A Leer Back: Metroid Fusion
A Leer Back: Metroid Fusion
This article contains spoilers, ye be warned.
An Identity Amalgam
Whenever the actual characterization of Samus Aran is brought up, it is joined by Metroid: Other M and the topics of sexism and feminism. The discussion quickly becomes messy and controversial, and soon all those involved can talk about is how horrible Team Ninja screwed up Samus’ character, that she’s either more human than her monologues in the game portray her or that she’s an empowering figure that shouldn’t be treated like a yes-lady to her C.O., who happens to be a dude who’s nearly always right in his convictions. While I haven’t played Other M myself, I tend to shake my head when people rage at the concept of Samus as she’s portrayed in that game. Now, I admit that I’m not very knowledgeable about the bulk of Metroid lore and I’ve only played a couple of the games, but I’m astonished that people don’t bring up Samus’ characterization in a much earlier title: Metroid Fusion. Here’s a summation, and I promise that I will explain myself throughout the article, so bear with me. I’d better get the hate mail umbrella ready.
Samus is a willing, sentient tool who seems to have gender identity issues.
For those of you who haven’t punched your monitors in anger, I am not saying that Samus lacks willpower, a mind of her own, or that she’s somehow a masculine figure that heads to the other feminine extreme than utterly powerless. This game is called Metroid Fusion for a deeper reason than that of her being infused with Metroid DNA. This game has been out for almost eleven years now, and I never see it brought up in the presence of Other M, probably because we tend to focus on the bad stuff. Samus’ characterization in Fusion is the same concept done right, and it doesn’t boil down to an ineffectual character or an unintentional sexist stereotype.
“The SA-X is me, only heartless.”
Chronologically, Metroid Fusion is the last of the series, and actually takes place directly after Other M. Samus goes to the Metroid homeworld, SR388, and is infected with the natural prey of the Metroids: X Parasites. The X are kinda like Jello-inspired Thing creatures: once they infect something they can take on its form and mind, and their only goal seems to be to breed and infect the rest of the universe. Samus is operated on, much of the Power Suit is removed and replaced by a more revealing Fusion Suit and she is injected with a shot of Metroid DNA, borne from the baby Metroid that saved her at the end of Super Metroid. As this allows her to absorb X Parasites without harm (and for ammo and health to boot), Samus is sent with a computerized C.O. named A.D.A.M. (the spoiler is out in the open) to go to the B.S.L. Station where the X have taken control. Hijinks and existential crises ensue.
We soon learn that there are creatures called SA-X roaming the many levels of the Station. They are asexual copies of the X that originally infected Samus which clung to pieces of the Power Armor. We don’t learn that there are multiple SA-X until late in the game, and they all have three things in common: they have all of Samus’ abilities, they seem to be hunting her, and Samus cannot hope to take them on in a fair fight. Samus immediately sees the horrific potential of such creatures and works to either destroy or contain them on the Station while following A.D.A.M.’s objectives. After finding a secret Metroid lab on the Station and blowing it the hell up, Samus starts to argue with A.D.A.M. and eventually bring out its human side, sending the B.S.L. Station into the planet to blow both up and being saved by a copy of the SA-X from an Omega Metroid, regaining her original look with her Fusion Suit.
In terms of the plot’s themes, there seem to be two that pervade the game: bringing closure to Samus and leaving her at a place where she is comfortable with herself.
“We are all bound by our experiences. They are the limits of our consciousness.”
Coming as it does at the end of the Metroid timeline, Metroid Fusion seems to be an attempt at tying up every loose end from the previous three Metroid games. You fight an X-infected Ridley, you blow up the last of the Metroids and their homeworld, and old allies return and are rescued. However, the biggest aspect of Metroid Fusion’s closure theme is the presence of Adam Malkovich within A.D.A.M.’s programming. Keep in mind that this character was not in the previous games; we only have Samus’ memories of Adam, as well as what we can discern from the computerized version of his mind in the latter half of the game. By the end of Metroid Fusion, the Metroids are pretty much confirmed to have been eradicated (not for the first time, but this seems to be the true end of the species) along with the X. Samus has, in a sense, regained an old friend, and to top it all off she’s found herself (more on that in a bit). But why is this game the canonical ending point for Metroid, aside from the fact that Prime’s success wasn’t predicted?
In a way, there isn’t much left for Samus after Super Metroid other than to give her closure. Think about it: she’s gotten revenge on the Space Pirates, she’s had a bond with the last of a species she’s genocided twice, and she’s lost that bond along with many elements of her past. Remember that the SA-X that roam the Station have all of her abilities, and that for the majority of the game Samus is forced to run from them. She gradually regains her abilities through downloading them and absorbing them, her Fusion Suit looking more and more unlike her original Power Armor. The more Samus becomes like her former self, the less she resembles it.
However, one conflict to Samus’ character is addressed, mainly in the ending: her status as a tool for the Federation. Samus was the best-equipped warrior in the galaxy, being sent into suicide missions on a regular basis, and she’s blasted everything and everyone that’s stood in her way. The SA-X are just her without a moral compass, the thing that makes her human. They are pure tools of war. When A.D.A.M. orders Samus to leave the Station so that Federation soldiers can come in, she sees the potential for disaster and finally begins to disobey the orders of another tool, “They must cancel the mission! Open a channel to HQ! I won’t let this happen!” It is at this point that Samus begins to take initiative again, and fully understands her position as a doer: somewhere along the way she has lost her own will, and she must retake it. The ending of Metroid Fusion basically has her go AWOL after blowing up both a planet and a government installation. At the end she knows not only what to do, but how to go about doing it. This isn’t Samus’ core conflict in Metroid Fusion, though.
