Once upon a time, a hero was asked to serve his king who lamented that the 魔王 had disturbed the kingdom’s peace. This hero would then go on a road journey, meeting friends along the way — wizards, thieves, and bards. They first fought slimes, then wolves, then finally dragons until they found themselves unlocking a godly power that would help them defeat their enemy. These powers were scattered over the map and they had to reach them all before they could climb the steps of the castle where the 魔王 reigned. After this detour and after eliminating the pirates and demons that wandered the castle, they reached the 魔王. They cried that it was time to deliver their justice upon the evil one and the 魔王 would laugh. They fought valiantly until the 魔王 told them that (s)he was treating them like fools and revealed the master plan: the world will fall into chaos. The heroes shouted their rousing speech, saying that they want to change the world too — a peaceful, quiet world where no evil persists. The 魔王 laughed at their naivety and said, “Try once more.” But miracles existed and the God(dess) bestowed the heroes one final power. Rejuvenated, the heroes overwhelmed the 魔王 and peace has transformed the kingdom to a more prosperous state. The heroes left and some got married to each other, but they were remembered as heroes in the front of history. They lived happily ever after. The End.
This is the general outline of a typical JRPG. It is what people at least imagine themselves in adventures written in their notebooks after playing some JRPGs like Dragon Quest. The formula is so memorable and recognizable that it doesn’t really need to be talked about.
We have been examining video game narratives in video games themselves as of late. Metal Gear Solid 2 looks at marketing hype and predicts the memeplexes and impact of social media mutating the advance of what we now know as “fake news” through the structure of its stealth game mechanics. NieR follows the 魔王 route, but it is revealed that you actually doom humanity further in your journey.
And Tales of Berseria is about the humanization of the 魔王s.
You play as Velvet, the 魔王 in this JRPG scenario, seeking revenge against her former brother-in-law Artorius. There is no subtlety with their hatred against each other. Velvet wears black and Artorius dons white robes. Artorius is sacrificing the few for the many to save the world and is ready to impose strict laws against humanity. But Velvet doesn’t want the world to be under his chains and hates the concept of sacrifice. She knows people have to be saved, but she doesn’t know how. Terrorizing the kingdom for her revenge, she becomes a hated figure despite being in the “right”.
She has confused feelings toward a boy who she has forced him to join her party of terrorists. Laphicet, named after her little brother who has passed away under Artorius’s acts, is an example of the servants used in Artorius’s church. In the beginning, he has no emotions whatsoever. But Velvet takes care of him and he begins to appreciate the world around him. He has gained his own individualism.
This complicates Velvet because she has difficulty differentiating her dead little brother and Laphicet. She breaks down from the pressure of seeing an illusion of her brother, the pressure of leading a terrorist organization, and the pressure of saving the world without any hope of recognition.
Maybe it’s because Velvet’s belief in her justice is warped because she isn’t sure what to think about it. People who don’t know her very long would see him as an evil figure. Meanwhile, Artorius’s stance is easy to understand. No one wants complication in their lives.
Velvet later captures Eleanor, another member of Artorius’s knights. Eleanor believes everything done by the church is holy and great. There are no nuances with justice. Simple, clean, and good. But as she adventures alongside Velvet, her belief in justice is becoming warped too. She wants to help people and only feels unaligned to Artorius’s camp.
The 魔王 doesn’t (and isn’t allowed to) have that kind of resolution. She is doomed from the start to be the role. All she can do is embrace the role further and lose her own humanity to fight Artorius.
Velvet is fighting for everyone’s individualism, but she is forced to lose her own to be one fictional archetype everyone can recognize. It is as if to be human is a curse in the time and place of history. No one will remember your thoughts, feelings, and complications as time goes on. It is easy to just call her a villain and be done with it. A simple archetype. A sacrifice for people to live on. A 魔王.
By the end of the game, her identity in the perception of people outside her circle has been modified and distorted to be the ultimate villain of humanity. She is described by the townspeople as a monster with wings and sharp teeth that prey on children. There is no shred of her humanity left. Just a villain terrorizing the world. But she fights on till her “villain” — the hero of the kingdom — is vanquished.
In the final town, you can talk to a guild member who quotes from his leader an interesting line: “歪んだ白に、真っ直ぐな黒”. For the holy white heroes, their journey is twisted and winding to achieve their justice and change the world. But it’s easier to see how straightforward the demonic black villains is. They only have one goal and it is to control the world as it is. The villains don’t have to stray anywhere from their road.
It just happens to be a lonely road.