Contributed by DJMMT
Earlier this year, I played a game called Ace Angler on the Nintendo Switch. It’s an Asia only released fishing game. I played it on and off for several months before finally calling it a done deal. Being a fishing game aficionado, I also bought the fishing pole Joy-Con accessory. It’s a solid fishing game that originated as an arcade game so if you like fishing games and can find a copy of it, I recommend it. You can buy it on the Japanese eShop, if you’re really interested. But this isn’t meant to be a review of the game. What I want to talk about is the story.
Ace Angler has a single-player campaign. Unlike many other fishing games, this campaign has an actual story. It’s not a competitive bass tourney campaign where the story is basically non-existent and just has you playing different fishing tournaments as you climb the ranks, like most sports game campaigns. In Ace Angler you follow an actual plot with real characters, background lore, and clearly defined motivations that amount to more than just money, fame, or glory.
This game follows the main character, you, on a journey of scientific exploration. Your crew works with a scientific institution tasked with studying the world’s oceans. You do this by catching fish and taking them back to an aquarium, alive, for study. While fishing, you discover a magical pearl. It happens to be one of 10 legendary pearls that were said to be lost to history. If all 10 are found, legend says a special treasure will be revealed. Obviously as the game continues you go on to find the other nine legendary pearls. Throughout this adventure, you meet and compete against multiple rivals, upgrade your ship to travel to exciting new fishing areas, learn more about the history of the pearls and the world as a whole, and even discover new species of fish. When you finally discover the last legendary pearl and bring them all together, something insane happens. I don’t want to spoil it, for those who actually end up playing the game, but basically the entire planet ends up in danger. Yes, you read that right. This fishing game’s climax is that your discovery of ancient artifacts somehow leads to the entire world being threatened with an apocalypse level scenario and only you, the ace of anglers, can save the world. Somehow the people who wrote this game constructed a plot that ends up having a fishing boat getting upgraded into a spaceship so the hero can fly to space and use their fishing skills to save the planet.
Obviously, it’s ridiculous. Over the course of this game, you do things like go fishing for literal dinosaurs, robots, and dragons. Over the course of this game, you upgrade your basic fishing boat over several phases to a submarine and eventually a literal spaceship. Maybe even more ridiculous is that all the upgrades are single handedly done by an old man referred to as the “Fishing Saint”. While you start the game by traveling to normal fishing locations like a coral reef, by the end of the game you’ve traveled to places like an underwater robot fish base, the depths of a deep-sea trench, and a sunken golden palace where the fish wear clothing and carry gold coins on their backs. The story is absolutely preposterous. Yet as the player you have no problem with it. Not once did I ever think to myself “this is ridiculous” while playing Ace Angler. Not once did I ever question the logic of the universe or complain about the lack of realism. If anything, I enjoyed the game more for not giving a shit about reality. I thought it was hilarious when I started catching fish dressed up like ninjas. I thought it was awesome when I caught a plesiosaurus with a fishing pole. I felt like a badass when I caught a giant metal shark that shoots missiles out of its mouth. The ultra-ridiculous occurrences that happen in this game coupled with a plot that only an anime fan could love made the game better. Yet I don’t afford the same storytelling liberties to everything else I consume for entertainment.
Earlier this year, a movie called Army of the Dead was released on Netflix. I don’t want to debate the movie, as I haven’t watched it. But what I have seen is a sea of comments arguing about whether or not the movie is good. From what I’ve heard and read, I probably wouldn’t like this movie. More than that, I’d most likely think it was ridiculous, in a bad way, and terrible. There’s one spoiler in particular, that I won’t reveal here out of respect for readers who haven’t seen the movie, that I had the misfortune of reading. That one spoiler pissed me off just hearing about it. And I don’t mean having the spoiler revealed pissed me off because it ruined my possible future viewing experience of the movie. I mean that spoiler pissed me off because it’s so ridiculous that knowing a producer let such nonsense get produced angers me to my core as a writer. But why?
What’s the difference between these two pieces of entertainment? On one hand, we have a story where a fisherman is tasked with flying to space in a modified fishing boat in order to save the world. On the other hand, we have a zombie movie about a Las Vegas heist with a twist that’s no less ridiculous than a secret under water base of robot fish. Both concepts are completely unrealistic, functionally stupid, and unnecessarily complicated to explain in their own ways. But one has brought me so much joy. I ended up playing that fishing game for like 30 hours and I never got bored or irritated with the campaign. Whereas just thinking about watching that movie makes me cringe. Why am I so lenient with one piece of entertainment and not another? And it’s not just me. We’re all like this in our own way. How many people who love Kingdom Hearts, and all its convoluted nonsense, also hated The Last of Us Part II, because of details about the story? How many people love God of War (2018), but think Marvel movie plots are dumb?
Ace Angler is a Japanese fishing game for the Nintendo Switch. Army of the Dead is an American film written and directed by a Caucasian American for Netflix. Does the writer matter? Does the medium matter? I don’t know. I’m asking the questions with an honest desire to find answers. Am I more lenient with Japanese writers in animated mediums, because of expectations built up by years of watching nonsensical anime plots like Naruto, Sailor Moon, and One Piece? Do I hold Zack Snyder to a higher standard, because of movies like 300 and Watchmen? Do I hold live action American movies to a higher standard, because of movies like The Shawshank Redemption, Inception, and Do the Right Thing? Do I hold games to a lower standard because of the mountains of shovelware that exist in the medium or even the complete disregard so many popular big budget games have for storytelling these days? Why do we as consumers of entertainment have a bias for stories told in one medium and against stories told in another? Why do we give slack to certain writers when it comes to realism and examine others under a microscope of criticism?
Consider that James Gunn wrote both Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Lollipop Chainsaw. Now it might surprise you to hear that Gunn wrote that video game, but not because of the story. You’re just surprised to hear he wrote a video game. The plot of that game, as ridiculous as it is, in no way irritates you upon hearing that it was written by James Gunn. Because it fits within your expectations of James Gunn’s storytelling conventions and the medium of video games. But if instead Lollipop Chainsaw was a movie written by Martin Scorsese, you’d probably lose your shit. That movie would get panned harder than the theatrical cut of Justice League (2017). But is that fair?
Is it fair that Martin Scorsese can’t write a zombie story about a cheerleader who carries around the reanimated head of her decapitated boyfriend? Is it fair that developers get attacked for trying to address real world political issues in their games? Not at all. Yet I do it too, knowing full well that it’s unfair. If Zack Snyder made a movie about a fisherman going to space to save the world, I’d probably spit out my drink just hearing the pitch. Yet Ace Angler is the most entertaining fishing game story I’ve probably ever played. I don’t really have a solid conclusion here. All I know is this is an issue of some sort that we aren’t really doing anything to solve. But even knowing that I’m still not motivated to take the time to watch Army of the Dead.