Knuckles the Echidna, is a complex, layered character in Sonic Adventure 2. You see many facets of this individual, not through cutscenes, but through the incredibly cheesy rap songs that play during his stages, we see quite a bit of his character. I will go through all five of his stages, and provide analysis on the lyrics, and how they reflect the downfall of Knuckles.
STAGE #1: WILD CANYON
In Knuckles’ first stage, Wild Canyon, the lyrics reflect a confident figure, no swayed by distractions. The song begins, blaring at the viewer with the lyrics:
This is Knuckles, and I’m back!
I been away for a while, but I’m back to kick some butt at Wild Canyon!
I shall find all the lost pieces of the Master Emerald here.
I’m gonna get those fools.
They wanna play with my Emeralds?!
They playing with the wrong guy!
Knuckles is confident. He lays out his goal, and he accomplishes it in 30 seconds to 10 minutes depending on the hint boxes. It’s imperative that the instrumental to this song is also jazzy. There’s an overlaying saxophone in this track. The nature of the Jazz genre is to be flexible and freeform, reflecting the independent nature of Knuckles. Furthermore, this parallels Knuckles and Rouge. Rouge the Bat has stages that have heavy Jazz influences. Sonic Scholars have debated whether or not Rouge has a positive or negative influence on Knuckles’ mind. I, for one, am in the camp that the image of her is distracting Knuckles. There are multiple pieces of evidence for this.
Firstly, Knuckles’ other stages don’t use jazz in their instrumentals. This shows that Rouge has control over Knuckles, despite his objections otherwise. Secondly, look at this lyric in Wild Canyon:
Wild Canyon fun? I gotta chase a bat, huh,
Yeah, Rouge, she’s sexy and smooth!
A double cross spy-thief, that’s out for my jewels, huh…
I’m feelin’ her in mysterious ways.
“Out for my jewels” is a double entendre, cleverly inserted by Knuckles. Knuckles senses there is some romantic tension between him and Rouge. She attempted to steal the object that keeps the Echidna civilization alive, but Knuckles still feels attraction. This hurts him. He shouldn’t be interested in her. He should hate her, even. She didn’t consider the consequence of her actions. But Knuckles might have understood this. Maybe he understood her ignorance, and he saw an individual who could change. Rouge isn’t stupid, and Knuckles knows this. Perhaps, it isn’t just her physical appearance that attract him, but also her abilities.
This leads into another, odd bar:
When I catch her, I’ma get her with these tools,
There you are, come here little thief!
Think you gon’ fly and get away quick? Uh, uh!
Give up the Emerald or die, I don’t love you!
Knuckles is frustrated with Rouge, understandably. However, why does he need to bring up that he doesn’t love her? This should already be established to the player. This is a tiny glimpse into Knuckles’ layers. He is determined and protective of his race and friends. He shouldn’t even like Rouge…but he uses the word “love.” Love. Onto the next song.
STAGE #2: PUMPKIN HILL
A common theme in Knuckles stages is ghosts. Physical ghosts, hunting Knuckles down. We now begin to see flaws in Knuckles, and his problem-solving abilities:
This probably seems crazy, crazy, a graveyard theory,
A ghost tried to approach me and got leery.
Asked him a question and he vanished in a second,
I’m walkin’ through valleys cryin’ pumpkin in the alley.
Didn’t seem happy but they sure tried to get me,
Had to back ’em up with the fist, metal crack ’em.
Knuckles is facing an unseen force, and his fists were unable to solve the problem. His previous bravado in Wild Canyon is shattered even more. Knuckles is out of his element. He is in a foreign area, and he is unwelcome. He is unable to negotiate with these ghosts, and he attacks what he fears. Knuckles uses violence to hide his insecurities and flaws.
This next set of lyrics is particularly interesting:
Let it get to me? I’m just gonna creep,
Down in Pumpkin Hill I gots to find my lost piece.
Knuckles is trying not to let his fear overcome him. He is displaying a different approach to life. Not one that faces and judges everything at face value, but one that tries to avoid conflict when necessary.
The final set of lyrics are the most interesting to me, because Knuckles no longer raps with flow. He just begins to yell out to the wind. This is what he says:
(Spooky up in here, it’s crazy in here,)
(We still gon’ keep it goin’, I’m Knuckles.)
(Nobody scares me,)
(Whoever want it, bring it!)
(I don’t care, we ‘ka do this.)
(Then come step up to the plate, and meet your match,)
(It ain’t no thang.)
Who is he talking to? Is Knuckles yelling at the ghosts around him? Why does he need to yell? If he is creeping, this contradicts his attitude. Knuckles continues to use force and hide his insecurities. Knuckles is cracking.
STAGE #3: AQUATIC MINE
Knuckles is taken from a haunted environment to an old coal mine. This area too, is infested with ghosts. Right away, this set of lyrics reveals quite a bit about Knuckles’ character. We already know he is brash, and perhaps, not the smartest. But listen to this:
Let’s take a dive, in Aquatic Mine Once was a coal pit, but now it’s a water ride Makes you wanna sit back, enjoy the life And do things you like doing, get to shine
It sure beats fighting with them foes all the time But I gotta do it, they always stay out of line Sometimes I wanna just chill and land But I’m the protector of the Emerald and gems
Knuckles was all an act. He doesn’t want to protect the Master Emerald. To him, this duty is a curse. Something he is obligated and bound to. But he cant say no, because nobody else can protect it. Perhaps, he enjoys searching for the pieces of the Master Emerald. It lets him see more of the world, than only his home. At first, I was questioning why Knuckles was interested in a coal mine. But, upon reflection, he may have never seen one before. This information is completely new to him, and, its important not to judge him for wanting to rest at a mine.
However, Knuckles ceases his desires with this bar:
Hand tracks be trackin’ me to different doorway In a maze, and I don’t know what to do Guaranteed though, I’ma find the Emeralds They don’t call me Knuckles for nothing, I can’t lose
Knuckles cannot lose, and he must stay determined. All of his fears and weaknesses are coming at him, but he needs to go through this mine, and find what is his. His people need him, and he accepts this. To him, he may think protecting the Master emerald is a curse, but to others, he’s a hero.
STAGE #4: DEATH CHAMBER
Knuckles is now within a US government pyramid, that holds a ship that can take them to Dr. Eggman’s space station. I’m really not making this up.
This is a fairly short, lyrical song, which reflects Knuckles’ no-nonsense attitude he has developed. He is not interested in rapping and being stylish. He has a mission now, and he is dedicated to it.
Eggman wants to steal the stones, keep the Emeralds and build a throne (Death Chamber, Death Chamber, Death Chamber) Not if I can help at all, I will not let him take it over
Illustrate Knuckles’ resiliency and strength. He takes his time to not only get the Master Emeralds, but also, defeat Eggman. This stage is also filled with ghosts, but it hardly phases Knuckles. He needs to get these keys for, whatever.
STAGE #5: METEOR HERD
This too, is a nearly lyricless song, reflecting Knuckles’ determination. However, one bar got my attention:
What’s this? Can’t fly or climb I just could float, hope I don’t die Meteors coming my way, weavin’, gotta go straight Ain’t a criminal, crime don’t pay
Knuckles floats in space, no longer in control of his gliding. This is his final test. He could every much die here. He is on another planet entirely. Knuckles is risking his life, but he knows it can’t be lost. He needs to get the emeralds. He lost control of everything, but he still succeeds in his mission.
This is the journey of Knuckes. A confident, playful rapper, to a focused, mature Echidna. Gaming has never had a deeper character.
I beat Dark Souls. I am now in the gamer hall of fame. Here’s what the 6-hour analysis videos don’t tell you about the game.
1.) IT’S NOT THAT HARD
Dark Souls is a tough video game. But it isn’t the hardest game ever. Far from it. In fact, I thought Bloodborne was much more difficult, due to faster and aggressive enemies. Wielding a two-handed weapon, I took most enemies in Dark Souls down in 2-3 hits. Combat was deliberate and engaging, as it requires spacing, awareness, and great zoning to succeed, but it isn’t unfair. Just take a few swings and don’t be an idiot.
2.) IT’S POORLY BALANCED
Magic is ridiculous, but it’s boring, and I couldn’t squeeze that in my 8-hour lore video. Daggers are completely useless. Range and damage are the name of the game. But it’s a single player game so don’t let me influence your decision. Play it however you want. I’m not trying to send messages. I’m not salty because I chose the dagger as my starting weapon, only to find the black knight halberd doing 20x the damage. Nope. Not at all.
3.) IT’S KIND OF UNFINISHED
A lot of the later environments in the game are barebones. Lost Izalith is a land of Listerine with hundreds of dinosaurs around it. It will also destroy your eyesight.
The last level was also kind of weak but really atmospheric so whatever.
4.) DON’T JUST ROLL
Parries are pretty gangster. Do those.
You also get hit with that W H O O S H every time it lands. Once you master these and die about 50 times trying it, they trivialize any humanoid encounter.
5.) DON’T TAKE THE LORE SO SERIOUSLY
Just watch videos online. That’s what I did. It’ll save you so much time. Read item descriptions after that, and it will become clearer to you, and your brain will make its own assumptions and interpretations. Remember, the lore is just flavour text. It isn’t essential to enjoying the game. It’s not the point of Dark Souls.
If you recall in my Fire Emblem: Fates Review, you notice that I was very harsh on its bland story and awful characters. I reprimanded the game for essentially splitting a single game’s story across three. However, I was hopeful! I didn’t think that the franchise was over. I thought it was merely a bump in the road. Something to learn from.
So when Echoes was announced, I was excited! I saw a Fire Emblem that had the old-school difficulty, and it was a remake of a game I had never played. I was excited to see the series’ roots!
And once I completed it, I realize that it might be my favourite Fire Emblem game.
Let’s discuss why.
REASON #1: ACTUALLY DIFFICULT
Let’s be honest, Fire Emblem Awakening is pretty easy. The children in that game are essentially their parents but 1.5x stronger. Morgan/Robin are monsters who can tank anything and kill anything in 1 hit. Donnel becomes a monster that ruins the game. You can take the game on autopilot for a lot of it.
On the flipside, however, if you set Awakening’s difficulty to Hard, the game’s difficulty curve can best be described as a Z. It starts off incredibly difficult, but after the 9th chapter, it becomes rote once everybody has levelled.
Fates was an even worse culprit. In Birthright, the strategy became “put Ryoma in the front and pair him with somebody who boosts his stats.” It was like running through Pokemon with a level 100 legendary. It wasn’t fun at all. It became a slower RPG at that point.
So when I opened Echoes, and saw the characters’ stats, I raised my eyebrows. No pairing units to make them overpowered? Specialized classes are actually only good at 1 or 2 stats, and have real weaknesses? I need to actually position my units to survive? What is this nonsense? There was finally strategy!
Levelling isn’t nearly as generous in Echoes either. It is rare that a character gets more than 3 stats from a level, so when it goes higher on that rare occaision, you feel so much stronger. Enemies are balanced perfectly to be higher in numbers than your party, but only slightly lower in stats. This means that a group of them can definitely kill a party member, but if you utilize tanks correctly, and position support units properly, you can survive.
I remember missing my stops on transit, because I was staring at the screen for minutes at a time, contemplating moves 3 turns in advance. I was playing virtual chess with anime girls.
Another layer of strategy is the relationship system between units. You are rewarded nice character developing cutscenes if you position amicable units together. This forms a sort of metagame in your strategy, that emphasizes friendship over proper positioning. Now, this has certainly gotten me killed quite a bit, and forced many restarts, but its still fun!
REASON #2: SUPPORT CONVERSATIONS
Speaking of support conversations, they sucked in Fates. There were thousands of lines of dialogue, but so much of it was worthless.
The exact opposite is true for Echoes. There are about 1/5th of support conversations compared to Fates or Awakening, and they are much shorter, but they are amplified by two things: Amazing voice acting, and fantastic writing.
I’m a firm believer in the idea that a strong voice actor elevates a character. An example of a character ruined by their voice is Rex from Xenoblade Chronicles 2. His tone doesn’t match his character’s actions in-game, and his accent changes to all of the countries in The British Isles.
In Echoes, a great example of a strong voice actor would be the woman who voices Clair, Alexis Tipton. She also voices Pascal in Nier:Automata, which she was fantastic in as well. She evokes a sense of royal upbringing and class, but also shows that she is incredibly caring. She’s brash, but she understands and reads the people around her. She is capable of empathy. All of this is shown in her performance as well. This reflects every voice actor in Echoes. They are all incredibly talented for the few lines that they have, and I remember more about them than the hours I spent reading character conversations in Fates.
I also enjoy that there is no marriage system. I always thought it was strange how, after four conversations, you were married to a person. It felt incredibly rushed, and that it wasn’t very fitting for the narrative that Fire Emblem was weaving. Echoes does away with this, and you realize that characters become stronger friends over time. Their bonds deepen, but they don’t lust after one another.
REASON #3: COMPELLING STORY
The driving plot of Echoes was much more focused than previous games. Awakening’s story meandered for a while in the middle, and we all know how I feel about Fates. But Echoes was quick and to the point: Alm leads the Deliverance to retake the Kingdom from Rigel. Done. Boom. All you need. Everything can build from there, but we have that goal. Celica is seeking help from her goddess to resolve the world, and her and Alm’s paths cross often. They even fight as well, creating a rift between the two of them. It genuinely hurt to see that.
But, we need to discuss something. This is a review. Not a gush session. I have 1 problem with Echoes. But it’s massive, and makes the second half of the game significantly weaker than the first.
THIS GUY. RIGHT HERE:
LOOK AT HIM.
These dudes summon 5 monsters almost every turn. It becomes incredibly problematic, as fights grind to a complete halt, as your units have to whittle away at their minions. You are hardly ever able to advance either, because their summoned units to considerable damage as well!
