I’ll state for the record that I’m going to play Final Fantasy XV this September because I’m curious to see how the series will evolve (I’m a completist). I want to see how the game’s new engine, Luminous Studio, works/is integrated. I like to geek out over combat mechanics. I appreciate the technical artistry behind the game.
But XV marks the first time I’m not excited to play for story immersion or the chance to get to know a new roster of characters.
XV has a primarily male cast. When I say “primarily,” I mean that only one of the six core characters is female and that even the side characters skew heavily male. It’s 2016, and the director, Hajime Tabata, thinks that this ratio “feels almost more approachable for players.” The logic goes that including even one female character—in this case, Lunafreya Nox Fleuret—changes the dynamic significantly.
Okay, sure, let’s say it does. My incredulousness is wondering what story is so crucial, so important, that it needs to be told at the expense of female characters and female gamers. The answer is a “boys will be boys” story.
I feel like I’ve stepped into a time machine.
My absolute lowest expectation would be that some, if not all, of the multiple female characters would be scantily clad or relegated to helpless love interest status. That’s not fine, it’s not great, but it is a bare minimum of statistical representation. Instead, we’ve got one main female character (and it remains to be seen exactly how main she is) and one or two female side characters. Including Cid, a mechanic who nails the impractical outfit niche.
I don’t want to shame a character for being hot, but I definitely don’t want to give companies like Square Enix a pass when they give us scraps like this. Not only does the cast feel regressive on a level I wouldn’t expect from a company who put a female character, Lightning, front and center in the Fabula Nova Crystallis storyline and who has a history of interesting and prominent female characters, but it seems extra bizarre when you take into account how many women comprise Square Enix’s player base.
Nearly every hardcore fan of the Final Fantasy series I’ve met has been female. I’ve heard male gamers refer to it as a girl’s game. Either Square Enix is deliberately ignoring their demographic or taking extraordinary measures to change said demographic. Shifting from a slate of games with multiple prominent female roles to a new iteration seems pointed. It feels like erasure, probably because it is erasure.
It’s also an interesting example of where we’re at culturally. XV is the first major console release in the series since the onset of Gamergate. While many companies are distancing themselves from pro-Gamergate rhetoric and demands, this Final Fantasy installment feels as though it’s targeting people that want to experience stories about boys being boys above all others. Tabata thinks that excluding women makes the story “feel sincere and honest”.
And you can bet that the erasure of female characters—i.e. potential love interests—does not mean that Square Enix is going to give us gay male party members, which would at least be a step in a direction not entirely backwards.
I would have preferred so many things to another side story in the Fabula Nova Crystallis series. I think we’ve mined that enough with five titles in the series already. Final Fantasy had the opportunity to rebrand, certainly; they could have introduced a vast new canon and stayed ahead of the curve in terms of diversity. I would have loved to explore new worlds. Instead, I’m taking scraps and eking any enjoyment I can from a game where I don’t feel welcome.