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We're excited to present a guest post about Final Fantasy X-2 from long time friend, [personal profile] owlmoose! Read on to find out why Final Fantasy X-2 is an awesome game experience and why you should definitely check out the new Final Fantasy X/X-2 remaster!

The following is a discussion of the videogame Final Fantasy X-2 from a feminist perspective, revised from a post I wrote on my journal in February 2011. Although I've attempted to make it accessible to general audiences, it does contain spoilers for FFX-2 as well as Final Fantasy X, and assumes a passing familiarity with both games and the Final Fantasy franchise in general.

Rikku, Yuna, and Paine

Final Fantasy is a videogame series published by Square Enix (formerly Squaresoft), one of the titans of the Japanese role-playing (JRPG) genre. As of this writing, there are fourteen main numbered installments, many of which have sequels and spinoffs. However, the main titles are not connected to each other in any way, save a few similarities in theme and naming conventions. Each main title is set in a completely different world, with new stories and new characters, and stands alone from the others. Final Fantasy X (FFX), the tenth main title, was first released to much fanfare in 2001. Although not universally beloved (get any two Final Fantasy fans in a room, and they will have different and often directly opposed opinions on which game is the best and which the worst), it was well received by both fans and critics overall, and it remains popular enough that it was remastered for the PlayStation 3 in 2013. It also inspired something that no other Final Fantasy game had, up to that point: a direct sequel. That sequel, Final Fantasy X-2 (FFX-2), was released in 2003, to a decidedly more mixed reaction.

FFX was the first JRPG and the first console game that I ever played; I fell instantly in love, and it remains my favorite videogame today. But I adore FFX-2 almost as much — not just because I enjoyed the story, the characters and the gameplay, and the first all-female team of the series, but also because it was my gateway into fandom and fanfiction. In 2005, I had recently replayed FFX-2 and was bitten by a plot bunny, hard. I wrote that story, posted it, and then went forth to find other people who shared my love of the series and of the game. It didn't take me long to find friends and community in the FF fandom, and only a few more years to expand into more fandoms, and overall it's been a wonderful experience. But I was first surprised and then dismayed to discover that FFX-2 is one of the most-disliked entries in the series: for the skimpy outfits, for the "dress-up doll" battle system, for the backstory romance that jumpstarts the plot, for the lightness in tone as compared to FFX. I think there are legitimate discussions to be had around every one of these issues, but it always bothered me that they are treated as reasons to dismiss the game out of hand.

Rikku, Yuna and Paine

In the summer of 2010, [personal profile] imadra_blue wrote a long, thoughtful entry about the role of women in the Final Fantasy series. It was a great essay, and for the most part I agree with her analysis — but the post also dismissed FFX-2 and its all-female team as a representation of progress because the women were "reduced to cheesecake". Since [personal profile] imadra_blue hadn't played the game when she wrote that entry, I don't fault her at all for having held this impression. If your experience of FFX-2 comes from its marketing and the general buzz around the Internet, it's all too easy to come away with a conclusion along those lines. But it's a shallow reading at best, and one that still pervades the fandom. The following points are my attempt at a rebuttal.

1. Women drive the action, as individuals and by the relationships they form with each other as a team. These are not passive ladies, waiting for the plot to take them places. Yuna, Rikku, and Paine, the three characters who make up the player party, all make their own choices and have logical reasons for doing so. Yuna is the leader: she calls most of the shots and makes every decision that can change the outcome of the game. Rikku holds more of a supportive role, but she never hesitates to make her opinions known. Paine has her own agenda, but going along with the others suits that agenda, and contributes in a meaningful way to the overall plot. In a way, the roles of women and men in FFX-2 are swapped from the tropes most players expect: the men of the Gullwings act as support staff, and the male supporting characters require rescue by the women at the end of the game. The women are the protagonists, and they are the heroes.

2. The "dress-up" aspect of the game is a key component of the battle action and gameplay. It might look like pretty-pretty-princess, but fundamentally it's a jobs system, which has a long history in the Final Fantasy series, going back to the very first game. We can certainly raise the question of why the creators of the game decided to make many of the character class outfits impractical and revealing — bared midriffs, high heels, short skirts, etc. The implementation of the jobs system was undoubtedly motivated by fanservice. But the jobs system itself is not. In fact, I would argue that the choice of a changeable jobs system is a progressive one, because all of the women (and men, in other games) have equal opportunity to serve as fighters or as healers.

songstress dress sphere   alchemist dresssphere   white mage dresssphere

It's also worth noting that, unlike in most JRPGs (including FFX), none of the women default to a mage or healer class. Rikku is a dagger-wielding thief, Yuna is a gunslinger, and Paine is a straight-up fighter, oversized sword and all. And the traditional mage classes don't even come into play until a few hours into the game. The team does start out with the Songstress dressphere, a spellcasting class unique to X-2 that's about as "girly" as it gets, but that particular sphere turns out to be an important element of the plot.

