Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Emil, Atypical Hero

Throughout many years of RPG gaming, we’ve come to associate ourselves as players with the main character to a particular storyline. As such our favourite characters tend to be the main character of that particular RPG. Of course, this also explains why so many main heroes of RPG stories are male. A strong example of such is Chrono Trigger, where Crono’s voice, while unheard of except in a single ending, coloured our own perception of him as a strong-willed person because we filled in the words for him. It is not a coincidence that the heroes of RPG games are all strong willed and powerful, it is how we feel these heroes should be like, and perhaps what we would also want to be like ourselves. What happens when this sort of feeling goes away?

“Nobody wants to play a wimp like Emil,” is a very common reality amongst players of Tales of Symphonia: dawn of the New World. This was apparent from the get-go of the story, when Emil has his first conversation with his Aunt. What we see here is what players would describe as a coward, a weakling. Even in the first battle, Emil’s sluggish movements and frustratingly slow capabilities further adds to the distaste we have to Emil. The sort of feeling that I’ve mentioned earlier on all but disappeared in the first five minutes of the game.

I think that one of the reasons why we are so against Emil in the first place is that he is weak, sluggish, and depressed. Depression is one of the most common ailments in the developed world. What we see here is a strong mirror between us (the depressed), and Emil (the powerless and depressed). The fact that he is the embodiment of who we are gives us a strong distaste for Emil in the first place. He feeds off our own negative feelings.

As far as the third battle, Emil gained the ability to be the “Knight of Ratatosk.” This is also no coincidence that we are introduced to the same strong-willed, generally powerful person we’ve all come to associate with time, but only in battle. We’re now given the incentive to battle to see more of this headstrong character.

As the game wears on, Emil begins to use his Ratatosk form more often until the Ratatosk “mode” completely takes over near the midpoint of the game. Like ourselves, Emil tries to cling onto what little bit of strength, and begins to rely on it more and more until eventually it takes over. Just like we want to escape from our real troubles in order to play a video game, Emil escapes from his own powerlessness by clinging onto his other, more powerful form.

Emil illuminates on our lives more clearly than most RPG heroes, yet we are the ones who clearly dislike him for being so. His most important function, however, is telling us that our own escapism from the world is just as harmful as Emil’s escapism from his own powerlessness. More importantly, however, is that Emil’s own struggles reveal a glimmer of hope for those that drown in the ocean of sadness: he took control of his own life, then so can you.


cici said...

I find it strange that in fiction, good characterization is defined to be one that is realistic and believable, which usually means that the protagonist has human flaws and weaknesses. Yet from what I understand, a character with flaws is not desirable in game playing. I would have thought that a character like Emil would have been much more attractive.

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