As I mentioned in my previous post, my first exposure to gaming was Nintendo’s Pokémon Silver. Thanks to that, most of my gaming experience was with Nintendo. Now, I will admit that most of their games were fun to play. However, there are a couple of things about their games that I feel need to be addressed. I will try not to be too harsh with what I say, but no promises. And for the record, I am not singling out Nintendo when I write this. They just happen to be the ones to use this cliché the most. With all that in mind, let’s talk about princesses.
Let’s first talk about the Zelda franchise. The Legend of Zelda series has spawned a good amount of titles throughout the years. I’ll be honest when I say I have not played very single one of them, nor do I have a desire to play every single Zelda game. However, I have played a pretty good portion of them and that is enough for me to understand the basic formula. Evil comes to the land of Hyrule and then the predestined hero Link has to go stop it and save the princess Zelda from the clutches of said evil. Pretty standard stuff and definitely a full on cliché. However, I am willing to give this franchise the benefit of the doubt because it at least has some bearing on the story. You see, while I haven’t played through every game in the franchise, I have beaten Ocarina of Time. This game alone shows why the princess cliché is at least tolerable despite being woefully predictable.
Now I will be honest, and say that Ocarina of Time is not my favorite entry in the franchise. Part of the reason is due to having no nostalgia with the title since I never really felt compelled to beat it until the 3Ds version came out in 2011. Part of it is also because with the exception of a couple of enemies, it never really had anything interesting to fight. As lastly, due to it being the first title in 3D, I found a good portion of the puzzles to be fairly simple. It’s not like I don’t think it is good, but I also don’t feel that it is great. All that being said, the one aspect of the game that I feel deserves a lot of praise is the story since it firmly establishes Zelda as the center of the world. You see, if it weren’t for Zelda naively believing that she would be able to overwrite destiny as a young child, the subsequent timelines would never come to be. She, albeit indirectly, is responsible for the splitting of the Triforce by sending you on that quest and entrusting you with the Ocarina of Time. However, learning from her failures and growing from them gave her the Triforce of Wisdom which made her an important piece in later games. There are other games I could mention to highlight Zelda’s importance, but I don’t want to get too far off topic. What I want you to take out of this is that the princess cliché is there not entirely out of laziness, but rather there is also the argument that the world itself considers her to be important to keeping things in balance. This is further elaborated on in Skyward Sword due to her being the one chosen by the goddess and all that, but I will talk about this game more in a later post. Just realize that her being kidnapped directly effects the fate of the world itself, unlike another popular franchise.
However, before we get into that franchise that we all know I will end up bringing up by the end of this post, I will be bluing your berries for a moment to talk about another game with this cliché that I have not played but would like to bring up. Now this game has been ported to who knows how many consoles at this point so I know I don’t have an excuse, but let’s not focus too much on that and talk about Resident Evil 4. Now since I haven’t played it I cannot praise the way it influenced the way we think about third person shooters to this day or whatever. Feel free to have your own separate discussion about that in the comments if you like. What I am going to talk about is the story since that is something I have experienced with the lovely help of plot synopses and YouTube. Now to sum it all up in a few sentences seeing as how you are all probably familiar with this game to at least some degree, the basic plot is about saying the president’s daughter who was kidnapped and having to fight some zombies along the way. I know, Ashley isn’t technically a princess, but it is such a thinly disguised princess cliché that I don’t believe it’s worth mentioning. The only reason I mention it is so that you are aware that I do have a basic idea of what I am talking about. Now, this game’s is incredibly simple with around half of it being an escort mission. The thing is that it fortunately is designed so that escorting Ashley around is not much of an issue during gameplay as she has the ability to hide herself from enemies when prompted to do so. Now the main reason why I bring this up is because again, while she is there solely for the sake of the plot, it is understandable why she is there. Whether you find escorting her troublesome or not, you understand that she is your main mission and that if anything happens to her there will be dire consequences. You see, if you are going to play it safe and base your story around this cliché, give an idea of the stakes while keeping things both simple and in accordance with common sense. Note that when I say common sense, I mean according to how the world around the game is based. It makes sense to kidnap Zelda because she is a key part of Hyrule, and it makes sense to kidnap Ashley as a means to get to the president. Easy right? Now before we move on the the final stretch, let’s go on one last detour.
Now, for those of you who are feeling like I am stringing you along for nothing, well there is a game that perfectly encapsulates how you are feeling right now. This game is part of a franchise that is older than me and can give me a run for my money in terrible ideas and atrocious dialogue. Look no further than the entry in the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise that nearly killed it off for good. I refer to none other than Sonic the Hedgehog, more famously known as Sonic ’06. Now I have been fortunate to not have the displeasure of actually playing this game, but in my youth I naively decided to watch a full walkthrough of the game and witnessed one of the most atrocious plots for a game that I had ever seen. And that was before I actually had any background on the characters in the game. The princess Elise is the focus of the princess cliché this time, and she is a prime example of why you cannot introduce this idea into any game you like. The biggest reason is obviously that no matter what the plot is, the game has to be playable and enjoyable, since the main focus of a game should always be gameplay. Unfortunately, the gameplay is atrocious from what I’ve seen so the game shot itself in the foot right out of the gate. However, even without the terrible gameplay the plot is still terribly executed because they reuse the same cliché too many times within the same game. If that weren’t bad enough, the townsfolk do not ever seem to be concerned with the number of kidnappings. There is absolutely no sense of the stakes. In Hyrule, when evil is lurking the atmosphere changes. In Resident Evil 4, when Ashley is taken away, you get a game over. Not only do you not interact with Elise in anything other than in cutscenes, the atmosphere feels the same no matter how many times this girl is kidnapped. So that means the game itself undermines your efforts to save her by having her getting kidnapped immediately after and the game shows no reason to be concerned with her kidnapping. So why would you bother saving her? Normally the answer would be so that you could play more of the game but I think I made it clear that’s a non-starter unless you sport masochistic tendencies. At the end of the day, the game needs to keep you invested and it can’t do that with idiotic plots or terrible gameplay.
Now, I realize I have been putting off talking about the big one for a while now. The reason being, there isn’t that much to say about it. You all know which games I’m talking about here. It’s the Mario series. It is the most famous example I can think of in which a cliché has managed to turn into an expectation. And it is not as though the kidnapping means anything. Peach’s kidnappings have become such a formality at this point that there is no way the place can’t run without her and it isn’t like she is a valuable political asset. That is just what happens. Sure you can explain it as Bowser’s crush or as a challenge to Mario, but that is just a thinly disguised way of saying she is kidnapped so that the game can happen. I guess that’s fine. You don’t need to have more than just a simple plot. It’s not like it matters that Bowser can go kidnapping her one day and then go out go-karting with everyone the week after. At the end of the day, what matters is that the gameplay is fun. However, what has happened is that the series can’t really branch out from that anymore. Even in the spin-off games Princess Peach still ends up getting kidnapped even if it is not by Bowser. And whenever it isn’t her being kidnapped, someone else usually does in her place. I won’t say it is always unreasonable, but surely there has to be another way to start off a game right? It would be one thing if she were important for an evil scheme, but most of the time there is no indication of that being the case. So why rely on this cliché for so many games in the franchise? It doesn’t add anything to the story, it’s just kind of there. Now I am not saying that the gameplay is lacking in any recent Mario games. But, is there any harm in experimenting with the story as well? It’s fine to play things safe, but I feel like if I am going to go through eight different worlds for this lady, I should get something more than just some cake.