Each route prominently features one character's mental and emotional breakdown.The A and B routes both involve the awakening of Brongaa's blood and its consequences, though with different characters. Garlot and Eimi's powers are sealed, but the seals can be eroded via mental/emotional stress and then broken by calling themselves by their true names. While Eimi knows her true name, Garlot does not, as he is much more powerful than her and Baretreenu was afraid of what that might mean for him if he had access to his blood. While Word of God has not confirmed stress to be the trigger of the seals eroding in as many words, Baretreenu explains that when she had just laid the seal, "If your emotions ran too high, it might have vanished in a second" while telling Garlot why she abandoned him. Once a descendant of Brongaa's blood is unsealed, they then must contend with Brongaa's influence and their demon instincts, which demand battle and destruction. Both Baretreenu and Soltier explain that someone with a strong will can resist these impulses, but that the weak-willed quickly succumb to Brongaa's control and become stereotypical Always Chaotic Evil demons. Gulcasa and Emilia both seem capable of maintaining their "humanity" per se, but are subjected to additional mental stress that leads to them eventually breaking down and going berserk after falling under Brongaa's control, willingly (in Gulcasa's case) or not (in Emilia's).
Route A and Gulcasa's Start of DarknessIn the basic storyline, Soltier and Nessiah are able to sense Garlot's latent demon blood, but no one else does, aside from noting that Garlot is extremely frightening when enraged. Over the course of the story, Garlot experiences various kinds of stress—being confronted with the world's Gray and Grey Morality, for instance, and having to make difficult decisions about whether the law or his personal beliefs are more correct—but none of these things are enough to endanger the seal. The closest the seal comes to breaking in the first five chapters is during the attack on Tiera, but because Nessiah continues to stress the importance of working together logically as a group instead of fighting emotionally and individually and because Gram Blaze is able to save the city and the civilians, the danger is averted. The blow obviously falls during the confrontation with Velleman. Siskier, placing Garlot's life and the continued existence of Gram Blaze over her own survival, kills herself; Velleman has betrayed Garlot out of fear of his growing power and influence. The emotionally overwhelmed Garlot temporarily assumes the demonic form players are used to associating with the use of the Genocide technique, but he is unable to fully break the seal because he does not know his true name and thus cannot define himself by it. With this, we may define Garlot's triggering stressor to be "the death or betrayal of members of the nakama". Tiera was his home, but the most important thing to Garlot is the surrogate family of his friends, who accept and love him; this is an important base of support for any victim of abuse. For Garlot, his desire for greater strength is both the desire to not have to rely on anyone and in turn to become reliable; he must protect himself and everyone dear to him. For his loved ones to die or to turn on him means that he has failed in doing this. Compounding matters is the fact that at the beginning of chapter 6a, Siskier and Velleman are the two most important people in Garlot's life. He expresses the wish that Velleman had been his birth father, implying that his ability to trust in and be trusted by Velleman was going a long way to heal the emotional scars his real father's abuse had left. Siskier was Garlot's very first friend and helped him learn to trust and love again (as she says to Zilva in 4-4; "The person I like changed. He was lonely and violent, butů now he treasures the people around him."), taking Baretreenu's place as a motherly figure and a woman who loves him in her own romantic right. Garlot blames the loss of Siskier and Velleman on his own weaknesses and immaturity: He was with Velleman every day, but was not astute enough to notice Velleman's growing paranoia. He has become so much stronger, but lacked the power to save Siskier. Choosing to throw away the "self" that had doubts and hesitations, Garlot embraces Brongaa's power within him as a force that will absolutely grant his ideals. Baretreenu demands that Garlot prove his resolve to face his own dark reality and "cast aside his humanity" via matricide as a rite of passage, and refusing to allow himself to hesitate, Garlot claims the right to his blood and his long-forgotten true name. Although he must now withstand Brongaa's instinctual bloodlust, Gulcasa stands in 6a-4 with his "humanity" intact: He knows what he is fighting for, and he is using his heritage as a demonic dragon as a tool to achieve those ends and not as the reason he fights (as in Medoute's discussion of self-realization in 6c-7). He loves his friends more than anything, and to replace Velleman and Siskier, Nessiah and Emilia are the people who are now most important to him. Despite the drawbacks of his power—the occasional illnesses (seen in Battlefield 32 of Yggdra Union and route C) and the need to either kill something using Genocide or die—he can endure with his will intact. However, Gulcasa is fully aware that he has failed to protect the people most important to him before, and he is desperate to keep that from happening ever again. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder combines with this fear to make him act more harshly than he did as the (comparatively) Wide-Eyed Idealist Garlot, which in turn arouses Medoute's suspicion. And everything just gets worse from there. From the end of the A route to the end of chapter 8 of Yggdra Union, a series of tragedies occur that all involve the deaths and betrayals of his loved ones, causing Gulcasa to experience extreme levels of stress:
Emilia vs. Ageism in the route B bad endingEmilia is an interesting case, as she knows her true name and what she is capable of from the beginning. As compared to Garlot, who is ignorant of his own "identity" per se, Emilia has the capacity to break her seal from the beginning, and thus we are able to analyze which scenarios cause it to be broken and why; Emilia is the basis of this particular theory.
