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Darkness Rising: An Examination Into the Need for Grittier Stories
An interesting video invaded the Internet this week. If you grew up in the glorious decade that was the 1990s, you surely watched some incarnation of Power Rangers, which likely means you at least heard about the mature short film based on the franchise. It has caused quite a fuss, and has already been pulled from Youtube and Vimeo and subsequently put back up.
Coincidentally, another franchise not known for its dark tone is about to see the release—or rather, re-release—of its darkest incarnation yet: Final Fantasy. While Type-0 was released over three years ago, few fans outside Japan have experienced it firsthand. Fortunately, our deprivation ends next month when Type-0 HD hits shelves for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Director Hajime Tabata has not been reticent about discussing its more mature tone. As has been the case with the Power/Rangers short film, not everyone has been receptive to such changes, which raises the pretty obvious counterpoint: is it really necessary to make franchises darker?
The range of answers differs, but the problem with either conclusion is that many believe the question can be answered with a definitive “yes” or “no.” Some feel like, as childhood fans of a franchise, that franchise should grow and mature with them. Others blame Christopher Nolan and his Dark Knight trilogy for the entire trend.
The real question fans should be asking is whether the tone fits the narrative and adheres to the creative vision of the developers, producers, publishers, etc. As someone who personally gravitates toward darker stories, it’s easy for me to say this is always the best choice for a series. The reality is it’s not always so.
Let’s take the first example given. Was the scenario and style set up in Power/Rangers intriguing, and would it be cool to see a feature film done like that? For many, sure, but that particular franchise was made for children, and a gritty derivative doesn’t follow the vision of its creator (not that I begrudge fans expressing their creativity by producing their own spin-offs, even if they differ drastically from the source material).
Similarly, Square Enix entrusted Tabata to deliver his version of Final Fantasy. The outcome is an expression of his creative vision and, most likely, his desire to present a side of Final Fantasy the world has yet to see or experience. Having not played the original on PlayStation Portable, I will have to wait until the HD release to see how well this pays off, but you have to applaud the man who can step into a decades-old franchise with a legion of devoted fans and have the audacity to say, “This is what we’re going to do,” even if it’s a drastic leap from anything else ever attempted.
These are by no means exceptions. Many age-old IPs have gone for more realistic, gritty, or dark tones. Another such example is the Tomb Raider reboot. While not necessarily “dark,” it is a far cry from the early iterations of Lara Croft, where the iconic heroine tussled with dinosaurs and whatnot. Crystal Dynamics defied the series’ precedent by reinventing Lara Croft and turning her into an innocent 21-year-old who had barely lifted a weapon (though it’s reasonable she had before, because she’s a damn good shot with that bow) and is thrust into a world of murderers and preternatural happenings. The fact that the anticipated sequel is willing to place Lara in therapy, hinting she may be suffering from PTSD, is telling of how far Crystal Dynamics has pushed the gritty alternative.
The good news (if you hate darker, more realistic aesthetics) is that not every franchise is following this trend. You need look no further than the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) for proof. Or, if you prefer video game comparisons, take a look at Nintendo. Can you imagine if they decided to show the horrors of Mario crushing a Goomba’s skull and burning his enemies alive with fireballs? Some things are better left more playful, and that’s fine.
The important thing for developers or other creators is to stay true to their creative vision. I’m not suggesting fan input should be ignored entirely, but just as no one knew they wanted to do everything with their cell phones until Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, many fans don’t know what they’ll enjoy until they sit down to play (or watch) it. Instead of jumping the gun to weigh in on whether franchises should go for a darker tone, we should consider that those involved in the development have a vision of something they want to show the world.