If you are like me and many others over the past few months, you may have spent time with a controller in hand to escape the stress of lock-down. It can be a relaxing activity to tend to your Island’s flower garden or blaze through the streets of Midgar but Video Games have also become a great medium to represent social groups and issues in the world. More recently, there has been independent developers who have gained wide attention for games such as Gris and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice* for how it perfectly represents human emotions.
* – As this is a OP-ED; I will insert one Author’s Note and recommend Hellblade if you can endure horror because its initial research, development and mechanics are a perfect unity of mental health, psychosis, grief and acceptance. The game is available on Playstation, Nintendo Switch, PC and also on Xbox through the Game Pass subscription.
However, as part of the UKP Team; my lockdown experience has been mixed with writing, research and video games and it made me curious on what kind of attention is focused on South Korea. It is a huge hub for video gaming and eSports in general. Some UKP readers may remember our Culture article from last year, touching on this huge industry; including champion teams from Korea that have represented the UK on the world stage. Still there is a question of the casual play-through and how games stand on their own as a form of media. Is there still that same attention in single player and open games? With that on my mind, I placed down my Dualshock, neglected the Loan Shark disguised as a raccoon and got to work on some research.
Believe it or not, the big names that were childhood for many in the UK and US initially struggled to enter the market so they licensed out consoles to Korean companies. Samsung took over the release of SEGA’s Master System in 1989, selling it under the name of “Samsung Gam*Boy”. Most games were sold in their original language but SEGA’s RPG title, Phantasy Star became the first to be translated fully to Hangul. Now, that same game series is a huge selling point for SEGA in Asia and worldwide; with the next-generation edition Phantasy Star Online 2: New Genesis set to release in 2021.
Meanwhile, overall console sales in South Korea would slow down but PC games would continue to rise in popularity over the years, leading the way for MMORPG titles like Ragnarok Online and Maple Story to achieve success. In the past decade, gamers have been uneasy about the video game industry since the transition to mobile has been more focused on advertisements & micro-transactions than actual game mechanics but if you overlook the commercial side, South Korea can still be considered a powerhouse in the professional player district, with many teams taking home titles on both a regional and global scale.
While looking through its history on such a popular form of media, it does make you wonder why there is very little focus on South Korea when it comes to character and story. With the recent launch of Ghost of Tsushima, there is a look into Asian history, set in a true location within the Kamakura period. What is stopping developers focusing on South Korean history? Netflix have already been creative with their storytelling by including Zombies in Kingdom. There may be some possibilities that may be perfect ideas for the up-coming generation of consoles. For me, this thought lead to yet another lengthy period on Google on what games are currently set in South Korea and popular characters native to the country.
Sadly, aside from wartime simulators, sports and racing games; there were only two titles that stood out the most; Closers & White Day, both games available to play on PC.
Closers is an MMO that is ironically set in the year 2020. Luckily, there is no modern day threats but the game features a futuristic take on Seoul, rebuilt after a mass attack from inter-dimensional creatures. Players can take on the role of psychokinetic humans who strive to study their abilities and prevent further attacks to their home. A far step away from the bright, Anime art style of Closers, Sonnori’s White Day is a supernatural horror game originally developed in 2001. The game slowly became what some may consider a cult Horror title and was remade by ROI Games in 2015, under the direction of Sonnori’s former CEO, Lee Wonsool. Despite getting a large graphic overhaul, the premise still keeps faithful to the tradition of White Day, including reference to the Korean War in the school’s history and also adding a spiritual twist linked to the religious study of Taoism.
As much as I hoped that there would be more, there didn’t seem to be more major titles that appeared during the search. The best possible option of a third game in this category was Mario & Sonic At The Winter Olympic Games as the entire game is set during the 2018 Pyeongchang Games and not using a location for one map in the entire game – i.e. Busan in Overwatch. Aside from the three titles mentioned, there wasn’t much else to go on and there may be a long way to go before there is word of a full representation of culture and myth in Korea. Maybe a mythical adventure based on the Chasa Bonpuli myth from Jeju Island or an Assassin’s Creed title based in the Joseon period. I may be asking for the impossible from Ubisoft for the second suggestion but then again, Beyond Good & Evil 2 was almost impossible until it was announced in 2017.
