Editorial: The Feminist Final Fantasy?

Happy Valentine’s Day, Lusi-sprites! It is the time of year when flower and candy shops make a killing, hotels are all booked up, and Lusipurr.com turns its fancy to a Spring Playthrough of Wild Arms. I am a few hours into the charming little title and certainly enjoying my time with it. However, I find my eye twitching whenever characters point out time and time again that Cecilia is a woman in a manner that implies she is lesser. Despite proving herself in battle, the other characters – at least thus far – tiptoe around her in an attempt to preserve the delicate flower. As is often the case in JRPGs, the angle is not that Cecilia is a strong woman, or even that Cecilia proves to be strong despite seeming weak, it is that Cecilia will prove to be strong despite being a woman.

Male Metal Lingerie
If men protected themselves like women in video games.

This situation is echoed in the more recent and less impressive Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. A seeming majority of characters feel the need to point out that Estelle is female and therefore should be neither feisty nor capable of wielding a staff with any semblance of skill. It is one frustrating thing to make “female” a personality trait in a game, and an even more frustrating thing to have all other characters within the game be constantly reminding the player of it.

But these annoyances turned my mind to some recent – more positive – thoughts I had when playing Final Fantasy XIII-2. At first I rolled my eyes at outfits that were needlessly revealing for characters intended to be warriors. However, in the Final Fantasy series, that is more often a result of overall exaggerated design. Lulu is all belts and boobs, Barrett is all muscle and no shirt, most characters have weapons the size of their bodies, and Kuja has the most revealing outfit in the series. Forgetting the outfits, however, the women in XIII-2 are never called out for their gender. Lightning is a former soldier, now warrior of the Goddess, and the game world refreshingly accepts this without a need for a justification. The female lead, Serah certainly has weaknesses, but they are simply human weaknesses. The game never implies her flaws are rooted in her assortment of chromosomes. As they should be, the characters are defined by what they do, and not simply by being women.

This made me think about the other female characters in the Final Fantasy series. The games are certainly not perfect in their portrayal of gender roles. There are plenty of gratuitous boobs and damsel in distress situations, but overall I found Final Fantasy to be worlds ahead of many of its JRPG counterparts.

Take Faris in Final Fantasy V. The game is 20 years old, but already tries to turn gamer’s perceptions on their heads by means of a badass cross-dressing pirate. Terra is arguably the lead character in Final Fantasy VI, but as she is plagued by memory loss and the need to turn bright colours and fly away, the real female star is Celes. She is like her series counterpart, Beatrix, but with more reasonable attire. Both are – or were – respected and powerful generals with complex character motivations. Their positions and character are not framed by their sex.

Although, opera singers are hardly floozies...
Damn straight!

Tifa may have an unrealistic bust size, but nobody questions her capability as she kicks ass with her bare hands in Final Fantasy VII. She is an equal both in and out of battle. Also, after players are aware of the game’s Fight Club-esque plot twist, Tifa becomes a far more layered character on a second playthrough.

Final Fantasy IX features an army compromised of entirely female soldiers. This is not strange in the land of Alexandria. This is not a bizarre exception that is cause for analysis. Steiner’s Knights of Pluto exist and Beatrix’s army exists. The latter does not exist “despite being female”. In fact, if players are as thorough in IX as I am, they will notice stories of old war heroes that consist of both male and female heroes painted in equal light. Dagger – like Serah – has many weaknesses, but they are treated as human flaws, not “female symptoms”.

Ironically, the series’ one attempt to make a concentrated “girl power” effort in Final Fantasy X-2 instead showcases the franchise’s most sexist title. See, the thing about equality in art is that the less of a big deal gender is to the characters, the more powerful the effect. Do not tell the audience there is a strong female lead, just show it. Hell, as mentioned, it is perfectly fine to show a weak female lead, but there is simply no need to point out specific traits as “female” traits.

The Final Fantasy series is certainly under the influence of the male gaze in terms of skimpy outfits and camera angles, but ultimately it treats its female characters as equal characters. It is unfortunately more than practically any other series in the genre can claim, but it was nice to be pleasantly surprised as I reviewed the series with a feminist lense.

14 comments

  1. That first picture is terrible and my eyes burn for the forever.

  2. What Vicks said. Only louder. And I am shouting it in your ears. This June.

  3. It is the perfect picture to point out the absurdity of Metal Lingerie!

  4. I still think Terra is the lead of Final Fantasy 6… Plus her story is about coming to terms with being human and ‘monster’ if you can call an Esper a monster… which you could. Even if you fail to snap her out of her funk she’ll show up and join you against (the best) final boss.

