I woke up to a frantic ask on my Tumblr this morning about how I feel about Sam Nishimura not being in Rise of the Tomb Raider, which is the much-anticipated sequel to the Tomb Raider franchise reboot, Survivor. Sam was the best friend (and, according to my interpretation, love interest) of Lara Croft in Survivor, and there is a buzzing community who call themselves ‘S.S. Endurance’ on Tumblr who draw tonnes of fanart and write tonnes fanfic about the pairing.
After Sam’s unceremonious and rather sudden exit in the comics, there’s been a lot of speculation recently about whether or not Sam would be in the new game, and if she was in the new game, in what capacity she’d be part of the story. I was initially concerned when I didn’t find Arden Cho (Same’s voice actress) credited on the game’s page on IMDB, and when I tweeted one of the main writers, I got a response that worried me. Nevertheless, I remained hopeful we’d be in for a plot twist or other exciting surprise the devs were trying to hide from us.
That was why, when I found the transcript of the interview the person who’d messaged me was referencing, my heart sank:
[Meagan Marie]:And… I put this at the end because we’ve been asked this so many times and now we might actually be able to answer it. Will there be any playable flashbacks between Lara and Sam? Is Sam playing a role in this game? Can we answer that?
[Brian Horton]:I think we can answer that…
[Meagan Marie]:The comics are done at this point.
[Brian Horton]:Yes, the comics have expressed the story of Sam and that Sam is not a part of Rise of the Tomb Raider.
So, Sam Nishimura, a huge part of Lara’s university life and her best friend – not to mention the main objective in the first game! – definitely isn’t going to be part of the second game. Instead, they’re filling the space with Jonah, a character who (at least for me) doesn’t seem to hold as much potential for developmental capacity in Lara as Sam did.
It’s not the first disappointment the fans have had – there was lots of excitement about Lara potentially having PTSD (because the first publicity trailer showed Lara displaying what clearly appear to be symptoms of anxiety and PTSD, flashbacks, withdrawing, and needing to ‘escape’). The representation would have been fantastic: someone who is not only not hampered by their mental illness, but made great by it. The adrenaline, the constant vigilance could give Lara an edge. Her PTSD could have made her a formidable fighter with lightning reflexes and high sensitivity to stimuli. Unfortunately, Brian Horten (The Bringer of Bad News) told us point blank a few months ago that despite what clearly appears to be PTSD, Lara does not have a ‘weakness or a disorder’ (wait, my anxiety is a weakness? Gee, thanks, dude!).
What appears to be happening is that devs have decided on a particular route Lara has to being the ultimate Tomb Raider (since we were always told the trilogy was about Lara Croft ‘becoming who she’s supposed to be’), and are ignoring fantastic opportunities to make her a 3D, relatable, deep and complex character.
Lead Writer Rhianna Pratchett made comment that the decision to sideline Sam was a combination of having a large, unwieldy cast and wanting Lara to have more alone time (and since I’m prone to writing casts that are a little bit too big myself, I can definitely understand where she’s coming from), but the way the new game is taking shape still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
First, we’re told by Brian Horten Lara doesn’t have a ‘weakness or a disorder’, that she’s just excited to go on her adventures. Then the comics show Lara easily discarding her best friend Sam in the space of almost a single issue in favour of excitedly going off on adventures by herself. Even when I bring up Lara’s development leaning into Rise of the Tomb Raider with some other fans, I often get told ‘That’s Lara’s story, she’s becoming a Tomb Raider!’, and it leads me to ask one question:
Do they want to develop Lara into a character that was popular 15 years ago: isolated, cold, strong but a bit sociopathic, or do you want to write a character who feels real, who has hopes and dreams, who loves people and has strong, important relationships with them, who fears for them, fears for herself, and who conquers her trauma to ultimately become an incredible heroine? Because while Lara Croft broke new ground in the original Tomb Raider, and appeared to be breaking new ground with the original trailer of Rise and the comics with the excellent introduction of PTSD, if Rise goes the way Brian Horten seems to be describing it, it’s in an unnatural and forced direction that doesn’t seem to suit the development we’ve seen so far.
The first game showed a fantastic range of emotion in Lara, a character who developed and drew her tremendous strength and perseverance from her desire to save Sam, her friends, and whoever else she could from torture and death. That is what kept her going, and what led her to perform amazing feats of incredible bravely, to finally be united with Sam, to save her and everyone, and to lead what remained of her crew off Yamatai. Why are the devs trying to strip Sam away from Lara? Why is Sam spoken about on some of the official forums like a weakness for Lara? Sam helped Lara develop into the heroine that she is.
“Lara became strong to save others, often risking her life and performing feats of incredible heroism to do so. Lara’s strength isn’t just in her will to survive – it’s in her relationships, too”
Stripping Sam away makes no sense. Sidelining her suddenly in the comics and in Rise of the Tomb Raider makes no sense. Really, I want to ask the devs who made the decision to sideline Sam and where it came from, because Sam was a huge part of Lara’s life in the first game and the comics. I’ve written a lot about how I was very unconvinced by the ending in the comics.
It seems to me that there is an agenda about removing Sam that isn’t about what is a natural and expected progression for reboot Lara Croft’s character. And if there’s an agenda, what is the agenda? If it’s “Lara must be a lone wolf”, why? WHY must she be a lone wolf? If it’s “Lara doesn’t need other people”, WHY? Who doesn’t need other people? Let her need other people! Let that be part of her! Let her constantly worry about and miss Sam, that’s human! I miss my best friend when I’m stressed out and scared, too!
Or, what if it’s “female friendships/that dynamic wouldn’t sell games”? It’s reasons like that which scares me the most – the idea that Sam might have been sidelined for some bullshit marketing reason that has nothing to do with Lara’s character development.
“Strength isn’t only about power and endurance – it’s about living with fear and not letting it hold you back. What’s more frightening than worrying about someone you love?”
I took the entire month of November off work so I could fully appreciate Rise of the Tomb Raider, but I’m really worried about it now. I’m really worried. Am I going to be watching the fandom I love be buried? Will the namesake ship of my fandom – the S.S. Endurance – sink forever? Or will this just be a poorly handled and hasty sidelining of a character which will later be redeemed by fantastic and sensitive writing that will make me feel all the things and cry all the tears?
I don’t know, but I’m worried. Please, please, please don’t let me down, Tomb Raider franchise. I want to see Lara become an inspiring, full, and relatable character with real fears, real trauma and real relationships – not one who fell to the outdated notion that to be strong you never have to need anyone.