Dante’s Inferno: Epic Fail or Divine pwnage?

So have you noticed a strange thing in your local bookstore’s poetry/classics section? Like this?

This is what happens when an epic poem is made into a video game, and some cross promotion occurs. Now, I’ve watched the demo of Dante’s Inferno on PS3, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

Here’s an obvious question: will it get gamers to read the classic?

Thus far it’s hard to tell. For a month we’ve had copies of the tie-in edition of the Inferno on the shelf, with alpha-dog crusader Dante on the cover, and none have yet sold. Granted, the full game has only been released in the past week, so the only buyers would presumably be just anybody who wants a copy of the Inferno with some badass guy on it.

It remains to be seen how many gamers will be inspired to read all about the anticipated bloodletting and demon-shredding in the poem of old. Maybe they’ll be disappointed to find that a wimpy poet is led through hell and runs into a bunch of whiners. “Waaaah, I’m buried upside-down forever,” or, “Boo-hoo, I’m a tree being clawed by harpies.” Lamerz.

And dude doesn’t even fight Satan.

My reaction wasn’t like this when I read the Inferno years ago, sure, but then again my expectations weren’t skewed as some people’s are going to be.

Dante Alighieri, pictured here without scythe made of bone or cross sewn into his chest

The Game

The video game Dante is no poet, but a Florentine knight fighting in Acre during the Crusades. The demo launches you into Dante’s first fight, where you tap a couple buttons and he starts knocking Saracens silly with a halberd. Ho hum. Then one of them manages to sneak up and stab him in the back, and the grim reaper appears. Death isn’t in the mood for a chess match, evidently, so as Dante you must fight him to live.

He kills Death, which is a great way to begin any story, a retelling of the Divine Comedy not excepted. With the reaper’s scythe in hand, Dante returns home to find his lover Beatrice dead and her soul whisked away by Lucifer.

Like I said, it was a demo, and one that ended right when Dante reached what had to be the gates of Hell (and there was no “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” from what I saw). At least he hacks his way through the Nine Circles, from what I’ve read, but I’m left curious as to what else this interpretation would have in store:

  • Does Dante still encounter dozens obscure, long-dead Italian nobles and clergy? If so, can he get terza rima on their sorry asses?
  • After Dante kills Lucifer (as I’m certain he can), does a toadstool-headed lackey appear and say, “Sorry Dante, but the princess is in another plane of existence?”
  • Can I get it in the Longfellow version, or is that only on XBox?

As a video game it’s a knockoff of scads of other things out there, most notably God of War (which is a superior series of games). As an adaptation, the game’s storyline seems less inspired by the Divine Comedy than it does by, well, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. But the original poem had a truly preposterous premise, too, when you think about it.

Still, I’d encourage anybody with the slightest interest in the original poem to read it. And if it’s because of the game, then just adjust your expectations for what is a different kind of awesomeness.

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One thought on “Dante’s Inferno: Epic Fail or Divine pwnage?

  1. I think the most interesting outcome from basing a game on a classic piece of literature has been the reviews. Almost all of them feature some sort of pause so the reviewer can show off his “unique” knowledge of Dante’s poem, proving that he actually did go to college and get a degree in English so that he could write for a living on this website, and is not just some guy who never stopped eating Doritos while fingering multicolored buttons to make flashy things happen on his mom’s television set. And as bitter as I sound about that, some of the comments can actually warm you in your special place. The best that I’ve come across so far spends some time talking about the Bible, before linking it to Dante’s Inferno by describing the later as “history’s first recorded work of self-insert fan fiction.”

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