Hello again, readers! It’s been some time, but we have the second-to-last entry in the Final Fantasy Archetypes series: the Pipsqueak.
“Youth is wasted on the young.” Typically, this phrase is meant to express how the physical capabilities and opportunities of youth are squandered, due to the immaturity of one’s early years. The phrase applies well to one of Final Fantasy’s favorite archetypes—the Pipsqueak—but only after a slight reinterpretation. One could say youth is wasted on the kids who fit into this archetype, but not because they are juvenile. Quite the opposite, in fact—they are so anxious of the present and concerned for the future that they don’t actually act like kids, and can be their party’s number one downer. The purpose of their journey, then, is to learn how to conquer their fears—and to realize that maybe being a kid isn’t so bad. Characters who fit into this archetype include Red XIII (FFVII), Vivi (FFIX), and Hope (FFXIII). Other examples include Gau (FFVI) and, by some degrees, Vaan and Larsa (FFXII).
Editor’s Note: Sorry for the hiatus, dear readers, things have been quite busy and exciting on this end. Hopefully this essay will be enjoyable enough to make up for it.
Empress Jessamine Kaldwin dies ten minutes into Dishonored. It’s not a spoiler or a surprise—her death is stated blatantly in the game’s promotional material, and it is her demise that jettisons main character Corvo into his journey for revenge. One might say her death is the most important thing about her, and that she exists solely to affect the emotions of the hero. Such a state is both unfortunate and so common in pop culture that it has its own name: fridging, wherein a character close to the protagonist is brutally done away in order to propel the hero into action. The trope has come under heavy fire in recent years, as fridged characters (often attractive love interests) are inherently devalued and shown to only be important in terms of how the protagonist reacts to them. The only difference between a fridged characters and a sexy lamp is that a dead human usually prompts greater sympathy from the audience.
By virtue of her demise catalyzing the plot, it has been suggested that the Empress is a textbook case of fridging, and she is ultimately a prop in Corvo’s story. However, there is another argument to be made here: while Jessamine’s death does indisputably get the ball rolling, that’s not where her story ends, and the game knows it. In its handling of Jessamine Kaldwin, Dishonored dodges the fridging trope by giving her power and importance that are widely felt and subsist long after her death.
All right, folks, the tale of Bioshock Infinite is nearing an end—Burial at Sea: Part 2 drops today, likely with a twist to throw us for a loop, and that’ll end this piece of this infinite story. In honor of that I’ve got a Bioshock Infinite essay about the DeWitt-Comstock-Elizabeth conflict, through an analogy that Burial at Sea signed and sealed.
Bioshock Infinite deals with some heavy themes, from racism and child abuse to despotism and fate. Not the least among these ideas is the concept of religion as a force for corruption, but in truth no one religion is really focused on. The game’s Christian themes aren’t themselves a source for critique but a foundation on which Columbia’s cultish religion is based, extracting iconic elements such as baptism and the miracle birth without addressing the scriptures themselves. For the most part this approach is fine—it highlights that the issue with religion isn’t faith itself, but the way in which it can be used as a vehicle for manipulation. This idea is relatively consistent with how religion is addressed in other Bioshock games, and the comparison still gives Infinite room to make a clear point about radicalism. Deeper Christian themes, while sometimes enriching to the game’s world, aren’t essential to what Infinite is trying to say.
However, there one exception—one Biblical story that has noticeable parallels in Infinite that enhance the game’s narrative while presenting new and fascinating possibilities for both. That would be the Judgment of Solomon (or “Solomon and the Baby”) in the Old Testament (Kings 3:16 – 3:28).
For those who don’t know the story (which can be read in its entirety here in a variety of translations, though this essay will focus on the King James version), it goes like this:
It’s Saint Patrick’s Day (for another hour or so, at least), and I hope everyone’s had their fill of shamrocks, pots of gold, excessive boozing and iffy Irish stereotypes by now. This time of year we usually look to gaming’s most prominent Gaelic protagonists—the McRearys, Colin Moriarty and Irish from Red Dead Redemption haven’t gotten much attention since last year—to help ring in the drinking, but what about lesser known Irish inspirations? The sort that sneak into your favorite games where you might have missed them entirely? Well, I’ve got a frothing glass of them for you right here: 6 cool things from Irish history, folklore, music and programming that have slipped into and enriched our favorite games. Sit down, have a listen–the Leprechauns won’t leave you behind.
Is anybody tired of Bioshock yet? If so, you’re probably at the wrong blog—any day now I’ll be installing a giant flickering header that reads Bioshock Thoughts, let me show you them.
With Burial at Sea: Part 1 two weeks since released (and shocking, horrifying, and confusing players all the while), it seems like the new Bioshock installment is creating more questions than it’s answering, and sometimes we’re not sure which is which. In light of that, I’m going to do something a bit different here and throw down a nitty-gritty analysis of this DLC—what we know, what we think we might know, and what we definitely don’t. As a bonus, let’s take a look at how assertions previously made on Oracle Turret regarding Bioshock Infinite stand up to this new addition to the story, and what should terrify us going into Part 2.
During the final two levels of Bioshock, as player character Jack traverses the halls of Point Prometheus and the Proving Grounds, there is a notable shift in the game’s focus: where once it was about destroying the heinous dictator Andrew Ryan, everything suddenly becomes about the Little Sisters. Jack’s journey through Rapture concludes with a series of events that change the little girls from notable side-quest to characters of literally game-changing importance. Saving or killing the Little Sisters—the one decision Jack is truly able to make for himself—comes to define his character, effectively structuring his personality and determining if he is a hero or a villain.
