At the beginning of this month, Tales of Symphonia was re-released on the PC via Steam. While Symphonia might not be my favorite one of the series, it’ll always be the closest to my heart since it’s the game that got me into Tales in the first place. There was just something so satisfying about pouring tens of hundreds of hours into the story about Colette, the Chosen of Mana’s journey to bring mana back to her declining land, and all the twists and turns that come along with that. (And then realizing you have to do yet another playthrough because you wanted to have the Flanoir date with Sheena and didn’t realize that Zelos gave you a special item if you did it with him, so you couldn’t finish filling out your item collection book. Ugh!)
While its PC port is… reportedly janky as hell, I’m thrilled that fans have another chance to play through the game, and that others who weren’t able to get it for the Gamecube or PS3 now have another medium to experience it on. Honestly, there was a lot to love about Symphonia, but one of my favorite parts was the character Raine. I can’t say that I really related to her on a big level, but I wanted to be her. She was strong in her convictions, yet willing to hear other sides to conflicts; she cared deeply for her brother and her students even if she showed this best by giving more homework; and she had a nerdy hobby that she was unapologetic about, even if others were put off by it. While the game didn’t have much time to go into it, one thing that always intrigued me was her relationship with her brother Genis and how they ended up in the small village of Iselia. If the anime went into it more in detail, I’m uncertain, but today’s fic gives a closer look at a possible chain of events that led both of them to where players find them at the beginning of the game.
A small yellow light flickered in the east, drawing her teary eye, but it was not the sun, and it wasn’t a star or planet. It twinkled dimly, close to the ground, and slowly grew brighter and brighter. As it approached, Raine could hear the rickety sound of wheels crunching the dirt road. She froze, wondering if she should sink back into the shadowy woods, or if she should take her chances by confronting the strange light. Perhaps it was the University, perhaps it was a friend, perhaps it was an entity indifferent to her suffering.
She quickly weighed her options. She could reveal herself to these strangers, and risk being captured or killed. Or she could go back into the woods and die for sure. So she sat next to the road, cradling the baby under her shirt, waiting for the luminous vehicle to creak into full view.
To her great surprise, it was a ratty horse-drawn cart straight from the pages of her history textbooks. She stood in awe, forgetting to take the baby out of her jacket, as she watched it approach, creaking and and ancient-looking. The wagon slowed to a halt and a tall figure jumped from the front, barely lit in the dim glow of the wagon’s lantern.
Raine heard a man’s voice call out to her. “Dammit, girl, what are you doing out alone on a night like this?”
Raine stared at him, trying to make him out. She could see he had a beard, but she couldn’t see his features. His manner of speech was strange, heavily accented, but she could understand him. She may have gotten herself lost in a faraway land, but at least she didn’t have too large of a language barrier to overcome.
The man bent down toward her and reached out a hand. Raine backed away. “Where are your parents? Are you alone? You’re shivering.”
Raine gulped. “My parents… we were separated. I don’t even know where I am.”
“Gods above, you look like you’ve gone through a mess. Here, get inside. There are some blankets, and I’ll have my daughter dig up some food for you. You must be headed to Palmacosta.”
“W… where?” she asked. She had never heard of that place before. She thought for a moment, her quick mind sorting through her possible actions, her chances of survival. “Yes. That’s where I’m headed. That’s where my parents are.” She didn’t have anywhere else to go, so if she could convince this man to give her a ride back to civilization, it would at least be safer than staying out here alone. Maybe she could ask around about her parents when she found more people. “How far is Palmacosta?” she asked.
But the man didn’t hear her; he was already hauling himself back up into the front seat of the wagon. He motioned to her to get inside, so she rounded the back and crawled up into the dim glow of the canopied light.
From the moment she wakes up in Sylvarant (the world opposite to her homeworld of Tethe’alla) after being abandoned by her parents, Raine struggles against everything that seeks to kill both her and her infant brother. At first, it’s nature. Then, it’s the lingering prejudice against half-elves in a world where half-elves have risen above their oppressors, and have begun punishing them for being inferior. Add to that her hiding her equally-feared magic and trying to adapt to a society which she has no clue about, and it’s no wonder that Raine latches onto any kindness that she and her brother are offered.
Preludes and Recollections by nolandsman offers readers a piece of Raine and Genis’s lives before Iselia, which is unquestionably not great, and I think that’s perfect. In the midst of a magical religion-entwined world saving journey, it’s really easy to forget the prejudices and issues that less fortunate others have to suffer through daily. And these prejudices are not so easily dissected and solvable. I was rooting for Raine the entire time, hoping that she would find a way out of every corner that she was backed into, and luckily I wasn’t let down. As with any good character drama, she doesn’t escape unscathed. Raine’s characterization is so good: she’s uninhibitedly intelligent, even when learning isn’t encouraged, and she has this vicious tenacity—this inner rage—that keeps her going against all odds.
The thing I was most iffy about was Raine’s fate when she ends up in Palmacosta. While I do fully believe that the city would have a brothel, the lingering knowledge that Raine would absolutely end up getting sold off to the highest bidder at some point was really… unnerving. Of course this happened in real life, but side plots like this always feel as though the author can’t think of a way to get character development outside of submitting their female characters to sexual trauma. However, nolandsman does everyone a service by ending Raine’s time in Palmacoasta in the most cathartic way. And, I do have to say, none of the prostitutes were shamed for their professions by anyone. They were women working to get by, and were granted that dignity and actual characterization. Which is more than I can say for a lot of stories.
Raine’s journey from one place to the next accompanied by her growth as a person and a woman (a potentially openly asexual woman, even) is a journey I’m glad I got to experience. And seeing Genis grow up to be the smart little shit we all know and love is great too. Preludes and Recollections is a celebration of life as the Sage siblings stake their own claim and wrangle every piece of life for themselves that fate tried to steal from them. Fourteen of the planned eighteen chapters are already up at AO3, and at just under 59k words it’s a sizable read, but totally worth it.