Heyo! Sorry for the absence – I don’t really have an excuse, but I figure I’ll ring in my triumphant return with another installment of Fantastic Fictional Females.
(I’m going to go on record now and warn you that this article contains spoilers from the game…but since it’s almost seven years old now, if you haven’t played it, for shame. >=( I encourage every gamer with a remote interest in gaming to play this masterpiece, so if you plan on it and don’t want yourself spoiled rotten, don’t read this!)
It’s no secret to people who know me: I’m not a big fan of your traditional RPG. It takes a lot for one of those to win me over, so it speaks volumes when I say that Namco’s first Tales of Symphonia is one of my favorite games of all time, despite its genre. It’s one of many examples of how video games can be an art form, and it was one of the best titles on the GameCube, which sorely lacked strong third-party support. ToS first premiered in Japan in 2003 and came to eastern shores a year later, and has since become popular enough to spawn an anime, a manga, several forms of awesome merch, and a sequel of questionable quality.
For a seven-year-old game, ToS has aged reasonably well. Graphically, it’s still very bright and colorful, and the environments are lush, but the character models suffer from lackluster cel-shading, a sad result of being caught up in the tail end of the Cel-Shading Madness Era spurned by my Favorite Game Of All Time, Jet Grind Radio. The musical score is phenomenal, and the voice acting is second to none. Although the game itself has some design flaws that have since been addressed in further Tales games (using a more realistic graphical style that’s more becoming of the game’s atmospheres, applying voice work more frequently throughout, amongst other things), as it stands, ToS is a fantastic game that is a must-have for any GameCube owner.
But that’s just scratching the surface, really.
My favorite part about ToS is its characters. The main cast is so wonderfully developed, each one believable and robust. They’re so charismatic that the situations they’re thrust in, for good or ill, can’t help but draw you in. Their strengths, their weaknesses, their joy, their sorrow – it’s an immersive experience, and the fact that so many of them are women and girls is incredible.
Colette Brunel, from Tales of Symphonia
First, you have Colette Brunel; you could call her the main female protagonist of the game, I suppose. She’s a victim of the system; in the world of Sylvarant, Colette is the Chosen, meant to sacrifice herself in order to regenerate the world and bring it into a flourishing age. Sylvarant, as it stands, is in pretty bad shape: mana has grown thin, resulting in drought and food shortages, and humans are persecuted by the Desians, a group of half-elves that abduct and imprison their victims regardless of age or gender, forcing them to do hard, meaningless labor. As the Chosen, Colette is expected to reverse all this; she goes through several trials throughout Sylvarant with the rest of her party (Lloyd Irving, Genis Sage, Raine Sage, Kratos Aurion, and later, Sheena Fujibayashi), releasing seals keeping mana from flowing in the world and destroying Desian strongholds known as Human Ranches. With each seal released, Colette loses part of her humanity, but because reaching the end of the Journey of Regeneration means saving the people of Sylvarant, she hides her pain and sadness from even the closest of her friends. Although frequently kidnapped (one of my big no-nos for a great female character, and she actually misses out on a decent chunk of the game in bits and pieces, making her one of the lowest-leveled characters in the game by the time you get to the end), Colette will not hesitate to fight back for her own safety and those of her friends, and the amount of suffering she endures without burdening others makes her a magnificently strong character. The Journey of Regeneration, in order to be complete, requires Colette to die in order to become the new vessel for the Goddess Martel, and to be able to face that head-on takes incredible, remarkable courage.
Raine Sage, from Tales of Symphonia
Next is Raine Sage, a supposedly-Elven scholar (although it is later revealed that she and her brother Genis are half-elves) who had no formal teaching, but has remarkable intelligence nonetheless. The oldest female party member at 23 years old (and the oldest party member overall throughout a hefty chunk of the game), Raine is the realist of the group, oftentimes cautious of the people they encounter (initially mistrusting Kratos, Sheena, and later, Zelos Wilder and Regal Bryant, amongst several other NPCs). She admits that taking that position is a burden, but a necessary one, as Lloyd, Genis and Colette are far too trusting and soft-hearted. She has a fascination with ancient, obscure histories, and the ruins tied to them, becoming ecstatic and mostly ignoring the world around her as she studies whatever they find, providing a stark contrast to her wise, leery personality. Raine is also very protective of Genis, having acted like a mother figure to him, their real mother having abandoned them when Genis was a toddler and Raine was a child.
