Character Focus: May's Feature


So, here at Nightmare Mode we have something we’d like to call our ‘monthly feature,’ where we pick a subject or theme, and all participating writers and contributors submit an entry. In May, we picked ‘favorite video game character.’  Read on past the jump to see what we wrote about Flint, Prince North, Morrigan and Patricia Tannis!

Tom’s Pick: Flint, Mother 3

(Very obvious spoilers for Mother 3 contained within. Don’t spoil it; play it instead!)

Flint is a cowboy. He’s not just a cowboy, he’s a cowboy in 2010, the last man on the ranch while the factory farms mass-produce his prize animals. A man’s man, or what a man’s man should be. A man who doesn’t give a shit what other people are getting themselves into. He’ll stop and say hi to his neighbors, and he’ll help them out if they get into deep water, irregardless of anything, but he doesn’t follow their trends. They don’t lead to happiness. His one happiness is his farm, and his second happiness is his family, his wife and his children. They are the only things in the world to him.

Flint is a good man, the kind of man we are told to grow up into as children. And that’s what makes Mother 3 an utterly heartbreaking game: this man, this good man, a pinnacle of the way one is supposed to live life, watches as his wife dies, as his farm is destroyed, as one son is corrupted by evil and the other forced to grow up too fast, and finally by the death of his eldest son, who kills himself rather than face his father.

We first meet Flint when there is a fire in Tazmily Woods, and he is the savior. He braves out into the woods, by himself, choked by smoke, to rescue Fuel, the son of his best friend trapped deep in the forest by himself. Everyone else expects him to help. He is the town’s only hope, and you can’t help but be struck by the clods of people standing around, not daring to go into the forest. Only Flint, a man of action, a man of principle, seems willing to brave the forest, rescue his friend and his friend’s boy. He returns and is not greeted as a hero, but as the performer of a routine duty. Flint saved the day again, but what has he done for me lately? The people who stood around willing to let Lighter and Fuel die in the forest say nothing, no words of thanks.

And then he is reminded that his wife and his children are within the forest. There is panic, and frustration, as he realizes that they should have been his goal all along. It plays off the most powerful feeling you get in video games: the uselessness of non playable characters. These people could have helped you, before, with saving Fuel and Lighter so you could go protect your own. But instead, they were too scared, too lazy to help you. Some were sleeping. Others were lazy, or afraid, or useless. You are powerful, but you cannot be everywhere.

That proves to be Flint’s undoing. His children are found, but his wife is dead. Murdered. The player, Flint, is left to wonder whether or not he could have changed anything. He could have. You’re sure of it. He’s sure of it. If not for these shrimps, these morons, Hinawa could be alive, and Flint could be happy again. What follows is a fantastically emotional scene, a brutal display of power and, finally, of the effectiveness that the society of Tazmily didn’t show hours ago.

Let’s stop and analyze this scene, because it is perhaps the best written scene in video game history. Video games, especially video games with silent protagonists, usually have a hell of a lot of trouble conveying grief. This is for one reason: video games usually make the player some ultra-powerful entity. Even in a game like Grand Theft Auto 4, which handles grief decently (though gets it primarily through being bleak and unrelenting rather than successes in scene), the player feels like he could have stopped this. The feeling is, man, I just got jobbed by a cutscene.

With Flint, you don’t feel that. You are powerful, but you are brought down by those around you, who are useless and distract your attention from the things you should be doing. Hinawa, you may remember, was up a path that the townsfolk didn’t let you traverse because they were going to handle it.

It all comes to a head in this scene. Flint realizes his failure, which is the failure of the townsfolk. He is failed by others, not by himself. There was nothing he could have done, no dramatic cutscene he could have foiled with his brilliance. No, there is just him and some talentless jerks who tried to help. And when he is in sadness, their only goal is for him to calm to, to stop making a scene, because it makes Claus and Lucas uncomfortable, but mostly because it makes them uncomfortable. When Flint is faced with the ultimate problem, their only concern is themselves. It all comes to a head as he attacks numerous townspeople, in front of his own children, seething with rage. It uses the most powerful use of the silent protagonist: the things he says are the things going through your head: She’d be alive if you’d helped more than a little! You’re all useless! You’re all cowards! Flint is embodying the player’s frustration, the player’s anger at his fellow townsfolk, until he’s stopped by the one man who was useful, Lighter, who he had saved from the forest.

