If you had told me that an action-adventure RPG based on Greek mythology in a hyper-stylized world filled with humor and bright colors would hit me in the feels, I wouldn’t have believed you. But, Immortals Fenyx Rising’s story is more emotional than you might think given its cartoony animation and vibrant color palette. A true break from the Ubisoft catalog, Immortal Fenyx Rising focuses on the humor in Greek mythology and the family drama of it all. This allows for jokes that bring real belly laughs and offers a game that is a light of levity amongst not only Ubisoft’s roster of games but games more broadly. But in its humor, Immortals Fenyx Rising‘s story also offers up one of the more powerful themes I’ve seen in a video game all year and one that is fitting for the sort of year that 2020 has been.
The heart of Immortals Fenyx Rising tells us that imperfections are not what holds us back, but instead, they can be turned into strengths and are ultimately essential to who we are. In the game, Typhon has been released and in an attempt to kill the gods who imprisoned him and push chaos from the world, he has stripped the gods of their essences. This act has turned them from powerful deities into husks of their former selves, without power and without the core of who they are.
But instead of taking away the elements that would be easy to strip away, like Aphrodite’s beauty, for example, the narrative designers at Ubisoft Quebec chose to go a different route. The essence of each god, their power to be more specific, is rooted in their imperfections. For Aphrodite, her self-centered ways are removed, leaving her as a kind, giving, and beautiful force of order on the Golden Isle. Ares? Well, he’s a chicken now, with his pride having been stripped clean from him. Athena has had her stubbornness removed and has been turned into a child. And finally, the mighty blacksmith Hephaistus has had his suffering removed, leaving him as an amnesiac automaton.
As Fenyx, it is your job to find and return each of their essences. In effect, returning the things that bring pain and chaos back to them. Because of this, the gods aren’t very willing to get their flaws back. While Ares’ pride is shown to be something that can make him unrelenting and quick to anger, it also fuels his fierce protective spirit. For Athena, her stubbornness keeps her from just accepting just any order that her father Zeus gives her. Her stubbornness is a key to her wisdom, not a blocker. Then you have Aphrodite and Hephaistus, two gods whose story, as presented in this game, hit me in an unexpected way.
Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty has a long history of throwing the world into chaos and war because of her jealousy. She is selfish, and because of her self-centered way, she is told that she is too much. She’s too loud, too mouthy; she is just too much for any and everyone to handle. As you play through her questline, you learn that the goddess’s essence is her tears. But while you go to collect her tears from the sealed vaults, you also learn her myth. Centered on the events of the Trojan War, Prometheus and Zeus, our dual narrators, explain her role in it as you collect the Apple of Discord. But what begins as a story of jealousy ends with a moment that explains her push for discord. Her self-centered ways come from the need to survive. With Zeus pushing her into a marriage with Hephaistus that she doesn’t want, and controlling her life, she has to be self-centered because who else will put her first?
That said, in Fenyx’s dialogue with the goddess, Aphrodite explains that she looked to Discord to give her strength. When the men around her looked to possess her and move her like a chess piece, she chose her own side and asserted her power in the only way that she could. But others didn’t see this, not her father or her new husband. Instead, she was characterized as conceited and self-serving. But as you play through her story, her brother, Hermes, who asks you to save her, paints her differently. He speaks of her beauty, yes, but he also speaks of her tenacity, her joy, and her ability to persevere
In Immortals Fenyx Rising‘s story, Aphrodite’s myth has one piece that sticks out. Women are often seen as too emotional and too loud, too much. When Fenyx explains that she isn’t “too much” but instead just who she needs to be, I felt that. Fenyx’s job is to convince Aphrodite to reclaim her essence but to do so, she’s asking the goddess to take back the elements of herself that her family sees as negative. Her emotion, her love, her voice, are seen as too much. So, instead, Aphrodite wants to remain docile and kind to bend to the will around her. “Too much” what I’ve heard all my life and to play through a game that not only explicitly shows that this complaint of women doesn’t hold water, but also encourages the player to always decide for themselves whose side they’re on, it hit home.
Then there is Hephaistus. With his suffering pulled clean from him, he’s a literal shell of his former self. Turned into one of his creations, he is missing every memory, the bad but also the good as well. If you’re unfamiliar, the blacksmith of the gods has one of the most tragic stories of all. Thrown from Mount Olympus when he was born, ignored, and despised, Hephaistus’ life is filled with sorrow and suffering. It’s here where Immortals Fenyx Rising makes its most potent point that those who experience suffering can come out of the forge stronger.
While Zeus saw his son’s suffering as his weakness, in truth, it was his strength. Both vital to his development and his power, the suffering we go through makes us who we are. Sure it hurts, and at moments it will resurface and we have to process it again. But it doesn’t make us weak and it most certainly doesn’t make us any less worthy of love. This is a message that’s important, in a time where so many of us are experiencing grief and loss because of the pandemic. But we aren’t less than those who haven’t had to face adversity, we are just as worthy.
Feynx’s main purpose as a champion is to defeat Typhon and while that requires a level of combat, our main character’s innate ability as a storyteller is their greatest asset. Fenyx serves as the voice of reason, explaining to the gods why their weaknesses are in fact their strengths. Fenyx maps out for them that perfection isn’t needed for heroism. Instead, Immortals Fenyx Rising declares that our chaos, our strife, and every imperfection in our life are vital to heroes. It’s that struggle that makes heroes more than just a symbol of hope, but of action.
When speaking about the inspiration for Immortals Fenyx Rising’s story, Jeffrey Yohalem, the Narrative Director on the game, explained that they wanted to showcase the way our world treats and requests perfection. We expect our heroes to be perfect, but with social media, every flaw that they have is on display. But at the same time, this constant exposure leads everyone, not just celebrities, to curate every aspect of their life to meet standards of perfection. To confront this, Yohalem explained that they made Fenyx intentionally imperfect. Specifically, he explained, “I wanted to make a hero that was imperfect and human and how those imperfections lead to heroism.”
Immortals Fenyx Rising’s story is a declaration to accept your imperfections and, more importantly, to grow from them. The game notes the downsides that pride, vanity, stubbornness, and suffering can bring while, at the same time, Fenyx and Prometheus explain that you can use every imperfection and fear to grow from them and wield their constructive traits. Pride will allow you to stand up for yourself and those around you. Vanity can keep you from being pushed around by the wills of others. Stubbornness can keep you from falling prey to those who would lead you astray. And suffering. Suffering can help you find the strength you thought was nonexistent.
The gods aren’t perfect, heroes aren’t perfect, but all of these people can wield power, succeed, and lead. The team of Immortals Fenyx Rising makes it clear to you, the player, that your strength can be found in the parts of yourself you may want to push away. Embrace them, celebrate them, and just know that perfection isn’t necessary.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime.