Dark Side Companion Analysis Part 1: Bagyr the Orc

The Companion system has been overhauled yet again for Dark Side, and it's by far my favorite attempt in the series, a clever mixture of Warriors of the North's plot-mandated Valkyries with main and secondary bonuses and the first two games Companions-as-gear-carriers.

You get three companions over the course of the game, with one filling the role of Main Companion and the other two (When you've got more than one one) filling the role of Secondary Companions. If a Companion is currently Main, they get four equipment slots, while if they're Secondary they only contribute one slot. Either way, these slots are personal to each Companion, so where your Main Valkyrie was just about choosing what bonus you wanted to be biggest, in Dark Side there's a complex, interesting array of decisions regarding possible equipment setups to keep in mind.

Dark Side Companions do still provide passive bonuses, as well, though these are uniformly 'boring' bonuses to core stats: Attack, Defense, Intellect, Rage, Mana, or Leadership. No Companion will bolster a specific race's units, or provide an overall Initiative boost, or otherwise intrude on your unit preferences. Their passive bonuses basically serve as a secondary way of emphasizing what each class is good at: Bagyr gets support for Raging all day long, Neoline gets Defense and some army size support, and Dart gets even more ability to nuke everything to death with magic. In every case, the passive bonuses are halved when the Companion is Secondary compared to if they're Main.

Also note that each Companion has three levels. The scaling is mostly standardized, with them simply stacking their base bonus anew (ie if they provide 2 Defense as Main at Level 1, they'll gain 2 Defense as Main at Level 2 and again at Level 3, though in a few cases they double again instead), while the process of leveling them is semi-standardized; in every case the Level 2 Quest is to kill some large number of a specific unit type, while the Level 3 Quest is some more plot-y event that involves you going to a specific location and doing a specific thing. (Generally: killing a Hero) The second level Quest either activates on its own after you've acquired the Companion, or activates by talking to them, while the third level Quest is always activated by speaking to them after completing the second level Quest. Depending on your progress in the game, you might not be able to access the third level Quest immediately, and even if you can activate it the game isn't necessarily expecting you to go complete it immediately. (By which I mean it may well be suicidal to try)

A warning: the second level Quests generate battlegroups of enemy units once initiated as a safety measure to more-or-less ensure you can actually achieve the Quest, and these battlegroups can be inconveniently placed and the game has some bug that means Scouting effectively lies to you. Generally they'll be rated Weak or Very Weak by Scouting -and then when you get into battle with them it will turn out that in addition to the small number of units that Scouting was apparently 'paying attention to', there's also much, much larger numbers of other units in the battlegroup. (If you have Scouting 3, you'll actually be forewarned of the real numbers, but if you're not playing Neoline Scouting 3 is simply too many Spirit Runes to bear) Make sure to save before taking on any suspiciously weak-looking battlegroups after activating these Quests, as these battlegroups are usually much more dangerous than the area average, rather than much less dangerous as Scouting claims.

A neat little touch Dark Side has is that the title screen reflects your most recent file's class and Companion progress. (ie at the start of a Bagyr run, Bagyr will be brooding in his chair alone, and then Annette will be added once you've gotten to her, and so on) That's where the body-shot graphics in these Companion posts come from, incidentally, both for the Companions themselves but also for the Heroes.

On a slightly different note, Dark Side is a bit more overt in embracing the companions-as-eye-candy thing than prior entries are. I have mixed feelings about this point, as in some sense it's just more honest than prior games, but it's still intrusive.


Surprisingly, Bagyr's Companion interactions end up with by far the most humor to them of any of the Companion interactions. In (nearly) every case Bagyr starts by threatening to beat them with a stick and so on, upon completing their second level Quest they realize Bagyr never actually did anything to them after they were collared, from there conclude he's actually a much nicer guy than he's pretending to be, and agree to continue to pretend to be getting tortured when in the Spirit of Darkness' presence, all while Bagyr is trying to blow off the claims that he's not that bad a guy. Even funnier is how the process of designating your Main Companion is handled: Bagyr again opens with his tough-guy routine ("You're the one I enjoy torturing most!"), and then the conversation segues into Bagyr trying to justify the fact that he'll be giving them weapons and armor by trying to claim that he doesn't believe they'll actually use the weapons and having naked steel in their hands will make them more fearful... and the Companion sounds dubious on his logic, to say the least. Even nicer, the game only does this once per Companion: it's a lengthy enough dialogue it would get tedious to have to go through it every time you wanted to change your Main Companion.

