Let’s talk the thin red line between holding contempt for a character, and holding contempt for how a character is written.
For the most part, it comes down to the writer themselves. A good writer knows how to build a pathological case for why a fictional character does what they do. When an audience has that case in front of them, they can respond with either respect or contempt depending on the result the author has for the character. This is important because it affects the atmosphere and tone of the overall plot. If a character we’re supposed to hate has no irredeemable qualities, then it just leads to confusion from the audience. The reaction from that confusion is not contempt for the character, but for the writer because of their inability to be clear.
It also works in reverse. When a writer creates a character we’re supposed to love, yet makes them irredeemable to point of being unlikable, then the audience’s reason will be to hold the writer accountable. Ultimately, the audience isn’t stupid. For the most part, we know how to react to even the most morally grey of characters and we know when a writer screws up in either direction.
So, what does that have to do with False Elegy? Well, let’s dive in, shall we?
The best thing the demo has going for it is its decent understand of the shōnen genre its emulating. Everything about its artistic design screams homage to it in fact. Its protagonist fits into the modern model for the genre: an incredibly powerful, super-badass who is too cool for the room. And there is a heavy focus on the fight scenes and action beats that little the demo.
This is a massive point in its favor is that it tries to use its action beats for more than to just choreograph a fight scene. This is important, especially in visual novels, because when action beats are used, they can either prove to be a valuable part of the narrative or a giant, congealed mess. Here, there is a real attempt to try and have the action beats mean something and tied into the larger narrative. This hits home in the scene used for the header image. I will not go into details as that would spoil a good moment, but when it connects it does connect.
So, there is a good understanding here to create a decent story. Is this where things go wrong? Yup.
I harp about small details and using those to build to larger moments and the development team here obviously wanted to do that using the lore for its fantasy world. The problem here is that they turn said lore into exposition dumps that take up large chunks of the demo’s screen time. False Elegy’s twist on the ‘War Between Angels and Demons’ mythology has a lot in common with the Blade film’s twist on vampires, and coming into the demo armed with that knowledge made sitting through that lengthy exposition scene detailing their history a sit.
At least it had a clear reason to exist though. There are exposition scenes here detailing earlier scenes that we see play out. I am not kidding. In fact, it’s the first two scenes of the game. Areon and Eden track down and purge a Fallen human, then go back to their realm and repeat exactly what just happened to their superior. This is exactly the wrong way to use exposition and it takes away time that could be used to build up the characters in the name of dumping information on the audience that could be delivered better down the road.
Then there’s the angst. It’s interesting to me how a lot of modern writers confuse angst with dramatic tension. Allow me to clarify to the best of my ability. ‘Dramatic Tension’ is a very straight forward protagonist-antagonist, catch-as-catch-can writing position where the antagonist acts, the protagonist reacts and the tension comes in between those two movements. ‘Angst’ is an individual’s internal conflict that becomes external with or without an opposing force. In this case, there is no need for opposing forces as the focus is singular…and there’s an analysis of another popular anime in there, but we’ll get to it down the road.
Angst in place of Dramatic Tension isn’t always negative. The most positive example I have for it is Trigun. Most of the opponents of Vash the Stampede in the early episodes are out of his league. The tension comes from his past: which he keeps hidden behind a clownish exterior. However, this turn ultimately works because the past eventually catches up with Vash and he has to make peace with his demons: both real and imagined. In the case of a bad shōnen, say SAO, this does not seem to be the case. There never seems to be a moment to justify the tension created by the main cast’s angst, and because said cast usually outclasses everyone around them, the storylines feel pointless.
False Elegy has that SAO problem in spades. There is a determination to drive home angst, leading to the scene above us with the dark looking fellow in the energy crucifix. However, that may not be necessary. The mythology on this point, but there is a chance that just because you are a Fallen doesn’t mean you have to be purged. In which case, WHY do they go through such draconian measures to deal with the Fallen? ANGST.
This is where it goes extremely predictable. However, there are a few good moments in the demo I’d rather not spoil for you. So, jumping around a bit, Areon has to take on a new partner who is a Fallen girl named Ark. The partnership creates a symbiotic link that could well kill him, but because of the inherent danger of the project, he’ll be given free rein to hopefully increase his Ascendant energy enough to cure the Fallen girl. So, we have angst for our two new partners, angst for Areon who’s risking his life in this experiment BUT we do get the eventual ‘We’re Not So Different’ Aesop here to soften Areon’s fantastical racism.
