Listening to: Game Music
Reading: Sheer Power Book 2
Playing: Stardew Valley
Lyse is basically the worst character of FFXIV.
I said it. I believe it.
This is an opinion, naturally, so if there are any Lyse fans who happen to come across this, feel free to write up your own think piece on how Lyse is actually a good character to try and convince me.
I suppose I could clarify too that she's the worst character in terms of how she's handled and out of the ones that get that much attention. There are good things about her. I like her color scheme and her hair style. I'd use that hair if given the choice. Granted I would probably wait a while to let myself mentally distance myself from Lyse, but the point still stands. Design wise, she is appealing. The worst I can say about her appearance is there's something about her eyes that makes her stand out from the other characters. Like they have more detail so she doesn't blend in with them. That may just be my mind playing tricks on me though. I have to say that her voice actor, (in English,) does a serviceable job. Her dialogue is often terrible but the sound of her voice on its own didn't grate one me.
With those things aside, everything that is wrong with her is in the writing and plot line. Some of the things I weigh most heavily.
Lyse is not the only "hate-able" character in FFXIV. Minfilia is going to have to work over time in the next expansion to win over not only me but a large portion of the fan base. I have a very "love to hate" relationship with Zenos. I do not enjoy the character or interacting with him, but I can't help but be impressed that they have a villain who gets such a rise out of me without having to kill people I care about. (Now naturally he does kill a lot of people, I just didn't care about them personally.) I will probably never forgive Ilberd for what he did to my character and Rhaubahn, but it was still a good story line that I had fun with.
I think that's one of the problems with Lyse. Minfilia is hardly around enough to make an impact, Zenos provided purpose and tension to the story, Ilberd made things personal with everyone. Lyse, on the other hand, sucks the fun out of nearly everything.
To really get into why, I want to examine Lyse via the lens of another character, Alphinaud. Had I written a piece like this before the end of a Realm Reborn, the focus of my anger would be directed an Alphinaud instead. When the main character, (who I will call WoL for Warrior of Light to keep things somewhat simplified,) meets Alphinaud, he is smarmy, headstrong, and a know-it-all. He has been studying for years at this point and knows all the history of everything ever and he wants everyone to know it. No matter what the situation, he knows how to best solve it. No body may have asked for his input but he's going to give it anyway. Even when something goes wrong with his plans, he only acknowledges this but it does nothing to deter him from making other decisions.
It didn't help that he was such an annoying character and you are basically stuck with him for so long. After everything that follows the defeat of Titan, Alphinaud basically becomes the WoL's handler. He claims that Minfilia is the leader but she more or less takes a back seat to Alphinaud in most, if not all, aspects of whatever's going on. No matter where the WoL went, Alphinaud was there to give out orders. It was rare he wasn't involved in quests in some manner. He's there to give order and talk down to everyone along the way for the majority of the game.
Then comes the end of a Realm Reborn. Alphinaud's hasty decision making and lack of leadership experience leads to serious oversights and consequences. He is crushed. Back then, I enjoyed seeing him taken down a peg. He had no choice but to face what he did wrong and he knows he has a lot to do to make up for it. The need for story and game progression doesn't allow him to wallow in misery long, but even so, it takes him a lot of time to work up real confidence again. He is truly humble throughout Heavensward. He gives input while making plans but he isn't talking down to anyone. He is constantly acknowledging the work everyone is doing around him to make everything possible. He doesn't even like to take credit for things he does contribute to. The WoL still travels with Alphinaud quite a bit and so Alphinaud still has that handler position, but this time the quest giving is mainly in function only. He is traveling with the WoL as a companion, not as a supervisor. He contributes in ways of giving guidance and brainstorming and his knowledge comes in handy. He has a positive impact and works for it. It feels earned. He also won't let anyone forget that he is fallible and that you're the one doing all the heavy lifting.
And most importantly, every major scene and event features him as a side character. Much like how Minfilia took a backseat to Alphinaud, Alphinaud is more than happy to take a backseat to you. He does not involve himself where he can't be useful.
