Saturday, May 23, 2009

Little Things: The Legendary Axe II

The Legendary Axe II is strange among action-game sequels. While the first The Legendary Axe is a brightly colored exercise in dull clich├ęs, the second one is a grim creation, full of shadowy castle halls, foreboding music, and bizarre, quasi-Gigerian imagery. For a side-scroller that stars a generic warrior in a speedo, it’s a rather eerie game. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the ending.




After finding his way through a stage of unexpectedly futuristic paths and buglike robots, the sparsely clothed Prince Sirius faces down his evil, throne-stealing brother and the monstrous creature that lurks within the usurper. Overjoyed, Sirius climbs up to his throne, laughing as a haunting staccato plays and robed figures emerge, presumably to welcome their new king. Suddenly, one of them throws off her cloak to reveal a scimitar-wielding woman, and she leaps toward a horrified Sirius. The game pauses with her in mid-jump, the scene fades, and the credits roll.

It’s an appropriate way to cap off a bleak game, though it surely made players wonder just who this assassin was. The only female character mentioned in the manual is the princes’ mother, Queen Grace, and she’s not a likely candidate. Is this interloper some disowned relative of the royal family, an ally of the fallen Prince Zack, or just some hired killer whose appearance speaks to the unending struggles waged among the corrupt and powerful? Or is this a cameo by Flare, the damsel-in-distress from the original The Legendary Axe? She had purple hair, after all.

No one really knew, and we all moved on to other games and other hobbies. Upon returning to The Legendary Axe II years down the road, I figured that the ending was just a quick and simple twist on the developers’ part. There was no answer.

Yet everything fell into place once I saw this entry at Hardcore Gaming 101. It reveals something very important: in the Japanese version of The Legendary Axe II, the assassin is completely naked. For the sake of easily offended readers, I have chosen to pixelate the image.




It all makes sense. The player-controlled prince goes through the entire game in nothing but a thong, while the evil prince wears a suit of gold armor. By shedding his inhibitions and taking pride in his nearly uncovered body, our hero is able to wrest the throne away from his fully garmented rival, whose sartorial airs speak of repression and vain opulence. However, the new king is not willing to strip completely upon his victory, leaving him vulnerable to an enemy who is.

Both nudist propaganda and a clever turn on the fable of the naked emperor, this finale was hidden from American children by a bit of old-fashioned game censorship, as the assassin received a swimsuit that’s far too bright for a dimly colored game like The Legendary Axe II. Now the truth can be known: those who wish to rule must be willing to bare themselves to their kingdom. Purple hair is optional.