Final Fantasy XV is finally going to be released sometime next year, and watching the trailers and listening to the incredible music by Yoko Shimomura has made me pretty excited for this game.
But one thing I noticed that seemed like an oversight was the lack of a playable female character (did you think I was scratching my head over why they all wore black, as the rest of the Internet seemed so hung up on?). And why is no one talking about this?
Allow me to catch you up to speed, in case you aren’t in the know-how. As of right now, there isn’t a single female character that’s truly playable, as in she joins the party and stays with them. Luna is a “guest” character, and so she’s not a permanent party member at any point, and the only other female character(s) we’ve seen are Luna’s attendant and the hyper-sexualized Cindy, neither of which join the team. There’s a rumor that they may add Stella (the original female lead before Luna replaced her) back into the game as a playable character, but seeing as how it’s only a rumor, until it’s confirmed or denied, it doesn’t help matters much. Why is a series such as Final Fantasy, usually so renowned for having strong, female characters, suddenly opting out of including any female character in the lineup?
I don’t doubt that part of this is due to the failure that was Final Fantasy XIII. An insane story with poorly written characters and a linear setting, Final Fantasy XIII had a lot of issues that negatively influenced the series as a whole. Lightning was criticized as having some of the worst personality traits seen in a Final Fantasy protagonist, and while her sister was the star of XIII-2, I’m not going to count her has a major protagonist. It was a bit of a mess, and while I’m sure that this plays a part in the lineup of Final Fantasy XV, the series as a whole has a fault of its own.
The Final Fantasy series has had a history of rarely (literally) implementing a main female character. In the span of fourteen, going on fifteen Final Fantasy games, we have only ever had two “main” female characters starring in the game: the first being Terra (even though the lack of a true main character in Final Fantasy VI does make this rather difficult to pinpoint), and Lightning in Final Fantasy XIII. This is a fact that is very hard to ignore, especially combined with the development of Final Fantasy XII.
Originally, in Final Fantasy XII, Ashe was intended to be the main character. Which, if you’ve played the game, makes a lot of sense. The game revolves around her story of redemption, both for herself and her fallen kingdom. However, at the last second, the development team panicked about the sales of the game, fearing that a female character as the lead would hinder sales. So what did they do? They replaced her as the main character with the useless Vaan, because the gender of the character was more important to the developers rather than the stories of the characters themselves.
What is it about a female character that comes off as more imposing, or as a turn-off for potential fans? Female characters shouldn’t be any more difficult to write than male characters – being a well-written character isn’t contingent on the gender, but simply, based on how they are portrayed to the audience. What are their emotional struggles, how do their experiences shape them, how are they changed by the story?
These aren’t gender-specific questions – these are questions that should be taken into consideration in any fictional medium for any and every character. In many cases, Final Fantasy does a good job of applying these broad questions to their characters, both male and female, in several of the games, despite the obvious lack of main female leads. What the series may lack in this area, however, the series compensates for this setback with many strong, supporting female characters that aren’t defined by their gender, and are simply well-written for the sake of the story and the surrounding cast.
I already mentioned Ashe earlier, so I won’t go into too much detail again. The story greatly revolves around her mission to restore her kingdom, and many of the game’s most defining moments rest on her shoulders and her decisions alone. She’s strong because she needs to be, but she still has to find the answers for herself. She comes a long way in Final Fantasy XII, and she is easily one of the most interesting and resonant parts of the game.
The next strong, supporting female character that comes to mind is Tifa. Ignoring her ridiculous body proportions and outfit, Tifa has a strong, emotional character arc in the game that isn’t just about her devotion to Cloud. Yes that’s part of it, but Tifa is hiding many of her feelings and thoughts to protect those she cares about. It’s a form of devotion, but not in an outright, harmful way. She’s not going to die for Cloud – she is willing, and able, to protect him, and she does it in a much more emotional, reserved way. When she finally does express her true feelings, she isn’t clingy about it. She is still loyal even while being more honest with herself and those around her, and it’s because of this that she stands out amongst the rather selfish cast that is Final Fantasy VII (I’ll get to that another time).
Another character that I also really adore from the Final Fantasy series is Garnet, from Final Fantasy IX. She has a very tragic back-story, and as the game progresses, Garnet is constantly feeling pressured to prove herself to her mother while still being independent and helping others. She doesn’t take any of these tasks lightly, and her sense of duty is really extraordinary. She has to endure a lot of pain, but she ultimately becomes stronger and wiser because of it. Rather than blaming others for her problems and mistakes (a thing I recall Lightning constantly doing), she internalizes them and learns from them. It takes a lot of bravery to be able to do that, making her character arc from naïve princess to future queen that much more enjoyable to follow.
These are just a couple of strong female characters throughout the series, and while there are more I could talk about, but I’m going to leave it here. As you can probably tell from just the few characters I brought up, they are still well-written, fascinating characters who just happen to be female. The point is that, main character or not, female characters in video games can be just as interesting and intriguing as male characters, so the fact that Final Fantasy XV is all but devoid of any playable female characters is a major problem in my book. I can only hope that the rumors of implementing Stella as a playable character are true, otherwise Final Fantasy XV has made a terrible mistake, especially one for a series that is so well-known for having many strong, great supporting female characters.