I’ve been playing video games before I could speak full sentences (my Dad told me one of the few words that I knew when I was a toddler was the Vietnamese word for “fox”, referring to “Crash Bandicoot”). During those early years, I never really thought about relating to a character in a narrative-driven, single-player game (not knowing English didn’t help neither). Video games were fun and cartoony, but none really GOT me, let alone a character. I actually never had a single game in mind that I was too crazy about, such that I would have to beg my dad to get it for me. He was actually the gamer in the family; whenever there was a new game/console/computer being released, he would be the first to get the newest toys even though they weren’t even imported to Vietnam yet (Vietnam had a close door policy until 1997). He was also the one that expected me to get straight As in school, but would stop me from studying for my finals because we had a guild qar to fight and the guild master wanted me to defend one of the towers, lol. My childhood experience with gaming was basically: I played whatever that my dad played and I never cared to pick which games to buy. I was more obsessed with manga and Chinese TV Shows/novels at the time.
Fast forward to middle school when MMORPGs started to get popular, I always chose a male character because all the female character options were grossly sexualized with no personality and most of the time, not even historically accurate; meanwhile, the male characters got all the cool armors that I wanted. Actually, let me back up and tell you a bit of Vietnamese history (I promise this will make sense later). I grew up with two badass Vietnamese heroines: the Trưng Sisters (Hai Bà Trưng) who led a rebellion in 40 A.D. and fought in battles while riding on elephants’ back. I repeat, ELEPHANTS’ BACK!!! They won and became Queens for a while anyway (note: before the rebellion broke out, the colonizer threatened the older sister, Trưng Trắc, that if the sisters refused to surrender, they would kill her husband. But Trưng Trắc saw the bigger picture and refused to back down, so they sent her his decapitated head as a warning). Another badass Vietnamese general was Lady Lady Triệu (Bà Triệu, 248 A.D.) and her most famous line was, "I only want to ride the wind and walk the waves, slay the big whales of the Eastern sea, take back my homeland to break the chains of slavery; I will never bow my head and stoop over just to be someone's concubine!" Some more admirable historical figures that I looked up to as a child were: Hua Mulan, 花木蘭, (the actual person, I never heard of the Disney movie until I was 20), Wu Zetian, 武则天, (the only woman to rule China and made the Tang Dynasty the most prosperous dynasty), and the Yang Family’s Female Generals, 杨家将, (most were widows I believe). In addition, I grew up hanging out with strong women who quit school before turning ten, moved thousand kilometers away from home just to help their parents pay debt because of a failed harvest. My grandma had to walk on foot 10km a day to make a living on top of being a school teacher to raise her three children, while my grandpa was sent to re-education camp. If you haven’t gotten where I’m going with this already: I don’t take the unrealistic, bullshit interpretations of female characters in video games while I have these badass women to look up to, IN REAL LIFE. If something doesn’t spark joy, toss that shit out (Marie Kondo’s wise words right here). I was in the MMORPGs craze for about 4 years and then I stopped playing altogether to focus on school (specifically English, my greatest weakness) and eventually, to study abroad at the age of 15. I never once had the “that’s a bummer that I can’t play as a female character” thought. Whenever I started a new MMORPG, I just auto-piloted to a husbando and had fun.
I guess I already accepted the reality that there would be no option for female players like me to choose the avatar that could represent my interpretations of female character (and armor preferences). I had never considered video games to be a medium of expression. What also didn't help was I didn't speak English and no games had Vietnamese subtitles. I didn’t expect or wish video games to be such a medium, because I had manga, books, and movies already doing that for me. I treated video games as something that I didn’t have to contemplate on while being engaged, like foosball or badminton.
