The Mythology of Strider

What is it about this series that's sucked us in? Superficially, all the critics' arguments hold true: there's not much of a plot to tie the levels together, there isn't any real strategy needed to beat the games, and the levels themselves are too short. The games are over far too quickly, leaving the gamer craving more. Does that mean that the series itself is crap?

Not on your life. Moto Kikaku, Strider's creator, did quite a lot of research for this series; it was Capcom who screwed up on the execution side. Kikaku-san tied many different mythologies together into one series, mixed it in with a technologically advanced ninja clan, and invented the series we know as Strider. To this day, I doubt he's gotten the credit he deserves.

I'm out to change that, starting with this dossier. This dossier details the various homages and mythologies tied into this series, and attempt to figure out what exactly Kikaku-san was trying to do with his idea.

That said, let's get started. We're going to tackle the homages and references made within the games themselves. This first reference is the one I figured out first, and it's also the one that sparked my further research. Everyone knows that the boss of the first level in the arcade game is Ouroboros, right? The Prime minister of Kazakh and his cabinet transform into a giant sickle-wielding cybernetic centipede that shoots at you and attempts to trap you in a death circle...everyone's seen it, everyone should know what I'm talking about.

Well, Ouroboros is not just a cool name for a bad guy, nor is it a coincidence that the baddie who bears this name takes the shape of a worm-like creature. Take a look at this picture:

Doesn't that look familiar? That's more or less the formation that Ouroboros attempts to trap you in.

In Gnostic mythology, Ouroboros was the World Serpent, the snake that ate its tail. It supported the existing world by allowing the globe to rest upon it, and it in turn rested upon the backs of four turtles. The rest isn't important, because I think I got about this far into reading this myth and said, "They smoked some strong crack back then!"

What I actually found interesting about this was the fact that Meio was commanding it. I mean, people worshiped the Ouroboros in this Gnostic cult...they worshiped it as a god. And Meio was commanding their god. The Ouroboros figures very prominently into the Gnostic creation myth, as well...which makes me wonder about Hien's comment at Meio's sarcophagus in Mission 00:

Hien: "Hiryu, you must stop. The Master's already left here. Don't you understand that he is the creator of this world? The ruins, our country, the Striders...everything!! Hiryu, stop this. I don't want to fight with you. You are fool..."

The next reference I discovered was another prominent endboss: Cadeuceus. I wondered what the heck Meio was doing with that...thing...what it was, and why he was so astonished by the fact that Hiryu defeated it. So I did some research, and I got more information than I'd expected...

That's the Caduceus. That's also roughly what the Strider endboss looks like, except that Strider 2's Cadeuceus is more technologically enhanced. That's to be expected, considering that it's supposed to be an endboss.

As it turns out, the Caduceus is the symbol for the medical profession. That's all well and good, but why is it their symbol? Well, in Greek mythology, the Caduceus was a staff that the god Hermes carried. Hermes was the messenger of the gods, and was known as a bit of a prankster. Caduceus was originally Apollo's staff, but one day Hermes played a trick on him. See, Apollo was the sun god, the one who was responsible for making sure that the sun went across the sky at the right pace and at the right height. What Hermes did was that he made the oxen who drew Apollo's chariot walk backwards across the sky, so that they wouldn't remember the right path to take.

This caused all kinds of chaos, and Apollo was pissed off at Hermes for a long time. Finally, Hermes invented the lyre, and offered to trade it to Apollo for his staff. Apollo gladly accepted the deal, and traded the Caduceus to Hermes for the lyre. The Caduceus granted its bearer diplomatic immunity and invincibility (that's why it's the medical profession's symbol), basically, so you might think that Apollo got the short end of the stick. Not so. See, the lyre was to the ancient Greeks what a Gibson Les Paul is to you and me. Wouldn't you trade your most valuable possession away if you could play like Jimi Hendrix in return?

