Saturday, 3 June 2017

The Abduction of Zelda

I start off most of these with a restatement of my stance on the subject and I still think it's worth repeating: I want more and 'stronger' female protagonists. Where I differ from the vast majority of modern critics arguing for the same thing is that I think their methods are counterproductive and hostile. By always focusing on the negative, you can accidentally end up exacerbating it. They'll defend this by saying they're just highlighting sexism. Exactly, one highlights something because one considers it most important and that's not always a good thing. Furthermore this causes confusion with the artists on what the public really wants (since they only get feedback on what they don't want while all the good stuff is ignored) and hostility from the fans who do like certain things that are being argued against (and this being art and entertainment, the morality of anything done to fictional characters is largely irrelevant anyway).
Therefore I think we should be focusing on the positives. Highlight what we think should be in the public zeitgeist so we as a collective start thinking positively about these characters rather than just keeping them locked into a cycle of stereotypes and negativity. Current media critics do little more than make the entire conversation an annoying bore while they actively train themselves to be offended at everything (and then they suddenly wonder why they never noticed how everything was so offensive before).
This post can also serve as an addendum to my earlier post The Ordeal of Queen Zelda, which attempts to look at Princess Zelda, as portrayed in Ocarina of Time, in function of the monomyth.

The Abduction of Zelda
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

One thing I see brought up occasionally is people scratching their heads at the kidnapping of Princess Zelda in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and how the scene supposedly makes no sense. Worse are the weird ones who imply (if not outright state) that Zelda, after years of masquerading as Sheik, only gets kidnapped because she revealed herself as a woman, rather than the blatantly obvious fact that she revealed herself to be the princess (at that moment probably even the uncrowned queen) of the land Ganondorf is trying to take over, as well as the wielder of a part of the ancient 3 Goddess'-powered artifact he spent the entire game and the rest of the series assembling.

Tvtropes is just weird about it.

"Badass Decay: Zelda was hit with this the moment she was kidnapped by Ganondorf after revealing herself to Link, for no explained reason; especially if you take account that she spent seven years as a Sheikah warrior."

That just doesn't make any sense. What do you mean, no explained reason? She was blindsided and got magically locked in crystal by one of the most powerful sorcerers in the land. It doesn't seem all that unreasonable for her to require a bit of help at that point.

There's one thing to keep in mind. Zelda's kidnapping is overstated (as it usually is). The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a roughly 30 hour game going by my last playthrough (likely a lot longer for a new player. How Long To Beat has it between 26.5 to 38.5 hours depending on playstyle).
Princess Zelda is the mastermind behind everything happening on the good side for about 29 hours of those, which is also a full 7 years in-game, and only gets kidnapped right before the final battle with Ganondorf, after which she's also the one to imprison him for 100's of years until the events of Wind Waker (Link only weakens Ganondorf enough so Zelda's magic can overpower him). For the remainder of the game she's both the one guiding Link (first as Hyrule's princess, then from the shadows as the mysterious Sheikah warrior unimaginatively named 'Sheik') and being a hero behind the scenes in her own right (as mentioned by the Zora princess Ruto, who was helped by Sheik when Zora's Domain froze over).

Firstly, the reason why Zelda gets kidnapped so sudden is very simple. It's established early on that Ganondorf was watching Link as he progressed through the game (merely implied by the nightmare Link has when he first pulls the Master Sword from its pedestal, if indeed a nightmare at all, and outright stated when Link defeats Ganondorf's phantom in the Forest Temple). Since Ganondorf needs both Link and Zelda to complete the Triforce, we can fairly safely assume he didn't intervene directly with Link's quest because he wanted to lure Zelda out in the open, heck he explicitly says this when he finally captures Zelda. Losing the temples is only a minor setback if it means gaining the entire Triforce. 

