Dragon Age Analysis: Grey Morality

SPOILER WARNING FOR ALL THREE GAMES AND THE TRESPASSER DLC

Dragon Age: Origins: The Grey Wardens

As an organization, the Grey Wardens themselves are rife with grey morality (no pun intended). The main reason is that, despite offering a societally approved purpose to those who are outcasts otherwise, they are also bolstering their ranks by preying on marginalized groups through their desperation for survival or acceptance. For example, elven volunteers are particularly common in the Wardens because they accept everyone. Their only options otherwise in most regions are: 

  • To live in perpetual poverty in alienages and risk a violent death there anyway (with the threat of entire alienages being purged due to the actions of one elf or stories like those from the [tw: implied sexual assault] fugitive elves in Dragon Age 2)
  • Save up enough to move out of the alienage at the almost guaranteed risk of having your house burned down
  • Joining the Dalish, if even permitted to do so (as with half-elves, who have trouble joining, or elven mages, who pose a risk of drawing in demons)

Dragon Age 2: Hopeless Extremes

One of the common complaints about Dragon Age 2 is that the choices are typically bleak and don’t significantly change the outcome more often than not, but this is actually a strong part of the game’s narrative, realism, and atmospheric grey morality. 

In game design terms, the lasting theme of being between a rock and hard place is depicted in non-zero-sum situations over the course of the game. The main point of these situations is that there is no clear winner or loser. There’s a real chance that no one will win, per se, and the best case scenario might be very unlikely and still not ideal. The most probable outcome could just be losing less than you might have otherwise. Not all choices in this game are plainly wrong and show their awful results upfront, as opposed to selling Fenris back to his former master. Most aren’t that clear, and you won’t know the consequences until it’s too late.

Even in the choice to be a mage or warrior/thief, the player is unwittingly sentencing one of Hawke’s siblings to death. To keep the party balanced, becoming a mage will result in Bethany’s death and choosing a warrior/thief class will lead to Carver’s death. The beginning of the game was a tutorial in more ways than one, preparing the player for increasingly grim events with little to no warning accompanying the originating choice.

Dragon Age: Inquisition: Perception of the Inquisitor

There are more player choices in this game than I can shake a stick at, but I’m keeping with the theme of focusing on the world state above all else. Still, because of their number, we can’t avoid mentioning the decisions made by the Inquisitor throughout the game. In fact, that’s the backbone of what I’m highlighting here as the depiction of grey morality across Thedas. From the moment the Inquisitor catches the public eye, their societal perception exposes the personal interest behind every opinion about them.

As such, no one entity in this game can lay claim to pure moral goodness. Individual bias is always a factor there. First, everyone is furious and looking for someone to blame. The sole survivor of a nightmarish tragedy that killed so many others is a convenient outlet for that. But once it’s discovered that a feminine figure was seen in the rift behind them and word spreads of the Inquisitor stopping the Breach from growing, they’re labelled as the Herald of Andraste.

As soon as the Inquisitor could offer something to benefit the people, their reputation improved drastically. This kind of response is the key focal point of morality and even godhood in Dragon Age: Inquisition. The Inquisitor goes from universally hated to publicly beloved in one event, and with it, they’re granted the power to accept an almost divine standing among the people. But that reverence is not unconditional, even if it’s refused by the Inquisitor.

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FFXV Meta: Too Much is Never Enough

I’ve recently beaten Final Fantasy XV and have been sating my need for more content by consuming all the DLC, scripts, and anime (which I’m sure you understand if you’ve also played). The other way I’m coping with the fact that I’m done FFXV is by analyzing one of my favorite songs from the OST, Too Much is Never Enough by Florence + the Machine.

Mind you, these lyrics are subjective and you may find other metas that have a different take. Enjoy them all! The fun is in gathering all the different ideas to discuss. And since you’re here, this is my perspective on what the lyrics mean in Too Much is Never Enough.

BEWARE: FFXV Spoilers Abound

Proceed with Caution

About 1500 words | 5- to 10-minute read

ffxv ff15 chocobros too much is never enough


 

A year like this passes so strangely

Somewhere between sorrow and bliss

He never really grieved his father fully, not on screen at least, and I think these lyrics really speak to that. He’s on the road with three people he loves like family*, but in the meantime, he’s lost his father without really getting to say goodbye. And they had such an emotionally charged but unexpressed (or under-expressed) father-son relationship that he’s never quite fully recovered from or processed his loss.

