DON’T PLAY A GAME CALLED ARC RISE FANTASIA.
Take a quick moment to appreciate how swell your life is right now: you’re the prince of the Meridian Empire, the most prosperous nation in the land; you’re one of the mythical children of Eesa (but you don’t know this yet), and your best friend, L’Arc Bright Lagoon, is your number one source of confidence why you would make for an amazing parent, should parenting be judged based solely on naming conventions.
That’s right, you’re none other than Alfonse Zena Meridia! Your friends and family endearingly nicknamed you ‘Alf’ to underplay your position as prince and rightful heir to the empire. You’ve been travelling with L’Arc and Ryfia, his archetypically aloof and zany girlfriend, as they journey the lands in search of answers. Answers to questions not even the game itself asks. You even oblige their request to break the seal on the Dragon Prison! That’s, like, totally forbidden! Double for princes!
By chance, you end up in the capital city and meet up with your childhood friend (and enormous secret crush!) ‘Adele’. God, Adele. You would do anything for her. Look at you, you’re blushing! You’re TOTALLY thinking about ensuring her safety as she walks further and further down the path of darkness! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. A few minutes of gameplay later, L’Arc and yourself save Adele from the clutches of some EVIL pirates.
BADLY VOICE-ACTED REENACTMENT: “Hey, Adele, sorry you got kidnapped by EVIL pirates. But I totally saved you — “ (this is you) “ — I’m Adele,” (this is Adele) “and I’m totally grateful you saved me from those EVIL pirates, L’Arc Bright Lagoon.” Major bummer, she’s totally got the hots for your best friend. But he’s already got the hots for Ryfia?! You hear Adele mentioning something along the lines of “You’re too nice, unlike L’Arc, who is the protagonist and 130 pounds of pure muscle and male anger,” but it’s hard to hear the exact wording over the sound of your ugly sobbing.
FRIENDZONED? IN A LOVE TRIANGLE? You tearfully damn the detriment of homosociability! What a putrid subversion of true brotherly competitiveness! You are astonishly disappointed by this rejection, but not enough to understand you should stop seeing Adele as an object of desire and start respecting her as an individual. You’re a prince, a MALE prince, accustomed to always getting whatever you desire, so naturally you see this as a betrayal. All this affection and attention for the girl, and not even a little saliva for your troubles? The writer in charge of your character arc triumphantly lifts their pen: “the friendzone is canon”.
Indeed, you conclude through this plot device nonpareil, you have been the victim of an uninteresting trope. You are reaffirmed that two Guy must compete for Girl, because Girl has no agency of her own and polyamory has never existed. In this case, there actually is no competition because that traitorous L’Arc already has a girlfriend. You figure if you keep trying, Adele will eventually reward your ceaseless agápe by maybe putting out.
A tiresome trek to the top of a plot-relevant shrine later, Adele is revealed to be ‘the Diva’! An interesting concept: in the game’s bi-theistic religious system, the Diva is a messiah-like character representative of both gods, but she must choose which god’s ‘Law’ to follow. Adele elects to follow the god Real’s Law, a choice we can all get behind.
This choice, surprisingly, does not sit well with L’Arc and his merry band, who follow brown-haired Sephiroth’s suggestion to kill Adele. This is where your worrisome desire to remain relevant to Adele’s life, despite her explicit objections , manifests itself as a want to 守る her (‘mamoru’, protect). By saving her life, again against her will, you’ve become her Champion, a veritable ‘Child of Eesa’, whatever that may mean. And it probably means she totally digs you. You save her and preciously preserve her genocidal tendencies, absorbing some for yourself in the process, and together flee from L’Arc’s big sword.
Alf is a tragic character in the sense that he is a narrative tragedy. His ‘friendzoning’ by Adele is arguably the most important event in the game, because it puts the entire game into motion! Her survival ensures her ascension to villainhood, because you cannot propose all living things should die if you are dead.
After the events at the shrine, the game has the actual protagonist, Mr. Lagoon, chase Adele and her party of evildoers across the world map in an attempt to stop them or undo what they have wrought. Mostly the latter; your plot-speed is quite slow. In almost all cases, Adele and her stylish compeers have commited some type of atrocity. Towns are decimated, cities are besieged, lakes are poisoned. And Alf, oh sweet Alf, completely blinded by his love for Adele, accepts and fulfills his role as Adele’s Guardian.
