I haven’t made a secret of my disinterest in GW2’s Sylvari on this blog and it seems overall I am in good company. I never liked the nightelves much in WoW either – the ethereal and detached thing they got going on, praying to Elune and generally living in pink forests. It’s not even that I dislike elves or any variation thereof per default; there are some awesome, badass elves and drows in fantasy literature, from complex and grim fighters to more merry and flamboyant characters. Much rather, it’s an issue of how elves are represented in many MMOs as these peace-loving, self-indulgent hippies who care more about their flower garden than the rest of the world. That is a general concern for all so-called friendly and pacifist MMO races: how am I supposed to choose any of them for a competent errr….fighter? Like it or not, you’re killing stuff in MMOs and lots of it. You are also quite meddlesome.
So, already from that point of view the Sylvari aren’t very appealing. As an aside, I didn’t particularly like their starting area either – it is pink and lush Teldrassil all over, just with a lot more shine.
What I will say in their defense though, after having played one for maybe 30 minutes this past beta weekend, is that ANet achieved a little more than just copying the MMO elf archetype. For one thing, there is the whole plant people concept; Sylvari ARE plants (sorta) which creates all kinds of interesting implications that have been discussed elsewhere. And although I wonder why they still need to hide all their “sensitive parts” in the character creation, the race design and customization achieves to transmit a genuinely unique and alien feel for this race. Their hair is straw, leaves or gnarly twigs, the shape of their limbs and body texture consequently fulfill the botanic premise.
What sets them apart from your staple elves too is that they aren’t ancient but in fact the youngest of all Tyrian races (I believe 25 years old). This “freshness” is even reflected in their looks, the way they move or stand still and their facial expression; it’s as if they beheld everything around them for the very first time. The Sylvari are noobs.
Alas, none of that will entice me to play one, but I feel ANet deserves that much: they’ve put some thought into their last race (which got completely re-designed very late into development) and the thematic coherence in design. Not that the plant people idea was actually so new either – in fact I’d bet my little finger that there was at least one lead designer among ANet’s “Sylvari camp” who happens to have enjoyed a very old RPG by Capcom!
Enter Spar – The plant creature
Once upon a time there was a very classic JRPG on Super NES called Breath of Fire. I remember this with fond nostalgia because its sequel, Breath of Fire 2 was the very first RPG I ever bought with my own money and played through. That was endless painful hours of grinding levels, excruciating random encounters and praying for a save-point….and oh, did I love it! It was also a time when I didn’t have English classes yet in school and so I ended up playing the game with a dictionary in my lap. Yes, here in Europe we actually often had to deal with imports (or else stare at ugly PAL bars on our TV screens). Breath of Fire 2 opened the world of RPGs to me – the rest is history.
It so happens that one of the most awesome characters you can recruit for your party in BoF2 is Spar, the plant creature. You meet him (/her) the first time at a traveling circus where he is actually up for display. Later on, he sends you on a quest to wake the Wise Tree (figures) from an unending nightmare, which is when you recruit him. Spar is generally indifferent and devoid of emotions. He has grown from a sapling and looks forward to becoming a tree himself one day. He’s a weak fighter, his best abilities revolving around support and use of environment; his Nature spell will actually grow a flower bed or sprout cactuses depending on where you are. Then, there are his shamanistic alter egos: the onion sprout, the leafy drake…..and a girl wearing a mushroom cap.
….Sound familiar enough? Well, Spar also looks like this:
If this is not the direct Sylvari inspiration, I don’t know what is (I c wut u did thar, ANet)!