Elden Ring's Malenia Embodies FromSoftware's Issues With Women

Elden Ring’s Malenia Embodies FromSoftware’s Issues With Women

She lies there, deep in the belly of the Haligtree, as if she had simply dozed off in the filtering beams of light. Malenia the Separated (defend from Miquella!) fell to pieces, her only able-bodied arm resting at the feet of the scrolls and knots that held her childish brother. This enigmatic warrior captivated audiences from the moment she appeared and featured prominently in the rest of the game’s marketing materials. But instead of becoming an undisputed favorite, she frustrated fans and exposed the limits of FromSoftware’s imagination.

Malenia is a tough-as-nails endgame encounter, and while optional, she’s a brick wall for a lot of players. Recalling other difficult encounters, such as Lady Maria of transmitted by bloodit’s a two-phase fight full of quick, deadly strikes as Malenia heals from the damage she’s inflicted on the player.

When you meet her in Elphael, she is instantly imposing. His presence is discreetly frightening. His movements are refined and practiced. His voice is calm and emotionless. His face is impassive. Everything in the first phase of the fight is designed to thwart and emasculate; there is deep humor in the idea of ​​a woman whose very attacks rob you of your health in order to empower herself. And the ultimate joke: Just when you think you’ve knocked her down, she gets back up one last time.

Malenia’s first death triggers her final transformation into the goddess of scarlet rot, and she triumphantly emerges from her flower to spread tragically beautiful wings of skin, rot, and butterflies. She is no longer dressed in armor and the camera does a long, slow reveal of her nudity. Her body is covered in rot, yet her breasts and genitals are as smooth as a doll’s. It evokes a confusing mix of fear and titillation, complicating the act of looking at one’s body. His lack of protection does not look like a vulnerability but a challenge.

The final part of the fight ends with a whirlwind of aerial dive bombs, rotting explosions, and multiple copies of itself rushing around you. When she finally dies, she recoils once again into the safety of the rot flower, quietly threatening to return to the future for revenge beyond a typical life cycle.

Image: FromSoftware/Bandai Namco

Malenia exemplifies how FromSoft writes women into their games. Whether it’s bosses or NPCs you encounter in the wild, these women have a common condition. They exist in tragically declined worlds, sharing a specific fracture; disfigurement, abandonment and loss. They are afflicted by sex, and the “cure” when they are obstacles instead of mute is for the player to adopt succinct violence. It’s a special type of idealized femininity, as fantastical as ominous castles and giant trees – wise, calm, devoid of needs or motivations – an echoing presence of dolls, mothers and even helpers who guide the player . Their emotions are muted in their more docile counterparts, before erupting into screaming, horrifying hysteria when encountered in battle.

Malenia is made of this same substance and is not unanimously hated either; there is passion for a giant red-haired woman in armor. Still, she is a controversial figure prone to social media posts, memes, and arguments. It’s obvious that there’s a public contingent upset by his presence both as a boss (although optional) and as a figure in the game’s story.

A good number of these archetypal FromSoft women are fan favorites, such as the Emerald Herald (dark souls 2), the keeper of the fire (dark souls 3), or more recently Ranni the Witch (Ring of Elden). [Ed. note: Nico is being quite generous here, not listing Demon’s Souls’ Maiden in Black, Dark Souls’ infamously heaving giantess Gwynevere, Sekiro’s Emma, and the quite-literally-named The Doll from Bloodborne.] The wider gaming community generally reacts harshly towards female characters, which makes the Soulsborne community’s membership positive on their surface. When that affection feels grounded in that empty, emotionless state, or reduces them to infantilized “waifus,” you realize that the hostility and that affection springs from the same deep sexist roots, the intertwined twins.

To quote Matt Kim, in his article “Why Are Female Characters in ‘Dark Souls’ Games Quiet and Alien?”:

While not exclusive to Japanese anime, this type of archetype is one of the medium’s most popular character types. Stranger still is that these characters are actively fetishized for their outward worldliness. Their lack of a broad emotional spectrum is part of their appeal. Additionally, these characters are generally more resilient than any others in their story, perhaps because they are not emotionally charged. Yet one could also argue that their lack of “emotions,” used here as an unfortunate euphemism for the male conception of female flaws, makes it easier to believe that they are capable of such great strengths.

