Reflecting on World End Economica and The Hero’s Journey
The World End Economica Trilogy is one of my favorite video game series of all time. As a visual novel, it stands head and shoulders over a large majority of other offerings both in the East and the West. This is due to many factors and a lot of those factors are connected to the head writer Isuna Hasekura. Yeah, THAT Isuna Hasekura. However, at the core of the trilogy is the story of Yoshiharu Kawaura, also known as Hal, and his journey from a brash kid to national hero. More so, this journey also subverts our expectations not by making Haru what we would consider to be a ‘good’ person, but by making him what some psychologist would define as a ‘controlled monster’ or, more aptly, a Jungian Hero. Let’s do this.
Also, spoilers ahead for the entire World End Economica Trilogy. You’ve been warned.
I’m going to warn you guys now: I am not a psychologist. It’s my personal belief that fiction writers, ‘good’ fiction writers at least, are amateur psychologists at some level since most characters require a working knowledge of the human psyche. Even so, I’m going to butcher some things here and if you are a psychologist feel free to call me out on that in the comments.
So (and paraphrasing heavily here), a Swiss psychoanalyst named Carl Jung theorized that a person cannot become a fully conscious individual without forming internal narratives, rejecting the character we play as a part of society and come to terms with darker, more destructive parts of our nature. This is done through a process called ‘Individuation’ and a YouTube channel called Academy of Ideas did a much better job of explaining the philosophy and you can see that video here. What I will mostly focuses on how Jung saw the Hero’s Journey and how that internal narrative plays a role here. And by ‘a role’ I mean, outside of the commentary on the last twenty years of Western economics, the key role.
In terms of a traditional character arc, this means creating a character whose journey takes them inward to face their own monsters: including both the character they play in society and their darker nature. What’s interesting from this approach is that if you remember when Episode 1 came out six years ago, most reviews despised Hal with several reviews referring to him as ‘rotten’. The interesting part of that reaction is that this is Hal’s true self. Unrefined, yes; but all kids are. It isn’t until they face the world that children begin to develop into the archetypes that serve as society’s foundation.
World End Economica Episode 1 and the Formation of Monsters
As he goes through Episode 1, Hal begins to form his personality: creating the very internal monsters that will be waiting for him later on in the trilog. He develops a clear sense of ‘right’, or at least an ideal of what ‘right’ should be through the woman who takes him: Lisa. He gets a glimpse into his future through meeting Barton Kladwiesen: an intelligent and ruthless investor who lives to outsmart others. He also is able to establish something very important for his character and something missing from a lot of male characters these days: a relationship and understanding with death.
Hear me out on this one.
The male narrative is defined by his willingness to venture in to the ‘Unknown’. That adventurous spirit requires a lot of sacrifices and skills, but it also requires the man to accept that the Unknown might kill him. The acceptance of death as a possibility on the path of an adventure is a narrative so universal it has been the baseline for every civilization going back to literal cave drawings. The bifurcation point between men who satiate the call to adventure by joining the armed forces or taking up base diving for a hobby and men who don’t is usually women. This flows into fiction as for most male characters, their ‘honorably sacrificial’ drive ends when they become intimate with a woman.
Why? Because women are, in a fictional context, divine. In most folk lore, there are only two beings that can create life: women and gods. The power of both creation and destruction allows for a level of both idealization and mystery that allow for women, in the male narrative, to represent an equally dangerous ‘Unknown’. Ergo, pursuing an intimate relationship with a woman is its own adventure for a man.
Side Note: most of us are subconsciously aware of this and it leads to the external push against certain fictional male characters getting married. E.G. Batman, Spider-Man, James Bond.
That brings us neatly to Hagana. I often knocked this particular relationship because at the time, I didn’t understand what either were supposed to do for the other in a narrative context. However, putting my taste in fictional romances aside, Hagana specifically is a chaotic being in Hal’s life. They butt heads all the time in the first episode and her approach to investing is focused on logistics and formulas: erasing the need for his instincts and often forcing him to fight for relevance. But she is also the first person he is truly intimate with. They eat together, share each other’s secrets and by the end of the game share the same bed. She is the ideal romantic partner: both creation and destruction. Also, being close to her forces Hal to form the final enemy he will have to face in his future internal journey: his Shadow.
