Tales of Arthuria: Arthurian Legend Gets the JRPG Treatment in Tales of Berseria

      If you follow Video Games as Literature on Twitter, you may have seen my recent tweet about how, once again, it took me several eons to realize that a literary retelling was staring me right in the face. The tweet states, 


Oh sure, I wrote my master's thesis on Arthurian legends, but it still took me a year to connect the dots and realize the villain in Tales of Berseria was supposed to be a version of King Arthur. šŸ˜‚šŸ˜­ (@videogamesaslit Jan 24, 2023 https://twitter.com/videogamesaslit/status/1617762174138716160)

 

      I'm not afraid to admit that sometimes when I'm gaming I turn off the critical part of my brain and just focus on having a relaxing gaming session. I'm sure we all do that from time to time. It finally hit me when I started playing Tales of Zestiria that this duology (Berseria is a prequal to Zestiria) is filled to the brim with Arthurian references, if not direct retellings of the Arthurian stories. Had I started the games in their release order I may have picked up on this sooner, since Zestiria seems to be a bit more transparent in its Arthurian inspiration. Nevertheless, as I did write several papers and my Master's Thesis on Arthurian legends, I probably should have picked up on this a long time ago. Since I haven't yet finished playing Tales of Zestiria, the details I share in this post will be limited to what I've encountered in the games so far (I have finished Tales of Berseria, at least). Beware spoilers, especially spoilers about characters and character development in Tales of Berseria. This post will be similar to my previous one about Final Fantasy XV and Hamlet, and I will focus mainly on characters who are equivalent to figures in Arthurian legend. Spoilers start now.


Arthur/Artorius Collbrande, AKA King Arthur


Artorius Collbrande, a man with a long blonde ponytail, raises a sword and has a serious expression on his face. There is light shining down on him from somewhere above.

This character is an obvious and typical depiction of King Arthur, and yet I was stumped for the entire year that I played Tales of Berseria because, unlike the illustrious King of the classic literature, he is the villain of this story. Tales of Berseria deftly turns the story of King Arthur upside down and shows the death of Arthur as a necessary act to save humanity.


Velvet Crowe

Tales of Berseria Velvet Crowe, a fair-skinned woman with very long black hair and torn, skintight clothes.

The game's protagonist, though maybe not a hero, Velvet seems to be an amalgamation of two or three Arthurian characters. The most obvious is Mordred, King Arthur's ill-begotten son who was conceived that one time Arthur accidentally slept with his sister (isn't classic literature fun?). Mordred is most often depicted as the instrument of Arthur's undoing, as many of the legends have him giving Arthur his mortal blow. Velvet's violent tendencies and hunger for revenge tie her to Mordred in the legends. But in Tales of Berseria, she is Arthur's sister-in-law (usually referred to in the game as his sister). She does also resemble two of King Arthur's sisters: Morgause (Mordred's mother), and Morgan le Fay, King Arthur's most magical sister. 


The Knights of the Round Table


In Tales of Berseria, Artorius surrounds himself with close companions called exorcists. These characters can be equated to King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table. Some of these characters have obvious ties to Arthurian figures, while others are a little less clear. Shigure Rangetsu, for instance, takes on some of Lancelot's qualities, but is not a true recreation of the character. His most Lancelot-like characteristic is that "His sole joy is to fight tough opponents and seems to enjoy it when his opponent is stronger. He will never turn down a new challenge whenever it arises" (Source: Tales of Wiki). Other exorcists will be covered in more detail below as their characters are more clearly tied to specific Arthurian characters. If you want to learn more about King Arthur's knights, I can verify that Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a surprisingly accurate account of these characters in that it focuses on their most ridiculous qualities as written in the original medieval texts.


Eleanor Hume 

Eleanor Hume, a woman with pale skin and red hair, fighting with a spear. She wears a blue, silver, and gold outfit.

