a Guest post by Shakyra Dunn, author
We all love our spiky-haired protagonists, ever common and appreciated in our fun-filled Japanese Role-Playing Games. They come in every shape and form, with goals bigger than them in their grasp. Their personalities are always burning bright, strong, prosperous…
But they always steal the spotlight for themselves, don’t they?
Think about the characters you see in Final Fantasy. Who is the very first one that comes to mind? Cloud? Noctis? Tidus? Maybe even Cecil or Zidane? I bet you don’t even bat an eyelash to characters like Rydia, Rikku, or Celes without them seeping into your mind first.
I’ve given this a bit of thought over the years since I stepped into this fandom: why aren’t the females in Final Fantasy more appreciated in broader roles like their male counterparts?
Now don’t get me wrong! We’ve got some pretty great contenders in the female line-up when it comes to Final Fantasy! Take a look at fan-favorites like Lightning, Tifa, Aerith, and even Terra! They all have range, and they’ve proven their strengths not only as fighters, but as strong women that stand for a purpose, just as much as the guys have, which is what we’re talking about here.
The heroines matter, maybe even more than the heroes themselves.
THE HALL OF HEROES
Final Fantasy by the company Square Enix (formerly Squaresoft) is one of the most well-known and cherished RPG franchises to date, first storming into Eastern and Western nations alike in 1987. Thirty years, they’ve given us impactful stories, memorable characters, incredible world and impactful journeys that age as we have, back to back.
Much like any long-running series, time catches up fast, and each story becomes new. Final Fantasy has never been a series that connected stories in their franchise thoroughly, though there has always been speculation and even confirmation of lingering storylines, such as Final Fantasy X’s deviation into Final Fantasy VII due to the existence of one foul Shinra, and more recently Final Fantasy XIII evolving into the world of Eos in Final Fantasy XV due to the destruction of their old world.
As the stories develop and occasionally cross paths, so do the characters that walk through them with us lingering not too far behind.
Starting with the first Final Fantasy, we have characters with no names, known only as Warriors of Light that seek to rid of one evil Garland, who plagues the world with darkness and chaos. A simplistic plot, but one that would come to make an impact. The second game gave us a character with a name—Firion, a man who sought to shower the world in wild roses. And from there, our companions in the series only grew.
Fast forward ten years, in 1997 with Final Fantasy VII, we have the emergence of Cloud Strife, one of the most popular characters in video game history. Cloud, a former SOLDIER operative for Shinra cooperation, disillusioned and misunderstood, a past lost to him slowly shaping as he seeks to save the world of Gaia from the vengeful Sephiroth, who plans to unleash a power known as Meteor upon the planet. At his aide are characters including his childhood friend and bar worker Tifa Lockhart, man with the gunner’s arm Barret Wallace, and the young flower girl Aerith Gainsborough.
With the inclusion of this game into the greats, we see how Final Fantasy gave impact to the world and all of its fans.
Let’s jump ahead to the next game, Final Fantasy VIII. This game gave us a new hope, for it shed the subject of love and loss in a new form through the main characters Squall Leonhart and Rinoa Heartilly. These two show us that a chance encounter is more than just chance—the bond that two people form can evolve into something more passionate, and it can change you for the better, and make you learn what life is meant to be. “Just keep your eyes on me,” and everything will be fine in the end.
Then we explore Final Fantasy X in 2001, the first Final Fantasy game with voice acting, exploring the themes of religion and compromise, of broken hearts mending, and of sacrifice for the greater good. We walk through the game as Tidus, and are whisked away 1000 years from his time period into the realm of Spira, where we encounter Yuna Braska, a new Summoner that is to embark on a pilgrimage to rid the world of Sin, an embodiment of suffrage that humanity shaped as it took on a new life.
The audience was generally male by this time-period, and therefore it could seem like most of the main characters were male, though exceptions were made.
HEROINES THAT SWARM THE STAGE
Though Cloud is the hero of Final Fantasy VII, the closest character to stand as his equal for the role would be in the form of Aerith Gainsborough. She seems like a simple flower girl walking the streets of Midgar, but there is more life behind those emerald eyes than not. Sweet and a bit ditzy at times, she shows Cloud how to truly live his life and let go of worries when it counts. Dilly-dally, shilly-shally, and all that jazz.
But her bubbly personality is not the only thing that leaves her memorable, but the impact that her presence has whenever she is not on the team leaves a bit of a void not only for Cloud and the others, but for us as well. And it still does at times. Thankfully, she is not the only character to provide us with lasting impressions.
