Let me give you the scoop, readers. Since my work on Geeks Under Grace, I haven’t really known what to do with this blog. There are other storytelling devices to cover in video games, yes…but life’s been picking up speed since my boyfriend-now-fiance moved closer and we’re now planning a wedding for the summer. Story analysis takes a lot of brain power, and mine is a bit limited at the moment.
I also feel like I’ve reached a crossroads for what I’d like to do next with my writing. I get my article fix through GUG and am wondering if I should get back to exercising my fiction skills. I still have a major project I hope to get out on the interwebs soon, and it’s always been good practice to do little scene excerpts from games.
Add to all this a recent jonesing for the Mother/Earthbound trilogy and, well, I thought it’d be a fun “project” to write snippets of scenes from the games as I play through them. I will try to publish them here but will also be looking for other more public venues to test them out. It’s a brave new world!
Thanks for sticking with me through the dry spells, everyone. Happy New Year!
Summer’s on its way, which means – oh faithful 3 readers – I will be taking a hiatus during the busy months of my year. (Hooray for public library Summer Reading programs!) This means you can expect to see me back in business next September – though I’ll still have my GUG gig to tide you over if you really start having withdrawals.
For now, let’s end this season appropriately – with a post about beginnings. I haven’t mused on “First Impressions” forsometime, and it’s time to throw a curveball, y’all.
See, kids, back in the day CAPCOM actually devised its own turn-based RPG series, and it had a pretty nifty concept: a people group who were/could transform into dragons. Books have explored this fantasy element, too (and oh my lands, so many romance novels…), but something about the culture and struggle of Breath of Fire’s “Brood” sparked my imagination when I played it growing up.
(Plus, this series’ world has weretigers. And how can you go wrong with weretigers?!)
But I digress. This isn’t a look at culture and world-building, but a dissection of a good intro! Which, incidentally, offers a subtle look into the world and its culture by natural plot progression. Watch what I mean here:
Ah, back in the days where games would throw you into the fray and expect you to work out the game controls yourself. No heavy tutorials here, but more importantly – this introduction doesn’t weigh heavy with exposition, either. The game shows you a dragon locked inside crystal in a mine, a miner remarks that you “see ones like this every so often”, and then – well – you see exactly what happens when a dragon is freed from containment:
All hell breaks loose.
Or rather than see, you control what happens. Though, to be fair, the game gives you little option on whether or not you should roast every antagonist standing in your way. (But as a poor, scared dragon whelp, would you do any different?)
So, what do we know from this introduction? Well, we know dragons are supposed to be long dead in this world; we know even the baby dragons are a force to be reckoned with; we know there are dragons who actually don’t want to cause violence. Was any of this blatantly announced? No. (Unless you watched the optional pre-title screen exposition as well. But did you need it to figure out what was going on? Also no.) We saw the shock from the miners when the dragon woke, we saw the charred bodies of anyone who threatened the dragon, and we saw when the spirit of a long-dead dragon demanded the little whelp stop his rampage.
The intrigue increases when the scene cuts after our dragon friend shakes himself free of the transport train. Did we follow the dragon and see exactly what happened to him when he fell down the mountainside? Nope, but we do see his cage lying open near this blue-haired boy. Players who are familiar with the series will know what happened to the dragon; players who are unfamiliar will either make an educated guess or wait to see the truth unfold.
This introduction gives a hook to keep the audience interested. First, the dragon is already an anomaly in this world; second, his existence isn’t answered and is in fact tucked away while the story develops in other directions. New characters like Rei add layers to the story, and now we want to know what his stake in everything will be.
I feel like this is my common crusade on this blog, but seriously – it’s BAD storytelling to reveal everything to your audience at every opportunity. Keep some mystery; let the reader/viewer/player put some of the pieces together on their own. Hand-holding does them no services.
Plus, roasting everything in your path is great motivation to understand the game and its mechanics. Who needs tutorials?
Breath of Fire III is the property of CAPCOM. It can be played via the PSP or Playstation Vita (or old school Playstation, if you can make it happen).
