• Final Fantasy Sexism Part IV: Lost Potential



    Welcome back to the Final Fantasy Sexism series, after a bit over a month off. When we last left off, I went over the beginning of the PS1 era with Final Fantasy VII and VIII, which saw a return to the emphasis on gender roles and sexist stereotypes after the temporary improvement of Final Fantasy VI. This part will focus on the end of the PS1 era and the beginning of the PS2 games: Final Fantasys IX and X.

    Remember the Bechdel Test that I referenced in Part I? The purpose of it is to criticize the use and depth of female characters in film; too often women’s roles are minimized as they revolve around more central, male characters. That principle, if not the exact test itself, can also be applied to video games, and FFIX and X are classic examples of otherwise strong female leads being minimized to fit into the classic role of love interest for the true main character.




    Final Fantasy IX was heralded as a return to FF’s roots, and was a temporary reprieve from the constant attempts to create the most sexy women in the least amount of clothing. However, even it suffered from shoving female characters into stereotypically feminine roles and emphasizes the female character’s sexuality. As I’ll explain, every single playable female character either is motivated by a past love, falls in love during the game, or wants to be in love.

    The lead female of FFIX, Garnet (or Dagger), is a princess, the daughter of Queen Brahne, ruler of Alexandria. After her father’s death, Garnet notices some disturbing changes in Brahne as she became more cruel and power-hungry. Garnet resolves to escape Alexandria in order to seek counsel from her uncle, Cid, on how to stop Brahne, and along the way meets up with the rest of the game’s characters.



    Princess Garnet about to cut her hair.


    Garnet is a determined and resourceful character, but she suffers from a number of sexist stereotypes, including her personality and conduct in the game. While understandably upset at the change in Brahne, Garnet frequently ignores the advice of her more logical (and male) companions as she sought to reach Brahne and reason with her. The result is a betrayal that was predictable to everyone but Garnet, who needs to be rescued by her wiser, and again male, companions. After Brahne’s death, Garnet temporarily loses the ability to Trance, speak, and occasionally even fight due to her emotional distress (reminiscent of what happened to Terra in FFVI) – which is only notable because, predictably, the writers chose a female character to suffer that fate. And throughout the game, she is forced to learn from Zidane, the main male character, how to live outside the palace, which of course means that she eventually falls in love with him.



    Apparently Garnet has soft… clothing.


    Her role in the game is also firmly entrenched in sexist tropes. As described above, Garnet is a classic damsel-in-distress-turned-love-interest – an all-too-common theme throughout the PS1 era (see: Aerith in FFVII, Rinoa in FFVIII). She is also one of two white mages in the game – and both are female (though Garnet’s main class is a summoner, which still fits into the broader “weak magic-based” role).

    A slight improvement from Garnet, Freya Crescent is a classic example of “two steps forward, one step back.” She has a lot of positives going for her: she is a determined and skilled fighter, who can put aside her emotions in order to get the job done. She is definitely a stronger female character than most others from the PS1 Final Fantasys.



    One of life’s greatest mysteries: how Freya puts that hat on.


    That being said, “stronger” does not mean “progressive.” For one thing, Freya, like many FFIX characters, does not even resemble human. She seems to follow the Terra example of it’s ok for women to be strong – as long as they have some non-human parts to justify it. Additionally, Freya’s personal goal throughout the game is a quest for her long lost love, which is a constant burden on her mind. Her love interest isn’t as annoying as some other characters, possibly because he is not part of the main story and Freya is not given as much screen time.

    And then of course there’s Eiko, the obligatory bratty girl (see: Relm, Yuffie, Selphie), who fits firmly into the weak healer role. She is only six-years-old, but already daydreaming about meeting boys and getting married, because of course that is the height of achievement for all young girls. Eiko is only worth mentioning because of how frequently this gender-based role has been exploited into the FF series – and it won’t be the last time!

    I should also say some words about Beatrix as well, though she is only a playable character for part of the game. Beatrix is a general, leader of Alexandria’s all-female army. At the beginning of the game, Beatrix is firmly loyal to Queen Brahne and an enemy to the party, but eventually realizes that she should put Alexandria ahead of Brahne. She is confident and assertive, and is a highly respected fighter, who early on defeats the main party with ease. And unlike Freya, she’s human!