But the worst part, is their goons do so much damage as well! You NEED to have at least 2 healers if you want to have a chance of succeeding on the later maps. They break the pace of the game, and make it borderline unenjoyable.
For that 1, incredibly huge flaw, my final rating for Fire Emblem Echoes is a 7/10. I was almost unable to finish it because of the Incantors. All other aspects are phenomenal, but these assholes just hold the whole game back from being my favourite Fire Emblem game.
I guess Steam is trying to make the Steam Awards an annual thing. Which is good! Because it gives me something to look forward to annually. I actually enjoy the Steam Awards. It’s honest with how pointless it is to categorize games when people’s experience with them varies, like they’re actual individuals and not a collective.
Anyways, if you’ve seen my video about the Steam Awards from 2016, you know how this goes. But if not, let me give you the rundown anyways: I look at every category in the Steam Award, judge the victor, and provide my completely pointless opinion.
OKAY LET’S PUT AS MUCH EFFORT INTO THIS AS STEAM DOES INTO ITS UI YENNOWHATIMSAYIN
Category #1: Choices Matter.
Winner: The Witcher 3
I have a serious confession. I am one of those people. I am one of those people, who are going to talk about Witcher 3, without actually having beaten the game. I put 50 hours into it, but I’m unsure if I even made a dent in this game.
But I will say, out of all of these games, there was actually a really profound moment where I felt the choices mattered. I have had a decision made in a sidequest, come back to bite me in a random encounter later on. And, honestly, I did not expect it to happen for such a minute thing. I’m sure this game is full of more moments like these, but like most game reviewers, I will not list them. Because none of us have actually finished this game. And I’m fairly sure nobody else did. Anybody who did is a liar.
Life is Strange Before the Storm should not be on there though.
Category #2: Mom’s Spaghetti
Winner: PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS
I’ve never had that existential feeling of age creeping up on me. I’m still fairly young. I’m in University, I have hope in my life, goals I wish to attain.
But, I don’t get PUBG. And that scares me. It freaks me out that it has sold millions on Steam, because I don’t get it. I am not with the majority anymore. I’m not a tween or teen. I can’t spend 5 hours a day playing a single video game anymore. This reminds me that I have lost my childhood somewhat, and it’s cause for reflection.
So, yes. This is fitting for the mom’s spaghetti reward.
Category #3: Labor of Love
My personal pick for this category didn’t even get a nomination. Hearing the story of Cuphead’s creation, the passion, and the love that went into it, surprises me that it didn’t even get a mention.
But I get Warframe winning this. I don’t understand this game or what it’s even about, but I get all of the effort going into the game to improve it.
Jungle Inferno wasn’t a labour of love though. Team Fortress gets one massive update after nearly a year, and everybody is calling me out on it. Well, I have something to say to that.
If Valve makes a massive update to Team Fortress 2 in six months, I will delete my YouTube channel. Boom. Your move Valve, and your weird, mobile Portal game.
Category #4: Suspension of Disbelief
Winner: Rocket League
This category is essentially a more professional way of allowing the lol XD games to get nominated. Thankfully, this ruse succeeded, and only one meme game got nominated. It didn’t even win!
The idea of Rocket-powered cars playing soccer is far-fetched now, but, honestly, out of all of the nominees, it seems the most plausible. I don’t know why, but I see self-driving cars inventing their own sport as more likely than, I don’t know, a Nazi regime returning at any point. Right?
Category #5: The World is Grim Enough Let’s Just All Get Along
Winner; Stardew Valley
The world needs more wholesome games in it. The world needs more Stardew Valley’s. I still can’t get enough of this game. I’ve bought it for 3 different consoles, and have sunk at least 40 hours into each version. It’s so addictive, but it’s very calming as well. This game is best experienced at your own pace. Don’t look at massive, immaculate farms and get discouraged. Those people are either on Year 5, or have 100+ hours of experience and are just starting a new game. Nobody begins with the perfect farm. Mine still sucks, and I have that 100+ hours of experience too.
Category #6: No Apologies
Winner: The Witcher
This game is awful. That’s why it’s the perfect winner.
Character’s eyes are soulless potatoes, and I feel that everybody talks like they’re about to give me the lecture of the century on the degrading industrial economy of Poland. But, hell if it doesn’t have heart and passion behind it. The Witcher 1 is so archaeic, but it tried so hard to be innovated. It is so hard not to love.
Rust is just bad though.
Category #7: Defies Description
Winner: Garry’s Mod
“Hello, I am Valve. I hath memed upon myself with this reward, for if you go to the Steam Store page, WHAT DO WE FIND?”
Category #8: Cry Havoc and Let Slip The Dogs of War
Winner: Just Cause 3
Hey, this is a game that came out, remember? In the best year of gaming ever 2015? (this is a meme. Please don’t judge, I honestly don’t know why that year got praised so much for being one of the best ever.)
Does Just Cause 3 have explosions? Yes.
Does Just Cause 3 let you control these explosions? Yes.
Does Just Cause 3’s physics enable it? Yes.
There ya go. Big boom game.
Category #9: Haunts My Dreams
Okay, so. I’ve been fairly lenient and accepting of the winners so far. This one I just do not get. How in the world did this beat Dota 2? And why is Dark Souls 3 on there? It’s a single-player game, and regardless of its PVP, people will get sick of it.
And if Counter-Strike had to win, why original, and not Global Offensive? I have friends who have 1000+ hours in that game. I’ve seen the proof. I’ve stalked their profile.
But the most mind-boggling thing, is how is PUBG not on this list? Or Fortnite? I feel those battle royale games lend people to sink 100s of hours into them.
BAD PICK STEAM COMMUNITY. FEEL BAD FOR NOT POINTLESSLY VOTING FOR THE POINTLESS AWARDS.
Category #10: Soul of Vitruvius
Winner: Tomb Raider
More people thought Lara Croft is prettier than 2B. A robot designed to be as attractive as possible. An android created to represent peak humanity.
I don’t care.
Category #11: “Whoooaaaaaaa, Dude! 2.0”
Winner; The Evil Within 2
I believe this category is for the most psychedelic game. Which, if that’s the case, this is a terrible choice.
The Evil Within 2 was just one of those whatever blips on the radar this year. I mean, i’m all for horror games, but I don’t feel this deserves the award. Hotline Miami 2 would be the clear winner for me.
Category #12: Best Soundtrack
I DON’T AGREE WITH THE WINNER, BUT I UNDERSTAND. I would put NieR: Automata above Undertale, then Undertale above Cuphead. BUT I UNDERSTAND WHY IT WON. THESE GAMES ALL HAVE 10/10 SOUNDTRACKS. IT IS REALLY HARD TO COMPETE WITH PERFECTION.
NieR is better thou-BUT I GET IT, OKAY. THIS IS A FINE CHOICE.
Category #13: Even Better Than I Expected
None of these games I had positive expectations for. Hollow Knight I didn’t know about. Sonic Mania is a sonic game, so of course, I expected it to be terrible, but it was one of the best games of the year.
And I was so worried about Cuphead. I was worried it would suck. I was worried it was going to be popcorn filler, but it’s not. It’s amazing. All of it is fantastic. I love Cuphead. Just, not as much as some crazed fans.
I will be the first to admit, that I give too much praise to the video games I love. It is difficult for me to provide adoration for new games I play. But, I love the games I do for a lot of reasons. Final Fantasy 9 is one of my favourite video games ever, and E V I L F O R E S T is one of those reasons.
Despite a generic name, E V I L F O R E S T (I shall keep typing it like this, as the level deserves the spooky text) represents something greater. This level reflects that Playstation 1 JRPG nostalgia perfectly. What I mean by this, is FF9 evokes a sense of warmth from me. All aspects of this environment work to immerse the player into its world.
I suppose I should provide a summary of the events before entering E V I L F O R E S T. You take the role of Zidane, a monkey-tailed thief, who is a member of the bandit group Tantalus. Tantalus meets on a train, with the master plan to enact a play for their country’s royalty in the capital city of Alexandria. The play is called “I Want To Be Your Canary,” and it is a tragic love story (obvious foreshadowing, Square Enix.) Tantalus will play characters, while Zidane goes and steals the Princess from her seat.
But woah, what, plot twist, she actually WANTS to be kidnapped by Zidane. The Princess is named Garnet, and she despises her royal life, and the feeling that she in unable to change the world. Eventually, after a lot of hi-jinx, Zidane, Garnet, Garnet’s personal guard and captain of the royal Alexandria Knights, Steiner, and the black mage Vivi all make it to the Tantalus’ ship. The queen notices that Garnet has been stolen, and launches cannon fire to destroy the airship escaping with the Princess. Unfortunately, the cannon fire hits, and the bombastic scene ends with the airship crashing into the E V I L F O R E S T.
Even worse, is Garnet has gone missing, as she fell off the airship as it was crashing. She could be dead. Tantalus could be branded as criminals (I mean, they probably already are. Their plan was to steal Garnet because she was attractive. Not the brightest group.)
But what is most interesting about the music, is it reflects the downfall of all major characters. Zidane, frustrated with Tantalus`complacency, decides to leave the group, and his friends to pursue Garnet. He is then banned from Tantalus. Although they leave on good terms, it is still a painful goodbye. Steiner, commander of Alexandria’s Royal Knights, is seen as a blathering idiot in this group of people. He is out of his element, and his knightly qualities are constantly called into question. Vivi is just a child, thrown into a mysterious forest full of man-eating plants and beasts. Garnet, too, lost her royalty and servants, her protection, and is now lost in the forest, prey to her surroundings. Everybody is powerless now.
There is no glory in the soundtrack. No brass to signify explosiveness. No light guitar plucks to indicate playfulness. Just a mysterious, yet calming tune. The song relaxes the player, and lets them soak in everything that happened, and the consequences of the main character’s decisions.
Pre-Rendered PS1 backgrounds are my guilty pleasure. I think they’re gorgeous, and they will stay gorgeous throughout history. People may think they’re incredibly jarring when the pixelated 3d models are put against it, which is understandable. But a pre-rendered background ensures that the game displays a timeless aesthetic.
The shading on the environment is incredible. The level itself, isn’t very special. It is a handful of linear pathways that hold few alternative paths, save for small treasure spots.
But it is just the imagery that accompanies it, that really makes you feel that you are engulfed in a foreign environment. I mean, just look at some of these images:
The foliage around is haunting and claustrophobic. It feels that there is no escape. I mean, the player knows they will eventually leave, but it works so well as a contrast from the bright, beautiful oranges and reds of Alexandria.
But, my favourite part of this level, has to be this area:
This is a small pond, and the only area where the light touches the forest. This is conveniently a save point as well, so you are able to track all the progress you made up to this point. It is your safe area. Nothing can touch you here. It blends imagery and game play together, to leave a feeling of comfort in the player. It’s an example of the power of games as storytelling mechanisms. This one area accomplishes so much, and that is great level design.
Woah this is the end of the article where the hell have I been?
I owe you all an update. I was completely silent for all of November, and most of December. There are a lot of reasons for this. Let me list them all really quick so I don’t bore you:
Applying for a massive $10000 scholarship by writing an essay with 50+ sources
Searching and applying for dozens of jobs, trying to find work after my job ends on December 22nd
I began DM’ing for Dungeons and Dragons, and that necessitated the creation of personal campaigns. That was where a lot of my writing focus went towards.
Transitioning back into University took a ton of my time.
Short answer: They’re there, but they’re hiding. With the glut of open-world games nowadays, they need sidequests to supplement content for their massive worlds. More sidequests sounds appealing at first, but the more you play these games, the more you realize how shallow the objectives are. “Get me x amount of y, then I will give you z.” It’s mindless busy-work that feels like a job. It isn’t entertaining, and it isn’t engaging.
But I am here to detail what makes a side quest good, and how to spice up a lot of simple activities into truly special events.
WHAT IS A SIDE QUEST?
A side quest is a small, optional event in a video game that branches away from the main story. They can last minutes with a simple task, or span hours with a vast array of objectives. They usually provide the player a tangible reward, whether it be a cut-scene, new equipment, experience, or gold. Rewards aren’t limited to these options, but they are the most common.
But, in general, all side quests give the player a task to complete, and provide a reward.
HOW TO MAKE SIDEQUESTS ENGAGING AND MEANINGFUL
1.) Expand on the game’s world
A side quest that requires you to grab 5 plants and bring it to somebody is not very interesting. However, finding out these plants can be extracted into a toxic liquid is slightly more intriguing. And, perhaps, this toxic liquid is meant to be used to kill a certain person or group that the quest giver does not like. And, maybe, just maybe, this allows you to learn a bit about this enemy group, and why the quest giver wants this liquid.
It is an opportunity to build on the world, and not pad out the game. It doesn’t even require voicing lines, creating new environments, or conjuring new monsters. All it takes is a handful of text boxes, item descriptions, and a few conversations to suddenly turn this dull affair into something that expands your knowledge of the world while simultaneously integrating fun game play with it. It is a blend of player-driven discovery and storytelling.
Context is very important for side quests. MMO’s have a lot of flavour text for their quests to give them more personality, but they aren’t succinct enough to engage players’ attention. That is just the nature of MMO’s. However, in a single player game with no time constraints, these tiny additions are very doable.
A memorable example of a world-building side quest can be found in The Witcher 3. You come across a group of bandits, and they begin attacking you. It’s a fairly simple fight that goes off without a hitch. After your victory, you find a small note on one of the bandits. You find out he’s a father, and that he’s lying about his position as a bandit to support his family. Within his culture, if you aren’t in a respectable position, you are nothing. This note likely took a few minutes of writing, but it gives so much personality to the world. It lets you learn about a family, a father, and the mentality of a micro-culture.
Not every single side quest needs to be world changing. That’s impossible. But a small addition of lore and extra content adds a lot of perspective and character to a fantasy world. It’s an opportunity to differentiate oneself from another. World-building gives games identity. Each session of gaming, the player is able to become more engaged with a product, get sucked into its world, and become a fan. (If they become a fan, they may buy your endless FunkoPops.)