By having Alphinaud go through his fall and work to rebuild himself and his confidence, he won me over. I would hesitate to say he's my favorite character but he's well up there. He earned my respect.
And then we have Lyse who had a similar rise and fall... but in the reverse.
I'm not sure it's even worth talking about Lyse for the events before Stormblood. My own experience in FFXIV began in Ul'dah so I didn't meet or work with Lyse really until the Sylph storyline and there she's such a minor character. She disappears for Heavensward and is gone so long that I basically forgot she existed. Then Shinryu happens and I'm supposed to care about Lyse's plot twist. "Oh, a character I barely talked to has a different name now." is how it went over for me.
But hey, all the other characters were making a big deal out of it. This was supposed to Lyse's failure. Her fall from grace. Now she has to work herself back up.
Except she never does. She gets over what happens and is then 100% committed to freeing Ala Mhigo and that's her only motivation. She has basically two speeds throughout the game, "It's time to fight!" and "I'm angry about this." Even when they try to give her a quiet moment, she's whining about how angry she is about one thing or another.
Before I get to much further though, let me complain about her relationship to Ala Mhigo. I get that she was born there. I get that her family died trying to free it. But let me get this straight, Lyse has zero connection to Ala Mhigo. She has no family there. She barely remembers living there, if at all. Her only friends are friends because she has very recently helped the resistance. No one would know who she was if she didn't look like her sister and/or knew who her father was. She is motivated purely based on the fact that she knows that is where she came from and that her family had fought for it in the past. That is the only reason she should care and probably is the only reason she does. This would be just fine as a motivation. She could be fighting for the honor of her family and completing the work they couldn't finish. But that's not what they went with. No, she just fights to save her home, never mind the fact that she hasn't actually lived there for like two decades so how can it be home? If you really want to push it, you could say that she's just angry at the injustice the people are facing since she gets just as angry about how the people of Doma are treated by the empire. But I go the impression more that she's was angry at the people of Doma because they weren't ready to fight right away so freeing Ala Mhigo would take longer. Since anger and frustration seem to be her default expression, it's hard to tell exactly what she's angry at. Had they pushed the "fighting for her family" thing a bit more, it could have worked... better. Perhaps they could have pushed it more like she was fighting for Ala Mhigo because she lost everything else and this was all she had. That would have been difficult to sell seeing how the WoL and other Scions were still around, but again it's a better option than what we got. Maybe wouldn't have fixed it, but would have been something.
In a strange way though, I know why they did this. I think I know what they were going for and the problem they had. It comes down to the nature of a main character like the WoL. This all happened because of the lead being a silent protagonist.
Lyse is supposed to be the voice of the player. "Look, player, see all these evil things happening? Doesn't that make you angry? Wouldn't you like a character to express your anger in game?" That's essentially what was going on. They were using Lyse as a way to guide what you were supposed to be feeling. We are supposed to see these injustices and want to stop them but then be angry in our powerlessness to do it. We're supposed to want to take action, any action, as long as it frees these people. Just like Lyse, these people are not my family, and this is not the homeland I grew up in. But the Empire is treating them unfairly and it's the most terrible thing ever. "See, player? Lyse is there! She agrees with you! She's just like you! This is exactly what you're feeling, right?" The WoL can only "speak" via dialogue options and these rarely, if ever, impact a scene. In order to make sure the audience understands the mood the writers were going for, Lyse is there to drive it home.
In my own experience, this was never, ever going to work. Oddly enough, this is in thanks to Ilberd.
Like I said, I enjoyed the Ilberd story line. It as interesting and got me worked up. I took it all personally and in some sense I think it was supposed to. Unfortunately for Lyse, Ilberd is also motivated solely on wanting to free Ala Mhigo. (Ironically he had more of a reason and attachment to the place.) Once Ilberd betrayed me for the sake of Ala Mhigo, Ala Mhigo was forever stained in my mind. Ilberd wanted me to save Ala Mhigo and to spite him, I didn't want to. Then the game dragged me there with Lyse in tow. I wasn't happy about this. I was freeing Ala Mhigo against my own will.
