Certain stereotypes and clichés are going to be a part of every fictional genre; it just comes with the territory. But in romance breaking out of those clichés is like climbing K2 without an oxygen mask, Sherpas and in your underwear. The roads of romantic attraction are well-worn and deviating from that path is dark and uncertain: which leaves many writers with one option – stay the course. This leads to the same bland, underdeveloped cast regardless of their target audience. Like I joked about in the teaser for the AMG Reviews, when you cut down to the marrow, there really isn’t a lot of difference between Exhibit A and Exhibit B: it all comes to your POV.
So what does this have to do with Backstage Pass? Remember in Pt. 1 when I talked about Sian being detached from romance? That comes into play hard with the different guys because, except for maybe Matthew, the guys aren’t introduced in an attractive light. Don’t get me wrong, none of them are shown to be offensive people. But…hm…let me try using a visual aid.
Keeping in mind my contention that clichés are clichés regardless of the target audience, and that said clichés makes up the backbone of the bulk of romance-centered fiction, let’s do a test case using a classic anime series that I have yet to kick about: Inuyasha! Hold the cutlery people: this is for science! Now let’s show how this particular series show introduces a love interest to our protagonist. Don’t worry; you only need to watch about 15 seconds of this. THEN we will resume our discussion!
Everyone caught up? Good. Now, do you see what I meant about the whole ‘attractive light’ thing? It is quite literal in romance fiction. It is done to show the audience the spark between said characters caught in said light. That doesn’t happen in Backstage Pass; at least not in the demo.
What we get instead is far more interesting and it brings out the actual theme of this game: the price of talent and fame. But I have drawn the argument out a bit long so I could knock Inuyasha. Let’s me make my case starting with my favorite male character in the game, and for your long time readers this won’t come as a surprise.
…Did someone say something? Oh well.
A heavy cost has to be paid for ambition and that is best seen with the old dude of the game: John Brandon. One of the things you get early on from this character is that he has become world-weary. While on the surface, he’s had a successful career being the lead actor on a long-running program, you get the feeling he had no intentions of making a career out of said program. More than likely, Brandon probably figured that would just be the beginning of his career and instead it ended up taking the lion’s share of his talents.
That particular issue is actually very common in acting as most actors and actresses hate to be considered one-dimensional. My favorite example is Robin Williams turn from comedy to family drama to villainous sociopath in the underrated Nolan remake Insomnia. It isn’t about shocking the audience or shedding images of past roles. It’s about proving there is more to Williams, and Brandon by extension, than just one role. However, while Mr. Williams was mostly successful as you can’t watch Insomnia without recognizing the depths of his talents, it would seem that Mr. Brandon was not.
On top of that, it is an oddly English thing to shy away from fame or recognition for their work. You can see that in the late Paul Eddington (and if you heathens haven’t seen Yes Minister yet, get on that), Cillian Murphy, Hugh Laurie, Daniel Day-Lewis and maybe Tom Hiddleston? I dunno the guy has WAY too much fun in that Loki outfit. Bah, you get the idea I think. It’s a clever bit of writing to make John Brandon English. That’s pretty much the point of that.
To be frank though, that kind of thing has to screw with people’s minds; at least it would with mine. To build a career off your talents on for those talents to trap you in a box no one will let you escape from? At some point you’d have to question why you’d even bother to begin with and it would seem that is what Brandon’s experiencing. Of course its speculation that was only extrapolated due one line, but if I didn’t do that Brandon wouldn’t be my favorite.
Well, actually outside of that I love Brandon’s character because of what he represents to me and I mentioned it at the start: ambition. Think about it kids; if you are just happy acting or singing or whatever you’re talented at, you wouldn’t stop acting over being recognized for one character. Of all the men on the list, Brandon's defined by his willingness to shed everything he earned in his career for his own ambitions: whatever the Hell they are. That and he wear a kickass fedora, so God bless his designers for that one.
Of the four paths, I think this will be the one grounded in the most logic as both Sian and Brandon are fairly logical and level-headed…except around one another. Of course there is one other tidbit that needs to be noted: the age difference. John Brandon is 35; Sian is 18. The religious prude in me went ballistic when I realized this, but after raging in a corner I decided that this is one that should be allowed to play out. Outside of morality, when you have nearly twenty years on your significant other there is plenty of land minds you can trip onto.