Again, both are kids. Neither really knows the consequences for what they doing. They’re just good at investing and trying to make the most of it. This changes as both start to invest the money of others in the tenement they live in: now adding the stability and security to their risks alongside their egos. It isn’t until the end, when Hal fully embraces his darker nature and involuntarily becomes a monster, that he makes his biggest mistake. Unable to control himself, he pushes aside Hagana and in a desperate bid to win, is played for a fool by a controlled monster in Barton. The shock of his loss, as well as the shock of what he became even for short period of time, gives Hal a stroke that nearly kills him.
And that is how the first episode ends. Hal, scarred from his experiences and losses, has no desire to trade stock ever again. Hagana is gone and, in doing so, takes both intimacy from his life and the parts of him he was only willing to show her. He adopts a Persona and all of the monsters he will have to defeat in his journey to become whole are completely formed. This is where Episode 2, and the trilogy’s Hero narrative, starts.
World End Economica Episode 2, the Princess and the Knight
One can fairly argue that Hal’s life in the beginning of Episode 2 isn’t bad. It is not the future he planned for himself, but as a lawyer working for the Lunar bureaucracy, it is a stable life. However, that’s not the life Hal was meant to live: neither was his planned life but that revelation doesn’t come until the end of Episode 3. He still has to go on a journey and he still has to face both monsters he created and a symbolic ‘Dragon’: the ultimate representation of destructive chaos in life and society.
Jung believed that in order for the Hero to be successful, they first had be connected to ‘The Father’. This doesn’t have to be a literal father, but some representation or archetype of the old world’s customs, beliefs and traditions. And Hasekura gives Hal this archetype in the form of a literal fairy-tale princess.
He couldn’t have been more on the nose if he tried.
Hasekura spends most of Episode analyzing the Enron scandal from the early 2000s: fictionalizing its rise and fall. I realize that it was nearly twenty years ago at this point and most people reading this have no idea what Enron is, so if you are curious you can read more about it here. But outside of that, let’s talk why a Persona is a bad thing.
Minor detour, I promise. The first hour to two hours of Episode 2 establishes Hal’s Persona. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not necessarily a bad life. However, one thing that is clear is that Hal resents it. He’s self-loathing, cowardly and unable to learn the lessons from his failure in Episode 1. Interestingly enough, when Hal tries to defend his Persona to Lisa, she rebukes him. As the archetypal Mother and Hal’s paragon of virtue, she is the best positioned person in his life to let him know that the ‘good work’ he thought he was doing wasn’t truly good and make him see his reality. And that is the core threat of the Persona: it makes you think you’re doing good or that you’ve changed when, in reality, you haven’t. You’re just playing a role to avoid actual change and becoming more bitter and resentful as a result.
Even so, Hal doesn’t face himself to make the fundamental changes he needs to make to become whole. And there is a pass in there for him since, at this point in his narrative arc, he isn’t ready to face himself. So, in dropping his original Persona, Hal adopts a new one: a flawed Knight. It’s still him trying to fit into another perception of ‘good’ and doesn’t make him truly good. But at the very least, he is doing it for decent reasons and not just as a balm on his wounded pride. Also by taking this Persona, he can attach himself to Eleanor and learn what he needs to from the avatar of the cultural Father.
And he learns a lot. Eleanor teaches him the concept of true justice, actual courage, compassion, sacrifice, and drive. These drives are wild, though and he is forced to be the responsible party: often dragging her back from the wall and even helping her pick up the pieces when she clearly hits the wall. His instincts and experience do help their investigation of Avalon: the Enron expy that has monopolized energy production on the moon. But it is a slow process that, by the end of, he has fully learned the lesson and can shed his second person. By doing so, Eleanor can shed her archetype and the two are able to take the company down as equals.
Kind of. They had help from another source: Barton.
