Breakthrough and the Sisters

As Film Crit Hulk would happily remind us, “the ending is the conceit.” The ending of a work ought to summarize and crystallize the themes of the preceding story. Whether this manifests itself as Kurtz’s pitiable “the horror, the horror” during his death being a reflection of his animalistic life, or as Lt. Raine declaring cheekily to the camera that his most recent work may just be his “masterpiece”, the final decisions made by the author or authors of a work ought to represent a bite sized version of the thematic heart of the work. Videogames are a unique and complicated medium in this respect. On the one hand, many games offer only a single ending to conclude the events of the story, and this is in its own way fine. But in order to complement their interactivity, many games have multiple possible endings, with the final moments of the story being determined partially by the work’s authors, but also partially by the audience.

How exactly multiple endings are incorporated into a game’s story is up to the game’s developers, but they tend to fall into a few major schools. One, which for my purposes I’ll be called “graded” endings, involves the ending changing to reflect the skill of the player. In a game with graded endings, certain endings are considered “better” than others, and there is often an implication that only one of them is the “true” or “canonical” ending. Konami’s Suikoden series tends to implement graded endings, for example. In the first Suikoden, recruiting all of the game’s 108 Stars of Destiny before the final battle at Gregminster allows the player access to the “good ending”, failure to complete that goal in the allotted time will result in the “bad ending.” A second category of games have what could be called “adaptive” endings, in which the conclusion to the game is determined by the player’s actions during the game, but the endings themselves are all equally valid and none are necessarily considered canonical. In Catherine, depending on decisions in dialogue options made throughout the game, the player will receive either a Lovers, Cheaters, or Freedom ending (although admittedly, these categories are further subdivided into True, Good, and Bad). Silent Hill 2 is another good example: its varied endings are all satisfying conclusions to the preceding story, and which one the player receives depends on his or her actions during the game.

I could rattle on forever about videogame endings, and in the future I may do exactly that, but for now I’m here to specifically discuss the ending of The Void. To what category does The Void belong? I suggest that The Void could be said to have “optional” endings. Not, like, you can choose to have an ending, or you can decide against it. The endings are “optional” in the sense that every ending is equally legitimate, and all are available to the player. The only determining factor in which ending the player gets is which ending they choose. Off the top of my head, Bastion makes a similar decision- at the end of the game you are presented with your options, and which option you select determines which ending you receive. No strings attached, no fine print, the decision is left entirely up to you.

This makes life much easier in some ways. LPers, overly curious gamers with too much time on their hands, and obsessive completionists have often found themselves playing through a game multiple times to see the game’s various conclusions. If the means to achieve a certain ending are too demanding, or too similar to the criteria for other endings, then you may try multiple times in vain to access the coveted Dream Project ending.

But the reasoning behind having “optional” endings isn’t just to make life easier on replays. The idea driving the decision to implement “optional” endings is that the challenge isn’t in obtaining the endings, but in deciding between them. In Bastion, there are two options (three, kind of, depending on the results of an earlier decision), and players are invited to make whichever decision they feel is most correct and represents the most satisfying climax to the game’s story. In The Void, there are thirteen options. Each ending (with the arguable exception of one) is presented as being wholly acceptable, and all endings are considered equivalent to one another in terms of legitimacy. The question, then, becomes not only which ending do you choose, but why?

A quick recap!

As I discussed in my last essay, the ultimate goal of The Void is to ascend one of the eleven Sisters, or to ascend the Spirit. The content of any given ending is similar enough to all the others that a more cynical player might wonder what the difference is between them. But for the more enlightened player, the act of deciding on a Sister (or oneself) represents a journey of self-examination and criticism that few games can deliver. The “ending”, the cutscene that follows the drawing of the Glyph of Breakthrough, is not the reward for the player’s effort. The reward is internal- it is self knowledge.

What follows is a role call of the Void’s Sisters, with a bit of biographical information and a healthy dollop of personal interpretation and speculation. The observations are not exclusively mine (I assure they would be quite dull if they were), they are indebted to CannibalK9’s poll of the goons of Something Awful, who lucidly argued in favour of their preferred Sister as CK9 was approaching the finale of the LP. The instalment of the LP in which these opinions are collected can be found here: Part 1, Part 2. And, for the curious, a run-down of what the Sisters have to say upon having their third heart opened is found here. In addition, the rather inspired idea of contrasting a Sister’s physical manifestation from that of her Soul Obscura comes from a chap called Joshua Meadows, whose own article on the game’s representation of sex and nudity was an inspiration for this entry.

