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Matter Of Perspective: Enslaved Odyssey To The West

Harsh realities and hopeful fantasies.

Enslaved Odyssey To The West is loosely based on Journey To The West, which is generally considered to be one of the four greatest classical Chinese novels. The original story follows the Chinese monk Xuanzang on his quest to retrieve Buddhist scriptures from a temple in India. He is accompanied by his disciples, two of whom you would recognise in Monkey and Pigsy. The quest’s theme is the pursuit of knowledge and a journey of discovery.

In Enslaved Odyssey To The West the same theme is present, as well as an exploration of entrapment and the nature of freedom. Of course the central plot of Enslaved is also a journey, one to find answers and return home in a world where civilisation has all but vanished.


A beautiful, ruined world.
Monkey and Trip are the main characters within the game and it’s their relationship that’s central to the theme of entrapment. When Trip first meets Monkey she traps him with a headband that forces him to obey her. Trip doesn’t do this because she wants power, she does it because of the world both her and Monkey inhabit.

The bright, post-apocalyptic world is dangerous and Trip’s initial reaction to Monkey reveals something about the nature of this reality. The still functioning combat mechs are the obvious and main threat to the people, but when Trip places that headband on Monkey she gives us a brief look at the nature of the relationship between people.

Trust is hard to come by in this world, and Trip’s initial distrust of Monkey shows that such reactions are ingrained. It’s not hard to see why, with the collapse of society coming from a world war. During this war the enemy would have been demonised and when the world ended the communities became smaller; anything outside of someone’s settlement would have been viewed as dangerous. It’s an attitude that the survivors of the war would have passed down to  their children to keep them safe and to stop another war happening.

Of course the danger is always there, with the mechs left over from the war and the slaver ships presenting constant peril. Although the mechs are dangerous because no-one controls them, the slaver ships are much more interesting precisely because of who controls them.

That control comes from Pyramid, who was alive during the war and before the fall of civilisation. He knew of a world where people didn’t have to worry about killer mechs and where food was plentiful. He sees what has happened and wants to help those who live in this new world.

Pyramid uses his ships to capture people and transport them to his place in the middle of the desert. Once there he puts masks on his captives and places them in simulated reality, a bit like the Matrix. In this reality all of Pyramid’s captives enjoy a life where everything is provided for them.

And this is where the themes of entrapment and freedom really come to a head.  Monkey, Trip and Pigsy eventually discover the location and what Pyramid is doing, leading to a conflict between Monkey and Trip about whether what Pyramid is doing is a good or bad thing.


Was Pyramid a villain or a saviour?
Monkey experiences Pyramid’s reality and doesn’t want to leave, but Trip rips the mask off of Monkey, then destroys Pyramid and his machine, which brings back all the captives to a harsh reality. It is unclear how long the captives had been in living in the alternate world, but Monkey was only in for about a minute and he was hooked. If the other captives have been there for months or years then ripping them away from the dream world could be disastrous.

Imagining being one of those people. You’ve been in a different reality for a long period of time, possibly living a new life. Then suddenly you’re torn without warning from that place to a room full of strangers in the middle of a desert with giant mech filled ruins around you. Would you feel joy or fear?

Sure you’re free, but you’re now in a world full of killer machines, forced to enter a harsh existence where you have to have survival skills to live day to day. Hunting, fishing and building shelters are all things you have to be proficient in, skills that may have been lost since being captured.

In that sense wasn’t Pyramid offering his captives something that had been lost? He gave them a reality full of hope and happiness.

To an outsider like Trip it would have looked like nothing more than people with masks on their faces doing nothing, but to the captured it was their very lives. Ultimately, even Trip wonders if she has done the right thing, leaving it up to us to decide whether it was the right decision or not.

Of course the captives didn’t choose to be given access to Pyramid’s world either and they would have been taken from their homes. What Pyramid did was take people against their will and force them into a new reality.

From his point of view he was saving them but he didn’t have that right. If left alone then humanity could build itself up again and create a new society; trapping people in the past is detrimental to that future.

What Enslaved: Odyssey To The West gave us was a game that offered up a jumping off point for some very interesting ethical and philosophical discussions about the very nature of freedom and reality. Monkey, Trip, Pigsy and Pyramid offered an insight into a world which had fallen and how different people tried to cope with it, either by facing it or trying to forget it.

10 Comments
  1. tonycawley
    Pint! Pint!
    Since: Feb 2009

    Really good read. I went through all these thoughts back in the day when I played the game. Was an ending I didn’t see coming but one that really got me thinking.
    Well done for reminding me of this game, I’d forgotten about it and it’s worth more than that.

    Comment posted on 01/07/2013 at 12:08.
  2. GeneralJeeb
    Member
    Since: Mar 2010

    Awesome read, this is up there as one of my favourite games of this generation. The story was superb, the acting was amazing and the whole thing just really hooked me in, so much so that it’s one of the few games I completed in around 2-3 sittings. I’ve always gone back to this every 6 months or so just to relive the whole experience. Despite it’s little niggles and choppy framerate, there’s something so endearing about this game and I also think that ND took a few cues from it in TLOU ;)

    Comment posted on 01/07/2013 at 12:22.
  3. Origami Killer
    Member
    Since: May 2010

    Really interesting read, makes me want to go back and play it again. Shame the game bits weren’t as good as the overall story and performances.

    Comment posted on 01/07/2013 at 12:59.
  4. philzy85
    Member
    Since: May 2010

    Played this game when it first came out and got bored of it, but came back to it a few weeks ago and finished it. Really good game, didnt see that ending coming!!

    Comment posted on 01/07/2013 at 13:16.
  5. SpikeyMikey23
    Member
    Since: Jul 2009

    Dan around?……. No? ok, never got off chapter 3. I hit a bug that made me restart chapter 3 and other games came along and this got pushed to the background. I will eventually finish it…….

    Comment posted on 01/07/2013 at 13:54.
  6. ron_mcphatty
    Member
    Since: Sep 2008

    Enslaved was great, Alex Garland (of The Beach fame) did an awesome job in crafting such an engaging story to go with what appears to be a lighthearted scifi adventure. A film would be good, with Vin Diesel or Ron Pearlman please! Oh and great article by the way :)

    Comment posted on 01/07/2013 at 16:26.
  7. TSBonyman
    Member
    Since: Dec 2009

    I enjoyed the characters and story, tbh i don’t think i would have kept playing the game if it had not been for those elements. I found the gameplay just a little too much hand-holding and a bit clunky in places. Visually, it wasn’t bad at all but in my eyes it was always going to pale when compared to Heavenly Sword.

    Comment posted on 01/07/2013 at 16:32.
  8. bunimomike
    Member
    Since: Jul 2009

    Cracking read, fella. It was such an “oh, wow” ending with regards to what was being attempted and how talk-worthy it was after the credits rolled.

    Thoroughly enjoyable stuff (both the game and this article). Thank you. :-)

    Comment posted on 01/07/2013 at 18:58.
  9. rht992
    Member
    Since: Apr 2009

    Great read! Like so many others I didn’t see the ending coming. On the subject in question I’d say its undoubtedly better to face the harsh reality. How could you make the world a better place to live in if you were in a constant state of imagination?

    Comment posted on 01/07/2013 at 20:12.
  10. RudeAwakening
    Member
    Since: Jan 2011

    Excellent read, and thanks for bring back the memories of playing through this excellent game. I loved it, didn’t even mind the little niggles it had. The story was brilliant and Monkey and Trip were as good as any Naughty Dog character.

    Comment posted on 01/07/2013 at 21:32.

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