As I’ve been playing the PS4 HD remastered version of Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, I’ve been following along with the Tumblr-based playthrough of Livvy Plays Final Fantasy, a writer I’ve admired for years. As I’ve been reading Livvy’s commentary, one post in particular resonated with my thoughts about diversity and representation in Final Fantasy XII:
Every now and then, someone asks me what I think of XII’s portrayal of the viera.
We also see that while XII’s viera NPCs all look pretty much the same, they are all very much unique in their thoughts and behaviors. Some are contemplative, some are brash. Some are hunters, some forsake battle completely. No two viera NPCs are the same, something that cannot be said of XII’s bangaa, seeq, or nu mou. In terms of personality, the viera receive better representation than most of Ivalice’s other races.
I personally take issue with the notion that Fran, Jote, and Mjrn can’t be “strong female characters” because their designs contain fanservice. Their plot arc is one of the greatest stories of love and sacrifice in the game, and they make up one of the best portrayals of a sisterly relationship in the Final Fantasy series.
I understand the need to acknowledge problematic elements in fictional media, but there’s a huge difference between acknowledging problematic elements in female characters and telling other people what they are and are not allowed to like.
These are good points all around; but, as an ardent bangaa appreciator, I’d like to argue that there’s actually a lot of diversity in the bangaa characters as well. Although I assume most players don’t have any reason to notice this, there’s a wide range of visual designs used for bangaa NPCs (although, unlike humes, we never see any bangaa children or older bangaa except Migelo). Like the humes, the bangaa NPC have a range of personalities and occupations. Ba’Gamnan and his crew are mercenaries, and the Hunt Club on the Phon Coast is run by four bangaa, but otherwise the bangaa are merchants and traders and architects and day laborers and clerks, just as humes are. A bangaa in Nalbina tells Vaan that the Archadian army only accepts hume recruits, and there are no bangaa on the streets or in the shops of Archades, but there’s a one-to-one ratio of bangaa to hume NPCs in Rabanastre, Bhujerba, and various other areas, and nothing except their appearance indicates that they’re bangaa. Bangaa work together with and hang out with humes and seeq and moogles in groups and in pairs, and this is a part of the visual and social landscape of the game that is never addressed or commented on by anyone.
One of my favorite bangaa characters is Barrong, who posts the bill for “The Creature Collector” hunt. He’s hanging in an alley next to the entrance to Aerodrome in Nalbina and muttering to himself, and the player is meant to think that he’s a creeper until he explains himself. He’s working on an illustrated bestiary, he says, but he wants the book he’s creating to be different and special, so he’s hiring hunters to track down creatures he’s heard rumors about. He’s afraid that people will make fun of him, though, so he wants to keep his pet project a secret. When Vaan returns to report that the hunt was successful, Barrong gets excited and asks all sorts of questions – which none of the other bill petitioners ever do, oddly. At the end of the conversation, Jovy (a seeq who was friendly with Vaan’s older brother Reks) comes by and wishes Barrong luck, telling him that his bestiary will be wonderful when it’s done. Since completing the bestiary in the Clan Primer is always one of my main goal in Final Fantasy XII, and since I love bestiaries in general, I am right there with Barrong, and I appreciate that he’s willing to be proactive and collaborate with people to achieve his artistic dreams despite being really shy.
I also appreciate Rimzat, the Arcadian grad student who was sent to Rabanastre to to study the sandstorms of the Dalmascan Westersands. Apparently he can’t get anyone to help him not because he’s a bangaa, but rather because he speaks with an Arcadian accent. Ultimately he has to go back home when his funding runs out, and I’m like, I know that feel friend.
There’s obviously much more to be said about how diversity is portrayed in the world of Final Fantasy XII, but I want to stick up for the bangaa, who are some of the most interesting and compelling NPCs in a game filled with wonderful NPC-related side stories.