Saturday, March 8, 2014

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2's Trumpeter Scene

I feel like keeping today’s rant quick (for me, anyway), so let’s skip the usual intro nonsense and get right in. The scene in SMT Devil Survivor 2 is lame and disappointingly disrespectful.

Quick description to this scene: In order to counter the vaguely-defined sonic waves of the seventh Septentrione (doomsday monster thingy), the heroes of SMTDS2 decide to unseal the Trumpeter, an angel of death from Christian lore who is said to herald the end of days when he sounds his trumpet. They reckon the soundwaves he produces can block out the Septentrione’s waves. Once unsealed, the Trumpeter is angered by the presumption of mere humans to use him, the bringer of Armageddon, for their own ends. To get him to cooperate, Fumi (scientist lady on the heroes’ team) begins to smack him repeatedly with a laptop offscreen, to comical sound effects. Eventually, the beatdown ends, and the Trumpeter is cowed into submission by her meanness.

What the hell? Atlus, did you just...did you just turn the Trumpeter into a cartoon gag? Did you just reduce the divine sounder of apocalypse to a Looney Tune?

Sorry, but that’s just stupid, and annoyingly disrespectful. Now look, when I say that, I’m not getting all ultra-Christian, how-dare-you-not-revere-all-things-associated-with-my-religion-y here. You can bet I wouldn’t be playing SMT games to begin with if I were overly sensitive about that. I say it’s disrespectful in the sense that the character and idea of the Trumpeter deserves much better. I say it as I would say it would be disrespectful to see, oh, a serious and significant hero like Geralt suddenly doing the Macarena for some cheap laughs in a Witcher game. Or a dignified and deep character like Final Fantasy 10’s Yuna suddenly turned into an air-headed stereotypical anime girly-girl for no justifiable reason in a sequel. Or if Spider Man, a superhero who’s so strongly set apart from and above other lesser heroes due in significant part to his long history of marital commitment, were to inexplicably decide to magically sell his marriage to the devil because he couldn’t stand the thought of the oldest, frailest crone in all comic history finally dying. Or if Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard, the most badass sci-fi hero ever and consistent, unrelenting achiever of impossible victories, were to just roll over and abandon his morals without a fight because a space ghost said he had to for the most absurd, illogical bullshit reasons ever conceived by madmen and idiots.

It makes me very sad that 3 out of 4 of the above scenarios of utter and complete disrespectful destruction of a great character for no good reason have actually come to pass.

Anyway. That’s what I mean by this scene disrespecting the Trumpeter. For heaven’s sake, Atlus is having one of the top Fiends of the SMT series, the proclaimer of the end of all things, get beaten into submission by a laptop. That’s just stupid.

It’s not even like this approach to the scene serves a purpose. First of all, it’s not actually funny. It’s just cliched. If you’ve seen a normal amount of cartoons and/or anime, you’ve seen many better versions of this scene’s humor before. It’s one of the few narrative gags that bridges the cultural gap between East and West. Secondly, even if the scene were funny, so what? SMTDS2 is not meant to be an overly funny game. It has some humorous moments and characters (well, moments and characters that TRY to be humorous, anyway), but overall, it’s meant to be taken seriously, as is the case of most SMTs. Being as close to the endgame as this scene is, there’s no reason to be reaching for laughs; things would’ve been better if they’d stayed serious until the end by this point in the game. It’s also not like it’s an important moment of character development for Fumi. She’s already been established adequately as a quirky, irreverent, and forceful goal-oriented science person. This doesn’t tell us anything about her character not already known. Had the game played the Trumpeter’s summoning straight instead of comically, nothing would have been lost.

I know that there’ve been other times in the SMT series where the games have used mythologies in humorous ways, but they’ve all generally been done in a better way than this. The shenanigans in SMT2 concerning Puck and his fidelity sap, for example, may be a strangely amusing story arc for a game as serious overall as SMT2, but that’s a case of the game accurately representing a well-established bit of mythos concerning the fairies Puck, Oberon, and Titania--the game’s basically just adapting the events of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream to its purposes. The source material itself was comical, so of course it’s fine for the game’s interpretation to be.

