Monday, July 14, 2008

Wild Arms 2's Antenora: A Lovesick Villainess Worthy of Note

One of the more annoying villain types I encounter in RPGs, I've found, is the Villain's Love Interest. This is the chick on the bad guys' side whose role in life is to be infatuated with the main villain. They just seem to be there to drape themselves all over him (yes, always him; no major female villain has this kind of flunky...because, as we all know, people who are clingy and submissive when in love are always women, right?), or at the very least simply stand around and take orders from him in some bizarre kind of devoted, silently pining stupor.

Aside from their generally annoying, clingy, very excessively dramatic demeanor, I typically think little of them as characters because their one and only defining character trait is, almost without exception, barely explored at all. I mean, if a developer's going to burden the game with these melodramatic floozies, they should at least TRY to sell me on their love. But instead, it seems to just be assumed by the makers that I'm going to completely buy that this random woman just happened to get to know this sinister baby-eating fiend (despite his tendency to kill everyone he meets), and was absolutely floored by his ridiculous and selfish plan to remake the world/destroy the universe/take over a country/whatever, despite the complete bullshit motives behind it.

I mean, correct me if I'm wrong here, because I don't claim to know everything about the way women think, but somehow, I feel that if I were to walk up to random women and say something like, "Hey, baby, I'm planning to destroy all civilization and remake it the way I want it, because I have a load of unresolved issues of identity and self worth. Wanna be a general? How about personal concubine? Both positions are open!", I would not get many favorable replies. But somehow, these villains are always able to find some doting, subservient woman to do everything they say without ever questioning them, and shower them with complete, blind love born of seemingly nothing but their role to play.

Gee, you'd never guess these games came from Japan, would you?

But yeah. Legretta in Tales of the Abyss, Lenus in Legend of Dragoon, Violetta in Grandia 3...the list of these annoying villain wenches is long, and has practically no character on it that had any depth or worth whatsoever.

Save, perhaps, for Antenora, of Wild Arms 2.

Now, granted, she seems at first to be a classic case of this annoying type. What you initially see of her is her being focused entirely on romantically following her psychotic leader, Vinsfeld, who also seems infatuated right back with her (which is somewhat uncommon; another stupid part of this cliche is how the villains never seem to give a damn about their followers' romantic aspirations). And, I suppose, I would have to admit that in the end, her relationship with Vinsfeld technically IS the focus of her development. But it's in such a neat way.

See, it's like this. The first inkling you get that there's something more to Antenora than meets the eye is as she's leaving to go on a certain mission. Her high and mighty terrorist boy-toy Vinsfeld makes it known to her that he's concerned for her well-being. Given her history of being clingy and seeking his attention, you expect her to be just about ecstatic at this. But as it turns out, she's really not. She's suddenly distancing herself from him, and kinda just politely giving him the cold shoulder. Weird, you think, and then dismiss it as unimportant and keep playing.

Somewhat soon afterward, she has her final showdown with the game's heroes, and, predictably, gets her butt kicked. Afterwards, though, she doesn't seem too terribly upset over failing her mission and being mortally defeated. And then she tells you why.

As it turns out, Antenora was once the daughter of a family of nobles...until the rest of her family was one day murdered by Vinsfeld as part of his mad vision. Robbed of those she loved and left with nothing, the life she'd led until then completely destroyed, she vowed ultimate vengeance against the man responsible.

Why join his cause and become his devoted follower, then, one might wonder? Why actually contribute to his plans, instead of at least secretly working against him? Well, because she didn't just want your average kind of revenge. Defying him, killing him, stopping him and ending his hopes and dreams...these tame, layman's revenges wouldn't cut it for Antenora. She wanted a revenge where he would suffer pain greater than any he could have imagined, emotional torment as bad or worse than what he had inflicted on her.

So to this end, she threw in her lot with his terrorists, rose up the ranks, and through her devotion to the cause became one of his main leaders. Once she achieved that, she did everything in her power to make him fall hopelessly in love with her. And once she was sure he had, and an opportunity arose...

She went to confront the heroes, and made sure that Vinsfeld could see by video link the ensuing battle, in which the woman he loved was violently murdered by his foes. She wanted to give Vinsfeld the greatest pain imaginable for what he did to her, and man, did she ever succeed. That's a plot of revenge by a woman crossed so emotionally vicious that would do a Shakespeare play proud. Heck, I haven't read everything the guy wrote; for all I know, Shakespeare DID once do the same thing. I really wouldn't be surprised if he had; it's a twist great enough to be worthy of him.

But yeah. Few things are more enjoyable to me in an RPG than to see a cliche character type given a totally new, unique, and intriguing spin to reinvent the archetype enjoyably, and Antenora really does just that.