Thursday, April 23, 2015

Dang-Blasted Video Game Theories, Spooky Edition

Dang-Blasted’s Spooky Scary Video Game Theories

OOOoooOOOoooOOO! It’s Halloween! No it isn’t! Not at all! But considering my fixation on the horror genre, we might as well go ahead and make every day Halloween here in Dang-Blasted land! Time for a third batch of weird, random, largely unwarranted theories about what’s really going on in certain video games! (Check out the first and second posts too.) Just take care -- these games are scaaaaary and shit!


Five Nights at Freddy’s 2: You’re the Murderer

With three games out and a movie on the way, Five Nights at Freddy’s is certainly one of the speediest underdog success stories. The games are cool in how they tease at what’s really going on, practically inviting fan theories. Malfunctioning robo-furries run amok, or something more? Well, FNaF 3 neatly sabotaged my cool theory by confirming it: the animatronic mascots contain the ghosts of children, all of whom were murdered by a sinister man known only as Purple Guy. Cool, now let’s back up to the second game, a prequel in which you play as nighttime security guard Jeremy Fitzgerald. Each night, psychotic mascots roam the halls and attack you, and it’s implied that a police investigation into the disappearance of several children is happening concurrently.

Using the almighty rule of “Why the hell not?” I theorize that the mascots are so intent on killing you because you killed them first. Jeremy Fitzgerald and Purple Guy are one and the same. After all, a security guard would have thorough knowledge of Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, the better to lure children to their doom. Guess Jeremy didn’t count on the children’s spirits possessing Freddy, Bonnie, Chica, Foxy, and the rest. You’re not a hero; you’re a loathsome murderer facing ghostly vengeance. This would also explain why the mascots wage war on a different security guard protagonist in the first game: it takes place years later, but the children’s ghosts still associate the guard with the man who killed them. FNaF 2 ends with the restaurant being shut down and Jeremy getting a promotion, probably to his relief. But, as the third game showed us, Jeremy met a ghastly fate and became a haunted robot himself. As well he deserves. Creep.

Fatal Frame 2: Mayu Amakura is Dead

I had a good theory about the Fatal Frame games as well, until I replayed the first one and realized I was wrong as fuck. But never mind. In this scary-ass series, you explore haunted spaces and battle hostile ghosts with a specialized camera. The second game, Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly, focuses on twin sisters Mio and Mayu Amakura, who become trapped in a ghostly village. You play as Mio, the capable "younger" sister. Mayu, who is emotionally fragile and crippled from a childhood accident, is lured deep into the village by spirits and must be routinely rescued. Long story short, the village was massacred due to a botched ritual in which one twin sibling must kill the other. A portal to Hell stands open, and in order to close it, the ritual must be completed, with Mayu as the sacrificed twin. Heavy stuff.

Okay. What if Mayu’s already dead? What if she’s a ghost the whole time? And what if Mio knows it? The accident that crippled Mayu as a child occurred when she fell down a ravine while chasing Mio. Let’s say the fall actually killed her. Mio grows up alone, wracked with guilt at having (in her eyes) gotten her sister killed. However, when she returns to the same forest, whom should she find but Mayu’s lingering spirit. She routinely sneaks out to the forest to be with Mayu (the game never mentions the twins’ parents or how far they are from home), and because ghosts aren’t bound by the laws of the living, Mayu appears to age along with Mio. Mio feels responsible for Mayu and wants to protect her, even knowing she’s dead. Play the game and you’ll find little to contradict my theory. Plus, Mayu’s knack for vanishing at odd times and getting into and out of locked cells makes more sense if she’s a ghost. In the game’s canonical ending, Mio kills Mayu and the village is released from its curse. And by “kills,” I mean Mio finally lets go of her guilt and allows her sister to pass on to the next life.

(PS: If you must know, my original theory was that Mio and Mayu were the granddaughters of Yae, a girl who escaped from the cursed village. However, Yae appears as an older woman in Fatal Frame 1, which I had forgotten, and...yeah. My theory fell apart. Good thing I formulated a Plan B.)

