On February 15th, 2013, around 10 pm, I lost my father to gastro-stomach cancer. I am forever going to be haunted of the final image I had of him: ash coloured skin, black as midnight finger tips and frail to the point where he no longer looked like the man I once looked up to. The blow to my heart was devastating, and the last conversation we had ended with the words, "Never give up on your kind spirit. Never let your beautiful heart transform into a wall of stone." Before I go into full-on downer mode, I should also mention his last words to my fiancée were, "Make sure you keep the vines from growing on the back porch."
Funny that this was the last conversation we had. The last few months of my life were a blur, a whirlwind wherein I barely remembered what I did with my days. Time passed so quickly and yet I felt as though I had been through the wringer and back. I could feel my heart turn cold, unable to provide warmth. Too many voices saying, "Get over it, it's just your dad" or "I don't care how you feel" — the ones who cared were so genuine and the ones who discarded me so cruel.
Flash forward to March 4th, 2013. I had become so emotionally drained that I needed something to get me motivated back into the land of the living. I remember contacting Michael Cunningham, our Editor-in-Chief, begging for a review assignment, when I was reminded that Atelier Ayesha was out. I headed to my local EB Games in an attempt to pre-order it last minute. The clerk smiled and sold me the game a day early because for whatever reason he couldn't find a street date listing. I clutched the game, giving it a large hug, only to take it home and play it for an hour...
...and then shut it off.
Atelier Ayesha begins with Ayesha bringing candy to a grave in the middle of a garden. It is the grave of her missing sister, Nio, who has been presumed dead. Ayesha is sitting on the grass, having a full blown conversation with the headstone, only to see flashes of her sister's face, trapped. Ayesha, mustering all her courage, decides that Nio isn't truly dead and chooses to go on a journey to uncover her sister's mysterious disappearance.
Having put Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch aside due to it having a dead parent, I asked myself why that image of Ayesha in the garden smiling haunted me at first. Was it the fact that she was able to control her emotions? Is it because she clings to her memories? Atelier Ayesha is a game built on memories; Ayesha must gather memories in order to get closer to the truth of Nio's disappearance. With a deep breath I turned the game back on, realizing that if I wanted to play the game, I was going to have to accept the loss within the narrative.
Ayesha's story is one of the stronger narratives in the series because it focuses on life and "death" in a positive way. Ayesha is a character with determination, perseverance, passion, and above all faith. Of all the Atelier heroines, she is the most genuine of heart, willing to give up her time to anyone who asks for it, and is able to give so much without asking for anything in return. These character traits struck a chord deep within me. I found myself won over by the ditzy alchemist's desire once I realized something: Ayesha lives in a whirlwind; she knows if she doesn't find Nio then her searching will have been for naught. I found myself connecting to her on a very personal level, because that was how I was living my life from November, 2011 when my mom went down with melanoma of the brain (and survived), to May, 2012 when my father was diagnosed with cancer, to February, 2013 when his life came to an end. There was a relief in knowing that he didn't have to suffer anymore, but losing him was like having a small piece of my heart removed. I could only imagine Ayesha's pain from losing her sister with no way of knowing how or why she disappeared.
Then it hit me further — Ayesha's qualities were not that of myself, but of my father. My father was a man who gave so much of himself, made time for every person in his life even when he didn't have it, and gave his loved ones the moon and more. Ayesha's world is isolated, and losing him caused me to isolate myself from the world further. The pain was so great, yet I envied Ayesha's kindness. I used to be that young woman — I still wanted to be that young woman — and yet even now, some days I still find myself struggling to be the person my father wanted me to be.
When I reached the end of Atelier Ayesha, I found my heart no longer felt as cold as it once did. Her journey was a beautiful one to take part in, and it made me appreciate the power of the human spirit in times of desperation. Narratives about sisterhood are generally unheard of in video games, particularly RPGs, and that scored extra points with me. When I saved Nio, I felt as though I had granted her an Elixir of Life, a second chance. Then it dawned on me: there was no Elixir of Life for my father, no way for me to return him to the land of the living. I cried for hours after completing that section because it forced me to face a reality, one I had been ignoring throughout my adventures in the Dusk Lands.
My dad has been gone almost eight months and there isn't a moment that I don't find myself stopping whatever I am doing to reflect on what type of a person he has made me into. I feel his kindness and strength every day, although I find myself a lot more guarded than I once was. Yet Ayesha taught me new ways of coping with loss through her genuine behavior. I find myself talking to him a lot, holding my most precious memories tight within my heart. At the end of the day, I may not be able to use the power of alchemy to bring him back to life, but I can continue to believe that I am a stronger person by living up to his last words.