Since every Tales game (or at least the ones I've played) takes place in the present with you learning about each characters' pasts as you go along, it was neat to see one where you started out as a kid. As in, a little kid-kid, not one of the teenagers you usually play as. It was also surprisingly smart about setting up Asbel as an annoying kid, as it's not immediately obvious it was its intention like, say, Luke from Abyss was. This is because while we knew Luke had to change one way or another due to his less-admirable traits, it was harder to tell where they planned on going with Asbel, who exuded the traditional heroic tropes. He loves making friends! And adventure! He values friendship above everything else! He'll protect you! But he's also a kid with a strict upbringing who likes breaking the rules and attitude! Cool! And a bit much to swallow; I didn't hate this kid, but his over-exuberant attitude was pretty grating, and thinking I'd have to stick with this for a protagonist wasn't something I was looking forward to.
So I really like where they've ended up taking his character so far. Witnessing death due to his own recklessness sobers him up, gives him a reality check, and riddles him with enough guilt to find a job that will teach him how to protect others as a knight. However, that also means abandoning his position as his family's future lord, and his little brother Hubert has been shipped off to another family to be adopted. It's not until he gets word his father's died that he gets riddled with guilt again and decides to quit the knights and take up the mantle as lord. I admit, I was a little disappointed when I reached this part because I was enjoying the new dutiful-yet-rebellious-against-his-famil
As much as I admire Asbel's arc, however, Richard is far and away my favorite character of the game so far. He was the first character I really took a liking to in the beginning because he hit a lot of tick boxes for things I usually like in a character. He's stern and serious due to his upbringing, wary of others and bitter from past false relations, but also gentle, kind, and enjoys having a good time. He becomes a mature version of all of these traits as an adult, but just recently is revealed to have a certain...issue? illness? connected to feelings of vengeance and rage, making him uncharacteristically cruel and monstrous towards those he's feeling that towards. It's comparable to being possessed by a demon or having a Jekyll-and-Hyde-deal, which something I enjoy a lot because I like seeing normally gentle characters be faced with something horrifying that they're helpless to stand up against.
Malik is probably my second-favorite character, just because of how cool he is. Sometimes that's all you need for a character.
I like Cheria, too. I thought it was neat to see a sickly girl character who didn't have the usual shy, soft-spoken archetype assigned to her, and instead was assertive and adventurous. I was surprised the possibility of her dying as a child with her illness was brought up at all, making her predicament all the more sympathetic and interesting to see how it'd eventually play out. I'm a little sad that her sickness is gone as an adult, because I think having a character with a chronic illness in a fantasy RPG like this who still participates in battle would have been interesting. On the other hand, she did mention it went away due to the powers she suddenly inherited...so I'm not ruling the illness being magically gone from the plot yet, I hope.
The only character I'm not fond of so far is Pascal. She's thrice the over-exuberance of Asbel as a child, and that could be tolerable enough if it weren't for her behavior towards Sophie. There's a running gag that she wants to touch Sophie for research--making perverse, groping gestures with her hands to make it clear that oh yeah we're going with that innuendo, while Sophie is persistently protesting it. Normally these touchy-feely characters that crop up in anime wouldn't get to me, but I guess I've met one too many of them in real life to understand the discomfort Sophie is facing all too well. I just hope it leads in to Pascal learning about boundaries and not Sophie "warming up" to her.
There's always a gay subtext quota to be met in a Tales game, but I was still surprised at how far they've taken Asbel/Richard. Their dynamic as kids is exactly the kind of dynamic you'd see in the beginnings of a male knight/princess romance in fantasy tales: they're forbidden to see each other but Asbel just has to see this prince (a prince who, it turns out, is sad and lonely from isolation at that), he enters gallantly through his window, he takes Richard to this special place that he just has to see! even when they've only just met, and it's a place full of flowers!, Richard gives him a ring, and once Richard leaves, Asbel is determined to see him again immediately. At first you can pass it off as a close friendship because they're just kids--but then this continues on to adulthood, with Richard talking about how special Asbel is to him and Asbel vowing to become Richard's sword (I've seen so many couples or couples-in-subtext that use the "I'll be your weapon"). And to top it all off, Pascal points out the closeness of their relationship in a skit, suspecting that Sophie is jealous of them...and describes their relationship by making kissing noises.
It's remarkable because Asbel has an equally strong bond with Sophie...yet it somehow doesn't read as romantic, even with Asbel blushing at her in the beginning of the game. If anything, it reads like a boy and his dog, complete with a scene where Asbel has Sophie do tricks to compete with a beastmaster and Asbel repeatedly petting her on the head as a sign of affection. It's also a bit hard to read as romantic because by the time Asbel is an adult, Sophie is still fourteen and her amnesiac behavior can read as infantile, making it a kind of squicky idea, at least from my point of view. That said, I like their relationship a lot as-is, and I'm glad they acknowledged the "Isn't Asbel projecting his old image of Sophie on to this new might-be-or-might-not-be-Sophie kind of wrong?" as an issue quickly.
So, as I said in the beginning of the entry, something Big is about to happen, and it's very likely going to involve Richard. Which...I'm a little worried about, as it also likely considers his personality doing those 180s. Currently, I think the reason for that has to do with the state Asbel and company found him in the Royal Sanctuary years back, laid down and unconscious--it's still a mystery why he was in that state, and I believe he may have been experimented on or had been imbued with the power of the demon they were facing. I think it may also have something to do with the demon that attacks Asbel on his first field mission.
And then there's that light...my first thought was Sophie's "death" and the light we saw before she "died," which I'm thinking was a power that eventually influenced Asbel and Cheria. I presume we'll eventually learn Hubert experienced that light as well, since he was also present at that time...could Richard have been given some sort of inverse effect of Sophie's light?
That's enough speculation and thinking out loud for now, I suppose. Back to the game!