Why do so many character combinations come in groups of three? Unlike love triangles, where the combo is primarily a way to build conflict, the characters in power trios all build on each other in some way. They might be foils for each other, but as complementary archetypes, they do far more to drive the story together than they ever would apart.
The “child” (who does not have to be a child literally) will be seen as innocent, perhaps to the point of naïveté. The wife, the wiser, calmer aspect, someone around whom one could build a home life. The third, the seductress, is sexually experienced and independent.
Roughly speaking, the characters in the trio correspond to:
- The Ingenue: A naive, innocent, childlike girl who is just setting out into the world. In a Freudian Trio, this would be the Ego.
- The Femme Fatale: A seductive, alluring, mysterious woman who is experienced in the ways of the world. Unlike the Vamp, she may or may not use her feminine wiles for evil. In a Freudian Trio, this would be the Id.
- The Yamato Nadeshiko: A calm, steady, faithful wife, who provides the kind of marital stability and maternal strength that is ideal for settling down and raising a family. In a Freudian Trio, this would be the Superego.
You’d be surprised to see how often this trope shows up, even in works of science fiction. In Star Wars, Leia was the child in A New Hope, the wife/mother in Empire Strikes Back, and (what else?) the seductress in Return of the Jedi. Just about every Star Trek series featured some alignment of these archetypes.
Squaresoft played with this trope a lot in their Final Fantasy series, which may be illustrative to examine in greater depth. I’ve only played through FF IV, VI, VII, and Chrono Trigger, but each of these titles features some interesting variations (warning: spoilers!).
Final Fantasy IV: Porom (child), Rydia (seductress), Rosa (wife).
Porom is pretty solidly the child, though Rydia starts out as this and later grows up into the seductress role. She doesn’t get the guy in the end, though: that would be Rosa, who pretty much starts out with him as well.
In terms of story, the characters don’t really seem to build much on each other, though in terms of gameplay you definitely want to have Rydia and Rosa/Porom in your party (though not Rosa and Porom together–you only need one white mage, after all).
Final Fantasy VI: Relm (child) , Celes (seductress), Terra (wife).
This is my personal favorite in the series. Unlike IV and VII, which both center around male protagonists, Final Fantasy VI revolves around Terra (world of balance) and Celes (world of ruin) as the central protagonists. Because they also play a role in the power trio, their characters are quite complex, especially in the second half of the game. Relm is arguably more of a Mary Sue, but her relation to the other characters, especially Shadow, also makes her role more complex and interesting.
In the end, the romantic subplot is fulfilled by Celes, not Terra, which was something of a surprise to me in my first playthrough. It works really well, though, because of Celes’s heel face turn and subsequent reformation (in which Locke is arguably a Manic Pixie Dream Girl Spear Counterpart). Does that also translate into a shift from seductress to wife as well? I’m not sure, but I’d probably say no–after all, it’s Terra who takes on the mother role in the world of ruin.
Final Fantasy VII: Yuffie (child), Aeris (seductress), Tifa (wife).
The main twist with this one is that visually, you’d think Tifa is the seductress and Aeris is the wife. In terms of story archetypes, however, it’s just the opposite: Tifa is the one whom Cloud depends on, the one who helps him work through his problems, while Aeris is the shifty, mysterious one.
Unlike IV, where Rosa and Cecil are set up from the very beginning, for a while it actually looks like Aeris and Cloud are going to end up together. But then, in perhaps the most tragically gut-wrenching moment in all of video game history, Aeris dies (and doesn’t come back). Since Yuffie is kind of, well, crazy, Tifa and Cloud are pretty much garanteed to get together after that point (and as for Sephiroth…I don’t even want to go there).
Chrono Trigger: Marle (child), Ayla (seductress), Lucca (wife).
Chrono Trigger is interesting because the girl who ends up with the guy in the end (Chrono) is actually the one who fulfills the child archetype, Marle. It works, though, because of the childlike feel of the story. Unlike FF VI and IV, Chrono Trigger is not a dark or an edgy tale–it’s heartwarming innocence at its best. I always did feel that Lucca got the short end of the stick, though–but she did get a cameo in Xenogears, so perhaps the last laugh was hers after all.
Ah, Xenogears. <sigh>
Anyhow, long story short, the Three Faces of Eve power trio is a fascinating way to play with feminine archetypes. Recently, I’ve become quite interested in it because it showed up quite inadvertently in my current project, Heart of the Nebula. It’s funny how tropes can sneak up on you like that, especially some of the more archetypal ones.
Anyhow, in its current form the novel is a piece of trash, but now that I’ve recognized the potential to set up this particular power trio, I think I can really make it shine. If you have any insights, please share–I’m very interested in this trope right now!