Welcome to this week’s article of The Good, Bad, and What The? where we took a good, long look at characters in movies, video games, anime, and books and put them on the judgement table to see if they are worthy to be in their respective stories. I strongly believe well developed characters are more important than anything else in a good story, so I always judge them hard. At the end of every character’s evaluation I will give them one of four ratings: Good for those characters that are developed and deserve their place in the story, Bad for those characters that have no place being made or interacting with anyone else in the story, What The for the characters I just couldn’t figure out, and the characters who make you wonder what the author was thinking in creating them will get the rating of Sack of Potatoes. Today on the judgement table: The Reapers from the “Mass Effect” series.
(Spoiler Heavy Article)
Although the Reapers are a race instead of one single character, they are almost all equal, and you can’t really separate one Reaper from the other. So we’ll be looking at them from a broader perspective, as if they were one massive character. If you look at The Collectors in “Mass Effect 2”, it’s the same kind of idea. Moving on to the quick summary!
The story of the “Mass Effect” series is fairly complex, but it comes down to a few quick points. A race of sentient, all powerful machines called The Reaper have appeared to wipe out all lifeforms in the galaxy. They’re almost like robot gods, and to them, it’s judgement day. The main character, Shepard , has to find a way to defeat them and stop the cycle. This is where we will start the analysis: the cycle.
The Reaper are living machines that were created or built (no one knows how) ages ago. I’m talking trillions of years ago. The Reaper are these great watchers. They having been observing life as it advances since their creation, but after a certain amount of time organic life has become too powerful. The Reapers come to the decision to roll in to harvest, destroy, and devour all life in the galaxy. They find out they like this system, and as such they leave fragments of their advanced technology in space. This makes it so that every time new organic life shows up, it will grow and become powerful again, and then The Reapers can harvest again. This cycle goes on every 50,000 years, after that 50,000 years The Reapers come in for good old harvest dinner. “Mass Effect” takes place 50,000 years after the destruction of the last organic life, the Protheans, which means it’s Reaper time! The idea of having these great machines devise a plan to meet their desire and control the simple organic life that is below them is pretty cool. The Reapers are a genuinely terrifying concept and are unbelievably powerful. This power, however, is the major flaw in their design as a video game villain. They are too powerful to the point where it’s an issue, I call this the Superman Effect.
Many of the greatest and most loved video game villains are often humans or other mortals creatures with motives that are evil but also make the player think a bit. These villains, however, can be beaten with the power the hero has. The Reaper are not like this. The Reaper are on the level of gods and their motives can’t be debated or thought about, they are one sided and clearly evil. So how do you give a hero the chance to beat gods? Well, you have to come up with a contrived means of victory, and when you think about it, it seems silly. I call this the Superman Effect because Superman is so powerful, the only way villains could have a chance against him is to hold up a green rock. Ridiculous, right? The Reaper don’t really have a weakness, but then the races of “Mass Effect” find The Crucible. The Crucible is this super weapon that the humans just so happen to discover because the Protheans were making it before they died. It seems awfully lucky and…contrived. Why does it just so happen that the Protheans found a way to beat The Reapers but died before they got the chance? Because video game logic. The Reaper are beings that can travel space and level cities with a few laser beam shots from their bodies. Humanity or any other race have absolutely no chance against this power, so of course they have to get really lucky and find that one convenient weapon of victory. So really, it comes down to the fact that The Reaper are just too powerful and unstoppable.
They do have another problem, however. The Reaper are not relatable villains.
When a villain or hero is relatable, you can understand their hardships or where they are coming from, their motives make sense. Sometimes with really good villains, you could find yourself agreeing with some of their evil plans. The Reaper are evil gods and no person can relate to the mentality of “We are all powerful and will do as we wish with you silly organics.” No one actually knows what that feels like because no one is a machine god. If you are an all powerful machine god, please e-mail me and let me know how you feel about The Reapers. Jokes aside, I do think that if The Reapers were closer to a mortal kind of race, or maybe even if you just knew a bit more about their Origin (bonus points to whoever laughs at the EA pun), they would be a bit better as villains. Saren in the first “Mass Effect” game was a better villain, because although he was under Reaper control he could at least be battled and defeated.
My verdict for The Reapers? Bad. I don’t think having villains that are all powerful beings is really a good idea in most situations, unless your hero is just as powerful. The Superman Effect is why so many people became angry at the ending of “Mass Effect 3”. The only way to win was with silly contrivance. On top of the idea of fighting gods, having villains that no can relate with in anyway is a very difficult sell. I would like to say, however, that the “Mass Effect” game series is a very good series with a nice story, even though I feel the villains could have been better.
What do you think? If you’ve played “Mass Effect“, leave a comment below telling me what you think. If you haven’t, try it out for yourself and see!