Monday, January 12, 2009

A Mega Man's World

I read an interview a while back, where Mega Man designer Keiji Inafune claimed that Capcom did not feel that a female protagonist could sell. At the time, I didn't really give it much thought, but, watching Resident Evil: Degeneration recently, I found myself reminded of that interview.


The movie featured the long-awaited return of Resident Evil 2's heroine, Claire Redfield, last seen in Resident Evil Code: Veronica in 2000. The movie was disappointing as a whole, but perhaps what most bothered me was how it seemed to waste the event of Claire's return, giving her far less to do overall than fellow Raccoon City survivor, Leon S. Kennedy. During the film's first act, when the characters had to make their escape from a zombie-infested airport, Leon and two SWAT officers provided armed escort, while Claire followed as an unarmed civilian. It struck me as odd that they would not arm Claire, considering what a crack shot she had been in the games, but I supposed perhaps they didn't have enough guns to go around. That turned out not to be the case, as evidenced by a baffling scene, in which Leon, seeing Claire surrounded by zombies, tossed his firearm to her, then suddenly pulled out a second gun so as not to leave himself unarmed. If he had two guns, why didn't he just give his spare to her in the first place?! Then, after expertly dispatching the zombies around her, Claire inexplicably handed the gun back to Leon, even though he already had one and obviously wasn't going to use both.

As the film wore on, Claire had progressively even less to do. While Leon became the focus in the big action sequences, Claire was left pushing buttons and pulling switches in the control room. Most significantly, however, the film also seemed to rule out future action for Claire by establishing that, in contrast to her brother and Leon, she had taken a more passive role in the fight against the biohazard menaces. To be fair, despite her ridiculous moves, she always was a civilian. Since that never stood in the way of her previous adventures, then there's no reason she couldn't appear in a future game. Unless, of course, Inafune is right, and Capcom just doesn't have the confidence to feature a female protagonist.

Capcom has provided Chris Redfield with a female partner in Resident Evil 5, but it has already been stated that, in the single-player game, the player will control only Chris, making Sheva more of a sidekick than a co-protagonist. Meanwhile, recent trailers have suggested that, unless Capcom is holding back some major cards, Jill Valentine will have a supporting role at best. It just strikes me as wrong that one of the franchise's lead characters should be relegated to a peripheral role. To be honest, I would be more comfortable were she not in the game at all, rather saved for some future installment where she would once again be the playable lead.

Back during the PS1 and PS2 eras, Capcom actually had a ton of female leads, including Claire (Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil Code: Veronica), Jill (Resident Evil, Resident Evil 3), Regina (Dino Crisis, Dino Crisis 2), Rebecca Chambers (Resident Evil Zero), and Vanessa Z. Schneider (P.N.03). Not only that, but, as I remember the pre-Resident Evil 4 days, Claire and Jill were actually more popular and more prominent than their male counterparts, with Jill in particular becoming a sort of mascot for the series, even making an appearance in Marvel vs. Capcom 2.

One possibility is that, in the case of the horror-themed Resident Evil series, as well as the RE-derived Dino Crisis games, Capcom's use of female protagonists was inspired by the "final girl" trope from slasher films, and, as the series has moved away from horror and become more action-focused, more traditional male action heroes have become favored.

It may also be worth noting that all of the characters I named were from games developed by Shinji Mikami or Hideki Kamiya, who both left Capcom following the dissolution of Clover Studio. Kamiya's first title since leaving Capcom will be Bayonetta, which basically looks like Devil May Cry with a female lead. Meanwhile, Keiji Inafune has had famously harsh remarks attributing Clover's demise to its consistent failure to deliver on the bottom line. In the post-Clover world, where Inafune may be the top dog at Capcom, perhaps the sudden abandonment of female leads simply reflects his conservative yet reliable personality at the helm.

1 comment:

Czardoz said...

Hmm, I read both the 1up interview and the GDC07 article, and I didn't find Keiji's comments particularly harsh. Assuming the translations are accurate, it seems like (in the GDC article) he very reasonably says that the producer didn't do a good job of promoting the Clover games, and that Clover had the opportunity to let Capcom do the promoting, but decided to do it themselves. He has lots of praise for the games and the makers; he just criticizes the marketing approach. What I would question is why he suggests that sales are purely based on the producer's performance. Sometimes, even great promotion won't lead to sales. Sometimes, people just don't like good games. (Or in the case of Viewtiful Joe, some people don't like games that beat the crap out of you mercilessly.)

As far as the lack of female leads, this is regrettable, but Keiji, at least in the 1up interview, asserts that he wants more female leads, but the brass won't let him do it. Maybe he's just blowing smoke and has the power to do whatever he wants, but how would we ever know?

As far as Clover's legacy, I looked up their list of games, and to my surprise, I see a slew of Viewtiful Joe titles, Okami, and God Hand. Surprise because I thought there would have been more. I played Viewtiful Joe extensively. Very good game, but the unforgiving difficulty prevents it from being a game I could love, and prevented me from having great interest in the sequels and spin-offs.

I know almost nothing about Okami and God Hand. They could both be classics. But without knowing more, I can't really see why Clover garnered such acclaim during its short life. Perhaps
it was a spillover of reverence for the prior works of Kamiya and Mikami.

And yes, Degeneration was a Trashington McTrash movie, and I also wondered the whole time why Claire didn't have a gun.