After manipulating Hal in the first game, Barton returns near the end of the second to offer him some mild help in their cause at a critical moment. This goes against his stated intentions of using Avalon to wage a market battle with the dominate corporation on the Lunar Surface: Emerald Industries. Badly paraphrasing Jung again he believed that, to an extent, our future selves would communicate with us in the present through subconscious means to get us to reach that potential. As the future potential for Hal, Barton has a habit of interweaving his goals in ways that allow him to help the kid.
You could even argue he does something similar in Episode 1. Had Hal succeeded like he wanted to, he would have immediately become a financial player on the Lunar Surface. No mistakes: no pain to learn from. It’s lamp-shaded that under these circumstances, he would have been a fiduciary for Avalon – putting him in Eleanor’s cross hairs instead of by her side. Certainly it wasn’t some crazy master plan by Barton. However, the continued intervention of his future potential is what keeps Hal moving in the right direction.
It’s just funny how things work out, that’s all.
So, by the end of Episode 2, Hal matures and learns from Eleanor, accepts the advice of Barton and starts paying attention to the needs and desires of people other than himself. Chris, the girl from the tenement who was helping to care for him, had begun to developer feelings for him and Hal was about to make the same mistake with her that he did with Hagana. This time, however, he was able to correct his mistake, have an honest conversation with Chris: keeping his friend while rejecting a potential romance.
By doing that, Hal reaffirms his goals of going to, as he puts it, ‘walking on untrodden ground’. He fully rejects both of his Personas and finally accepts his core personality. He and Eleanor also manage to get their evidence of Avalon’s corruption to a Lunar politician named Gazzanica who, thanks to a populist uprising, becomes President of the freaking Moon and launches the criminal investigation that brings the company down. Eleanor, having gotten the justice she wanted and fulfilling her role as the Avatar of the Cultural Father, returns to Earth while Hal stays on the Moon: back doing what he does best and earning wide-spread recognition as a result.
But that’s not where it ends, because Hal still has one more challenge to overcome.
World End Economica Episode 3, the Dragon of Chaos and Controlled Monsters
So, we’ve come to Episode 3. It’s been eight years in-story between Episodes 1 and 3 and while Hal has been through a lot, he has also slowly gathered the internal strength and maturity to successfully complete his Hero’s Journey. But he still has two things he needs to do insofar as Carl Jung’s interpretation of the Hero’s Journey. First, he has to integrate his darker nature into his personality. Hal has returned to the stock exchange, he isn’t the same trader as he was. He has become more bearish on the overall fortunes of the wildly bullish market and has earned the ear of several major players including a long-term bond trader named Wallace. This has made him a legitimate political force, but the Lunar government is very weak: only existing to keep the basic order and serve as neutral territory for companies when they need to work out a disagreement.
What is missing is his edge and it left him back in Episode 1 when he went Full Dark and rejected Hagana. It is understandable why he wouldn’t want to be that person again, but as Jung and Hasekura show throughout the episode’s slow-burning first act, he can’t be himself without that vicious piece of him integrated. So throughout the first act of the game, Hal struggles with his investment strategies and his opinions on a very unstable type of mortgage investment.
Now, versed as I am in economics and finance (because I like money), this is still very technical. I feel like Hasekura realized there was no way out of this particular plot point, as it uses the 2007-2008 real estate crisis in the United States as a inspiration and you cannot explain that mess without getting lost in the weeds. But, it’s important to the overall story, so if you want to understand it there is a very good article on Investopedia about it as well as excellent documentary from Vice News. That will get you through the weeds of the narrative if it starts to get too much. For Hal’s personal narrative however, the question is whether or not to sell a version of a product he doesn’t trust and climaxes when he makes a particularly ruthless decision: betting that the companies offering the mortgage products would fail.
And Hal is right. Just like in the real world, the real estate market collapsed and by the end of the first act, Hal is one of the wealthiest individuals on the Lunar Surface. But while he was focused on his goals, he didn’t notice that the actions of the Lunar stock traders and financiers woke up the Dragon and things begin to spiral from there.
