The Let's Play Archive

Breath of Fire IV

by Daeren

Part 54: Analysis of Cray's character development

You know, I was thinking about this game today (and read about it by the crazies on TVTropes), and one thing that's struck me is how much the story and characters still resonate with me today, a few years on. What a story. And what characters! This LP has done them all fine justice, and you Saeren should be proud. I think this is one of the very few games that has no bad characters in it. I cannot think neutrally about any of them; either I despise them so thoroughly I wish my hate would burn them to the ground (Yuna! ), feel intense sorrow for them (Fou-Lu... ), or love them dearly. I love all the party members you get very dearly, and we've all seen them shown off to a fantastic degree, but do you want to know whom I love best?


No, wait, come back. I'll grant you he's a serious one, and doesn't have the... quirkiness that comes with our other, more famous characters. He has neither the spiritual/visual duality nor the whiz-bang rocket punches of Ershin (he only has the one soul, and his fists stay on his arms, which is a point against him, I'll gran); he has not the sheer badassery or gumption of Ursula (although he does have his moments); and he has not the shit-eating grins of Scias (he doesn't smile at all in the game, actually, which is a shame, because in the manga he looks quite nice when he does). And yet, when I think about this game and the whole series, really, it's Cray I think of, Cray of the big stick. And as I was reading through this LP, I finally put my finger on why: he is the party member with the fullest and most realized character arc, and he's the second-best characterized person in the game (the first, of course, being Fou-lu). But most people overlook him because... well, we see him the most, for one thing, and for another he's characterized as the straight guy to all the craziness going on around him. And this is a shame, because if one examines him and his growth throughout the game, he's the one who most captures the spirit of the game series that is Breath of Fire. Now something like this merits explanation, so clear the decks, boys: massive incoming from a shameless Cray fanboy.


Of all the party characters besides Nina, Cray starts with the most prestigious background. He is Chief of the Worent thribe, and despite being half blooded, has the respect and adulation of his people. He maintains close ties to another Kingdom in the west, Wyndia, through his friendship with their two princesses there. He's young, a strong warrior, has a physique that men would kill for... he has everything that a person from such a background could want, right? Wrong. Cray doesn't have everything he wants. Because Cray is a glutton.

Now I don't mean a glutton in the sense that it is usually associated with. We don't actually know how much he eats at all (although according to biology, it must be a lot; you don't get that big without eating big too). I mean a glutton in terms of addiction; Cray is addicted to Elina. DANGEROUSLY so. Elina is a woman he can't even have, a woman married off to another for political reasons. But Cray does what he does anyway; so great is his addiction to her that he would fuck up the entire political situation in the west, just for his own personal knowledge that she's all right. But if you think about it, there's any number of reasons she could have gone missing. Maybe she was pursuing goodwill in another way or place, or following delicate secret orders for the good of her nation. But Cray considered absolutely none of this, nor to the potential repercussions of his actions, and just went off half cocked like an idiot.

And not only an idiot, but an asshole. He constantly drives the party to search for Elena, a woman none of them have ever met and have no reason to care about, and gives no fuck about their agendas. He all but forcibly conscripts a complete stranger into the party, just because he has a dream that it could lead him to Elena. When the dream doesn't pan out? He considers dropping him, and, if Nina hadn't been sticking up for Ryu, probably would have done. Now that wouldn't be so bad, except that this is after Ryu had proven his loyalty by busting Cray out of the clink no questions asked, and if Cray weren't voicing his doubts to his face. ("That kid is proving more trouble than we thought. Maybe more than he's worth...") His treatment of the others is pretty much the same, constantly mistrusting them, butting heads with them, and making assumptions about their true intentions. And then we have his actions in Synesta. When he hears about a merchant who was present when Elena went missing (by yelling at a little kid), does he make an appointment like a civilized person would? Pfft, appointments are for the weak. He beats the merchan't body guard, busts into his house like he owns the place, and grabs Marlock by the scruff and threatens him with violence. And when this doesn't get him the info he needs? He throws a tantrum. And then does it all again, until he gets what he wants (to the Empire). And then when he is caught and taken to task for his stupid, stupid plan, does he listen to the opposing side, rationally present his rebuttal, and apologize for his actions? Ha ha, no. He makes everything worse by screaming about how its all their fault for abandoning her, that he did nothing wrong, and accusing Enena's betrothed of only caring about his position and not about Elena, which he doesn't know.

These are not the actions of some wronged man in search of justice or his TWU WUV, nor are they the actions of a wise capable leader. These are the actions of a two year old who wants a cookie (NOW!); of a savage bully who's answer to every problem is just to swing his fist harder. And as our friend Daeren reminds us, actions have consequences: lots of events in the later acts would have been much, much easier if not for Cray and his stupid stunt. And the worst thing is, virtually no one calls him on it except the board of Ludia. His tribe and its elders are behind him one hundred percent whatever he does, and his mom totally agrees with his actions as well. And Nina is the worst of the lot, enabling the whole affair and componding it with her own brand of idiocy, courtesy of her Susie Cream-Cheese attitude and her "everything will be fine! " philosophy. The only other characters to actually call Cray out for his irreprehensible behavior are Ershin and Ursula, which in truth was the first thing which sold me on them. Ershin laughs at him for his immaturity in Synestra (to which he just throws a big ol sulk), and Ursula barely speaks to him at all except to criticize him for his "leadership." And they're both right to do so. He's not the leader, he's the load: someone who projects the image and employs the means of the Proud Warrior Race Guy, but in reality acts as little more than a sheltered, spoiled, selfish, violent, short-sighted, knuckle-headed, gluttonous BRAT.