A Hero’s Journey must continue beyond isolated territory. Once familiar with the training grounds, the time comes to venture into a larger unknown…and learn from experiences there. How will events shape our hero in the long run?
The marvel of video game storytelling is – the audience can make these choices to tell the story they want. There are certainly more linear games which take you through a decided path, but the wonder of the Wild is – YOU decide your hero’s journey.
We saw how the gaming experience allows for player participation in learning the survival techniques for the journey. Now we come to discussing the way the player manipulates the journey set before them. Who is the Link of your story? How does he aim to save Hyrule? Choices as open as the game world itself spread before you when you descend the Great Plateau.
The thing is, you could choose to beeline straight for Hyrule Castle and Ganon if you wanted. In this manner, the Hero’s Journey is independent and solitary. You would use only Link’s basest skills to press forward, honing that button mashing dexterity (and obtaining bragging rights, who are we kidding) to survive situations far more perilous than your small heart meter should face.
This choice gives us the image of a dogged, self-actualizing hero. His fight is his and his alone. For the player looking to be challenged, this works nearly as a reflection of intent. If the player wants to work with minimal help, so does Link.
But if the player chooses to explore more of the world and its people, there’s an impactful shift to the tale. Of course, your arsenal increases, and more equipment is made available to you…
…but that is more a gaming facet than a storytelling device. If we’re exploring the growth of our hero, there’s more to it than acquired equipment. In a full Breath of the Wild playthrough, the Hero’s Journey explores the value of honoring companionship – and the work of those who came before you.
Link’s amnesia and absence from the last 100 years is perhaps a gimmick for why our hero starts out so weak and wide-eyed in the world. But I think it’s more than just a cop-out ploy. Link’s strength literally comes from remembering and recognizing the skills of heroes past. He gains life and stamina through trials laid out by old and long-dead sages; he learns of his own past from Impa, Purah, and numerous others.
Most importantly, he rediscovers the lives of fallen comrades, redeems their sacrifices, and even protects and honors their tribes. In return, he receives their skills to aid him in battle, and – finally – their help in the fight against Ganon himself.
This journey becomes one of united forces. Our hero must still grow alone in many ways, but he finds strength now in the pursuit of others’ needs. And in regaining these connections, we have an oh-so-appropriate game mechanic where the four Champions pound their lasers into Ganon for half a health bar of damage.
Each journey offers a unique take on what it means to grow and challenge yourself. Is it in the adversity of going solo? Or in the extra effort made to reach out to friends and those in need – gaining their aid in return? That’s the brilliance in telling a story through a changeable medium. Where do YOU say a hero’s strength lies? Show it in your gameplay style.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the property of Nintendo. You can purchase it to play via the Wii U or Nintendo Switch.
Think back to a big change in your life: entering college, starting a career, moving to a new area. We each have a journey on this earth, a story where choices and experience shape who we become. We meet new people, suffer hardships, grow in character, and overcome challenges. And we often find ourselves drawn to stories which reflect the same.
The Hero’s Journey – which takes us through a character’s quest and his/her corresponding growth – is a well-established trope, carrying through centuries of tales from multiple cultures. And while the fiction tends to be grander than our own daily struggles, its tried and true presence proves how easily we still relate. At a certain level, the human experience remains the same.
Countless video games employ the Hero’s Journey; it’s a no brainer for genres like the RPG, where the epic scope of the story allows the player to follow a character through diverse experiences and trials. Sometimes the journeys can go a little off the rails to pad gameplay: additions of alternate dimensions, several “big bads” in succession, or the convoluted inclusion of time travel…
But leave it to a hallmark series to convey the Hero’s Journey. Absolutely. Perfectly.
This isn’t bias speaking. I’m no Legend of Zelda rabid fangirl who squeals at the site of Link’s face slapped on random merchandise. (Though I’ll enjoy the heck out of his games, don’t get me wrong.) It might be ignorance due to the sheer scope of video games I’ve never played. But the thing about Breath of the Wild is – you live the Hero’s Journey. Not de facto, of course – I was relaxin’ on the couch while Link was roughing it amongst Bokoblins and Guardians – but far more closely than in the experience a book or movie offers.