Eleanor Hume may be the most fascinating character in the game, not only because she has an unusual connection to Arthurian Literature, but because her character is actually based on a real-life philosopher: David Hume (b. 1711 d. 1776), founder of Humeanism. In Tales of Berseria, Eleanor begins the story as one of Artorius's exorcists. Artorius teaches his followers that the most important thing in the world is "reason" which he posits is the opposite of emotion. In fact, late in the story Artorius uses his magic to remove emotion from all (or almost all) of the people in the towns nearest to him, and this causes a large number of problems that the protagonists must set out to solve. Eleanor's character development arc in the game sees her changing gradually from a undiscerning follower of Artorius's teachings on reason, to an individual who thinks for herself and sees the importance of human emotion. Her eventual justification for opposing Artorius is that people need their emotions and she won't let him take them away. This thinking follows the writings of her namesake, philosopher David Hume, whose beliefs are described as follows:


An opponent of philosophical rationalists, Hume held that passions rather than reason govern human behaviour, famously proclaiming that "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions" (Hume, David (1739). A Treatise of Human Nature. London: John Noon). (Source: Wikipedia)

 

Both Eleanor and David Hume believe that emotions, or passions, are essential to reason, and you cannot have true reason without emotion. 


Eleanor is also connected to Arthurian Literature, albeit in a somewhat tenuous way. Eleanor's given name was very popular in the middle ages: "The popularity of the name Eleanor in England during the Middle Ages was due to the fame of Eleanor of Aquitaine" (Source: Behind the Name). By the time Thomas Malory wrote his book Le Morte d'Arthur, which served as the primary inspiration for most modern retellings of the Arthurian tales, the name Eleanor had been a popular one for several centuries. Instead of using the name Eleanor in his book, however, Malory latched onto a new name that was very similar to Eleanor: Elaine. Malory uses this name for several different characters is his book, to the point that "Elaine" is almost as confusingly common in Arthurian legends as the name "Mary" is in the new testament of the Christian bible. According to Behind the Name, 


[Elaine] appears in Arthurian legend; in Thomas Malory's 15th-century compilation Le Morte d'Arthur Elaine was the daughter of Pelles, the lover of Lancelot, and the mother of Galahad. It was not commonly used as an English given name until after the publication of Alfred Tennyson's Arthurian epic Idylls of the King (1859). (Source: Behind the Name)

 


Melchior Mayvin AKA Merlin


Melchior, an old man with a long beard and a wide-brimmed hat. He is stroking his beard. He wears a white robe and a monocle..


One of Artorius's primary allies is a very, very old man named Melchior (the wiki says he is 130 years old). He is an expert magic user and one of the final obstacles in the protagonists' quest to defeat Artorius. He very clearly fits the visual stereotype that most people will recognize as Merlin, or as any generic wizard (Merlin, Gandalf, Dumbledore -- who can tell them apart when they're all old men with long white beards?). Some older gamers like me may even notice his monocle, which proves that he is a wizard (this is a joke from an old video). Melchior's age also lends to the idea that he is a recreation of Merlin, as Merlin is said to age backwards, or to be immortal, depending on which story you read. In either case, his age is mysteriously connected to his magic. The most notable aspect of Merlin's story that comes into play in Tales of Berseria, however, is the way he is finally defeated in the legends, which brings us to...


Magilou Mayvin AKA Nimuƫ


Magilou is a blond woman with a pink witch outfit, including a big pointy hat. She has a mischievous look on her face.

Magilou is Velvet's most mysterious companion: especially early in the story, no one knows her age, her real name, what motivates her, or even why she is present in the party. All they know is that Magilou is a self-styled witch who wants to leave her past behind her. Similarly, NimuĆ« (or Nymue, Nyneue, Nyneve, Nynyue, among countless other variations) has always been a very mysterious figure to medieval storytellers, historians, and modern scholars alike. The important connection between NimuĆ« and Tales of Berseria's witch Magilou is that NimuĆ« is often portrayed as being Merlin's apprentice, who ultimately defeats him by trapping him inside a magical cave. By the end of Tales of Berseria, players learn that Magilou was once daughter and student/apprentice of Melchior, and she is pivotal to his defeat. NimuĆ« is also often said to be the identity of the Lady of the Lake, who is most well known as the guardian of King Arthur's sword, Excalibur. The Lady of the Lake is often portrayed as being a number of different magical women, not only NimuĆ«, and this tradition is carried on in the "Tales of" games. 


