"Then, you work toward this fabled world of peace... We will see... what kind of future... ...reflects upon... these blind... eyes..."
What makes a man truly evil? Is it his motivation, his means, what he's trying to accomplish? Is there even really such a thing? Or is it all just a matter of perception? The latter is most likely true, at least in the case of Nessiah. We don't see much of him throughout the events of Yggdra Union, although his guiding hand in the chaos can be perceived once or twice early on. He appears first at the very end of Chapter 3 (Paltina Blitzkrieg), then very briefly in the middle of Chapter 4 (Yggdra in Chains), but he does not become a key player or an immediate threat until the events of Chapter 9 (Battle on the Requiem). As such, there's a lot less to analyze than there is in Gulcasa's case, and the only things one can rely upon to understand anything about him are what little we see in the game, comparison to his diametric opposite in connected game Riviera: The Promised Land--the delightfully hatable, megalomaniacal Magus by the name of Hector--and the player's own sense of empathy.
Like with Gulcasa, I experienced a connection right away when I met Nessiah. Part of that was undeniably his resemblance to Hector and the formation of another connection between Yggdra Union and Riviera, but there was something else there, too. Maybe it was in the way Ness surprises the audience by proving himself so helpful to the Royal Army's cause, maybe it was something about the way he looks and acts, or maybe it was just my amazing sixth sense acting up again, but Nessiah was almost instantly likable.
As those who have followed my Riviera obsession know well by now, this was most definitely not the case with Hector. Why is it that I found Nessiah to be so irresistably cute, whereas Hector is one of my all-time favorite gaming punching bags? After all, they're very similar characters, from their appearances straight down to the roles they play in their respective games. What is it about Ness that makes him so different?
Nessiah's design is quite symbolic of his character: like many mages, he is slender, short-statured, and physically frail and delicate, though he wields formidable arcane abilities. However, he lacks the extravagance many others of his general stereotype possess: Nessiah wears a set of tattered purple and white robes with little adornment throughout the course of the game, and more importantly than anything else, he's locked into a set of heavy, old-looking golden chains that connect to the metal plates that cover the upper half of his face (and go around the back of his head, though we don't see much of that). The immediate reaction of most people upon noticing this is "What is up with those chains?", because even among anime and game characters, shackles and bindings aren't quite preferred accessories for a prominent general in an army built for conquest. They get in the way. And for Nessiah, they're not only a symbol of sin and punishment, but the proof that he is still bound to his own suffering and hatred: He is completely unable to let the issue go (understandably!), and is trapped by his past.
We first meet Nessiah when he's still one of Gulcasa's five Dragon Generals, called in to ambush the Royal Army and cut off their retreat so that Gulcasa can successfully kidnap Yggdra. However, as soon as Gulcasa is out of the picture, Nessiah kills his troops, tells Milanor and company that they'd better get moving because Yggdra's survival isn't exactly a guaranteed thing in the ritual to awaken Brongaa, and then commits suicide so that it'll look as though he was defeated in combat. However, he then reappears shortly after this to urge Milanor's company onwards, which doesn't make too much sense to the Royal Army (they're all "Wait, we saw you die!"), even though they rescue Yggdra as directed.
Nessiah doesn't appear again after this until the very end of the game, where he reveals that he was actually the one who orchestrated the entire war from the beginning. (This is where astute players will remember that in Embellia, after the Transmigragem was stolen, a traveling magician recommended that the Undines should try making eternal youth potion from human blood, and that likewise in Verlaine, a wandering mage gave Roswell and Rosary their Ankhs.) He explains that he's done this to further the growth in power of Yggdra's sword, the Gran Centurio, which he gave to the Royal family long ago, and that as it's reached its maximum output, now he wants it back.
Nessiah was born and raised an angel in the holy city of Asgard, realm of the gods, but he was exiled for some unknown crime (he never says exactly what it is). In addition to getting kicked out of Heaven, Nessiah's wings were amputated, he was blinded, and he was locked into the Chains of Conviction, which split apart his body (which lies in sealed sleep in Nessiah's home island Ancardia) and soul (the Nessiah we see throughout the game) and made it basically impossible for him to die--or, more properly, he can die, but he will be painfully resurrected every time. The Chains of Conviction are beyond his own power to break, and so he's lived this way for hundreds of years. His existence has been little more than a living hell.
This is why, of course, he wants the Gran Centurio: It now has enough power to free him. And once he's free, he's going to use the sword to get revenge on the ones who did this to him--the gods.
Of course, the Royal Army is not happy with having been manipulated like this, especially since in order to get the Gran Centurio to its full power, Nessiah made use of the very magic that makes his life so miserable to resurrect and control their own fallen ally, Kylier, and forced them to fight her. But--and this is very important--once Kylier is freed from his magic, she tells her comrades that Nessiah's link to her soul went both ways, and that she was able to feel his heart, too. What she saw there made her unable to hate him: "Immense hatred of the gods... I felt so sorry for him..."
Nessiah's defeat at the Royal Army's hands comes as a painful shock for him. Yggdra tells him that he could only lose because she bears the responsibility of the world, and that even though his hate and fury all but consumed him, her love for her people will always be stronger than those things. She fights, she explains, for a world of peace. Nessiah tells her that while he doesn't believe that such a thing is possible, he'll see for himself--as much as he can, at least--what she makes of the world as soon as he's resurrected (see the above quote).
So, Nessiah gave in to her because he was dying and it was out of his hands. So what?
