By Jonathan Higgins / November 5th, 2013
Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers pertaining to the plot and characters of Cave Story.
Exploring the first few areas leading up to Mimiga Village, it dawned on me that Cave Story’s plot would be one that unfolded. There are several examples of a narrative whose design opposes this, where you can predict what happens, or even how it ends, just as soon as it begins.
Cave Story, despite being a tiny tale, is somewhat unpredictable to those experiencing it for the first time, in my opinion. The story of The Doctor, the floating island, its populace, and the soldier from the surface who winds up saving everyone…it’s all quite impressive, because the hero knows no more than the player does. But this Building Character isn’t about Quote—it’s about his comrade, the one who gives his journey its true meaning. Without Curly Brace, Quote is just a nameless hero who saves a land fated to experience the same tragedy again. Despite being similar to Quote in many ways (like being an amnesiac), I shall attest that Curly surpasses Quote in strength, resolve and character.
When the player meets Curly for the first time, they’re forced to battle her pretty much immediately. The fight against Curly proves that she won’t go down easily, and is in some ways your equal, attempting to best you with a single weapon when you have easily three or four at your disposal. Depending on how things go, you could even end up with her much stronger weapon (at the time) than your Polar Star, the first gun you obtain in the game. When I left Curly in the house at Sand Zone for the first time, I wrote her off as ancillary and continued my journey to find and destroy the Red Flowers as before.
It wasn’t until she kept appearing later on that I took the hint: surely there’s more to Curly than meets the eye. Throughout your journey, you’ve watched central characters like Toroko and King die. Sometimes, it’s a death that offers some sense of build-up, and other times, death comes in an instant. But…these were Mimiga, creatures portrayed as weak and defenseless (until they consumed the Red Flower, anyway). Whenever Curly was around, she always had guns blazing. A lot of people might view her loss to Misery (and the fact that you have to go retrieve medicine so that Curly can be all healed up) as a sign of weakness. I tended to look at it like…Curly fought Misery and survived. She helps you through one of the game’s more difficult areas, and definitely one of the hardest bosses you’ve faced up to this point. Before I knew anything about the Booster 2.0, I kind of figured she was invincible. Hell, she even had an air bubble that prevented her from drowning underwater. Wish I had one of those. Oh, if I only knew…
After your battle with The Core of the island, the place is filled up with water. For about 100 seconds, you just get to walk around like “Oh crap…I’mma drown now.” Funnily enough, I thought control would shift over to the formerly invincible Curly at that point, and you would watch the character you’ve controlled for over half the game die quick and painlessly like the many Mimiga that went before him. But…nope. Curly gives her air bubble up to Quote, because she didn’t know how else to save someone she considered a friend. Unlike the Mimiga, who died trying to save each other or themselves, Curly dies trying to save you.
Unless you can find some way to turn the tide, that is. I’ve noted the significance of preventing Curly’s death elsewhere, but I’ll bring up that sentiment again here: using the Tow Rope to carry Curly away from the water results in you figuring out Quote’s name, and the true mysteries of the Floating Island. Curly, your “blonde pal” holds so much significance to Quote that she more or less reaffirms your purpose and gives you a name…with a simple explanation courtesy of a memory-restoring mushroom. When you get the Iron Bond from Curly, the game insists “You’ll see her again.”
And you do…in the Blood-Stained Sanctuary. As the last, most difficult level of the game, Quote now has an entire arsenal of weapons at his disposal to tear stuff up. After not seeing her for the final battle(s) against Misery and The Doctor, you just happen to pass by Curly after passing through a series of spiky death pits. “Owwww” is all she proclaims after you strap her to yourself using the Tow Rope once again, and team up to kick ass and obliterate evil from the island once and for all. Fun times—a true resolution—with Curly Brace serving as the trigger.
She’s much more than a simple trigger mechanism, though. She surpassed you in strength long before her pivotal “death scene”, and as indicated by the fact that you and her wound up in the same spot, her with only one weapon (and no Booster 2.0 to handily avoid being impaled by spikes) and you with an entire arsenal…surpasses you by the end, too. Curly is truly a testament to the strength of the female character. And even if Pixel is prone to showing off his more twisted side when it comes to Curly, especially in Cave Story+…regarding the narrative itself, I think Curly contributes more to the journey than you do as Quote, as the player.
I bet if Quote could talk, he’d say “I couldn’t have done it without you”.
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