Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Character Spotlight: Caim (Drakengard Series) Part 2

Once again, I warn that this post contains Drakengard Spoilers as well as Nier Spoilers (for real this time, I -really- don't think anything was spoiled about Nier in the last post) so if you have not consulted the proper source material for either game, possibly give this post a little skip-over.  With any luck, I'll do an extra post afterwards with general news for anyone who's skipped out on these but wants to read something regardless.  Once again, there is a page break for your convenience.

When we last left Caim at the end of Drakengard 1 he had literally just lost most everything he ever had after saving the world by losing the last thing he had (a friend and pact-beast) through a process that no doubt caused a lot of pain.  Most games, this would be where the main picks himself up inexplicably, possibly mopes for a bit but ultimately joins the rebuilding efforts to continue the greater good, ensuring that his victory is complete and total or just to get a fuzzy warm feeling.  Basically handwaving away all of the trauma and psychological impact of everything that's happened with the simple explanation of "He's the Hero!" and we're all kind of just trained to accept that because Heroes just have unnaturally good coping mechanisms.

This is not what Caim does and if you can't tell, this is what I think is fantastic here.  Caim responds to everything that has happened in the course of Drakengard 1 by going completely batshit insane and snatching Mannah for a nation-wide tour of "Look what you did you little fuck-up".  Yes, he literally takes Mannah across the nation so she can see just what happened because of the Empire's shenanigans with destroying the Seals and invading everyone that wasn't within the Empire.  And he is likely not kind to her, given that he believes she's the cause of everything that happened including the death of his sister, despite whether there's really truth in that or not.  She did seem to shift between a psychotic child and a vessel of the Watchers fairly constantly, so what part she played in everything is a little up in the air rather than it being -all- on The Watchers.

At some point during their travels, Caim is a bit off his guard and Mannah escapes by stabbing him in the hand (I think) and the eye (I know) with a fork and running away while he was recovering.  On one hand, Caim was likely being a jerk to her through the travels (this is all mostly inference of course, as it's very lightly touched on in backstory), but on the other hand if Mannah was even a -little- responsible for destroying the world and killing Furiae and then stabs Caim in the eye, then she is kind of a little bitch, but either way Caim is alone once more.  During this whole time and the time after where Caim starts living as a hermit in a shack out in the woods, the Union has been rebuilding in, er, 'ways' that are likely not all that fantastic and/or heroic.  Apparently they are able to create -more- seals on the world and they do so, but doing so requires a little more energy than "they just exist" and as such, Empire war criminals had been used as 'fuel' for these seals.

Whether or not that's barbaric and/or evil is, again, up in the air really since it's the same kind of argument with Mannah; either they were fully brainwashed or they were only sort of driven to things and carried them out on their own, so in the latter case it's more understandable yet a distinction is never really made.  Regardless, it's around this time when both Caim and Mannah resurface, however in different places and different ways, doing the exact same thing for different reasons.  Mannah, completely forgetting her entire childhood is once again on a crusade to destroy the seals but this time it's because they're 'evil' (again, subjective here), while Caim is on the warpath to the same end because Verdelet had decided to strengthen the Seal of the Goddess on Angelus which had the unfortunate side effect of pushing them both over the brink to complete madness.

All of the seals are fueled by the energy of the war prisoners/criminals of the now-defunct Empire, but they're actually bound to the generals of the Union, where their survival maintains the survival of the Seal.  Caim's reasoning here is that murderlating the Knights of the Seal (The Knight Order formed by the Union to protect the Seals and the secrets of them) will destroy them quite nicely and proceeds to do that, but not before paying a special visit to Heirarch Verdelet.  With Verdelet murdered, Seere, the only other party member from Drakengard 1 to actually make it into the story of the sequel, is appointed the next Heirarch for being much older than he looks, having magical abilities and having a pact, more or less.  It is one of the more inoffensive decisions made by the Union.

Where Caim just sees the Seals as things that are driving him and Angelus crazy by existing, Mannah sees them, obviously as 'Tools of Evil' because of how they're fueled and decides it's the best idea to destroy them so the people used as fuel can go free in a world that apparently won't be destroyed when the only things keeping it from exploding again are broken and thus starts a sort of Rebel Alliance to further that end.  This is more or less when Nowe (the stupid, stupid, stupid main character of Drakengard 2) comes into play for real, as he gives up being a Knight of the Seal to join Mannah because she's obviously telling the truth about the Union being evil and doesn't have red eyes or anything evil like that.  (Protip:  She does.)

Really, I'm not going to sit here and dole out the storyline of Drakengard 2 because it really isn't all that interesting and is, in fact, mostly stupid, but I had to go into at least a little bit to set up Caim's part in all of this.  Because I really wanted to hammer in the fact that, rather than soaking an impossible amount of psychological damage for no other reason than having Main Character-itis, Caim's reaction was way more understandable in that he broke, tried to take Mannah around and show her what she screwed up to make sure she wouldn't do it again, lost an eye for his troubles and then went crazy because the useless jackhole from last game bound the Goddess Seal tighter for likely no other reason than his hatred of Non-Humans which caused Caim to break more.

