Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Beautiful Tyrannous People

"If I was beautiful like you
I would never be at fault
I'd walk in the rain between the raindrops
Bringing traffic to a halt"

Joydrop - Beautiful

Spoilers? Yeah, Tyranny.

Much as I like Tyranny and its setting, characters and role-playing quandaries, its visibly rushed production left many aspects pixelated around the edges, including some characters' personalities. In many cases they simply betray a schizophrenia obviously borne upon multiple writers' quills (and takes on each persona.) The bloody-minded, bold and resolute Verse whom you meet in Act 1 for example simply doesn't speak like the jarringly soulful sympathy-hound which seems to crop up randomly from her psyche during some dialogues. In fact a quick comparison of the game's various NPC companions, quest-givers and bosses shows a marked tendency to lend more dignity to or "redeem" characters occupying a favorable social role. Ask yourself which gender of NPC would receive the moniker "Brown-Bottom" and you'll quickly realize that despite a fair attempt at building a world of villains and misery, the writers' prejudices led them to play favorites.

This certainly becomes apparent with the Archons of War and Secrets who bracket most of your campaign. Granted that the Voices of Nerat was very consistently built up as a prototypical irredeemable sociopath, but somewhere along the way we lose track of the fact that Graven Ashe is only meant to look the lesser evil by comparison to his chief antagonist. Gradually, where the brilliant, philosophical Nerat receives a classic mad scientist's narrative treatment, the comparatively simpleminded but fatherly, protective Ashe is spoken of only in terms of his positive qualities. Does anyone even remember, by the end of the story, that Graven Ashe is an unflinchingly genocidal racist? Or that his scorched earth strategy would yield not only the destruction of the Chorus, but the agonizing starvation of whatever's left of an entire territory?

However, the true teacher's pet must undeniably be named Sirin. I refused to even go near her during my first playthrough, as her mind control superpower strikes my chaotic neutral, Pandemonium-bound lupine self as the absolute creepiest thing in the game, beyond Kills-in-Shadow's manic bloodlust, Bleden Mark's omnipresence or even Nerat's... well, y'know, Nerat. There's little in the conceivable multiverse so inherently vile as controlling another thinking being's thoughts (and therefore being) and yet despite the Archon of Song's casual abuse of this Geneva contravention for her own entertainment, we're repeatedly pushed to swallow the notion of her as an idealistic do-gooder lecturing everyone around her on their character flaws.
Seriously? "Won't somebody please think of the children" delivered by a villainess who snuffs out the very light of reason within flesh by a mere syllable? And the only thing my character can respond to her utterly impractical, shortsighted, nonsensical and insubordinate caterwauling is a stale, snappish little "shut up Wesley" designed only to make the mouthy little brat seem even more sympathetic?

Who the hell Maryd this Sue? There's obviously a disconnect between the initial character design and its ultimate implementation, evident in her very powerset. Where the textual description of her powers comes across as blatantly offensive (both practically and morally) her talent trees make her into a largely team-friendly omnivalent buffbot with none of the thematic coherence of the other characters (why exactly does she have a boulder attack and a lightning storm attack?) Someone desperately wanted to make Sirin look good instead of the capricious spoiled banshee her basic character embodies, and hugely overshot the mark. While we can easily accept that every sadistic powermonger on Terratus would envy her abilities, there's absolutely no reason why everyone would be letting the sanctimonious snot browbeat them without mind control even being mentioned. Even the ostensibly scarier demons like Bleden Mark and Nerat get called names and denounced occasionally, at least behind their backs.

Archon or no Archon, Overlord's pet or not, Sirin gets away with more bullshit than the rest of the cast put together, never getting called out on anything and always getting the last word. Leaving aside the cognitive dissonance of the sole voice of benevolence coming from a teenage girl (has no-one at Obsidian actually met a teenage girl?) where exactly did Sirin acquire her ethical guidelines? From a brief lifetime locked in an ivory tower under the tutelage of the megalomaniacal ancient evil world dictator?

Or let's word these questions another way: had Sirin been a male with the same mind-shattering power, how would he have been portrayed?

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