“Representation” in Final Fantasy XVI

I had to block someone on Twitter this week.

To make a short story even shorter: Issues surrounding representation in media and popular culture are very important but extremely complicated, and I’m not interested in decontextualized virtue signaling being used as a weapon to beat down individual members of marginalized communities on social media.

To set the stage: I watched the reveal trailer for Final Fantasy XVI, and I liked it. I liked it a lot, actually.

Seeing as how my PlayStation 4 plays DVD and Blu-ray discs just fine, I probably won’t buy the PlayStation 5 console, but that’s okay. Knowing Square Enix, they’ll probably release the “game” as a movie, an animated miniseries, a novel, a short story collection, a manga, a spin-off manga, a mobile-only trading card game, a series of themed deserts in their Tokyo café, and so on. Maybe I’ll play the actual game, and maybe I’ll engage with it through other media. Given that the project is still in development, this isn’t a decision I’ll have to make anytime soon.

Still, based on the trailer, Final Fantasy XVI looks like a cool game with an intriguing premise. After watching the trailer, I made three tweets about how:

(1) I like the dog,
(2) I like the Dark Souls aesthetic, and
(3) I like how this game seems to be developing the themes of the previous games.

Almost immediately, some random person whom I’ve never interacted with before decided that my positive reaction tweets about a promo trailer would be a good venue to tell me that it’s problematic for me to express appreciation about a game that doesn’t have any female or LGBTQ+ characters.

I also saw this sort of knee-jerk reaction from a few people I follow and respect, and I have to admit that I was surprised.

First of all, this was a four-minute trailer for a game that’s going to come out who knows when. “The next big information reveal is scheduled for 2021,” apparently. Although it seems as if the player will control a solitary male warrior, we don’t really have a lot of information about who the characters are and what their sexual histories and preferences might be.

Second, how dare this person come into Yoshi-P’s house and assume he’s not going to have female and queer characters in this game. Naoki Yoshida is famous in the gaming industry for hiring and promoting female staff members, and he’s been nothing but respectful of the LGBTQ+ communities that have formed within Final Fantasy XIV. All of the (female and queer-identified) translation and localization staff who have worked with him have nothing but good things to say about the creative environments he facilitates.

Third, although I may have once seen myself in Final Fantasy games in a way I didn’t see myself elsewhere, both the franchise and the gaming industry have shifted dramatically during the past ten years, and I think it’s unrealistic and unfair to rely on the four-minute trailer of a mainline Final Fantasy game for validation and representation.

Both as a queer creator (and translator) and as someone who works with and promotes queer creators (and translators), I always get defensive when people say that we don’t exist, or that the work we contribute to large projects is somehow invalid if the final product doesn’t meet certain arbitrary standards of “representation.”

When I look for representation – meaning, when I look for meaningful stories about identity that transcend mere tokenism – big-budget mainstream games are never going to be the first place I look. This is not to say that there aren’t female and queer protagonists in big-budget mainstream games, and this certainly isn’t to say that I wouldn’t like to see more of them. Still, I think it’s much more reasonable to expect a more specific type of “representation” from games created by smaller studios that are more invested in allowing individual voices to be expressed with clarity and distinction than they are in appealing to a broad audience. I’m almost 100% certain that there will be female and queer characters in Final Fantasy XVI, but that’s not why I would (or wouldn’t) play the game.

To me personally, it’s extremely insulting that someone would look at all the amazing and important work done by female and queer creators in the gaming industry, as well as all the powerful representation in both triple-A games and indie titles, and say, essentially, “That’s not good enough because it doesn’t interest me.”

I agree with this person that there should be more female and openly queer characters in big-budget mainstream game franchises. Of course I do. Anyone who has known me for any length of time knows that I’ve been engaging in a PLAYABLE ZELDA 2020 online campaign since at least 2015. Attempting to shame random people on Twitter for being fans of large franchises isn’t going to dismantle systems of inequality, however, nor is denying the existence of the diversity and representation that so many individual creators have fought and sacrificed to make happen.

But I couldn’t say all of this in a Tweet, so I just blocked this person. If nothing else, it’s rude to invade someone’s space for the sole purpose of publicly engaging in performative wokeness, and I don’t have the time to spend on that sort of emotional vampirism.

So I don’t care that the main protagonist in Final Fantasy XVI is probably going to be male. Once the game has been released, I might have more to say about what it does and doesn’t do regarding representation. Until then, I’d much rather devote my limited emotional resources to appreciating games from diverse creators that speak to me in a meaningful way.

“Sorry about your ass.”

A lot of the dialog in the Final Fantasy VII remake is not well written. It’s like someone turned the original game into a weird cringe comedy, and the game itself is the cringe.

A good example of this is the character Wedge, who is fat. We know he’s fat because that’s (almost) his entire character. Just in case we forget, there’s at least one fat joke every time he’s onscreen.