Anyway, since the Cadeuceus was supposed to provide invincibility, I'm assuming that it was Meio's ultimate weapon. Once again, he's commanding something tied with ancient gods...could Hien have been right about his creating this world?

The next reference is in the Strider NES game: Yggdrasil, the Demon Tree. Once again, this is an example of an endboss that symbolizes much more than it appears to be. It would be bad enough if this were just the spawning place of the Zain terminals, but its name and design make it something far more than this.

In the Norse creation legend, three god-brothers (Odin, Vili, and Ve) killed the giant Ymir, who represented chaos. The universe was created from Ymir's dead body, and a massive tree grew out of his corpse. This tree connected the realm of mortals, Midgard, to the underworld, which was divided into three parts: Niflheim, the land of the dead, which is ruled by Hel; Jotunheim, the land of the Jotuns, giants who predated the Aesir gods; and Asgard, the home of Odin and the others. This tree had three roots, and each root went to a different part of the underworld and was fed by a different spring: in the land of Niflhem, the well of Hvergelmir (darkness) fed one root; in Jotunheim, the waters of Mimir (the source of all wisdom) fed another; and in Asgard, a third root extended into Utharbrunn, the waters of eternity. This tree that was fed by darkness, omniscience, and immortality was known as the Yggdrasil, the World Tree.

The Yggdrasil was a source of great concern for Odin, because he knew that if it could be created easily, then it could be destroyed easily too. So, he went to Jotunheim and drank some of Mimir's waters. He gained omniscience and special knowledge of the Ragnarok, the fate of the gods (now you know why Hiryu's best super is named that), but was forced to sacrifice one of his eyes to do so. Unfortunately, the knowledge was double-edged: he learned that one day, Loki (his bastard son) would invade Asgard and destroy it, bringing an end to the Yggdrasil (the universe) in the process. Once everything was destroyed, a new Yggdrasil would sprout and the universe would be reborn with a different pantheon (set of gods). A new race of men would evolve, one that worshiped the new gods rather than the old. Therefore, the welfare and the destiny of mankind was closely associated with the legend of the Yggdrasil.

Once again, the Strider story has been tied in with a creation myth. What's going on here? Is Meio the one responsible for this universe, or did he have something far more sinister in mind? We don't have enough information to tell, at this point. Maybe the characters themselves can provide a clue...

Moto Kikaku didn't just draw from mythologies...he picked monsters out of regional superstitions and used them for bosses and even main characters.

One of the most obvious superstitions he used was the monster called the Kraken. In Strider 2, the boss at the end of Mission 03 is called a Kraken. Looking something like a cross between Cadeuceus and a giant squid, this boss uses weaponry and tactics similar to Cadeuceus, making it one of the more difficult bosses in the game. Why is it called "the Kraken," though?

Back in the 15th and 16th centuries, when explorers first started finding new trade routes from Europe to Asia, there was a sailor's tail that spread about a giant underwater monster with ten arms, giant eyes, and a ferocious disposition. It was large enough to attack a man-of-war vessel and completely crush it, according to the sailors who claimed to have seen it and survived. This superstition spread, causing many people to fear travel upon the open sea.

Today we know that there are two animals who could fit this description: the giant squid and the giant octopus. Since the octopus is shy by nature and does not enjoy the company of other undersea creatures, and since it only has eight arms, many scientists have ruled this animal out of the equation entirely. However, the giant squid fits the description to a 't', and has a reputation for being aggressive to boot. Undersea squids have been known to attack submarines and oil tankers that were passing through arctic waters.

If the base in Antarctica was designed to enhance living creatures by means of biotechnology, then there's no real reason why Meio wouldn't want a creature to terrorize the sea as Ballog would enforce his rule in the air. The Kraken would be perfect for this task, as it had a history of superstition attached to it.

Another superstitious creature that Kikaku-san used was the Dullahan. According to Irish legends, the Dullahan was death's herald. It rode on a horse, holding its severed head aloft, searching endlessly for something that it would never find. The head was the color of moldy cheese, and glowed with the light of decaying, rotting matter. By holding it aloft, the Dullahan was able to see for miles in any direction.