I originally planned to include a brief paragraph speculating about what each Sister’s created world would be like, but worried that my subjective musings might steer the reader’s opinion one way or the other. Besides, exactly what will happen to the Sisters upon ascending remains somewhat unclear. To some degree they seem to believe that they will retain their consciousness and free will after Breakthrough, and will be able to experience the Upper Limit as one of its citizens. But more than that, many of the characters refer to Breakthrough as creating a world based on the ascended Sister in some way. It is suggested that every Sister contains the germ of an entire unique world, and that Breakthrough is the process by which this bulb of life is nourished by Colour so that it may sprout on the surface. Perhaps the world could be said to exist within the Sister, and will be expelled and realized once the Sister pierces the membrane separating the Upper Limit from the Void. Perhaps the Sister in some way is the new world, either representing it as an autonomous part of the whole, or acting as a living manifestation of the world, “as the flavour of the ocean is contained in a droplet or the whole mystery of life within the egg of a flea.” In any case, each Sister is a microcosm of civilization, an ambassador for her personal world, a living representation of the possibility for life above.

I have also meaningfully omitted the verse of poetry that is read for each Sister’s “ending”. This is only because I plan to address the meanings of these verses all together, in a separate (and upcoming!) article.

Finally, before we get into the body of the article, I want to make a quick mention of the selection criteria. In short- there are none, except what you decide should be your own criteria. The game offers no guidelines for making your decision, and does not suggest in any way that one Sister might be more “correct” than any other. How and why you come to your conclusion is totally up to you, and any conclusion you come to is totally valid. Maybe you decide to trust your gut, and go with whichever Sister is your favourite, even for reasons you can’t put your finger on. Perhaps you will choose whichever Sister will set the best example for the Upper Limit, and will create the most prosperous or successful world through her ascension. Maybe you will make your decision for physical reasons, choosing whichever Sister you find the most beautiful, or whichever Sister inhabits your favourite chamber. Perhaps you will choose to liberate whichever Sister you perceive to suffer the most from her predicament in the Void.

How you make your decision is utterly in your control, and the information that follows is presented only to attempt to create as complete a portrait of the Sisters as I can manage, for the benefit of anyone on the fence or otherwise incapable of choosing or differentiating between Sisters. Remember, why you make your decision and how you chose your selected Sister is just as important, or even more important, as which Sister you chose. The point of forcing the player to make this decision is to force the player to examine him or herself critically, and make a decision based on his or her own values. So if you’re in a sharing mood, I’d love to hear in the comments not only which Sister you chose (or would choose), but how you came to your decision.

And now, without further set dressing, let’s discuss the Sisters.

Sister Death

Sister Death is something of a cipher. She has a very strong, proactive relationship with the Spirit that borders on the maternal, and she is totally willing to sacrifice herself for his benefit. Like Aya, she has unique nicknames for the Spirit that no other Sister uses- but unlike Aya’s taunting cries of “Killer” and “Wanderer”, Sister Death calls the Spirit “My Sweet,” or “My Love.” She is completely honest with the Spirit, and not only helps him but volunteers to help him, even to her own detriment and death. Without provocation, and even before being fed, she is committed to the Devastator, teaches him to survive this hostile environment, disguises him as a Brother, and sends him on the path towards salvation.

However, her relative youth, combined with the fact that she is ostracized from the Void’s “society”, leaves us with little of the evidence we can use to analyze the other Sisters. Her “greenhouse”, if it can be called such a thing, is a bombed out ruin. Her chamber is most remarkable for its tentacle-like columns of rock that lash out from her island. Since her chamber is closest geographically to the Nightmare, it is the most chaotic in appearance. The only evidence that life even could bloom here is the rotted, hollow tree carcass she hides in. The only true comparison to be made between her physical and spiritual bodies is that in her Soul Obscura the Nameless Sister makes no attempt to hide her misery. Although in her tree she stands upright and addresses the Guest directly, in her Obscura she is bent-backed and sorrowful, hugging her knees in a desperate act of self-comfort. As her hearts are unlocked, she appears to swim through her Obscura. Perhaps the “air” is thicker in the Void towards the Nightmare: compare the northerly Yani and Ole’s aerial and graceful reactions to having their hearts opened.

