I hate the Zero Suit.

19Oct11

Samus Aran, from Nintendo’s Metroid series, is probably my favorite female video game character. I have some nostalgic affection for Princess Peach from Mario, and more for Zelda as a character who at least tries to do what she can to protect herself. But Samus remains my favorite, both out of nostalgia and as the first strong female character. She’s never been a passive woman needing to be rescued for an entire game, and she’s always been kicking ass and taking names without being overtly masculine in doing so. Plus, she has the most sensible outfit in all of video games, since she goes onto deserted planets in full body armor that has full containment and protection. No space bikinis for her when she delves into the unknown! The only problem is that as much as I love Samus, I’m not sure her current creators feel the same way.

This isn’t a rant about Metroid: Other M, though that game did inspire this post. Nor is it a rant about any specific Metroid game. But it’s a topic that I’ve thought of from time to time. After all, Samus being such a strong character into the present day is more a confluence of factors than anything else. She first appeared on a system that didn’t have the graphics to show much detail, so putting her into a full suit of armor would make the sprites easier to animate than a skimpy set of clothes…and the JUSTIN BAILEY code puts her into a leotard, so it’s not like she can’t be objectified in her first appearance. And with the introduction of the deplorable “Zero Suit,” when Samus’ armor is off, she’s wearing a skintight blue thing. There’s some nonsense about the Zero Suit creating the armor, but no thank you, I prefer her to be wearing real clothing under her highly advanced battle suit.

I’ll refrain from making any broad comments about Japanese culture and its attitudes towards women, both real and fictional. However, I have the feeling that all the reasons I like the character are considered negatives by the people creating Metroid games, and it’s only tradition that keeps them from putting her in the Zero Suit at all times. I don’t want to be the kind of fan who holds onto my personal interpretation of a character while resenting the creators for “betraying” my private vision; that’s always a toxic road to follow. But there is a line between reasonable and unreasonable fan expectation, and I think it’s reasonable to expect that Samus Aran should be a strong and intelligent woman, able to take charge of a situation and experienced enough not to freeze up when faced with a sudden surprise attack.

At the same time, adding to her background is not inherently a problem. The issue I had with Other M was not the concept. I was excited about the idea of learning more about Samus’ past, and her having a romantic relationship just made sense. As much as you could interpret Samus as being genderless in the games, it would be silly to assume she didn’t have some kind of sexual relationship outside of blowing Space Pirates away. The execution, though…well, it was lacking. I’ll leave it at that.

I’m not going to say I’m worried about Metroid or Samus Aran at this point. I believe that Other M was mostly a misstep, hopefully an isolated one, and she’ll go back to being a strong female character that can be trusted to exterminate a whole planet full of criminals. But I’m definitely going to greet any more attempts to flesh out her past with a skeptical eye, until Nintendo can prove they don’t think deepening her character requires her to act weak or overly emotional for the sake of melodrama.

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