Welcome to Flashback Fridays, where members of Girls Got Game revisit articles or posts they have done in the past. We let our authors republish them here, more than occasionally with revisions. This one is the second in a series done by Carlo. The originals are all up on Facebook. The first installment on GGG is over here. This particular piece can be found here.
Welcome to part two of my series on video game character design!
Behold, Liara T’Soni from the Mass Effect series. At first glance, Liara is a walking cliche. Visually, Bioware has outright said that her species, the Asari, were designed to fit the “sexy alien” trope – they are a monogender race that resemble blue human females. Liara is young, a teenager by the standards of her species. Despite her flawless body, she is a blushing ingenue in matters of romance. At first glance, she looks like the green-skinned Orion women Captain Kirk is so fond of. Boldly going indeed.
But look closer.
Liara’s mother, the sinister Matriarch Benezia, was known as a forward-thinking leader before she went bad. Liara, an archaeologist, is focused on the past, and works alone. Benezia is intimidating: she threatens the player before their big fight: “have you faced an asari commando unit before? Few humans have.” Liara has to be rescued when you first meet her, because in the future, damsels in distress are found in stasis fields, not towers. Yet in Mass Effect 2, she has become an extremely dangerous spymaster. We meet her again in the middle of a phone call with a “client.”
“Have you faced an asari commando unit before? Few humans have.”
What drove Liara to this? Well, you died. That’s not really a spoiler. Your character, Commander Shepard, is killed in the first few minutes of Mass Effect 2. Alone among your squad mates, Liara did not walk away. She fought the mysterious Collectors to recover your body, then handed it to a terrorist organization who claimed they could revive you. She is visibly wracked with guilt when she apologizes for this upon your reunion, and you can choose to castigate her for it. I doubt many players did.
Yes, Liara is sexy. Yes, she is a romance option for both a male and female Shepard. But the reviewers who chose to see her as just that were badly mistaken. Liara is a study in contrasts. The first game labels her as a scientist – yet she wields the game’s most powerful offensive biotic ability. Liara is over a hundred years old – yet her story is a coming of age story. She wants to escape her mother’s shadow, and yet uses her lines. Furthermore, she is horrified that her mother became a spymaster for a morally ambitious secret agent – yet you are a morally ambitious secret agent, and she is your spymaster.
Liara is a character drawn in shades of grey. But in one area, she is as white hat as it gets. In Mass Effect 2, a character’s fourth ability only becomes available when you gain their loyalty, but when you start Liara’s story, The Lair of the Shadow Broker, hers is already unlocked.
That’s not an oversight. Liara has always been loyal to you.