Roger Travis, I welcome you to and kind of expect you to point out everything wrong in the following post.
Brutal Legend’s story is an epic, not just epic. An epic represented by the hero’s journey. We progress through the game following this well-worn path in a new and creative environment based on the culture of heavy metal. So why does the game end 2/3 of the way through?
The hero’s journey is divided into three steps. First is the Departure, where the hero breaks away from the mundane world of his previous existence and begins his journey. Then comes the Initiation, where the hero faces trials and contends with obstacles until he succeeds in his quest. Finally there is the Return, where the hero must come back to the mundane world he left, sometimes a struggle unto itself.
Step one is the Departure, the section of the hero’s story where he must break away from his normal and often humble life the thrust forward into the events of greater things. In Brutal Legend we have Eddie Riggs taken from the modern world and thrust into the age of metal. Unlike the average epic hero he does not shy away from journey initially. In fact he embraces it. He agrees to help Lars and become the rebellion’s roadie. Supernatural Aid comes in the form of Ozzy Osborne as the Guardian of Metal, providing upgrades and collectibles. Eddie’s initiation as the monomyth comes with his first mission. You could argue that it is his escape from the Temple of Ormagoden, but there is no agency on the part of the character. That is a struggle of survival not an answering of the call. That portion of the game is still part of the actual call. The Crossing of the First Threshold is the freeing of the Headbangers. Here Eddie has made the choice to fight and in so doing has begun upon the path. Brutal Legend makes an interesting choice by challenging the structure slightly, but keeping within general story telling conventions by having the Crossing the Threshold part mirror the Trials. The First Threshold is the saving of three groups so that they can begin the rebellion. Eddie not only frees the Headbangers, but also arms the Razor Girls by capturing the wild boars and enlists the assistance of the Kill Master by heading into the heart of the spider’s lair.
Once these beginner trials have been completed we stand at the first test of our worth. Eddie takes command for the first battle on the field of Bladehenge. They continue forward and take the battle to the front door of Lionwhyte’s pleasure palace. But it is not until Lionwhyte’s defeat that we enter the Belly of the Whale: the final piece of the Departure of the hero’s journey where the hero undergoes a metamorphosis of the self and world. Eddie is a roadie, always working from the shadows in an effort to make someone else look good. Now he has to step up to the plate. Lionwhyte is dead, but now so is Lars at Doviculus’ hand, the true villain of the story. The first act has come to an end.
The second step is Initiation. Now that Eddie is apart of this new world or has become a new person he must prove his worth of being the hero by tackling the obstacles thrown in his way. The Road of Trials has already been replicated at an earlier point as a means of departing the world of old. Now there is a new set of three challenges. The previous troops were in service of another, but now Eddie must gather the final troops in his own name. The Fire Barons as reward for the ambush at Death’s Clutch, the taming of the Metal Beasts rewards with the Zaulia and the battle at the mines provides the inspiration for the Rock Crusher. In this section of the story we see Eddie and his road crew begin to mirror Odysseus and his. They are now nomads without a home, continuing on their journey to one-day return victorious. Both monomyth figures face trials that test their metal (excuse the pun) in search of their love so far away. This is Eddie’s Goddess, Ophelia, the representation of his unconditional love. The battle in the Death’s Clutch is the beginning of the second act of the story and the revelation of Ophelia as the next villain: the Temptress, the very thing threatening to pull him from the righteous path of his journey. Atonement of the Father does not have to be about the figure’s father, but whatever holds the sway in the hero’s life and defeat it. In Brutal Legend there are two. Ophelia in her Drowned Doom form is the first, as the corrupted creature now uses his love against him. Eddie must overcome his feelings to transcend the divided purpose Ophelia has instilled in him. The other is the shadow of his father, Riggnarok, whom he learns has a connection to this age and a terrible secret to go with it. He is an obstacle deeply connected with the conflict, further cementing Eddie’s place as the hero, but also possibly as its destroyer. Eddie’s father and the secret is something he must defeat but he can do so not by physical confrontation. Only by coming to terms with it can he surpass the father, a recurring theme in epic tradition as Achilles in the Iliad comes to terms with his father, Zeus and Pursues coming to terms with what his father cannot, the Minotaur.