Breath of the Wild is a great game (that I may have been a tad too kind to in my review of it), but it is undeniable that 90% of its side quests are clearing check-boxes of materials. It especially feels like BotW’s Hyrule can get extended lore through exploration and explanation. But I guess Nintendo would rather sell more copies of the Hyrule Historia. Fair enough.
2.) The tiniest bit of spoken dialogue
All it really takes to give quest givers some life is a bit of voiced dialogue. This gives each NPC a bit more charisma and flourish.
There can be paragraphs of writing in World of Warcraft, but players will skip to the bottom and see the obvious, bold text saying what they need. It’s a waste of time, and it may not as well be present. It probably takes hours to write all of the quest dialogue, days of paid work, and it’s pointless. Because the character and the game aren’t presented as interesting.
However, you can manipulate this conditioning to make these quests meaningful. Rather than extensive lines of text, give them a few lines of dialogue instead. Have them tell a microscopic story about how much this sword you want them to fetch is worth. Say it is a family heirloom, then give the player the OPTION to find out more. Don’t bombard them with a ton of generic information they don’t care about. Nobody wants anything forced down their throat unwillingly.
3.) Tone the total down
To make side quests feel more special and important, lower the amount of them. It saves effort, makes each quest feel more important, and their rewards greater and memorable.
When a player goes to a new town, and all of a sudden, they see 10 exclamation marks appear on the map, the thought that goes through their head isn’t “oooh! How exciting!” It’s “alright, let’s get the checklist ready. I know where the next few hours of my life are going.” It becomes routine, and it can make progressing through a game a dreadful slog.
I can’t be the only person who has been caught in the loop of being unable to progress the main story because I’ve felt compelled to complete everything.
And I also can’t be the only one who quits an open-world game because they get bored and overwhelmed with all of the repetitive content.
I can understand the desire to increase a game’s length by over packing it with side quests. Not only does it sound appealing to shout “MY GAME HAS HUNDREDS OF HOURS OF CONTENT,” It can also differentiate one player’s play-through from another. But having a massive influx of quests with no interesting reward other than gold and experience will ultimately make them a no-brainer to complete anyways.
People will pick up quests that require them to “kill 5 of X” or “grab 6 of Y”, because they don’t need to think about it. Nothing about these quests impact the world, and they’re just supplemental to player progression. A player can complete these just by playing normally.
If you have to include generic side quests, then reduce the amount of them. It makes each side quest a tad more important if it feels like they’re a rarity.
4.) NO EXCLAMATION MARKS
See that? I’ll post it again for you.
DON’T. DO. THIS.
IT TURNS NPC’S INTO FORGETTABLE MACHINES, AND MAKES THE VIDEO GAME YOU ARE TRYING TO CREATE LESS IMMERSIVE. ALLOW THE PLAYER TO TALK TO NPC’S WHO INTEREST THEM, AND HEAR THEIR TALE/REQUEST THAT WAY. IT IS CONSIDERABLY BETTER.
Sorry for yelling.
5.) Multiple Methods Awarded
Continuing off of the point of reducing the amount of side quests, multiple player methods of completion should be rewarded for the scarce amount of objectives.
One method, that is admittedly the hardest and most time consuming, is to enable the game’s mechanics and systems to allow for multiple angles of approach. A prime example of this is Fallout: New Vegas’ side quests. In this game, let’s say you were requested to assassinate a person, and you were hired by a mercenary leader. You could just go and kill that person, or, you can use your charisma and speech to talk the assassin out of the plan. Or, you could sneak in on your target, pickpocket them, and find out that they have some interesting information on the person who hired you. Or, even more interesting, you can kill the person who asked you to do their dirty work, and get in good graces with your target.
I realize a series of multiple objectives and methods is incredibly difficult, and may not be possible for certain game engines, but this can lead to replayability. I don’t care that Dragon Age: Inquisition is 80+hours. I played it for 5 and got bored. But I’ve beaten Fallout New Vegas 4 times, repeating sidequests as well, and I found that it accommodated a different play-style each time.
If you do not wish to tackle alternative gameplay solutions, you can have player decisions in dialogue make real differences. The consequences don’t even need to be long-lasting, but at least have some callback to a choice a player made. Maybe stopping an execution by murdering the executor makes you a hero to some, but it could paint you as a monster in the general populace’s eye. Just tiny dialogue mentions, or even a small title that reflects your reputation, like in Skies of Arcadia, makes players feel like they’re really special.
Sidequests in games are really good! They’re a fantastic way to expand upon a world, encourage player progression, and tell their own individual short stories.
But they need to be handled carefully. Forcing them into games ruins their potential, and sullies the term. Terrible sidequests have given open-world games a bad name, but they can be so much better!
You can trust a guy who has never made a video game before.
I’ve got a confession. I have been writing my Persona 5 Diaries entries after I beat the game. Because of this, I feel they are disingenuous, as they are written through a veil. They feel like I’m recollecting events, rather than having anything interesting or fun to say. They weren’t very fun to write for me, as I felt there was no passion behind it. So, I decided, rather than stretch my thoughts over the course multiple articles, I will condense them into a single, longform piece that has a lot of heart and effort put into it.
WARNING: I will spoil EVERYTHING about this game. There are a lot of details I want to cover. I believe it is important to discuss every factor of Persona 5, as it is often a combination of thousands of tiny successes that allow a piece of media to stand above others. This is game special to me, and a clear winner for Game of The Year 2017.
Part #1: Obligatory “Persona 5 vs. Every Other Game In The Series”
Is Persona 5 the best in the Persona franchise?
Sorry for the anti-climactic answer. But I believe that each game in the series has aspects that make it greater than the others. At least, between Persona 3, 4, and 5. All 3 of these games are great, but none of them are superior than the other. They never can be. Even Persona 6 won’t be a complete improvement over Persona 5. It’s impossible.
But, why is that? Because each Persona game is a deeply personal and subjective experience. Although every player undergoes the same main storyline, dungeons, and progression, the experience they have, and the time at which they decide to play the game will always influence their judgement.
Each Persona game exudes polish and care. They are incredible experiences that have immense effort poured into them to make every minuscule system and action matter. None of these games are lazy in any regard, and each piece of the puzzle is meticulously included for a purpose.
Out of Persona 3, 4, and 5, here are my brief thoughts on where I think every game excels in:
Persona 3’s Exceptional Qualities
Persona 3’s best aspect is the incredible, hour-and-a-half long final boss battle. However, that fight is something that could only have worked in the time frame it was released. In 2006, when PS2 JRPG’s were still using the roots of their PS1 predecessors for inspiration, Persona 3’s final battle was a spectacle very rarely seen. Having a giant god in the form of Nyx come down, set to one of gaming’s best tracks, is an imcomparible feeling. But, it’s a feeling that was fleeting, and very few gamers can experience it anymore. That’s because big, epic bosses are normal now.
Persona 3 also goes for an incredibly depressing and isolated tone from the other Persona games. While consisting of the usual Persona hijinx and comedy, there is an underlying gloomy atmosphere. The core colour of the game is a cool blue, and a lot of the tracks are slower and somber. The core concept of the game, The Dark Hour, which is a hidden hour in the day where people turn into coffins, is very grim.
A divisive aspect, and one that I am personally ambivalent towards, is that every party member in your troupe doesn’t get along very well. A common JRPG trope is to have everybody be the best of friends and use friendship to overcome their obstacles. People in this game have festering hatred for one another, not at all helped by the fact that everybody lives in the same dormitory. They are always together physically, but the emotional rift between them is present. Petty scuffles, minor disagreements, or explosive arguments tear them apart piece by piece. They are not a cohesive core, but rather, shattered individuals.
The game also tackles nihilistic themes of suicide. I initially thought that shooting oneself in the head with a toy gun to summon Personas was simultaneously the cheesiest and edgiest thing. However, as the game progresses, it’s a fitting allegory to suicide and the complex teenage angst that pushes the main group to the edge of depression.
I also believe it is the most vital that the main characters are teenagers in Persona 3. Having uncontrollable hormones and emotional tendencies means they are prone to irrational decisions and bouts of rage. They are capable of empathy and understanding, but are the most susceptible to their emotions, regardless of how much they may try and hide it.
Persona 3 is the most distinct of the three games. It establishes a specific tone, and, while it may be boring and depressing to some, allows for insight into the overlooked part of the teenage struggle.
Persona 4’s Exceptional Qualities:
Persona 4 has the strongest cast of main characters. They all have distinct personalities, they all have subtle nuances to them, and they are all charming. I was never irritated by a single one of them, and it felt like I had great friends. They are virtual characters, but it felt like they were real, and that’s quality immersion.
Persona 4 was also the most consistently entertaining of the three games. It was certainly more upbeat compared to Persona 3, what with its core colour being yellow. This is helped also by the main cast, who get into the most hijinx out of any of these games. The best moments of Persona 4 are the cross-dressing at the Cultural Festival, the terrible curry at the camping trip, and the visit to the love hotel. These great, memorable moments aren’t present in Persona 3 or 5.
If there is one weak aspect to all three of the games, it is the main villain. They usually appear out of nowhere, or are either completely bland. So while I don’t think Adachi is an amazing antagonist, I do think his motivation to murder others being “Because I can” is better than “I want power.”
Persona 5’s Exceptional Qualities:
So, what is Persona 5 better in? Pretty much everything else.
An objective improvement that Persona 5 has over its predecessors is its phenomenal gameplay. In previous games, dungeons were a series of procedurally generated linear hallways with an occasional bump in the road. It is just a rush to make it to the next floor every time.
Persona 5’s dungeons are hand crafted, and this makes them so much better. They are much more polished, their environments actually adhere to their themes. A massive bank in Persona 5 has a huge vault guarding its treasure, but Persona 4’s secret base is full of hallways.
There’s also the obvious style and flair in Persona 5. Every aspect of the game from the menus to critical hits in battle are oozing with style and finesse. It makes every action gratifying, as there will always be something exciting attached to it. This game makes me feel cool going through menus. What other game does that?
The world outside of dungeons in Persona 5 is phenomenal as well. Shibuya is constantly bustling, Akihabara is illuminated by screens and arcades, and Yongen-Jaya is filled with shady denizens. There are so many more areas to explore, and the NPC’s in the world are constantly progressing and changing. People react to the Phantom Thieves and their actions. Society influences the Phantom Thieves, and it feels that unnamed NPC’s really matter.
To bring up my previous point that it matters what time you play each Persona game, I want to say that, although I do think I probably like Persona 5 more than Persona 4, I have greater memories with Persona 4. Persona 4 came at a time for me when I was clueless and in high school. I would spend long nights mulling over Persona 4 on the Vita, playing it on my bed until I fell asleep. It was the perfect escapism for me. It was happy, and it made me happy.
When I played Persona 5, I was nowhere near that mindset. But, I know for sure, that if I played Persona 5 at that tumultuous age, I would fall equally in love with it. Because these games are personal. They tackle human issues rarely seen in modern gaming. These games resonate with people, because these anime drawings are very real and fantastic.
Part #2: Modern Humanity
So, let’s divulge the characters in Persona 5, now shall we?
Any time a piece of media tackles teenage adolescence, it very rarely works. Young Adult fiction can fall into the trap of making them too emotional or quirky. Teenagers in fiction can feel like cliche dispensers or pop cultural references. The most egregious example of this is Life is Strange. The teens do not feel like real people, but a much older adult’s interpretation of youth. If Persona 5 had that effect, its core message of rebellion against “shitty adults” would be lost. The dialogue in Persona 5 could have become trite garbage like this:
Ryuji: Man, these shitty Matilda-esque adults! They’re creating a real cyberpunk network, eh?
Yusuke: A Warhol interpretation of mine allows me to see the dank-ness of that hypotenuse.
Ann: Let me take a selfie.
(I’m so sorry for writing that exchange. I cringe reading it, and I wrote it.)
In Mass Effect Andromeda, for example, everybody is way too quirky and trendy. They don’t feel like individuals, but a series of checklists that need to be fulfilled for mass appeal. We must include “X” amount of gay characters, and “X” amount of “XD so ramdumb” character quirks. We must never veer from this formula. What if we sell less than 5 million copies? What will the EA overlords do to our children?
So, seeing people have clear personalities, interests, flaws, goals, and motives parade around Persona 5 was so satisfying. Can I describe Ryuji as a hot-headed, rebellious kid who hates adults and the corporate system? Or, can I call him a tough guy with a soft heart? The answer, is neither. Because what about that time where the main character was just sitting in his bed at night after a stressful day, and his phone rings. And he receives a call from Ryuji, just checking on him. It was such a small moment, but it gave so much life to a guy that I previously hated. None of the other characters just ask you how you’re doing. Ryuji has angry fits, but he’s aware of them. He’s not that bright, but he doesn’t think he’s an obnoxious genius. He is aware of his limitations, and relies on others for protection, and does his equal part to ensure that everybody in the group is safe.
Having Persona 5 take place in modern Japan enables NPC interactions that speak to contemporary issues. One of the best parts of Persona 5, and one of its central themes are rumours. Society is constantly judging and gossiping about the Phantom Thieves, and the main character especially. By the end of Persona 4, you save the world, and the entire school and town loves you. By the end of Persona 5, you still save the world, but nobody cares. You were never important to anybody other than your close friends. That reinforces the theme of isolation, and it is perfectly reflected in the ending, where you aren’t sent off on a train with all of your loved ones, but rather, voyage on a road trip with your closest friends.
The constant rumours of society feel realistic in a game littered with anime influences. It makes sense that Shujin Academy would call Ann a whore and “Kamoshida’s bitch” for spending so much time with him. In reality, Ann is fulfilling his desires to prevent her best friend from getting abused. But society doesn’t see that. And, so often in reality as well, society’s ignorance is what spreads.