Sister Death does have favourite Colours, though, and they are telling of some elements of her personality. Her taste for gold ought to be obvious: she trusted Golden Eyes with her life before she even properly met him, and so trusts him to complete his task that she gives her own life to aid him. The Nameless Sister’s preference for emerald, though, offers us some food for thought. Death never mentions one way or the other if her treatment by the other denizens of the Void bothers her, but her need for defensive emerald suggests that she does find her isolation painful. Her combination of gold and emerald, then, suggests a deep loneliness: her desire to trust and be trusted is all the more intense for the defence mechanisms she must keep up in order to keep her feelings from being hurt.

Sister Ava

Sister Ava stands in tremendous contrast to Sisters Death and Uta, probably the only Sisters you will have encountered when you first meet her. If your journey through the Void took you from Death’s greenhouse straight to Uta’s grotto you would be forgiven for believing the Sisters would all be gloomy, delicate, and fragile. Sister Ava is evidence early on that warmth can, in fact, exist in the Void. Ava’s chamber, the alcove, represents the first almost completely manmade chamber, with no natural elements whatsoever. Her chamber specifically contrasts with Uta’s grotto, which is characterized by water and frigidity, by featuring a warm colour scheme and plenty of flickering candles. Ava’s personality is a welcome contrast as well. After Sister Death’s apologetic timidity and Uta’s apathetic lethargy, Ava is lively, flirtatious, and demanding. She is also, however, manipulative and selfish relative to her Sisters.

Physically, Ava stands unspectacularly in her chamber. Her Soul Obscura, however, reveals more of her nature. She lies, seductively posed, and her bonds take the form of rose petals and stars. The candles that decorate her chamber actually follow her into her Obscura, suggesting they are more than just decorative trinkets, that they could be considered an extension of who she is as a person. Candles are beautiful, of course, they give off light and warmth, but they slowly destroy themselves by performing their only function. Perhaps Ava’s seemingly straightforward personality is a mask for a more self-destructive character? As her hearts are opened, her body language becomes more openly seductive, and her language becomes more flirtatious.

Ava’s upfrontness about her needs renders an analysis of her Colour diet almost unnecessary. She desires amber above all else, symbolic of hunger as it is. Ava is one of the Sisters who will openly ask the Taboo Breaker for Colour, which Sisters are supposedly unable to do. She also explicitly refers to her own hunger. This is worth bringing up because we know from various sources that the Sisters are starving, but they don’t all mention it outright. In fact, many Sisters ask you to use your Colour elsewhere, or not at all, or anywhere except on them. Ava’s taste for violet, the colour of inspiration, is reflected in her elaborately decorated chamber. Her poisons are revealing as well. Her undisguised attempts to manipulate the Spirit is an expression of her distaste for gold. As for her hatred of azure, I suppose you could say it is representative of her lackadaisical nature.

Ava’s flirtatiousness is contrasted by her despotic Brother, Whaler. Where Aya is coquettish and suggestive, Whaler relies on threats and brute force to impart his will on the Devastator. However, the two do have something in common: selfishness. Ava’s selfishness takes the form of a demanding nature rooted in starvation, which under the circumstances could be forgiven. Brother Whaler’s violence, though, has its roots in egocentrism and self-righteousness. Even among the Brothers, he stands out as particularly cruel. Ava seems not to fear him, though, and lies about him to Devastator. She claims the Brothers- Whaler specifically- will not mind if the Spirit opens her hearts, and even attempts to convince him that the taboos are no longer in effect. Considering Whaler is one of the most zealous brothers when it comes to taboo breaking, it is difficult to imagine how he would react to hearing that particular lie coming from his own Sister. True to her Colour diet, it would take a great hunger indeed to inspire someone to concoct such a high-risk and creative lie.

Sister Uta

Sister Uta’s most pronounced characteristic is her melancholy. Everything about her from her chamber to her Colour diet, her body language to her ambient score, it all suggests world weariness, depression, and malaise. Her chamber in particular, although livelier than Sister Death’s, is cold, uninviting, damp, and almost completely unfurnished. Her only allowance for her own comfort is a simple canoe-like hammock, in which she quietly lies, ignoring the Spirit, and gazing unblinkingly at the one-eyed moon above her chamber. Although she shows the Spirit no interest in her physical manifestation, in her Soul Obscura she is much more attentive. Without any hearts opened she sits bolt upright and stares into the camera, and as her hearts are opened she becomes more relaxed but no less observant. Uta is characterized by deep, unwavering concentration in both her physical and spiritual forms, but her Soul betrays that she is more attuned to the actions of the Guest than she would like to suggest. Also significant in this vein is that despite her seemingly ambivalent nature, she will actually aid the Guest by providing him with a heart that he needs to complete his otherwise impossible trial.