* not negating any ships here, just acknowledging his bond with all of the Chocobros

– – –

Oh, who decides from where up high?

I couldn’t say I need more time

Oh, grant that I can stay the night

Or one more day inside this life

I love this direct contradiction because that’s just so Noctis: to conceal what you really need emotionally even as you know that’s what you need.

To say you don’t need more time, but praying for the one night or maybe just one more day there, with his family—that’s all he needs before he lays down his life for them.

Because Noctis naturally doesn’t say what he feels, sometimes even saying the opposite, or says just the tip of the iceberg of his real feelings. That cloaked duality comes across here in a really meaningful, subtle (and yeah, hurtful) way.

But it also shows this desperate (not sure if this is the best word, but it’s that quality of needing someone), vulnerable side to Noctis that just wants a single night more even as he also says he couldn’t say he needs more (not that he’s singing, just going on the Noctis angle).

As much as Noctis is kind of spoiled and definitely takes his friends for granted, that doesn’t change the depth of his love for them.

And though this is the official lyrics line break, I do think it’s interesting that it can be heard either as shown above or:

Oh, who decides from where up high? I couldn’t say

I need more time

As an alternate interpretation of “who says it has to be this way, I don’t know” and then the plea for a little more time here with the ones he holds so dear to his heart. This ability to hear it differently really reinforces the duality/contradiction of these lines.

FINAL_FANTASY_XV chocobros selfie

– – –

And the crown it weighs heavy

‘Till it’s banging on my eyelids

Retreating in covers and closing the curtains

I once told my friends that Noctis was like a cat that hides beneath the bed and the Chocobros all have different tactics for getting him out—this section of lyrics reminds me of that, but way prettier and more poetic.

Retreating in covers and closing the curtains, shutting out the world, because he’s avoiding feelings, the pressures of royalty, etc. The specific things being avoided in these lines are royal obligations and the cost of being the True King, of course.

And it does remind me of the pointedly kingly moments of Noctis—like when Jared was killed, he focused on Talcott, speaking to him like his king rather than as his friend. He showed empathy, understanding that this situation wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right, but he promised to make it right.

FFX Noctis Talcott

That’s not something he’d say like that to his boys or Luna—similar, maybe, but not the same. If you know him as Prince Noctis, you aren’t getting past the curtains. He won’t let you in because you need him to be an icon, and he won’t disappoint you that way. But if you know Noct? You stand a better chance, at least.

Another moment is kiddo Noctis declaring to Gladio in Brotherhood that he won’t lose their sparring match—he has lost every one at that point, he has no reason to believe he’ll succeed. But that’s what is expected of him, that’s what he needs to do as prince.

And as much as that pressure is a lot—that crown weighs heavy—he embraces it, he wants to meet that expectation and make them proud. But the cost is both his closed nature and in a way, being blind to the costs of the crown. He knows there’s a cost, he’s said to Prompto that being a normal person is kind of nice. But he doesn’t acknowledge a limit to how much cost is too much (an interesting twist on the title, now that I think of it).

There’s a bit of idle dialogue in-game where Ignis comments on Noctis looking worn down, and Gladio says he needs to take better care of himself—and Noctis tells them that’s their job. I’m using this as an example of him not seeing self-care as worth it, seeing this cost as not being too much to pay, blind to its toll—and his friends have to take on that toll for him so he can keep on going.

But honestly, even the fact that Prompto says nothing is part of the cost. You know this boy probably wanted to speak up, but he 1) might’ve felt it wasn’t his place, thanks Noctis and 2) is the least pushy of his friends.

He lets Noctis come to him when he wants or needs something, so he puts his own feelings aside for Noctis’ benefit. Prompto is someone he can avoid the crown/feelings with who won’t bring it up before he’s ready, which is important, but it’s Prompto who shoulders that burden in the meantime.