Until that ground-breaking development, we can always rely on characters to give cute little nods and representation. When researching for this article, the common denominator seemed to be that there wasn’t really much inclusion in Single-Player based games. The characters were more included in a wide roster that could be chosen in a multiplayer setting like a first-person shooter, a team based strategy game or a sports title. However, these characters have cemented themselves as well-known faces in their games; with some players favouring them as their main pick when playing. Out of the list, there are eleven faces from major game titles that you may be familiar with.
01. D.VA (Overwatch)
You can’t talk about South Korean characters in games without mentioning D.VA; the e-Sports champ turned hero from Overwatch. Hana Song gained popularity through multiple tournaments and gained many endorsements for it. From variety shows, commercial deals and movie roles; she became a celebrity until she was recruited by Mobile Exo-Force – or MEKA to fight against the Gwishin omnics. When creating D.VA, Blizzard Entertainment embraced the popularity that some of their games had and built her background based on her being a top player in her country; even teasing her character through the rankings of Starcraft II‘s World Championship. Although this was a clever move to promote through another of Blizzard’s games, the writers behind Overwatch confirmed through forums that her reign as Starcraft champion was not canon.
02. Ahri (League of Legends)
Before she was voiced by (G)I-DLE’s Miyeon in K/DA, Ahri became a popular character in League of Legends when she joined the roster in 2011. Riot Games’ character design was focused on the Korean legend of the Gumiho when creating Ahri’s design, focusing on her flirty nature and the orb of light she possesses. The orb represents the yeowoo guseul (fox marble) that provides power to the Gumiho and allow them to absorb humans’ energy. The developers have also used that inspiration to drop more South Korean pop culture by including idol choreography in Ahri’s dance emotes when certain cosmetics are equipped.
03. Crypto (Apex Legends)
Not much is known about Tae Joon Park, his history wiped away after uncovering the Syndicate’s dark secret of the Apex Games. Now set on revenge, he used the Games as a pathway to get closer to those who wronged him. Now under the moniker of Crypto, his hacking skills were more than enough to get himself into the Apex Games records and provide the perfect distraction to sneak into King’s Canyon. Out of the selection of Korean character, Apex Legends ensures that Crypto is still keeping to his origins; often speaking in his native tongue to chastise, assure and mock his team and rivals. The voice actor behind these lines is also no stranger to representing in video game lore; also performing as D.VA’s mechanic, Daehyun and appearing in her Overwatch short animation, “Shooting Star”.
04. Luna Snow (Marvel: Future Fight)
Luna Snow made her first appearance as an original character in the mobile game, Marvel Future Fight before becoming a fully fledged comic book character in her own right. Seol Hee was a member of the idol group, 4L1T who was performing at a Stark Industries event when an evil organisation attacked. She tried to help civilians but she was locked in a high-tech freezer where she would acquire Cryokinesis to attack and heal. After the incident, Seol Hee became an over-night star and continued to perform as an Idol while still saving the world under her stage name, Luna Snow. Marvel took every opportunity to promote Luna’s identity as an idol; enlisting Busters member, Hyeongseo to perform the singles created specifically for the character, “Tonight” & “I Just Wanna”.
05. Shinbi (Paragon)
Unfortunately, Paragon‘s servers were shut down but you have to give Epic credit when they created the pop star Assassin, Shinbi. Starting as a young shaman, she can channel her vocal powers to summon spirit wolves which she can in use in performance and in battle. She became popular after fighting a mech and was soon performing for the masses with her own remixes and ancient songs. Epic did do their homework when creating the Idol inspired background; especially when naming her ultimate move, “All-Kill” which is the term used when a song becomes number one on all major music charts in South Korea. It is a shame that not more was done to develop Paragon but with its ‘remake’, Predecessor in the Closed Alpha stages; here is to hoping that this starlet turns the battles of Agora into her comeback stage.
06. Dokkaebi (Rainbow Six Siege)
When you hear the word “Dokkaebi”, you may be thinking of Gong Yoo wrapped up in the iconic long coat and red scarf but if you’re a Rainbow Six fan, you will immediately picture the beanie wearing hacker, Grace Nam, who joined the game in 2017 during the “Operation White Noise” expansion. Living up to her codename, she can cause mischief with her Logic Bomb and send viruses to her enemies’ devices that can hack into their surveillance if they are defeated by her team. Her character is that of being playful yet reckless, being over-confident and getting into fights in certain situations; possibly to compensate for her fears of being good enough as an operator in Rainbow.