Route C and Nessiah's Sanity SlippageBrongaa's blood and its consequences are still dealt with in route C, but using Baretreenu's rain of anvils and Soltier as an example. Garlot and Eimi remain with their blood sealed, and indeed, their true identities are not addressed in this route in the slightest. Rather, the C route deals with Nessiah very abruptly deciding that Gram Blaze is of no use and betraying them, proving startlingly inept at it despite his skill in manipulating everyone and everything else during chapter 5 and the A and B routes. As the game's writers have quite competently handled Nessiah throughout the rest of the game, it is unlikely that this is solely Character Derailment. In addition, it would be odd for the "mental/emotional breakdown" theme to be absent in this route when it is so important in the other two final chapters of the game. Throughout Yggdra Union and Yggdra Unison, it is implied that Nessiah's mental state is somewhat delicate after having lived so long and gone through so much trauma. Thus, Nessiah's odd behavior and relative incompetence in route C could be explained a result of his being put under more mental strain than he can endure. Let us examine the results of each route for Nessiah.
Names and IdentityThere is a recurring motif in the game linking a person's name to their identity, or their definition of themselves. A number of characters use false names, and as a result, the amount of That Man Is Dead is also rather high for one work. For Garlot and Eimi, their fake names allow them to masquerade as ordinary humans. During the A route, Jenon and Medoute spend a lot of time emphasizing how Garlot and Gulcasa are completely different people; Gulcasa also distances himself from the name "Garlot", embracing his true name as a symbol of everything that he is as a warrior, revolutionary, leader, and demon. Once their true identities are revealed, Gulcasa and Emilia spend a lot of time correcting the people around them and insisting that they be recognized by the names they call themselves, and as such seen the way they want to be seen: Gulcasa has the power he needs to shoulder his responsibilities, protect his loved ones, and never falter; Emilia is not only capable of fighting, but equal to her comrades, and is proud of her blood connection to Gulcasa and to Brongaa. Whereas Gulcasa and Emilia embrace their true names and strive to become their sealed-away "real selves", Nessiah is the opposite. He changed his name of his own volition in an attempt to distance himself from his identity as Aries. Beyond simply trying to avoid notice by Asgard while he is vulnerable, Nessiah has rejected his past hesitations and is now willing to get his hands as dirty as he has to for the sake of his revenge. The statement that Nessiah and Aries are different people is, in a way, more accurate than Jenon and Medoute's claims about Gulcasa. Also consider the way that Luciana and Aegina talk in public compared to the selves that they show around Gram Blaze. In the "Compensation for Patronage" series of missions, Luciana introduces herself as "Luciana Art Albelt" and speaks of Marquis Albelt as her father, but when conversing with the nakama, neither of the twins call Albelt anything other than their foster father, and even address him by name, which should be unthinkable to any child who loves their parents. The two of them cannot let go of their past, and thus see their fake surname only as a convenient mask to show to the public, not who they really are. And lastly, there is Cerica, who only has one identity and celebrates it. She occasionally does speak in the first person when upset or serious, showing that her status as the local Third-Person Person is her own choice, not a demonstration of low intelligence. David named her and raised her, and seeing him as her family, Cerica throws herself into his teachings wholeheartedly, calling herself by the name he gave her to show the whole world how she feels.
