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Spoilers for a side quest in Horizon Zero Dawn

Butch:

So I chased down the last fugitive and finished that quest, got my extraordinary reward box, and decided to pick up those side quests in Bright Market. Ran down the guy finding fruit, killed glinthawks, got XP, that sort of thing. And then I did the other, meatier side quest. You know.

THAT one. The one with the young lovers.

THAT one was really, really good.

So let’s talk about THAT one, shall we?

First, I’m going to forgive the use of the “Thank God you’re here! Here’s some plot! I’m dead” convention…again….because this quest was good, so let’s put that to the side.

Yes, the whole “Lovers who cannot be together and dad just doesn’t get it” is a tale as old as time. Been there, done that. That’s not what made this so great. What made it so great was watching/experiencing Aloy’s REACTION to all of it. Meeting a young girl who is in love, and being asked “Do you know what that’s like?” Meeting a young man who’s willing to die for love and knowing she hasn’t got that. Being a tad confused about what the key was for, thinking it was for a cellar or something, only to find it was romantic. And the best, the dialog choice when she’s trying to convince her not to kill herself, picking the heart one (as one does) and to see Aloy completely flustered, out of her element, struggling for words.

Now.

This is a late (ish) game quest. We have been with Aloy for a long time now. We’ve done some pretty badassed things. Aloy has killed robot dinosaurs. Killed cultists. Made satchels out of rabbit bones for fuck sakes. And here, we see here completely, utterly confused. Yet…we see her WANTING to understand. Intrigued by all of this love stuff. Wanting to help, wanting…what? Some for herself?

Usually, in games, when we see the hero confused and awkward, it’s there for laughs. “Look at the strong hero being all doofy! He can’t dance! He can’t share his feelings!” This wasn’t. This was watching a young hero fumble her way through the toughest thing she’s had to confront: the complexities of romance/love/hope/grief. This was the most subtle coming of age as a HERO story I’ve ever seen in a game.

And the ending…man… Hearing the dad say “Thank you for giving us another chance…we’ll…I’ll…be better.” Who’s he saying to/for metaphorically?

And you could MISS that! That dialog happens off to the side, AFTER the quest ends. You have to choose to FOLLOW HIM to hear him give…who?…another chance.

Game, I needed a good hour of being reminded this is a really, really well written, themey game and not just about ROBOT DINOSAURS. And this was it.

Feminina:

Yes! That story! I’ve been waiting to talk about that story.

Yet again, things don’t work out for a ‘family’ in one way (the young lovers), but in this case, there’s some hope for comfort from the more traditional definition of ‘family’ (father and daughter). The game is both reinforcing and subverting its own theme here.

And I LOVED that this hint of resolution at the end was something you weren’t even guaranteed to know about–like you, I followed him (and lurked in the bushes like a creepy stalker) to overhear what he said to her, but we could just as easily have gone about our merry way as soon as we’d talked to the father. The quest was over! Nothing more to see here!

Except there was, which was fascinating, and kind of another aspect of that “the world doing things without you” question we talked about yesterday in the context of time limited quests. This wasn’t that at all, but it was still something that happens whether or not we’re paying attention–and, I think (I lurked in the bushes for a while to see if they’d say more, and they didn’t), it wasn’t just something that they’re going to sit there saying on repeat for the rest of the game. (Although I haven’t been back to check, partly because I don’t really want to be proven wrong, and prefer to believe that they’ve gone into the house and moved on with their lives by now, carefully rebuilding their relationship.)

And I agree, Aloy’s responses here were great. The confusion, the fumbling, the “I don’t quite know how to talk to this person about this, it’s not part of my experience.” And, picking the heart option, the suggestion that, well, even if this person you loved is gone, there are still other people who love you and you can find meaning in that.

Which sort of ties into our recent discussion about whether the game’s overall message is along the lines of “human relationships will bring you suffering, but are still what makes life worthwhile.” Because we basically told her “live, because you still have relationships that matter.” (I do wonder if we would have said things that tied in less smoothly with the other dialogue options. “Grow up and get over it!” or something.)

