‘Final Fantasy XV’ Sends an Important Message About Toxic Masculinity

Final Fantasy XV

Last Wednesday’s Uncovered: Final Fantasy XV event revealed that Final Fantasy XV will finally come out later this year — ten years after being originally announced back in 2006. It is a game that is well-known both among fans and non-fans of the series due to its unique development history. There are a variety of reasons as to why so many people are anticipating the upcoming installment of one of the most beloved series of all time, and some Western fans are hoping that it will bring the JRPG genre back to the forefront after being in decline for the past few years.

In many ways, Final Fantasy XV could set a precedent for its genre — but what about beyond that? What about its messages and social values? Games are an art to be critiqued not only on their mechanics and visual presentation, but also in what they represent and say. Hajime Tabata, the game’s director, has made it clear that the game is being made with an international audience in mind, which is why they are incorporating influences from different cultures into various locations and aspects of the game.

So what will Final Fantasy XV—with such a massive amount of attention focused on its release — have to say to such a wide audience? The thing is, we do not necessarily have to wait until September 30, 2016 to find out, because it seems to already be saying something — something important about masculinity.

Final Fantasy XV

Final Fantasy XV centers around Noctis Lucis Caelum, the prince and heir to the throne of the kingdom of Lucis, as he embarks on a journey with his group of three friends in order to try and organize peace in a troubled nation descending into war. Noctis’ group consists of Ignis Scientia, his royal adviser; Gladiolus Amicitia, his bodyguard; and Prompto Argentum, the playful and more lighthearted companion of the bunch.

Tabata says it is a story about “boys being boys,” and the creative decision to feature the first ever all-br0 playable cast in a mainline Final Fantasy game has garnered a lot of concern and criticism. The series has been known for its variety of empowering lady characters, so it is understandable that there has been a lot of discussion.

Do not get me wrong — I definitely have a few thoughts and concerns about the women in the game so far. There is, as of right now, a disproportionate amount of men to women, and while quality matters over quantity, the game seems to be pretty bro-centric in both quantity and presence. The numerous problems with Cindy Aurum’s outfit are still incredibly hard to ignore; one can wonder about the practicalities of Aranea Highwind’s revealing armor; and so far, I’m waiting to be shown rather than be told as to how Lunafreya, the game’s main heroine, is a character with her own agency and narrative outside of being betrothed to Noctis.

However, there is also a conversation to be had about the men in the game — specifically, about Noctis and his group of friends.

Final Fantasy XV

Many stories about men are dependent on a narrative with a very specific definition of what it means to be a man. The patriarchy and society’s gender norms impact women in an overwhelming amount of ways, but they also affect men in the sense that they must adhere to a very specific idea of manhood. Men must be dominant, and in turn, women must be submissive. Men must not cry, show emotions, or display weakness; they must be tough and independent. Men must not act too familiar with each other, and if they do, there is a societal pressure to reassure themselves and others of their masculinity — because, obviously, being very friendly and emotionally honest is a potential threat to that.

But so far, Final Fantasy XV is not incorporating any of these elements into its story about the bonds between this band of young men; the narrative it seems to be presenting about relationships between men is not one that relies on toxic masculinity. It is telling a story about a group of close friends while having them openly display their love for each other as they cover each other in battle, pick each other up when they fall down, and make sure that they’re all okay. They do not have any problems with sharing tents, having close physical contact, or giving each other compliments and affection. Despite being so different, the members of the group genuinely care about each other, and it is a beautiful thing to see them be so protective both on and off the battlefield.

One of the group members, Ignis, is particularly interesting. He is Noctis’ royal adviser and his main tactician, but he also has a role that has been traditionally given to women: the motherhood role. In the first episode of the Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV anime, he is revealed to constantly argue with Noctis over his reluctance in eating his vegetables, not unlike a mother and a child. He is the group cook and always makes their meals on the road, and he seems to take a lot of pride in this role.

The fact that he cooks meals or acts as a sort of mother figure to the group is not portrayed as an attack on his masculinity in any way, and it’s a wonderful and refreshing subversion of the expectations that much of the gaming community typically has for characters who are men. It’s a bit of a bold move in a medium where its community tends to approach any feminine traits in men with disagreement, aggression, or hostility.

Final Fantasy XV

This portrayal of healthy masculinity and intimate friendships between men is, in part, due to cultural influences. It is something that is more commonly seen in Japan than in the West, where there is a bigger presence of machismo and a far more rigid idea of what classifies as ‘masculine.’ We have even previously seen something similar in the series through Final Fantasy X in which the game’s protagonist, Tidus, is allowed to openly complain, cry, and be terrified while still helping Yuna save the day. This happening in a JRPG isn’t an overly new thing; however, this is one of the few times where a JRPG gets this much widespread attention in the West.

With all of the attention being given to this game, it could possibly influence mainstream Western games to at least consider portraying these types of roles and relationships among men more often. Perhaps in the future, there will be some change in an industry that overwhelmingly defines manhood as shooting big guns and being stoic.

Conversations about gender don’t stop at just the distinction between men and women—they can and should go far deeper than that. The conversation about the women in the game is an extremely vital one that should happen, but it is also possible to have a conversation about the ways in which this game could be a positive step towards portraying healthy masculinity. This is the story that Square Enix wants to tell with Final Fantasy XV, and I feel like it is one that will stand out as an example for the different ways in which stories about men can be told.