Let’s step back from 1997 and instead move into 1994 (aw, sweet, the year I was born!) with Final Fantasy VI. There, we saw the birth of a half-Esper girl named Terra Branford. Or Tina, to those that prefer it. Terra is corrupted under the slimy hands of a crazed jester named Kefka Palazzo. To date, Terra is one of the most developed main characters of the franchise due to her conflict, confusion and misunderstanding about the world, and it shed a light on what Final Fantasy could become in the future. Gone were the days of fun and adventure, and soon rang the gongs of destruction. And it all began with this girl’s story.
In 1999, we were given Final Fantasy IX, and the game begins on Princess Garnet til Alexandros’s sixteenth birthday, where a play is occurring. In a matter of minutes after her appearance, you see that Garnet is no ordinary princess meant to sit back and let life play for her. She is spirited and cheerful, kind and regal, yet she longs for a life of adventure, even ordering our hero Zidane Tribal to kidnap her from her noble life. Garnet is a woman that seeks opportunity, takes chances, and looks for the truth even if it means walking towards further sacrifice. This is what makes her such an incredible ruler and a memorable character, even when she is placed to characters such as Zidane or the villain, Kuja. She can stand on her own.
Jumping up to 2001 again with Final Fantasy X, we find a collection of females that can be considered strong. Yuna Braska is honorable and is selfless, willing to risk her own life to save Spira from the wrath of Sin. Lulu, one of Yuna’s close friends and guardians, is honest and brash, but she is also able to carry the burdens of others on her shoulders to assure that others ahead of her will succeed. And even in Final Fantasy X-2 we have the mysterious Paine, who is confident and strong, yet she retains a sense of elatedness around her allies. But the one that I’m going to dive into is Rikku. Rikku is an Al-Bhed girl from Bikanel Island, a machine-based oasis residing in the desert. There, she is isolated from most of Spira due to religious blessings of Yevon overpowering her nation’s belief. Despite her isolation from Spira, she continues to fight for what is right, she finds solace among Yuna’s party, and she is always cheerful and spirited even when life is getting her down. Rikku has always been one of my favorite heroines, and I feel that she’s underrated, especially with her gameplay mechanics. Thief/Alchemy classes for the win!
A lot of people haven’t really dived into World of Final Fantasy due to the hype of Final Fantasy XV coming out just one month later, but I highly recommend it for those that have played even a few Final Fantasy games, or even if you’re new to the franchise! You get to encounter a lot of the characters, and you do it through the eyes of one of the main characters, Reynn! Reynn is a girl from the isolated region of Nine Wood Hills, living alongside her twin brother Lann when a mysterious woman that goes by the name of Enna Kros explains to them that they have no recollection of what powers they truly possess, and that they have family to search for, and spirits them away into a world called Grymoire, where they are to uproot the truth behind the world and recall what was lost to them, all while getting to capture creatures called Mirages to fight alongside them in addition to the broad cast of Final Fantasy characters they encounter! What I love most about Reynn has to be that she’s the intelligent half of the comedy duo that exists in her and Lann, yet she can be so aggressive and sincere. She’s wise and cunning, and she and Lann are just an amazing duo. I really feel like these two, and this game, are so underrated.
Side Note: Celes (FFVI), Rydia (FFIV), Quistis (FFVIII), Tifa (FFVII), Rinoa (FFVIII), Yuna (FFX), Ashe (FFXII) and Agrias (FF: Tactics) are also amazing contenders for being strong heroines in the Final Fantasy series! Props to these awesome ladies as well!
HEROINES WHO NEED MORE TIME
Time has once again paved the way since the early days where these heroines first made their debut, and we’ve reached a new era. I think that one of my biggest issues nowadays is that Square Enix tends to show their heroines off to the side and doesn’t give them a ton of development or personality, and sometimes it can be controversial.
Let’s start with one of our more popular Final Fantasy characters to date, Claire “Lightning” Farron. Her debut in Final Fantasy XIII was a graphic jump for Square Enix, for her design was impeccable and the scenery of Cocoon, incredible. But it became clear for players that Lightning herself was marked as a carbon copy of VII’s Cloud due to her brooding nature and one-track minded behavior, fixated on rescuing her younger sister Serah from the clutches of beings called the Fal’Cie. Lightning herself doesn’t really have much of a personality in the first couple of games aside from being snappy, goal-oriented and throwing punches at Snow (which I’m okay with), but for me, she comes alive during the third installment “Lightning Returns.” There, we see that she has emotions that she kept hidden away, and that Lightning is the one that I like the most of the saga. Lightning isn’t a bad character, really, she’s not. But you have to take time to really understand her, and I feel that three games was a bit too much to have to stomach in order to get to the root of her character.