“Move quickly and stay alive. That’s an order! Any objections, Lady?”
Before we go any further, I must make this clear: Samus doesn’t think she’s a dude. Other people thought she was one of two things during the first Metroid game: a random dude or a flat-out robot. This may just be me projecting myself onto Samus’ character, but she seems to identify as female only out of social convenience, and left to her own devices, doesn’t really assign herself a gender. You can trace the roots of this attitude back to her Chozo upbringing, as they seemed to either be genderless or have no concept of gender roles. But remember that, throughout Samus’ adult life, this stance on her being socially genderless has only been reinforced, given that most of the creatures she faces in almost all the games are either genderly indeterminate or are biologically genderless (such as the Metroid or the X). Since Samus’ time is primarily spent in these gender-irrelevant environments, she really has no reason to identify with a gender at all, because in these environments that label is practically meaningless. However, there are two things in Metroid Fusion that force her to seriously address her personal outlook on gender identity: the SA-X and her relationship with Adam.
A Pure Tool
Near the very end of the game, when she finds out that Federation soldiers will soon stumble into the Station and lead to a universe-wide infection of X, Samus finally becomes far more vocal, and her thoughts turn to what the mission’s consequences will be. Up until this point her only thoughts beyond the mission applied to the SA-X hunting her. They are an embodiment of a truly robotic, genderless Samus: they don’t particularly care for others of their kind, they aren’t particularly mindful of the repercussions of their actions, and they seem to only care for themselves. The SA-X aren’t hunting Samus out of spite or jealousy. They’re hunting her because she may (and eventually does) become a threat to their continued, individual existences. They are what Samus nearly became (in the wake of the baby Metroid coupled with all her bounty hunter history or her loss of Adam, perhaps both). By recognizing the inhumanity of the SA-X and defeating the last one she encounters, Samus is rejecting that potential self-identity, of a cold, calculating being only interested in further existence and utilizing its skills. When she comes across the Omega Metroid and fails to kill it, the last SA-X returns and shows her how to defeat it with the Ice Beam it has. By absorbing it, Samus finally becomes whole again, and far more resembles how she looked in her Power Armor. Through the SA-X, she realizes that to be human means being comfortable in both emotion and biology.
A Term of Trust
In the first elevator cutscene of the game, Samus makes it clear why she trusted Adam so much, “He called me ‘Lady’ on missions; from anyone else, it would’ve sounded sarcastic, but Adam made it sound dignified.” In life, Adam appears to have recognized Samus’ social gender identity as separate from or even non-existent in her notion of her own gender identity, and probably began this practice of calling her a Lady to get under her skin. However, it seems that, somewhere along the line, his label became somewhat of an in-joke, and then eventually into a sign of trust between the two. Adam is her link to the human world: a world outside of blasting apart aliens on deserted planets and the like, a place where gender identity does matter a lot. This label may have just been his way of reminding, if not acclimating Samus, to that reality. After the computer A.D.A.M. reveals to Samus the number of SA-X aboard the Station, she realizes its status as a tool, “The real Adam would have said the same thing [. . .] but he would have softened the blow. He was relentless in his criticism, but he always cared…He was not a machine obsessed with duty.” In a way, Samus realizes that A.D.A.M. is basically a more intelligent and physically weaker version of the SA-X: a pure tool. This comes as she realizes that her own identity must exist both inside and outside of herself, and she practically goads A.D.A.M. into regaining its humanity (which, at the time, she doesn’t know exists), enabling both of them to complete the mission in a way that destroys the purely asexual X entirely and saving the universe from them.
“One of them will understand. One of them must.’”
Samus is a very complex character, both in concept and in execution, and any perspective on her is bound to be both interesting and a focus of controversy. This whole thing is just my own take on the character based on what is in Metroid Fusion, and it is a fusion. Samus fuses both aspects of her gender identity (being comfortable with being inherently Neuter-Gendered and outwardly Female) as well as fusing the best parts of her abilities (the last SA-X with the Ice Beam) and her human biology (the baby Metroid that initially saved her to absorb X). The last thing we see in the game is a still image of the fruits of her labor: the only other organic survivors from the Station, Etecoons and Dachoras, sleeping on her ship. It isn’t a huge explosion of a job well done, and it isn’t a close-up of Samus (the after-mission completion images are traditional, so I don’t count them as part of the story). The sleeping animals are meant to evoke a sense of protection, of stewardship, for those who can’t defend themselves as well as the viewer can. It’s a desire to apply what you know objectively to what you care about subjectively, and I think that’s the feeling Samus has at the end of the game. She’s found balance, she’s found closure, and she doesn’t really care what could happen to her if the Federation finds her rogue. She’s rediscovered herself and has regained the confidence she lost after losing the only two figures she’s visibly cared about in the entire series. That should speak leagues about what kind of character Samus Aran should be.