Secondly, why did he capture Zelda instead of Link, or why only Zelda and not both of them? Well he is still underestimating Link and says as much by claiming everything he did was merely the result of Link somehow having the Triforce of Courage. He simply doesn't take this kid from the forest seriously. Furthermore, by virtue of being Courage he knows Link will immediately come to face him anyway.
No... It was not the kid's power I misjudged, it was the power of the Triforce of Courage!
Heck, had Sheik not intercepted Link when he first walked out of the Temple of Time during his adult years, he might have gone to face Ganon right then and there and likely lost (maybe that's where the Failed Hero timeline according to Hyrule Historia came from: Zelda herself might have gone back in time to prevent Link from facing Ganon too early, thus causing the second split).
Zelda on the other hand is Wisdom. She knows better than to foolishly run into danger head-on and instead calculates her approach. Indeed when she knew she couldn't go up against Ganondorf, she hid for 7 years and undermined his rule from the shadows. This attitude is symbolically reflected in Zelda's frequent use of bows, especially later in the series: She prefers to strike from a distance. Unfortunately she slipped up by revealing herself to Link.

"I knew you would appear if I let this kid wander around!"


In short, Ganondorf took Zelda seriously as a threat, unlike Link who he found merely amusing. Zelda had to be removed from the game while he thought he could just toy with this boy from the forest. That is why Ganondorf kidnapped Zelda rather than Link.

Links and References

How Long To Beat: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia
Vicsor's Opinion - The Ordeal of Queen Zelda

Friday, 10 February 2017

Castlevania Judgment Redux

This is an edited/updated repost of an old blogpost I made over at my Castlevania 64 Hi-Res page (Original). Since I feel the content is pretty much in line with the rest of what I do here, I might as well has it here as well.

My Problem With Castlevania Judgment
A Rant About Maria Renard
But not about this version.
She's cool.

If you followed my progress on my old Castlevania 64 retexture project (which has since more or less stopped due to all the technical difficulties that popped up that I became unwilling to deal with) you might have noticed that I took a fair share of visual influence from Castlevania Judgment (2008) for the Wii. So let's talk about Castlevania Judgment. Mainly the biggest problem I have with the game.

You see, screw complaints about the odd fighting engine, the characters being redesigned by the artist of Death Note (which resulted in Shanoa looking like a nun so they didn't have to render her hair and Dracula somehow sporting udders), the good guys being bigger jerks than the forces of evil, alternate costumes just being palette swaps and the overall game not feeling overly polished. Those things didn't bother me that much and being given the opportunity to play as Cornell from Legacy of Darkness made up for a great deal.  No, for me the greatest evil in this game isn't represented by Dracula, Galamoth or the Time Reaper, but by Maria Renard.

Yes, 12-year old Maria Renard from Rondo of Blood.

Her character design (what's that supposed to be anyway? Pink BDSM loli?) and high-pitched voice acting alone make me want to scratch her entire existence from the disc, but then there's her moveset. Most of the time she's just randomly flying around the screen, being lunged at her opponent by the owl in her staff. Her special attack has her falling to the ground so her owl can do all the work for her. Every hit she makes sprinkles Microsoft Clip Art all over the screen, and she NEVER EVER SHUTS UP.

So it's a fighting game and in fighting game fashion there's a story mode which details the motivation of why each character in question is there. We are introduced to newcomer Aeon who provides the plot device as to why people from different time periods can interact, and from there they just kind of have a go at each other until the most powerful warrior is chosen who will attempt to defeat the Time Reaper, thus saving history itself.

Now Simon Belmont takes the opportunity to test his abilities against the legendary three warriors from Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse. Shanoa just wants to get out of the Time Rift as fast as possible to continue her mission to hunt down Albus. Cornell seeks someone to help him control the werewolf form. A Golem who has gained sentience fights for his right to exist. Dracula obviously seeks revenge for his many defeats (yet because of the greater threat of Galamoth he also seems to be the most reasonable and practical of the playable characters).

Maria Renard's story and motivation? Beating up the other Castlevania girls because they have larger breasts than her. No, really, that's her story mode. We have the most annoying 12-year old on the planet running around seeking fights with both allies and enemies because she is insecure about her body image.

vs. Sypha Belnades

vs. Carmilla

I mean seriously? Who thought this was a great idea for a Castlevania game? Did we really need to ruin a beloved Castlevania character (... even more, YMMV) for this game just so we could have some more extreme close ups of Sypha and Carmilla's boobs? Nothing about having to find Richter or Annette. No tie-in with either Rondo of Blood or Symphony of the Night. Just a 12-year old girl throwing a tantrum over tits.