Uta’s Colour diet, then, will not surprise an attentive reader. That she would desire emerald ought to be obvious, since her physical inattentiveness but spiritual investment in the Spirit suggests that she puts walls up to defend herself from those around her in spite of actually caring about them. Her love of silver, likewise, manifests itself as frugality with energy- both her body and her soul are at rest, not wasting the life-giving Colour by expending it on physical tasks. Her desire to hoard Colour through inactivity is reinforced by her hatred of amber: she doesn’t want to digest her precious morsels any faster than she absolutely must. Her hatred of crimson could be a simple reflection of her inactive nature, but it also suggests that in spite of her affected nonchalance, she does not explicitly dislike the Guest.

Uta’s Brother is Mantid, the first Brother to enter the Void, which makes him roughly analogous to Uta who has a chance of being the first Sister (after Sister Death) encountered by the Spirit. Uta’s disguised concern for the Spirit is in harmony with Mantid’s relatively friendly disposition towards the same. However, the face Mantid shows the Guest is not representative of his entire character. Sister Ava refers to Mantid’s cruelty, and meaningfully suggests that he “has no sense of humour.” This could go some ways towards explaining Uta’s defeated nature: Brother Mantid’s draconian reign over her has drained her of energy, and she remains as motionless as possible so as to avoid her Brother’s wrath.

Sister Echo

Sister Echo is the first wandering Sister the Spirit is liable to meet, and this characteristic will make her instantly stand out from the rest of the sorority. Like Sister Death, her lack of certain characteristics shared by the other Sisters makes her difficult to read. Not only are we lacking sufficient information to analyze her as deeply as the other Sisters, but her entire personality seems to revolve around being cryptic and mysterious. She is also quite helpful of the Guest, volunteering information that is generally reliable.

As a wandering Sister, Echo has no chamber, only a Soul Obscura. For this reason we never see Echo in her physical form (if she can even be said to have one). Although this makes it impossible for us to determine the degree to which her exterior representation of herself is a true reflection of her inner thoughts, in a way it can be almost as illuminating on its own. Echo is totally exposed to the Spirit. She could be said to be completely honest, in that by only ever exposing us to her soul, she makes no attempt to sway the Guest with the representations of her body. Unlike Ava, whose self-serious physical form was different from her playful soul, Echo only ever has one face to show the Devastator.

Her helpful, but unknowable nature are telegraphed by her Colour choices and poisons. Violet- creativity- is one of her staples, and her inspired poses and wordplay are testament to that. She also desires silver, representative of frugality, prudence, and wastelessness. This expresses itself through her helpfulness: she doesn’t waste words flattering Doppelganger, nor does she attempt to mess with his head and obscure his path by telling him lies or half-truths. Her creative inclinations do interfere with her otherwise helpful nature though- despite usually telling the truth and providing useful information, she does tend to do it in a manner marked by obfuscating poetics. Her poisons are azure and crimson, which ought to be clear to anyone who has observed her deliberate and delicate body language.

What is not totally clear is why Echo does not have a chamber. Sister Aya’s aggressive nature probably makes her too much of a headache for even the self-aggrandizing Brothers to deign to handle. Yet Echo’s elegant and peaceful sashays through the Void are left totally unchallenged. Perhaps it is out of some kind of respect? Maybe the Brothers consider her harmless, and as such not in need of the same strictness placed on the other Sisters? Her relationship with Aya is also never fully explained. How did Echo come to be Aya’s mistress? Why does Echo never mention the relationship at all, leaving the relationship feeling one-sided? Why does Aya worship Echo with one breath, and claim she is insane with the next? How did two Sisters of such vastly different temperaments come to form a master/pupil relationship at all? Why do the Brothers allow this? Any analysis of Echo’s character leads to more questions than answers. Knowing Echo, she would probably enjoy hearing that.

Sister Aya

Feral, animalistic Aya is a fascinating character, totally unlike the other Sisters in so many ways. Obviously the fact that she is without a Chamber or a Brother puts her in the minority automatically, but she is also distinct from the other Sisters because of her pure, undisguised loathing of the Guest, who she usually calls by her own nicknames- particularly Killer, Wanderer, and Murderer. Sister Aya is spectacularly aggressive, she insults and belittles the Spirit, comes and goes as she pleases, and even the Brothers seem to have no interest in trying to control her. Like Echo, she could be said to be completely “exposed” to the Spirit, in that we never see her physical form and only ever have access to her Soul Obscura. This could suggest that her inner and outer lives are in total harmony, and that she sees no reason to act one way in spite of feeling another.

