Content Warning(s): Possible Game Spoilers, Outfits, Rape Culture, Sexual Assault, Suicidal Thoughts, Death, Strong Language, My Own Triggers
Day eighteen! April is Sexual Assault Survivor Month! This post will contain sensitive material; please exercise caution if you see a topic that could be upsetting to you. We're all about respect here! A final caveat: these are written from my limited perspective as a bi woman who was raped. I don't have all the answers and I'm still working through my own journey. There are many other kinds of sexual assault and abuse that are relevant this month. Take time to consider the needs of your diverse fellow survivors. Speak up for them when they can't speak up for themselves, but don't speak over them. Thank you!
"There's a flame in my heart I couldn't extinguish if I wanted; to live as you are, and be true to yourself."
Serious spoilers for certain parts of Tales of Berseria follow. However, I focus on the aspects of trauma more than any other plot points or story elements of the game. The spoilers section will be marked with [SPOILERS] and end with [END SPOILERS] if you'd still like to read some of my personal story as it relates to cosplay. The story of my relation to Velvet is something I've told numerous times before, to varying effect. The short version is: she was announced in early June 2015 as the "new Tales protagonist" and given an outfit reveal. My first reaction, as always: "It's ridiculous, therefore I need to cosplay her!" There was a bit of correlation between the fact that her voice actress, Rina Satou, also voiced my other survivor beacon, Presa from Tales of Xillia (and I'll talk about her in later pieces). This was an archetype I knew, of the seemingly-antagonistic but deeper-than-she-looks woman. Velvet got to me right away.
Once the initial excitement of the announcement wore out, I looked over her design and noticed not just the "emo Hot Topic wow she's edgy" belts and red/black, but that her clothing was ripped. Tales characters are traditionally very cleanly dressed, with bias tape and block colors (see Sorey and Mikleo from the previous game before Berseria for reference). My gift of fear popped up and started nagging at me. "There's got to be a reason her clothes are all ripped up. You know what happened to Presa. If she's the protagonist, she's either been through some REAL trauma, or is about to."
This was something I knew that day, regardless of whether I was able to back it up. On that design and the choice of voice actor alone, I knew we were in for something not only unique in the Tales series, but something necessary in video games, period. The Tales series had one female co-protagonist before (Milla), but this was the first time they announced that a protagonist was completely on her own and without an "assumed romantic partner," we'll say.
I planned to cosplay her a year before the game would even be released in the U.S. This was partly because I'm crazy and like to challenge myself with difficult projects, but also partly because I wanted to begin fighting for her dignity by walking miles in her shoes. Tales fans who knew about the upcoming game would talk about accepting her, but with stipulations: "Well, if she's gonna dress that way, she better have a reason for it" ("What were you wearing when you were raped?" I hear.), "I won't like her if she's going to be edgy and emo and just the female version of Yuri Lowell" ("She's probably exaggerating," I hear - words from my father's left-behind journal, speaking of my own childhood and a playground injury.), "If 'Berseria' means berserk she'd better be a berserker character or she shouldn't wear that" (Again, a focus argued to be "practicality" when any Tales cosplayer will tell you JUST how impractical everyone's outfits are). They weren't even giving her a chance.
While I was finishing my cosplay, a new announcement about her design was made. She had a daemon claw coming from her bandaged arm. And I, the sculpture-class dropout with no real knowledge of how to do it, dropped everything to make that arm to accompany my debut of her at Katsucon. I knew it had to be special. I wore her through harsh cold at Katsucon, through the infamous fire drill.
The months crawled on and more features and characters and DLC outfits ("You have to pay to put more clothes on her?!" I hear, which is also ludicrous - her hair and coat alone almost gave me heat stroke, and if I had been wearing anything more than what she does, I could have had my Otakon end very poorly) were announced. Once the trailers hit, it was becoming clear that my hypothesis was spot on: Velvet has a difficult time coping with the loss of her family, becomes an escaped prisoner, and goes on a journey of revenge against the man who wronged her, her brother-in-law.
A trailer was released that made the message even clearer. On "Scarlet Night," Velvet watches her younger brother be murdered by her brother-in-law. She runs to save him, has her arm cut off, and is spat back out of the pit with a new daemon arm and blind rage for what had been done. Now, at the time, we didn't see that entire scene (which is slightly censored in the NA release). What didn't get conveyed is the fact that her brother-in-law, Artorius, uses a magical "arte" to pin her to the ground as she's forced to watch her brother be killed.
As soon as I saw that in someone's playthrough of the Japanese release (the DAY it was released, of course), I began to get a little fucked up. I had to pause. I had no idea she was pinned down against her will. Sound like anything to you? I think that was the most definitive notion of a "trigger" that I've ever felt, because it was immediate, uncontrollable shaking and sobbing. This character I already empathized with went through something similar to what I had. Instead of being raped, Velvet's arm is cut off by Artorius as he tells her that her emotion is to blame for all of this - as he begins gaslighting her as a means of his own coping.
When Velvet emerges from the pit with her daemon arm, the player leads her through an intense battle sequence. Her arm is activated and she's suddenly screaming like she never had in the first few hours of the game. It's pure rage. The first time I played that section (bless Niho and Tomoyo for being there to support me), I felt a visceral surge in my body of all the rage I felt from never being able to get justice for what was done to me. The betrayal of someone you trusted. A new wound you didn't ask for that makes you feel out of control. Even now as I type this, the metaphor is so strong that I need to take breaks to decompress.
When Velvet has slain all the beasts between herself and Artorius, you find out that they were actually all the villagers including her best friend. Artorius frames her as a murderer, as, "See what you did? Your emotions are so out of control that you killed everyone you ever knew." The message was, "It's your fault." Again, what does that sound like to you? I still can't watch or play that section of the game without serious distraction to accompany it. It's unlike anything I ever watched or played, the experience of actually witnessing and participating in Velvet's trauma.
