In the balmy days of our summer vacation I figured it would be as good a time as any to clear out my mobage (mobile game) catalog on my emulator. Yet, as is the result of most of my cleaning ventures, I made space only to fill it up once again. Whoops!
Among my newest set of free to play mobile adventures is Tales of the Rays, a Namco Bandai exploration into how to adapt a console Tales game into a more portable format. Though I started only recently, Rays’s troubling trends only seem to get worse and worse the further I get. Not in terms of the gameplay (which is pretty fun, honestly), but in the development of the two protagonists, especially in concerns to the lady on the squad, Mileena.
Rays’s story follows childhood friends–who probably have crushes on each other because JRPG–Ix and Mileena as they set out to save their homeland. As a mirrorist, Mileena has the power to exoflect other realities, which essentially means she can clone portions of other worlds and the people who live in them, and then bring those clones back with her to her world. As such, the both of them visit the worlds of many of the other Tales games, bringing each game’s protagonist back with them to aid in their fight.
From the above summary it sounds as though Mileena would be the protagonist given more focus in the narrative, but nothing could be further from the truth. Yet this is nothing new for the Tales series: in most of the games where there are male and female protagonists, it’s often the guy that gets the most focus on him, typically dancing on the edge of the “chosen one” trope that somehow makes everyone think that the less trained guy is more capable of doing things than the obviously more skilled lady. In Tales of Symphonia, Lloyd is the character we focus on instead of Colette, the girl with the powers of an angel. In Tales of the Abyss, the jerk noble Luke is the key to the whole plot as trained soldier Tear spends the entire game teaching him to not suck. And in entries like Tales of Xillia and Tales of Vesperia where the female protagonist (Milla and Estelle respectively) is the one going through the most changes and trying to figure out their powers, it’s the guys once again (Jude and Yuri) who have the focus turned on them.
In these games it works, though–or at least in my eyes–because the games give these ladies characters and character arcs. Furthermore, their narratives don’t paint the male characters in a better light than their better trained lady protagonists. Lloyd has been training since he was a child and fights for Colette’s right to be able to harness her power as well as keep her humanity; Luke only learns to not be a shit-tier person thanks to Tear and attributes his success to her readily; Estelle grows in her strength thanks to the support of everyone else, then uses this strength to show Yuri that his lone-wolf shtick is pretty selfish and ignorant in the face of a worldwide danger; Milla never stops being a literal god even for a second, just as Jude never stops basically worshiping how awesome she is. Though the narrative’s focus may turn towards the male protagonist as a lens for its assumed mostly male audience to play through, the game never lets the player forget that it’s the female protagonist who is actually the most qualified and willing to do what needs to be done. Tales of the Rays throws this out entirely in the most mindnumbing ways possible.
Rays’s most damning crime is taking away the one thing that gave Mileena any power. Mileena is initially brought to the country’s capital in order to use her mirrorist powers to help save the world. Ix puts himself forward as Mileena’s bodyguard, happy to tag along for the ride. In the prologue of the game it’s briefly mentioned that Ix, too, once tried to be a mirrorist, however something went so poorly it put him off using the magic forever. From the way it’s written, I had assumed that either he wasn’t powerful enough to save someone from something, or was unskilled enough that his powers ended up hurting someone. Silly me — I’d expected that to be the end of things. Upon arriving at the capital it’s revealed to the player that Ix gave up being a mirrorist because he was just so powerful that he didn’t know what to do with himself. Not even into the game’s first named chapter, Mileena has already had her narrative purpose taken away from her. Though she is the party’s only trained mirrorist, her training isn’t even considered worthwhile when compared against Ix’s raw power. Furthermore, Ix’s worries about losing control of his powers once more are immediately shown to be null, as he never struggles with his powers once in the story. What really puts the cherry on this shit sundae, though, is that Ix himself doesn’t seem to appreciate his best friend’s power or even treat her as a capable woman who has been training for years in her art. What?!
Beyond this, it’s more than obvious that whoever is writing the game doesn’t care about Mileena. While Ix has a (cliche, but there) character arc of learning that he doesn’t have to be perfect to have worth as a person, Mileena, despite having the skeletons of a motivation and a personality, doesn’t have a character arc at all. Ix gets to talk with all the protagonists from the other Tales games and bond with them, Mileena stays in the background internally gushing about how much Ix has grown or how she’s kind of jealous how well Ix and the other protagonist are getting along. She’s so unimportant that I would forget she was even a part of the game if not for the fact that she’s my team’s strongest healer!
By playing the international version of Tales of the Rays I’m not yet privy to all the story available in the Japanese version. Do I expect that things will get any better? No. At least not right now. Tales games are known for their twists and shocking moments, especially in terms of the characters in your party. Though Rays is a mobile game and has less narrative work than a console game on principle of it being a mobile game, I fully expect there to be a twist somewhere along the line eventually. Still, at the end of the day this twist shouldn’t be one of your protagonists finally getting a character arc and the writers remembering that she, you know, exists, and exists as more than a mouthpiece to try and convince the audience how cool the other, male, protagonist is.