The Platonic Relationship – Donovan & Luan

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.

Relating Through Relationships – Sans and Papyrus from Undertale

[Currently listening to “Game Music for Studying”: compilations created by VideoGameMusic Playlists]

So, Undertale.


*waits for squealing fan base to settle down*

Considering it’s the brain child of one guy, this game is mind-blowingly innovative. From the bullet-hell/turn-based RPG mash-up battle system, to the “Save” and “Reset” game staples playing huge roles in the storytelling – I mean, dang, man, I pull my hair out just trying to craft an outline for a fiction novel. Meanwhile, here’s Toby Fox designing, programming, AND scoring the PC Game of the Year for 2015.

Now, to be honest, I was pretty much satisfied with one play-through (the “true pacifist” route, of course). The story as a whole didn’t hook me enough for me to seek out more secrets and endings.

*waits for outraged fan base to stop wielding their frying pans and worn-out garden shears*

HOWEVER. I think I may have turned into a complete. Hardcore. Ridiculous…



Oh, the skelebros. I adore them so much. Before I knew what got into me I was seeking out their backstory, looking into fan theories, and watching further info on them from the genocide/aborted genocide runs (’cause ain’t no way I’m killing them off in my own game. I haven’t even braved a YouTube video of Papyrus’ death).

I do this sort of thing a lot, and every time I get a little obsessed I can’t help but wonder, “Do I just not have a life?” (Possibly accurate.) But no, actually, I’m realizing that these infatuations are just what make my soul light up: the discovery of what makes a character/plot/setting really tick. When something in a story grabs my attention, I have to know whyyyyyyyy.

So let’s get into it, shall we?

The first impression we get of the brothers is that Sans is a slack-off prankster and Papyrus is an overzealous sentinel. (I honestly assumed Papyrus would become the game’s clichéd bumbling antagonist. He’s certainly got the laugh down: Nyeh heh heh!) Their opposing personalities are what’s immediately engaging, but that sort of Laurel and Hardy routine would only get a couple characters so far.

All through Papyrus’ puzzle gauntlet we watch these brothers interact and begin to realize there’s actual development under the surface gags. Sure, Sans is more than willing to push all of Papyrus’ buttons, but he also indulges his bro’s eccentric interests and goals.


On into Papyrus’ phone calls we get more tastes of their relationship, and it’s the perfect balance of antagonism and affection between them:

It’s their differences that make them reliant on each other: despite Papyrus’ rants, would he be as confidant if Sans didn’t constantly affirm his coolness? And likewise, Sans is personally motivated by Papyrus despite thinking that most effort is futile.

I think it’s interesting: if the game gave us only Sans or Papyrus on his own, the relatability wouldn’t quite be there. Why?

Well, I posit that – more than we as readers/players/viewers connect to individual characters – we connect to relationships. Sans and Papyrus are entertaining because of their personalities; they’re endearing because of how their personalities shape their sibling bond.

Having an older brother myself, I watch Sans and Papyrus interact and immediately find a connection. They love each other in a perfectly sibling way, which I, as a sister, can relate to.

(And just like Sans suggests: if you mess with my bro-ha, you’re gonna have a bad time.)


Geek-outs about Undertale are totally acceptable in the comments below, so… Do your thang.


(Undertale is the property of Toby Fox. You can purchase it to play via Steam.)