The storytelling worlds of Mega Man and Red Ash

So the Kickstarter for Red Ash is live! I have mixed feelings about it, and to explain, I’m going to have to explain my take on Mighty No. 9 and the Mega Man franchise first.

If you don’t know any of those things, well, they’re all projects that were (for the most part) led by Keiji Inafune, and they’re all about robots. I started being a Mega Man fan at a young age, and it’s funny how seriously I’ve come to take it.

With the 2011 cancellation of Mega Man Legends 3 and some further cancellations that followed, the Mega Man franchise entered a dry spell that’s still ongoing. Keiji Inafune left Capcom, started up Comcept, and eventually unveiled the Mighty No. 9 Kickstarter to great success in 2013. To most people, Mighty No. 9 is a “spiritual successor” of the Mega Man franchise. Likewise, to most people, Red Ash is now a revival of Mega Man Legends 3 in particular.

If I want some simple nostalgic enjoyment like Yooka-Laylee, I’ll buy it off the (virtual) shelf; I don’t need to back it. I back a project when I want it to exist when it otherwise couldn’t, or if I consider it to have positive cultural impact.

Mighty No. 9: Telling stories about responsibility

The Mighty No. 9 Kickstarter was meaningful to me because it was a new launching point for Keiji Inafune to build story worlds.

Since Mighty No. 9 still isn’t out yet, we technically don’t know all the plot twists and the dramatic tension thereof… but the storyline seems similar to the Mega Man classic and Mega Man X series.

MN9 is similar to the Mega Man classic series in that the robotic characters are considered the direct creations of particular roboticist. It’s similar to the X series in that most of the Mighty Numbers are (allegedly) infected by a virus causing them to lash out, as opposed to being led by a megalomaniac roboticist. Beyond either of these influences, there’s another layer: The Mighty Numbers were explicitly designed for sport fighting.

This sets up an extremely remixable four-layer blame-placing drama: We have humans, robots, a virus, and a robot-battling craze. Is the robot to blame for causing havoc, or is it the virus’s fault? Do we blame the virus, or do we blame the creator of the virus? Do we praise Beck for restoring peace, or to we praise his creator Dr. White? In what ways should a creator provide continuing guardianship to their creation? Does it really help if we blame the robots, the virus, or the creators thereof, or is there something inevitable about the incentive structure of the sport fighting competition? Is Beck’s restoration of peace even a positive thing, or does it have the negative effect of censoring information (the virus) or oppressing a minority (the virus-infected robots)? What is it like to be someone who has been infected by a personality-changing virus, and what is it like to have been subsequently restored?

The potential for storytelling there is phenomenal. It doesn’t even matter if Inafune and the Mighty No. 9 teams explore all that themselves. Over the years, Mega Man fans have explored various alternative interpretations, some shallow, some gratuitous, some comedic, but all valuable viewpoints. Mighty No. 9 takes up the core themes of this beacon of inspiration, and that’s why I’ve backed it.

Red Ash: Telling stories about heritage

Red Ash is now being pitched to us primarily as a basis for storytelling! In fact, it’s being pitched as two separate Kickstarter projects, one of which is an anime motion picture which is specifically trying to include a medley of various creative visions. Of course, it’s hard to have an action RPG without some kind of story, but I like that the storytelling nexus is front and center in their minds.

Red Ash is obviously a throwback to the Mega Man Legends 3 project. However, it has a far different kind of story to offer.

Legends is an essential cornerstone of the overall Mega Man franchise. It took the ethical quandaries and flipped them around: Instead of taking a familiar-looking society and asking questions about what future generations of artificial beings the society can engineer, it takes a familiar-looking society and asks questions about what could have engineered it. If society as we know it turns out to be artificially constructed according to a predetermined plan, should we play along, or should we become the robot uprising?

I would have liked for the world of Mighty No. 9 to have a cornerstone like Legends, and Red Ash could have been like that. Many of the superficial details are the same as Legends, such as the light classism themes, the robot-dominated environment that’s mostly too threatening for human habitation, and so on.

But Red Ash is somewhat different. From the Kickstarter page: “As a result of the Robot World War, humanity is driven to the brink of extinction. Humanity has managed to persevere and survive, battling now feral robotic weapons at every turn in a world of nothing but wasteland and ruins…”

I could be reading too much into this early-stage summary, but if this humanity is really a descendant generation of the humans who built the Robot World War in the first place, then the humans are probably not artificial like they are in Mega Man Legends. This means two things:

Red Ash can’t very easily be a story about learning the circumstances of one’s own creation and moving forward with that knowledge.

Red Ash can easily be a story about human/robot politics, much like Mighty No. 9. What Red Ash adds to the formula is an extra dimension of heritage. For instance, perhaps some of the modern robots feel unrepresented in so-called “humanity,” and they seek to form a common nation with their feral counterparts, despite a massive cultural drift between them.

Watching for a spark

I’m optimistic about Red Ash, and I’ll probably buy a copy for my own entertainment, but I’m not backing it quite yet.

It may be a project that’s centered on storytelling, but I want to see one of two things from it: Either that it will explore interesting philosophical topics beyond the shallow level I’ve seen so far, or that it’s entertaining enough that fans will explore the topics themselves. That’ll make it into more of a good cause, rather than merely entertainment.

2 thoughts on “The storytelling worlds of Mega Man and Red Ash

  1. I found myself hoping and hoping for a reason to back this project all day. I finally just went for it. Here’s a culmination of reasons:

    * The Red Ash animation project is using a visual style composed of 3D models with cell-shaded textures, rather than doing cell shading as a postprocessing pass. This makes it a lot like the well-liked Mega Man Legends animation style, and I can at least hope that the game will use a style like this too.

    * Hyde, Inc. is acting as developer support for the game. In most of the projects they’ve worked on, they’ve produced anime-style character art, such as character designs, in-game animations, and background images. For their few in-house development projects, they incorporate strategy elements related to purchasing upgrades at a shop (which was core to the customizability of Legends 2) and character interaction. Most of their products use bright colors, so they are not likely to turn this relatively gritty game world into a field of dull browns and grays. They seem like a perfect studio to do most of the work of putting the story assets together, while Comcept’s in-house team can focus on the high-level story direction and tightening the action game mechanics.

    * I finally noticed that although the majority of the game is spent in the various chambers of the city-sized robot KalKanon, there’s also a “village reconstruction system.” If the player is actually repairing the village that sits on the surface of KalKanon itself, that means the story is in some way about learning to come to terms with the old technology and work with it, rather than looting its resources and shutting it down. That’s an Aesop I like. Meanwhile, even if I’ve read a bit too much into this again, this story’s characters already have a variety of points of view, so I can gravitate to the characters whose viewpoints I like best, and I can drift between them as my opinions evolve. Seems to fit my “good cause” criteria.

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