Ten years ago, the latest entry in the Metroid series, Metroid: Other M, was released. It would change the course of the franchise, and its community, forever. The game promised to show us a human side of Samus Aran for the first time. Until Other M, Samus had always been an ambiguous character left to our imagination. We always saw her as the stoic, unflinching and unstoppable hunter who slaughtered Metroids and Space Pirates left and right, fulfilled prophecies and somehow managed to blow up every planet, space station and facility she ever set foot in.
August 31, 2010 came and went, and much of the fanbase was outraged by what they saw. In Other M’s iteration of Samus Aran, they did not see the qualities I mentioned above. They found her weak, groveling, and insecure, a step away from crying when she met any insurmountable obstacle. They interpreted her relationship with Adam Malkovich as at best sexist, at worst an electra complex, believing she had romantic feelings for Adam despite describing him as a father figure in her monologues. They called her portrayal “uncharacteristic”, forgetting she never had an established personality to begin with. In her redesigned Zero Suit, they saw not a strong warrior, but an objectified Barbie doll in chunky wedge heels (I’ll give them that criticism, there’s no way those are practical, nor should they be able to fit into her Varia Suit).
I have always felt that some of this criticism is misplaced, and that some lacked context for why Samus acts and thinks in the way that she does. Some of the criticism could have been abated with further explanations, and some has softened with the passage of time. As the game neared its tenth anniversary, I wanted to revisit Samus’s entire story – from the attack on her home colony K-2L, to the death of the baby in Super Metroid – in order to bring the truth to light and vindicate her in the eyes of the Metroid community.
This is Redeeming Samus.
Samus was a toddler on the Earth colony of K-2L when her story begins. Her childhood and the war that came to her home has never been explored in the games. There has never been a flashback about the attack on K-2L, nor has Samus ever returned to the planet to our knowledge. To me, this is a missed opportunity for the series, and a flashback in Other M may have provided context and softened some of the animosity toward Samus as a result of her reaction to Ridley’s return.
Unless one has read the Super Metroid comics or the 2003 manga that revealed Samus’s origins, which is not available officially in English, they would likely not know that Ridley was responsible for the death of Samus’s parents and the senseless murder of everyone else on K-2L. Samus was but a small, innocent child clutching her Rabbilis when she encountered Ridley. At that time young and naïve (see what I did there?), she tried to befriend her future arch-nemesis, only for him to attempt to kill her. Samus’s mother Virginia intervened, distracting him long enough for her to escape. As Samus ran away, she saw her mother die brutally at the hands of Ridley, being incinerated by his fire breath. This event horrifically scarred Samus and left her utterly terrified of Ridley for the rest of her life.
The Chozo, who had visited K-2L before the invasion, returned and rescued the distraught Samus, bringing her to their homeworld of Zebes. They raised her as their own to become a hero to the universe. Like many warriors, Samus suppressed the severe trauma of her planet’s destruction, never properly addressing it or allowing herself to grieve, and perhaps forgetting the worst of what she saw. In her training she saw a chance to become strong enough to take her revenge on Ridley and the Space Pirates.
I was under the impression prior to its release that Other M would shine a light on Samus’s upbringing and tell the tale of her origins to a wider, American audience. Perhaps doing so in an extra flashback would have shed light on the scene with Ridley and explained why Samus reacted the way she did when she saw him again. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
The Original PTSD Episode
When she was deemed ready, Samus joined the Galactic Federation Police, using her Chozo Power Suit and abilities in tandem with the regular human soldiers to take out threats.
In one event, depicted in the manga, Samus liberated a Space Pirate concentration camp on the planet Jigrad, and captured a Space Pirate for interrogation after almost executing him. This established that while Samus is ruthless towards her enemies, she is not without compassion, even if that Pirate deserved a brutal death. She was introduced to Adam Malkovich at this time. When the Space Pirates conquered Zebes, Samus defied orders and deployed to her former home planet to rescue the Chozo there. Adam gave her 48 hours to do so before the army arrived.