Ten years passed and I recently come back to console gaming (my English is now good enough to understand narrative-driven, single-player games, yay!) Besides feeling the shock of amazing advancements in graphics, now there are video games out there that has female protagonists who aren’t grossly sexualized. Let me be clear: I don’t hate video games with male leads, they are great games and I enjoy every bit of those games. The thing is: I’ve been playing as male characters in video games since I could barely speak and it’s nothing new (I’m only talking about the character aspects of video games here since this is about Kassandra; storytelling, gameplay, music, etc. belong in a different discussion). I do buy those games and thoroughly enjoy them, but I won’t start a NG+ or think about the game much once I'm done with it. And definitely, I won’t buy a second copy of the Gold Edition, replay it on PC after I already platinumed it on my PS4 (300 hrs btw), just so that I could take more pictures and record cutscene footages (the amount of time and effort I spend reloading and replaying to trigger certain cutscenes is ridiculous. I have more than 150 save points and that number is still growing! I also have to learn to troubleshoot because PC gaming isn’t always an easy plug-and-play experience, especially when it comes to using mods. I freaking disassemble a laptop to get Odyssey to run.) Lastly, if I want to play as a badass male protagonist, I can just go to any video game store, close my eyes and grab one at random or pick whichever one that has a handsome husbando with a smexy voice on the cover page.
Before Assassin's Creed: Odyssey, I played three other games with female protagonists (Horizon: Zero Dawn, Uncharted: Lost Legacy, and Tomb Raider), who are badass, clever, and sarcastic (though Chloe is probably more playful than Aloy; Lara and Nadine are definitely more serious than both). I love their badass selves and sarcasms, but none really GOT my undivided attention (I recently finished The Last Of Us so Ellie is probably a close call but I met her after Kassandra). Then, Kassandra came in like a wrecking ball; I say wrecking ball because I honestly didn’t see this coming. All these years playing games as male protagonists, I never once thought about what would my ideal female character be like. I couldn’t feel disappointed if I didn’t have anything to feel disappointed about, you know?
Kassandra is the character that I never knew I needed in a video game and probably, someone I always wanted to be when I grow up.
I didn’t have a Lara, Kratos, Nathan Drake, or Ezio growing up. If you asked my 6-year-old me who my most favorite video game character that I always looked up to, I didn’t have one (maybe Zhao Yun from Dynasty Warriors; he was my first video game crush but that’s entirely different). I love Kassandra because she has the sarcasm of Aloy, the playfulness of Chloe, the I-will-yeet-you-off-Mount-Tayetos-if-you-fuck-with-me seriousness of Lara and Nadine, while manages to act like a dork most of the times. I also love that Kassandra has Elena Fisher’s compassion and understanding for those around her (Uncharted series), Freya’s vulnerability and sorrow when it comes to her loved ones (God of War), and Ellie's admirable rate of dropping the f-bombs (TLOU).
I'm not sexually attracted to Kassandra because I’m straight (those of you who see my posts/tags about Hades know this by now). When I see Kassandra, I don’t feel this same way: my brain definitely doesn’t autopilot to somewhere else and my pupils won’t dilate so fast that I briefly lose vision because I have a thought. I basically did the “pulse elevated, pupils dilated” test (it’s a BBC Sherlock reference by the way). How do you think I survive taking pictures of Kassandra in those mods? I have to admit, Kassandra did have me question my sexuality for a moment; even my husband (surprise) asked me a few times if I was sure I’m not bi (guess who bought Odyssey for me, often reminded me to use photomode, and "lent" me his gaming laptop before I got my own gaming PC?). It is clear now that my love for Kassandra is a platonic one: pure respect and appreciation. In Chinese and Vietnamese, there are words to describe this type of relationship where English doesn't. Kassandra and I are 知己 or tri kỷ: the first letter means to know (知, tri) and the second letter means self (己, kỷ). Another word is 知音 or tri âm: the first letter still means to know and the second letter means sound/music (音, âm). Both of these words combined means a relationship where both know each other more than they know themselves and one knows what the other is thinking, often without the need to say anything; I suppose it's similar to soulmate in English but romance isn't a required factor here. Again, I see Kassandra as a treasured friend and I believe my work of her shows that.