Gif created by Natalie
Gif created by Natalie
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10 Comments on “‘Final Fantasy XV’ Sends an Important Message About Toxic Masculinity

  1. I share the your concern regarding women’s role in the game. I love what you wrote about Ignis and I feel everything he does comes from a place of love not a sense of duty or anything. As for the women in the game, at least the ones we’ve seen so far, I’d like to know more about Luna. SPOILER ALERT: I learned about Nova Crystallis mythology after beating FFXIII Lightning Returns. I can see that Etro, the goddess (also a fem!) is on the logo of FFXV so please please don’t sacrifice Luna or anything to bring back the light. In Light Returns, it is Etro who restores back the flow of time. I really hope that Luna doesn’t become the new goddess just so the world is saved as much as I’d love to see a woman saves the day. \SPOILER.

    Here’s my impression of each:
    Cindy: I hate the design. I hate that she is shown in suggestive positions in some occasions but hey she’s a mechanic! Girls can mend cars too!
    Gentiana: (I’m praying she didn’t get cut) I love everything about this character.
    Anarea: Now this is where I don’t agree with you. I love the design. I don’t mind the cleavage in fact I love it. I believe it’s the only “revealing” part in the whole outfit. I love the helmet. It’s a modern take on the classic dragoon gear. I love the way she was introduced to us with the famous “Jump” attack and the landing. I felt I was meant to be intimidated by this character.
    Luna: Better than Stella? I like the fact that she’s not as pretty as Lightning or Stella or any of the characters designed by Nomura. I don’t have anything against pretty people but can we get a female character in a video game who isn’t known for her looks? I think Tabata is a great listener because in every scene with Luna, she exhibits great strength. In the Dawn trailer we see her as a child as she’s being pushed by an adult (albeit controversial) she doesn’t cry, she focuses on something instead. In the same trailer she’s seen brushing away guards and walking steadily. In Reclaim your throne trailer she’s seen standing up to Levianth who looks rather angry? I really hope we see more of her and that she’s not “just” a love interest. Tabata did said she plays a vital role in the story but I hope it’s not what I wrote up there. Sorry if this is too long.

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    • Hi Suha,

      Thank you for your extensive and thoughtful reply! I really appreciate your kind words.
      I definitely think there was so much potential for Cindy that seems like it has been sacrificed just to have her in suggestive poses and incredibly impractical attire. Not that she might not be a great character in the end, as we have yet to see whether that may or may not be the case, but so far I am disappointed in how she’s being portrayed.

      As for Aranea, you definitely have a point in how her entrance is pretty wonderful and has established her as an intimidating force. Yeah, my point about her armor was pretty much about her chest. It’s not a big deal really, but I just don’t dig the whole unnecessary chest exposure, especially when a man in her position probably wouldn’t have been given armor that exposes a good portion of his chest. Ultimately though, it’s not a huge thing and I am certainly excited for her.

      And finally, I have cautious but extremely optimistic hopes for Luna as a character and as one of the seemingly few women in this game. I think it’s just a matter of waiting to actually get to play the game to see how she turns out in the end, but Square has definitely listened to the various concerns, and they’ve worked toward showing more of her assertive side in the trailers.

      I really can’t fully express my excitement for this game and for all that it will show and say. My goal in writing this article was mainly to bring up the subject and perhaps spark a conversation, and I’m glad to see it start to happen! Thanks once again for your comment.

      Like

  2. This is an excellent article 🙂 I love the points you raised in here as this doesn’t get talked about that enough I feel. As far back as Metal Gear Solid 2 (and presumably much earlier too) I can remember male characters being reviled for being “too girly” as with Raiden. This almost never happens with Western male characters of the “crew cut muscular” build.

    I’ve found Final Fantasy’s male characters to be more interesting than your general Master Chief archetypes. Even those who seem outwardly tough are still struggling with inner thoughts like social anxiety (Squall) or self-doubt (Cloud).

    Hopefully the female characters in this game will get equal attention, as I know that’s been an issue with 15. I guess we’ll see in September. Looking forward to getting this game 🙂

    Like

    • Hi Fed,

      Thank you so much for your lovely comments! And you’re definitely right; I feel like all of the FF protagonists have allowed to be human regardless of gender, and that’s a wonderful and empowering thing that I feel doesn’t happen as often as it should.

      Also, I am super flattered and would be more than happy to let you mention this article in your own. Thank you so much!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Fantastic article! Great point about The differences in how gender identity is presented in Japanese and Western games. As a long time fan of the series, (and one who cannot wait for FF XV) I don’t necessarily mind the three-guys concept ( they did have a three-girls game in FFX-2, and their casts have traditionally been very balanced.) My big worry so far is the long-development time. On the one hand, it could mean the game is beyond polished; on the other hand, it could point to uncertainty in their vision. Keeping my hopes up- and can’t wait to read the next article!

    Like

    • Hi Hans,

      This game is definitely a special case for a lot of things due to its long development history, but I’m so utterly excited for it due to so many reasons – the topic of this article being one of them! Square Enix has always been a progressive company that has portrayed excellent things in its games, and that’s why I have high hopes for XV. The company has consistently given me reason to trust it for all these years, and I don’t think that’ll change this time around because this might be a really positive thing here.

      Thank you so much for your super lovely comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Just read this the day after teaching a session on gender roles in games to my Intro to Videogames course at the University of Utah. Great thoughts here on male representation and stereotyping in games — I’m sharing this with my students. Thanks!

    Like

    • Hi Mr. Anderson,

      Oh my gosh, I have absolutely no words. I am beyond flattered and honored to read this — thank you so much! I’d absolutely love to hear what your students say in response to it, and what kind of conversations this sparks in your classroom overall. Thank you, and I hope both you and your students have a great semester!

      Liked by 1 person

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