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On and Off Paper: The Inner Progressions of Mario’s Paper Thin Series.

Paper Mario’s Progression ~ Source: Nothing But Games

The Paper Mario series has been a unique trek in establishing new roots while promoting older sources, with the famed mustached plumber’s adventures in a 2D scope world. Since its release in the 2000s, the game’s received praises for unique takes on the Mario series through the scope of adventures in a paper-thin universe. It reintroduced Mario to the world for younger viewers, and older viewers saw his newest experiences as a continuation of his adventurous exploits from previous titles.

The original game was well-received by fans on the Nintendo 64 console back in 2000 for Japanese audiences and 2001 for North American audiences. It was a light-hearted, fun, and reactive combat RPG for children of all ages. It’s success promoted a second installment for the series, The Thousand-Year Door (TTYD), which acclaims as the best installment in the series. Furthermore, it’s the one that fans have remembered, cherished, and have hoped would continue to be the traditional formula for Paper Mario games in the future. Despite this, the series has gone through several changes and has left fans questioning its progressive development.

Since its second installment, the series has always presented a unique take to the word “paper” for the Paper Mario series. Through the incorporation of particular abilities that Mario gained through his travels, it allowed him to solve puzzles and traverse the world, which brought a new dynamic element to the games. This mechanic progressively became a selling point for future titles in the series, with its fundamental mechanics tied to a specific innovation, paper or otherwise. While the games released were seen as useful additions to the Paper Mario series and were welcomed despite older fans criticisms of its new direction in game design, the games paper mechanics’ core principle continues to be implemented within each installment. At the time of writing this article, Paper Mario: The Origami King has been well received by gamers since its release on July 17, 2020, and has currently sold 555K digital units since July.

Paper Mario: The Origami King sold 555K digital units in July. While its performance was nowhere near those of the last big Switch exclusives, Animal Crossing: New Horizons (5.0M) and Pokémon Sword and Shield (2.7M), the game did better than Fire Emblem: Three Houses when it launched in July 2019. 

Source: Superdata

The games complement visual prowess with colorful graphics, awe-inspired papercraft designs, excellent soundtrack, and creative takes on turn-based battles. In addition to cementing the mechanics and ambiance of Paper Mario, it has showcases different systems as a core principle for its game design and game development.

Throughout this article, points of interest in the Paper Mario games bring attention to new developments and new perspectives explored throughout the series. These referenced points showcase change for each title in the Paper Mario franchise and its progression from past to present. It will detail how it has achieved new structures from its original release back in 2000 towards its latest title in 2020. By the end of this article, a summary of where the Paper Mario games will lead and how its future titles will gain traction with old and new gamers’ generations shall unfold.

  • The Expansion of Characters (Enemies and NPC’s), Mechanics, and Story

A growing staple found in most Mario games is the increasing roster of characters that Mario meets, whether it’s friend or foe. The Paper Mario games are no exception to this rule. They have transitioned countless characters from Mario’s famous adventures within the Mushroom Kingdom; primarily, notable enemies and species from his most famous outings. The games also established other known species like the Toads, Goombas, Koopas, Boos, etc., and fleshed their lives out in a way that was befitting of an RPG. This exploration of the different species would cement a more robust narrative that fans would enjoy playing other Mario titles.

If not the most important, one of the essential factors lies in the foundation of its mechanics. Each game illustrates something new that’s added to the world of Paper Mario, whether its from the paper dimensions or the level of meta within Mario’s paper world. The narrative design in the stories for each game is equally important. Nintendo continues to make a convincing story that appeals for kids; however, underneath the surface, it can also be relatable to adults; after all, E for Everyone doesn’t mean it’s only for kids sometimes.

Source: Super Mario Wiki

Paper Mario (Nintendo 64)

Characters/Enemies: The first Paper Mario supplied 233 enemies for Mario to battle throughout the story and allowed him to fight four additional enemies as optional side bosses making 237 enemies. The game also promotes multiple species as allies to Mario, aside from the essential trio of Goombas, Koopas, and Bomb-Ombs, even giving them a bit of history in terms of how their names come to be. Other characters will share the same development of mixing their species name, or the animal they’re based on, to create their name while showcasing various Mushroom Kingdom species’ culture.

The dichotomy of Mario’s enemies and allies introduced gives substance to their species within the RPG setting. Toads weren’t just citizens but also salesmen, soldiers, and martial artists, proving that the species wasn’t incapable of defending themselves, or their sovereign, and that they have merits in protecting the Mushroom Kingdom; which, at the time, seemed to be solely the responsibility of Mario and Luigi. Enemies like the Goombas and Koopas showcase that they are unwilling participants in assisting Bowser’s army, provoking the idea that Bowser’s anarchy on the Mushroom Kingdom through fear and power might have been the reason for Mario’s rogues’ gallery.

While Paper Mario isn’t the first game to establish this relationship between Mario and the residents living within, around, and above the Mushroom Kingdom, it paints the picture differently compared to earlier games in the franchise. It establishes growth, understanding, and develops the characters found within Mario games. The idea that Parakoopas are excellent at delivering mail, Goombas are inherently peaceful unless threatened, or that Boos pride themselves in scaring people was a notable first in the series. That Bumpties are a different kind of penguin than actual penguins, Shy Guys are mischievous collaborators with different shapes and sizes, Bob-Ombs are gendered, Sparkies are sentient, and that Toads are resourceful was also a surprise. This momentous decision helped shape worldbuilding and character development for future Mario titles in the future.

