Tag Archives: violence

FGC #590 Final Fight: Streetwise

Today’s article contains one (arguably) graphic GIF of Playstation 2 quality. The image is basically the point of this essay, but if you are squeamish around such a thing, please be aware of its presence beyond the “read more” link du jour. Probably nothing you haven’t seen before, but, ya know, it bothered me, which brings us to today’s topic…

That logo is hotWhere is your videogame uncanny valley threshold?

Today’s game is Final Fight: Streetwise. As many people know, this was Final Fight’s attempt to enter the 21st Century with a Playstation 2 game that upgraded/marginally rebooted the original arcade classic. And, given Final Fight was always a handful of baseball bats away from just being The Warriors, this could have worked out well. Fight weirdos in strange costumes across a generally grungy city? Tale as old as time! And, while Final Fight: Streetwise maintained the concept of “beat ‘em all up”, it went a little off the rails when it decided to start aping the wrong crowd.

The blitheringly obvious greatest influence on Final Fight: Streetwise? Grand Theft Auto 3.

And this was not a good thing.

It is easy to see what happened here. Grand Theft Auto 3 was possibly the most popular and influential videogame of the era. And, to be clear, “influential” in this case absolutely means “there were 10,000 games all trying to get a piece of that sweet, sweet GTA3 pie”. This was the epoch when “sandbox gameplay” became a bullet point on every game cover from Final Fantasy to Hitman. Some of these copies were net goods, though. Spider-Man went from having “levels” to gaining the sprawling cities he always needed, and we likely would have never seen something like Fable without it being pitched as a “medieval GTA”. But, on the other end of the spectrum, we had any number of titles that wanted to make a claim at “gigantic, open worlds” without putting in the effort to actually design said worlds. And thus did we play through a number of games that would have been simple, progress from level to level affairs a few years earlier, but now had to have “hub cities” that were about as densely populated as Lost Springs, Wyoming (look it up!). And now you were forced to putter around for hours between missions and maybe the best you could hope for was some kind of collectible scavenger hunt. Apparently, the lesson so many game designers took from GTA3 was not that it had a fun, varied world where you were constantly learning you could do new things (God, I could write an article just about the exhilaration of finding a car jump ramp for the first time in GTA3), but simply that it was “big”, and you could walk around at your leisure. Oh, and GTA has a lot of “maturity”. Maybe we should shoehorn some cusses into our games, too…

FIGHT!Final Fight: Streetwise decided to chase the gameplay concepts and maturity of Grand Theft Auto 3 like a Japanophile running down a katana collection. FF:S takes place in a largeish (by PS2 standards) world with distinct neighborhoods, shops, and citizenry. There is the main plot, and a variety of “side quests” that can be distributed by assorted townsfolk/drug dealers. There are quests, both required and optional, that allow for the player to experience an escalation of regular gameplay, or more “minigame”-like fare. And, while Final Fight has always been a “street” franchise that included mature themes (the boss of Level 3 is a corrupt cop! You can eat his gum!) and roaming, malevolent gangs, the decision was clearly made at some point to make Final Fight: Streetwise feature characters that could be immediately described as “hardcore”. The central problem of this story is not a princess kidnapping, but a new drug on the streets. Our current hero is battling in an underground fight club to make ends meet, and all the previous protagonists are all suffering from various states of decay and corruption. And the new characters are all either morally compromised, or clearly too good to survive the whole of this adventure. This is a real story about real people in a real mean neighborhood.

And, unfortunately, you are not at all prepared for how this game is blitheringly, rock stupid from top to bottom.

You can read a game summary, Final Fight wiki article, or even the previous paragraph and think to yourself, “Well, that doesn’t sound so bad.” You may be like me, and imagine a game that indulges in that “grim ‘n gritty” style, but, even if it’s not your thing, it can still be good. It has happened before, right? It doesn’t have to be bad! This is a Capcom game! They know what they’re doing!