And oh my god, it is so liberating to see modern teenagers not depicted as being obsessed with their vanity and their fucking cell phones. Yes, people check their phones in Persona 5, but they do it realistically, and at the same frequency as any other human being with a phone usually does. But nobody is written as being obsessed with their phone, or sucked into “the digital world.” There is no “smart phones make dumb people” propaganda. Ann, for example, is a model, and could have easily been depicted as snooty and arrogant about her beauty and status. On the flipside, it would have been equally lazy to give her traits that are the antithesis to the model stereotype, such as smarts, skills, and athletics. Ann is so great because she is a blend of these two polar opposite philosophies. She’s pretty and is aware of her beauty, but she also plays video games, eats a lot of junk food, and knows how to be kind to people, and she is fiercely loyal to those who matter to her. Nobody is a trope. Everybody has layers to their humanity. It’s sad that an anime game, which generally has the most concrete cliche characters, can write better individuals than 90% of western developers.
And no, that isn’t me being a weeaboo.
Persona 5 also uniquely tackles internet culture in a great way, because of how real it is. The real-life Phantom Thieves site is cancer, but the one in-game is essentially an anonymous forum with a moderator. The content there is exactly as you expect, and goes through this progression:
Phase 1: Very few followers, everybody really positive about you, and hopes you grow big. Community is great, and there is little fighting.
Phase 2: Begin to gain more traction and more ravenous and dedicated fans appear.
Phase 3: You’ve reached the peak of popularity, and now people send you death threats and dox threats. People are incredibly passionate and attack McDonalds employees for your sponsored sauce.
Phase 4: You get exposed by something, and people start to turn against you. You probably get a lot of articles written about you, and everybody claims they always hated you.
Phase 5: Complete irrelevancy. Zero fans. You’re a dead page. You don’t exist anymore to the world.
I’m sure if you’ve been savvy to internet culture, you’ve seen people go through this journey. It’s depressing that it happens, but a lot of YouTubers end up becoming dead pages.
This is why the Phantom Thieves’ popularity is so powerful, because it is observable and relatable. People come and go, trends appear and die, and some people have 15 minutes of fame and cannot uphold it. It isn’t people’s fault for losing interest in something, it is the creator, or in this case, the Phantom Thieves, for not adapting or adhering to their group’s interest.
Public reception does matter to the Phantom Thieves and it makes the main cast so much more interesting. They’re loser teenagers who get this massive surge in popularity, and it goes to their head. That’s more relatable then showing them on their phones constantly. Having their adolescent minds infatuated with approval and happiness is teenage-hood. Immaturity and stupid love is teenage-hood. Not memes and terrible pop culture references. These people aren’t immaculate souls obsessed with justice. Good-heartedness matters to them, but they have selfish desires too.
The Phantom Thieves are people, and society are people too. They’re human, not modern Bioware characters.
Part #3: Never a Dull Hour
My final playtime for Persona 5 was 105 hours. I maxed out every confidant, but I hardly did any of the other additional side content. I very rarely talked to the NPC’s in-game, and I mostly fast traveled everywhere. Despite one of the longest gaming experiences I’ve had, it was incredibly addicting, and I was thoroughly entertained for every single hour of the game.
In comparison, I spent 9 hours on Shadow of the Colossus, and it was one of the most dull experiences I’ve ever had. A controversial statement, but it is important, because I want to use these two games as comparison to detail why Persona 5 was so enjoyable.
The biggest reason, is Persona 5 consistently rewards the player for every single action they take. Say you want to go to the batting cage in Persona 5. You get a reward if you hit all 5 of the baseballs. You get an even larger reward if they are all home-runs. However, what if you get a few strikes? You don’t get the prize, but you still get a boost to your Proficiency stat. You failed, but you didn’t waste your time. The benefit you could have achieved was better, but the failing alternative still provided you a boost to your stats, and your progression in the game. Every single stat-boosting acitivity, confidant discussion, battle, every story event progresses the game in some way. You are in a constantly evolving world, and everything is always changing.
In Shadow of the Colossus, you just kind of walk everywhere. Nothing about the world or landscape evolves after you beat a colossus. You don’t get any new abilities. You don’t get much in the way of story. There is no satisfaction or change. The boss fights are great, but that’s all there is to the game. That’s 20% of it. 80% of the game is bland travelling and slow navigation. It’s not engaging.
Persona 5 also has a multitude of goals that seem unattainable, but are actually perfectly paced to be achieved by the end of the game. For example, maxing out every confidant in the game was super intimidating to me at first. I wondered how I could ever do it. But with the help of Chihaya’s Rank 7 ability, I was able to max every social link. It’s easy making friends when a fortune teller hick-lady casts voodoo magic for you.
Persona 5 does have a concrete goal to beat the game, but there are so many things to work towards. It can either be getting every Persona in the game, completing Mementos, beating the secret boss, beating The Reaper, maxing every stat, unlocking every location, and much more. The content is bustling, and none of it feels flat or under developed. It feels like every system was placed and paced so well, so you always feel like you’re trying and discovering something new on every single one of the hundred+ in-game days.
Shadow of the Colossus, has a single goal: defeat the colossi. Nothing more, nothing less. This is perfectly fine for a short game, but it does get dull when it doesn’t encourage exploration and experimentation. Ride your horse the exact same way you have been for the last 8 hours. 60 dollars please.
Persona 5 makes every hour count, and it made me lose sleep during work days. I would play and stay up for hours and hours at a time. I didn’t talk to my friends. I just wanted to keep playing Persona 5. It was so much fun. It was a drug that lasted for 100+ hours. It was like, love, or something. A drug like that.
Part 4: All the Little Things
If you ask me what makes a game truly special, it would be the small little polished touches it does. Continuing the trend of using other games for my explanations, on a surface level, Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas look nearly identical, except one has an orange filter, and the other has a Matrix Filter. But I like New Vegas more because it has a more cohesive and realistic world. There are a lot of nuances to every group and faction in the game. People have stronger identities, and a lot of locations are bland farms and reserves. But I love it. Because it makes its world feel real and tangible. It is like everything is there for a purpose.
Big surprise, Persona 5 has a lot of meaningful little touches as well. Here’s a quick list of little polishes that escalate Persona 5 above other games:
When the main character wins a battle on his own, he looks around, does a sheepish smile, scratches his head, and runs.
When you date one of the Phantom Thief girls, and you’re asked if you have considered marriage during your final exams, the girl you’re dating blushes.
Every NPC you talk to changes their dialogue in progression with the game. Any time the Phantom Thieves take on a culprit, their dialogue changes.
All of the comments on the Phansite change and reflect the current tone of the game.
Every single movement through the menu is slick and pops. It makes just selecting items gratifying. No other game does that.
The internet references aren’t cringe-worthy and awkward. Very few games can do that, and make them feel natural.
Every critical hit and loading screen is popping with flourish and style.
When you’re meeting with the Phantom Thieves, each individual member is doing an action to reflect their personality. Ryuji is reading a Shonen manga, Yusuke is eating an obscure snack, Ann is on her phone, Futaba on her laptop, Makoto studying, and Haru sippin’ that drank.
There’s a lot more, but if I kept listing them, we’d be here all day.
Part #5: Dungeon Crawling is not Dumbgeon Crawling
The weakest part of Persona 3 and 4 was the dungeon crawling. They were procedurally generated hallways that almost never changed from that. The environment around you was themed, but it almost rarely spiced the gameplay up.
Persona 5 rectifies this problem by having each dungeon hand-crafted. They all have a unique theme, and they all have puzzles and terrain fitting of it. The Casino level has gambling, the bank requires you to elaborately open a vault, the castle has guards patrolling it, etc.
Although the levels are more linear, it does not matter, since the quality of the experience is much greater. Although “procedurally generated” means each floor in Persona 4 is technically different, it does not feel that way at all. They’re all the same hallway with enemies repeated over and over again. Which, is serviceable. It obviously isn’t ideal, but it gets the job done.
But Persona 5 sets a new standard for gameplay for this franchise. The dungeons were always the weakest part of Persona 3 and 4, and to see this get solved, and have it be equally on par with the rest of the game, makes the entire experience consistently amazing.
Part #6: Oh right, this is a game!
Despite my previous topics of discussion indicating otherwise, Persona 5 is a video game, and thus, it has video game aspects. Let’s talk about those.
First and foremost, let’s talk about what approximately 40% of the game is: random battles. I’m always apprehensive when it comes to exceedingly long JRPG’s, and their battle systems are the reason why. Final Fantasy 10, for example, has a great battle system that requires strategy and attentiveness. And, as much as it pains me to say it, Skies of Arcadia has a fairly slow, generic battle system with little tactics.
Persona 5 thankfully falls into the former, and it is because of one, small system within battles: enemy and player weaknesses.
In Persona 5, if you hit an enemy’s weakness, you get a free turn. If, after this, you strike another enemy’s weakness, you keep going. Your objective every battle becomes a metagame of getting the best chain going, and it captivates the player.
But, if you don’t have an enemy’s weakness, Persona 5 has that covered with the Baton Pass system. After you strike a weakness, you have a chance to swap to another party member without losing your turn. This party member then gets a damage boost to anything they do. Now, this party member you passed to can hit another enemy’s weakness, baton pass, and give another party member EVEN STRONGER moves! Every battle is like a flow to try and get this going and optimize your damage.
To prevent all battles from being a steamroll, however, enemies can and WILL pull that same chaining trick on you. Sometimes they can be merciful, but most of the time, they are deadly judges who will cast their might upon your entire party.
The weakness chaining necessitates attention from the player. There is an option to “rush” in Persona 5, which has every party member attacking over and over again really fast, but I almost never used it. I was too scared to leave myself vulnerable and die. Because, 99/100, you will die if you rush. Bad times.
But my personal favourite part of combat, and what further incentivizes downing opponents, is the negotiation system. After you knock down and strik every opponent’s weakness, you can hold a conversation with them. All enemies have personalities and are willing to talk to you about their life and desires. If you are able to stay on their good side, you can get money, and item, or more importantly, have that enemy join your team. It adds another layer of tactics to battle.
Although it did take me about, 50 hours to actually grasp how negotiation works.
The non-palace content, particularly the confidants, is where a lot of my enjoyment with Persona 5 came from. Simply socializing, playing arcade games, studying, reading books, and eating massive burgers gave me a lot of enjoyment, and reminded me of the free time I had in high school and the whimsy it provided. All of the great memories came flooding back to me as I played, and it made me comfortable.
Ultimately, my favourite part of Persona 5 is how it makes me feel. It has everything I love in video games, and everything I grew up with. It has a great RPG battle system, tons of engaging side content, gorgeous flourish and appearance, unforgettable music, and story and characters that are rivaled by very little.
Persona 5 will go down in history as one of 2017’s best video game’s, one of the best JRPG’s ever, and a testament that there still is a massive audience for games like these.
Please don’t let JRPG’s die gaming world.
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But, what the hell is Dad of Light? Why am I talking about it when I don’t really discuss TV shows often?
Well, this J-Drama is special, because it’s about video games! Specifically, a father and son using Final Fantasy 14 to reconnect after 25 years of distance and tension in their family.
No, I’m not making this up.
Look, I’m not even going to assume that anybody has seen this show, so i’m just going to go through every episode, detailing the plot and weird oddities about it.
And trust me, there are A LOT of odd things about this show. Some are funny, some are cringe, and some are repugnant. We’ll revel in all of the embarrassment together.
What is Final Fantasy 14?
Before we begin the series, I suppose it’s best that I give some context on what Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn is all about. I will abbreviate it to FF14 to make it easier to type. FF14 is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG for short. MMO for even shorter.) This means that it’s a game where millions of players interact in the same world. They level, they communicate, they develop an economy, and they become friends or rivals. The most I have played of FF14 is the free trial, which allowed me to only scratch about 15% of the game’s content, so my understanding of the content is superficial. That isn’t too important, because a lot of this show doesn’t revolve around FF14’s intricacies. Dad of Light uses the game as a way to bond the father and son, and even people with minimal knowledge of gaming can comprehend the jargon.
But, long story short, FF14 is an MMO where people from all over the planet can play together anonymously.
With this knowledge, let us delve into confusion and insanity together. Don’t expect this article to be articulate or anything. There will be yelling.
Episode #1: A Relationship Reborn
The show begins by having the main character, Akio Inaba, tell the history of his relationship with his father, named Hirotaro Inaba. When he was a child, they bonded over the original Final Fantasy on the NES, and they got along well. At first, Hakutaro bought the game for Akio, but he ended up loving it equally. But then, Hakutaro gets a promotion at work, and he becomes distant with Akio. He is no longer focused on his family or enjoyment, just forwarding his career. The Inaba family becomes distant.
I actually enjoy this beginning. It’s really heartwarming to see a father and son bond over gaming, and tragic to know that it was just a fad to the father, but something legitimate to the son.
But then, we cut to 20 or so years in the future, when Akio is now a 20-something adult working an office job selling photocopiers. I think. It’s really vague. It’s also really boring. Like, photocopiers aren’t interesting. Who would ever be fascinated by this?
Akio as an adult also looks like a 12-year-old boy compared to every other adult present. He’s also wearing super unfitting, loose suits that make him look like a boy trying to be a man. You aren’t Mulan, Akio. (I recognize that Mulan is Chinese, not Japanese. Plz no sue.)
I’ve also tried to do research on this show, and I could not find anything. No interviews with any of the actors, no history on it, nothing. I will have to go to the deep web to get my answers. They will be next to the Minecraft Mods.
So then we cut to Akio, and, oh boy. Here’s where the cringe starts.
So roughly one third of this show is shot using the in-game models for FF14. And it looks terrible. It looks, so SOOOOOO terrible.
Animations are incredibly janky, faces are inhuman, and they teeter into the uncanny valley. The Lalafell characters (the midget race) have these weird, soulless potato eye faces that haunt my nightmares.