Still, Raine is not without her insecurities, especially when it comes to her mother, Virginia; when Raine, Genis and Lloyd find Virginia on the floating island of Exire, they find that Virginia has lost her mind to the grief suffered when abandoning her children, believing a ragdoll she carries around to be a young Raine, and to still be pregnant with Genis. Raine, overwrought with anger and sorrow, breaks down and yells at the mother who doesn’t recognize her children before storming away from her.
Sheena Fujibayashi, from Tales of Symphonia
Sheena Fujibayashi is initially an antagonist to Lloyd and the others; they first cross paths early on in the game, and Sheena makes it clear that she has to assassinate the Chosen of Regeneration, Colette. Despite coming after Colette multiple times in failed assassination attempts, Colette, Lloyd and Genis take a liking to Sheena, especially when they discover her compassionate side. Although Sheena is from Tethe’alla, a world just out of sync with Sylvarant and threatening to fall into the same poverty Sylvarant is currently in if Colette completes her Journey of Regeneration (it’s sort of a long story), she isn’t a monster; she can be seen playing with children when not chasing Colette down, and defends the city of Luin from a Desian attack by herself, becoming gravely wounded in the process. When Colette and Genis ask Raine to heal Sheena, she expresses her gratitude and decides to join the party in order to kill the local Desian leader. Although she refuses to abandon Tethe’alla in its time of need and admits that, if it comes down to saving her world, she’ll still kill Colette, she is open-minded enough to try to find another solution.
Sheena is the only summoner in the party, and is at first hesitant to form pacts with the Summon Spirits of Sylvarant, although becoming more confident as time goes on; when she was younger, Sheena and the people of her village, Mizuho, appealed to Volt, the Summon Spirit of electricity in Tethe’alla. Due to Volt’s supposed silence, the people of Mizuho were unprepared to deal with him, and Sheena’s failure to make a pact led Volt to kill most of those who had come with her, affecting everybody in her home and alienating her from her village. And despite having regained confidence in her summoning abilities, when it becomes necessary for her to attempt to form a pact with Volt again, she becomes distraught, her previous failure still raw in her mind. Through Lloyd’s tenacity, and at the self-sacrifice of Sheena’s friend, the man-made Summon Spirit, Corrine, Sheena finds the courage to take Volt on, and successfully forms the pact with him. Having stared her past in the face and conquered it, Sheena walks away that much stronger from it.
Presea Combatir, from Tales of Symphonia
Finally, Presea Combatir is just as much a victim as Colette, at first a “lifeless being” whose emotional responses have been incredibly subdued due to the Cruxis Crystal growing inside her like a parasite. This crystal was planted in her as part of an experiment that nobody bothered to keep in check, turning a young girl into a blank, numb doll. The party goes through incredible lengths to restore Presea to her true self, and once they do, she’s still a mystery and not very in tune with her emotions. Left behind by time, Presea appears to be twelve years old, but in reality hasn’t aged a day in sixteen years; chronologically twenty-eight, she’s forced to live in a new world where everything she’d known has continued to go forward without her. She does her best to adapt, but despite her best efforts, feels cheated out of a life she could have lived.
Presea is one of the most physically strong party members in the game – a deceptive, slippery thing as she looks like an average twelve-year-old. This is one of the few perks of the Cruxis Crystal’s parasitism, but one she takes advantage of, serving as the party’s “tank” character in battle. While this means nothing to Presea, who views it as a lackluster attempt at making up for her lost time, from a meta perspective it adds a lot to her character. Although the quest Lloyd and the rest of the party is initially not her problem, she becomes swept up in the chaotic events surrounding them; she decides that, minimal involvement or not, the worlds of Tethe’alla and Sylvarant are sick and in need of curing, dedicating herself full-bore to Lloyd’s cause.