Sunday, October 28, 2018

Final Fantasy 9's Fratley: My Hypocrisy in Disliking Him

My disliking a character that a game’s writers didn’t intend me to is not exactly a new thing. Usually, though, my unanticipated distaste is not something irrationally subjective, but based well enough on hard evidence and reasoning that I can defend my dislike to my satisfaction, as shown by my rants on such characters. That’s not to say that my opinions are entirely objective--I daresay I have yet to encounter a person so lacking emotion and personality that their opinions are not even a little bit subjective--but they’re well-supported enough that I feel I have at least met my own standards for rationale.

Nonetheless, we all have our failings, and playing The Witcher 3 has recently exposed 1 of mine to me: namely, my long-held disdain for Fratley.

In The Witcher 3, Yennefer of Vengerburg, a major figure in the Witcher novels, makes her entrance to the game trilogy, and she’s somewhat displeased with Geralt’s romantic actions in the past couple titles. See, Geralt has had a longstanding romance with Yennefer in the novels, ever since some business with a djinn bound them together in fate. While I have my own opinions on Geralt’s relationship with Yennefer, it is a fact that as of the opening of The Witcher 1, Geralt and Yennefer are together. As The Witcher 1 begins, however, Geralt has lost more or less all of his memories, including those of Yennefer...and over the course of the game, Yen’s best friend Triss takes distinct and repugnant advantage of that fact, and gets the horny dope to start a romantic relationship with her, which continues through the majority of the second game, until circumstances and Geralt’s returning memories draw the affair to a close.

Yennefer is understandably vexed by this.

She does not solely blame Triss, either. Upon their first real chance to converse, Yennefer makes a snide comment about Geralt’s lack of fidelity, and she brings this up a couple more times later on in the game, as well. You can decide what response Geralt has to this, but what seems the most typical response from players, and the defense that they themselves hang their hats on, is that Geralt doesn’t need to feel guilty for his episode with Triss, because he had no knowledge that he was being unfaithful due to his amnesia.

I myself take this stance. Triss may be a duplicitous fucking snake, because she knew damn well the nature of Geralt and Yen’s relationship and decided to take advantage of the oversexed sod anyway, but Geralt did not remember it, and because he did not, you really can’t say that he was capable of giving consent to the sex and relationship he entered into with Triss. The most basic, important aspect to the concept of giving consent is that you are informed enough and intelligent enough to do so. A child may very well agree with no coercion to have sex with an adult, and a dolphin may initiate a sexual advance on a human being, but even though each is voluntarily agreeing to or even asking for it, they are not capable of giving consent. The reason for this is that neither one is emotionally advanced enough to understand what they are getting into or asking for. They are not well-informed enough about the concepts of sex and love for their consent to count.* Likewise, in not remembering any detail of his personal relationships with others, Geralt is incapable of giving informed consent, so the fact that he willingly entered into a relationship with Triss while his mind was in such a state cannot, I think, be held against him, and while I sympathize with Yen’s hurt and frustration, she is not right to hold it against Geralt.

So, being that I am capable of this reasoning, why have I always held a grudge against Final Fantasy 9’s Fratley for breaking Freya’s heart by forgetting her? Why, indeed, am I still unable to relinquish my scorn for him?

Why can I forgive Geralt infidelity to the woman he loves during amnesia, and yet hold fast to my disdain for Fratley for having hurt Freya by forgetting about her during his travels? Fratley has not even unwittingly cheated on Freya the way Geralt has Yen, at least not that we know of. If anything, Fratley’s sin should be even easier to absolve in my mind than Geralt’s was. And yet I still blame him. I can accept Yen’s forgiving Geralt and the two of them being together once again, if that is the direction the player takes Geralt in romantically (even if, as I have said, it is not the choice I believe in), and yet Freya’s portion of Final Fantasy 9’s ending, in which she and Fratley are together once again even though he still doesn’t remember their history, is perhaps the 1 and only aspect of the brilliant game that slightly repulses me.

Seems hypocritical of me.