This meant the scenes where I was supposed to agree with Lyse had the opposite effect. Lyse is excited and eager to be sent to make contact with the resistance while I'm grumbling about how Ilberd is getting his wish. Lyse is outraged at the Empire's treatment of her people while I'm angry they won't let me go back to Eorzea. Lyse treats every mission and interaction she's a part of as if its the most important thing going on anywhere while I honestly could not care less.
The writers inserted Lyse to tell me how I was supposed to feel but they were way off base with me.
That's my personal experience with her there, but she has way more issues with her execution than that. She was fighting a losing battle with me but she had nothing to redeem herself with.
Alphinaud had to learn how to work hard and when he could best put his skill set to use. He learned when to interject himself into conversations and situations. He could fight but he knew he was better at planning and deliberating. He knows that analysis and starting dialogues is where he is needed. As we are the silent WoL, he fills a role that we cannot, and as video gamers probably do not want anyway. Lyse, on the other hand, is a warrior. She fights. What she contributes to problems is her fists. Something’s going on? What does she have to punch to solve it? Her other important qualities are... uh... she’s stubborn? She won’t change her mind about things and won’t give up? So it’s important that she’s in the story to do that because... uh...
Alphinaud took up a job that we can’t do. Lyse can only do our job, but can’t do it near as well. So is she really needed?
That’s the next big problem with Lyse. She is built to take up the role of the main protagonist, and unfortunately there is probably a good argument to be made that she is the real main protagonist of Stormblood. The issue with that is that she is not the playable character and not the character we’ve been following and working with from the beginning. The WoL is.
Alphinaud took a backseat to the WoL. Lyse does everything she can to put the WoL in the backseat.
She really steals the focus of scenes. She is shoehorned into all sorts of conversations and cut scenes that have absolutely nothing to do with her but because she’s there, she feels she has to make herself known and a part of whatever is going on around her. She and other characters will mention how the WoL is the big hero and the one doing most of the fighting. But for some reason, in every accomplishment, she is treated with equal importance as the WoL. Lyse accomplishes nothing on her own merits. She makes no plans. She only goes along with whatever the WoL is doing. She fights in battles but we all know the WoL does more of the fighting. They make a point of addressing and acknowledging Lyse’s hard work in each victory when others do far more. From what is shown, we are supposed to just be so glad that Lyse was there with us.
It’s not even so much of an issue of her stealing credit from the player. When she inserts herself into things that don’t involve her, she takes over the spot light. The worst offender of this, and the best way to explain the issue, is the scene after the last fight with Zenos. He is delighted to find an equal, a challenge, in the WoL. He knows he has lost the fight but is glad he did. Then Lyse run into the scene and literally highjacks the conversation. Zenos, at this point, only cares about the WoL to the point of possible obsession. Yet here comes Lyse trying to make everything she did personal to her. We are supposed to believe that freakin’ Zenos would talk to Lyse on equal terms as the WoL? Her only interaction with him was when he tossed her aside in a fight. He has no reason to even know she exists let alone speak to her like he has to answer to her. As soon as Lyse enters that scene, it is no longer a meeting of rivals who have a history and whose power gives them a lot in common. It’s a scene with the two rivals trying to get closure and the third wheel is taking the chance to air her grievances.
This is actually a similar problem I had with Pokemon Sun and Moon. Here I am, doing all the battling and hard work to save the day, but this in game character is given the spotlight solely because they are able to have character and dialogue. Granted, I wouldn’t want the writers to force a personality on a character I put together. But I just don’t want anyone else to share my spotlight. It’s hard to have a character driven story when your main character is silent. But I also know it’s not impossible. I never felt like anyone was taking the moment away from me in FFXIV until Lyse in Stormblood. Not every scene has to be about me, but also sure dont’ all have to be about Lyse. And so when a moment comes where the mood demands that no one else take the stage, say like when the main antagonist is giving his final words to the only one he respects, throwing in someone who doesn’t belong just ruins the scene. It doesn’t add anything.
