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December 12, 2012

Spirit Showdown #7: The Agent

Killer7 is a weird game.  I just want to make that clear.

It’s as much a rail shooter as it is an adventure game, fusing Resident Evil’s item-collecting sensibilities with the pinpoint-striking gunplay of any given light gun arcade game.  If that were it, then I’d be fine with calling it innovative and leaving it at that -- but in case you haven’t heard, Killer7 is a game where you shoot mutated, explosive, laughing suicide bombers in their weak points to absorb their essence.  You play as eight characters, seven of which are more or less rolled into one body and you switch between them as needed.  There’s a conspiracy involving an afro-haired TV personality with a cardboard office in Texas, a pastiche of the Power Rangers that’s come to life and kills their creator, and a plot partially orchestrated by two Japanese politicians who shoot brain matter at you after having their heads blown open, and the only way to beat them is to shoot at one of their ties.  Oh, and a harvester of the bodies of orphans who has an anime schoolgirl daughter with eyes the size of sand dollars, submachine guns, and super-speed. 

I’m pretty sure that the developers -- Suda51 well among them -- made it up as they went along as part of their drug-fueled fever dream; I dare not imagine the man who could come up with the final hours of that game while in a normal state of mind.  But what’s important to take away from Killer7 isn’t that it leaves you saying “Wow!  What a delightfully weird-ass game!”  What’s important is that it leaves you saying “Wow!  What an imaginative game!”  That’s probably why I admire Japanese games as much as I do: they don’t give a damn if you don’t understand them in the long run.  They’re just out to act on their creative vision -- act without limits, just as any good story can and should.

And with that in mind, here we are.  A story, and a heroine, that likely wouldn’t exist without the reckless imagination of Killer7.

Hope you’re ready.  The first member of the “Tech Trio” is here.

So I guess I should start by saying…uh…

Wait, hold on a second.  I probably shouldn’t be too hasty.  There’s been a lot that’s happened recently -- well, so to speak.  Better have a look around first.

Huh.  Doesn’t look like there are any gaping dimensional fluxes here in the blog.  But I wonder if I just can’t see them?  And if I’ve really crossed over into the virtual space -- or some facsimile of it -- then wouldn’t that mean that the laws of reality, causality, and reason itself are little more than trivialities?  What sorts of rules define this world, if it really is the boundary -- the mixture -- of reality and fantasy?

Ah, the hell with this.  I suck at science; better to just focus on what I can handle.  Namely…

If what FX said is true, then that guy is gonna be the lynchpin of all this nonsense.  He’s been MIA for the last few weeks -- and given that I can’t remember his name, there are some pretty hefty clues.  But how could I have called him here if I never even knew his name?  And if real-world me is the one masterminding all this via Word Documents, how is it even possible that I’ve gotten this far without even knowing the basics about him?  Do I even know what he looks like?

…Guess that’s a no.  Damn it.

All right, all right, I’m not gonna figure this out just by sitting around and going over things I don’t know.  I’ll work out all the details over my stay here…or there…or…wherever it is I am.  Man, screw inter-dimensional travel.  I’m a writer, not a physicist.

Now where was I?  Oh, right, the new character.  Or at least, relatively new.  Let’s see here…I guess it’s been about seven years since I came up with Alice; chronologically, she’s the ninth in line out of a healthy ten.  So circumstantially, she’s one of the younger heroines bouncing around in my head. 

It’s worth noting, however, that even if she is one of the younger ones she was originally designed with a more mature mindset.  That is to say, she and her story were supposed to be the darkest, bloodiest, and most brutal I could muster -- a grisly tale featuring big guns, bigger demons, and the biggest betrayals to comrades, organizations, and humanity itself.  If all the other stories were optimistic, awe-inspiring tales of heroism and triumph, this one would nix all of that.

Little wonder, then, that it was that original version of the story that got nixed. 

 (That's not to insult The Punisher, of course, but you catch my drift.)