Mechanics: The Partner System was the first support system for the titled game in the series. Each partner could be related, in a pseudo sense, to HM’s from the Pokémon series; subsequently, they were incredibly important to the progression of the game. The characters that joined Mario’s adventure adds to the expanding world that Mario explored, influencing the story with their connections to the locales.

The Perspective of Story: The original game’s most refreshing take towards a narrative design comes from a storybook. Memorable titles like Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island was known for its storybook progression sequences, and Paper Mario’s story delivers lines that take it from beginning to end. The start of Mario’s journey, successes, downfalls, and the final battle are all accounted for, like a bedtime story for the player.

Source: Super Mario Wiki

Paper Mario TTYD (The Thousand Year Door)

Characters/Enemies: The second installment within the series cuts its roster down to 124 enemies, but introduces new species like Caws, Ratooeys, Bristles, Nibbles, Twilighters, and subspecies of Humans (Flavio, Wonkie, Merlon, etc.); furthermore, reintroducing other known species like Swoopers, Squeeks, Piantas (Mario Sunshine), Doogans, and the return of Duplighosts from the first game.

The characters found within TTYD could be considered one of the most relatable characters written from a Mario game. Unlike the fairytale-inspired locals that the Mushroom Kingdom usually showcase, the game’s enemies and NPCs are linked by the troubles in their environment. Rogueport could be considered the ghettos of the Mushroom Kingdom, showcasing the slums and how corruption by turf wars, crime, and the destruction of the ‘former town’ becoming known as the Rogueport Sewers. Almost every town/locale showcases a different threat that affects the townsfolk, which, in turn, is represented by the threat that Mario has to help them conquer.

  • Petalburg: Fear and Endangerment.
    Threat: Hooktail’s attacks promotes fear, lack of confidence, and anxiety for the villagers; furthermore, in addition to his father’s disappearance, this affects Koops’ anxiety.

  • The Great Tree: Harassment, War, and Survival
    Threat: Jabbies (Natural Born Enemies) and X-Nauts threatening their way of life; furthermore, this prompts Punio to stand against their oppressors and rallies his fellow Punies to fight.

  • Glitzville: Greed, Gluttony (Power), and Confinement
    Threat: Grubba’s binding contract forces the Glitz Pit fighters to continuously keep fighting, while isolating them from leaving Glitzville (Mario); furthermore, Grubba entraps potential stars for his own machinations.

  • Twilight Town: Bullying
    Threat: Doopliss’s schemes of turning the innocent Twilighters into pigs, and shaming Mario as he tries to get his body back; taunting/threatening him outside of town, and every time he leaves or approaches it.

  • Keelhaul Key: Betrayal and Isolation
    Threat: Cortez and, to an extent, Lord Crump’s involvement; Cortez’s betrayal and the deceitful actions of Flavio’s ancestors, and Lord Crump’s involvement with the crew before revealing his betrayal.

  • Excess Express: Trust and Deception
    Threat: Doopliss’s deception as Zip Toad, Heff T.’s deception of Chef Simi’s stew, Ghost T.’s trust in Mario (which could also be deceptive), and Pennington’s trust as a detective and as the sanctum holder for the Crystal Star in Poshley Heights.

  • Fahr Outpost: PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
    Threat: No notable threat causes this in game, however, the Bob-ombs in various titles are always involved with battle or war in some way (Bobby the Bob-omb, Bombette was a prisoner (Prisoner of war)), like how General White was apart of something akin to the Cold War.

In addition to the town’s circumstances, The Trouble Center expands on characters Mario meets on his adventures and fleshes their stories out. Issues of losing a loved one, mid-life crises, bioterrorism, etc. are just a few examples of how the game tackles serious matters; furthermore, it’s optional to be experienced or wholly forgotten by the whim of the player.

An arrangement of Paper Mario’s most notable partners within the series.

Mechanics: The Partner System continues in the next installment; however, the first paper mechanic introduced via an interesting “curse” that’s linked to the lore of the story. The game utilizes the idea of being paper-thin with advantages. Mario’s abilities with turning into paper airplanes, paper boats, rolled/tubed papers, and being paper-thin, was a creative execution of the title character’s abilities, figuratively and physically speaking, ironically.

The Perspective of Story: TTYD takes from the perspective of a story, a common point in all of the games, and inadvertently makes the game feel like a pop-up book. Every location that Mario travels towards to find the Crystal Stars, a new site is revealed in a way similar to a pop-up book; however, only when it’s necessary. Switch blocks push the initiative to reveal different paths, uncover secrets, and change the landscape in many other areas that Mario visits within the game and promotes the idea that this storybook has additional features.

Source: Super Mario Wiki

Super Paper Mario

Characters/Enemies: The third installment in the series provides 200 enemies for battle; however, the complete cast of characters included within this game bumps the total to 234 characters. The enemies that return for this installment are the stapled types from many of Mario’s games (Goombas, Koopas, Pokeys, etc.) with the inclusion/debut of a couple of enemies absent from previous Mario games that couldn’t be fought (Thwomps, Tromps, and Cheep Cheeps).

Super Paper Mario’s take on characters was uniquely executed to imitate the mechanics available for the game. Instead of being one dimensional, a joke in the sense that their from a paper-verse, the game prides itself in showing two layers of complexity for the characters. The game showcases “light” and “dark” personalities through the interdimensional citizens known as Flip-Flop Folk. Flipside represents the light side of things, while Flopside represents the opposite with the dark.