How does Breath of the Wild play this out? Allow me to explain by example: Less than five minutes into actual gameplay, I fell off a cliff and died from running out of climbing stamina. (All the pro gamers say, “NOOB!”) In fact, I died quite a few times just being stupid in naturally perilous situations. There’s a parallel here: At the game’s beginning, Link emerges from the Shrine of Resurrection green as the beautifully-rendered grass on the Great Plateau. And since the game won’t hold your hand first thing, you begin just as unfamiliar with the world as he.
You’re guided loosely to your first destination, but the plateau is otherwise open to explore. Nothing stops you from freezing in the snow-capped mountains, or getting gored by boars in the woods as you learn how to aim and shoot with your bow. It’s Link who suffers the injuries, but it’s the playerwho learns and grows through adversity. Do you want to survive beyond the Plateau? Better get those skills in gear.
The hero often begins his/her journey with little knowledge or skill to handle the challenges ahead. It’s a trope that plays out perfectly in a video game format as you gather materials and hone your talents with equipment. Do you know what lies ahead? Unless you’ve watched a playthrough (like a cheaterpants)…no. And neither does Link.
But his skills – and yours – will lead to moments of growth you never imagined.
Thus ends part I of II for this short series. What, did you think I could cover a 100+ hour game in one article? Get outta here!
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the property of Nintendo. You can purchase it to play via the Wii U or Nintendo Switch.
I don’t want to hear any complaints about how I’m covering the same game in less than three months’ passing. This is free entertainment, people. Take it or leave it.
(But please take it.)
I have my reasons, though. I’ve explored the relationships of our first two lead characters in previous posts, and now we’ve come back again to the month of celebrating love. But there’s more to love than just romance – epic or believable as it may be. In some cases, a love which is not built on eros can demonstrate just as much depth and commitment. And in storytelling, it’s important to give such love its proper spotlight (much as the fanart and fanfics would say otherwise).
There’s something necessary in the love shared with a friend. It carries a different sort of strength, a bond that grows from mutual understanding without the interference of hormonal butterflies. And it’s been cheapened by the rampant sexualization which demands every relationship be erotic for the sake of the fans’ fantasies.
But I digress (upwards, onto a soapbox). Specter of Torment doesn’t deal in the pursuit of romance like its preceding tales. Rather, it’s a story of two fellas thick as thieves (literally), whose relationship ends in disaster, leaving our titular antihero now unwittingly seeking redemption.
Luan and Donovan – the physical death of one manifests the spiritual death of the other.
From Specter Knight’s (a.k.a. Donovan’s) flashbacks, we mostly determine these two to be “business partners”, out for treasure and adventure. We wait to know if their relationship runs deeper, but meanwhile the game uses its platforming to significant storytelling effect: as Donovan, you can’t progress through flashback stages without Luan’s assistance. They’ve learned to work as a seamless team.
With spare context, the heated moment of Luan’s demise may not achieve a satisfying emotional punch itself, but it works as a window into Specter Knight’s motivations and behaviors in the present. We get the feeling Specter Knight is always wrestling with regret.
He makes no outward mention of these feelings, though, and maintains an indifferent nature in his new servitude to the Enchantress. But the player continues to notice a loneliness through – you guessed it – more platforming tactics. Without Luan’s aid, Specter Knight ascends levels by slashing upward against obstacles with his scythe. It’s a ruthless gesture; there’s no longer a hand to grasp, no solidarity with another.
This tale is a mirror to Shovel Knight’s in his loss of Shield Knight – though for Specter, we know there won’t be a happy ending. He is, after all, still bound to the Enchantress by the events of Shovel of Hope. Luan hasn’t returned to lend aid in any final battle.
So how is this a commendable example of friendship in a story? Well, though Specter of Torment diverges from Shovel Knight’s tale in the matter of reunited partners, there’s still redemptive promise. Shovel’s campaign hints at the redemption throughout, but in Specter’s campaign we’re led to believe there’s no hope – until a drastic turnaround.
