Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Bravely Second's Interesting Protagonist Duality

Every now and then you get an RPG which thinks a little outside the box as far as its protagonist goes. Sometimes it’s a case of having a protagonist who basically fulfills the role of a traditional RPG villain even though he is, indeed, in the right, like Final Fantasy Tactics Advance 1’s Marche. Sometimes it’s a game which has more than 1 character serve as the story’s protagonist, like Final Fantasy 6’s Terra and Celes. Sometimes it’s a game in which many of the game’s characters could be the hero of the story, and it’s up to you to determine who shall fill that role, like with Live-A-Live or Romancing Saga 1. And sometimes it’s an RPG in which the protagonist is actually a completely superfluous entity who could have been removed entirely without affecting the story whatsoever because every important event and action is instigated and performed by the supporting cast, as with Final Fantasy 12’s Vaan (hey, I didn't say they were all good ideas). And then there's Velvet, from Tales of Berseria, who's so chaotically spread across the spectrum of tragedy and heroism and villainy that you just don't know what to make of her.

Bravely Second has introduced me to another interesting take on the protagonist role in RPGs: a separate duality to its protagonist. Like Final Fantasy 6, Bravely Second essentially has 2 characters share the role of main character rather than the traditional 1--but whereas FF6 has Terra and Celes split the role of protagonist to the main plot of the game, Bravely Second’s main story is straightforward in having Yew as its protagonist. But BS does have a substantial number of sidequests, almost all of which turn out to be interconnected as events in a single, personal story--and the central figure of that side story is most definitely Edea.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game take this approach before. Oh, sure, plenty of RPGs have many sidequests whose central figure is 1 of the supporting cast--that is, in fact, 1 of the most tried and true methods for creating character depth and development for a game’s secondary major characters. But this is a case in which all the sidequests specifically make 1 supporting character their central figure, and, as revealed during the final installment of this running side-story, are specifically geared toward telling a narrative of that character developing into a leader and more complete person. The sidequests of Bravely Second constitute less a collection of minor ancillary adventures and more a second, independent adventure simply occurring at the same time as the main quest. So basically, Bravely Second is a game with a protagonist for its main story (Yew), but also another protagonist for its second story (Edea).

What’s also kind of interesting about this is that of the 2 of them, Edea’s actually a way more important protagonist of the game’s side story than Yew is of its primary plot. I doubt it was intentional, but Edea’s far more active in her leadership duties during the game’s sidequests than Yew is during the rest of the game’s course. While at least half the time Bravely Second’s plot events carry its heroes along with it, requiring little to no direct input from Yew and making him even seem incidental for much of its course, each sidequest directly requires Edea to take an active, deciding role for it. At first, it does seem like she’s just a tiebreaker for the sidequests’ decisions more often by accident than by design, true. But the final sidequest of this series, in which Edea must face her father and determine what kind of leader she will be to the world, retroactively gives each sidequest before it a significance, because each decision Edea makes as arbiter is shaping her view on what matters most in conflicts of human interest. As such, she’s a constantly active protagonist of her story, whereas Yew goes in and out of specific importance to moving Bravely Second’s plot forward.

Beyond being a more active protagonist than Yew, Edea is also, equally interestingly, a far more important hero for her story. Culminating in her meeting with her father and his handing the duchy over to her, the entirety of Bravely Second’s sidequests until and including this final point have been formed specifically to tell the story of Edea’s rise to leadership, and to determine what kind of ruler she’s going to be. Every decision Edea makes about which side to support in each sidequest isn’t just a case of her being the essential arbiter--it is, more importantly, also conflict representative of the kind of dilemmas she will have to face as a ruler, and her decisions characterize the leadership and values that Edea will hold as future Grand Marshall. While Yew does hold some essential personal relevance to the main story of Bravely Second, Edea is the key figure of the game’s secondary story, a story which is specifically about her.

Do I have a point to all this? Not really. I just thought it was an interesting situation with Bravely Second, having a protagonist for the plot proper, but setting up almost all the sidequests to be a separate, concurrent story with its own side protagonist. And then, having made note of that, I found it amusing that Edea, as the hero of this secondary story, was so much more prominent, effective, dynamic, and essential to it than Yew was to the primary storyline. It’s like 1 of the writers came up with this interesting dual-story dual-protagonist idea, but it worked out too well, creating such a strong and fulfilling story for Edea that suddenly Yew and his main quest were found wanting by comparison.

* Although, honestly, at least half the time it kind of just progresses on its own, with no one in the party acting as the sole narrative leader. But that’s not an especially infrequent situation in RPGs.

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