Or: Dammit! Now Everyone Thinks I’m A Feminist…
This article must be prefaced by two things. First, I am by no means a feminist. I like make-up, I don’t mind short skirts and I still believe that women generally make better homemakers than men. That being said, I’m still for gender rights and sexual equality. Second, I am a big fan of the Final Fantasy series. When FFVIII was released I dressed as Rinoa for Halloween and while unemployed, I spent almost a solid month playing FFXII. But enough about me, let’s get to it.
Made in Japan, Final Fantasy is one of the bestselling RPG series of all time. Japan is known to have a very traditional society in which it is acceptable for women to be viewed as meek, inexperienced and feeble. This has been the case for centuries and is still common today. As far-fetched as it may seem, the current governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, has been quoted as saying, “Old women who live after they have lost their reproductive function are useless and are committing a sin.” That statement makes it all too clear to see how these games get a backward view on gender.
Also to be considered is that Final Fantasy is largely produced by men who have been conditioned since youth to accept said skewed ideas and have propagated them into every facet of their media and culture. It’s difficult to recall the last time I watched an anime or flipped through a manga where the females’ bodies weren’t of Barbie-esque proportions. When characters have an average body they are often ridiculed and at times even shamed for it. These characters are also often portrayed as considerably less intelligent. This is the case in most of their media outlets, even children’s, which works well to instill these ideas early on (Final Fantasy not excluded).
From FFVII straight through to FFXIII (excluding the failure that is FFXI), the player has been forced to go through the game as a male lead. On occasion you have the opportunity to play as one of the female characters, but this is only temporary, and the male lead is quickly restored. Female characters are almost always structured as one of three classes: a mage, a healer or a thief. Any Final Fantasy fan will know that these are also three of the most difficult classes to level up. As a result, when you have the opportunity to play as the most prominent female character, the battles are incredibly difficult. Unless diligently dedicating vast amounts of time to leveling, they never quite end up being in the same league as any of the warrior (read: male) classes.
There is a great mythology and history behind each game, and many of them have something of a medieval quality. This allows the creators to inject a damsel in distress story line. FFIX brings us Garnet, also known as Dagger, who is a princess. She is naive, shy and scared of her own abilities. FFXII gives us Ashe, also a princess (go figure), who is fueled by revenge over the death of her husband whom she mourned for two years!
In both of these characters we see that “damsel in distress.” They both easily fly off the handle, are highly inexperienced and subsequently, a “prince” of sorts saves them from themselves. It seems that they can only learn from men and never on their own terms.
It’s as if they shouted from the rooftops, “Female gamers, rejoice for now you can change your character’s clothes!”
Perhaps the worst of the worst is FFX-2. This was made as a spinoff of FFX, wherein two main characters from the original, Yuna and Rikku, go on their own adventures with a new character, Paine. Yuna receives a noticeably drastic costume change in this sequel of sorts. Previously she had been wearing an outfit clearly modeled after a summer style kimono. This is replaced with a much shorter skirt. It is suspected that they made this change to reflect a more carefree feel, but clearly that is not the case. This game is geared toward female players, illustrated by the edition of Dresspheres and the Garment Grid. A Dressphere determines your character’s abilities based solely on accessories. A Garment Grid is where you place said accessories to determine your character’s battle class. While I appreciate that you can do these sorts of things in the midst of a battle, it’s more insulting that their clothing literally changes each time you do so. It’s as if they shouted from the rooftops, “Female gamers, rejoice for now you can change your character’s clothes!” This unfortunately only furthers the idea instilled in players of the series from earlier editions that woman are meek, inexperienced and more interested in pretty clothing then plot. They tried and failed in instilling a Charlie’s Angels quality into the game.
Slowly but surely, female characters are coming up in the world of Final Fantasy. While I have yet to play FFXIII, in it we see our first female lead. So what’s next for the series? As far as culture is concerned, things have been looking up. In past years the Japanese government has worked toward banning rape in video games. While Final Fantasy has never had a rape storyline, perhaps this is the beginning of making things more gender friendly.