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Exploring the thematic of light vs. dark in video games

FFIV artwork courtesy of Square Enix
Light vs. Darkness has been explored concepts for many years in fantasy. In video game storytelling "good vs. evil" is an all-too common concept. However, some games explore the natures of Light and Darkness in a bit more depth. We want to talk about the games that discuss it and emphasize on the importance of both.

Note that this is not necessarily a "Good vs. Evil" dichotomy. Some of the examples below undoubtedly take cues from Star Wars description of the Force. Even Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic featured a choice to align with the Jedi or the Sith. While this will only lightly touch on such concepts of good and evil, you'll see more themes related to Light and Darkness as elements instead of alignments.

Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep image courtesy of Square Enix
In the Kingdom Hearts series, the entire thematic revolves around Light and Darkness. Light favors those with Hearts who wield the Keyblade. Darkness obscures that light and lives in its shadow. It's favored by beings such as the Heartless and the Nobodies.

Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep features Eraqus, the Keyblade Master. He chooses Aqua to be the next Master. Eraqus' longtime friend, Xehanort, believes Terra is worthy to be Keyblade Master. Xehanort embraces darkness while Eraqus embraces light. It is because of Terra's inability to tame his darkness that Eraqus decides Terra is not ready.

Later in the game, Terra confronts Eraqus about the truth of light and darkness. Eraqus, attempting to protect Terra from the truth, engages him in battle. His dogmatic ways become apparent after Terra defeats him. As Eraqus utters his last words, he falls from a blow by Xehanort.

"There is darkness in my own heart!" - Eraqus

Interesting fact: Mark Hamill, the actor who portrayed Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars movies, voices Eraqus in Kingdom Hearts.

In Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, Riku, who was once chosen by the darkness, attempted to cast it aside. In Riku's story ending, the mysterious being, DiZ, offers him the choice to walk the path of light or the path of darkness. Riku chooses a third - his own path. Only later, however, does he fight Roxas, Sora's Nobody, and lose. Once he chooses to embrace the darkness, he's able to defeat Roxas. In the end, light and darkness can only co-exist with each other. But this continues to be a struggle through the series' latest game, Kingdom Hearts III.

Image courtesy of Sega, edited by The Geek Getaway
While some games follow a largely storyline approach, others incorporate it into gameplay. One example would be Sega's Strategy/RPG (SRPG), Shining Force. While "light vs. darkness" isn't wholly explored, two weapons feature these elements: the Sword of Light and the Sword of Darkness. Later in the game, before you confront the final boss, you use the two weapons to release the Chaos Breaker. This formidable weapon brought forth Light and Darkness together, as one, to create the ultimate sword. Without exploring the concepts, it simply took the best of both and merged them into a singular power.

Similarly, take Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. On the planet, Aether, Samus must travel between its Light World and the Dark World. The Dark World presents itself with a chaotic and toxic wasteland. During her travels, Samus obtains the Light Beam and the Dark Beam. The Light Beam uses heat blasts while the Dark Beam is slower and freeze enemies. They're literally built off of the previous game's Plasma Beam and Ice Beam, only reskinned with new names.

Your final beam weapon, however, brings something new to the table; the Annihilator Beam is a fusion of Light and Darkness. The Annihilator Beam speaks volumes with its name alone. While you could choose any number of names to represent this fusion, you may never get something that hits as hard as "Annihilator" Beam.

While on the subject of Nintendo franchises, Pokemon introduced Dark types beginning in Gen II. However, there was no "Light" type to oppose it. This would change in Pokemon X/Y, the Gen VI titles released for 3DS. Featuring the new "Fairy" type Pokemon, their abilities served as a weakness to Dark-type Pokemon while resisting Dark attacks as well. Fairy types were also noteworthy due to their complete domination against Dragon-type Pokemon. Fairy-types took no damage from Dragon-type attacks and could heavily damage dragons as well.

The Final Fantasy series also explores Light and Darkness. One character in particular, Cecil Harvey from Final Fantasy IV, has used both. In the game's beginning, he's a Dark Knight. This allows him to channel dark energy while sacrificing his HP. As he repeatedly confronts his own feelings, he eventually realizes the only way to defeat his enemy, Golbez, is to turn to the light and become a Paladin (Holy Knight).  Note that both Paladin and Dark Knight appeared in later Final Fantasy titles as well.

In Dissidia: Final Fantasy, the spin-off arena fighting game, Cecil is a playable character. In this game, he can assume either his Dark Knight or Paladin form. In doing so, his moveset changes considerably. As he is able to switch between the two at will, he's a rare example of someone who can channel both without favoring one or the other.

Dragon Quest XI image courtesy of Square Enix
Finally, my last example comes from Dragon Quest. The thematic has always revolved around a Hero of Light eliminating the darkness. Specifically, Dragon Quest XI, the most recent release of the series, vastly touched upon this theme. The Hero, born with a crest on his hand, was dubbed the Luminary, who would save the world from cataclysm. King Carnelian of Heliodor, however, accuses him of being the Darkspawn and sentences him to death.

As you progress through the game, you'll learn more about the Hero's origins, the King's motives, and how you'll defeat the darkness in the end. Your quest involves obtaining the Sword of Light to strike down the antagonist. But perhaps even more striking is that it has a counterpart weapon that you'll discover at the end of the second act. Not only can you use it as a powerful weapon, but it even plays an integral part of the story. Despite seeming to fall on typical "light vs. darkness" cliches at first, Dragon Quest XI tells a clever, well-woven story that isn't afraid to lean towards the darkness.

I love the Light and Darkness aspect of games. I love how some have four elementals (Fire, Earth, Wind, Water) and will then use elements of Light and Darkness, such as in the PS2 JRPG Shadow Hearts. It's fun when a game isn't afraid to embrace darkness as part of a protagonist's weaponry or even their need to survive. It breaks a standard cliche that we've seen in fantasy where only light is favored without its counterpart being a force for the heroes to wield.

Do you prefer light, darkness, or do you fall into the gray area? Let us know in the comments below!