Phew, this one took ages! And I'm not even sure I like where I've gone with it so far.
The main villain of Soulmate is Ego, Oneira's 'inner critic', who berates and belittles her constantly, as our own inner critics do to us.
I wasn't sure how to depict something like that as a character. At first, I wanted her to be masked, so then her identity - that is, she's Oneira, sort of - would come as a surprise at the end, and so then she'd have an element of mystery or menace about her that villains such as Darth Vader have. I wanted her to look like one of those villains, but modern, so...
A hoodie was the first thing that came to mind that could hide the non-masked part of her head, and which had 'dangerous' or 'threatening' connotations. The design looked quite plain, but that was sort of the point at the time. I wanted her to look like the sort of person you might see - or even know - in the real world, rather than some extravagant costumed fantasy character. I wanted her mask to be plain, too; a symbolic emoji sort of design that might magically change as she expresses herself. And I wanted to have an open eye design on her top to mirror Oneira's closed eye one (and I wanted to use the moon-as-a-pupil design from the owl-eyes top somewhere). Maybe "open your eyes" would be her snarky catchphrase as she 'helps' Oneira by pointing out her flaws.
I tried to think of additional layers of meaning I could add to the design, and imagined the ego as some kind of constructed mask that we wear to face the world. That led to me trying to give her the traits of a golem, without actually making her into one. I also wanted her to represent earth, to contrast the aetherealness of Oneira; the ego is the 'dirt of the Earth' that cakes the 'soul' as we spend time in the world, preventing us from being pure and blissful and innocent and such. I wanted to use jagged lines to represent earth via stalagmites and stalactites, mountains, fissures, as well as lightning of the destruction sentiment and spikes to mean pain.
I didn't feel that direction was working, though. Golems are more associated with mindless servants than the 'inner critic' effect I was going for. They also looked increasingly fantasy-like; the last one looks alien to me.
So I tried a different direction:
I started by aiming for something that looked strict, aristocratic; the sort of person who'd look down on you (or something like ∞ this ∞
; he's called Ego too, coincidentally). Her face was on full display this time, as I felt that making her identity as Oneira's inner critic a secret would lead to more loss than gain (players might go through the whole game not realising what she's supposed to be, and interpreting her words as those of some generic villain or something, and she wouldn't be able to emote facially). Other elements of the design were just experimenting with the elements from before, in different arrangements.
I decided to give the hoodie design another go, though. I imagined this one being more like some trollish teenager, who'd tease and bully Oneira in a 'lulz' kind of way, whereas the aristocratic one would be more cold and sarcastic. I thought the former might be more relatable and modern, but far more infuriating; off-puttingly so, and more unpleasant for me to write. I also think that Oneira's personality would give rise to the aristocratic sort of inner critic rather than a troll. These designs - with their skull masks - just reminded me of Halloween, and felt generally wrong.
While experimenting with her hair poking out of the hood, I stumbled upon the idea of having it resemble a noose. I've got mixed feelings about this. I like it, as I feel it represents suicidal tendencies that an especially intense inner critic would provoke, but on the other hand it's perhaps 'triggering'? It also looks like some kind of tie, especially in the designs on the bottom row. I'd prefer it to wrap around her neck, as in some of those designs, but it's harder to make out what it's supposed to be with this limited 2D view. It'd be clearer in 3D, but that's not an option, unfortunately. Often you have to design characters around technical limitations like this; I'm concerned about the dress thing, actually, because it's hard to do leg-hugging dresses like that on the sort of models I'm using. So I might change that.
Her hair on the bottom row has multiple designs and meanings, though perhaps too many to the point of overcrowding! There's the noose, but also two cowlicks, drawing a direct connection to Oneira's but also looking like devil horns, and also a bit like a crescent moon (a recurring design element). A three-spiked fringe goes back to the jagged spikes connotations I described earlier, as well as looking vaguely like the teeth of a skull. The V-shaped tuft was added in the middle of the 'horns' to make the negative space look like skull's eye sockets, but I don't think that was working. Little hair ornaments might suggest eyes instead.
There's more I could say about every tiny little detail - everything's added carefully and with reason - but since I don't even know if I'll keep this design, I won't bother!
I mean, I don't hate it or anything... It just might not be exactly what I had in mind. I might just keep it like this for now so then I can move on, though; I can always come back and change it later if I come up with a better idea.