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Dual Identity in Elden Ring

Seth Tomko is a writer, college-level educator, and adventurer.

Sample of the Elden Ring from the cover art of Elden Ring, copyright  believed to belong to the distributor of the game or the publisher, Bandai Namco Entertainment, or the developers, FromSoftware.

Sample of the Elden Ring from the cover art of Elden Ring, copyright believed to belong to the distributor of the game or the publisher, Bandai Namco Entertainment, or the developers, FromSoftware.

Arise, ye Tarnished!

Elden Ring is replete with characters using aliases and having dual identities. This aspect of the game reinforces lore hunting and encourages players to be open and flexible with their own characters and adventures in the Lands Between.

Ranni and Renna

Ranni’s physical appearance already suggests duality in that she has half a spectral face overlapping the face of the blue doll she inhabits. Ranni’s natural body was destroyed during the Night of Black Knives—which she instigated as part of her long-term plot to cast off the Greater Will—and her immortal spirit acts in the world through a curious blue doll. Likely to maintain the illusion that she died as part of the Night of Black Knives, she introduces herself first using the alias Renna and gifts the player spirit summons to help in the long quest. Only much later, if meeting her again, does the player get her to admit she is Ranni. Her nom de guerre is a device to throw off any pursuit by the Golden Order and to allow her to continue toward her endgame of freeing everyone from the Erdtree and Greater Will.

image featuring both Morgott and Mohg from a youtube video by L1R1.

image featuring both Morgott and Mohg from a youtube video by L1R1.

Morgott/Margit and Mohg

Morgott and Mohg are twins, the former using another alias as part of his contrast to the latter. They are both royals and Omen, having spent most of their lives shackled in the Shunning-Grounds under the capital. They both desire lordship but through different means and for different reasons. Mohg, utterly rejecting the Greater Will that has mistreated him and hidden him away as something shameful and despicable, makes himself into a truly despicable individual by kidnapping Miquella—who worked to help and heal everyone—and imprisoning his “beloved” in the darkest depths Siofra, claiming Miquella’s boundless compassion only for himself. Mohg hopes to found a new royal dynasty with Miquella, sweeping away all that came before to create a new order with the two of them on the top, something Miquella clearly would not have desired at all.

Morgott knows his existence as an Omen is an embarrassment to Golden Order, and seemingly adopts the name Margit when he goes out from the palace so as to not bring shame upon his royal antecedents. Under either name, however, his goal is always to uphold the Golden Order and Erdtree, crushing any who would try to seize the Great Runes to become Elden Lord. Though he was hated and mistreated because of his nature, Morgott pushes himself to protect and defend the Golden Order with every ounce of his being, going to far as to call the other Elden Lords, his siblings, traitors. In opposition to his twin, who hates the status quo and wants to annihilate and replace it, Morgott is a true believer who wants to uphold and protect the Golden Order to his last breath.

Idealized image of Godfrey, the First Elden Lord with the Beast Regent Serosh.

Idealized image of Godfrey, the First Elden Lord with the Beast Regent Serosh.

Godfrey and Hoarah Loux

Initially the man, Hoarah Loux, was raised up, becoming Elden Lord and consort of the goddess Marika and taking the name Godfrey. After ages of conquest and his usefulness as a warrior was wrung out, Godfrey lost his divine favor and was exiled from the Lands Between, becoming the first Tarnished. Monuments and romanticized images of Godfrey are ubiquitous throughout the Lands Between, and a golden illusion of him still protects royal reaches of the palace in Leyndell. Even his divine stepson, Radahn, lionized him so much that he modeled his appearance and aggression after Godfrey.

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Upon meeting Godfrey, he initially seems a royal figure not only presenting as the powerful and capable warrior, carrying Serosh—a spectral lion—on his back but also showing tenderness toward the malformed corpse of his son, Morgott. He does truly seem a legend worthy of narration. The first inkling that something might be off occurs if the player stops to consider that after all the hard work and sacrifice he or she has undergone trying to reach a confrontation inside the Erdtree, Godfrey shows up, jumping the line as it were, to get in there first; it’s hardly lordly behavior. During the fight, when it appears he could lose, Godfrey rips off his giant spectral lion, tosses aside his weapons and armor, and announces in melodramatic, pro-wrestling fashion, that he’ll now fight as Hoarah Loux. The battle shifts entirely, as his identity of lordship is thrown away, and he now fights as a relentless berserk with different moves and ramped up intensity. This is the tenacious, win-at-all-costs warrior at the core of his being and likely the reason why in years past he was elected as Elden Lord.

