Reviewing Inclusiveness – Radiant Historia

I think I want to try a different kind of review. I want to review how progressive a particular game is, and that alone. I could do a full review, but there are plenty of other places where you can read about the story, the music, the graphics, the gameplay, etc. The Border House is about inclusiveness and progressiveness, so that’s what I’m going to judge. First up on the list? Radiant Historia, which is fresh enough in my mind that I can accurately talk about it, and also gives me some talking points. Some spoilers, but I’ll be as vague as I possibly can be when discussing them.

A man in red armed with a shield in the foreground, alongside a woman and a shorter man, both with surprised looks on their faces. In the background, there are partial images of a heavily armored man with a spear, a blond woman with earrings, a young girl with pointed ears, and a man with a white beard.

 

The Good

  • While a woman does die in the very beginning of the game, a man dies in the same incident alongside her. Stocke, the main character, would have also died were it not for plot happening. There are a couple of good character deaths later on, but they happen to men.
  • Raynie, the first woman in your party, starts off as a more fighter based character and wields a spear, the same weapon type that the strongest physical character in the game uses. She also gets to use the same heavy armor that the protagonist and the strongest physical attacker use. In contrast, the first man in your party who isn’t the protagonist, Marco, starts off as your healer.
  • While Stocke does try to discourage some of the women in the game from accompanying him on his quest, it’s never about their gender. In these instances, it is about either the political importance of the character or the character’s age. Additionally, every time it comes up he concedes and allows them to come with. His reasoning for not wanting people with him is also established early on. In fact, I can’t recall any lines that equated fighting ability to a particular gender, though it’s possible a few slipped by me.
  • Every woman in your party isn’t a potential love interest. This is kind of an obvious thing, but far too often jRPGs have every woman fighting over the main character, while wRPGs let male characters romance every woman. Having women who have romances with other characters, or reasons for not romancing the main character, is nice.
  • The most useful party member in the entire game is the little girl, easily doing double the damage or more than any of the other party members, regardless of the gender of those characters.
  • One of the women in the game, Field Marshal Viola, is described as being one of the toughest people in the military, as well as being very charismatic and skilled at battlefield tactics. From what I recall, she’s also not primarily a caster, instead wielding a sword, however she’s never in your party so I honestly can’t say one way or the other for sure.

 

The Bad

  • The armor type for the princess is a dress based on the in-game text, and an ornately armored blouse based on the character art. The former is bad because this character is involved in combat, she can buy some pants or something more suited to fighting. The latter would be pretty cool, but is instead just awful because her legs aren’t remotely protected. I can’t even tell if she’s wearing leggings or not, though I assume she is. Raynie’s outfit is a bit revealing as well, but not quite that bad. Granted, in both examples you can’t really see it in the in-game character portraits, but it’s still ridiculous.

 

Woman in an ornate, armored blouse wielding what appears to be a flintlock rifle. She wears a cap, and boots, but her legs are almost completely visible, though she seems to have some somewhat opaque leggings on.

  • The women who aren’t Raynie are the primary damage dealing casters of the game, and one of them is also the best healer in the game. Raynie eventually becomes more of a caster, but isn’t as good at it as the more feminine women in your party. At the same time, her physical abilities aren’t as good as two of the masculine men in your party. She falls into a kinda-sorta-useful middle ground. To be fair, Marco eventually becomes a similar character, as he gets a couple physical abilities, but that hardly excuses it.
  • Most all of the antagonists are men, and the woman antagonist is never fought directly. You defeat her by defeating her (male) soldiers.
  • Every character that is not the King of Cygnus is white. This could be explained on the basis that the country you start in is Europe based, while Cygnus is supposed to be a desert country, but since the king is the only one with a character portrait I can’t really judge whether that’s the case or not. If I can’t tell, I’m not going to try to excuse it.
  • Unsurprisingly, there are no bi, gay, or transgender characters.
  • The epilogue has one woman waiting for the man she loves to return home safe and sound. It’s the sort of cliché “I’ll wait as long as it takes,” nonsense you’d expect of such a plot element.
  • The closest thing to a non-dominant race of people is, as usual, anthropomorphic and laden with the standard “tribal” themes, like some members of the race being shamans and all the villages being in forests or jungles. (Other example to prove my point: Warcraft)

There’s some good and some bad about Radiant Historia. Judging its progressiveness/inclusiveness it wouldn’t be hard to name games that do better, but at the same time it’s even easier to name games that do worse, especially within that particular genre. It’s a mixed bag, but for the genre I’d say it does more right than I expected. I came away from the experience more or less happy with this aspect of the game, though the more critical will (rightfully) find much at fault with the problems I listed.

14 thoughts on “Reviewing Inclusiveness – Radiant Historia”

  1. This is really good format for reviews – a lot of times, I want to pick up a game but have no idea if it includes no characters of color or any strong women characters. Based on the above, I prob won’t be picking this up anytime soon. A little too “fable-fantasy” magic with all the crappy stereotypical elements and characters thrown in there for my taste.

