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Games that made Me want to be a Better Person: Beyond Good and Evil

Why Beyond Good and Evil is important.

Beyond Good and Evil is a tricky game. Not in that it's difficult. In that it tricked me. It tricked me into caring. I cared about this little world. I cared about Jade, I cared about the lighthouse, I cared about my little flock of orphans, my uncle, my buddy from the rebellion... all of it.

The lighthouse is an interesting place. It's like a mission hub, but not. I think you're only required to go there maybe two or three times after you leave for the first time, so it isn't really that central to the game mechanically, but dammit, every single time I made even an iota of progress, I rushed straight back. I wanted to check up on my home. I wanted to wander around, see how the kids were doing, play with the dog, look at photos on the wall, or even just stand next to a tree and look out at the waves.

Compare the lighthouse to your dinky home island in Wind Waker. It didn't feel like a home. It didn't feel like anything. It was just a generic starting point. There were a few bland villagers there who were more than happy the teach me about game controls, which did an excellent job of making me completely apathetic towards them. It felt like a tutorial. Tutorials are awful. They work in very, very few games. I can understand the need for a tutorial in something like Microsoft Flight Simulator X 4000; you're sort of going to want to know straight off the bat what each and every one of those hundreds of glowing buttons and switches in front of you do.

In a game like Wind Waker, though, a tutorial is sending me the message that this is not the game proper. This isn't important. This doesn't matter. I think to myself "oh, this is just the tutorial. Guess I don't care, since nothing is going to happen." I don't need to know how to execute each of the half a dozen sword swings - and you know what? There's no difference between the forward stab and the vertical slash. They both do the same thing. Tactical combat isn't a big thing, here. I'm not playing Mount and Blade, or Nidhogg, where the combat mechanics are pretty complex. I'm just blocking until there's an opening, and then flailing on the attack button for a bit.

So straight off the bat, I'm inclined to not care. Then there's your grandmother. She has about as much personality, and importance, as a doormat - which is essentially how Link treats her, anyway. Her only role in the game is as a plot device; your sister goes missing, and grandma says go fetch. Oh, and she makes porridge for you later on, which is like a health potion. I don't care, grandma. I really don't. She's about as important to me as the townsfolk were in Castle of the Winds. Which, considering that they were basically non existant, is pretty impressive.

The very first thing that happens in Beyond Good and Evil is and alien invasion breaking up a meditation session. Meteor/drop pods bombard my happy little lighthouse, and start abducting the kids. Jade tries to start the shield generator, but we're too poor to pay the power bills. The kids start screaming my name, and I have to pick up a burning stick and beat the aliens until they back off.

What's the very first thing that happens in Wind Waker? After an obnoxiously long, dry, unskippable cutscene, I wake up after over sleeping - because in any rpg worth it's salt, you're a lazy youth. Kids relate to that right? Then it's my birthday, so, that's cool, I guess? I have to go and talk to grandma, then I have to go back to my kid sister, and... yeah. You get the picture.

Right away, I know these kids have some relation to me. Not because of a stupid cutscene that says I'm the hero of destiny and it's my sworn duty to protect them and the kingdom and stupid fantasy trash buzzword xyz. Because they're screaming my name. Oh hey! I guess that means they know me, and because it's a bit creepy for kids to have adult friends, I guess I'm either a relative or a close family friend.

Then, also right away, I have to protect them. Not because destiny, because they're kids, and they're screaming for help. I mean, come on. So we see Jade as a strong character immediately. Then, to contrast that, as soon as you repel the aliens, a giant tentacle thing entagles Jade and drags her underground. You're trapped, and pretty much helpless. Right after we've seen her as a strong character, we see her at a weak point. She's not Rambo, or Master Chief. She's strong, certainly, but not perfect. Vulnerabilty is touched on so rarely in games, even rarer still immediately after a moment of strength.

Enter, stage left, Pey'J. A humanoid pig jumps through a window at least two stories above ground, falls down the hole ontop of the alien tentacle, throws you a staff and tells you he's going to distract it so you can free yourself. Talk about an entrance. In about two seconds, we've learned a hell of a lot about Pey'J. We know he cares about Jade a lot, to the point where he puts himself in harm's way. We know he's brave, we know he's athletic, and that he's resourceful.

So, boss battle ensues, and you both team up to kill the beast. It drops some kind of pearl, and Pey'J is clearly pretty excited about that. He says something along the lines of how you could use it to pay for repairs, once again getting across the notion that you guys don't have much money to spare.

Then the two of you get back up to the surface, and there's a news reporter there. He sets up the scene very well. He tells "the viewers" that they're on the scene of an orphanage, which two devoted citizens have set up a place of safety for children who's parents have died in the war. Then Pay'J shows his contempt for them doing nothing for the citizens, hammering home the concept that the government here is maybe lazy, incompetent, corrupt or some combination thereof.

After his little outburst, Jade passes out. She wakes up to a warming scene inside the lighthouse, with Pay'J and all of the orphans watching over her in bed, clearly very worried. All of this happens in less than ten minutes. In the first ten minutes of Wind Waker, I haven't even finished doing pointless fetch quests for grandma yet.

The intro for Beyond Good and Evil is just brilliant, it's probably my favourite opening to any game. It doesn't jerk you around with stupid stuff you don't care about, it sets everything up concisely, and it blends cutscenes together with gameplay expertly.

The lighthouse really endeared itself to me. It felt like a home, in the same way that Serenity felt like a home in Firefly. It's the little details. The kids are sitting down listening to the radio reports, walking around, playing outside, sitting next to a tree, lying in bed... doing what kids do. There's a bean bag in the corner, there are the porthole windows, there's a fighter plane hanging from the roof; signs of life.

