Gamification of Drama

There’s a scene in the old Nintendo Power comic based on The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, where Link and Zelda are finally facing off against Ganon himself, the primary antagonist of the Zelda series. As Ganon has Link and Zelda nearly beaten, Zelda says a prayer and desperately fires a seemingly plain wooden arrow at Ganon, only for the arrow to transform into the legendary Silver Arrow mid-flight and slay the pig demon. The whole notion of the Silver Arrow as Ganon’s one weakness is taken from the video games, but as anyone who has played Link to the Past knows, you don’t need one Silver Arrow to defeat Ganon, but four. Essentially, while there are a number of approaches that could have been taken, in this case the comic dramatizes the impact of the Silver Arrow by having its singular appearance act as the climax of the story in order for it to function better as a narrative.

If the Link to the Past comic is a case of taking a gameplay element and transforming it into a plot point, then the Super Robot Wars games, especially the recent ones, are a strong example of the opposite. Based on the idea of taking robots from actual anime and having them fight together, the SRW franchise is all about the conversion of story elements into gameplay, but the early games were limited by an emphasis on statistics. The result was that certain characters and robots became less useful because they lacked effectiveness in the game itself. There have been attempts to mitigate it, such as creating an original upgrade for one of the robots, such as the relatively weak Mazinger Z into the mighty Mazinkaiser, but recent SRW games, particular the series, have sought to remedy this discrepancy by completely prioritizing dramatic impact over a sense of logic. Thus, not only are the most powerful weapons transformed into attack options, but the most powerful moments in the original anime are given a gameplay function.

Thus, what you see is not simply the robot Godmars’ strongest technique, but a recreation of the moment when Godmars and its pilot Takeru draw upon the last of their energy to deliver a final blow to the main antagonist of their story. The “Super Final Godmars” technique is meant to carry the same weight as Zelda’s Silver Arrow in the comic, only it’s made repeatable throughout the game so it also functions as the Silver Arrow from the video game.

This approach even transcends specific moments in a series, as is shown when looking at how the characters in those robot series are themselves given unique properties to show off their individuality. Lelouch, protagonist of Code Geass, is meant to be a strategic mastermind in his story, and so the game gives him the ability to boost allied units in specific ways which make him best suited for staying out of the front lines and for issuing commands.

What I find interesting about this transformation of plot point into gameplay elements is that the actual end goal of such a function is to invoke intangible qualities by way of tangible mechanics of intangible moments. In other words, in order to give players the feeling of re-enacting those climaxes from anime, the SRW games look at those dramatic moments, figure out how it should impact the game in terms of requirements/damage/etc., but then has to arrange those numbers to best replicate the feelings created by those original scenes. This is probably what makes the original robots which appear in SRW games to have such over-the-top animations compared to the robots with actual source material; they have to add another step to try and convince players that they should be just as into their (at the time) ahistorical designs as they are the robots straight from anime.

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