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An emotionally annihilating achievement
- 03/31/2015 04:48 AM
- 778 views
Warning: This review may contain spoilers.
Suzy and freedom is a non-fiction adventure game in which the player assumes the role of Suzane von Richthofen, a real life Brazilian female who murdered her own parents on October 31, 2002 with help from her boyfriend and his brother. She was put on trial in Sao Paulo in July 2006, and was sentenced to 40 years imprisonment. The game is a non-fiction game, meaning some characters appearing in this work are factual and bear full resemblance to living and dead persons. Calunio has taken a risk in creating a piece of media about a real-life event. This is made even more risky in today's context. The media accuse games that depict graphic and sadistic violence of inspiring the player to do these same acts of violence to others. Artists who are perceived to encourage sympathy towards characters who exhibit sadistic behaviour, even in fiction, are at the very least discouraged. At the very worst they are accused of being wholly depraved and that they shouldn't have made the piece of art because it goes against humanity's values. It is hard to disagree that Suzy and freedom is delving into very controversial territory, to the point of possibly being sued for defamation of a real-life person.
But it's not like Calunio hasn't seen that risk. He's made controversial games before. Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer must be mentioned. A short game about torture and love, a game that received a mixed reception of accolades and disgust. The difference between Dungeoneer and this is that the game was fiction, and the mixed reception was much due to the disgust at the subject matter. Some believed that the topic was not possible to be tackled gracefully in the game format. Suzy and freedom is different. The game is not as self-indulgently violent, and it tackles its subject matter with surprising tact. The story is woven with finesse, with relatable characters, each having noble motivations and fatal flaws. The puzzles are designed to be semantically analogous between feelings the characters are experiencing and the feelings the players feel while they're playing them. In theory, this is what any game should aspire to.
The beginning jumps straight into the action. We are introduced to Dan, on a beautiful calm beach while he is flying his model airplane. The beauty and tranquility of this scene contrasts with the mayhem and conflict that is to pervade the rest of this game. The characters all have realistic motivations, that the player can relate to. I care about all of them, for their personal strengths, and even despite their flaws. Suzy is trying to reconcile her duty to obey her parents with her dislike of her studies and the recent love of her boyfriend, Dan. She has a major flaw though. She is a cunning manipulator, with a building hatred towards her aggressors that is fuelled by her passive aggression. Her weaknesses are sociopathy, and the lust for vengeance no matter what the cost. In this instance, the cost ended up being her parents' lives. She lacks remorse for her actions and is a pathological liar (actually, this depends on player decisions, but generally this is true). And like a true sociopath, she views others as objects that are less than human. She compartmentalizes them into people who are irrelevant to her, and people who deserve the fate of death for their evil actions.
Dan, the boyfriend, has the job of trying to reconcile his duty to protect Suzy, and his duty to be a decent human being by, well, not murdering anyone. I also got the sense that he was afraid of losing a romantic opportunity, and that if he left Suzy because she was wanting to murder her parents, he might not ever get the chance at “true love” again. In this sense, he is also a “white knight” romantic, someone who idolizes the rescue of the damsel in distress, delivering her from false accusations. I get the feeling Dan is also a wide-eyed idealist, a generally nice person whose idealistic attempts at solving the problems of his world turn out horribly awry since no-one in this universe plays by his rules. I feel this is used as a device to highlight the realism of the setting of the game. Dan's fear is that if he stops the relationship, he might be alone forever. Loneliness is Dan's deepest worry, and that's not half hard to identify with.
Dan's brother Cris on the other hand has the desire of physical possession and greed. He is the toughest guy on the block, he beats up all the gangsters. He wants that sweet motorbike. He needs money for his next push or something (I forgot what his backstory was about). He also owes money to his brother for what I believe are several loans, and he has the will to survive and get the things he likes. It's not an altogether horrifying aspiration, is it? But the decision of whether it is worth killing a person to gain material wealth, and to pay back the long-standing debt of your closest relative, then what is the right decision?
It is interesting to note that out of the three killers, only Dan and Cris showed hesitation and remorse. Cris was remorseful enough to admit the murder, Dan was hesitant at first to go along with Suzy's plans, but all along Suzy has not batted an eyelid throughout the entire thing. Calunio has a tendency to deal with sociopathy as a topic, which unsettles some people but I believe it is powerful to address. I personally did not enjoy Dungoneer as a game, but I did Suzy and freedom because it deals with sociopathy more tenderly and more accurately than Dungeoneer did. In my opinion, Dungeoneer used an axe to carve a statue out of wood; Suzy preferred the scalpel.
The game's structure makes sense. It goes: Story/Scene 1/Story/Scene 2/Story/Scene 3/Story etc. The benefit of this is that you know exactly when gameplay's coming at you, and you know exactly when story's coming at you. The puzzles/minigames are intended to be representations of the stories and more importantly the emotions of the characters while the events are happening.
