Samus Aran – A Character Study

Samus Aran is a character I assume most gamers have heard of, or that they at least know of Metroid. My history with her stretches back to Super Metroid on the Super Nintendo (it was a naming phase they went through back then), and I’ve since played most of the games except Metroid 2 and Metroid Prime Pinball.

An imposing figure.

Here seen in her classic Varia Suit. Note the shoulderpads.

Much has been said about her as a character, and even Yahtzee Croshaw himself said that she has been ‘established to have a bold, independent spirit’, but is that necessarily true? Has anything really been established about her? She has for the most part been an entirely silent protagonist, with the exception of Metroid Fusion and Other M, and outside of videogames she’s really only been in the Captain N comic (which is unlikely to be canon) and her own manga (which is not exactly great) with speaking roles as far as I am aware. So we largely only have her actions to go by, and those have been controlled by the player. Well, let’s try to unravel this, shall we?

In the very first Metroid game they hid the fact of Samus’s gender, with the manual referring to her as ‘he’, and only at the end was it revealed in a shocking twist that you had actually been playing a girl all along! A kickass woman braving any danger with grace and style while wielding a highly lethal arsenal of weapons and abilities that you had find along the way.

The games have never really made a big deal out of her being a woman. Sure there was the occasional bathing suit shot at the end if you played really well, but as for in-game stuff it seemed like being a woman had practically no effect on her ability at all. I’m sure this is one of the main reasons she is often held out as a strong female protagonist.

But what do we really know about her as a character? Until recently she has hardly said a word to express any thought or emotion, but there has still been some backstory floating around about her. It was established early on that she is a bounty hunter, and, if the games are any indication, one that prefers to work alone. It was established that Space Pirates led by the sadistic Ridley killed her family, and she was then taken in by the Chozo as the lone survivor of the attack on her colony.

The Chozo were an old and advanced race of bird-like people that were on their way out, and they knew it well, but they still took in the little frightened girl and trained her. They also enhanced her with some of their own DNA before they constructed the power suit for her. A marvel of engineering, even for them, the power suit protects Samus against most hazards and has the ability to interface with and absorb many types of technology into itself, though it is most reliably stable when using Chozo upgrades.

By the time of the first Metroid game Samus is already seen as the greatest bounty hunter in the galaxy, which is the reason she gets sent down to Zebes alone after the Galactic Federation failed to assault the Space Pirate stronghold there. We know little of her adventures before this, but since she is already thought to be the greatest, that should say something.

Zebes used to be a Chozo planet, so Samus accesses several technological upgrades along the way, and that combined with her own drive allows her to dispatch the Space Pirate ally Kraid before she faces off against Ridley for the first time since she was a child and beats him down with a vengeance before ending the Mother Brain computer and setting a bomb to take care of the facility and the Space Pirates’ little Metroid cloning plan.

He looks just about to breathe fire.

Ridley as imagined in the artwork for Zero Mission.

Can we really say anything about her character based on this, even though she didn’t utter a single word? I believe so. The game establishes an atmosphere of solitude in a hostile environment, which has been a staple of the games ever since. This is the life she’s chosen to lead. She is widely regarded as the best there is, and the Galactic Federation trust her to go in and work at her own discretion when all else fails, and I assume they pay her vast sums in exchange for her services. She is highly skilled and capable, and knows how to engage on her own terms, but even when cornered she is a force to be reckoned with. Even when facing the people who destroyed her childhood home and family she does not let fear rule her. And with the Zero Mission remake they show her to be perfectly capable and dangerous even when her power suit is knocked out.

Chronologically the next games are the Metroid Prime trilogy. In the first game she pursues some Space Pirates that escaped the destruction of the Zebes base and board their ship after picking up a distress signal. Without hesitation she dives right in, assesses the situation and takes care of the threat that had crippled the ship, but dooming the vessel in the progress. On the way out she encounters Ridley, whom she rightly assumed to be dead, and after the initial shock she follows him down to the nearby planet even though most of her suit abilities got knocked out before she escaped.

