The part about "what are we supposed to be fantasizing about?" is particularly interesting to me. Personally, I like to emulate saving the world (even if that doesn't quite pop up until the Sorcerers manifest), but in-universe...Well, as the TVTropes page noted, you're basically an Adventurer Archaeologist. That has...quandarous implications about your character. Granted that non-dwarven/undead/yeek chronomancers are supposed to be investigating temporal anomalies in Eyal, but we never really see that crop up outside of the Daikara.Picking up lore in Tales of Maj’Eyal is really driving home how unsuited I am to the standard western RPG.
Sooner or later, everything in ToME relates back to either genocide or slavery. The humans and the elves want to exterminate the orcs; the orcs want to exterminate the humans and the elves and subjugate the yetis; the giants also want to exterminate the orcs; Zigur wants to exterminate everyone who uses magic; the nagas want to exterminate everyone on land; the demons want to exterminate everyone on the planet … There are two species in this game that only appear once each, and both of them are attempting mass murder in a desperate effort to prevent the extinction of their species.
Your primary task for half of the main game is to help the humans and the elves with their extermination campaign, for which your reward is to become wealthy and famous. Then the expansion pack puts you on the other side and has you help the orcs exterminate everyone who’s trying to kill them. Neither protagonist is a villain, since both sides ultimately just want to live in peace and are convinced the other side will never stop trying to kill them. But I wouldn’t say either is doing anything interesting or meaningful within the conflicts of the game.
I’m not sure what sort of game I’m asking for, given the conflicts ToME sets up. Realistically speaking, genocide isn’t something that can be solved by a lone brave hero. But realistically speaking, a lone brave hero couldn’t slaughter entire armies, either. If we’ve already departed into the realm of fantasy, then I have to wonder whose fantasy it’s supposed to be, and what exactly they’re supposed to be fantasizing about.
(Before anyone asks, no, I didn’t care for Undertale either.)
As to the genocide theme...Well, apparently no thanks to Weissi interference (I only have what's on TVTropes to go by; I don't have Embers of Rage itself yet, I'm waiting until I actually strike down the Sorcerers first), the races of Eyal have effectively been beguiled into usually thinking that only one of them can really enjoy prosperity, which would require subjugating/dispelling all the others. So, it's kind of the problem of the fish not realizing it's wet; the races have no idea they've been propagandized by outside forces. So, how can their understanding of objective good be anything except warped? (I'll freely confess that "subjective" strikes me as a subset of "illusory"...)
Which leads into the question of, what's the core fantasy that DarkGod and Grey are seeking? My suspicions about what Forbidden Cults will entail make me think it's mostly a matter of striving against a Cosmic Horror Story; making as much of a mark as you can against a universe that actually regards what we call "good" as some sort of heresy. Question is, what sort of mark should be made, by the authors' lights? If they even intend to go that far, that is. In other words, do they have core precepts for their fantasy, beyond privately "knowing" that you are glorious?
Might be a matter of whether ToME is ultimately supposed to be a tragedy or not. And "tragedy" is usually what the Cosmic Horror Story is...