Roles of Monsters: The Kamikaze

Going to be a fairly short article, in comparison to the others. In the fodder article, I did mention a subtype known as glass cannons. Kamikazes are something like that; they’re weak monsters that usually explode next to you. More of a mutating factor for an existing monster class, they can be thought of as a monster with a powerful attack that can be pulled off ONCE (and after that, it may as well be dead because it can’t really do anything after that anyway).

The first kamikaze we look at is the Exploder from Dead Space. The first thing you notice about it is that it’s incredibly distinctive; for one, one of its arms is a large, glowing, chemical-filled pod and odd-shuffling walking animation. Secondly, it makes loud, unmistakable sounds as it moves and sees the player. The game gives you plenty of warning that one is approaching, and they’re pretty slow. They’re pretty easy to deal with (with Dead Space’s limb-severing mechanic, especially), so do you see how these act as glass cannons? When it gets close, it hits you with the large pod on its arm, which detonates, seriously damaging you and actually killing any other monster nearby. If you’re able to respond to them, you can kill them fairly easily, but if you’re inattentive or busy with something else, they suddenly get much more dangerous because they do so much damage.

It is pretty unique among kamikazes, though. With Dead Space’s limb-severing gimmick, you can shoot off the explosive pod off of its arm, and it becomes ordinary fodder, so it’s not an incredible example of the bare-bones, basic kamikaze.

 

Creeper, from Binary Domain

The Creeper from Binary Domain, though, is a pretty basic kamikaze. It’s a bit more forgiving because it’ll curl up in a ball and charge for a second or two before it detonates, giving the player enough time to get away. To counteract that, however, it moves a bit faster than you do. There are also a LOT more of them in one given area than Exploders, making this a kamikaze/swarmer. They do more damage per-shot than any other non-boss enemy in the game, but not as much (percent-wise) as an Exploder, and don’t take much damage at all. Like with non-kamikaze swarmers, they’re individually not as powerful as you would think, but make up for it with its sheer mass of numbers and ability to swarm you.

And then there’s the Berserker from Red Faction: Armageddon. The Berserker is more of a tank, with high-health and a damaging area-of-effect attack. It’s slow and it packs a punch with ranged attacks, so it really doesn’t fit the classification of kamikaze, right? Until you do enough damage to it, at which point it starts sparking and wildly runs towards you. If you finish it off or if it gets close enough to you, it outright explodes, dealing a large amount of damage to everything around it.

As we can see from this, a suicide mechanic can be a secondary ability and not all a monster centers around; in the case of the Berserker, it augments its ability to play the tank. When you do enough damage to it, it demands even more attention or else you’re punished for it. In other cases, it might not work, because we have a monster that’s already tough that now has a somewhat frustrating ability that makes it even tougher; however, in this case, it works because the transition from tank to kamikaze is very clear. There are visual and audio cues that’s something’s changed. Also, your friendly helper NPC points it out in your first encounter with one, so we get a more-gentle introduction to the monster as a whole (something I usually approve of).

Kamikazes are trickier to balance than your ordinary monster. By definition, the basic kamikaze is a glass cannon. Also, more often than not they also damage other monsters around them, so a single kamikaze can potentially neuter a whole encounter by detonating at the right (or wrong) location, so you have to keep how they’re placed closely in mind. Also, their speed is something else to consider, if it’s a monster that literally runs up to you and explodes. If you’re much faster than they are, they might not be much of a threat, but it can be really frustrating if they’re much faster than you are. Kamikazes kind of have to be distinctive and deal relatively high-damage, as well, in order to fill their role as a kamikaze. If this is a secondary ability like with the Berserker, you have to keep the rest of the monster in mind when you balance it; you could be making an already-difficult monster simply too powerful.

Kamikazes are only really popular when they’re designed well. More so than other monsters, poorly-designed kamikazes can ruin parts of a game because they’re either so frustrating to deal with or they wreck an encounter. However, they can often work very well to give the player some element of panic. There’s no worse feeling in Dead Space (in the actual combat, excluding the cheap scares) than when you turn around and find an Exploder you simply didn’t notice. In Binary Domain, the introduction of the Creeper is one of the most frantic parts of the game as you struggle to shoot them all fast enough. The major downside is that they’re so much harder to strike a proper balance with, but a single kamikaze (and/or a single monster with a kamikaze secondary ability) can often provoke that emotional response, if that balance is struck.

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