Back in Christmas of 1998, my parents had surprised my brother and me with a Playstation, the first new console we had in years. We spent much time on that baby, though one series I will always hold near and dear is the Spyro series.
It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I am a massive dragon nerd. I write stories about them, draw them, and collect various dragon-themed items like figurines or plushies. Even as a child, I once came up with a video game concept centered around dragons. So when I saw the old TV commercials of a game where you could play as a dragon rather than fighting one, it blew my little mind.
Years later, and these games I loved as a kid got a new coat of purple paint as Spyro Reignited Trilogy hit store shelves where a new generation of gamers could experience this fantastical world I lost myself in long ago. It was everything I remembered of the Playstation classics but with greater detail and a new whimsical charm that anyone could pick up and play.
“How are these three games connected?”
There was a big emphasis on Spyro having some sort of destiny ahead of him in the first Spyro game. By the end of the game, the player never discovers Spyro‘spurpose. Why is that? In Spyro 2, there’s another world Spyro wants to vacation in. It’s in the main hub world of the first game. Except it wasn’t in the first game. How is that possible?
Why are the villains so two dimensional with lackluster motivations? Skateboarding minigames? Television programs? Pencil fetch quests? How does that make sense?
All these seemingly unanswered nonsensical moments keep popping up while pretending to weave them all into one cohesive story. I couldn’t help but think further than that and seemingly dive into my own theories for what exactly is going on in these three games.
Analyzing Our Hero…
To start, we must look at the original story of our plucky purple pal as he traverses through the six lands of the Realm of Dragons to stop the questionably dangerous Gnasty Gnorc from stealing all the treasure and trapping all the dragons in crystal. The basic premise: not overly complicated. In other words, a child’s imagination. Or more precisely: their dreams.
If you look at Spyro’s demeanor, he stands out quite considerably compared to the other dragons you meet along the way. Not just because he’s so tiny, but in terms of personality. He’s brash. Plucky. Hot-headed. Energetic. Eager to prove himself. He can’t even correctly fly yet because he’s still young and earning his wings. Now, whenever children play make-believe, their desire is always to be the hero. The underdog. Able to rise against the big bad and save the day despite the odds.
And when creating a new character for a story, a new writer will often turn to themselves as the go-to person to base their main character. So perhaps in that sense, Spyro is, in fact, the personification of a child, most likely a young boy, dreaming and creating his own stories through that.
We can take that a step farther if we break down the lands of the Dragon Realm itself. Each world has a specific theme and name that can equate to world-building. Perhaps each land Spyro visits is a representation of an aspect of dreams. This is how I see it:
The Artisan World
The Artisan World’s primary focus is the landscape and architecture, which makes sense as the starting hub world. Lush green environments, columns and Greco-Roman buildings everywhere, a gigantic dragon statue serving as the home for the boss, in one level there’s bookshelves that serve as tunnel walls while another is seemingly an homage to the city of Madrid.
In the Reignited Trilogy, each dragon you free has some artistic quirk to them. One is painting a picture on a canvas. Another is balancing an inkwell on his belly while writing on parchment. One was practicing a Shakspearean monologue.
This world’s central focus is that each dragon has a unique skill or craft they are passionate about. Artisans are defined as a person skilled in an art, trade, or craft after all. Perhaps the main focus of this world is to provide the landscape and architecture needed for dreams to function. To paint the scene as it were for our “actors” to perform in.
This land, compared to the last, is flat and barren. It is a literal desert, save for one ice level and a few architecture bits equating to pueblos or ancient temples. The music, especially in the hub world, is powerful and stern, almost militaristic in its rhythm as enemies dressed as soldiers shoot at you with their cannons.
Going back to Spyro‘sReignited Trilogy, the dragons you free have very muscular builds with the occasional sumo wrestler thrown in, but all appear in top physical fighting condition. The name PeaceKeeper also invokes a certain feel, like these dragons are the first line of defense against a more significant threat. They are the literal peacekeepers of the Dragon Realm.
But what are they fighting and defending? Well, perhaps they combat nightmares, keeping the evil thoughts at bay the best they can as children sleep. Nightmares can be tricky. The dragons have to be strong to fight them. Hence the harsh conditions of the land they train in.