It never needed rest, but every time the Dullahan stopped, a person died. It was sent by the lord of the underworld to retrieve souls from this realm, and announced it's presence by calling out the name of the person it had been sent for. This was the only time during the entire journey that the Dullahan would speak, and no one could resist its summon.

The only way to escape a Dullahan was to throw a piece of gold at it. Dullahans had an irrational fear of it, and would run away at the slightest display of a gold item. Of course, now that we've all beaten Strider 2, we know that a Cypher will work just as well...

By making his own Dullahan, Meio was preying upon another ethnic group, this one more angst-ridden than any other. The Irish are known for being superstitious. Having to actually confront one of their superstitions would probably send them running for the hills. By the way, the Dullahan was also the monster everyone was afraid of in Washington Irving's story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." I found that bit interesting.

All references up to this point have pretty much been dead-ends. I mean, there's no way we can predict what might be coming up in a future Strider game by looking at these bosses. However, there are some loose ends that might give us clues as to Kikaku-san's thought pattern, and that's what we're going to look at next.

The first loose end comes from the first videogame. And again, it's the name of a boss that clues us in. The Kuniang sisters that guard the exit to the second level are a complete mystery to everyone: who are they? why do they look alike? and why do they have such weird names? Some have guessed that they are clones, but I find this answer unsatisfying. Additionally, when I was searching through Burning Hiryu's site using AltaVista's translate function and the names of the Kuniang sisters came up as "Westerly Wind", "Easterly Wind", and "Southerly Wind", I got really curious.

So I did some more research, and I found out that the Kuniangs were indeed named after three of the four winds: Nam Pooh, or Nanpu, is the south wind; Ton Pooh, or Tongpu, is the east wind; and Sai Pooh, or Syapu, is the west wind. This begs the question: who is Beipu (north wind)? The existence of the other three Kuniangs implies the existence of the fourth, since they are each named after one of the four winds. So where is she?

There's more. Kikaku-san based part of his series off of an ancient Chinese tale: "The Legend of the Four Dragon Kings." This legend (which is also the basis for the Soryuden series of novels, in case you might be wondering) is about the four High Dragon kings who rule the four seas that surround the earth. According to the legend, each body of water -- whether it be a stream, pond, or ocean -- is inhabited by a dragon. The larger the body of water, the more powerful the dragon. There were even dragons who lived in the heavens, which were the most powerful dragons of all. Any dragon king had control over the weather, but the higher-ranking dragon kings were able to summon up floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, and so forth, while the lower dragon kings could only make it rain.

Now, the High Dragon kings came from heaven, but they lived in the four oceans. They inhabited vast underwater palaces called Crystal Palaces, which mortals could sometimes see if they looked into the ocean in the early morning. Their names are important: Gou En, the Black Dragon of the North Sea; Gou Kou (hey! Strider's got ties to Dragon Ball!), the Blue Dragon of the East Sea; Gou Shyou, the Red Dragon of the South Sea; and Gou Jyun, the White Dragon of the West Sea.

You see that? Four dragon kings, each one a different color...we've seen that before, haven't we? Remember the Blue and Red Dragon space stations from the NES game? Could it be that Kikaku-san was trying to associate the space stations with the celestial dragons? If so, the existence of the Blue and Red Dragon space stations would imply the existence of the Black and White Dragons.

I may be free-associating here. I might be making more of these loose ends than they deserve...but I don't think so. I think that this is what Motomiya Kikaku was implying...that Meio had control of all these elements: the earth's inception (Ouroboros), its weather (the Kuniangs and the Dragon Space stations), and its fate (Yggdrasil). He used instruments of terror that were based off of our oldest fears (The Kraken and the Dullahan). He even had the ultimate weapon (Cadeuceus)...but even with all this, the race of men was able to defeat him. One man was able to defeat him. Inspiring, huh?

