Lee has an embarrassingly deep love of all things "Mass Effect." Her favorite is the original first game.
I didn't romance Reyes on my first playthrough. As I mentioned on my "Sloane vs Reyes" article, I hated the way the game seemed to be trying to manipulate me into liking him. A lot of fans hate it when characters are forced on them by default (just look at the Liara hate in the fandom).
Eventually, however, I realized how silly this was and decided to try romancing Reyes because I'd heard so much good about what a fun romance he had. Turned out to be one of the best things I did in Andromeda, as the romance made the story of my Ryder far more interesting and also, I was very entertained by the story of Reyes and his journey to become a better man.
Welcome to my analysis of Reyes Vidal.
Love at First Sight
When I finished this romance, I came away with the realization that Reyes falls in love with Ryder the second he meets her (or him since Reyes is bisexual). It's the only thing that makes sense given Reyes' behavior and the brief amount of time he spends with Ryder on Kadara.
Normally, it takes at least four months of getting to know someone to fall in love with them, but Reyes and Ryder knew each other maybe a couple of weeks, and Reyes still fell in love. He's a greedy liar, a self-proclaimed murderer and a scoundrel, but his feelings for Ryder were the only time he was telling the truth.
The overall theme of his romance is that he's a bad person who falls in love and decides to try and be better. And yet, an oblivious Ryder learns this in a sort of backward way, which I thought was some of the better writing in this game.
Love is Blind
Of course, one thing I find interesting about the fandom is how many Reyes fans refuse to admit that Reyes is actually a bad person. Why is it so hard to admit when Reyes trying to be a better man because he fell in love is basically the entire theme of his arc?
I think it's because a lot of people who romance Reyes have self-inserted into the fantasy and want to protect him as if he's their actual real-life boyfriend. I can understand that. As a lesbian, I can only self-insert into f/f romances myself (I just play m/f and m/m romances to see the entertaining story), and while I don't care if people hate Liara from the original trilogy (it's understandable), I will still defend her all day long in my nerdy articles . . . Ha.
But the game spells it out for you how terrible Reyes is in the quest where you meet Zia, his ex-girlfriend. Depending on whether or not Ryder is romancing Reyes, Zia's dialogue will change. If Ryder isn't romancing Reyes, then Zia will talk about how Reyes dumped her. If Ryder is romancing Reyes, she will try to defend Reyes by saying he's a good man and Zia will reply in pity that Reyes is a bad man and Ryder will soon find out.
For such a small character, Zia was really entertaining. And once she's dead, Reyes insists on burying her, showing that he did care about her and he's not as callous as Zia insisted.
Keema is the Key
I feel like Keema is the key to understanding Reyes as a character. Sadly, because I declined going to the party with Reyes on my first playthrough, I never met Keema, so I never really learned much about Reyes as a person. This forced me to view him through the filter of my life's experiences, rather than seeing him for the person that he really was.
On the playthrough where I decided to romance Reyes for fun (and to piss off Jaal, ha ha), I met Keema and learned a great deal about Reyes' motivations, what was going on in Kadara, and how Reyes really felt about Ryder.
At the party, Keema will explain to Ryder that Reyes sincerely likes her and only does what he does for a good reason. These are just a few sentences, but they sum Reyes up pretty greatly.
What's more, you hear those lines whether or not you're romancing Reyes, which leaves me to believe that Reyes always falls in love with Ryder, whether or not they reciprocate, and this always leaves him wanting to be a better man and impress them.
When you get to the end of the Kadara arc, Ryder will ask Reyes why he lied to her. Reyes will admit that he "liked the way she looked at him," and he didn't want that to change.
I had Ryder break up with him by saying, "You aren't the man I thought you were," and Reyes responded sadly and honestly, "I wanted to be."
It was in that moment that I realized everything Reyes did (fighting the Roekaar, exposing Sloane, helping the exiles) wasn't just about gaining power. Gaining power was certainly a part of it, but the larger reason was impressing Ryder, so that she would like him.
Later if you talk to Keema again (who is a really fun character, by the way) and ask her why Reyes lied, Keema explains that she encouraged Reyes to tell the truth but he was afraid what Ryder would think. She adds on the end "It was adorable, really."
Throughout the romance, Keema is the voice of the writers, explaining to the audience the true motivations of Reyes and his real feelings for Ryder. If you pay close attention, she never lies about anything and is actually pretty bluntly honest, in sharp contrast to Reyes, who lies about basically everything.
You can even ask Keema if taking over from Sloane and giving the port back to the angara was the plan all along and she admits it without shame. And as you continue the game, nothing she says is contradicted. This has left me to believe that she's an honest character, not because she's a great person, per se, but because she is a mouthpiece for the writers.