But the worst aspect of these scenes is the frame rate. See, cinematic shows are usually shot at 24 frames per second. However, the gameplay for FF14 can go to 60 frames per second if you have the correct display monitor. So, the footage in-game looks like it was recorded in 60 frames-per-second, but the editing software reduces it to 24 frames per second. Because of this, there’s this constant tearing and stuttering that happens, and it genuinely makes it painful on the eyes.
BUT IT GETS CREEPIER. Akio made a female cat-lady named Maidy, and he role-plays this character in-game to his friends. Like, all of the people he met online role-play as their character, instead of giving their real name. This leads to incredibly uncomfortable shots of Maidy having one of the Lalafell sit on her lap. Like, they’re pretending to be a family, when we know that Akio is a 20-something Japanese man, and not a sexy blonde cat lady. And, if Akio is lying, we can assume that the female Lalafell can be a 45-year-old Japanese man too! If one person is lying about their identity, then how genuine and real are their connections? How can they even trust Akio’s story? WHY IS AKIO EVEN TELLING RANDOM PEOPLE ONLINE THAT HIS DAD RETIRED? THIS ONLY LEADS TO POTENTIAL STALKING AND UNCOMFORTABLE SITUATIONS.
But the show paints them as genuine comrades and friends. Like, instead of meeting in real life at a coffee shop, they meet at a fictional one in-game, and role-play their problems.
I have no problem with role-playing. I love Dungeons and Dragons, but you need to learn to dissociate frames of reality properly. Don’t simultaneously lie about your name and identity, but relay your genuine, real life problems to strangers on the internet Akio. YOU GUYS DON’T EVEN KNOW EACH OTHER’S NAMES.
*ahem* Anyways, Akio, apparently noticing how open he is being online gets an epiphany. What if he gets FF14 for his retired dad? Since he has all this time now, why don’t they try to unite in the video game? I’d like to make fun of this, but I see it as Akio doing something nice for his dad. Like, he knows what made their relationship strong in the past, and he sees this as an opportunity to rekindle that flame. I’m cool with it.
This also leads to some really funny jokes. The dad is obviously clueless about FF14, so his character is just the default human character with black hair and a tattoo. He has hundreds of customization options, but he makes as little effort as possible. This reflects his no-nonsense personality well. This leads to an even funnier joke where his son suggests that he names his in-game character after a movie star, since they will be saving the world of FF14. So Hirotaro actually names his character “Indy Jones.” It’s probably the highlight of the entire series.
Once Hirotaro makes Indy Jones, Akio sprints upstairs to his character, Maidy, and follows him around, talking to him. However, Akio pretends he doesn’t know Hirotaro is Indy. I’m sure you can see where this is going.
Indy doesn’t talk in-game, because he doesn’t know how. So he’s mindlessly walking around. Maidy loses track of him, and just ends up talking to her friends. However, one of them tracked Indy, and found out that he, a level 1 character, is fighting a level 12 monster. Drama.
Maidy then comes to Indy’s rescue, which isn’t exactly heroic since Maidy is like, level 50, so it just dies in a few hits. Indy then turns, and looks Maidy directly in the eyes…
…and walks around Maidy 3 times then runs off. Okay.
The first episode ends with Akio saying he’ll keep his identity in-game secret, and not approach his dad at all about their common interest. He will continue to role-play as Maidy to Indy, and not genuinely connect as Akio to Hakutaro. This won’t backfire at all.
Episode 2 begins showing Akio in his workplace.
He’s a loser.
He’s socially awkward, he gets yelled at his boss for being submissive, and he lacks personal ambition and drive. He’s basically an employed version of Jerry from Rick and Morty.
This also leads to a new female character getting introduced. We will call her Girl. Why not her real name? Because I’m pretty sure they only say it once, and her entire role in the story is to be a girl. She is also the only one with any sanity. She’s the only person in this office who is a regular human being.
There’s also this really bizarre subplot about how female workers are quitting, and the office higher-ups want to find out why. They suspect Girl of wanting to quit, despite having no evidence whatsoever. Akio is then forced to work his non-existent charms on her, and get her to open up. But, as expected, he completely fails, and everybody reprimands him for it. Oh Akio. At least you’re a pretty good Monk in FF14.
We then cut to Maidy and Indy trying to talk. Maidy is trying to teach Indy how to use the in-game chat, but he fails at it. So Akio, thirsty for his FF14 connection, sprints out of his home and buys Hirotaro a USB keyboard to plug into his PS4 so he can talk to his dad. Hirotaro also doesn’t know how to use a keyboard, which, makes absolutely zero sense. I know he’s old, but he also worked in an office and must have typed up documents and e-mails.
Deep down, it feels like there is a nice narrative hiding in this show. It feels like something heartwarming is there, but it’s layered in awkward dialogue, and a strange, MMO connection between father and son. Like, rather than Akio learning to be brave, he’s finding ways to avoid his connectivity problems with his father. Akio’s inventiveness enhances unhealthy habits. But they must uphold the ALMIGHTY FINAL FANTASY 14 DESU-KA.
Then there’s just, this, bizarre scene, where Indy runs for HOURS, REAL LIFE HOURS across the entire in-game world, not dying once. He goes from the starting forest city of Gridania, to the high-level Snow City.
But that’s not the worst part. The worst part, is he GETS EMBARRASSED THAT ALL CHARACTERS IN-GAME ARE WEARING LONG SLEEVES, AND HIS CHARACTER HAS A T-SHIRT ON. THIS IS REAL. THIS IS A REAL THING THAT SOMEBODY ON PLANET EARTH CARES ABOUT.
I REPEAT: HIROTARO ALMOST GIVES UP PLAYING THE GAME FOREVER, BECAUSE HE FEELS EMBARRASSED THAT HE DOESN’T HAVE A COAT YET. TEMPERATURE IS NOT A FACTOR IN THE GAME. IT IS PURELY COSMETIC. I WISH I WAS MAKING THIS UP.
Ready for more potentially sexist overtones? So, Girl finally opens up to Akio about the issue and why she was contemplating quitting. She says it was because she didn’t like the colour of the uniforms. This would be silly, but she even admits that her reason is petty, so I don’t mind it.
BUT AKIO HEARS THIS, AND THE BOSS GOES “OKAY. ONE PERSON DOESN’T LIKE THE UNIFORMS. THEREFORE, ALL GIRLS WANT THE UNIFORMS TO BE PINK! ALL WOMEN ARE THE SAME, RIGHT?”
And then he does it. And girls are much happier in the workplace. Because they wear pink, instead of blue uniforms.
I can’t even deal and it’s only episode 2.
Episode 3, like the previous episode, shows Akio being terrible at his job. He’s working as a sales associate for Photocopiers. Around clients, he is very awkward, uncharismatic, and embarrasses his boss who is trying to help him.
Akio and his boss are at a restaurant, getting their client drunk. Their client loves baseball, so Akio’s boss just gets up, and starts doing these exaggerated hitting and pitching motions, and the client keeps naming the player he’s mimicking. Much like Akio, I am very uncomfortable that this is happening in a public place.
His boss then reveals that every company’s photocopier is the same, and does a dramatic walk-off. How does Akio deal with this criticism? Does he better himself? Does he reflect on his abilities and learn to take his job seriously? Does he learn to play into his clients interests more?
NOPE. BACK TO FF14 TO COMPLAIN ABOUT HIS LIFE.
Akio then goes to fight a boss with the group, including Indy, and he keeps losing focus and dying. Indy then tells him in the chat to never give up. This gives Akio so much inspiration, that he beats the boss, and regains his confidence in real-life.
Using this newfound lesson of “never give up,” Akio betters himself at his job, but it doesn’t even make sense. So, literally one day prior, Akio’s boss gave him the advice to give gifts to clients to suck up to them. Girl comes to Akio’s help, and gives him a list of presents every employee at their company likes because I GUESS SHE HAS THIS? WHERE? HOW? I don’t know.
SO AKIO, A DAY LATER, GOES TO HIS BOSS WITH A GIFT HE LOVES. HE USES THE EXACT MANIPULATION TACTIC THAT HE LEARNT ON THE GUY WHO TAUGHT IT TO HIM. AND IT WORKS.
Then Akio runs up the their client (who works in their office apparently????) and he relays random baseball facts. Akio says he watched the baseball game last night (even though he was playing final fantasy 14), and provides a recap. This impresses the client so much for some reason. Like he’s a dog who hears BASEBALL and immediately freaks out. Akio then SOMEHOW, SOMEHOW HAS TICKETS TO THE GIANTS GAME FOR THE NIPPON BASEBALL LEAGUE, AND OFFERS TO INVITE CLIENT-SENPAI TO A GAME.
THEN IT GETS WEIRDER. AKIO’S BOSS GETS UP, OUT OF HIS CUBICAL. LOOKS AKIO DEAD IN THE EYE, AND STARTS DOING A PROVOCATIVE PITCHING STANCE. AKIO SOMEHOW, OVERNIGHT, BECOMES THE MASTER OF BASEBALL TRIVIA, AND RECOGNIZES THIS PLAYER OUT OF THOUSANDS OF POSSIBLE PLAYERS IMMEDIATELY.
The best part of this scene, is in the background, all of the other employees at the company look incredibly awkward. Like a bunch of actors realized they made a terrible decision to be in this show, while these three clowns get excited over nothing.
It’s here that I think the creators of the show are doing something very manipulative and intentional with the tone. They make reality incredibly mundane and crushing. They then offer Final Fantasy 14 as a respite, and a solution to all problems. How did Akio get over his personal hurdle? Indy gave him advice in the game. Not in real life. In the game. And that distinction is important.
So, thanks Square Enix, for trying to subtly manipulate the Japanese audience into playing Final Fantasy 14 even more! It is the drug that will solve all of your life problems. Just never face them and become a NEET!
Ready for odd, sexist overtones number 2? So Hirotaro and his wife, who we also never get a name for (WOMEN DON’T DESERVE NAMES IN THIS UNIVERSE), are sitting at a table at the end of the episode. Let’s call Hirotaro’s wife, Wife, since she doesn’t have a name, and that’s how Dad of Light rolls.
So Wife suggests that her and Hirotaro can go on a world cruise like they always wanted to when they were younger. Now that he is retired, they can finally spend more time together as husband and wife.
He says no.
He says no because he wants to play more Final Fantasy 14.
Hirotaro, says no to this world cruise, and, keep in mind, Wife says “like WE always wanted,” implying that this is a dream that the two of them had. And when he says no, she just smiles and laughs. LIKE IT’S ALL OKAY.
SHE’S LIKE I UNDERSTAND HONEY. YOU CAN SAY NO TO THIS CRUISE BECAUSE YOU WANT TO PLAY VIDEO GAMES.
ALRIGHT THIS IS WHERE IT GETS REALLY DUMB. AND IT WAS ALREADY DUMB, BUT LIKE, INFURIATINGLY DUMB.
The episode begins with Hirotaro and Wife having a fight over him playing FF14 too much. Hirotaro gets scolded, and his playtime becomes limited to one hour a day. Although Hirotaro is having fun, I understand Wife’s position. Too much gaming is unhealthy for anybody, regardless of how much enjoyment they are getting. Hirotaro can be doing better things with his time.
But in comes Akio. Akio hears of this news of Wife trying to better her husband’s life, and Akio goes NO. THIS IS A CRISIS. I MUST GET HIM TO PLAY FF14 ALL DAY AGAIN. I MUST ENABLE AND FEED HIS BAD HABITS.
SO THE THING THAT GETS AKIO TO TAKE ACTION WITHIN HIS RELATIONSHIP ISN’T FAMILIAL LOVE. IT’S THE OBSESSION TO GET HIROTARO PLAYING FF14 AGAIN. Akio invites Hirotaro out to the bar to drink, trying to egg him on to apologize to Wife. But Akio doesn’t care about helping his family or his mother. He doesn’t care about the neglectful position she is in. He just wants his video game partner back. It’s so incredibly selfish, that it makes Akio incredibly detestable.
It’s also here, that we learn Hirotaro is a goddamn addict to FF14. He’s sitting in the bar, face staring forward, with empty hands held out. He is mimicking the controller movements, and envisioning fighting a boss with his in-game friends. He is having an actual hallucination.
Hirotaro is having fun, yes, but he is developing horrible habits. He is neglecting his wife and son’s wishes, and Akio is okay with it. In fact, Akio actively enables it. By being present in-game as Maidy, giving him help and encouragement, forcing his friends to help Indy integrate into their party, Akio is working to make sure Hirotaro never leaves. Keep in mind, Indy never played a game since the NES era, so unless his son was there to constantly prevent him from quitting, this addiction wouldn’t have formed.
Oh, but it’s okay! Look at how quirky it is! He neglects his family for people he doesn’t even know!
Okay, quick breather. We need to discuss Akio’s actor. Every character’s acting in Dad of Light is serviceable. They aren’t anything amazing, but they do a convincing job of becoming their characters.
Akio has no charisma whatsoever. His character and actor are both pretty bad, so these quirks just come across as bizarre and uncomfortable. But not as uncomfortable as the in-game cut scenes.
We then cut back to Akio’s workplace, and we find out that two female employees who usually talk constantly are silent. All of the male higher ups are scared of women, and send Akio in to try and diffuse the situation. Of course, he makes it worse, and escalates their fighting. Ha ha. Women are so silly.
Thankfully, Girl approaches them and goes “guys just chill this will sort itself out” and she just walks away. Like I said, she’s kind of the only sane person in this show.
BUT THEN, ONCE SHE SAYS THIS, IT CUTS TO THE NEXT DAY, AND AKIO IS GOING DOWNSTAIRS FOR WORK. HE LOOKS OVER, AND HE SEES HIS PARENTS, MAKING UP, AND KISSING EACH OTHER ON THE CHEEK.
So the actual solution to this problem, was just to wait and avoid it. Let’s not take the healthy option and discuss the relationship issues like adults. Let’s avoid it like cowards too hung up on pride. Pardon me, but that’s a terrible lesson! For any relationship, if you’re scared to talk about anything serious, then it won’t blossom into happiness. Conflict will mount up between the two of you, until it explodes in a tension-filled bomb.