Fatal Frame 3: Two of the Main Characters Are Dead

One big hitch with the whole Mayu-being-a-ghost thing is that the next game in the series, Fatal Frame III: The Tormented, features Kei Amakura, the uncle of Mio and Mayu, as a main character. And Kei makes it pretty clear that Mayu did not die as a child. Well, shit...

Wait. What if Kei’s dead too?

And why stop there? I theorize that the main protagonist, freelance photographer Rei Kurosawa, is also dead. We see Rei dealing with the aftermath of a car crash in which her fiancée was killed. In my version of events, Rei also died, but continues to haunt her house because her grief serves as a ball and chain tethering her to the living world. What we have is a Sixth Sense scenario: Rei and Kei don’t realize they’re dead. Rei’s assistant is Miku Hinasaki, the heroine of Fatal Frame 1. Miku is very much alive and, I think, is trying to help Rei move on. With her psychic prowess, Miku became a kind of ghost-whisperer following the events of the first game, and has been “hired” to exorcise the house of Rei’s ghost. The similarly dead Kei, who knew Rei’s fiancée, is yoinked into the mix, and, due to his limbo state, is confused about past events and doesn’t remember that Mayu died as a little girl.

Is that weak? Well, I think it works. The actual plot of The Tormented is a lot more convoluted; all three protagonists wind up trapped in a dream-space that is dangerous to both the living and the dead. I haven’t played the game in ages (and never finished it, thanks to the fucking Kusabi), so maybe this theory doesn’t hold up, but it’s a neat way to interpret the events as they unfold. Who you gonna call?

The Evil Within: Sebastian Knows the Whole Damn Story

Meanwhile, in an entirely different microcosm of the Japanese horror biosphere...The Evil Within. Which I actually enjoyed a lot, flaws and all. In this blood-soaked romp, you are Sebastian Castellanos, a hardboiled detective with a Dark Past and Nothing To Lose, who investigates a hospital massacre along with two other cops, Juli Kidman and Joseph Oda. All three are shanghaied into a fucked-up nightmare world, which (EXCEPTIONAL SPOILER ALERT!) is being generated by a mad scientist named Ruvik. Long story short, Ruvik invented a machine that could link people’s minds, whereupon his colleagues betrayed him, scooped his brain out, and used it to power his own machine. Ruvik now seeks to escape by possessing a living body. Also, Juli Kidman is part of a mysterious organization trying to take Ruvik down. Sebastian discovers all this very gradually...or DOES he?

Well, yes. But here’s the thing: I think Sebastian knew everything already. He knew about Ruvik, about the machine, about Kidman’s real motives. See, we eventually learn that Sebastian’s daughter died under mysterious circumstances, and his wife, a fellow cop, became obsessed with uncovering the truth. The wife vanished, leaving all her notes and research to Sebastian, who couldn’t get his superiors to listen to him. I think Kidman, recognizing Sebastian’s potential, contacted him and his partner, Joseph, and recruited them for the highly dangerous mission into the machine...into Ruvik’s mind. When they arrive at the hospital at the game’s start, they’re already plugged in. (Cue Inception saxophone.)

The problem is, entering the machine caused Sebastian to suffer brain damage. He forgot everything he’d just learned. Throughout the game, Kidman and Joseph, who know the truth, are subtly trying to make Sebastian remember. They can’t tell him outright because he won’t believe them, and there’s no time to convince him. He has to remember on his own. Tatiana, the cryptic nurse who appears in Sebastian’s personal psychic “safe zone,” is also an agent from Kidman’s group (she is glimpsed outside the machine at the game’s end), and does her part to nudge Sebastian toward recovering his knowledge. At the very end, when he (maybe) defeats Ruvik and escapes the machine, it all comes back to him...possibly too late.

One little hitch: late in the game, we see Kidman attempt to kill Leslie, a mental patient who Ruvik hopes to possess. Joseph stops her. Why would he, if he knows what’s going on? Because Kidman had her own orders: she was to save Leslie if possible, kill him if necessary. Joseph, not being party to these orders, is shocked at Kidman’s ruthlessness and instinctively acts against her. Simple. Well, not simple. But given how confusing The Evil Within is, I’m trying to tie the narrative together as best I can. Did I do good?

