone, Death, but you’re one of the good ones.

2013
Dragon’s Crown

Atlus / Vanillaware
Playstation 3, PS Vita

They should have a crown, tooWhat’s happening here: In an epoch before the great beat ‘em up resurgence, Dragon’s Crown attempted to marry old school arcade action with modern leveling, item collection, and an art style that is unforgettable. While much of the game was a straightforward “hit that with your axe” affair, some of the creatures involved required a little more finesse. Undead opponents were particularly nasty, and that included our good friend/fiend, Wraith.

Describe your Death: Wraith rules the basement of the Castle of the Dead (and, remember, lower is better when it comes to living corpses). They have a bony body, a scythe the size of four people, and a carcass-green cloak. So call yourself Wraith all you want, buddy, we’re in Grim Reaper territory. Wraith also has a tiny set of wings. Normally, I would claim those wings could never support such a large creature, but said creature is completely lacking any and all flesh, so the physics here may be extraordinary.

What does it all mean? Wraith is the only undead-type boss in the game, and thus the only boss that requires specific, holy/light-based attacks to banish. And, wow, that means we have looped back around to the (almost) beginning here. Remember Gauntlet? And how you needed special abilities to put a dent in Death? Wraith is back and pulling the same stunt. We’ve got our first retro videogame reference reaper!

2015
Curses ‘N Chaos

Tribute Games
Playstation 4, PS Vita

Hey, it's the featured gameWhat’s happening here: Another beat ‘em up, but this one much more in the mold of an 8-bit, 2-D adventure. Leo and Lea stand their ground and fight wave after wave of encroaching monsters, battling for a way to stop a wizard king and cure their eternal curse. That curse? If they spend too much time anywhere, then Death comes for them, and there’s no stopping this reaper.

Describe your Death: Purple cloak, glowing red eyes, and a scythe. Yep, that’s Death all right.

What does it all mean? Death comes for us all eventually, so becoming the living embodiment of a ticking timer seems appropriate for the Grim Reaper. Can you complete these challenges without ever seeing Death? Probably! But will you? Probably not. And then going about your business with Death looming overhead is a bit of an issue… just like in reality! Ask anyone that lived through the last year!

2019
Felix the Reaper

Kong Orange
Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Steam

Fix it, FelixWhat’s happening here: Felix is a grim reaper, and he has fallen in love with a human woman. But Felix can dance! And, hoping this will win his Betty, he prances around the shadows of the human world while performing his less-than-dance-worthy job: killing humans. It’s hard having to set up the Rube Goldberg-esque tricks and traps that will knock a few mortals off their coil, but Felix can do it! For Betty!

Describe your Death: He’s got the skeleton thing down, but he is otherwise not dressed the part. Dude kind of looks like an elevator operator wearing headphones over a complete lack of ears. And no scythe? Felix, get it together.

What does it all mean? Felix is stuck in a job that demands perfection while pining for a woman he may never meet. But he’s still happy! Felix is a grim reaper on a mission, and he will incidentally do his “real” job while he’s on the way there. And isn’t that familiar in the modern epoch? Working 9-5, but only finding true joy from the side hustle? Felix is a grim reaper for all the people forced to dance through their boring, possibly homicidal jobs.

2020
Death and Taxes

Placeholder Gameworks
Nintendo Switch / Steam

Worked to deathWhat’s happening here: Death and Taxes is a primarily text-based game wherein you take the place of an office worker that is also a freshly minted Grim Reaper. It is your job to stamp paperwork that determines whether particular humans live or die. After work, you can knock off for a pint at the pub, or have conversations with your boss to determine if he is trying to destroy all of humanity. If he is… I guess… call an adult?

Describe your Death: Customization is available, but this Grim Reaper is primarily wearing a suit for his adventures. Maybe you will buy a cloak from that pirate merchant in the basement? Maybe not. At least you are a confirmed skeleton, though.

What does it all mean? On one hand, this is another situation wherein death as we know it has been reduced to a 9-5, “it’s a living” scenario. However, beneath the surface, this is a game that has a very particular, holistic view on death, and how it can be accepted not as a threat, but a mercy. There are situations wherein death is not the worst thing in the world, and a Grim Reaper may be welcomed. Death and Taxes casts a very thoughtful Grim Reaper… though maybe I am just being tricked into writing that, as I just played through a game where I am the Grim Reaper. I am very intelligent.

