Video games often employ lots of cruel tricks in which gamers find themselves in precarious pickles—the gigantic and seemingly impossible bosses, timers, that last collectable that requires precision to attain. But the cruelest trick of all? Taking away our weapons.
This piece originally appeared 1/2/15.
How often have you been tossed into a dungeon and had to stealthily make your way out?
Sometimes barrels are your best friends to hide your sneaky ways (and fortunately moblins just don’t have a clue either) and other times it’s hedges upon which you can transform into a work of art and slink around.
Of course, in Majora’s Mask, the greatest instance of adding insult to injury was at the very start: taking away your only friend Epona (because it was not sad enough to lose Navi) by scaring your steed away but then to transform Link into a Deku Scrub as well. A Deku Scrub! Those hilarious plant things you used to hit their own projectile seeds back into their faces on a parry and then laughed when they squawked out of hiding! We knew Majora’s Mask was nightmare-fuel, but way to make players panicked and powerless.
Super Metroid was the first game to set up the paradigm of making Samus lose all her gear at the beginning of the game, only for you to find all of it again.
Metroid: Zero Mission did a clever spin on that, taking away all her weapons at the end of the game after she’s seemingly defeated Mother Brain. Space pirates blast her ship and she’s stranded on the mothership without her space suit. Stealth gameplay takes over as the pirates are incredibly powerful without her suit. Samus has to sneak her way to Mecha-Ridley, rediscover an all new legendary suit (to tie in with Metroid 2 and Super Metroid) and also unleash wrath on the space pirates who were nearly invincible just a few moments before.
No one likes to see a majestic ship like the Blackbird end up in flames thanks to lasers, but when its commander is the jerk who knocked you out, stole your ship and all your weapons, then...oh well. Sacrifices can be made.
Dalton of incompetent fame had the nerve to not only take your weapons but do so after your main man croaks (no, no. Don’t stress. Frog was just fine) — which, by the way, taking away that red spiky-headed hero right after he learned Luminaire was the most cruel of weapon-stealing tricks one could play. That aside, crawling around through ventilation ducts is not becoming of the Princess Marle but, honestly, she shouldn’t be in your party anyway. Ayla is the over-powered fighting machine that is the fix to any and all problems that Chrono Trigger tries to throw at you. She’ll get you out of the ducts and kick Dalton’s ass.
Let’s not be too hard on that fool though because he did add wings to the Epoch. A small ‘thank you’ might be in order.
Being a spectator to this series is so different than actually playing. It’s an obvious statement but experiencing being a groggy, weaponless Jill on a dirty cruise ship sailing to nowhere has left its unsettling mark on us.
The Resident Evil series has been heralded by gamers everywhere as being in decline. But let us just say, being easily scared by things made that particular scenario terrifying. The infected hiding in the closet (why the closet always, guys? Under the bed is always scarier!), the panic that set in realizing weapons were taken… it was almost too much stress. But then the saviors “Dodge,” “Push,” “Kick” and “Run” appeared and were just the besties anyone could ask for. Phew. Thank goodness for Try Again options after the embarrassing “You Are Dead” screen.
Simulation took on all new heights as Raiden was thrust into the game within the game. Stripped naked, tortured by Solidus, then finding out Solidus is your godfather, strange got stranger. With a stream of weird images, virtual Campbell goes crazy, Rosemary has a melodramatic breakdown in the middle of a combat mission, and Raiden does flips in the nude, We still can’t tell who was playing who.
Silent Hill takes a lot away and leaves you with the bare minimum. It maximizes fear through limited visibility, and replaces high-powered guns with wrenches. It’s the real world with the added twists of overly aggressive supernatural forces. It also preys on guilty pasts and selfish, inhuman decisions and ultimately messes with the mind — the sort of psychological terrors that is man’s worst enemy.
In P.T., the demo was presented without prior knowledge of what it was: a new game forthcoming, no title other than an obscure matter-of-fact thing that drops you into a dark room with no sense of where you are and what you should do. Then it loops. It loops this mundane walk down a hall and begins to introduce sounds and effects. Open doors. Shut doors. Radio messages. Silence. It’s a bad dream and as things clearly become more dangerous, the need to grab and interact with the world becomes urgent and yet you are still left with nothing. Then, the game gives you a flashlight. Something to defend yourself with or another tool to arm the forces against you? A light to shine on demise? That sounds more like it.
In both a symbolic and literal rendering of a dead man walking, Michael wakes up in an FIB morgue, stripped naked except for some briefs. With no weapons, and only a brief directive to find a tag for another supposedly dead man as mission objective, Michael has to fight his way out of a high security building. Having just rampaged through the bodies of several biker gangs as Trevor in previous levels, the experience felt disorienting and left us vulnerable. Neither of us have ever woken up inside a body bag before. We hope we never do.
In a brilliant display of vulnerability, Hotline Miami went from a game where there was no shortage of creative ways to make you a murderer—even so far as making the opening of doors lethal to those that stood behind them when donning the right mask and ability—to the game that steeped deep into its story. After a slew of mysterious voice messages, and not much direction as to what was truly going on or if there was even a narrative to follow; Hotline Miami took away the mindless, disturbing and guilty pleasure of destroying pixelated people and turned it into a nerve-wracking moment. Waking in the hospital weeks after a brush with death, with nothing but a hospital gown and blurry vision that literally affected your game as you pushed yourself to escape—fleeing the hospital became an exercise in frustrating stealth mechanics, and in-game nausea.
The reward for leaving was a further descent into depravity called Vengeance where cop AI became faster, more alert and smarter than the game’s previous run-ins with your hitman targets. Not only did Jacket have more instances of guns a-blazing and less careful planning, but his loss of sanity kept building as he engaged in an endless stockpiling of bodies.
In one of the most shocking and traumatizing gaming moments of our childhood, Kefka succeeded in destroying the world. Celes woke up on a deserted island, all of her friends missing, the planet dying. “The few others who washed up here with us passed away of boredom and despair.” We even failed to keep Cid alive after feeding him poisoned fish. While you did still have your items, everything else was missing. Hopelessness overwhelms her. What good are swords and espers when everyone you cherish is dead?
There may be moments of temporary panic that stress us out when we lose our weapons in video games but then again, there’s always the option to save, take a breather and return to try another day. There’s also the comfort knowing that we’ll get our weapons back eventually and in some cases, probably come back even stronger than before.
If all that fails, remember the one golden rule: Always put Ayla in your party.
And if that’s not a viable option (which it probably isn’t 99% of the time), then we hope your ninja skills are at their stealthiest.
N. Ho Sang has made contributions to Entropymag and SF Signal. She is currently a regular contributor to Talk Amongst Yourselves, rambling about life and RPGs under the username Zarnyx. She can also be found on Twitter under the title @Zarnyx.
Peter Tieryas is a VFX artist who just worked on Guardians of the Galaxy and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. His novel, Bald New World, was listed as one of Buzzfeed’s 15 Highly Anticipated Books and Publisher Weekly’s Best Science Fiction Books of Summer 2014. He scribbles about RPGs at tieryas.wordpress.com.