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.

Fifth Week Fiction – As Sporadic As Special Item Drops

Yes, my consistency on blog posts hasn’t been stellar lately…but! Can you think of a better way to ring in the new year than with a little fanfiction?

(Don’t answer that.)

In keeping with the theme earlier this month, I decided to share a Shovel Knight snippet. Let’s see how I do expressing mannerisms and movement!


Plague Knight edged onto the docks and peered cautiously into the water. A perfect reflection of his mask rippled back. Troupple Pond lie still and quiet but for a scattered few cicadas trilling in the bushes. Plague Knight looked up and around, into the trees, but saw nothing. No living creatures – fish, fruit, or otherwise.

So he took the chalice out and held it aloft.

There was a rumble; the pond began to churn. Plague Knight took two steps back as troupple fish sprang from the water. Just small ones with bare stems and a greenish hue to their bellies. They leapt higher, gaining altitude, until they hooked by their stems in the overhanging tree branches.

The water continued to swirl, a huge eddy right in its center. The Troupple King breached in regal form, with his eyes closed and whale-ish mouth pulled taut. His breast slammed into the pond and sprayed water for yards.

Plague Knight stood, chalice still held high, drenched through.

“Who has awakened me?” the Troupple King boomed. “Mortal! Hast thou come seeking – Wait a tic! …Alchemist!”

Plague Knight lowered the chalice and made a halting bow. “Uh, heh, my liege.”

“News of your wicked deeds has reached our ears,” the Troupple King said. “How dare you tarnish us with your presence? Begone from this sacred grotto.”

“Uh…but, Your Grace, you see, I actually came to learn how to…d-dance.” Plague Knight cleared his throat. “Right now, I can only sort of…twitch.”

“Is this so?” the Troupple King inquired. His hostility had vanished nearly instantly, and he’d begun to preen. “ ‘Tis true we possess keen rhythmic insight. But first, Alchemist, let us see what we have to work with. Demonstrate your ability to us now.”

Plague Knight fiddled. He stuck an arm out, then a foot, and jerked through what he hoped were the first few steps to a waltz. Or a tango. Or something.

“CEASE!” the Troupple King cried, and Plague Knight nearly toppled into the water. “What is this monstrosity? Where is the rhythm? Where is the passion? Alchemist, thou art in need of a miracle.”

“It…it really can’t be that, uh, bad,” said Plague Knight. “…Can it?”

He was met with the silent stares of every troupple fish present.

“It is fortunate for you,” the Troupple King continued, “that we are miracle workers. Behold, and take this lesson to heart, for there is only so much I can teach you. Let us begin!”

From up in the trees, the hanging troupples began to sing. The Troupple King closed his magnificent bulbous eyes and bobbed gracefully through the water. He went in perfect sync with the music, even as the smaller troupples dodged about him in a dance of their own.

Plague Knight tried to study, but the dance of a fish wasn’t quite similar to the dance of a person. Fins lifted, dorsals shimmied, and the Troupple King threw his great big mass all over the pond until everything was properly soaked. Perhaps, Plague Knight thought, it was time to go.

A small troupple fish bounded from the pond and nudged Plague Knight in the knee. Before he could regain balance, another fish leapt from the other side and bopped him in the shoulder. Plague Knight swayed and flailed.

“H-hey! What are you – Stop that!” As another caught him on his backside.

The assault continued until Plague Knight began to get the feel for dodging. He lifted his arms, spun, side-stepped, back-stepped, and dipped past each attack. After a while he noticed they came in an expected pattern, and – what with the musical accompaniment – he evaded with more flair. A troupple fish dove at him from behind, but he’d predicted the move and swept to the right just as the fish flew through.

“Ha HA!” Plague Knight exclaimed in triumph.

The troupple assault had finished. And so had the music. Plague Knight looked about him; the troupple fish had all gone back to their places in the pond and trees. The Troupple King himself rested magnificently in the middle of the water. He regarded Plague Knight with a knowing smirk.

