I Had An Overthought: The Minimalist Character Development of Samus Aran.

I’m a fan of Metroid. Been that way since Metroid Fusion. I’ve love everything about it. I can wax poetic all day about the atmosphere, the scenes of loneliness, the thrill of exploration, game play, but what I appreciate the most is the story telling. It’s not a lot, especially in the earlier games… but it’s there. In film, when you are telling a story, it is said that it’s better to “Show, don’t tell” in your story telling. It’s better to exemplify your point in the story you’re trying to tell, then it is to exposit it. Metroid is (most of the time) a master class in show, don’t tell. While there is a story that is told, where there are words and cut scenes telling us bits of information, occasionally, there are dead bodies in a room right before a boss, showing the stakes. Or there are ruins telling you the history of a certain race, or culture. Environmental cues like plant life, or scorch marks. Body language telling you the state or emotions of a character, and so on. The Metroid games know how important pace is in a game, and know that dialogue only slow things down, so they must improvise, and find out other ways to tell a story, so it’s all in environment. But there’s something missing for me, something I feel is important in a story, and that’s character.

So I went into a rabbit hole of thought the other day, because I’ve read a bunch of information about Metroid. About Samus, and the Chozo in particular, and I realized that, I don’t actually know that much about Samus Aran. I decided to do a bunch of research on Samus, and her history, and how she became the galaxy’s greatest bounty hunter. Because as great as the “Show, Don’t Tell” story telling is, there’s not much about Samus as a character. She is left as a very blank state to put yourself into. In my research, I found was a great trove of information based on manga, based on information that I missed in the game, and interviews with creators, and lore from Metroid Prime scan logs, and now I’m overloaded with lore, but still not a lot of info of Samus as a character. I love Samus as a character, she’s very important in the history of Nintendo, and video games in general, but she doesn’t have a lot of characterization.

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Nothing to see here, just a bad ass, doing bad ass things. (Picture Source: Nintendo/Giant Bomb)

In the first three games, I can recount the characterizations of Samus as follows. “Metroid 1” she does her job on her adoptive home planet, finds history on her adoptive races past, and loses all her powers, and bad asses her way to surviving anyway (info with additions from Zero Mission). “Metroid 2” she does her job, and genocides an alien species except a baby, which she saves and gives to scientists for “Metroid 3”.

“Metroid 3” or “Super Metroid” has a lot more characterization. Immediately, when the baby gets kidnapped by Ridley, Samus is all like “Not on my watch!” and jumps into action where she tries to save the baby, fails, almost gets blown up, and tries again! In trying again, explores her adoptive planet even deeper, and the planet actually seems to want to help her this time against the Space Pirates. So head strong in the fact that she wants to save this baby, and stop these damn space pirates that she just annihilates them all, kills Mother Brain (again), kills Ridley (again, again), and causes an explosion of a planet. We also see moments of weakness, determination, and heroism. We even weirdly see a whole lot of characterization of a space jellyfish. We see it born, and imprinting Samus as it’s mother. We see it scared in the fact that it’s getting kidnapped. We see it confused, and attack Samus, it’s mother figure, and then sorry in the fact that it realizes that it attacked Samus. And then it saves Samus’s life when she’s moments from death. That’s a full-on character arc! I know more about this Baby Metroid, than I do about Samus based on the first 3 video games. I understand this little Space Jelly Fish, but I don’t know much about Samus.

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I’m really just writing this to have an excuse to show action shots of Samus, cause I love it so much. (Picture Source: Nintendo)

Another thing about Samus, is that I didn’t actually understand why she saves this baby. She’s been told that and has experienced first hand how dangerous these Metroid’s are, but she saves this baby. It’s not like she hasn’t killed Metroid babies before. In the rooms in “Metroid 2” before we get to the Queen Metroid, it’s just a slaughter of Young Dangerous Space Jellyfish. So the Metroid that just hatched should have been just another one, but it’s spared, and saved. Why? Could it be that Samus saw the way it acted, and saved it because she could tell that it thought she was its mother, and therefore maternal instincts immediately kick in? Maybe. I think it’s something else.

I looked into Samus’s past, from the manga, and additional lore, and to me, it explains everything. This is a woman that has lived through many tragedies, but there are two that come to mind. When she was a child, space pterodactyl Ridley and the Space Pirates attacked her colony, and kills everyone, including her mom and dad (right in front of her). The Chozo (space birds) rescue Samus, and adopt her, and teach her their old ways. While an exploratory, and scientific tribe, the Chozo still know how to defend their own, and this is how Samus is as good as she is at bounty hunting. After a certain time, its implied that Samus grows up, and decides to enlist in the Galactic Federation, and the Chozo are like “You do you, Sam!” and they go on about their business to do scientific endeavors on the planest SR-388. The Chozo go off to create the Metroid, and the A.I. Mother Brain to control them, for peaceful reasons. It’s implied that things went wrong, and the A.I. went haywire, and got the Metroid to kill the Chozo, and therefore got the Chozo to start a bit of a civil war, and other things happened that aren’t really explained yet, but hopefully will soon, but the result is the death of all Chozo. The Space Pirates and Mother Brain team up to bring havoc to the universe.