Maybe. Let’s wait for the DLC. I hear you get to play as this dude!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

To Squee Or Not to Squee, vol. 5

Hmm...anything cool on the docket? Any upcoming pop culture events that fill me with simultaneous delight and dread? Not as much as in past years. I’m still waiting around for a lot of stuff, and in the meantime, there aren’t a lot of Obduction-level game announcements or Hobbit-esque film franchise events that I haven’t written about already. Yeah, there’s Neal Stephenson’s next novel, but I can’t put THAT on a Cautious Enthusiasm list because I am one hundred percent confident it will be amazing and I’ll love it. Sometimes you just know.

Eh. Don’t worry. I won’t let the year pass without doing this. I’ve got a few things to look forward to with trepidation; haven’t run outta steam quite yet! Read on.


American Horror Story: Hotel...With Lady Gaga
WHAT IT IS: What? You mean the show I’ve been recapping for the past three years? No idea. To remind everyone, AHS: Freak Show was fun but a lot of folks, myself included, feel the series is in danger of slipping into a creative rut. Same old cast, similar pacing and story arcs. Season Five needs to be the season of reinvention. The hotel setting ain’t as outside-the-box as I’d like, but nobody was expecting the news to be broken on Twitter by Lady Gaga, batshit chanteuse extraordinaire -- who also revealed she’s been cast in a lead role. Thanks, Obama.
WHY I’M EXCITED: I can’t deny it’s quite a coup to feature somebody like Lady Gaga on this show. But it makes a certain sense when you think about it. She’s kooky. She’s no stranger to horrific costume/makeup jobs. Her act has often drawn upon scary themes, from the meat dress to the murdered models in her “Paparazzi” video to her overall knack for writhing and twitching. I can give her the benefit of the doubt! Plus, it seems she’s leading a squad of refreshing talent; other revealed cast members include Matt Bomer, Cheyenne Jackson, Wes Bentley, and Chloë Sevigny, none of whom are members of the usual AHS brat pack. That, plus Jessica Lange confirming she’s definitely out, makes me think this could be the gore-drenched Second Coming I crave.
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: Is Lady Gaga an actress? I have no goddamn idea. I can’t judge her by her music videos, where she’s just playing versions of herself. You KNOW a lot of people hate her by default, and perhaps their “I-told-you-sos” will be ringing in our ears as she delivers a performance that’s monstrous in all the wrong ways. Everyone’s weighing the positives (she went to school for musical theater!) and negatives (she was terrible in Machete Kills!), and the casting of Mother Monster can’t help but seem like a whopping stunt designed to get people talking about AHS again. Which ain’t a bad thing. But with more and more anthology shows on the docket, AHS needs to prove it can rise above gimmickry as well as redundancy.

UPDATE: My semi-coherent recaps of AHS: Hotel begin here!

Kung Fu Panda 3
WHAT IT IS: The continuing escapades of Po the Dragon Warrior, pleasingly plump panda protagonist of DreamWorks’ franchise. In previous entries, we’ve seen Po go from fat doofus to...fat doofus with Kung Fu powers...and also seen him tackle the mysteries of his past. The threequel reunites Po with his birth father, and features the same old crowd of voice talent, plus Mads Mikkelsen as the villain and Rebel Wilson as the usual annoying Rebel Wilson character.
WHY I’M EXCITED: DreamWorks Animation is hit or miss. At best, they’re a delight. At worst, they’re forgettable or insulting. But the Kung Fu Panda series is a winner with its mix of gorgeous art design, snark, and lovingly depicted Kung Fu battles. KFP 2 surprised the shit out of me by being about as good as the first one, and Po’s personal baggage and relationship with his adopted dad, Mr. Ping, are super touching. One scene in the sequel actually made me cry a little. So I’m more than ready for more Po, more Tigress (definitely one of the most subtle female characters in animation history), more Master Shifu (cranky Duston Hoffman, yay!), more compelling villains, more Chinese scenery, more of everything the series excels at!
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: Name me an animated series (besides Toy Story) that remained good past the second installment. Shrek? Ice Age? The Land Before Time? Don’t make me laugh. Diminishing quality seems inevitable, and the problems that have plagued the KFP series, most notably the lack of attention given to the supporting cast (hey, maybe Jackie Chan will get four lines instead of three!) are still gonna be there. KFP 2 dealt with Po being torn between love for Mr. Ping and a desire to find where he truly belongs. KFP 3 looks to be the exact same goddamn story. Have we run out of steam, perhaps? I’m most worried by the future. DreamWorks wants to make six Kung Fu Panda movies. SIX! No one’s gonna be interested for that long, least of all the voice actors! Why must we always inflate a franchise to tedious proportions?