It is here, in remembering his wife, that he realizes he is done with the village. And that’s what happens. After he goes to hunt the Drago to find his son, Claus, who was seduced by revenge, he is never again seen, by the player, in the village.

Flint fights the Drago who killed his wife, but he does not kill it. He does not want to deprive its children of its parent, like it deprived his children, and then goes off to search for Claus, who is revealed to us to be dead, or at least gravely wounded, by the Drago. Flint does not find him, but Porky finds him, and turns him into a chimera.

Flint’s search for Claus is the ultimate irony, because Flint is revealed, at the Drago fight, to be cognizant of the children’s needs for a father. And yet, he leaves Lucas, frequently alone, to grow up fast in Tazmily. To deal with the slings and arrows of his neighbors, who are all in the thrall of the very man who orchestrated Hinawa’s death, Claus’ death. And yet, Flint, consumed by concern for his first son who he hasn’t heard word of for three years, isn’t there for Lucas. He leaves Lucas to grow up by himself, to go off on his own adventure, to force Lucas to undergo hardships no child should be forced to endure. Consumed by his quest, Flint becomes a man living for his dead wife and his dead son. And even if his son wasn’t dead, he ends up dead, committing suicide to overrun his programming rather than destroy his brother, the brother Flint should have spent his time with.

Mother 3 is a game which is designed to demonize the mass-produced society that has grown out of the past, but it also has strong words for Flint, a man who lives in the past. Initially playing the game, it’s hard not to be struck by the moral of the piece, that society has been ruined by mass market society and capitalism (why Nintendo probably wanted no part of this game in America; in Japan, socialism is less menace and more political philosophy, and Shigesato Itoi has far more sway). I feel the answer isn’t that simple, befitting a game made by a man who has game designer as his fourth occupation on wikipedia. The only character in Mother 3 beyond reproach, besides Hinawa, is Lucas, who manages to survive in both the old world and the new world. His father’s absence gives him that dose of old world toughness that he needed to thrive in the new world, and the willingness to fight to make the world a better place.

Flint, on the other hand, is old hat. He’s consumed by his search, and can’t let the old world go. Sure, the old world is a better place, but the point, the moral is not that the old world is better and we should try to hold onto it, but that we have to have the courage to make the world nowadays brighter and fairer. And Flint does not fight. In the end, he ends up like the townsfolk, a man who is holding onto the past and unable to fight for the future, a man stuck in inactivity even when the fate of the world is threatened because he cannot find his son, and that is the greatest tragedy of Mother 3.

Fern’s Pick: Prince North, Prince of Persia

The re-imagined Prince to Persia (the old one is called Prince “Dastan” now, right?) is not a character I particularly like; but he is certainly one of those game characters I love to hate – which, for the purposes of this article, is equally valid.

The Prince of this iteration, Prince North, is dubbed by Nolan North – which generated some complaints about the Prince sounding too much like Nathan Drake (but wasn’t that the point?), but considering the only other game I’ve played in which Mr. North’s voice was Assassin’s Creed (where Mr. North plays a very low-key Desmond Miles) he is probably not the reason why I disliked the Prince. The Prince was not the first game character I hated either. I hate Lara Croft, a kid from Baten Kaitos (Palolo III) who made my ears bleed, Gex and the suicidal Natalya Simonova from GoldenEye – but the reasons for my hate are obvious: Lara is evil (I used to overlook that when the first game came out, but now I have Dead or Alive and internet, so her boobs don’t affect me as much); Palolo is a useless character designed to make people hate the game he was in; Gex is like Jamie Kennedy (and if you like Jamie Kennedy, then I hate you too) and Natalya was always bitching because I killed Boris and refused to complete the mission (How was I supposed to know he would drop his gun?).

The Prince was different. I immediately disliked him. He was a fraud after all: I had bought “Prince of Persia” and not “Some Wise-Cracking Guy of Not-Persia”. The manual makes a poor attempt of justifying that by saying he was “a prince in nickname only”, which is a pretty retarded nickname in the first place. A more apt nickname would be “douche”, as he certainly dresses like one and only a douche would carry a sword whose shape wouldn’t allow him to store it in his sword holster. He was a guy that continuously mocked Elika, even though she saved him all the time and clearly didn’t need his help to stop the evil guy whose face I’ve never seen and whose name I never bothered to remember.

But then, as he opened up to her, I started thinking I was judging him too harshly based only on first impressions. Maybe he wasn’t that bad.