Lailah, The Lady of the Lake



Lailah is a major character in Tales of Zestiria, which takes place several centuries after the events of Tales of Berseria. When players first encounter her, she is the guardian of the Sword in the Stone, a device that is taken directly from Arthurian legends. Though the townspeople can't see her, they worship her as the Lady of the Lake, an apparent title that has been passed on to Lailah from a mysterious predecessor. Lailah is there when Sorey, the protagonist of Tales of Zestiria, attends a festival in which people attempt to pull the sword from the stone, usually with no success. This may sound familiar, as you have probably either seen the Disney movie The Sword in the Stone (based on the T.H. White classic) or heard the legend. Like young Arthur, Sorey is able to pull the sword from the stone, in this case with the help of Lailah (whom he can see while others can't). 


Tales of Zestiria is full of other, smaller references to the Arthurian legends. Many place names come from Arthurian names, such as the Galahad RuinsBors Ruins, and other dungeons named after knights, and city names like Taliesin, which is actually named after an early medieval bard whose work was recorded in a famous manuscript. The castle Roundtabel Palace is of course a reference to King Arthur's round table, though I noticed that the table we see inside the palace is actually rectangular -- perhaps as a nod towards the greed of the men sitting around it (Arthur's round table was supposed to be a circle so that no one could sit at the head of the table -- everyone at the table was equal). 


Did you notice any references to Arthurian literature that I missed? Please share your observations in the comments!


Suggestions for Further Reading:


"The Horse and the Heroic Quest: Equestrian Indicators of Morality in Lancelot, Don Quixote, and Tolkien" by Kirsten Rodning


Le Morte d'Arthur by Thomas Malory


The Once and Future King by T.H. White


The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart



This Way Madness Lies: My Game of the Year?!

 This Way Madness Lies is the latest game from developer Zeboyd Games, creators of indie classics like Cthulhu Saves the World and Cosmic Star Heroine. When I heard that Zeboyd was creating a game based on the works of Shakespeare -- starring magical girls -- I literally jumped for joy. Then I asked for a review copy. I couldn't imagine exactly how a game about magical girls in the stories of Shakespeare would work, but I knew it would change my life for the better. 



If you've been following this blog for any amount of time you are probably aware that I have spent a lot of time writing about Shakespeare's influence on the video game medium. In fact, earlier this year I wrote about the vast quantity of games that are based specifically on Hamlet. Hamlet is all but absent from This Way Madness Lies, and I suspect that's because the game's creators knew that the bard's other plays needed a bit more attention in the video game realm. I was impressed by writer Willow Boyd's knowledge not only of the contents of Shakespeare's plays, but of the scholarship and historical discussion surrounding the plays and their author. I studied Shakespeare throughout college and two levels of graduate school but I still learned a thing or two from this game. Truly (verily?) the game's writer is a genuine bardolator. 


Screenshot of Imogen saying, "It's a real term, look it up."

The most notable aspect of This Way Madness Lies that a new player will undoubtedly appreciate is the soundtrack. Immediately upon starting the game and viewing the opening menu, players are hit with a truly rocking symphonic metal banger, which I had to sit and listen to several times before I was willing to move on to playing the actual game. From this menu players can navigate to the credits, which show  that the music was composed by Joshua Queen, while the vocalist is Sarah Queen. Note that I still have this song stuck in my head as I'm writing my review, and I haven't even played the game today. The soundtrack throughout the game is just as good, and I felt nostalgic for the Persona series as I was listening to the soundtrack of This Way Madness Lies -- perhaps it was an influence? 


After the musical score, my favorite aspect of the game is its referential humor. Not only are there clever little quips about Shakespeare, but in true Zeboyd Games style there are lots of references to older games by the same developers, and to their favorite sleeping god, Cthulhu, and his otherworldly brethren. Every piece of dialogue in This Way Madness Lies is dripping with my kind of humor (mostly cheesy), so I couldn't help but have a big grin on my face throughout the 14+ hours I was playing the game. 


