In which I rant on for entirely too long about a Japanese video game. This probably won’t be that interesting or engaging to those who don’t play said Japanese video game, and it’ll contain spoilers for the whole game throughout, so might not be suitable reading for those who do. Huzzah!
With that out the way, I just wanted to write some words about SRW Z3. I love it. It’s a fantastic game. It’s a crossover game of tons of robot animes and they’re all handled with respect and competence, getting the most out of them individually and as a combined narrative. And, as ever with this franchise, underpinning it is an original storyline with its own cast that ties everything up together.
Here’s the problem – it’s really, really shit.
Let me introduce the protagonist to you, first of all. Hibiki Kamishiro is a high school kid whose family all died in ~mysterious~ accidents, at the hands of a ~mysterious~ figure he calls an “angel.” In order to get revengeance for the death of his loved ones, Hibiki ends up piloting a ~mysterious~ robot, assisted by his teacher with a ~mysterious~ dark side, guided by a buddy robot with a ~mysterious~ agenda, gaining ~mysterious~ light novel-tier power fantasy superpowers, and fighting against this ~mysterious~ glowy-eye reaction he gets whenever shit’s about to go down.
I’ve never played a game before that manages to have this many reams and reams and reams of text about a character and his story and still say absolutely nothing. This game is part one of a two-parter, and boy does it want to let you know it. The amount of time the game goes on for is impressive, and more impressive still is the way it manages to avoid providing any answers to the main character’s narrative throughout. Even when you think you might have figured something out on your own, it delights from letting you know you were wrong – not by providing the correct answer, but just by having something happen that denies your interpretation and prolongs the agony. After 60 stages, I know little more about the dude than when I started.
Meanwhile, we have our antagonist. Gadrite Meonsam is his name, and he has superpowers! Yes, he has a magic device called a Sphere that gives him powers based on the Zodiac! His Zodiac magic sign is Gemini, which you would never guess from the fact his robot is called the Geminia, and he lives on planet Gemini along with all the other Geminides, which is what the people from planet Gemini are called.
yes, it is actually that bad.
Gadrite’s sad tragic backstory :( is that his planet was destroyed by an evil shadowy organization that wants all the people with superpowers to join it so it can be brooding and mysterious and act like it knows things you don’t. And it decided the best way to do this was to destroy his planet! Yaaaaaaay! And then kill all the surviving women except his lover Annalotta! Yaaaaaaaaay! And then threaten to kill her if he doesn’t succeed in his task! Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!
You see, the theme of the original plotline – and if you don’t pay too much attention, don’t worry because this is beaten into your head with a bludgeon about five times – is ~conflicting emotions~. Gadrite’s magical Sphere doohickey is powered by ~conflicting emotions~, which is why it’s lucky some evil shadowy space organization appeared and blew up his planet so he could have ~conflicting emotions~. First they came and blew everything up, and that made him angry and made him want to fight, grrr! But then he lost to the bad man and now he’s given up, and doesn’t want to fight, because losing is bad :( So now he has conflicting emotions and that makes him super strong!!!!
And they made him fight you and… yup, that’s his story. “Use your conflicting emotions and fight the Earth people” “grrrrr okay grrrrrrr” and he gets to be mad and sad that you guys are heroes and get to win but he’s a villain so he doesn’t get to win and that’s unfair because how come his planet got destroyed just because a shadowy space organization showed up and turned him into a villain, it’s all so unjust.
But wait! Hibiki has conflicting emotions too! He lost his family, and that made him despair! But he hasn’t given up, which gives him hope! So the magical Sphere doohickey responds to him, and it decides it likes him better because he’s not a poopbutt like Gadrite, so it goes to Hibiki instead and then you blow up Gadrite the end.
Oh, and then the shadowy space organization kills his pregnant lover and dooms Gadrite’s entire species to death because GRITTY WRITING FOR MATURE ADULTS LIKE ME!!!!
And that’s the original plot.
The fun thing is, it’s such an outlier. Everything else about the game is beautifully written, crafted to perfection and executed brilliantly. But for some reason they made this massive turd of a main character and main villain to tie it all together and it’s massive bollocks, devoid of any promise whatsoever.
But wait, what’s this?
Lurking on the PlayStation Store for this game is a little DLC. It’s a hundred yen – less than a dollar. Nothing. Insignificant. No content with any meaning would ever be that cheap, right?
Let’s talk about The Last Day.
The Last Day is a bonus scenario for the game – an optional mission that doesn’t fit into the chronology of the main plot, but instead tells a story that ties into it in some way and adds a little more to the experience. Most of them contain wacky antics involving the heroes, or special challenge missions that ask you to fight tough enemies under difficult conditions. But The Last Day has none of your heroes in sight, nor does it pose any challenge whatsoever.
The Last Day is the tale of Gadrite Meonsam, on the day his planet fell and the evil shadowy space organization arrived.
A force descends from the sky, without any warning or explanation. They raze everything to the ground, methodically and without exception. Fleeing the carnage are one surviving squad who managed to get away, desperately seeking other survivors and considering, if they’re forced to, leaving their own planet behind in a desperate bid for survival.
The last hope for the Geminides – Gadrite Meonsam, his partner Annalotta, and the squad under their command.
The characters we see here aren’t the Gadrite and Annalotta from the main game – characters devoid of personality, pathos or purpose, who by their own admission continue to follow their orders “meaninglessly”, to prolong a life not worth living. They’re a Gadrite and Annalotta possessed by a righteous fury, a desire to protect their people and strike back against the alien invaders who’ve taken away the home they love. A team, a partnership, with passion.
Protagonists. Genuine protagonists.
They have newly recorded dialogue, in which they fight like proper hero robot pilots – shouting attack names, telling the enemy they fight for the ones they love, letting out indignant bellows. They muse on how they have to fight on, yes with anger at those who have taken from them, but also to protect that which remains. We see a Gadrite and Annalotta who have not yet become jaded, a Gadrite and Annalotta far more likeable than the ones in the main game, for which one can have far more empathy and far more affection.
I have many questions, really. Who thought this should have been swept away to the lands of DLC? Who thought the characters they ended up using in the main game were the ones that they should attempt to write a compelling narrative around? Why do the villains get, in their five or ten minutes in the spotlight here, to be far more memorable protagonists than the protagonists?
At the very least, its presence gives me hope. And that’s a lot more than Hibiki Kamishiro’s ever done for me.