Despite this apparent honesty, Aya still seems to be slightly misleading the Spirit. In my Beginner’s Guide, I referred to Aya’s taste for amber as representative of a hunger to which she will never admit. She demands the Taboo Breaker give all his Colour to her mistress, Echo, but her desire for Amber betrays her own hunger. This makes her subservience to Echo all the more meaningful, if in spite of her own starvation she still only wants the best for her mistress. I almost don’t feel the need to mention how crimson affects her personality, since she is far and away the most aggressive Sister. Her hatred of gold ought to be obvious enough: she hates the Taboo Breaker, so why should she trust him? She clearly doesn’t think he’s capable of making the right decision on his own, so she feels the need to guide his hand as inelegantly and obviously as she can. Her hatred of silver is somewhat telling, though. Perhaps she doesn’t care about wastefulness because she doesn’t care what happens to the Void, only Echo.

In spite of (because of?) her aggression, I actually rather like Aya. In fact, behind Yani she is probably my favourite Sister. On the face of it this seems pretty unlikely, since the two are really quite different in personality. So I suppose by analyzing those features that Aya and Yani actually do manage to share I could learn quite a lot about myself. I’ll spare you that particular bit of soul searching for now. Feel free to draw your own conclusions about me based on the information provided, however.

Sister Eli

Sister Eli’s no-nonsense personality, strong sense of conviction, and super cool chamber makes her a favourite among fans. Eli’s uniform (accessorized with a leather riding crop), dirigible focused chamber, cropped haircut, commanding attitude, and bone dry sense of humour are all reminiscent of a high ranking military type. She waffles between getting right down to business- teaching the Guest some of the specifics about Breakthrough- and playfully mocking him by suggesting ascension is only possible with the help of the power of “true love.”

Eli has much in common with Sister Ava, whose second heart must be opened before Eli can be visited. Both of their chambers emphasize manmade structures over naturalistic flourishes, both are alert to the presence of the Spirit while he is in their chambers, both ask the Spirit to feed them in spite of this behaviour apparently being impossible, and both have props in their Soul Obscura. Unlike Ava, though, whose decorative candles invited further analysis of parts of her personality she may have been hiding or minimizing, Sister Eli’s cannonballs serve the purpose of emphasizing those parts of her personality we have already noticed. Speaking of cannonballs, Eli’s Brother is Ironclad. Eli and Ironclad serve as something of an exception to the usual logic behind Brother/SIster pairings. Where most of the Sisters are wed to a Brother who will serve as their antithesis or nemesis, Ironclad seems to have been chosen to be thematically resonant with Eli: he complements her rather than contrasts with her.

Eli’s desire for crimson ought to be easily understood: although she is not as aggressive towards the spirit as Aya (or even Ava), enjoying instead a cordial relationship with him, she still has all the hallmarks of a character who is aggressive generally, and even hordes weaponry in her Soul Obscura. That her anger is not focused towards the Taboo Breaker could be due to the influence of frugal silver. She is careful and deliberate with her energies and indeed her rage: she knows the Spirit is not her enemy and may even be useful to her, so she directs her anger elsewhere. Her distaste for violet is easily enough understood, and is represented by a straight-talking demeanour marked by to-the-point conversations with the Spirit. A lack of creativity may also be the reason her sense of humour is so dry.

Most interesting though is Eli’s hatred of gold. In all her interactions with the Guest she shows no signs of refusing to trust him, and although no Sister could be said to have a “healthy” relationship with her Brother, Eli’s similarities to warlike Ironclad makes their coupling probably the least invasive of the lot. It’s possible, then, that Eli’s directed aggression really is intended for the Spirit, and she just has the sense not to unleash a hateful tirade against the entity that might save her life. Sister Death, after all, says that Eli would spend a thousand years in the Void for one day on the surface: she shouldn’t like to frighten away the one person who could give her just that. Also interesting is that upon opening her third heart, Eli has genuine-sounding words of kindness and gratitude for the Guest. Either Sister Eli is a tremendous actor, or without showing any outward signs of it at all we have witnessed a character arc for Eli- going from focused white hot hatred to calm understanding as the Spirit continues to feed her Colour.