Rosalind, a character from This Way Madness Lies, says, "I  bite my thumb at you, plant monster!"

I can't consider this review complete without mentioning the beautiful pixel art. Each character is incredibly detailed and unique and players will get to see these details on full display every time the protagonists complete their magical girl transformations -- a necessary staple of the magical girl genre.

 

While I loved this game with all my heart, I would be lying if I said I didn't have any less than positive thoughts, however small. First: accessibility options are practically nonexistent. HOWEVER: I didn't find that I personally needed any accessibility accommodations in this game. I played the game with a controller and selected easy mode, and those seemed to be all the accommodations I personally needed. The game was very easy for me and I had no difficulty with controls or with my ability to see or hear the game. That said, I am only somewhat low vision and I suspect there are players who would benefit from some accessibility options like different text sizes and fonts, etc. The developers have been very good about updating the game after listening to their players, however, so accessibility options may be added in the near future (or they may already have been added as I haven't played the game in the last few days). 


I enjoyed the decision to start the story in the middle of the action -- we don't have to slog through origin stories for our magical girls, and I approve of that decision. I do wish we had a bit more background and character development for the girls, however. Is it too early to hope there will be a sequel or prequel to This Way Madness Lies


To answer my question in this post's title: yes, I would say that This Way Madness Lies is my game of the year for 2022. Does that mean I am comparing it to titles like God of War and Elden Ring? No, because I didn't play those games. I tend to spend most of my time playing more niche titles, so my closest runner-up that I played this year would be Kirby and the Forgotten Land. But I can't deny that This Way Madness Lies moved me in a way that I haven't been moved since the first time I played Supergiant's Bastion. It wasn't just the Shakespeare angle that hooked me -- I genuinely connected with the characters and the world of the game. I felt like this game was made for me, specifically, and that's a rare feeling. I greatly look forward to seeing where Zeboyd Games goes from here.


I received a copy of This Way Madness Lies for free in exchange for an honest review.


Welcome to #SciFiMonth 2022!

     It's Sci-Fi Month! Every November a bunch of blogs, including this one, celebrate #SciFiMonth and read science fiction books, play Sci-Fi games, and generally geek out. This year is the tenth anniversary of the event! It's hosted by OneMore.org and Dear Geek Place. 


Square banner that says Sci Fi Month 2022
Artwork by Simon Fetscher

    As usual, I plan to have a fairly chill month since I am also participating in Nanowrimo. Last month I boasted on Twitter that I was thinking about doing a Resident Evil marathon, but since that has fizzled out for me I will probably focus my time on different games. I have been wanting to get into the Star Ocean series for a very long time, and I think now, during Sci-Fi month, and so near the release of the latest Star Ocean installment, would be a great time! Now, I know that different people have different opinions on where I should start in the Star Ocean series (I did some research on social media), but since the PS3 game, Star Ocean: The Last Hope, is within easy reach I plan to "dive in" with that one (pun totally intended). If that doesn't fill up all of my gaming time for the month, I will probably also go back to trying to finish Assassin's Creed Odyssey, which I have already started a blog post draft on. I need to stick to my resolution to finish a Tales series game this year, so I will also keep working on beating Tales of Berseria. 

Cover of Star Ocean: The Last Hope on Playstation 3Cover art for Assassin's Creed: Odyssey on Playstation 4


    As far as reading goes, I'm not sure what all of the books I read this month will be, but I will try to stick to the Science Fiction theme. The first one I'm reading for the month, which I started last night, is Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders! The story is really different so far -- which is always a good thing! I'm only a few chapters in so my full review will be forthcoming. There is an official #SciFiMonth readathon taking place, in which participants will be reading The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers. I haven't read the rest of the series in which that book takes place, so I might be skipping the readathon this time. 

Stay tuned for more #SciFiMonth updates! And happy gaming/reading. 