So OUR Aloy, anyway, even though she’s a tough loner, is coming to the realization that relationships matter…at least to other people. Maybe to her too?

I played a bit. Dealt with Redmaw, whatever that turned out to be. Bought the caveman shotgun! Then saved for the night, so haven’t used it yet, but I will report back.

Butch:

Yes! Is it a happy ending? Who knows? I think that’s why they made it absolutely impossible for the father to just accept the dude. This wasn’t a Capulet/Montague fight that cost them their kids. Had he come back, the governments would have killed them, so it’s not on dad here. The best thing that could possibly have happened, happened. She lived, dad cared, she knew her man loved her until the end. She’s heartbroken, but there was no better way. Maybe.

This MIGHT be the best outcome! Or not.

ANYTHING that manages to reinforce and subvert its own theme in a side story is pretty damn awesome.

I loved that you could miss the end, too. And I’m sure there were plenty of people that just rushed off.

I don’t think they repeated it. I stayed and stared at them for a while to make sure they were done, and they just went quiet.

I’m not sure about different versions of Aloy, as we are always the same.

But…and I waited until this paragraph to say this, this part also drags you, the player into the above theme by making the ending “optional.” See, the quest finishes, and you get your next thing on the screen. Go to Meridian, in my case. The game says “Ok, go do the next IMPORTANT thing,” and, maybe, just maybe, you, as Aloy, don’t. Maybe you think, just for a moment, that the important thing to be doing right that that moment is looking over your shoulder (indeed, you did have to turn around and GO BACK), to see what happened to the people, to the relationships that, however fleetingly, touched you as you touched them. You, and Aloy, ignored the important, marked thing in big letters just to see if they were ok. Because admit it: You wanted them to be ok.

Great, great stuff all around. By far the best side quest I’ve come across thus far in this game.

Feminina:

Yeah, I liked that it wasn’t strictly a “my stodgy old father refuses to accept our deathless love!” thing. He COULDN’T accept it, it was as dangerous for him as it was for them. He wasn’t the bad guy here, it was a political issue based on a civil war (the ultimate metaphor for a broken family?) he had nothing to do with. And he tried, sincerely and immediately, to be there for his daughter once he learned what had happened. The failure wasn’t his, for once in a tragic romance story.

I mean, he arguably failed to be as understanding and involved as he could have been in the run up to this, being busy with his own affairs and not realizing what was going on with his kid, but kids are secretive and often don’t WANT parents to know what’s going on with them. I thought the portrayal of the father was very sympathetic, much more so than you would have expected based on the way he first presented himself, when he seemed more impatient with an inconvenience than anything. It was a nice twist on that traditional story.

And of course, I turned back because I wanted them to be OK. And I admit I was kind of afraid they wouldn’t be–that he was going to march out there and say “pull yourself together, stupid!” or something, and then she’d run off and leap into the river. It was nice that it ended…better than that, even though we’re not really sure if it was a happy ending, exactly.

I wonder if some of the other dialogue choices failed to persuade her not to kill herself, making this ending, like Olin’s, dependent on our choice? How many of what passes for happy endings are totally up to the player?

Butch:

No, it wasn’t the father’s fault. That was good. A nice twist on the young tragic lovers story.

You think he was annoyed at first? I dunno. I think he came across as genuinely worried. If anything, it was starting to dawn on him that he was too caught up in his own shit.

Another thing I wondered about is if things would’ve gone badly if I had been less thorough investigating stuff. Like, the quest moved on when you found the shovel, and you could have skipped finding the bottle and spyglass. When she finds the bottle, she says that it smells of ash and sulfur and nastiness, and pours it out. Was that poison? Would she have taken that had Aloy not poured it out? She even said “Better pour that out….”

Feminina:

We shall never know. I mean, we could look it up, but we won’t.

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