This caught me quite off guard. The first time I was playing Bagyr through Dark Side, I was trying to play a run of each class fairly close together, and I ended up cutting off playing Bagyr shortly after I got his first Companion in part because I was genuinely a bit unsettled by how the game was handling Bagyr and his Companions... turns out if I'd played ten minutes longer, I'd have started hitting the funny stuff and realized my impression of Bagyr and his Companions was essentially completely wrong.

Annette the Peasant

Equipment: Weapon, Weapon, Belt, and Artifact if Main. Weapon if Secondary.

Passives: +2/4/6 Defense and +10/20/30 Rage if Main. +1/2/3 Defense and +5/10/15 Rage if Secondary.

Level 2 Quest: Kill 1000 Peasants. A few battlegroups spawn in Monteville after activating this Quest.

Level 3 Quest: Kill Bill of the Sandy Isle. This spawns a pirate ship with Bill, roaming the seas of the Sandy Isle.

Annette's arrival is the solidification of Bagyr's position as king of Rage and master of Weapons. She's also one of the easier Companions to get to Level 2 right away, as even massive stacks of Peasants are still Peasants, so her spawned battlegroups tend to be not too troublesome to take on right away even though they're oversized. As a result, if you manage to ninja a Sea Chart for Sandy Isle, you may be able to get her to Level 3 in 2-4 battles, though defeating Bill with no casualties is a trickier prospect. But hey, accepting casualties fighting him can be absolutely worth it.

Her Defense bonus isn't particularly appealing, but the Rage boost is more than worthwhile, and the fact that she adds two Weapon slots does a lot to help. Weapons remain the most significant category in Dark Side, and in fact it somewhat emphasizes this fact with each class/character getting an exclusive Weapon that reduces their race's Leadership requirements. Other specific points of interest include the potential to equip two Archmage's Staves so your Wizards have drastically more damage -and if you manage it early enough, you may find you're actually competitive with Daert for early-game Spellslinging thanks to the Intellect boosts! Alternatively, you may find multiple Spear of Rage and commit to that. Bagyr is also better able to leverage some of the somewhat-niche-but-impressive-when-leveraged Weapons since he's got so many slots he can wield the general weapons to boot.

Narratively, Annette is a random peasant girl who's super-duper happy and then you kidnap her for the Weapon of Vengeance. As I commented on earlier, she starts out afraid of Bagyr but eventually realizes he's not actually doing anything to her, and acknowledges that the Light's done some pretty atrocious things. It's actually weirdly adorable, and the only kinda creepy element is how her mini-arc doesn't acknowledge the part where you broke her up with her boyfriend and passed him off to a literal demon who enslaved him... which is probably primarily a byproduct of the fact that acquiring and leveling Annette is, strictly speaking, not connected to the events with her boyfriend. A player absolutely could play events out in such a manner that Annette should realistically be unaware of all that. So to an extent I consider that an acceptable casualty of avoiding blatant inconsistency. It'd be nice to have more of an acknowledgement of all that -is Annette supposed to have decided her boyfriend was in on the Light's atrocious actions and thus is disgusted with him, for example?- but I can see why the game didn't get into it.

Design-wise, I'm not sure what's going on with Annette's title screen graphic. Why are there ropes winding around her arms? And most likely her feet, going by the other two Companions? They're clearly not connected to a rope held by Bagyr. And what's with her dress? The ribbon effect really looks less like actual damage and more like someone decided to make fashion clothing themed around damage. In particular, the dress looks like something shockingly finely-made, given Annette is explicitly a peasant. Annette's pose has always confused me, too, as she looks like she's either scratching behind her ear or making a contemplative pose and looking bored while doing so. Arguably both of those would be appropriate, with the 'faking being tortured' thing, but I'm honestly not sure if that's really why her title screen graphic looks that way.

Overall I actually like the look of her title screen graphic, and in particular am pleasantly surprised at how tasteful it is, given how easy it would be to take 'chesty girl in collar' and make it not-tasteful, even by accident, but these questions hound me regardless.

Queen Elsa

Equipment: Weapon, Helmet, Gloves, and Regalia if Main. Weapon if Secondary.

