Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Threads of Fate's Imbalanced Storytelling

One of the distinguishing features of Threads of Fate is its 2-protagonist story approach. Not in the way that Final Fantasy 6 has 2 protagonists, mind; Threads of Fate handles it a different way. By that I mean that the game has 2 possible protagonists, Rue and Mint, and you choose which one to play as at the beginning of the game. The game’s plot and your perspective on that plot are then shaped by that choice. You still start at essentially the same Point A, and you still end the game’s journey at the same Point Z, but only some of the points along the way are the same. Hard to explain, but I hope you get the gist of it. This wasn’t the first RPG to try something like this. Star Ocean 2, which had come out the year before, had 2 protagonists to choose from at the start of the game, and Seiken Densetsu 3 and The 7th Saga on the SNES had a handful of protagonists to choose from. Nonetheless, this system of Threads of Fate stood out pretty well. Star Ocean 2 and The 7th Saga were virtually identical no matter which protagonist you actually chose, and Seiken Densetsu 3...well, its plot and story perspective did significantly change depending on your chosen protagonist, but one way or another, it was just a pretty generic story that featured characters that were pretty forgettable, while Threads of Fate’s got a really good story with a fun and engaging cast. So ToF is still kind of remembered as a pioneer with this idea, even if it’s not the first to try it.

Overall, Threads of Fate does this well. But there is 1 thing about it that kind of disappoints me: the 2-protagonist story approach is imbalanced. The general promise made by ToF is that both protagonists are meant to be equals in the eyes of the story, neither more or less right for the role, nor more or less important to the plot. While Rue and Mint are not similar people (not by a long, looooooong shot) and go about their quests differently, the general premise of the game is clearly supposed to be that either can be the hero with equal qualification. It’s a neat idea--but it doesn’t pan out in the end. In the end, Threads of Fate is Rue’s story, not Mint’s.

There are several points in the game that lead me to this conclusion. First of all, the game’s central themes, those of the role of destiny and of choice, are much better utilized and reflected upon in Rue’s story of discarding his intended purpose to create a new one, and of defying fate by trying to resurrect Claire (or you could interpret it as him seeing her death as something that was against destiny to start with). While Mint’s story is related to her having lost her destined role as a ruler and seeking to take it back, and thus does have ties to the whole thematic role-of-destiny-and-choice thing that ToF is going for, it’s apparent that Rue’s version of the game is by far the more in tune with the game’s deeper ideas and message.

Rue also gets better character development and exploration. Now, don’t get me wrong here. Let me make something clear:




She is hilarious. She is fun. She is charmingly clever and lovably stupid at the same time. She is unique. She is one of those rare, rare examples of a character type that I normally can’t stand (selfish, obnoxious brat who thinks everyone should bow before her) being made awesome by a character who knows how to play that normally unappealing character type up in the best possible way. Like Pinkie Pie in My Little Pony--hyperactive, bubbly, high-pitched girly-girl types usually annoy the hell out of me, but Pinkie Pie is just funny enough, just random enough, just clever enough, and just complex and noble enough that it works out to my liking her. That’s how it is with Mint--despite being a character type only a few steps away from Earthbound’s ultra-obnoxious Porky, Mint is a consistently enjoyable experience from beginning to end.*

With all that said, though, as a character, Mint cannot compete with Rue. It’s not that Mint has no character depth or development at all--it’s subtle, but it’s definitely there. But Rue is clearly the better character. He has greater and more worthwhile issues to work through, his development is clear and written well, and he’s a more heroic figure as a whole. Mint’s not a bad character and the humor attached to her does count for something, but there’s no contest between who’s a better character and a better hero.

Rue is also more significantly connected to the plot. While he and Mint are both out to obtain the same powerful relic, the Dewprism, to grant a wish, it’s Rue who has the substantial ties to the plot along the way. Rue’s past relates to the ultimate foe of the game and the sought-after relic itself, and the major antagonist of the story, Doll Master, is connected to Rue and Rue’s purpose--both his purposes, in fact, past (the Dewprism stuff) and his present (saving Claire, as Doll Master is the guy who killed her). It’s not that Mint has no connection to the major story and characters or anything, but the biggest actors on this stage, the ones who set the major events in motion and who provide the major opposition that the heroes must overcome, are tied to Rue.

Also, there’s the plain, simple mathematics of the game’s conclusion. If you play through Rue’s side of the game, at the end, Claire is saved. Rue set out to find the Dewprism to grant his wish of rescuing Claire, and though things weren’t quite that easy or straightforward, in the end Rue gets what he wanted and needed. Sadly for Mint, she doesn’t get her wish to gain the power to take over the world, but we wouldn’t exactly expect Mint’s wish to be fulfilled in Rue’s story. But if you play through the game as Mint...she still doesn’t get her wish! At the end of the game, Mint has not acquired the power necessary to rule the world. And what’s more, Rue doesn’t get to have Claire back, either! Just do the arithmetic: in Rue’s story, 1 of 2 people get what they wanted. In Mint’s story, 0 of those 2 people do. Yeah, Mint does, at the end of her version of the game’s story, have a reconciliation of sorts with her sister Maya and can go back home, and you could argue that in the end that’s what she needed more, but it’s still not what she was out for, and there’s no indication at the end of the game that her ultimate ambitions have been sated. She’s still left wanting. The family reconciliation angle is more like a bonus for her than an actual prize, just as Rue’s stronger sense of identity and peace with himself at the end of his story is a bonus for him, while the actual prize is Claire. So it’s uneven.

