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"Mass Effect Andromeda" (2017): Jaal Ama Darav Character Analysis


Lee has an embarrassingly deep love of all things "Mass Effect." Her favorite is the original first game.

Jaal smiling.

Jaal smiling.

Where do I begin about Jaal? After playing Mass Effect: Andromeda, he has easily become my favorite character, and it's really hard to romance anyone aside from him just because I find his relationship with Ryder to be so sweet, cute, and genuine. It's a great love story.

The funny thing about this is that, as a Liara fan, I went into the game expecting to love Peebee the most. I romanced Peebee first, and while I thought some things about her romance were cute, I slowly began to realize that I just enjoyed watching Ryder interact with Jaal a lot more.

Add to this the fact that I'm a sucker for mushy, emotional, romance novel trash, and you can see why I always go for the romance that has the most plot relevance in BioWare games: I'm a romantic. So I loved the Isabela romance in Dragon Age 2, I loved the Solas romance in Inquisition (even though, yes, I freaking hate Solas), and Liara is my all-time favorite romance in a BioWare game like . . . ever.

I mean, Shepard is brought back from the dead by the one person who understands her and loves her more than anyone in the universe. Doesn't get more romantic than that. So for me, Jaal's romance is on par with Liara's in how romantic it is. Two people from different galaxies whose people are at war fall in love while trying to unite them . . . It's so . . . Shakespearean.

So with all that said, let's get to my character analysis of Jaal, and more specifically, Jaal's romance.

Jaal Joined Because He Likes Ryder

My Ryder first meets Jaal on Aya.

My Ryder first meets Jaal on Aya.

I remember when I met Jaal on my first playthrough. Unlike Javik from the original trilogy (ha), I liked him immediately. My Sara was very apologetic about crashing and burning on his planet uninvited, and I was surprised when he just smiled at her and cracked a joke, largely because he had come across so intimidating and angry a second before.

Then Jaal volunteers to join your crew as a spy of sorts. On my first playthrough, I remember thinking that he was insane for that. I mean, these were aliens from another galaxy who could have done anything they wanted to him once he was on their ship. Maybe tortured him, experimented on him, stole his stuff and stranded him on Kadara, or even executed him. It was a tremendous act of faith he displayed when he joined the Tempest crew. Evfra even warns Jaal that Ryder is probably going to try killing him.

It wasn't until my second playthrough when I watched his introduction scene again that I realized the answer: Jaal likes Ryder.

My Ryder and Jaal speak for the first time on Aya.

My Ryder and Jaal speak for the first time on Aya.

I mean, why else did he join you? Just to rescue the Moshae? He has zero evidence that you can successfully rescue her. The fortress she's in is impenetrable, so much to the point that the angara have spent years trying to get inside, and at this point, Jaal doesn't know anything about SAM. So the only other explanation is that he has a crush on Ryder and wants to be around her.

There's also a Nomad banter between Jaal and Drack that sort of confirms this for me. It's slim evidence, but I feel it somewhat proves my theory. In the banter, Jaal will ask why Drack would join up on such a mission at the end of his life (probably because it makes more sense for a dying person to spend that time with their family).

Drack deflects the question, instead asking why Jaal would join up with complete strangers. As I said, it doesn't make sense that Jaal would do that unless he had some sort of infatuation with Ryder (which is probably what Drack is getting at). Jaal also refuses to answer the question.

Jaal teaches Ryder a greeting.

Jaal teaches Ryder a greeting.

Neither of them seem comfortable answering, and it's because Jaal and Drack joined up for the same reason: Ryder. (As I explained on my Drack article, it's my theory that Drack joined to raise a child again (Ryder) because Kesh was grown and didn't need him.) But Ryder is sitting right there in the rover, so it would be embarrassing for either of them to admit it. Especially given that this banter was written to happen early in the game.

So it's my belief that Jaal joined to be near Ryder.