    I actually find Celes’ story to be very cleche’ and then she’s thrown into a relationship with some guy who is still hung up on his ex. They don’t exactly point that out but I think Celes is a bad example.

    Faris- is confusing… They do a gag about how the boys get all hot for her even though they think she’s a man…. which even as a gay man I find that disturbing. Then they grope her and they do have a sort of after school special of ‘what does it matter that I’m a woman.’ Kinda thing.

    FF9 was the best example; in fact it was a juxtaposition in Alexandria in that the men were looked down on…. considered sort of useless- at least in present time.

    Lastly I think almost any woman who has been cheated on has to cheer at Lady Hildagarde when she finds out turns him into an Oglop and steals his Airship. I think anyone who has been cheated on really did forgive her…. all the way up till she forgave the idiot.

  5. I’m glad you commented, Korusi. I didn’t want to get too in-depth in the article itself lest I end up with a 5000 word essay, but in the comments, I have the chance to ramble a bit.

    I guess, re: Terra. I like the idea of her story, I just personally find her a little bland. She’s dotted over so much and is so absent – in so many ways – for a lot of the game. Although I probably agree that she’s the lead.

    I don’t have issues with cliche if a story is told well, and I think Celes’ is. I think she’s actually given character. I don’t think having a relationship with a man is unempowering. Most women are straight and while they don’t need men to define them, that doesn’t mean that entering into a relationship is sexist. Yeah, Locke has baggage, but Celes is pretty astute about it. She’s not ignorant of his issues, but she navigates it like an adult. I don’t think it’s as human as a love story as Dagger/Zidane (what video game romance is?), but I don’t think it takes away from the strength of her character nor the strength of the example.

    And that’s sorta true about 9. I mean, Brahne and Beatrix would certainly look down on Steiner and his knights, and the dudes of Pluto WERE kinda idiots, but the rest of Alexandria didn’t view them that way. Nor was there a general reverse dichotomy of gender in the kingdom. I don’t feel there’s sexism toward either gender in that regard.

    And I don’t know if the dispute between Hilda and Cid factors into feminism in any way. I’m not much of a traditionalist in terms of relationships, and I’d consider myself a forgiving person, so I don’t take moral issue with Hilda forgiving him. If Cid showed signs of being abusive, that’s one thing, but it seemed to be a drunken one-off and not a full-on cheating double-life. I feel like there is a major line between the two that many choose to believe isn’t there.

    Plus – although I’m not sure you were implying it this way – I wouldn’t consider “being cheated on” as a women’s rights or equality thing. Every human in every sort of closed relationship has been cheated on: gay, straight, polyamorous, etc. While cheating is certainly disrespectful, I wouldn’t call it sexist either.

  6. Turning your falandering spouse into an Oglop would have to factor up there with cutting off male genetalia …

  7. Possibly. But the point is that Cid didn’t cheat on Hilda like a douchebag because she was a woman. And Hilda didn’t turn Cid into an Oglop like a douchebag because Cid is a man.

  8. I’m guessing the remake changed this because at no point (so far) in ACF is Cecilia treated differently because she’s a woman. The fact she’s a princess did come into play but that has to do with her background not gender, as Jack dislikes royalty in general and would also dislike working with a prince.

    This episode of Extra Credits deals with the subject as well with in a similar light:

    http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/true-female-characters

  9. In the scene in which Jack reveals that, they all make a big deal about how Cecilia shouldn’t be able to lift his sword.

  10. Hmm, true enough but its how you look at it I guess. From a logical point of view, Cecilia is a person that has led a sheltered life in a castle or in an abbey without any sort of labour that would lead to the increase of muscle mass. That cowardly prince in the intro (dunno if this is shown in the original) wouldn’t be able to lift it either. Hell, I dunno if I could wave it around either.

  11. Very well pointed out and I understand your point. Still I think considering the sort of era that final fantasy often reflects it speaks highly of Hilda in that she’s strong enough to leave her husband. It does speak well of Cid that he doesn’t hold it against her and they do really seem to love each other even despite their relationship difficulties. (as noted by Hilda’s pet names for him.)

    I think my favorite thing of Final Fantasy is the feature of strong women. Women who fight for what is right and not in spite of the fact that they are women but because they are a hero or what they are doing is right. So in that way I agree entirely. I honestly can’t think of too many overtly sexist events in any game of FF…. Though There was that one in FF4 where they ask the ladies to leave… though maybe because they still thought of Rydia as a little girl and because he wanted to protect his girlfriend Rosa not because they were women.

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