There's a lot of Castlevania characters that I would have liked to see in this game (Carrie Fernandez being my #1, although I love that her game was at least acknowledged at all by having Cornell) and it didn't have a ton of features anyway, but I would have seriously preferred just not to have Maria Renard at all. At least not like this.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Jack in the Dark

It's Halloween night (yet oddly also Christmas), Grace Saunders is trick or treating dressed as a witch when the lights of a toy shop catch her attention. She knocks on the door, enters, and is subsequently locked inside. Led by a malevolent Jack-in-the-box modeled after Alone in the Dark 2's One-Eyed Jack, the toys have come alive and kidnapped Santa Claus.

Jack in the Dark

Jack in the Dark was a small promotional game (like floppy disk small) distributed Christmas 1993 to advertise the upcoming Alone in the Dark 2. It's also so short you can easily finish it in about 5 minutes if you know what you're doing, the tank controls are rather sluggish and the graphics of the 3D models haven't exactly aged graciously. Also unlike the original Alone in the Dark, it doesn't exactly seem like a tale that could have sprung from the pages of H.P. Lovecraft.
Basically the map of the entire game.
Nevertheless the game has its charm. You get a catchy festive tune and dated though appealing pixelated graphics for backgrounds. Then there's the atmosphere of an old toy shop during Halloween that's about to get ready for the Christmas season, and there's just something about being alone in a toy shop that captures the imagination of our residual inner child.
Jack in the Dark is not a huge landmark in the history of video games (although it achieved a bit more than you'd think, you'll see in just a minute), but it's just a charming little game. If you ever feel like checking out the old Alone in the Dark games, be sure not to skip this one. It's not that long anyway (it usually comes attached to either AitD 1 or 2. AitD 1 in the GoG version).

Grace Saunders as a Protagonist

Though the roots of the survival horror genre itself go much deeper, it is accepted that Alone in the Dark in 1992 was the first survival horror game in 3D, even before Resident Evil named the genre a few years later in 1996 with the iconic words "Enter the survival horror". There's no shortage of female protagonists in the survival horror, with Resident Evil's Jill Valentine, Claire Redfield and Silent Hill's Heather Mason being some of the more well known.
Emily Hartwood
While Alone in the Dark as a series favors Edward Carnby as its protagonist, female options aren't all that rare here either. However Emily Hartwood and Aline Cedrac are merely optional choices next to Carnby, while Grace Saunders is the sole protagonist of Jack in the Dark. Meaning the first female protagonist of the 3D survival horror genre (and first solo protagonist) who stars in her own game ... is little 8-year old Grace Saunders going up against haunted toys. And that's just kinda funny.

Grace Saunders would go on to become an important supporting character (as well as being briefly playable) in Alone in the Dark 2. When she rescued Santa and closed the toy shop doors, she left behind the world of haunted toys, only so Kirsten Dunst could become the scream queen of nineties malicious toy movies.
Jumanji (1995) and Small Soldiers (1998)
... Okay there's probably no actual connection going on here, but a Netflix binge after having finished Jack in the Dark spawned the odd realization that, not only did Kirsten Dunst have a tendency to show up in nineties movies that somehow involved evil toys, Jumanji is also set in a de facto haunted mansion except by way of Edgar Rice Burroughs rather than H.P. Lovecraft (Small Soldiers is just about super-intelligent military hardware carelessly being put into children's toys which predictably goes wrong). 
Maybe that would have been a cool idea for a video game based on Jumanji (rather than the Mario Party clone we got for PlayStation 2): lock the player character(s) inside a Resident Evil-ish mansion with the board game. Each roll of the dice opens a door or spawns a challenge in the form of jungle-themed enemies or hazards to overcome. Maybe Van Pelt as a Nemesis-like boss who steals the game.

But now I'm just thinking out loud...