Having undergone various changes in terms of design, platform, and even name over the last decade, Final Fantasy XV is finally here. It’s clear from the off that Square Enix has crafted something that’s far removed from the painfully restrictive Final Fantasy XIII in a bid to propel the 29-year-old series into the current gen. The darkened colour palette, lack of cuddly creatures and reworked combat demonstrate a conscious effort to reform the series and produce something that feels entirely new. However, what most notably distinguishes this entry from the series norm is its unusually predominant masculine presence.
Final Fantasy has a long and commendable history of iconic female characters such as XIII’s leading lady Lightning, and let’s not forget the all-female line-up of Final Fantasy X-2 – you most likely couldn’t forget those zany pop performances even if you wanted to. It comes as something of a surprise then that FFXV boasts an exclusively male core party line-up.
Explaining the omission of female main characters, director Hajime Tabata said:
“Speaking honestly, an all-male party feels almost more approachable for players. Even the presence of one female in the group will change their behaviour, so that they’ll act differently. So to give the most natural feeling, to make them feel sincere and honest, having them all the same gender made sense in that way.”
While it’s a shame we don’t get any badass female warriors as playable characters this time around, the all-male road trip is entirely forgivable as it’s a creative decision that makes sense in the context of the narrative rather than a sexist statement on the part of the developer. Final Fantasy XV’s crime isn’t its lack of playable female characters rather it’s portrayal of those it does include.
Firstly there’s Lunafreya, an Oracle with the power to commune with Gods and heal the suffering and afflicted. Despite having powers comparable to Jesus, Lunafreya seems more concerned with her marriage to Noctis than aiding the troubled world of Eos. She is largely underused and has very little character of her own. Her presence seemingly serves to bolster the female character numbers rather than add anything meaningful to the story and even though her magical abilities are vastly more interesting and effective than Noctis’ she never features outside of cutscenes.
Aside from Lunafreya, the game’s most notable female presence is Cindy. Thanks to a spot of car trouble, players are introduced to Cindy within minutes of the game’s opening. Granddaughter of Cid, a character who’s appeared in almost every instalment to date, she takes over car repair duties from her ‘Paw-paw’. This could be seen as a really progressive step and a middle finger to the stereotype that mechanics always have to be men, and it would be if it weren’t for the fact she looks like a stripper impersonating a mechanic rather than the real deal.
Tabata describes Cindy as “a very important part of the story because by keeping the car running she makes the entire journey possible.” However, her helpfulness and skills are completely undermined by her gratuitous sexualisation. Not once in all the years of playing Final Fantasy have we ever witnessed Cid servicing our car in his long johns, that would be ridiculous, and nor is it appropriate to have a female mechanic clad in denim hotpants, underwear fully on show and sporting unnecessary levels of cleavage.
After the original demo for the game was released, Tabata revealed that players, particularly those from Europe, complained that Cindy’s attire was “too sexy”. This didn’t propel the team to change the character design, but rather defend it by saying “she’s actually not meant to be an erotic character”. Instead Cindy is described as an outgoing character. Fellow party member Prompto is outgoing, but portrays his extrovert behaviour through his personality, why isn’t this the same for a female character?
Tabata also spoke of “moderating the way she is presented” to eliminate the sexual themes. So, judging by the final product, having scantily clad women bent over cars isn’t sexualizing them.
Omitting females as playable characters was meant to make the game more approachable for players of both genders. But Square Enix obviously didn’t have this in mind with Cindy’s portrayal. She was designed for the benefit of men at the risk of offending and alienating female players. It’s a disappointing move for a series that has a strong female fanbase and sends out the message that despite a woman’s skills she is fundamentally an object for men to ogle – something that’s further reinforced by Prompto’s constantly voiced desire for Cindy.
The remaining female cast features only briefly in the game. There’s Lunafreya’s mysterious lady-in-waiting Gentiana, as well as Gladiolus’ little sister Iris – who’s most remarkable deeds amount to fawning over Noctis and offering a sidequest that involves planting carrots, compelling stuff. There’s also a lady with an unhealthy frog obsession and that’s pretty much every female in the game apart from mercenary Aranea. She’s the only female warrior in the entire game and, aside from Gentiana, the only one that doesn’t seem to base her value on her ability to win the affections of men… or frogs.
Final Fantasy XV was marketed as “a Fantasy based in reality” alas, the grim reality that FFXV drives home more than any other is the continued misogynistic nature of video games. Here’s hoping Final Fantasy XVI makes considerable strides back towards the equal representation of genders it’s commendably exhibited in previous efforts.
(images courtesy of square-enix-press.com)