My inconsistency has bothered me greatly for a couple months now, as I should hope hypocrisy might plague the conscience of anyone, even on so small and unimportant a detail as a video game hobby. On thinking about it many times over a decent period of time, all I can say is that the situation with Fratley seems different to me, and in that difference my capacity for hatred makes its home. Fratley’s situation stands apart of Geralt’s, to me, for 3 reasons:

First, we actually do learn why Geralt lost his memories, and it’s a pretty legitimate reason, having to do with being kidnapped and brainwashed for a time by the Wild Hunt, whose dread magical powers are so terrifyingly advanced that most regard the Hunt as a supernatural, godlike force beyond mortal means to resist. Eredin, king of the Wild Hunt, put a hell of a whammy on ol’ Geralt, and his doing so is something we can easily accept the legitimacy of after the subtle but significant hype the trilogy has given to the Wild Hunt.

On the other hand, with Fratley, we never do find out what, exactly, it was on his journey that just up and caused his lifelong sweetheart to slip from his mind as though she were a loaf of bread he’d forgotten to write down on his grocery list. I mean, it is entirely possible that Fratley’s reason might be every bit as reasonable as Geralt’s, or even more so, but we never find it out! And when you get right down to it, in a circumstance like this, in which Fratley is the individual doing horrible emotional harm to Freya (even if inadvertently), the natural response for the audience is to blame him if sufficient context isn’t given.

It’s like, say, if I told you that some guy’s feelings were deeply hurt because his girlfriend cheated on him with another man. Your instinct, at knowing these very vague overall details, is to think that the woman is unarguably in the wrong. Yet it might very well be the case that the boyfriend is, in fact, a physically and emotionally abusive partner, who has destroyed the woman’s concept of self-worth and who uses the threat and occasional application of physical harm to repress her, while the man she cheats with sincerely cares for her, values her as a person, and makes her feel like a real human being again. With that context, suddenly our first instinct to think the adulterer is in the wrong melts away into sympathy (at least, I certainly hope it does). But, as a general rule, those who cheat are in the wrong, so although there are (sadly) many cases in which the circumstances more or less exonerate them, we comfortably retain our natural assumption that a cheater is in the wrong, unless better knowledge of the details proves otherwise.

That is, I think, part of why I don’t find myself able to extend the same forgiveness to Fratley that I do to Geralt for their similar crimes of emotionally hurting their lovers: because I know how it came about in Geralt’s case, and I can reason out that it’s not his fault. But without any knowledge of how Fratley came to forget Freya, all the context I have is a miserable, forlorn woman who deserves better, and the man who’s put her in this unhappy state. Is the truth of Fratley’s condition as understandable and forgivable as Geralt’s? It might very well be. He might even have a better explanation! But we’re never made privy to it, so my knee-jerk reaction of dislike has no concrete rationality to combat it.

Secondly, I think that there’s something to be said about the differences in how exactly Yennefer relates to Geralt, opposed to how Freya relates to Fratley. Yes, in each case the forgotten woman is the lover of the amnesiac, but the roles each plays in the lifestyle of each man are different. Geralt loses all memory of Yen and nearly all memory of everything else, but he does have, if I recall correctly, a vague understanding of his life as a witcher, even if all details and specifics of it are temporarily lost to him. Similarly, even though Fratley has lost almost all of his memories of his life, his sense of duty and his devotion to his country and its ruler nonetheless lead him back to Burmecia and Cleyra--he may not remember the how or why of it, but his need to protect his liege and his people is too ingrained in him to be forgotten, even when all else is. Both Geralt and Fratley have too much of themselves intrinsically tied with their life’s work to fully forget it.

