Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai, directed by Takeshi Miike
Written by: Kikumi Yamagishi
Starring: Ebizô Ichikawa, Eita, Hikari Mitsushima
My rating: 4 of 5
So you’re the head of an honourable household. One day a destitute ronin comes to you and asks if he could possibly kill himself in your courtyard, because that would help him leave this life with as much as honour as he can salvage. Just another day in feudal Japan*.
However, you’re moved by this ronin’s plight and offer him a position in your household. After all, it’s not his fault his house disbanded and Japan is going through a peaceful period that prevents him finding work. The heads of other houses follow suit, offering work where they’re able or giving them a little money when they aren’t. Either way, the ronin are getting some help and all is good.
Then, of course, people take it too far, and it reaches a point where the less honourable ronin realise they have an easy way to find work or at least a few coins. Can’t afford those rice cakes? Go offer to kill yourself before the Iyi clan, they’re always good for a few ryō.
Over the weekend I started and finished Darksiders on PC, which I picked up very cheaply in a previous Steam sale. It’s a good game, and like the demo suggested it sits somewhere between Zelda and God of War, being combat-heavy and sending you off to dungeons in search of items which help you navigate the world, the boss generally having a weakness to your newest item. The world feels like the creators know more about it than they’re revealing, that they do have some investment in their story and it’s not just dressing up the combat, and there’s a good visual style to a lot of it (especially the main characters), like they’ve been plucked out of a comic or cartoon but without being cel-shaded.
First place goes to the worgen campaign, the other of the races new to Cataclysm. The worgen are werewolves, the ones you play as coming from the human nation of Gilneas. Back in Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness Gilneas weren’t exactly big supporters of the Alliance, the game’s instruction manual (which was an elaborate thing, full of more story content than it was game information) presenting their isolationism as their most notable characteristic. By the end of the Second War (ie. the second game) the Gilnean king, Greymane, had erected a massive wall around his kingdom and completely cut them off from the rest of the world.
This was the situation the nation was in when World of Warcraft launched, the wall making the area inaccessible (and for those who were able to exploit their way through there was nothing of consequence there), and that’s how it remained right up until the launch of the Cataclysm expansion, when Gilneas finally rejoins the Alliance. So what have they been getting up to behind the wall?
The goblins are one of the two new races introduced in the Cataclysm expansion pack (the other being the worgen werewolves). Traditionally the race has mostly been associated with the Horde, at least when they were an evil faction in the service of the demonic Burning Legion, but like the trolls there are many different factions (or cartels) with their own agendas and alignments, and the playable goblins in World of Warcraft are a formerly neutral one who are drawn into the conflict.
This gives them a big advantage over all of the pre-Cataclysm races. They carry none of the existing baggage that comes from the established story or locations already present in the game, and as such their opening has been designed purely according to the new goals Blizzard has for the game’s structure. Their story starts with the cataclysm, and it’s so much better.
The starting zone for the undead Forsaken already had a lot of character before the launch of Cataclysm, the nature of the race enabling Blizzard to use well-established themes. It was an area of dead trees, graveyards, gloom and zombies, adding a lot of personality to a zone that was structured just like all the others. One key difference was that there were several-questgivers who were clearly evil (the game never presents either playable faction as villains), experimenting on people and working on a plague that they hoped would turn the whole world into free-willed undead and bring an end to the prejudices directed against them, many people unable to distinguish the Forsaken from Arthas’ Scourge. It was already a solid zone, but Cataclysm has still managed to improve it dramatically.
When the draenei race were first announced as being the new race who would join the Alliiance in World of Warcraft’s first expansion pack there was a fair bit of controversy. Like the blood elves the draenei are an established race in the Warcraft setting, but where the new blood elves fit the established version of the race, the draenei… didn’t. In the established lore the draenei, part of another race called the eredar, were the wholly evil race responsible for driving the titan Sargeras mad, who then went on to start all the troubles with the demons (ie. the entire Warcraft storyline). When you meet them in Warcraft 3 and World of Warcraft they look like this:
The death knight isn’t a unique race, they’re a class, but with several key differences. They start at level 55 and can only be created if you already have a high-level character, and they have their own starting area and opening questline which means they qualify for this series (though I played through the whole opening, level thirteen not being a valid milestone here). Freshly created and sworn into the service of the Lich King – this is the one opening that can’t take into account the changes of Cataclysm – new death knights are tasked with mopping up the last remnants of the Scarlet Crusade. They were introduced in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion and were therefore Blizzard’s first chance to show off their phasing technology.