Artorius locks her up for the sin of being a daemon and murdering the villagers, but you help her escape at the true start of the game. As she's faced with a cliff, she decides to jump off to escape (dislocating then forcefully relocating her own shoulder in the process), citing that her younger brother went through worse. That also got me; even though Velvet had been through the hell of being held down, having her arm cut off, falling in the same pit as her brother, being forced to murder everyone, and then spending three years in the isolation of prison, she still believes that what she's been through isn't enough, isn't valid, isn't "real" pain, like dying is.
The next part of the game that got to me was an early cutscene where you enter the capital and have to hear the cheers of a large crowd who are all in support of Artorius. At this time, Velvet's willing to attempt to assassinate him immediately and still has that blind rage from before. Lauds of Artorius are spoken, as though he's the country's savior. Velvet scales a turret with nothing but her claw and bare hand while thinking over and over, "But he's a murderer!" You see her inner reaction reflected externally, but she doesn't tell anyone that's what she's feeling. Again, a connection to my own life: hearing people praise my rapist without knowing that he raped me was a very difficult part of recovery, and one that kept me in denial. It's not fun to see someone you dislike being praised, but when it's someone who's caused you grievous trauma, it's a new level of dissociation; in Velvet's case, she's ready to risk her entire life and doesn't feel the pain of clawing her way up the stone turret, and in mine, I shut my ears off and either redirected or left the room, or would have bursts of mood swings with no discernable reason.
We see Velvet's rage on the surface, but another compelling aspect of her trauma is the nightmares you see as she's having them. They contain her family, her enemies, and concepts she doesn't explore or address during her waking moments in the game. She wakes up gasping, screaming, even violently grabbing one of the characters by the throat. Having experienced this level of bizarre nightmare post-flashback or dissociation episode (seeing my rapist again in various contexts, dead family members in my arms, waking up screaming or sobbing, being afraid to sleep during a weeklong marathon of nightmares), I found that the portrayal of it in Berseria was realistic, keen, and respectful. Velvet isn't criticized for the way she reacts to her symptoms of PTSD and the party is there to support most of her decisions (at least when they align with their own).
Two more events really define her trauma for me. The first is when she returns to the prison where she's held captive. Only Rokurou and Magilou, who were in the same prison for roughly the same amount of time, understand what she went through there, being fed only the blood of other daemons. Eleanor, who is a sort-of traitor to the Abbey, is seeing it for the first time. After Velvet tells the story of the person held captive there (which we, the audience, know was her) at the hands of Artorius (the leader of the Abbey), Eleanor says something that I found to be rather upsetting. Something to the effect of, "He wouldn't have done that." Velvet flies off the handle explaining all the things Artorius did to her and her family, and Eleanor's response is still that she "needs to see with her own eyes" before she can believe. Sound like anything to you? For me, the comparison is roughly the same as if I took you to the bed where I was raped, said, "He raped me," and you said, "I don't believe he would do such a thing." That very line of not believing the survivor over the offender is EXACTLY why the tagline here at CSSN is "We Believe You." Not being believed or the illusion that nobody would believe me over my rapist held me back from recovering. And so, when Eleanor doesn't apologize for saying these things, and, in fact, later needs to be consoled for crying BY Velvet, you'll have to forgive me if I don't care for Eleanor as a character.
The last huge traumatic event is the buildup to what we call the "Earthpulse" - everyone but Magilou is transported to an otherworldly place that holds "recordings of the earth," put simply. Velvet has just found out something life-changing (and heartbreaking; props to both Rina Satou and Cristina Vee for their incredible acting). She's visibly not in a good mental space, dissociating from everything and in nonstop "fight" mode. She has to encounter memories of the earth that show what Artorius was like, what their little family was like before the incidents, and she also learns something shocking about her younger brother that shakes her up. In fact, she's so psychologically affected that she's ready to sacrifice her life in order not to have to face her own emotions about what happened. She's at the brink of giving up when one of the characters urges her to keep fighting (which she does, eventually, after admitting how much pain she was in). This might be the only scene that gets to me as much as the first traumatic one does. Yes, I've experienced the feeling of suicidal thoughts, of not wanting to be around anymore, of helplessness and worthlessness that many survivors also feel when they don't know if they can continue fighting. It's wonderful, if jarring, to see Velvet face this very realistic train of thought.
When I cosplay Velvet Crowe, I carry almost two years of holding her torch, standing up for her when others judged her, and finding comfort in her story being told in a mostly respectful way. When I cosplay Velvet Crowe, I think of all the other survivors of trauma just like her and just like me who need support. I think of all the pain that I went through and the catharsis of her pain being addressed and resolved. I've walked a mile (many more) in her literal shoes, both through the events I went through and through cosplay.
It's great to see other cosplayers cosplay Velvet because she's definitely my favorite Tales character. But I don't exaggerate when I say Velvet and Tales of Berseria saved my life and helped me cope with facets of the trauma that went unresolved for so long. That's why I'll keep fighting for cosplayers who are also survivors; we understand characters like Velvet on such a deep, personal level that even other cosplayers who aren't survivors might not understand. I'm so grateful for this game, this character, for all the things it empowered me to do to improve my own life and others', even if I only reach one person.
Thanks for reading! Tomorrow's topic will be double standards as applied through rape culture.
PS: I encourage you to find Velvet's theme from the Tales Orchestra 2016 arrangement, because damn if it doesn't make me cry every time.
If you appreciated this article, consider supporting Trickssi's advocacy by buying her a coffee on ko-fi.com.