By "cycles", of course, I am referring to loops in the major storyline and world of a game or piece of media that allows it to repeat itself in different iterations. As an example, look at Legend of Zelda, or Dark Souls. Branching off from games, we see this too in Adventure Time, but it's only truly revealed to us towards the end of the show. In video games, the introduction of a cycle (Ganon will eventually return, the fire will eventually fade, etc.) serves a functional purpose in that it allows for multiple games to approach the same story from different angles. However, the three examples I gave, being Dark Souls, LoZ, and Adventure Time, all approach the concept of the world cycle very differently:
- Legend of Zelda uses the "cycle" to retell the story of the fight between Link, Zelda, and Ganon. The land around them may change constantly throughout the ages, but the core remains this fight of good vs. evil.
- Adventure Time actually shows the cycle as having happened, with the land of Ooo looking completely different after ages past, with only a few of the old characters having truly survived on screen (we don't know what happens to the rest). We have a new Finn and Jake character set, and BMO seems to be the only character who has truly not changed at all. However, beyond the show's finale episode, the only other time there is any reference made to this is when Marceline talks about having "seen this all before", as per the subject of the song "Everything Stays". The writers acknowledge the cycle, yet they seem content to end it right there. I'm aware that there is a new BMO spin-off show, but it's a spinoff, basically in another dimension, so I wouldn't count it as part of this overarching story.
- Dark Souls makes it clear from the very beginning that, at its core, the story is directly about the cycle of fire and dark, and each game in the trilogy addresses different questions about the cycle itself. It's almost a meta-analysis of the concept of cycles in games like these. How long can you keep rekindling the flame before it has no choice but to sputter and die? When we rekindle the flame, at first, everything is burned away, and started anew. Is there a way to escape from the cycle? What is an age of Dark like? Even at the end of Dark Souls 3, where you can truly let the flame die out, and start an age of Dark, we know for a fact that it will eventually relight. But why would the writers and developers of the game go to such lengths to painstakingly craft a narrative of cycles and rebirth when the series ends in its third iteration? If you ask me, it's both about quality control and about telling a meaningful story. But this raises a lot of questions.
All three of these pieces of media are wildly popular, and they all to some degree share the literary concept of cycles. Is there a name for this sort of worldbuilding tool? Why is it such an appealing concept? What should we, as gamers, readers, and watchers, understand and learn from such types of stories? Do you know of any other games or media that also share this type of cyclical narrative?
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