It goes deeper than that. There's a fragile side to Nessiah that's hard to see, born of the way he's suffered for so many years all alone. Rather than being a "twisted" villain, he is "damaged", and therefore pitiable. Kylier's revelation, and Nessiah's own confession of his blindness while dying, are two crucial insights to this inner vulnerability.
What about Nessiah's similarity to Hector, a character undeniably evil and hated with enthusiasm by the majority of people who have played Riviera? Though they share traits from their physical appearances down to their manipulative roles in the game plots, while Hector has that pure-evil persona, Nessiah is a lot more three-dimensional, which makes him human and therefore a lot harder to hate.
For example, compare the scenes where first Hector, then Nessiah reveal the full details of their plans to the heroes. At the climactic confrontation between Hector and Ein, the hero in Riviera, Hector has murdered Ein's love interest (one of his four costarring heroines) in order to resurrect Seth, an innocent creature of destruction, to use her powers in the interest of becoming the world's absolute god:
Hector: Behold! She [Seth] is but a child... A wretched creature that innocently craves power!
Ein: You killed (name of girl sacrificed) for THIS?!
Hector shows nothing but amusement at Ein's incredulity of his plans, and goes on to further explain how he has manipulated the entire cast to bring his dream of ultimate power to fruition. But in a very similar situation, Nessiah's reaction is very different:
Yggdra: Then... all the wars throughout history were your doing?
Nessiah: I've become quite a conductor. Everything went so smoothly. That girl's death has charged the last of the sword's power...
Milanor: You put Kylier and us through this... Just for that?!
Nessiah: "Just"?! I've spent my life working for this! Hundreds of years! I suppose I shouldn't expect humans to understand that...
While Hector just brushes Ein off, Milanor's belittling Nessiah's lifelong labor makes him very angry. This shows one of the more critical differences between the two: Nessiah is much more emotional than Hector is, and in this situation, it betrays the fact that getting revenge is very important to him. Whereas Hector's attitude towards Ein and his party during their last big confrontation scene is, "Muwahahaha, you pathetic beings couldn't possibly wrap your tiny minds around my purpose. I look down my nose at you and continue to orate because I just like hearing myself talk!", Nessiah's lines have more of the feel of "Well, you couldn't even begin to understand, because you've never had to go through this, so just hand over the Gran Centurio already or else! I can't wait any longer for this, don't you get the fact that I'm in pain?!"
Empathizing with Hector's purpose is difficult. The players never glimpse any reasons for his actions other than lust for power, and he's already in a position of comfort and authority as one of the seven proxies of the lost gods. Nessiah's desire for revenge is a lot easier to understand, as he's visibly suffered from the judgment of the gods. Furthermore, the player knows and understands everything that Hector has done to merit being soundly vanquished, but again, we never learn exactly why Nessiah was exiled from Asgard in the first place, so we have no way to tell whether or not the punishment he's already received fits his crime. (Author's personal opinion: No matter what they did, nobody deserves that!) All that we know is what he tells us, and that his sentence--as displayed in his skill Reincarnation--is that he is "Unable to live, unable to die... Thy punishment is to repeat life eternally."
For still more differentiation, there's nothing visible in Hector's design to make him pitiable--to the contrary, he's dressed in fine ceremonial robes and always carries himself with sinister dignity. (Although, as a side note, in the original WonderSwan Color version of Riviera, Hector was depicted as wearing a blindfold, that seems to be more of a clever allusion to justice being blind than anything revealing about Hector's actual ability to see.) Nessiah is visibly handicapped in three ways--his chains, the loss of his wings, and the fact that he's physically blind.
Learning that Nessiah is blind was the deciding factor in the way I look at him. At the time, I was pretty mad at him about what he'd done to Kylier, but as soon as I saw his last line, all that vanished without a single trace. It was like this:
Me: ...wait... BLIND...?
**SUDDEN ONSLAUGHT OF GUILT**
Speaking as an avid reader, writer, and artist, if I ever lost my vision, my life would be over. I can only imagine what it must be like for someone like Nessiah, living in a time period where the only means of simulating, correcting, or curing such a handicap would be in limited forms of magic.
In the end, that's the most convincing thing a player can do--try to put him- or herself in Nessiah's place. What would they themselves do if they were in his situation? It's all well and good to pretend that you wouldn't stoop to revenge, but speaking from experience, there is only so long you can live in pain, feeling like the world hates you, before the ugliness around you starts to make you hostile. And eventually, the only thing you can do after living with all that pain and hatred bottled up inside you is to lash out at the one you feel is responsible--in Nessiah's case, the gods. Ness wouldn't even have the hope of connection to others to heal his broken soul; as an angel bound to eternal life, he would experience humans' lives as far too fleeting to be able to connect to--any friend he made, anyone he chose to trust, would eventually leave him in death, with the spiritual, mental, and emotional damage returning worse than ever.
It's a sad, heartsick feeling, painful even to think about. How much worse must it be to live it? Poor Nessiah!
Once the anger and the blame have gone, the only things that are left are pity and love.
So, Feral's conclusion became...
Me: Well... he is unbearably cute anyway, so... *pause* HE SHALL BE FLUFFY AND HE SHALL BE MINE AND HE SHALL BE MY FLUFFY! :D
Ness isn't evil~. Nobody ever takes the time to understand him, that's all...
PS: There, Ness~ Told you I would get to it!
Nessiah: Took you long enough... *sweatdrop*
Me: Aww, don't be mean! I do this 'cause I love you!! *hug*
Nessiah: Fine, fine... *sigh*