3. Spira, the setting of both FFX and FFX-2, is presented as a mostly egalitarian society. This is somewhat less true of FFX, since during its time frame the world is ruled by a repressive religious regime, and all of the officials we meet are men. But women are well-represented everywhere else: in the military, as professional athletes, as summoners and guardians. It is not treated as remarkable that men and women play together in the blitz sphere, that an elite military squadron is commanded by a woman (Lucil, captain of the Chocobo Knights, who later becomes second in command and de-facto leader of the Youth League in FFX-2), that two of the three summoners we meet out in the world are women. When we return to Spira in FFX-2, two years after Yevon's fall, these trends have continued, with women acting as leaders (Lucil, Nhadala, Dona), heroes (YRP), and villains (Leblanc).

4. Yuna's character progression between FFX and FFX-2 is a logical one. Some people claim that her change to a perky, bouncy teenager is a regression, but I challenge that view. She grew up with an expectation that she would not live to adulthood, that she would die for the good of Spira. It's only natural that being released from that fate might help her to cut loose in other ways. She didn't have the chance to be a teenager before — and note that she is still only 19. Extend that feeling to all of Spira, a land that's been similarly oppressed for a thousand years, and no wonder if folks are a little acting a little giddy. Because of the changes that Yuna and her guardians brought to the world, the somber tone of FFX would have been out of place in FFX-2. As [personal profile] cygna_hime pointed out in a comment on the original post:

FFX ended with you saving the world at enormous personal cost, and if, two years later, the world shows no sign of having been saved, then the original bittersweet ending looks a lot more bitter than sweet. The world has to be brighter, better, moving forward, because you have already sacrificed your main character to make it that way, and if it didn't work, why did the last game say you won?

As for Yuna's story being driven by a wish to get her boyfriend back, I think that's a fair characterization of the start of her arc. But her goals became much broader long before story's end, and even if they hadn't, so what? How many male protagonists are driven by the desire to find or rescue the woman they love? It's a hero's trope, not a male or female one. And Yuna is unquestionably a hero.

Rikku, Yuna and Paine with weapons

I would never try to claim that there are no issues around the women characters and the society presented in FFX-2, because there certainly are. Lulu, one of the main characters in FFX, is sidelined from the action by pregnancy and motherhood, which I find a problematic writing choice for a number of reasons. I might also cite the portrayal of Leblanc as a cartoonish villain, made outrageous in gendered ways and held up for ridicule. Two of the mini-games revolve around romantic matchmaking — not a common feature of other Final Fantasy titles — and speaking of mini-games, who can forget the massage mission? And of course, there are the aforementioned skimpy and impractical battle outfits, although skimpy and impractical battle outfits are as much a tradition of the Final Fantasy series as summoned beasts, crystals, and airship pilots named Cid, so it hardly seems fair to lay that charge on FFX-2 alone. We could make critiques along these lines for many of these games, and yet FFX-2 often comes in for more and sharper criticism. As a result, some fans' contempt for and/or dismissal of FFX-2 comes off with an unfortunate "ewww, girls" tone. Shouldn't it be more troubling to us that the first game in the franchise with a female protagonist1 and first (and so far only) all-female team comes in for this kind of criticism?

When thinking about FFX-2 and games like it, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that they are largely created by men for a male audience. It's inevitable that some sexism and sexist portrayals will slip in, especially given that, in the case of FFX-2 in particular, male writers and producers were attempting to appeal to women gamers while not scaring off the young male demographic so important to the game industry (hence the fanservice-y outfits, designed with the male gaze in mind).2 But especially given genre and audience constraints, it seems to me that FFX-2 did well at creating memorable female characters with agency, giving them strong connections that are built on something more than their relationships with men, and building a society where women and men can contribute on a more equal footing. At a time when Square Enix is gearing up to release a new title with an all-male team, it's more important than ever to look back on FFX-2 as the milestone it really was.

1Arguably. Sometimes Terra from FFVI is cited as the first female protagonist in the franchise, although I would say that she shares that role with Locke, who is referred to as the main character in some summaries of the game. There is also a good case to be made that Yuna is the protagonist of FFX's story, even though Tidus is the primary player character.

2There's also the fact that FFX-2 was created in Japan by a Japanese company and mostly Japanese people. I don't know enough about the Japanese fanbase, how the series plays to a Japanese audience, or the typical role of women in Japanese media to draw any intelligent conclusions, although I would love to learn more. And the game as played by English-speakers went through the translation and localization process, which adds a layer of complexity. If you have more insight and/or good references, I encourage you to comment!