“And that, Alchemist, is how it’s done.”

Plague Knight’s arms were still outstretched; his feet stood at angles in a sort of bow. You could have said the pose was almost…graceful.

“I…uh…hee hee…I danced?” he said.

“Well, more or less,” the Troupple King grimaced. “But do not become cocksure in your talents, oh wicked one. A true dancer must practice his art if he hopes to become a master. Remember what you have learned here.”


Glorious!

Characters in Motion – Shovel Knight

A new DLC chapter has come and gone, and this slacker fangirl hasn’t talked about this game in ten months! It’s time we changed that.

Rather than overanalyze Specter’s campaign just yet, however, I’m going to take a moment to spread the love to all our DLC Knights – and beyond! It’s time we looked at how Shovel Knight uses its own game mechanics to convey characterization. For reals, it’s something even the game’s developers took into consideration when crafting each campaign.

Now, when you think of good characters, what comes to mind? Personality? Dialogue? Dimensionality? Absolutely! Click on that “characters” link in the left-hand column (do iiiit…), and you’re sure to find these attributes already addressed. With Shovel Knight, I’d like to explore mannerism and movement.

Dat shy li’l muffin.

This game may be a throwback to the 8-bit era, but the wonders of modern development give opportunity for more expression in the world our Knights inhabit. Villagers do more than stand at counters or wander two-dimensional streets. They cook meals, measure and study potions, play with hoops and sticks (or…not).

This is a world made alive by its people and creatures, moving and behaving with real emotion. And our Knights? With most of their faces obscured by helmets or masks? Can they exhibit that much life as well? Ohhhhhh heckyes. And then some!

For our DLC heroes (or anti-heroes), dialogue and motivation establish groundwork for who our characters should be. Shovel Knight is an honorable warrior and civil in conversation, even with rivals. Plague Knight is verbally antagonistic but also communicates certain insecurities. Specter Knight is cold, determined, and attempts emotional distance from circumstances and others (but only succeeds to a point…).

If desired, the developers could have given canned movements to these characters – reskinning the different Knights as necessary but retaining a basic movement pattern. Instead, they crafted unique movements for each protagonist according to their prescribed personality:

Shovel Knight’s stride is bold and determined. He pumps his arm in a manner displaying strength and confidence. Plague Knight’s is looser; he doesn’t hold his staff at the ready but lets it swing carelessly in his hand. His attacks carry a degree of unpredictability. And Specter Knight, he leans into his run with his scythe poised for attack – relentless yet emphasizing stealth.

(And I’m sure we can also look forward to King Knight’s swagger in upcoming DLC.)

In a (good) platformer, you can’t have drawn-out dialogue trees to establish the nature of your characters. You can’t give them fifteen minutes to expound on backstory. It’s a medium which operates (literally) in forward motion. Aside from the level bookends which progress the story, how will you explain your characters to the audience? You use the best tool available to you: movement through the levels.

A trained writer will do this too, yes? We know a shy character will move differently from a social character, who will move differently from a depressed character. If you wanted, you could go completely Dickensian and give your cast members identifying verbal and/or physical tics. This is why even in scenes with no dialogue, we can still understand a character completely through how he or she moves. It’s called “body language” for a reason, you know.

And when they’re not moving through levels? Well, Yacht Club Games still uses “show, don’t tell” to excellent effect with quiet moments to offset the platforming chaos.

Even here, in no movement, we can understand Specter Knight. Can you tell what he may be feeling? This is the power of a character’s physicality. It’s something nearly every human being can immediately relate to.

 

Shovel Knight is the property of Yacht Club Games. There are many ways to play this game.

The Believable Romance – Plague Knight & Mona

Remember when I said Shovel Knight and Shield Knight were the ultimate pinnacle of romance? Well…

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…I may have been somewhat mistaken.

