It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost a year since the map of Teyvat, the world of Genshin Impact, expanded to include the region of Sumeru. In some ways, it feels like just yesterday, and I can clearly recall how I charged through the overgrown tunnel connecting Liyue to Sumeru moments after logging in that night (having positioned myself at the border of Liyue the day before) and found the landscape changed before my very eyes; and yet, it seems like so long ago that Sumeru’s lush green jungles and blazing golden deserts were unexplored still, almost inconceivable that there was a time when Withering Zones were still an issue for me and Dendro reactions were still strange and unfamiliar (today, I’m nearing 100% completion on all of Sumeru, I can hardly remember the last Withering Zone I encountered on my travels, least of all one that posed a problem, and it’s rare that I step out without at least one Dendro character in my party).
But while I can’t definitively say if my time in Sumeru flew by or passed slowly, it is coming to an end now, that much is indisputable. With the Fatui plot to install one of their own as Sumeru’s Archon foiled and their allies in the Sumeru Akademiya stripped of their titles and banished to the forests, Sumeru is in the hands of its “rightful” Archon, Nahida…and while I don’t trust her or any Archon to govern humans better than a Fatui Harbinger would, the game is downright insistent that I should, so I suppose I’ll just headcanon that Nahida delegates most of her responsibilities to Alhaitham and other sages while she and Scaramouche do the work that mortals cannot, burrowing deep into the Irminsul Tree in search of answers to their (and our) questions about Khaenri’ah, Celestia, the Traveler, and the truth of Teyvat.
Until they stumble across something big and call us back to Sumeru, however, the Traveler has no pressing business in the Nation of Wisdom and must continue their own journey of discovery, which leads northwest to Fontaine, where the deep blue waters of an inland sea are darkened by the ever-present shadow of Celestia, home to the Heavenly Principles that have for centuries watched silently over humanity, distributing Visions almost as freely as gifts, but not with good or generous intentions, if they’re anything like the Gnoses that Celestia uses to pull the strings on Teyvat’s seven Archons…or used to, perhaps. Four Archons have recently exchanged their Gnoses with the Fatui, whose Tsaritsa is the Cryo Archon and in possession of a Gnosis already. Just two remain, and one of these is in Fontaine. But the Fatui would be fools to try and take the Hydro Archon’s Gnosis literally out from under Celestia. I guess that would explain why the name of their organization is derived from the Latin word fatuus, meaning fool.
That being said, the Harbinger Arlecchino doesn’t strike me as a fool, not based on what we saw of her in A Winter Night’s Lazzo last year and certainly not after the release of a new trailer for Fontaine just last night, titled The Final Feast, that sets her up to be the Fontaine Archon Quest’s main antagonist. The governess of Snezhnaya’s House of the Hearth, where children forcibly taken from their homes are shaped into Fatui assassins and encouraged to kill everyone close to them who could become a potential weakness for them in the future, Arlecchino has experience with covering all her bases, and I can’t imagine that the Tsaritsa would entrust her with this delicate task if her plan wasn’t waterproof (get it, cuz Fontaine is the Hydro Archon’s nation?). I’m personally invested in Arlecchino’s success, because if she fails, my character will have to kill her, and I don’t know if I can physically bring myself to do that again, not after La Signora died for good. I’m sick and tired of HoYoverse killing off their villains unceremoniously when they know damn well that people would spend their entire life-savings on a devilishly hot evil woman. In a suit, no less!
Anyway, back to Arlecchino’s plan for capturing the Hydro Gnosis. Fascinatingly, it may involve Lyney and Lynette, two of the three characters from Fontaine who will become playable in Version 4.0, all three of whom are siblings. Lyney, a five-star Pyro bow-user, is a renowned magician who performs most nights at the Court of Fontaine (apparently a theater and opera-house, not to be confused with the Opera Epiclese, which amusingly is the only actual court-house in Fontaine, a paradox that cleverly illustrates the degree to which justice and spectacle have become hopelessly intertwined under the current Hydro Archon), with his eerily emotionless sister Lynette, a four-star Anemo sword-wielder, acting as his “Multi-Function Magic Assistant”. If you’ve been following leaks, you may have already been aware that Lyney, Lynette and Arlecchino are…acquainted, but the trailer essentially confirms it, with the siblings putting on a show for the Harbinger that earns stiff, short applause before she ascends to the stage herself and steals the show.
I’m also curious as to what role the third sibling, four-star Cryo claymore-user Freminet, plays in all of this, and why the trailer opens with him apparently drowning, given that he’s supposed to be one of Fontaine’s most accomplished and professional deep-sea divers (though I suppose if we’ve learned anything this past month, it’s that experience with the ocean doesn’t make it any less perilous). I assume it’s his voice that whispers the words “My mission…” as his body hits the water heavily and begins to sink, which is interesting because his official biography states explicitly that “as a classic lone wolf, [Freminet] never accepts commissions from others”, meaning this mission of his is likely something personal, something related to his siblings and the Fatui scheme in which they’re entangled. I guess we’ll have to wait for more details, but my mind is racing as I run through all the potential avenues this story could take.