It took me a second playthrough to realize this because, as I said before, I romanced Peebee first (or tried to), so I wasn't paying close attention to Jaal the first time around. But on subsequent playthroughs, I paid attention to how Jaal acts the first time you speak to him one-on-one on the ship.

Gauging Interest

My screenshot of Jaal's first private conversation with Ryder.

My screenshot of Jaal's first private conversation with Ryder.

Jaal's first conversation on the ship with Ryder is very awkward, but Ryder seems to take it as a communication barrier because they are alien to each other. In reality, Jaal is being weird because he has a crush on Ryder and is trying desperately to hide it, while at the same time, figure out if she feels the same. (This actually hails back to Liara, who does the exact same thing when first onboard the Normandy with Shepard in the first Mass Effect.)

Jaal brings up the Moshae and deliberately makes it sound like he and the Moshae are in a romantic entanglement. Then he falls silent and waits to see if Ryder has a reaction. When she doesn't, he backtracks, insisting that Ryder isn't the reason he's there (ha, ha so cute). It's only later that Jaal admits there is no romantic entanglement and that the Moshae is one hundred years old and more like a mentor, making his earlier attempts to gauge Ryder's affection more obvious.

Ryder is oblivious and confused by all of this (she has no idea Jaal likes her), and if you choose the casual, funny dialogue, she makes a tired remark about having to figure out alien psychology "as if she didn't have enough on her plate."

Jaal doesn't understand idioms because they just don't translate well (or the angara don't use them), so he answers "What plate?" And the conversation ends on that cute note.

A Reversal of Roles

My screenshot of Jaal meeting the crew.

My screenshot of Jaal meeting the crew.

Also, I wanted to add that I love the part where Jaal first joins the crew. He feels surrounded by hostile aliens and doesn't want to speak up when addressed, to the point that Vetra asks if the translator is working. But then Ryder gives him a friendly smile, and he feels brave enough to stand up and speak.

It is a deliberate reversal of the way they met. When Ryder first arrived on Aya, she was held at gunpoint and surrounded by hostile aliens. The only person to extend kindness to her in that tense moment was Jaal. Ryder returns the favor by smiling at Jaal when he finds himself in a similar situation.

It was a very small detail, but I love that it was there.

Jaal's Trust Must Be Earned

Jaal weeps over a transformed angaran.

Jaal weeps over a transformed angaran.

And yet, as much as Jaal is crushing on Ryder, his trust must still be earned. There are two reasons for this.

The first and most obvious reason is that Jaal is a spy on your ship and Ryder is an alien. At this point in the story, Ryder must still prove that she is not like the kett and that she is trustworthy. Jaal must protect himself and his people from a possible threat.

The second reason is that Jaal has been hurt before. After saving the Moshae and gaining Jaal's trust, he will open up about a woman who broke his heart. Because angara feel so deeply and so strongly, Jaal was heartbroken for years by the woman who dumped him for his brother. He is terrified of that happening again and is very careful with Ryder as he tries to figure out if she really cares for him.

Jaal Being Jealous of Reyes

Jaal's fear of being dumped for someone else manifests during the Kadara questline. If Ryder flirts with Reyes, Jaal points out irritably that she likes him, to which Ryder gets flustered. If Ryder commits to Reyes, Jaal hints that he's the better man by sharing that the more honorable an angaran man, the more attractive he is, while Reyes isn't honorable at all. A baffled Sara will ask if Jaal is jealous. (See video above.)

I confess, I started flirting with Reyes partly because the Reyes romance is so fun but also because making Jaal jealous gives me a sort of satisfaction after all of the flirting he does with basically every woman on the ship. (Yes, I am petty as all hell.)

There's a moment during the quest to rescue the Moshae where Jaal has an emotional breakdown. If Ryder comforts him, for Jaal it's a hint that maybe she cares about him after all. He stares at her after the scene (see image below), and it's obvious he's realizing that Ryder really cares about him as a person, unlike the woman who broke his heart.

