Tales of Symphonia’s Deconstruction of Self-Sacrifice
Like many video games, many installations in the Tales of Series contain the popular trope of “heroic sacrifice.” In Tales of Zestiria, the most recent addition to the series of JRPGs, Sorey sacrifices himself to cleanse the world of malevolence. In an earlier game recently remade for the 3DS, Tales of the Abyss, protagonist Luke is left behind to free the goddess Lorelei. In both instances, the final animated scenes imply the rebirth of Sorey and Luke. The player is, in the end, rewarded for suffering for and with the characters with a dangling hope that they still have a future.
Tales of Symphonia, a Gamecube-era Tales of game ported to Steam this year, fights against the idea of self-sacrifice. The player is Lloyd Irving, friend of the Colette Brunel, who was chosen to regenerate the world called Sylvarant. The plot dramatically pivots five hours into the game, revealing that Colette must die to regenerate Sylvarant — she must die and be reborn as the goddess Martel. Lloyd and his friends immediately reject this, using the seemingly simple argument that they would be sad without her. This position is reinforced throughout the series as various characters tackle the issue of self-sacrifice. All the while, Lloyd searches for his own solution — an at first naive, idealistic, impossible, win-win solution — that does, amazingly, succeed.
Playing the game as an adult, it is easy to see the flaws in the ideals spouted in Tales of Symphonia. In game, Lloyd even gains the title of “Idealist” — his hope to find an answer that will benefit all is criticized by many characters. The fact that his ideals reach fruition can seem too convenient, to the point of being ridiculous. These observations, however, do come from jaded eyes. The solutions found in the game are hard-fought and well-deserved, especially after sixty hours of gameplay. Ridiculous as the story may be, Tales of Symphonia teaches us to hope, to strive, and — most importantly — to never throw your life away.
Colette Brunel’s Journey of World Regeneration
Colette immediately is touted as the Jesus figure of the series. The first thing we learn about her is that she’s the Chosen One of Sylvarant. In the first hours of gameplay, however, Colette already is much more than that. She’s a round character: klutzy, loving, brave enough to walk straight in the middle of danger, constantly apologetic, and full of ideas of self-sacrifice. Unlike the player and most of the characters, she knows from the very beginning that she must die to save her world. She shoulders this burden gracefully: she uses a white lie to try to cut ties with Lloyd, and she tries to keep the slow loss of her hunger, sleepiness, and feeling to herself for the most part of the first half. She is deeply religious despite her looming death, as shown by her inspiring characters suffering from loss of hope.
Consistently, Colette says: “I will do my best to regenerate the world.” When Lloyd discovers her slow loss of her human senses, she justifies her secret-keeping by saying, “This is what it means to become an angel, so I mustn’t let it get to me.” She earnestly apologizes for everything — even for accidentally making an assassin fall into a trap door. Colette’s behavior throughout the first part of the game indicates that she has accepted her fate — and as a result, she has a low self-worth.
After the pivotal moment of the game, Colette’s consciousness is temporarily subdued as Lloyd and the others search for a way to save everyone. Even after she regains consciousness, she undergoes another illness: the crystallization of her body. Like the issue of world regeneration, she doesn’t tell the others about her suffering. She struggles with her relationships with others. She struggles to accept a place in the world that doesn’t mean her dying.
Colette comes out of the game as an amazingly admirable figure. Her whole life, once centered around death, becomes centered around life. Colette, too, begins to teach the others that all life is precious.
The Win-Win Solution
Tales of Symphonia makes the argument that a system that requires such sacrifice is a twisted system. It is revealed that the world regeneration will only save one world, Sylvarant. The other world, parallel to Sylvarant, Tethe’alla, will decline. The hourglass will be flipped once more after another sacrifice. The establishment that runs this system, Cruxis, is led by a half-elf, Mithos, who uses the Chosens from each world as vessels to attempt to revive his dead sister, Martel.
Using godly means, Mithos created this system. Lloyd embarks on a journey to reverse Mithos’ actions, reuniting Sylvarant and Tethe’alla and reviving the Great Tree that provides the world with life-giving mana. The party goes as far as altering the very fabric of world dimensions to ensure a world where “Sylvarant, Tethe’alla, and Colette can all be happy.”
The win-win solution is present, but is by no means easy. The group travels between the two worlds, defeating Desians, making pacts with Summon Spirits, and avoiding assassination by multiple establishments. Their method is trial-and-error, grappling with what clues they have to fix the broken system. What they search for is not compromise — it is ultimate victory. Lloyd, the head of this movement, perseveres for a world where “goodness and love will always win.” Issues of race and discrimination are also addressed — Lloyd’s world is also a world where the villain, Mithos, a hated half-elf, can live peacefully.
In Tales of Symphonia, the list of characters who successfully die or attempt to die for the greater good is extraordinarily long. In fact, it includes the entirety of the main party — Lloyd excepted. On a venture to save a kidnapped Colette, your party is slowly picked off in back-to-back heart-wrenching scenes of self-sacrifices. They return just in time for a boss battle, stating bravely: “I want to live in this new world!”
Each character, from their first encounters to this point of the game, has developed beautifully. Colette, a girl whose death will save a world. Sheena, a summoner who accidentally killed half her clan. Zelos, a Chosen sold to the state. Genis and Raine, representative of a race hated by both humans and elves. Kratos, Lloyd’s father, who helped Mithos create this twisted world. Presea, a timeless girl shunned by her town. Regal, a man forced to kill the woman he loves. Lloyd gave them all hope. Through Lloyd, they all realized that they are deserving of life in the new world. Lloyd reached out his hand to everyone — including the antagonist, Mithos. The greatest disappointment is that Mithos didn’t take the hand.
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