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Pyra is the Switch's Strongest Character

Disclaimer: This article is reuploaded from my previous site.


Content Warnings: Xenoblade 2 spoilers, discussions of suicide


I’ve become increasingly fascinated with gender politics in video games throughout the New Tens.  The more I listened to those better-informed than myself, the more I’ve learned.  The more I’ve learned, the more I can look back critically at the media I’ve consumed and make more enlightened judgements.


During one of those critical look-backs, I recalled the 2000s and how the gaming community had a habit of dismissing any female character who didn’t kick more arse than the boys.  It was a time when a perfectly well-written heroine, like Ninian or Colette Brunel, could get in trouble a few times and even her most loyal fans would drop her like she’d suddenly contracted a deadly contagion and, inevitably, damning comparisons to Princess Peach would be made.*  I’d like to say that we’re past that time but I sadly still think we’ve got some distance to go.


*(Also, I’d say that the overwhelming negativity surrounding Princess Peach is a bit toxic in its own right but I won’t get into that in today.)


I bring this up because I feel like demonising all of those (what we might generally call) “girly” traits is a really bad thing to do.  There are plenty of girls who like cooking, bright colours, and frilly dresses out there.  Telling them that such things are bad and that they should feel bad for liking them just feels unnecessarily mean.  Would it be great to have more affirmative action girls?  Hell yes, but we don’t have to slag off the Disney Princess-looking ladies while we’re at it.  After all, such characters tend to exemplify virtues that I think everyone could stand to practice more often.  They’re unfailingly kind, shamelessly sensitive, and offer unconditional love to all those who need it.  Maybe this is just me being a head-in-the-clouds idealist but I honestly think that those are great qualities and it unnerves me that the characters most likely to demonstrate them are often the most-overlooked by a fanbase.


I think that’s why I like Xenoblade Chronicles 2 so much.  It’s a bright and colourful story that makes no secret of its idealistic outlook on life.  It’s a tale about survival in the face of adversity, and nowhere better is this reflected than in the journey of leading lady Pyra.  Rex might be the player character but there’s no doubt in my mind that Xenoblade 2 is Pyra’s tale.  She’s the one who gives him a reason to start his adventure in the first place, her powers are the axis upon which the world turns, and, along with the original Nier and this year’s Fire Emblem: Three Houses, her game is one of the few that reduced me to tears.


Pyra begins the game sealed away beneath the Cloud Sea that covers the fantasy world of Alrest.  After five centuries of slumber, she is awakened by the hero Rex and makes a magical pact with him.  Her power keeps him alive after he is mortally wounded and, in return, he agrees to escort her to the faraway paradise of Elysium where the Architect who created her resides.


From the moment of her introduction, it’s clear that Pyra is unquestionably a stereotypical “girly-girl.”  Her outfit is mostly made up of pinks and reds, she loves to cook, and she’s gentle and compassionate to a fault.  She has something of a shy and submissive personality, often deferring to her companions when it comes to making important decisions.  She rarely pursues her own personal glory in battle, instead using her incredible powers to support her companions, and is often the first to get all googly-eyed over cute ‘lil animals.  Despite all of this, however, the game never characterises her as weak.  Far from it.  Many characters are surprised that someone with her power is so endearingly sweet and supportive but everyone respects her strength.  This is probably because they’re savvy enough to recognise that her being a very traditionally feminine girl does not in any way stop her from also being a one-woman army who can literally burn down continents.


I appreciate Pyra for the same reason why I appreciate any good hero: they have incredible power and wisdom, yet consistently choose to try and do the right thing.  I’ve never been a fan of evil gods and wizards who seek power only to inflict harm on others because, “Power corrupts.”  To me, characters like Pyra are wonderful refutations of that cynical old proverb.  They demonstrate how power doesn’t corrupt but reveals.  Pyra could dominate the world single-handedly if she so chose, something implicitly touched-upon when Rex wonders how things would’ve been different if she’d switched places with her genocidal archenemy Malos.  In this timeline, though, Pyra happily lends a hand bringing criminals to justice, supporting the poor and downtrodden, or even just taking a few moments to give a tiny little turtle some friendly affection.  Really, she’s a dear.