During the game’s second trip above the plate, Jessie takes Cloud, Biggs, and Wedge to her house in Sector 7 so that Cloud can appropriate her father’s Shinra employee badge while Jessie, Biggs, and Wedge distract her mother. The “nice” suburbs of Sector 7 are soulless and awful, and it turns out that Jessie’s father is in a coma after coming down with mako poisoning. The fact that this easily preventable accident was caused by corporate greed and mismanagement convinced Jessie to give up her dream to become an actress and join Avalanche, but the situation with her father is so dire that she’s been lying to her mother to keep her from worrying.

This should be a powerful and sobering moment in the game, but the atmosphere is broken by jokes about how Wedge wants more pizza and hasn’t had enough chips. Because, you know, he’s fat. Aren’t fat people hilarious? It’s too bad Jessie’s father is in a coma, but at least he’s not fat! Ha ha ha!!

I put the game down every time there’s a line that physically hurts me, so I haven’t been making much progress.

Final Fantasy VII Remake

Well friends, I did not like the combat in Final Fantasy XV, and I did not like the combat in Nier Automata, and lo and behold, I do not like the combat in the Final Fantasy VII remake. The first real boss fight is way too long, and the endless barrage of rapid-fire flashing lights and numbers gave me a headache that lasted for almost six hours.

After getting frustrated and restarting the game,  I set the combat to “classic” mode. Unfortunately, classic mode is a lie and doesn’t change anything. Or does it? I’m not sure. I still have no idea what’s going on during combat. Instead of “classic” or “easy” mode, I wish you could choose “everything moves just a fraction of a second slower” mode. I was talking with a friend this morning, and they also got a headache from the first boss fight. Do I perhaps need to start playing this game with UV glasses?

In any case, the reward for finishing the boss fight is an extended narrative segment in which Sephiroth shows up and almost immediately jumps into a villain monologue. I don’t want to go into the spoilery details about how this happens or what’s going on in the story, but it’s fun.

I do want to say, however, that Sephiroth Is Very Gay.

I’m not being facetious about this. The camera will do a close-up on Sephiroth’s lips, and then cut to a close-up of Cloud’s lips, and then cut back to Sephiroth’s eyes, and then jump to Cloud’s eyes, and Sephiroth is like, “Have you been dreaming about me,” and Cloud is like, “I can’t stop thinking about you,” and oh my goodness this goes on for at least three minutes. I’m not actually super into m/m ships, but wow. This scene was intense.

I also want to say that Barret’s voice actor, John Eric Bentley, is doing some work. I’m not sure how I feel about the work, but he sure is doing it. I’m not criticizing the actor, but it’s an odd role. Barret has always been my favorite character, and I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts as I continue playing.

My main thought about Barret at the moment is that he seems to be the only character with body hair, and oh man does he ever have body hair. When the Sector 1 reactor explodes and everything catches on fire, he gets super sweaty, as does his chest hair. I’m not complaining, but… Well, I’m definitely not complaining. It’s just that an actual human being on this actual earth had to create and animate these assets, and they clearly put a lot of love and care into the job, as did the person in charge of texturing Sephiroth’s lips.

I feel like we’re starting to climb out of the uncanny valley, and it’s wild.

Secret of Mana

Secret of Mana is a charming action-adventure game about grinding for unnecessary upgrades. It’s not for everyone, but I adore it.

The game plays a bit like Kingdom Hearts in that you run around a two-dimensional isometric map and hit adorable enemies with a sword (or your choice of seven other weapons). There’s a satisfying cronch when your weapon connects, and the enemy death animations are super cute. For example, mammal-type enemies will explode in a poof of bones that make rattling sounds as they drop to the ground in a neat little pile. The magic animations are also lovely, and they become more elaborate as each spell grows more powerful.

The game’s story is about protecting seeds and saving a tree, and it’s filled with gorgeous Instagram-style ~nature~ that has its over-saturated anime filter slider pulled all the way to the top end. The tree leaves rustle gently, the grass sways in the wind, the sun sparkles on the surface of water, the frost glistens with a rainbow-hued shine, and so on. Your job as the player is to walk around these beautiful fantasy-themed environments killing critters for the points you need to max out the levels of your weapons and magic.

The way this works is that each of the eight weapons has eight magical orbs, which you earn by defeating bosses, and each orb unlocks an additional level for that weapon. Once a new level is unlocked, you can earn points by defeating enemies in order to achieve the special attack for that weapon, all of which are laughably impractical and none of which you will ever use. There’s no real reason to level up your weapon attacks; but, if you want to, it becomes more difficult with each progressive level. To get to Level 2, each enemy kill nets you 8 points (out of a necessary 100). To get to Level 3, each enemy kills nets you 7 points (out of a necessary 100). And so on. Ditto for each of the eight magic element sets.

Each of your characters has to level up all of the weapons and magic elements separately, so you’re in for some grinding. But only if you want! Again, it’s not necessary, but I find it relaxing.

The PlayStation 4 remake changes almost nothing about the original Super Nintendo game, and the updated graphics and music are wonderful. For a good six months after the release, there was some sort of bug that caused the game to crash if you went for too long without saving, but the developers have patched and fixed whatever was causing the problem.

The PS4 remake of Secret of Mana takes about ten to fifteen hours to finish if you don’t grind and a little less than thirty hours if you do, and either way it’s good wholesome content for when you need to turn off your brain and chill out for a bit.