Friday, 24 January 2014

Watchmen with Space Animals

5 Reasons Why Star Fox 64 Is Darker Than You Think

Star Fox 64 tells the tale of a group of anthropomorphic animals who defy the odds (and their natural desire to kill and eat each other) to defeat a monkey who threatens the galactic peace. There is some darkness on the surface of this story, Andross (the aforementioned monkey) is responsible for the supposed death of Fox's father and during the course of the story, the team encounter a pig called Pigma Iscariot, who betrayed the original Star Fox team to Andross. But if you delve deeper, you find a much darker layer to the game that is only hinted at.

1: The Cornerian Army is Dangerously Dependent on Freelancers

This one is the most obvious, in fact, one of the first lines of the game is "you're the only hope for our world". According to the Star Fox Wiki " In earlier times the original Star Fox team, led by James McCloud, protected the world as mercenaries, with the help of the Cornerian Army." Surely a team of mercenaries should help an army, not the other way around. In the first level, robots appear to knock over entire skyscrapers and it’s suggested that the whole planet of Corneria is under attack, yet there doesn't seem to be a force on the entire planet capable of fighting the invaders off. In another mission, they need Star Fox to defuse a bomb, in their own base. 
It should also be noted that the military force necessary to turn the tide of every single battle witnessed in the game consists of four Arwings one of which is piloted by Slippy Toad, another by an aging veteran. The bar is pretty low and they can't even reach that. When General Pepper implores you to "be reasonable" about going to Solar, his concern is if anything understated. Fox's decision to take an extremely risky route to Venom simply because his map allowed him to endangers not only himself, but the safety of the entire system.

2: The Army's Leadership is Shockingly Incompetent

In the prologue we're told that years ago, General Pepper sent a team to Venom to investigate strange activity. This team was promptly captured by Andross and Fox's father James sacrificed himself to help Peppy escape. To summarise, the team were sent to investigate strange activity and found it. Pepper proceeds to do absolutely nothing with this information. As a result, a few years later, Andross launches his attack. Well done General, well done. The fact that at the end of the game he still has his job is something of a miracle. Maybe his personal relationship with the only three capable pilots in the system, and Slippy, makes him too valuable to lose.

Another question raised is why Andross was on Venom in the first place. Apparently, Andross was once a scientist who wanted to help others before developing an insane thirst for power. Whether or not he genuinely wanted this power for himself or just wanted to take it away from the idiots who held it is unclear. Andross destroyed a large amount of Corneria city with an explosion resulting from one of his experiments. This proves to be the last straw for Pepper, who had been suspicious of Andross for some time. Andross' punishment is to be sent to Venom. In other words, death by exile. It later turns out that Venom wasn't quite as desolate as everyone assumed allowing Andross to build an army. Had they taken time to research the planet where they intended to send one of the most dangerous individuals in the system, the entire Lylat war could have been averted. Or they could have just thrown him in jail, which raises the question of whether or not the Cornerians are so stupid that they don't actually have jails.
Of course it's possible that the Cornerian army simply have other matters to contend to. That's because:

3: Corneria is Clearly a Military Dictatorship

Signs that Corneria is a dictatorship are everywhere, from the literal signs showing pictures of Pepper's face on Cornerian buildings (in the 3DS version at any rate) to the absence of any figure of authority other than the General. Pepper is described as having authority over science and research as well the military. Whether or not you can have authority over a military that doesn't exist is up for debate. It's just as well the camera cuts away at the end after Team Star Fox turn down Pepper’s offer to join the army, the following scene in which Pepper explains that in his Corneria, when someone is asked to sign up, they sign up, and has his goons rough up Slippy would have ended the game on a very dark note. The army are so busy keeping civilians in line that they can’t protect against outside threats. But how could the oppressed population be so large that they occupy the army's attention so fully. How could there be that many people on the planet? This leads me onto my next point.