Jaal Fears Being Hurt Again

Jaal realizes Ryder cares.

Jaal realizes Ryder cares.

There is further evidence of this if you eavesdrop on the NPCs chatting on the planet Aya. There are two female angara near the bar where Liam is standing after the city is opened to the Pathfinder. These two women discuss Jaal being too "dense" to understand when someone is flirting with him. One even mentions that he was involved with Avela, the curator in the museum, but it went no where because they're "both thick."

I don't think Jaal is dense, though. I think Jaal deliberately holds people out because he's afraid of being hurt again. It takes a long time to earn his trust. It isn't until the very end of the game that the romance is even locked in (though to be fair, that's true for most of the romances. Peebee and Liam can be locked in early, oddly enough . . .).

I remember on my second playthrough, where I had decided Peebee and Jaal were my "canon" romances, I found it really frustrating trying to get Jaal to let his walls down. (On my first playthrough I didn't care because I was more interested in Peebee, ha ha.)

It was especially annoying because Jaal will chat and flirt with everyone on the ship, giving everyone compliments and even hitting on the women, but he will not open up to Ryder. It's a big "ouch" moment. But if you take everything I've said here into consideration, it's actually because Jaal likes Ryder that he is not open with her immediately.

Friends to Lovers

My Ryder commits to Jaal.

My Ryder commits to Jaal.

I loved that they did it this way because, as I said up higher, I was romancing Peebee first. But I couldn't help taking an interest in Jaal's character. The more I realized I liked his character, the more I started making my Ryder flirt with him. For this reason, it was a very natural progression from frenemies who don't trust each other, to allies, to friends, to lovers.

The moment during Jaal's personal quest where he and Ryder laugh about Akksul being an asshole was what ultimately sold me on his character. He and Ryder seemed to have a real chemistry. They were always making each other laugh, talking about their families, sharing intimate moments . . . It was so much better than Peebee, who hides her feelings for Ryder, is distant and cold, and constantly talks about wanting to have sex with Jaal to your face (yes, she actually does this and Ryder says "Are you trying to make me jealous?" Gave me serious Isabela flashbacks, as she flirts with every man in Dragon Age 2 while you're romancing her).

The joke was on Peebee when my Ryder moved on to Jaal.

Jaal Wants Ryder to be More Open

My screenshot of my Ryder falling asleep against Jaal during Movie Night.

My screenshot of my Ryder falling asleep against Jaal during Movie Night.

I actually roleplayed my Ryder as being compassionate and empathetic toward people, but still emotionally distant and closed off from the people who were closest to her. I was trying to roleplay her as being just like her father, Alec Ryder, who was emotionally distant and had problems communicating with his own kids (as shown in some of the memory flashbacks from the game).

So it amused the hell out of me when Jaal expressed frustration at Ryder's refusal to be emotionally open. Jaal flirts openly with the women on the ship because for him, it's normal to express what he's feeling. If he finds something attractive about a person, he will tell them. As a result, he tells Cora that she has a nice body, Vetra that she moves like she's dancing, and on the Tempest he will tell Peebee that she has beautiful eyes.

A second screenshot of my version of Movie Night.

A second screenshot of my version of Movie Night.

Jaal longs to be more open with Ryder as well, but she won't allow him. There's a very cute banter in the Nomad that triggers between Jaal and Peebee. The two characters exchange compliments, then fall silent and wait for Ryder to join in. Ryder absolutely refuses, however. If Ryder has been flirting with Jaal and Peebee both, she will say, "This is a little uncomfortable!" and keep driving. Otherwise she will say, "This is . . . awkward."

After Ryder refuses to join in the open sharing of feelings, Jaal complains that humans aren't open enough with their feelings and the banter ends. I found this banter very cute and hilarious, and it fit perfectly with my shut-down, emotionally repressed Ryder.