Image depicting a statue of Marika as seen the the churches of Marika in Elden Ring.

Image depicting a statue of Marika as seen the the churches of Marika in Elden Ring.

Marika and Radagon

Queen Marika has been the chosen by the Greater Will as goddess to oversee the Erdtree, but she has been missing since she shattered the Elden Ring after the Night of Black Knives. Though the motivations for her actions are uncertain, interactions with Melina and Hewg suggest she intended to break the stagnation brought on by the deathlessness of the demigods and misgivings concerning the function of the Erdtree for the Greater Will. Her primary opposition to this revolutionary goal is Radagon, her other self, who desires the perpetuation of Golden Order. The principle divine figure of Elden Ring is simultaneously man and woman, preserver and destroyer, powerful god and helpless prisoner. This fusion, however, is not one of synthesis and unity but is at war with itself.

The inability to understand this divine paradox causes a significant portion of the factional conflict and drives the behavior of several NPCs. Gideon Ofnir initially desires to become Elden Lord, but his thirst for omniscience shows him a world of endless conflict. He cannot grasp the paradox of Marika and Radagon, so Gideon incorrectly concludes Marika must desire a world of perpetual conflict because it must be what the Greater Will believes people deserve. Since he is not as smart as he thinks he is, this mistaken belief leads Gideon into a maniacal despair, and he attempts to kill the player—the strongest Tarnished at that point—to keep anyone from trying to bring peace. Goldmask, despite his holy asceticism, cannot overcome the stumbling block of Marika and Radagon in his divine calculations as explained by the devout Corhyn. With some incredibly specific help, though, the player’s character can share a revelation about the divinity with Goldmask, who uses this wisdom to craft the Mending Rune of Perfect Order, which can be used to repair, in some fashion, the Elden Ring and the world. Unfortunately for Goldmask, Corhyn is an unimaginative dogmatic who fails to see his chosen master’s brilliance and murders him. Too indoctrinated into the mindset of the Fundamentalists of the Golden Order, Corhyn rejects the truth, instead calling it heresy because it contradicts an incorrect interpretation of reality to which he has devoted himself.

Elden Ring cover art featuring Vyke. The cover art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the game or the publisher, Bandai Namco Entertainment, or the developers, FromSoftware.

Elden Ring cover art featuring Vyke. The cover art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the game or the publisher, Bandai Namco Entertainment, or the developers, FromSoftware.

People Can Change, And Sometimes They Change Back

Players can make their character anyone, and with Rennala’s help, completely overhaul that character into someone entirely different if they want. These NPCs are doing much the same thing. They adopt a new persona or change themselves to adapt to or attempt to change their circumstances, just as a player may start with one character only to transform because he or she want to use a new weapon they discovered, or desires to use magic now, or just on a whim. This design keystone is the antithesis of FromSoftware’s previous game, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. In that game, the player had no choice in character; they played as the taciturn, stealthy shinobi, Wolf. There is no chance for deviation—aside from minor choices concerning prosthetic tools and a few combat arts—other than for the player to decide to whom Wolf will be loyal. The player cannot play as a version of Wolf who confronts his challenges with magic, or wears heavy armor, or wields a sword the size of an airplane wing in each hand. In Elden Ring, every option is on the table for the players, and they are free to change the identity of their character in the same way the other characters in the game exert agency to hide or change their own identities for their own reasons.

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) conversing about "truth."  Image likely owned by Lucasfilm ltd.

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) conversing about "truth." Image likely owned by Lucasfilm ltd.

From a Certain Point of View

As a wise and duplicitous Jedi once said, “What I told you was true, from a certain point of view.” FromSoftware games, which have always had nuanced and obscure understanding of “truth” embrace this perspective in Elden Ring and encourage players to do this same. It seems this perspective is one welcomed by many players. For instance, the unexplained paradox of Marika and Radagon hasn’t hurt the game or prevented it from becoming a major commercial and critical success in no small part because the paradox is baked into the lore and world of the game rather than being a mistake or bit of sloppy writing. Rather, the gaming community around Elden Ring is engaged and encouraged by this featured duality.

© 2022 Seth Tomko

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