For the Love of Secondary Heroes

I doubt it’s coincidence that three of my four favorite games have no main character. In Pokémon, of course, you determine your own team; in Tales of Vesperia and Final Fantasy VI, multiple heroes could credibly claim main character status based on the story. (For Vesperia it’s Yuri, Estelle, Karol, and Rita (and I’m guessing Flynn too in the remake); for FFVI it’s Terra, Locke, Edgar, and Celes.)

Street Fighter - Sakura Kasugano and Dan Hibiki

You see, I like secondary heroes. 90% of the time or more, in any medium, if there’s more than one hero in the first place, then I like the secondary heroes best. They typically break down into a few categories:

  • Comic relief – These characters have all the fun! And since I’m having fun too (that’s why I’m playing, watching, or reading), they’re the ones I relate to. Meanwhile the primary hero is stoic, stone-faced, and serious over some global threat that I know will be resolved in the end anyway. Examples include Dan from Street Fighter, Edea and Ringabel from Bravely Default, Colette and Zelos from Tales of Symphonia, Luigi from the Super Mario series, Maria from Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, Lemina and Ronfar from Lunar: Eternal Blue, and Princess L’Arachel from Fire Emblem.
  • Outclassed characters – These characters always push themselves to get better because they live in the shadow of the primary hero, who’s already reached the peak and has plot invincibility. Since I always strive for improvement myself, these are the characters I relate to more. Examples include Vegeta and Piccolo from Dragonball Z, Sailor Venus and Jupiter from Sailor Moon, Mia from Fire Emblem, Sakura from Street Fighter, Leia from Tales of Xillia, King Dedede and even Meta Knight from the Kirby series, and Dunban and Riki from Xenoblade.
  • Eccentric geniuses – These characters tend to be thinkers or inventors, which appeals to me, but their contributions rarely suffice because the characters who simply take action will surpass them—which also appeals to me! I understand fully well how a person can philosophize in a vacuum. =P Still, these characters keep the creativity flowing. Examples include Precis from Star Ocean 2, Lash from Advance Wars, and Harold, Rita, and Pascal from the Tales series. I’d also include Tron Bonne from Mega Man Legends, but I’ve only played her outside of those games, so I’m not completely sure about her representation.

In Dreamblazers too, completely by design, I don’t have a main character. Not every character lays perfectly equal claim to main character status (Leaf is more primary than Ardis just like Final Fantasy VI‘s Terra is more primary than Gau), but no hero forces herself into the party when you don’t want her. No hero controls the entire party’s decision process. Each hero is both primary and secondary.

Like in Pokémon, I assume that everybody will pick their favorites and I want any of their choices to feel validated. After all, like the title implies, it’s a game about pursuing your own dream: the exploration is fairly non-linear, the story lets players disagree with the party, and so of course everyone should also be able to figure out their own battle style and determine the real plot movers.

Of course, some things never change. Leaf names the game. Celty gets the most screen time. Tango, Sakura, and Jig trigger more of the plot than anyone else. Many characters are time bombs waiting to explode. But whenever I have trouble writing the story—and I do have trouble, because some people play RPGs mainly for story and so I’m writing one, but people like me mainly want the story to shut up and get on with it—I ask myself which characters haven’t had a standout scene yet, then write the circumstances that would create one for them.

Every character shines. I’d consider anything less a failure. =)


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