Much like Cobalt’s story before it, Alice’s story ended up getting lighter, and lighter, and lighter.  It’s certainly not a flighty foray, but compared to what it could have been, it’s a pretty marked departure.  Let me put it this way: I have a habit of color-coding things.  Uniting everything under certain aesthetic principles, chief among them a color or two that captures the mood, or the theme, or what have you.  If you’ve seen some of the other posts for the Showdown, you’ve probably noticed that there’s been a color associated with each character.  Cobalt is under the sea, so he’s in blue.  Deias is the passionate, flame-slinging leader of his crew, so he gets red.  Ocelot V is spirited and energetic, so he gets orange (by the way, fun fact: orange is actually considered to be a lucky color).  In the past, Alice’s story -- and the character by extension -- was dominated by shades of red and black, befitting the demon-infested city I envisioned.  Nowadays?  The dominant color is purple.  Draw from that what you will for the moment, because I’ll get back to it.

But colors can only go so far.  The guiding principles of the story have changed as well; in the past, I was content with making the story as brutal as possible, without any thought as to how to make it stand out, thoughtful, or even worthwhile.  (Give me a break, I was young…well, younger.)  Nowadays, I can see and ascribe a spirit to the story.  And right now, that spirit is…


The inescapable shadow that hounds the wicked -- the terror that consumes the unrepentant, and acts as an unsung counterpart to the light!  It is…it is…

…Wow, this sounds so much sadder when there’s nobody around.  Seriously, where is…whatever that guy’s name is?!  We can’t have a comedy routine with just one half of the team!

Jeez.  Well, anyway, I guess you can think of the story as an urban fantasy, especially given that virtually all of it takes place in a place called Santa Infierno.  Unlike the general disarray of Cobalt’s planet 187, Santa Infierno does well enough for itself -- pockets of crime notwithstanding.  But there are two key factors that set it apart from a real-world setting.  First of all, humans are extinct.  Second of all, the entire city looks like something out of a Tim Burton movie -- albeit with a notable seventies vibe to it.  And better lit.

Let’s flash back to that first point.  Humans are pretty much a long-gone memory; everyone in the city is a demon, no matter how human they might look.  The only reason you might see someone like Alice walking around is for the sake of A) convenience or B) fashion -- and it’s more often the latter than the former.  Why are humans extinct?  Simple: because the rapture happened centuries ago, wiping out humanity in a swirl of hellfire and the wrath of God.  To be fair, humanity wasn’t wiped out in an instant; the sinners that remained to be tortured by the raging, crumbling world ended up mating with the demons that emerged, and generations of breeding from that point have diluted human blood to a thousandth of a percent.  Additionally, some people managed a bit of resilience against the rapture and ended up becoming demons.  So in a nutshell, that’s pretty much the origin of that little societal shift.

And on the second point…well, what did you expect?  Rapture + end of humanity = complete cultural meltdown.  We’re talking extinction here, and the repopulation of the earth by demons; humans are treated with the same mindset as dinosaurs.  Earth essentially started over, but certain lessons and principles remained; while wars eventually started up (and indeed, there were plenty of demon-versus-demon wars in the years following the rapture), the demons eventually remembered and utilized what humans had accomplished to build a new society…albeit with some macabre twists.  So basically, you can expect lots of bent architecture, a loony cavalcade of neon lights and shifting paints, and smiles wherever you turn.  Lots, and lots, and lots of smiles.

Yeah, just like that.

While the world has changed to accommodate the new world order, there are still some things that never change.  Everyone is a demon, but because of it virtually everyone has some sort of ability that can -- as Shakespeare once put it -- wreck your shit.  And wrecked in a spectacular fashion, no less.  As such, if things get too out of hand it wouldn’t just be the city itself that’s in danger, or the people therein; there needs to be order, and plenty of it.  So heaven itself is involved in the proceedings; the angels (and God, of course) act as overseers for Santa Infierno.  But rather than act directly, they’re content with having their proxies act for them -- doing the lord’s work and ensuring peace, order, and justice reign supreme before a real calamity strikes.  And who are these proxies?  Simple: it’s the Santa Infierno Societal Defense Agency…simply put, the police.

And of course, Alice is a member.  And it’s a good thing, too; there’s something going down in Santa Infierno.  Something big.  And if she wants to put a stop to it, she’ll have to do more than just nab a few thugs; it’s more than likely that she’ll have to go toe-to-toe with some of the deadliest gunmen her demon-filled world can produce, unravel the mystery behind the sudden rash of crime, uncover the corruption in several seats of power, figure out just why entire city blocks are fading into the ether, and simplest of all, prevent a revolt that could tear apart what remains of the disappearing city.  So yeah, she’s going to be a bit busy. 

I guess it’s just a good thing she’s so good at her job, huh?