Route A as Gulcasa's Coming-of-Age StoryChapter 6a is divided roughly into two halves which cover two of the most classic forms of the transition to adulthood: Separation with all parental figures, and becoming aware of and coming to terms with one's sexuality. The latter is handled much more symbolically and euphemistically than the former, likely because it has the potential to be much more controversial. The first three battlefields of the chapter are based around the central motif that Nothing Is the Same Anymore. Chapter 5's outro announces that the quiet attempts at social reform will become a full-fledged revolution, with Garlot promoted to leadership of a formal army. The very first scene of Chapter 6a establishes that Garlot is bewildered at and uncertain about the sudden change; it also marks Siskier finally gaining the courage to try to confess her feelings for him, a marked change from the inability to bring them up until now. Things start happening very quickly then with Baldus' attack meaning that the base must be sacrificed to allow them the chance to escape, and the battlefield following this kills off Siskier (who Garlot has always perceived as a motherly figure) and Velleman (who he wanted to use as a father surrogate, and who was ill-equipped to deal with Garlot's sudden autonomy). At the same time, he finally discovers his demon blood as the trauma nearly breaks the seal placed on it. His confrontation with Baretreenu handles the symbolic aspects of committing matricide very baldly: In order to establish and settle into his newly-formed identity, Garlot must not only sever all ties with his mother, but brutally destroy them with his own hands. He must forcibly replace the life his mother chose for him with the life he chooses for himself. At the same time, Garlot's own reluctance and the fact that Baretreenu is herself emotionally abusive and neglectful keeps this from making him into an unsympathetic character. Because of the limits of the hardware, we get a Time Skip here to the penultimate stages of the revolution. While this transition is not smooth in the least, it does clearly divide the two halves of this business of growing up. The last three battlefields deal with Gulcasa's (demon blood as a "safe" metaphor for his) sexuality, and how the people around him deal with finding out about it. The fourth battlefield of Chapter 6a involves a great deal of Jenon and Medoute talking back and forth about the ways that Garlot the child and Gulcasa the adult are different, attributing the changes in his demeanor to his demon blood rather than the rather brutal series of emotional upheavals he's just suffered through. While Gulcasa himself is not behaving all that much differently (other than getting annoyed when Jenon insists on calling him "Garlot"), the player is invited to sympathize with Jenon and Medoute by the soundtrack, the tense BGM that plays as a backdrop to the majority of the scenes focusing on Gulcasa implying that there's something unsettling at work here. And aside from his shiny new armor and his desperation to succeed, the main thing that's different about Gulcasa is that he and Nessiah are suddenly joined at the hip. This treatment of Gulcasa's blood as a sinister thing continues throughout the fifth battlefield, despite the fact that none of his companions other than Jenon and Medoute see anything wrong with him, and this comes to a head in the scene at the very end of the battle. The Sex Is Violence themes used in the treatment of the awakened Emilia in route B are revisited here: Gulcasa suddenly collapses, no longer able to cope with the physical stress of his newfound abilities. It is Nessiah who comes to his rescue, and explains that if Brongaa's overactive bloodlust is not sated quickly, Gulcasa's own life will be in danger. While Gulcasa is hesitant to save himself at the expense of someone else's life, the urgency of the situation and his rapidly worsening condition allow Nessiah to coerce him into sacrificing an apparently willing mook. This adds to Gulcasa's power, saves his life, and brings him to orgasm. The dialogue throughout the scene is intensely intimate and sexually charged, and quite a few fans have noted that with the Human Sacrifice references removed, it would not be out of place at all in some form of eroge featuring extenuating circumstances. Drawing the lens back a bit, Gulcasa's situation in the second half of the chapter also depicts a slow shift within the core of Gram Blaze. Previously, Garlot was surrounded by not-quite-mother-yet-not-quite-love-interest Siskier, best friend Jenon, sisterly mentor Medoute, and distant father figure Velleman. Now he finds himself bereft of all of them: Siskier and Velleman are dead, grief and Velleman's Sadistic Choice have driven a rift between Gulcasa and Jenon, and Medoute is suspicious of his blood. As Gulcasa is codependent and cannot function without support from his friends and surrogate family, all of these roles must needs be refilled. Leon takes the role of supportive best friend. Emilia, who despite her youth knows and understands more of their heritage than Gulcasa, becomes a sort of mentor to help him cope with his blood. The newly recruited Baldus assumes Velleman's now-empty role. This leaves only that of Siskier open, and Nessiah is indeed the closest to Gulcasa out of everyone left in the army. Throughout the rest of the story, Nessiah leaves his side exactly twice. And since after all Nessiah didn't help to raise Gulcasa, there are no parental undertones in their friendship, only romantic ones. Focusing back in on the scene in question, here we have Gulcasa taking another step forward into the grim and jaded realm of adulthood, choosing to accept the willing sacrifice of a subordinate in order to preserve his own life and the ensure the survival of Gram Blaze's ideals, which Garlot probably couldn't have accomplished. Adding the suggestive dialogue and the Sex Is Violence motif back in makes the scene a direct metaphor for Sex as a Rite-of-Passage, and Gulcasa's final transition into becoming an adult. Meanwhile Medoute spies on them from the shadows, and thus their secret is "outed". The final battle thus becomes an analogue to the much simpler Coming-Out Story, with the added bonus of making Medoute's apparent lack of caring re: Nessiah egging Gulcasa on make a lot more sense. Rather than attacking Gulcasa's chosen partner, she comes up to him and tells him what she saw directly, her Fantastic Racism taking on distinctive tones of Fantastic Homophobia at last. He is, she says, betraying his bond with Siskier and using his grief as an "excuse" for why he clings to Nessiah and lets his blood run wild; and no amount of Gulcasa's protests that his feelings are genuine, he hasn't forgotten what Siskier meant to him, will never forget what she meant, and is still himself fall upon deaf ears. Medoute and Jenon take up the roles of the rejecting parties, refusing all of Gulcasa's attempts at reconciliation, and walk out of his life completely after their confrontation. The Imperial Army remains supportive, and sees nothing wrong with the adult he has become. And interestingly enough, Yggdra Unison has it that Gulcasa has already lost his virginity. Make of that what you will.