If you enjoy my work and would like to support this blog, feel free to check out the links below.




The Outer Worlds Explores Space While Grappling with Human Consumption

 After my panel at Momocon back in May, several audience members came up to me and asked if I had yet played The Outer Worlds. A segment of my presentation had been about Fallout: New Vegas, and my fellow gamers wanted to make sure I had played Obsidian's latest game. I hadn't, and though I had heard of the game I surprisingly didn't know that it was developed by Obsidian, or that it was such a similar game to their Fallout entries. I immediately bought the game and started playing, and I am so glad that I did! Though The Outer Worlds seems to have slipped under the radar of much of the online gaming community (perhaps because, like many a Fallout game, the game's initial release was filled with bugs and errors, though these were later fixed with a patch), it is a very fun, well-written entry into the annals of science fiction gaming that asks tough questions about morality and human consumption while endearing the player to the many characters and colonies in Halcyon. 


Image of Parvati from The Outer Worlds fixing an engine.


Like Fallout: New Vegas, The Outer Worlds is set in a future that feels oddly vintage, which draws the player's attention to the cyclical nature of history -- humanity will always be doomed to repeat its mistakes. In the case of The Outer Worlds, humanity's mistake is extreme consumption -- consumption of food, fuel, and other necessities, but also frivolities like clothes and guns. There's even a parody version of the NRA that highlights the modern American urge to own lots and lots of guns (see a short video of this parody interaction here). 


Some reviewers may have felt that the anti-capitalist overtones of the game were too overt and caused the story to drag, but personally I feel that if you want to get a message across, sometimes you have to metaphorically hit your audience over the head with it, and Obsidian does this with side-quests that you really don't have to complete if you don't want to. I promise, it's okay to skip a few side quests. Really.


My favorite part of the game, however, had nothing to do with the overstory about consumption and greed, and instead had everything to do with party member Parvati's sweet, romantic side-story. I want to say it's rare to see a story in a video game about an asexual, homoromantic major character, but that wouldn't exactly be true. The truth is that before The Outer Worlds, I had never seen an asexual, homoromantic major character in a video game. That level of realism and complexity in an LGBTQIA+ character almost never exists in fiction. The only other time I have even read a story about an ace protagonist in a relationship was when I read Claire Kann's Let's Talk About Love. Other books with such characters do exist, but these types of relationships are rarely seen in video game romances. This is no case of queer baiting, in case you were wondering. Parvati very clearly communicates her sexual identity to the player, who then even has the option of telling Parvati that they, too, are asexual. See the below screenshots for examples of conversations about sexuality that the player can have with their companion:



Screenshot text: "That's - well, it's tripped folks up in the past. Folks I thought cared about me for me. What if she's not okay with that? What if she IS, but then, later, she's not?" Player answer: "We have that in common, you know. I'm not interested in physical affection either." Screenshot text: Parvati: "You- you're not? You're like me?" Player: "Well, I'm cooler, but yeah."

Screenshot text: Parvati: "I'm not much interested in... physical stuff. Never have been. Leastways not like other folk seem to be. It's not that I can't? I just don't care for it."

Without spoiling the romantic side story that is Parvati's companion quest, I will say that Parvati and her girlfriend meeting each other, dating, and getting to know one another truly warmed my heart. This may end up being one of my favorite video game moments of all time. 


What were your favorite moments in The Outer Worlds, and which characters warmed your heart? Let me know in the comments!


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Momocon 2022 Panel Video Now Available!

 Momocon 2022 was so much fun, even if I ended up only going on Thursday. I ran my very first Video Games as Literature panel on Thursday night, which has been filmed and uploaded to YouTube! If you weren't able to make it to the live presentation, you can watch the video below. Please let me know if you have any technical problems with watching the video, and thank you for watching!



If you're interested in more multimedia on Video Games as Literature, check out this podcast episode I was invited to speak on: NEW Super Gamer Podcast 115 – Better Than Any King’s Horse with Kirsten Rodning. You can also find the Super Gamer Podcast on your favorite podcast platform.