Arc Rise Fantasia regrettably does not approach its own terrible plot with the same level of tongue-in-cheek as it appears to have on paper. Considering the way Alf is written, he is supposed to fulfill the role of ‘the reluctant hero’. ´Hero´ in the original sense that he has a goal and works towards it. As Adele’s Champion, he has to support her, and because of his feelings for her, he wants to support her. What he is ultimately supporting, however, while he does not condone it, he enables (and commits) all the same. For all intents and purposes, we shall label him as a chaotic evil villain.
The childhood friend-betrayal and the comical ‘kill kill kill’-attitude of the antagonists aren’t as annoying as the plot-device used to arrive at these in the first place. The game presents Alf’s friendzoning as a completely reasonable, logical way for Alf to turncoat. Alf finds himself giving up many, many things for Adele, among which his claim to the throne, his best friend, and the legitimacy of being a minimally-moral being. ‘Love as sacrifice’ (read: unstoppable devotion of the creepy kind) is no stranger to fiction, and murders committed in the name of this love are not unheard of. Yet Arc Rise Fantasia takes it to a deplorable next level by having unrequited love be the drive for genocide.
In the tragedy that is Alphonse, the game’s writing staff intended for identification and relatability to be a thing. Players are supposed to sympathise with the rejected prince. His desperation for reciprocation seemingly knows no bounds and how sad is that, right? If he were a puppy dog I could understand, but it does not take a player much cogency to notice that Alf is not a puppy dog but in fact a character born of male entitlement.
He represents the internal struggle that cis-hetero men undergo when faced with rejection: continue the hunt or blow the horns of retreat? The use of the word hunt is central to this feeling, as it becomes less about love — has it ever been? — and more about obtaining what they tell themselves it is they deserve. Alf awkwardly poured his entire being — a rotting barrel of slime — into his ‘friendship’ with Adele, expecting to be repaid for his pseudo-amicability with sex or love. Even though he is informed that his affection only goes one way, he elects to remain part of her life without her consent and does not relent.
We are never told how Adele feels about this! He is practically forced into her life because he is her Child of Eesa, her protector. By serving Adele, Alf believes he can yet prove his love for her. Like what the friendzone is really about, Alf doesn’t believe she isn’t interested, he believes she doesn’t realise just how much he loves her. Arc Rise Fantasia is of the conviction that cis male attention is ever-wanted and unrejectable.. Ideally, Adele will miraculously see what a tremendous fool she has been and proceed to step on him. The happiest of endings for all friendzone believers-in.
Conversely, Adele embodies a female position in narrative fixed in place by the mythical mechanism of her own eroticism in a certain portion of the plot-space. She has her own sexual dynamic within this intricate love triangle. Alf, who desires her, she uses as a pawn to deal with an internal struggle of her own. The subject of Adele’s own desire is given form and becomes apparent, and is forwarded as a problem. Her solution to this amorous rondo is — as depicted above — the destruction of her desires. She cannot have him, thus she must kill him, and apparently also everyone who shares the trait of ‘being alive’ with L’Arc.
Similarly to Alf, she becomes a character driven by desire, albeit of a jealous variant rather than an entitled one. But she perceives her own feelings as a problem, and aims to destruct them through the destruction of their aim. With this, Arc Rise Fantasia makes the hot take that female desire is problematic. Although the game slightly subverts the love triangle in that there is no homosocial competition — Alf just gets cucked hard -, it ultimately fails to escape the played-out ‘passivity of woman’. Even more ridiculous, the reason the game gives us as to why Adele chooses Real’s Law (the path of genocide) is: “L’Arc already has another.”
The way love and plot interweaves in Arc Rise Fantasia is ill-tried at best. The game prides itself with having found a narrative use for friendzoning. A convoluted trio of one-way agápe forms the basis of the game’s story, which is ridiculous in a unique, aristocratic guffaw kind of way. The morality of war and justification to genocide, religious fanaticism and atheism, monarchism and republicanism are all themes addressed in the game. But they are all outshadowed by the creepy intentions of a goofy-looking prince. They lose all the emotional impact they could have had.
In the end, it is L’Arc who gets the better end of the bargain. Mostly because he is an oblivious tyke who never had a clue but he does have a really big sword. After he mortally wounds Alf, in a very sad and badly voice-acted cutscene, Adele gives up her own life to save that of her stalker. It is L’Arc who holds her in his strong forearms, the one thing she has ever wanted, and he acknowledges that she has always been like a friend to him. Everything has come full circle; Adele fades into the aether and Alf is screaming. Credits roll.
Don’t play Arc Rise Fantasia.