It's not even a case of a Heel-Turn, it's really a case of "You poked a tiger too many times and it bit your hand off" and it really shines a light on just how elevated and powerful our heroes from other games and whatnot actually get from doing all they do, given that Caim set out on a mission to murder Verdelet and the Knights of the Seal, the World's Nation basically, and really, honestly could have accomplished all of it, rather than some of it.  (Some because of the interference of Nowe and Mannah)  One guy, living as a hermit out in the woods somewhere because he had nothing else, could single-handedly destroy an army because that's what he does and proved as much by saving the world.

As a general note, it should be said that I just like crazy characters.  Characters, especially main ones, with a little bit of some sort of psychosis are just more interesting because it's not some vague sense of justice that they fight for, but because they -want- to for far different reasons than you would expect.  Really, take a look at Drakengard 1:  Caim's motivation for most of the game is murdering the Empire because he hates them and they're trying to kidnap/kill his sister, then murdering the Empire because he hates them -more- because they kidnapped his sister, then murdering the Empire because they broke the world, goddamnit.  It isn't about saving anything, it's about destroying everything and that's so counter to everything in place (without being arbitrary) that I can't help but love it.

And if you need any proof that Caim is, indeed, completely crazy after everything I told you, then you'll need to refer to the clip I'm about to embed as it's literally, literally one of my most favorite FMVs ever.  Without any words, without anything but good cinematography and some very quick flashback footage, this explains Caim in 37 seconds which is, by all means, goddamn impressive.  It is literally the icing on the one good thing about Drakengard 2.  (That one good thing being Caim and his portrayal.)

I just can't even put into words how amazing that clip is, because it's just the culmination of an entire game's worth of definition and character development alongside the real definition of the character that is Caim.  Caim is a walking machine of death.  He is good at it.  And he likes it.  He's so far removed from what you 'expect' to be as a hero, yet still is one because of the climate of the world he's in.  That clip, that entrance of Caim (first time you actually see Caim in Drakengard 2 and it's about halfway through) is perfect for explaining his character without going into the long-winded speeches, sentimentality and emotional drivel other games will try to shove down your throat.  He is there, he has seen some shit, and people die around him because of it.

Since I've said for two posts now that there will be Nier spoilers, I may as well deliver on that.  And this is yet another reason why I love Drakengard and think it's brilliant and love Nier and think it, too, is brilliant.  So if you want to be Nier Spoiler-free, this is where we part and I thank you for reading this far.  I'm sure it's pretty clear why Caim is one of my favorite characters of all time, which is the real goal of the Character Spotlight title.  But there is a direct connection from Drakengard to Nier which has been talked about a little, and I'm going to explain it fully here which is, really and honestly, very spoilerific to Nier.

Now, I mentioned that Drakengard has five endings, A, which I have described and is canon to Drakengard 2, B, C, and D which are all "What If" scenarios that sort of take the story and unravel it more and really -really- starts pulling out the crazy stops.  And then there's Ending E which is actually the bridge between Drakengard and Nier that makes Nier a direct sequel to Drakengard, despite there being a direct sequel to Drakengard in the form of Drakengard 2.  One game, two storylines, two canons.  Again, that is just brilliant right off the bat there and I'm honestly surprised it hasn't been done by anyone else that I know of.

Now, before Ending E happens, the seal on the world has been broken like normal, but rather than things just getting sort of bad, The Grotesqueries, which are gigantic abominations unto God and Man (literally) rain from the skies to destroy it.  They are, in fact, gigantic demonic babies with full sets of teeth that come from a gigantic demonic pregnant mother thing that has fallen from the sky to birth these monstrosities.  Caim and Angelus decide to take this problem into their own hands to wrench it in twain with the lucky side effect of saving what's left of the world.  However, when they engage the beast in battle, they're engulfed in a blinding light as they are ripped from their universe and dropped into one wholly different.

In a different universe, a giant rift opens in the sky and drops the giant demon mother onto skyscrapers and roads, cars and people, disrupting millions of lives in Modern Day Tokyo.  Directly thereafter, a Red Dragon being ridden by a lone man appear out of the rift with a deadly intent directed at the very thing they just crossed dimensions to destroy.  The beast attacks through song, the dragon through something similar and after the beast is destroyed, the dragon and the man riding it are shot out of the sky by the Japanese Air Force, causing both beings to plummet into the crater caused by the now-dissolved beast.  Being creatures of a different universe, they dissipate as well and in doing so, bring the eventual ruination of the world they've just been thrust into.

Being beings of a world of magic in a world unsuitable to it unleashes that into it which spreads like a plague throughout the populace, threatening to wipe out every human being on the planet unless they did something about it.  It was uncurable, so the only other alternative was to create vessels that were impervious to the disease where their consciousness could be stored in while the disease died out from lack of proper hosts.  This is the world of Nier; a world doomed by magic from another universe that's undoing caused this magic to be thrust into the world.  Caim, the embodiment of death in the world he resided in was the literal harbinger of it in another universe entirely after being thrust into it by whatever force dragged the Queen of the Grotesqueries into it.  This is why Nier is a direct sequel to Drakengard and I think it's bloody brilliant.

There's really nothing else to say here as I've said it all.  If you've read to this point and spoiled both games for yourself, well, hopefully this will give you a reason to seek out their stories in the methods I've encouraged so you can experience the full impact of it for yourself.  If you've read to this point and have experienced both games like I have, then we probably agree on at least a few points.  Paramount to all of it is that I don't think there's ever been a character quite like Caim, and I don't know if there will be another, but it's goddamn fantastic that there was one to start with.

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