Saints Row in 2006 was a very different series than Saints Row is now. In tone, it was close to GTA: San Andreas with gang warfare being the main force driving the plot. These days, it’s still an open-world game but the tone has turned humorous with unashamed celebrations of pop culture.
Some people hate change.
Looking at forum posts, YouTube comments, and countless comments from egg avatars on Twitter makes it clear. There exists a contingent of fans that hate what Saints Row has become. I’ve tried to capture and sum up this anger before but it’s a very insular problem that is only understood by the longtime fans of the series. I’ll admit that I was personally frustrated by these people: why can’t they accept the change? It’s way better now. Don’t they realize how stale the “thug life” and gang warfare stuff got after the early 2000s? Even Grand Theft Auto moved away from that and is a better series for it.
But while it is frustrating to see people refuse change and cling to the ways of the past, I can see the situation through their eyes. Saints Row was hardcore before, and now it’s soft.
Saints Row 1 wasn’t very memorable aside from the novelty of your silent protagonist occasionally speaking for dramatic impact. Saints Row 2 is where it all changed, and is still considered the high point of the series by that contingent of fans. They added a fully voiced protagonist and got a much better script that wasn’t afraid to go to some dark places. This game is a rare example of the playable character being a villain, with no ambiguity or moral choice involved.
At best, the Boss of the second game is a ruthless anti-hero. At worst they’re a power-hungry, vicious warmonger.
Saints Row: The Third threw everyone into a new city, developed the cast better, and dropped most of the mean-spirited, feel-bad moments from Saints Row 2. The Boss was no longer a gang leader trying to win at all costs, and the Saints were no longer street thugs. They changed into celebrities, and as they evolved, the tone of the series evolved. The more ridiculous aspects of the previous game were turned up, the writing became much more comedic, and the missions traded away realism for fun.
This is the point where the fans split. There’s the people like me who’ve been there from the beginning and appreciates each title on their own merits. There’s the people who never cared about the series until The Third and love how 3 and 4 focus on comedy and fun, as a contrast to every other open-world game these days which are about sad anti-heroes protecting their family (thanks Ubisoft).
Then there’s the group that misses Saints Row 2 so much that they wish they could go back.. These people comment on every Saints Row article about how they miss the “gangster” days and the darker storyline. They find the new environments soulless and the comedic writing corny. I see their point but I cannot agree with it.
I liked Saints Row 2 but I feel the game changed for the better in every way in The Third. While open-world game series like True Crime, Mafia, Assassin’s Creed and Grand Theft Auto doubled down on realism and feel-bad stories, Saints Row sprinted in the other direction. Especially today, where every other game is remarkably grim by comparison, I absolutely love Saints Row for making humor work.
Saints Row IV was my favorite game of 2013 and Saints Row The Third was my favorite of 2011. They’d both place in my Top 20 favorites of all time if I cared enough to make such a list. So while I can see why fans of 2 are frustrated, I really think they’re missing out.
When replaying Saints Row: The Third recently, I found something on the radio. There’s a song in the game that I think was meant to sum up the evolution of the series. It’s so spot on that I wouldn’t be surprised if the developers put this song in the game intentionally. So I’ll analyze this song and how it relates to the Saints Row franchise as a whole.
This song is “Fur In My Cap”, on the rap station K-Rhyme. It’s by Robert Raimon Roy, an underground rapper who has mostly disappeared. This song appears on his album “King Warrior Magician Lover” which isn’t available to purchase anywhere on the internet, but the song is still available to buy as a single. It has a goofy music video that fits the tone of Saints Row The Third perfectly. I bought this album in 2011 after hearing this song, but to my knowledge you cannot buy it legally anywhere in 2015.
This unassuming rap song by an unknown artist is, in my view, the theme song of the Saints Row franchise. It perfectly sums up what the games are about, why they changed tone so drastically, and might even hint on the changes they made after Saints Row: The Third. Listen to it all the way through, and I’ll analyze the important parts.
Rob Roy’s voice and the quirky beat immediately makes you think of nerd/backpacker rap, a subgenre categorized by non-standard production and rappers who are more likely to namedrop Pokemon than Rockefeller. But this song is more than it appears.
“100, 200, 300 miles on an empty stomach/I’m on it, been on it, y’all just ain’t in on it yet”
Saints Row was successful but not respected initially, “on an empty stomach” referring to the lack of fulfillment the creators must have felt. They released SR1, SR2, and a mobile game and were still mostly dismissed as a GTA Clone. I actually preferred Saints Row 1 over San Andreas because the driving and shooting felt better, but many people said they were only playing the series to hold them over until Grand Theft Auto IV.
The second half is a peek at the song’s actual meaning. It sounds like a weird nerd rap song but Rob Roy is “in on it”. There’s something here that you’re not getting yet. Saints Row was “in on it” from the very beginning and didn’t just turn weird in The Third. There were weird things in Saints Row 2…remember being recruited for a COPS ripoff and breaking up Ninja vs. Pirate gang wars? How about killing civilians with a chainsaw for good TV footage?
People liked Saints Row 2 for being gangster. But when they say that, they forget that the series was always turning away from the standard gang warfare tropes from the very beginning.
“Pussy in my lap, bird in the sack/fur in my cap, fur fur in my cap”
For no good reason, Rob Roy drops the pretense of being more clever than you. It’s a very standard rap hook: simple, easy to chant, and backed by some crazy bass.