The Magic Crafters
Magic Crafters stands out for its mystical vibes and vast utilization of wizardry and prestidigitation. Moving platforms, stairs that appear out of solid rocks, fairies that create whirlwinds and keep you from falling off ledges or kiss you and your firepower increases exponentially, and enemies using lightning or tornadoes to stop you in your pursuit.
Supercharge ramps are here, too. Allowing the player to become faster and more powerful. Able to leap at great heights and fell larger enemies. In the Reignited Trilogy, each dragon is a spellcaster of some kind, be it a wizard, a magician, or even a scholar holding a spellbook.
World three feels like the birthplace of magic in this realm and, in turn, can be how the fantastical things you’re able to do in dreams can occur. Ability to fly? Unexplained things happening that seem normal to you in a dream? Going to places in the blink of an eye? All possible thanks to the Magic Crafters who craft the magic you see throughout the world. Or don’t see in some cases, I’d imagine.
The Beast Keepers
Beast Keepers is unlike any of the others in that Gnasty’s goons have entirely taken over and turned this once peaceful swamp into “an electrified junk heap”. Vast areas of land are flat blocks that efficiently conduct electricity – killing or at least injuring any living creature that steps on it. No beauty remains.
The question remains: what did this place look like before the gnorcs got a hold of it? What was its purpose? Well, I think the answer is in the name: Beast keepers. With the large bodies of water and the open space there once was before Gnasty’s minions reconstructed it, it seems like an excellent place to raise many unusual and magical animals in one location. Animals are found on the land, water, and even air, given the TreeTops level, where many players plummeted to their doom via a missed supercharge jump. For a creature learning to fly or adept at climbing or jumping, that would be a paradise.
Even the few beasts you see in the levels are at home there, taking advantage of the abundance of space. Usually, I’d assume there would be more than just pigs, frogs, monkeys, and chickens wandering around. With the gnorcs dismantling everything and all the dragons sealed away, it’s no wonder only a handful survived and turned violent. Hopefully, by the end of the game, things return to normal, and the beast keepers can get back to raising and training these fantastical beasts to romp through dreams once again.
The Dream Weavers
Dream Weavers almost feels like Magic Crafters 2.0 with the upbeat music, colorful landscapes, unusual magical moments like cannons that change enemies in size or enemies that are invincible but manipulate the world around them when attacked. In fact, most of the landscape and inhabitants here seem to be an amalgamation of the previous four worlds. Almost like they were all weaved together from pieces of the same cloth.
For me, the main selling point in this lies in the name: Dream Weavers. If every other world focuses on one aspect of a dream, then there has to be a place where they all culminate in one place to form the dreams themselves. Between the name, the similarities to every world that came before, and the fact it’s the last main hub world before Gnasty’s World gives it a more substantial significance to believe that it has a unique purpose to the others.
It might explain many of the unusual enemies. On one level, you see creatures changing size and ferocity depending on whether the lights are on or not. A common fear for children growing up is monsters hiding in the dark. Or how some creatures are invincible but attacking them turns them into an alarm clock and ticks down, giving Spyro the time to access a platform he otherwise can’t reach. Perhaps a symbolism of how time ticks away, and in dreams, the only thing keeping you from leaving is the ring of that alarm clock that brings you back to reality.
According to the original game’s manual, this area was once called the Dragon Junkyard. A landfill for the dragons to discard things they did not need or want, Gnasty Gnorc ended up being banished there by the very dragons after continuous bouts of mischief and his unwillingness to abide by the rules. This, along with several careless insults about his intelligence and looks, led him to launch a full-scale invasion attempt by trapping all the dragons in crystals and turning their treasure into his army.
Given the original title of this world and how there are only four worlds to travel to within the hub, it’s clear this place is not meant to be associated with building or raising anything related to dreams. It’s a garbage heap where bad ideas or concepts are tossed out. Maybe once upon a time, these places and objects served a purpose, but much like the cars in The Brave Little Toaster‘s film adaptation, after a fashion, they were no longer needed, or something with them didn’t work out, so they were promptly removed.
