Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Fate/GO: A Summer of Arthuriana

NOTE: This piece covers the second half of the summer event currently running on the Fate/Grand Order US servers. If you are currently playing and don't want spoilers for the second half, come back when you're done. Otherwise, read on.

The special events of Fate/Grand Order have managed to strike a weird and welcome balance, and it can't have been easy. I've talked before (and probably will continue to talk) about how the mechanics of each event are tweaked here and there, and how they're slowly but surely finding their format. I also say this with full awareness that the US server is two years behind and the JP server is on to a second story arc, but even so.

The other difficulty they face is the story concept. Because it has to be three things: it has to be engaging, it has to be themed to whatever's going on, and it has to be largely "irrelevant" to the main story line. From a writing standpoint, I class that as both a "challenge" and a "bitch."

The game's first summer event made it happen, creating an alternate island world cut off from Chaldea and a time travel mystery that unfolds over the course of the two-part campaign. The summer theme allows for new versions of fan-favorite Servants, with Scáthach tidily hand-waving the new Summons by "altering their Spirit Origins" so they can be comfortable at the beach. Side quests allow for both one-on-one time with the new Servants (so you'll be more motivated to whale for them) and an opportunity to pick up higher-end goodies. And there's even a choice-driven mechanic that, while only influencing one cut scene and your map, is still pretty cool.

What I wasn't expecting was for the game to go this hard into some fairly obscure Arthurian legend.

He's a Big Pig.

Culhwch and Olwen is an oldie when it comes to Arthurian legends -- potentially the oldest of prose stories to mention King Arthur, as it's dated to around the 1100s. It's also not one you're going to be heavily invested in unless Arthurian legends are Your Thing.

In the latter half of the story, the hero Culhwch is tasked by the father of his beloved Olwen (a giant named Ysbaddaden... whoof) with a quest. Which is... to go get a comb and a pair of scissors with which to take care of Ysbaddaden's beard. Okay, fine. But the comb and scissors are on the head of a giant boar named Twrch Trwyth. Which is pronounced "torhhhgh troyse," before you give yourself the same aneurysm I ended up with.

Which, okay. Except that only a very specific dog can hunt Trwyth. And only on a very specifically made leash, which can only be held by a very specific person, and actually Culhwch go get your cousin Arthur, he can help.

The upshot is that King Arthur hunts and kill Trwyth, but not before discovering that said boar also has a razor tucked up on top of his head, too. As you do. Culwch brings the three items back to his soon-to-be dad-in-law... and then has to go kill another boar named Ysgirhyrwyn. But that's not really relevant here so.

What is relevant is that Trwyth wasn't always a boar — in the tale, he's the son of a prince, cursed to take the form of a boar with poisonous bristles. He also has seven piglets. So there's a lot more going on here than just "dude has to go kill animal for loot."

All that said. As heavily as the Fate franchise leans on these legends, I was genuinely not expecting the beach episode to do a deep dive like this.

Though I guess the demon boars everywhere should've been my tip-off.

A Summer Adventure

If a giant cursed boar-man packing a toiletry kit on his head isn't weird enough for you, Fate/GO's summer campaign just adds to it: Altria (the game's female analog to King Arthur) encounters Trwyth on the mysterious island where your team is stranded, and is immediately recognized. The moment is a bizarre throwaway soon buried under the other Servants begging you to build them castles and theme parks, but it stayed pretty heavily in the back of my head. After all, the main storyline is currently exploring an alternate Camelot, where a differently-motivated Altria has taken over the Crusades.

By the campaign's second arc, we discover that a temporal loop has dropped your party back on the same island you just left mere days ago... except for the island, it's been two thousand years. Highly-evolved boar piglets have, with the help of a now-hibernating Thomas Edison, nearly made it to their own space age. (I swear I am not making a damn bit of this up.) But then disaster strikes.

"Disaster" has taken the form of Twrch Trwyth, so fueled by hate that he has become an eternal monster in much the same way Servants become Heroic Spirits, and has created a mechanical body for himself to stay alive until such time as he can disguise himself as Altria, destroy the island, and tarnish her good name forever.

I swear. I am not. Making any of this up. (Though frankly, this storyline is downright sedate compared to the majority of Arthurian romances.)

As I said before, I kind of expected an Altria-centric story. Because even though main plots and event plots rarely cross over in any sort of essential way, the Camelot story is Kind Of A Big Deal. And any time a new Altria is introduced, it is also a big deal. (Hell, there was an event about the proliferation of Altrias.)

As a character, Altria may not be one of the core figures in Grand Order: she, like the rest of the Servants, is there primarily for support and fan service. You yourself, Mash Kyrielight, and the team back at Chaldea are the "stars," as it were, with others shifting through the spotlight during different stories. But so much of the mythos is rooted in these legends (with an equal footing in the Celtic) that there are a few things you will always see return. And it's wonderful, honestly.

Like. Honest talk, cards on the table. The Fate franchise started as a porn game. Lots of popular franchises did. (Maybe someday I'll talk about why that's a thing.) It hasn't exactly just discarded its past -- while Grand Order doesn't contain nudity, you've got entire events focused on characters in swimsuits, you've got alternate versions of Nero (also a female iteration) with a wedding gown with a butt window. You've got Mata Hari for Christ's sake. I'm really not going to look you in the eye and tell you that this is high literary art with no regard given whatsoever for a consumer desire for scantily clad girls.

I'm just saying these nerds are really doing their homework and I'm wondering how they're going to impress me next.

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