I said, I guess it’s just a -- oh, right.  There’s nobody here but me.  Wow, this makes things infinitely more difficult.  If I had known this would happen I would have brought a robot buddy or something, or at least a tape recorder so I could play back my voice.

No, no, that’s no good at all.  Just have to suck it up and keep going; there’s got to be some good that comes out of all this eventually.  Maybe.  Maybe I’ll stumble on some kind of clue…

Yeah, maybe so.  Let’s see, what’s next?  Oh, yeah -- this is the part where I relate Alice to Morrigan from Darkstalkers, and --

Son of a bitch!  What kind of lame-ass clue is that?  That’s not even a clue, I bet!  Just a chance for me to embrace my love/hate/love of fighting games!

…Okay, maybe this isn’t quite so bad after all. 

Like I said at the outset, Alice is a member of the “Tech Trio”.  Generally speaking, they sacrifice maneuverability for some crazy techniques and abilities; in other words, it’s their bag of tricks, not just power or speed, which makes them unique.  That said, Alice is a bit of a hybrid character; she’s by far the most agile of the Tech Trio, and while that doesn’t translate into giving her Cobalt’s extreme speed or FX’s evasive mastery, she still has more than enough skill to compensate.  So let’s start with the basics -- you look at Alice and what do you see?  That’s right, a human.  That’s the form she chooses to take…likely because it goes swimmingly with her awesome British accent, as demonstrated here by Cammy White

At a base level, Alice is something along the lines of a human. But when I look at her, I don’t see a human.  I see this:

Alice has -- to put it in fighting game terms -- command dashes.  In her case, they do more than give her unique movement options; she can use slinky, almost snake-like motions to maneuver around the battlefield, dodging bullets and widening or closing the gap as she sees fit.  But it goes beyond that; she can vault through the air with a spring of her heel, to the point where she can zip behind an enemy and plant a bullet in the back of their head.  Essentially, it’s impossible to escape her, and trying to shoot her is done with a huge amount of risk.  That’s largely because if she DOES decide to close the gap -- if she gets within arm’s reach of an enemy -- she can make pretty good use of her fangs to poison the crap out of them.  (So incidentally, she’s got a command grab.)

But that’s not all.  Alice has got one hell of a gun with her at all times -- one that would make Dirty Harry’s magnum look like a pea-shooter.  It’s got enough force to rip through the hides of plenty of demons, and by utilizing Alice’s demonic energy it can fire off massive, darkness-imbued shells that can and will shear their way through anything in their path.  The key drawback, of course, is that she has to pick her shots very carefully; she’s only got so much ammo, and reloading is an issue she has to be mindful of at all times.  Even so, she’s never fighting alone; as if her mobility and gun weren’t enough, she’s also got the power to control and direct snakes, like a serpentine Aquaman.  Only instead of calling in snakes from, say, the local zoo (though she can if need be), she just materializes snakes from whatever shadows are nearby.  She can create as many as a hundred eight, or just have all the shadows coalesce into one giant-ass snake. 

The key to Alice’s strategy is control.  She has plenty of techniques, but how effective they are depends on where she is and where her opponents are.  There are certain gaps in her offense and defense that can be exploited (she’s not as effective at point-blank defense, and as you’d expect she’s not as useful when there’s a lot of light), but she can put herself in a position to not only control the movement of her enemies, but utterly dominate as long as she’s on the offensive.

You may think I’m being silly for focusing so much on combat capabilities, but there’s a reason that I’d go so far on that end.  How someone fights is an extension of their personalities -- both in their tool set and their mentality.  For a guy like Ocelot V, going all in with rushing attacks and kung fu gleaned from poorly-dubbed martial arts movies suits him, and encapsulates his essence.  For a guy like FX, humiliating his opponents and making them look like morons for even daring to face him is par for the course.  For Alice?  Well, that much should be a bit clearer by now (I hope), but let’s go a bit further in depth.

I don’t think I can talk about Alice as a character without discussing what she used to be…or should I say, almost was.  In the proto-version, she started off as a man; that didn’t last too long though.  So she ended up being this cold-hearted gunwoman -- a policewoman still, but not much in the way of warmth, opinion, or personality.  (It’s also worth noting that her name at the time was “Kage” -- the Japanese word for shadow.  Ah, yes, I was in THAT phase…one I dare not speak of at the moment.)  In other words, she would have been everything I oppose now: little more than a stoic badass with a token character arc and bloated self-importance.

