Video Games Featuring Parallel Universes or Alternate Realities (Part 1)
Many games employ parallel universes or alternative realities in their plot. They enhance the story by taking the player out of the reality they grow accustomed to. Multiple universes often interweave and call for resolution at the hands of the player. Sometimes they’re used to make for more complex puzzles. Some parallel universes exist purely to pray on the psyche of the player. Do you ever think about alternate universes, or do you think it's just pure science-fiction? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below!
Silent Hill series
Silent Hill is a series of games that can leave you with recurring nightmares and have you questioning your own reality. A major theme in the Silent Hill series is the travelling between parallel universes: fogworld, an abandoned world clouded in fog with few monsters present, and otherworld, a much darker version of Silent Hill that reflects the psychological state of its inhabitants. The character slowly transitions from the “real world” to fogworld; the transition may not even be noticed until a monster presents itself. Fogworld transitions to otherworld much quicker and without much warning: suddenly everything becomes covered in rust and blood while the real monsters come out to play. An innocent person or child, such as Laura in Silent Hill 2, will experience the town free of monsters or evil presences. However, a person with a troubling past, in which they were hurt or hurt someone else, will see their own personal nightmarish version of Silent Hill in their otherworld.
Each monster in the otherworld represents a particular aspect of the character’s psyche. For instance, Angela in Silent Hill 2 suffered years of abuse at the hands of her father, and saw disturbing monsters called “Abstract Daddy” which visually reflected this part of her mind. Two characters in one game can sometimes share an otherworld, so one person can see what the other person experiences in their otherworld: James and Angela share a moment like this in Silent Hill 2, when James briefly sees Angela’s otherworld, with the world around her in flames.
In the original two Silent Hill games, otherworld was confined to Silent Hill alone, but in later games otherworld spread to nearby towns Ashfield and Shepard’s Glen. In Silent Hill 4: The Room, set in Ashfield, the main character Henry does not experience his own otherworld (in fact, little is known of his background) but instead visits multiple otherworlds created by a previous occupant of his apartment. Locked in his apartment from the inside with no way out, Henry explores these otherworlds through holes in his apartment’s walls in order to uncover the truth surrounding his apartment’s past. In all other Silent Hill games, the characters are drawn to the town in hopes of solving mysteries of their past and recovering memories they lost. Not all people in Silent Hill are there of their own accord; some are there simply to help another character uncover the truths they’ve been searching for. Those characters may actually be visiting Silent Hill, or they may be another projected aspect of the main character’s psyche.
The Legend of Zelda series
The 16 games of the Legend of Zelda series can be organized into numerous timelines. Though Nintendo released a canonical timeline eventually, it is obvious that no definite timeline was conceived during much of the existence of the series; Nintendo's version should be taken as an attempt to unify the stories just as other fans have attempted to do. Some are linear, but most involve the history of Hyrule diverging into two (or more) timelines during the events of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Over the course of that game, the protagonist Link travels back and forth between his childhood and adulthood. His adventures earn him the Triforce of Courage, which he uses to banish his nemesis Ganondorf in the adult timeline, and then to use as evidence of Ganondorf's evil intentions in the child timeline to banish him there before his rise to power. But, by returning to his past, he doesn't simply erase the timeline that developed during his adult years. Majora's Mask follows the events of child Link after Ganondorf's banishment in the past while Wind Waker follows the events after his banishment in Link's adult life. This is further suggested by the fact that Ganondorf has only died twice, and in every other case he was simply banished.
Nonetheless, individual cases of parallel universes are demonstrated in several games in the series. Twilight Princess reveals the presence of the Twilight Realm, which according to the divergent timeline theory, can be assumed to be the realm that Ganondorf was sealed in, which became corrupted by his evil influence. Majora's Mask, on the other hand, allows Link to live the same three day period repeatedly, but with changes occurring to Link throughout, so each 3-day period is an alternate timeline of the others. Finally, according to the Nintendo timeline, six of the games in the series form yet another alternate reality following the events of Ocarina of Time, exploring Hyrule's future if Ganondorf had defeated Link in their final showdown. In some cases, parallel universes serve as gameplay mechanics, while in others they are plot drivers or purely aesthetic lore.
