We will be doing a dive into characters who find themselves in the grand 60-80 hour long narrative of Tales of Symphonia. For comparison, the literary classic War and Peace, as audiobook, averages 61 hours long. War and Peace is sometimes labelled “the greatest novel ever written” (David Campbell), by literary critics, historians, and readers like you and I.
This article will focus on the characters of Tales of Symphonia, but first we must understand the context these characters find themselves in so that we can understand their situation and personalities a little better. To create character empathy, let’s continue our comparison between the mid 2000s fiction and the mid 1800s classic literary work.
Grand, Sweeping Narrative
Tales of Symphonia is not War and Peace. In fact, you’ve likely not heard of it unless you owned a Nintendo GameCube around November 2004. Interestingly though, both contain two completely different clashing civilizations, wide casts with whole and developed characters, some of whom we regret to only get glimpses of (I’m looking at you, Platon Karataev, Altessa, and Tabatha).
Both also feature a tyrannical military-leading villain in Napoleon and Yggdrasill. Even a bit of romantic intrigue.
And, of course, each art piece has a dedicated pool of fans who attest to its merit and defend its refined qualities. Once you add both works’ history of approval, its clear to see why both War and Peace as well as the topic of today’s article, Tales of Symphonia, have been sealed as classics in their own right. I think that, like the orbit of the planet mercury, I will have to return to this unlikely comparison, but for now, I will leave it as a mere introductory juxtaposition.
For now, let’s talk about Tales of Symphonia, and more specifically, the deep relationships between its characters. Today’s focus will be even more particular; the dynamic of age differences in the story’s narrative and dialogues.
Characters Across Generations
I realized something about my favourite story after the first couple of runs through it. The dynamic between kids and adult members of the party was part of what gave the story depth.
Set One: The Adults
There was sort of an overarching sense that the adult characters had partly given up on trying to improve the world. Many of them live in a world they’re resigned to. And yet, they still hold hope, even the more stoic Kratos. Raine looks at Lloyd first a little dismissively, through their teacher-student relationship. She pushes him not to go on the journey. But as the narrative continues, she steps back and watches him with a degree of both awe and confusion. Let’s start with her.
(Art credits: Official Art by Kosuke Fujishima)
Raine was part of a victimized group, and didn’t see herself in a position to change it. Lost in a new world that was less hostile to “her kind,” to put it impolitely, she took her younger brother and moved to a small village where such prejudices were apparently foreign.
It seems the intention she had was to live out their days there in Iselia the Village of Oracles, in peace. Raine became a schoolteacher, and Genus, her younger brother, a student. Notably, there is an age gap of around a decade between these siblings.
Kratos had been complicit with a backwards, arbitrary system for a long time. You could say that he’d been in a bad job for so long that he had come to realize his years of service meant (in his mind) that he was basically forced to support it.
It is difficult to talk more specifically about Kratos without ruining the narrative for new readers, so I will abstain for now, apart from his early relationship with Lloyd, the main protagonist. His relationship with Lloyd is interesting. There is a one-sided jealousy from the younger Lloyd, meanwhile it seems Kratos occasionally tries to help Lloyd, both openly and not
The last mature, employed adult in the party is Regal Bryant. He is a wealthy business owner whose company deals in the mining and technology sector.
Regal walked away from his previous life, condemning himself like a prisoner. He felt guilty for crimes that, while serious and difficult, we’re ultimately not really crimes at all. In fact he was the victim of another person’s hidden schemes. He just ended up being caught in the crossfire.
Though he started off in a much better, almost aristocratic position, like the other two adults in the party, Regal ends up caught. They’re all stuck in a place that is “good enough,” when deep down they want more.
Set Two: The Young Characters
The young characters are different. They are still too naive and inexperienced to have reached any level of dejection or outright loss.
Lloyd is obviously the primary example of this, but it isn’t just him.
Lloyd holds open defiance against Injustice, which sounds fantastic but I’ll admit is also quite typical for fantasy heroes.
His best friend the younger Genis, kind of just gets angry, and sometimes it isn’t about anything noble like justice, sometimes he’s just angry or jealous.
Being younger—Lloyd is listed as 17, and Genis as 12—the writers were wise enough to actually let his motivations be a little more childish.
And this creates another interesting dynamic between Genis and Lloyd where they can play off of each other similar to how the other older characters play off of the teenage characters like Lloyd.
Genis is old enough to get along with the teenager characters, but he looks to be maybe 13 (and is only 12) so he’s only just mature enough. We see this in his interactions with his older sister Raine, who still babies him.
He, like Lloyd interestingly, will get openly hostile to people he doesn’t like. He’ll also drift into a sort of (fantasy) racism where he, being an elf, blames humans for the bad stuff in the world. Now this is probably objectively true since there are way more humans in this world, but it is a distinctly different type of impetuous anger when compared to Lloyd’s indignation.
Genis’s tends more towards the revenge side of things than the “opposing Injustice” approach.
In fact, Genius gets angry, grumpy, and dejected in a way similar to someone who is either miserable and depressed, or someone who is throwing a tantrum. The other characters don’t do this. Lloyd may get swept away by idealistic anger, but there’s a sophisticated ethical level occurring underneath.
Colette is actually quite similar to Lloyd. She has perhaps an even more sensitive intolerance for Injustice, being the Chosen One.
I always like to point out that the protagonist of Tales of Symphonia is not the Chosen one. Further, the story actually experiments and plays with the old trope, making it particularly interesting.
and I think that makes her storyline even more painful, because like Kratos, she ends up realizing that she has been working for the wrong people a majority of her life.
