Depressing Game Endings: El Viento

El Viento is among my favorite weird games, perhaps because it isn't all that weird. Compared to Katamari Damacy or Cho-Aniki or even the culturally ratified oddities of Super Mario Bros., El Viento is ordinary. It’s a side-scrolling action game with jumping and boomerang-tossing, and its base effect isn't so different from the many other Sega Genesis titles where a fetching heroine saves the world from some eldritch menace.

Look closer, and you'll see invention. Like the two other (lesser) parts of the Earnest Evans trilogy, El Viento is steeped in 1920s adventure and interdimensional horrors, as it sends lithe Peruvian explorer Annet from Chicago streets to hellish caverns and an Empire State Building designed to summon demons. Like Indiana Jones with gangsters and Lovecraft beasts instead of Nazis and chilled monkey brains, El Viento brims with lower-key strangeness, and it's more fascinating for that.

So much of El Viento mixes typical action with fabulously bizarre details. Annet starts off by fighting Al Capone's thugs, but then she leaps across a Mount Rushmore full of smiling gun turrets and a floating cactus chain. Then she raids a blind-tiger club full of tiny imp mobsters and sluglike bartenders who explode when struck by her boomerangs and magic spells. Then she hops on a dolphin and rides straight into giant pixel jellyfish-octopuses. They explode as well. Most of the enemies come in weird and flammable varieties, and there’s never a reason why. Even the rats that pester Annet in a sewer look like they're wearing little sunglasses.

See? They're cool rats.

Annet does all of this to keep cultists and criminals from summoning the ancient deity Hastur, but she's also out to rescue her sister Restiana. Despite rampant evidence that the cult's planning to sacrifice her, Restiana is convinced that she'll become a veritable goddess with Hastur's powers, and she openly asks why Annet opposes them. Annet's response?

That's a solid riposte, Annet. In fact, that screenshot can be used in all sorts of arguments. The next time someone on a forum asks why you favor socialized medicine or oppose a poll tax or enjoy Gundam X, hit 'em with Annet's counter. They'll either give up in disgust or congratulate you on your taste in Genesis games.

Annet's sharp rejoinders fail to sway Restiana, and the game's climax sees the two sisters meeting atop an under-construction Empire State Building. Restiana turns into Hastur's dragonlike form, and Annet destroys the creature.


Oh wait. There’s more to this ending.

Well. That’s not as uplifting. Annet looks on in sorrow as she saves the world but not her misguided sister. This is made all the more haunting by the Earnest Evans trilogy’s tendency to show defeated bosses as viciously mangled corpses. In El Viento, you don't discreetly fade away or gasp out dying solemnities with only a tasteful line of blood at the corner of your mouth. If you mess with Annet, she’ll tear open your ribcage like a stubborn bag of Doritos.

Annet’s resolute fa├žade cracks completely as the ending continues, and she tearfully collapses into the embrace of Earnest, who hasn’t done much else in this entire game. No wonder the third Earnest Evans title was once again all about Annet.

And so El Viento closes with Annet murdering her sister and facing the gravity of her deeds in the most gruesome way. What’s more, her longtime friend Zigfried slinks off, his thoughts revealing that he's got something nasty in mind for Earnest and Annet. There's not much to be happy about here.

It's even more downbeat when you consider that things never improved for Annet. The third and last Earnest Evans game, Annet Futatabi, is a mediocre brawler, and Telenet and Wolfteam ditched the series afterward. They had high hopes for Annet at first, even going so far as to cast her in marketable bighead form, but El Viento never became as momentous as the Valis series, and Annet never became another Yuko. But considering how Telenet turned out a Valis X line of porn games in 2006, Annet might've succeeded a lot worse.

Pity for Annet comes easily. She has engaging pluck about her, and even her typically scant outfit benefits from a few colorful flourishes. Yet the game reduces her mostly to reactions instead of genuine personality, and that may be why she didn’t stick around. In fact, even more vivacious heroines were denied the careers they deserved in the early 1990s. Popful Mail burned with charming avarice, but Falcom never gave her an ongoing series. Madison and Crystal delivered quips and parodies over two Trouble Shooter games, but that was as far as they went. Annet couldn't hope to go further.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:01 PM

    Falcom totally gave Mail an ongoing series!

    Of drama CDs.