One of my favorite game experiences this year was the surprise of Hi-Fi Rush, a rhythm stylish action combat game that was as unexpectedly funny and charming as it was fun to play.
I say unexpectedly because, when I saw the first trailer for the game I did blurt, out loud to no one ‘Fuck off!’. The first line spoken in the trailer, right after the requisite pause and record scratch is “Yep, that’s me.” A trailer moment so cliche that it is constantly parodied. I was almost certain that this moment was a portent of awful things. Even if the game played well, the writing was sure to drive me away. I am glad to say that I was very wrong.
There is a sort of winking self awareness in some writing that rings completely false. A style of writing that lets you know that the writer considers the content and characters worthy of ridicule. The writer wants the audience to know that they are smarter than the material. Above it. Almost no one likes this style of writing.
Recently, this has led to a lot of internet chatter about Marvel and Star Wars movies and Whedonesque dialog. Now you can say what you want about Joss Whedon as a person, and his output as a writer, but a solid majority of the detractors are simply wrong. Quippy, snarky, irreverent dialog is not always bad dialog. If it’s true to the character and true to the moment, it’s not bad dialog. You might not like it, but hey there are lots of things you might not like, but nothing about that makes them objectively bad. Being snarky at the expense of the character or the reality of the moment might be.
Here’s the problem. There have been a lot of shows, movies, plays, games, comic books, and novels written that try to play with that light, irreverent style, but they do that at the expense of the truth of the characters. Hi-Fi Rush loves its characters and wants you to love them too.
The game’s main character, Chai, is an idiot, and the writers are very aware of this, but he never says or does anything just for the joke. Other characters comment on him being an idiot, but not for the joke. The spirit of the joke isn’t mean or opportunistic. It’s just true. And funny.
The dialog in Hi-Fi Rush is quippy, snarky, and irreverent, but never at the expense of the characters or the truth of the moment. The world of Hi-Fi Rush is goofy and light and fun, but when it needs to be honest or heartfelt there really is no tonal shift that takes place. Honesty is where the game always is. It’s goofy, but there is no indication that the writers think that the game is dumb or bad or lesser than. The writing is always fully honest and fully earnest. Because of that, it is also very funny.
Maybe someone thought it would be fun to start the trailer in that cliched way. Maybe they were so fully invested in the story that they didn’t realize that the trailer could be interpreted as punching down at the characters or story. Maybe different people wrote and created the trailer. Not an uncommon practice.
Hi-Fi Rush is very funny. But it’s also very earnest. It’s silly, but it’s heartfelt.
The internet at large might want claim to be over snarky, self aware writing, but I think what they are actually done with is dishonest writing. Writing that doesn’t take the world or characters seriously. Writing that doesn’t love its subject. After all, if the writers don’t love their characters, why should we.