Since there are so many heroines in Final Fantasy Type-0, I’m going to settle with the one that gets the most screen-time in the story’s progression, Rem Tokimiya. Rem is a mage-class that wields twin daggers, a new member of the infamous Class Zero, trained to fight in the war and defend her school, Akademia. Personally, I don’t remember a lot about her personality outright aside from her being motherly, nurturing, and often hiding the illness set to kill her to keep her friends from worrying about her. But I do know that her magic is powerful, and she was always a part of my team for this reason. She was a proficient healer, and when teamed up with Trey and Jack (I mained Jack, Trey was my second because I happen to love archery), they were a crazy combination. Her development was a bit… confusing, but the story of Type-0 itself doesn’t really seem to depend on character strength due to there being so many characters that you can play as and the story not focusing on one single element around that perspective. So Rem could definitely use some work in her development if ever there is a Type-1.
Now we have our most recent Final Fantasy heroine, Lunafreya Nox Fleuret from Final Fantasy XV. When Final Fantasy XV was being developed originally as Versus XIII, her name was Stella Nox Fleuret, and she had a much different tune to her. But after she was unveiled again much later as Lunafreya, I kept up some hope that she would be a strong heroine. Upon seeing the movie Kingsglaive before Final Fantasy XV was set to come out, I continued to have some hope that Lunafreya would be a strong character, a good asset to the story and help to play out things between the Chocobros of Noctis, Prompto, Ignis and Gladiolus. But then I got to play XV… and I was sorely disappointed by how little development she got to have. Despite being an Oracle, said to be able to communicate with the Gods, someone that should have played such a powerful role, she was barely in the game at all. Throughout, she was mentioned by Noctis frequently due to their union as friends as well as the game beginning with them needing to meet to have their wedding and make room for a new era, but there was little room for her to shine throughout the story’s progression. They sucked all of the development to put towards our four main characters. Not that it’s a bad thing that they did that, I love all of them because they felt like complete characters in the end, but I really wish that we could have seen more from Lunafreya. Even Iris and Aranea, minor characters, had more of a role to play within the story and became better suited to what places that they were given. Lunafreya had such potential and it just felt wasted for a build-up that meant almost nothing to me. A lot of people love her and think that she’s a great heroine, but I personally felt disappointed overall by the way that she was snubbed, especially when she was shown to be such a major character in Noctis’s life. I just couldn’t buy it no matter how much thought that I sat back and put into her character.
WHAT MAKES A HEROINE?
Throughout the Final Fantasy series, we see our heroines take an active role in their plights against a greater force. Some act as mages, others take up a sword or another weapon to mow down the ones standing in their path. I judge my heroines by the way that they rise to the challenge, and how they handle situations outside of their set journey.
It’s like peering into a box of old photographs—you peek at each one, and you recall the memories from the snapshots. You remember the good things, and the bad, and sometimes even the ugly. It’s the same with characters that worm into your heart.
So, what makes a proper heroine in this case? Their strengths? Their weaknesses? Their cute faces, and their bright eyes? The smiles that they share with you, and how they fill you with glee? Well, that’s up for you to decide. There are so many things that I could tell you about my ideal heroine, but I think we’d be here all day. There are factors that only you can uproot and shelter with your being.
The heroines that we find ourselves cherishing as we venture forth through our broadened fantasy realms are always going to be as important and crucial to the story as the heroes themselves.
Where there is a Cloud, there shall be an Aerith in spirit. When Squall rains down justice, Rinoa will be hugging him from behind to shield him from his agony.
Synopsis: Many generations have passed since the Guardians crafted the world of Nimestria, planted underneath the aurora of seven moons. Great power courted even greater enemies. It was a trumpet’s blow heralding the arrival of the Creator.
Within the realm of Fracturis, a fleet-footed rogue named Frayle and his best friend Relek journey west when they’re set upon by a man vehemently riding a Behemoth. After a narrow escape, the two continue their route to seek guidance away from a roving band of beings called Savages.
The Church before them lies in ruin, but this only belies the true mystery. After unspeakable events unfold before his eyes, Frayle is thrust twenty years in the past to right the wrongs of his splintered time. Wandering the thin lines of fragmented memories, a Time-Jumper named Nova Avery whisks Frayle through the windows of the Phantasm and together they unearth the mystery of the Guardians and the origins of the Creator in the first installment of the series.