Though I also want to say I think the really beautiful thing with Luna is that she gets the special privilege of seeing Noctis as himself and the True King simultaneously— they are one and the same to her, and I think that’s a big part of his feelings for her too.

Again, not negating any ships here! I’m a multishipper, so this game is a grand ol’ buffet of cute ships to me. :sparkling_heart:

– – –

And who cares about the thing I did that night?

So what, maybe Luna had it right

And who cares if I’m coming back alive?

So what, least I have the strength to fight

Okay, so if you look at these four lines separately, you get more options, but I’m choosing to look at them all together because angst.

When Luna dies and sees Noctis one last time, she says they can’t see each other again “because my prayers have been answered, my calling fulfilled”.

That’s what I’m thinking of with “maybe Luna had it right”, but this introduces an interesting thought that Noctis thought she was wrong before. Suggesting that perhaps he was angry with her for praying to die for them even if that is the cost of the Oracle’s covenant. Basically his thought path would be along the lines of “wtf Luna, haven’t I lost enough?”

ffxv luna noctis field scene.jpg

One of the five stages of grief is anger, so that’s especially intriguing to me because I have a feeling Noctis would also feel guilty about being angry, and of course he’s all caught up in his own feelings for the indefinite future as he works this whole mess out.

The first and third lines of this section apply well to the endgame. He’s referring to his own death for the safety of all without actually using the word itself. Avoidant even now, because sometimes it is just too much to take, whether you’ve made your peace or not (and of course he had, he says as much).

But it’s also an extension of not having any idea of what cost is too much—he’ll pay any cost for them and the world. Let’s be real, it’s mostly for the ones he loves, but he lives up to his duty with pride.

But he’s still being dismissive of their feelings. He doesn’t care if he comes back alive, but they do. One last cost he leaves them to pay, but that is part of their duty in this. They filled the time he had with love and a good deal of patience, so they must be among those not exactly celebrating at the return of natural order.

In a way, that last line is for all of them—having the strength to be there, to fight, to live up to the honorable, painful duty set before them—they can be proud of that despite the steep cost.

Thanks for reading!

If you’ve got thoughts to share, I’m happy to see them.

A Hero’s Burden: KH3 Spoilers

So I was doing some thinking on Luxu and Sora, and the parallels between them as protagonists of their own stories (though Luxu doesn’t have a game at the moment, of course)… And how much I’d love to analyze that like the nerd I am. And here we are!

Luxu

Sadly, there’s not much on Luxu himself before he returns as Xigbar. But I can glean some information from The Case of Luxu!

And yeah, he’s not exactly a hero, per se, but he’s got a quest and a mentor and bear with me here

The Gazing Eye

kingdom hearts back cover luxu.jpg

The Keyblade he was given didn’t have a name, but Luxu assumed this was its name. It’s something both literal and philosophical— there is literally an eye in it and it gives MoM the ability to see into the future.

And once he’s told it has no name, he repeats “No Name” with a breathless interest, giving the Keyblade a closer look. It’s safe for us to assume, then, that he’s a philosophical person who looks for deeper meaning in things and that he also reveres the Master of Masters like all the Foretellers do.

Whatever he told Luxu, the seventh member would have been interested and sought depth in the message he was given— whether it was there or not.

EWWW

But when he’s told that it’s the Master’s eye, he recoils and says “ew” immediately. From his voice here in particular, we can assume Luxu was young. Perhaps Sora’s age at Kingdom Hearts 1, but likely a little bit older.

Here’s where it gets interesting, though. When MoM asks him accusingly if he thinks that’s gross, Luxu hesitantly answers, “N-no.” He holds his hand out towards MoM in a disarming gesture, looking a little crestfallen.

So even though he just said Ew and clearly thinks it’s gross, he said he didn’t. Why lie? Based on his body language, he either didn’t want to disappoint MoM or didn’t want to hurt his feelings.

Later in life, I would call that a manipulation, but Luxu’s overall sincerity and inability to hold back his emotional responses here (such as recoiling and saying ew), I think it’s truly a little bit of both.

His Role

kingdom hearts back cover luxu box.png

When he’s told his role, he makes the connections quickly— his role is what allows the Book of Prophecies to exist. Luxu is smart, but for now, he tends to think in linear patterns. As most people do.

