Part 2 of My Thoughts and Feelings for Dust: An Elysian Tail

This has taken a lot longer than I thought it would to chew through. Dust: An Elysian Tail shocked and surprised me on so many levels that i'm almost at a loss for words, even two weeks later. There's just so many influences to consider: that it was made by one dude, that the story was an engrossing exploration of repentance and redemption, that the music complemented the atmosphere of the world perfectly, that the game-play made Dust feel like the gifted powerhouse warrior that he was partially created from...I could just go on and on how so many of the aspects of this game worked perfectly. I explored my feelings and personal issues leading up to a powerful moment earlier in the story on my previous blog post, but this particular splattering of my near stream-of-consciousness style of writing will cover the heaviest-hitting part: the ending.

Now, here's a question for the ages: How could a story about anthropomorphic animals in a video game cause such a powerful emotional reaction? I apologize for asking the question in such a dismissive way, but stepping back and looking at it in such a reductive fashion kind of makes the whole thing sound almost ridiculous. This is also how people outside of the whole thing are looking at this when I try to describe it to them. "But it's just a video game with kiddie talking animals. Whats wrong with you?" goes the (admittedly paraphrased) question from these people. At first glance, this question does sound reasonable, but that's where the issue lies: why does it matter that they're talking, cartoon-y anthropomorphic animals? Why does it matter that it's in a video game? Can a mature, compelling and emotional story not be told in such a context? After all, fantastic movies like The Lion King, or Toy Story did the same thing. I'm failing to understand their logic, if there even IS any, other than ignorance.

But all that griping and strife doesn't matter in the end, because the reaction was all the same. Dust, after defeating both his most hated enemy and closest best friend, General Gaius, collapses onto the piece of rock balanced precariously over the opening of the volcano. Faintly in the distance, Fidget can be heard calling out Dust's name. A familiar exchange plays out here:

"We did everything right, Dust...everything we were supposed to do."

"And sometimes that's not enough, Fidget. When the Life Thread calls-..."

(Fidget closes her eyes, choking back tears)

"Fidget...thank you."

"Goodbye...Dust."

As Fidget flies back up to Ginger in relative safety, Dust looks up at them, smiles, closes his eyes, and is overtaken by the lava in the volcano.

The entire scene is punctuated by HyperDuck's absolutely phenomenal soundtrack, as the Blade of Ahrah is shown floating in darkness, it's magic runes fading one by one as Dust passes away.

We then cut to the Moonblood elder giving a moving speech of both victory and thanks to Dust. Ginger closes her eyes, crying from losing her brother again. But the best part of all happens here. A blue, formless spirit comes out of the opening into the volcano directly behind her. The spirit takes off towards the mountains in the distance, with the Sword quickly following behind it. With hopeful excitement, Fidget exclaims, "HEY!" and takes off to catch up to the spirit. Ginger turns around, still with tears in her eyes, and smiles, realizing that her brother and best friend may not have died after all.

Then the credits play, and touching sketches of the characters you saved and helped are shown throughout. I sat, frozen in absolute shock, as the entire credits sequence played out. After returning to the main menu, I turned off my Xbox 360, walked to my bedroom, and closed the door. Almost reeling from my emotions at this point, I heavily fell into my computer chair, put my head in my hands, and burst into tears, crying.

All of the storytelling moments and character building had led up to that moment. Merely a few screens away from fighting Gaius, I was in a dead sprint to the right, mowing down all the enemies in my way, my heart literally pounding in my chest in anticipation for what was about to happen.

Looking at the familiar exchange, why did Dust thank Fidget? The answer is something profound. Dust had finally made peace with who he was: both Ginger's peaceful brother Jin, and the sociopathic royal assassin Cassius. You see, throughout the game, Dust felt a lot of guilt for what Cassius had done. He remembered the slaughter at the village at the top of the mountain; the slaughter he actually committed. Ginger had been living there at the time, and her brother, Jin, died trying to avenge them all, taking Cassius with him. Fidget touched upon something that Dust had trouble understanding at the time. She told him that it doesn't matter what he did in the past. That's no longer who he is. He's Dust now, and Dust is a compassionate, selfless being, saving the world and all the people caught up in it along the way, because not only is it the right thing to do, it's what he wants to do. This is repentance, folks. Dust understood this, and could finally be at peace in his final moments.

So, what happened? How could a story about anthropomorphic animals in a video game cause me to react like this? You can thank the writing for that. Dust, Fidget, Ginger, and all the other character were written and voice-acted in such a wonderful, believable and emotionally relatable way, that I couldn't help but become emotionally attached to them. I didn't want Dust to die, because of what he meant to both me and the characters in the game. I also didn't want him to die because of how I handle letting go of people. Looking back to my previous blog, I highlighted how the scene at Mudpot jogged old memories of my father. Even 16 years after his death, I still have trouble letting him go, and that same character flaw extends to everyone and everything in my life. It was hard to let Dust go. Even after seeing the blue spirit rise from the volcano, I still couldn't feel the relief of knowing that it'll all be OK, because that lingering question remains: will it still be Dust when the spirit is reborn into a new form? That draws an unexpected parallel with my father: If I deserve redemption enough to be able to enter Heaven, will I see him there?