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The Jurassic World hybrids have finally gone to far! (Picture Source: Nintendo)

Hearing this, you would assume Samus would be super angry. Not only is her actual family dead, but her adopted family (who seem very hush hush about their science projects by the way) are also dead because of these new threats, this intrusive species that came out of nowhere, and they joined forces with the Space Pirates that killed her family. Now after leaving the Galactic Federation, they then hire her, as a bounty hunter, to stop the Space Pirate threat in Zebes, and she’s all like “Hell yes I will!” She discovers the Metroid threat, and destroys them, and Mother Brain, and the Space Pirates, and blows up the station on the planet, and gets away. Other than getting paid, it must have felt somewhat cathartic to her, being able to take vengeance on these things that have changed her life, these monsters. So much so that when the Galactic Federation asks her to investigate the disappearance of a team they sent to SR-388, while at the same time, taking out the rest of the Metroid threat, she’s like “I’m super ok with this!” So, she takes out all the Metroid, one by one, with maximum effectiveness, right up until the queen. So, knowing her past, why on SR-388 would she spare this signaler Baby Metroid? I think it’s obvious now.

She has become the monster.

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Um… Whoops… (Picture Source: Nintendo)

You can’t see her face when she meets the Baby in Metroid 2, in either the original game, nor the remake, but in the remake, she stops, and in my head, she kind of realizes what she’s done. She feels bad for the Metroid, but more than that, she’s confused. She realized that, while they are an apex predator in this ecosystem, they are still just an animal, and we even found out in “Metroid Fusion” that they helped balance the ecosystem of this planet from the X-Parasite. The reason they became a villain of the series was because of Mother Brain, but she’s (at that time) dead. Now they’re just animals, and Samus has made them an endangered species. Samus has lived through two genocides and has now created one of her own. I don’t know if Samus wanted to take the Metroid, or if the Metroid just tagged along with her because, well, new mom, but either way, you got to assume that there’s a lot of conflict going on in her mind. When the remake added Ridley, and had the baby help her take him down, that probably added to the conflict within her even more. Is it now her kid? A pet? Does she owe him something because she killed its race? Would it be more merciful to kill it? It’s super heavy. Another aspect to go into is the fact that she gives it to scientists. Did she decide that it would be better with them, or was it taken from her?

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Samus in her Sunday best. (Picture Source: Nintendo)

This is the beauty of minimalist story telling, if you’re creative enough, you can come up with a more interesting story than what might have been initially intended. That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for cutscene story telling (Metal Gear is one of my favorite series as well), and even in Metroid, I think there is totally a place for Samus to speak (“Other M” not withstanding), but there’s something beautiful about laying some breadcrumbs for someone’s psyche, and letting you figure out for yourself. Do I think that what I wrote is what was planned? I doubt it. There are still many holes in the history of Samus, the Chozo, and even the Galactic Federation, but I like to think that Samus is someone that driven by emotions (“Other M” not withstanding), and informed by her past, and her saving the last Metroid is out of guilt, and not necessarily out of some maternal instinct. When “Super Metroid” opens with the line “The Last Metroid is in Captivity. The Galaxy is at Peace,” I feel like the Metroid wasn’t the threat of the galaxy, but Samus’s rage. I feel like she’s aware of her rage now. I feel like if it wasn’t for these events, she wouldn’t have done the selfless thing in “Metroid Fusion” and defied the Galactic Federations orders at the cost of her life, and freedom (I got to assume she’s a wanted criminal after Fusion). I can keep going about how the Galactic Federation became the bad guys after the Prime series (which all take place between Metroid 1 and 2), or how the Chozo are like the Vulcan’s of this universe, but we’ve talked enough by now.

This is why “Other M” felt wrong. Again, cutscenes aren’t the problem, but it’s what she does. She’s a character of agency, but in “Other M”, she has very little. At least in Fusion, the information feels like it’s to help you with your mission, and slowly realizing that there’s something more going on than what’s initially thought, where as in “Other M” you’re being told what to do in every step, and it feels off. I don’t think “Other M” is a bad game, and I hope they experiment with story like that again, but it’s weird when a game like that doesn’t understand the appeal of it’s own character.

So, yea, I really like the Metroid series.

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Author: Devin Melnyk

I'm still trying to figure out how the internet works.

2 thoughts

  1. I don’t think giving Samus a voice in Other M was an inherently bad idea, but that was the absolute worst characterization they could’ve saddled her with. Indeed, I would agree her character was far more intriguing when she never uttered a word than when the writing staff gave her paragraphs of inane dialogue – actions speak louder than words after all.

    1. I agree. It’s not that Samus talked, it’s the way her character was presented.

      It’s not like Samus never talked (both in Super Metroid and Fusion), she just never had a voice. She should talk in Metroid Prime 4, she just needs to feel like the character we all know and love.

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