2020
Hades

Supergiant Games
Nintendo Switch

Not the right guyWhat’s happening here: Hades is a rogue-like about a dude who was born in the realm of the dead, and he is going to die over and over again in an effort to escape this death world. So there’s a bit of a death motif there. And, while a number of characters involved could fill the “Grim Reaper” role, it is Thanatos that seems to be the closest to the traditional representation of the creature… even if ol’ Grim wouldn’t be invented until a few thousand years after the era of Hades. C’est la vie.

Describe your Death: The ceremonial cloak and scythe are 100% present and accounted for, so there is no mistaking this god for anything but a reaper. He even has a big ol’ skull on his belt buckle (either that, or he is a big fan of Emil). However, said skull is the only bony part of Thanatos, as the rest of this guy is fleshy by way of an abused gym membership.

What does it all mean? After years of the Grim Reaper being the antagonist, 2020 broke all of society, and now everybody wants to #%$& Death. There is no other explanation! Romancing the obvious embodiment of mortality is not only possible in Hades, but actively encouraged. It only took a few centuries, but Death has finally become desirable, and we all have Hades to thank for that. So congrats, Grim Reaper, thanks to your gradual videogame evolution, you are finally going to get some decent swipes on Tinder.

FGC #605 Curses ‘N Chaos

  • Summon your own meteorsSystem: Vita seems to be the intended system, and then Playstation 4, presumably because the seven people that bought a Vita weren’t into it. It was that period of game releases
  • Number of players: As is proper to something that is not unlike a classic beat ‘em up, it’s two players.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: This is a kinda-sorta beat ‘em up, but very much in the vein of an 8-bit title like Mega Man or Ninja Gaiden. Not Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, though! Basically! The important thing here is that your heroes do not have much range, so you absolutely are not chucking lances from a distance. Once you understand that, and accept that you are going to soak a few too many hits from tapping a frog that jumped at exactly the wrong time, it is a pretty fun experience. Oh, and the pixel art is gorgeous, which is always great.
  • Getting crafty: There is also a sort of crafting system available between levels. It is awful. It seems like the kind of thing that would work very well with a guide, but, since it is difficult to conserve items from levels (at best, you can only ever score two items per stage, and that’s if you don’t use them), and a “failed” mixing just means you’re out of an item. Boo! It works if you have a lot of cash on hand and know precisely what you’re doing… but can’t the same be said of everything in life?
  • Lea or Leo? Leo is a hulking muscle maniac wearing only some pants and a helmet. Lea is a might smaller, and dressed in fashion that might appeal to a certain Darkstalker. Lea gets my vote, but only because I have bad memories of ZOAH.
  • Favorite Item: I am sure these things have names (editor’s note: they’re right there on the shop screen, dumbass), but I am happy with… giant arrow thingy? Trebuchet? Whatever it is that makes a giant “screw you” arrow fly horizontally across the screen. That monster beats any and all advanced level magic.
  • ALWAYS BE DANCIN'ABD: It is important to get the best score possible, so, when in doubt, always be dancing. Shake that money maker, L&L!
  • Did you know? The Moai Heads of Gradius appear in this title, complete with their signature laser ring shots. You can’t copyright Easter Island, Konami!
  • Would I play again: Somebody want to port this one to Switch? Curses ‘N Chaos falls into that weird hole wherein you have to pay too much attention to completely play it portably while tangentially watching something else, but it is not quite interesting enough to be played “exclusively” on a big screen TV when trying to fight back to your last game over point. This is the kind of experience that would be ideal for “grinding” earlier levels portably, and then playing new stages/challenges while docked. Or not! Whatever! I will play it again if it pops up somewhere more ergonomic, but I’m unlikely to hit the Vita/PS4 version again. And, no, I am not going to cross-save to simulate portability!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mega Man Legends! And I’m sure that has nothing to do with hours of footage from our live streams being available! So let’s pal around with the crew/MegaMan! Please look forward to it!

Have to look out for that

One Response »

  1. I know it’s impossible to do all the Deaths, but man, you missed some interesting interpretations of Death.

    Castlevania: Curse of Darkness did the human Death thing a few years prior with Zead as a mortal disguise, the Letter Quest games had adorable chibi versions of the Reaper, Let It Die featured Uncle Death as its quirky game master, and Manual Samuel’s Death is a skateboard-loving dude who brought Samuel back to life on the condition that he do all of his bodily movements manually (Q.W.O.P.-like) for 24 hours.

    That said, awesome job on covering multiple game adaptations of the Grim Reaper there.

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