This happens all the timeWell, bad news, folks, Final Fight: Streetwise is an aggressively stupid game. There is no other way to describe it! This is a story where the featured characters are all idiots that always choose the single stupidest move possible. “This guy tried to kill me once, but maybe if I be polite, things will be better… whoops, got tricked, now he tried to kill me again.” That’s a plot point! It is meant to be a surprise when the mafioso that initially threw the protagonist into a deadly pit fight then again tries to kill the hero through an immediate bout of arson even though he was being so polite. And, granted, “being polite” should be rewarded for Kyle Travers, as his default mode is just cursing and punching people. I am not just talking about during gameplay, either! Kyle immediately resorts to fighting literally everyone he encounters. With a deft hand, a writer could portray Kyle as a man that knows he is in a rough situation, and immediately reacts to even the slightest kindness with inversely reciprocal brutality. But this is not a story written by a deft hand. This is a story about solving every problem with punching, and being rewarded for punching as hard as possible. And this translates to the gameplay, as literally everything in this world, from the sidequests to the gyms where you can spend your rewards, exists exclusively to power Kyle’s punches. And, again, this is a videogame, that could work. But, unfortunately, it all works to make this Final Fight world seem entirely too small to support the kind of game that could be happening here. It makes every corner of Kyle’s quest feel… stupid. This is a stupid hero doing stupid things in a stupid world.

A meeting of the mindsBut it is still a world. And it is a world that, with its “streetwise” aesthetics, tries to be realistic. The voice acting and graphics are great (by a Playstation 2 standard), and, if you are willing to forgive a number of (stupid) limiting choices in the game, you could easily see this as more of a “real world” than the cartoon world where you frequently see a dude in a gi tossing fireballs out of his hands. The venues in Final Fight: Streetwise are like those from the original Final Fight: subways, fighting rings, and the mean streets. And, while there are a few fantastic special moves as Kyle levels up, the majority of the fighting is based on traditional punches, kicks, and grapples. It is easy to slide into the simple comfort of playing this generally mundane game, and imagine you are controlling a real character in a real world.

And then you bash a sleeping dog with a baseball bat.

Here comes a GIF of that thing I just said

FGC #519 (Super) Smash TV

Let's Smash!Am I a good parent?

Wait a tick… Of course I’m not. I don’t even have kids. But I deal with kids on occasion, and I’d kind of like to work out my….

Wait, let’s take it from the top.

So my best friend had a birthday the other day. Given this birthday was a big, round number (he’s an even 6,000 years old), under normal circumstances, there would likely be a surprise party involving everyone that has so much as sneezed in his general direction. Unfortunately, we live in an age where sneezing is forbidden, so the big, “blowout” party consisted of a whole five adults drinking various kinds of alcohol on an outside deck. There was a cake that was also alcohol, but it was still a cake. I understand this has become a meme of some kind? Please enjoy this edible barrel.

It's a lie

But this quintet of musty old people was not the full extent of the guest list. The birthday boy had managed to sire some brood in his 11,000 years on this planet, and they had to be occupied with… ya know… something. It turns out children aren’t fond of sitting around and discussing the works of Proust while sipping Cabernet Sauvignon (okay, we may have actually been just gossiping about dorks from high school while chugging whiskey… but still!), so they were banished to the basement to entertain themselves. Of course, the kids do not see my basement (affectionately referred to as “The Gameatorium”) as anything approaching a punishment. That’s where the Transformers live! And the videogames! And that robot that keeps shouting out the titles of random videogames! That’s always a fun curiosity! So, yes, the children spent their father’s birthday surrounded by more games than they’d likely ever see in their lives, and that was the last they saw of their parents until around 1 AM.

Now, despite the fact that the kids in question were surrounded by literally thousands of videogames, I didn’t have to worry too much about their virgin eyes seeing the horrors of some games in my collection. Children have energy in droves, but the trade-off is that their undeveloped brains are remarkably lazy when more immediate enjoyment is available. Nobody has time to figure out how that whole “Sega Saturn” thing works, so they’ll just stick a slab of cheese in the disc drive, wait for me to find that six months later, and move on to a more familiar system. In this case, there was a Nintendo Switch, so that seemed like the way to go for finding some familiar fun. And, since the Nintendo Switch is a rat, I can relay exactly what they played. Apparently Smash Bros was their first choice, so good job, children. Fortnite was tried, but I hadn’t updated that game in a dog’s age, and nobody felt like waiting through a gigabyte download. ARMS was next on the list, and it seems that and Snakeybus were played for a whole 20 seconds before moving on to Splatoon 2. That saw some more use, but it didn’t last forever, likely because the two kids had to share a controller to play against others online. They’re… not great at taking turns. This apparently prompted the eldest to search through my collection for something that was 2-player co-op. Presumably utilizing signals beamed directly into his brain by generally bored space aliens, Elder Child found a game that would involve not only co-op, but lots of shooting.

