Stand By Me: Love & Vulnerability in ‘Final Fantasy XV’

Final Fantasy XV centers around love between men. If you’ve played the game, this is not a contentious statement.

It’s been almost a year since the release of the latest installment in the Final Fantasy franchise, and after playing it, I would argue it’s one of the most emotionally nuanced stories in the series’ history. The game follows Noctis Lucis Caelum, a prince of the kingdom of Lucis, as he undertakes a road trip with his closest friends. His goal to wed his fiancée, Oracle Lunafreya Nox Fleuret, is dashed when the expansionist empire of Niflheim invades the capital city of Lucis. Noctis’ journey refocuses on harnessing the power of Lucis’ old rulers to free the land of Niflheim’s corrupting influence.

FFXV continues the series’ legacy of exploring themes of vulnerability, loss, and intimate relationships among its title characters. While there are women in the game, they feature less prominently than the “chocobros,” and struggle with their own host of problematic representation.

Oracle Lunafreya, Noctis’ promised, takes the role of white mage and, while self-sacrificing, is effective at rallying the gods to save the world until she ends up conveniently dead halfway through the story. Iris Amicitia, sister of the burly Gladiolus, is a cutesy tagalong, but it’s only mentioned in passing that she grows up to be a famous monster hunter.

Aranea Highwind is the sarcastic, jaded mercenary and powerful warrior (that boob armor tho) while celestial servant Gentiana is an enigmatic, helpful spirit, but also a giant, dead, half-naked goddess who’s not actually dead. Pure Final Fantasy. There’s also the expert mechanic yet highly sexualized Cindy Sophiar (don’t even get me started). Characters often comment about how she’s married to her work, which is a slight improvement.

The main focus of FFXV is — for better or worse — on the relationships between Noctis and his three friends; the beefy bodyguard Gladiolus Amicitia, his tactical advisor and perennial mother Ignis Scientia, and his best friend and gun-toting precious little cinnamon bun Prompto Argentum.

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#GDC16 Greatly Approved of the Romance & Sexuality Roundtable

Dragon Age

The moderators of the first Romance & Sexuality Special Interest Group (SIG) Roundtable at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) are conferring with a full house. I’m sitting in the main room with Bioware senior editor Karin Weekes and SIG co-founder, game maker, and self-described Bioware mega-fangirl Heidi McDonald. Weekes’ partner, Bioware senior writer Patrick Weekes, has been conscripted to help the SIG’s co-founder, game maker, and lecturer Michelle Clough meet with the overflow in a “sit-in-a-circle-Kumbaya-style” meetup somewhere else. The Roundtable proved that popular.

It’s Thursday afternoon, and Weekes and McDonald have asked the attendees—who skew younger, women, and/or queer/trans—to throw out ideas of things that are important for them, as game developers, to explore in games when it comes to sexuality and romance. With the help of GDC 2016 speaker Dietrich “Squinky” Squinkifer, they’re putting our ideas up on the wall with colorful post-it notes.

Alongside “how to represent desire + not be cheap” and “body diversity,” McDonald posts “CULLEN’S BUTT” and “MORRIGAN’S BEWBS.” “IRON BULL’S DONGLE” also gets discussed and added to the wall eventually.

Among my desire for better representation of queer and trans characters and themes, I suggest explorations of non-monogamy in games. I admit that the constraints of romance mechanics make this extraordinarily difficult. McDonald literally applauds my suggestion, and Weekes says that, “Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.”

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Cats & Nonbinary Cuties: Q&A With ‘Hustle Cat’ Creative Leads

Hustle Cat

From the dangerous depths of space (with plenty of sexy dude-on-dude lovin’) to behind the counter of an adorable cat café, Brooklyn-based Date Nighto takes their players places! The company was founded in 2013 by Conrad Kreyling and Lindsay “Ahvia” Woods. Their goal was to “allow independent creators to deliver high-quality, Japanese-style visual novels to a Western audience.” The duo have built up a small roster of artists and developers who have contributed to projects like Starfighter: Eclipse (their sci-fi visual novel with the aforementioned dude-on-dude lovin’) and We Know the Devil, described as a “surreal summer camp dystopia.”

Now they’re working on Hustle Cat, a visual novel project where the player starts as a new employee at the aforementioned adorable cat café. Kreyling serves as technical lead, and they’re joined once again by producer Jo Fu (featured in a previous Q&A) with Woods as art and creative director. Woods got her start by “drawing Final Fantasy VII fanart in the back of math class” before going to the School of Visual Arts in NYC for animation.

Team member Kasey Van Hise, who worked on Starfighter: Eclipse as a member of the QA team, came on to Hustle Cat as lead writer. “I started as a wee little cat lover down in Southern NJ,” Van Hise says, “where the first convention I ever went to was a cat show, back when they had those at the Garden State Racetrack.” She studied cartooning at the School of Visual Arts and started a comic called Winters in Lavelle, a five-year project she plans to return to. Visual novels, she says, were a format so similar to comics, but so different, and she was interested in exploring storytelling in that medium.

Aphelion got in touch with the creative leads of the new visual novel project, currently undergoing a Kickstarter campaign, to talk all things visual novel, BL, and exploring the idea and mechanics behind a gender-neutral protagonist.

Continue reading “Cats & Nonbinary Cuties: Q&A With ‘Hustle Cat’ Creative Leads”

Love at First Cat Café: ‘Hustle Cat’ Kickstarter Q&A With Jo Fu

HustleCat

This is it: your chance to work at a cat café! It’s an opportunity to tend to adorable (and probably standoffish) cats, serve unbelievably pretty kitty-themed foam art, and maybe, if you’re lucky, fall in love. At least, that’s the premise of Hustle Cat, a new visual novel project by Brooklyn-based Date Nighto. (Apologies for getting your hopes up if you really want to work in a cat café … I know I do.) In Hustle Cat, the player becomes Avery Grey, the new employee at Cat’s Paw, a cute—and possibly magical—cat café.

Among other projects, Date Nighto recently worked under the creative direction of webcomic artist HamletMachine on the sci-fi visual novel Starfighter: Eclipse, which is based on the artist’s popular adult BL/yaoi webcomic, a project that was successfully funded through Kickstarter. 

Now the Date Nighto team is back on Kickstarter to fund Hustle Cat, which uses typical visual novel mechanics, but with important twists. A big one—apparent in the Kickstarter video introduction—is that players will be able to choose Avery’s gender presentation and pronouns (including gender-neutral pronouns) among other cosmetic differences, which is an incredible mechanical choice in an industry that so often relies on the gender binary. Throw in a number of beautiful and diverse romance options and this is a game for anyone, but especially LGBTQIA+ folks, to really enjoy.

In this two-part interview series, with a few weeks left to go on the campaign, Aphelion chats with the amazing team behind this adorable visual novel game, starting with producer Jo Fu. Fu is a person of many talents; writing, editing, software testing, project/people management, scheduling … the list goes on! Lucky for us, she brought her multifaceted skill set to work for Date Nighto, especially on a special game like Hustle Cat.

Continue reading “Love at First Cat Café: ‘Hustle Cat’ Kickstarter Q&A With Jo Fu”

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