But, oh, it gets worse. I know I sound like a broken record, but I mean it. Wife ends up caving, and takes away the gaming restrictions she previously imposed. This essentially makes the conflict of the episode entirely pointless. It was all going to sort itself out in the end, no matter what. Akio didn’t learn anything. He didn’t get closer to his dad. Hirotaro’s FF14 addiction was just satisfied, because, to quote Wife: “I haven’t seen him have that much fun in years.”
And it’s just, so infuriating. It sends such a terrible message about family relationships. Rather than learn to be open, they reinforce their ideas about being reserved. They regress as characters! And this show is only 8 episodes long! This is halfway through! HOW.
So at this point, the show realizes it hasn’t accomplished anything, so Akio fiends harder to complete his mission and find out why his dad suddenly quit work.
Hirotaro also suddenly takes a break from playing. Their entire goal in FF14 was to get to a high enough level and take down the super boss, Twintania. But all of a sudden, Indy isn’t playing nearly as much.
We then cut to Hirotaro talking to an old business friend about potentially coming back to work for a better company. Hirotaro refuses, much to his friend’s disappointment.
The show at this point grinds to a halt. Not much happens. Besides all of the cringe and funny moments, there is a lot of boring, bland office talk.
One genuinely funny quirk is that Hirotaro uses every possible in-game emote when he talks. It adds a lot of personality to his character, and shows an interesting side of him.
The episode concludes with Hirotaro revealing to Maidy, who is Akio, but he doesn’t know that, that he quit work because of an illness. This causes Akio to freak out, and pressure him to find out more. Indy also calls Maidy “Mayday” which is also humourous.
The final shot of the episode is Hirotaro’s friend narrating a Human Resources document that Hirotaro made for his company. He details that the company needs more unity and they must encourage their employees to be strong through the correct work.
It’s a strong message, but the awkward part, is there’s this epic FF14 boss music playing, and it is interspersed with footage of the group fighting a big boss. They learn teamwork through learning to party properly in FF14. No, I’m not making that up.
Hirotaro reforms an entire company’s employee standards and structure because of lessons he learnt playing a video game for a few months. It just feels so cheesy and awkward.
So Akio knows his dad has an illness, but he wants to find out what that illness is. Akio’s coworkers begin to tell him it could be cancer given the described symptoms, but Akio wants to get down to the case himself. So, to “inspire” Akio, one of his coworkers tells him that he found porn in his father’s room. Instead of being grossed out by this, Akio infers that his dad must keep his deepest secrets in his room, and therefore, what his illness is!
Later on, Hirotaro says he’s going to go for a jog, and then Akio decides its time to stealth with his teenage body into his father’s room…and he finds the dumbest thing ever.
Akio finds a goddamn Final Fantasy 14 Strategy Guide in his dad’s room. But it gets worse. This strategy guide is littered with NOTES. IT IS FULL OF STICKY NOTES, THESE HAVE CLASS ROLES AS NOTES, IT HAS INFORMATION, IT IS FULL OF SMALL MACROS. HE HAS GOTTEN TO THE POINT OF HARDCORE ADDICTION. I DON’T EVEN GET THIS ENTHUSIASTIC WHEN I AM INTO A GAME.
WHY DOES THIS GAME CAPTIVATE HIM SO MUCH.
Then, just, absolutely out of nowhere, Girl magically falls in love with Akio, despite him having the appeal of a wet blanket. They’re one-on-one at a nice restaurant, when it was never established that they met there before. But Girl tries to lay the moves on Akio to invite him to a movie on Sunday.
AND AKIO GETS FLASHES OF FIGHTING TWINTANIA WITH HIS DAD, AND TURNS DOWN WHAT’S LIKELY HIS FIRST DATE EVER TO PLAY VIDEO GAMES WITH HIS FATHER. EVEN I’M NOT THIS CLUELESS. THIS SHOW NEEDS TO STOP PRETENDING THE LOVE FOR THE GAME IS QUIRKY. AKIO HAS SOMEBODY WHO CAN IMPROVE HIS LIFE RIGHT THERE, BUT HE’S LIKE NO. LET ME REINFORCE MY TERRIBLE ADDICTION AND HABITS.
The episode ends with, arguably, one of the most cringe-worthy scenes in this show, and that’s saying something. Akio has to work late, so he pulls up this paper thin laptop that can somehow run FF14 perfectly (Japanese technology or plothole? I don’t know.) Then it goes to a heartfelt reveal from Hirotaro that he has gained the courage to open up to people because of the wonderful friends within FF14. It’s a cute message, right?
Well…this is Dad of Light. And this reveal is done through melodramatic music, and the stilted, uncomfortable in-game models. And it’s just a weird thought, that a 60-year-old man would divulge this information to a stranger online. The in-game models are so inhuman that it takes away from a lot of the drama.
It also doesn’t help that the discussion in the game is interspersed with shots of Akio and Hirotaro crying in front of their Monitors. Like the show is trying to imply that this is a major tear-jerking moment. But…we know nothing about these characters. They connect through FF14, but we never ACTUALLY see any connection. We never see any chemistry between the two. Up until this point, there isn’t really any character development for anybody in this show.
Take the main character, Akio, for example. He should be the most interesting character, as this story revolves around him and his relationship with his father. But, all we know about him, is that he is socially awkward. Even when he gets inspiration to improve, he still remains socially clueless around others. From episode 1 to the final episode, he never changes at all. Any potential character development is brushed aside for “comedic scenes.”
Tonal dissonance is also a major problem for this show. I think the show’s creators realize how strange of a premise this is for a J-Drama, so they interspersed all of the serious conflict with a comedic tinge. That is fine and all, but once the show tries to be genuinely sad and fatalistic, the viewer gets whiplash from it all. I wasn’t ready to take any of this seriously, because the show’s premise and tone implied to never truly take it seriously. It comes across as light fluff that’s meant to distract you at one point, but then a serious piece of art the next. None of it works.
What makes it even more corny, his Hirotaro says that he now has the courage to open up because of his in-game friends. This is a super cheesy trope found in children’s media, and it makes this whole crying scene much less legitimate.
But anyways, Akio returns home, and it is clear that Hirotaro has stomach cancer. The episode then ends with the sad music.
So, Akio’s dad has cancer. What does he do? Spend more time with him before his operation that may fail? Talk to him more in real life?
NOPE. IT IS TIME TO BEAT TWINTANIA IN-GAME. THEY HAVE A 4-DAY DEADLINE TO FINISH TWINTANIA, SO AKIO SPENDS ALL OF HIS FREE TIME PRETENDING IN THE VIDEO GAME INSTEAD OF ACTUALLY, GENUINELY SUPPORTING HIS FATHER IN REAL LIFE.
This then cuts to a completely pointless training montage with real life clips interspersed with the characters in-game doing training poses. It even shows Akio turn down Girl again in the middle of their office space, and when she asks why, Akio yells out “TWINTANIA!”
To which everybody in the office looks at him like a freak, and he runs out of work early.
Then…it cuts to another training montage of all of the characters doing emotes, when, they provide no actual in-game benefit. In fact, they even state that this is the final day to defeat Twintania, so they are effectively wasting time.
AND THEN IT SHOWS THIS “EPIC” MARCH WITH ALL OF THE CHARACTERS WALKING ACROSS A DESERT, IMPLYING THAT THEY ARE TRAVELLING TO TWINTANIA. WHEN, IN REALITY, THEY CAN JUST TELEPORT TO WHERE THEY NEED TO GO. AGAIN, KIND OF JUST WASTING SOME TIME HERE.
Of course, they end up prevailing and defeating Twintania through the power of love and friendship. Maidy decides to forget the facade, and calls Indy “Dad” in-game. Every person they are with does the “surprised” emote, and I got scared.
See, this entire series, I was waiting for when they would try to have the father develop romantic love for Akio’s character. I always figured that Indy would profess love towards Maidy. It didn’t happen, but I thought this was the moment where it might. I thought this was going to turn into some Lana Del Rey “There goes my daddy” garbage. I thought that Indy hearing Daddy would be some creepy romantic role-play.
BUT THANKFULLY THE DAD IS EVEN STUPIDER THAN THAT. HIROTARO GOES: “Dad? Is he somewhere in the game? Hahaha!” When Akio tries to actually reveal it is him, he doesn’t type in the chat “no dumbass, it’s me, Akio.” He just lets it be and laughs it off. Like, what? You finally confessed to your dad, it failed, and you’re fine with letting your identity be ambiguous?
But we then cut to the father in the hospital, walking triumphantly away from his family into the surgery room. He is literally walking into the light. He is now the Dad of Light. DO YOU GET IT?!?!?!?
But then it cuts to one year later. The atmosphere is silent and somber. Akio is still playing Maidy, and then his mom walks in. She is silent and stoic, until she eventually breaks into tears. And you think “Oh my gosh, did it fail? Is the dad dead?”
AND THEN 3 SECONDS LATER, HIROTARO WALKS INTO THE ROOM. HE ASKS WHY WIFE IS CRYING. AND AKIO SAYS IT IS BECAUSE A J-DRAMA START SHE LIKES GOT ENGAGED. THEY PULLED THE LAZIEST, POSSIBLE FAKE-OUT IMAGINABLE.
The show ends with the father and son reunited play final fantasy together again, and Wife looks at them smiling, when she should realistically be pissed at them.
So you’re probably asking, how can there be an episode #8? That sounded like a definitive conclusion. And, I was asking the same question, until Netflix autoplayed the final episode for me. This episode was titled the “Special Episode,” and I was curious…
and it turned into an ad for FF14. I mean, the whole show was, but now it isn’t even hiding it. The final episode is a series of in-game cutscenes detailing the lore and history of the world. It’s acting like “OH, NOW YOU LOVE FF14 RIGHT? IT’S GREAT ESCAPISM. HERE, LEARN MORE ABOUT THE WORLD SO YOU HAVE SOME BASELINE UNDERSTANDING BEFORE YOU BEGIN PLAYING. BECAUSE YOU’RE DEFINITELY GOING TO PLAY, RIGHT?”
This show preys on human empathy by relating positive emotions to FF14. It’s a deceptive marketing tactic. It isn’t about what the game does for you. but about how it makes you feel. Dad of Light associates a heartwarming community and healthy relationships with a video game. And now it informs the viewer, who they hope is sucked into the narrative, to buy their monthly service. Buy our monthly addiction.
I made it 5 minutes into this episode before just shutting it off. Any pretense of wholesomeness was shattered. It was just another soulless product to please the advertisers. It was just another TV show.
And look, FF14 is a good game. Dad of Light does shw a lot of cool things in the game…but it is just propaganda. This is a product placement show. It’s a soap opera designed to sell a product.
The show displays highlights of FF14, and only that. They are at least being unapologetic with the graphics of the game, but they present it as a place for only epic team moments and unity. FF14 is shown as a paradise abstained from negative human emotion and desire. It’s like heaven in digital form, and that isn’t true. Every MMO community has horrible people, regardless of how it is painted. This show makes FF14 look TOO good.
Furthermore, the concept of bonding through play is endearing and it is very true. A lot of friendships can be formed via video games. But, the father and son are addicts, and their addiction is painted as humourous. The show treats their obsession with this video game as normal. Rather than being punished, they are rewarded with a healthy relationship. It sends a backwards message that isn’t good for anybody. It tells people to play video games to escape their problems, because you might have the off chance that the person you have tension with is also playing the same video game as you. It makes zero sense.
ANYWAYS FINAL VERDICT: 4/10. TAKE ALL LESSONS OF APATHY AND ADDICTION AND FORGET ABOUT THEM. FF14 IS KING. ALL HAIL TWINTANIA.
If you saw my previous review of Bloodborne, you’d know that I hated my initial playthrough. That’s because I had no idea what the hell was going on when the game acted like I needed to know everything. Every conversation was cryptic, every environment was dripping with convoluted item descriptions, and the game’s environment rapidly shifted between juxtaposing tones. It was a confusing mess.
It also didn’t help that the game was obscenely hard and punishing. Constant deaths and lost progress are not a good combo to encourage replayability. I wasn’t seeing the appeal of this game. I watched lore videos online, which were definitely informative (shoutouts to VaatiVidya) but I feel like I shouldn’t have to do external research to actually enjoy a game’s content. It isn’t school.
But then I picked the game up again, 6 months later. I knew the environments, used different weapons, and became attuned to them. The experience was actually fun!
But I still didn’t know what was going on. The game’s lore and story were lost on me, and the lack of easily understood exposition bugged me.
But then I found Upper Cathedral Ward. And the experience of exploring this level was like finally answering a thousand-year-old philosophical postulation. I became woke, as the youth of America say.
See, Upper Cathedral Ward is an optional area in Bloodborne. You never need to visit it. But, if you find the key in:
Y A H A R ‘ G U L T H E U N S E E N V I L L A G E, which is a village that is easily viewable from any point in the city. Solid name guys.
you can then open a thick, locked door that was mocking you for the last 10 hours of gameplay. This door with its, stoicism, apathy, and general door-ness. You open that door, finally, slowly, and through the cracks of the separating doors, you see this image:
A terrace, with a strange creature in the right corner, trying to climb the terrace fence. This creature, resembles an engorged fetus. Okay.
Immediately, the first creature you see is different from any of the werewolves, infected villagers, and zombies you’ve seen before. This looks…mournful. It doesn’t attack you at all unless you provoke it. It just seems like it wants to escape its cage, but can’t, due to its physical abnormalities.
These enemies are called Celestial Larvae, and, even killing them doesn’t provide much of a reward. Their presence is the antithesis to all previous, aggressive enemies you’ve encountered. It’s a stark, deliberate contrast, that captures the attention.