Confucianism and the A RouteThe concept of a corrupt or otherwise incompetent ruler being usurped and replaced by a person who values the lives of others above his own is an old Chinese archetype whose roots can be traced back to Confucianism. Confucius' teachings state that people should learn to care for and consider others in their social circle, and that by doing so and having their innate goodness inspire others, gradually whole communities will be transformed to operate cooperatively. Especially if a ruler were to govern with this worldview, Confucians would argue that this could set off a positive behavioral metamorphosis throughout a whole country. Although this archetype is modernized in Blaze Union and certainly isn't the only thing going on in this part of the story, the imprint of Confucianism can clearly be seen on the A route. The old Bronquian monarchy is falling apart: Ike was easily manipulated by the corrupt court and killed by the corrupt military; Soltier does not have the political skill to hold his own between said court and military, and decides to govern using fear in order to exert what influence he can. Obviously, this does not work, and the corruption spreads throughout the nobility, with bandits riddling the country like a cancer. Soltier's own childlessness despite the ready presence of Lapis as his love interest, along with the illnesses revealed in the C route, vaguely suggest infertility and help to depict the old regime as being barren. In comparison, Gulcasa cares deeply for the quality of life of the people, and has spent the entire game going out of his way to smite corruption, rescue and inspire the poor and middle class, and does not consider his life to be all that important in the grand scheme—to the point where he has to be forced into killing a mook to save himself. He loves his comrades deeply, and is loved by them in return; even the romantic aspirations of his unnoticed Unwanted Harem provide a sharp contrast of fertility and possibility to Soltier's own barrenness. When Gulcasa is finally crowned at the end of the game, his new subjects start out ambivalent, putting up with him simply because he's better than the alternative—until they actually see him and hear him speak. Their opinion of him does a drastic reversal as they hear of his ideals and realize how much he actually cares for them as individuals, instead of treating them as worthless the way the old regime did. Gulcasa wipes out the corrupt system by shifting the form of government from monarchy to dictatorship, which is gratefully received by the people; by the time of Yggdra Union he has achieved a well-earned 100% Adoration Rating from his teammates and his populace. Gulcasa knows a love for the people that is blind to gender, race, and class; this strongly parallels the values of the Confucian tradition.
Other Parallels to East Asian HistoryAlthough it's vaguely implied that his carrying Brongaa's blood might have qualified him as a successor to Soltier in the C route, Gulcasa's ascension from illiterate, abused peasant to beloved emperor in route A has parallels to the founding of the Ming dynasty in Chinese history. Its first ruler, the Hongwu Emperor, also rose to his station from low-class beginnings, and the Ming dynasty directly followed the rule of the Mongolian Yuan dynasty, a period in time that prevented China from having its own Industrial Revolution and caused its state as a country of learning to suffer deeply. Additionally, the layout of Tiera recalls the plight of the untouchable underclass of Japanese society, the burakumin. Tiera is divided by a river. The right side is near bountiful plains and trade roads, and is home to the wealthy; the run-down ghetto of Nether is close to a small desert area, and the very poor are confined to it. There is a single bridge over the river that connects the two halves of the town, representative of the tenuous connection that exists over the huge gulf of the class divide. Historically, towns that had a significant burakumin population were constructed similarly, right down to the river and low number of bridges (a feature so iconic that it was used for the title of the classic Japanese novel Hashi no Nai Kawa). The fact that Gulcasa, a member of the extreme poor, was born with Brongaa's power regardless of his social status and rose to the position of Emperor can be seen as criticism for the burakumin system, whose social stigma has finally begun to disappear in Japan over the past few decades (a time lag comparable to the gap between the end of racial segregation in America and the dissolution of racial discrimination, which is still in its dying throes at the beginning of the twenty-first century).
Lost BoysSomething interesting to note is that nearly all members of Gram Blaze were either rejected by their parents or creators (Garlot, Nessiah, Luciana and Aegina, Eudy, Eater, Zilva) or lost their families out of traumatic incidents beyond their control (Siskier, Eimi, Sleip, Leon and Elena). In the A route, Baldus places himself with the first group when persuaded by Gulcasa and Nessiah to join the revolution, considering himself misused by Soltier; also interesting is that the three characters who betray the group (Velleman, Jenon, and Medoute) have all previously abandoned their own families. Out of the remaining characters, Pamela can be placed in the third group (runaways) due to her travels outside of Yumira, Byff joins the third group in route B (where he chooses to remain with the party rather than keep pursuing the Revelation), and Mizer discusses how close he has previously come to joining the second group (orphans) due to poverty. Baretreenu would fit in the "runaway" group as well.