NEONAnd that game? Neon Chrome. “A ruthless twin-stick top-down shooter”.

Anytime I see a kid playing a game that is described as “ruthless”, I grow concerned.

If you’ve never played Neon Chrome, you are missing out on a fun experience. It’s a procedurally generated rogue-like twin stick shooter that offers a number of offensive options and opponents. It was originally released on Steam in 2016, migrated to the consoles, and eventually found a home on the Switch. This is the ideal final form for practically any rogue-like, as the “simple” top down shoot ‘em up nature of Neon Chrome and the need to grind (either to unlock new options or to just “git gud”) seems to work best while also burning through episodes of Gotham in parallel (Batman stomping around as a surly teenager while The Riddler and The Penguin make out? Sign me up!). It’s not a game that is ever going to set the world on fire, and I’m glad I picked it up on a random sale, but Neon Chrome is certainly a game that is in the top 30% of titles on my Switch, which is a pretty impressive feat, considering some of the other luminaries on that system.

And, as I was the only adult sober enough to do such a thing, I checked on the children during their Neon Chrome journey. Neon Chrome actually surprised me, as it led to these two brothers actually cooperating and working out techniques unique to 2-player mode. While I may have been concerned about heated shouts of “You’re supposed to cover my right!” the fact that they collaborated for (literally) hours seemed like a minor miracle unto itself. Usually there is crying, yelling, and at least one kid explaining to his parents how the other kid is not being “fair” or “helpful” or “won’t stop summoning Bizlackowaq the NEONDeath Bringer”. In this case, the brothers were simply sitting downstairs, playing the same game, and enrapt the whole while. This is unusual! This is a miracle! It allowed us adults the freedom to have wild bacchanalian activities until well into the morning (or at least have one uninterrupted conversation about bookshelf placement), and we all have Neon Chrome to thank.

And my only concern is that Neon Chrome is rated T for Teen, and every time when I checked on the kids, there was inevitably a blood-splattered corpse on the ground.

(Uh, to be clear, that corpse was in the game. There was very little Cain and Abel roleplay happening that night).

Now, I have played videogames all of my life. I have enjoyed videogames all of my life. And, likely as a direct result of that, I have always been sensitive to the controversies over videogame violence. I was there for Mortal Kombat, Night Trap, and Ballz. I may or may not have held a lifelong grudge against a certain senator for stirring up anti-videogame rhetoric. I was in high school opposite Columbine and the “Doom controversy”. I have spent the last thirty years of my life entrenched in a thousand debates on videogames, violence, and whether or not that has any real impact on the players. I have always, always maintained that even the smallest children know the difference between fantasy and reality, and claiming otherwise is absolutely a bad-faith argument. We no more need to shield children from violent videogames than we need to block the nightly news and its usual parade of viciousness. Get over it, Joe, videogames are cool, you should just chill out.

NEONBut here I am, gawking like a yokel, starring at a pair of kids causing blood fountains on the screen, and contemplating whether or not I should leap in front of the television and demand they go back to playing Oscar’s Trash Race this instant, young man. Have I changed my mind? Since I’m now dealing with actual children I care about, have I altered my beliefs? Will I soon be shrieking about why won’t anyone think of the children?

And then I thought about my own childhood, and, coincidentally enough, playing videogames with the father of these wee ones.

As mentioned, I have been friends with Birthday Dad for a long time. We didn’t start hanging out with each when we were as young as his kids are now, but, in the grand scope of things, I would still look at our respective younger selves as “children” (granted, this also means I interpret almost all JRPG protagonists as children now, but that is just a side effect of being one of The Olds). And when we were kids? We got an early build of MAME going, and went to town on every arcade game that had ever dared strip us of our quarters. Battletoads arcade was on there, and Rampart saw an endless two player mode. And, of course, we had to conquer the old standby that many thought was impossible to finish: Smash TV.

