There’s an interesting dichotomy at play when it comes to JRPGs. Traditionally, there are two female leads for the hero to choose from, representing opposing elements of what people consider the ideal woman. One is innocent, the other sultry. One might be good-natured, while the other is more mischievous. Essentially, games have been pitting the girl next door against a femme fatale. It’s Betty vs Veronica forever, and the dynamic even appears today in games like Persona 4.
There tends to be a single truth in almost all of these situations. The good girl wins. Sometimes, she even ends up being the damsel in distress and reason the hero is on the journey. (See Shana in Legend of Dragoon, Rinoa in Final Fantasy VIII and Colette in Tales of Symphonia.) Grandia II is different. With Grandia II we not only see both heroines playing to these roles and growing beyond them, but also see the “bad girl” win out in the end. It’s important because it’s an uncommon role reversal.
Elena is clearly the golden child. She’s part of the religious order, serving the god Granas as a songstress. Grandia II even begins with her taking part in a ritual in his name. She spends the entire game acting as the group’s moral compass, encouraging them to take on any mission if it means helping people and guiding them toward better behavior. Not to mention, she’s a support class character dedicated to healings and buffs. Pristine is possibly her middle name.
Millenia, meanwhile, is trouble. Which may not entirely be her fault, since she is the Wings of Valmar, a piece of an ancient, evil god. She’s vain, destructive, self serving and grandiose. At the same time, she’s surprisingly sensitive to people, attracts and cares for children and eventually reaches a point where she cares enough about the people around her to both support them and go out of her way to ensure their survival.
Naturally, both Elena and Millenia develop feelings for Ryudo in Grandia II. Millenia is more overt and forceful, hitting on him and kissing him, among other things. Elena is more subverted, at first acting as an obstinate foil and only eventually softening once she realize how she feels. For most of the adventure Ryudo is either oblivious to or outright ignores their affections. Though this is more difficult with Millenia, considering at one point she traps him in an attempt to seduce him.
It’s only at the very end that we see a clear winner. Game Arts doesn’t come right out and say who Ryudo chooses, but it’s obvious once Millenia is shown in her new role, a teacher in a school. Skye, formerly Ryudo’s constant companion, is at her side. She confirms that she’s waiting for Ryudo, and says she knows he’ll return to her. Elena, meanwhile, has become a singer in a theater troupe. She isn’t waiting for her hero to return, but off exploring and living her own life.
The two have essentially swapped roles. While Elena could have been considered the more maternal of the two throughout Grandia II, Millenia is the one setting down roots in Liligue. Elena is living the adventurous, perhaps even wild, life by joining a traveling show. Millenia’s mellowing during the game could have be due to her absorbing the souls of the other pieces of Valmar throughout the story, but those souls returned to the other hosts. The only other conclusion is that Elena’s influence and the interactions she’s had with other people play a part. Meanwhile, Elena’s conversations with her other half have clearly shown her it’s okay to live a little.
It’s unexpectedly reassuring, especially considering the era in which Grandia II was released. In 2000, we primarily saw JRPGs where the more ladylike and demure characters “won.” It still happens today. In the case of the aforementioned Persona 4, some people root for Yukiko and Rise, rather than Chie. The former two are cute and ladylike, while the latter is brusk. Here, we see the opposite. Millenia softens throughout the game, but she retains many of the tomboyish, outspoken and aggressive qualities we don’t often see glorified in heroines. More important, she shows the characteristics and ends up being the one Ryudo picks.
Grandia II is a wonderful game for many reasons, but one people should pick up on is how advanced its characterizations of women are. Elena and Millenia may have seemed similar to the heroines of the time, but their growth and story progressions were unique and realistic. Both were strong heroines who found suitably happy endings living independent and happy lives, though the more atypical chick is the one who won the main.