I’m forever grateful that Québec team took this huge risk and put in A LOT more work by introducing a playable female protagonist in Odyssey, because AC Syndicate wasn't successful due to AC Unity's massive failure the year before. I never had THE female video game character that everyone seems to have growing up until Kassandra and I have Ubisoft Québec and Melissanthi Mahut to thank for that.
I start taking photos of Kassandra because I can’t find any marketing materials of her that I like (till this day, I found only TWO and I’m not happy with either honestly). Kassandra deserves at least a trilogy if not more; but the gods are cruel and I've accepted the fact that this is the first and last time I get to see her. I'll get to see Aloy, Ellie, and Freya again in the sequels and Chloe and Nadine' stories closed nicely, but not Kassandra's. So the least I can do is showing my appreciation of her badassery. I can’t draw to save my life so photomode is the only option left and my skills weren’t even good (I had used HZD’s photomode for only one month prior and gosh the pics were bad), but I tried anyway because nobody else was (my father taught me that if I want something done exactly how I want it, then I gotta learn how do it myself. The I-don’t-know-how excuse wouldn’t work because he’d just told me to go read up on some shit because I’m not illiterate (in short, he was basically Kratos; he did grow up during wartime after all). Kassandra gave me the motivation and patience to improve my skills as a Virtual Photographer. Odyssey isn’t an ideal game for portraits and that’s a good challenge to me (Odyssey is great for landscapes, sceneries, and silhouettes pics though). Thanks to Kassandra, I learn (and still learning) some photography skills, Lightroom, Photoshop, the basics of hexadecimals (I just made my first mod ever, even though hypermorphic did all the heavy lifting), and data mining (unreleased Helix armors *wink*, Québec Team pls ignore if you’re reading this). I’ve recently played about 15 games prior to Odyssey but NO CHARACTER until Kassandra had inspired and pushed me to learn the boring shit that I would normally won’t touch because I want do something creative. It wasn't Zhao Yun who I grew up with, it was Kassandra, who I saw in 2 gif sets on Tumblr.
I get the vibe that the higher-ups at Ubisoft are somewhat surprising and disappointed when more players choose Alexios, even though they thought more would choose Kassandra. As a female gamer who chooses to play as male characters 100% of the time, I don’t find these statistics surprising at all. I mean, have they looked at their own marketing materials (game covers, posters, collectibles, Collector’s Edition, TV ads, etc.)? These are geared towards male gamers and every official merchandise you see, it’s all Alexios or the Spartan helmet; there are two Kassandra statues and I don’t find them cool tbh (and they’re sold out anyway). When your target market and the fandom are male-dominant and your marketing strategies are catered to male consumers, why are you surprised Alexios is chosen more often? Your marketing plan works and the numbers add up (give your marketing team a bonus). I’m not sure why they present it as if it’s a bad thing. I think the surprise is: despite all these official focuses on Alexios, Kassandra is more popular among content creators and I’m going to go out on a limb and say fans as well. Look at the fanarts, gif sets, videos, and photos (excluding my work). Since Kassandra is the first standalone female protagonist ever in the AC franchise, it’s difficult to say whether these statistics are “good” because there is no bar to benchmark these numbers to. Aveline was debut as part of a spin-off on PS Vita, players can't play entirely as Evie or Amunet/Aya in AC: Syndicate and AC: Origins so I can't use them as bases for comparison neither. Saying that male characters are often more chosen in male-dominant game is like saying, “Breaking news everyone! The sun rises from the East.”
However, I don’t want these numbers to discourage Ubisoft so I’ll put this out there: Odyssey is the FIRST time EVER that I, A FEMALE GAMER, FINALLY CHOOSE TO PLAY AS A FEMALE CHARACTER, if I'm given the option. Of course you can't have an even 50-50 split on the first try, but 30-70 is a start (better than the 0-100 ratio in my personal history of playing games). Another story: I was debating between AC: Origins ($20) and AC: Odyssey ($85) and the one deciding factor for me to buy that gold steelbook edition was, wait for it, KASSANDRA (even though I prefer Ancient Egypt over Ancient Greece in terms of history). My backlog already had 15 games at the time and my video game crush since I was 8 was waiting for me in Dynasty Warriors 8, but I fired up AC: Odyssey as soon as I got home at 2am. I also spent $35 on Helix credits (Odyssey is the first console game that I ever purchase in-game items) and bought another gold edition on PC later. The statistics can’t tell you about this. Also, the numbers can’t tell you how many newcomers who don’t care for the AC franchise at all purchase AC: Odyssey because of Kassandra (because I’m that person and I’ve known a few female players who do the same). I hope we get the options to choose more often in future games, not necessarily have to be AC or even better, a new IP.
