Medievil gets, um, Medieval on Your Behind!

Some genres mix well with each other despite the fact that they almost shouldn’t. One such mix, which may well be the chocolate and peanut butter of genre crossovers, is comedy and horror. If I had to guess at why, it’s probably because the two genres speak to some of our strongest emotions, i.e. humor and fear. Obviously, it doesn’t always work well (I’m looking at YOU, Scream movies after the first one!), and there are a lot of possible ways to mix them that wouldn’t work, such as taking a normally light-hearted humor scenario and incorporating it with horribly brutal violence, but sometimes adding a touch of humor to a normally scary or bizarre situation can heighten the mood.

Case in point is Medievil, one of my favorite video games. Medievil is the story of Sir Daniel Fortesque, a braggart and storyteller who manages to convince his king that he is in fact a great hero. However, when an army of evil led by the wizard Zarok attacks the land of Gallowmere, Dan is thusly called upon to lead the forces of good against them. Dan is slain with an arrow to the eye in the first charge, but despite this, his army wins the day and he is remembered as a hero. A century after Dan’s death, Zarok returns to Gallowmere, cursing the land’s people into a coma and raising the dead to do his bidding. In the midst of this, Sir Daniel returns to life, and finds himself the only hope of stopping Zarok from ruling the land forever.

As far as the gameplay, Medievil is something of a mix of action and platforming, but the game is far from typical. For one thing, the world of Gallowmere is extremely rich and diverse. No two stages look or feel alike, and there are no two stages where the player is doing the same thing. Some stages you may have to simply wade through hordes of the undead, while in later stages you must hunt down particular foes or items, or save townspeople from being eaten by demons, or ultimately wage massive battles against unstoppable hordes of evil. The stages range from a massive graveyard, to a haunted pumpkin patch, to an ancient battlefield, to a twisting hedge maze, to an ancient castle. There’s also one where you’re shrunk down to insect size and forced to fight evil ants! It’s clear that the creators put a lot of work into each and every stage, and they’re all fun to play through for different reasons. I find this to be oddly rare in video games, where so often players are forced to go through identical trials with slightly modified difficulty to gain another Skinner Box reward.

Daniel Fortesque is also not a typical hero. He isn’t ruggedly handsome or possessed of charm and wit. He’s a skeleton in armor, missing an eye and his jaw.  In fact, when Dan speaks in game, he mumbles and grunts, and is translated by subtitles. Daniel also gets no respect from anyone, and to be honest it’s rightly so. Every villain and talking gargoyle he passes in the stages mocks him, and for the most part there isn’t much he can do about it. Between stages, Dan visits the Hall of Heroes, a place in the afterlife where the heroic dead rest, and he must curry their favor to gain their powers and weapons. Of course, most of them don’t come around easily, and lambast him for his unheroic past. However, Dan’s journey in the game is one where he goes from being a coward perceived as a hero to being perceived as a coward while earning the right to be called a hero. Part of that is taking his lumps for his past, which he does with some resignation.

The voice acting is a lot of fun to listen to, and every character, from the lowliest wall gargoyle to the statues in the Hall of Heroes to Daniel and Zarok themselves, has a lot of personality and manage to keep players laughing.

The game is available for PS1, and now a slightly updated and modernized version is available on PSP. There is also a sequel, which is still enjoyable, but lacks the punch of the first game. If you’re looking for a classic game full of variety, humor, atmosphere, challenge, and fun, you simply can’t pass Medievil up!