Apotheosis is the act of defying. Here Eddie must contend with his love for Ophelia and what she has become. Apotheosis is the contention of this contradiction within himself and he must defy one or the other to continue on. He chooses the rebellion continuing on the myth of his father Riggnarok and the hope that he can bring Ophelia back to the light. He kills his notion of love for her and defeats her in the mines and then follows her to the Sea of Black Tears. This is the final part of Initiation: The Ultimate Boon. It is the achievement of the ultimate goal of the journey. What the hero has been working towards the whole time. It is what the struggle has been all about and he must achieve it. In many other myths the boon is a transcendental object that grants the hero powers needed to complete his quest at home: the Holy Grail, the Golden Fleece, etc. Here Eddie’s boon is not an object, but people: the soldiers of his rebellion. The entire journey has been about gathering an army to fight off the Tainted Coil and set the world of men free. With the completion of this battle Eddie has done just that, he gets the final unit, the Rock Crusher. It is not a single unit that has been the goal, but all of them. However to achieve the Ultimate Boon the hero must face the ultimate danger, his own mortality. The journey takes the hero to hell and thus can he achieve the transition from being a divided person into a single spirit. Odysseus’ trip to the River Styx in The Odyssey is replicated in Brutal Legend’s version of hell, the Sea of Black Tears, the most dangerous place for men in the age of metal. For it tempts the race of man with power at the cost of their souls. Ophelia’s defeat at the Sea of Black Tears is emblematic of Odysseus’ journey to Hades. Eddie transcends himself and has centered his spirit and purpose on the final challenge, the right to return and ousts the usurpers as Odysseus’ did to the suitors back in Ithaca.
Now here’s my problem with Brutal Legend: Where the hell is the third and final step? We have Departure and Initiation, but where is Return? The hero must return from his trails and tribulations a proven man and come home. Odysseus must return to Ithaca and be reunited with his wife. Jason must return with the Golden Fleece to Iolcus and be placed upon the throne. Luke Skywalker must face Darth Vader one final time and become a Jedi. So where the hell is Eddie Riggs returning after the tour to defeat the being he has unwittingly betrayed his cause to. This is more than just the physical travel or distance. The hero’s journey is about the emotional and spiritual journey of the man mirrored in his actions. Eddie has completed all the tests, but the game rushes the end and we do not get to see the fruits of his labor. Generally there may be a Refusal of Return, but that is not necessary for Eddie, there was no refusal to begin the journey there is likewise no need to refuse returning. The journey was not about going home to the modern era, but from the shadows to the spotlight to become a hero and then a return to the shadows away from the spotlight. The Magic Flight where the hero escapes with the boon is the major letdown when it comes to the gameplay. This is the step rushed through with the final battle occurring in the same location as the previous one. The confrontation is so quick, boiled into one fight sequence that you fight by yourself that it feels cheep. This is the step where you should have taken the boon, the army that you had been gathering, home. The final struggle against the Tainted Coil would have been the fight to return, not just home to Bladehenge, but to the previous state of existence, to return as the man behind the scenes. Rescue from Without would have used all the units gathered to fight back the hoard on the battlefield. We do get The Crossing of the Return Threshold in a cutscene. The game does, however, allow the final two parts of the third step to be integrated. Master of Two World and Freedom to Live where Eddie lives without fear of death and it instead becomes the freedom to live. The story is over, but the open world is now at your command to finish both in terms of the myth and sandbox.
Brutal Legend sets up the hero’s journey superbly and then quits before we can get going in the final act. There is no final act. We have a two-act structure on our hands. The defeat of Lionwhyte and escape to the mountaintop is the end of the first act, the defeat of the Drowning Doom and Ophelia is the end of the second act, and the return to Bladehenge and defeat of Doviculus should have been the third act. Not only in story terms, but also in the terms of the hero’s journey. Tim Schafer for whatever reason just gave up on the story too soon. It would have beenÂ the return of Eddie Riggs spiritually as well as physically, his place in the world restored as the final soliloquy states, he works behind the scenes to make someone else look good.