The minigames are challenging. I felt a mixture of fair and fake difficulty, the fair difficulty puzzles being of breeze-through difficulty, and the fake difficulty springing from either bad technical aspects such as controls and predictability of jumps making it less enjoyable and more frustrating. The outcome of the puzzles were not always reasonably determined by my actions, requiring some degree of trial and error. The puzzles were innovative, but lacked a clear difficulty curve, one puzzle being an extreme push-over, and the next being unfairly punishing. The analogies between the puzzle's gameplay and their character's actions differed from amazingly similar and geniusly implemented, to slightly off-putting and prone to ragequit-itis.
Scene 1: Life 6/10
The first minigame is a Beat 'em Up in a gangster-inhabited alleyway where your job is to rampage across the map, handing out unmerciful beatdowns to every group of gangster you meet. is to go Goku-mode and get a slight boost of strength and speed. This boost is not enough in my opinion, but it does fill up your health to 5 hearts again, so you get to try it again. This minigame was entertaining, but I felt it required knowledge that you are better to stand still and fight rather than to run through the gangsters while spamming attack. It also required a mix of razor-quick reflexes and more likely trial-and-error, a combination that'll make your eyes bleed. But it's still entertaining nevertheless.
Scene 2: Cage 9.5/10
Second to bat is my second-favourite. It is a near-perfect assimilation of what things are like in real life, and how they are displayed in-game. You are placed in a room with a typewriter, writing a report that your dad has forced you to write. However, you soon realize that writing the report will do you no good, and you have the choice to escape the room when your dad is snoring. Another reviewer has stated that this is the fatal flaw of the game, that you had no decision in this minigame, and therefore the entire value of the game is lost by this single fact. That is an interesting belief to think. That this one decision (whether to write a report or not), even though the decision has interesting repercussions (you will see once you play the game), that this would render the entire meaning of the game useless, and its themes are not even worth being touched upon, or explained in any way shape or form. But this minigame reminds me of times when my father has tried to force me to study, and I will try to sneak in little snippets of playing video games while he is not watching. Report writing is slow, tedious work, and yes it is beneficial, but wouldn't you rather be doing something else?
Scene 3: Love 4/10
Love I did not like. It is because I knew what it could have been, and yet not was. This puzzle did not portray accurately as the other puzzles the idea of puppy dog love, and instead of being a fanciful teamwork effort, it was more like a slog of trying and trying and it not working. I tested for calunio and he added one block on the left, which actually does nothing because if you fall onto it, you're facing left anyway so if you wanted to jump back on the platform you'll fall off anyway. This is the weakpoint of this game, and even though calunio has put a lot of time and effort to making this an interesting puzzle, implementing the custom platforming mechanic, it falls flat because of fake difficulty that leads to frustration. Most of the time you don't know whether you're going to jump two blocks or three, and you often fall several stories to replay a section of the puzzle that you've already done before! If there was anything to improve about this game it would be this section. I feel like it could have benefitted from more co-operative gameplay, and something resembling the innocence of budding love other than freakish difficulty.
Scene 4: Words 9/10
As soon as one encountered this scene, if you have played a certain game about torture and love and dungeons, then you might feel a sense of deja vu. You almost expect Suzy to say “come home with me” at the very end. Calunio has got experienced at dealing with dialogue-tree puzzle-solving and tradeoffs, providing a nuanced and emotionally complex minigame that deals with risk and reward in a delicate balance.
Scene 5: Death 10/10
This scene drops the hammer on everything that has gone before. It is a moment of gravity and a highlight of the entire game. I already had great confidence that the death scene would do the tale justice, but it exceeded my every expectation with its blunt and dark delivery. Cold and without feeling, exactly on point and possibly one of the greatest scenes of an RPG Maker game I have ever experienced. It is that good.
I don't want to explain, I just want you to experience it.
Scene 6: Truth 9/10
This scene is dealt amazingly, with walls closing in with each lie, closing in on Suzy and her cohorts' demise. It really highlights the setting of the game, and the intervention of the police to provide final justice, and perhaps most importantly the harrowing feeling of just being caught after you have lied about doing a wrong thing.
The graphics are juxtapositions of sprites on real settings. The music is breathtaking. My personal favourite is the theme that plays during “Love”. But I don't want to talk about graphics and music because they were sufficient and I feel that they were not the focal point of this game. They served their purpose, and for that they deserve a mention, even if it is a short paragraph.
I hope I'm not jumping the gun by saying this is already one of my favourite stories of an RPG Maker game. For what it lacks in gameplay balancing, it makes up for with stunning storytelling, compelling characterization, an important message and the willingness to test the boundaries of what games cover. It is tasteful, done with tact and consideration, and manages to tackle a touchy subject with annihilating accuracy.
An absolute must-play.