Head to Head is a space where one of our writers talks about and compares two games, franchises, characters or developers... and the list goes on. Last time we discussed two character, comparing Solid Snake and Big Boss. This time we changes things up again, discussing death, rebirth and suicide in Gods Will Be Watching and Dragon's Dogma.
Spoiler Warning: This article discusses endgame spoilers for both Dragon’s Dogma and Gods Will Be Watching.
Dragon’s Dogma isn’t really well known for its fantastic storytelling, and any gripes against it are probably justified. In fact, I’m willing to say that many of the methods Gods Will Be Watching uses are superior. Gods uses the game itself to develop its characters, and your attachments to them are based on the needs of mutual survival. Dragon’s Dogma has a romance system so poorly conveyed that many people just ended up with the Innkeeper and his sexy class changing ways purely by accident. When you compare the overarching themes of both of these games, however, there are some interesting similarities. Both games use the concepts of cycles of rebirth and suicide, but only one game actually uses it effectively.
In Dragon’s Dogma after you defeat the red dragon Grigori and regain your heart – the life – which he stole, you discover that the victory was what he wanted all along. The dragons are those who met “God” and failed to defeat him, and their dogma is to help people like the protagonist to achieve their true potential. You too have the opportunity to face this “god” who calls himself the Seneschal, because that is the purpose of all life as it exists in an eternal state of death and rebirth. Defeat the Seneschal, and you can succeed him after finally taking his life and releasing him from eternity. The concepts have roots deep within eastern philosophies spread by Buddhism and pervasive in the Japanese culture that inspired the game. But the twist is, when you finally made it – maximum progression – you’re treated to one of the most effective intentionally boring experiences in all of gaming. You get to see what it might be like to be a god who is unable to interfere and unable to progress.
In this way, Dragon’s Dogma uses the game to explain its ideas. The entire game, from when Grigori rips your heart out to your final climactic battle with the Seneschal, is about the growth of you, the player. Gods Will Be Watching, while being better establishing its supporting cast, completely fails at its overarching plot because it does the opposite; it uses its ideas to explain the game.
And it does it abruptly. There is no hint that Sergeant Burden is living in a cycle of rebirth until after the fourth chapter, the only exception being that anyone who dies in any chapter is mysteriously still alive in the next (It’s okay Marvin, my precious little guinea pig, some other Abraham Burden made sure everything is okay). The concept is actually very cool because it makes your deaths canon to the story. But what’s the actual point?
That’s actually the exact question that Burden asks Liam in the denouement. “[I thought] if I saved this wicked world at least one time…” he says, “I thought I’d understand the meaning of it all. But I don’t fucking get it.” Then Burden, who up to this point was clear-minded and pragmatic, decides he just doesn’t care anymore. He curses the gods and jumps off of the space station into outer space. Perhaps this act of suicide was done to defy the will of the gods. Maybe you, the player, are god, and Burden was defying you. But what message does this really convey? If you don’t seem to have any control over your life, just kill yourself? That self-destruction is the only willful decision we have in the face of God himself? We never find out what the reason was behind the cycles Burden was experiencing,but we do find out in the epilogue that in spite of his defiance, he gets to do it all again. The grimness of this ending scene is as meaningless as it is pretentious.
Although Dragon’s Dogma’s ending also features suicide, it doesn’t bother me there. The reason for this is because you the player are allowed to experience all of the decisions of the game yourself – including the suicide. You’re given numerous opportunities to walk away from being an Arisen, even at the very end when you face the Seneschal. If you do, you live out your life as a normal person. But those paths are unsatisfying, so you push forward into the darkness with no other reasons other than to see what is there and because you can. When you finally get there, you find out that in the world of Dragon’s Dogma at least, progression stops. And it’s boring.
Why does the player choose to kill themselves at this point? Maybe it’s because it’s the only option you haven’t tried. Maybe you looked it up in a walkthrough online. Or, maybe, you realize that a life without progression is no life at all. While my reasons probably fall more into the first one, the last reason is how I interpret Dragon’s Dogma’s ending. And to me, that has deep philosophical implications. With all of the flaws in Dragon’s Dogma’s storytelling, I was left with an idea that has meaning.
The more serious a story is, and Gods Will Be Watching is very serious, the more important it is that the story has some kind of message, moral, or epiphany. The irony here is that a campy RPG written by the people at Capcom – the same company that publishes the Resident Evil series – has managed something far more poignant than a game that was created to be art.
Well, that's our look at Dragon's Dogma and Gods Will Be Watching . Stay tuned here on Darkstation.com for more upcoming features and go checkout our featured pageto catch up on the previous features.