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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Conversations From the ‘Final Fantasy XV’ Locker Room

Final Fantasy XV

Several months before Final Fantasy XV was released, I saw the arguments beginning: how could a video game franchise with such a long history of including women as playable characters release a game with a main cast of four men? I empathized with the outrage: women who grew up with the Final Fantasy franchise felt like it had been their safe haven for representation, and the reveal that this title would be all about Noctis, Ignis, Prompto, and Gladiolus felt like a betrayal.

Still, I (perhaps foolishly) entered into debates where fans demanded we boycott the game, gently suggesting that we have a little faith in the Final Fantasy franchise. Although no one ‘earns the right’ to stop representing women in their games, I felt as though Final Fantasy’s history of featuring dynamic ladies (including Lightning as the protagonist of Final Fantasy XIII) meant that I should give them the benefit of the doubt. This is a video game franchise that — at least to some extent — understands the importance of gender representation. Maybe their story about a journey shared by four men was a narrative worth telling.

Although I wasn’t alone in this speculation, I felt like I was in the minority. However, when Final Fantasy XV was released, I was not disappointed.

Bear with me for a moment while I make a brief aside: it was only two months ago that we heard Donald Trump justify bragging about sexual assault by referring to it as “locker room talk.” The implication that men are permitted or expected to speak crudely about women when we are not around in order to impress their mates was a sentiment that outraged a lot of people — including athletes who are very familiar with actual locker rooms. But it’s a common narrative: in order to impress one another and be accepted, men are expected to objectify and insult women.

While some men behave in this way because it adheres to their genuine view of women, there are also followers and bystanders who engage in this narrative because it’s what they believe they must do after seeing it in every movie, on every television show, and — with people like Trump justifying it in the public political sphere — on every news program. This can lead to all sorts of strange situations, including groups of men who don’t really believe anything they’re saying, yet still make crude comments or ‘rate’ women in terms of appearance because they think that other men expect it.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s rape culture. So how do we dismantle the idea of what occurs in a boys’ locker room without first creating one?

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The Right to Exist: Transition & Affirmation in ‘Final Fantasy IX’

Final Fantasy IX

[Trigger warning: mentions of gender dysphoria and transmisogyny.]

I was in the middle of finishing Final Fantasy IX because XV’s coming up when I realized that my playthrough was decidedly more impactful than a mere way to dredge up hype. I knew I loved the game back in the day, but I had never played it during my transition. So yeah, I’m transgender — presenting full-time, on hormones, doing all the stuff that makes me feel comfortable, and I’m surprised to find that this game feels like a sort of weird reflection of myself now.

Okay, way too dramatic, but I’ve been extrapolating a bunch of stuff that reminds me of my present fears and anxieties. This is a game about identity — how it’s established, refined, and even molded by experiences with others. Over its 40-hour play time, I witnessed a stuck-up (and completely hilarious) knight question his own loyalty and develop into a more independent person, a dragoon terrified of her own erasure, and a princess who learned to better understand herself as she discovered the world.

What about the entire existence of the black mages and genomes, both of whom develop a sense of individual and communal identity through social interaction and personal reflection? Then there’s Kuja, a man who rages against his progenitor for the simple right to exist.

I get it, really, I do — Final Fantasy IX is not a game about me, nor is it representative of trans people in general. I’m bringing a lot of baggage with me that colors my interpretation of the game’s themes. Yet the dilemmas these characters face has resonated with me so much more ever since I accepted my trans identity. I can recall when I doubted myself — when I raged against the kind of affirmation and definition that I now believe in. 

It all started months before this. I was staring at my first torrent of creepy internet messages when some guys on Reddit said they wanted to fuck me, and I didn’t know what to feel. My mind raced. I knew how I was supposed to react, but my disgust was purely cerebral. I started viewing the message as endemic of normalized sexual harassment, and while I was appalled by how casually these men treated me, the feeling was borne of distaste for the trend — not the immediate act. In truth, all I sussed out was terror, guilt, and shame. How on earth could I find this experience validating?

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Part of Your World: Through the Years of Exclusivity in RPGs

Oblivion

In my initial contact with role-playing games, the genre held a kind of “mystique” that transcended the on-screen material and established, for me, a tangible allurement; both to that of the games themselves and the people who spoke about them. The narrative and gameplay depth had a captivating air of exclusivity and mystery, so it wasn’t long before I became enamored with the idea of interaction with the people who left YouTube comments I half-understood about that magnificently sprawling game Oblivion.

A critical gem and commercial marvel, Oblivion embodied each facet of my entrenched love of fantasy and newfound infatuation with the idea of role-playing. Of course, this perspective was mostly achieved through the benefit of hindsight and an extensive interaction with the community at large. But at the time? Shit, all I knew was that Oblivion looked fucking awesome.

Human sensibility directly coincides with filters. To varying degrees, we’re all aware of what to say, and the context in which we say it, so our internal filters act as a guide to upholding social propriety. Yet to view the human experience as a continuum of one-sided coffee filters — deciding which grounds are fine enough to let escape — only truly recognizes half of the possible paradigms associated with our ability to filtrate information, and in a vacuum at that.

Indeed, it’s far more apt to perceive humans as a two-way filtration system; that is to say both a representation of the aforementioned “exothermic” information filtration, as well as a permeable endothermic barrier. Just as it would be problematic for an individual to practice their death growls at church, so too would it be for someone to absorb and process all information at all times.

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‘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.

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