Alright. I need to talk about this. Ever since I bought and played this game a couple of days ago, it’s basically been the only thing on my mind. No game before, not even Undertale, had made me question and analyze everything I played so soon after I had finished it. I felt so compelled to share my thoughts that I decided to scrap the earlier post I was working on in favor of what you’re reading right now. So here we go!
If you haven’t guessed already, I’m referring to OneShot, a fantastic game that essentially got a remake on Steam about a month ago. A puzzle/adventure game, where the main gameplay feature is using and combining items in order to progress, OneShot takes place in a dying world. A child, named Niko, wakes up in a strange, unfamiliar house and finds a lightbulb, which is actually the sun. The player must help them deliver the lightbulb to the Tower in order to save the world, and to figure out how Niko can return home.
I strongly suggest that you support the developers and play this game on your own, as it’s best experienced yourself, but if you simply can’t be bothered, you can go ahead and click below to see what I have to say.
Alright! Now that THOSE guys are out of the way, I can talk about what has been haunting me for the last couple of days. If you’ve played OneShot, you probably already know what I’m talking about.
(this image was taken directly from the game files, so that’s why it looks a little weird)
Once they finally reach the end of their journey and climb to the top of the Tower, the player is confronted with possibly the most difficult choice I’ve ever had to make in a video game. It’s revealed that, unfortunately, the only way that Niko ever can go home is if the sun is destroyed. So the player is given two options, neither of them really that great. They could either return the sun, which would supposedly save the world, but Niko would be trapped in this universe forever and live a miserable existence. Or they could destroy the sun, which would cause Niko to wake up back home with their family like it was all a dream, at the cost of the world being destroyed in an instant. And the game reminds the player that “they only have one shot.”
If you just examine these two options without context, you might think the choice is obvious. You should save the world! A true hero is always supposed to sacrifice their life/personal happiness for the greater good. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” is a phrase that frequently shows up time and time again in books, movies, video games, and even our real life struggles. Unfortunately, this situation is a lot more complicated than that. It’s clear that the entire story of OneShot was constructed in such a way in order to make this decision as hard and painful as possible, and to make the player contemplate their choice long after the credits roll.
First off, one of the main themes present throughout the game is that there’s no guarantee that the world will even be restored if the sun is returned. Apparently, it wasn’t the root of the mysterious event that started the deterioration of the world . Although the sun would definitely help the world recover, it would likely just delay the inevitable. You could argue that the sun’s brilliance and warmth would at least make people happy, even if it didn’t last forever, but a lot of them have taken a very bleak outlook on the situation. One citizen solemnly asks Niko if it would be better if the world ended instantly, or slowly faded away. He answers his own question by saying that “a quick death is less painful.” Jeez. Although this is a horrible thing to think about, destroying the sun could be interpreted as a “mercy kill” of sorts, freeing the world from its suffering.
OneShot has given us a reason to why the world might not be worth saving, but why would the player want to save Niko? The obvious answer is because they’re really freaking adorable, but the true reason is actually a lot more subtle. Put simply, the player is not actually Niko. In most games, the player takes on the role of a character in the game (hence the term RPG). But in OneShot, the player and Niko have a unique relationship with each other. In this universe, the player is effectively a god, guiding the “messiah” on their journey. The game often breaks the fourth wall to make this distinction more obvious. A lot of the puzzles involve stuff like searching around in the game’s files for secret passwords or changing their desktop wallpaper, and characters frequently refer to the player by name, even though they didn’t give one at the beginning of the game.
This unique relationship between the player and the protagonist reminds me a lot of another RPG Maker game (one of my all-time favorites) called “Off”. In that game, the player is tasked with controlling “The Batter”, a stoic baseball player on a sacred mission to purify the world. This mirrors Niko’s journey (which is also filled with quite a bit of religious undertones) to return the sun and restore light to the world. Both games constantly reaffirm that the player and the protagonist are two separate people through numerous fourth wall breaks. But the games differ in their reasons for this type of relationship. While Off seems to distance the two from each other in order to unnerve the player (among other things that I’ll probably discuss in a later post), OneShot does it to give the player a sense of responsibility towards Niko.
Let me explain. If I had “became” the character, and the choice was simply between sacrificing myself in order to save the world (let’s just pretend for a second that this was guaranteed), or to return home at the cost of destroying it, I’d gladly sacrifice myself, because honestly, what would I have to lose? It’s just a video game. I’m not actually this character, or part of the world, so the events that take place in it don’t apply to me.
But like I said before, in OneShot the player doesn’t place themselves in the role of another character. Niko is a completely separate entity, a fictional character with their own personality, rather than a representation of the player. The player might not care about going home, but Niko certainly does! They dream about their village every time they go to sleep, and talk frequently with the player about what it was like back home. They explain how the sun in their world was a big ball of fire and not a lightbulb, describe the beautiful fields of wheat that surrounded their village, and tear up at the memory of eating pancakes on their birthday with their mother. The player is tasked with guiding Niko, so it makes sense they want them to be happy. And because Niko is not the player, and they exist only in the game world, what happens to them if they return the sun remains uncertain, leaving people to draw their own grim conclusions.
What makes this even worse is that since Niko is the protagonist, the player has known them more than anyone else in the game. The player is not being forced to contemplate shooting a random puppy they’ve just found on the street. The player is being forced to contemplate shooting the puppy they’ve known throughout their entire life. Niko is just a kid. Do they really deserve never to see their family again?
I think I’ve learned a lot from OneShot. The game showed some considerable restraint. There’s no “true” ending that’s thrown in for the sake of being cool or whatever. There’s no secret path that you can take that lets you save both the world and Niko. There’s only two unfortunate options, and you only have one shot.
On that note, right now I also need to show some considerable restraint and pull myself away from the keyboard before I get even more carried away. Talk to you later!
(Photo Credits: store.steampowered.com, the actual game files, lparchive.org, the game files again)