If you think like a writer and look at video games from a writer's perspective, a lot of things start to make sense. For context, I am an English Lit major and a (retired) novelist, so this is why I enjoy analyzing characters. I'm basically examining another writer's work.
Another thing I've noticed is that a lot of fans don't seem to grasp the concept of Protagonist Magic.
"Protagonist Magic" is a storytelling device most commonly used in power fantasies, namely video games. It basically means that the protagonist is capable of anything within the limits of the lore and sometimes beyond, and that includes making terrible people change who they are almost overnight. In real life, truly evil and terrible people do not change. But in a video game? Evil people are cartoony, twirl their mustaches and cackle, but will change as soon as the protagonist waves their wand. (Players are not supposed to view this as realistic, but there are some younger players who will.)
This is why Ryder has such an effect on characters like Reyes and Kalinda and even Sloane Kelly, who softens up if Ryder saves her life (Sloane Kelly's "you better not be dead" during the battle for Meridan cracks me up every time).
Protagonist Magic also isn't a new concept in video games. Not remotely. (Maybe the fans complaining about how "unrealistic" it is don't understand that it's not supposed to be realistic. This is literally a science fantasy franchise.)
Back in the first Mass Effect, Shepard can talk crimelord Helena Blake into walking away from crime and becoming a social worker (image above). Aria, another hard-ass crimelord, will soften up due to the commander's influence and will even kiss Shepard in Mass Effect 3. Shepard can also talk down Saren and the Illusive Man at the peak of their character arcs.
In Dragon Age: Origins, the Warden can persuade Loghain to their side. This after being hunted down and turned into a pariah by him for 30 game hours. And in Dragon Age: Inquisition, the Inquisitor can make just about anyone worship and follow her, even templars if she happens to be a mage (and elf-haters if she happens to be an elf).
Bad people turning good in video games isn't supposed to be "realistic." It's supposed to be fun. You're playing a character so beautiful, powerful, and persuasive that even the most evil people are inspired by her and want to be better.
So Protagonist Magic is an old writing device that is unrealistic, yes, but when executed properly, it makes for a great story (and a great power fantasy).
You Weren't Meant to Commit
The end of Reyes' romance, and the fact that it doesn't have much content afterward, leaves me with the impression that Ryder wasn't meant to commit to him. Ryder has a preset personality that can only mildly be altered, and her personality is that of a soft doormat goody-two-shoes. If we take her preset personality into account, it makes no sense that she would choose to commit to Reyes after he lied to her and used her to gain power.
And indeed, when Ryder learns the truth during the quest High Noon, her only two options are to be outraged in two different ways. It's clear the writers wanted Ryder to be hurt and break up with Reyes. Because once the Kadara arc is over, the Reyes romance doesn't have much content aside from some throwaway lines from the companions and random NPCs. Reyes doesn't even appear in Movie Night!
He was just supposed to be a fun romance that Ryder could have on the side before they went back to their real romance (which is exactly what I did. Jaal forever). But because they knew fans would get attached to Reyes, the writers give you the option to commit to him at the end of his arc.
Dumping Reyes is Actually Sad
I have to admit, though: dumping Reyes is pretty sad. Given Keema's comments and Reyes' reaction at the end of the Kadara arc, I think he was really hoping that Ryder would accept him and love him, but instead she decides to just "be friends."
When Ryder shakes his hand after dumping him and announces that they are still friends, Reyes has the most unhappy look. Then you get back to the Tempest, and he's sent an email saying that he's decided he would rather have her friendship than nothing at all.
I don't know. It tickles me to death that this evil crimelord completely melted because of Ryder. If only there were f/f romances this compelling in Andromeda. Peebee feels like a stereotypical toxic lesbian relationship (dealing with the crazy ex and her commitment issues. And I say that as a lesbian: those are stereotypes, not how lesbian relationships really are) and Suvi barely has content. It feels like good f/f romances in BioWare games are rare and only happen because they're the alternative to a well-written straight romance (Liara in Mass Effect, Leliana in Dragon Age: Origins, and Isabela in Dragon Age 2.)
All that being said, however . . .
Don't Get Attached
In the end, I use Reyes for his intended purpose: to provide a bit of fun and drama during the Kadara arc.
BioWare games of old have taught me never to get attached to plot devices (Kaidan/Ashley, Bethany/Carver) or romances that are supposed to be temporary side content (basically every squad mate in Mass Effect 2), and I have learned that lesson very well.
Reyes can't be killed in Andromeda, so it was likely he was supposed to play a role in future content. Such a shame that we'll never have future content now.