I have weak tear ducts; it's one of my very few flaws in life. I cried the other week during Mrs Doubtfire, and bawled like a baby after being forced to watch Marley and Me. I don't even like dogs. Anyway, there was a moment whilst playing Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom where I struggled to hold back the waterworks. I didn't actually cry, I hasten to add, but the actions of my partner - nay, my companion - genuinely moved me.
We were caught in a heated fray in the Forest of Tagalo. I'd rushed into the area without much thought, failing to notice an option to lure the enemies into a trap that would allow safe passage through the area. It was a reckless decision. I was quickly separated from the Majin, surrounded by three or four shadow warriors, each dripping with thick black ooze. They're really quite scary up close, like sinister reflections of Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas. Meanwhile, Majin was fending off about six of the buggers by himself, and judging by the rapid depletion of his health bar, he was having a hard time of it.
"Help me, Tepeu!" he shouts, his voice pregnant with fear. Despite his huge frame, tree-trunk-arms and boulder head, the Majin is incredibly child-like in nature. I saw one of the creatures sink a set of dagger-like teeth into his back. His health bar plummeted into the red. By the time I'd managed to escape to help him, it was already too late. Majin was sprawled across the ground, his last words a heartbreaking "I'm sorry". What's so sad about this tale is that I should have been the one apologising to him. It was my actions that had got him killed, and yet he blamed it all on himself. This wasn't a scripted event or a cutscene, but a situation born out of common combat. And yet it was tragic all the same. The Majin is loyal to a fault, which makes him one of the most successful companions in video games since, well, perhaps ever, actually.
While true that I'm a bit of a pansy when it comes to this sort of thing, it's also true that Game Republic has done a fantastic job of creating a character players will care about. During my final year of university, I wrote my dissertation on emotional attachment in games. It was a discussion into which non-playable characters successfully tugged on the heart-strings of the player, and how they went about doing it. I stripped characters including Aggro (Shadow of the Colossus), Aeris (Final Fantasy VII) and Yorda (Ico) down to polygons and isolated game mechanics, trying to pinpoint exactly what it was that made players invest in them emotionally. I summarised that emotional attachment is born out of three key areas: context of world and narrative, vulnerability and usefulness as a gameplay device (there were other areas worthy of explanation, but this review is already longer than I anticipated). If I were to analyse the Majin by these measures, he'd tick all the boxes.
In terms of context, Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is a fairly traditional setup. During a time of great darkness, a lone thief sneaks his way into an old castle to rescue a legendary guardian that is said to be held captive there. In freeing the Majin, the thief plans to cleanse the land of darkness, using the creature's powers to restore peace and prosperity to the tainted lands. Underneath this fairytale yarn is a far more interesting narrative concerning both characters' pasts, but I'll refrain from revealing anything more on the subject.
Personality wise, the Majin is a simple fellow. Simplicity is crucial in creating attachment too, incidentally; the more complicated a character is, the harder it is to sympathise with. Thankfully there isn't much going on upstairs with Majin, just an overwhelming sense of loyalty. He's like an infant in that respect; a child that will do anything to help and impress his parent. Despite his size, it's actually you who ends up looking after him, telling him what do and making sure he doesn't get himself into trouble. Confirming what I found to be true in my dissertation, he is indeed a vulnerable character. His muppet-esque appearance compliments this endearing nature, as well as giving the game its distinct aesthetic. Even the hero, Tepeu, looks like he was conjured up in the mind of Jim Henson, with huge roaming eyes and long hair, much like the memorable Gelflings from The Dark Crystal.