With the new game coming out soon, I’ve been on a bit of a Star Ocean craze. Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is certainly one of the better games I’ve played for the PS2, but one of the things it lacked was LGBTQ+ representation. Fanfiction to the rescue.
Trigger warning for rape and trauma after the jump.
Drag by Pikachumaniac takes place after the events of the game on the planet Elicoor II. There’s peace between the kingdoms of Airygylph and Aquaria, but that all shatters once the war-mongering Airygylph Lord Vox mysteriously returns from the grave. With an army of dead soldiers, he takes over Airygylph and restarts the war with Aquaria. King Arzei is all but powerless to stop the takeover of his own kingdom by a former subject, and the situation is no better for Albel. Vox and Albel had always been at odds with each other before the former’s death, and Vox chooses to get back at Albel in the worst way possible. He forces Albel to drink a potion that transforms him into a woman, and then he forces Albel to marry him.
The story also features Nel, who uses her epic spying skills to figure out what’s going on. After she contacts the other main characters, they return to Elicoor II to help Aquaria deal with this new war and to save Albel from Vox.
Drag is not a very happy story. The whole fic is rather triggering, similar to how Jessica Jones is triggering. It deals with a lot of rape, character death, and a horrific abuse of power. However, nothing is explicit, and the narrative instead chooses to focus on the PTSD and emotional whirlwind that Vox shoves all the characters through. It talks a lot about bodily autonomy and agency, and it does a much better job of that than many other stories I’ve read.
“You think this is easy?” Albel hisses, his rage so thick that Cliff is surprised the guy doesn’t just slit his throat and be done with it already. That might make this easier on them both, but since when have either of them ever been satisfied by the easy path? “You think I wanted something like this?”
Leave it to Albel to totally misinterpret his words. Not that Cliff can blame him, technically.
“‘Course not!” he snaps, but it doesn’t take half a brain to figure out that Albel is nowhere near interested in listening to him anymore. If their positions had been switched, Cliff doubts he would be any more accommodating, but that doesn’t make this any more bearable. “I’m just saying—”
“Look, I know you’re angry.” He wracks his brain, trying to figure out exactly what is behind Albel’s latest mental breakdown, “But you know, there’s nothing wrong with being a woman, and—”
He’s cut off from the rest of that particular train of thought (wherever it was going because he has a feeling that he was completely on the wrong track anyway) by a sharp laugh. “You think that’s what this is about, fool? I know that, you moron. I know. So believe it or not but this isn’t about the fucking gender. I can deal with it; I have been for all this time. What the hell did you think I was doing? Fiddling my thumbs and waiting for you to rescue me? No, I’ve learned to live with this despite what you people might think.
“But what I can’t stand about this is how it’s changed how you maggots see me, as if I’m to be coddled or taken care of or worse. I’m not different or weaker or anything like that so for fuck’s sake stop treating me as if I’m about to break! I hate it! I hate being looked dawn at, and treated as if I’m incompetent or useless or just there to be taken advantage of! I hate the fact that scum like Vox can do that, and I hate myself for not being able to stop them! And then for you to come here and tell me that I’m overreacting when you’re treating me the same exact way as everyone else makes me sick!”
Transgender, or even genderbent, Albel is something that a good bit of the Star Ocean fanbase seems to have latched onto, and I support that in its entirety. Partly, this is because I’m desperate for any kind of decent representation, and the idea of a transgender character in a popular game is appealing to me. There are some issues I have with Albel’s character—he spends the first half of the game as an antagonist, and queer-coded villains are a huge problem. However, Albel is never presented as “evil” so much as he’s presented as “opponent on opposite side of war”, and he does become an ally. I also found it enjoyable to see that one of the strongest and most respected swordsmen in Airyglyph could run around in a purple skirt and ribbons in his hair, and no one belittled him for it. Even Vox’s dislike for Albel has nothing to do with his refusal to conform to gender stereotypes. In the Star Ocean universe, or at the very least, on the planet Elicoor II, it’s normalized.
I think the idea of a transgender Albel came about because Albel looks like he was probably designated female at birth. Drag is a bit different from other fanfic in that Albel is not born trans. This is something that Vox forces on him. As such, it’s hard to say whether or not this story is good representation for transgender issues. Throughout the story, Albel’s gender identity never changes, but he does suffer from some gender dysphoria—he doesn’t handle periods all that well, and now he’s subject to a bunch of sexist stereotypes that he didn’t have to deal with before. People think that he’s weaker or less than he was, and they try to take advantage of him for it. This change is done against Albel’s will and it’s used as a way to victimize him. Vox doesn’t think about violating Albel before this change, and I was initially put off by this, because the fic runs the risk of turning transgender and women’s issues into a thing of horror.
That said, I don’t think the story does a bad job with what it has to work with. While Albel is rightfully pissed off about what’s happened, he still becomes comfortable in his new body. He recognizes that Vox is using this as an excuse to hurt him, but that being attacked and victimized doesn’t make Albel any less or weak than he was before. He still identifies as male, and he learns that having a female body doesn’t change who he is. As the fic nears its end, Albel lets us know in the conversation above that what really upsets him is how this change affects the way other people see and treat him. People see him as weak and vulnerable, as someone to be rescued, or as someone who can be easily hurt. As far as Albel is concerned, those worthless maggots can go fuck themselves.
While I prefer stories where Albel is not forcefully genderbent and just always trans and comfortable with who he is, Drag does a pretty decent job, and it tackles a lot of tough issues while it’s at it. It’s got some really great writing and good character moments. At 65k, you can easily blow through this story in one day. Be sure to check it out here on ff.net.