It is said that there are only two stories in the world...a stranger came to the village and the villagers venture out and meet a stranger.
Tales of Xillia had been an interesting journey, to say the least. After almost a week of reflection, I've found it surprising what had and hadn't stuck with me. Most notably, it seems, I'm still reflecting on how it had subverted the accepted Male/Female JRPG trope.
Before going any further, I must warn you of two things...one, this blog is going to contain massive spoilers, so beware. Two, I'll be using a lot of terminology that may or may not offend, I cannot know for sure. For example, describing an action as 'feminine' or attributing one gender to a specific stereotype.
Finally, I will not be making an in-depth analysis nor basically psychoanalyze ego,superego or the Id of the characters. That ought to be left for people who know what they're talking about, such GlobeGander's EXCELLENT 'Killer is Dead' analysis. I highly recommend you giving it a look over, even if you haven't played the game: http://globegander.tumblr.c...
Good? Okay, moving on.
Let us discuss or protagonist, Jude Mathis. Right off the bat, he starts in your typical JRPG hero template. He's in an idyllic setting, the world is peaceful and life seems to have dealt him a good hand. His field of study, however, reveals a much more interesting twist upon closer inspection. He's studying Medicine and even works part-time in a clinic. Jude is a healer, a class often associated with female characters in JRPGs (thus begins the first of what I believe to be many, many borderline sexist associations. I do hope people get what I'm trying to convey here).
On the other hand, our second protagonist MIlla is introduced to us in a position of strength. Immediately, she displays an aptitude for magic and tendency to kick ass. To make things even more unique, she comes equipped with a blade, the quintessential male JRPG weapon.
This stark contrast becomes even more apparent when you make the characters stand side-by-side. Milla is taller than Jude, her physique is almost amazonian in nature whereas Jude is short, diminutive and can easily be genderbent should an artist decides to do so.
Next comes their personalities and mannerism. Milla speaks in a deep voice, is confident in her abilities whereas Jude is unsure of himself and leaves the decision making to Milla.
Halfway through the game, Jude and MIlla are separated from the rest of the party and end up in a cave. JRPG connoisseurs have seen this setup a million times. The male character opens up after the female character says something deep and meaningful and they get closer. Yet, once again, this is reversed when Milla offers Jude a memento to keep and he blushes in the same manner as many female predecessors before him has.
Another notable plot point is when the party manages to secure themselves flying mounts. Once again, Milla is on the driving seat whereas Jude is sitting behind her, hanging for dear life.
Finally, we come to the character arc. Typical normal boy/mystical girl plot progression ends up with the male mastering whatever mystical mumbo-jumbo the 'girl from another world' introduced him to and basically dwarfs her in ability. Jude never, ever becomes physically stronger than Milla (Story-wise. Mechanically, he can easily cheeze enemies. Couple that with Shattering Demon Fist the game awards on you NG+ Hard and he's pretty much broken) and his character arc solely consists of aiding Milla in her journey. Milla's failures are never used to prop Jude, her goal pretty much drives the story forward and whereas Jude ends up where he pretty much started, Milla ends up becoming God.
Again, I will not attempt to explain things by saying if someone's being a beta or an alpha or if Milla is a positive example of women in gaming, that's not for me to decide. What I'm trying to say is that this is all familiar territory, the invading nation, the Judeo-Christian God analogies (JRPGs sure do love those), the power of friendship and what have you...but it's done in a manner I considered to be fresh it made me more than happy to travel the same familiar storybeats.
JRPGs have suffered these past few years, hell this entire past generation, due to adhering not only to archaic mechanics but archaic storytelling as well. If your battle system isn't 'fun', I do like to think there's some story payoff in return for all those hours of grinding.
Yuji Naka once said he wanted to make an RPG about a villain, collecting the four guardians, building an army etc. That's good, run with that. Make more stories set in modern times. Give us a compelling female villain, flip over character relationships. Give us a fresh perspective and we will gladly take over the same journey with you again.
A stranger came to the village or we go out and meet a stranger...but the stranger doesn't have to a boy every time...
Disclaimer: MightynoX believes the poem "this rose, like Lightning, has many meanings" by Toriyama is all the evidence one needs to charge him with substance abuse...