Last time I went on a bit of a romantic tangent talking about Kid Icarus 1986 and how it adapts the Greek myth of Perseus, leaving the more obvious comparisons to other Greek myths for this piece. Namely how the protagonist of the series, Pit, looks a lot like Eros, better known by his Latin name Cupid, and of course Icarus. The reason I address these two together is because nothing in the grand overarching narratives of the games resemble the myths in the same way the original Kid Icarus resembles the story of Perseus. Rather, these comparisons are drawn from smaller story beats and visual elements, and to fully analyze these elements we have to look at the history of the Kid Icarus franchise, and what happened to it after 1986.
In 1987, Kid Icarus would be released in Europe and North America, and in 1991, Kid Icarus: of Myths and Monsters would be released in North America. Kid Icarus: of Myths and Monsters is a rather odd member of the franchise, as the game was not released in Japan, which is where Kid Icarus originated, and was thus not regarded as canon going forward. It features a very convoluted plot, and at the end, after saving Palutena again, Pit soars to the sky and his wings fall off with ‘The End’ cheekily sitting next to it while the sun scarily smiles at him, as seen below. This joke only really applies to non-Japanese audiences, as in Japan the series is called Myth of Light: Palutena’s Mirror. The Kid Icarus series went silent after that, and for twenty years it would seem that this was truly the end.
However, this would all change when game developer Masahiro Sakurai was approached by the head of Nintendo to create a game for the brand-new 3DS, and he came up with an interesting vision. He wanted to create a shooter that took place in the sky as well as on the ground, as shooters were not very popular in Japan at the time. He received the OK from Nintendo and asked if he should create a brand-new IP or use a different Nintendo franchise, as he currently had a skeleton of a game. He was told to do what he considered best, and after some careful deliberation, he landed on Kid Icarus, leading to the release of Kid Icarus: Uprising in 2012.
Sakurai is not known to be a Greek mythology fan, and Toru Osawa was not working on this game, leading the game to stray far away from anything we could narratively compare to a Greek myth. The game is ‘Greco-inspired’ and features characters from mythology, yet deviates from it further than the original ever did, featuring an alien invasion and a ‘reset bomb’. Thus, we cannot make a great big argument for it being an adaptation the way we can for the original, but that doesn’t mean Uprising doesn’t feature similarities to Greek myth either.
Kid Icarus: Uprising’s form facilitates a more story-driven narrative, with the 3DS having much better hardware than the NES, and with the device having two screens, combat would take place on the upper screen while dialogue would take place on the lower one. Sakurai wrote all the dialogue himself, as he wanted the dialogue and gameplay to flow together perfectly, rather than the game stopping so the characters could talk. The story is divided into arcs, which are divided over 25 chapters, the first 9 chapters are similar to the original plot of the 1986 game, with Pit fighting Medusa’s three generals after her resurrection. In Kid Icarus, Pit is a member of Athena’s army of angels, being a general and a ‘special case’ as he cannot fly. He is extremely loyal to Palutena, leading her to sometimes mock him for it, saying that he really ought to make some friends. In Uprising, he exhibits a very cheerful and childlike personality, admitting to eating ice cream off the floor, bathing in puddles, and even being illiterate. As for his weaponry, as in the first game, he uses Palutena’s bow, and after defeating an enemy he collects their hearts (not as creepy as it sounds) and uses them as currency for upgrading his weapons.
In Chapter 5, it turns out that Pandora has been using the Mirror of Truth to duplicate Medusa’s army, as the mirror reveals the darkness within. Upon her defeat Pit attempts to destroy it by kicking the mirror directly, leading to the creation of his possibly evil clone, Dark Pit, seen below. The doppelgänger makes it clear almost immediately that he has no intention of joining the Underworld army nor Palutena’s, as he is an incomplete clone of Pit since the mirror was broken during the process. Dark Pit is nearly identical to Pit but has a dark color palette with his bow being silver instead of golden, leading the two to fight as Dark Pit accuses Pit of “ripping off his look”. After defeating Dark Pit, the clone absorbs what is left of Pandora’s power to grant himself unlimited flight, and Palutena decides that they should leave him be and return to fighting Medusa instead. As the story continues, Dark Pit tends to appear and assist Pit in his darkest moments, admitting that the two have a connection of some kind that alerts the clone when the original is in trouble. While Pit is extremely optimistic, Dark Pit, mockingly called Pittoo by the cast, is serious and somewhat arrogant, being an independent party that dislikes the gods and Pit. At the end of the story, Dark Pit is still unaffiliated with any of the groups, but it is revealed in a spin-off title that he joined the Forces of Nature, a somewhat neutral party that assisted Pit while Palutena was out of commission.
With this strange string of events, it is rather difficult to believe that this could be tied back to Greek Mythology. Though this is true, some elements of the presentation of Pit and Dark Pit show a resemblance to Eros, better known by his Latin name Cupid, the son of the goddess Aphrodite and known as the god of love. Sources about his origin and even the way he looks greatly differ, with sculptures depicting him as a young man with bow in hand and mosaic artists drawing him as a winged putto, a plump baby often seen in frescoes. Eros is known to be mischievous, striking humans and gods alike with his golden arrows, but he is fiercely loyal to his goddess Aphrodite, always accompanying her, and only ever piercing her on accident. Aphrodite also has many ‘Erotes’ which are little angels that you might see on frescoes and the like. Eros is best known for his golden arrows that make people fall in love, but he also possesses lead arrows, which kindle hatred towards a lover. What’s more, some sources speak of Anteros, the god of unrequited love, who seemed to have been an enemy or rival of Eros, but also his avenger, as he punishes those who don’t return the love of others. (Pausanias, Descriptions of Greece, 1.30) Anteros was also seen depicted in paintings on the opposing scale of Eros on Aphrodite’s scales of love, as there is no Anteros without Eros, no love can be unrequited if there wasn’t any to begin with.