(Hey, 1,400 words in, and we finally hit today’s featured game. That might be a new record on meandering!)

Smash TV is a quarter-killer from 1990 that sees the player taking on the role as a contestant on a hit game show in the far-flung future of 1999. Here, violence and maximum carnage rule supreme, and you have to guide a little dude with a helmet and no shirt through a series of arenas that generally contain an unhealthy number of mutants, robots, snakes, and jerks with baseball bats. Your ammo is unlimited, but your poor avatar can only take a single bullet before keeling over, so you have to be equal parts nimble and brutal. There are also a handful of bosses that exist to showcase the finest graphics that 1990 could ever hope to offer with the added bonus of mercilessly depleting every last extra life you had earned over the course of a level. Smash TV is an excellent twin-stick shooter that only requires approximately ten million credits to complete.

EYEBALL!And, if you hadn’t guessed from the subject of this article or that one screenshot where a dude is exploding into a puddle of eyeballs, Smash TV is very violent game. In this case, it’s not completely random violence, it’s something akin to Robocop or other hyper-violent movies from the 80’s that glorified violence while using it as a statement on society’s continual glorification of violence (… wait a minute). Smash TV is a game show where a contestant can win a million VCRs or “dream vacations”, but it’s all a farce, because that contestant likely won’t live to see a single tape on that brand new VCR. It’s a striking indictment of capitalism, as playing Smash TV for five minutes is just a microcosm of spending your life working for “fabulous prizes” that you will never enjoy because that work managed to break your back over the years (actually, that might just be a Billy Joel song). You might not be zapped into x-ray mode by a turtle-bot’s laser, but Smash TV is using its absurd violence to comment on the general irrationality of the modern grind. It’s violence with a point, dad, it’s not just some snuff game!

And my birthday pal and I used to play this game constantly. We hadn’t quite mastered save state technology, so we had to play Smash TV at home over and over again. In fact, I had made a similar attempt with a neighbor when I was younger with the Super Nintendo version. But the “arcade original” allowed for some USB controllers with actual twin sticks, so unlike that credit-limited earlier attempt, we were going to beat Smash TV if it killed us. And we did! This surprisingly lengthy arcade title was finished on a Friday evening otherwise mostly spent waiting for our drummer (if memory serves, we eventually had to drag him out of a Denny’s). It only took time, practice, virtual quarters, and absorbing hours and hours of the ol’ ultra-violence. No harm done!

FACE!And if their father and I turned out to be fine, upstanding citizens after witnessing so much carnage, shouldn’t the children be alright? I’m not certain which “parent trap” I’m falling for here. I’m recoiling at the thought of children seeing violence because I had a visceral reaction to two kids on a beanbag chair (it is a very large beanbag chair) gleefully laughing while a bloody corpse sputters into oblivion on the screen in front of us. On the other hand, isn’t “we turned out fine” the same kind of knee-jerk reaction to an issue? “My dad beat the crap out of me, and now I’m a perfectly normal human being that can’t achieve orgasm unless my car is plastered with 70 bumper sticks regarding treading and its relationship with me” is the kind of sentiment that is seen over and over again, and I’d hate to think I’m being so similarly shortsighted because I caught a whiff of the issue at hand being so close to my heart (did we just cover all the senses in one metaphor?). Is there an answer here that isn’t some warmed over musing that is as old as time itself (which, reminder, would be slightly younger than the boys’ father).

Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a clear answer here. Yes, I played violent videogames as a kid, but did they affect me? It would be crazy to think they didn’t! I might never have actually physically hurt anyone when I was a schoolboy, but I can confirm that I had fantasies of whipping out a Baraka-esque armblade to scare off my more menacing and persistent bullies. I can safely say that little bit of imagined violence wouldn’t have ever been in my head without playing another game by John Tobias for hours on end. Am I a violent person? No. But I know there’s a part of me that thinks roundhouses can solve problems, and I’m willing to blame an entire gaming genre for that issue. Am I afraid these kids are going to stalk the halls with a machine gun like in Neon Chrome? Absolutely not. But I do know that a part of their brains is now perfectly okay with seeing a digitized dead body. Their lives aren’t over, but a small chunk of their innocence is. This wouldn’t have happened if they just stuck to Snakeybus…