This character is better -- not perfect, I’d assume, but significantly better than the original form.  Alice is, in a nutshell, a cool character.  She’s confident.  She keeps her composure.  She’s a woman that knows what she wants and how to get it -- and she’ll do so while laughing her way to victory.  It’s not impossible to get under her skin, or make her lose her cool…but it is very, very hard.  Whereas four out of the seven characters revealed so far in the Showdown are losers that you can’t help but feel sorry for, Alice has a very commanding presence in spite of being so laid-back.  She’ll gladly go out with you for a drink, but she’s just as likely to tease you and pressure you into picking up the tab.  In fact, her coolness almost makes her an anomaly; even if she’s the kind of person you have to take seriously, the fact that she’s so often taking things in stride makes people wonder if she’s out of her mind.  (It certainly doesn’t help that her partner is -- in spite of putting on airs -- significantly lamer and more easily flustered.)

Alice is all about control, both on the battlefield and off it.  Domination, even.  But in spite of her snake-like status, she’s surprisingly rigid and uncompromising.  As an agent of justice -- and an emissary of heaven -- that’s not quite a bad thing…except for the fact that her rigidity leads her to have a very certain view on things.  She is all about pursuing justice, even if she does so with a composed air; if she’s given an order from the higher-ups, she’ll follow through.  It’s all for a good cause, after all.

Except…well, you read that stuff earlier, didn’t you?  She’s on the side of the law, but she’s more than willing to get rough with anyone that breaks it…up to and including murder.  SISDA has a very pragmatic approach to problems, and allows its agents to do what needs to be done in order to succeed and keep the peace.  Alice is no exception; she takes no glee from killing, but DOES over the thought that she’s kept Santa Infierno a little bit safer.  So in some respects, there is a more sinister side to her, and the organization at large.

But there’s a very good reason why Alice acts the way she does, and it’s more than just to exert dominance over the weak and foolish.  She’s old.  Very old.  Centuries old.  Old enough to have seen the rapture.  Old enough to have lived through it.  She was just a ten-year-old girl at the time, an out-of-the-way nobody who had a casual suburban life and a love of animals.  And then, one day, she told her mom a little white lie.  Just one -- maybe the first she’d ever told.

That was all it took.  One little unscrupulous act -- one betrayal of virtues -- put humanity into the red zone.  That’s right: Alice was the one who triggered the rapture.

 Chaos and terror surrounded her for ages.  Everyone she knew and loved died en masse, or met worse fates at the hands of hungry demons, or burned alive in seas of magma.  Days, and weeks, and months, and years passed with Alice struggling to survive, and live in a world that had quite literally turned into hell.  She did a poor job of it at first, what with being a defenseless little girl.  And it would be pretty hard to even breathe when you’re constantly bombarded by storms of blood and brimstone.  And at several points, she lost all hope, and considered -- even tried -- to take her life.

But she didn’t die.  She couldn’t.  The denizens from on high had bigger plans for her -- a destiny she couldn’t turn away from.  She may have caused the chaos, but she would one day make up for it.  She would be the greatest agent of justice the world would ever know.  It was a fate, she soon discovered, that she couldn’t refuse.

Alice had become -- and still is -- immortal.

Make no mistake -- just because she’s immortal doesn’t mean she’s invincible.  She still feels pain, still bleeds, and can still “die” in a conventional sense.  But even if she gets blown to bits, the higher-ups will piece her back together over a long period of time.  (And believe you me, she remembers every last “scrape” she’s gotten over the centuries.)  The key benefit is that she’s effectively stopped aging; as long as heaven exists, she’ll be in the prime of her life for eternity.  An eternity of being a cop and doing the work of heaven.  An eternity of forced loyalty, lest she wants to face a life full of misery and emptiness. 

It’s a good thing, then, that Alice genuinely believes in doing and bringing justice no matter what.  As stories go, the higher-ups aren’t exactly what they seem to be; they aren’t the villains of the story, and never will be, but the pragmatism they employ speaks a lot about their true nature.  In spite of that, Alice believes in the concepts they put forth; remember, she LIVED through the rapture.  She knows how bad things can get, and she knows what might happen if humanity…er, demonkind loses its way.  They need someone to snap them into line.  They need an overseer, a peacekeeper, a symbol.  They need someone who’s willing to ensure order, in spite of the dark efforts required or the secrets that remain hidden from the public.  Like it or not, they need Alice.  And Alice is guaranteed to be there -- not just for heaven’s sake, or her own sake.  There are children out there with their own dreams; it’s her job to defend them.

