Have you finished Transistor, SuperGiant Games' lovely new Sci-Fi ARPG? If so, come join me out in The Country and talk shop about the secrets of Red, Cloudbank and more! (Warning: There will be major spoilers beyond the cut.)
So I finished last night after about 6 hours, and I have to say I absolutely loved the game. It's got a gorgeous aesthetic (it's so very Bastion, but a clear evolution of the team's work on that game) with some jaw dropping art, great combat opportunities and intricacy with the way you can meddle and change your Functions by combining them with others, a sublime soundtrack (more on that later!), and a great, touching little story and world that is told with subtlety and intelligence. And it's that that I like the most about it, that a lot of the goings on are up to the player to interpret - so I thought I'd expound on a few of my own thoughts and interpretations.
Okay, I cried. You should expect this sappiness from me at this point, honestly. But god, what a bittersweet and lovely finalé.
Red's decision to lay down by her Lover's body and use the Transistor - and by extension, The Lover himself, considering his soul embodied the sword at this point - to kill herself and be with him, rather than attempt to use its new powers to rebuild Cloudbank was really touching. Despite the sense of inevitability that it wouldn't end well throughout (like Red locking herself out of her Apartment, or the steady reminders from Royce near the end that no matter what she did, she could never reunite The Lover's essence with his body), there's still this undercurrent of hope that you can change that fate, culminating in that fleeting moment right at the end when you get to see Red rebuild the Bridge back to Fairview, and recover The Lover's body from The Process, that she can use The Transistor's new powers to save everything. It makes that sudden twist of the knife that she would instead choose to end her life and be absorbed by The Transistor to be with The Lover, rather than live in an unprocessed Cloudbank without him, all the more gutwrenching.
That, and I really like that Red used the Flourish to manipulate and cast out the Transistor, and bring it back to stab herself. I'd been tapping R1 throughout the game to do the Flourish animation because it looked so cool, seeing it used right at the very end without my control (and in a totally different manner) was another great touch.
Like, holy shit, the soundtrack is amazing! It's great just as a collection of music, but I loved how it was integrated into the actual storytelling as well.
There's We All Become, the excellent reveal trailer track that ends up being the song Red sings the night the Camerata come to absorb her into The Transistor - and actually full of subtext and foreshadowing of the game's plot, especially the second verse in relation to Red's final decision (Stabbing pain for the feeling/Now your wound's never healing/'Til you mumble, "Is it bad?"). The symbolism doesn't stop there - virtually every lyrical song in the game has something to offer as you slot together bits of the story. Take _n C_rcl_s, the 'Breached' version of In Circles that plays during the boss fight with Sybil:
The brilliance of it all is that as the fight progresses and the Processed version of Sybil Reisz gets even more insane and broken, the game actually slips from the original version of the song, which has Red echoing the refrain of 'But I won't save you' in its chorus - it's twisted and mutated by The Process, by Sybil herself, she takes over the refrain from Red, but it's changed. Sybil's telling Red that she'll save her. Even in her dying, pitiful state, Sybil still thinks she can 'save' Red, take her soul into The Transistor like all the others she lured for the Camerata. It says so much about their past and their relationship that's covered in Sybil's backstory (more on that later, too!). Given the importance of music's place in the story, it's such a clever mechanic to expound on the storytelling through it too.
Finally there's the excellent credits song, Paper Boats, which is sweet and heartbreaking all on its own, but I just wanted to point out the beautiful touch of bringing a male backing track that steadily becomes more prominent behind Ashley Barrett's gorgeous voice with every chorus. Transistor is the story of a Body without a Voice, and a Voice without a Body - and at the very end, the two become one through song.
Oh, as well! DEDICATED HUM BUTTON! Now I want every video game to come with a hum button for the main character. I also really liked that outside of pressing that button, Red would hum when she was planning her attacks in Turn() - the symbolism of her voice being her power, and that whilst it's out of reach, it's ever so slightly there when she slips into planning, when she's fighting with the power of The Transistor and her Lover.
Watch out, rest of the year: Transistor is definitely going to be the Soundtrack to beat.
Is Cloudbank Real?
In the last hour or so of the game, Transistor gets a little existential. But the location of the final Boss fight with Royce throws everything wide open - is Cloudbank, are its citizens, actually real? The environment you're taken to when The Transistor is put in the Cradle looks like The Country, what with the barn and all the wheat shafts. Royce tells Red it's outside of Cloudbank - only one of them can go back to it - but to the people of Cloudbank and to the player, the term 'going to the Country' is synonymous with death. The people's traces absorbed into The Transistor as your functions are all described by the press and in their backstories as having 'gone to the Country' as if it's a place outside of Cloudbank, but Red and by the extension of that, the player, know that they're actually dead, the traces of their souls absorbed into The Transistor by the Camerata. But then, when you go into Turn() to fight Royce, the metallic containers littered about the battlefield reveal something:
They're banks full of the traces, the souls, of the dead. Of Sybil, Grant and Asher, of the people inside the Transistor. They're being stored in these containers, out in The Country. But what does it mean? The Country is clearly a tangible place, as it's storing these banks and Royce and Red can physically go there. But it's radically different from Cloudbank - there's no Process, the world is static and can't be constantly changed as the bridges and highrises of the city can be. So what if The Country, what was supposedly some sort of afterlife, is actually reality instead? What if The Country is real, storing all these consciousnesses, and Cloudbank (hell, it's even in the name, a Cloud Bank) is just a digital existence that these consciousnesses can be uploaded to, given bodies and a 'perfect' world to play around in that can be changed to their every whim? What if 'going out to the country' wasn't actually dying, but reverting back to an original, digital form?
Something to think about.
Not really a plot point to consider, but I just wanted to say that I thought that, with having a cast of about 7 characters, having 3 of them be LGBT - or at least, their being implication of them being LGBT - and it not being a big thing as part of the plot was really cool.
There's Grant and Asher as the most obvious pairing - they share a last name but there's no reference in their relationship as it being through blood, in his messages to Red leading up to their joint-suicides Asher displays a deep concern for Grant's safety and wellbeing that implies a closeness beyond friendship, and eventually Asher's bio hints at it too ('[Grant] was much more to him than just a source at this point.'). But then I think there's also a case for Sybil being at least bi-curious - there's a lot implications in her bio that she becomes infatuated, even in love with Red during her profiling of her for the Camerata. When these feelings aren't reciprocated and Red grows away from Sybil, she flies into a rage - believing Red's Lover has turned Red against her, planning to strike at him to get back at Red (her bio states she lied to the Camerata saying Red would be alone, knowing she wouldn't be - and assumingly, knowing The Lover would be there and sacrifice himself to save Red). Even Sybil's final words as she's being absorbed into The Transistor - 'Finally finally finally we can be...' - seem to imply there was something more going on with her interest in Red.
And none of it actually matters! It's there for the player to interpret, to acknowledge, it's not a bullet point or anything that's shouted from the rooftops. There's just some gay people and their sexuality isn't central to their characters - and that alone is pretty neat and rare in gaming storytelling these days anyway.
So those are some of my long-winded, rambly thoughts on Transistor. Got anything you want to share? Put it in the comments below!