Why Natalia Takes the Crown as My Favorite Female Tales Character

Tales of the Abyss Natalia ChibiAs seasons go through their rotation and years pass, things undoubtedly change. However, I know that one thing never will: my hatred for stereotypical white mage characters. I’ve bemoaned the stagnancy of the white mage trope in JRPGs before. However, I do believe that, in some respects, the paradigm is shifting toward a less sexist portrayal and a more nuanced expression of healing magic. That’s not what I’m talking about today, though. Not explicitly.

Looking through the JRPGs I’ve played, I’ve come to terms with having a lot of favorites. And picking between them feels like picking between children: I love them all, how can I choose? But there’s one character who has stuck out in my mind as particularly memorable; partially because I hated her at first, but then because her arc was one of the most compelling in the entire game. Today, I must pay homage to one of the many queens of my heart: Princess Natalia Luzu Kimlasca-Lanvaldear.

Spoilers below the cut—if you haven’t played the game, I really urge you to do so before reading this. It’s an experience I wouldn’t want to ruin for you.

Though the game she appears in (Tales of the Abyss) is not new, its popularity is somewhat surprising given how rare the game was in the U.S. at first. After all, despite coming out on the PS2 in 2006, it was beloved enough to get a port to the 3DS in 2012, and it continues to be one of the more popular Tales games, at least in my experience. Abyss’s cast is packed full of interesting, surprisingly diverse characters (for a JRPG). But what is it that makes Natalia stand out as not only a good character, but an example of what good female characters should be? Simply put: growth.

It’s easy to write an interesting female character. A little harder to write a female character that has a meaningful character arc—especially one that doesn’t involve dying for the male character’s plot, if you look at trends in video games—but that’s not exclusive to female characters. Writing a female character with a meaningful character arc, but who also starts out as antagonistic, while still trying to keep her realistic and accessible to the audience? Well, that’s a lot harder, especially in a male-driven story, and yet that’s what we have in Natalia.

I am really not a fan of royalty characters in any game, but JRPGs specifically.

I am really not a fan of royalty characters in any game, but especially in JRPGs.

She starts out as a member of the royal family and is engaged to the main character, Luke. Like most characters that come from royalty, she’s snobby and is completely used to getting her way—she even comments that the main character should not be traveling alongside “peasants”, aka: the rest of the party. Yet while she insults everyone in the party and basically forces you to take care of her in a way that implies deep political ramifications if you do not, the game doesn’t paint her as dead weight. Yeah, she’s annoying in the way that upper class characters usually are, but she’s also a skilled fighter. And certainly she’s not exactly street smart, but she is intelligent and knows her worth. Furthermore, when the group arrives at their destination after she tags along, when shit starts to go down, she’s the first one to offer help to the innocents caught in the crossfire. And this is all before her actual character arc.

What Natalia deals with in the course of the plot is no easy task. While the entire game focuses on identity and the importance of creating a name for yourself, I think Natalia’s plotline handles it in an interesting way. Of course, being a ruler, she must start defining what kind of ruler she will be in the future, and already being engaged, she must also define herself as a wife and a queen. While this is stressful enough on its own, this ends up being peripheral to her identity crisis. First off, it’s revealed that the man she’s engaged to, this man she’s known since they were both children and has been friends with ever since, is not who she thought he was. In a literal sense. Her fiancé, the original Luke, was actually taken many, many years ago, and a replica of him (the “current” Luke, also the main character) was left in his place. This man is no prince, and is not the friend she grew up with—and now the man she was supposed to be wed to, now called “Asch” instead of Luke, is part of some weird religious cult. To make matters worse, she finds that she herself is build up from lies. Natalia was not born from royalty. As the king and queen had a stillborn, Natalia was taken from her actual family (her biological mother ended up being her wet nurse) and raised to be a princess. To make matters more conflicting, her biological father is one of the leaders of said religious cult. Understandably, she does not react well to this.

Remember that time I thought you were still living in the capitol and we were still engaged? Good times.

Remember that time I thought you were still living in the capitol and we were still engaged? Good times.

