Written by. Nick Mosier based on the original Japanese article (original article’s publication date: 2022-02-02 19:53 JST)
Social media in Japan was recently buzzing with a discussion about whether there was a game that featured an empire where said empire weren’t the bad guys.
On February 1, Twitter user @inunokagayaki posted a short manga parody of The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter from Japanese folklore. The tale revolves around Princess Kaguya giving 5 suitors seeking her hand in marriage impossible tasks to complete in order to turn them away. The tasks in the story include things like bringing her the stone bowl of Buddha or a jewel from a dragon’s neck. The manga then shows the last suitor being tasked with bringing a game where there’s an empire, but they aren’t the bad guys.
The manga pokes fun at the idea that a game where there’s an empire and they aren’t bad is as rare as a bounty of treasure. It’s certainly true that when there’s a force in a game powerful enough to be called an empire, it usually means they’re a baddie against the main characters.
Examples in the Final Fantasy series include the Palamecian Empire in Final Fantasy II and the Gestahl Empire in Final Fantasy VI fulfilling the typical bad guy role to name a couple. “Empire equals bad” has become common knowledge to gamers, so coming up with an example showing otherwise seems like it would be difficult.
But @inunokagayaki’s manga was quote tweeted numerous times by users trying to think of examples. Let’s take a look at some of the games they came up with. Please be aware these will contain some light spoilers.
The name most brought up by readers was Romancing SaGa 2, which released for the Super Famicom in 1993 and has since been ported and remastered to numerous systems. The player takes on the role of the emperor of Varennes. The game has a system where as battles and time pass, the emperor will die and their skills and abilities will get passed on to the next emperor. The empire doesn’t use their power for evil in the game. Instead, they spread their rule by solving problems happening across the land.
Another example many people gave was the Legend of the Galactic Heroes series. The games are based on the Legend of Galactic Heroes novels written by Yoshiki Tanaka, and players join either the Galactic Empire or the Free Planets Alliance. Selecting the Galactic Empire will of course make them an ally.
Sakura Wars also has a story about leading the Imperial Combat Revue. And in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, there’s a route where you become a part of the empire making it a candidate for the “games that don’t have bad empires” list, depending on how you play.
One that’s a little tough to discern is Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Past Fire Emblem games have featured a number of empires. There’s Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones and its Grado empire, Fire Emblem Awakening and the Valm empire, and others that wield their great power against the player. But Fire Emblem: Three Houses has a branching story where you can work alongside Edelgard and the empire she leads. This of course leads to the story revolving around the empire and its cause.
But this doesn’t mean Edelgard’s path is guilt free. Her conviction to create a world as it should be no matter the sacrifice is hard to deem “good.” The game’s scenario was praised for its complicated history where things can’t be painted in black and white, so it might be a tough one for Princess Kaguya to make a call on.
Looking at these examples, we can see there are some instances where the word empire doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing. But with that said, the “Empire = bad” image is strong in gaming. That’s likely due to influence from other fiction. Especially something like Star Wars and its Galactic Empire which influenced many works that followed.
There’s also the context of governments and history. An empire is basically an autocracy with the emperor sitting at the top. For works of fiction from democratic societies, it’s easy to depict as the out-of-date and bad side. It’s also easy to depict them ruling over different ethnic groups or suppressing them as they fall under their territory. From a story standpoint, it’s also convenient to have an emperor as a sort of last boss type character, who by defeating can resolve problems going on in the story.
A discussion about empires in games brought on by one simple manga posted to social media. Watching it from afar really drives home how games can show politics and history from a wide variety of angles. And in response to readers giving examples of good empires, @inunokagayaki added another panel with an even tougher challenge. Find a game where neither the empire, church, nor chancellor are a bad guy.