MoM tries to congratulate him on a job well done, but Luxu only said, “But I haven’t done anything yet.” This is a far cry from his actions as Xigbar, who sits on ceilings and casually warps space regularly while also helping out with some heart science and time travel.

The first step of his role was the most brutal, which I’ll expand on in this next section.

Luxu’s Disposition

Given how jumpy he can be, he’s likely kept to himself for the most part in his youth, possibly even being distrusting.

At one point, MoM says bingo and points in Luxu’s face and the younger man jumps and draws back to get some distance between them. This tells me Luxu dislikes sudden movements and people being in his space.

That said, all the Foretellers knew who he was even when he was Xigbar and presumably didn’t look like himself. So they knew him well enough to recognize his heart regardless of its vessel, at least.

His isolation during his role that took literally hundreds of years to see to fruition did not do him any favors in this regard. Especially considering he didn’t want to go alone and asked if he really had to, even wondering aloud what the other Foretellers would be doing.

With that and his eagerness to help MoM when pulling out the box, I think it’s a fair claim that Luxu doesn’t necessarily like people, but he’s loyal to those who are close to him. He dismissed his Keyblade the second he realized MoM was struggling with the box, running over to help him even though the job was mostly done.

And his promise to not open the box if he was told what was inside was softly spoken, but sincere, further cementing the notion that he’s devoted to those he already holds close.

But he’s also very curious and loves to push boundaries. If he’s told no, it just makes him want to do whatever it is more. Like not knowing what was in the box paired with not being able to open it made him really want to know what was inside.

And even when MoM told him what was in the box, he wanted to know why. This driven curiosity carried over to his time as Xigbar in the most destructive of ways, where learning secrets was worth nearly any cost.

His Descent

When he was told to just stand by and watch “as things unfold between the others”, the direct instructions from MoM, it was probably actually difficult to do. See them turning on one another, these people that he cared about and trusted, and worse yet— they were bringing the whole world down with them.

It’s no wonder that he grew to value emotional ties so little. It was those ties, their hearts, that led them so wrong. This affirmed that Luxu was right to distrust people, even friends, and that was the start of his descent down a slippery slope.

And now I draw my parallel.

With Sora!

sora riku soriku kingdom hearts

He’s curious, competitive, thoughtful, and loyal. Sora values his friends above all else and there’s nothing he won’t do for them.

To someone like Luxu, who started his journey by watching his friends destroy each other and the lives of those around him, it must be hard to see someone with a good deal in common with his younger self.

Sora also watched one of his friends turn on him, even going so far as to make him feel worthless.

But he was able to act. He wasn’t confined to a role. Sora stepped in and didn’t lose faith in his friends. Whether Luxu thinks he’s a fool who only put off the inevitable betrayal or resents him for being able to save the people he cared about (or a third option I can’t see yet), Sora is a reminder of how Luxu used to be.

Worse, how he could have been.

Then you get into meta narrative bits, like Kairi and Riku either expressly telling Sora or implying that he should never change.

As Sora battles with his insecurities, especially in KH3, it’s possible for him to go down a similar path as Luxu and lose his hope and optimism. For someone like Sora, that would make him change completely.

I can’t say that Kairi and Riku knew that was a risk or if Nomura is teasing that option with Sora. But I personally find it interesting that Luxu can be paralleled with Sora, at least with how they began their journeys, and I hope it is highlighted in some future game or DLC.

But most of all, I hope you had fun reading this!

Cloud Strife Analysis

Happy birthday, Cloud!

To celebrate his existence, I figured I’d do my thing and analyze his personality.

Of course, please be aware…
Spoilers Ahead

cloud-strife-advent-children-anime-cloud-ffvii-strife.jpg

A lot of strange wibbly wobbly science/magic things happen to Cloud at the end of Crisis Core and through FFVII, so the best place to begin is naturally the start.

Nibelheim
His friendship with Tifa sheds a lot of light onto who Cloud was growing up and how he differs from the larger personalities found in the FFVII cast.

His father died when he was young and aside from Tifa, he didn’t have any friends. In a discussion Cloud has with her about his childhood, he said, “Later, I began to think I was different… That I was different from those immature kids [her friends]”.

