CONTENT WARNING for discussions of child abuse, alcoholism, and suicide.
SPOILERS for the entirety of the Tales of Berseria game.
Velvet Crowe’s home town is bathed in blood-red moonlight as the Scarlet Night floods the earth with the darkness in people’s hearts. Many turn into daemons, start fires, and kill others as despair claws at them. Off in the distance, Velvet, a young girl, holds on to her sickly younger brother as they flee from the violence. Velvet gasps for air as the clouds of smoke billow around them. Unable to take more, she collapses.
Artorius, her older brother-in-law, picks up the tired children and hides them in a nearby tree trunk. Terrified to be left alone, Velvet reaches out for Artorius–he tells her to be strong for her brother before handing her two red apples. He lies to her, saying the fruit is enchanted and will protect them. He promises to come back, but Velvet and her brother Laphicet run out of their hiding place after he leaves and hear the distant cry of their older sister as she dies. They are nearly killed by a daemon. Her brother-in-law, having lost his wife and unborn child, saves Velvet and Laphicet but immediately regrets it.
It was only Velvet, Laphicet, and Artorius after that.
Several years pass, and Velvet is sixteen. The Scarlet Night comes again. The story takes a horrifying turn as Artorius calls Laphi a needed sacrifice and plunges his sword into him. As Velvet and Laphi fall into the abyss, an entity of magma consumes her brother. Something snaps inside of Velvet and she screams “How could you?!” All is quiet for a moment, and then Velvet comes out of the abyss with a daemon-eating hand. She engages Artorius in combat but loses.
After three years in prison, Velvet is bitter and seeking revenge against Artorius, now known worldwide as a hero. She breaks out, and her story truly begins.
It was me, my mom, and my sister growing up. Like Velvet, I was the middle point of the trio. Unlike Velvet’s family, it wasn’t the youngest I was worried about. It was the oldest—my mom. She had me when she was nineteen; and not too long after, she was diagnosed with severe depression and borderline schizophrenia. A few years later, my sister was born, and my mom grabbed the both of us and ran from my drunken, abusive father.
She raised us in New Mexico where we had to start from the bottom. We could relate to Velvet’s family; we struggled to make ends meet when we first got there. We lived in a homeless shelter for a while until Mom got a job opportunity in the mountains. We bounced around northern New Mexico and eventually settled in Espanola.
There were times when Mom was sick. For some people, medication for mental illnesses can only work for so long until the body gets used to them, and then they’re no longer effective. Whenever this happened, my mom didn’t have the energy to do anything. The house would become messier and messier until my sister and I would finally pick up.
I kept count of how many times I’d hear her say something like:” “I’m not feeling good.” “I’m tired of feeling depressed.” “God, I just want to kill myself.” If she said it more than a few times in one day, I knew she was going to spend the night at the local psyche ward. Sometimes she was gone for several days. And while I didn’t have two enchanted, shiny red apples for me and my little sister, we had our imaginations.
My mom’s illness, much like Laphicet’s, is one you must constantly take medication for. The medication is important and can be the difference between life and death.
One day, when I was nineteen, Mom’s medication had imbalanced her brain chemistry – one of the risks of constantly changing medication – and left her unable to think clearly. She was consumed by her own dark thoughts and couldn’t understand how her actions would affect everyone else.
I woke up to the sound of a walkie-talkie blaring a deep, distorted male voice. Stumbling to my feet, I pulled on a pair of wrinkled jeans and followed the voice down the hallway where two police officers stood near the locked bathroom door. Sheila, a family friend, stood behind the cops. Mom asked for everyone to leave her alone as she sat in the bathroom.
I was at the point of hysteria, and I told my mom: “If you die, I’ll kill myself.”
What I meant to say was, “Please don’t leave me.”
“Join me,” Mom said.
Remembering that moment, I know how Velvet felt when Artorius betrayed her. Without empathy, my mom became Artorius. She’d metaphorically plunged a sword into me, and when I heard Velvet’s scream, I was reminded of the time I fell into my own abyss.
Mom didn’t die; the ambulance took her away. Sheila followed them. I stayed behind.
When the house was silent again, I walked outside, laughed out loud, and felt dizzy looking up at the sky. It was deep blue, like the hottest part of a flame. My thoughts became a hundred falling stars, burning so hot the sane part of me couldn’t help but sit back and watch in wonder. I was losing control of my own mind.
I am not sure how much time passed. I never really heard other voices in my head growing up, but I did after that moment. One was particularly loud. Join me. Join me. Join me. Join me. It felt real. I was weaker than other people, I thought. It would be so easy to just slip into the darker waves and never be seen again. Yet I resisted.