Later, Jaal has yet another banter with Peebee about POC, Peebee's custom Remnant. Peebee will make a comment about how combat programming is easy but social programming is hard, and Jaal will agree that it's the same for organics, passive-aggressively (and hilariously) hinting that he wants Ryder to be more open and he dislikes that she refuses.

Honestly, Peebee and Jaal are so great together. It makes romancing both of them a blast. Leaving Peebee for Jaal became my canon playthrough (basically, it was my first playthrough and I stuck with it) because these two characters are just so great together and romancing both of them makes their banter even funnier.

At the end of the romance, Jaal will comment with approval that Ryder is now more open with her feelings, "like a true angara."

Jaal Likes Ryder More Than Peebee

Jaal kisses my custom Ryder at the end of the game.

Jaal kisses my custom Ryder at the end of the game.

Speaking of Peebee, another thing fans seem to miss is that Jaal actually stops being interested in Peebee as he becomes more interested in Ryder.

At the beginning of the game, Jaal compliments Peebee's eyes while on the Tempest. There is also a lot of party banter about the two of them staring at each other, Peebee begs Lexi to see Jaal's scans, Cora and Peebee speculate about what's under Jaal's armor, and Peebee and Jaal even tease each other about having children.

The first time you visit Jaal at the cultural center on the Nexus, he will tell you that he's more interested in asari than humans, while adding "no offense" on the end. The second time you visit the cultural center, Jaal will talk about Peebee's father being an elcor. Early in the game, it seems like Jaal can't shut up about Peebee or the asari.

This is understandably grating for someone who is trying to romance either of these characters. I can't for the life of me understand why the writers would make romance-able followers hit on each other when the player is trying to romance them. And not only do they hit on each other, but they flaunt it in the player's face!

Jaal and my Sara walk together.

Jaal and my Sara walk together.

But for Jaal, his interest in Peebee declines as the game goes on. After learning about exaltation, all the flirting between him and Peebee changes. This is the key change that many fans seem to miss, likely because they get tired of Jaal and Peebee flirting (understandable) and stop taking them in the Nomad.

But if you keep bringing them on rides, you'll hear a banter where Jaal will accuse the asari of being too similar to the kett in their breeding methods. Peebee gets offended and there's an argument. Then Jaal starts avoiding Peebee by pretending to sleep in the Nomad. Peebee doesn't get what's happening until Ryder flat-out tells her, "He only does that when you're here."

Later, when you visit the cultural center for a third time, it's to discover that Jaal has suddenly taken an interest in humans. Instead of ranting eagerly about the asari or bringing up Peebee, Jaal will ask Sara if she misses Earth and will discuss how beautiful Earth is in the vids. At this point, Jaal can also be heard on the Tempest wistfully asking Liam what human houses look like.

It's a very subtle sign that Jaal has lost interest in Peebee and the asari and has taken an interest in humans because of his growing infatuation with Ryder.

Jaal Needed More Conflict

Akksul points a gun at Jaal.

Akksul points a gun at Jaal.

I did want to add that there should have been more conflict in this romance. Now, I know that straight female romances in BioWare games are almost always brutal with terrible endings (Solas, Jacob, Thane, Blackwall, possibly Alistair, Zevran can betray you, Iron Bull can betray you, Anders, Fenris can betray you . . .) so I'm not talking about "conflict" in the sense that Jaal's romance needed to be dramatic. If anything, it was refreshing that straight female gamers got a happy romance for once.

No. What I'm talking about is the good kind of conflict that doesn't take away from the romance's fluffiness but does build upon the lore and the world. Sadly, Andromeda isn't a game that seemed to care much about world building. You go to a derelict Remnant ship and find . . . nothing. The Jardaan feel like Prothean rip offs, and there is nothing remotely interesting about the angara aside from the fact that they were created, etc, so I'm not surprised that Jaal's romance didn't live up to its full potential.

What I'm talking about is the fact that Ryder and Jaal can fall in love, and despite the fact that their people are at war, they receive . . .zero push back.

My Ryder and Jaal joke about Akksul being an asshole.

