Many moons ago, back in 2005, my gateway into fandom and fanfiction was Final Fantasy X-2. I had recently replayed the game and was bitten by a plot bunny, hard. I wrote the 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 it's been a wonderful experience. But I was surprised and 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 Final Fantasy X. I think there are legitimate discussions to be had around every one of these issues, but it has always bothered me that they are treated as reasons to dismiss the game out of hand.
I've been thinking about writing an entry like this for a long time; bits and pieces of it have surfaced in posts and comments over the years, but it's been especially brewing since last summer, when 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 imadra_blue hasn't played the game, 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 pervades the fandom. The following points are my attempt at a rebuttal.
1. The women drive the action, as individuals and by the relationships they form with each other as a team. These are not passive characters, waiting for the plot to take them places. Yuna, Rikku, and Paine all make their own choices, and have logical reasons for doing so. Yuna is the leader of the party: she calls most of the shots, including 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 Gullwings 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 expected: 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 contexts) have equal opportunity to serve as fighters or as healers.
It's also worth noting that 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 largely ruled by a repressive religious regime, and all of the officials we see are men. But women are well-represented almost 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 squadron of Crusaders 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), 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 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 become much broader long before the story is finished, and even if they didn't, what's wrong with that? 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.
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 being sidelined from the action by pregnancy and motherhood is, to me, the most problematic. 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, 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 summons, 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 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 series with a female protagonist* and an 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 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).** 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. And I am happy to celebrate this as real progress.
*Arguably. Sometimes Terra from FFVI is cited as the first female protagonist in the series, 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 argument for Yuna as the protagonist of FFX's story, even though Tidus is the primary player character.
**There'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!
This entry is also posted at http://owlmoose.dreamwidth.org/516122.html. There are currently comments on DW.