Don’t get me wrong: Shovel and Shield still rule the epic romance, but Plague Knight and Mona demonstrate an equally important love story – the one where two people actually like each other.

Do you know what relationship cliché I hate nearly as much as the over-sexualized romance?  The relationship where the couple suffers from “sexual tension”. They fight like dogs, they continually express their hatred for everything the other person stands for, yet for some ludicrous reason they have the hots for each other something fierce.

(The only couple who’s excused from this cliché is Beatrice and Benedict from Much Ado About Nothing, because that play is amazing, so shut up okay.)

This love trope uses heightened emotions to create the illusion that sparks are flying. And I mean, it does work. The trope wouldn’t be so widespread if it didn’t. But I sometimes feel like in this instance, maybe fantasy should reflect reality a little more accurately. We need more lovers who would logically have an attraction – and who know how to keep it interesting (because let’s be honest: the reason we love sexual tension is because there’s always some excitement going on).

(…That last bit was not meant to be dirty. Get your head out of the gutter.)

This Valentine’s week, let’s study the love between Plague Knight and Mona. They’re a couple of alchemists with a diabolical bent, so already they have a foundation of common interests. This means that from the start you won’t see them mocking each other for their profession and hobbies; in fact, they’ve learned to collaborate and use a combined intellect.

When they converse, it’s friendly and casual (unless Plague Knight’s getting all shy with his affections). They share jokes, they show concern for the other’s well-being. And say whaaaaaaat? They actually compliment each other?

Not to say they don’t have their misunderstandings – I mean, the whole plot is centered around Plague Knight’s misguided belief that Mona won’t fall for him – but their relationship isn’t built on misunderstandings like it is for many a tension couple. In fact, Plague Knight even tries to rectify an error in communication at one crucial moment, but is foiled by a clichéd plot turn.

Oh no, the love interest left? I bet our crazy plan to become all-powerful will bring her back!

This camaraderie sets the foundation for Plague Knight and Mona’s romantic feelings, since we can already see that they get along and hold respect for each other. There’s nothing I ship more than plausibility in a couple.

You see, it isn’t the overused plot turns of the story that sell me on their relationship – not the whole “stuck lever” scene or the climactic misunderstanding that leads to Plague Knight finally admitting his goal to win Mona…

Steamy!

It’s the fact that we see their positive communication the whole way through the game. They genuinely enjoy each other’s company. This makes the more clichéd points of the story sweeter than they’d otherwise be.

And let me just tell you: the dance subplot makes the sparks fly waaaaaaaaay hotter than any ol’ sexually-charged argument would. In fact, to end this post, I’m just going to give you the game’s closing scene. Go on. Let it fill you with the Valentine’s spirit.

 

Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows is the property of Yacht Club Games. There are many ways to play this game.

Writing an Epic Romance – Shovel Knight & Shield Knight

[Currently listening to: More Shovel Knight OST, because that is the ONLY way to properly write a Shovel Knight post.]

*This post has spoilers. At this point, you can pretty much assume that of anything I write.


I may be single. I may not have been on a date in 5-some years. But I can still tell you without a doubt that this –

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– IS THE ULTIMATE PINNACLE OF ROMANCE.

(Stop looking at me like I’m off my rocker.)

There are a lot of sappy romance novels and movies on the market, and for most of them subtlety goes out the window when it comes to assuring the reader/viewer that the lead couple are (going to fall) madly in love. I’m particularly (not) a fan of the time-tested “characters make out for hours” scenes. It’s like the writers are saying,

“See? They can’t keep their paws off each other! THAT MEANS THEY’RE IN LOVE.”

(Look, storytellers, your job is to actually be good at nuance. Leave the blatant snogging to fanfiction writers, all right?)

Let me preface the rest of this post by admitting I’m not partial to stories where romance is the focal point. I could probably count to you on one hand the number of “chick flicks” and novels I enjoy FOR their love story.