In the kid's room, there are bunk beds, blankets, all that. What stood out to me above the rest though, was the pictures on the walls. There were tiny scribbles here and there. A crude drawing of Jade, of Pay'J, a flower, some of the kids, and whatever else. This is just one miniscule detail, completely unimportant in the grander scheme of things, but it so easily conveys the visual message that this is somewhere that kids live. Poetry in motion - a single fragment of an idea that conveys a whole lot more.

The warm, soft visual style, the soothing beautiful musical score, the surrounding ocean, the small garden; all of it combined together made for a really special place. In every way possible, this felt like an important place. It felt like somewhere I would want to live. There was heart here, and that's what the whole game has, from start to finish. Heart.

You get caugh up in a rebellion movement, through a series of events, and eventually you're doing espionage missions for this group, trying to uncover government conspiracies. It sounds a little trite worded like that, but it was a natural progression for the game, and at no point did I feel like I was watching a bad 80s spy movie.

On one of your missions to rescue a captured resistance member, you get seperated from Pay'J. I was honestly distraught. It wasn't just the generic "oh no party member x has been captured what do." That was my uncle. He cares about me, and I care about him.

They build up your relationship really well. After some encounters, the two of you share dialogue. He brags about not feeling as old as he is, and you make fun of him for it. He even makes a fart joke. Usually, that would get me thinking a whole lot less of the game, but it worked here. I was thinking "wow, that was really stupid and immature. Great job on the writing, guys." Then I stopped. This wasn't poor writing. This was good characterisation. It was a stupid, bad line, sure, but it was supposed to be. That's who Pay'J is. He's your immature uncle who makes stupid jokes, and says things that are ridiculously immature. He knows it's not funny, and so does Jade, but that doesn't stop them both from laughing.

So when Pay'J got taken away by governmental thugs, I was really, sincerely worried about him. I didn't want him to die. He was my friend. He wasn't my stupid grandma who sat at home making porridge and had two lines of dialogue for the whole game. He was my goofy uncle who made bad fart jokes, cared about me a lot, and put himself in danger to keep me out of trouble.

Then, in a deceptively brilliant move, they introduced my next party member - Double H - the resistance guy I came here to rescue in the first place. There wasn't a whole lot of time bewteen Pay'J getting carted off and meeting this new guy, so I was still processing things in my head. I'm worring about my uncle that I've built up a relationship with, and now the game is trying to shove a new character in my face.

I intensely disliked him to begin with. His introduction was not a likable one. There was slapstick humour, and more goofy dialogue, so my reaction was "wow, this guy's an idiot. I don't like him at all. I hope I get Pay'J back soon." That, and he kept quoting a military handbook, with meaningless lines, which just frustrated me.

He has some kind of alien virus in him, and you have to rush him back to le resistance HQ before he dies or gets infected or whatever it is that happens when you have an alien virus in you. So you do that, and they manage to cure him. They tell you he's going to be back on his feet in a couple of weeks, so, for the first time in the game, you're confronting the idea that you're alone. It all comes cashing down here that yes, Pay'j is gone, and yes, you don't have anybody to help you anymore.

Then comes the brilliant part. As soon as you walk out the door, you look back, and Double H is standing there looking at you. He quotes one of the lines from his handbook again; "WWTAO, we work together as one."

This is the point where Double H starts to become interesting. That line has a lot of weight. He's several weeks away from recovery, but he believes in what you're doing strongly enough that he wants to help anyway. Much as before, we're contrasting weakness and strength at the same time.

Not only that, but you've just found common ground with Double H. He's still reeling from injury, but he's trying his best to press on despite that. You're still reeling from losing Pay'J, and you're trying just as hard. The two of you are both dealing with adversity in the same way. With courage.

The once meaningless quote from his military handbook has grown, too. He's telling you that he's there, no matter what. He's just had a crazy alien brain sucker removed mere moments ago, but he still wants to help you. He knows how difficult things are for you, and he doesn't want you to be alone. Then theres the idea of expressing himself through the military lines. How heavily has he been programmed by the army if this is how he conveys complex emotions? If he has been that heavily programmed, and that dedicated, then what's he doing in a resistance movement, against the established government? What has he found that he believes in even more, despite how clearly he's mentally attached to the army?

Again, in only a few minutes, much like Pay'J, we've learned a whole lot about Double H. He's evolved from a silly whacky comic relief guy into a serious, interesting character, with more depth than immediately apparent.

There are a few other moments where they build up Double H's character even more - one after a thrillingly intense chase scene over the rooftops of a town, and one where Jade has an emotional breakdown - and he remains one of the most interesting characters I've seen in a game.

As soon as I beat the game, I sat back, mouth agog, processing for a few minutes, then I started again. Right away. I wasn't ready to let go yet. I had that much investment in this world, in these characters, that I just wanted to experience more.

I love almost everything about this game. I love the soundtrack, I love the characters, I love the fluid combat, the exploration factor, the scavenger hunt of taking photos of animals, the visuals, the locations, the voice acting... I even like the menu screen. It taught me about how relationships change, about how people care for one another, about people. It showed me different kinds of strength, different kinds of courage, and different kinds of weakness. It showed me you don't have to be Bill Gates or Superman to make a difference. You can just be a chick with a camera and a big stick. It taught me about what's important; these people don't have money, or much at all, really. What they do have is safety, happiness, family, and a life. They have each other. And it didn't beat me over the head with a single stupid parable. It was subtle, charming, spectacular, and beautiful. It will forever be one of my favourites.

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