Mechanics: There were two systems implemented for this game that continued the previous system mechanics from TTYD. The first system, The Flip System, allows Mario to transcend his 2D plane perspective and transcends into a 3D plane perspective for a limited time. The addition of the Pixls, additional partners that assist Mario with his main partners (Bowser, Peach, and Luigi), allows access to previous partners and paper moves. With additions in being more of an RPG-platformer, this system made the new battles fun and provided additional gameplay options.

The Perspective of Story: The Pixls stories have a heavy concentration on the concept of life. Amongst “other characters,” the game presents a unique take for the NPCs living in that world, impacting the story with a conservative take on life and how it can be easily lost. This concept, considered to be very dark at the time of its release, plays with the trope of good and evil and subverts the expectation of light and dark affiliate forces within a Mario game; such as the rivalry between Bowser and Mario, Bowser and Peach’s complexities, and Luigi’s inferiority complex.

Paper Mario: Sticker Star

Characters/Enemies: The fourth installment in the series drastically cuts their enemies down to 83, concentrating their efforts more on the gameplay with the use of Stickers and Paperization techniques. Stapled enemies in the franchise would continue to appear; however, based on Shigeru Miyamoto’s decision to use species from only Super Mario, this increased the catalog of returning Mario enemies. This change included the debuts of Snifts, Ninjis, Scuttlebugs, Scaredy Rats, Spinning Snowmen, Rocky Wrenches, Broozers, and Whomps.

Aside from wanting us to change the atmosphere a lot, there were two main things that Miyamoto-san said from the start of the project—”It’s fine without a story, so do we really need one?” and “As much as possible, complete it with only characters from the Super Mario world.

Kensuke Tanabe’s response to “two main things” informed to him by Shigeru Miyamoto for Paper Mario: Sticker Star’s development.
Source: Iwata Asks

The focus on characters was not as strong as previous installments; however, a specific character does get a bit more shine than others as a pivotal point with in-game mechanics, plot, and being the “voice” for Mario at times.

Mechanics: A system overhaul was requested for this game, allowing the paper techniques to be used more frequently and within battles. This idea was made way by the Sticker System, introducing stickers’ concepts within the paper world. Its mechanics were similar to some Mario and Luigi games with the Bros. Attacks; however, unlike M&L’s techniques, the stickers were collectible attacks and not progressively learned abilities.

The Perspective of Story: The story went back to its roots of generalized Super Mario games with Bowser as its antagonist and Princess Peach as the damsel in distress. Its perspective was still an open storybook; however, it would be negligent if it wasn’t a sticker book with storytelling elements within it. In addition to introducing “Things,” the tongue and cheek of fully realized objects in Paper Mario’s world present humorous results in and out of battle.

Source: Super Mario Wiki

Paper Mario: Color Splash

Characters/Enemies: The fifth installment lowers its roster of enemies to 73; however, including different variations and unique takes on enemies, totals the enemy roster to 88. Newly introduced enemies include Bone Goombas, original concept Lava Bubbles, Ptooies, and Dhino Rhinos’ debut within the series.

The introduction of Huey, Mario’s partner for the game, was a well-rounded addition in the catalog of partners that Mario has had throughout the Paper Mario series. His positive attitude, courageous sacrifices, and Mario’s relationship would be fondly received by fans, old and new. This development of a “partner” made the story of Color Splash an enduring tale; however, the combat’s prowess for older fans did not appeal to them as much as the story would for others.

Mechanics: The Sticker System from Sticker Star was revamped into the Battle Card System for Color Splash. Additional tweaks to the system provided a new, yet familiar, overlay of battle within the game; including the added objective of paining the environments and enemies.

The Perspective of Story: In ways similar to the second game, Color Splash introduces the concept of a mystery and how it can be solved alongside Huey throughout the game. As it progresses, the storybook motive is ongoing; however, the idea that Mario’s adventure is now in a paint book would be tolerable from the paper mechanic focal point.

Source: Super Mario Wiki

Paper Mario: The Origami King

Characters/Enemies: The fifth and recent installment boasts a roster of 61 enemies, which is currently the lowest count of enemies in a Paper Mario title. What they sacrificed in numbers, they made up for in new additional species. The appearance of GaloombasSidesteppers, Crowbers, Nipper Plants, Chargin’ Chucks, Stingbies, Sumo Bros, and Mechakoopas are welcomed additions to the series.

The introduction of Olivia creates an origin to the Origami King. Though not unique in design, the addition of partners makes its return with partners like Bobby the Bob-omb, Kamek, Professor Toad, and others.

Mechanics: The newest mechanic introduced in The Origami King is a unique take on “turn-based battle systems” that allow for diverse strategies in formatted battles. Weapons return in a system similar to TTYD, where they can be upgraded; however, accessories and artillery can be bought from shops as a first in the series. The origami aspects outside of battle are highlighted with the use of Magic Circles and the 1,000-Fold Arms.

The Perspective of Story: A giant origami project would be the best explanation for the game’s perspective. The game’s use of paper perspectives, highlighted in various ways throughout the game, makes the world feel grand in size rather than linear in its design.

  • Where is the series heading? Will it ever be the same as the first or second games?

The Paper Mario series’s future has been questioned ever since the concept of Sticker Star was presented to fans back in 2012. While different, Nintendo’s direction with the games was not without merit in regard to the continued success of the series. Additional restrictions by Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo’s guidelines in the use of Mario, and the targeted audiences for those games have continued to be a private and public debate regarding the direction of the series. The first generation of fans that grew up with the series remembers what made Paper Mario so memorable for them. Whether it was the concept of partners, the 2D paper-verse that Mario travels, the whimsical soundtrack, or just the fact that it was a new Mario game, those fans were excited to play the game, seeing where Mario’s next, big adventure.

