It’s a sad fact of life that we’ve seen a general rise in levels of anxiety and stress over the course of the last couple of decades. Or, at the very least, people are a lot more aware of it — and, crucially, willing to talk about it — now.
One way you can help develop your understanding of a condition such as anxiety is to engage with characters who display traits that you recognise; by seeing how that character acts from an outside perspective, you can perhaps get a bit of an understanding about how you feel about things — and why.
Lionela Heinze from Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland is a good example. While the specific cause of her anxiety may not be something we can directly relate to, the way her anxiety manifests itself is something I’m sure more than a few of us can recognise. So let’s take a closer look.
Lionela arrives in Atelier Rorona: The Alchemist of Arland via mandatory story event, where Rorona witnesses her putting on a puppet show in the town square. She is immediately rather taken with this pretty young girl’s performance — so much so that she doesn’t even mind being trampled by the other audience members as they depart.
Rorona, being a kindly soul, is curious about why Lionela disappears so suddenly after her performance is over, and discovers that she has left her purse behind. So our alchemist friend decides to seek out this mysterious street performer and return that which is hers. And thus begins a rather heartwarming friendship between the pair of them.
Lionela is clearly unaccustomed to dealing with people directly, despite being a street performer. This is actually not at all unusual in people who deal with anxiety-related conditions — particularly social anxiety and conditions that cause it, such as Asperger Syndrome. In many cases, people who find it difficult to have a one-on-one conversation with a peer are more than happy to address an entire theatre full of people; it’s all to do with the context, and how likely it is that someone will respond directly to you. When talking to a person, there’s always the “risk” of them responding negatively to something you say; when addressing an audience, you can take yourself out of the situation’s social context and just think of it as speaking to the room rather than people. I speak from experience.
We can see this disparity in Lionela’s behaviour right from the first time she and Rorona interact directly. She’s an absolute mess; barely able to get a word out without stammering, constantly sweating, clearly afraid that the slightest step out of place will put her in some sort of danger. But Rorona takes it all in her stride; while Rorona herself is a pretty sociable young woman for the majority of her game, she, too, went through these feelings when she wasn’t sure how to handle being suddenly faced with the rather adult responsibility of owning and operating a workshop — and, moreover, threatened with exile if she didn’t acquiesce to the castle’s increasingly unreasonable demands.
Rorona understands how Lionela is feeling, in other words, and that explains why she is unfazed at Lionela’s panicked behaviour. She’s calm, kind and patient, taking care to set the young performer at ease, and reassure her that she’s in a safe place with someone who isn’t going to hurt her.
As Lionela’s narrative progresses, we start to discover some of the reasons behind the way she is; due to a mysterious power she is in possession of, she has often been treated with mistrust or outright hatred, and she is terrified that she will face a similar fate now she is in Arland. She’s especially scared of Rorona coming to hate her, because it’s clear that her relationship with Rorona is the first close personal friendship that she has had for a very long time — perhaps ever.
But Rorona, again, understands this to a certain degree. She is never hated by anyone, but she understands what it feels like to have people look at you in a negative light. The kingdom’s minister who is trying his best to shut down her workshop obviously doesn’t think much of her, for one thing, and the people of Arland take a while to come around to trusting her fully.
In Rorona’s case, she knows that this situation is beyond her control; in fact, both of the situations here are the fault of her master Astrid (whom she is seemingly unwilling to place the full blame on, but that’s a whole other story) and thus Rorona knows that there is no point crying about things that can’t be changed. Instead, she should focus on what she can do now to improve her situation — and that, essentially, is her narrative arc for the remainder of the game.
It’s the same for Lionela, too. Lionela can’t control the fact that she has strange, seemingly magical powers; she just has to make the best of the fact that they are there, and indeed she does so during an excursion with Rorona when the pair find themselves surrounded by monsters. She is initially terrified that such a blatant demonstration of what she is capable of will make Rorona fear and hate her, but Rorona is quick to reassure her; Rorona isn’t the sort of person to hate someone because of something she doesn’t understand, because she cares about people, not positions, title, status, capabilities or mysterious powers.
We can all learn something from Rorona. Lionela certainly does.
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