By ThricebornPhoenix 1 Comments
Something about Assassin's Creed II lodged itself in the back of my brain, not to be noticed and uncovered for months; lately I've been poking at it to feel the tingling sensation. In going through the process of sorting it out, I will describe early-game events. This is your spoiler warning.
I'm not really a video game music appreciator. In fact, I think that little of it plays well outside of its original context, much of it simply stinks, and that most of it - whether good or bad - outlasts its welcome. That's just what you'd expect when the average length of a single-player game steadily increases to many times longer than some film directors' entire lifetime output combined, and there's nearly always some track playing. Even the best one- or two-hour long soundtrack can't hold up for 50-200 hours of continuous use.
Even if it was created by collaboration of Beethoven, Mozart, and 80's-era metallica.
I do love what Jesper Kyd has done for the Assassin's Creed series, though. The background music isn't always playing (or, possibly, has the volume turned way down), which certainly helps. More importantly, when it does play, it always seems appropriate; the selected track always evokes exactly the right mood for the scene, whether you're idly riding through the countryside or running helter-skelter from the guards. The chase music for the first game is part of Access the Animus and, from my ears' point of view, the best part of the game.
My eyes, however, listen to their own heart.
Assassin's Creed II is a little different, in that I didn't settle on my favorite piece until my second playthrough - and, for some time, I didn't understand it. It was the chase music that I felt best represented the feel of the first game, and the chase music in the sequel is also very good. So why, I wondered, did I keep coming back to Ezio's Family?
Enter the protagonist: a punk gathering a gang for a street brawl over some slander on his family name. Some taunts and a fistfight later, he has a chat with his brother, in which he reveals that he's spent his last florin on women and wine. He then loots the unconscious bodies of his victims until he has as much cash as he needs.
Pictured: role model.
So Ezio Auditore da Firenze is more sociable and charismatic than Altaïr ibn La-Ahad, and he gets a cool theme. He's also younger, brasher, and generally a scoundrel. I want to be able to connect with the character I represent in a game. Altaïr I could relate to somewhat: his pride (and fall), his questioning of right and wrong, and his too-serious demeanor are all things that I've gone through or been, to some degree. I didn't come from a wealthy family, and my partying days (such as they were) are long behind me. How could I relate to the spoiled slacker Altaïr's descendant turned out to be? After the ideas of fumbling through menus and upgrading my weapons and armor RPG-style, this was my biggest concern fifteen minutes into the game.
Breakability was to become another concern.
Meeting the other Auditores, especially his brother Frederico and father Giovanni, made me feel a little better. Even if I didn't warm up to Ezio, I thought, there are some interesting secondary characters to get acquainted with. I was, as I so often am, mistaken.
When I was very young, I wanted a brother. When I learned that I was going to get one, I was really excited. I started to think about the things we would do together, what I could teach him, and so on. That didn't come to pass. My ignorant four-year-old self didn't know what a miscarriage is, so for a long time he didn't really understand why he didn't get a brother. I also didn't have much of a father figure. I think my stepdad often had trouble expressing his feelings, and his schedule meant that we didn't spend much time together anyway.
I didn't have much time with Ezio's father and brothers before they were arrested, and summarily executed, on false charges. It felt as if I, personally, had something good taken out of my life. I had failed to prevent it; in fact, I was powerless to do so, though I tried. I tried even harder the second time around, despite knowing the inevitability of the event, and stuck around to try to fight the Brutes. Ultimately, I had to run... a defeat no less bitter for having admitted it before.
My and Ezio's shared defeated, however, was a small yet significant triumph for Ubisoft: Ezio became a sympathetic character. This is doubtless what the scene was intended to do - garner sympathy for the protagonist, although it probably had less effect on the average player than it did on me. It's a fairly common trope, in fact. It happens so early in Episode IV of Star Wars that, by the halfway point, nobody remembers Luke ever had an aunt and uncle. (Did they have names? I watched it just a few months ago and I have no idea. Was it Ben and May?) That's why he's finally free to gallivant around the galaxy with no concern for anything but what he wants to do.
It doesn't play out the same way, though. Ezio gets his revenge almost immediately, then flees with his mother and sister in search of a safe haven. He finds this when they're saved from an ambush by his uncle Mario, who furthermore insists on training Ezio in combat. When Ezio begins to track down the conspirators responsible for pruning his family tree, it's not only revenge that guides him, but also a sense of responsibility: he wants to repay his uncle's kindness and carry on his father's work as much as he wants to slake his bloodlust. Penchant for rescuing damsels in distress aside, Ezio is almost solely motivated by his family. It's unfortunate that his mother and sister fade into the background so completely for the rest of the game, but at least I still felt that my avatar-puppet and I were on the same page most of the time.
Now, when I hear Ezio's Family play, I think sometimes of Renaissance Florence in the light of a full moon, and other times of political schemes and coups; but always I think of the bonds of family and the pain of loss, and I'm thankful for what family I have. It is certainly not the best, but it is a good life I lead.
It's too early still to even speculate, but I can't help wondering how (or whether) Ubisoft will make the next Assassin relatable to me.