Why did Metroid: Other M become what it is?

Yamiryuu Zero
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Introduction

Before I start with this, I want to bring your attention to two important analysis over the internet. There are called "Mother, May I See Metroid: Other M", by Korval and "Metroid: Other M - The Elephant in the Room", by Tuvia Dulin and MenTaLguY. The reason I am bringing those up is because they have made really deep and detailed analysis of what is wrong with Other M - both its narrative and gameplay. Having previous knowledge of their works is going to help me elaborate my points here.

Now, if you have read both these articles, let me just give you a reminder of what they are: the first one, by Korval, is a deep analysis of the game Metroid: Other M. In his analysis, Korval goes step by step into what is going on in the game's narrative, and compares it to how previous Metroid titles have worked with similar situations in the past and what Other M could have done better. He also goes on how the game stands on its own - if it manages to tell the story properly or not by itself, and what the implications of certain scenes are. Korval also ends up analyzing the game's mechanics, as well as how they mix with the game's narrative.

The second analysis, by Tuvia Dulin and MenTaLguY, focuses more on the relationship between Adam malkovich and Samus Aram, and what conclusions we can make based on what was shown. Pieces of interviews are also presented to clarify how they have come to such conclusions and why.

Now that we are clear on that, I can proceed into explaining what I am going to do. I am not going to analyze the game itself nor its narrative, as dozens have done it before - and better than I ever could. What I am going to do here is "try" to analyze and understand WHY Yoshio Sakamoto, head director and sole writer of Metroid: Other M created what he did! For a developer who worked in classics like Super Metroid and the remake of the original Metroid[1], fans can't understand how he managed to put Samus Aran into such a linear and limiting ambient, whereas his past games revolved around the idea of exploration and freedom to sequence break as you wished! Also, the abusive relationship between the two main characters has been a big let down for the fans, as not only Samus has never shown any signs of suffering any kind of abuse in the past (mostly due to her personality having never been explored before), but Yoshio Sakamoto believes - according to interviews he's given after the game's criticism came to light - that he actually wrote a STRONG AND INDEPENDENT Samus!

What I am going to do here is draw some parallels between his works and reality, what he's done in the past, what he did after his game was received with criticism and try to understand his mind, his reasoning for making Other M the game it came to be. I just want to make one last thing clear: I am NOT a psychology nor have I ever studied psychology in depth during my life! Therefore, this text is 100% MY PERSONAL OPINIONS AND THOUGHTS, and should not be taken as truth. Rather, take this as an opportunity to discuss something that could be true or not (like UFOs), and hold no grudge against Yoshio Sakamoto for what I am going to state here. note 

With that disclaimer out of the way, let's do it!

The Psyche of the Psycho! Part 1 of (hopefully) 1

This is the part where I will start drawing parallels between real life Yoshio Sakamoto and his work. Again, I am no psychologist, but from the little I know about the human psyche, I could conclude some pretty disturbing behavior patterns. Without further ado:

The Reunion

We start the game with the fateful meeting between Samus and Adam Malkovich. Let's recap how this scene happens: after leaving Adam's command and becoming a successful bounty hunter who, mind you, single handily invaded and laid waste to a Space Pirate base in Zebes twice, Tallon IV, won a war for a losing planet in Aether against beings from another dimension, eradicated the Phazon corruption that plagued 5 planets (6, if you count Norion), killed all note  Metroids in SR 388, laid waste to Mother Brain once again and later on would eradicate the X-Parasites and Metroid clones created by the Federation. How does Adam react to this fateful encounter? By death glaring Samus after she opened a door his Platoon couldn't.

The parallels I am going to draw with Sakamoto's life now will seem like I am reading too much into it, but bear with me for a while, it will all be explained.

Other M can be treated as the fateful meeting between Sakamoto and the series Metroid after a long apart. The last game Sakamoto was in control of was Fusion, back in 2001. Since then, the series has been at the hands of Retro Studios, who made an amazing job at creating three of the most critically acclaimed titles in the franchise. What everyone thought would be just a generic action shooter with a Metroid skin ended up becoming the true successor to Super Metroid, so much that it generated three more sequels, one for the GCN [2], one for the DS [3] and finally the last installment for the Nintendo Wii [4]. So, after this long time away from Sakamoto's care, what was the first thing he did once he did once the series came to his command once again? Gave it his own version of death stare: he REMOVED the Prime series from the canon continuity!

Right after the very first Boss Fight, Samus monologues that "It was the first joint mission I'd been part of since becoming a freelance bounty hunter." This is Sakamoto's way of saying Echoes and Corruption, two games that took place before Other M in where Samus was under Federation command, especially Corruption, where she was under the command of Admiral Castor Dane, never happened!

Controlling

Samus is back under the command of Adam, who she regrets ever leaving because... he was a father figure to her? We never see any interaction between Adam and Samus where they ascertain any of the mutual trust described in Fusion, but for now let's pretend we believe Samus. Turns out Samus wants to atone for a mistake in her past; what mistake it is, the game never explains, although MenTaLguY managed to find an interesting interpretation of the situation: "So, what was this rebellious incident that Samus needs to atone for? Turns out it was leaving Adamís command."