“The game development philosophy I’ve adopted from Mr. Miyamoto is developing innovative and unique gameplay systems. I’m not opposed to the fans’ opinions. However, I view my game development philosophy as separate from that. If we used the same gameplay system wanted by the fans again and again, we wouldn’t be able to surprise them or deliver new gameplay experiences. We always try our best to exceed expectations in surprising ways. At the same time, there’s no guarantee that we’ll always succeed in doing that – so it’s a real challenge.”

Producer Kensuke Tanabe’s response on the development of new Paper Mario games.
Source: NintendoEverything

Applying the same logic that fans love Mario games and are excited to play them is to be noted; however, the reality that Paper Mario is changing should not be ignored. Kensuke Tanabe’s response in developing “innovative and unique gameplay systems” is a statement that continues to hold for all the Paper Mario games he’s worked upon in succession with others. He knows about the core principles that fans loved in TTYD, and he’s worked on every game involving Paper Mario as a producer to implore new ideas for the series creatively.

“Mr. Tanabe is correct about us having complete creative control over the crucial elements of the game. We were constantly checking whether or not our approach was moving too far away from the Mario universe. During development, we were also careful not to disappoint the expectations of fans of the core Mario series. As mentioned, there are strict guidelines related to the use of characters. It’s a challenge to emphasize the unique aspects of the game while still adhering to the guidelines.”

Director Masahiko Nagaya follow-up in regards to Tanabe’s statement on “creative control” in regards to Paper Mario games.
Source: NintendoEverything

In my opinion, I feel that the series hasn’t lost its edge or has gone down the wrong path. As I continue to grow as a narrative designer, hoping to create a video game series of my own one day, the backlash of writer’s block, creative slowdowns, or the lack of inspiration, impedes every project I create. Good ideas will be altered heavily, and perfect ideas will be seriously flawed when revisited later. The concept of creating innovations is crucial to the continuing success of any idea. Whether it’s in advertising food, publishing new stories, designing new fashions, and creating video games.

Whether it’s Super Mario or Paper Mario, the franchise continues to promote creative innovations. Source: Fawfulthegreat64

The continued success of Paper Mario depends on the fans, young or old. After the release of The Origami King, details on the production of Paper Mario games have been made aware to the public. It shows that the team behind the games wants the fans to trust that they will get it right, and even if it’s wrong, they’ll continue to create great additions for the series. Nintendo’s famous franchises have had their fair share of unique games from Yoshi’s unique adventures with crafts, or as crafts material, Kirby’s adventures with yarn and paint, Pokémon’s otherworld adventures (Mystery Dungeons, Pokémon Conquest, Detective Pikachu, etc.), Link’s multiple timeline adventures, and so many more.

In the end, Paper Mario will continue to be a prominent series that Nintendo works hard to achieve. Whether it’s an RPG like the first two games or plays around with the concept of paper from the last three games, Nintendo’s development team will continue to make the games relatable to the fans, whether it’s paper-thin or folded over.

African Americans, Black Collective, Black Diaspora, Character Development, Character Structure, Characteristics, Concepts and Ideas, Creative Writing, Ethnical Representation, Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy 7, JRPG, Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts 2, Kingdom Hearts 3, Main Characters, Narrative, Narrative Design, Narrative Structure, Nintendo Switch, Plot Structure, PS4, Representation, Sequels, Spiderman, Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse, Square-Enix, Uncategorized, Video Game Design, Video Games, Xbox One

Putting Identity to Ethnicity; Dark-skinned Heroes and Villains in Gaming

What makes a good character stand out? The struggle of their character as they ascend from the bottom of the barrel to the top of the leaderboards in character development? The development of what kind of character they’ll be throughout the story? While all of these factors, and plenty more, attribute to the development and construction of a character, there has always been a unique connection – a fine line – that’s crossed or maintained when ethnicity is calculated into a character’s bio.

Over the past few years there has been a resurgence in promoting dark-skinned characters through movies, television shows, and comic books (Luke Cage, Black Panther, Black Lightning, Spider-Man, etc.), however, the iconizing of dark-skinned characters has always been prevalent in one form of media or another. In this article, I will display my findings and knowledge towards the establishing growth of dark-skinned characters in video games. I believe this development will garner fruits of representation within the black diaspora and can open the doors towards representing different ethnicities and, from a linguistics point of view, can offer a form of ‘code-switching’ that can be seen from a bigger viewpoint; virtually and culturally outlined with an interactive perspective provided by video games.


  1. Dark-skinned characters to Black/African characters

    Let’s talk about the elephant in the article: Are dark-skinned characters considered to be Black? The answer can be split down the middle, depending on how you view the character and the media it hails from. You could say that dark-skinned characters represent the black diaspora and that each character you find that happens to be darker than most is just another variety of Black/African characters. On the opposite side, you could argue that a dark-skinned character isn’t considered to be black because of their identity within the work of fiction they originate from and could be considered a mixture of different ethnicities – a melting pot – which speaks to the perspectives of different races that aren’t represented in multiple characters BUT is represented in one character. Both answers hold valid points – points that can be made and have been exemplified in various characters over the years within different video games. While some are a bit more obvious in regards to representation with a dark-skinned character, there have been subtler accounts of dark-skinned representation within gaming.