Interestingly, despite being the game’s designated sweetiepie character, Pyra never displays the sort of naivete that so many similar characters do.  She is willing to extend love and compassion to all those who need it, yes, but she’s no fool.  She won’t trust obvious villains unless she has some kind of leverage over them and she’s not afraid to call out obvious deceptions, nor reprimand offending parties.  Sometimes that means a stern yelling-at, sometimes that means a reminder to everyone why the world feared her power five centuries ago.


Yet, despite all the respect these powers bring her, Pyra doesn’t particularly enjoy the attention.  In fact, she fears what she might be capable of.  She is self-critical, even when she has no reason to be, and will eagerly throw herself into danger so that nobody has to risk their lives to save her.  She even confesses, away from her friends, that she genuinely believes that her existence is a blight upon the world and that everyone would be better off without her.


Pyra is suicidal. She understands that her friends love her, that there are people in the world who care about her, but that doesn’t stop the thoughts from infesting her mind.  It doesn’t matter what the rational part of her brain says, there is a psychic cancer crippling her sanity and there is nothing anyone can do to fix it.  It’s most likely the reason why she keeps throwing herself into peril despite her desire to keep Rex safe; you can’t think properly when you’re in that head space.  When Rex and his companions are risking life and limb to save her for the third time, Pyra finally snaps.  Breaking into tears, she practically yells at them to run away and save themselves because she doesn’t think she’s worth it.  Because the reason why she wanted to go to Elysium at all was to die , to beg her father to let her end her eternal life.


Once that revelation hit, I had to try very hard to hold the tears in – because I’ve been there.  Because I’m still there, some days.  And it’s terrifying.  Nothing can quite prepare you for the first time that your brain stops making coherent sense and starts trailing off to plan your own demise.  Every day, we’re told that we need to share our pain with others to try and lighten the load but how do you confide something like that in someone, especially someone who loves you?  Speaking from experience, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done – and I honestly don’t blame Pyra for not telling her friends sooner.


Furthermore, Pyra never gets over her depression.  She has moments of doing better but her deadly self-loathing never fully goes away, and there’s no real solution to it.  No anti-depressants you can buy her, no magic rock that gives her the power of self-confidence, no great healer who can fix her mental problems...  These feelings of inadequacy and meaninglessness are still with her, and they’re probably always going to be.  I honestly thought that the game would do what many JRPGs do and hand-wave her problems away after her obligatory dramatic return but it doesn’t.  Her demons continue to loom heavily over her, even throughout the game’s relatively hopeful final act.


Yet, despite this horribly realistic portrayal of depression constantly gnawing away at her soul, at no point does Pyra ever break down and demand that people cuddle her.  She is not selfish about her pain.  She never tries to make everything about her, nor does she try to make herself out to be suffering more than others.  Instead, she perseveres.  She keeps going, and she does everything she can to support the people that she loves.  Most importantly, she never stops being kind.  In fact, it’s her love for the world (and Rex) that gives her the will to keep on fighting.  To care so much about the world that you’re prepared to risk everything for it, even when you’re convinced that you don’t belong in it, must take an incredible amount of strength – and, if you ask me, that makes Pyra a pretty incredible character.


Gamers often want to see “Strong Female Characters.”  As they should do, I want to see more awesome women in games, too.  However, nobody ever talks about strong male characters, probably because there’s a certain inherent implication that all men are strong unless stated otherwise.  Personally, I don’t agree with that.  Sure, most male characters tend to be big, tough, burly dudes but that doesn’t necessarily make them strong.  I certainly can’t think of many whose stories affected me as much as Pyra’s.  She had the power to take over the world, yet she always tried to help the people in it.  She struggled with the desire to end her own existence, yet she slowly but surely discovered a reason to go on.  She learned to fill the void in her life with friends, family, and a rediscovered sense of purpose… and she did all of this while being a cute girl in a flowy pink outfit. Maybe what we really need are, in fact, more cute girls in flowy pink outfits?

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