No, not objectively. Of course not. But personally.
And as I just recently finished my tenth playthrough and am starting my eleventh, I have a rather encyclopedic knowledge of the game's convoluted JRPG plot, enough to be able to finally look at all of the foreshadowing and parallels throughout the game and appreciate them. There are a lot of different thematic focuses that recur throughout the game, so I'm going to be looking at each of those in various megaposts when I'm feelin' it.
Essentially, this is an outlet for all of the essays I want to write about this game, and hopefully a conversation space for anyone else who has played it and wants to talk about it.
There are spoilers for basically the entirety of Tales of Symphonia here, so like, don't read if you haven't played this ten-year-old game, actually intend to, and haven't already had it spoiled for you? I guess?
TREATISE 1: ON LEGENDS
I think one of the coolest things about Tales of Symphonia is its treatment of legends.
The game opens with a super cliche "once upon a time" creation story. The entire remainder of the game is then spent exploring the truth of that legend, and how it came into being.
There's also a passage from a book in the Tower of Mana stating that Mithos the hero helped smite and seal away the evil half-elf Desians who caused the war.Once upon a time, there existed a giant tree that was the source of mana. A war, however, caused this tree to wither away, and a hero's life was sacrificed in order to take its place. Grieving over the loss, the goddess disappeared unto the heavens. The goddess left the angels with this edict: 'You must wake me, for if I should sleep, the world shall be destroyed.' The angels bore the chosen one who headed for the tower that reached up unto the heavens. And that marked the beginning of the regeneration of the world.
Contrast that with what actually happened:
- There was a giant tree that was the source of mana.
- A war caused it to wither away.
- Mithos "the hero", bright-eyed and idealistic half-elf protag, ends the war at the holy grounds where the giant tree once stood.
- Martel, beloved sister and companion of Mithos, is killed by a racist human.
- Mithos goes ****.
- Mithos fuses Martel's soul with the Great Seed (all that remains of the Giant Kharlan Tree), splits the world in two to permanently separate the warring factions, and links the summon spirits of both worlds to allow mana to flow between them and to trap the Great Seed - preventing its germination and protecting Martel while limiting mana usage and preventing the further development of magical weapons of mass destruction.
- Yeah, a lot went down.
- Using the cruxis crystal technology developed during the war, Mithos and his companions become "lifeless beings" - souls who live on via their gems and who essentially possess their own bodies - and present themselves to the world as angels.
- (This is the same technology that allowed Martel's soul to be preserved without a body.)
- Mithos invents a doctrine naming his sister as a goddess, and uses his servants - half-elves drawn to Cruxis after experiencing discrimination, who also use cruxis crystals to look like divine angels - to spread the message, puppeteer the church of Martel, and control marriages to produce a Chosen of Mana lineage of potential vessels for his sister.
- The production of more cruxis crystals to create more angels is carried out via the "angelus project," which evolves exspheres into these gems. The desians (Cruxis's lower henchmen/pawns) work to awaken exspheres and produce cruxis crystals in their human ranches.
[I would like to add here that it's not treated as if Mithos and Cruxis have sole control over how myths and legends form: attributing the Kharlan War to half-elves and Desians is something that Mithos would never do, but is a result of the severe racial tensions in the world... ironically, those that Mithos fought so desparately against before they resulted in his sister's death. But he certainly played a major part in shaping this particular story.]
And yet, the fact that people believe in this story lends it its own sort of truth. The belief in a goddess named "Martel" is not meaningless. At the end of the game, from the spirit of the Great Tree, as well as Martel - Mithos's sister - and the hundreds/thousands of souls sacrificed (as chosen, as exspheres, etc...) in Mithos's plan to resurrect her, a new spirit named Martel is born to watch over the reborn tree. The goddess, hailed by the Church of Martel and originally made-up in the image of Mithos's sister, comes into being.
