The MoeGamer Awards are a series of “alternative” awards that I’ve devised in collaboration with the community as an excuse to celebrate the games, experiences and fanbases that have left a particular impression on me in 2018. Find out more and leave a suggestion here!
This award was suggested by AK.
A really interesting aspect of characterisation is when creators are able to put together a character who might initially seem obnoxious or odious in some way, then gradually bring the player to sympathise with them — or at least vaguely understand them –over the course of the complete narrative.
It’s a difficult thing to pull off, for sure; the most common approach taken to create this effect is to have an “anti-hero” main character, but in those instances it’s very easy to go overboard on the edginess and just create someone who is an unrelatable sociopath or psychopath.
But when it’s done right, it can make for some really interesting storytelling. So who fell into that category for me this year…?
And the winner is…
Wilfried Heisenburg (Re;Lord)
Demonic characters are nothing new in Japanese games, visual novels and anime — but it is relatively unusual to encounter a demonic character who both embraces his demonic nature and managed to end up being an oddly relatable, sympathetic character. For the most part, anyway.
Many demon characters who end up as fan favourites tend to subvert popular expectations of “demonhood”; the anime Gabriel Drop-Out from a few seasons back was a good example, including, as it did, a very prim and proper demon who was more sensible and repsonsible than most of the angels in the cast, and a completely incompetent demon who was unable to pull off even the most rudimentary of pranks, let alone genuine “evil”.
This can be an effective and amusing approach — as well as a reminder that we shouldn’t be prejudiced towards people purely based on their origins — but it’s quite a frequently seen trope by this point. I hesitate to say it’s “overused”, because it still brings a smile to my face — Kurona from Gal*Gun 2 was another great example from recent memory — but still, you know. Sometimes it’s nice to see a demon being allowed to be demonic.
Wilfried certainly falls into that category, though at the outset of Re;Lord 1: The Witch of Herfort and Stuffed Animals, he is at something of a disadvantage. Seemingly the only “surviving” demon after a witch turned all his friends, family and allies into tiny fairies or plush toys, he has a desire to reclaim his lands for himself, rescue his people and lead demonkind into a new era of supremacy.
Yes, rather interestingly, Wilfried is a right-wing hero. This is not something we see altogether often in gaming, particularly in what can politely be referred to as “the current political climate”, because the right wing of the political spectrum is often painted by its counterpart on the left as being “evil” — and as such, very few storytellers (particularly in the West) want to put such a character in a leading role. With that in mind, Wilfried will theoretically have an uphill struggle to resonate with many players from the outset of the game.
Of course, political ideologies are much more complex than a simple left-right split, much as interminable pointless arguments on Twitter might like to try and convince us otherwise. And as such it’s important to remember that even in the case of someone who holds what might initially appear to be diametrically opposed beliefs to yourself, there’s still a person underneath — even if that person is a literal demon. (Before we go any further, I feel obliged to mention that according to a few “tests” I’ve taken, my own personal political ideology is left-leaning, though to be honest I simply avoid politics in general whenever possible as it just never seems to be worth the hassle!)
Now, the interesting thing about Wilfried in Re;Lord 1 is that he’s very much “humanised” (for want of a better word) despite his belief in demon supremacy. Over the course of the narrative, we come to understand how and why he has come to feel and believe the things he does, and what he hopes to achieve from his quest for revenge.
We learn that there are people he cares for and values — right-wingers are often portrayed by popular media as being rather selfish and out for themselves, even when “organised” — and that many of the things he does throughout his quest for revenge are for the benefit of people other than himself.
Where things get into interesting (and perhaps uncomfortable for some) territory is in his interactions with Erika, the titular witch of the story, and her assistant Fine. These characters are clearly antagonists, but they are set up in such a way to be nice, pleasant individuals to hang around in their own right — particularly Fine, who is repeatedly demonstrated to be endearingly incompetent at being Wilfried’s “enemy”, frequently coming by his headquarters to bring him and his allies cake and cookies, despite finding herself in combat against them on a regular basis.
Indeed, Wilfried himself comes to learn about both Fine and Erika over the course of the narrative and bonds with them both in various strange and unusual ways. He develops a halting friendship with Erika over their shared love of wearing capes, for example, and as for Fine, well, she’s the sort of person that it’s impossible to dislike, even if she’s on the opposing “side” to you. On top of that, both Fine and Erika are, despite being the “antagonists”, depicted as being characters who don’t truly wish to hurt anyone or do something permanent to them — that’s why Erika turned all the demons into fairies and stuffed animals instead of just wiping them out.
Wilfried, meanwhile… well, there’s no two ways about this, he rapes both Fine and Erika on multiple occasions after defeating them in magical combat. To him, it’s a symbol of him having defeated them so comprehensively that he dominates not only their strategic acumen, but also their very bodies — and, he believes, their magical power. To them, on the other hand, while they probably wouldn’t have propositioned Wilfried in the first place (at least early on in their respective relationships; this is somewhat more debatable later in the narrative, particularly in Erika’s case), they are oddly compliant and understanding of the situation; Fine explicitly states that she accepts what happens to her as “punishment” for her wrongdoing, and that “only those who are prepared to one day be conquered have the right to conquer others”.
And, make no mistake, rape is a heinous and unforgivable crime whether it’s a “punishment” or not — but Wilfried, much like the eponymous hero of the Rance series, does not do what he does out of pure selfishness or even a desire to hurt his enemies. Indeed, upon defeating Fine and Erika, he could have quite easily just killed them, but he chooses not to.
His sexual ministrations, while obviously unconsensual, are oddly “considerate”, for want of a better term; at no point do you get the impression he’s trying to actually inflict pain or trauma on his victims; in fact, more than anything, he does what he does for “practical” reasons — as a means of stealing their magical power. Fine, as the first to fall to Wilfried, comes away from the experience oddly untraumatised — perhaps thanks in part to her aforementioned philosophical outlook on “conquest” as well as how the demon lord actually treats her, both during the sexual encounter and during their everyday interactions — and Erika, as a virgin, finds herself morbidly fascinated to hear all about her attendant’s experiences; so much so, in fact, that by the time she is defeated by Wilfried, it’s easy to find yourself wondering whether that curiosity goes far enough for her to almost want what comes next.
These are just some of the interesting, complex questions that Re;Lord’s narrative raises over the course of its duration. It’s most certainly not a case of “good versus evil” — or even of specific actions being inherently “good” or “evil” acts. Wilfried, while seemingly reprehensible on paper, is written in such a way that we can come to understand why he is the way he is over the course of the story; we can relate with his plight and desires, even if we might go about things in a very different way were we to find ourselves in a similar situation.
And while we may find ourselves repulsed by some of his attitudes and actions throughout the narrative — depiction is not endorsement and all that — there’s little denying that he’s a fascinating character… and one that it’s difficult not to find yourself liking, even rooting for, by the conclusion of this first episode.
I’m certainly looking forward to the next two installments of Re;Lord, the first of which should hopefully be with us next year from Denpasoft.
Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.
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