UPDATE: I watched it! Read my reaction here.

Mr. Holmes
WHAT IT IS: A quiet little movie in the midst of all the megablockbusters, Mr. Holmes stars Ian McKellen as, yes, Sherlock Holmes. Ahh, but this is more contemplative drama than action-packed thriller. The heavily aged Holmes, retired and waiting for death, contemplates his unusual life and, perhaps, is offered one last chance to put his remarkable mind to work solving a mystery.
WHY I’M EXCITED: Don’t you get a lovely tingle from hearing “Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes”? I know I do. Sir Ian has been imprisoned in the CGI- and makeup-heavy worlds of Lord of the Rings and X-Men for long enough. Mr. Holmes looks like the tour de force of subtle acting he deserves, a chance for him to strip away all caricature -- ironic, considering he’s playing one of the most famous characters in history. But after all the recent Sherlock-mania, after the modernizations and Hollywoodizations of the legendary detective...well, doesn’t it sound pleasant to just watch him quietly crime-solving in his twilight years?
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: The previous collaboration between Ian McKellen and director Bill Condon did little for me. That’d be 1998’s Gods and Monsters, about the last days of flamboyant horror director James Whale, and while it provides all the male nudity you could ask for (hellooooo, young Brendan Fraser!), I found it kind of dreary overall. Now these two guys are once again studying the swansong of a legendary man, and it’s hard to imagine they could suck the joy out of Sherlock Holmes, but I wouldn’t put it past them. I believe that Holmes, even an aging and melancholy Holmes, should retain a certain spark of delicious madness; without it, he’s lacking. That’s why he’s so beloved. But, then, so is Sir Ian, so I retain good hopes.

UPDATE: I watched it! Read my reaction here.

Season Three of Hannibal
WHAT IT IS: My favorite TV show currently airing (yes, it tops AHS) is taking itself to a new level. Up until now, Hannibal has been an artsy police procedural, with everyone believing Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) is a good guy as opposed to an insidious serial killer. No more! Season Two ended with Lecter dropping his cover, leaving most of the main cast mortally wounded, and jetting off to Italy with his mysterious sidekick, Dr. Bedelia du Maurier (Gillian Anderson). To Be Continued...this summer.
WHY I’M EXCITED: I’d be grateful for a new season of Hannibal no matter what (it’s one of those shows with niche appeal, which means it’s perpetually in danger of cancellation), but its third season will really push the boundaries, methinks. Italy, a gorgeous nation in its own right, should look breathtaking when filtered through this show’s dreamlike aesthetic. I can’t wait to see them do a manhunt storyline, and I’m so happy Dr. du Maurier is now a main character because Anderson is astounding in the role. As if that weren’t cool enough, the back half of the season will dive into the first Hannibal Lecter novel, Red Dragon, and the creepy killer known as the Tooth Fairy will be played by Richard “Thorin Oakenshield” Armitage, who I have a huge crush on. Hannibal is like a particularly fucked-up Christmas morning for Dang-Blasted.
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: First off, NBC bumping Hannibal to the summer worries me, because it implies they’re struggling to boost its ratings, and may give up on it. Beyond that, I’m a little anxious that the show will lose something once it reaches this particular point in the Hannibal Lecter timeline. Yes, Hannibal has thus far provided its own mesmerizing take on the mythos, but it hasn’t had to adapt one of the actual, original Thomas Harris novels...until now. We’ve already seen two film versions of Red Dragon; can the show avoid redundancy? And how will they tackle Silence of the Lambs without the legal rights to Clarice Starling? And can they make Lecter’s backstory less stupid than Hannibal Rising? (Probably.) Considering how well the show avoided a sophomore slump, I’m confident it’ll continue to rock my world. But it faces a new set of narrative challenges. I hope it doesn’t lose its unique, eerie vibe.

