Saturday, January 23, 2016

Dimentio, Charming Magician (Super Paper Mario SPOILERS)

Nintendo's beloved Mario franchise is appreciated for its complete focus on gameplay, perhaps at the cost of having a compelling narrative. But the Mario RPG series is an exception to this rule; after all, with slower strategic gameplay, a greater focus on narrative was a welcome change of pace as well.

Both the Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario series have a great focus on their characters - it is a role playing game, after all - but their villains are still generally pretty cut-and-dried. Bowser, Grodus, Cackletta, Antasma; they're all your basic villains who want to kidnap the princess or take over the world. So imagine my surprise when a more action-oriented Paper Mario spin-off offered us the best villains a Mario game had yet seen.

Yes indeed, meet the somewhat controversial 'Super Paper Mario,' a project with a troubled development cycle on the GameCube that eventually found its way onto the Nintendo Wii in 2007.

Something that's truly unique about Super Paper Mario's cast of baddies is their distinct personalities, and the fact that none of them are truly evil. Count Bleck, their leader, seems to be the most clich├ęd of the bunch; in a variation of the usual world domination plan, Count Bleck plans to destroy the world instead. But throughout the story, you realize more and more that he is a victim of circumstances.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let's talk about Count Bleck's minions for a moment. I'll keep each character's description brief, but you could really write a piece about each of them:

First off, there's Nastasia. She's a no-nonsense secretary with mind control powers. She's organized and intelligent, but doesn't perform too well under duress and is likely to blame herself for failures of the team.
Then, there's O'Chunks; comes across as your average dumb muscle, but is actually an ex-army commander who lost a war. He and acts foolish and blindly loyal to the Count out of a desire to forget and out of gratitude for the Count giving him a new purpose.
Next is Mimi, a shapeshifter with a sense of humour. She's a trickster by nature, but lives off the approval of the Count. But when he isn't around, she isn't afraid to ignore his prior orders. She even goes so far as to say she's "meaner" than the Count, which could be a clue the Count isn't all he seems to be.
There's also the 'Mysterious Mr. L,' who is Luigi.
And last, and now we're getting to the heart of it, there's Dimentio.

On the surface, Dimentio is easily the most unique and charming of the bunch. He's quite verbose and loves to speak in nonsensical similes. Because he also literally has the appearance of a jester, it's not hard to imagine that players will start out by seeing him as the comic relief.

But as the story progresses, it becomes increasingly clear he's a lot more intelligent than the other minions. Moreso than opposing the heroes or helping the villains, he seems to be leveling the playing field. Early in the game, he reunites Mario and Princess Peach to improve their chances, and the times he challenges the heroes seem to be little more than tests to see how strong they are. He also likes to question the Count to test his resolve, and he manipulates his fellow minions to ignore the Count's orders. So, why is Dimentio working against his boss? Well, there are many reasons, but for starters: Because he feels the Count has betrayed him.

Count Bleck's plan, he claims, is to destroy the universe and replace it with a new, perfect world bereft of suffering. But he actually intends to destroy everything, including his own world and himself - for reasons I'll explore in a future post, most likely. Dimentio has caught onto this, and has thus decided to put his own plan in motion. 

So, he's a minion with an agenda; an interesting trope, certainly, but what makes it truly special? Well, a big part of it is that you really have no idea what to make of him. He's clearly not on Count Bleck's side or yours, so what does he want out of all this? By the end of Chapter 6, most people will probably believe he's on their side - after all, he's been a big help to the heroes and a big hindrance to the villains. He never seemed serious about the world-destroying agenda to begin with. But then a scene occurs that casts a shadow of doubt on his fun-loving personality. When the opportunity arises, he traps and kills "Mr. L," with some pretty creepy dialogue for good measure. Granted, he ends up in a cartoony underworld that you can get him back from, but there's still quite a weight to this scene.

This scene is especially poignant because, while it is still to the benefit of the heroes, Dimentio's methods and attitude aren't remotely like what you'd expect from a Mario character. But extreme methods or not, it's all to the heroes' benefit in the end. But it gets "better" - Dimentio then goes so far as to kill the heroes as well. They need to go to the underworld to acquire one of the game's MacGuffins, so it's necessary for them to go there, but again Dimentio demonstrates his extreme methods and bizarre attitude.

So, between his extreme methods and almost psychopathic attitude, what's he really after? Well, when you finally face him in Castle Bleck, in the second-to-last episode of the chapter, he reveals his hand. 

Dimentio reveals to the heroes that he's been their guardian angel and guide for much of the adventure, and asks you to help him destroy the Count. So, is that all there is then? Dimentio was actually on your side all along? Something about the entire situation seems off, especially when keeping Dimentio's attitude in mind. Further, you're not out to destroy the Count; you just want to stop him from destroying the world, no more and no less. So, a wise player will refuse his offer, to which he responds quite bluntly, dropping all of his similes and humour.

For the record, if the player does accept Dimentio's offer, he will brainwash Mario & Luigi to fight for him, leading to an alternate game over that is as amusingly written as it is disturbing; Dimentio was never really on the side of the heroes; he simply needed them as tools to overthrow the - from his perspective - treacherous Count. 

What follows is a battle between Luigi and Dimentio, ending with Dimentio seemingly killing both himself and Luigi after he realizes he cannot win the battle. But of course, that, too is another scheme. When Mario and friends finally arrive at Count Bleck and defeat him, to stop the world from being destroyed, Dimentio quickly swoops in - more crazed than before - and he's now determined to destroy the world and replace it with his own vision of a perfect world. You end up fighting a monstrous combination of him, Luigi and the Chaos Heart (the evil artifact used to destroy the world) as the final boss. Of course, Mario and friends end up defeating him, but Dimentio was a truly smart, well prepared and unpredictable villain.

So! There you have it. Intelligent, charming, scheming and completely psychopathic - that's why Dimentio is one of the greatest villains in the Mario franchise. I've only really scratched the surface here, as there are many theories about Dimentio; for example, background information reveals he might have planned even further ahead than the events of the game; it's implied he is the writer of the Dark Prognosticus, the book Count Bleck uses to summon the Chaos Heart. Though Paper Mario games have since abandoned darker villains and storylines, many fans are still hoping for a return of Dimentio, or at the least more information about this enigmatic psychopathic jester. 

Either way, I'm rambling at this point.

Who are your favorite villains and why? Post a comment if you want! 

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