So, quick notes on the concept of ‘The Dragon’. In the case of World End Economica, the ‘Dragon’ is the chaos that comes from the economy beginning to collapse. The Lunar Surfaces has no natural resources or internal industry that could sustain the life of its citizen, and as noted several times throughout the trilogy, staying on the Moon for long periods of time or being born on the Moon makes one vulnerable to health problems if they tried to live on Earth. An economic collapse on the Moon is a death blow to the people living on it: quite literally the end of their world. And throughout the second act, the developers never let up on how dire the situation is. Banks are falling, the most powerful members of Lunar society are running back to Earth and it’s going to be up to Hal to bring order to the chaos. It’s a tall order for anyone; especially those who are as deeply flawed and psychologically wounded as Hal.
This is why it’s not a surprise when his future potential steps in to help one final time.
As it turns out, while Hal is figuring out how to profit from the real estate collapse, Barton was plotting how to use it to finally take down Emerald Industries. He employed Hagana to help him with his plans, but it is also alluded to that he hired her as a backup in case he needed to manipulate Hal. So, when Hal raked in the massive profits from betting against the market, Barton seized on his opportunity and offered a deal: Hal loans him the cash he needs to wage a hostile takeover of EI and he dismisses Hagana from her contract: allowing them the chance to potentially reconcile. It literally makes Hal sick, but in the end he takes the deal.
Their reunion is….bitter, to say the least. Meanwhile, the situation is growing more chaotic. Hal has been brought in by the President to help mediate the crisis. Hal is obviously distracted, but he also cannot compete with the various monsters that have come out with the Dragon of Chaos and are looking to plunder what they can before the ship completely sinks. Most of the second act is the downward spiral as Hal tries, and fails, to defeat the Dragon.
Finally, about mid-spiral, he and Hagana are able to communicate and, eventually, reconcile. This brings her personal level of chaos back into Hal’s life, along with the intimacy and that dark piece of him he was missing. By working together, the two devise a third option in the situation. Instead of trying to get the corporations to act to save the economy, they’ll just have the government buy out the failing real estate market. This would increase the power of the government, but at the cost of devaluing the Lunar currency since they would have to print out so much cash to cover the buyout. That devaluation happened in the real world, but only because the government didn’t take the next step that Hal and Hagana proposed: a tax increase.
The entire plan is simply something Hal could not have thought of until Hagana came back in his life. It not only required him to have faith in others, as well as respect the goals outside of his own, but to also think outside of his own biased mind on how to solve a problem. With the solution in hand, he becomes whole. And we know this because the climax of the trilogy is Hal standing toe-to-toe with Barton and offering him the job of Secretary of Finance.
This move shocks Barton, but it makes perfect sense. It also changes their relationship completely. Hal has changed to the point where his future potential self is now irrelevant. In that moment, Barton becomes what he somewhat played with throughout the series: a surrogate father to Hal. And with his past issues resolved, his shadow fully integrated and all of the important people in his life fully in his corner, Hal is able to slay the dragon and bring order to the chaos on the Moon.
The most interesting theme of this for me is that the trilogy completely rejects the traditional notion of ‘good’. No one, especially Hal, Hagana and Barton, are under the impression they are traditionally good people. They are monsters who have manipulated the system and used others around them in the name of greed, ambition and flat-out hatred. In any other author’s hands, this trilogy would be about Hal and Hagana teaming up to tear the Lunar Surface down. Not only does that not happen, the story never really punishes them for their greed. In fact. you could argue that this is a story where the monsters win.
The overarching theme of the trilogy isn’t that we need to be ‘good’ and greed is bad, but rather than uncontrolled greed is bad and good is more than your intentions. ‘Good’ is being able to control yourself and use your dark side for the betterment of the people around you: including facing down the chaos of life and the unrestrained monsters in society. It isn’t an easy process, it takes Hal eight years and multiple failures to make his journey, but the rewards of fulfilling this process and becoming whole (insofar as Jung defined ‘whole’) can lead you to finding the meaning in your life. Even that ‘rotten’ kid we started the story with found himself on untrodden ground in the end.
I want to personally thank you for reading this feature. World End Economica is one of my favorite video games and easily one of the best narratives I’ve ever read. I can literally talk about the series for hours and even with all I’ve said here, it barely does justice to the full story. You can get the game on either Steam or GOG. And if you enjoyed this type of narrative breakdown, let me know in the comments! JP3: OUT.