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Friday, February 13, 2015

The End of the World As We Know It

The price of failure can be quite steep. Letting the bad guys escape with the princess or your precious fruit supply is one thing but what happens when you let down an entire planet? Well naturally, everyone that isn't the bad guy suffers. If you're lucky, the world in which you live won't be blown up but having it transformed into a hellish wasteland really isn't that much better.

This is a feature I've been wanting to do for some time now and in honor of the release of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D, I present to you six video games with apocalyptic themes. Unmarked spoilers lie ahead.

Chrono Trigger (SNES, PS, DS, Wii)

This 16-bit RPG starts out innocently enough with sleeping protagonist, Chrono. Boy wakes up, boy goes to fair, boy meets girl, boy and girl have fun at said fair, everything is smiles and Skittles. The time travel aspect is introduced very early on. You start out in 1000 AD but your new lady friend Marle is transported to 600 AD where you must travel back to save her. So within the first hour or so, you've been in the past and the present, which only leaves the future to explore and this is where things get really freaking dark. 

Your time hoping adventures warp you to the bleak, dystopian year of 2300 AD. Unlike the past and the present eras you've explored, 2300 AD is an uninhabitable world full of machines, monsters and few surviving humans that are in a constant state of hunger due to the lack of food, surviving only by technological means. A little bit of looking around in the abandon domes shows you just how the world became so crap sack. Sometime in the year 1999, a catastrophic event occurred, which was known as The Day of Lavos. On this day Lavos, a creature who had been buried in the Earth's surface since 65000000 BC, erupted and rained fire down upon the Earth. These destructive flames decimated the planet, creating molten lava that whipped out cities and had disastrous affects on the planet's climate.

Save for Robo, the entire playable cast of Chrono Trigger are all born long before Lavos turns the world into the pitiful state it will be in come 2300 AD. So it isn't really their problem to stop this apocalypse from happening because they'll all be dead before it even comes about. And yet they still take it upon themselves to ensure that this event never occurs. Of course if you take on Lavos and fail, you can still watch this horror unfold, resulting in one of the most punishing game overs of all-time. 

Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards (N64, Wii) 

Kirby 64 takes you to various different worlds or "stars" as the game calls them. Pop Star, Kirby's home planet, is unsurprising shaped like a star and Rock Star takes the form of you guessed it, a rock. Shiver Star, the token ice world, is not a giant snowflake, but instead looks uncannily like our very own Mother Earth, covered in snow and ice. That's not only surprising, its unsettling. 

Take a good, long look at Shiver Star before playing a level. It has a single orbiting moon and the continents that make up the planet are eerily similar to the ones that make up the Earth. You could make up the argument that the levels in previous worlds look like they belong on Earth, but it cannot be a coincidence that Shiver Star has a very Earthly look about it, with shopping malls and still working factories. Shiver star is also void of any human life, with the inhabitants supposedly leaving the planet due to poor living conditions. 

At first you get the impression that the game wants you to forget what kind of world Shiver Star is. The first second and third stages all have jovial theme music. Heck, even the stages themselves seem very bright and upbeat. But by stage four, Jun Ishikawa says "Screw that happy noise" and paints Shiver Star as the depressing, post apocalyptic world that it is with killer robots, crushers and God only knows what's up with those freaks in the glass tubes. Even the boss of Shiver Star, HR-H, is a giant robot fought it what is clearly a city background, the kind you don't see anywhere else in the game. 

Contra III: The Alien Wars (SNES, GBA, Wii, Wii U)

Aliens have been pestering the Earth for two Contra games up to this point and they were no push-overs to deal with. But the opening cut scene really gives you the impression that this time, they aren't screwing around. When the otherworldly invaders descend, their first order of business is to nuke an entire city. Sore about your previous two defeats, much, guys?

Now not every level in the game is a showcase of ruins. The final stage takes you to the alien's lair and stage four actually has a clear blue sky. However, the first and third levels in particular really sell the whole the-aliens-have-taken-over-the-world deal. Stage one drops you into what's left of a city. The background is littered with destroyed buildings painted against a sea of black clouds. About midway through the stage, one of the alien forces air vehicles flies by and bombs the area, setting the ground ablaze, forcing you to take the high road as you dodge snake-like fireballs.

The third level takes you to the remains of the Neo Kobe Steel Factory, which appears to be sky based because you get a nice view of the smoking city below. Said smoke is pumping out an endless stream of fumes into the sky which cannot be healthy for the planet or at the very least, the city in which Neo Kobe Steel Factory resides. Even as a child, the sheer devastation that the aliens dished out in Contra III was not lost on me. I can remember being thoroughly disturbed by the visuals of the first and especially third stage.

Astro Boy: Omega Factor (GBA)

If you know anything about the works of Osamu Tezuka, you know that he loves dark themes in his stories. Astro Boy: Omega Factor may have been released long after his death, but the game still carries said themes.

The 7th chapter of Birth sees Astro returning home after being stuck in ancient times for three months. Unfortunately, Astro has been gone for 5 years and in his absence, the whole world has gone down the crapper. President Rag's assassination threw the world into chaos, causing a human-robot war, with countless lives lost. Even the very planet itself was a casualty of war. A whopping 80% of the Earth was destroyed by the damage between humans and robots, leaving very little in the way of living space. As it turns out, this was all a plot by Sharaku to ignite a war so he could rule over the world, believing humans and robots would never be able to truly exist together.

