So here’s a little scenario that has been happening embarrassingly frequently lately.
Irina’s inner monologue: It’s almost 10 pm, I’ll just play a little round of the Berseria card minigame, it takes like 2 minutes, then I’ll finish my presentation for tomorrow and be in bed by 11. I need to get up at 5, I got this!!!
Irina’s inner monologue: How is it 12:45 already!!!??? Ok just one last round….
The Berseria card minigame is way too much fun for what it is guys. Berseria as a whole is pretty fun actually. For me, it has yet to surpass Vesperia as my Tales(TM) game of choice but it’s a great runner up!
The Tales series (and pretty much all RPGs with any sort of involved storyline) have a few themes they tend to go back to in every title, but the one that’s been jumping out at me as I navigate Velvet through ancient ruins and sunny port towns, is the detailed depiction of survivor’s guilt. The eternal struggle of trying to forgive yourself for having failed to die instead of (or alongside) a loved one. This pain hangs heavy on the character’s shoulders. I watch Velvet struggle and lash out at it and I keep thinking back to my beloved Raven from Tales of Vesperia.
Raven is one of the main companions and a playable party member in Tales of Vesperia. Since he’s the last one to join, you could think that his personal arc is given less time but his background is the most detailed and plot important in the game. Apparently carefree to the point of carelessness, Raven is a man racked with guilt. Almost entirely destroyed by it, by the time we meet him.
Believing himself to exist only on time stolen from his fellow soldiers that died in the great war, Raven goes about his days firmly entrenched in the notion that he was never worthy of their sacrifice and therefore has no right to the life it yielded. He is a dead man walking. A shell of a person. Unable to forgive himself or appreciate anything around him.
His past is a nightmare, mercilessly gnawing at him. He desperately wants to sweep it under a rug, to completely forget it. He’s changed everything about himself in an effort to escape it, but it always bullies its way back to the forefront of his mind. Until he eventually lost the will to even delude himself.
This resignation lead him to simply amble, doing another’s bidding because of duty, refusing to pass judgements, desperately trying not to think. He no longer lives for himself. Broken, the man is an insubstantial shadow. Tales of Vesperia does offer the forlorn unfortunate, a lifeline in the form of a redemption arc. But it remain tenuous.
In time you get a chance to give him a reason to try, the earn his right at life again. But even in the best case, he remains haunted by the past. Although he can now recognize it an honour it, Raven is a man whose best days are forever behind him. He is doing what he can to do some good before rejoining his fallen comrades. In the end, his acceptance of loss has allowed him a measure of comfort but hope evades him. He is grateful for opportunities granted, but a life unearned is easily taken away.
We will never know if Raven would really have been better off dying 10 years before the start of the game. He certainly would have been spared a lot of suffering. For what it’s worth, I was happy to get to know him. But the guilt that binds him is cruel.
Which brings me to Velvet. If Raven is the living embodiment of tormented survivor’s guilt turned inwards, Velvet is what happens when that guilt radiates out and festers into hatred.
I’m not a huge fan of small children characters in general, but Laphicet is a very well crafted one. From the onset I got more attached to him than I would have thought, and when I was forced to watch him get sacrificed in the opening scenes, powerless to help and barely even comprehend what was happening, I felt it to my core. It was an extremely effective plot device as Velvet and I immediately became one, torn apart by our failure to prevent tragedy and United in our singular thirst for revenge. It is the only way we could ever atone.
We both know that this won’t fix anything. It won’t change the past or even ease the pain. But what else can we do???
It’s a classic hook, we know how the story goes. We get suckered into rooting for bloodthirsty murderers because they have a sad. We mow down innocents and convince ourselves it’s justified because vengeance thirsts for blood. Besides, how innocent could they have been if they were in the other guy’s army…
You should know that I haven’t finished the game yet and knowing the franchise, what I’m about to discuss is most likely a flight of fancy. A personal impression that was never intended by the actual narrative. But here and there, the story seems to be playing with Velvet’s perspective and in turn the player’s.
The situation in Tales of Berseria is dire and questionable steps have been taken on all sides for the sake of survival. Most of us have at some point accepted that modern societies and the comforts they afford are built on the backs of moral compromises. This type of rationalization is beyond Velvet now. Any intellectual compromise would be admitting that her brother’s murder was somehow justified. And that would fundamentally shatter her reality. As such, she has blinded herself to anything that goes against her resolve.
Questions of greater good or moral imperative are simply irrelevant at this point. Her only motivation to keep on breathing is vengeance, and that is entirely spurned by guilt.
The story could have simply continued down this path. A hardened tale of revenge. Except for a redemption arc in the form of a little Malak boy (Malaks are essentially fairies or sumfin. They look like normal people but they have magic and of course humans enslaved them because that’s what we do…). Velvet’s uncompromising thirst for revenge gets tested at every turn. We can’t ask the players to sympathize with such an outwardly brutal protagonist without heaps of sugar coating and Freudian excuses after all.
One of the most obvious attempts at humanizing Velvet, is Laphicet. A small and obviously traumatized Malak child who seems to have gone through harsh mistreatment before joining the party. As he looks a little similar to her lost younger brother, Velvet inadvertently calls him by her brother’s name in a moment of stress and since he had not been afforded the luxury of a name before, it sticks.
Laphicet represents quite clearly Velvet’s salvation but also her doom. Taking care of the kid she is visibly softening her, shifting her focus outwards, becoming what we would consider kinder. Her priorities are slowly moving away from death and bloodshed and towards taking care of another. We could only see this as a good thing. But in doing so, Velvet is losing an important part of herself.
Her anger made her grief bearable. Her regrets got buried under an allconsuming goal. In getting close to this new Laphicet, is she replacing the old one? Does the idea of her brother being replaceable at all, disparage his memory. Without her vengeance, justice for her brother, can she ever survive the guilt of being alive without him? Would she want to? Who would she even be?
Guilt is a willy beast. It serves to tell us we’ve done something wrong and push us to fix it. It serves an evolutionary purpose in fact. We usually feel guilty for hurting others or breaking social conventions. In the long run those actions make it more difficult for us to form relationships or stable societies when taken on a grand scale. These are things we need to survive more efficiently. A well developed conscience is an evolutionary asset (like all things, some people take it too far). But survivor’s guilt is different. There’s no way to rectify the situation, in the majority of cases It’s completely unjustified to begin with so it’s not a situation we can consciously avoid in the future. What’s the point?
After countless hours virtually walking in the shoes of these guilt ridden characters, I think I may have a theory.
This guilt is a defense mechanism, a way of turning raw pain and fear into anger and hatred either towards ourselves, others or both. Sadness risks bogging a person down, making them despondent and having them disengage with the outside world. They shut down, shrivel up, no longer contribute anything of use. They let themselves metaphorically die. But rage and guilt propels us forward. It pushes us constantly, never allowing for a moment’s rest. It sustains us in misery.
When acceptance is out of reach, it may be the best option available for dealing with trauma.
What I’m saying is that the Tales games are deep psychological thesis on some of the most difficult things the human mind goes through. You’re not so much playing as studying so you shouldn’t feel bad for doing so all night. You should be rewarded…right?