While the reveal of Reize as Luan’s son comes a little out of left field, his rescue at Specter Knight’s own personal sacrifice gives proof of the brotherhood Luan and Donovan shared. The post-credits scene brings it all together: Donovan is named Reize’s guardian, should anything befall Luan. In the end, it’s this responsibility which allows Specter Knight some release from guilt.
Redemption is a theme found in relationships of all sorts – not just those romantic in nature. I’d argue it’s a desire inherent in our hearts from the beginning. Do we find self-salvation most compelling, or salvation found in reconciliation with a friend? What do the best stories say? What do you say?
Shovel Knight is the property of Yacht Club Games. There are many ways to play this game.
We’re half a month into the new year, and nothing says “hope for the future” like an article about DEATH.
(Hey, I figured I might as well make it a tradition.)
Now, I don’t make a habit of announcing spoilers. I figure if you’re going to read me go on about video game story elements, you’d better believe I’m gonna reveal something you don’t wanna know. But listen, y’all. Mother 3 is serious business. It’s an experience like no other, and I don’t want it on my conscience that I wrecked your gaming feels prematurely. You read ahead at your own risk, here.
With that out of the way…let’s explore the power of loss in storytelling. Remember all those memes about authors’ glee at killing off characters? I mean, it’s partly true. It just gets the story moving, ya know?
However – death needs impact. It needs purpose. Stories reflect the very real truths of life, and loss needs to speak powerfully to the audience so it doesn’t become trite. For many, the way to create this impact is to craft a likeable character who we couldn’t bear to see gone. But there’s an equally powerful way to impact your audience – by showing the affect your character’s death has on others.
In Mother 3 we meet Hinawa early on. Do we learn much about her? She’s the mother of twins Lucas and Claus, wife of Flint, daughter of Alec. She seems to be a generous contributor in her community and a well-respected and loved family woman. What we know of her from her own expression comes in a letter she writes to Flint and a few lines of dialogue to her children. She’s not spared much more because, well…
…the plot must have its way.
Hinawa is dead within the first chapter of the game; the audience can’t even claim to know her well. Yet the loss holds immediate impact, simply in how those closest to her react. Before Bronson delivers the news, Lucas and Claus huddle by the fire wrapped in blankets. Their stutters and speechlessness already build the dread for what’s happened. And then Flint finds out.
I have rarely seen such a raw and real reaction to death in fiction. I’ve known characters who cried in response, or moped, or denied their loved one’s passing. What Flint does is so human and unpredicted. Death is already difficult to comprehend, but in a utopian society? It would cause absolute catastrophe, as demonstrated.
It isn’t necessarily Hinawa’s death that causes shock and mourning for the audience, though. It’s the response of the people with whom we’ve spent more time. Flint, who moments ago risked his life to save the child Fuel from a burning house, who garnered our respect with his selfless actions, completely loses control when confronted with grief. It conveys all the sorrow and discomfort of handling a friend who reacts incomprehensibly to loss.
As the story progresses, the sadness deepens (underneath that wonderfully quirky surface all Mother/Earthbound games supply). Hinawa’s death has long-reaching effects – most notably Lucas’s isolation as the family breaks apart. In a stellar moment of “show, don’t tell”, Lucas wakes up years later in his empty home and – while still in his pajamas – looks at himself in the family room mirror. His reflection takes him back to early childhood, with his mother brushing his disheveled hair – before the scene snaps back to present day.
Do we miss Hinawa because of who she was? Not truly, I would say. While her altruism endears her to us quickly, she isn’t human enough for audience connection. Her mourners, however, are. The death of an individual affects us best if we’re familiar enough with that person – as would be the case in real life. Anyone, however, can empathize with what it means to move on after a death – and what pain that can bring.
In the end, what you want in your story is connection, and there are several ways to create that. You authors who love to kill, consider this a way to make all those losses mean something.
Mother 3 is the property of Nintendo & Shigesato Itoi and has no English language release. You can, however, emulate the game in Japanese and use this translation patch by Tomato. If you choose this route, please support the developers by investing in their other games and merchandise.