Dust: An Elysian Tail
System: Xbox 360 (XBLA)
Developer: Humble Hearts
NA Release: August 2012
“For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.”
– Hebrews 8:12, The Bible (KJV)
“And stop worrying about who you are! You're Dust! You hear me? I don't care who you were, I don't even care if you used to work with that General guy, because you're DUST now!”
– Fidget, Dust: An Elysian Tail
Amnesia, while sometimes considered cliché, can be a very effective mechanic in games. A playable character with little or no memories starts the game on a similar level as the player: aware of a certain potential as you figure out what the heck you're doing.
Games relying on the loss or manipulation of memories are tasked with weaving the factor into an effective plot to keep it from clunking along as an obvious gimmick. Some titles, such as BioShock, manage to do this quite well. Dust: An Elysian Tail does it so well that to consider it as a gimmick almost feels insulting. Not only is the theme told around the titular character compellingly developed, it made me think of memories and the past in a light I had never considered: that dispelling them can sometimes be a gift.
The past holds importance, of course. It is a well from which we can draw knowledge brought through experience and recall mistakes we intend not to experience again. However, it is also possible to carry so much of the past with us that it turns from a guide to a burden.
When Dust wakes up unable to recall who he was, his identities and decisions lie entirely in the present. His only personal resources are his observations of the world around him and how they resonate within his core—as much a shattered mystery as that is. His only other influences are the opinions of his two companions, a talking sword and a chatty, bat-winged fluffball named Fidget.
Using these points, Dust ultimately chooses a righteous path, helping a world he only knows needs someone with the skills he possesses. And yet, it becomes clear early on that there is some form of darkness residing in his past and part of who he was. Would he have been unable to choose to jump into good had he awoken with his knowledge? Technically, no. That's impossible. We have free will to make personal choices that can not be tangibly controlled by what has already happened.
But still, if he had remembered...
This is the haunting nature of the past. The same mistakes and regrets we strive to learn from are also the ones that try to seep into our identities in the present. They breed doubts, fears and hesitation into choices that could otherwise be plainly made. Is this enough to atone for what I've done? Will they take me seriously? Am I a hypocrite? How would failing affect the future me?
We take events we can not change and fetter them to ourselves at the only time we are able to have any effect on the world whatsoever. And as significant as it feels to us to lay our lives out this way, it's a fool's endeavor. I know I've spent enough time milling about pieces of my past, putting them together and imagining I know how my life would be now if I had made one choice over another and lamenting this non-existent path. Of course, my real present never changes this way. If anything, it just makes me overly cautious and paralyzed when it comes time to make my next choices.
It's a hard habit to break, however. Even after Dust blazes a trail across the world of Elysian Tail, throwing his own life in danger to save many others, coming into the full scope of what he did in the past brings him his moment of greatest uncertainty and an instant dive into the mire of redemption. How could he have expected to redeem himself so quickly, he asks himself, as if his new deeds have to bury his old sins before they can count. It takes Fidget to snap him out of his way of thinking, basically screaming at him that the only thing that matters now... is now.
In a world that weighs everything against itself, it may feel flippant or even wrong to abandon our pasts “unatoned” or “unresolved” in order to give the present the concentration it deserves, but as Dust demonstrates, we are needed when we can make real change. True repentance is not “making up” for past wrongs, but turning your back on them toward a new path. True forgiveness is not deciding someone has compensated for their offenses, but treating them as though they had never committed them in the first place.
As we move on, we will have regrets. We will fail even when we thought we did what we should have done. We will even willingly choose wrong. That's all part of our identities as human beings we will never escape. Learn what you can, then leave it and move on. While we may not awake in a beautiful meadow every time, we still have the same gift that was bestowed upon Dust. Every second that slips into the past resets our chance to choose the right thing and become a new person.