Management: This essay is meant to be less of a review and more of analysis of the show being examined. It contains plot spoilers for the Re:Zero anime.
So there’s a number of games floating out there that market themselves on their permadeath mechanics or ironman modes. A member of your team or party dies, you make a misjudgment that locks you into an end you didn’t want, or something otherwise unfortunate happens during your run. If he/she doesn’t want to start a new game, all the player can do in response is suck it up and plow forward. The appeal of these punishing features is a sense of engagement, a sense of challenge that’s absent in a system that would allow you to re-do a serious mistake. If death gives life meaning, then its threat despite your best efforts at the time makes the lives of protagonists and friendly NPCs that much more precious, when combined with a narrative that makes them likeable, relatable. Of course, permadeath mechanics and ironman modes aren’t appealing to everyone. Not everyone sits down to play a game so they can get stressed from harsh challenges. Some of them want to relax. Some of them want to feel heroic.
My excuse was story. I’m not going to make a game unnecessarily hard on myself, I says. It’ll get in the way of me enjoying the narrative, I says. There are those games though, like Dark Souls, where the difficulty of the challenge and the appreciation of the story is intended to be inseparable from each other. Every normal playthrough of Dark Souls functions as an ironman-style run, and in the process of dying and reviving over and over during one of them, I began to scrutinize why I played like a save scummer. I would characterize myself as one. I often returned back to moments in games just before I made what I perceived to be a grave error. Thing was, though, the mistakes I made in Dark Souls never ended with a “Game Over” screen. The game would acknowledge where you perceived that you failed, resurrect you somewhere, and carry on — with all the consequences your failure would realistically entail. I wasn’t so much being locked out of the game’s narrative as I was stumbling into a new narrative branch, one where, for example, I did let someone die. Out of multiple narrative possibilities, that possibility became my narrative. Those kinds of narratives always troubled me though, and as I sought to reset the run, it occurred to me that, like Re:Zero’s Subaru Natsuki, I also tend to roleplay.