I thought I’d go classic for this week’s Waifu Wednesday.
I’ll freely admit that it’s been a very long time — far too long, in fact — since I played Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete on PS1, but back when I did play it for the first time, I fell in love. Several times. With the game, with its setting, with Working Designs’ localisation… and with Jessica.
’90s waifus still got it going on, y’know.
Back in 1998 when I played Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete for the first time, I knew that I liked Japanese role-playing games having “discovered” them the year before with Final Fantasy VII, but I hadn’t fully immersed myself in Japanese popular culture. Anime was something I only had a passing familiarity with, but I knew I liked its style; from a purely aesthetic perspective, I appreciated the clean lines, the solid areas of bright colours, the high contrast shading. I’d always preferred the fantastic and the stylised to the realistic, and anime-style art was, at this point, just starting to become something I wanted to explore further.
On a baser level, my limited experience with female characters drawn in the anime style simply appealed to me in a rather primal sense. Anime was filled with characters who were inhumanly attractive — but who, in my limited experience with various forms of media that used this art style, were typically depicted with depth, nuance and capability; certainly a stark contrast to the countless pretty but personality-free girlfriends, wives and princesses I’d rescued (or at least attempted to rescue) in Western games up until this point.
Jessica was a prime example of a character that I found immediately striking. I found her visually appealing right away, and as I got to know her over the course of Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, I most definitely found myself feeling genuine affection for both her and the rest of the cast.
The key to this was the fact that she wasn’t a one-trick pony with a flat personality; she responded differently to different situations. When around her father, the governor of a town, she was mild-mannered and polite, but when presented with the opportunity to go on an adventure, she was raring to go right away. While on the road, she could often be seen as something of a voice of reason — but when something annoyed her, her temper could flare up at a moment’s notice. Likewise, she could be quick to take offence — but also knew that there was a time and a place to be precious about things.
Part of the reason I found Jessica so appealing was the fact that she was a non-human character. I’d encountered elves and dwarves in computer and board games as well as fantasy fiction, but Jessica was something different; something new. The combination of her long, pointed ears, the distinctive markings on her face and her super-cute fangs was immediately compelling to me; I wanted to know more about this gorgeous yet slightly bestial creature I’d found myself spending time with.
I was fascinated by the idea of “beastmen”, because their interpretation in Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete was so very different from how I’d seen the concept of bestial humanoids presented elsewhere. Specifically, my sole encounter with the term “beastmen” prior to Lunar was in Games Workshop’s tabletop game Advanced Heroquest, where they were provided as a possible antagonist race for the party to come up against. I didn’t know much about broader Warhammer lore at this point, either, so to me they were just pretty tough, monstrous-looking enemies that I didn’t have the miniatures for.
Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete opened my eyes somewhat. While Jessica is only half beastman, her father Mel is pure-blooded and less obviously “human” than she is. And yet rather than being considered a fearsome monster, he was looked up to with respect — and moreover was in a position of authority and power without tyranny.
I knew that something interesting was going on here, and I’ve had something of a soft spot for “not quite human” characters in Japanese popular media ever since — be they full-on monstergirls as in anime such as the well-loved Monster Musume, or simply bestially-inspired characters such as Jessica. Japanese games often use non-human characters as an allegory for racism and prejudice; here, though, Jessica’s differences from other people weren’t made a big deal of — she was just treated as another person. An ultimately very positive message to send!
I also loved how Jessica subverted expectations with her personality. The common trope for “priest” characters was for them to be mild and meek, and indeed many role-playing games from this period didn’t break too much with tradition. This made Jessica’s tomboyish nature and desire for adventure — only when her father wasn’t around, obviously — all the more appealing.
This idea was explored right from your first meeting with Jessica in the game, where she’s initially presented as a somewhat aloof, almost imposing figure, but quickly reveals herself to be cheerful, enthusiastic and cuuuuute — not to mention in possession of that delightfully distinctive and immediately recognisable triangular “’90s anime mouth”.
This side of Jessica also sent a very positive message; it said that regardless of the expectations society might place upon you, you don’t have to abandon the things that make you distinctive. You don’t have to try and be someone you’re not. Everyone is unique.
And, well, if you thought fanservice in games was a new thing, I’m sorry to have to disappoint you; throughout Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, there are a series of collectible items known as “bromides”, each of which sports an attractive piece of artwork starring the female cast members of the game. Jessica has four of them, and they’re all magnificent, as you can hopefully see from the images that pepper this article.
Ahem. Anyway. Jessica de Alkirk. I haven’t thought about her for a long time and I’m not entirely sure what made me think of her today… but for sure, she’s an all-time classic waifu from Japanese popular media, and now I kind of want to play Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete again…
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