Friday, May 20, 2016

Sheex

Sheex is my favorite character, as if you needed me to tell you that.  I think he has the coolest sprite in the game, and it seems that what was planned for him may have been even cooler.  It turns out, there's a bit more we can find out about Sheex than what is revealed in the final American game.

Sheex's Japanese name is シーク, which according to Jisho.com, can be translated as Sikh, seek, or Sheik.  I doubt it's implied that Sheex practices Sikhism, so either seek or Sheik (Arabic word for leader of a tribe) seems correct.

We only meet Sheex three times.  Once is the sole part of the game that the Emperor is in the same room with his four bodyguards, during the assault on Vandole's palace.  He has no lines here.  The second time is as the Dark Stalker in Tasnica.  His lines here add little to his character.  Finally, he makes a stand in the Tree Palace, where he drops very important information about the Empire.  This is only the time we directly confront Sheex as himself.  The fact that I chose this character to be my favorite says volumes about me...

In order to understand Sheex, we need to understand a bit more about the Emperor's other bodyguards.  I will cover each of them in future articles, but as an introduction, let's look at the Japanese word, 四天王, which is how they are introduced.  The translation of this is generally given as, "four heavenly kings."  This is a reference to the Buddhist tradition of four gods who each oversee a cardinal direction of the world.  However, it has been often been reinterpreted for use in Japanese popular culture. One notable example is in Sailor Moon to refer to Endymion's generals.  More recently, the concept was used in Final Fantasy Type-0.

Sheex has two forms with a complete set of sprites, only one of which appears in the game.  Despite having a complete set, they appear to be unfinished, according to tcrf.net.  Only the static version of Sheex is shown---his walking frames are never used.  UPDATE 2/20/2017: Celes Destiny has once again submitted a correction.  He is very briefly seen walking in the game, though only a very small subset of available frames is used.  His second, unused form involves his regular
sprite with a helmet.  An early draft of this article had me thinking that maybe Sheex was also a Mech Rider, but the helmet seems to be distinct from Geshtar's; it may even be closer to a mask.  We may also consider the possibility that the helmet was his original default sprite, and they switched to the helmetless version to reveal his enchantingly striking plum locks.

Let's take a look at the first time Sheex is mentioned in Secret of Mana.  I will post what Ted Woolsey translated from the Japanese script, and then attempt my own best translation as someone who knows diddly poo about the language (yay web machine translators, but I'm keeping the American names).  I've paraphrased a bit, and used online Japanese dictionaries like Jisho for words that the very limited translators couldn't handle.

Woolsey: 

The Emperor has some powerful bodyguards.  Sheex, Geshtar, Fanha, and Thanatos. They're capable of anything!

ManaRedux: 

There are guards called the, "four heavenly kings" that report directly to the Emperor.  They are: 


The leader, the knight of darkness --- Sheex

The machine rider --- Geshtar
The lone female --- Fanha

Then there is the magic knight, Thanatos.  I'm still not very familiar with him.


This final line was not translated by Woolsey; instead, he added Thanatos to the previous screen to save space (poor Ted).  We now have some information left out of the USA translation: Sheex was the main bodyguard.  There is nothing to be found about the machination of his leadership, but it is likely that his intended role would have reflected this status.  We also see that Thanatos was not on the same level as the others, and seems to have shown up recently.  I will conjecture that Sheex was responsible for the oversight of Geshtar and Fanha.  This makes sense, since Geshtar did most of the dirty work in the beginning of the game, sent as Sheex's subordinate while he presumably worked things in Tasnica and kept watch in Northtown.  Thanatos was off doing his own thing.  Speaking of Tasnica, this is what we have there:

Woolsey:

KING:Who are you?
You must be spies!

RANDI:Wait a minute...

GUARD:Silence, spy.

KING:Take them away!

GUARD:WAIT!
He's not the king..!

KING(?):Ha! Using the king,
I could have ruined this
realm...

But...I've failed.
Take THIS!

[everyone else disappears]

RANDI:What've you done?

KING(?):They're probably at
the castle entrance!

Think I'll have YOU
destroy the king!

RANDI:Think again!

ManaRedux:

KING: ...Who are you, coming in here like this?  I suspect that you are the Imperial spies we've been looking for.  Guards, these are the spies!  Save me!

RANDI: We're clearly not the spies.

GUARD:  You may remain silent, scoundrels.  To think that you came here aiming for the life of the king...

KING:  My life is in danger, and look at what you're doing!  Don't you think it's time [for what needs to be done] to take them away?

JEMA: Wait a minute!  You are not the king.  Look, he doesn't cast any shadows.

KING:  Hahaha, indeed, Jema!  As the king, I was going to surrender Tasnica to the Empire, but now that I've been discovered, it doesn't matter.  My plans have been spoiled.  But I will still deal with you now!


[everyone else disappears]

RANDI:  What did you do with [our friend] Jema and other others!?

KING:  Hahaha!  By now, they should be back at the entrance to the castle, helplessly scurrying around the area.  Now, let's all just use this opportunity to end the king...

RANDI: ...or not.  Just try to make us!

Note how Jema (who is not mentioned in the USA script) reminds Randi that the king does not cast a shadow.  This could simply be a contrived way of denoting him as a bad guy, but it seems possible that there is a lost explanation for this, given that Sheex is the "Knight of Darkness."  However, as we'll see below, Randi apparently did not realize that the dark stalker was Sheex before he escaped, so I may be way off here.

