Archives in Video Games: Sea of Stars
[Author's Note: Spoilers for Sea of Stars!]
I do love when video games jump right in and show me an archives. It makes my job so much easier!
Sea of Stars is a 2023 retro-styled roleplaying game where the player controls Valere and Zale, two Solstice Warriors out to stop the remnants of the dreaded Fleshmancer. Eventually, a third party member, Garl, is added; Valere and Zale's childhood friend. The game features turn-based combat and puzzle-solving as the characters strive to fulfill their destinies and protect their realm.
Framing the story is The Archivist, who's actually the first character we meet in the game. The game opens with a scrolling shot into the Great Archives, a room filled with books and scrolls strewn about. When the Archivist first addresses the player their sprite is a Dr. Claw-esque arm resting on a chair turned to away from prying eyes.
Now, this introduction doesn't make sense - at first - but by the end of the game it makes sense as to why the Archivist would include his background in alchemy. Granted, it's a long walk towards that explanation but it wouldn't be the first time an archivist has included their specialty when introducing themself. We'll get into the specifics of why the Archivist is well versed in alchemy in a bit, but for now the Archivist is giving some of his background while being super vague. Many dialogue boxes later, he's explained to the player that he's trying to stop the Fleshmancer by revisiting stories from across the multiverse and the one the player is about to assume control over might hold the key.
I took the liberty of pulling the dialogue since it would take forever with screenshots.
After spending millennia cataloguing the many events of countless timelines, I decided to return here to mull over everything I had seen. In my musings about the stories that fill these books and scrolls, I had a recent epiphany. It seems that in my haste, I may have overlooked the very thing I was hoping to find. As such, there is one special story I wish to revisit. One deserving of a witness. And should the Mists of Time allow a slight alteration, I believe the ray of hope that was once offered may yet bloom. So walk with me tonight, and we will explore a tale of high adventure. Of magic and deceit, of friendship and wonder. But mostly, a tale of heroism. One that, I believe, will offer valuable insight in the search for a resolution to the throes of The Fleshmancer. Now I remain a bit lost amidst all these timelines, and all their subtle variations...But I know just the one to make for a perfect starting point.
On a personal note: I love how this is presented as a serialized story. Like the player stumbled in and found Scheherazade in need of someone to test out her material.
So, we have an immortal alchemist calling himself The Archivist who has used his immortality to catalogue timelines to stop The Fleshmancer. There are a couple of things the game does with the Archivist right off the bat. Firstly, the Archivist is the storyteller. The game you're playing is the one he chose and presumably knows the outcome of. Crucially, he doesn't say the story is set in stone and that he hopes "the Mists of Time allow a slight alteration" in order for the greater goal to be accomplished. Namely, defeating the Fleshmancer.
Once again, we come back to the idea of archival collections being a truth but not the truth. Archives are constructs of historical narratives. They're not perfect and rarely definitive, so for the Archivist of this game to signal that alterations will occur means that either the story is being corrected through game play and player choices or that the Archivist is doing some timeline shenanigans to adjust something in the narrative. The ethics of which are more about where you stand on the spectrum.
The opening also plays into the trope of archives as containing ALL the information and archivists somehow retaining an inhuman level of knowledge of what they have in their collections. Yes, the Archivist is immortal, but immortality doesn't mean your brain evolves to hold infinite data. Why do you think so many characters across all mediums lose their minds when they get even an iota more information downloaded into their brains than they're used to? Do I have to bring in the Ancients from the Stargate franchise? Because I will bring in the Ancients from the Stargate franchise! To the game's credit, the Archivist is revisiting his collected books and scrolls, which means he doesn't have an encyclopedic knowledge of everything he's documented.
Later on in the game, the adventuring party meets up with our present day narrator in the Great Archives - that sits at the top of a partially flooded tower - where they are tasked with some fetch quests and treated to the Archivist's backstory.
So, it turns out that the Archivist is actually Resh'an, an alchemist who sought to create the Elixir of Life with another alchemist named Aephorul. The pair actually succeeded, but the cost of immortality was their disfigured and decayed bodies. While they initially used their immortality for good, Aephorul grew bitter and began creating evil creatures with forbidden alchemy - like ya do. He then embraced his new title, the Fleshmancer. In a desperate attempt to stop the Fleshmancer, Resh'an performed alchemy on the space-time continuum, creating the multiverse. He then took up the Archivist moniker and began documenting his creations in order to find a way to stop his old friend turned enemy.
Yup, it was timeline shenanigans all along and Resh'an even joins the party as a playable character! I can't speak to his mechanics or how he handles in the game but it's always nice when an archivist takes an even more active role in the story. One that involves kicks, punches, and magicks like in real life!
I do have to wonder what happens to the Great Archives once Resh'an accomplishes his goal. If the whole purpose was to find a way to stop the Fleshmancer and presumably only cosmic/celestial entities can traverse timelines/universes, then there's going to be a lot of information about things people were never meant to know, won't believe in the first place, or is so niche they'll create a new field of study just to make sense of it.
The perfect archives.