Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Great Stories in Spellforce 2: Dragon Storm

I recently finished playing Spellforce 2: Shadow Wars and the Dragon Storm expansion. It was for the most part standard fare, but there were a few really good subplots. These very short stories were told in bits throughout the main story arc.
In our last posts I talked about the DreamStalker and the themes of the innocent and weak defeating the wicked and powerful; and Judge Caine and moral dilemmas. In this post, I'll mention the short but touching story of the protagonist and his ward Yasha.

In bits and pieces, we learn that Yasha Ashir is a mean, possibly evil woman, taking after her powerful father, a Mage of the Circle, Hokan Ashir. In the time of the Circle Mages, Rune Warriors traded free will for immortality, bound to a magical rune stone that forces them to obey whoever carries the stone, but which also allows them to return to life again and again so long as the stone exists. After the magic of the Circle ended, their artifacts also lost their enchantments, and with immortality lost, free will was restored.
We learn that our protagonist was one such Rune Warrior. Hokan Ashir gave their runestone to his then very young daughter Yasha, and additionally bound them with a (non-magical) pledge of honour to protect her.
Yasha grew up willful and cruel, it turned out, just like her father. Perhaps because she had power from a young age, or could command a competent Rune Warrior through the rune she held, she did evil things and forced the Rune Warrior to do evil things.

Even after the Rune Magic was gone, however, the protagonist held on to their pledge to protect Yasha, perhaps from herself sometimes. And in Dragon Storm, even though Yasha tries to kill them, the protagonist defeats her, but revives her with his mystical dragonblood. From then on, she is somehow bound to the protagonist. We are given the impression that she is reluctant, but nevertheless obeys. So our protagonist continues to hold on to the pledge to protect Yasha Ashir, despite the evil that she forced the protagonist to perform while under the influence of the Rune. And also declares themselves her gaoler, to keep her from harming others. We are made clear by mid-game that Yasha Ashir hates this captivity.

In one necessary scene, the protagonist is required to call forth their most hateful memory, and it is the one of their time under the Rune and the things Yasha made them do. More than anything else, this they hated and regretted the most.
And yet, at the end of the game -- the very, very, end -- when the protagonist lies dying, it is Yasha Ashir who is by their side first, trying to save their ebbing life. Perhaps imminent death changes many things about people, and compels them to set aside pride to express the simplest, deepest, gratitudes that would sound corny at any other time. It is at this time that Yasha Ashir thanks the protagonist for singing her bedtime lullabies when she was a very young child, and had to be soothed to sleep.

Then the other members of the party rush over and kneel around the protagonist, desperately trying to save their life, yet knowing what was eating at the protagonist was inevitable. If you paid attention to the dialogues and did all the sidequests, then this is a powerful moment. The end of the campaign also brings the protagonist into confrontation with their past, with what was at the very root of the Rune Power that had brought them both power and shame. The enemy defeated, the world saved, the quest won--the protagonist can finally be at peace. Throughout the quest, their care and interest in the the other members bonded them together, and now, at this final hour, the protagonist is truly surrounded by not just comrades in arms but true friends. And will not go into the next life -- to "the River of Souls" -- alone.
Combined with the touching background music and great camera angles, this scene lingers just long enough for you to hope it is not truly the end for your hero, but resign to the fact that it is.

There's more to it, but that would spoil things more than I already have. Play the game! It can be a bit tedious at times, but on the Easy setting, you can whip through most of it and focus on experiencing the story. And in the case of Dragon Storm, it's really worth the wait. Do all the quests, and I guarantee you it's worth the journey too.

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