Date: 2014-07-17 07:51 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I loved X-2. Yeah, it was too cartoonish, and some of the story elements were... questionable, but overall I thought the plotting and characters were good. And if they were rather heavy-handed with the girlishness (changing outfits to make your powers stronger, oy) of it, the battle mechanics were fun -- complex enough to keep it interesting, and not so complex that it defied understanding.

I think the negative feelings can mostly be summed up with "there's icky girl stuff in my video games." OMG, an RPG that passes the Bechdel test?! Cannot be borne.

Date: 2014-07-17 08:38 pm (UTC)
owlmoose: (ffx2 - YRP)
From: [personal profile] owlmoose
OMG, an RPG that passes the Bechdel test?!

Right? Although to be fair, I think the majority of Final Fantasy games pass Bechdel, at least minimally. It'll be interesting to see what happens there with FFXV and its all-male party.

As for changing outfits to change powers, that's a very typical part of a jobs system. In every FF with a jobs system, the characters wear different outfits to show their current class. It's just that FFX-2 was the first game in the series that allowed you to change jobs in the middle of battle, so it makes sense that there'd be a visual aspect. Also -- and I can't believe that I've written this essay twice now and only just thought of this -- putting on an outfit to gain magical or superpowers is firmly in the tradition of the Magical Girl, a very common trope in Japanese media (think Sailor Moon). So I don't know that it's fair to lay that charge specifically on X-2.

Also, I don't know that girlishness is necessarily bad. Sexism is bad -- and I'm not at all trying to claim that there's no sexism in FFX-2 -- but not girlishness/femininity in and of itself.

Date: 2014-07-18 05:33 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Oh, re: changing outfits, I meant to augment powers, not just change them, i.e. the garment grid system (in which changing outfits in a particular order rendered extra strength or magic or whatever). I don't find it problematic, just a bit over-the-top in its girlishness. I LOVE GIRLISHNESS IN MY GEEK STUFF, don't get me wrong. It just totally seemed like a bunch of dudes decided how to manifest it. Made me laugh and roll my eyes a bit, that's all -- I have a difficult time imagining women coming up with such a thing, as it's so stereotypical.

That's a very minor issue though. Main point is I think the hate for X-2, which I loved, is the result of sexism or misogyny. When I bought a second copy because I'd lost my first one, I was roundly mocked by the all-male staff at the store where I was a regular patron. Haven't gone to it since.

BTW, I was too lazy to sign up for a DreamWidth or OpenID -- this is Cecily Kane.

Date: 2014-07-19 01:18 am (UTC)
owlmoose: (ffx2 - paine sword)
From: [personal profile] owlmoose
Ah, I see what you're saying. I don't know enough about Japanese media tropes to be able to say whether and how the garment grid mechanic fits into the Magical Girl tradition -- if anyone with more background has thoughts, I'd be happy to hear them!

When I bought a second copy because I'd lost my first one, I was roundly mocked by the all-male staff at the store where I was a regular patron. Haven't gone to it since.

Boo, that sucks. I remember when I first bought the game. The clerk slapped the case down in front of me and said "20 hours", with a tone of actual disdain, like the quality of a game is based on how long it takes to play it. Also, I want to know what planet he was on that he finished in 20 hours. *Maybe*, if you only did the hotspots and skipped every bit of side content.

Date: 2014-07-18 10:24 pm (UTC)
walkthegale: (ffx - lulu - our journey begins anew)
From: [personal profile] walkthegale
YES YES THANK YOU YES to all of this! I love both X and X-2 and am pretty outspoken about the fact that I think X-2 is a genuinely great game, with a decent plot, good characters, and a fun and continually interesting battle system, that people judge without playing because "ew, too girly" and don't give a proper chance.

Also, FFX is a story about Yuna learning how to sacrifice herself for her people, and then X-2 is about her learning how to be selfish, how to work out what she wants for her life. I love it so much for that.

Date: 2014-07-19 01:21 am (UTC)
owlmoose: icon by <user site="livejournal.com" name="parron"> (ffx - mi'ihen sunset)
From: [personal profile] owlmoose
You're welcome! :)

I totally agree about X-2 being about Yuna learning to put herself first, and really figure out what *she* wants. I have a slightly different take on FFX, though -- I feel like Yuna was always ready to sacrifice herself for Spira. In a way, the journey was about Tidus preparing to make a sacrifice, while Yuna learns that she can't always take everything on herself. Which, to me, makes for an even nicer character development progression over the two games.
Edited (typo) Date: 2014-07-19 01:22 am (UTC)

Date: 2014-07-19 06:16 pm (UTC)
walkthegale: (ff9 escape)
From: [personal profile] walkthegale
Ooh, yes, I actually really like your interpretation and will bear it in mind as I continue my current replay! (HD remasters for the win!) :D


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