A little more than a month ago, I brought to light my dislike for the white mage trope in RPGs and my wishes that such lazy tropes would be re-worked into more dynamic characters in the future. I still very much think this, but in writing said article I made myself consider the white mages that I had already come across in my gaming life. Unsurprisingly, the character that I automatically think of when considering this trope is not, in fact, Yuna from FFX, but Colette from Tales of Symphonia.
This is an obvious choice in my case because, while my brother certainly is a fan of the Final Fantasy series, I never really got into it until X-2 and honestly, I’m still not really into the series beyond that specific game. Instead, my first true foray into the JRPG scene, and probably the RPG scene as a whole, was Tales of Symphonia. Its story focuses on a religion that has been perverted to the point of sacrificing someone in waking up the goddess that will bring mana back to the world, and it just so happens to be Colette that has been chosen to—rather, has been bred to—become this sacrifice. However, most people aren’t aware that this ‘chosen’ will end up giving their life, and instead believe that they will become an angel. As such, it makes sense for Colette to carry the typical angelic-healer looks and personality: blonde hair, blue eyes, white clothes, and a sense of self-sacrifice that could make anyone around her feel ashamed.
Yet Colette isn’t the healer/white mage of the group. In fact, Colette gets no healing abilities and is actually more aggressive in her play style. The healer in Symphonia is Raine Sage, a somewhat bitter half-elf who has more fondness for ruins than for the people around her. I bring these two up not because Colette is exempt from the white mage trope due to her lack of healing skills (she’s still a “white mage” in terms of motivation), but because the game actively presents opportunities in which the audience can re-evaluate the inherent tropiness of having someone be a “white mage” in the first place.
One of the best scenes that exemplifies this is when the main group heads off to find a more powerful healing skill—eventually ending with learning the skill resurrection. To that end, the group must also find a unicorn horn. To those who are aware of the tropes surrounding the creatures, it should come as no surprise that the unicorn only speaks with pure maidens; in this case, this purity is more than subtlety
in reference to a girl’s virginity. As such, Colette is able to speak with the unicorn, but Raine is not. Yet, in the end Raine is still able to obtain the unicorn’s horn, not because she repents of her sexual history, but because her intention for the horn’s use is “pure” in and of itself.
Ace has spoken before on virginity and how it’s related to magic in other games, and though Symphonia still draws on these well-known tropes for some parts of its plot, I appreciate that in this moment, the audience is made to re-evaluate what’s really important. Should the unicorn be held responsible for hindering their progress for this skill because the healer—Raine—is not archaically pure? The answer the game gives is yes (mostly because the side quest is somewhat annoying). However, the conclusion shows that purity in regards to sexuality is ultimately useless: what’s more important is the purity of one’s intentions. This is especially important in concerns to Raine’s character. Because she holds such resentment for the people around her, the fact that she can put that aside to selflessly heal someone really does show that purity is not something reserved only for the naïve, stereotypical white mages.
Symphonia also tries to get its audience to really think about the complacency surrounding angels. Right now, if I were to say “list three words that come to your mind when I say angel” what would you come up with? White? Holy? Wings? Halo? Nice? Boring? Whatever your words may be, in most cases you can probably trace their origins back to some Hallmark card representation of them. (If you said anything like “frightening monstrosities”, though, I’m impressed.) However, our innate sense of trust in these mystical beings is challenged when the player discovers that the angels—that Colette is destined to become a part of, in case you forgot—are nothing more than emotionless shells (for the most part) that are pawns in the big bad’s scheme. These white mage archetypes usually contain some sort of angel allusion, whether it be towards holiness or charity, but when these angels are shown to be unsympathetic to the sufferings of mankind and their “God” is shown to be a selfish being, what does that say about these white mages? That they shouldn’t be trusted? I don’t think it’s necessarily that, but it does ask the player to think about whether or not these stereotypes are really worth hanging onto.
Though Symphonia didn’t tackle the gendered aspect to the white mage trope, the aspects of the trope it did question are still vital in recognizing how much the “white mage” has had an impact on gaming, and how much the real world has influenced this gaming trope as well. Though these white mages provide a comfortable base for getting to know a character, what’s important in the end is how these characteristics are deconstructed and what new
light can be shed on this tired stereotype. What does this trope mean to us as gamers? What does it mean to us as regular people in a media driven society that relies on these type of constructs? In this case, I hope it goes to show that a white mage doesn’t have to be linked to naiveté or inherent goodness, and further exemplifies the needlessness of hanging onto such a trope. Symphonia shows the inherent problems in forcing people into roles because it’s easy and comfortable, and much of Colette’s pain could have been avoided without these types of expectations. There just isn’t a point in having a “white mage” who is stuck being a pure, angelic girl. Such simplicities hinder characters and stunt our ability to think critically about what we’re playing.