There is a crossroads here for his thoughts behind this sentence – either he really believed them to be immature or he rationalized that he was better than them to cope with his difficulty making friends.

Based on the loss of his father at a young age and his continuing desire to be better throughout the series, I’m inclined to believe it was a rationalization to help himself adjust to his struggles in making friends.

The issue with that being that instead of trying to make friends in his own way, as he did with Tifa, he convinced himself he didn’t need them – that he was better than the rest. This further increased the divide between him and other people, and his ability to socialize and connect to other people took a fairly serious hit.

But it also put greater value in the friendships he did have. So when Tifa’s mother died and she tried to see her by crossing Mt. Nibel, Cloud followed her to keep an eye on her.

This was another formative moment for him because when she misstepped and he tried to catch her, they both fell. He was unharmed and she was in critical condition.

The village believed it was Cloud’s idea to go up the mountain and as a result, her father wouldn’t even let Cloud go near her. The only friend he had.

He tried to be the hero and do the better thing, and it all fell apart. For someone who suffered loss at a young age and coped by thinking he was better than others his age, this was even more devastating.

The harsh realization that he wasn’t as good as he thought (with such severe consequences) combined with the rejection from everyone in the village was sure to wreak havoc on 10-year-old Cloud’s psyche. And so he developed a temper problem and began picking fights with little to no provocation.

SOLDIER
Four years later, word of Sephiroth’s reputation reaches Nibelheim and 14-year-old Cloud, who is still in the throes of self-blame and puberty.

Hearing about such a legend re-inspired Cloud to become the superior person he used to think he was, in my opinion, and with so few personal ties to Nibelheim – of course he left for glory in SOLDIER.

To reinforce that theory, Cloud arranged to meet Tifa at the village’s water tower to say he was leaving and promised to save her if she ever found herself in trouble.

It’s strong evidence that he still blamed himself for her injury and that drove his need to be better – so he’d never fail someone he cared about like that again.

Taking a step back and viewing this as a writer, that’s what I love most about Cloud. He’s relatable. Zack is insanely charming, Angeal is dad-wise, Genesis is extra fab, and Sephiroth is actually superhumanly powerful. Cloud is there to aspire to greatness as a Shinra Infantryman.

His honest ambition to improve humanizes the story and makes it more accessible than having the top tier people of Midgar alone.

Return to Nibelheim
After befriending Zack, Cloud sees him about once a year for missions – one of which was when he was 16 and involved an investigation of a reactor on Mt. Nibel.

Cloud still feels ashamed of not being SOLDIER, not being better, and he hides his identity from everyone but his mother… But the most important aspect of this mission is his confrontations with an unstable Sephiroth.

The first time, he’s knocked out by Genesis and becomes angry that he failed again. Everything he wants to be is escaping him, and since he holds himself to such a high standard, he’s bound to frustrate himself.

Cloud is steeped in that bitter anger when Sephiroth burns down his home town, killing his mother, and Cloud finds him with a heavily injured Tifa and barely conscious Zack…

It’s the worst moment of his life that he can’t forgive himself for, only worse, and this is a chance to finally do it right, be the hero he wants to be.

He ambushed Sephiroth, stabbing him with the Buster Sword, and going back for his two friends. This is a proud moment for him, what he’s aspired to be was finally within his grasp. His friends were in danger and he saved them from Sephiroth. The Sephiroth.

So when Sephiroth returns and lifts Cloud up on his sword, ready to kill him, this stepped on years of rage at failure, inadequacy, and a powerful need to protect the ones he cares about.

That’s where the strength came from for Cloud to use the katana as leverage to throw Sephiroth into the Mako pit… Before falling unconscious, of course, because he’s got his limits.

After that point, he spends about a year as a Mako poisoned vegetable, so that’s the end of this analysis… Although I hope you enjoyed the read! Questions, comments, etc., go for it!

Gavin Reed: Meta Analysis

Here’s my theory analysis of your favorite DBH grump and mine! I’ve gone through his major traits and possible influences on him, and I’m happy to chat with you about them if you’d like.