In fact, I wonder why there aren’t more conversations between her and Kratos. Especially after the major twist scene about 1/3 of the way through the game.
No doubt it’s because Kratos leaves the party at that point in time…
Then there’s the odd case of Presea.
She falls, to some extent, into the trope of the “young looking female character who is actually much older than she looks.” Fortunately she’s not an elf, or a 2,000-year-old mythical being or anything generic like that.
Rather, Presea is somebody who’s age has been frozen for the past sixteen years due to the inhumane and unethical experiments of one of the villains (and some half elves).
Half elves who I must stress, deeply regret being complicit, but were literally jailed slave researchers locked in a basement lab. They never really had an option in the first place.
When we meet Presea, she’s been deadened almost into a robot by some sort of psycho-physiological condition. Eventually she joins and they manage to cure her, and she wakes up…to find 16 years of her life gone, and one of her family members killed.
Her most important relationship is with Regal, who is a sort of “friend of a friend,” and is the only member of the largely young group that is near her true age.
What’s really nice is that the adults were optimistic enough to entertain the ideas of the younger members of the group, and even to help fulfill them. More interesting is that once the world gets turned upside-down and the nature of their quest is forever altered, the older members of the party shift their role.
Before, the goal was to escort Colette across the world through various holy sites of Martel, and eventually to the Tower of Salvation. During this time, Kratos and Raine acted like chaperones, guiding the group towards their destination. Their role was loose, with Kratos even allowing for detours to destroy one or two villain-owned Desian human ranches (work prisons).
This, perhaps, counts as evidence towards Kratos’s shift out of the status quo and into a more true ally of the group, rather than just a mercenary aiding the journey of the Chosen, Colette.
But later, when they are long done with the journey and have started an even greater one, the roles shift.
Lloyd becomes the spearhead of a new movement, a movement to achieve the impossible—justice for all, the ability for all people to live freely and without vying or fighting for limited resources.
You could say that the world was fixed at its very core, caught in an endless cycle of fighting for limited energy. But it wasn’t always that way. The world structure was once one of abundance. When Lloyd Irving learned of this, he decided that their journey wasn’t over after the Tower of Salvation; it had only started. They were going to undo the warping of reality that had forced socio-economic imbalance into the core of not society, but nature itself.
And that’s what they did, together.
The adult characters came along with Lloyd and his younger friends to help him do the impossible, to alter the false nature that had cursed the world for centuries.
How the Dynamic Blossomed with the New Mission
Rain never criticizes Lloyd for being a visionary.
If you pay attention, most, if not all of the time, she criticizes him for being too impetuous, too brash, too willing to jump into the thick of things without thinking things through.
Colette doesn’t get this sort of criticism, because her issue is actually the opposite. Colette waits too long before jumping in action. She begins to lose portions of her humanity in her quest to become more like an angel, and she doesn’t tell her Lloyd until it’s basically too late for him to do anything, or to change anyone’s mind about the process.
What happens to the group dynamic is much like a leader and his advisors. What Kratos was something of an awkward mentor for Lloyd, he ended up separating from the group before the nature of the journey changed. Raine and Regal don’t take on this role in his absence, instead they are more like guides. Particularly Raine.
Let us take a major quest as an example. Before, the group was travelling through holy sites in order to release seals on the journey of regeneration. Now, they return to the temples (and travel to new ones) in order to access their far older function—they are homes for the great summon spirits. The group realizes that the temples are separated into two, and if both spirits are awakened simultaneously, it severs a bond that links the two together doing…something to the nature of energy flow in the world.
Remember how I said that someone warped the nature of the world, so that it was caught an in infinite regressive energy cycle? Well, it seems that by activating summon spirits and breaking the link, they’re messing with it somehow.
But the catch is harsh. breaking the link might mean that nature’s energy goes from a damaged inequality to…utter destruction.
They just don’t know.
Lloyd decides that, until they have a better idea, this is the way they will continue. It doesn’t seem like a secure plan to Raine and the others, but like an advisor to a leader, she decides to choose her devotion to Lloyd, the party, and the journey he’s mapped out for them over her fears.
This is what I mean. Raine and Regal are older, more experienced, and could lead. But they step aside and let the visionary with a plan to un-ruin the nature of reality, supporting him instead. And I think that’s why it’s so important to realize that when Raine chastises Lloyd (which is frequently), it isn’t ever directed at his vision, but at his mistakes in character. She isn’t stopping him from leading the party to greatness, she, not unlike Kratos, is actually strengthening his character so that he can do exactly that.
Fortunately, they do find a better option, eventually. And thankfully, reawakening the summon spirits was part of the new alternative plan anyway.
This is the first content (rather than update) post on the blog of Chochma Arts Ltd. I decided that, since surveying narratives, ideas, games, character and character relationships, fantasy, and so forth is to be the domain of this blog, it was an ideal place to start. Tales of Symphonia was my favourite game from the moment I played it over a decade ago until now.
I’m still looking for something that can top it. As an adult with a degree, that game would have to also be rich enough a narrative experience that I could write essays like this about it.
Since it is both close to my heart, as well as ticking off a few of the above categories…actually, all of them, to my surprise, I decided it would be the first non-update post here.
I would love to write more—I mean, I didn’t even get into Sheena and Zelos, the two other party members—and I have pages and pages of notes from my most recent playthrough full of themes and ideas that could be explored, so we will get to it I’m sure, a few times a year. Maybe more, if there’s demand.
Until then, enjoy the blog, check out my books, written under my name Daniel Triumph on Amazon and elsewhere, and even sign up for the mailing list for updates on games and books,