The Benefit of the Doubt

I don't know how to feel about her hat...

Just recently, the update to Blazblue: Calamity Trigger was released (that’s Blazblue: Continuum Shift, or BBCS), the newest fighting game by Aksys Games. I’m a big fan, and I have a lot of reactions to it, and the nature of fighting games in general, but first, I want to tell you about something that happened to me while playing it.

There exists a story mode in BBCS. I know what your reaction to this is: stories in Japanese fighting games range from potentially interesting but irredeemably confusing at best to incredibly asinine at worst. BBCS deserves strong credit for being at the top of that list, but it’s similar to how I feel about someone praising a sandbox game for it’s engaging and in depth story. Awesome that you nailed it for that genre, but in the absolute sense, you’re still in 10th percentile. Any enthusiasm I might have about the story in BBCS is mitigated by the fact that I know that 90% of my questions won’t be answered, and that they’re probably just being confusing for its own sake. I haven’t quite completed the story mode, so I suppose I should reserve judgment, but…

And yet, as I was playing it, something incredibly interesting happened to me. I was attempting to finish the story mode the other night (I wasn’t successful. Just too much content. Gave up around 4 AM =/), and a particular event that I witnessed, for some reason, touched me so deeply that I almost began to cry. I had been rather wholeheartedly immersing myself in the world of this game, in an attempt to give the story it’s fair shake, not to mention the fact that it was 3 AM and I had been playing for over four hours by that point. I had clearly set up a series of conditions by which story events could have maximal impact on me, but even I was surprised at my reaction.

Some background: I was following the story of a character named Haku-men, a legendary hero who has been more or less revived in the current time by the meddling of a third party. He has since escaped out from under the yoke of his savior, and is going around attempting to right all the wrongs originally perpetrated by his action or inaction. (Which is mostly accomplished by him hitting people with his sword) Including preventing another character, Jin Kisaragi, Haku-men’s reincarnation, (I think? See earlier comment about being confusing) from making the same mistakes he did.

Still with me? Good. While gallivanting about, Hakumen encounters a third character, Tsubaki, who is Jin’s first love. He immediately recognizes her as an analogous character from his past, and is overcome with emotion. Tsubaki, not realizing any connection, has basically just seen King Arthur walk through her front lawn, and can’t resist talking to him. They talk, and eventually Haku-men tells Tsubaki a story: a story about his childhood friend who was also his first love, whom he abandoned because of his commitment to doing his duty, sending her chasing after him, until she eventually dies in an unfortunate accident. There’s something pretty tragic about this, because the analog is crystal clear, and up until this point, he has more or less failed at preventing the mistakes of the past from being repeated.

But he also says that it was the love of this woman, and her belief in him, that allowed him to become the hero that he is, and that if he had a chance, he would both thank this woman, and apologize to her. Tsubaki counters that he probably doesn’t need to apologize, because she chose to follow him of her own free will. She says that she must have been quite a woman, and tells Haku-men that she wishes she could be such a woman some day. He responds “To you, such a thing would be as simple as breathing.”

It’s actually a really good line, but I still can’t quite explain why I reacted so strongly. It certainly has something to do with Tsubaki here, her being my character of choice in competitive play (which represents most of my time with BBCS). I had been a little disappointed previously, since her story consisted of “She fails at everything she tries to do, has a nice heart to heart chat with the female main character, then dies an awful death.” Even though I know, canon wise, she’s nowhere near the power level of the more important characters: Ragna, Jin, Noel, Rachel, etc. (trying to rate fighting game characters in terms of canonical power level would be an interesting project, wouldn’t it?), she nevertheless has an important role to play, which I found reassuring, but I’m sure that wasn’t it by itself.

The whole experience has gotten me thinking about how and why we give stories, specifically game stories, the benefit of the doubt. I could have rushed through that text the same way I’ve rushed through a lot of the text in BBCS, but for whatever reason, likely because I wanted to see if the story makes any sense, I didn’t. For whatever reason, I decided that I was going to give this story a chance to impact me, and because of that, it did, and fairly strongly. It was, all in all, a very positive experience. Because I decided I wasn’t going to dismiss it as dumb (even though it could be very easily argued that it was), I have, in some infinitesimal way, enriched my own life.

For the life of me, I just don’t understand what the appeal of having high standards is…

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