I understand that you get these same things when you play as Alexios too; however, it means A LOT to me to have a female character like Kassandra to look up to and I haven’t found another female character like her. You know in that last food tasting scene from Ratatouille, the only dish that finally GETS Anton Ego in the end was the dish his mother used to make when he was a child? It doesn’t mean that the all other dishes he has tasted before are bad, but this particular one reminds him of something he forgets about as time goes by and he’s moving on with his life. Similar with my case, all the previous games that I’ve played are great, but the game that actually GETS me is the one with Kassandra in it because of my personal experience.
Kassandra reminded me what I've forgotten.
Growing up being told that girls don’t need to be active because exercising makes them look too buff for social standards. Growing up seeing girls not being able to go to school because their parents don’t want to miss out on the additional income to pay for their brothers’ tuition fees and wedding expenses. Growing up seeing girls planning to quit their jobs next year, so they can marry a dude they never meet before as soon as their 18th birthday because parents say so. Growing up seeing parents denying a FREE chance for their daughter with disabilities (mute and deaf in this specific case) to learn how to read and write at age 14 for only a year, because they believe literacy is useless for her. Growing up seeing an illiterate 50-year-old mother who still works hundreds of kilometers from home to provide for her 5 children, while her husband is wasted on alcohol day after day and physically abuse them every chance he gets. So you see? Having a video game character like Kassandra means the world to me. All those years of missing out on a badass female character have translated into my obsession with Kassandra. *Ratatouille Anton Ego’s childhood transition scene* I can now come back to that 5-year-old and tell her that some day, a long time from now, she would have the best adventure with an adorkable, yet badass female mercenary in Ancient Greece.
TLDR Here’s a list of things I love about her as a video game character:
+ She’s badass and she kicks ass (obviously)
+ She’s sarcastic most of the time, but sometimes she’ll just straight up call you a malaka and probably, punch you in the face too as a follow-up (I wish I could do that irl. Chloe and Aloy are sarcastic too, but they won’t punch someone in the face, let alone make fun of them by mimicking a goat’s mehhhh; Lara and Nadine might do so without any warning or joke though)
+ She’s still soft and kind, especially when it comes to kids (I have the “fortune” to be the eldest kid in my entire family, so I’m like Kassandra when it comes to little kids)
+ She understands the world differently from everyone else and refuses to follow the norms
+ She’s responsible and sees the bigger picture
+ She’s willing to go far beyond her comfort zone (I love to travel and try new things)
+ She can rock any male armor set and modern suits (pls ignore the abomination called Abstergo set)
+ She commands a ship, a SHIP!!! (I barely know how to use a compass)
+ Have you seen her muscles, veins, and SCARS??? (it’s so rare in video games that female characters have real muscles and scars, especially facial scars)
+ The way she tries to flirt and when it doesn’t work (I mean, have you SEEN the videos? lol)
+ The way she sits
+ Her instant blue-screen face when you start talking about science (that’s my face too if you start talking about Hex editing to mod Odyssey)
+ Her shocked face when she’s not the one who constantly drops the f-bombs
+ *quote on quote gesture* "She gets to choose her spouse" (Ubi, you were THIS close. This bullet point alone needs its own essay, but today is not the day)
And despite all that, she is still a human who feels sorrow and anger (Melissanthi Mahut did a fantastic job in this regard, she’s such a phenomenal actress and I’m forever grateful that she is the one to breathe life to Kassandra).