The thing is, though...well, this doesn’t affect my forgiveness of Geralt for not remembering Yennefer, because although she has joined him many times in the course of his adventures as a killer of monsters, she’s not an intrinsic part of his profession and duties, the only part of him that he still seems to recall any vague concept of during The Witcher 1. But with Fratley...Freya’s not just his sweetheart, she’s also his fellow warrior and knight in service to the land and crown of Burmecia. And as such, it just sort of feels to me like there’s more reason to expect him to remember her, anything about her, even something just so small as the inkling that he had love by his side in his duty, or a feeling of missing something important even as he stands as the protector of Burmecia that he instinctively knows he is. I dunno, I can’t help but resent the fact that he could remember enough about his devotion to take up arms for his country as a knight once more, but his love wasn’t strong enough to piggyback on his sense of duty even when the woman he loved was directly tied to it.

Finally, and most importantly for myself, I dislike Fratley for why he was put into the position, whatever those circumstances may have been, to lose his memory in the first place. You can’t really fault Geralt for how he wound up in the Wild Hunt’s clutches--their king, Eredin, kidnapped Yennefer, and Geralt gave himself to Eredin in exchange for Yennefer’s life and freedom. Geralt may have inadvertently wronged his lover when he fell for Triss’s manipulations and began a relationship with her, but the only reason he had been cursed with the amnesia that allowed that to happen was because he had been trying to rescue Yen to begin with. The hurt he caused the woman he loved is, ultimately, the eventual result of a failed but nonetheless spectacularly courageous act of love on his part for her.

Sir Forgetley loses his memories of Freya because he decided to leave her behind while he tried to beat someone up who was minding their own business.

I mean, honestly. The guy went on a quest to challenge the famed knight Beatrix, not because he was ordered to, not because it was for the good of his nation, not because she was known to be a villain in need of vanquishing, but because he just wanted to see whether he was better at stabbing stuff than she was. For this purpose, Fratley left his kingdom without its (arguably) greatest defender. And more relevantly to this rant, for this purpose, Fratley left behind the woman who loved him so desperately that she outright told him that she feared she did not know how she would live without him while he was gone.

We don’t know what happened to cause Fratley to lose his memory, but we know how he got put in the position to do so, and exactly how understanding can we be, really, given the circumstances? Fratley’s leaving his woman behind without showing the slightest remorse for it nor regard for her feelings, and taking a deliberate risk that puts his home and everyone he knows in danger, all because he’s a single-minded boob for whom beating other people up takes precedence over the happiness and well-being of his loved ones. Good fucking God do I hate the Goku/Vegeta/Bakugo/etc. anime archetype, the dumbass characters with such tiny micro-dicks and/or undeveloped micro-brains that they can't find any security in their manhood unless they can violently prove to themselves that they're stronger than anyone else, regardless of the cost to those around them. What the hell is up with Japan's obsession with them?

So the basic breakdown of this is, Geralt lost his memory because he threw himself at impossible odds against a foe regarded more like a force of nature than something that could be fought, for the sake of his beloved’s safety...while Fratley, on the other hand, lost his memory because he was busy LARPing as his favorite Dragon Ball Z character. Maybe he was jealous of Zidane’s origin story and felt the need to prove that he was the number 1 Goku fanboy around.

And that’s pretty much all I have to defend myself with on this subject. Those are, as far as I can tell, the 3 reasons I can forgive a character like Geralt for inadvertently causing his lover pain through his amnesia, but cannot forgive Fratley for essentially doing the same. Are they good reasons? No. I know they aren’t. One’s better than the others, but I know that they’re more emotional than rational, and I know that in the end, unless I’ve been a hell of a lot more convincing than I think I have and unless you’re a hell of a lot more lenient than expected, I am a hypocrite for holding a grudge against Fratley. The reasons I’ve listed mitigate my hypocrisy a little; they do not absolve it. Final Fantasy 9’s Fratley is simply a pitfall for me, a failing of mine as The RPGenius. Just how it is.

* This statement, of course, is highly generalized and thus potentially somewhat faulty, and then there’s the whole highly arbitrary nature of exactly what the age of consent is from 1 country to another, but as that’s not the subject of today’s exploration into ethics, we’re just gonna use the perfectly serviceable blanket statements and scenarios for now.