Down there we learn that the Space Pirates refer to her simply as ‘the Hunter’, which leads me to the assumption that she has been after them for a long time, especially considering their almost desperate attempts to reverse-engineer her technology to gain an edge over her. They know that she, even alone, is a substantial threat. And we learn that the Chozo saw her as their legacy, the one who would one day finish what they could not, in this case end the source of corruption buried deep in the planet. She finishes the upgraded Metal Ridley and the source of corruption. If she is ever shown to hesitate, it doesn’t affect her abilities once combat commences.

One aspect that was first shown here (as far as I know) is her suit’s ability to absorb technology not Chozo, which in the end led to the manifestation of her own dark side, which led into Prime 2. She is sent to investigate a downed GalFed vessel, and ends up being caught in a war in which she has no stake, but she decides to help out anyway. She faces off against her dark alter ego several times, maybe out of a sense of responsibility, and finally saves the planet from another source of corruption.

This continues into Prime 3 where she has the corruption both outside and inside. It also shows her fully capable of cooperating with other bounty hunters, it’s just that she prefers working alone. As she faces off against her corrupted comrades, having to take them down, she gets increasingly corrupted herself. In spite of all that she perseveres and pursues her alter ego to the very planet that spawned the corruption. She knows full well she is on borrowed time, but she has to take out Dark Samus no matter the cost to herself. Fortunately, and perhaps a little conveniently, defeating her darkness outside also cleanses the darkness inside, as well as all traces of the corruptive Phazon from the entire galaxy. She even faces off against Ridley again, even though he should have been dead.

Then comes Metroid 2, which basically involves Samus being contracted to go to the Metroid homeworld SR388 to perform genocide. In the end she stops short of a single larva that hatches as she watches, and believes her to be its mother. She spares it, and takes it with her as she escapes, then hands it over to Galactic Federation researchers in hopes that they can find some non-weaponised and beneficial uses for the Metroids. Which leads us smoothly into Super Metroid.

Looks almost cute, but mostly terrifying.

Pretty typical interpretation of what a Metroid looks like.

Ridley returns again, and snatches the Metroid larva after/while murdering the science team and thrashing the station. Samus seems to have wised up to his ‘haha, I’m not dead after all’ bullshit by this point as she wastes no time opening fire on him until he runs off back to the rebuilt Zebes base. She tears the place up, demolishing Kraid and Ridley again, and also dealing with their new allies Phantoon and Draygon.

She then heads into the core where she makes her way past the newly cloned Metroids before encountering the largest of them who makes short work of her, but stops before killing her. It is the grown version of the larva she spared, and it recognises her, then flies off. Samus gets up and recharges, then faces off against Mother Brain again, but after defeating it, MB shows its second form and thrashes Samus, but before it can kill her, the grown baby Metroid intervenes and drains MB until it’s no longer moving, and starts to rejuvenate Samus; an ability Metroids had never exhibited before. MB somehow comes back to life and starts killing the Metroid, but it refuses to move until Samus is at full power. It then disengages and tries to finish off MB, but it’s too late. Fueled by a new hate, and a much more powerful beam courtesy of the Metroid, Samus destroys MB and sets a new bomb, making sure it’s powerful enough to destroy the entire planet this time.

Because of my personal feelings, I will skip Other M for now, and go straight to Fusion. An indeterminate amount of years in the future a much more jaded and cynical Samus Aran returns to SR388 as a bodyguard to a GalFed science team exploring the planet now that it’s confirmed to be Metroid-free. She is almost killed by a previously unknown parasitic virus that infects her, but is saved when the doctors discover that the virus, just dubbed X, reacts badly to Metroid DNA, and Samus is injected with a cure/vaccine based on the Metroid larva she saved.

