Friday, September 26, 2014

Why I Give Final Fantasy XV's All-Male Cast a (Mostly) Pass

I'm a big proponent of having a diverse cast of characters. I've asked Blizzard in the past to increase the different types of people in their Massively Multiplayer Online game, I'm on record for vocally standing up for other people, and a proponent of diversity in gaming in general with conventions like GaymerX and the Diversity Lounge at PAX Prime and East.

Cast Image, courtesy of
Final Fantasy XV has been announced as having a playable cast that are entirely male. Well, technically there is only a single playable character (Noctis), but the party that goes with is all-male. Director Hajima Tabata echoes Blizzard's "boy's trip" statement:
"The party members being all men was something that [former director] Tetsuya Nomura had kept as a very important element of this journey. He wanted to depict a story in which a group of men, a group of friends, journey throughout the world. So that’s something that I kept in Final Fantasy XV."
So you might be wondering, why the double standard here? Why does Square Enix get a pass from me, but Blizzard does not?


Blizzard has struggled mightily with representation of female characters in their franchises. They've done some good work--Warcraft 3 Jaina comes to mind, and Sylvanas is particularly interesting despite the lack of clothing--but the bad and non-existent outweighs the good. There are other examples, but not many that are anywhere near as prominent.

When you look at the Final Fantasy series, though? Interesting, strong, respectful, and different representations of women abound. There's fanservice-y moments--Tifa from Final  Fantasy VII comes to mind immediately--but she's still a good, rounded character alongside that aspect, which makes her a better character still than most.


Final Fantasy III (1990) is the only game in the primary series with no playable ladies.

Final Fantasy VI not just has playable women, but Terra is the primary viewpoint in the first half of the game, and Celes is for the second half. Not only that, but Terra is shown in a mother-role in the second half and clearly struggles with the question of running off to be a hero, or staying and protecting her children. Celes struggles with loyalty and authority. Both characters are extremely powerful and have great development.

Aerith, Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VII has Aerith, who actively chooses to die for the world and for her friends. Independent to a fault, she runs off on her own knowing she puts her friends in danger to do what only she can do. For many folks, her scenes are some of the first in video games that really moved them to tears.

Final Fantasy VIII has Quistis Trepe, an instructor who's incredibly gifted, but has issues handling her success correctly. While Squall is the defacto leader, Quistis is the one with her head screwed on correctly and handing out good advice on what to do.

Quistis, Final Fantasy VIII
Final Fantasy IX brings Freya, a dragoon from a ruined kingdom, compared to the less warrior-like Princess Garnet who does embody a few of the damsel in distress tropes, though she goes looking for help rather than waiting for it to show up. And while not playable for long, Beatrix is a General of the kingdom of Alexandria, and she is pretty badass.

Final Fantasy X, while Tidus may look like the main character, it's really a story about Yuna's pilgrimage to save the world from an ever-regenerating monster. A young woman who marches off to her death with a smile because it will bring joy to the people of Spira, and how she wants her journey to be one full of laughter. While Tidus helps shake up her worldview, ultimately together they triumph without sacrificing her life. Not to mention Lulu's big sister role--and while the belt dress is classic Nomura-fanservice with the fur bra line that would have to be taped to her breasts to stay up the way it does, she's still a great character who has her own worldview changed over the course of the game as well.

Yuna and Lulu, Final Fantasy X (image from
Final Fantasy X-2 is actually an entirely female cast! Rikku, Paine, and Yuna one year after FFX, living it up as treasure hunters. All three ladies bring formidable and diverse personalities to bear--Rikku being ultra cheerful and melodramatic, Paine being the taciturn one with a terrible past, and Yuna loosening up a bit after being the hero. While one could argue they were sexualized in a number of their costumes (as class changes came about via "dress spheres" which would change their class by changing their costume), for the most part they were just dealing with the world around them, rather than mooning over men. The game actually passes the Bechdel test extremely handily, and is a fun, refreshing change of pace for a Final Fantasy game.