On Zebes, Samus encountered Ridley for the first time in years. It was quite a harrowing scene when I read it for the first time. The mere sight of him left her unable to breathe, and she collapsed, unable to maintain her Power Suit. Ridley taunted her by revealing that he survived the injuries he sustained on K-2L – Samus’s father destroyed the Pirate ship with their stolen fuel at the cost of his life – by eating the flesh of the dead humans he killed and suggested that her mother may have been among them. He continues to attack her psychologically and physically. By the time her friends had arrived to assist her, Samus was catatonic and begged for death.
The Chozo suggested that her repressed memories of the K-2L genocide had returned. One of them said, “Repressed fear will grow inside of you, even if you are unaware that it even exists.” They comforted Samus, giving her the space to grieve the loss of her parents and release her exhaustion. A little while later, Samus recovers and defends her party, helping them to escape.
Anyone who has been traumatized by any horrific event, such as a war, attempted murder, or physical assault, will tell you that it never truly goes away. They learn to deal with it through therapy, medication, or any number of other coping mechanisms. Some think they can deal with it by not addressing it at all, which is unhealthy. Similarly, Samus did not eradicate her PTSD simply by triumphing over Ridley once at the manga’s end, nor by defeating Ridley’s clone in Other M. It will always be with her. Knowing that he could revive himself by eating carrion, Samus would likely have mentally prepared herself for future encounters with Ridley from Zero Mission until his final death in Super Metroid, and therefore that is why she never reacted the way she infamously does at the sight of him during Other M.
Samus then served in the Galactic Federation Army under Adam for a number of years, developing a close relationship with him, his brother Ian, and Anthony Higgs. Samus saw Adam as the only person who understood her. Their relationship in the past was not explored in significant depth, and I believe that hurt Other M’s efforts to establish Adam as a positive character in Samus’s life. Perhaps there could have been an extra flashback or even some conversations that showed a moment which solidified the bond they once had – for example, when he first asked her, “Any objections, Lady?”
Throughout the game, she alludes to the event that led to her departure from Adam’s command and the Federation itself. This is revealed to be due to guilt over her handling of a rescue mission that forced Adam to sacrifice his brother Ian. Saving him would have put 300 lives at risk, but Samus repeatedly insisted she could still do it. Adam ignored her and Ian died. He was never shown to have resented her for her actions, and he never brings it up in-game, yet Samus showed that she resented herself for it.
Adam seemed angrier at her for leaving his side more than how she behaved on that day. This may have been influenced by Japanese culture. It has been argued that Other M’s story was geared toward Japanese audiences more than American or European fans, where the Metroid series is much more popular. There are elements of filial piety – the Eastern virtue of respect for elders – in the Samus-Adam relationship. In Japan, a soldier is expected to obey their commander’s orders without question and have absolute trust in their authority, with abandoning their commander being considered inexcusable. Samus abandoning Adam left him embittered toward her and this is why he “so obviously” chooses a heart-piercing word, “outsider”, to describe her when they cross paths again.
One of the criticisms of Other M is that Samus sounds robotic or emotionless when she speaks, and never questions Adam’s orders. In Japan, that kind of speech is perceived as stoic and badass. In the West, it is perceived as boring. This is a frivolous criticism to me. It is unrealistic to expect Samus to speak with much emotion when she is being introspective or reflecting on moments that cause her pain, given again her scars and the nature of her missions. When speaking with the soldiers, she does display emotion, because she is putting on a brave face. She favors taking on missions alone without any or much human involvement, only working with them when required. This may have left her a little awkward around people, preferring to keep to herself and only interact with others when she needs a new mission.
The Zero Mission and Intervening Years
Unable to retake Zebes by themselves, the Federation sent Samus to infiltrate her former homeworld and destroy the Space Pirates’ captured Metroids and their leader, Mother Brain. Samus carried out her mission, eliminating Kraid and eventually coming across Ridley. When she finds him, there is a brief cutscene where he flies into his room with a closeup of Samus’s eyes behind her visor. This was the closest thing to a reaction we could see from her at the time. After a difficult battle, Samus emerges victorious and that is that. She destroys Mother Brain, survives the crash of her Gunship, locates the Legendary Power Suit and lays waste to the Space Pirate Mother Ship, ending the presence of Space Pirates on Zebes for at least a few years.