No I don’t want to see anyone suffer in this! Only a raving, nightmarish, black-hearted….let’s move on to Adam.
…Y’all heard that right?
Anyway, if John Brandon’s the Ghost of Fame’s Future then Adam and Matt split the role of Fame’s Present. But that particular specter is a two-sided coin and neither side is what you would consider…what’s the word…‘healthy’. Palm Tree, I mean Adam, occupies one side and it is obvious he had no intention of becoming famous. His vocal talents are just so good that fame kind of happened. Fair enough, because these things do happen. However it’s often our reactions to success that defines us rather than success in and of itself.
With than in mind, I can safely call Adam a dumbass.
It is obvious that the poor kid is in over his head. However, instead of admitting the obvious he has decided the best solution is to not adapt to his newfound status and act like he did when he was just an island kid slumming it. This leads to some minor head-butting with John Brandon and others, with his repeatedly reaction being ‘Meh’.
Uh…well that’s not going to end well dumbass.
Adam is like a slow-motion, twenty car pile-up: you know the road isn’t going to end well but you just can’t look away. You can’t be who you want to be AND be successful. That is a lesson Brandon’s already learned but clearly it’s also a fight Palm Tree wants to have because he’s a du – you get it. Ultimately it’s this type of internal struggle, between having what you want and wanting what you need, that gives golden moments rarely seen in popular fiction. Those moments, however, aren’t achieved without a certain level of pain.
And, after all, isn’t that what love is about? No I’m serious on that one. That idea of love is going to be tested in Adam's path and you can go to the writer for this game for that;
A lot of people have mentioned wanting to see actual dating and relationship stuff - not just everything leading up to the initial kiss. And so, please look forward to being able to date an idol singer in Backstage Pass.
‘It’s more realistic? That’s it?’ Don’t forget the circumstances Adam and Sian’s relationship take place in, my friend: in the pressure cooker called fame. How Adam’s choices affect Sian must be considered just as relevant as Sian’s choices which are player-controlled. On top of that is the fact that Sian is who she; meaning Adam isn't guaranteed top billing just because they're dating. Despite my fandom of John Brandon, this could be the key path to the game. On paper, it’s the most complex with two different types of people on two different paths in life both facing pressures that they cannot escape from without radical change. It has the opportunity to give something more than familiar, saccharine moments and deliver an experience touching on mixing love, life and ambition which is not only a more mentally intriguing story, but an emotionally intriguing one as well.
Right now it still has to be played out, but I enjoyed Adam’s character. And while he is a dumbass, he’s a dumbass with potential. Unlike certain models that I am not going to make fun of because I’ve spent the better part of the year knocking this guy and people just expect me to mock him. So I’m not…really I’m not! There is no part of me that wants to mock…well maybe a little…maybe more than a little...
….I gotta fight it….I gotta fight it…
Rise, the Demon ETRIGAN!!
Admit that even while publicly joking about the dork, he grew on me like aquarium fungus. Yeah I'm not really living up to my potential when it comes to to destroying the bishonen class on behalf of my console gaming brethren. But hear me out because I have a better defense than I did when I previewed Break Chance Memento...I think.
On the other side of the Ghosts of Present Fame coin is Matthew Partridge AKA 'Matthew Midnight'. Unlike Adam, who stumbled into fame, Matthew's path to stardom has nothing to do with his own talents. His life was planned meticulously since he was a fetus and thanks to the machinations of Mommy Dearest he has reached a level of success he didn't earn. All he's done is follow the tracks laid out for him; in fact he's done it so well technically there are two Matthews. The first is the stereotypical model for the public to see: Matthew Midnight shall we say. And while I can spend half the preview ripping uberMatt mode, let's just say that
Then there's Mattie: the kid who realizes exactly how he's gotten to this point in his life and cannot control any of it, including the Midnight half of him...which is kinda creepy but moving on. This dichotomy is intriguing because this isn't usually how people in Matt's position are usually portrayed. Usually twits who have had the world handed to them act like they've earned it and are in sore need of a fist to the face. Matthew, however, is well aware he hasn't earned is popularity and, in fact, avoids it.