Another example of how myths and legends are complexly portrayed in this game is toward the very beginning, when you are searching for the Seal of Wind. The Town of Asgard has its own legend:
As a result of this legend, whenever the seal weakens, someone is offered as a sacrifice to quell the anger of the Summon Spirit and prevent another calamity.One of Asgard's central features is its stone dais, where Cleo III once held a ritual to offer a sacrifice to the Sumon Spirit of Wind in order to quell a storm that had raged for a week, and the altar was made for the spirit.
[This little story is also clearly meant to tie in to the central theme of sacrifice, but that's an entirely different megapost for a future day.]
Contrast, again, to what actually happened:
- Evil wind demon caused a raging storm
- Cleo III, Summoner king from Balacruf (where the actual Summon Spirit is located), forms a pact with the Summon Spirit of wind
- Cleo III uses the Summon Spirit of Wind to seal the evil wind demon into the stone dias
(...As a slight aside, even more interestingly, Balacruf has its own legend inscribed in the walls of its mausoleum -- that Cleo III became as one with the Summon Spirit of Wind when he died.)
This stuff pops up again and again. Encountering legends and learning of the historical events that birthed them. It's so interesting to me how multiple versions of one "truth" - the real people and events that really transpired, and the elevated myths and legends that hold meaning to the people who believe them - exist at the same time, and often encounter one another over the course of this game. After hearing about Mithos the Hero, savior of 4,000 years ago, you literally meet him (and kick his ass multiple times). I would argue that Mithos and his alternate self Yggdrasill embody and symbolize these two versions of his truth.
One of my favorite instances of discerning "truth" from myths is when Botta is expositioning the **** out of the Great Seed. The party expresses disbelief, believing that the Great Seed is a legend, not actually real. Botta explains that it does exist, and Genis asks if it's the same as the Great Seed described as the soul of Mithos. Botta laughs, stating "now THAT is a fairy tale."
Myths and legends may be different from their historical origins, but ToS argues a compelling case that this doesn't make them any less real. When the Tower of Salvation disappears because Cruxis has a malfunction when things start going to ****, Kratos brushes it off because he knows it’s just a visual malfunction, and therefore it’s not a big deal. But Raine points out that it /is/ a huge deal because the Tower is a symbol of hope and salvation for the people of Sylvarant. Its disappearance has political consequences. The symbol holds real power and meaning, regardless of the intention behind its creation.
Given this as a recurring topic in the game, I think it’s incredibly interesting that the events you play - Lloyd’s journey, and the rebirth of the tree (which Lloyd names Yggdrasill) - are undoubtedly going to be the subject of legends in the distant future. The creation of the Yggdrasill Tree, which will certainly be a subject of both historical and religious study for the denizens of the united world, is something you experience as a current event. After seeing time and again how mythological figures are based on real people and events that have been changed and elevated over time, and encountering the world’s most beloved ancient hero in the flesh and learning what his story really was… you get to witness Lloyd’s story as it happens, leaving you to wonder how it will live on in public memory. Because it surely will.
As will Mithos Yggdrasill... he will live on, not as the tyrannical leader of Cruxis, nor as the hero who smited the half-elves... but as the tree, a symbol for a united world and the protection of those who face discrimination.
[Ranty, somewhat-related conclusion: that’s why I think the tree’s name is so important. It allows Mithos and Martel to both exist together as beloved symbols of protection and acceptance. It gives them a role in the world they fought for but weren’t privileged enough to claim. Lloyd naming the tree protected by Martel “Yggdrasill” was one of the most meaningful things he did over the course of the game. So I'M KINDA PISSY THEY DON'T SAY IT OUTRIGHT AND YOU HAVE TO INFER IT FROM TALES OF PHANTASIA]
In ACTUAL conclusion -- I really love how the game opens with a mythological story based on Mithos’s journey, elevated beyond its historical truth, and ends with the player experiencing the rebirth of the tree featured in the original myth. It really drives home the parallels between Mithos and Lloyd, and emphasizes how those who are immortalized as heroes and legends lived real lives as real people.
~~~~~~~tune in next time for Treatise 2: On Life and Lifeless Beings! (maybe)~~~~~~