And most things in the SMT Devil Summoner Raidou Kuzunoha games have been represented in at least a mildly humorous fashion, but that’s the style of the games in that miniseries; they’re meant to have a lighter personality as a whole. And even then, the Raidou Kuzunoha titles’ attempt at poking a little fun at the mythologies they cover is still often more subtle and balanced than the Trumpeter scene. You take the part of SMTDSRK2 when Raidou locates, unseals, and uses the dark god Taotie. Taotie looks like a mean little sheep in the SMT series, and as such is a bit comical in appearance. The game makes mention of this, and it’s a bit amusing, and then later, Taotie sits upon Raidou’s shoulders when he’s doing his space-eating thing, which is both cute and funny. But the humor in how Taotie looks and in watching him sit on stoic Raidou’s shoulders is allowed to be funny in its own right; the game doesn’t clumsily exaggerate this with a bunch of goofy sound effects and heavy-handed narration, the way SMTDS2 does with the Trumpeter. Even the purposefully humorous game has more subtlety in its approach.

Sadly, this Trumpeter scene isn’t the first time SMTDS2 reaches painfully for some cheap laughs at the expense of a previously dignified figure. The scenes involving Shiva and Kartikeya earlier in the game are idiotic, as well, with Shiva swooning over the least movement-oriented dancing ever, and Kartikeya being obsessed with teen girls’ belly buttons. The only reason I’m not making a rant about that story arc as well is that I’m not familiar enough with these Hindu figures to know for sure that there isn’t supposed to be at least some humor involved with them, whereas I’m reasonably sure that the Trumpeter is not meant to be a lame joke. But even if the story and characters of Shiva and Kartikeya is meant to have at least a partially amusing nature, SMTDS2’s attempt at funnies with them is still incredibly stupid, and, again, not particularly relevant to the game’s overall tone.

I miss the first Devil Survivor game, which actually used its mythologies well. The incorporation of the legend of Beldr, the idea of the competition of Bel entities uniting various cultures’ mythological figures...that stuff was cool. All we get with the sequel are awkward teen stripteases and angels getting concussed by laptops. The Trumpeter summoning scene in SMTDS2 is stupidly over the top, serves absolutely no useful purpose, and makes a fool out of one of the cooler recurring icons of the SMT series. Really, what the hell was wrong with Atlus when it was writing this game?

5 comments:

  1. To be honest SMTDS2 is much more improved than SMTDS1 and it's a whole different game, here it's not god who is dooming us, it's a proxy of him, it's a struggle of the choices, but unlike SMTDS1 your choices are no related to the divine but to a way of living, a social structure.

    As for the scene well there was needed something to make the game to have a breath, you have been facing bosses who have a new trick up to their sleeves and are all juggernauts in their own right the mood has been growing darker since dubhe vaporized a bunch of people.

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  2. I haven't played Devil Summoner, but having seen the first ten minutes, Tam Lin's personality in the tutorial seems to set a tone for future events. I take my Tam Lin and Cu Setanta/Cu Chullain myths seriously, but I can enjoy some irreverent fun within reason.

    That Trumpeter tale just makes me sad. Divine beings in Christianity toe the line between majestic and horrifying at every point, and it's sad to see them portrayed as Santa's Secret Service, or in this case, Three Stooges gag fodder. This from the franchise that cared enough to maintain Lucifer and Satan as two separate entities.

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  3. If I remember correctly, Atlus bought Career Soft (creators of the Growlanser and Langrisser series) around that time and had them work on Devil Survivor 1&2, so the way it's... subpar, compared to the rest of the SMT series is probably Career Soft's fault.

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    1. That could explain SMTDS2 a lot. Still confusing, though, since the disparity in thematic strength, story quality, and character depth between SMTDS1 and 2 is enough that it seems odd for them both to come from the same company regardless of whether it's Atlus or a different developer.

      Then again, same developing team worked on Lufia 1 and 2, so I suppose it's certainly not an unprecedented thing.

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    2. I disagree with this. I hardly can argue your post about how the game treats mythological beings with less respect, but that alone does not suffice to make the game worse than the first one. The first game has indeed that advantage, but when it comes to character development, I don´t see how the first Devil Survivor game stands any chance. I liked the cast in the prequel, but not having a fate system like the second game severely limited the amount of exposition they got. I was more interested in Yamato and his growing infatuation with the DS2MC than in Naoya, a character, who while having an interesting backstory, never appeared enough to allow us to know him. He hardly appeared at all throughout the game. Devil Survivor 2 had characters like Io, who were moeblobs and nothing else, but its strongest characters had more depth than the strongest characters from the first game. And when it comes to the actual story and its themes, I´d argue that the second game simply is less about mythology than other SMT games and more political in nature, with the different political systems, the involvement with JP´s and whatnot. It is also heavily insipired by Evangelion, which explains the Septentriones and the overall formula of the plot.

      When compared to other SMT games, the Devil Survivor series may not be among the best, but I do think that it is a solid spin-off series, both games considered.

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