Although the game never explicit tells you what mistake it was, MenTaLguY does have a pretty valid interpretation of the situation: Samus wanted to rescue Ian, who was Adam's brother, to the point she kept begging Adam to go in a Suicide Mission, Adam refused and let his brother die in space. The cutscene that tells us that ends with Samus saying she regretted making the decision even harder for Adam for behaving like a child, and that he was right and has always been. She also tells she would do the same "mistake" if she ever had the chance to, and finishes the sentence by saying "That's who I am."

"That's who I am." This particular phrase is pretty self-diminishing, because of a couple of reasons: 1. Samus had said many times in previous cutscenes that she was "young and naive." It was more or less around the age where the Ian incident happened; 2. Samus says that, should she be faced with similar outcomes, she would repeat her mistakes.

She's saying that, after all those years of doing the right thing over and over again, she is still "young and naive."

So, how does this tie into Sakamoto's psyche? Samus throws a tantrum in front of her office commander, Adam says "no", Ian goes Kaboom. What does that tell us about Sakamoto?

That Ian scene serves one purpose: to tell us Samus isn't independent, she needs an adult in her life to make decisions for her, a.k.a. Adam Malkovich, her father figure. In case you don't know, Gunpei Yokoi created the series Metroid, alongside Sakamoto. Sakamoto was the co-creator of the series, he is, in a sense, Samus' "father".

Remember what Samus said about herself? That she was young and naive, and that should she ever come into a situation where she could repent for the mistakes she did in the past again, she would repeat those very same mistakes because "that's who I am. Young and naive."

Samus needs an adult in her life to make the decisions for her. Sakamoto is, in a sense, her father. You can't blame me for drawing the conclusions I did with this evidence: that Sakamoto believes he must be in control of Samus' lifenote , because she is too immature to do the right thing on her own. According to this, Metroid is nothing without Sakamoto, and the Prime games (he promptly removed from the cannon continuity, mind you) were "young and naive", "childish." A mistake that has to be atoned for!

Linearity, limitation and another word with L for alliteration!

Let's forget the story for a while and talk about the controllers for a while, as that was also an important part of Sakamoto's vision of how this game should be.

Before Team Ninja could start developing the gameplay, Yoshio Sakamoto himself limited their options by allowing the use of the Wii Remote alone - no Nunchuck, no Classic Controller, no GCN Controller. Only the Wii remote alone! This, of course, made a nice drawback to one of Sakamoto's most successful titles: the original Metroid (NES)!

This, of course, pretty much hindered Team Ninja (and gamers alike). With the small amount of buttons available to work with, some buttons were assigned to more than one function. Moving the camera in first person requires B, but locking on also utilizes the same button - imagine how hard it is trying to just look around when you keep locking on every single damn enemy in the room! Morph Ball is activated with A, same for Concentration. I have found myself entering Morph Ball mode when all I wanted to do was recharge some Missiles (standard Wii motion recognition isn't that great)! Heck, you can only fire Missiles in first person, and even that is counter intuitive!

Another limitation - and this one is more aggravating - is on the exploration end. There simply isn't any at all. You are not only told where to go, but how to go! Every Navigation Booth completed a bit of your map and told you exactly where the next Nav Booth was (which was usually around 6 rooms apart)! Not that it even needed to, seeing how most rooms only had two doors and there are virtually no alternate routes (I remember two paths in the entire game where you're supposed to go somewhere else than ahead, and those moments are on Sector 1, so you can unlock the door to proceed - you'll backtrack to keep going the same linear path afterwards - and the endgame travel to Sector 2 - but because the game won't let you proceed until you have made that detour).

It is pretty hard to imagine Yoshio Sakamoto let Team Ninja do all the game design in that part, as both the linear path and the doors locking behind you (so you won't deviate from the path) have a story reason implemented: it's all Adam's fault! The bastard keeps locking the doors behind you! Also, as Korval mentioned in his analysis, "The game won't stop you from going backwards, but the camera orientation in a room clearly has a preference. Many rooms tend to orient the camera so that it points from the "start" door to the end door. So you have full vision up the room... so long as you're trying to go in the right direction. But if you came in from the "wrong" way, you get about 5-6 feet of vision. And the game's not nice enough to pick a camera orientation based on which door you entered; no, it's the same angle no matter what."