And yet, ultimatly, he isn't. As Daeren has shown us, things are not that simple (and if that isn't a tagline for the game...). Yeah, Cray's got a chip on his shoulder, but that's completely justified: a woman drops off the face of the earth on a mission of mercy, and everyone up to the woman's fiancee is just dragging their heels and hemming and hawing. And to his credit, reigning in his temper and acting rationally is something he tries to do (with varying sucess) and when he does stop to think, he doesn't have bad ideas. When Ryu and Nina go to rescue him from the palace, the first thing he does is go to his people and calm them down, which shows that he isn't really as short-sighted as he appears. And his initial distrust of the other party members does not spring from any cruelty or paranoid suspicion, but out of his sincere care for Nina and desire to keep her from harm. And besides, it isn't as if he's necessarily wrong to distrust the other companions. Ryu is an amnesiac stranger who appeared under odd circumstances and has strange dreams, and establishes himself as a danger magnet very early on. Ershin is just plain odd, and has a goddess inside him that doesn't seem to think much of mortals at all. Scias is a Mercenary hired by the Ludian minister to watch Nina, and he makes no attempt to hide this fact (and I don't imagine his comment about "if Ludia and Worent go to war, I can make money and that's good" comment won him any points with Cray, either). And Ursula is a member of the enemy army that the West had been at war with for years, where Elina had dissappeared, and another member of which just committed a vile atrocity. But best of all, Cray in the latter part of the game seems to learn his lesson. He's a lot more open to the advice of other members, he's somwhat more civilized when dealing with Marlock again, and he certainly makes the effort to think things through. He even apologizes for the mistakes he makes later. He comes a long way.

And then Cray's crowning moment comes when he finds Elina again. He is confronted with unspeakable, soul shattering horror, and the gleeful placid face of the one who did it. His beloved had become something horrifying and monstrous, and that man, that... THING Yuna expects to be praised for this. He wants to tear Yuna to pieces. WE want Yuna torn to shreds, tortured, shot out of a cannon to see if he likes it. In the manga, he makes an excellent start of this... but then he stops. He doesn't do that; he never gets the chance. But he does not turn away from the reality of the situation either. And then he proves himself above his selfishness, above his gluttony, by performing his first truly unselfish act. He sets Elina free. Though it nearly destroys him, he ends her pain.

And then he stays. The boy's in grief, so much so that he doesn't speak again, and no one would blame him if he didn't have the quest in him anymore. But he stays. He hears his friends support him and his decision, realizes that they are friends, and pledges his strength to Ryu's quest. And then when it's all finished, even then he doesn't think of revenge. Instead he chooses to honor his love's memory by embracing what she believed in, peaceful coexistence, and this is symbolized by his extending the hand of friendship to his former foe Ursula.

Hm. I just had a funny thought. Someone in the thread (I think it was Bloodley) said that if Fou-lu was an example of having loved and lost, Ryu was an example of "never loved at all." True, Ryu is a cipher, the better to view the world through unbiased eyes, but perhaps, he was not meant to be the foil of Fou-lou at all. Maybe the foil was meant to be Cray. Think about it. Both men come from prestigious backgrounds with various responsibilities and obligations. Both men abandon their obligations to be with virtuous women whom they come to love, even though they should know better. Both men have their loves taken from them by the empire, and both women suffer unspeakable fates at the hands of THE SAME FUCKING GUY. And both men are confronted with their loves fates when they least expect it.

THE POINT- (bolded in case the got to you)

The different reaction they have, however, form the crux of both the good and bad ending. When Mami's bells fell from the sky, Fou-Lu is done. Done with humanity, done with the empire. We all deserve to die for what we do to others and have done to us, and the bag guys are so good at their job and the story so good at punching you in the gut that the player can't see that it's even wrong to do so. Gods fall, everyone dies, scratch it and start again. But there is another way to deny evil, and Cray, with his quiet strength, shows it to us: rising above it. Not participating in destruction, or adding to death; because what, in the end, does that prove? We've all talked in the thread about how the Bad end seems so necessary, but not how the good end feels so uplifting. Cray has seen the worst of all humanity has to offer, all of his dreams broken, and instead of just giving up on happiness and equity and life, transcends the sum of his parts and sins to become a capable leader and a true hero.

And the same could be said of all your guys. Nina may have lost her innocence on this journey, but finds the strength within her to fight for her values and direct her efforts to make the world a better place. Ursula finds herself at odds with the monstrosity of her country's methods, but never abandons her country or defies her orders; instead, she decides to stay and help rebuild it in a more humane and less self destructive manner (and it starts with a BULLET BETWEEN YUNA'S EYES ). Dias at firsts rejects Ershin even though he found sentience, but then realized what a selfish bitch she was being in denying him his chance at life. And Scias... hes the other great reason for the good ending. Of all your party members, he's the one who has the least reson to stay... but he's the first one to actively pledge to the cause, and risks death and horror for no better reason than because Nina thinks that he's worthy of her trust.

And that's why, as completely natural and valid as the Kill 'Em All ending is to this game, I've never been able to choose the bad end more than once. To destroy humanity destroys its evil, true, but also destroys its capacity for great good. And I see both in Cray. No he's not the flashiest of our companions, nor the smartest, nor the most powerful. But he does embody the journey and the lessons of this game, and why we can't just dismiss the few heroes in our hast to condemn the villains.

TL;DR (and boy, do I need it): Cray is my favorite character because he exemplifies the point of the good ending: yes, humans are greedy, selfish, destructive, petty, and not nearly as clever as they think, but when the chips are down, they are capable of rising above their natures to do great good.