Final Fantasy XI, an MMO like WoW, has a number of prominent female characters, but by far the most popular and representative character of the game is Shantotto, the Tarutaru Black Mage and hero of a number of wars. Actually, you'll notice that the most popular NPCs in FFXI are primarily women.

Shantotto, Final Fantasy XI
Final Fantasy XII plays the same trick as FFX, where the primary character seems to be Vaan and Penelo, street urchins, but in actuality revolves around Princess Ashe, who is fighting to retake her kingdom from an invading force far more powerful than her small country. She's pretty business-like, for good reason, but she's still an impressive character. The game as a whole is less about the characters' individual growth than it is the over-arching plot, however.

Final Fantasy XIII has a cast that's split 50-50 between men and women, but arguably the ladies play the much bigger roles. Lightning, a soldier who's actually pretty badass; Vanille, who apparently grated on a lot of people with her happy go-lucky ways; Fang, Vanille's elder compatriot. The series revolves around Lightning mostly, but Fang and Vanille are integral to the plot, and we learn a lot about them as the game goes on, about how Vanille is compensating for a difficult past, and Fang is there to help her along the way, feeling somewhat responsible for the situation. And even moreso than FFX-2, FFXIII passes the Bechdel test and then some.

Lightning, Final Fantasy XIII
Final Fantasy XIII-2 has Serah, Lightning's sister, to help Lightning throughout the game. Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns is again all about our pink-haired soldier of time and space, being the only playable character throughout the whole game.

Final Fantasy XIV, another MMO, has ladies in a number of prominent positions. The rulers of all three kingdoms are female, and one of the primary NPCs that you interact with throughout your quests, Y'shtola, is a capable White Mage in a very exclusive group of adventurers investigating strange occurrences throughout the land.

Y'shtola, Final Fantasy XIV, A Realm Reborn
All of this to say, Square Enix actually has a pretty good track record for lady characters; far better than Blizzard's. They have a balance between the busty fan service ladies that some people seem to enjoy--I am not one of them, mind you; I'll take the busty fan service men instead, thanks--and characters that are more conservatively dressed. Most of their female characters are well-developed, varied, and interesting. Many of them are even revered by many Final Fantasy fans, with Celes, Terra, Aerith, and Shantotto immediately springing to mind. Balance here is key.

It's both an argument that having female characters is excellent for your game, and also that if Square Enix wants to put out a game with only male characters, I feel like they can do so because they've done pretty well. As a company, they're clearly more about the story and great characters than just having women as props, so I'm less concerned about the prevailing attitude behind the Directors' words. It's not a pattern.

Granted, their timing kind of sucks, given all the issues cropping up recently. But then again, this is a game like seven years in the making so far, so one can't really predict that sort of thing anyhow. All in all, I think I'd rather use the opportunity to highlight places where they've been great, because Square Enix has some awesome characters. Were there any I missed that should be on that list?

#FinalFantasy, #Diversity


  1. I understand your point of view and can appreciate it, but history is precisely why I am upset. It's another example of the series getting even further from its roots and leaving behind so many of us who were with it for so long.

    1. "It's another example of the series getting even further from its roots and leaving behind so many of us who were with it for so long."
      ~ Wait, what? In what context? It's a series that the only thing it has in common from game to game are the names of spells, summons, jobs, and Cid. Oh, and Chocobos.

  2. I admit that I had one eyebrow firmly raised when I clicked on the link to this post, but your reasoning is simple and very persuasive.

    I agree, if we are to show our commitment to feminist values, then we must consider the history of the IP or the developer (or even the genre, I think point-and-click adventure games have a general history of being more diverse in their representation), and allow for the occasional dips into all-male or all-female casts when there has been a good balance until now.

  3. Don't forget that Final Fantasy V made in 1992 had THREE playable females, and while Bartz is attracted to two of them, none of them end up the love inerest. And, Lenna was a princess to boot.