Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Legend of Heroes 6-1's Cassius Bright's Shadow

Well, I did my positive piece on The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. My debt to Humza is paid. Now for the fun stuff. On with the complaints! At least, sort of.

Be warned, this rant contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.

Cassius Bright, the plot jack-of-all-trades for the kingdom of Liberl. Brilliant military strategist who turned the tide of the Hundred Days War! Unequaled swordsman AND peerless master of the bo staff! Internationally celebrated Bracer superstar for whom the unofficial, classified S-Rank was invented! Savior and redeemer of child assassins! Devoted father of protagonist Estelle Bright! If there’s anything important that’s happened in Liberl within the past 20 years, Cassius Bright was a key player in the event or was good friends with someone who was. He knows everyone important everywhere and has a finger in every plot pie conceivable. And that...

Gets really, really old.

If I have any complaint about the story as a whole, I think it’s probably the inescapable weight of Cassius Bright throughout the whole game. Estelle cannot go anywhere or meet anyone without being in her father’s shadow. I’d say at least 75% of the important figures in the story knew Cassius Bright and have something to say about him, and as I’ve just said, just about every important thing that happened in the past and half the ones happening in the game’s present are directly tied to the guy. Introduce herself as a Bracer in training, as a person in her own right, and Estelle barely gets a nod from any plot figure. Let them know that she’s Cassius Bright’s daughter, and suddenly she’s a celebrity by association, and everyone magically now has confidence in her abilities. Estelle somehow manages not to develop a huge anxiety disorder from all of this, but it still gets kind of tiresome to just keep hearing all the damn time.

I mean, look, I can appreciate a story where an important figure’s legacy is a constant presence whose influence is frequently felt. Done right, it can contribute to the creation of a very strong and meaningful story. I think that Shadowrun Dragonfall did this terrifically with the character of Monica. So much of the story and setting was determined by the legacy she left behind after her death, and through that ever-present influence from beyond the grave, Monica was made into as well-developed and deep a character as half of the party members who were actually alive for the game’s events.

Rose Quartz from Steven Universe is another great example of this idea of a non-present character’s legacy nonetheless shaping and influencing a huge part of the story and characters. If you’ve seen Steven Universe, then you know exactly what I mean, and if you haven’t seen Steven Universe, then why haven’t you seen Steven Universe. Stop wasting your time with this drek I’m typing and go watch Steven Universe. Seriously, it is one of the highest works of art produced by humanity to date.

But Monica and Rose Quartz are characters whose presence is always there silently, remembered, referred to directly only sparingly and when naturally appropriate. You’re allowed to mull over how much of the characters and plot you see are because of their memory, their beliefs, and their passing--the game and the show will tell you to a certain extent, but allow you a lot of room to extrapolate and contemplate on your own. But no one will goddamn shut up about Cassius Bright! Everything, everyone, comes back to this guy, and the game wants you to know that fact beyond any shadow of a doubt! It’s like the nation of Liberl is entirely populated by 6-year-olds who are at that stage where they find 1 thing in the world that they think is super cool and talk obsessively about it to anyone who will listen. I GET IT. CASSIUS BRIGHT WAS AND IS A BIG DEAL. SHUT UP.*

...But, repetitive though this does get, I can’t complain too seriously about it. See, even though I find it annoying, it...kind of is thematically important in terms of the main villain’s role. In fact, it might just be the most intelligent narrative aspect of the entire game.

See, the villain’s entire motivation for his schemes IS that he, like everyone else, saw Cassius Bright as an unequaled hero who singlehandedly saved the nation and united its leaders together for the good of all. Colonel Richard’s motivation for his evil machinations is his inability to believe that the the nation can otherwise be safe without Cassius Bright’s leadership, and thus Richard must do bad things to gain tyrannical control of his country and gain control of (what he thinks is) an ancient magical super weapon. That motivation is kind of a hard sell under normal circumstances, but I found that I completely understood Richard’s perspective when his motives were revealed, sympathizing more with him than I have with any other villain this year.

And why is that? Because the game shows you, firsthand, how much the people of Liberl depended on Cassius, how they idolized him and saw him as the sole reason for the happy outcome of the war and the current freedom and security of the nation. And that reliance on Cassius by the nation’s leaders and military heads is echoed in the present with the Bracer Guild’s adoration and dependence on the man--capable Bracers lament that their obstacles would be easily solved, or never have arisen to begin with, if Cassius weren’t away on his secret mission, powerful and renowned Bracers like Scherazard and Zane consistently refer to themselves as small potatoes by comparison...even the Bracer who seems the most self-reliant, Agate, gives the impression that a major part of his motivation is just to equal and surpass the vaunted Cassius Bright.

In the face of a nation wherein its protectors, its leaders, and even its great scientific minds all idolize Cassius in such a regard that they minimize their own accomplishments and abilities, is it any wonder that Colonel Richard attempts his coup against the queen? You can fully understand why he feels his country is helpless and vulnerable without Cassius Bright to run its military. Even though Cassius himself believes and strongly states that the salvation of Liberl during the Hundred Days War was a team effort, that no matter how great his role was, he was unable to do anything alone and even failed in some regards (such as his inability to keep his wife safe), Richard and so many others see only a war won by a single man. To some degree, nearly every major figure of the nation of Liberl has convinced themselves of their own powerlessness by comparison; Richard just believes it to a greater and more paranoid extreme than most.

Man, Knights of the Old Republic 2’s Kreia would have a field day talking about Liberl’s situation.

At any rate, that’s pretty much all I have to say on this matter, in my long, winding, and ultimately pointless way. The constant references to Cassius Bright in TLoH6-1 do get tiresome, but that’s all part of a clever, larger narrative plan to really persuade the player of the authenticity of Colonel Richard’s motivation for his villainy, and it works.

* I am joking. Please do not actually tell 6-year-olds to shut up. Who are you, Kevin Winnicot?


  1. I think your comments about constant references (although not limited just to Cassius) can be generalised to other parts of the game as well, at least if you chat with non-plot related NPCs. Some if it did end up as foreshadowing events in 6-2, so it's not completely devoid of merit, but it can be odd for see a lot of those NPCs reference plot events that you wouldn't really expect

    The text referencing Cassius is mostly toned down in the sequel since Estelle already established relationships with most of the primary cast, but there are times where Estelle still seems to live in the shadow of her father.

    By the way, I was impressed that a game with Deus Ex's themes exists, and even more so that those themes were executed well (since games have a stigma of not being as advanced as other media). Thanks for the code.

    1. At least she bears the situation well. I do hope that the rant doesn't mislead you to think that this is a true complaint against the game, though; while it is annoying in its constant repetition, like I say, this IS one of the better aspects of storytelling in the game with the way it sets the stage for Richard's antics.

      I'm very glad you enjoy Deus Ex! It IS a rather impressive game. You're very welcome, and thank YOU for your contributions to Thinking Inside the Box, sir.