On that end, there are other stereotypes that could have been embraced for Matt's character and some were. He is far from the bastion of common sense and I keep calling him a dork for a reason, but at the same time he is self-aware enough to know he is what his Mother's made him. More so, he still finds fun and enjoyment in the area of his life where Mommy Dearest has the most control: modelling. And that end point is how this one really grew on me. Because when you look at that end and take away his immaturity and lack of awesome sword skills, Mattie's King Bradley/Wrath the Furious from Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.
NO CROSSOVER FANART OF THIS. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.
Okay before you FMA nuts come after me; hear me out. The core of King Bradley's character in FMA: Brotherhood is his self-awareness. He's a puppet king overseeing pointless wars for the sole purpose of mass genocide. On the surface he leads an empty life, but despite knowing his entire life is a lie, he still manages to find pleasure in it. More than that, he takes pride in the one choice he was allowed to make on his own: his wife. That leads to one of the most badass/tragic/awesome death scenes in anime history and you all must see it right now if you haven't.
Mattie's in the same boat. Where Sian will fit into that boat is going to be interesting. I don't think she'll go the Aladdin route and offer to show him a whole new world (again NO FANART CROSSOVERS PEOPLE), but at the same time there is a lot of power in personal choices; especially if you haven't made a lot of them. While it can be cliche, Sian being a catalyst for Matthew to make a different choice while remaining close to the track of his life would be a very unique way to go about it.
Outside of that, and let me be careful in saying this because I got in trouble for this before, Matthew is the only male romantic interest shown explicitly in an attractive light. That is shown above in one of the more...ahem...popular CGs of the game. Frankly there are only so many ways you can dissects a half-naked male model wrapped in leather and gold chains...so, are we good on that whole 'light' thing? Good.
How this affects Sian who has the greatest reaction to that poster remains to be see, but the balancing act between responsibilities, passions and choices will mix very well I think along this route. So, despite his ridiculously preened hair and of course 'Midnight' mode, the dork is going to be a fun story to read.
...clearly this is black magic again. Sorry Etrigan. I will unleash the rage next time, I promise.
I WILL DEVOUR YOUR WITHERED SOUL FOR THIS TRANSGRESSION!
....we should probably move on to our last contestant!
Say hello to the Ghost of Fame's Past. When John, Adam and Matt were all starting out, something tells me they were a lot like Benito: wildly ambitious, a little cocky and frequently stealing from The Dark Knight Joker's wardrobe. Apparently he's some kind of super-genius, but clearly that hasn't eased his reckless side. Why he would want to spend his life this way seems to fit similar molds to hyper-intelligent folks who often find more pleasure and challenge outside of social norms. And I won't lie; on the surface he seems to be talented enough to get it done. But why he's taken that particular direction in life is still a mystery.
Annnnd that's it.
I'm not even going to lie to you guys. At the end of the demo most of my curiosity sprung up around Benito because there are only so many ways I can figure to cut this one. The most obvious is that Sian would serve as a sorta confidant to Benito as someone who has seen people become successful in entertainment and can help guide him along the proper channels. It could be an interest journey that is easy to dismiss, but one vital to actually being good and what you do whether it be deconstruction or scamming people on the streets with slight of hand.
But at the same time Benny's listed under that whole 'suitor' category. So...ummm...here's a topic I haven't seen on the Sakevisual Q&R. I understand the whole thing with John Brandon's age because, yeah old guy robbing the cradle has been an issues since Gilgamesh. But...er...Benito's 15. I am fully aware that attraction can occur despite age; I'm just trying to make this work in my head. Knowing the fine folks at Sakevisual it won't be anything traumatic by any means. But at the same time, I cannot be the only one curious about how you'd even beginning to approach it. Brandon's tricky enough but Benito feels like a different hurdle because, well, as I said before Sian appears barely interested in the subject. Yet she can be wooed by someone three years her junior?
I wish I had more to speculate but, as I said, Benny's the wild card in all of this. His exactly role, background and relationship to Sian are a matter to be unfurled in the full game. I am definitely intrigued by whichever way they decide to go with him, but this is as far as I can go with him for now.
We will conclude this feature in Part 3 where I discuss the most addictive part of Backstage Pass: the Gameplay!