Yoshio Sakamoto decided to take the liberty from both the development team regarding what controls they could work with, and took the freedom out of the player in the always linear path, always pointing at the "right" direction cameras and Adam always locking doors behind you! Sakamoto, who had previously directed games that either allowed sequence breaking or gave you the illusion you were indeed sequence breaking when you were not (and even so let you sequence break afterwards), created an uncanny monster within the context of his previous works! Other M not only is extremely linear, it also feels like it's punishing you for exploring! Well, the game isn't, but the camera pointing always towards a single direction, doors locking behind you in arbitrary points, and simply no secret or alternate routes, for an experienced Metroid player like myself, it does feel like I am being actively punished for expecting even a little bit of exploration!note 

Heck, there is even a game crashing glitch where, if you try to backtrack in order to save your game, a door permanently locks and you can never finish the game! Ever! Granted, it was a mistake in the coding of the game as opposed to a conscious limitation, but this is jarring for two reasons:
  • The fact this glitch exists at all! It wasn't found during the test phase! Those who proof tested the game didn't go back to save their game, if they had done, this glitch would have been caught! They knew players were not intended to go back, so they didn't even bother backtracking (at east in that particular point)! This shows developers were intentionally limiting the player's choices!
  • The fact Nintendo didn't acknowledge the glitch at first and that you had to send your disk to NoA in order to have your copy of the game fixed, as opposed to fixing it via a downloadable patch. Heck, in the following year, Nintendo launched Skyward Sword that had a similar game breaking glitch, should you ever follow certain events in a specific order, but for that game, they released a patch to fix the glitch!

So, while the glitch thing wasn't intentional, how Nintendo and Sakamoto handled it during development and post launch shows an interesting behaviour towards this game!

But that's enough insight on the matter! What does this tell us about Sakamoto himself?

Well, he worked on the very first Metroid game, which used the NES controller. He limited all the options for players and developers alike by deciding his game would only use a single controller, and prohibited any other extension to be used! What can I conclude from this? Sakamoto is a control freak!

Just think about it: the first thing Adam does to Samus is ascertain he is in charge by death glaring at her on the very first act of independence she shows! Samus knows he didn't like it,so she kept her bombs and missiles under check until Adam authorized her (and he knew Samus wouldn't use them without his approval, because they didn't share a single line of dialogue where Samus explained him her decision, nor did she monologue about that! Adam simple knew!). Adam was limiting her every action, her every move! ďYou donít move unless I say so; you donít fire until I say so.Ē

Sakamoto did the exact same thing to the players! You don't go anywhere the game doesn't want you to, almost punishing you for believing you can roam free! You can't even move while in first person! Remember how I said Sakamoto thought of the Prime series as something to be "atoned for"? Well, if you liked moving freely while in First Person view in Prime, you already know what Sakamoto did to limit your actions!

While we're at it, let's talk about the Morph Ball! In Prime, you could use Spider Ball, Boost Ball, Power Bombs and Bombs separately. In his works, the Morph Ball was more limited - all you could do was lay Bombs and Power Bombs (though Metroid 2: return of Samus introduced the Spider Ball, which was never used again in any 2D iteration), but you also could Shinespark with it.

What can you do with the Morph Ball in Other M, besides entering small ventilation tunnels and laying Bombs? NOTHING! One could argue that you have the Infinite Bomb Jump back, but it serves no purpose! There is an invisible wall that prevents you from going any higher, and the only part where it can be used to break the game's sequence, in Sector 2, it DOESN'T, because you have to go back and face the loop in order to get the Speed Booster before you can proceed any further! So, what's the point of having the Infinite Bomb Jump at all?!

Because Prime didn't have it! You loved the Infinite Bomb Jump in the 2D games, and Prime didn't have it (it would be game breaking if it did have, though). So, of course Sakamoto would put it back on his game - despite the fact it is mostly useless!

To close this section: Adam limits Samus's every movement by prohibiting her from using her equipment. Sakamoto limits the player from any form of freedom we could experience in any of his past games. Samus has had freedom before, and she made a lot of success as an independent Bounty Hunter. Metroid has had freedom to do its own thing before, and did Prime. Adam didn't like it, put Samus back in her leash! Sakamoto didn't like Prime was successful, put the series (and players who enjoyed Prime) in a leash too!

Comments

I have two questions, and am going to ask them here since it sees like the more complete version.

1) Is the bit you mentioned about not wanting to analyze Other M why you gave up on your previous "Metroid VS Other M" liveblog?

2) Why did you post this liveblog twice?
Valiona 18th Oct 15
Valiona, before I answer your questions, I just want you to know that I am new to TV Tropes blogs. I have lost the address to the previous analysis I was going to do due to many factors, one being changing my main browser (I am currently using Vivaldi, which I recommend to everyone who loved Opera 12, by the way).

Yes, the bit I mentioned about not wanting to analyze Other M is one of the reasons I gave up on the previous one. In fact, I was not supposed to get into so much detail on the previous one either, and once I started to separate what was useful to my blog and what was useless, almost everything was useless. Once I find that blog again, I will delete it.

Now I have a much more clearer goal, what I have wanted to specify from the start, and have found better words to describe it. If only my browser doesn't lose cache data again, I will finish the second part by the end of this day.

Thanks for commenting!
YamiryuuZero 19th Oct 15
And I have just realized that my blog was posted twice. I don't know why it happened, though, as I have only done it once. Well, the page without any comments is going down.
YamiryuuZero 19th Oct 15
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