Passives: +2/4/6 Attack and +10/20/20 Rage if Main. +1/2/3 Attack and +5/10/10 Rage if Secondary.

Level 2 Quest: Kill 30 Horsemen. A pair of battlegroups spawn in Inselburg after activating this Quest.

Level 3 Quest: Kill Conrad the Strong. This Quest requires you to talk to Elsa sometime after finding Conrad in Helvedia. (I'm unsure if it's simple time passage or if it requires you to complete the Quest you get from the Castle Conrad is in first)

Annoyingly, Queen Elsa is the first of a few Companions whose equipment options actually changes when going from Level 1 to Level 2. In Elsa's case, she has a Belt slot instead of a Gloves slot initially. The placement is also slightly different. This is actually exploitable, I guess, because when a Companion is leveled up their gear remains equipped even if they shouldn't be able to wield a given Item, but mostly it's frustrating when you go to swap out an Item only to discover you not only can't equip the new Item but you also can't even put the old one back anymore.

Notice that Else and Annette both have a Weapon slot if they're secondary, and Annette has two Weapon slots if Main. That makes Bagyr the first Hero in the series to be able to quintuple-wield Weapons. Weapons are a bit better balanced overall in Dark Side than in prior games, but this is still very useful, and since Weapons are generally offensively-inclined it really emphasizes Bagyr's offensive clout.

And yes, Elsa's Rage boost doesn't increase when you get her to Level 3, that's not a typo on my part. I suspect her information got copy-pasted from her level 2 form and then the Rage portion got overlooked as needing an update.

Design-wise, Elsa's face graphic is notable for being the only one of Bagyr's Companions to have actual injuries depicted: the three streaks in particular stand out, though if you look closely you can also see blood or bruising on her cheeks. I suspect Elsa's face was designed before the faking-torture angle was thought up.

Her title screen graphic is interesting to me, because it looks to me like she was intended from the get-go to be a queen or princess, going by her dress and even her posture. For all I know, even the dark marks under her eyes may be an example of that: I'm not sure whether that's meant to be makeup (Historically the kind of thing you'd find on nobles and royals and not the lower classes) or something else entirely. The dress itself also does a really good job of selling the idea that she used to be wearing a fine dress, and it's now lost bits and pieces to her time on the road or some such, with the only complaint I have on that score being that the thing has to be magic to hold to her the way it does: there's no straps or anything to keep the chest portion up. Other than that, it's a really good image of a royal who retains their regal bearing, even when beaten down. Even her hair is done well, looking like something that used to be lovely and taken good care of that's now starting to have issues because the things done to keep it lovely haven't been happening.

I am curious as to how clearly planned-out Elsa was. In-game she's mother to a bratty teenager, an overprotective mom as her defining character trait, all the way to saying she'll agree to 'anything' under a magically binding oath if only she can get her son back home safe. While her art isn't irreconcilable with this narrative, it's not what I would've expected from said narrative, and neither does her art really get me thinking of a devoted mother. It makes me wonder if the art was designed with something more like an unmarried, regal princess in mind, and she was switched to being a queen because of the Connoisseur of Beauty Medal, or if I'm just missing something cultural, or what.

In any event, like Annette Elsa starts out resentful and afraid and eventually goes 'wait, he's not actually done anything to me'. Like Annette, I have one notable issue with the handling; the topic of her son is not broached after she's joined you. Unlike Annette, there's not a technical concern that justifies this decision, so it bothers me more, especially since her devotion to her son is what left her vulnerable in the first place.

Still, she's overall fairly well-executed if you accept that Dark Side isn't taking itself particularly seriously.

Dendra the Dryad

Equipment: Weapon, Weapon, Boots, and Regalia if Main. Weapon if Secondary.

Passives: +2/4/6 Attack and +2/4/6 Defense if Main. +1/2/3 Attack and +1/2/3 Defense if Secondary.

Level 2 Quest: Kill 25 Ents in total. This spawns some battlegroups on Aralan.

Level 3 Quest: Water a plant toward the center of Aralan. This provokes a fight against a bunch of Ents and Ancient Ents with no warning or opportunity to escape, but beating the fight gets Dendra to Level 3.