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So, there you have it, folks. Even with several months to go in the year, Dust: An Elysian Tail will be my 2012 Game of the Year. Not because it's the best video game of this year, but because of it's unique situation in telling an emotional story, filled with relatable characters, all tapping into a spot from my past that pains me to this day.

Thanks, Dean Dodrill, and everyone involved with making this game. You've made something special, and deserve all the success you receive, and far more beyond that. I hope to see more "tails" from this universe in the future.

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My Personal Thoughts and Feelings for Dust: An Elysian Tail

I'm not exactly what you'd call a social person. There's just something so much more appealing about fantastic, imaginary worlds, that i'd rather spend my free time getting lost in them, rather than dealing with boring, frustrating social events and bar-hopping. So, as you can imagine, I've been playing video games for a long time. I started at the tender age of two, playing a Cookie Monster game on the Atari 2600; at least, according to my mom. Ever since then, I've been a huge fan of imagination, fantasy, and escapism in general. Fast forward two and a half decades, and you find me on the cusp of my twenty-ninth birthday.

Can you believe that, after all those years, I've never played a game that moved me to tears? And not just tears. I'm talking head-in-my-hands, sobbing uncontrollably from all the emotions i'm feeling. Now, what does this have to do with Dust: An Elysian Tail, you might ask? Well, a lot of things, it turns out, because guess what? This is the first game I have ever played in the twenty-seven or so years of my gaming life that has moved me on that level.

I was having an interesting discussion with my sister about why this game affected me like it did. Being a fan of escapism and fantasy, I've grown up being able to apply empathy to characters that are not only fictional, they're not even human. My sister is the exact opposite of me. She absolutely despises video games. She only deals with "the real world" as she put it, so she's not able to apply feelings like that to fictional, cartoon-y things, since that connection just isn't there. It's an interesting theory, to be sure. I can't think of another reason why it can do that to me.

Well, I seem to have gotten way ahead of myself here. What the hell am I even blabbering on about? Well, here's the thing. Dust: An Elysian Tail is an absolutely phenomenal game. It's sensational. It's astounding. It's enthralling. It's engrossing. Sure, the combat, the RPG mechanics, the exploration...that's all a ton of fun and has been praised on many levels by many different people. But that's not what really did it for me. Remember me saying I love fantasy? Well, this game has an interesting, fleshed out world. It has characters so well written and voice acted that they feel real (at least to me). It has a surpisingly dark storyline, dealing with themes of loss, regret, vengeance, and redemption. But there were two distinct parts of the game that hit me, like a slow, contemplative one-two punch.

HEY, STORY SPOILERS UP AHEAD. SPOILERS, SPOILERS SPOILERS. NOT GONNA BLACK THEM OUT, SO STOP IF YOU DON'T WANT SPOILERS.

The first punch in this emotional salvo was the story of Mudpot. Nestled deep within the Cirromon Caverns, this cute little town has a huge problem: the Lady has cut off their water supply. This would obviously be devastating for any village, but there is an more grave issue on top of that as well! You see, there's a little boy whose father is deathly ill. The water is the only way to save him, but it might already be too late. That doesn't stop Dust, who pushes through the lowest parts of the caverns, confronts and defeats Lady Tethys to get the water brought back, and returns to the village. It's too late, however. The little boy's father has died.

After the burial, the little boy asks Dust for one last wish: to bring his father some snow. It was always his dream to see it, but he wasn't able to find a way to make it up there before his death. So, his little son felt it would be a great parting gift for his ol' dad.

Later in the game, Dust comes upon a "cooler", which is basically a portable mini-fridge. He puts some snow in it, and returns to the little boy. At this point, my stomach is turning with anticipation and emotion. What is going to happen? What's the boy going to say? Well, he delivers one of the best lines in the entire game:

"We had our moment together, me an' Pa. Takin' a walk through the snow, buildin' a fort, watchin' all those flakes fall from the sky...I know none of it were real, but i'll always have this memory now, thanks to you. I've just gotta be strong now, for Momma. Thanks so much, Dust. For everythin'."

At this point, tears welled up in my eyes, and I slowly nodded my head, smiling. Old, forgotten memories from my past came flooding back. You see, my father died a long time ago as well, from heart failure. Almost sixteen years ago now. After he died, I moved from snowy Chicago to blazing Phoenix, Arizona, and have never seen snow since. Great memories of sledding down snowy hills, and digging deep into the three-plus foot thick snow on the ground around Christmas time.

Not only was it a touching, emotional moment of someone saying goodbye for the last time, it also brought back old memories for me, so that I could continue to say goodbye to my own father. To continue to work out old feelings that I've long since shoved under the mat. To remember the good times.

Thanks for that, Dean.

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Well, I kind of burnt myself out on writing for now. Not to mention, with the ending still fresh in my mind, i'm still trying to work through it all, so i'll be back soon with my thoughts on the knockout second punch. Seriously. The ending in this game is one of the best ever written.

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