Even in terms of story canon, the game seems to outright favor Rue’s story by the end. Once you’ve played the game through with both characters, you unlock a final, secret scene, wherein Rue and Claire are living together in solitude, and Mint shows up to drag Rue off on another relic search so that she can get that world-conquering power she’s been hankering for. The living presence of Claire there is a clear indicator of 1 of 2 possibilities. Either the game is outright saying that the true, canon course of the game’s events was Rue’s journey, or the game’s saying that the true, canon course of the game’s events was some combination of Mint and Rue’s journeys, and Claire’s resurrection was 1 of the events of Rue’s side that did occur. The latter possibility is definitely more along the lines of a theory than an interpretation that you can really back up, though, so I’m going to say that, unless somehow proven wrong in the future, this scene is an indicator that it was Rue’s story that truly did occur, not Mint’s.

And hey, if I have to choose between whose personal dream is the more worthwhile, I’ll certainly choose Rue’s. I’m glad Claire is alive, and I would be, honestly, very put out if everything had worked out the opposite way, with Mint getting her wish and Claire being lost forever. Mint just selfishly wants to conquer the world; Rue’s wish is to save the life of someone dear, who perished unfairly and courageously in the defense of someone she cared about. Rue’s wish just plain means more, and I’m glad that he has a chance to see it fulfilled.

My point is just that the protagonist imbalance is there, and the stories of Rue and Mint are not equal. Knowing the full story of the game, there are times during Mint’s quest that kind of feel like she’s intruding on someone else’s personal tale (which is, I guess, actually the exact sort of thing Mint would do). And it’s not a big problem, because the game through Mint’s eyes is terrifically fun and amusing, and the game through Rue’s eyes is well-written and meaningful (and still has a good dose of Mint craziness). I just think it’s kind of a shame that it wasn’t a more balanced story between the 2 protagonists, the way it was set up to be. I’m glad Rue got his wish and found himself along the way, but it would be nice for Mint to get her due, too, yeah?

Well, hopefully some day we’ll get a sequel to ToF, and that game will be focused primarily on Mint, as the first was on Rue. Hey, it may not seem likely, but this is an age where 20-year-old anime like Trigun gets a new movie, 30-year-old anime like Mysterious Cities of Gold gets continued out of the blue, and My Little Pony gets rebooted into one of the best cartoons ever made. Clearly stranger things have happened when it comes to sequels, continuations, and reboots. But until that happy day, Threads of Fate is Rue’s tale, regardless of his sharing the cover with Mint.

* Actually, what she really reminds me of is Princess Elise from My World, My Way, only about 6x better.


  1. After finally playing ToF I agree with you(Go figure) and yeah no sequel sucks.

    ..Well least there's that one fan game with Mint and Maya.

    1. I wish someone would translate that thing. Even if it's fan-made, I'd still like to check it out to see Mint and Maya get up to their shenanigans. Sometimes fans can be spot-on in representing a work (in fact, sometimes they can know the original better than the actual creators--yes, this is yet another spiteful jab at Bioware for the ending of Mass Effect 3 and the fact that fans are working to correct it). But I'll never know if I can't read it. Ah, well, doubtless someone will sooner or later.

    2. I've not played Threads of Fate yet, but the developers of the fan game (Easy Game Station) have had two of their games localised on Steam and their games seem to be more of the light-hearted type with some humour thrown in (or at least Recettear does). The fan game probably replicates Mint's personality rather well based on that.

  2. I've finished Rue's game route, and watched Mint's game route in youtube.

    I must say I was disappointed with her route. You're right: 0/2 got their wishes fulfilled.

    Mint is such an interesting and sassy character, with a catchy character theme. It's a shame her storyline pales to Rue. Wish Square could have written her story that could equal Rue's.

    1. In fairness, I think it'd be pretty damn hard to make a plot for Mint that had quite the same level of depth that Rue's has, just given that Mint is, well, Mint. But they could still have had a much more fair turnout for her plot.

  3. Great rant! I don't admit this on the record, but this actually was the first JRPG I ever played - even before FFIX and Legend of Dragoon. In hindsight, it isn't that great a game, though it did set the idea up for 2 protagonists among other awesome new JRPG ideas.

    1. Thank you! And maybe it isn't a great game, but I'd say Threads of Fate is definitely a solidly good one, filled with good fun and real emotion.

    2. I remember watching a playing this at Target WAY back in the day, and wishing I had got the name of the game because the gameplay was interesting (acquiring new transformations on Rue's side).
      A friend happened to have the game 5 years later, and I watched him beat the last few levels and the final boss as Rue. The feels from those levels got me so hung up on the game that I eventually bought it. It isn't as good as I remember it, but it is a fun game.

      P.S. What Mint's story/path added as an afterthought?

    3. I dunno, there's an awful lot of personality to Mint's story, even if it lacks the depth and payoff of Rue's. I would have to hear from an official source before I believed that Mint's path was an afterthought to the developers.