It amuses me that Dendra is by far the crankiest-looking of Bagyr's companions given that before you get a hold of her she gets called Dendra The Happy, because she's just so gosh-darn cheerful and all. I'd complain about her outfit, except it's a clear variation on normal Dryad wear, and in fact it's more prudish than what they wear in-game. It's even more blatant than Elsa about staying on because the artist willed it so rather than because this is physically plausible. but she both has a better excuse (Magic!) and, again, this is better than what Dryads normally wear. Plus... well, we'll be seeing that the male Companions in Dark Side aren't exactly dressed for polite society, themselves.

It helps that Dendra isn't really being framed by the 'camera' in a particularly revealing way or the like. It took a while for me to notice that there's no back or sides to her outfit: with how her hair falls and the way she holds her arms and the angle of her body, I honestly thought there was more to her outfit that was being partially obscured by all those same things. Yes, this would never work in real life or in motion, but the art isn't going out of its way to call your attention to how scantily clad she actually is. The overall result is actually significantly less sexualized than some things I could think of where a woman is theoretically dressed more sensibly than Dendra here.

Though do notice that her portrait shows some leafy green stuff. The inconsistency there is interesting to me, because the angle of her head, what her hair is doing, etc, is nearly identical between the two pieces of art. The only substantive differences are the exact visuals of the collar, a slight tweak to her eyebrow positioning that makes her angry in her portrait and sad or wistful in the title screen graphic, and said clothing difference.

Dendra is moderately unusual, in that most of the Companions of the game are designed so you have to engage with the main plot of their area to an at least moderate extent. Dendra you can almost completely ignore her island's plot stuff, meaning you don't have to bother with Aralan much at all for actually completing the game. This is convenient, as Aralan is an obnoxious place, with all the stat-boosted Elven battlegroups running around, the lag induced by the sheer size and the fog, and the sheer tedium of many of its Quests: I'm perfectly happy being able to basically skip out on Aralan. You don't even necessarily have to bother to fight any battlegroups on Aralan for her Level 2 Quest, if you've put off Bear Butte or Galenrim; Elven battlegroups are really common in the mid-late game of Dark Side!

Also notice she adds another Weapon slot. Bagyr can wield 6 Weapons! In fact, Queen Elsa has to be your main Companion to be wielding a mere 5 once you have all three Companions.

On a narrative note, I talked about how Bagyr's Companions decide he's not such a bad guy etc etc, but Dendra is something of an exception. Dendra pretends to do so, in imitation of the other Companions, in an attempt to lure Bagyr into a trap. (The fight in her Level 3 Quest) I'm not sure how to feel about this, as Dendra is an Elf, and Elves are the ones who have personally wronged the Orcs, so this feels sort of like a thing I see in a lot of fiction that I'm always uncomfortable with: that of the story clearly wanting the audience to dislike a group of people and thus making them have no redeeming or positive qualities. In this case, it feels sort of like an attempt to make justifiable Bagyr expressing his broader vengeance against the overall Elven population against Dendra, even though Dendra had no involvement in the actual crimes and in fact what we see of her before she tries to ambush Bagyr looks a lot like someone who would never hurt a fly. On the other hand, it's nice to see that not all of Bagyr's Companions give in to his charm, making it easier to buy that Elsa and Annette did so for characterful reasons personal to them rather than purely for arbitrary narrative reasons external to them. The overall result is I'm not sure if the creators were going for one thing that's unsettling and accidentally gave their story more depth in the process, or were going for the depth and it accidentally wandered a bit into the territory of looking like this unsettling thing.

It leaves me with mixed feelings.
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As an aside, it's interesting to note that the title screen graphics' internal labels actually designate Bagyr's Companions in the order of Elsa/Dendra/Annette. That may simply reflect that order in which the art ended up being completed, no deeper meaning, but it may also be an indicator of the order they were conceived of in. Certainly, the fact that Elsa's portrait is out of line with the 'fake torture' thing, and only her portrait, is suggestive she was essentially finalized visually before the narrative elements for Bagyr's Companions were properly worked out, so I'm reasonably confident she actually was made first.

Bagyr himself is also labeled first out of the Heroes by this metric, but the class graphics have always worked with a labeling of 0/1/2 for Warrior/Paladin/Mage, and Bagyr is the Warrior counterpart, so that's actually unlikely to tell us anything interesting.

Speaking of, next we cover Neoline's Companions.

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