Because of the nature of her power suit they couldn’t just remove it when she was effectively shut down by the virus, so they had to surgically remove parts of it to get access to her. She awakens a very different woman physically, both on the outside and inside, as the Metroid DNA fused itself to her, and her suit is just a remnant of its former self and kinda fused to her skin.

She cuts a deal with GalFed to get a new ship to go back to SR388 to check out the research station that has strangely gone dark. As this is the first game to really feature dialogue and monologue for Samus, it gives us a bit more insight into the woman she has become, and she is clearly quite angry, jaded and cynical. Considering everything she has been through, I do not blame her, but she still keeps on doing her work, and she still has a certain sense of humour about it all. And she has to face another dark and twisted version of herself, an X version of her old nemesis Ridley, along with a discovery of how even the GalFed are breeding/cloning Metroids.

This ended up as more of a recap of the Metroid series than a real character study, but let’s try to be even more succinct about what Samus Aran is like. I will grant that this is only my interpretation, and others might see it very differently.

Samus Aran is a highly competent and professional bounty hunter widely regarded as the best in the business who prefers working alone and is extremely efficient at what she does. While she mainly takes on paid jobs, she will respond to distress signals and help just out of the goodness of her heart. Her soft side is still in there. She hates Space Pirates and will take them down with extreme prejudice, and has gotten used to facing off against their leaders who get reborn time and time again, demolishing them no matter how they upgrade themselves or what tactics they employ. She is used to trusting her own judgment on how to proceed and engage. She doesn’t give in to her fears, and always remains calm and focused in battle, even when the weight of everything behind her is wearing her down.

I could probably go on, but I think that’s enough. This is one of the main reasons that Other M just did not work for me. The Samus they presented just seemed so at odds with how she had been in the games so far, and even in that game itself the dissonance between how it played and how the cutscenes presented it was a bit jarring. That’s all I really have to say on Metroid MOther unless I at some time feel like doing a “How could it have been better” post. Probably not, but I hadn’t really thought I’d be doing this post either.

Before I say farewell for this time, let me share my most memorable ‘this made me burst out laughing’ moment from the Metroid series. In Metroid Prime 1 after I got into the Space Pirate base. I was scanning their logs and came across the ones talking about their reverse-engineering tests, and I read a cold and clinical account of how their test subjects for the failed morph ball tests had been left horribly twisted and broken. It was hilarious.

Okay, now I kinda want to play Super Metroid.

~Wulf 

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Posted on October 2, 2012, in Games, Thoughts and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. This article (unintentionally?) raises an interesting point vis-à-vis canonical characterization. That is to say: who’s the authority on which games, mangas, comics and/or other products ‘count’ towards a given character’s characterization?

    You happily skip over Other M, and later note that you did so because it is ‘at odds’ with the Samus Aran you’ve constructed for yourself. Obviously, Other M’s designers think otherwise; Nintendo, by extension of their publishing it, must agree. So which Samus is ‘real’? Yours, and by extension that of everyone who rejects Other M (of which I’ve been assured there are plenty)? Team Ninja’s / Nintendo’s? Another interpretation entirely? Is there a characterization of Samus that manages to capture the elements of Prime, Other M and Fusion all in one? And should there be?

    Personally, I prefer my Samus the way I prefer my Commander Shepard: Space Hardass, Gender Optional.

    • See, that is the difficult thing. If I recall correctly, the writer for Other M is one of the creators of the original Metroid. Team Ninja did the gameplay, while Nintendo’s people handled the writing themselves.

      So is it just the trend of certain game makers that gameplay and story should be separate? Or did they really think this evolution of Samus’s character fit well with how the games had played so far? Even Other M itself seemed to struggle with this, with the gameplay having you running around kicking arse as normal, until it became cutscene time and suddenly you were meek and vulnerable, and needed help and guidance.

      Perhaps some people see those things as wholly symbiotic, but to me it reeks of what Campster often talks about, the whole ludonarrative dissonance thing, if memory serves me right.

  1. Pingback: Metroid Dissection by The Gaming Brit Show « Wulf Space

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