    Suikoden Revival


    A good example of diversity between dark-skinned characters can be found in an old JRPG (Japanese Role-Playing Game) by the name of Suikoden. Suikoden was a notable game for its tactics and implications for war-based strategy, and the turn-based battle system that had players forming a party of six characters rather than the general 4 found in other RPG’s like Final Fantasy. In addition to its unique system of battle, the game gives the opportunity to incorporate 108 special characters into your army that ranges from multiple races and species that inhabit the game. Ever wanted to have flying squirrels, griffons and unicorns as a companion that helps you fight against a tyrannical empire – Suikoden 2 offers that in spades. Ever thought that beavers were capable of dishing out damage and could be a solid foundation for representing third world countries – Suikoden 5 answers that question for you. However, within every entry of Suikoden, there has always been a representation of multiple ethnicities and cultures within the games.



    Starting with the game that introduced the first two dark-skinned characters within the franchise, Suikoden 2, are Hauser (Right) and Bob (Left). At first glance, Bob seems to mirror someone familiar – perhaps iconic – and you would not be wrong in assuming such a thing. Bob’s character is based, in appearance, to that of the legendary musician Bob Marley. From his dreads to the carefree nature that he holds, Bob is a subtle nod to Jamaican heritage within a European fantasy-based war game made by Japanese developers. While he isn’t the main character or a character that’s necessary to the story, the option to recruit him and know more of his history and skills is what makes the goal of finding 108 special characters in each game an intriguing objective. Once you recruit him, you learn that he isn’t actually human but is that of a Lycanthrope (Werewolves) and happens to be the last of his clan. The rune that’s embedded on his right hand, known as the Rabid Fang Rune, doesn’t initiate his lycanic transformation but actually prevents him in being able to transform. His appearance as a dark-skinned male isn’t racially attributed to anything outside of the fact that he appears to have dark skin, however, it’s the subtlety of his history and his lineage that paints a different perspective towards the character. In a description of his village and people, a darker tone is showcased and a word, or two, seems to be relatable to another incident that’s occurred within the bowels of history:


    Once a village of lycanthropes located in the Grassland, Lycanthrope Village was destroyed by Windy in her quest to find powerful runes, leaving only one survivor, a young man named Bob who participated as a soldier in the Dunan Unification War. As a result, Lycanthropes have become extremely rare and little information is known on lycanthropes or the village they once inhabited. The Holy Kingdom of Harmonia has several lycanthropes living within their borders; however, they have been integrated into the non-human class and thus are treated little better than slaves.


    On the other hand, there’s Hauser, another dark-skinned character and one that would paint the argument that his skin and structure would be ideally linked to that of African heritage. Unlike that of Bob, Hauser has importance to the story and is a commander of his own forces before joining that of the hero’s main army. He is a soldier, a knight, and a strong C.O. (Commanding Officer) to the forces he leads. There’s no identifying his race or status, other than being human, but the closest thing he has towards the representation of the black diaspora is that of his facial structure


    Black Male Gaming Characters - Face Structure


    Hauser’s distinct features are linked to a particular art style that’s uniquely attuned to that of Black/African drawings. The structure of the cheekbones, the accentuation of the nose and, most notably, the appearance of the lips. While it’s easy to write off that Bob and Hauser’s ethnical identities are a part of the black diaspora, it’s to be noted that Bob’s appearance, from a visage approach, is ethnically different from that of Hauser’s. Granted that Bob’s appearance isn’t naturally that of a dark-skinned male, and is more of a lycanthropic wolf-man, the two distinct styles in how they were drawn plays against the idea that “all Black people look alike” and that the diaspora of Black/African people can be seen in different views; even as different species.


  2. Implication vs Confirmation

    There’s a lot of trial and error when it comes to making a character, especially a character that is linked, or seems to be linked, to a race, or ethnicity, that’s had its fair share of criticisms. While it’s not impossible to make a good character that can represent the black collective, it’s entirely possible that the implication can overweigh the confirmation in the brainstorming process.

    This process can be called “Implication vs Confirmation“. As a writer and storyteller, there’s always an invisible list to which needs to be filled when creating a story that’s comprised of elements which can enhance the reader’s, or in this case ‘the player’s’, experience. A protagonist to lead the story, an antagonist that makes the events for the protagonist, or the story, more difficult, and many other options can be found on this list. The idea of creating a character that’s ethnically unbiased within a game is plausible. Most games that take place in a fantasy setting require that the characters themselves be unified under one term – Humans. The idea of race and individual ethnicities is turned on its head, subverting expectations, which creates a clearer narrative without the addition of white noise in regards to a person’s race convoluting the storyline. This is the Implication.

    The second part that has to be confirmed is, well, Confirmation. Does the character’s persona appropriate or appreciate the ethnicity? Are certain colloquialisms necessary to convey identity towards a culture? Is it necessary for them to be “too much” of a certain cliché or stereotype in regards to their ethnicity? Every decision to these and other questions is what outlines a character – what makes the character shine as their own individual presence. If the implication of a dark-skinned character has to be showcased through certain actions and provocations, does it create the display of ethnicity that grounds their character OR could it be used to heighten their character’s story in addition to character development? Confirmation plays an important role in structuring and developing a character in regards to their personal narrative. When it comes to race and ethnicity, the outline of character can be based off a figure or even constructed to be similar towards one, however, characters shouldn’t be objectified to a list of demands that MAKE the character.