After you meet this creature, you take a staircase upwards to your left, and find a cobblestone bridge. On this bridge are two of these lovely folks:
waiting to give you a nightly greeting and prayer. What’s interesting about these guys, is, they are enemies from much earlier in the game. They wander Cathedral Ward (regular Cathedral Ward, not upper) attempting to attack the player if they walk by. Earlier in the game, you also hear rumblings of the Healing Church, one of the biggest influencers of Yharnam, being split into three sects of power. Upper Cathedral Ward contains a group called “The Choir,” which attempted to communicate with the gods above. They wanted to study them and harness their power, to become gods themselves.
These Church Servants are the only humans you see in Upper Cathedral Ward, so seeing them previously mingling in the lower portions of Cathedral Ward, immediately signifies to the player, that their mission likely failed. They aren’t better than any other human. They are equally deranged as the monsters who attack the player. It’s the first bit of environmental storytelling in Bloodborne that resonated with me. Without saying a word, I pieced together a story bit all on my own, and I felt proud for it.
As you read further into this article, you will learn that Upper Cathedral Ward is one of gaming’s best examples of having so much revealed to you through doing so little. This environment doesn’t have the best boss or enemies. In fact, it has very few opponents. It isn’t very long either, as it will probably take an average player about 30 minutes to complete the area. But the small environmental touches it does use to highlight the methods of the Choir, the loftiness of their dream, and the final punchline of the area, are what makes it so special.
After the bridge blokes are slain, you cross, and come across a massive, opulent gate. Around the gate, are slithering Celestial Larvae. These can be inferred as Choir members who attempted to reach godhood, but just became monstrous husks.
I think the fact that they do not provide much experience upon death also contributes to their narrative of failure. They’re fodder for you at this point, and while they may have been formidable fighters in their time before transformation, they threw away everything in their life for a lofty dream. It is somewhat admirable, and incredibly tragic.
After slaughtering the fetus friends, you book it up another staircase to the interior of a large manor, and the indulgences of The Choir become apparent to the player. While Yharnam, the previously area in the game you explored before has Gothic architecture, Upper Cathedral Ward has a fairly standard mansion with red carpets, chandeliers, and fine bedding.
This environmental change marks a tonal change through environmental storytelling. The world you knew, the city you knew, was not as it seemed. It is multi-faceted, it has hierarchies, and maybe, with the knowledge they gained from the gods, The Choir forwent the Gothic aesthetic for something more practical. But, that’s just wild speculation.
After some further exploration around the massive halls, you eventually open a door that leads to another terrace overlooking Yharnam. And you see this:
Surrounded by alien stone architecture, you see a fleshy skeleton-like figure, posing ominously. This pose is an attempt to make contact with the gods above. It’s a haunting image, because it shows that, even the act of communication has horrible ramifications on an individual. It shows that humans cannot escape their mortal shells and become anything greater than their physical capabilities. It’s either you fight during the hunt and live in the terrible, disease-riddled Yharnam, or die, attempting to achieve greater meaning in life.
It also gives you a glimpse of the player’s futility in this world. The entire game, the player has been building up strength and becoming a super powerful hunter. But seeing this? Seeing that, even attempting to converse with higher beings reverts you to this husk? Seeing The Choir members previously attempt to talk with the gods and becoming horrific monstrosities is chilling. You know that there is an almighty power above you, and you can never stop it. It will always have influence and greater power than you, no matter what. Maybe it influences your decisions. Maybe it grasps causality as well, and maybe, in the end, there is no meaning in life.
I mean, there’s no meaning in life for the Celestial Emissary. This is the stupidest boss in the game. It’s literally just a bigger version of the enemies around it.
But don’t worry, this isn’t how Upper Cathedral Ward ends, not at all. Because, if you break the window in the arena for the Celestial Emissary, you find that there is a little more to this area.
In the hallway after breaking the window, you find a dead Choir member holding a spell called, “A Call Beyond.” Here is the description of that item. Try to read it in the most over-the-top, Victorian way possible for maximum Bloodborne experience:
“One of the secret rites of the Choir. Long ago, the Healing Church used phantasms to reach a lofty plane of darkness, but failed to make contact with the outer reaches of the cosmos. The rite failed to achieve its intended purpose, but instead created a small exploding star, now a powerful part of the Choir’s arsenal. At times, failure is the mother of invention.”
If you didn’t understand that Bloodborne-ese (not many people do, it’s an archaeic language), this spell is a result of the Choir attempting to reach another plane of existence. It also highlights the nihilistic themes present in the game. That, regardless of your efforts, you cannot escape your position. The best The Choir could muster is an exploding star spell, which is a goal that they never wanted. What makes matters worse, is this is the hardest spell to cast in the game. An exploding star is the best magical ability that humans can hope to muster. An explosion spell is the best humanity can do.
Further into the depths, you find a ladder, that takes you underground.
AND IT IS HERE, THAT YOU FIND THE FINAL PIECE AND GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT OF THE CHOIR, AND ARGUABLY, HUMANITY:
A big, gloopy, tentacle monster. Wow. really making major scientific breakthroughs Yharnam. This is the best we’ve got?
This creature is called Ebreitas, Daughter of The Cosmos. It is the method The Choir uses to communicate with the gods, called The Great Ones. They have this creature chained up and tormented here. It is just lost in the physical realm, and cannot return to its place of origin. It’s pretty depressing.
Ebreitas’ presence also makes light of a previous spell in the game called the “Augur of Ebreitas.” This spell is laughable, but it is literally you turning your arm into a tentacle, and flailing it. It’s nothing special. It further represents the theme that mankind are just physical shells, and that access to arcane, eldritch magic is such a lofty, terrifying goal. Like, people train their entire lives, to turn their arm into a tentacle.
But Ebreitas’ mere presence also shows the limitations of humanity. Humans cannot comprehend what The Great Ones are saying, and thus, gain all their knowledge through dissecting Ebreitas and subjecting her to torment. Perhaps it was Ebreitas who turned all those Choir members into slugs at the beginning, but, that’s also wild speculation.
The fight with Ebreitas is also fairly unique. It’s one of the few bosses who attacks using arcane magic with light limb flailing. Most bosses in Bloodborne only flail their limbs, and you roll away from those crazy arms. Ebreitas saunters around, not really flailing. I appreciate that.
The arena is also beautiful compared to other locations. It has a blue hue to it, which juxtaposes the colour red, that represents the beasts previously seen in the game. It shows that, the cosmic beings you fight in the later portion of the game are vastly different from the first half. Using a subtle colour hint, it signifies the shifting tone that you experience.
Once you beat Ebreitas, you’re left with a feeling of revelation. You learn what humanity is capable of. You learn a lot about the mysterious events preceding the game, and you gain more insight into the world. And all of this is done using level design. Not a single spoken word conveys this information to you. And, to me, that makes Upper Cathedral Ward one of the best levels in video games.
I mean, to me at least. Some people think it’s just a building.
WARNING: THERE WILL BE IMAGES OF GORE AND NUDITY. THAT IS THE NATURE OF THIS MANGA. THERE WILL ALSO BE FULL SPOILERS FOR A LOT OF MAJOR STORY EVENTS. THESE DO NOT RUIN THE READING EXPERIENCE, BUT IF YOU ARE BOTHERED BY THIS, THEN PLEASE READ THIS ARTICLE ANOTHER TIME.
I have recently completed every available chapter in the gargantuan manga series: Berserk. As evidenced by my unhealthy bingeing, I loved the series. But, of course, it has its faults. People have gushed about how much they love the series, but I want to talk about the aspects of it that bothered me. I want to talk about what I cannot justify or defend.
So sit back, ready your pitchforks, and be ready to debate against everything I say, because these are the things I did NOT like about Berserk.
1.) Edgelord Shock Value
Gore and Nudity are abound in Berserk, but these superficial aspects are not what engage people in a story. These factors act as a quick, easily explainable reason to call the manga “dark” and “adult”, while missing the heart and soul of the series. I doubt people have spent hours reading a story because of gore, and if they wanted that, they could find that in the SAW movies, or any other red-coloured fluff.
The heart of Berserk is its characters, themes, and conflicts. The conflict and duality between Guts and Griffith is the driving force for the story. The public’s perception of Griffith as an angelic hero who erected the holiest city known to man via magic, and opened his doors to anybody is seen as a god-like figure to the world, whereas Guts, who is constantly hounded by demons and other monsters, often receives little recognition or credit for his actions. You can write a whole essay just on the masses of people in Berserk, and the consequences of the two main characters’ actions.
People don’t enjoy the visuals of Berserk because of be-headings or intestines, they enjoy the minutia of character expressions from the wonderfully talented artist, Kentaro Miura. Miura can illustrate lush forests and desolate ruins. He can create hellish landscapes full of dead bodies, blood, and demons, but also the purity of a child’s smile. Berserk’s world is not one that is hopeless. There are strong individuals who live peaceful lives within the world of Berserk (I could not find an official name for it.)
But, the temptation to tell people that a series is coated in blood and gore is tempting. It’s like a prideful ritual, in which you proclaim your badassery for having read something so hardcore. There is the presumption that gratuitous imagery is “adult”, and it transforms people as wiser individuals for experiencing it.
However, in my opinion, gore, nudity, and shock value for the sake of being edgy, is the laziest, most childish way to garner attention. Sansa’s rape scene in season 5 of Game of Thrones is an egregious example of what I mean. It did not fit thematically with the story or her character progression. It simply existed for BuzzFeed headlines.
Berserk is, unfortunately, guilty of this edgelord shock value. It often plays into that identity of being known for being dark and blood-soaked. Because of this, there are unfortunately many story events that feel like over-the-top, gory, filler.
The biggest offender of this is the Trolls that appeared for, almost an entire volume. Long story short, Trolls kidnap women of the local village, Enoch, and murder anybody who gets in their way. In their hunt for trolls, two main characters, Casca and Farnese, get lost in the forest, and witness a few trolls raping the female inhabitants of the village. The female inhabitants then have their stomachs explode, giving birth to baby trolls.
This section is completely unnecessary, and I would honestly classify it as filler. The only thing that comes out of this mini-arc, is the reader becomes slightly more educated on how magic works in the world of Berserk, but, nothing else.
Another pointless example of shock value is when the group goes to a small village of faeries, and they begin engaging in “human activities.” To them, this means killing, burning, murdering each other and doing generally horrible things. This is completely unnecessary as well, as the activity they were doing previously was already unnerving. The concept of mimicking human activity already fell into the uncanny valley, and it didn’t need elaboration. This was here to mortify the reader, and nothing else.
Berserk as a whole uses its violence as a way to characterize its world. Keep in mind, these examples I’ve listed are outliers to the manga’s use of blood and gore, but they are important to bring up. As a story goes on, these stories usually try to one-up with something more obnoxiously edgy for the sake of meeting some imaginary quota. If the tone of the story changes to being more fantastical like Berserk has become, then focusing on slaying creatures and protecting people is what is important now. I’m fine with nudity and rape in a narrative if it feels appropriate and impacts the story and setting meaningfully.
I believe the Conviction Arc uses religious violence incredibly well, and works as a great reflection on religiously motivated terrorism. The gore and horrific imagery in torture chambers, and the mass plague ritual still resonate in my mind and leave me rattled. But, that was the intention. It was to make you feel uncomfortable for a story’s sake. It was to make you despise the new villain of that arc, Father Mozgus, and feel conflicted when that same murderous monster is shown engaging in acts of kindness. It makes you feel ambivalent. It is morality that is found in some of the greatest stories penned in the history of fiction.
My gripes with Berserk’s violence only apply when the story utilizes it for needless “stake raising,” or to appeal to the younger audience who believes more blood = more maturity. I just wanted to highlight that this fantastic series is guilty of this as well.
2.) Meandering Pace
So as a typical fanboy, I believe the Golden Age Arc to be the superior story arc when compared to the rest in Berserk. It has the most deliberate and intricate storytelling, and it ends on a phenomenal note that sets up the central conflict for the rest of the series. Griffith betrays Guts and his friends, rapes Casca, a woman who once loved him, and destroys her mind for good measure.
Then the story goes to random places. Guts, after surviving the mass slaughter of his comrades, swears to get revenge on Griffith and restore Casca’s sanity. But, Guts then abandons Casca to kill Apostles, which are demons who were once human. He goes and kills a bunch, but returns to the house Casca was staying at, to find out she has gone somewhere else. this is the beginning of the Conviction Arc. Guts is (rightfully) berated for this decision by the blacksmith who’s house he was staying at, and now he searches for Casca again.
As much as I love The Conviction Arc, and as much as it builds the world of Berserk by showing different factions and the religious politics of it all, it does feel somewhat unnecessary. All it forwards is the resurrection of Griffith into the Physical World after he become a member of the God Hand, but even that did not have sufficient build-up.
There is also the next arc after this one, which is called the:
F A L C O N O F T H E M I L L E N N I U M E M P I R E A R C
This arc is all about Guts wanting revenge on Griffith, but realizes that the dude is literally an assistant of God, and cannot be harmed by physical means. He then forgets about that goal, and focuses on restoring Casca’s mind. It is only then, that Puck, an elf that accompanies Guts, tells him that his queen can restore Casca’s mind…even though Puck had been with Guts ever since he went on that emo-loner journey and never thought to bring it up.
How long does it take them to find a boat to go to this island? About, 10 volumes or so until they ride a boat to Elfhelm.
But that’s not all! Once they boarded the boat, that is when the series decided to have major hiatus’. Now, I personally was not there to experience the pain of the “boat arc,” but according to the Berserk Hiatus chart, the main crew were on this boat for roughly 5 real-life years before readers saw them reach their destination. The fight with the sea god was very entertaining and intense, but it lasts almost an entire volume, and if it were cut from the story, not much would change.
I felt like more time could be spent during the F A L C O N O F T H E M I L L E N N I U M E M P I R E A R C developing Griffith’s conquest of Midland. His dynamic of being an incredibly overpowered monster who gracefully defeats all opponents in his path is pretty interesting, because not every character in his band are terrible people. The apostles he employs aren’t just demonic creatures bent on feasting on humans, but they have emotional needs and compassion.
