How many of us played Final Fantasy as a kid? For me, it was one of the first games series I was introduced to. I’d sit and watch my older brothers play, falling in love with the story, the characters, and the games themselves. I remember looking at Yuffie, from Final Fantasy VII, and thinking, “I want to be that cool one day.” Whether I managed that or not is a whole different story. Looking back as an adult, I not only see how badass all the characters are, but how diverse, and well written their stories are, in particular; the women.
Naturally, there are character and story spoilers ahead!
Faris (Final Fantasy V)
Faris is a pirate captain initially perceived as male, but then later identified as female while she sleeps. Definitely not weird at all. We learn that Faris struggles with dysphoria, having been adopted into a very masculine culture, and feeling out of place when being perceived as feminine. She adopts masculine mannerisms, dresses masculine, and is perceived by most as male. As well as this, Faris gets particularly defensive about her emotions, and isn’t very adept at expressing them either; two things that are very commonly portrayed as masculine traits in the medium. Again, we later learn that Faris is of royal blood, and was lost before being adopted as a pirate.
If those events hadn’t have occurred, would Faris still struggle with her gender, or was it a product of her patriarchal surroundings? Of course, it truly could be either scenario that caused Faris’s struggle. Despite this struggle, Faris does eventually open up to her friends, becoming particularly protective of her new-found sister, Lenna. When Final Fantasy V was released in 1992, gender identity was beginning to be explored publicly, though not widely within most media. While common terms such as dysphoria or gender fluidity aren’t overtly used, we see clear examples of them in the game’s story, spotlighting a previously unrepresented group identity and allowing them to see themselves appear in popular entertainment.
Tifa, Aerith, and Yuffie (Final Fantasy VII)
As I mentioned earlier, Final Fantasy VII was my introduction to the franchise, and one of my earliest introductions to gaming. The dynamic between Tifa and Aerith always intrigued me: two friends that very clearly fancied the same person, how could they manage that? It’s not something that’s been represented to have a civil or positive outcome; usually being reduced to cattiness and a falling out. To see the relationship hold, and the two women continuing to not only be friends but defend each other’s lives really cemented the idea of unconditional love into my head. When Aerith dies, Tifa reacts strongly, very visibly mourning the loss of her friend, truly showcasing that unconditional love.
We’ve only seen part one of the Final Fantasy VII Remake, but the cutscenes in this modernisation really expand this relationship between Tifa and Aerith. It takes away from the love triangle element that featured in the original, and focuses more on their similarities outside of Cloud. I honestly can’t wait to see how this dynamic between the two of them evolves in the part two.
Yuffie is an optional character in the original game, but she wasn’t any less influential because of that. At sixteen, she’s the youngest in the party, and is shown to be loud, vivacious, and confident. Taking great pleasure in teasing the other party members, she livens the atmosphere, but still shows great sorrow in the game’s darker moments. Because everything Yuffie did or said was loud and dramatic, I didn’t exactly relate to her as a child, but I certainly admired her confidence and brashness, hoping that one day I’d have the ability to speak my mind as she did. Yuffie was one of the first female characters I ever witnessed being unapologetic in simply being herself; she truly helped shape my ideas of a strong woman at an early age.
Yuna, Rikku, and Lulu (Final Fantasy X/X-2)
Before Final Fantasy X, the relationships between the female characters were friendly enough, but never super close. Here we see Rikku and Yuna as cousins, and Lulu being a lifelong friend of Yuna. Despite the closeness, each of them have unique perspective and experiences; Rikku is proud of her heritage, but struggling with racism. Yuna is deeply religious, but struggling with her faith. Lulu takes the role of Mom Friend literally, and is Yuna’s guardian.
Despite Rikku’s personal fight against racism, she is seen as the light of the group, keeping the tone of the game relatively jovial. As well as this, Rikku also takes on the role of Yuna’s protector. When Final Fantasy X was released in 2001, the idea of ‘Girl Power’ was widely established and being celebrated throughout media, however this hadn’t been explored much within the realm of AAA video games. X’s exploration of female friendships connects to this early 00s ideal thoroughly; each having a very distinct and separate personality, however protecting, trusting and loving one another anyway. This unconditional love within female friendship was revolutionary at the time, as it had only been first explored in media in the previous decade, and created a generation of girls that would protect each other as Rikku, Yuna and Lulu do.
Final Fantasy X-2 released two years later in 2003, focused heavily on Rikku and Yuna’s journey after the events of the previous game, and specifically used fashion as a way to gain abilities and strengths. The game faced question from some fans in recent years due to the somewhat revealing , objectifying outfits in the game, whilst other female fans found the Dressphere system empowering. What I took away from this controversy, however, is that the player and thus the characters have the choice to wear revealing Dresspheres or not. The ability to choose what one wears and not be shamed for it is a fairly new part of feminism, that women could be multi-faceted, wanting to destroy monsters, save the world and enjoy fashion. For me, because of this, Final Fantasy X-2 was ahead of the curve with this concept.
Lightning (Final Fantasy XIII)
Lightning, of Final Fantasy XIII, is one of the most cutthroat, no nonsense protagonists I’ve seen in the Final Fantasy series. She’s seen to be assertive, dismissive and even somewhat aggressive to the other party members, and even to her sister, Serah. Throughout the game she grows and develops as a person, becoming more forgiving of mistakes and allows for others to be close to her. Despite her growth as a person, not much changes with her leadership abilities, as she is still often dismissive of anyone’s opinions but her own. Lightning is a polarising character for me; she so quickly became a fan favourite, and even the face of the series due to her popularity, but I was never overly enraptured with her. I found her to be rude and stubborn, quick to anger and slow to forgive, which I wouldn’t have minded if there were a backstory to explain her actions, but this was unfortunately lacking.
Throughout the game, we see her relationship with Serah strain under both the parental role Lightning takes on, and the distrust Lightning has, despite Serah idolising her older sister. There’s a distance between the two characters though Lightning does eventually reconnect with her sister, Serah forgiving her past discrtions. Even so, I’m unsure if I’ll ever be a fan of Lightning.
Even here, only looking at a few characters from the series, we see a wide variety of personalities, relationships and character growth arcs throughout the Final Fantasy series. Final Fantasty XVI hasn’t officially been announced, though there are rumours that the newest entry in this famed franchise isn’t as far away as we may think. Square Enix may be focusing their energy primarily on the Final Fantasy VII remakes, but I still believe that FFXVI will emerge in the not-too-distant future, even if it is just a glimpse.
In the new games, I hope to see an even wider range of strong, diverse women. My biggest hope is to see the series better represent women of colour, as well as trans women, potentially taking the lead role. This increase in diversity would both allow for more inclusivity in the franchise, but also for more fleshed out stories with personal human depth to characters that hasn’t been explored widely in this franchise.