- Cross-Franchise Hybrids
- Action and Power
- Research Goals
"Mazes and Labyrinths" is corollary to my past research on how FPS empower players; it explores how Metroidvania and survival horror disempower players trapped inside their respective gameworlds. They offset the player's strength, generally to tell a perilous story. This peril stems from varying lapses of power due to a hero's position—who they are and where they exist within a space.
Female heroes in FPS are exceptionally rare; we'll explore how Metroidvania and survival horror heroes are often female, or have traditional feminine qualities or predicaments. The stories of such heroines are less about proving how strong they are, like their male FPS counterparts, and more about surviving a larger menace. Some non-FPS heroines, like Samus, are fairly weak from the offset but progressively grow stronger. Some, like Jill Valentine, remain slow and vulnerable throughout the entire game.
At First Glance
- qualifying either genre "horror," or "horror Metroidvania" in Metroidvania's case, would sound vague or redundant
- calling Metroidvania "action/platformers" and survival horror "action/adventure" would leave out the worlds that made them famous, but also the names of those places that people associate with their iconic action
- calling either genre FPS or TPS (third-person shooter) would technically be correct, but would also incorrectly lump them in with other videogames that stress those elements more
This worked because it all belonged to Capcom. Conversely "Metroidvania" was effectively the combination of two IPs owned by different Japanese companies. So the term was never printed in any official capacity. In fact, it wasn't until the mid-2010s that "Metroidvania" saw wider use in the indie market: PC Gamer, Engadget, GamaSutra, Giant Bomb and Wired.
While I don't feel that I stray too far from Jeremy's ideas, my definitions are more numerous and specific. Moving forward, we'll explore these definitions, and apply them to other genres.
Metroidvania, terminology: Being inclusive, "Metroidvania" has several broader definitions I did not create:
- The narrow definition, briefly used by American consumers in the late 1990s/early 2000s to inaccurately describe SotN (re: a Castlevania game + Super Metroid's map system).
- Jeremy Parish's nuts-and-bolts definition from 2006: "a videogame genre which combines 2D side-scrolling action with free-roaming exploration and progressive skill and item collection to enable [further] progress."
The Metroidvania Spectrum
- Metroid space = nonlinear, multi-directional mazes, with chimeric boss keys
- Castlevania space = linear, single-direction labyrinths, with singular end-stage boss gates
- Castlevania-style Metroidvania, which borrow spatially from Castlevania
- Metroid-style Metroidvania, which borrow spatially from Metroid
- Cross-franchise hybrids, which borrow spatially from both parents
3. Cross-Franchise Hybrids
Metroidvania are hybrids by design. This section explores the cross-franchise hybrids that complicate the framework provided above. This can be through contrasting elements from either parent franchise (re: label trouble), or by adding "outsider" elements: open space and RPG action.
- people have essential, pre-conceived notions of
- contains many parts, not just space
- has continued to evolve over time
To this, Metroid Fusion is spatially a cross-franchise hybrid (re: linear, interconnected, multi-directional space). Despite spatially being in the Metroid-style (re: non-linear, multidirectional space), SotN is a cross-hybrid; the action inside its non-linear gameworld is atypical thanks to the RPG elements SotN introduces from games like Zelda II and Dragon Warrior.
"Zeldavania": Open-space and RPG Components
- Overworlds: Large, usually top-down open areas where the player is free to roam and choose where they want to go, but must physically traverse (usually on foot). Multiple closed spaces (re: dungeons) can be accessed from the overworld, and the player is generally free to return to the overworld by exiting the dungeon. The overworld can be explored for its own sake, and often hides many secrets the player must discover.
- Towns: Places to rest, resupply and interact with quest mobs. Towns cannot always be teleported to; some exist inside a closed space and must be approached through that space.