With the release of Bioshock 2 in 2010, and Bioshock Infinite earlier this year, a pattern began to emerge based on Jack’s original journey, with the main protagonist of each game—in all cases an older (or, in Jack’s case, simply larger) male figure—acting as a protector to a younger female character. Perhaps even more interesting, the games’ villains follow a dynamic based on similar principles, though instead of protecting young characters, they harm them for personal gain—an act that, in the otherwise morally grey universe of Bioshock, marks them as irredeemable. Through these patterns, the Bioshock series maintains an underlying current of paternal anxiety, where the hero’s major conflict lies in his ability—and his choice—to protect or harm his female progeny, and the villain becomes irredeemable by harming her.
There’s nothing quite like your first Final Fantasy game. An initial glimpse into the explosively colorful, epically structured, decades-spanning mega-series, fans often say that their favorite game in the collection is the first one they ever played—which makes sense, since that particular installment is what grabbed their attention in the first place. The same has been true for this writer since a fateful New Year’s Eve many moons ago, when a bored friend pulled out his PS2 and a copy of Final Fantasy X.
Set in the beautiful but imperiled world of Spira, Final Fantasy X follows the adventures of Tidus (a cocksure but ultimately caring sports star supposedly teleported 1000 years into the future), Yuna (a quiet but steadfast summoner) and their merry band of fools as they begin a journey to defeat a massive, world-destroying beast called Sin. Along the way, they become tangled in a web of cutthroat Spiran politics, racial cleansing and despotic religious zealotry, which ultimately calls for them to turn their backs on the old, corrupt ways of Spiran society. All the while Tidus and Yuna’s bond grows stronger, until the point that it ultimately saves the world when—SPOILER—Tidus sacrifices himself to save Yuna’s life.
The game was a critical and financial success, earning a 92 from MetaCritic, selling over 8 million copies to date, and getting the promise of an HD remake for its 10th anniversary. It is also the first entry in the Final Fantasy series to spawn a direct sequel—Final Fantasy X-2,set two years after the conclusion of X, highlights new struggles faced by Yuna in a quickly changing Spira with the help of her quickly changing wardrobe. While X-2 was decidedly more divisive than its predecessor (with fans decrying its bubbly and light atmosphere in comparison to X‘s more mature and emotional storyline), there is one thing that X-2 does right, and that’s Yuna’s story. Or, more specifically, it works in conjunction with X to truly emphasize Yuna’s struggle after the end of X, show how she changes and grows, and makes one thing pointedly clear: losing Tidus was one of the best things that could have happened to her. In Final Fantasy X and X-2, Yuna’s story is a journey of the self wherein she needed to lose Tidus in order to be whole.
In the late stages of Dishonored, when protagonist Corvo Attano infiltrates the corrupt Lord Regent’s tower stronghold, there is a safe in the executive suite. Quite the bounty is to be found inside, including a taped confession wherein the Lord Regent admits to plotting the assassination of the Empress. The account is chilling, spoken by a man who feels wholly justified in what he has done—”She had to die, you see,” he explains fervently. “She had to die,”—with no hint of remorse. The idea of such a carefully calculated murder is disturbing enough, but it becomes even more unsettling when considering the Empress’ position: in a city packed with aristocrats and politicians, she is the only woman in Dunwall holding an office of esteem; it is also a largely male cohort that, deeming her unfit for rule, turns on her.
This is no coincidence: in a city where women are restricted from certain professions, accused of witchcraft for practicing mathematics, and are much more likely to be maids (or prostitutes) than Parliamentarians, the culture of Dunwall perpetuates a wide-reaching gender disparity where women hold little social power. (For those interested, Becky Chambers has an awesome essay on just this topicover at The Mary Sue.) But, as anyone who has played the game knows, there is another world to Dunwall: a dark, slimy world of organized crime and dark magic, existing in the abandoned factories, darkened alleyways, and hidden places of the city. In this underworld, where guardsmen and politicians tread at their own peril (and may lose a tongue, limb, or life for their efforts), an interesting thing happens: women rise to power. In Dishonored, feminine power thrives in the underworld, where women are able to assert authority and influence that is largely out of reach in “legitimate” society.
Sit with me, readers, and I will tell you a tale of a legendary game called Half-Life 2.
Born the prodigal child of the esteemed Valve Corporation (masters of science fiction, speakers of great humor, forgers of ten-thousand funny hats), Half-Life 2 is set 20 years after the original Half-Life, in a post-apocalyptic dystopia where theoretical physicist Gordon Freeman is released from metaphysical containment and sent on a mission to free humanity from its alien oppressors. The game was received with critical acclaim for its well-oiled physics engine and nigh-on flawless narrative. It also seamlessly weaves sophisticated science into every aspect of its presentation, from puzzles to game mechanics and storytelling, and therein something very interesting happens: science and spirituality begin to blend into a single entity so tightly entwined they become indistinguishable. Even love becomes a piece of that culmination, until science is responsible for the strength of human bonds, through spiritual and material connections which keep the heroes grounded in their great journey and lead them on to glorious purpose.
Okay, that might’ve been an overindulgent summary. It is, however, largely accurate, up to and including the notion of the scientific and spiritual being represented by the same theoretical body in the Half-Life universe. Though it may have an idiosyncratic name and follow in the vein of mythical cosmoses in other stories, it is unique in that it bears a striking resemblance to a familiar scientific idea: quantum entanglement. In Half-Life 2, the ethereal body called the Vortessence and the scientific concept of quantum entanglement are the same thing, best exemplified by (and culminating in) a powerful connection between Gordon Freeman and Alyx Vance, which represents metaphorical and physical entanglement.