Areon’s bigotry brings us to the biggest issue with this game and this is where the demo goes from ‘Muddled, but Promising’ to ‘Fix this Now before You Wreck Yourselves’. Yeah, I can manage the angst, the plot holes and the exposition. However, the introduction of Ark backed the entire demo up a good twenty yards for me. It’s all tied to how she’s introduced. For no particular reason, Areon slaughters a young Fallen girl in front of Ark before the symbiotic process. Ark basically seduces Areon into going through the process, before promising to rip him to shred right then and there. Right before anything can happen, the demo ends and my immediate reaction was as follows.
Let’s start off with the basics: THE MAIN CHARACTER JUST KILLED A LITTLE KID IN COLD BLOOD. I understand they want to make it clear that he’s got a bigoted attitude towards Fallen and I know the angle it’s going to lead to, but this is overkill to a degree I rarely see in this medium. The kid is visibly scared out of her mind and was obviously put into this program because SHE’S A KID. Presumably the chances of curing her from her Fallen nature would be easier because of her age, which the main character just crapped on because ‘Meh, Fallen amirite?’ For this extremely predictable trope to work, the audience actually have to like the asshole and not want to see him get his face caved in. However, after watching Areon act as judge, jury and execution, I was perfectly willing to let Ark do whatever she wanted.
But she won’t. Why? Because the event has a second, much more disgusting purpose. Because of the symbiotic process, if one partner dies then the other will become overloaded with whatever energy the partner had. So, following the bouncing ball on this logic, all Ark would have to do to be cured is slit the little idiots throat now. However, that won’t happen. Why? Because Ark has no stated interest AT ALL in being cured. By all accounts, she’s just a fallen who they captured specifically for that experiment. This means that by total plot contrivance I MEAN convenience, Areon’s hooked up to the one Fallen in the bloody universe WHO WON’T KILL HIM. In fact, it is in Ark’s best interest to keep him alive.
So, to review, this act of cold-blooded murder happened not only as a footnote to Areon’s personal arc, but also to give him a nice, shiny suit of plot armor….and a potential waifu. We can’t leave that out, can we?
I know this is supposed to be ‘dark fantasy’, but dark fantasy works by making fantastical elements realistic: grounding them in the complicated nature of politics, faith and the reactionary nature of humanity. This is just angst-ridden BS with what is now a truly contemptible, piece of crap protagonist that I don’t want to see redeem or want to relate to in any way.
At the time of this demo, False Elegy is on Kickstarter looking to raise funds for a final release. To be as nice as possible, it has a long way to go and a lot would be helped by reworking bits of this demo. The biggest points of contention for me are the protagonist and the exposition. If they want to keep Areon on the asshole side he’s on for the bulk of the demo, I can live with that. It’s those final scenes where he crosses the line in a way that forces the plot to bend over backwards to protect him is insulting.
This could easily be a series of scenes with Areon and Ark crossing paths in the Ascendant’s dimension. She can just be a prisoner he happens to notice that won’t stop taunting him at the beginning. Let that mutual hatred build over the course of the demo and tie it to Areon’s off-color side. Then, by the time we find out about the symbiotic process, you don’t have to go through such ridiculous extremes. She’s established, they’re feelings towards one another are established, and Areon would be desperate enough at the point to accept ANY partner. His superiors point to her and he goes in completely blind: allowing the tension of his situation and the stress of having to deal with Ark for weeks on in climax right as the demo ends.
NOW I’m invested. Now I want to see what happens to these two and most important now I don’t want your protagonist to get shoved through a wood chipper feet first. This change helps ease back on some of the exposition; which frankly doesn’t need to be there right now. At this point, we don’t need to know the finer mythology of this world. We need to have a connection with Areon, Eden and Ark and that is not accomplished here.
Of course, that’s my open-air opinion. The development team is free to take it or leave it. But as things stand now, False Elegy needs a lot more time in pre-development before it can make the most of the $25,000 it’s asking for on Kickstarter.
If you’d like to look at the demo for False Elegy yourselves, you can check out the official page here. JP3: OUT.