Now clapAnd, really, I feel that gets to the crux of this issue. Even if I’m not a parent, am I doing something wrong by allowing a child to play a videogame that glorifies violence? No. I’m confident in saying that (taking the bold position that I judge myself as a good person). But did something happen here? Was some damage done? Yes. I feel that’s accurate. This wasn’t necessarily “bad”, but it happened. I’m not going to send everyone involved to therapy, but I might throw a few “child protections” on the Switch next time. I’m going to make sure there’s an environment where any game can be played (okay, not any) but the children are also aware the adults are handy, and happy to talk about whatever is going on. This “loss of innocence” might be inevitable, whether it’s thanks to a budget e-shop title or not, but at least the kids will be aware that they have parents (and parent-like creepy adults that have basements full of Transformers) that are there for them.

And then we’ll all play Smash TV together. Because my skills have gotten rusty, and I need to blow up Mutoid Man but good.

FGC #519 (Super) Smash TV

  • System: Arcade, and then practically every platform of the 80s and 90s. But not today! Presumably thanks to Midway crumbling to dust, this hasn’t seen an arcade compilation since Midway Arcade Treasures in the Xbox/PS2 era. It was on Xbox 360 with online play for a hot minute, but that seems to have faded into the ether as of 2010.
  • Number of players: Two contestants enter, possibly two contestants leave. It kind of depends on your income.
  • These guysPort-o-Call: Do not play this game on any consoles before the advent of the actual “twin sticks” for this twin stick shooter. Smash TV is practically unplayable on the NES, and the Super Smash TV iteration that appeared on Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo isn’t much better. And there’s a Game Gear version? Not even going to test that one. This is one arcade game that requires something approaching its original hardware configuration.
  • Favorite Boss: Scarface is a giant, hovering face that is eventually very scarred. This is in sharp contrast to Mutoid Man, who I’m not certain ever mutoids at all. And Die Cobros? That’s just German for The Cobra Bros. I think. Yes, Scarface is the best balance of name and boss in Smash TV, so he’s my favorite.
  • Favorite Powerup: This is one of those games where being invincible also means mowing down your opponents by simply making contact. That’s always the best, so give me that glowing green circle any day of the week. Hell, one might be able to ascribe the success of Smash TV to getting the best powerup (at least temporarily) every time you drop in a quarter. Sweet dopamine rush…
  • Sage Advice: The messages that appear in every room…
    This is not a lie

    Can get a little weird. I’d rather hear about fabulous prizes, announcer, not impending turtles.
  • Influencers: Lest you think the connection between Robocop and Smash TV is imagined, the host of Smash TV will occasionally utter the absurd catchphrase from Robocop’s bad future, “I’d buy that for a dollar!” This presumably means that Smash TV Dude will be the next Mortal Kombat guest kharacter.
  • SnekDid you know? The Pleasure Dome, the final bonus area in Smash TV which requires ten keys, was mentioned in the original arcade releases… but wasn’t actually programmed into the game. Apparently the designers thought players would never get there anyway, so who cares? However, arcades apparently complained on behalf of disappointed players, and a later update finally implemented the actual Pleasure Dome. Is it any wonder this company eventually went on to create fake hidden kharacters in its most popular franchise?
  • Would I play again: Smash TV is a weirdly long game, and I’m an adult that is over this whole superviolence thing, so I doubt I’ll ever play the game for an extended period of time again. I might play Neon Chrome with the kiddies, though…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… X-Men: Children of the Atom for the Sega Saturn! Watch all the X-Men fight for the right to fight Juggernaut! Please look forward to it!

MEAT!

FGC #284 Drakengard 3

Today’s article contains game-long spoilers for Drakengard 3. Nothing too specific, but it does kind of spoil the ultimate finale of the game, so, ya know, you’ve been warned.

