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Thursday, September 15, 2016

All-female protagonist September: Tahira - Echoes of the Astral Empire

Blog by Lindsay M.

Now that I’ve used the first part of this month to mostly flesh out my opinions on the state of female protagonists in games, I am actively seeking games that break the mould. I’ve played some of Severed, where a teenage girl becomes a warrior while searching for her family. I’ll be diving head-first into Submerged soon as well (pun entirely intended). But first, I yearned to play Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire on Mac. I do love a game that plays well on my favourite computer!

Tahira is a wonderful example of a female protagonist that breaks all these strange rules forced upon them. My understanding is that what I’ve played is the first part of an episodic game, which makes me deliriously happy as the few hours I’ve spent with Tahira in her world isn’t nearly enough. Her character is intriguing and her backstory is only delivered in small pieces at a time, so it feels as though there is a puzzle to be solved.

The game is set in medieval times and the locale draws inspiration from parts in and around the Middle East (Jordan, India, Israel, Nepal, Turkey, and Syria). As such, Tahira’s appearance resembles that of a Middle Eastern woman. She has dark skin, her face aged despite her tender age of 20 due to what she has experienced in recent years. The world she’s always known — Avestan — is being destroyed by a group that call themselves the Astral Empire after a far nicer group from centuries past.

Related reading: In a blog post last week, I examined the physical attributes of women in games. Tahira would have been wonderful to include!

What I really love about Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire that sets it apart from other games with a female protagonist is that it’s a full-on tactical game. Tahira and some of the people she joins forces with become heroes on the battle grid, surrounded by whatever army has been built up at the time. The heroes have the best moves, whereas the others are best served to block enemies and truly serve little purpose otherwise. Based on the massive scale of the battles, this is something I’ve read others complain about — but I like it this way. The males of the army don’t have the power, but Tahira — the lone woman — is strong. Tahira is the person to turn to time after time for attacks that can wipe out multiple enemies at once, or at least harm them severely.

The game offers three difficulty levels, and also gives the option to skip battles. Don’t get me wrong, I adore turn-based tactics; but sometimes you get so engrossed in the story they seem to get it the way. Choice is also the word of the day when it comes to gameplay as well: Tahira often has the choice of how to react in a given situation. Doing good deeds don’t always result in good results though. For example, Tahira once chose to stop and help a drunk with a broken wagon who gave a sob story about a (non-existent) family. Due to the delay, people that she may have been able to save died in vein. It was heartbreaking, but despite my misgivings about it I cannot help but believe Tahira would be a fair ruler, helping those in need regardless of whether they necessarily deserve it.

Tahira appears as tough as nails on the outside (she would definitely fall with Lightning in my Final Fantasy Female scale, with a commander actually calling her a peasant bitch for telling off a group of soldiers threatening to rape her). It’s apparently that despite her tender age she has seen more than any person should in several lifetimes. While investigating a strange white light, she finds an apparition of her father there. After saying some heated words to his estranged daughter, he is murdered in cold blood by the Astral Empire. It’s safe to say that her hard edge is there for protection. When she’s in front of others or in battle, her brow furrows and her actions are swift. But there are times when she is with her horse, Ida, where Tahira is extremely compassionate and shows wisdom behind her years. Experiencing every side of her is what makes her a believable woman: she’s a princess, a daughter, a sister, a figurehead, a friend, a soldier, a humanitarian. In essence, she is as complex as every woman alive. She has the same doubts and fears, but also possesses the courage to overcome.

There is a facet I find extremely important in Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire that goes past a female protagonist who breaks the moulds (and whom I’ve fallen in love with). The Astral Empire views Tahira and her people as sub-human. With everything going on in the world today — from civil wars to extreme racism — this view seems to be a reflection of current society, especially considering Avestan is based on the Middle East and the Astral Empire appear as extremely white.

This isn’t a review per say, but I’m going to be wild and give Tahira a rating because she freaking deserves one. Five stars for being one heck of a princess!

- Lindsay M.
News Editor

All-female protagonist September: Tahira - Echoes of the Astral Empire
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