Last week, at the same time I was obsessively writing and rewriting my Metroid: Other M playtest over and over, Laura was working her way through Ys Seven.
As we discussed both games in greater depth, Laura clued me in about how the usually lone Adol now had company in the form of party members. About how Ys Seven’s the story wasn’t particularly original or remarkable in any way, but was entertaining nonetheless and left an impression on her. How, while the “scenario” was fairly average, the characters stood out.
It then struck me that she and I may as well have been talking about the same game. In fact, you could probably copy my opening paragraph about Other M’s story from our playtest and paste it into Laura’s write-up on Ys, and no one would know the difference.
Judging from the usual Internet banter, both games have received a mixed reception from their respective audiences as well, narrative being cited as one of the reasons. Not having a history with Ys, I’m not really qualified to comment on what Seven does differently, but I will say that a large sect of people aren’t giving Metroid: Other M’s exposition whatever credit it deserves.
Yes, in the majority of scenes, the voice-acting isn’t stellar. And yes, one could also argue that Other M gives up the series’ unique sci-fi mystery vibe in favour of a more anime drama approach that, at times, wouldn’t seem out of place in, say, Gundam SEED. You wouldn’t be in the wrong if you felt that the writing in this game doesn’t do a very good job of acknowledging what has made Metroid’s universe so unique and appealing throughout the franchise’s history.
That said, it does some things very right, for which I do give it a tip of the hat. Other M’s treatment of Samus herself is one of the better examples of characterization in recent memory.
While Samus’s needlessly long and melodramatic monologues about the baby Metroid do tend to make you wonder whether Other M’s script-writer was familiar with the concept of subtlety, the portions about her days as a Galactic Federation soldier were genuinely interesting.
Early in the game, a brief exposition by Samus provides a little insight into her days as a teenager, back when she was under Adam’s command. Emotionally scarred from losing her parents (and then her foster parents, the Chozo) and being thrown headfirst into warfare at a relatively young age, Samus put up a distinctly bitter and angry front throughout her military career.
Smiles were met with frowns, friendliness from her well-meaning squad mates was met with indifference, and Adam’s orders — regardless of the respect she had for her commander — were met with the now infamous thumbs-down from the trailers. It all sounds a little like a certain vengeful youth right out of Naruto, doesn’t it?
The reason angst comes across more convincingly in Other M, however, is because the exposition actually attempts to explain Samus’s behaviour. As eager as she was to prove herself strong in the face of despair, teenage Samus was well aware of her maturity relative to the rest of Adam’s squad — or the lack of it, rather. This gave rise to bitterness. Similarly, the thumbs-down for Adam, too, is explained rather intelligently: first, as a sign of derision at being referred to as a lady, and second, as Samus’s own way of expressing that she understood his orders.
Kind of like how some people can’t say “thank you” without feeling embarrassed. Or perhaps how some get used to acting immature, so when signs of maturity begin to bloom, they’re quickly suppressed. These are further complemented by the single-best example of characterization in Other M: when an older Samus, reflecting upon her teenage days, explains, “When I rebelled against Adam, I knew I could get away with it.”
For all the angsty teenagers we’ve seen in videogames over the past decade, how many have actually been fleshed out in this manner? How many have genuinely displayed a side that you can relate to? Unlike Squall or Cloud, teenage Samus is actually quite appealing.
Of course, given that Samus is in her mid-twenties at the time of Other M’s events, Nintendo couldn’t very well stop with her teenage characterization.
Thankfully, they don’t, and grown-up Samus, as one would expect, is a very different person from the insecure fledgling that Adam mentored years ago. She isn’t afraid of smiling at a fellow teammate or throwing a friendly punch. She isn’t afraid to show emotion or admit her faults. And most of all, she isn’t foolhardy enough to try and impede a Galactic Federation investigation for her own selfish reasons.
You even get to witness some of this change over the course of the game. In flashbacks, Samus goes from angry and bitter to compassionate about her work at the federation. She grows capable of showing concern and even a willingness to put another’s safety ahead of her own. And perhaps, most convincingly of all, despite her growth, she never quite loses that rebellious streak, which ultimately causes her to part with the Adam and the federation, and set out as an independent bounty hunter.
On the subject of Adam, I feel the scene dealing with his sacrifice deserves a quick mention, too. That one scene, in particular, I felt was carried out fantastically by both voice-actors. I was genuinely moved when Adam reasoned that he couldn’t possibly fight Ridley and expressed his pride in Samus as a “galactic saviour.” The decision to not let the player witness Adam’s death first-hand was a fantastic one.
Overall, I may not like the English voice Nintendo chose to give Samus, but — a few quirks (baby this, baby that) aside — I do admire their handling of her character, both past and present. Here’s hoping we see more of it in future games.
Food for thought:
1. One of Other M’s best highlights was learning who “little birdie” really was.
2. I also quite liked how the game doesn’t tell you outright who the Deleter is. By the time you reach the bio-weapons research center, it really doesn’t matter. That was a neat touch.
3. Finding out about the “other M,” too, was a neat little twist.