[Warning: this article contains heavy Katana Zero spoilers!]
Askiisoft’s savage hit Katana Zero tells a grim story, largely revolving around the sins of war. Many of the game’s main characters – including the protagonist Zero – are walking embodiments of these sins. Their shared memories of the Cromag War paint it as Katana Zero‘s analogy of the Vietnam War. It is clear that, much like its real life counterpart, the Cromag War was fraught with atrocities. And yet, its darkest and ugliest truth is left unsaid. It hides in the language of the game.
To start off, the word cromag is not the designation of a people or a state. Outside of the phrase “Cromag War”, cromag is spelled in lowercase. Based on how the people of New Mecca use it, it appears to be a racial slur. The homeless veteran we encounter early in the game attacks us by saying “You look like a f*cking cromag. All you people are the f*cking same.”
He then talks about killing cromag children – as do the war veterans we commiserate with at the bar. Later on we learn that during the Cromag War, New Mecca deployed “death squads” tasked with wiping out entire villages of civilians. The NULL soldier Fifteen was a member of such a squad, as was most likely Zero himself.
Targeting civilian is, in the worst possible scenario, a shock tactic to force an enemy into submission. However, it would appear that in the Cromag War, killing off the civilian population was one of New Mecca’s main objectives. Otherwise, it’s hard to explain why they would unleash their augmented super soldiers on the general population.
“Cromag” is most likely derived from Cro-Magnon, a defunct term used to describe one of our more recent evolutionary ancestors. As a slur, it is comparable to calling someone a troglodyte: a lesser, un-evolved version of ourselves. This aligns it with another odd pejorative – subhuman – which we hear from people associated with the New Mecca government and military. Zero finds himself both on the giving and receiving end of the word. This happens in V’s limo and in Zero’s psychologist’s office, respectively.
Remarkably, all characters in Katana Zero, regardless of their social echelon, only have the slur cromag to describe their rival nation. There is no other, more neutral word. This indicates that racist attitudes are not isolated to war vets and other unfortunates languishing in New Mecca’s poor districts. Seeing foreigners as less than human appears to be something indoctrinated top-down throughout New Mecca, starting with the government.
So, what kind of agenda drives a state government to declare a rival nation as “inhuman”, and slaughter their young? How does that serve the usual objectives of war: resources and territory? It does not. It would appear New Mecca had waged an open war of extermination on the nameless people they dubbed cromags.
This is fundamentally different from the Vietnam War, which most Katana Zero narrative cues draw from. It is also different from most wars in human history as a whole. A state commits the ultimate evil by launching such a war.
The detail which really ties the knot around this theory is Leon von Alvensleben, the New Mecca military official behind the NULL Project which created Zero and Fifteen. Alvensleben shares his last name with real life SS official Ludolf von Alvensleben, who oversaw the killing of over 4000 Poles in 1939. Nazi Germany’s agenda during WWII is what the modern definition of a war of extermination derives from.
Katana Zero‘s story is deep, heavy, and yet to fully unfold. This aspect of it is clearly something we are not ready to tackle yet. Perhaps we will uncover more about the darkness behind New Mecca’s government in the game’s first DLC, which comes out later in 2020.