Nosferatu Zodd is a horrible person, but he is also an interesting character with a strong internal conflict and suspenseful motivation. There are lots of little touches that work to build the world and make the experience more engaging and immersive, but there is, at least to me, a bit too much edgy black swordsman-dude swinging a big sword at everything.
3.) Mistreatment of Farnese and Isidro
Farnese De Vandimion (Yes, I had to look this up) is introduced in the third major arc of Berserk, The Conviction Arc. She is the most interesting character to come out of this story. She is a noblewoman who was forced to lead a prestigious group of religious knights, called the Holy Iron Chain Knights, or HICK’s, if you want an abbreviation. She was called to this because tradition dictates that a woman must lead, regardless of past expertise. Farnese was selected against her will by her father, as her noble family were major financial supporters of the Holy See, and thus, wanted more prestige within their family.
Farnese was a victim of emotional and mental abuse. Everytime she would show emotions such as lust, desire, greed, or anything seen as “sinful” in the eyes of the Holy See, her father would force her to repress those emotions. This led Farnese to have an obsession with fire, as she believed it was the only way to purify and cleanse anything. She burnt her house down, burnt property, and even engaged in burning heretics alive. Like I said, this arc has a lot of gruesome imagery. Religious killings make me queasy and enraged, what can I say.
A potent example of her repressed sexual urges come when she is possessed by demonic spirits around Guts. This puts her into a delirious trance, and she begins to engage in intercourse with Guts’ massive sword, Dragonslayer. I’m not making this up.
It’s a disturbing image, but a powerful scene. It isn’t just W0AH DIZ MANGA IS EFFED UP!!!!! It hyperbolizes her inner feelings by bringing forth her repressed emotions via physical violence. She takes her complex emotions and translates them into physical pain. She explains complicated mental thoughts into a sensation, regardless of how unpleasant it is.
She was never enamored with the Holy See, and she even realizes the horrid acts she has committed as a child, and as a representative of the Holy See. She understands her privilege compared to the impoverished peasants of Berserk, and wants to do better for the world. By meeting Guts, she realizes how minuscule and selfish her world view is, and she desires to broaden her perspective on life, its beauty, its depravity, and its horror.
But, after she cuts her hair in an act of symbolic defiance and renewed identity, her complexity disappears, and you realize, as a character, she does not have much personality. My favourite part about her are her complex emotions and history, but when I consider who she is as a person, and how her mannerisms are compared to the rest of Guts’ group, she is easily the most bland character.
In the F A L C O N O F T H E M I L L E N N I U M E M P I R E A R C, she goes through another minor character arc of inadequacy when compared to Guts’ companions, and that is about all the development she receives. She visits her family again and there is an interesting dynamic there, but we as readers do not see her grow or develop into her own person. I can describe Casca as fierce, determined, but also socially awkward and loving of those close to her. I can describe Schiercke as somewhat prideful, but also innocent and wise. Farnese is bland.
In the second half of the manga series, Farnese’s most notable feat is being able to keep Casca calm and contained. She is a sidekick to a much more interesting character.
One may ask why I do not complain about how Casca’s character was viciously changed. There is a fundamental reason why Casca going from a strong woman to a braindead plot device does not bother me: Casca went through the most traumatic experience imaginable, and she had her mind broken because of it. Would you be fine if you saw everyone you ever loved eaten by demons in front of you, stripped by said demons, and then raped TWICE by them? She isn’t herself anymore because of a major story event, and her broken mentality is a major driving force for the narrative.
Rather than blossom into a fascinating character, she is mistreated, and turned into a bland girl who fantasizes about how Guts is such a cool dude.
Another character I didn’t care much for, and one I feel that has wasted potential is Isidro. In terms of backstory, Isidro is about as generic as you can get: he is a child who felt out of place at home, and left his parents in search of adventure. I actually don’t mind this backstory, as not every character has to be incredibly complex. He’s a nice relief to the other characters of Berserk.
His problem is similar to Farnese’s, in that he rarely grows or matures. Rather than blossoming into a responsible man, he stays as a short-tempered, comic relief character. His combat ability grows, but that doesn’t really matter to a story. In his defense though, he starts from nothing, and does become a reliable, competent member of Guts’ companions. But there is almost nothing to him, other than being a frequent punchline for jokes.
I feel that Isidro could have been an interesting insight into the common folk in Berserk. You don’t see much of the peasants, so having Isidro there could be a chance for stories of regular life, its mundanities, and its pleasures. But, Isidro never reveals anything personal, and he is always present, but you rarely notice him. He’s often in the back joking or being antagonized by Puck, and I feel he could be so much more.
My section on Isidro is much shorter than Farnese’s because, despite being in 200+ chapters of the story, there really isn’t much to this character, which, is a shame.
4.) Weak World
When I think of the best fantasy worlds, I think of worlds like The Continent from The Witcher, Forgotten Realms, New Vegas in Fallout New Vegas, Auldrant in Tales of the Abyss, and Arcadia in Skies of Arcadia. These places are all unique, have believable people and systems in place, and they all include memorable set pieces and locations. They have great lore and history as well, and laws of nature that govern its politics, magic, and conflicts. In short, great worlds feel lived-in.
Berserk, while excelling in some of these factors, is definitely lacking in others. Let’s run down the factors I just listed, and see how Berserk holds itself up. Yes, this will be a sub-list in an article which is a list. This is 2017, people.
Some concepts endemic to Berserk are fantastic, while others are fairly generic. The Behelit, to me, is the most interesting artifact in the world of Berserk. When a person has desires strong enough, or they are brought to their absolute breaking point, they can activate the Behelit.
Doing so will give you the option to sacrifice the people in your life closest to you and become an apostle: half-demon, half-human. This is a symbolic gesture of ridding yourself of human love and happiness, and embracing your inner depravity. It is one of the most terrifying and fascinating artifacts in fiction.
But, other than the Behelit, there aren’t many aspects of Berserk’s world that differentiate it from any other fantasy setting. Which, admittedly, is absurdly difficult to do, given the glut of fantasy settings in the written sphere. A lot of Berserk’s creatures are taken from religions, folklore, or other settings and given a unique twist, but not unique enough to outdo the competition.
Although, the design for a lot of the apostles and horrific creatures in Berserk are very detailed. No two creatures look the same, and that takes an incredible level of talent, regardless of the production.
I love the commoner’s and peasants in Berserk. They are realistic and believable for a setting full of pillaging, murder, and rape. They search for any quick solution to their problem. In an impoverished setting, it makes sense why a villager would become enamored with faith. It makes sense that the starving parent sells their child into slavery, regardless of how horrendous that act is. It makes sense that the plague infested citizens view Mozgus as a god, when they see him sprout wings and fly, telling them to burn Casca.
Unfortunately, civilians in Berserk very rarely offer any world-building information. They are there to further the plot, and that’s a bit of a shame. Insight into the world of the everyman is, at least I believe, integral to building a powerful world. I love Fallout New Vegas, because it feels like everybody has a place there, regardless of how mundane it is. You meet hunters, farmers, and people trying to attain power.
Don’t get me wrong though, the named characters in Berserk are always interesting. They have motivations, personality, and goals to uphold. Overall though, the individuals in Berserk’s world are great.
This is where the world of Berserk begins to fall flat. None of the locations or warring nations in Berserk are very interesting. Other than the first arc, the Golden Age Arc, there is little exploration of the politics of kingdoms. Berserk is more so about adventures and conquering. It is more akin to Dungeons and Dragons, than it is Game of Thrones, despite its superficial similarities to Thrones.
But, aside from the gorgeous imagery, the world of Berserk doesn’t feel genuine. It just feels like a series of generic fantasy locations. Travel and conquest doesn’t matter if you don’t care for any place, or really know anything about it. I don’t know where a place like Midland is in relation to the Kushan Empire. I don’t know where Doldrey Castle is. I don’t know where Elfhelm is. There is no map, and you very rarely get any directions anywhere. It just feels like a lot of loose locations hardly strewn together with any cohesion, and it takes you out of the story. By having the locations of Berserk feel disconnected, the world feels fake and fabricated.
Again, all of the locations are illustrated beautifully, but few of them are memorable or striking. None of them have unique quirks or spectacular designs. I can’t tell you the difference between any country or castle.
It’s also damning that it feels like the world just has countries appear out of nowhere. The Holy See, for example, was never mentioned once before the conviction arc, and many years of story took place during that time. It especially seems off, since characters from Midland reference The Holy See in the Conviction Arc, which is strange, because it appears that the religious authority holds massive power over nobles. There is no concrete system, and the political climate seems to change rapidly off-screen. The politics of Berserk adapt conveniently to fit the narrative, and it just feels sloppy.
Lore and History
There is almost no lore or history in Berserk. Other than a few text boxes describing the past of certain items or events, there is hardly anything. This is tragically a problem with the manga medium, as almost all of its story is conveyed through dialogue, and not walls of text, but a lack of history does not give Berserk’s world an identity. Berserk focuses more on the present, and history is made through characters’ actions. This unfortunately does not lend Berserk’s superficial medieval fantasy setting any advantage other than hellish monsters.
Laws of Nature
This category is kind of vague, but it is the physics, chemistry, and natural qualities of a world that help give it an identity. I genuinely enjoy the concept of magic in Berserk. Having a magic system that neccessitates preparation and extensive knowledge makes it seem so important, and allows spells to feel important.
Berserk has some fairly strong supernatural elements, but doesn’t do anything more complicated with them other than present them as fodder for Guts to swing his big sword at. Characters with magical abilities are also present, and the anime aesthetic lends itself to being more fantastical. But, like the world of Berserk, magic abilities seem to come to random characters completely unexplained.
The separation of planes of reality is slightly interesting, but it has been done in many fantasy settings before. Berserk does not try to expand on these concepts or innovate them, but rather, constrains its narrative by following them.
5.) Yugioh Battle Discussions
This one personally bothers me, but I feel there are too many Guts vs. any opponent scenes. My favourite battles are those where there are multiple participants, or those which have a lot of strategy behind them. Guts fight scenes are always over with him crushing his opponents with a few swings. There aren’t any memorable fights, but that’s okay, because Berserk isn’t about the individual battles. Combat is a means to an end to progress the story. Combat itself, does a wonderful job, in telling stories.
What bothers me, is when Guts has his fight scenes with any opponent, his motley crew are always on the side, gawking and providing commentary. It seems a little out-of-place for Berserk, and takes away a lot of tension from battle scenes. Having Guts swing a sword, and then a cutting to a character commenting on how well he swung that sword, doesn’t really feel necessary to me.
To clarify, I am not condoning reaction shots from characters. A lot of powerful moments are amplified when it cuts to characters being shocked about the strength of an attack. It lets the reader know that what they are seeing is not normal, and it keeps fights intense and exciting.
It feels odd that this happens a lot, because it invalidates a lot of Berserk’s side characters by forcing them to remain on the sidelines. Rather than participate and gain their own moments of glory, they are relegated to cheering on the main character man do his thing. It feels like wish-fulfillment for the reader. It’s a cheap and lazy tactic for the reader to cheer on Guts and feel like they too, are the super badass man XD.
Harem anime is the most basic, fanservice thing you can do. Make a male main character, and every girl loves him and wants to be with him for some reason. I’d be guilty in saying I don’t indulge in it. Persona 5’s confidant system enables you to develop a harem, there is no way around it.
But when a harem forms in a story that takes itself really seriously, it becomes extra noticable. Berserk has a lot of anime elements, but it doesn’t contain many cliches. The aforementioned YuGiOh battle cries in the background are one of them, and the harem is another.
Having Farnese and Shiercke develop crushes on Guts seems weird and out of place. I can understand Shiercke liking Guts because he shows her kindness when others barely did, but Farnese’s affection seems to appear out of nowhere.
Guts pretty much dismantles Farnese’s entire worldview, kidnaps her and uses her as ransom to escape the Holy See, and shows pretty much no care for her. He isn’t mean or dismissive of her, but he just does not seem to love her at all.
Shiercke’s affection could add a lot to her charcter if she was balancing her innocent kindness, adolescent crush, and respect for Guts. It would be a fascinating look into complex emotions of adoration and love that human beings, especially tumultuous teenagers, experience. But, it gets relegated to “she wants his big muscles.”
What makes it even more frustrating, is Guts clearly loves Casca. So much of the manga is spent developing their relationship, so the harem is ultimately pointless. Shiercke and Farnese won’t win Guts’ affection, and if they did, it would undermine the entire purpose of Guts’ journey. It would hurt the story if Guts stopped loving Casca and loved the others.
The harem also plays into the pointless and childish wish fulfillment method of making Guts seem like a better character. It allows the reader to think “Ooh! Since i impose myself onto big sword man, all ladies love me too!” It’s a superficial manipulation tactic, and it cheapens the story.
It ESPECIALLY hurts Farnese, because it takes away the strong character she was, and just becomes a token of affection for Guts. She becomes a friendzoned trophy wife, and it’s just childish.
BIG OL’ WRAP UP
I know it sounds like I hate Berserk, but that’s the opposite of the truth. I adore this series, and I would give it an 9/10. The issues I listed above don’t ruin the series, but prevent it from becoming that perfect 10 that it could be. But, the series isn’t over yet so maybe these issues can be rectified. Maybe there can be a bonus edition of the series that details the world, its lore, and its natural systems. Maybe now that Farnese and Shiercke know that Casca and Guts were intimate in the past, they will ditch their unrequited love and become stronger individual characters.
I wanted to highlight what I viewed as worthy criticism for this manga, as people continuously call it a perfect 10/10. It’s easy to get complacent and ignore issues as the story goes on. There are so many other factors that make me love this series, and I will continue to folow it until the day I die. Because it will probably take 50 years to actually end.