Now, up until this point, I've only explained the legends behind the characters in the Strider series. I've pointed out how most of the bosses have roots in mythologies and characters from ancient religions...but I haven't done much to tie up the loose ends. Well, that's what I'm going to try to do this week. I'm going to try to bring everything together into one cohesive plotline...starting from the beginning.

Let's look at what we know. We know that initially Meio came here with Ouroboros, with the intention of conquering the earth. Hiryu defeated him, and Meio made a cryptic comment about the "sons of old gods" dying. We didn't really understand much about the whole situation, other than that Meio was bad. The cutscenes themselves aren't much help in deciphering it, either. But, since Meio brought along a god from an ancient religious cult, we can only assume that he was attempting to set himself up as the first god of a new pantheon.

So, Meio gets his ass kicked by Hiryu. He's apparently sealed up in a sarcophagus in El Dorado. Hien comes onto the scene, releases Meio, and Meio makes another attempt with Cadeuceus backing him. He figures that, even though he was defeated when he had a god backing him, this time he can't lose. He's got instruments of terror (the Dullahan and the Kraken)...and the Cadeuceus, for invulnerability. There's no way he could possibly lose this one...but he does. Hiryu puts the smackdown on Cadeuceus too, naturally, and kills Meio off. Before he dies, Meio makes another cryptic comment about Hiryu appearing before him 2000 years ago, leaving us scratching our heads once more.

Grand Master: "What... What has happened...?! Could you be?! Are you that Hiryu?! The one who appeared before me almost two thousand years ago before I took this world?! Are you going to finish what you couldn't do back then?!"

As if things weren't dicey enough already, I don't think it's a coincidence that Cadeuceus looks like a Zain terminal...in fact, I think that part of Cadeuceus' role was to destroy the Earth's Yggdrasil and replace it with the more demonic one Hiryu destroys in the NES game. That would make Meio the first of the new pantheon, according to Norse mythology...it doesn't matter if he's dead or not, he'll be resurrected.

The destruction of Earth's Yggdrasil would also explain Meio's puzzling remark, "All sons of old gods, DIE!" Since the fate and welfare of mankind is tied to the Yggdrasil, destroying it would destroy the human race and give rise to a new one, as the Norse legend states. Additionally, Meio's control over elements that have close ties to creation myths implies that Kikaku-san intended for him to be the creator of this realm. Whether he actually was or not is irrelevant...his intentions were to overthrow the existing order and set himself up as the primary deity in a new one. Yet Hiryu defeated him, thwarting his plans and proving that the power of men is the ability to choose their own destinies. They aren't vulnerable to the Ragnarok, as the gods are.

All these pointers back to Norse mythology might solve Meio's cryptic comment in Strider 2 as well. Let's look at things a little more closely. We know that in the Norse legends, the highest god, Odin, wanted omniscience. He wanted to know what was going to happen in the far-off future. So he drank from Mimir's waters in Jotunheim, and had a vision of the day when Asgard would be invaded by Loki and he would be overthrown. Maybe...just maybe...Meio did something similar. After all, he was trying to overthrow the old order of gods. Maybe he wanted to know what was going to happen in the future, and during his attempt to find out, a vision of his defeat at Hiryu's hands appeared to him. In the new pantheon, Meio would be Odin and Hiryu would be Loki.

I personally think that something like this happened. It's the only way that Meio's comment makes the slightest amount of sense. And it does make sense, if you can follow all the backstory that Kikaku-san tied into this series.

This still leaves us with the mystery of Bei Pooh and the two missing Dragon space stations. Well...I have my ideas as to what could be done with those loose ends...but those are products of my imagination alone, and are stories for another time. Besides, we might actually see who Bei Pooh is, should Motomiya Kikaku decide to do another sequel. Why spoil it?

...and thus we come to the end of this mini-series describing what I think Kikaku-san intended to do with this series. He just got screwed over by the Capcom production department, so we never actually understood what was really going on. What do you guys think? Am I right? Am I smoking Gnostic crack?

You decide.