And that’s before we factor in a dozen other characters, whom the trailer introduces in a cleverly-edited and cheerfully-scored montage that moves briskly through the streets and sewers that bridge the gap between the two sides of Fontaine’s capital city, the side belonging to the ruling class, all airy plazas, clean boulevards, and houses built to endure, and the side begrudgingly allocated to the working class, a dark, grimy, hazardous maze of tunnels and catacombs. All the while, Lyney is explaining to his audience how a cunning magician wins control of the surprisingly gullible human brain by fooling their senses – “People don’t realize how much they expect their eyes to tell them the truth”. I have to wonder if this magician’s strategy will be used on a much grander scale in Fontaine by the Hydro Archon herself, and if Genshin Impact has the courage to make a firm stance against political propaganda, censorship, and the aggrandization of law-enforcement.
The characters introduced in the trailer presumably comprise the main cast of Fontaine’s Archon Quest, and include Charlotte, an upbeat journalist from The Steambird whom many players will have already encountered in Version 3.7; Navia, a fancily-dressed woman with a Geo Vision (I’m only being slightly hyperbolic when I say that Genshin Impact remembering to make new Geo characters is more shocking than anything else I’ve seen thus far from Fontaine); Wriothesley, a handsome fellow named for the historical figure Thomas Wriothesley, remembered primarily as a power-hungry advisor to King Henry VIII who happily betrayed Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, to his death; Clorinde, possibly a police-captain by the cut of her uniform, who carries a revolver, earning a name derived from the female warrior Clorinda in Jerusalem Delivered, an ahistorical account of the First Crusade, by way of frigates in the French navy during the Napoleonic War; Siegwinne, a half-Melusine character whose name, according to one source, comes from the Medieval German epic poem Wolfdietrich, the titular protagonist of which is a dragon-slayer; and Neuvillette, the Chief Justice of Fontaine, who shares a name with a small town in northern France.
With the exception of the Hydro Archon, Neuvillette is probably the most powerful person in Fontaine and also the most interesting, not only because he’s tall and attractive with a veritable mane of white hair and a deep, luscious voice (though he is interesting for all of those reasons, don’t get me wrong), but because of the peculiar arrangement between him and his Nation’s Archon, who sits in on trials and apparently has a habit of being loud and disruptive, presumably swaying the opinions of jurors, intimidating witnesses, and throwing tantrums if “her side” doesn’t win. Her very presence in the courtroom is a stark reminder of the ways in which the Nation of Justice has failed to live up to its own Ideal, but Neuvillette can’t throw her out if she won’t go, so he tolerates the complaints and rude remarks she hurls at him from her theater-box, perhaps by assuring himself that the public will rise up against her and clear his path to the top.
Genshin Impact has gone back-and-forth and back-and-forth again on the subject of Archons, what ought to be done with them and what can be done with them, but if any an Archon deserves to be deposed, it’s Focalors or Furina (the former is her “true name”, also that of a demon in the Ars Goetia who sinks warships, while the latter is the name she uses in her day-to-day life, and belongs to a little-known Roman goddess of springs). That’s not a bad thing. I adore Focalors and I’m tempted to start saving for her debut banner based solely on the fact that she has the personality of a gremlin. But I also know that Genshin Impact has a tendency to try and hand-wave away every Archon’s mistakes with elaborate excuses for why they didn’t know and couldn’t possibly have known what was happening under their watch. That worked once, just barely, with Ei, but even in that case I was disappointed that the game didn’t allow her to be truly morally ambiguous, and I don’t think they can realistically get away with it a second time. It’s okay for characters to be really rotten!
And that’s not to say Focalors can’t have noble motives for doing really horrible things. I have to assume that she’s been living in fear of Celestia for a long time, and that she’s so quick to condemn others, even many of her own citizens, to a life of suffering in the shadows because it’s better for everyone if the gods in Celestia only see perfection when they look down on Fontaine, or they might decide one day to wipe the entire nation – and its people – off the map, just as they did with Khaenri’ah when they disapproved of what they saw there. Hence the need for all these layers of illusion, all the smoke and mirrors…maybe it started as a way to keep Fontaine safe (as an Archon should), and inevitably spiraled out of control as more and more people were condemned for increasingly smaller and smaller crimes. Ironically, when this environment Focalors has created becomes unsustainable the nation will collapse in on itself and then they’ll be screwed, but change is needed and however it comes about, the people of Fontaine will probably be better off rebuilding their nation from scratch than they are with an Archon passing judgement on every move they make.
Well, I’ve rambled long enough. What do you think of the trailer for Fontaine, and the drip-marketing for Lyney, Lynette, and Freminet? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!