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Slayers: A Review & RPG Discourse
This is both a semi-review of the original 26 episode first season of Slayers and an observation of the mopey state of RPGs. The jest of it is: RPGs should be more like Slayers.
Slayers. The anime had eluded me for years. I had only heard it whispered in hurried and hushed voices in the dark murky corners of the internet. In forum threads by mysterious denizens more at home in secret bars buried in the misty alleyways of Prague.
So I finally watched it to see what the fuss was about. I’d recently dropped watching a modern 21st century anime which both bored and repelled me with its pandering “we’re really deep and serious and stuff, but here’s a character who looks and acts 12 years old, yet has massive boobs” nonsense. (steins;gate)
I needed a change of pace. From the start, Slayers was a breath of nostalgic fresh air. Lina Inverse is a plucky and spunky red haired sorcerer of black magic who travels a typical fantasy land beating up bandits for their treasure. She hooks up with a wandering warrior and they get into scrapes. The ratio is 90% funny, 10% serious hi-jinks.
While watching the season, which more or less consists of an aimless journey, my mind kept pondering the state of RPGs. Partly because the anime itself plays with stereotypes and cliches, mocking them.
For example, the warrior, a blonde-haired dude called Gourry, is quite dense. Why? Because you don’t pump stats into ‘intelligence’ for that character build! Duh!
Conversely (or inversely, hehe) Lina is a female who is cute, funny, smart and strong. She doesn’t need to show flesh to other characters or the viewers, and she’s never portrayed as a sexual object. Wow, what a breath of fresh air. I sometimes have a hard enough time finding a character like that in movies and games, let alone anime.
Slayers reminds me of why the RPG genre is so stale these days. It makes me yearn for the genre to be more comedic and stop taking things so seriously. Its always doom & gloom with RPGs. Some big bad wants to destroy the world. All your allies are dying or betraying you. The skies are full of clouds. Developers, cut that crap out please, it’s been done so many times. Surprise me with something more positive.
I’m struggling to think of any RPGs that were fun. Chrono Trigger might have had the zest back in the day. But thinking off the top of my head, I can’t think of any RPG that wasn’t deathly serious and forced you to take the responsibility of saving humanity. Do the Monkey Island games count as RPG? They were pretty fun, as was Space Quest. Nothing in the last ten years comes to mind though.
In Slayers, a big demon monster threatening the world itself is dispatched 10 episodes into a 26 episode series. Never mind that this concept would be original for my desired RPG, it’s unique for an anime too. How great would it be to subvert expectations like this in a game though? Maybe the rest of the game depends on the outcome of your early battle. NPCs react to you according to how you defeated the boss, maybe they’re scared witless, maybe they love you. All missions, and the world landscape itself, hinge on your early actions giving the game lots of replay value.
I want to play Slayers the RPG. Where every line of dialogue is humorous, and fellow companions come and go as they please (they have lives of their own!). There’s no one forcing a plot on you, you can just wander a fantasy land and do whatever you please. Helping an NPC with something small might end up turning into a massive quest. Or like in episode 12, where Lina decides to blow up a hill to make a short-cut but inadvertently unleashes a horde of ghosts instead, you might end up hindering an entire town by accident.
Slayers runs a fine line between an episodic nature and an ongoing journey where we learn little facts about the characters, slowly developing them and fleshing out the world they live in and the rules it lives by.
But more than anything else, it carries with it a wacky fun nature about it that reminded me of the hi-jinks Indiana Jones gets up to in The Temple of Doom. I love that style of adventure. One minute you’re falling out of a plane while riding a life raft, the next you’re eating monkey brains in a weird palace. That’s the vibe of Slayers.
I don’t want to play a game obsessed with stats and leveling up. I want adventure, exploration, and an acknowledgement in-game that the RPG genre has been stale for over a decade and needs a kick in the balls. I yearn for strong narrative over OCD-induced item management.
Slayers, contrary to its dark title, makes me imagine a brighter future.