    Beatrix's armor is conveniently shaped to reveal some cleavage. Even her eye patch is fashionable.


    If Beatrix did nothing in the game and rested only on her description, she would be among the most progressive FF characters in the series. But, unfortunately, contemporary Square writers had difficulty developing Beatrix during the game without resorting to gender-based clichés. Beatrix begins the game with a reputation for cold-blooded ruthlessness, but, being a woman, that of course is only a veneer, as she is just waiting for the right man to melt her icy heart. That man is Steiner, her rival that she holds a grudge against yet eventually falls in love with. Gag.



    Despite all that, Beatrix is pretty badass.


    Beatrix also gets protected by Steiner on occasion, and Steiner’s male Pluto Knights arguably outshine the Alexandrian army during key parts of the game (despite the opposite reputation), but credit where credit is due: Beatrix does her fair share of day-saving as well. Her conduct as a general makes her a major step in the right direction, the most positive step in the entire PS1 era of Final Fantasy (and since FFVI’s Celes). But her character development, especially with her inter-personal relationships, was dependent almost entirely on Steiner; despite her tough persona, Beatrix fell into the same love interest trap. Female dependence on male characters has been a theme I have been harping on since the beginning, and Beatrix showed that FF writers still had a ways to go before they could truly offer a wider range of female personalities and roles, free from being shoe-horned into roles that serve as foils for male characters or are strongly dependent on them. Which will come – just not until later.

    And certainly not in Final Fantasy X.

    The first game on the Playstation 2, FFX was a big hit and still enjoys a large fan base. Many FF fans still consider it one of the best in the series (no matter how often I point out how horribly wrong they are). FFX does the time to give every playable character some depth with fairly detailed back stories, but for many of them, including the female characters, that potential was diminished by shoving the characters into rehashed, male-dependent roles or the overuse of the women as aesthetically-pleasing fan service.

    Yuna from Final Fantasy X actually has a central role in the plot; the daughter of High Summoner Braska, the main plot for most of the game is Yuna’s pilgrimage – her quest to prepare herself for the final battle with Sin. But like Aerith in FFVII, for much of the game more focus is put on her relationship with Tidus, the main character.



    Yuna and Tidus, right before one of the most painful scenes in FF history.


    Yuna represents the standard damsel-in-distress-turned-love-interest faithfully represented in every FF since FFVII. She is very loyal, self-sacrificing, and determined, but those are undermined by her constant reliance on male characters. The purpose of every other character is to serve as her protection, and she, of course, is the character who needs rescuing (such as from the temple in Bevelle, where she collapses after the disastrous wedding).

    Despite being the playable character that the world overplot largely revolves around, her relevance becomes largely based on her growing relationship with Tidus. Yuna arguably represents the most flagrant example of a female role being minimized by dependence on a male character; Yuna had the makings of a powerful female lead, but instead served as little more than a foil for Tidus’s development. Obviously the lead female just cannot go without being shoved into a love interest role for the real main character. And Tidus is the one who grows the most as a character throughout the game, only emphasizing Yuna’s inferior role. Her main purpose seems to be to develop Tidus’s character.



    Look at how they gaze into each other’s eyes. And people thought Fang and Vanille were the only FF lesbians!


    It is also important to note that the physically weakest playable characters in the game are all women, with Yuna being the stereotypical healer (albeit with powerful summons). As I’ve discussed before, female characters are often pushed into cookie-cutter roles based on classic gender stereotypes. This limitation on female roles has been a running theme of Final Fantasy Sexism, and FFX is the perfect example of it.

    FFX was also a prime example of exploiting sex appeal. Departing from FFIX’s example, Final Fantasy brought the sex appeal back with a vengeance with the powerful black mage Lulu, who wears thick, opaque robes that cover her entire body – but is conveniently pulled down enough to expose a vast amount of cleavage. That isn’t even the worst part, as her celebratory pose after a victorious battle is… to bend over sexily and shake her enormous boobs at you. I’m not joking, I even took a screenshot for you. My mouth actually hung open the first time I saw it.