In the end, all his scheming is for naught because Death Makes comes down to end everything. Death Mask is the goddess of justice that passes judgement down on all robots and since they played a large part of killing more than half the Earth, you'd better believe she is gonna tan some robot hide. Sharaku doesn't even know what Death Mask is but he's seen her numerous times as he's tried to change history time and again. But since he now has the ability to transcend time itself, Death Mask's total annihilation of the Earth is no big deal to him so he just leaves Astro and the remaining survivors to their fates.

Well, that's it, you failed. In every possible way, you have failed. You and your friends are dead. And just to rub salt into the wound, here's some end credits with some depressing music to listen to as you watch the world burn.

So what did you do wrong? Nothing. On your first run through of Omega Factor, you will always get the bad ending. There's no way around it. And yes, you read right, I said first run. It isn't until the intervention of Phoenix that you'll get to prevent the bad ending from coming to pass. Phoenix brings Astro back to life and grants him the power of time travel, which is basically a neat version of a stage select feature. By using time travel you can go to any stage and search for who you need to find so you can stop Sharaku and Death Mask. You'll even unlock some new stages. The best part is that it doesn't feel like unnecessary padding at all and this is really more like the second half of the game.

Final Fantasy VI (SNES, PS, GBA, Wii U, PS3, iOS)

1000 years before the main story of Final Fantasy VI got underway, a massive conflict that would later come to be known as the War of the Mai took place. The battle was initially fought between three gods, each holding destructive magic powers that feared one another. Humans caught up in the battle were turned into espers and forced to do the god's bidding. In time the gods realized that all of their fighting wasn't doing the planet any favors. They gave the espers back their free will sealed themselves away as statuses. Later known as the Waring Triad, the gods were bound in a perfect triangular alignment and if they were moved out of position, it would spell catastrophe for the world. Or int his case, what was left of the world. The War of the Magi not only 86'd magic but it set human civilization back for centuries. What does all of that have to do with the main FFVI story? Pretty much everything.

After all of the technological advancements the Gestahlian Empire has made, they still crave more power. Even the magitek knights and mech armor they have, a fusion of both science and magic, isn't even to appease Emperor Gestahl. The man keeps pressing on until he finds the hidden esper home world, which is where the the source of all magic, the Warring Triad rests. Power hungry as Gestahl is, he pales in comparison to his subordinate, Kefka Palazzo, a lunatic that seems to lose more and more screws as the game goes on.

When Gestahl and Kefka do find the Warring Triad, Gesthal finally sees that Kefka is so far off his rocker that he isn't even sitting in the same room with the darn thing. Gesthal wants to use the Warring Triad to further flex his empire's military muscle. Kefka couldn't give two craps about that promptly relieves the old man of his job by killing him.

With Gestahl out of the way and the heroes incapacitated, Kefka moves the Warring Triad out of their delicate balance, causing destructive magic forces to rock the world, which results in the rearrangement of the planet's continents. As surges of magical energy spread across the planet, many people are killed, monsters that were long sealed away are unleashed and even the heroes that banded together are separated as the world nearly goes to hell in a hand-basket. This is actually the halfway point of the game but it is no less shocking to see the heroes fail so spectacularly.

The planet getting a make over, all those people dying and fierce beasts running around rampant is just the tip of the iceberg. Celes Chere wakes up on Solitary Island where Cid has been taking care of her for the year she slept. Yeah, the girl has been out cold for a full year. There were people that washed shore along with her but they've all since killed themselves and if the shape the planet is in is any indication, they probably weren't the only ones to end their own lives.

Welcome to the World of Ruin, where the water is foul, barren wastelands are a plenty and hope is something not too many people have. Kefka sits in his tower made out of the wreckage from the day he torn the world asunder and with his Light of Judgement he can destroy the remaining towns or the entire world if he feels like it thanks to the power he wields from the Warring Triad. The heroes eventually succeed in defeating Kefka, freeing the world from his grip, but that doesn't change the fact that for one full year, he ran that sucker like his own sick, demented personal play ground.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (N64, GCN, Wii, 3DS)

"You've met with a terrible fate, haven't you?" asks the Happy Mask Salesman. That is one massive understatement question. Link is robbed of his horse, his ocarina, his very species and while chasing the thief, Skull Kid, falls down a hole that transports him to the world of Termina. Well, Happy Mask Salesman can help turn Link back into a human but in return, he asks that he gets back the mask that Skull Kid stole from him but it has to be done in three days. Why the time limit on fetching a stolen mask? Well, step outside, take a look up and answer to that question becomes as clear as crystal.

Holy moly, the Moon has a serious mad on and is a little too close to ground level for my taste. It turns out the mask Skull Kid pilfered was Majora's Mask, a cursed masked that bestows dark power to anyone who wears it. Thanks to the masked Skull kid's insane antics, in three days, the Moon will crash into Termina, killing everyone.

You may think you have 72 real time hours to prevent the Moon from causing a colony drop but in this game, a single day is a mere 18 minutes. Do the math and that totals up to 54 minutes, six minutes shy of a full hour. Looks like you don't have as much time as you'd like to save Termina from disaster. Or maybe you do. The Ocarina of Time is your best friend in this game. Using the Song of Time, you can travel back to begin the three day cycle again as many times as you need to, thereby keeping making sure the Moon never becomes earthbound.

Watching the Moon descend upon Termina, even waiting for it to drop is like watching a horrific accident. You know its awful but you just can't look away. If you go into first person mode and look up, you can actually slowly see the thing fall, creepy face looking at you and all. When there are only six minutes until impact, the bell in Clock Town begins to chime, ominous music plays and tremors rock the town. And the game got an E rating. Even the 3DS remake still maintains an E rating.

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