I saw a tweet a few days ago to the tune of "Fanfiction is really an older style of story design than modern novels are, it's only in recent times that people defined 'simulating a bunch of people in a consistent world inside your head' as the true form of story writing." It's interesting to ponder and contains a lot of truth. I bring it up because I've been reminiscing about Krull (1983), and a thought to the tune of "It's very much a video game-y film" occurred due to the focus on events. It was while considering that case that I suddenly realized a story fixated on adventure rather than characterization is really a very old conception - a legendary one.

If we think of stories like, say, the Labors of Heracles, or the adventures of Susanno-o in the Kojiki, or even the Aztec tales of the creation of the world, there's a strong focus on exactly what's happening at any moment and not so much fixation on introspection. This isn't meant to be some sort of criticism, I just mean that many traditional stories have a very "literal" core. A reason for this, perhaps, is that these stories have very omniscient narrators - religious stories are "records of events" that supposedly happened, not events that seek to simply imitate having happened. That is, in fact, the very definition of a "legend". As many people have noted, history is but recollections that one can discuss as either a mere set of events that occurred at specific times, or as a narrative heading from one state to another. All stories are in some way derived from our personal histories, but history is not a story on its own.

Now, we can argue all day over what exactly creates ancient stories and where they come from. It seems that clearly, people must have made them at some point, especially since we can track embellishments over the centuries and watch as the cults of various gods rise and fall and absorb stories people already liked from previous times. There are people who spend their whole lives categorizing stories and finding similar ideas that either were inherited from ancient predecessors and spread far and wide, or otherwise were independently invented because they appeal to some fundamental human condition. What I find interesting to think about here is the sort of "action-based" video game, which is all about a sort of established protagonist being thrown into strange events and conquering their way through them.

Bear in mind, this isn't "action-based" in the "non-turn-based" sense, but more with regard to a story's structure and what it intends to do. Consider, for instance, Final Fantasy 3 (NES, not the remake) - this game clearly has plot, but it doesn't have much characterization of its protagonists, they're templates for you to define. You clearly have a voyage with entities that you meet and assist or overcome, and we can characterize your PC based on what we're given and what you're allowed to do. You must be brave, or at least driven, because you force your way forwards through danger. Et cetera. But ultimately, Final Fantasy 3 consists of a series of places you go, people you meet, and monsters and villains you defeat for the sake of achieving some ultimate quest-based goal that was assigned to you by the gods (the crystals, that is). I think you could say that FF3 is a very "traditional" narrative in that regard.

Krull is a movie I like, although I would not say it's the most amazing film ever or something everyone needs to watch. It's a type of story we've seen a billion times, best for people who enjoy the genre and otherwise perfectly missable. I like it the most for its ideas; there's some very strange creepiness that derives from its fusion of fantastical elements with science fiction. Some of my favorite aspects are how it plays at the "sufficiently advanced technology" shtick to make one consider the ways different genres express a possibility - like the Umineko anti-fantasy vs fantasy discussion, you could say. The Black Fortress used by the Beast is nearly unassailable because it teleports across the planet each sunrise, granting it both formidable protection from any army and freedom to conduct raids without warning. The Slayers are mysterious space-suited knights who upon their death release a strange little worm creature that warps through the ground and escapes. A mirage-like fortress that shifts its position and an army of "knights" that are really strange creatures could be seen in both fantastical and science fiction stories and work in both, but by placing them in a science fantasy they expose the genre cruxes in a beautiful way. I think they're very enjoyable and a big part of why I like it.

Upon death, the Slayers spit forth a slimy creature that can slip through even castle tile...

It is, though, a very genre film. If you don't enjoy the swashbuckling and hearing them suddenly bring up some weird fantastical idea that wasn't established before, there's little to sink your teeth into. Much of the plot consists of hearing that we must now perform trial x or visit place y to deal with curse z, and things like the shapeshifter attack appear without warning. It's not exactly a story with much foreshadowing, bar perhaps the cyclops curse. But I think sometimes that the common criticism of its plot being incomprehensible or inconsistent is a little silly because it seems like it's viewing the story from the wrong angle, like it's trying to judge a plot clearly going for a classical style by the merits of how we judge a sort of "true literature" ideal. I don't think there's anything wrong with saying the story didn't do what you wanted out of a story, but I find trying to analyze a work by its merits and goals to be intriguing and a useful angle for interacting with anything you might encounter.

This is all building up to me saying that I think Krull is a "video game" movie. Not in the sense of "bad and misses the plot" used to deride stuff like the SMB movie, but in the sense of "this is style of story that is used in a great many traditional video games", the highly linear succession of challenges and events with the impression of context mostly used to color the adventure. It exposes a great deal of fascinating ideas about its world, but does not go out of its way to "worldbuild" except in constructing each challenge. And for all I mention a lack of characterization, there are certainly momentous decisions and manifestations of human feelings and whatnot throughout what exists, even if it's all rather tropey. I think that, to some degree, the idea of a story being tropey but still having its own angles and individual appeal is exactly what I mean. It's a story made of pieces we understand assembled in an intriguing way, not a way that you'll have never seen before (well, I think you could make a case for some of the designs,) but simply in a way that works out as a fun show to watch and consider. It's that sort of fun that I also enjoy in a lot of older video games, and I think is a big aspect of what makes some ancient stories enduring in the mind. That's why I like Krull.


{1} ~ "You think you've been fighting in direct opposition to Beato. But that's not actually true. You haven't been in direct opposition. You've been fighting along with her from a slightly different angle. All this playing detective you've done hasn't been fantasy vs mystery. It's only been fantasy vs anti-fantasy... ...if you wanna interpret everything as a proper mystery, entering this whole debate over whether there are hidden doors or not means you've lost from the beginning, see...? After all, there aren't any. As soon as you suspect that they might exist, it's already `game over' for you." ~ Umineko no Naku ni Chiru, End of the Golden Witch