There's also a lot of conclusions that are jumped to Tasnica.  First, we hear there is a spy, and need to search the palace to find him or her.  But, all we have to do is walk into the throne room.  Instead of providing some old fashioned Tasnican hospitality, the king immediately orders our heroes to be taken away.  Then, Sheex does not even attempt to elude the fact that he's the one they're looking for, once it is discovered that he doesn't cast a shadow.  I will presume that originally, the search for the spy was more involved, and the mere presence of the triumvirate in the throne room would not cause the dark stalker to reveal his hand.

Let's do what we always do, and examine some other Square RPGs of the time for possible insight.  The concept of a dark knight shows up a lot.  It is known that Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana started out as the same project.  The closest character in that game to Sheex is Magus.  But despite their similar dispositions, there's not a whole lot that can be conjectured from this.  Similarly, Cecil from Final Fantasy IV was a dark knight, but has little in common with Sheex.

But, there is one very obvious place to look --- Secret of Mana 2.  Never localized in the USA, I played this about 15 years ago on an emulator, and admittedly don't recall much about the game.  But a search through the Mana wiki reveals the major antagonist known as the Darkshine Knight.

Compiled from a rip by davias of the Spriters Resource

He is essentially presented as Mech Rider's sprite with a nice facelift, and a palette very close to Sheex.  In fact, in SoM, Mech Rider's body sprite was used with a different palette for the dark knight enemy.  How much of Darkshine Knight's story, if any, was inspired by Sheex's intended background is impossible to determine, but it is worth nothing that the sequel to SoM had a very prominent similar character.

So whatever Jema was referring to is not known, but it does reinforce the darkness theme which was completely excised from the USA version.

A Japanese source depicts Sheex with a long sword.

The final time we encounter Sheex is in the Tree Palace.  The Emperor asks who wants the "job" of ending the triumvirate, and...

Woolsey:

SHEEX: I owe them one since the Republic!  Leave it to me!

RANDI: You?  You're the Dark Stalker?!

SHEEX: Behold! Have a taste of my true power!

(change screens to the battle with Sheex's alternate form)

SHEEX: Ha! The underworld gives us its strength.
I'll squash you!

SHEEX:The contract we signed with the underworld gives us control of THIS world!

To keep humans under my control, we're reviving the Mana Fortress!

Now your time is over...

ManaRedux:

SHEEX:  Your majesty, leave us please!  You and Fanha should hasten to the altar ahead.  They dared to interfere with me in Tasnica...

RANDI:  You were the dark stalker then...?

SHEEX: Yes, but that was before what you're about to witness.  Behold!  My true form!

(change screens to the battle with Sheex's alternate form)

SHEEX:  Hahaha!  The forces of the Underworld gave us a power that children such as you will not stop.  There is no way you can beat us!

RANDI:  Wait!  Even the Emperor...?

SHEEX:  Isn't it obvious?  In exchange for handing the planet to the Underworld, we were bestowed with great powers.  And humans will not dare go up against the Mana Fortress, which the Emperor can now revive with our new power.  As for you, take a long rest here...

I don't know if this qualifies as lost in translation, but it seems that Randi is expressing surprise that Sheex was a particular dark stalker in a group of many, rather than the dark stalker.  After all, the dark stalker is a common enemy later in the game.

Sheex drops the bombshell here that they've been working with the, "Underworld", which is not explained much in the USA version.  Randi and friends then battle Sheex as Aegagroplion, which, according to the Mana wiki is derived from the plant known as the marimo.  Upon further research, I learned that these are large green balls of algae which form at the bottom of the ocean.  They do resemble the Aegagroplion monster's central sphere, sans teeth of course.  You can even grow them in your kitchen, feed them and have your very own alternate underworld form.  According to user regrs of the GameFAQs forum, there was an attack left out of Aegagropilon's sprite, involving some chomping on our heroes:



Aegragropilon is weak to Sylphid, which makes sense as he's a water creature, but the dark stalker was weak to Lumina.  Since Sheex was still in human form at Tasnica, it fits together well.

We'll explore the concept of Secret of Mana's underworld in Thanatos' article, and will reference back to Sheex at that time, but for now, we'll have to be content with the limited information we can find---a common theme when exploring what was actually released in this game.

Also of interest:

I'm not sure what going's on here, as I don't understand Japanese, but it appears like they're trying to get Sheex to function as a main character.

Next:  Water travel

Additional Acknowledgments:

The Spriters Resource graciously allow their work to be used.  The Japanese magazine screenshot has been on my hard drive for awhile, and I regret that I can not find the site (in Japanese) that it came from.  Any information would be appreciated.   Everything is owned by Square, and is used for educational purposes under the Fair Use Doctrine.

4 comments:

  1. A little side note: Aegagropilon's Japanese name was "Mega Xorn." A xorn is a type of earth-elemental monster from Dungeons and Dragons, which also fits the Sylphid/Jinn weakness.

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  2. I would love to see the plans they had for Sheex. Due to the most content obviously being cut between Northtown and tree Palace, I guess Sheex would have more appearances like Geshtar had.

    However, I don't get what makes him a leader of the group. If there were hints on that, they were cut as well.

    "Only the static version of Sheex is shown---his walking frames are never used."
    Actually this is not true. In the Tree Palace, he walks two steps to the left and two steps down. You will see his walking animations then. You will never be able to see him from behind, though.

    Another side note: The Dark Stalker you fight in Tasnica is the same enemy you encounter later on. So, it is possible to receive Ninja Gloves even before the Trial of Courage!

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    Replies
    1. You are absolutely right about the walking frames. Fixed.

      And I'm with you on the leader thing---any reflection of this role did not make anywhere near the final product.

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  3. I never knew there were official artwork for the bodyguards. Do you have more scans of those?

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