    Can you imagine Hawkeye making this pose?


    The theme of FFX is lost potential, and Lulu is a prime example. She has an atypical personality, is a dark and brooding black mage, but it’s hard to take her seriously when the point of her existence is to show some skin for the fans. Lulu doesn’t have much in the way of plot relevance or development, and her main point in the game seems to be to explain the world to Tidus and show off her boobs (occasionally reminiscing about her dead boyfriend, Chappu). I’m just going to refer you back to the Avengers comic I posted in Part I. What would you think if a man in a video game suddenly thrust his barely-covered crotch at you? (a certain music video notwithstanding) Why is this considered any less ridiculous?

    Lastly, there is of course Rikku, the hyperactive, bratty Yuffie clone in skimpy shorts. Between all the love interests and Yuffie clones, it’s a wonder there are any unique female FF characters from FFVII to X. I should note that Rikku deserves some credit for breaking away from the mindless superstition originally embraced by most of the party (especially Wakka), as well as having her own detailed back story. But again, the potential is diminished: she exists to show some skin, look cute, and her personality falls entirely within tired gender tropes that had become stale in FFVIII. There is no more perfect example of women characters being limited into a handful of roles than by the unbroken line of Relm, Yuffie, Selphie, Eiko, and now Rikku.

    And do I even need to mention Final Fantasy X-2? The first all-female Final Fantasy, FFX-2’s customization system is called the dress system and utilizes dresspheres and Garment Grids. Just the concept makes me want to vomit.



    The only thing missing is a currency system based on makeup, perfume, and kisses with cute boys.


    Now Part IV reaches its end. FFIX and X ended up being more of the same from Part III. There were some positive steps (Beatrix), but they were answered by a major regression in FFX, where female leads were still being heavily dependent on the male leads for relevance and development. It’s hard to imagine how FFs could get much worse with their portrayal of female characters; the only place to go is up!

    And up Final Fantasy does indeed go. Be sure to check back in a couple of weeks when Part V goes up, which will focus on the last two (non-MMO) Final Fantasy games, both of which (arguably) feature female leads: Final Fantasy XII and XIII.

    So what do you think? Who was the worst damsel-in-distress-turned-love-interest? (I vote Rinoa) Will Squeenix finally learn their lesson? Leave your comments below.

    The full FF Sexism series:

