By Paul Kainoa Vigil / September 29th, 2015
(Beware of spoilers!)
I think that Ringabel is far and away the most popular character in Bravely Default. The only character who can put up any sort of fight in this regard is Edea, but, even though I might say that, she is slightly edged out by the pompous pompadour wielder. There would seem to be a lot to both discredit Ringabel’s popularity. Bravely Default isn’t an RPG that I feel is memorable for the depth of its characters — the characters can have hidden depths, but they’re not profoundly original or feel especially cleverly executed (with the exception of Airy, maybe.) I do think, however, that Ringabel is the most interesting Bravely Default character.
When we meet him, Ringabel projects a frivolous, self-absorbed playboy image who just so happens to be modestly competent at battle. As if this package isn’t unsavory enough from a distance, Ringabel volunteers himself as a companion to Agnès and Tiz’s fledgling journey, without much apparent reason for doing so beyond “chivalry.” He does not remember his past, and has been living according to a book that seems to tell his future. Such absurd circumstances would put anyone off. Ringabel is (correctly) convinced that the diary suggests joining Agnès and Tiz is essential, and, as a stranger, can only entreat the two with as much charisma and pleading for trust as anyone can muster.
Even when we don’t know much about Ringabel, the game generally casts him as a well-meaning, if a bit quirky, character who is never any serious danger to the party. Rather, Ringabel is quite resourceful, especially as someone who can pilot ships and is knowledgeable about the outside world or other people. Worldliness is a little less apparent in the simple and straightforward Tiz, and the sheltered Agnès. Then, of course, there’s his foil — Edea.
Ringabel is immediately stricken by Edea upon his first meeting with her, as she resembles the dream girl that he is supposed to pursue according to the journal that accompanies him. Edea continually rebuffs his advances and doesn’t find him charming — much like the rest of the party. I think it’s worth noting here that I feel the game is trying to suggest that there’s at least a moderate gulf between the way Ringabel acts and wants to be perceived, and the way the people closer to him actually see him. Contrary to his ladykiller persona, we don’t generally see him as all that successful with women. This is because Ringabel is instead devoted to finding “The One.” He’s a rather serious romantic and does have his standards; the first hint of this can be found with his condemning of Fiore DeRosa during your first encounter with him, with Ringabel unable to contain his disgust with the latter’s bewitching of women.
A large part of what ends up differentiating Ringabel from the other characters is the levity that he brings to the cast. Tiz isn’t all that dynamic of a character, and Agnès is pure, but naive. Edea is fun, at times, because she is so headstrong (she kind of reminds me of a shounen anime protagonist, what with the appetite, hot-blooded temperament/ready-fire-aim mentality, and daddy issues.) But Ringabel plays off of his environment the best, adding the most color to it. Notice that, most of the time, Ringabel isn’t really a happy character, or that when we’re supposed to think he’s happy — his tone of voice and attitude don’t often deviate during minor progressions in the story. He just makes comments that provoke reactions from everyone else (or make fun of his comrades), playfully delighting in their responses. He’s also pretty sharp, too, most obviously demonstrated in figuring out who the killer was in the murder mystery scenario at Harstchild.
Ringabel’s reveal as Alternis (an obviously foreshadowed twist) provides the complete essence of the character. Let us remember that Ringabel is a name assumed at the beginning of the game (he himself states that he doesn’t know who gave him the name and if it refers to any sort of family) when he has lost his memory, and that Alternis was the first known name assumed by Ringabel once Braev Lee found him. Ringabel was an orphan native to the city of Florem, and lived a rough life as a child. Until he was taken in by Edea’s father, Ringabel had to be quite cynical and fearful of the world around him. But his rescue from his dire circumstance brought forth an extremely steadfast sense of devotion in Alternis, towards Edea and Braev. His attachment to Braev is understandable, but we are also lead to believe that as he matured and was raised alongside Edea, he grew to see her as a love interest. I can’t imagine how this dynamic was supposed to work, especially as children, but Edea is actually fairly brash and insensitive, and Ringabel himself can be quite reserved with his true feelings at times, so it sort of stands to reason that there probably wasn’t too much hormonal awkwardness in the Lee household. We hope.
Ringabel is not without his flaws. He is so devoted and passionate that he sort of lacks boundaries and a sense of what’s appropriate. The latter basically helped save the world in Bravely Default (if Ringabel didn’t join Agnès’ party, they wouldn’t know the true nature of Airy!) but these flaws also means he puts off people on occasion. It’s certainly not the worst thing in the world (at least in the ways it’s depicted in-game,) but one could stand to create better boundaries. And, of course, sometimes he can go too far in their jokes or his lusting over women, especially when it makes Agnès uncomfortable. He clearly is perverted or takes his perversion too lightly in such a way to be grating at times during the journey, but I think he was much tamer compared to characters like Sage Yulyana or Barras Lehr.
But to return to his crazed sense of devotion; Edea rejects Alternis’s confession of love (bad timing, my man!) and earnest pleading to return to her father during the Dark Knight Asterisk encounter, and Alternis, an alternate-dimension Ringabel who is still manifest in the same timeline as Ringabel is managing to exist, howls in pain. Alternis is convinced he’s doing what he can to at least protect Edea, if not the world, but is frustrated with Edea’s inability to understand what he’s trying to do. It’s a dynamic that is further complicated by Edea at the time rejecting her father’s (poorly-communicated!) motivations and actions, while Alternis maintains his loyalty. Edea is also the sort of person who is loath to be controlled, and is rather fiery and independent of spirit. In any case, his pain quickly turns to anger. His pursuit of Edea throughout the game had always vacillated between concern for her safety and rage at her perceived impudence, but Edea’s rejection drives him over the edge and finally prompts him to fight her.
On the flip side, he does display an admirable sense of devotion, however. The Ringabel that we know and follow from the game’s start comes from a timeline that failed to save Edea, Tiz, and Agnès from being slain by Airy, and was the only one who managed to escape. Once Ringabel becomes cognizant of his “past,” he readily reassumes his commitment to save the three from Airy’s treachery in another timeline, in spite of (and perhaps, because of?) his attachment to his friends in the current timeline. This sense of duty continues even after Ouroboros is slain, as Ringabel vanishes to protect his friends from other timelines. This sort of devotion, whether it be to the Crystals, rebuilding Norende, or to other people, is really a uniting trait amongst the core characters of Bravely Default. However, the others just can’t compete with Ringabel’s hammy personality and his constant antagonizing of his friends. And it’s made all the better by juxtaposing those with his rather melancholy core.
To be honest, I get the feeling that, for the purposes of the plot, Ringabel is the least important character in Bravely Default and is mostly essential for supporting others from a storytelling standpoint. Agnès is the Wind Vestal, Tiz’s loss of his brother and village illustrate the magnitude of the impending threat to the world, Edea’s presence illustrates the political strife (the Orthodoxy against Braev, and the general lack of knowledge regarding the true power of the crystals) that underscores the larger crisis at hand. The game’s story might have been just as fine without the time-traveling shenanigans that are a part of Ringabel within the game. But his personality makes the game much better, because, without him, everything would be far too straight. And that would be an offense to the aesthetic sensibilities of any respectable human being.
Surely Ringabel himself would approve of such a tasteful writeup as this!
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