Unfortunately, that’s not a sentiment that the villains share.  A fair number of them -- the aptly-named Death Squad -- are in it for their own selfish reasons, living only according to the vices and twisted codes of their creation.  But even the Death Squad’s aims and actions are just part of a greater plot; even though all of them, like Alice, remember the days before the rapture (and in fact reveled and thrived in the chaos), the mastermind, and the story’s true villain, has a single goal in mind.  He’s out to start up a second rapture.  And this time, the world -- heaven and earth -- might not recover from it.

Alice ain’t havin’ that shit.  It doesn’t matter if she’s got to face off with a blind and timid heiress who’s sharing a body with a bloodthirsty Wolverine-clawed psychopath, a milk-loving little girl toting twin Vulcan cannons, a cultured and erudite monkey man with the power to spontaneously create jungles, and a faceless actor who can shape-shift any part of his body into dragon heads.  She’ll take them all out, in the name of justice.

See?  I bet you were worried that this story wouldn’t be weird enough, weren’t you -- oh.  Right.  Still all alone over here.  Well, at least I got through this post in a short amount of time…a relatively short amount of time.  Four thousand words?  Not even four thousand words?  That’s a new record, I think. 

Guess I’ll leave the theme song here, then.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaand…uh, well, I guess that’ll just about do it.  Nothing else left to do besides leave the teaser for the next character and head out.  I’m actually a little excited about the next one; if he was in a fighting game, he’d totally be my main.  He’s got some moves.

Uh…hold on.  I’ve got a little bit of alone time, so maybe I should take a minute to sort through things one more time.  If I don’t, then the internet will unravel, and so will reality.  And I assume that that would kind of suck, and I’d like to avoid it.  Those Game Grumps episodes aren’t going to watch themselves.  Also, everyone would be dead.

Let’s see here.  What do I know about that guy?  Uh…he’s got a low tolerance for shenanigans.  He’s pretty sarcastic.  And…and…hey!

I’m still drawing a blank.  Fantastic.

What is going on here?  I’m the one that friggin’ created the guy for this feature!  I should know all this stuff!  Who he is, what he’s after, what he likes and dislikes!  How is it that I can remember facts about a guy I made thirteen years ago, but barely one made in October?  What’s the difference?  What’s separating the two of them?  What --

Hold on a second…

Hold on.  Hold on, hold on.  That guy isn’t here right now.  Where he is, I can’t even begin to wonder -- my best guess would be somewhere on the internet, doing who knows what.  But that’s not important right now; what’s important is that he’s separated from me.  Even if he is my character, and even if this IS all an act for the sake of the blog, he’s been able to distance himself from me with ease.  He and I are separate entities, thanks to the power of the internet and everything in it.  And if what’s happened to me is true, then…

The reason I can’t remember anything about him is because of one of three reasons.  One: he took that information from me when he left.  Two: that information no longer exists, because he deleted it on his way out.  Or three: whatever info there was about him has been changed…mostly because HE’S the one changing it.

So in other words, his past and present are completely under his control -- if not deleted or changed, then kept close to the chest.  But if that’s the case…then why?  What’s he after?  What does he stand to gain?  And what’s all this got to do with my blog?

No, I’m missing the point here.  He wouldn’t have spent so much time here without a reason; there’s something here that he needed.  Something that I must have given him.  And now that he has it -- assuming that he does have it, or at least a big enough portion of it -- he’s in a position to do some real damage.

And right now, it looks like I’ve got to put a stop to it.  If I’m the one responsible, then I’ve got a mess to clean up, one way or another.

And I might have just the trick I need to pull it off.  Time to spring into action.

…Or I could eat some hot dogs.  Yeah, that sounds good right about now.


  1. That Random Game BloggerDecember 12, 2012 at 11:13 PM

    Ah, Suda 51. I love the imagination behind his games, but often I'm not a big fan of the gameplay, no more heroes for the PS3 being the most recent example

  2. Yeah, he and his team (by extension) are big on crazy ideas, but when it comes to execution they tend to stumble. But then again, would you rather have a stylish game that's functionally imperfect, or a more solid product without a single new idea to its name?