Perhaps this is just another personal thing I experienced with it. I just couldn’t help but notice how Lyse constantly shifted the focus and changed the mood of whatever scene she was in.
This could have worked had Lyse earned the feel of importance the game was trying to give her. Alphinaud had to earn respect from the player, but it didn’t feel like that was why he was doing it. It was more like he was trying to redeem and forgive himself to himself and the rest worked itself out. Lyse did nothing to earn anything so she is not deserving of the spotlight. Like if she had been the one leading the charge and we were only the support, this would have been justified. Instead they act as if that’s the case when it really isn’t.
This factors into what was wrong with what I assume was her intended character arc. We were supposed to see her as impulsive and aimless. She was supposed to experience hardships and fight for her home and her place in the world. That would turn her into a more rounded person that could handle herself without having to rely on the ones around her. They might have succeeded in this if they hadn’t pushed it even further and wanted us to believe she was ready and deserving of a leadership role. She spends years away from Ala Mhigo, helps the resistance for a little while, meets a faction she’s never worked with before, goes to Doma to help the battlefront there, and comes back to have her be put in charge of the resistance. I’m sorry, what? When did she do anything to show she was meant for a leadership role? What plans did she make? How did she guide or teach anyone? Even if we ignore her lack of leadership experience, how is she supposed to lead a group of fighters she’s barely worked with? How will she know where their strengths lie? How to best use them? How to motivate them? How will they trust her judgement when they don’t know who she is? Does any of this come into play? No, because Lyse is a leader in name only as Rhaubahn is the real leader of the Ala Mhigan side. He comes up with the plans, and tells Lyse what her part is, she follows it. Good thing they put Lyse in charge so she can follow orders!
The writers attempt to justify her having this position by her interacting with leaders throughout the game and so I guess we’re supposed to assume she learned something from them. But since she doesn’t contribute or accomplish anything that she wasn’t told to do by someone else, this promotion to leadership feels hollow. She’s constantly angry and reckless throughout the game, then we have one mission where she manages to keep a cool head and we’re supposed to then be on board with her taking over. Being able to remain calm is not the only quality a leader has to have a good leader.
There is somewhat an attempt to solve this problem in the story following the main part of Stormblood. She is shown in action as a leader while gathering other important figures around Ala Mhigo so they can organize. She gives a speech, and she stubbornly enforces what she believes to be right even when others oppose her. This is a step in the right direction, at least, but should have happened way sooner. Again, having a moral compass is not the only quality a leader should have. And seeing how these things happened long after she was given the position, it is still hard to see her as having earned her spot.
Maybe if we were to stay in Ala Mhigo longer and see her develop more, she would have time to actually complete a character arc and become the leader the game insists she already is. But now we have Shadowbringers coming out and I cannot wait to be on another planet to get away from both Lyse and her homeland.
Alphinaud had a complete character arc and did not force himself into the WoL’s story where he didn’t belong. Lyse is a bad character because she failed all those same points.
With as much time as she had, it seems like she could have easily been a much more interesting and developed character. I can’t fault the writers for not doing what I would have wanted them to do. This was the story they wanted to tell and they used Lyse to do it. I found myself just becoming irrationally angry every time Lyse was on screen and it was time to analyze what went wrong. I can’t expect to love every character. I can’t expect that every character will get the attention and opportunity to grow. There are a lot characters after all. They can’t all be great. Lyse had her chance to have a story and it was just unfortunate that it wasn’t a good one. They’ve proven they can make characters that I can and do care about. They can even redeem them for me. Lyse just isn’t one of those characters and seeing as we’re leaving her behind, I doubt my feelings towards her will change.
I guess in a strange way, I just hope that Shadowbringers won’t bring in anyone I hate more than I hate her. I know they can do better. They are getting another chance to do so and they better not waste it.