It’s fine, it’s just a dream, I have to tell myself whenever I have a night terror about that day my mom attempted suicide and told me to join her. I relive the moment over and over again.
That day, I was a daemonic version of myself. I have night terrors in which I call my mom a bitch, punch her relentlessly, and scream at her the way the twisted shadow of her in my head screams at me. In these night terrors, I hate her so much I want to strangle her, smiling as the pulse in her neck fades and her body goes limp; I want to make the night terrors come true. I wake up in cold sweats, punching myself in the head. I’m fine, it’s just a dream.
Velvet has her own night terrors, and none are as revisited or as traumatic as the ones with her brother. Over and over, the scenario of that night plays out, and it’s obvious she blames herself for Laphicet’s death.
Bathed in a white, empty backdrop, Velvet is woken by her brother.
“You were crying out,” Laphicet says. “Were you having a nightmare?”
During the dream, she believes he’s still alive. She hugs him and begins to cry. Her words stumble over the previous ones as she tries to make sense of the “nightmares” she’s had in the years since he’s been dead.
He demands she let go because he has “something important to do.” Artorius has asked to meet him at the Shrine of Tranquility. He walks into the white background, and Velvet chases him, screaming his name. She’s bound by the shackles of flame again, and she tries to warn him.
Velvet wakes up, startled from the dream, and is told she was “tossing and turning” in her sleep. She’s stoic, just like Artorius was when he lost his family, and tells her comrades “I’m fine, it was just a dream.”
It was the first time I felt like someone knew what I was going through.
During the 50 hours I spent with Tales of Berseria, Velvet killed quite a few people. I was in her corner because I knew what it felt like to be betrayed by one of the most important people in your life. I wanted her to keep hurting anyone who hurt her because it was my darkest fantasy come to life.
I was a dark version of myself the year following my first manic episode. I was twenty-two. I hopped from one bed to another with one man after another. I hoped I would contract HIV and my mom would see my body deteriorate and she would suffer. And even though I, too, would suffer, I’d do it with a smile on my face.
I understood Velvet’s self-destructive nature all too well. If you hurl yourself into one painful experience after another, you think you’ll eventually adapt to the pain. Velvet was also in a manic state during most of her adventures, accelerating until she’d either have to slow down or crash and die.
Toward the end of the game, the story reveals that Laphicet was conspiring with Artorius. He was reborn as a celestial being. The reborn Laphicet explains that his former self always felt like a burden on Velvet, and he thought if he killed himself and became an entity with the power to purge the world of emotion, Velvet would be happy and live a life free of pain.
The final fight in the game is with Artorius and Laphicet, who have melded together into a monster that’s been feeding off Velvet’s despair. Her state of mind changes when she realizes her despair is what gives them power.
In a satisfying scene that recalls the opening parts of the story, Velvet plunges Artorius’s own sword into him. “Don’t despair, no matter what,” she yells, as it’s apparent she’s finally won. Artorius says she’s spoken “like a true hero,” and Velvet is finally free of her traumatic state of mind.
Without despair to feed him, the twisted entity that used to be her brother begins to scream “I’m hungry” over and over again. Instead of fighting him, Velvet hugs him. He tells her he hates her for taking his chance to make a “better” world away from him.
“You tried really hard. You don’t have to fight anymore,” Velvet tells him. A moment later, she sinks her daemonic claw into his back and begins devouring him; he bites into her, too.
I hungered for my mom to understand the pain I felt that day when she thought the world would be a happier place without her. Like sacrificing herself would somehow create a utopia. I thought my despair was the way to get the message across, but all it did was cause me ten years of suffering. I had to learn to both accept and move beyond my traumatic past.
In her final moments, Velvet tells Phi, her traveling companion:
Humans spend their lives in constant struggle … That’s why they end up making so many mistakes. […] That’s why I’m asking this of you… Please, live. I was the cause of so much chaos and destruction … Help the world I ruined. Help people like me. Help the weak. This is my last selfish request.”
It took Velvet three years to face her trauma. It took me ten. Ignoring trauma is personal incarceration. It beats against the ribcage, a prisoner held captive in the victim’s body. We both had to crack ourselves open and face our demons. In the fantasy world of Berseria, Velvet literally did just that. And here in the real world, I found a way forward through counseling and writing.
I sat in my chair crying as the credits rolled. Unlike Velvet, I was alive. But very much like her, I’d chosen to take my despair and plunge a sword into it.