However, once engaged in combat, she reveals her true monstrous form.

FromSoft’s female characters who stray from this calm, doll-like appearance are always written with a lack of emotion, which borders on male stoicism. It’s an eerie void that informs every character permutation the women embody in these games.

Soulsborne games are infamous for challenging their audiences, and over the years have attracted a particular kind of playerbase, often males, who take their boss-killing performance seriously. For some, the difficulty is point of these experiences. This attitude has long alienated many people from the studio’s games, but Ring of EldenThe popularity of has attracted a wider audience ready to be ground to dust by the bosses.

Image: FromSoftware/Bandai Namco via Nico Deyo

Malenia’s boss fight is extremely difficult, and the audience’s hostile and competitive attitudes towards it are often steeped in gendered toxicity. Many Reddit posts, YouTube videos and tweet talking about the failures or successes of the players, while being littered with sexist insults. People have also fallen back into the usual community talk about methods to beat her. more valid and which ones made you a “pussy,” and the hit on her sometimes took on a weird masculinized boob beat. These reactions are unpleasant but not surprising. This boss fight creates friction between the developer’s ideas about the genre and his ideas about the possibility of creating a power fantasy. He creates a weird performance when the game encourages players to accept failure. This is only accentuated by Malenia’s character design.

The bravado of beating Malenia makes sense; she evokes the idea of ​​a virginal warrior like Joan of Arc or Brienne of Tarth, her purity and strength existing in a place beyond femininity. Her aesthetic references Athena or the valkyries, but even when stripped down, her nudity is terrifying rather than provocative. Everything about her is hostile and taunts the player. Faced with a tough, defiant, never-beating woman, men can’t help but fantasize about being the one to bring her down. (Or at least be in the room when it happens.)

FromSoft’s style of hiding the world and story behind item descriptions and esoteric NPC dialogue makes the world unreliable and mysterious, but also reinforces fan bias towards Malenia. She is a recessed figure in the narrative, whether by choice or omission (there is evidence of cut content that may have expanded her real story). Her story is told largely in fragments, before you meet her in the Haligtree – the most important is her fight against Radahn. Shown in a trailer released before the game, the two demigods face off to claim the title of Elden Lord. Radahn cuts off her arm and in a desperate move she takes her sword and leaps at him, plunging the blade into herself and exploding into a giant flower of rot. The consequences of this are clearly shown when the player enters Caelid, withered from edge to edge.

If any fan missed this trailer, his first encounter with Malenia’s influence is when he goes to fight Radahn. Witch-Hunter Jerren, a herald of Radahn, recounts the general’s decline due to Scarlet Rot. He is only a shadow of himself, weakened and mad, eating his compatriots like an animal. It’s not hard to imagine how that would make the public see her as an abuser. This spurred discussion from fans about how his transformation was “cheating” an otherwise fair fight. (The fact that Radahn was a master of gravity magic and also cut off his arm is not important.)

In order to shed some light on Malenia’s journey, players must go on a quest to rescue a rotten young woman, one who bears an uncanny resemblance to Malenia. The story reveals that the demigod dropped spore clones of herself, which bloomed in Caelid. All the paths in FromSoft’s games lead women back to motherhood, even the terrifying damsels with swords.

These narrative choices quickly undermined its initially provocative design, belittling their impact. What’s the scariest thing a design team can imagine? A distant female warrior who cares nothing for them, slowly succumbing to a rot that infected her from birth. While Malenia’s character writing had moved slightly beyond how women were written in previous FromSoft games, her arc is still limited by the same laws. What could have been a place of mechanical and narrative evolution turns out to be only a means to an end in a video game. Women continue to populate the path as passive encounters of help or as predictable obstacles, which the fan base is only too happy to step over.

While FromSoft’s games are often intriguing meditations on the corrupting influence of power, the inevitability of death, and the hidden fear of cosmic horror, the women in them feel stunted. Malenia is a half developed idea too short. What could have been is left on the floor of the Haligtree, wrapped in petals and dreaming deeply of revenge.

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