Sister Ima

If you choose to make your decision based on which Sister you think would be most benefitted by being freed from the Void, you will almost certainly choose Sister Ima. Crucified against a medieval torture device, Ima spends her days contemplating the pendulum that perpetually swings above her head. As her hearts are opened, the pendulum lowers, and she comes closer to being split down the middle. For Ima, being fed Colour and being threatened by the blade are the same: as she comes closer to true life, she also comes closer to death. This direct conflation of life and death makes her somewhat representative of the Void as a whole: neither life, afterlife, nor prelife; its inhabitant neither living nor dead. Ima and her plight have another direct connection to the Void in her descending scythe. The swinging blade serves as the visual cue that the Brothers have selected a Sister for “interrogation” (read: torture) during the witch hunt of the Agony cycles.

Ima has a peculiar characteristic that makes her unique among the Sisters: her physical self in her tower and her spiritual self in her Soul Obscura are in total harmony. The tortures she suffers bodily are identical to her mental tortures. Like the wandering Sisters, this can be interpreted as a kind of “honesty”: her physical presentation and her mental state line up perfectly. However, Ima has almost certainly not elected into her situation. More than honesty (or in addition to it) her harmony of body and mind probably represents a particularly strong oppression at the hands of the Brothers. Ima’s Brother is Caterpillar, whose relationship with the Spirit is two-faced and parasitic. Caterpillar claims he will be your mentor, but before long he has abandoned you, presumably because he could not get what he wanted from the Guest. Although he is generally supportive (if curt) to the Guest’s face, his treatment of Ima betrays a spectacular cruelty we never see directly expressed. Like Brother Mantid, Caterpillar is careful to present himself a certain way to the Spirit (and player), and we have to be alert to be able to see through their apparent civility. This self-serving dishonesty makes Caterpillar an effective contrast to Ima, whose personality is most marked by selflessness and helpfulness towards the Taboo Breaker.

As for her Colour choices, nobody would blame Ima for desiring emerald’s protection. She also, of course, desires azure, so as to be agile enough to avoid the scythe’s final descent upon the opening of her last heart (and believe me, it is a photo finish- she probably needed every drop of azure she got). The straightforwardness of her needs is in harmony with her honest nature: unlike the other Sisters, who present themselves one way but feel another, or who attempt to hide the flaws of their personalities that their Colour choices nonetheless lay bare, Ima’s needs are simple and direct. This does manifest itself as a distaste for violet’s inspiration, however. I suppose in light of her condition it would be unfair to blame her for being practical and plainspoken. She also hates amber, which makes sense. If her metabolism were too quick, she may lose her precious emerald and azure, and not have enough left in her to avoid or survive her final encounter with the blade.

Sister Una

Una’s smithy is, if not the largest in terms of square footage, certainly the busiest, liveliest, and most imposing. While other Sisters may favour manmade structures like houses or blimps over the other Sisters’ more naturalistic grottoes, ponds, and trees, none of the Sisters besides Una have a chamber that could be said to be industrial. The rhythmic pounding of an armada of hammers reverberates through the high ceilinged corridors of this imposing stone cathedral to industry. Even the soundtrack is percussion heavy and energetic, contrasting it with the weepy theremins and plinking piano tunes that populate the rest of the Void.

Una herself invokes images of not only industry, but religion. She kneels before a raging fire apparently in reverence, and in her Soul Obscura she writhes in a combination of burning agony and religious ecstasy. Fire, as a visual theme, follow Una into her Soul Obscura, possibly as a result of her fixation on them in her physical form. Her bonds take the forms of flames, and as her hearts are unlocked she writhes across the field of coals at her feet. Perhaps this intensity is a side effect of her feeding on crimson and azure?

The more direct effects of her diet become clear as she speak to the Guest. She is extremely hostile towards him, maybe even rivalling Aya in her hostility. She admonishes the Spirit for his failures, and even blames him for things that appear to have happened before his arrival in the Void, including the deaths of forty Sisters. She places a great deal of responsibility on the Spirit, and claims it is his incompetence that has led to the Sleeper’s predicament. It should come as no surprise, then, that she is poisoned by gold. Her matter-of-fact method of dealing with the Guest is also reflective of her distaste for violet.

That Una’s assigned Brother is Patriarch is interesting. Brother Patriarch has an amicable relationship with the Spirit, and is even understanding and forgiving of the Spirit’s murder of him. Why is the oldest and wisest of the Brothers assigned to Una? Is it because his level headedness was though to be a suitable counter-balance for Una’s ferocity? Is Patriarch’s relative friendliness meant to contrast with Una’s aggression?