Here comes a special boyA long time ago in a Snick long forgotten, my mother watched an episode of Ren & Stimpy with a wee Goggle Bob. This was unusual, as, while my mother usually did her best to watch what I was watching (we both enjoyed Clarissa Explains it All quite a bit), she didn’t (and still doesn’t) really like “cartoons” at all. So, one way or another, this was likely the first my mother sat and down and actually watched a complete Ren & Stimpy episode. The episode (The Big Baby Scam… I can remember almost all early Nicktoon episodes because they were rerun constantly) was a typical Ren & Stimpy jaunt, and ended with a pair of menacing babies punching the daylights out of Ren Höek. I was laughing uproariously, and my mother… was not impressed. I asked her why, and her response still sticks in my mind.

“I just don’t think violence is funny.”

This rocked my young mind. I am not, nor was I, a psychopath, so, of course, I shared the same belief. Violence is violence, it is bad. But, as far as I reasoned, this was not “violence”, it was Ren & Stimpy. It was a silly cartoon about a dog and a cat and their harebrained schemes to, what was it again? Oh yes, to live. Okay, yeah, if you think about Ren & Stimpy for a moment, it is kind of horrifying, because many episodes are just about two stray animals desperately trying to find a place to live and belong. But then, the next episode, they’re space cadets out in the universe, and isn’t Stimpy a silly kitty? Never mind that practically every episode ends with either Ren slapping Stimpy or Ren being punished by the universe for being Ren, they’re just a couple of inane cartoon animals, no “violence” here.

And, obviously, that’s bullshit.

This has long been the rallying cry of pearl-clutchers everywhere, but cartoons do normalize violence. There’s hitting, there’s falling down, and there are any number of “whacky” firearms being blasted all over the place. I’m pretty sure the average American can simply close their eyes and relive the “Daffy has his beak blown around” image from Looney Tunes. And, on one hand, who cares, it’s funny. On the other hand, it’s a sentient creature being shot in the face. That is not normal. That is upsetting. But it’s a cartoon, so it practically becomes a part of our cultural identity. And, as someone who watches a lot of cartoons, I want to say there’s nothing wrong with that. Kids are smarter than they’re often given credit for, and it’s not hard to discern the difference between Elmer Fudd and an actual threat with a gun. I haven’t ever seen a real life anvil dropped on a random person, so I’m pretty sure our society has survived the last few decades of “animated violence”. The kids are alright.

And then we get into videogames.

And gore!I don’t need to rehash the whole “violent videogames” angle, do I? We’ve all heard the debates, and we’ve all dealt with at least one family member or friend that thinks you’re going to “go Columbine” because you play murder simulators. It’s crazy, right? We all agree there? We don’t play violent videogames because they’re violent, or to learn violence; we play violent videogames because that’s how videogames interpret the world. Call of Duty or Splatoon, who cares? What’s the difference between a virtual gun and a virtual water gun? They’re both just as ineffective on that damn cat with the flags, so let’s get over this whole “videogame violence” thing. Videogames are good for you! Now sit down and finish your Mary-Kate and Ashley: Magical Mystery Mall!

But do you ever really sit down and think about what you’re doing in a videogame? Let’s look at Final Fantasy 1, a game I want to say no parents’ organization has ever challenged (though I’d be amused to hear otherwise). On the surface you’ve got four kinda goofy looking dudes with swords and nunchucks traipsing across a medieval countryside occasionally making imps fall down. No big deal there. But then consider what actually happens in that game. The Light Warriors venture from Corneria to the next town over… an event that involves random encounters every seven steps, and each battle including one to nine different beasts. Our protagonists kill these creatures as easily as breathing, and chug magic drugs whenever they need to feel a little better. Along the way, they meet a blind old woman that lives alone in a cave… and then the heroes keep walking. Shortly thereafter, the gang arrives in Pravoka, determines they need a boat, and kill nine guys until the survivors give them a boat. Then they set sail for another land, and, aside from maybe returning to loot the place, the good people of Pravoka never see the Light Warriors ever again. They don’t even come back to patronize what I’m sure is a fine inn and ocean-side tourist stops.

Slay 'emWhat I’m saying is that the Light Warriors are the real monsters.

But this kind of inhumanity is the standard for most videogames. Children are suffering? Well, I’ll help them if they offer me a cool reward for their stupid little quest. Local economies live or die according to my weapon purchases? Well, I bought everything in this stupid little town, there’s no reason to come here ever again. And the monster thing? Have you ever considered how many species have been driven to extinction thanks to well-meaning heroes? Even a “kiddy” game like Pokémon involves walking through any given forest and knocking every last critter in your path into unconsciousness. That is not the sign of a well mind; that is an early warning sign for a serial killer.

