Radiant Dawn: Villain Failure

This post is giant major spoilers for Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, and by extension Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance. If that matters to you, come back later.

Alright, here's a Radiant Dawn link.

That's specifically an endgame update from a screenshot Let's Play of Radiant Dawn, wherein we find out what's going on with out villain, which I am providing primarily so people can double-check my claims if they want for whatever reason.

Sephiran/Lehran -our villain, it turns out- falls apart in this mission. His thing is that he's an immortal Heron Laguz, who wants to die for some reason but cannot be killed without divine action.

This is doofy and I, personally, rolled my eyes at it in no small part because this archetype is all over Japanese media and has been for a while and I'm tired of seeing it, but prior to a particular bit of this mission I'd essentially bought the premise: Sephiran can't die unless divine power backs the blow, so he wakes up Ashera, who apparently went to sleep ages ago with the intent to be woken up later and told either 'civilization is good and everything's fine, enjoy' or 'they don't deserve to live, wipe them all out and start over', with Sephiran having told her the latter, presumably on the idea that he'll be included in this omnicide.

There's some problems here -Sephiran's wings were destroyed, for instance, raising questions of how exactly his immortality works- but the core logic ("I can only die if a god kills me, I want to die, and this god will kill me if I tell her to kill everyone, so I'm going to tell her that") is acceptable enough I was largely willing to let the issues slide. Honestly, I even rated it as an overall positive, as the 'I'm an omnicidal maniac because I'm suicidal' archetype is weirdly common and it's almost never properly justified. What kind of suicidal person spends months or years building up to wiping out all life everywhere instead of slitting their own wrists and getting it over? In Sephiran's case the answer is: one where the only feasible way to die is to kick off an omnicide.

... except this falls apart when you realize that Sephiran's goal within this mission is apparently to be struck down by a blessed weapon.

When the Black Knight is his fanatically loyal minion, and already has Alondite way before even Path of Radiance starts. And Ragnell too, originally.

So the omnicide makes sense... why? Just get your head chopped off with Alondite and/or Ragnell, dude. Don't engage in a manipulative plot to awaken Ashera so you can wipe out all life everywhere.

It's easy to gloss over this in part because initially Sephiran claims he's decided Beorc don't deserve to live and Laguz are 'flawed', but it's heavily implied by the end of the mission that those claims are just him feeding plausible explanations for his actions to our heroes, not to mention playing the role of villain so they'll endeavor to strike him down as he desires. He might incidentally believe they're true enough, but his only goal here is to die. So suddenly this entire plot is both A: gratuitously convoluted and B: costing hundreds (Thousands?) of innocent lives for no real reason.

The story clearly intends for us to view Sephiran with some sympathy, once his backstory is explained, intends for us to reverse our reversed view (That is: he was historically a Nice Guy, now he's been revealed to be a villain, and then it's revealed he's not a villain, he's just a Very Sad Man), but this scenario of him expecting blessed weaponry to strike him down immediately undoes 90% of the sympathy. Sure, fine, he's trying to commit suicide because his life sucks, and that's sad and sympathetic. He's still committing omnicide unnecessarily.

That is not sympathetic. That places Sephiran as one of the most gratuitously evil people I've seen in fiction!

I really don't get what drove this decision. This entire sequence could have been done largely as-is, just with the caveat that instead of having Sephiran die when he's killed, have him defeated non-lethally and then have the whole Sad Conversation That Makes Him Sympathetic etc, and this problem would go away. The Fire Emblem games are perfectly happy to have major characters simply declare 'I'm fleeing!' instead of dying when they hit 0 HP, so there's no commitment here to 'boss fight=dead character' going on with the series.

Instead the developers... chose to go out of their way to create a monstrous plothole that turns their 'sympathetic villain' into a complete monster?


I have empathy for when a story would require significant overhauls to avoid some problem or another, especially when you're looking at a project involving dozens of people working on different things. Such situations don't lend themselves to agility, and if you get your project 75% of the way finished and then notice that the story is broken on a fundamental level, it's just not practical to fix things. There's only so much time, only so much money, and it can be harder to go back and change things that were finished than it was to create them in the first place, with even 'minor' changes producing gamebreaking bugs because everything is interdependent.

But this scene could literally be fixed by just tweaking some dialogue. The visual considerations -Sephiran dropping dead partway through the conversation- could be reframed without actually modifying the animations. (Sephiran loses consciousness) The Secret Better Ending wouldn't be 'Sephiran is brought back to life', it would be 'Sephiran is woken up and talked over to Ike's point of view'.

It's frustrating to see this, because it would be trivial to fix, and the fact that it was handled this way actually undermines the entirety of both this game's plot and Path of Radiance's plot! You basically have to either accept that Sephiran is a complete and utter monster who, sure, fine, also desired suicide, but mostly desired to see the world burn, contrary to the story's clear intentions, or accept the story's intentions regarding Sephiran being sympathetic and just a poor suicidal immortal and then stop and go 'so wait, then why did these events happen at all?' There's not a good answer with what the story provides.

So close, Radiant Dawn, yet so far.


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