One more thing worth mentioning about Una is her response to having her third heart opened. Like Eli, another crimson-favouring Sister with an aggressive temperament, Una eventually comes around on the Guest. Recanting her earlier vitriolic abuse of her potential saviour, and abandoning her self-destructive impulses, Una will suddenly use her azure and crimson to channel a hitherto unseen lust for life, and unabashed desire to ascend to the Upper Limit. This about-face, and confirmation of life in a world as dead as the Void, endears her to many players.

Sister Ire

Sister Ire is the oldest of the Sisters, although she is not particularly old objectively speaking. Besides her age, she has many characteristics that make her distinct from the other Sisters. Probably the thing about Ire that most players will first notice is her nudity- even in her physical form her breasts are exposed. Ire as a whole is much more explicitly sexual than the other Sisters. Although any Sister can be seen naked by opening all her hearts, their nudity almost never has sexual undertones, being conflated instead with freedom or liberation. They are naked as newborns, which is appropriate considering their impending rebirth in the Upper Limit. Ire, though, has an atmosphere of sexuality around her at all times. As she is fed Colour she writhes and poses erotically, and even her musical track has a borderline pornographic bass line.

Like some of the other Sisters, Ire has a prop in her Soul Obscura. In fact, she is the only Sister to have a naturally occurring object accompany her soul. The dead tree that she sits on, stretches on, lies on, and grinds on could almost be said to be analogous to her. Although she is really not that old (she claims to be nineteen), there is still much emphasis placed on her age relative to the other Sisters, and the implication is that she is “dried-up” rather than wise with age. It’s worth noting, however, that she actually is quite wise. Or at least knowledgeable. As she is fed Colour, she teaches the Taboo Breaker many things about the Void and the dangers of using Colour carelessly. In fact, it is only through Ire that many of these gameplay elements are taught concretely, rather than obliquely implied.

Her Colour diet leads to an interesting balancing act of personality. Like Ava, she desires amber, the Colour of metabolism and hunger. However, where Ava’s hunger was reinforced by violet’s inspiration, creating a manipulative and coy personality, Ire’s hunger is soothed by gold’s trust. This tears Ire in two directions: on the one hand, she trusts the Spirit to reward her knowledge with Colour, but on the other she still feels anxious enough about her starvation to ask for Colour directly. Her taste for amber is underlined by a distaste for silver: she doesn’t like to see Colour wasted that she could feed on herself. Furthermore, many of her gameplay lessons are specifically about the importance of not wasting Colour. Her distaste for emerald is interesting, though. Perhaps the fact that she would be poisoned by emerald’s protection is the reason she appears nude in her chamber? She is so opposed to the idea of protection, of barriers, that she presents herself completely unguarded to all who enter her chamber.

Sister Yani

Everything about Yani seems purposefully engineered to evoke sympathy in the player- or maybe I just feel that way because she evoked so much sympathy in me. Her dilapidated and apparently haunted house borders on being totally inhospitable. Her spartan bedroom is uninviting, and frankly a little frightening. Her situation is so dire that even her striking red tentlike bed barely livens the place up. Everything about her is hidden. The way she kneels sheepishly in the centre of her bedsheet fort, which is itself a bastion against the ghosts and loneliness of her chamber. Her Colour diet is reflective of someone who leads a rich inner life: violet suggests creativity, and combined with azure she could be said to be “quick thinking”, talented at improvisational arts. Her Soul Obscura reinforces this observation: although physically she is shrinking and unassuming, her soul is graceful and creative, performing delicate ballet dances while perched on top of a globe.

Her poisons betray more of her personality. Her distaste for amber mirrors her fear of being fed when you first meet her. Most tellingly, though, she hates emerald: the Colour of defence. Creative spirits tend to be fragile creatures, and the very act of creating something is to bear one’s soul, destroy one’s self-created armour and expose one’s greatest insecurities and fears. That emerald would poison Yani’s soul- cut her off from her own creativity- is interesting when contrasted with the highly defensive nature of her physical surroundings. In this sense Yani seems to be of two minds- both desiring and rejecting a layer of armour to protect her from the world.

Yani’s assigned Brother, Warden, is almost her total opposite. Where Yani is selfless, helpful, friendly, and creative, Warden is greedy, aggressive, self-aggrandizing, and dogmatic. Warden’s physical form represents a twisted subversion of Yani’s comforting bedsheet fort: where the luxurious silk construction represents a castle or bastion, Warden’s dangling skeletal ribcage represents a prison. The contrast is made here between Yani’s self-imposed withdrawal into her defensive sub-chamber and the stifling imprisonment enforced from without. If Yani’s chosen hermitage allows her to more intensely focus on her inner life, Warden’s body-prison represents stagnation, of the body and the mind.

