[Warning: this article features 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 alternate dimension version of the Vietnam War. It is clear that, much like its real life counterpart, the Cromag War was one of atrocities and inhumanity. And yet, its darkest and ugliest truth is left unsaid. It hides in the language the game uses the describe certain things.
First of all, 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 fucking cromag. All you people are the fucking 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. Civilian casualties in warfare are, in the worst possible scenario, a shock tactic to force an enemy into submission. It would appear that in the Cromag War, they were one of New Mecca’s actual objectives.
“Cromag” is most likely derived from Cro-Magnon, a defunct term used to describe one of our more recent 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.
Notably, all characters in Katana Zero, regardless of their social echelon, only have the slur cromag to describe their rival nation. This means that the racism behind the word does not end with the poor underclasses of New Mecca. Seeing foreigners as less than human appears to be something indoctrinated from the top down.
So, what kind of agenda could a government have to dehumanize its enemies, and slaughter their young? 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 for its Cromag War. 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 idea 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. The Nazis are the force behind the modern definition of a war of extermination.
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.