Tales of Symphonia: A game that isn’t afraid to explore discrimination AT ALL.
So way back in 2003 Namco released “Tales of Symphonia” the latest installment in their ‘Tales of’ series which dealt with an adventure : “In a dying world, legend has it that a Chosen One will one day rise from amongst the people and the land will be reborn.” – this is taken directly from the back of the box. Typical premise right? Well, Namco apparently decided to take that premise, deconstruct and turn expectations head over heels. The result was a fantastic game with a really engaging storyline and running theme of challenging racism.
The game starts with a basic introduction: Colette Brunel, The Chosen of Regeneration, is to receive an Oracle from the Goddess Martel which will allow her to begin her Journey of Regeneration, which is taught as a way to restore mana to the world and to seal away the Desians. (The Desians being the assumed primary antagonists and consist almost entirely of Half-Elves.). As mana is the life force of the world, the Desians are blamed for draining it with their ‘magi-technology’ in their human ranches. And yes, you read that correctly: Human Ranches. Here’s a picture:
The person you should be looking at is right there in the middle.
Now I’ve blown this up to full size, just so you can see every detail. The lady in the middle is Marble, who becomes a plot-point later on in the game. Marble has been captured and imprisoned by the Desians, because she’s human, to create Exspheres (an in-game item that allows you to power up your character.) This actually becomes a major concern once you learn that Exspheres are literally made by human lives, causing a moral dilemma for the protagonist Lloyd Irving (the chap in the red up-top). Is it right to be using/consuming these products that have been made at the cost of so much human suffering? What should strike you though is how similar these human ranches are to Nazi concentration camps. Like those camps, the ranches run on an industry of Death. That’s a challenging topic for a video game.
Sheena Fujibayashi: [sighs] If there really is a goddess, why did she make a world like this?
Lloyd Irving: Yeah, no kidding. I wanna kick her for doing this.
Sheena Fujibayashi: [laughs] Seriously, I wish I could do that myself.
But that’s not all! In a shocking twist it turns out the religious organization running the world and promoting blatant prejudice left, right and center is not so benevolent after all! The Angel Remiel (pictured Below) only wants Colette’s body to revive Martel, who has actually been dead for the last 4000 years. Also, Angels are Half-Elves who’ve evolved with help of Exspheres and the Desians are actually low-level minions of the Church. Gah, brain freeze.
Seriously? You’ve been lying this whole time? (Colette’s the one with the pink wings)
Eventually, it’s revealed that the Church of Martel is run by the Cruxis Angels and led by the 3 heroes of the Ancient War which happened 4000 years ago between the two countries of Sylvarant and Tethe’alla, destroying the Great Tree which produced evidently limited amounts of life-giving mana. Mithos the Hero (who is always referred to like this, which I blame on Harry Potter syndrome) ended up splitting the worlds into two to separate them and to keep them from dying until they found a solution to the mana problem. And promptly went crazy. That’s what happens when you give a grieving thirteen year old the power to control time and space. Martel, as it turns out, was Mithos’ sister, who he’s deified and preserved in the seed of the Giant Tree and spent 4000 years attempting to resurrect.
Mithos: Is it a sin to be weak hearted? Not everyone’s strong. Not everyone can stand being despised.
And some concept art of Martel, given that we never get a clear picture of her sprite.
And the kicker is this: Both Mithos and Martel were HALF-ELVES. Something even their own scripture-propaganda fails to address.
Apparently the whole half-elf prejudice tradition goes WAY back. Martel was apparently quite the Dalai Lama in her day and strove to create a world where “human, elves and all those caught in between” could live peacefully. (and yes, I’ve played this game so many times I can quote the dialogue accurately). When she was killed, Mithos went bonkers and decided the blatant destruction of all life was the way to go. Or the way he puts it “Age of Lifeless Beings.” Apparently the only way to rid the world of discrimination is to take away people’s personalities, free-will and soul. I’m not kidding. All the Angels (except Mithos and a few rare exceptions) have had their souls absorbed by Exspheres (told you that point was important.)
So what does all that have to do with my topic. Well, now that you have some background I can talk about the hypocrisy of the Cruxis Organization. Having based their entire religion on a benevolent goddess, Mithos proceeds to hire all the half-elves he can find and gives them the option of getting back at their tormentors. So is born the idea of human ranches. If nothing else, the writers thought this one through. The worlds of Sylvarant and Tethe’alla function like an hourglass, one is always flourishing and one is always waning. By giving the people an antagonist to blame their troubles on, the Chosen’s journey and eventual sacrifice is legitimized. So while the Half-elves are hated in Sylvarant, they hold all the power. When you travel to Tethe’alla, it’s revealed that half-elves are still hated and have no power. So when the Chosen succeeds, the Desians simply shift worlds and recruit all the dissatisfied half-elves, while the flourishing world now starts to oppress its oppressors. It’s a very vicious cycle that doesn’t solve anything. Mithos talks a good game, but at the end of the day he isn’t solving the racism problem, he’s aiding it, abetting it and actively USING it to justify his own goals.
This is works as a foil to your main protagonist: Lloyd Irving. Lloyd is an orphaned human, living with a Dwarf and is an outsider himself. He’s naive, sometimes a bit dumb, and loyal to a fault at the beginning, but thankfully changes with the storyline and he achieves character growth. This allows him to grow into an “Idealist” (actual in-game title). Lloyd is probably the least racist person in the entire game (which includes so much racism, anti-racism and counter-racism, we’d be here all year if I tried to break it all down) and believes that everyone is equal, and that you should not be judged by race. Which is nice, if not viable and the game frequently proves that. But if nothing else, Lloyd is willing to work toward that end goal of a peaceful world and the entire latter half of the game revolves around taking down Mithos and his Desians/Cruxis Angels/Church Officials etc.
From start to finish this game embodies and challenges the ideas and value of humanity. The game ends with a final confrontation between Lloyd’s party and Mithos. So of course it contains a debate about ideologies before you actually fight. But I feel the measure of humanity in this game is summed up quite with this quote from the eventual anime adaptation:
-imported from “What is the Measure of Non-Human’