    Another first in the series of dark-skinned characters comes from Barret Wallace from the Final Fantasy series. Barret stands as the first of the dark-skinned characters introduced within the series and one that can be closely identified to Black/African collectives in regards to representation within video games. While his initial introduction and artwork painted him as a virtual copy to that of Laurence Tureaud (Iconically known by the name “Mr. T”) his character within the game and throughout the game is anything but that. He’s the leader of AVALANCHE, a dutiful father, another main character next to Cloud Strife, and much more. His presence throughout the story is filled with various colloquialisms and vernacular English that’s directed towards, or from, AAVE (African American Vernacular English) which portrays his character.

    The implication that was crafted for Barret was to possibly give the image of a Black/African man with strong leadership skills, a brash/ruff attitude, and a character arc that has gone through strife in more ways than one; in the past and in the present. His conflict in trying to save the planet and to save his daughter, who (SPOILERS) isn’t related to him by blood, develops his character and confirms his identity as a man fighting for what is right; under the circumstances, he endures. He isn’t identified as a Black/African male and outside of his appearance to Mr. T, he isn’t considered to be an icon for the race. He just happens to have dark skin, a hi-top fade, a beard that would make Mr. T proud, a gun-arm, and a mission; both personal and economical.


    Barret Wallace Remake


    With the Final Fantasy 7 Remake, a plethora of design choices and tweaks have been made for the cast. No longer exists the old Mr. T inspired look for the leader of AVALANCHE as he has now adopted a more modern design for the hair on top of his head and on his face. Sporting a nice fade from each side, leaving a short but slicked back layover for the top, a rugged but maintained beard lineup, while outlining various elements to his visage from the initial character design; Barret has evolved. In addition to his pronounced features (outlined in the same account as Hauser’s from the previous number) Barret’s appearance shows a confirmation to the modern era of hairstyles and beard lineups, however, he also showcases how a dark-skinned character can appear within video games. While the industry has access to mocap technology, using the contour of models and other personnel to digitally craft features in real-time, Barret’s design proves that a fundamental choice in perspective from one figure can be transcended with different likenesses. He may have been rough and hard to handle in the beginning, but the development of his character visually can, and has, been improved over time.


  3. Dark-Skinned Villains; Reasons, Motivations, and Script

    With every great hero comes a daunting force of conflict in the form of an antagonist or villain. While villains don’t necessarily need to be dark-skinned to impose themselves against others in a game, there have been some candidates in the last couple of decades that have showcased that their skin color isn’t entirely necessary to convey their story as a villain.



    Rolling back around to the 2nd and 3rd games in the Suikoden series we’re introduced to another dark-skinned character: Lucia. As a villain, Lucia was a unique character right from her introduction in the second game. A young leader of the Karayan Clan, a clan of dark-skinned warriors whose cultural background shares an affinity to Native Americans, she fights to protect her people and collaborates with one of the leading characters in order to ensure protection for her people and the securing of new land. Her role as a villain is further enhanced by the means in which she uses to execute her desired goals. She was merciless in nearly killing the main character, showcasing many of her abilities – which are further fleshed out in the proceeding title, she has ideal strategies in regards to war and tactics, something which is further enhanced in other games due to becoming a leader at a young age after the death of her father (Another interesting point that fuels the flames of her villainy), and was willing to do anything to enact vengeance.

    In comparison to other villains within the game, Lucia’s role is rather minor. She appears near the beginning of the third act with little to no involvement in the main story. She’s propositioned land and safety for her clan, she’s given command of her own forces, made a general within the army (albeit until the end), and fights against the opposition due to personal incidents regarding her clan, family, and how it shaped her life.

    As a character, Lucia has motivations which develop her character and those motivations within Suikoden 2 is what makes her a unique villain. Furthermore, going into Suikoden 3, because of her experience from the previous game, she’s further relentless in believing that no kingdom is worth aligning alongside. The disrespect that is shown to her people, the destruction and theft of their lands, play an important part in the formula that makes Lucia a well-established villain.


    Balrog


    Next on the list is that of another popular figure modeled after, well, a popular boxer: Balrog.  Not to be confused with the mythical beast from Lord of the Rings, this Balrog comes from the highly popular fighting game series “Street Fighter” and has been a prominent member of the cast ever since his inclusion back in Street Fighter II. Identified as an African American he’s modeled after Mike Tyson and is quick to make as much fight money as possible. Balrog’s villainy already shows through his moral compass and decisions in regards to fighting for the main villains, yet his race is never an account for his underhanded tactics and infamous moves throughout the story. His countenance is more towards the sin of greed than it is to villainy, however, given the context of working for Shadaloo, an evil organization infamously known throughout the series, Balrog’s conscious decisions do not promote the inner good of doing the right thing.


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    To his credit as a character, the motivations he carries is undeniably linked to his entire persona. He doesn’t feign ignorance to being better than what he shows to others, as he implies that he’s the best at what he does, and his honesty is enough to make a lie detector look stupid; cause his cold hard truth would make it seem inefficient and useless as a device. Since his appearance, he has been a strong, tough, and rash individual that has been seen as a villain. A rough nature and a smug attitude, Balrog’s street skills paints the scene for a villain pugilist with little concern for others well being; with more selfish and greedy intentions just for himself.