The origin manga, released about one or two years before Metroid: Zero Mission, ended its run with a retelling of the confrontation Samus has with Ridley in her mission during the first game. He ambushes her and Samus uses her abilities to defeat him, but not for the last time. I almost wonder if Zero Mission should have had more emphasis on Samus’s connection to Zebes and Ridley. However, Zero Mission seems to have sought to have a more minimal story compared to its predecessor, Fusion, in that Samus only speaks twice (in text) during the game. Perhaps a hypothetical, future reimagining of Zero Mission can expand the story by including a prologue involving Samus’s origins, or collectibles (like the Chozo Memories, or audio logs) detailing how she came to be a Bounty Hunter.
Samus would go on to have at least six more adventures in between her Zero Mission and the SR388 incident. On Tallon IV she found another sect of the Chozo, the race that had raised her, reduced to insane ghosts by the “Great Poison”. In the Alimbic Cluster she had to fight for her life against multiple new foes and a cosmic horror that exterminated the Alimbic race. On Aether she discovered that an entire squadron of the Galactic Federation Marine Corps was massacred, and a malevolent race had reduced another to the brink of extinction. Throughout Corruption she witnessed comrades die and fought an infection that threatened to destroy her, and in the Bermuda System she was abducted, brainwashed, and forced to fight against the Galactic Federation. All of this has to have taken a toll on her, to say nothing of whatever will happen to her in Metroid Prime 4, especially if likely antagonist Sylux has a personal connection to Samus as some have theorized.
Samus’s mission to SR388 would have lasting repercussions for the rest of the series. Sent to SR388 to eradicate the Metroids, Samus clearly thought nothing of it. She had killed numerous Metroids before and seen the devastation they caused. It was not until she slayed the Queen Metroid that everything changed. After felling the monstrous mother, Samus proceeded past her corpse to find a lone Metroid egg. As it hatched, she readied to kill it, but the baby had quite the unexpected reaction: it thought Samus was its mother.
Samus Returns displays this scene quite beautifully, after flashbacks in Super Metroid and Other M recreated the original scene from Metroid II. Samus stares at it without uttering a word, leaving you wondering what she’s thinking: does she see her three-year old self in the squealing infant? Is she Ridley, come to K-2L to slaughter her parents? This has been the oft-suggested explanation for why she decided to spare the Baby Metroid, and as Samus Returns shows, she developed a bond with it as it defended her from Proteus Ridley.
Before Samus Returns, her attachment to the Baby Metroid was viewed by critics as ridiculous because of how little time they spend together. I see it differently. In bringing the baby to Ceres, Samus ensured that the life-saving potential of the Metroids could be studied for the benefit of civilization, while also protecting her new “child” from the dangers of her job. No reasonable parent would put their child in harm’s way, and in Samus’s case, keeping a Metroid would expose it to capture by those who wished to use it for ill gain, which came to pass with the baby’s abduction from Ceres. Additionally, it is likely that Samus spent time at Ceres before leaving and participated in experiments.
Samus rushed back to Ceres upon seeing it was under attack, only to come face to face with Ridley. He had massacred yet another colony in search of a valuable material, which this time happened to be her “child”. Unable to defeat him again, Samus tore after him to Zebes and ravaged the planet in search of him. The game builds up to the second confrontation with Ridley in the depths of the planet, which results in what would seemingly be his final defeat. If Super Metroid was to be remade like Samus Returns – not that I think this should happen – I imagine a cutscene following the battle where Samus runs into the room behind Ridley’s chamber and finds the baby’s broken capsule, kneels and appears worried, like any mother whose child is missing.
Seeing the baby mutated to an unnatural size in Tourian, and almost dying at its hands most likely left Samus feeling furious and vengeful. Its death at the hands of Mother Brain evidently pushed Samus over the edge. Empowered by the energy the baby gave to her, and her maternal rage, Samus eliminated Mother Brain and escaped before Zebes, her former homeworld, was completely destroyed.
I would argue that in Other M, Samus is at a crossroads in her life. Ridley was finally dead, and the Metroids and Space Pirates were extinct at last. Her family was avenged, galactic civilization was saved. Yet, Samus does not feel jubilant. She lost the closest thing she had to a child and seemed to have fulfilled her purpose as savior of the galaxy. When she gets the Bottle Ship’s distress call, she sees an opportunity for another mission. Instead, she finds her friend Anthony from her Federation days, and another person she had not seen in many years – Adam.