    Part I
    Part II
    Part III
    Part IV
    Part V


    [Unless otherwise credited, all FF images are from The Final Fantasy Wiki]
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Final Fantasy Sexism Part IV: Lost Potential started by Raistlin View original post
    Comments 43 Comments
    1. Jinx's Avatar
      Jinx -
      I don't know what game you're playing, but Rikku is the second strongest character after Auron.
    1. Raistlin's Avatar
      Raistlin -
      I didn't mean to suggest that she was "bad" or "weak" in any way except for following oft-rehashed roles and stereotypes. I'm not passing judgment on characters as a whole. She had her own positives, and a lot of potential, but her character was shoved into the "hyperactive cute girl" mandatory role, and a lot of her screen time was focused on her being cute/spazzy. She could have been a lot better.
    1. Huckleberry Quin's Avatar
      Huckleberry Quin -
      Beatrix and Steiner have one of the best love stories in gaming, you awful, awful man.
    1. Night Fury's Avatar
      Night Fury -
      I disagree Raist. I often thought that Rikku, whilst having some minor 'cute/spazzy' moments, was one of the most mature characters in the game, and had some of the best moments
    1. NeoCracker's Avatar
      NeoCracker -
      Quote Originally Posted by Locky View Post
      I disagree Raist. I often thought that Rikku, whilst having some minor 'cute/spazzy' moments, was one of the most mature characters in the game, and had some of the best moments
      I was going to start getting into why exactly Raist is wrong on a few points, as well as bring up something I probably should have earlier, now I am going to agree with him whole heatedly solely because of how wrong you are here.
    1. Night Fury's Avatar
      Night Fury -
      Quote Originally Posted by NeoCracker View Post
      Quote Originally Posted by Locky View Post
      I disagree Raist. I often thought that Rikku, whilst having some minor 'cute/spazzy' moments, was one of the most mature characters in the game, and had some of the best moments
      I was going to start getting into why exactly Raist is wrong on a few points, as well as bring up something I probably should have earlier, now I am going to agree with him whole heatedly solely because of how wrong you are here.
      You're wrong. Suck it.
    1. NeoCracker's Avatar
      NeoCracker -
      Quote Originally Posted by Locky View Post
      Quote Originally Posted by NeoCracker View Post
      Quote Originally Posted by Locky View Post
      I disagree Raist. I often thought that Rikku, whilst having some minor 'cute/spazzy' moments, was one of the most mature characters in the game, and had some of the best moments
      I was going to start getting into why exactly Raist is wrong on a few points, as well as bring up something I probably should have earlier, now I am going to agree with him whole heatedly solely because of how wrong you are here.
      You're wrong. Suck it.
      I will never be able to suck it as hard as Rikku.
    1. Raistlin's Avatar
      Raistlin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Locky View Post
      I disagree Raist. I often thought that Rikku, whilst having some minor 'cute/spazzy' moments, was one of the most mature characters in the game, and had some of the best moments
      I think you, along with Boobies, are reading too much into my criticism here. Maybe I should have made myself more clear: I'm not saying she's a bad character. I'm not even saying that she isn't the best character in the game (though she isn't). My only point here, referencing the past games, is that the writers yet again shoved an otherwise promising female character into the same, overused mold. These molds limit the potential and variety of female characters, and do a disservice to women in general. Rikku's strong and mature moments were diminished by her being required to be the cute spaz in skimpy shorts, one of FF's most common tropes. She could have been more of her own, unique person.
    1. Night Fury's Avatar
      Night Fury -
      I'm not reading too much into your criticism at all. I'm just sharing an opinion.
    1. Jinx's Avatar
      Jinx -
      Quote Originally Posted by Locky View Post
      I disagree Raist. I often thought that Rikku, whilst having some minor 'cute/spazzy' moments, was one of the most mature characters in the game, and had some of the best moments
      Agreed, fully.

      Maybe her outfit design? But her personality really doesn't fit this mold. She's has her loli-con moments, but for the most part she's actually one of the most worldy and mature characters in the game.
    1. Dr. rydrum2112's Avatar
      Dr. rydrum2112 -
      Raist- I would've hit the wedding part harder in showing the sexism. That whole scene is just ugly to me.
    1. Raistlin's Avatar
      Raistlin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Quinter Wonderland View Post
      Beatrix and Steiner have one of the best love stories in gaming, you awful, awful man.
      Haha, I actually expected to get much more bashing from all the FFIX fans around here. Beatrix is probably the strongest independent character from all of the FF love interests up until this point (in that she has the most significance to the game independent of her relationship). But the remnants of sexist tropes that still cling to her are hard to ignore, especially in the context how Squeenix was portraying other female characters at the time (making it less likely to be based on happenstance rather than sexist stereotypes). In another game in another context, those slights would be more easily dismissed.

      Quote Originally Posted by Dr. rydrum2112 View Post
      Raist- I would've hit the wedding part harder in showing the sexism. That whole scene is just ugly to me.
      I actually meant to! I fully intended to add in something like that, and I could've sworn I actually typed something up, but it must have slipped my mind. xD I did mention it briefly in Staff. I remember being upset that Yuna could've even seriously considered forsaking her own life's work and purpose to... get hitched to a guy and hang around as his wife. But that was at least portrayed as a bad choice, though my interpretation could be tainted by my own bias.
    1. Shiny's Avatar
      Shiny -
      I don't see why there's an argument with scantily clad clothing because in recent years the males have been exploited in such a way too. Zidane and Tidus are wearing friggin' belly shirts for christ sakes.

      I'm really surprised you didn't bring up the hot spring scene in FF X-2...some how along the way they forgot Rikku and Yuna are cousins (or didn't care).
    1. Dr. rydrum2112's Avatar
      Dr. rydrum2112 -
      Well at least Raist was kind enough not to talk about the man-thong in FF9.

