Cave Story: Choices matter in the end

I finished Cave Story just minutes before I sat down to write this, so the impressions I’ll be sharing are fresh, but not entirely settled.

First and foremost, I feel like I just blew up a lot of shit. At the end, you have to fight Misery, The Doctor, The Doctor after the red crystal takes over his body, and then the Core after the Doctor, um Red Crystal Doctor, um, a bunch of red bubbles possess the Core AND Misery AND Sue.

Basically, you just shoot a lot.

And, weirdly, it didn’t feel like the toughest fight of the game. I had a much harder time with the Dragon Sisters on my second trip through the Egg Corridor (after the big collapse). Of course, that’s not a complaint. I am, in all honesty, ready to be done. I’m happy with the game, and the experience as a whole, but I’m ready to move on to something else, too.

I don’t have a lot new to say about the narrative — I think it’s a compliment to Cave Story that most of the narrative value is embedded throughout the game rather than coming in one big burst at the end. Destroying and escaping from the floating island felt like a culmination rather than a revelation, although there are a few good additional bits if you watch the credits. Sue, for example, gets turned back to a human, but it doesn’t stick.

The most powerful moment for me was actually the quick flash to Curly Brace, still inactive and locked in the core.

In fact, saving Curly Brace is the one thing that could drag me through the game a second time, although I think there’s a good argument to be made for not going back to save her. While it’s almost assumed that a good game is one that’s designed for replay value — BioWare is famous for this, and actually puts messages on loading screens encouraging the player to start a second playthrough and make different choices — Heavy Rain director David Cage has stated in interviews that he hopes that players make a single trip through his game.

These competing desires are expressions of different theories of game narrative experience, both, interestingly, hinging on design architectures which attempt to make player choices matter. BioWare is, in effect, saying “we put a lot in this game, and you owe it to yourself to see the various outcomes your choices can lead to. See how characters react differently, find all the easter eggs, do everything.” The evidence, in this case, that choices matter comes from experiencing different outcomes, and the implied argument is that if a player is only going to play a game once, then they may as well go buy a game with a more linear, game-directed storyline. (Like maybe Final Fantasy XIII. To which I say, “Touché, BioWare. Touché.”)

Heavy Rain, while seeming to be similarly focused on crating meaningful player choices, actually takes an entirely different approach as to what it means for a choice to matter. Instead of encouraging the player to go back and find out what could have happened differently, the game instead focuses on creating a more seamless experience.1 In fact, without a second playthrough (or some digging online), it’s not entirely clear at the end of the game what exactly could or should have gone differently, and one of the things I admire about the game is the way that players who reach wildly different endings can leave the game with the impression that they achieved the “best” ending.

All of which is to say, while part of me wants to save Curly Brace, her loss was the most affecting narrative moment in Cave Story for me, and I’m not totally sure I want to defeat that.

So what do you say, Daniel and Kevin? Will you be playing again? Or was the first trip enough (or more than enough)?

1. I use the phrase “more seamless” rather than “seamless” intentionally. There’s a whole column (at least) in Heavy Rain‘s seams and joins, but I’m supposed to be talking about Cave Story, so I’ll leave it there for now.

Gavin Craig is co-editor of The Idler. You can follow him on Twitter at @craiggav.

7 Responses to “Cave Story: Choices matter in the end”
  1. Stephanie says:

    Nice post! I can agree with both camps, but growing up, I played a game without knowing about the alternate paths I could have taken or the extras I could have found had I looked. Now we have a little convenience called the Internet, and gamers are easily spoiled. I’d rather play through a game once and be happy with whatever outcome I get. If the game is good enough, and I want to reply for the sheer joy of the experience, then there’s nothing wrong with wanting to take advantage of the variety a game offers. Even then, I prefer to discover it naturally, rather than read a guide and follow a set sequence of events to achieve a certain result.

    • Gavin Craig says:

      I have strongly mixed feelings about the information available online — on the one hand, it really does seem to enable gamers seeking a shortcut to a “perfect playthrough,” and I’ll admit to having given in to that temptation more than once. On the other hand, I have a lot of memories from when I was younger of games like Final Fantasy or Maniac Mansion where I would hit a point where I simply didn’t know what it was I needed to do next, and I just couldn’t find the right NPC in the game or hadn’t made some connection that the game expected me to make on my own.

      The irony, perhaps, is that most games aren’t built like that anymore — they’re a lot better at leading you where they want you to go while making it look like a player choice (see: the Half Life games), and there’s still a walkthrough or a strategy guide that’ll make even that unnecessary.

      It’s a strange world. I (almost) never felt like I needed a guide in Mass Effect 2, and yet I can’t entirely imagine playing Final Fantasy XIII without one. (There are just so many intricacies to the boss battles, and too many quirks that I can’t really imagine figuring out on my own. “Oh, you just stand there and let him hit you. Of course.“)

      And given how little choice is involved in FFXIII, that seems rather wrong.

      • Stephanie says:

        Oh, well if you’re talking walkthroughs to circumvent difficult gameplay situations, I’m totally on board! Today’s games are definitely better, as you mentioned, at guiding the player, but they can still be tricky. And older games — whew, am I glad we have guides for some of those. ;)

  2. Stephanie says:

    PS: I really like this blog’s motto: “refusing to apologize for the things we enjoy.” I recently felt like I was devoting too much energy on my own site to video game-related things, but games are such a big part of my life. I shouldn’t have to apologize. Thanks for inspiring me!

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