     

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    Ansem, preferably the ‘Seeker of Darkness‘, is a fundamentally intriguing villain within the Kingdom Hearts series. In explaining his origins, an account that I will not do in great length, showcases that his existence and connection within the story is, for clarification purposes, fundamentally sound and acknowledgeable to the lore that’s presented within the story. However, if you take out the complications with the lore, this version of Ansem was the first and pressing antagonist that started the Kingdom Hearts series. A shrouded figure in the darkness that did research on hearts (metaphorically and semi-physically speaking) he was the imposing figure that stood in the shadows of Sora and Riku’s adventures within the game. His acts included corrupting Riku’s heart with darkness – a poignant act that would play an important role in the character’s development within later games – and the construction of Kingdom Hearts through the obliteration of multiple worlds.


    ansem smirk


    His appearance on screen is unexpected and the appearance he takes is just as foreboding as the voice that comes from it. He doesn’t pardon his actions and he only parleys for small moments with the main cast of characters. His intentions to find Kingdom Hearts and to use it for his own well being, in addition to filling all of the worlds with darkness, is a straight and simple goal for his agenda. What made his goal and presence unique was the lack of involvement he played within the game itself. The game, Kingdom Hearts, associates most of its story to Sora, Donald, and Goofy as they travel to different Disney worlds and preventing their collapse from the Heartless; which Ansem also happens to be, however, this isn’t prevalent within his appearance as it is more of an epiphany in later games. In future games, an explanation is given as to why he has dark skin and silver hair, however, before those games were even a concept, Ansem’s appearance wasn’t a hot-button topic. His attitude, the role he was given, and how it was implicated within the game is what made Ansem a great stand-alone villain within the series.


  4. Conclusion ~ Representation

    As an African American, I’ve learned that representation within different forms of media is a necessity going forward. Black and African figures in today’s media have been brought into the light for the public through the use of comics, instilling a sense of understanding and acceptance to one’s race that isn’t seen as often. Video games have provided chances for African Americans to be expanded within the media, however, I’ve found that the representation for the race has been used in different contexts; whether it’s from the east or the west gaming franchises.

    I avoided putting any American games in this article for a couple of reasons. One of them was because of how the interpretation of race is seen when compared to the most popular games in America vs the fantasy elements found within most JRPGs. Popular titles like the Assassins Creed series deals with the re-telling of history and the amplification of the past and presents involvement. In Assassins Creed: Black Flag’s DLC “Freedom Cry“, the character Adewale, a former slave with an education that would soon become a pirate and eventually would become an assassin, would embark on his own journey which would lead to many historical bouts against the Templar and freeing captured slaves. I appreciated the bold storytelling, the use of history, and its importance in regards to African heritage, however, I feel that the game is only one example that places the character in an ethnically threatening situation which garners a greater change in their character. Other popular games like the Grand Theft Auto series paints a stereotypical image which, in most cases, presents a toxic representation in regards to cultural appropriation. The games are not bad – technically speaking – but the storytelling for dark-skinned characters like CJ (San Andreas) and Franklin (Los Santos) seem to always have a unique turnabout in regards to their characters.

    In fantasy RPG’s, East or West, the context of the story is vitally important to each character. While there are some tropes that can be filled with throwaway characters, the development of any character should always be seen as a vital component in regards to crafting a great story. While most protagonists can be seen from a Eurocentric viewpoint, the choice to make dark-skinned characters protagonists is just as valid to other perspectives. Square-Enix’sFinal Fantasy” series may have gotten the ball rolling with Barret, but the domino effect of different dark-skinned characters like Fran (XII) and Sazh (XIII) have also been introduced into the fold of dark-skinned representations. There identities as humans, or Viera in Fran’s case, are established as their main identity and the way that they speak are clarified to that of their characters; Fran uses her voice as a means to showcase respect and authority, as her race generally acknowledges is a valuable trait, while Sazh uses comedy and blunt statements, mixed with AAVE, due to a tragic past and coming to terms with the world he now lives within; these developments are paramount to the character’s progression.

    In starting with Suikoden for this article, a game which I have personally favored since playing its second installment back in 1998, it introduced to me, a young, African-American man, that a story can involve many ethnicities and that the concern of “race” shouldn’t affect it. From the second title in the series to its fifth installment on consoles, Suikoden has proven to be a game that uses its diverse cast as a means of storytelling. The third installment showcased the Karaya Clan, previously mentioned with Lucia’s appearance from the second game, which amalgamated Native Americans and Africans as a single clan; pressing the matters of land reservation, cultural racism, and hate crimes – yet their clan isn’t the only one who experiences these events; broadening the subject to others, however, making an impactful statement that alludes throughout the entire game. Further titles would introduce new clans that would further represent Africans, Asians, East Indians, Cubans, Anglo-Americans, and many more. Topics of war would continue to be targeted and even topics of social hiearchy would be challenged in each installment; including issues that pertained to Feminism, Sexism and Gay Rights. To me, Suikoden was like the older brother to Pokémon who preferred World History rather than Zoology. While Pokémon has gone out of its way to make 819 creatures based on actual animals, splashed with some creatures that are more akin to folklore/mythology, Suikoden has created 540 characters that have represented most of the races and ethnicities on our planet.

    In conclusion, this article isn’t a compilation of reasons to make more dark-skinned characters. This article is to bring awareness to how dark-skinned characters can be made and the impact it has on gaming and media. While the progression of Black/African protagonists is few and far between, the acceptance of race and its accumulation in games is slowly developing towards a positive retrospect. From Pokémon’s extending cast of different races (The trainers, not the Pokémon) in their games to the rise of more prominent characters that share in the representation of the black community, I believe that representation will be seen as a positive investment towards the identity of ethnicity in games and media going forward.

     

 

JRPG, Nintendo Switch, Uncategorized, Video Games

Octopath Traveler Review: Square-Enix’s homage to the past.