Yoko Taro, a videogame director and writer, seemed to notice this. This thesis permeated his first big game, Drakengard. Unfortunately, Drakengard had a few problems, chief among them that it is about as fun to play as boiling your own eyelids. But then we got Taro’s Nier, a game that is totally bonkers, but actually fun to play. Unfortunately, the moral of Nier ultimately boiled down to “even the most virtuous hero is someone else’s villain”, which is an excellent lesson, but one that requires an actually chivalrous protagonist. The titular Nier is a dedicated father (or brother) who is unerringly kind to the various freaks that seem to populate his world. Assuming you’re not a damnable shadow creature, Nier is good to you, and, while this makes much of his life that much more of a tragedy, it also makes him (possibly over) sympathetic. Nier does what may be judged as bad things, but he does them for reasons that make sense to the player.

This cannot stand.

Zero is the heroine of Drakengard 3. Zero is also an asshole.

flitter flitterDrakengard 3 is the story of six sisters. All six sisters have overwhelming magical powers, and five of them decided to share these powers with everyone and rule justly and fairly in an effort to promote the betterment of mankind. And the sixth sister? Well, that’s Zero, and she decided to use her powers to kill her five sisters and every single man, woman, and centaur in between. She technically has a good reason for doing this, but she’s not big into sharing, so there isn’t much hope for a peaceful resolution. And, spoilers, like most videogame protagonists, she has little trouble achieving her goals. Basically, the simple act of popping the Drakengard 3 disc into your PS3 sets off a chain reaction that leads to the death of thousands across multiple universes. Though I guess Zero does manage to accomplish her murderous goals, so, uh, thanks for playing?

Taken on its own, Zero is not doing anything different from any other videogame, particularly those in the Dynasty Warriors vein. Zero enters the battlefield, cuts down a number of anonymous soldiers, maybe beats a mythological creature or two (minotaur, cerberus, whatever), and moves on to a boss that likely has a “human form” and then a colossal “monster form”, though feel free to reverse that order here and there. When it’s all over and everybody (and I mean everybody) is dead, then we discover that this whole “evil Zero” thing was some kind of smear campaign gone wrong, and Zero actually saved the world. Hooray for our side, trophies for everybody!

ClassyBut the devil is in the details here, and Zero is not afraid to reinforce her own negative self-image. Hell, there’s a reason she named herself “nothing”. This is a woman that kills, enjoys it, and then kills some more. At one point, she relays her whole sad backstory, but her narration is over a flashback of her slaughtering a small town’s worth of soldiers. The massacre has nothing to do with her tale, it’s just, ya know, how that woman thinks. She’s got a mind for murder, and murder on her mind.

And then there are her companions. Not unlike a JRPG, Zero has a party of acolytes that join her quest as the game progresses. Team Zero thus ultimately consists of:

  • A sadist that believes all ugly things must be killed. Side note: he believes everything is ugly.
  • A masochist that derives sexual pleasure from the tiniest implications of abuse. He was previously in a relationship with a very vocal virgin, so, to say the least, he’s a little repressed.
  • A perverted old man that, should he think and talk about sex any more than he already does, will accidentally invent Star Trek.
  • A pretty boy that is all beauty and no brains. Presumably because people have a tendency to always listen to the most attractive person in the room, he is constantly inventing “fun facts” that are, in fact, not all that factual.

Do any of these fellows sound like role models? Hell, do any of these guys sound like someone you’d like to share a continent with? I’ve got nothing against sadists, masochists, satyriasists, and dumbasses, but there’s a difference between extracting pleasure from pain and that being your only personality trait. But, here we are, four dudes that are almost entirely defined by their base desires, and they’re “your” party. Choose your favorite two for the battlefield. You’ll be relying on them for your life!

