Friday, April 2, 2010

An Alternate View of the World via Capcom’s Red Earth

Oh video games, and your unique perspective on the world around you.

In the 1996 arcade game Red Earth — a Street Fighter-like brawler with RPG elements, released in Japan as Warzard — your chosen character moves from location to location, vanquishing monsters and ridding the world of evil. You know, as one often does. But though Red Earth is a fantasy game — among the four selectable characters are a sword-wielding lion-man-thing and a witch — the setting is actually just a warped version of the real-world. See the map that shows you which destination you’ll next be duking it out with a monster:


In fact, this map is what I’m writing about. Given that the basis for Red Earth is the regular old green and blue earth, familiar, real-life geographic locations appear, just in odd ways. See the location in the upper-left corner, marked with an ice statue? The text on the map itself refers to the location as something beginning with frost, and when you actually fight at this stage, the screen introduces it as Icelarn. Obviously, it’s supposed to represent the frozen reaches of Scandinavia. The center of Africa, on the other hand, is Sahada, with the stage marked by the sphinx being Sangypt — you know, because Egypt has a lot of sand. (Wikipedia notes that in the Japanese version, this area was called Alanbird, a name I can’t make heads or tales of.) And the stand-in for Japan — oddly labeled The Kingdom of Reece on the map — is introduced when you arrive at this stage as Zipang, an alternate name for Japan.

What seems especially about Red Earth’s map screen, however, are the locations that are labeled even though no battles are fought there. For example, there’s Australia, called here Auster. Or there’s North America, referred to as Indean Land — a little awkward, I guess, but not offensive. And finally there’s the Middle East area of the map, marked with the less benign-sounding Evelious, which seems a little wrong. And the closest stage fought to Evelious? The Greece-themed one — called Savalia in the English version but Greedia in the Japanese one. This all seems suggestive attitudes toward this region of the word, at least when filtered through my American ears.

In all, it’s just interesting to see how one culture interprets the world for the purposes of a video game, and then how another would change or retain parts of this interpretation for another culture. Leaving Evelious but changing Greedia? Odd. Leaving Icelarn but switching out Alanbird for Sangypt? Also weird. I’m fascinated by how anyone would go through the process of saying “Yes, keep this but, no, get rid of that,” and what the motivations might be for protecting or indulging one culture’s sensibilities over another.

Not on the subject of national representation in video games but nonetheless worth mentioning in what will probably be my only-ever Red Earth-themed post: Tessa (Tabasa in the Japanese version), one of the four heroes and one who’s gotten a lot of play in other Capcom titles. In the story sequences that break up the fighting, Tessa speaks this line:


And I’m noting here because it perfectly exemplifies the logic of heroic characters in video games.

Finally, there’s also this:


You get this screen in Tessa’s ending if you choose the “bad” option: not destroying the horrible little alien creature being kept by the game’s main villain. Again you have to love video game dialogue. And the presumable logic behind the art design here: “Hey, wouldn’t this be better if Tessa was totally naked? Like, for no reason?”

(Images via this Red Earth playthrough.)

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