UPDATE: I discuss the first half of the season (Florence) here.
UPDATE 2: The second arc (Red Dragon) and my final(?) eulogy to the show can be read here.

Conker’s Big Reunion
WHAT IT IS: A brand-new game* starring Conker the Squirrel, star of 2001’s M-rated, irreverent, violent, scatological cartoon platformer, Conker’s Bad Fur Day. This sequel* will be part of Microsoft’s Project Spark and will entail Conker trying to regain some of the good old platforming glory ten years after his previous adventure.
WHY I’M EXCITED: Ask a gamer for a list of games that desperately need sequels, and many will include Conker’s BFD on the list. I know I would. Now we’re finally getting a sequel* that takes advantage of the latest gaming hardware while still retaining the nostalgic feel of the old N64 era. They even got Chris Seavor, the original Conker-voicer, to return! And it’s not just another revamp of Conker’s BFD, nope nope nope. It’s a sequel*. A bona fide second entry* in the series. Just like we always wanted! All the poop jokes, fourth wall breaking, and soon-to-be-dated pop culture references a Conker fan could wish for*! This should be great****!
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: Sigh. Follow the trail of asterisks and you’ll come upon the huge, glaring, hellfire-drenched catch. This isn’t a new Conker game at all. It’s a content pack for the aforementioned Project Spark, which is thing...that will revolve entirely around user-generated content. Basically, it sounds like Conker’s Big Reunion will set up a premise, then hand players a big wheelbarrow full of scenery, textures, models, sound and music files, and A.I. routines, and say, “Okay, now make it yourself! Remember, quality will be entirely up to you guys!” I’m not saying a UGC-based gameworld is bad per se, but...well, I can’t get excited about this when the professionals seem too lazy to make it themselves. My prediction is that older fans, disgusted with this lame excuse for a “new” Conker game, will ignore it, leaving the iGeneration brats to turn it into something retarded. Also, the new graphics remind me of Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, a game I wish I could banish back to the ballsack of Hades from whence it came. Remember when Rare wasn’t a shitbog of a company?

The X-Files: The New Season
WHAT IT IS: I didn’t even realize how much I adored Gillian Anderson until I put her on a Cautious Enthusiasm list twice. So, thanks to the new wave of moves as TV shows, comics as TV shows, and older TV shows as TV shows, Chris Carter is bringing back that beloved 1990s geek staple, The X-Files, for a six-episode “event series” with Anderson and David Duchovny back onboard as Dana Scully and Fox Mulder. Aliens? Ghosts? Lamprey men? Oh, my.
WHY I’M EXCITED: I must confess that I’m not a huge fan of The X-Files. But I’ve still watched a ton of it and like it a lot, so its return is very intriguing. Everybody’s hope is that they’ll return to form and do some strong one-shot stories, maybe with a recurring mystery running beneath. Y’know, like Sherlock! But who can resist the good old chemistry between Mulder and Scully, or the promise of cameos from fan-favorite characters, or the glory of modern special effects? This could be a sweet treat for the long-term fans, and if it attracts enough attention from younguns as well, who knows? Maybe a full-blown series revival is not out of the question. I’d enjoy seeing Mulder and Scully doing their thang in the post-9/11 Internet Age.
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: Here’s an article, obviously written by a fan, laying out the ways in which the new X-Files is a bad idea that will suck. I don’t agree with its entirety -- I try to be more optimistic -- but I can’t deny that it’ll be hard to recapture exactly what made the early seasons of The X-Files so special. The new eps must operate under the crushing weight of the entire franchise, so how could they feel fresh? I also agree that The X-Files: I Want to Believe was a shitty and half-assed offering overall, in part because it abandoned the meat of the original show in favor of a generic “monster of the week.” So what do fans want, exactly? More aliens and black oil mythology? Going that route would alienate newcomers. I sure do hope they can make Mulder and Scully as watchable as they once were. And that they find interesting new ground to break instead of digging up a bunch of moldering old bones they already buried.

It’s nice to make a list like this and know with confidence that most if not all of these things will be available reasonably soon. With actual release dates and junk. Unlike, say, The Last Guardian. Or...oh, God, the humanity...The Winds of Winter. My soul hurts just thinking about it. But keep watching anyway.