Well! I certainly ate up my words fast after making the last post on my progress. The moment I picked the game back up it'd already diverted from the usual "go to point X to stop point Y" formula in favor of finding a cure for Sophie. I can't say I fully enjoyed this turn of events, as Sophie was, at the time, my most efficient healer, and my party was hilariously helpless without her. It wasn't until that point, I think, that I finally had to break out using Life Bottles.
I feel like it should be a requirement of any fan to tell anyone who picks up a Tales game for the first time that it pays to do the sidequests. Not only do they tie up any loose ends, but they provide some great character development as well. Some examples include:
- Learning about the past relationship between Asbel and Malik and how they became teacher and student. It was something that never occurred to me, I'd just assumed Malik had immediately taken Asbel under his wing because he was a friend of Richard's. It gives a bit of insight into how Asbel's mind works too, with him still lamenting over his past mistakes and trying to make up for it in even the most unrelated of tasks, such as finding enjoyment in cleaning because it makes him feel as though he's "making up for [his] messy childhood."
- Learning more about Richard and Asbel's father through his diary. Hubert pretty much echoed my own thoughts after reading it: "Why didn't he tell us before he died?!" The game may have meant for me to have thought he was "right" in his decisions, though I think the game allows enough room for the players to decide for themselves.
- What became of Bryce, the man at the childhood arc who tried killing Richard, only to be beaten out by both Richard and Asbel. It turns out he didn't die...but completely lost his sanity instead. I can't blame him, if I was a seasoned fighter and a couple 10 year olds were able to take me down, it'd do a huge number on my psyche (or at least my self-esteem) too. It's a spooky note to end his character on, because even after you defeat him in battle a second time, he's still completely unhinged and lost in his own world. I really loved that Asbel felt guilty for being one of the causes of his unhealthy state, the party reassuring him it wasn't his fault but Bryce's, and Asbel remaining hesitant about that conclusion.
- More about Victoria and just what happened after the battle with her in Barona.
The sidequests can also get really depressing and downright morbid, in a way that's very uncharacteristic of the game's nature. One sidequest involves finding a couple's locket that their missing child had...not only do you find out the child is dead, but the only thing that remains of her is her skeleton. And if that's not enough, the party going "We'll take her back to her family" implies they--they might have delivered her skeleton to her parents?
The one that really hit me, however, was the plushie sidequest. You see a sick little girl named Lara who hasn't seen her mother for days and bring her various plushies to cheer her up. This was a sidequest that I had no idea would really bring me anything other than a title for one of my party members, but I couldn't in good consciousness just leave it alone because the girl was clearly dying of the illness and I needed some closure. And I got it...oh boy, did I ever get it. It turns out Lara, as well as her mother, had been dead all along, and Lara was unable to leave her home because her spirit wasn't ready to move on. Sophie's friendship with her rectifies this...and then we see Lara say her goodbyes to Sophie, join her mother, and disappear. An incredibly bittersweet conclusion, compounded by Sophie learning what it means to lose a loved one. This, out of every moment in the game, was the most poignant and effective.
But that's enough talk about sidequests. On to the meat that was the rest of the game.
The Tales games love to recycle villain motivations amounting to "The world is corrupt, so I'll destroy it and rebuild it" and Lambda was no exception. Normally, this would bother me, and I do wish the series would veer in another direction when it comes to creating villains with sympathetic motivations--but I have to give Lambda's a pass because it was pretty well-realized. We learn about him, his upbringing, and what brought about the crushing despair that drove him over the edge. Of all the Tales villains in the games I've played, I found his story to be the most involving and touching.
And boy does Asbel ever shine as a character in the last third of the game. At first glance, even after his childhood arc, you'd expect him to be the reckless sort that thoughtlessly tries making people feel better so he can feel better about his past errors. But he's not, not at all by the end of the game. He's someone who truly wants to reach out and understand others before making any attempt at soothing their wounds. He learns of Lamba's story and relates it to his own, understanding that Lambda turned out the way he did because he, unlike Asbel, was completely alone with no one to support him along the way. He takes the great risk of reaching out to Lambda, listening to him, and not once protesting any of the negative assertions Lambda makes--even when he generalizes humanity as pathetic, Asbel doesn't go "But there's so many other wonderful things about humans!" but instead agrees, and even acknowledges himself as one of the "pathetic" humans. He carries this very gentle, humble demeanor throughout the scene, never talking down on Lambda, and acknowledging every risk with fusing with him is absolutely possible. He's a completely admirable hero in every way, I was impressed.
And how much do I love that this was one of the only Tales games where you actually try talking it out with the villain, and that ends up being the thing that "defeats" him.
Tales endings tend to be epic or anticlimatic; this was a happy medium of the two. I was immensely satisfied with how it all ended. And that ending scene with Sophie and the child, ending with the tree showing Lambda being added to the friendship pact...just beautiful.
Which I guess makes me sort of hesitant about how Lineage and Legacies is going to turn out. I didn't really have a burning need for the story to continue, and most, if not all of my questions had been given satisfactory answers. However, I did miss Richard terribly and wanted more than what I got in the game--and with him being a party member in L&L, I might just get my Richard fix. We'll see! Even with my hesitation, I'm looking forward to continuing the story at any rate.