Resentment of Androids

Career threat

Connor is essentially a RoboCop for lack of a better term, and there’s a serious risk of every cop being replaced if Connor shows promise. Considering the rioters in Marcus’s first chapter, androids replacing all human workers is a growing concern across the country.

And from the fact that another cop is having breakfast with him in the famous coffee scene, Gavin does have friends in the force.

somehow

So his anger towards Connor in particular is out of protective instinct. For himself and the good cops he works with that will be out of jobs if Connor accomplishes his mission (reference intended).

But the truth is that this android’s success or failure is out of Gavin’s control, which would only make his resentment even worse. Gavin is the kind of person to fight, scrape, and claw his way to success if it kills him (and I don’t think I even need to catalog canon evidence for that, since it can be inferred from his general behavior).

Being powerless to stop something is so against everything that he is and I honestly don’t think he could resign himself to android police officers and detectives taking over their jobs. This open resentment is how he makes his stand.

Sub-human treatment

He also copes with this powerlessness against androids by treating all of them as being less than human. If they aren’t valid beings, then Gavin doesn’t have to respect them — and they’re not a threat worth considering.

This dehumanization is a real life psychological phenomenon most typically seen in opposing forces in warfare, but I won’t go into that here so we can stay on topic (and because it very, very sad). Also they aren’t quite at war when Gavin is displaying these traits, so he’s a bit ahead of the game.

Personal

But it’s beyond that, or rather it has notable potential to originate from a personal grudge as well.

Gavin has powerful opinions on humans having command over androids. This suggests a concern with possible dominance of androids over humans, especially when paired with the threat they pose to human workers.

Although the extent to which he is concerned is unclear, I would say he’s worried in his own way. His perspective on humans vs. androids is reinforced in later scenes (one shown below), where he puts strong emphasis on androids obeying humans.

While we’re talking about Gavin’s feelings, I have one more thing to delve into before I continue on the personal grudge angle.

Love/Hate for Hank

Gavin will back down if Hank steps up, even if he makes a stink about doing it. That said, he’ll take barefaced jabs at Hank too.

This demonstrates that he has respect for Hank, most likely because of his accomplishments as a police offer given their shared profession, but it’s difficult to say without further canon evidence to point to.

It could be a simple matter of rank where Gavin has to face career-based consequences for disobeying an order from a superior officer– but I would say that is unlikely since Hank had to draw his firearm to get Gavin’s attention during the interrogation scene.

A stronger likelihood is that Gavin begrudgingly respects Hank as a cop, so he will ultimately do what he says even as he also mocks him.

Looping back to the grudge, there is one line of dialogue from Gavin in particular that makes me suspect there is bad blood here:

“You’re not gonna get away with it this time…”

Get away with what? And this time?

Y i k e s

So this is from the scene when Hank intervenes between Gavin and Connor, and this is what Gavin tells Hank.

There was a point before this that Hank stepped in and stopped Gavin, and it seems like the consequences were severe enough to earn deeply seated resentment from Gavin.

Whatever it was, Gavin feels like Hank “got away with it” last time, and he wants to stop it from happening again. I would be willing to assume that it didn’t involve an android last time– if it wasn’t for the other line of dialogue below:

Since the first time he saw him, Gavin wanted to outright kill Connor. Not rough him up like the rioters did to Marcus, but actually kill him. And I doubt that he was exaggerating.

Officers in the USA are trained in the proper procedure to not draw their guns unless they see a weapon or have strong suspicion of murderous or harmful intent, and to not put their finger on the trigger unless the intend to shoot.

Assuming policies have not changed drastically in the time of DBH, Gavin is 100% serious about killing him and indeed, having wanted to since he first laid eyes on him.

That kind of overt hatred comes from something deeper than political perspective or social pressures. It could come from an upbringing where his immediate loved ones taught him to hate androids, or it could come from a traumatic personal experience with an Android (like that girl had in the beginning of the game).

Unless we get a sequel or a Gavin-centric game/DLC, we may never know what truly motivated Gavin to hate Connor so intensely (not casting any shade on the Reed x Connor shippers here, I’m a multishipper tbh).

But this was a fun close look at Detroit’s most aggressive detective, and I hope you enjoyed it too! Comment, message, heart it, etc., whatever you’re comfortable with– I appreciate you reading!