I suppose for me any discussion of Yani in this context means asking the million dollar question: why would I choose her? I think it’s her “internal” nature that I most associate with. Like Yani, I consider myself to lead a rich inner life. The vast majority of my creative endeavours are squirrelled away in notebooks and sketchpads that I never show to anyone else. I don’t find positive reinforcement to be a necessary element in my creativity, and will often create something solely for my own amusement. I find the quiet satisfaction of a drawing competently executed or an essay that is a marked improvement over a previous draft to be immensely satisfying, and usually don’t feel any desire to have my work validated by the approval of other people. In this sense I consider Yani to be something of a kindred spirit.

Sister Ole

Sister Ole will probably invoke strong feelings in the average player, a lot of the game seems to be geared towards endearing the player to her. Early on, almost as soon as the Guest has been disguised as a Brother, she becomes your promised Sister. From that point on, she periodically cries out to you, wondering where you are and if you’ve abandoned her. Eventually she is given away to Brother Montgolfier, and Aya mocks the Spirit by claiming he will “corrupt” her. Her chamber, like Yani’s, is a relatively modern looking house in a state of dilapidation, seemingly haunted by unseen poltergeists. A neglected wedding dress gathers dust in its own room, while another contains a piano that will play a sorrowful tune if painted with Colour. Ole herself stares sadly out the window of a room containing a baby’s crib- hence the name, Ole’s cradle.

Ole’s personality seems engineered to be endearing as well. Her love for gold manifests very strongly as unconditional trust for Golden Eyes, but that isn’t all. She also claims to love him, and laments that she could not be his “bride.” As she is fed Colour, she admits she is excited to ascend to the Upper Limit, but begs the Spirit not to send her if it would result in his death. Ole’s affection for the Spirit rivals even Sister Death’s. Her taste for violet is expressed not as creativity (although the presence of a piano in her chamber suggests she is a musician), but as curiosity. Unlike the other Sisters, who offer the Spirit information a little at a time (and who cannot always be trusted), Ole is as much a stranger in this world as the Spirit himself. Her poisons are relatively straightforward: that she despises azure is reflected in her calm, inquisitive nature, and her hatred of crimson is clear in her love for the Guest.

One of the characteristics that sets Ole apart from the sorority is her mobility. As she is fed Colour, she responds in her physical form as well as in her Soul Obscura, standing up from the window ledge and following the Spirit with her eyes after her first heart is opened. Ole’s Obscura is fantastic as well. She is one of the Sisters who has a prop in her Obscura: a swing, which she will begin to energetically ride as her hearts are opened. The purely recreational prop she keeps in her Obscura, coupled with the infantalized name of her chamber gives her an air of childlike innocence. The playful manner of her spirit draws a parallel between Ole and Yani, as well.

Uta's Grotto

And there they are, the Sisters of the Void. Although my reductive surface-scratching can hardly begin to convey the Sisters in all their complexity, I hope I have managed to provide clarity in some areas, and raise important questions in others. To play The Void- or even to experience it vicariously as I have- is to understand how truly real, and lifelike, the Sisters are. It’s a testament to the creators of the game, to the character designers, writers, and performers who bring these characters to life, that they feel so full and realized. To even describe them as having been “designed” and “performed” feels alien, and almost disrespectful- to me and to many others they are simply the Sisters, as real as any person you care to name. And yet, in spite of how corporeal they all manage to feel, most players will be able to definitively choose one (or perhaps oscillate between two or three), that they decide to ascend. As Sister Echo would say, there is only one true Sister. The Sister any given player selects would be, for him or her, the realest of the sorority- his or her one true Sister.

As a closing thought, I suppose I am forced to admit that choosing to ascend the Spirit is as absolutely valid an option as selecting one of the Sisters (in fact, in the original Russian Tension, it was possible to ascend a Sister and the Spirit). Where, then, is my analysis of the Devastator? How can he be meaningfully compared to the Sisters to determine who most deserves Breakthrough? Such an examination is, of course, impossible. The Spirit is mute, and has no will of his own except for that will the player enacts through him. The Spirit is the player. What could I possibly have to teach you about yourself? If you size up the eleven Sisters and none of them endear themselves to you more than any other, none of them move you with their suffering, none of them inspire you with their conviction, and none of them seems deserving of a chance at a real life on the surface, by all means feel free to ascend yourself, Golden Eyes. But if you do, I do have one thing to teach you about yourself: you might not be a very reliable or objective judge of character.