  2. My main concern with Radiant Historia was the protagonist being male-only instead of the player’s choice. How did you feel about that? Was there any point in the game where the main character couldn’t just as easily have been a woman? Or would that have required rewriting lots of dialogue?

    1. I suppose it could have been done, but I expect for them to do it they would have wanted to make major changes to one side quest that affects the ending, and smaller changes throughout the whole production to change things to fit the female protagonist better. I’m used to jRPGs not offering character customization, so that didn’t originally occur to me to bring up when writing this article. Sorry about that.

    2. Thanks, I was thinking of picking this game up, so I especially appreciate the review. This made me a little uncomfortable, though:

      “While a woman does die in the very beginning of the game, a man dies in the same incident alongside her”.

      Is the author saying that the two deaths “balance out” what would otherwise have been a problematic plot point, from a gender perspective? I don’t think you are saying that each gender needs an equal bodycount for the game to be progressive… are you? Of course I haven’t played the game yet so I may be missing some nuance.

      1. From my perspective, admittedly not as informed as it ought to be, *one* of the main problems with scenes where women get killed off in games is that it’s usually portrayed in a sort of “women are weaker/can’t defend themselves” light. It’s not the only problem, but the point I was trying to make is that that problem in particular is removed by having a man die in the same scene. It removes the element of gender based weakness. It’s not that women shouldn’t be allowed to die in games, but that games often default to killing them off over male characters is problematic.

  3. I have two minor issues to take up with this review. Not that they are major complaints or anything, but things which I am sort of “of two minds” about, I guess.
    I also apologize for the last paragraph, because I am trying to remain spoiler free, but it gets a little… wordy at some point, what with all the workarounds.

    The first is that while I haven’t entirely finished playing the game, I think there are a few characters who aren’t explicitly stated to be heterosexual, or have a love interest of the opposite gender. So while one couldn’t say that it’s inclusive as far as gender goes, one could say that it isn’t necessarily exclusive, if that makes sense. Though I haven’t finished the game, so I don’t know how far they go along those lines.

    I also feel as though the point about their being no female antagonists aside from the female defeated by defeating her minions is (for the most part) a good move to make. Granted, again, I’m not quite this far in the game (but I am close), but it has always sort of bothered me when you play a game where you come across a character similar to this one. She’s characterized as being lazy, stupid, useless – the type of character who wouldn’t have bothered learning to fight, and who would rely on her hordes and hordes of “henchmen” to do the fighting for her. But the fact that she is the only female antagonist is somewhat troubling – though it seems to be a somewhat intentional decision, as so much in the way that women are treaded in the game is deliberate and intentional, without drawing too much attention to the fact that it’s being done.

    Anywhoo. Thanks for the review! I really enjoyed it.

    1. Er. That is to say “It always bothered me in other games when you came across similar characters or situations, and had a boss battle with someone who in all reality shouldn’t have been able to put up a real fight.” or something along those lines.

  4. SPOILERS AHEAD

    I rather enjoyed Radiant Historia so far. I just grinding for levels to battle the final bosses. I agree with you on the points of the female characters and their combat niche. Raynie starts out really nice, but by the end the game, it’s not worth using her for anything other than pushing and spell casting. Her combat output just doesn’t compare, even to Stocke, whom isn’t particularly strong melee-wise.

    I loved Field Marshal Viola. I really wanted her to end up in my party so bad after meeting her.

    The things that struck me as particular annoying was the use of Queen Protea as a villain. She was treated as a prop from beginning to the end, yet everyone demonized her. It just seemed like the typical misogynistic tripe.

    The other thing that made me groan was Raynie professing her feelings for Stocke. I had the feeling it may happen from the beginning, so I felt let down when it was even mentioned in one of the dead-ends.

    1. Don’t the two conspirators actually refer to her as a prop at one point? Wish I’d remembered that as well when writing this, though this is the nice thing about the comments section. People can bring up stuff I forgot or ask questions I didn’t address.

  5. Reviewing games focusing on how progressive they are is a really, really good idea! Thanks for this. Pretty much every games website should do this just as a matter of course, but it’s not likely to happen, is it?

    P.S. The Border House is great.

    P.P.S. sorry if I sound slimy!

  6. Two tech notes, nothing substantive and apologies for same:
    1) in the new blog format (specifically the index: the recent-posts fader on top looks fine), the princess’ art is focused on her torso and cuts off at her neck. Not sure if that was a conscious decision since this post predates the conversion, I felt a bit odd knowing that she has a face and having it cut off.

    2) Caption for the in-post princess art should probably read “she wears a cape” rather than “cap”. Not a huge problem but it bugged me.

    Thanks for the review.

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