As I mentioned, Adam is hostile to her at the start, and clearly does not want her around, yet she stays. Out of deference to him, she stops using some of her abilities until he authorizes them. He welcomes her onto the team so long as she follows his commands. Some critics of Other M call her submissive to him or consider his treatment of her sexist. In a military situation you are expected to follow your commanding officer’s orders or face court-martial. Samus is more of a consultant during that mission, but she trusts Adam’s judgment and does what he asks. Additionally, the fact that she is an “outsider” makes the possible consequences of disobeying his orders more severe. Now, sometimes the authorization mechanic was ridiculous, but it is not “sexist” as he also authorizes the use of certain weapons by the men under his command. One could make the case for his quip to Samus, “Any objections, Lady?” being sexist, but she countered that by giving her thumbs-down, and even says it was partly out of derision for being called a lady.
A point I’d like to make about the authorization mechanic has to do with the Varia Suit. This was singled out as one of the most glaring examples of Adam “mistreating” Samus, by forcing her to run through superheated areas without it until the last minute. A video released in May 2020 analyzes the original Japanese script of Other M. Literally translated, Adam asks Samus to restrict her search to safe areas until further equipment is authorized. He is telling her not to venture into hot areas, but Samus does so anyway. When he finally authorizes the Varia Suit, he does so with urgency – “Samus! Activate the Varia feature on your suit now!” This implies that the “Hell Run” was not the result of Adam’s neglect, but Samus being stubborn or rebellious, showing that she is not beholden to her commander.
Notwithstanding Metroid Fusion, the Galactic Federation had up to this point been a constant, an altruistic governing body Samus had strong faith in, and they in her. That faith begins to wane when she discovers that a splinter group of the Federation Army approved an illegal bioweapon development project on the Bottle Ship. Adding to this is the stress of keeping “Madeline Bergman” alive after discovering her in the facilities and deducing that one of her comrades – potentially even Anthony, or Adam – is a traitor. At the same time, she worries for their safety, particularly Adam’s. Her faith in Adam is also tested when she is led to believe that he authorized a program to breed Metroids – which she was used without her knowledge to recreate – for military use, going against convictions he had long held against using biological weapons. At one point, Samus muses that he would have disapproved of her decision to spare the baby, and wonders whether he has a negative opinion of her character. However, he never brings up the baby, so it is unclear if he knew what she had done.
Before encountering Ridley, Samus was surprised by the red laser sight of Anthony’s Plasma Gun. She immediately prepared to shoot him on reflex before he shouted at her to move, as he was targeting Ridley. It can be argued that this put her on edge and exacerbated her PTSD relapse when she was surprised by Ridley. Most of her previous encounters (barring Samus Returns and the beginning of Super Metroid) with Ridley occurred when she was alone and only had to concern herself with her own safety. The apparent death of Anthony brought Samus back to her senses and gave her the resolve to fight and defeat Ridley.
It was only after the destruction of Zebes – and Ridley’s body with it – at the end of Super Metroid that Samus thought Ridley was finally eradicated for good, and she could be at peace, only to be rudely awakened. Therefore, her panic is not “uncharacteristic”, but instead it shines a light on horrific psychological scars we have never seen in the games until now. While it could have been better communicated, to suggest that Samus displays weakness or is a shell of herself during Other M is wrong and misses the point of my essay.
I have never shared the outrage towards Samus’s character held by much of the Metroid community, and have always seen her through a different lens. Ultimately, people will have their own opinions about this game; some may pretend it does not exist or is not canon. I’ve even heard a joke that the game is in-universe Space Pirate propaganda. Regardless of how you feel about the way Samus was portrayed, or Other M entirely, you should not let it take away from your enjoyment of the entire franchise or the Metroid games you love. It is only one chapter in a larger saga of a heroine who is good at heart, strong in her own right, but has insecurities and bad days like any human being – compounded by the expectations and pressure brought on her, because of her role as a galactic savior.
Written by RoyboyX