Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Legend of Korra: A New Era Begins's Villain

Be warned: this is one of those rants where most of it is me talking about non-RPG stuff and only relating it back to the RPG at hand at the very end. But hey, whether I’m talking about RPGs or non-RPGs, it’s all a bunch of boring pontification anyway, so let’s do this!

You know what a major problem with the Korra RPG is? Besides a dull and cliched plot, 0 character development, and the inexplicable exclusion of one of the most important characters in the series, I mean. It’s that the game completely fails to include the major theme of the entire Legend of Korra series: Balance. Personal balance, balance of the tangible world and the spiritual, balance of government and civic issues, all of these aspects of the concept of balance are explored throughout the cartoon’s entire run, components of the show’s major focus. Hell, even Korra’s ultimate choice of romantic partner is a tiny, subtle example of this theme--the woman who bends all the elements joining with the woman who represents those who can bend none. But that all-important concept of balance, which unifies all 4 seasons’ stories together into a single, thoughtful animated treatise, is nowhere to be found in The Legend of Korra: A New Era Begins. And I think 1 of the parts of this game in which this theme is most absent is in the game’s villain, Hundun.

The villains of The Legend of Korra are thoughtfully created according to the theme of balance. Each is motivated by causes and ideals which are, in their basic form, good, as Toph points out in the show itself. Amon from Season 1 wants to take bending away from everyone in the world, and that’s wrong--but this ambition originates from Amon’s belief that everyone should be equal to one another, and that is a worthy goal. Unalaq from Season 2 wants to become a dark Avatar and unleash 10,000 years of darkness on the world--but this intention was born from his dissatisfaction with the fact that the people of the world were gradually turning away from an appreciation of nature and spirituality, which actually is a significant problem that needs to be corrected. Zaheer from Season 3 plunged the Earth Kingdom into violent chaos when he murdered its queen, and attempted to kill the Avatar for good--but he did so because he believed in freedom for all people to live their lives as they choose, which is certainly a good thing.* And finally, Kuvira is a harsh tyrant who is utterly merciless as she brings the Earth Kingdom forcefully under her heel--but her ruthless dictatorship is born from a love for her nation, and a desire to make it a stable, secure land again (instead of the chaotic, aimless anarchy that Zaheer’s actions turned it into).

Each major Korra villain has good ideals at heart; it is simply that they themselves are out of balance while seeking to achieve these noble ends. They’re consumed by the rage, disappointment, fanaticism, and self-doubt of their pasts. Korra stands as the reflection of each of them, the representation of balance, the Avatar, and because she stays balanced in her heart and body, she doesn’t just defeat Amon, Unalaq, Zaheer, and Kuvira: she herself brings about the balanced ideal that each wanted, whether actively or passively. As a result of Korra, Republic City, the heart of the world, goes from a city ruled by benders, who each already have their own nations, to a city ruled by freely elected non-benders, who until now have had no entity to represent them in the world: equality, as Amon wanted. Korra opens the gate between the physical and spirit worlds, meaning that humanity would be forced to live alongside the spirits and thus keep a respect for the world and the spiritual from now on, which is what Unalaq wanted. Korra’s actions and selflessness inspire the new airbenders of the world to reform the Air Nation into a global force for good, nomads who travel the world not just for the hell of it (as was the case with the original airbender society), but with the intent to do good and bring balance to all those they come across: a force to protect the peace and happiness of the world made up of many, instead of just the single Avatar, a step away from 1 person deciding the fate of millions and toward the self-determination of the people which Zaheer values. And thanks to the inspiration of Korra and the wisdom of her friends who share her values, Prince Wu decides that the Earth Kingdom will be united as democratic states, installing a new system of government that can work for peace and stability to the satisfaction of all, accomplishing the core of what Kuvira desires.

So you see, the villains of The Legend of Korra are a very, very major part of the theme of balance to the show. The show’s writers are careful to avoid making each season’s villain some black-and-white bad guy. Each one is fighting out of a genuine desire for good, but because they themselves are imbalanced, their methods of accomplishing these good intentions are harmful to others. By contrast, Korra is balanced and always seeking to do right thing in the right way, and so, after defeating each villain, she accomplishes that intended goal in the right way. Cool.

Unfortunately, Hundun of The Legend of Korra: A New Era Begins is no such layered, thoughtful villain. Basically, a thousand years ago the guy and his conjoined twin ruled a nation as evil kings who had some super special power known as the Chaotic Attack, the nature and origins of which really isn’t explained to any satisfactory detail in the game. The Avatar of that time came along, beat the crap out of Hundun, and banished him to the Spirit World. 1,000 years later, Hundun is back and wants to take revenge on Avatar Korra, then plunge the world into chaos, because...evil?

Where is the depth in this villain? The personality? What balance can be found in this story? Hundun has no more personality or quality as a villain than Final Fantasy 5’s X-Death, or Antasma from Mario and Luigi 4, or Thanatos from Secret of Mana. He started as a jerk with no discernible good motive, he just became a bigger jerk when he added a thirst for vengeance to his villainous resume, and that’s all there ever was to him. He’s evil for the sake of being evil; there is no greater goal hidden underneath his badness. And without an underlying noble belief or motivation, Korra’s victory over Hundun, and thus the whole story of the game, is just empty filler, a meaningless piece of fluff to the Legend of Korra series. She can’t exemplify the balanced, morally right way of accomplishing a goal that doesn’t exist, and that means there’s just no connection whatsoever to the theme of balance. And since the entirety of The Legend of Korra is devoted to this theme, Hundun and everything associated with him--meaning, the entire Legend of Korra: A New Era Begins game--really just has neither a place in the series nor a purpose for existing.

* Also, someone really did have to get rid of that abusive, selfish, power-hungry queen, I gotta say.


  1. I thought you weren't a fan of the "good intentions, bad actions" archetype like Dhaos or Ghaleon (but that's probably just because they were low quality executions of the archetype overall).

    Also, might be mildly amusing for you (someone remade the sountrack to Final Fantasy 10 using only Tidus's laugh).

    1. Ehhh, I'm not a fan of it because it's usually done in a crappy way in RPGs. Dhaos is a poor villain mostly because his only character development is told as a half-assed postmortem couple of lines thrown in at the very end that don't really tell us anything at all. Ghaleon, and so, SO many other villains of the Good Intentions Bad Actions type in RPGs, is a case where the Bad Actions are inexplicably extreme and only seem barely related to those good intentions (which are incredibly vague, to boot). Most of the RPG villains of this kind just tend not to make much sense or follow a path from intention to action that seems in any way logical.

      The Korra villains are different. You can understand how their values translate into their actions, even if those actions are bad ones, and most of them have enough depth and/or backstory that you can understand how a mind like theirs makes the jump from good to evil, how they became imbalanced or what about their cause makes them willing to be imbalanced for a perceived greater good.

      Also that is horrifying and yet also amazing. You have both my gratitude and enmity for sharing that with me.

    2. Neat, thanks for sharing! 8/10? Guy needs to get real. Game's definitely 9/10.

    3. The best part of the Tidus soundtrack is clearly the substituted tracks where MIDIs weren't available. Love of the craft right there.