Directed by Yoko TaroAnd it’s in this manner that Taro accomplishes his goal. Zero and her amazing friends are all joined by one basic, mutual hypothesis: they all like killing. They all like it a lot. And you like it, too, don’t you? What’s that, you don’t like violence? No, that can’t be right, you just murdered about three hundred people in ten minutes, and this is the eighth time you’ve done it. You claim you won’t kill again? Bullshit, you’ll start the next mission and kill the next boatload of people, because you want to see how the story ends, don’t you? You want the achievements? You want the upgraded weapons? Ha, you’re just like this dork over here that’s masturbating over a corpse. Who cares if you’re doing it for EXP or to ride the baloney pony, you’re still killing like a psychopath, and you’re going to keep doing it because you enjoy it. You enjoy violence.

And maybe that’s not a good thing.

Of course, I’ve neglected to mention the first and youngest member of Zero’s posse. Mikhail is a dragon, and, because his previous form, Michael, was recently killed, he’s technically little more than an infant. As a wee (giant) dragon baby, Mikhail has the mind of a child, and a… less than complete understanding of his mistress. Mikhail believes that Zero should try to solve this problem by peacefully reconciling with her sisters, and she absolutely should not kill every person she encounters. Zero doesn’t listen, but, even though he aids Zero time and time again, Mikhail persists with his cries for pacifism. Yes, he does fight, but it’s defensively, and he actively notes that he’s not enjoying it, and he would rather not be doing this if there were any other way.

And he’s the only character that survives Drakengard 3. He’s the only character that survives after participating in the biggest, most annoying challenge on the PS3 that is, incidentally, entirely based on being defensive. All the violence up to this point has been easy, not solving your problems with swords and fire breath is hard.

That makes a bit of an impact.

UGHSo maybe Mom and Yoko Taro are right. Maybe there is something to this whole violence in media thing. Maybe it doesn’t make an impact on our minds, maybe it does. Who knows? All I do know is that most media is content to be “don’t worry about it, it’s just a fantasy”, while Drakengard 3 proudly states, “you like violence? Then there might be something wrong with you.” It’s not the worst judgment, after all, this band of freaks did save their world (after a fashion), but it is something to consider.

Anyway, next week is going to be… Mortal Kombat (9ish) for the PS3? Seriously, ROB? Okay, now you’re just screwing with me.

FGC #284 Drakengard 3

  • System: Playstation 3. Exclusive? Yeah, that’s gonna move a lot of systems.
  • Number of players: It might be neat to get some two player disciple action, but, nope, Zero one player.
  • What’s in a name: The Drakengard franchise is known as “Drag-on Dragoon” in Japan. I cannot tell you how much I prefer that title (it’s a lot).
  • Favorite Disciple: This isn’t usually my preference, but I’m going to go with pretty boy Cent as my favorite. He seems to be the most active of the disciples before his official turn to Zero’s side, and he might be the… least crazy member of the party. Then again, he also summons a magical spider creature almost by accident, and that can’t be completely sane.
  • Backstory: Oh yeah, never read the backstory for Zero. I cannot stress this enough. It’s basically written by Frank Miller. Modern Frank Miller. Avoid at all costs.
  • So much loveLadies’ Night: I could probably write an entire other article on the sexual politics of this game… but I’m not sure if I’d ever reach a conclusion. On one hand, the women rule this world, and there is not a single male that isn’t, in some way, a servant to a woman. That’s cool and oddly feminist for a Japanese game. On the other hand, those powerful women seem to be designed exclusively to check off boxes for various fetishes (like a certain other franchise), so only Zero and One (binary!) come off as “real” characters. Otherwise, you’ve just got nymphy, virgin, lolita, and crazy. Mind you, I haven’t played the DLC, so I don’t know if there is more “shading” there, but, as is, it’s a disappointing turn.
  • Did you know? Oh, and speaking of which, Taro apparently told the character designers to look to Puella Magi Madoka Magica for tips on character design. Now I can’t unsee half the sisters being obvious MM “homages”. Though I suppose a MM/D3 crossover is more likely now…
  • Would I play again? Maybe… I guess. This is a lot more fun than Drakengard 1, but, on the other hand, it’s not as fun as Nier, so….

What’s next? Random ROB already chose Mortal Kombat for some reason, presumably because he’s an evil robot and is not to be trusted. So, anyway, violence for violence’s sake. Please look forward to it!

THE END