Natalia’s character strength comes from how she learns to deal with these facts of her life. When she first learns of these things she’s angry, bitter, afraid: understandable emotions given her position. She does not let this beat her, however. Though she may not be of royal blood, and her parents not who she thought, she comes to terms with the fact that blood doesn’t matter, and that her parents are still her parents. Furthermore, her kindness, mixed with her political intelligence, has already set her up to be a fantastic queen, which, as it turns out, the public of her kingdom is more concerned about than any blood lineage. And she doesn’t turn her back on her biological father either. Though she doesn’t know him, it’s clear that she wants to. Unfortunately, neither of them can stray from the path that they’re on, putting them on opposing sides, but her biological father dies knowing that Natalia held no ill will toward him and isn’t mad about these circumstances neither of them could prevent. She also learns to appreciate Luke as his own person, and not as a replica of her fiancé. Though she despises him at first, she eventually accepts that this wasn’t his fault, and that for all of his childishness, he too is growing into someone she is proud to call a companion. Furthermore, upon experiencing the skill and compassion of the group at large, she quickly revises her statement and apologizes for calling them “peasants” and looking down on them. In the course of the game, Natalia changes from a snobby princess who relies on her royal title to get shit done to a woman who understands that the world isn’t necessarily what it seems and has built up a strength of self, all while not losing her own compassion towards others.

While the story explores this beautifully, I really appreciate how the game expresses this in terms of game mechanics. Some people may be quick to call Tear, the mage character of the party, the white mage—I mean, she’s kind of descended from the universe’s god-figure—but I don’t think that’s the case. There is no singular white mage in this game: the title is shared between Tear and Natalia. Which is made more interesting as they’re set up to be thematic counterparts, but I won’t get into that. Natalia’s main strength is her archery, but she has some of the most powerful healing spells in the game. So while she can hit hard and fast, she is also ready to tend to the injured when the need arises.  In this, she is not only a healer who takes care of her country with motherly affection, she’s also a strategist and a battler who will take on a demi-god if need be, because that’s what she has decided she needs to do for her kingdom and for herself as a person.

Lots of JRPGs, the Tales series especially, have characters that I adore, but most of the time they’re a little clichéd, and I can easily guess their motivations and plot twists. My experience with Natalia was much different. Though in some ways she’s a royalty trope, she ends up surpassing all of that to become her own complex character, with twists and turns I hadn’t even fathomed during my first playthrough of the game. So while sometimes this genre of game can leave you wanting for something more, let me tell you that  there is hope. Natalia was a start of a long line of interesting characters, but she was the first that truly sat with me long after I beat the game a first and second time.

Tales of the Abyss GroupAre there any video game (or book? or movie? I’m not picky) characters you felt had an unexpectedly good character arc? Or a character that you felt surpassed their narrative purpose? Let me know in the comments!


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About Tsunderin

Greetings and salutations! Feel free to just call me Rin—we’re all friends here, or nemeses who just haven’t gotten to know each other well enough. I’m a video game lover from the womb to the tomb, and Bioware enthusiast until the day they stop making games with amazing characters that I cry over. And while I don’t partake as often as I used to, don’t be surprised to find me poking around an anime or manga every once in a while either. A personal interest for me is characterization in media and how women in particular have been portrayed, are being portrayed, and will be portrayed in the future. I’m not going to mince words about my opinion either.

1 thought on “Why Natalia Takes the Crown as My Favorite Female Tales Character

  1. Found this via the #tales of the abyss tag on Tumblr 🙂 I’m about 90% done with my first PT of the game (just finished Absorption Gate the second time) and yeah, with Natalia at first it was like “… yeah, she’s kind of annoying” but I have really loved her character development so far. She’s in my party most of the time (barring Surprise Encounters).

    Another character’s development I really REALLY love is Jill Fizzart from Fire Emblem: Path Of Radiance. Starts out as a Fantastic Racist (and hoo boy, is she ever at first) but throughout the course of the game, learns that the race she was taught to hate since birth isn’t how she believed it was (this is like– a SUPER simplified explanation :p ). She became one of my favorite characters of the game by the time I’d finished it the first time.

    “…At first, I thought I could protect my old life, that I could prove the sub-humans were monsters. But I was wrong. And now things are different. The sub-hu– I’m sorry, the laguz… I want to know the truth about them, and I need to base that on what I see, not what I am told by others.” – Jill Fizzart

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