Friday, July 1

Mass Effect’s Ardat-Yakshi are the best and most tragic monsters in video games

Modern media are not good at creating monsters. In many ways, it doesn’t have to be this way when the classics still perform so well. The Walking Dead has zombies, Game of Thrones has dragons and ice zombies. In fact, most of the mythical creatures we meet in popular fiction have been used and reused over and over again, sometimes reinvented, sometimes played correctly. Vampires, orcs, goblins, ghosts, wizards, witches, demons, elves and many more have been featured in stories in various mediums for generations. However, Mass Effect’s Ardat-Yakshi is a genuine original and possibly the best myth game ever created.

It is not the only original monster in the games. While The Witcher started out as a book series, it rose to a new level of relevance in pop culture through gaming, and it’s packed with monsters. However, aside from the warlocks themselves, can you name just one without looking for it? Springlebokwoms? Yeah right. Legendary things, them.

Soul games are also dedicated to inventing beasts, and several other games bring new creatures to the party, but none have the level of nuance and narrative behind them like the Ardat-Yakshi. A few months ago, TheGamer spoke with Brian Kindregan, the Mass Effect 2 writer who designed Samara’s loyalty mission, which included meeting and ultimately defeating or siding with an Ardat-Yakshi. For a breakdown of how he had to lobby for a non-violent allegiance mission, how the Ardat-Yakshi myth was incorporated into the asari lore, and how the mission as a whole came together, you can read our interview with Kindregan here. However, at this point, it is not so much the technical aspect of the creatures that I want to talk about as their place in the myths of the games.

Ardat-Yakshi are the best black widow trope app I’ve ever seen. It is the result of a rare genetic condition in the asari race, which leaves certain asari isolated, powerful, and deadly. The Ardat-Yakshi we spend the most time with is Morinth, Samara’s daughter, so we can’t be sure how much of her behavior is that of an Ardat-Yakshi and how much is just Morinth. Edward Cullen, Lestat De Lioncourt, Blade, and The Countess are all very different, after all. What we know about the Ardat-Yakshi on a biological level is that they have the power to compel anyone who falls in love with them, brainwashing them and ultimately draining their spirit completely. While asari can have physical sex, procreation takes place in a more cerebral way, where minds merge in a psychedelic ritual. Attempting to do this with Morinth results in death. Not just death, a non-life state in which your entire being is drained from you.

In Samara’s allegiance mission, it’s possible to side with Morinth, choose to kill Samara, and let her daughter take her place in her disguised crew. If you do this and then try to seduce Morinth in Normandy, she will kill you like this. In Morinth’s case, this means she frequents seedy nightclubs and bars, looking for outsiders, loners, and interesting nihilists – people who won’t bore her, but won’t be missed either when she escapes from her cold, exhausted corpse. We know of a monastery other Ardat-Yakshis can go to, a place where they are safe from hurting anyone, but are we supposed to blame Morinth for not wanting to lock himself out of the world?

Asaris have an astonishingly long life expectancy. When we meet Liara, she is 106 years old, but that is essentially a teenager for her species. Yes, on second thought, it’s a bit strange that the series’ main love interest is a teenage archaeologist who is tied up, arms outstretched, and helpless when we first meet her. Better not think too much about it. Regardless, that means Morinth, one of the most powerful beings in the universe, can only be a good guy if he agrees to spend his centuries of life trapped inside a single building. She can never fall in love. She can never experience true intimacy. Her mother wants to kill her. I know murder is wrong and for the record I’m always on Samara’s side on the allegiance mission, but the Ardat-Yakshi tragedy means that in just three short scenes, one of which tries to devour your soul, you start to feel sympathy for this serial killer.

Nothing in fiction is really original, so yeah, she’s a Black Widow femme fatale mixed in with Rogue from X-Men, but she’s reversed. Rogue lives alongside her powers in a way that Morinth, unstoppably powerful compared to virtually anyone else she meets and unable to reciprocate feelings of death pain, does not. Despite all the heartbreak, loss, and death in Mass Effect, Morinth might be the most tragic figure in the series.

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