Eros and by extension Anteros now begin to resemble Pit and Dark Pit, especially since ‘Pit’ sounds like a shortened ‘Cupid’, and Dark Pit’s nickname Pittoo sounds like putto. Kid Icarus: Uprising also has a persisting theme of Love and Hate within it, with Palutena and Pit loving the humans and Medusa and other gods despising them. In one of the first scenes as well as in the last, Pit flies over the villagers as they cheer for him and his victory, and he’s ecstatic to receive their praises, showing the player that this is what Pit fights for. Palutena is also very aware of how humans look to gods to provide for their well-being, making her one of the only gods in the series to do so. Dark Pit does not seem to have any strong feelings towards humans, but originally disliked the gods and their selfishness, as when gods fight the world is thrown into chaos. The Mirror of Truth was supposed to reveal Pit’s ‘dark side’, but since the clone was incomplete it is unknown if he can be ruled as a manifestation of Pit’s darker feelings. Over the course of the game, Dark Pit begins to warm up to Pit, helping him out and even going to great lengths to save his life on numerous occasions. Right before the credits roll, Pit and Dark Pit fly off together into the sunset, indicating how the two have reached an understanding.
Now the question you might have been left with last month still remains: how does Pit resemble Icarus? One important thing to note about the story of Icarus is that though there are many murals and paintings of Icarus, there are not many written sources about him. The first written source about Icarus is a rationalization of the tale, indicating that the story was already well-known by this point in time(Clark 62). Kid Icarus: Uprising reflects this, as in its gameplay tutorial Pit actually asks Palutena who Icarus is, as seen below. To this, Palutena replies that he cannot meet him, but that Pit shouldn’t worry about him. Pit replies asking “What happened to Icarus?” to which Palutena answers “Let’s just focus on you right now.” Pit is not meant to be a depiction of Icarus at all, since Palutena differentiates the two. If Icarus is a somewhat well-known figure in folktales, the game’s title is obviously a jab at Pit being unable to fly, and him not knowing who Icarus is further highlights his naivety. In the Japanese version of this introduction, Pit asks Palutena what the “mirror” is in the Japanese title, ‘The New Myth of Light: Palutena’s Mirror’, and Palutena feigns ignorance, leading Pit to surmise its confidentiality.
Even if Pit is not meant to be Icarus, that does not mean he does not resemble Icarus at all outside of his flightlessness. In Kid Icarus: Uprising, Pit can be granted the power of flight for 5 minutes at a time, to facilitate the combination of sky and land battles that Sakurai envisioned. After Pit and Dark Pit defeat an enemy known as the ‘chaos kin’ that had stolen Palutena’s soul, while Pit is busy helping Palutena back on her feet, the enemy attempts to take Dark Pit down into the abyss with it. Pit quickly jumps in after them to try and save his clone, and begs Viridi, the goddess of nature who supported him while Palutena was unavailable, to grant him the power of flight. Viridi reminds Pit that he has already flown for 5 minutes, and if granted the power once more his wings would catch fire, but Pit argues that there’s too much at stake and that his wings don’t matter. Viridi reluctantly grants him his wish, and Dark Pit is saved, though Pit’s wings were burnt off, leaving him in critical condition. Moved by how far Pit went to save him, Dark Pit brings Pit to the ‘rewind spring’ to get him back in shape. Viridi’s warnings and Pit casting them aside is a direct reference to Daedalus warning Icarus not to fly the wax wings he had created too close to the sun, as the wax would melt and cause him to fall. Of course, the key difference here is that the fall of Icarus is a cautionary tale about the effects of hubris, where Pit’s fall was a price he was willing to pay. While arguing with Viridi, he yells “I don’t care if my wings catch fire!” Pit’s wings burning off results in his own health being put at risk, leaving Dark Pit to save him while Palutena reminisces about how much Pit wished to fly. The imagery is the same as that of Icarus, but Pit’s fall is not a cautionary tale, it is seen as a selfless act and a show of Pit’s courage and compassion. It’s because of this key difference I feel that we cannot hold the interpretation of Pit as Icarus to the same standard as that of Perseus or Eros, as he’s nicknamed Icarus as a cruel joke about his inability to fly, and his wings burning off was a risk he fully accepted.
This article took a closer look at the way Kid Icarus: Uprising resembles Greek mythology through its main character Pit, and though not as apparent as in the original game, many references to myth can be found within. It would be going a bit far to claim that these games adapt Greek myth in the same way the original did, but Pit and Dark Pit’s resemblance to the well-known mythological figures of Eros and Icarus are a lot easier for the non-initiated to appreciate, making it worth noting. Uprising is a loving revival of a franchise that had been believed to have met its end, yet despite all odds was able to capture the hearts of many, soaring above and beyond, just like its main character Pit. Reviving a myth would be a stretch, but providing references and interesting twists to mythological figures is what the series has been doing since 1986, and perhaps that’s all it really needs to do to keep these myths alive and engaging.
Written by Rebekah Spaargaren
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