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Dads Are Tough

I picked up NIER (sic) the other day, a game that I’ve been umm-ing and ahh-ing over for a while. NIER is about a muscular manly man on a relentless quest to save his daughter from a terminal illness… unless you’re playing NieR Replicant (sic), an alternative version released in Japan that replaces the manly man with a girly boy on a relentless quest to save his sister from a terminal illness. I’m not privy to the decisions that led to two versions being created and released- according to this interview with the creators, Replicant NieR came first- but something particularly strikes me about the Gestalt (manly man) version, one that elevates it above the majority of cooker-cutter RPG stories: the love of a father towards his daughter.

The character of the father that will go to hell and beyond for their children is a powerful, yet seldom used one in video games. Would Silent Hill have been as effective had it featured the mother instead of the father exploring the town for their missing daughter? The creators of the Silent Hill movie adaptation certainly thought so: in that film, the mother is the one willing to do anything to help her child while the father is the obstructive voice of opposition. Was this decision made under the misguided assumption that a father wouldn’t go as far as the mother? Any loving, protective father would argue otherwise.

Take Ethan Mars, one of the four protagonists of Quantic Dreams’ interactive narrative Heavy Rain. The tagline for that game is “How far would you go to save someone you love?”. Faced with the abduction of his son, Mars is put through a series of increasingly horrific trials by the twisted kidnapper. Though the branching narrative structure of the game allows the player to decide just how far Ethan will go, it’s another example of just how powerful the image of the protective father can go.

Is it because most RPG protagonists are simply too young to qualify as fathers, being stuck in the 17-24yr range that has been the standard for over a decade? The few times where an RPG has dared to cast an older character with a family- such as Ashley Riot in the under-appreciated Vagrant Story– the game has not been as successful as anticipated and the blame is placed on the age of the character. This was the reason why the main character of Final Fantasy XII was changed from strong 30-something Basch to bishonen 17-something Vaan: Square Enix felt that Basch (being a “man in the prime of life”) wouldn’t appeal to the demographics that they sought so desperately.

Whatever the reason, the fact is that RPGs are missing out on a powerful character archetype by focusing so narrowly on age and appearance. I don’t mean to say that the protective love of an older brother towards a younger sibling is a less powerful image (likewise with the protective mother towards her children), but the father figure is a woefully-underused character type, especially for one that resonates so well with us.

  1. Birthdayboy
    July 2, 2010 at 12:33 am

    Intrestingly I think one of the best Dad’s in gaming history is Mike Haggar. A former pro-wrestler who appeared in the first Street Fighter game, then reappeared in Final Fight as the mayor of Metro City who has his daughter kiddnapped. And then the game then lets you play him as he pile drives and smashes his way through to rescue her.

    The history behind the 2 versions of Neir is due to the fact that apprantly the West (everywhere but Aisa) dont like anime/manga/pretty boys etc. It’s been a long running thing with games from Japan mainly with JRPGs. Sqaure beleved if they had the young guy in the game no one outside of Japan would want it, and looked at games like Neir and they seemed to think that he should be more like Kratos from God of War. So they changed the game for the West. Apprantly there is DLC for the game that acts as extra missions where you can play as the young character. But its not the only game to get a ‘cosmetic’ touch up, I think Star Ocean 5 had some small anime like details to it that were changed to 3D models in the game, and alot of game covers and ad posters get changed when the game is brought to the West.

    • July 2, 2010 at 12:50 am

      Mike Haggar! I’d vote for him.

      You’re correct about the DLC. There’s a set of missions where you play as “young Nier”: in other words, his younger self. Also, the game you mean is Star Ocean 4, which had the anime-style character portraits replaced with CGI ones in the original 360 release.

      Personally, I think it’s a bit silly that, given the massive success of anime and interest in Japanese culture, that game developers are still wary about including anime/eastern elements. But sadly there must be a greater demand for the western-style muscular characters; until I carry out a market survey of my own that proves otherwise, I can’t argue that a game would sell as well with the eastern elements left intact.

  1. October 4, 2010 at 11:52 pm

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