Friday, March 1, 2013
Why Won't They Make These - Alternate Canon Games
Whenever I use the term 'alternate canon', people seem to have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about, even though it's sort of a self-explanatory concept. Perhaps I'm using the wrong term, or perhaps it's a symptom of what I'm expressing here tonight in that not enough games out there properly utilize the idea. Which, honestly kind of surprises me since not only is it a very versatile prospect by its own nature, but also because it allows creativity to sort of go wild since, well, if it goes off-rails "hey, it's not actually canon". Perhaps I'm simply under-estimating just how attached people can get to the established and the expectations that come with that, but at the same time, alternate canon is something that celebrates the first part, while also taking the second into consideration, in a sense.
I suppose I should explain just what I mean when I say "Alternate Canon", since it's going to be a thing I bring up a lot in the post here tonight. "Alternate Canon" is a game wherein it takes something established and drives it into a different direction than what you might expect. Not a reboot, not a re-imaging, not 'a spiritual successor' or any of those types of things. Just a story where something drastic happens that causes the established canon to forge a new route that is its own story and not necessarily that of the actual story on which it started from. Pictured above is Yakuza: Dead Souls which is the quintessential example that I can think of for this type of thing.
Yakuza: Dead Souls takes place a year after Yakuza 4 resolves (I believe, that's kind of Sega's thing with the Yakuza games) and introduces a zombie epidemic to the otherwise simple, crime-ridden streets of Kamurocho. It's all done in a way that, well, actually fits the series staples of story-telling and the already-established characters of the Yakuza 'world' as it were, react as only they could to the whole situation. It is, in every sense of the word, a continuation of the established canon except for the part where zombies destroy Kamurocho and everyone has to scramble because of it and a lot of people die. This is kind of obvious, but the existence of Yakuza 5 with a not-destroyed Kamurocho is proof enough that Yakuza still has an existing canon that runs directly into Yakuza 5, but Dead Souls sort of runs parallel along 5 now, as it is -also- a sequel to 4.
Let's take a look at Metal Gear Rising: REVENGEANCE. It is a direct continuation of Metal Gear Solid 4 which is a direct continuation of the rest of the Metal Gear games. Even though REVENGEANCE itself doesn't exactly take a lot from the rest of the series, what it does take is rather undeniable and it is, of course, canon. Let's all forget for a moment that we think we know what Metal Gear Solid 5 is going to be and pretend that Metal Gear Solid 5 takes place directly after 4. In it, we play as Raiden who has opted out of his cyborg enhancements to simple robot prosthetics that bind to a sneaking suit. In a return to form, this game would then be stealth-focused and take place in the events following 4's ending. Now, this will not happen, nor should it, but I introduced it as an idea for a very deliberate reason.
If the above played out, we would then have two established Raidens, basically, where they are both part of Metal Gear Solid canon. Being that the new game has '5' at the end, it would be labeled as official canon where REVENGEANCE would then be titled incorrectly as a spin-off. Only, in my little fantasy world, Metal Gear Rising 2: REVENGEANCE HARDER is also announced, continuing after the events of the REVENGEANCE which is, by extension, a continuation of Metal Gear Solid canon. Therefore, we now have two storylines. Alternate canon. This is the kind of thing I'm talking about and, aside from the fact that MGS5 will probably be a lot cooler than a game where you play Sneaking Raiden again, it's not a bad situation to imagine.
I am deliberately not using the word 'spin-off' here because spin-off has something of a negative connotation when you're talking about story-related matters. When you talk about a spin-off to someone, you say "It's just a spin-off, don't worry about the story", which immediately dismisses it. Going back to Metal Gear for a moment with Ac!d, which is very much a spin-off and not Alternate Canon, since Snake in it is a very, very different character. Ac!d's story is then self-contained and only important to both Ac!d games, which is why it's a spin-off. They are very, very different things, even well-outside the realm of pedantry.
Another not quite perfect example would be the announced "Tyranny of King Washington" DLC for Assassin's Creed 3. From what I've been lead to believe, not only does the mini-story tell of an entirely different historic setting in which George Washington doesn't go along with the whole "President" idea and instead becomes King of America, but it takes a different approach with the actual Assassin's Creed story. While using, presumably, the same build-up, the DLC tells of a Connor who does not join the Assassin order, yet history as we know it remains more or less unchanged....until Washington crowns himself King. As a Warrior of his tribe, not an Assassin, Connor rises up with the goal of overthrowing the tyrant King of America. While I'm loathe to call it a continuation of AC3 since, apparently, AC3 just didn't happen for the events of The Tyranny of King Washington to take place, it runs along a lot of the same lines, so I'm pretty sure you're getting where I'm coming from.
While this is a bit spoiler-y, it is also the best example of just what I'm talking about, so I unfortunately have to bring it up, but in a way that will spoil as little as possible. Now, a search of this blog will turn up the fact that I really really like Drakengard. A secondary search of this blog will also turn up the fact that I really really really like Nier. Now, not only are these two games made by the same developer (Now-Defunct Cavia, RIP) with the same director, which is apparently -very- important, but Nier is actually a sequel to Drakengard. Now, notice that I said 'a sequel'. Remind yourselves, for the moment, that Drakengard 2 is a thing that exists and is, also, a sequel to Drakengard, as the 2 would suggest. How is this possible, you might wonder.
Drakengard, in a sense, has two different story-lines that are covered over five different endings. Ending A is the 'canon' ending from which the unholiness that Drakengard 2 (with a different director) spawned from, whereas Endings B-E unfold in an entirely different way that sort of build off of each other while also ending up quite different in their own rights. Essentially, the characters, the story bits that don't have anything to do with the -specifics- of Endings B, C and D, are all canon to Ending E. Where Drakengard 2 is a sequel to Ending A, Nier is a sequel to Ending E. It's not said -quite- so explicitly in the game, and requires a little dot-connecting, but it -is- intended, and it -is- 'canon'. So, in effect, Drakengard is my perfect example of "Alternate Canon" which is kind of what this whole thing was about. Being that Nier was friggin' fantastic, it sort of shows that the idea has merit of use.
While I don't think it's ever really going to become a thing that's done a lot, I -would- like to exist in a world where I can come up with more than two and a half examples of Alternate Canon as I see it. It might have a too-strict set of guidelines, and it's hard to actually support two storylines in a single franchise, but when such a thing is executed well, it's phenomenal. If you need an example of that, perhaps you really need to re-introduce yourself to Legacy of Kain. Immediately. It's an entirely different thing than what I've been talking about all night, but it does that whole 'two storylines' thing wonderfully and is similarly something that I'm bewildered hasn't become a thing in the time since. That, however, is a subject for a different night.