Even so, when I do come across a romance, I tend to test the writer’s skill by seeing if they can convince me that two people are in love WITHOUT ever making them get sensual. If they resort to hands-y behavior, I’m out.

Shovel Knight is not advertised as a love story. It’s advertised as a retro platformer, which makes more sense considering it’s a video game and needs to sell as such. But Shovel Knight’s quest for Shield Knight is romance done right.

The intro sets the stage: Shovel Knight and Shield Knight have been heroic partners for some time, but a tragedy at the Tower of Fate has separated them – leaving Shield Knight’s well-being unknown. Now, with The Enchantress in power and evil on the rise, Shovel Knight makes his way back to the Tower of Fate in hopes of reuniting with his love.

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8-bit feels.

Shovel Knight wins on so many levels already, with its shout-outs to old Nintendo games like Mega Man, Castlevania, and Ducktales. But the developers also knew the crucial ingredient of storytelling, and they knew how to do it within the scope of their game.

After each completed level, the player is treated to a scene of Shovel Knight sleeping in the wilderness by fireside. Depending on the player’s progress, Shovel Knight may experience a dream in which he frantically struggles to catch Shield Knight, who falls from the night sky.

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For the first dream, nothing hinders Shovel Knight from catching her (aside from player ineptitude *cough*I’vedefinitelynevermissed*cough*). As you progress through the game, though, the challenge to catch her becomes more difficult. Enemies start plaguing Shovel Knight in his attempts – enemies that you’ve fought in the most recent Order of No Quarter levels.

Like any typical stress dream, Shovel Knight’s reality creeps in and causes more mayhem, which gives you the feeling that the difficult journey is causing him to question if he can do what he set out to do. The enemies are getting stronger; the Order Knights are giving him more trouble.

Aside from a few brief mentions of Shield Knight when Shovel Knight talks to his antagonists, there’s very little dialogue concerning their relationship. We’re only ever consistently reminded of it through Shovel Knight’s dreams. And did you ever notice that the meal ticket chests are colored in Shield Knight’s palette?

Shovel Knight can’t forget about her, and consequently, the player can’t, either. These dreams are what you might call theming, which can be defined as a recurrent idea or story point that ties together the overarching plot. This is crucial for when we approach the final battle, because as Shovel Knight defeats the Enchantress –

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– Shield Knight breaks free of the curse and falls from the Tower’s heights. She FALLS, just as she has in all of Shovel Knight’s dreams. And suddenly it dawns on you: “Holy crepe suzette, Shovel Knight knew he would need to catch her all along.” This is phenomenal theming, as it keeps our minds on the quest for Shield Knight and deftly exhibits Shovel Knight’s dedication and love.

The other thing is: Shovel Knight knew through the whole game that his beloved was The Enchantress. He knew, and yet he also knew what he had to risk in order to free her. His challenges, his dreams, his determination – they were always tied to this climactic moment: would he be able to release her or not?

All this is well and good, you might say, but what romance is complete without a poetic declaration of love? Please, y’all; this game has it covered. When Shovel Knight is finally able to do what he’s only dreamt of before – when he catches his beloved Shield Knight – this is what he says:

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Listen, dudes: if you want your lady to fawn all over you, UTTER THESE WORDS. I promise, you’ll be GOLDEN. (Unless you say them to some chick who doesn’t know you from Adam. Because in that case):

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Shovel Knight is a triumph in epic romance. The hero must overcome impossible odds to reunite with his beloved, and in the end we are rewarded with Shovel Knight and Shield Knight’s steadfast adoration for each other. The player is even given control for the final battle demonstrating their teamwork.

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So if you ask me, you can keep your chick lit and chick flicks, your Channing Tatums and Bradley Coopers. Whereas many stories give unrealistic expectations for lovers, I guess you could say Shovel Knight gave me unrealistic expectations for love.

(Now just wait till I cover “Plague of Shadows”.)

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Shovel Knight is the property of Yacht Club Games. There are many ways to play this game.