07. Vigil (Rainbow Six Siege)
Unlike Dokkaebi, Vigil’s story was slightly different when he was added in the “White Noise” expansion. Born in North Korea, Chul Kyung Hwa does not recall his childhood. Along with his family, he defected from the country and travelled across Asia to escape. Although he would gain asylum in South Korea, he lost his family in the traumatic journey and was adopted into the Hwa family. As a character, he is very closed with his emotions as he remembered it as a form of safety but the talents and drive he had for the country that took him him found him a new “family” of sorts in the Rainbow team.
08. Kim Kaphwan (The King of Fighters)
Newer players may not have heard of the King of Fighters series until Terry Bogard was added to Super Smash Bros but there is a wide range of games that created a legacy for Terry and all of the characters. Fan favourite, Kaphwan is a national sports hero and known for his expertise in Tae Kwon Do; often being team captain for South Korean in global championships. Being an advocate for good, Kaphwan uses his status to rehabilitate criminals who reluctantly respect him over the course of the games. His recent appearance was as a guest cameo in Terry’s dedicated stage in Super Smash Bros Ultimate but with an official fifteenth instalment of King of Fighters revealed back in 2019, it won’t be long until the justice seeking family man returns to the fight.
09. Seong Mina (Soul Calibur)
Hailing from Jirisan, Seong Mina has had various timelines focused on her during the course of the games. The newest backstory focusing on the struggle between being a trained fighter and also set to be married by her family. Regardless, she has always grown up around combat and weaponry; eager to make her family and country proud. That desire would also encourage her to run from home in search of the fabled Soul Edge and begin her journey that currently spanning the full course of the Soul Calibur games.
10. Hwoarang (Tekken)
Although he has represented his country in the Military, Hwoarang always answers the call of the Tournament; a place where he first entered to get revenge. The hot-headed fighter holds resentment for those who killed those close to him and especially central character, Jin Kazama; who would be the first fighter to tarnish his perfect win-lose record. This desire to prove himself would get him arrested and discharged from military service but that did not deter Hwoarang and he continues to train and fight; almost becoming a devil like his own rival in the process.
11. Juri (Street Fighter)
A vengeful woman who would even join the Illuminati to get revenge. Although Street Fighter‘s Secret Society is a far cry away from the real world’s counter-part, Han Juri is certainly not a woman to be messed with. Specialising in a twisted form of Tae Kwon Do, she takes full gratification and pleasure out of inflicting pain on others. Despite her dark side, she does share some similarities to central female character, Chun-Li; both set on righting the wrongs in their life but Juri is more set on doing whatever it takes; even if it is questionable, self-centred and possibly evil.
Eleven characters may be a strange number to include in an article; especially when some appear in the same game but I did want to include Vigil in the list since his development as a character was intriguing; especially when he was added to the game at the same time as the South Korean native, Dokkaebi. Ubisoft followed a story of a young man becoming a defector and still overcoming the impact of his childhood plagued with danger & death.
Looking through each brief backstory, each company has a different way to develop their characters; only using small aspects of South Korean culture and building on it to make each one unique. It is only a small number at the moment but the personalities make up for that.
The only downside is that a lot of these characters are set to be played in a multiplayer setting. These characters’ stories are either showcased by the game’s “classic” mode, looking through compiled profiles or when the developers produce story based content. It does encourage more interaction by the fans who may grow fond of them but the majority of casual players may only play these characters as they suit their play style or they like their visual concept. Its an aspect that keeps players interested in the game but there could possibility be more done, especially which so much traditional material on hand. The suggestions on game settings mentioned before was just scratching the surface and with a new generation of consoles on the horizon, there is a hope that these ideas come to fruition or we get to know new characters to admire and play as. Until then, there is always the joy of dropping self-destructing mechs, hacking drones onto unsuspecting enemies or recreating your Idol’s stage costumes on Animal Crossing.
Is there a favourite Korean character that we’ve missed that you love to play as? Have you got a game that you’ve been playing through lock-down and what would be the perfect idea for a South Korea-based title? Let us known in the comments and on social media. We would love to know what your thoughts and suggestions.
Disclaimer: Everything in this post is based off the author’s own views, research and recollections. They do not reflect what UnitedKpop believes as a whole, nor can they be used to make any decisions about the titles, artists and developers discussed in the post. The content in this article is to present a discussion so if you have thoughts to add to the discussion; get involved in the comments below or through UnitedKpop’s social media.