  1. I think this is one of your more interesting posts (which is saying something!). I'm not sure you're really being hypocritical here, due to the differences in the respective presentations of Geralt and Fratley. You covered most of them already, but another major one is who the gamer's sympathy is with in these cases. I haven't played any of the Witcher games yet, unfortunately, but I know Geralt is the protagonist of the series, and it sounds like the Witcher 3 and the other games portray his situation clearly, so the gamer will be inclined to sympathize with him, or at the very least understand his side of the story. In addition to not telling exactly what happened to Fratley, Final Fantasy 9 is written such that the player will be far more inclined to share Freya's reaction to Fratley, since Freya is a playable party member and Fratley is not (he isn't even a guest party member like Beatrix or Marcus). So not only is Fratley likely a bigger jerk than Geralt to begin with, but Final Fantasy 9 presents its story in a way that guarantees almost no one takes Fratley's side.

    I'm not sure how I feel about Fratley. Freya's ending is rather sad, and I kind of wish she just ditched Fratley, but his amnesia is not a plot device and exists solely to make Freya's life worse, and I think his presence enriches the game, as a result. Still, Freya is one of my favourite characters in the game, and her resolution bums me out; it's worse than if Fratley had simply died.

    1. Well thank you! Very kind of you to say. And you make a good point--it's a simple but effective bias that is created by spending more time with a character as a party member (similar to how I've always said that the best villains tend to be ones you've controlled yourself for a time), so doubtless that also factors into my impressions.

      Yeah, I feel like nearly every player who really liked Freya's character wishes at the end of the game that she'd ditched Fratley. It's not even like she'd be doing him a disservice; he doesn't remember her, so it won't bother him if the best she ever achieves with his new personality is comrade-at-arms. Let her find worth in a life for its own sake, or find love in the arms of someone worthy of her (I've always thought she and Beatrix would make a great warrior couple--what the hell is the latter even doing with Steiner, really?). Don't have her go crawling back to the guy who put her through lonely misery, then shattered her every confidence in herself.

  2. From what it sounds like, you can identify with Geralt as a victim and/or actor of happenings in a way you can't with Fratley. It's a question of forgiving Geralt for circumstances he was too ignorant to be held accountable for versus forgiving Fratley for making the choice to leave his partner and nation without him and all three parties being ruined for it. He is not an explored protagonist like Geralt; he is merely a narrative tool to make Freya a sad panda. You like Freya and want things to work out for her, and Fratley is the literal face of that not happening.

    Honestly, Fratley doesn't have much going on as his own entity as it is, so this status living obstacle to Freya being a fulfilled person is the fullness of his identity. As such, I fail to see how this is hypocrisy. I don't think a single player was meant to invest in this single digit set of dialogue lines granted a physical form by overly generous writers Freya refers to as Fratley.

    Regarding Beatrix and Steiner: Beatrix is far too patriotic to fraternize with a previous/potential enemy, and have you SEEN the other Knights of Pluto? Steiner is as good as it gets within Alexandria's borders.

    God, they'd make the perfect buddy cop duo, though.

    1. It's nice to have readers and friends who are so effective at making me feel better, even if it's about admittedly totally pointless stuff like this. Thanks for the favorable perspective, sir.

      There's still random, unnamed NPCs who live in Alexandria! Surely even THEY offer a more substantial romantic possibility for Beatrix than Steiner does. And I say that even as a guy who likes Steiner better than the average FF9 player.

    2. If it ain't Sailor Erin, IDGAF, and she ain't in Alexandria.

  3. 4) Geralt is the main character of a series, while Fratley is an NPC that revolves around Freya. Something that has already been pointed out in the comments.

    But also because Fratley basically disappears from the plot once you learn he has amnesia, this also indirectly hurts Freya as a character as her storyline is basically stalled until they just give her an ending and this makes her revelavance in the story also plummet.

    1. Yeah, it's always absolutely killed me that Freya's characterization and relevance pretty much disappeared after the Burmecian part of the plot was done. Such a great character with so much potential, and they just dropped it and made her an along-for-the-ride party member. I still love her, but there's no denying that so much more could have been done with and for her.