People playing this game and listening to K-Rhyme generally won’t notice this change in tone. Why is this nerd rap song suddenly mainstream drug rap? But this is the part of the song they will remember: the easy to digest part with the sick bass.
Saints Row 2 and The Third do the same. They put forth an outward appearance of being gangster: selling drugs, collecting and shooting an arsenal of badass guns, and having strippers everywhere because that’s what you do. But it’s not what the games are really about. “Pussy in my lap/bird in the sack” is not what this song is about. It’s just what’s being sold to the mainstream because that’s what they like.
This verse starts with an interesting line: “Exactly, go on and dap me/whether that be, at a track meet”
It’s nonsensical enough that the average listener will tune out. Coming off the high of the huge bass, easy to understand chorus…they’ll go back to “oh, this is the nerd rap part” and stop paying attention.
And most of the verse is a smokescreen. There’s nothing as blatant as “y’all just ain’t in on it yet” in the first.
“But if I ain’t talking about shooting things, you could think I was shooting blanks till it sink in a little, yelling:”
This part of the verse is the important part. After a verse of weird metaphors that might not even have a meaning, this drops. If Rob Roy isn’t talking about being a gangster and shooting things, you think he’s “shooting blanks” and you take him less seriously. You tuned out after the track meet line because you thought it was gonna be some more random nerd rap, and you missed this line.
Saints Row: The Third stopped “talking about shooting things”.
When many Saints Row 2 fans saw this trailer, they got worried. “The game isn’t about gang wars anymore? It’s about stupid jokes and punching people in the dick? Why is there classical music and no rap?”
To them, Saints Row The Third was “shooting blanks”. They started taking the game less seriously. They were ALREADY upset that the game seemed to switch to comedy instead of badassery. They wanted the old Saints Row back. They didn’t realize that Volition saw the future of open world games where every protagonist was a cookie-cutter anti-hero in a world filled with more collectibles than personality. They didn’t realize that Volition knew this future was coming from the very beginning, and were trying to make their own lane.
Another chorus, same as the first one. There’s a few interesting points here.
1. In the music video, the song essentially ends here. It does a classic rap video tactic of switching to a different song, giving you a preview of the next single!
2. When playing the game, the song also ends here most of the time. The DJ will give an outro and transition to commercial or another song.
“I’m trying to told ya, but y’all is getting older/and getting closer to never getting over, while I keep on getting swoller”
No more metaphors here. Rob Roy is being perfectly clear: I’m trying to help you out. You need to make your own path instead of staying in the same one. I’m improving myself (getting swoller) and you’re not.
Saints Row: The Third was a clean break away from its origins as a “GTA Clone”. It improved itself in every way over Saints Row 2, and diverged from GTA in its tone. To use an example of “getting older and never getting over”, Assassin’s Creed. It was a novel idea at first but hasn’t changed enough. The series increased production and started coming out every year, and now in 2015 people who loved Assassin’s Creed don’t care anymore because they’re all the same. They got older, but they never got over.
Saints Row not only improved itself and left the GTA formula with its gameplay mechanics, it broke away from the somber, grim tone that many open world games want. They got swoller.
“Pretty soon I’ll leave this boulder, while boasting my boldest blues/To boost me into an orbit forging the course of the future”
I just like how this has a lot of space metaphors considering that Saints Row IV puts the cast in space. Were they really thinking this far ahead when putting this song in the game?
“And while it seems inhuman, I do intend to pursue this end/As a means of tuning in through the ends of the newest trends”
While Saints Row The Third is in the same series, it’s basically a reboot. The game mocks many open-world trends and quirks and essentially says “reality is boring!” Why wait for a long animation to get into a car when you can just dive through the windshield?
They couldn’t get rid of the open-world game format, but the developers clearly looked at all the things that they didn’t like and tried to fix them. In GTA IV you gain money and have nothing to spend it on. I know people who like that game even admit this is true.
In Saints Row The Third, you can buy properties to really take over the city. You can upgrade yourself to become actually invincible. You can buy and trick out cars with a crazy in-depth car customization system. The game isn’t afraid to make you feel powerful and make you feel that your efforts in sidequests mattered.
“And I got that latest latest tasteless made in my homeboy’s basement/with an 808 bass kick to fade the whip into shades of make-up”
Even though Saints Row is making fun of the trends of open-world games and turning the genre on its head, it still LOOKS like every other game if you’re not paying attention. If you’re not paying attention to “Fur in my Cap”, this is the part where your ears perk up: oh, he’s talking about rapper stuff again like weed and heavy bass! Good thing he’s away from all the nerdy parts!
“For the sake of making a face
With a blanket statement
In place of a major facelift
In layman’s terms
Let us learn by saying: [chorus]”
Saints Row can’t impose a “major facelift” on its genre or the way videogames are going in general. But they don’t have to. They’ve changed majorly while everyone else stayed the same. When other games think humor is slapping memes everywhere, Saints Row makes moments that are genuinely funny by playing with your expectations of its characters or doing something you didn’t think the game was capable of. Other games are afraid of making you too strong, Saints Row quickly gives you a jet with rockets, invincibility to bullet damage, and eventually flight. While other videogames insist that every protagonist looks similar, sounds similar, and must be on a quest to avenge a dead family member, Saints Row lets you be whoever you want even if that’s a 7 foot tall naked alien. And your quest is for fun.
If Saints Row appealed to the people who wanted things to stay like they were in Saints Row 2, it would be a lesser series today.