      Totally agree though, how pathetic was Yuna portrayed that shouldn't "stop" herself or tell Seymour NO. It was at odds with her inner strength throughout the rest of the pilgrimage too...
    1. Jinx's Avatar
      Jinx -
      Yuna fully intended to finish her pilgrimage even if she got married.
    1. Aulayna's Avatar
      Aulayna -
      As I said when you were drafting this I still don't remember Yuna being kidnapped - from what I remember she went along with the Guado plot to take her to Bevelle and play along with the marriage in an attempt to send the unsent Seymour.

      Maybe I'm wrong and I need to replay it as, well, it has been 10 years now.
    1. Jinx's Avatar
      Jinx -
      -She's kidnapped by the Al Bhed in Luca
      -She's kidnapped by the Al Bhed in the Macalania/Bevelle transition
      -She's kidnapped by the Guado for the wedding sequence (I think they do say that she went with them so they'd stop attacking the Al Bhed, but she was still kidnapped, come on).
    1. Aulayna's Avatar
      Aulayna -
      Yeah I should've been more clear that I meant in relation to the wedding.
    1. Goldenboko's Avatar
      Goldenboko -
      Yuna never intended on abandoning her journey to get married to Seymour. She considered marrying him to make the populace happy and then trotting off and completing her journey anyway.

      Quote Originally Posted by THE SCRIPT View Post
      Yuna
      "If my getting married would help Spira..."
      "if it would make people happy..."
      "If I could do that for people... maybe I should do what I can."
      "I never imagined doing anything like this."
      "But, I won't answer till I know what's right."

      Tidus
      "Seriously?"

      Rikku
      "You could always just quit your pilgrimage and get married."

      Yuna
      "I will...go on."
      "I'm sure that Lord Seymour will understand."

      Rikku
      "Umm, I guess so..."

      Yuna
      "I am a summoner!"
      "I must fight and defeat Sin."

      Auron
      "Like Braska before you."
      I never understood why people disliked Yuna. I always found her devotion to self-sacrifice a good plot line to go in contrast to Tidus's self-serving plot. I always found that Tidus gets offed at the end and Yuna lives on to be a great irony.

      Furthermore as for the kidnapping occurrences, there's an entire plotline in the game based around the Albhed nabbing the Summoner's (male or female) to stop them from sacrificing themselves on their pilgrimage. I'd understand punishing the writer's for including Yuna getting kidnapped a lot of it had nothing to do with a core part of the plot, except it does.
    1. Night Fury's Avatar
      Night Fury -
      Quote Originally Posted by Goldenboko View Post
      Yuna never intended on abandoning her journey to get married to Seymour. She considered marrying him to make the populace happy and then trotting off and completing her journey anyway.

      Quote Originally Posted by THE SCRIPT View Post
      Yuna
      "If my getting married would help Spira..."
      "if it would make people happy..."
      "If I could do that for people... maybe I should do what I can."
      "I never imagined doing anything like this."
      "But, I won't answer till I know what's right."

      Tidus
      "Seriously?"

      Rikku
      "You could always just quit your pilgrimage and get married."

      Yuna
      "I will...go on."
      "I'm sure that Lord Seymour will understand."

      Rikku
      "Umm, I guess so..."

      Yuna
      "I am a summoner!"
      "I must fight and defeat Sin."

      Auron
      "Like Braska before you."
      I never understood why people disliked Yuna. I always found her devotion to self-sacrifice a good plot line to go in contrast to Tidus's self-serving plot. I always found that Tidus gets offed at the end and Yuna lives on to be a great irony.
      It's actually quite frequent that a strong leading female must sacrifice something after her success. Whilst Yuna isn't sacrificing her life, she does have to give up Tidus as part of defeating Sin. It's almost a punishment to her in some ways for defying the 'traditional' method that was set up by Yu Yevon or whatshisfacefloatyballthingamaboo.

      Other notable examples:
      Buffy (SPOILER)when she has to kill Angel in order to save the world in Becoming Part II.
      Sarah Walker (SPOILER)when she downloads the intersect, wiping her memories to save Chuck.

      Noted, I've just written my dissertation on them so they stick out a LOT, but it's a recurring idea.
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