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One of the things that inspire me to become a Narrative Designer is the crafting of a story. The individual events which prominently develop a character, engaging the reader (aka – the player) with a sense of determination and admiration for the people there playing. Once the game has been completed from prologue to climax, a mutual respect for the characters, which you’ve spent over 40 or so hours playing, are harbored by the players and their story is appreciated at the closing of the tale. In Square-Enix’s Octopath Traveler it’s successfully implemented with eight travelers, eight stories and eight perspectives to a grand storyline.

The Story:

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One of the most intriguing things about Octopath Traveler is its story and how it revolves around eight characters to which you can start the story with based on personal preferences, job classes, or on blind faith. The characters of which you can choose range from a kind-hearted apothecary named Alfyn, an enslaved dancer by the name of Primrose, a former knight named Olberic, a young merchant by the name of Tressa, an astute scholar named Cyrus, a cool-headed thief named Therion, a young huntress by the name of Haanit and a religious cleric named Ophilia. Each of the character’s tales will remark on a beginning prologue that is capitalized in their own individual episodes. Whether it’s from Alfyn’s daring task to retrieve poisonous venom from a snake that’s claimed the lives of many villagers without fear or Primrose’s dedication to finding clues about the death of her father while forced to dance, and sexually engage, with the underbelly of the criminal world in order to find the truth – is paced and retconned with twists that subvert the expectations of class the character begins in. Over time, the stories become more pronounced with bigger threats, unexpected shifts in deliberated acts and ventures into a story that connects all eight characters to specific events which make the story whole.

The Gameplay:

Octopath Traveler’s combat, in much the ways of its art style, is a mixture of old and new concepts from the vintage realms of turn-based JRPG’s. The 2D plains are enhanced by the Unreal Engine, embedding it with 3D visualizations, making the continent of Osterra into a beautiful land, each with new areas to traverse and to explore. An atmosphere of realism is added to each touch of the six regions that you’ll explore. Whether it’s the glittering shine of the water that dances upon the surface when exploring the Coastlands, the luminescent snow that decorates the landscape in the Frostlands, the lush settings of the green bellows with the sounds of the river flowing in the Riverlands, the desert winds that work in combination with the hot bearings of the sun in the Sunlands and the steep canyons of the Highlands all deliver an immersive scene to the adventures of each character.

Olberic Challenge

A number of towns are littered across Osterra, introducing a cast of characters, pivotal to the plot of the main eight, while also introducing a number of individuals that are relevant to the many side-stories littered throughout the game. The game also plays upon the roles of the main eight by allowing you to use their natural talents within towns to acquire information or treasure; increasing the spoils whenever a new character enters into the fray of another’s story. Each talent is used in conjunction to benefit a requirement or a unique trope, that can only be done with their specialized skills. For example, characters like Olberic and Haanit are capable of fighting against almost every NPC that you can find on the map in order to clear them from a path or a door that’s blocking your path; with the exception of small children, no matter how ignorant they may be. Other characters like Alfyn and Cyrus will play more of an informative role in fleshing out the background on certain NPC’s, Primrose and Ophilia will use their talents to recruit other NPC’s who, based on a 10 star level of combat rating, can assist in battle and Tressa’s skill allows for you to buy different items and weapons for a calculated price; while on the other hand, Therion’s skill allows for you steal said items with a percent chance of success and failure based on his level. The contrast between all eight skills are determined based on experience for some (Procuring higher levels for effective use of the ability) and the ability to access the skills without limitations (Usually implying that their’s a game of chance and percentage in the skill being successful when activated.).

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Battles are initiated at random when traversing the plains or inside of the many dungeons scattered throughout the story, shifting into a dynamic view that seems ripped right out of an old-school Final Fantasy game from the SNES. Four party members will battle groups of enemies, rewarded with experience and various forms of loot upon their defeat. During the battle, the characters have the ability to unleash powerful attacks related to their attacks, using specific weapons and magical attacks that are effective against their enemies. The game enhances this experience by introducing the “Break System” which allows the player to decrease the shields an enemy has against your attacks by hitting it with a weapon, or element, that decreases its shields. When the shields are broken, the game allows for you to unleash powerful attacks on the enemy with four free turns, racking a large amount of damage against one enemy or groups of them. This combat system keeps the game interesting, making it easy for beginners in the beginning and advanced for later developments within the story, adding a level of depth to the simplistic style which Octopath crafts from beginning.

The Score (Musically)

A treat to the eyes through its classic impressions, Octopath Traveler plays on the strings of both visual and auditory senses. Composer Yasunori Nishiki, who shines as the leading game composer, incorporates a blend of different sounds to the game’s background. Most of the music that is heard within the game is orchestral, however, various tunes that are scattered in the game take from different genres of pop, rock, metal and electronic. From the tense moments that require a dramatic stand with trumpets and piano’s, to more solemn tunes that flow with the orchestral waves of a flute ensemble. Nishiki’s contributions to the game blend with every emotional scene which has personally made me invested into the future projects that he’ll be a part of as his first role as leading game composer have shown promise to his future prospects.

The Final Score: 9 out of 10 stars

In conclusion, Ocotopath Traveler is a fantastic RPG that is a must buy for fans, new and old, to experience. The stories weaved between eight different characters, fantastic ambiance in both music and gameplay, put this JRPG at the top for RPG’s of 2018. There are a couple of minor moments which makes the game feel a little too tedious or repetitive, however, if you’re able to travel past those hard facts – an adventurous experience lies at the end of your journey.