The Half-Life series takes place in a near-future setting in which humanity tests - and is nearly annihilated by - interdimensional travel. During a test in the Black Mesa research facility, stylized after Area 51, a portal is opened to an interdimensional space called Xen. The "Black Mesa incident" follows, in which nearly all of the inhabitants of the facility were killed by an instantly hostile alien force. The original game focuses on the efforts of Gordon Freeman to close the portal and evidently save the human race. Along the way, he is guided by the mysterious G-man, about whom nothing can be said with certainty.
After closing the portal, it becomes clear that the invasion by the forces of Xen was minor compared to the onslaught of the Combine - a multi-dimensional empire - who subsequently conquered Earth in the Seven Hours' War and subjected the remainder of humanity to a totalitarian police state. A ragtag resistance rose up out of the last Black Mesa scientists to overthrow the Combine. While they had been to Xen and discovered a way to locally teleport within their own dimension, the Combine didn't possess such technology and its existence was their primary reason for subjugating Earth. Local teleportation serves as the Resistance's chief advantage against the Combine, who could only move from one dimension to another.
The Half-Life universe conceives of separate universes as being adjacent rather than interweaving or diverging timelines. It serves in this fashion as a plot driver, while other games see it as a gameplay mechanic.
Mortal Kombat series
According to Mortal Kombat lore, the Elder Gods and One Being existed before anything else did. One Being drew immense power from the Elder Gods, so they crafted weapons to shatter One Being. Earth as we know it is known as Earthrealm, and is just one of the realms which were created when One Being shattered. Earthrealm is considered by the Elder Gods to be a “universal power node” and thus assigned Raiden, the God of Thunder, as it’s protector. The Mortal Kombat Tournament takes place every generation, and if a realm can win ten tournaments in a row, the Elder Gods grant them the ability to invade another realm. The humans of Earthrealm have very little magical ability compared to the beings of other realms, and therefore compensate with the use of technology in battle.
A dark and barren realm (yet full of magic users), Outworld is the realm most influenced by One Being. Both Onaka and Shao Kahn, the major rulers of this realm, attempted merge it with other realms. Three realms, Zaterra, Hinpar and Vaeternus merged with Outworld. Edenia is another magic-heavy realm, but differs greatly from Outworld. It is visually similar to Earthrealm, but much more lush and green. Shao Kahn once attempted to merge Outworld with Edenia, leading to a war between the two realms, ultimately ending in Edenia regaining their independence.
Chaosrealm and Orderrealm are opposite realms, although they are very similar in that they hold their values of order and anarchy higher than their values of life and death. Orderrealm is strict with a controlling government; a society that functions in one way and never another. Chaosrealm is a realm of anarchy, with no government and no rules. Freedom is the religion of Chaosrealm’s inhabitants. Orderrealm detests the Chaosrealm and aspires to control it and its rich supply of water.
In order for someone to enter Netherrealm, they must have a soul tainted with evil acts they have partaken in. It is a realm of lava and volcanoes, considered to be where evil beings go to receive punishment. The opposite of Netherrealm, Heaven, is the paradise realm of Gods, such as Raiden and Fujin. In Mortal Kombat: Konquest, it is implied that there are thousands more realms than are currently known.
Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is an alternative universe in which the super heroes and heroines of DC Comics participant in the Mortal Kombat Tournament. Super villains of the DC Universe are also entered into the Tournament. The storylines of both Mortal Kombat and the DC Universe converge in this game, and the characters of both develop interesting relationships, both positive and negative.
Kingdom Hearts series
Kingdom Hearts is divided into numerous realms - the Realm of Light, Realm of Darkness, In-between Realm, and the Realm of Nothingness - which are further divided into Worlds. Most of the worlds are recreations of Disney films, while others relate to the strange mythology of the game.
The Worlds are facing existential crisis, being consumed by the Heartless creatures of the Realm of Darkness. NPCs reveal that the advent of stars blinking out of existence in the night sky are in fact worlds being consumed by Heartless. Normally Worlds can be seen in this way but never reached; each is its own self-contained universe. As the heart of each world diminishes, though, their impenetrability lessens.
Square Enix mainly uses the many worlds theme to represent many of the most endearing Disney stories into the game. The games do use transportation between worlds as a minigame and a method of dictating the chronology of the worlds, but it is otherwise an aesthetic touch.
Katelyn Ginn has written video game guides for various online outlets for years. Her interests extend particularly to sci-fi, horror, puzzle, adventure and fantasy genres.
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