4: This Dictatorship Oppresses a Race of Tiny People 

The buildings in the opening Corneria level visually resemble skyscrapers, but are obviously too small for Fox and Co. to enter. As mentioned earlier, these buildings are knocked over by robots and no-one shows any concern. In fact, apart from a quick remark by Falco, "this is horrible", the death and destruction doesn't seem to have any effect on the team, hell, it's entirely possible that Falco was simply talking about the number of enemy ships the team would have to deal with. Firing at buildings by mistake goes unpunished. I ask you, what sort of monsters could cause and witness so much damage to skyscrapers and their inhabitants and be unaffected? Who could do that?
People/animals who have grown up in a culture where the tiny people are treated as second class citizens, that's who!
I just remembered alt text is a thing
Pictured: Anti-establishment protest posters from Corneria

Maybe this is why they couldn't just execute Andross on Corneria, they sent him to Venom to die after all, so killing him was obviously the goal. They had to give the illusion that they were exiling him, removing him as a threat, but without infringing on his rights as a "big person".
Team Star Fox are obviously a part of this horrible culture that permits them to use smart bombs in a highly populated area, it is the norm for them. But that is not the only troubling thing about the team.

5: Team Star Fox are Deeply Troubled Individuals

Behind the jovial (perhaps too jovial?) "do a barrel role", "get this guy off of me" banter something is rotten at the core of this team. We'll go through the more subtle examples in a moment, but I'll start with the most obvious sign of the rot. The team member who most clearly demonstrates the messed up dynamic of the team, the weakest link, the one most likely to get his team killed. Most of you probably can guess who I'm talking about.

The ol' bait and switch. Classic.

Falco is the team's weakest link because he doesn't know how to be in a team. He's a lone (Star) Wolf forced into working with others. His bad attitude and lack of respect for authority threatens the future of the team at every moment. If you rescue him he'll sometimes say "oh great I've been saved by Fox" in a sarcastic tone which suggests some kind of death wish. Can someone like that be trusted? Falco is too unstable to be a part of the only competent military team in the Lylat system.
Slippy is the second biggest problem with the team, but at least he thinks about the team. His team-mates, and whether or not he's safely within their range of vision are constantly on his mind. But Slippy shouldn't be in combat, he's the team's engineer and its weakest pilot, shouldn't he be, oh I don't know, working on a G-diffuser that won't malfunction after running for a few minutes? That Peppy in particular, who has lost comrades before, allows Slippy to join the fight suggests he and the rest of the team are very callous individuals. On the subject of Peppy, his constant comparisons between Fox and his father have an air of manipulation about them. These arguments about how the team willingly endanger Slippy would be mere speculation were it not for the existence of ROB 64.
As a robot, ROB 64 would be well suited to combat, but instead controls the great Fox, despite the fact that as the mechanic, Slippy could do the most good if stationed in the base with quick access to the repair bay. There must be a reason that ROB is kept safe from harm. The members of Star Fox must be replaced if and when they die, because due to military incompetence, this is the only way for the galaxy to be kept safe. The team needs to be structured in such a way that in the event that all the Arwings are destroyed in combat, the member stationed on the Great Fox, i.e. the one most likely to survive can fulfill this task of rebuilding the team. The death of your colleagues and destruction caused by the galaxy's most disturbing individuals would affect even the relatively cold and detached members of Star Fox after a while. But not ROB 64. ROB 64's cold robotic nature reflects the lack of empathy or remorse that piloting the Great Fox and convincing others to join the team, knowing they will die, entails. When Fox is  barrel rolling with the angels, ROB 64 will passively note a vacancy in the team roster and make plans to seek out another adrenaline junkie to take his place.
The team are obviously very damaged individuals, because that is the only type of person who could do what they do, yet they are lauded as heroes across the galaxy. This brings me to my final question, is Star Fox 64 basically Watchmen with space animals?

Or it could just be that Star Fox 64 is a 3D scrolling shooter whose trope heavy plot is there purely for entertainment value, but where's the overly analytical fun in that?

Still haven't scratched the procrastination itch? Then why not read my Star Fox 64 3D review (comes with a free Kid Icarus Uprising review), Super Mario 3D Land review or Steam World Dig review?

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