Confusion is commonly used to create uneasy tension in media. Video games are no different. I’m a little tired today so I may not say much, but what I do want to talk about is an example of an RPG plot line that utilizes confusion to drive it from start to finish. Of course, the game itself was a beautiful example of the PlayStation 1 era incomplete RPG, so a lot of it left the player a little confused, but I still really enjoyed it.
SaGa Frontier was a game I didn’t play until about 2015, but it still became one of my favorites. This is in spite of the fact that the translation is abysmal, the mechanics are poorly balanced, and the game was just not finished. There’s something about it that really appeals to me, and one day I will probably talk more about it! However today I’m just going to talk about one person’s story. The story of Asellus.
Asellus’ story is one of confusion, as it effectively starts after she has effectively died. She wakes up in a strange location, with strange voices saying strange things, and the more she learns, the less she understands.
You see, Asellus was hit by a carriage and would have bled out had she not been rescued by the odd, power-hungry Mystics Charm Lord Orlouge. He did this by giving her a weird magical blood transfusion. Unable to accept this idea that she was now his, by merit of his blood, Asellus escapes the land of the Mystics and returns home to her aunt.
It turns out Asellus had been in a coma for 12 years in her time and was considered to be dead. Asellus, with no family, no home, and blood that makes her not-quite-mystics and not-quite-human finds herself in a crisis of identity. This confusion of self is put on hold, though, as she is being chased by Orlouge for escaping, and absconding with his prized princess, White Rose. When he finally catches up with them, he imprisons them in a confusing dimension of doors that lead to nowhere.
Her identity as dictated by her blood isn’t the only thing Asellus is confused about though. In order to escape this dungeon, a sacrifice must be made. White Rose, who has become Asellus’ closest friend, chooses herself and allows everyone else to escape without her. This leads to a scene that is less than ambiguous, but a little surprising for its time period.
On top of not fitting into either human or mystics society, Asellus harbors feelings that could further alienate her from others. Or perhaps it’s more correct to say she’s been hiding something that has alienated her from herself. Asellus’ path of confusion is a story of self-discovery. Through the muddled chase that she endures, Asellus must finally confront her tormentor, the thing in her blood that burns so great that she can no longer ignore. But what will come of this confrontation? And how will she live her life after? Well, actually, that’s up to you. Asellus has three possible endings, and they have everything to do with how you play the game.
Confusion is an interesting trope, as it can be played many ways. The character’s confusion may be obvious to the player, or they may also be in the dark. The former allows the player to observe a story and guess its conclusions, creating suspense for the inevitable reveal given to the character. The latter has the power to force the player to identify so closely with the player’s confusion that the revelation is just as jarring as it is to the character themselves. There’s much more to be said about this topic, but I feel like if I keep on going… It’ll just get more confusing.