Analyzing Our Villain…
Once an inhabitant in these lands, Gnasty found himself becoming increasingly dangerous the more he fixated on his outer appearance. Looking at his reflection in the gems and being both repulsed by his ugly visage and envious of the stones’ beauty. This insecurity only grew worse after he was kicked out, which accumulated into his inevitable attack at the beginning of the game. The Reignited Trilogy built that into something even sadder. Spyro discovers that the gnome-orc hybrid (gnorc, get it?) wrote love letters to himself, pretending he had secret admirers while filling his man-cave with motivational posters.
The real kicker comes when the final boss occurs. After five worlds of buildup, tackling his minions, overcoming all obstacles, collecting all the stolen treasure, and freeing all the dragons, you’d expect a big climactic showdown with this big bad, right? Except you don’t end up getting that. Instead, Gnasty Gnorc purposely does everything in his power not to fight you. He shoots at you from a ledge you can’t climb, forcing the player to chase after thieves to get the keys so Spyro can finally reach Gnasty.
So after all that, you fight him now, right? Nope! He begins to run in the opposite direction, avoiding all conflict again. What gives? Don’t you hate dragons? Or perhaps, in truth, he admires them. Because going back to the hub of Gnasty’s World, what are the entrances of each level designed as? They look like dragons. And what’s the color of his skin? Green: associated with envy. Is it then that Gnasty’s envious of Spyro and his kind? A scared child looking for comfort and acting out for attention? Is he the darker side to Spyro’s light? Or, more specifically, the insecurities of the child who is dreaming?
What About the Other Spyro Games?
If you apply all these thoughts to the other games in the series, a lot of it makes sense. In Ripto’s Rage, the villain is an angry short monster, which manifests from a child’s anger and frustration. He has poor motivation for his actions. He yells at everyone and demands special treatment. His two lackeys are all brawn and no brain. And he somehow intimidates those larger than him, but Spyro, who is his height, can easily stand up to him. Even the color of his skin is red, which is associated with anger.
The worlds of Avalar? All named and catered around the seasons. Something familiar and straightforward to a child. The Forgotten Realms? Same reason, just with times of the day. The use of random modern technology in a world of fantasy and magic? Another familiar thing a child would bring into their dreams.
That’s why there are televisions and skateboards. Even creatures from the real world like cheetahs and moles can live alongside fauns and fairies without question in the world of dreams. That’s why a penguin can fly, and a monkey can shoot lasers at dinosaurs. Moneybags, the greedy bear, is a nightmare waiting to happen. Still, perhaps he’s a representation of an unpleasant family member or the kid who watched the bank scene in Mary Poppins too much.
Spyro: Year of the Dragon
Spyro: Year of the Dragon, in particular, has a deeper meaning than the second. The main story centers around retrieving all the stolen dragon eggs. Now, why would a child dream of saving babies? Well, maybe a significant change is happening in the real world. Perhaps a new family member is coming. A new sibling is underway, and our little hero is unsure of their position on the matter. Or are excited to take on this new responsibility.
The opening of the game also lends credence to the theory. The dragons are all passed out from a party for the eggs’ arrivals. How did the eggs get there? How are there eggs with only male dragons around? To a child, the baby-making process is foreign. Beforehand, the party can be seen as a baby shower, which the child experienced for the first time.
One magnificent thing about video games is how it can take you to far off places at the click of a button. You can go anywhere you want and be whoever you want to be, for both children and adults alike. They allow your imagination to run wild. And in my case, it allowed me to take a game series I loved as a kid and grow it into something more.
Do I claim my theory is correct? Were the developers thinking all of this as they were building it? The likelihood is no. They were making a fun game with a purple dragon as the lead. Concepts changed over production time, details are forgotten or altered with new faces, and that’s okay. I don’t expect my theory to be canon, but I had fun coming up with it. And I enjoy being able to share it with others who love this series as much as I do.
If you take anything away from this article, don’t be afraid to look outside the box. Find your path and come up with new ideas about your favorite games. You may discover something you weren’t expecting, even through a silly platforming game from the ’90s.