My Ryder and Jaal joke about Akksul being an asshole.

The alien-hating Roekaar, for instance, should have been furious that Jaal was with a human, and given that a lot of angara who are just normal citizens don't trust or like the Milky Way races, there should have been more angara against cross species dating.

By openly dating, Ryder and Jaal should have been in real danger, with people attacking them or trying to hurt Jaal. Jaal's entire personal quest was about Akksul, leader of the Roekaar, trying to get at Jaal just for being seen with Ryder.

There's even a line on Havarl where Ryder expects Jaal to help her negotiate with the Roekaar, but Jaal answers flat-out, "They won't like that I'm helping you."

The fact that Jaal is hated just for being seen with Ryder led to him getting shot by Akksul. So why wasn't there more push back to the fact that Ryder and Jaal decide to start dating?

There was so much potential here for a good story. As with everything in Andromeda. I can't escape the feeling they intended this for a sequel, and sadly, a sequel isn't likely now.

EA doesn't care about Andromeda fans.They just care about money.

Jaal is a Family Guy

My screenshot of Jaal asking Ryder to commit to him.

My screenshot of Jaal asking Ryder to commit to him.

Jaal's mother also adds more layers to his character. I remember how I loved having Shepard meet Liara's father in the original trilogy and how Matriarch Aethyta was all protective and threatened Shepard. I like it when you get to meet the family of your love interest (if they have one) because not only does it always turn out to be amusing, but it adds more layers to the character in question. They feel more "real" and three dimensional, as it were.

I feel like they did the same thing with Jaal in Andromeda, only instead of meeting his father (who was captured by the kett), we meet his mother, who actually dotes on Ryder and welcomes her warmly (unlike Aethyta, who expects Shepard to prove herself worthy).

Honestly, those hilarious and heartwarming emails you get from Jaal's mother after locking the romance make doing the romance worth it every time. It often leaves me wondering how Ryder responds to them. . . . Argh. If only we'd gotten a sequel. We could have watched Ryder develop a relationship with Jaal and his family across three games!

Jaal Always Loves Sara

My Sara and Jaal sit together in the friendship version of the scene.

My Sara and Jaal sit together in the friendship version of the scene.

Jaal always loves Sara, whether she romances him or not, kind of like Reyes always has a crush on her whether she romances him or not. And kind of the way Liara always loves Shepard, whether or not Shepard feels the same.

This is something that I noticed when I decided to go back to an earlier save and romance Peebee instead. Once Peebee's romance was locked in, I went to meet Jaal's family, and the part where Jaal would usually ask Sara to be with him was instead very . . . sad.

Jaal looked at Sara unhappily as he told her that she was like family. He seemed to . . . regret it. It was like he wanted her to be more and was sad she had chosen someone else. The scene made me feel so bad for him.

And then, after you visit Jaal's family, you go back to the ship, and Jaal tells you about the position he's been offered. The scene plays out exactly the same way if you romanced him, except he seems a little sadder when he mentions how unhappy he was with his life before meeting Ryder.

When the star mobile scene played, it felt like I was romancing Jaal, even though I wasn't. It was that Liara feeling of being in the default romance no matter what. In fact, the star mobile scene is kind of like Liara's time capsule scene in Mass Effect 3: very touching and intimate, even when the two are just friends.

Liara's time capsule scene from "Mass Effect 3."

Liara's time capsule scene from "Mass Effect 3."

Of course, I could be reading into things, but BioWare has a tradition of making male followers fall in love with the female protagonist whether she reciprocates or not (Kaidan, Carth, Alistair, Cullen, Thane, Anders). This "tradition" is only a bad thing when the male follower can't take "no" for an answer (Kaidan).

With Jaal, it is very sweet, and for the first time for me, really sad (because normally, my reaction is to just find the crush cute and move on). He is genuinely a good man who has been hurt before, so I feel bad for him that Sara, on this playthrough, could not reciprocate because she is gay.