4. Action and Power
- ubiquitous; emblematic of gaming in general, iconic
- 1st person POV in a 2.5D/3D world
- male, one-man-army heroes; empowered
- projectile attacks; limited and optional* melee attacks
- copious, powerful weaponry, armor and healing items
- copious fodder enemies that frequently drop health and ammo
- boss-gated episodes
- item-gated maps with color-coded door keys
- easy-to-navigate labyrinths; no fall damage, but some environmental hazards
- minimal exploration and backtracking
- moderate secrets
- variable platforming
- lack of all-around scares or genuine Gothic sensations**
- no death animations
Examples: Doom series and "clones," Far Cry 1, Ion Fury
- currently indie; dated, retro
- 3rd person POV in a 2D/2.5D world; side-scroller*
- male "hunter-type" heroes; half-empowered, half-disempowered
- melee attacks; limited and optional projectile attacks (re: sub weapons, spells)
- one-use healing items (re: wall meat, Estus flasks)
- copious dangerous enemies that don't drop health and ammo
- boss-gated levels
- dangerous-to-navigate labyrinths, with killer pitfalls
- minimal exploration, secrets and backtracking
- copious platforming*
- occupied, hauntological spaces (re: Neo-Gothic) that trap players in emotionally nostalgic worlds (re: monsters are awesome)
- minimal death animations
- currently indie; dated, retro
- 3rd or 1st person POV in a 2D/2.5D/3D world; side-scroller or FPS
- androgynous "hunter-type" heroes; detectives; half-empowered, half-disempowered
- moderate combat
- projectile attacks* and bombs
- progressively powerful-but-optional weapons, armor and movement upgrades
- copious fodder enemies that drop health and ammo
- final area (and boss) boss-gated by elusive "mini-bosses" that must be hunted
- somewhat-dangerous-to-navigate mazes, with environmental hazards
- copious exploration, secrets and backtracking
- copious platforming
- derelict, hauntological (re: retro-future) spaces that trap players in emotionally intense** worlds (re: intimations of death)
- quick, dramatic death animations
- mainstream, but niche
- 3rd or 1st person POV in a 3D world; usually TPS, but sometimes FPS
- female or feminine "prey-type" heroes; always disempowered
- minimal combat
- projectile attacks, with limited melee attacks*
- scarce and/or ineffective weapons, armor and healing items
- numerous dangerous enemies that hunt the player and don't drop health and ammo
- one or more "unkillable" bosses that boss-gate different areas
- item-gated through prop hunts and copious door keys
- dangerous-to-navigate labyrinths, with plenty of puzzles and traps
- minimal exploration; moderate secrets and backtracking
- zero platforming
- uncanny spaces that aim to frighten or shock the player
- multiple, protracted, often gross death animations (re: "You died" or "You are dead").
5. Research GoalsMy past two series explored FPS games, which tend to empower players. "Mazes and Labyrinths" explores Metroidvania and survival horror—how they use their maze-like and labyrinthine gameworlds to disempower players/speedrunners while also telling an audiovisual story onscreen. The series examines how space is used in Metroidvania and survival horror to:
- Ludically disempower players by forcing them inside a gameworld that limits the power and quantity of their weapons, capacity and speed.
- Visually disempower players through spatial themes of the prison, graveyard, and abusive or tyrannical home: involuntary incarceration, live burial, hereditary trauma and compulsory/sacrificial power rites.
- Expose players to Gothic situations: monsters, oscillation, Numinous power and other Gothic variables (re: abjection, the uncanny or hauntological, etc).
- Communicate or contain other popular tropes: paralysis, imposter syndrome/doubles, self-destruction (re: the Faustian bargain, the Promethean quest).
- Explore various taboos: incest, infanticide, cannibalism, abuse fantasies, etc.
- Support, not deconstruct, these narratives when speedrun—at various speeds and routes, with various glitches and tricks.
- The classic Metroid, Castlevania and Resident Evil games.
- Metroid-style and Castlevania-style Metroidvania within either parent franchise.
- Metroidvania hybrids from other franchises (re: Dark Souls, Bloodbourne).
- Modern indie titles that continue to experiment with the form (re: Axiom Verge, Hollow Knight, Astalon, etc).
Thoughts on PowerThis series wants to explore arrangements of power and why people pursue them, including speedrunners.
The keys to power in videogames—at least in terms of player performance—are space, motion and equipment. To this, the exact relationship between the player and the space depends on what means they have to survive. The more guns, movement, and space a player has to operate, the more power they demonstrably have within a game's audiovisual narrative. This being said, the argument remains that players themselves are constantly conditioned by videogames—to play by their rules, and adopt whatever roles it offers to them: to specialize, in other words.
Simply put, powerful guns equal powerful players... provided the space doesn't interfere. Apart from arenas stuffed with jump pads and other means of player empowerment, many non-FPS spaces will enslave, confine or dominate the player (re: the haunted house, underworld, or prison). They accomplish this by denying the player access to their power source: a surplus of effective guns; a glut of useful equipment or environmental aids; or an army of disposable enemies. Denied these luxuries, a player might start to feel trapped by a claustrophobic world, forced to play by its rules (re: its physical boundaries—the floors, vaulted ceilings and walls).
Conversely Metroidvania and survival horror offer a different kind of pastness. To varying degrees they combine exploration with a partially enfeebled protagonist—one who must either hunt monsters inside a perilous maze, or be hunted inside a labyrinth by monsters stronger than them. But the gameworld itself is littered with icons tied to a traumatic past. This trauma is recursive, bound to an ancestral, hereditary power that's forever contested, ambiguous and bloody.
My name is Nick van der Waard and I'm a Gothic ludologist. I have my MA in English Studies: The Gothic from Manchester Metropolitan University. My blog is about horror, but also sex, metal and videogames.
Check out my interview series: Hell-blazers: Speedrunning Doom Eternal, "Giving My Two Cents: A Metal Compendium," and the Alien: Ore" Interview Project.
My favorite posts: Dragon Ball Super: Broly - Is It Gothic?, Mandy (2018): Review, Gothic Themes in Perfect Blue. Also check out my guest work on Video Hook-Ups.
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