Coming of age with Deathsmiles

Deathsmiles is a shoot-’em-up with hidden depths. Of course it has a story; most games in this genre do, even if they don’t put much weight into them. But what’s surprising is how much heft is put into this particular entry. This isn’t only about helping four magic-wielding, teenaged girls defend their new home. It’s about them deciding if they’re going to accept their new roles and the responsibility that comes from growing up or regressing and returning to the lives they’ve left behind.

Their ages are a hint at this. While Casper is the outlier, at 11, Windia, Follett, and Rosa are over the age of 13. They’re at a point where they can no longer be considered children, and their magical abilities show their growth. They’ve gone from being helpless individuals who would have died in the real world to prominent potential guardians as Gilverado’s Angels. Their time spent with Count Dior in this other world helped them learn and grow into mature individuals who deserve to be treated as adults.

Especially since their appearance in Gilverado only came after near-death experiences. Windia and Casper were both kidnapped, in dire situations with unsavory people. Follett was being carried away by a freezing, rushing river. Rosa was in a car accident. While all four girls clearly didn’t die, these incidents represented the death of their childhood. Innocence has been lost. They know too much now, both about life and supernatural abilities. The transition from one phase of life to the other began the moment they awoke in this other world.

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Deathsmiles’ adventure could be seen as a means of exploring how far Gilverado’s Angels have come. Formerly helpless individuals have grown into women capable of defending everyone, defeating and pushing back seemingly endless waves of monsters coming through an opened door to a demonic world. With every stage, we see their strength. Hordes of foes run and fly at them, but it doesn’t matter. The powers they possess allow them to easily outfight them all. It’s quite a change, especially for Windia and Casper, who were once powerless and held captive by ordinary men.

Seeing their abilities in action makes the final choice offered each of the girls at the end more difficult. Upon defeating Jitterbug, the man who opened the door between worlds in the hopes of reaching the real world again, and Tyrannosatan, a gigantic beast that comes through right before the door does open to the real world, they have a chance to go back for good. They can be ordinary again. However, this decision comes after they’ve already proven themselves.

Deciding to stay highlights this decision. There may be some lament about what was lost, but each girl makes note of why they decided to stay. Their friends and allies, who depended on them in this recent crisis, are there. Count Dior did so much to welcome and train them. Gilverado needs them. It’s the same sort of dilemma someone would face after graduating from college. You have the education and tools to move on with your life and stand on your own or you could go back to what’s safe and familiar. With Deathsmiles, staying is the right choice, since characters aren’t letting anyone down and are accepting their new life.

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Especially since going back doesn’t always work out well for the girls. When Casper goes back, she finds herself in the midst of the people who had taken her. (Fortunately, she has the ability to make them pay for their crimes, since she still has her magic.) Some characters can go back to a relatively happy life, like Rosa, but there’s always a sense of abandonment. They’re going with what they knew, instead of moving forward to improve themselves and explore new things. They’re abandoning their responsibilities and friends, and most endings where they go through the door make note of their regret.

That Deathsmiles II determines the young women remain in Gilverado is telling as well. It establishes that each one would have made the decision to continue growing. When presented with an option to go back, they instead decided to move forward. It reinforces the notion that the first game was about each one proving herself and showing she isn’t some child who is forced to depend on others. They all are strong, capable and reliable. They’ve understood what they have to do and relish their role in this world.

Deathsmiles is about acknowledging the progress the characters have made in Gilverado. Each of these young women has grown up after having to bid her childhood goodbye. While this is sad, taking a chance to go back to those innocent days isn’t always the right decision. You could be happy and safe in your old life, but the mantle they’ve picked up throughout their adventures is one that defines each of them as an adult. Windia, Casper, Follett and Rosa have become Gilverado’s Angels; they’re the land’s guardians. As time passed, they’ve become respectable members of the community, capable of great things. Our time spent with each as they handle the calamity caused by Jitterbug shows us the right decision to make in the end. These girls are women now who belong in Gilverado, and staying means they won’t let people down.

You can get Deathsmiles now on Xbox 360, PC, iOS and Android.

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