But as any other douche, it was all an act to help him bang Elika. I felt betrayed for trusting him, even for a mere moment, though I don’t care about the boring and morally irreprehensible Elika either. Prince Douche pretty much throws all the player’s efforts down the river in a selfish and moronic act, contrary to Elika’s morals and beliefs, just to have the chance of banging her. If there is a reason to buy the Epilogue, an expensive and mostly rewardless elongation of the game with no sense of place nor stuff worth seeing, that reason is seeing Elika’s reaction to such treason and the Prince’s defensive and pathetic excuses for what he did.

But what could one expect from a prince in nickname only?

Patricia’s Pick: Morrigan, Dragon Age

Morrigan is not just any character within the Dragon Age universe: she’s heir to the fabled and feared ‘Witch of the Wilds,’ Flemeth. With a sharp tongue and an attire that turns heads, this potential love interest for the Warden is one of the most complex characters I’ve encountered in a game yet. Initially cold and wholly pragmatic, and equipped with extreme self-preservation tactics to keep outsiders at bay both physically and emotionally, Morrigan tends to come off as unapproachable and downright impossible. She seldom agrees with your decisions to help others or otherwise be noble, which often doesn’t help.

Where most people gave up, I kept pressing onward: I got under her skin, made her realize that she didn’t need to push me away because love and compassion supposedly made her weak. I saw that there was something beautiful underneath that stingy exterior and saw the extremely troubled and very complex woman who was underneath that facade. I changed the way she looked at things, made her feel empathy.

Not to mention that Morrigan plus the spell Cone of Cold makes her the most kickass, downright indispensable character when playing Dragon Age. Seriously.

Now the question is, do you fall for her in the game or not? The thing about Morrigan is, she never reveals all her cards until late in the game. Up until that point, everyone disapproves of your hypothetical relationship with her: she can’t be trusted, you don’t know what she’s planning, she must have something up her sleeve. Ultimately it turns out that everyone is right, but if you persisted in fostering a friendship or romance with her, you are capable of making Morrigan experience sorrow and regret over her actions. The player’s ability to see this character admit that sort of defeat is immensely rewarding considering what she is like towards the beginning of the game.

The heartbreak didn’t come at the hands of her deceit, though, but rather her decision to leave you regardless of how she felt for you at the end. I may have saved Ferelden after beating Dragon Age, but all I could think about was what was going to happen to Morrigan and whether or not we’d see her again for DA2.

Graham’s Pick: Patricia Tannis, Borderlands

Patricia Tannis is not a playable character,  and you don’t really interact with her. She is stranded on Pandora and starts to slowly go crazy as she recounts the loss of her expedition members to her little audio recorder, eventually befriending it. You discover the “character” of Patricia Tannis in the game by recovering the bits of audio she has scattered throughout the planet of Pandora, in a paranoid attempt to foil anyone who might try to get to the esteemed “Vault” of treasure before she did.

Her strange and meticulous nature are obvious the first time you encounter some of her missing tapes…and then when disaster starts to strike, she slowly grows more and more insane. Of course, she describes to you it all in detail. You can’t help but get sucked into her character, and you may even dismiss these audio tapes out of hand at first, until she starts saying such strange things that make you go “….what the crap was that?!” and you start outright laughing. Thanks to the guys who made Borderlands, you can re-listen to all the conversations and audio clips you find in the game. You might just find yourself halfway through the game, re-listening to all the Patricia Tannis clips because you discovered that she was in fact, that awesome.

You start with “day 1” of her expedition, and then the very next audio recording you find she transforms into a bitter person, disgusted and tired of her surroundings. Then while relocating her team, she describes being attacked by wildlife and that she survived by “hiding under a dead colleague as she was devoured on top of me.” She soon finds herself alone, and becomes best friends with her audio recorder, “developing a relationship with it,” talking to it and imagining conversations and letting her mind randomly wander into the realm of nonsense. “Maybe the convicts can be my friends. What?! Why are you always so jealous of me getting new friends?!” she exclaims to her BFF the Echo Recorder. Shortly after she “breaks up” with her Echo Recorder. It even takes her 616 days to state that she wishes she was never given the assignment.

Patricia Tannis offers comedic relief only briefly and sporadically throughout the game, but her charm and quirkiness and that little lilt in her voice win you over and quickly convince you that she is one of the most entertaining characters in video game history.

You can listen to all of Patricia Tannis’ Echo clips in this very convenient youtube video, made by someone with far too much time on their hands.