Ah well. I know that in an alternate universe, my Sara is madly in love with Jaal and he is happy.

Jaal is a Romantic

My screenshot of Ryder and Jaal about to make love.

My screenshot of Ryder and Jaal about to make love.

Jaal also puts a lot of time, thought, and care into making his first time with Sara special and memorable. He takes her to a waterfall on a paradise planet, tells her he loves her, and then goes down on her for six hours . . . So sweet and romantic.

None of the other romances had so much genuine love and admiration like this. I know because I watched them on YouTube. Liam is caring and sweet but doesn't even get a sex scene (poor Liam fans), while Peebee's sex scene came off creepy to me because of her character design and the way her animations were made for Scott and not Sara (so her "scissoring" Sara just looked . . . strange).

But weird animations and bad character designs aside, the other romances just weren't nearly this sweet and can't nearly compare. Peebee doesn't plan anything special for her and Ryder. She just comes to Ryder's room and takes off her clothes. Liam has sex with Ryder on a couch . . . a gross couch! And poor Vetra and Suvi get nothing but kisses and fade-to-blacks.

I never did look up Cora's sex scene, but I heard it was "good." I can't go by another's definition of good, and I'm locked out of Cora anyway because she's straight and I only like playing Sara. So for me, Jaal's is the best sex scene, hands down.

Liara and female Shepard Sex Scene

The only BioWare sex scene that tops Jaal's is Liara in Mass Effect 3.

I can give Liara a pass for not being romantic since she and Shepard are in the middle of a war and don't have time to run off to a waterfall. The scene even somewhat acknowledges it by having Liara narrate a fantasy where she and Shepard run away together and are happy, because they both know they can't leave. It was very sweet, and the sex scene between them was very well-done, despite the fact that it was (like Peebee) animated for male Shepard and Liara.

Jaal is Insecure

My screenshot of Jaal and Ryder.

My screenshot of Jaal and Ryder.

I think another reason Jaal doesn't flirt directly with Ryder is that he's insecure and probably thinks he doesn't have a chance with her.

A lot of people compare Jaal to Garrus because of this. Aside from the fact that both characters wear a scope thingy on their eye, they are both deeply insecure people with families who pressure them to be amazing and do amazing things.

Jaal tells Cora in a Nomad banter that his entire family is very well accomplished and he wants to carry the name rather than let it carry him. He explains that he feels overshadowed by his family, and that having a big family means having lots of different voices telling him who to be and what to do. (This, interestingly enough, makes Cora rethink her own gripes about having no family and being lonely.)

My screenshot of Ryder and Jaal.

My screenshot of Ryder and Jaal.

At the very end of the game, one of Jaal's final conversations with Ryder onboard the Tempest is about how he's grown as a person. Because of what he's accomplished with Ryder, he is more confident and self-assured and has even been offered a command of his own, which was what he wanted all along. (This is also the conversation where he observes that Ryder is now more open with her feelings, like a "true angara.")

When Jaal reveals that he's not taking the position he's been offered, Ryder gets annoyed with him for frightening her. She was miserable, thinking that he would leave, only for him to laugh and say he was staying because she "needs" him. Now irritated that her feelings have been yanked around, Ryder tells Jaal not to push his luck, and Jaal says "shit," thus ending their first cute argument.

It was a nice way to bring the romance around full circle. They start off fumbling to understand each other because Ryder enjoys speaking in idioms, only for them to end with Jaal finally understanding and catching the idioms, realizing he's in trouble, and muttering, "Shit!"

Imagine if Andromeda had been given a trilogy and we were allowed to see this romance progress further, with Jaal and Ryder bickering like an old married couple, like Shepard and Liara in Lair of the Shadow Broker. Sigh. So sad that Andromeda was just cast aside without so much as a DLC.

This romance was just so cute and hilarious, and Jaal himself is a pretty great character. Andromeda did a lot of things wrong, but Jaal is one thing they did right.

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