I talked a little about it on my Twitter recently, and in my write-up of the Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae demo, but I wanted to address this more at length: Cindy.
For those who may not know, Final Fantasy is a huge series. There are fourteen main entries, with a demo for the fifteenth having just been released, and tons of spinoffs and sequels. It’s massively popular–just look at the sales data. According to the Video Game Sales Wiki, Final Fantasy XIII sold more than the newest Super Mario game, Super Mario 3D World, at 6.9 million copies worldwide versus 3.79 million. Even if we were to even that playing field–seeing as the newest Super Mario was on the Wii U, a system that didn’t sell as well as it could have–the last home console Super Mario, Super Mario Galaxy 2, sold 7.41 million copies. Even if their numbers are subjective, let’s take the sales data for Final Fantasy XIII from Square-Enix themselves: 6.6 million, give or take.
So yeah. I think it’s easy to say that Final Fantasy is brain-numbingly popular. It’s often turn-based, focusing quite a lot on narrative, with a variety of characters and a variety of abilities for use in combat. Some games are more action-oriented than others, sure; Final Fantasy XV is going to be a full-on action-RPG. It’s also highly anticipated, having been announced nearly a decade ago.
I’m not going to pretend I’m not excited. I’ve been a fan ever since a childhood friend would let me watch him play Final Fantasy VII all the way back in 1997. I begged my parents to buy me Final Fantasy VIII two years later. I’ve been playing the series almost my entire life. It’s the reason I wanted to play the Disney/Final Fantasy mashup Kingdom Hearts. I grew up reading and acting out Final Fantasy fanfiction with my friends, reading the slashfic even before I realized I’m gay. It’s pretty clear that I’m a fan.
That’s why I’m sad to have to criticize XV. The previous single-player main installment, Final Fantasy XIII, wasn’t perfect. Its story was mostly contained in the menu’s Datalog, it was frustratingly linear, and a lot of the characters either annoyed me or lacked any depth. I played it and the other games it spawned, but it certainly wasn’t a crowning moment for the series.
But there’s one thing I absolutely adored about the Final Fantasy XIII series: it was diverse. That’s something that the Final Fantasy games have always had, as far back as they put narrative as a focus in Final Fantasy IV. That game had Rydia, Rosa, and Porom all in the main party, and all women. It had a monk, an elderly man, and a moon-person. Games after it had widely diverse casts, of monsters and half-monsters, of men and woman of all ages, even with most of the female characters tending toward magic-based classes, until Final Fantasy VII‘s fighter-type character Tifa.
But XIII, XIII-2, and Lightning Returns amped that up to eleven. Although all of the playable characters of XIII save for one–the black character Sazh–looked relatively white or ambiguous, half the cast was women: Lightning Farron, Oerba Dia Vanille, and Oerba Yun Fang. XIII-2 switched to a dual cast of Lightning’s sister Serah and her new companion Noel, with the focus switching between the two but giving a lot of narrative weight to Serah instead. Lightning Returns focused on Lightning and her quest to rescue Serah.
Let me make it clearer: the focus of the XIII series was primarily on women. It wasn’t any sort of tokenism; it felt natural. Fang and Vanille were the catalysts for a lot of XIII‘s story; Serah and Lightning’s relationship was at the center of both XIII-2 and Lightning Returns. Character designs for each of the games were interesting, whether we look at the scantily-clad warrior woman Fang, the soldier Lightning, or the gentle Serah and Vanille.
Lightning Returns even allowed players to customize Lightning’s outfits, and while some of them were skimpy, plenty weren’t. There was a large variety, even if it was disappointing to hear the developers talk about jiggle physics for her. Even with this, the game never treated Lightning like a piece of meat, rarely focusing in on her body, instead using her to further the narrative.
And then we get Final Fantasy XV, with the character Cindy. The series has a tradition of naming a character in each game “Cid”, with the Japanese version calling this iteration “Cidney”, although the Episode Duscae demo hints that her father might actually be the game’s Cid. We also get the character Stella–who may or may not have been renamed Lunafreya.
Two female characters, as far as we’re aware.
Stella is said to be part of the action in XV. Just look at one of the pictures from the Final Fantasy wiki, taken from one of the XV trailers:
But then we have Cindy.
When the party first meets her, she’s inspecting their car, bent over with her behind in the air. It’s a little weird considering the area she’s looking at, but then she gets up and turns around, and all we see is cleavage. Her shirt is wide open, breasts on full display, and her shorts show the curvature of her butt; it all stands in direct contrast not only to what we see in trailers of Stella, but even in the demo itself, to the NPCs in the gas station where Cindy works.
Intro to Cindy
At the demo’s ending, she even shows off the car, bending over it not unlike a Playboy model.
Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against what little we’ve seen of her character so far. She’s intelligent, doesn’t bargain with the party nor does she fall for their flirting. Her outfit, though skimpy, is actually pretty cute.
But she seems to exist solely for sex appeal.
In a series where female characters get to have existential crises (Final Fantasy VI‘s Terra), clash with gods (Final Fantasy XIII‘s Lightning, Fang, and Vanille), become all-powerful magic users (Rinoa in Final Fantasy VIII), or buck their fate to save the world (Yuna in Final Fantasy X), it’s strange to see Cindy pop up in such a cheesecake fashion.
I want to stress that we don’t know a lot about Final Fantasy XV. It’s likely not going to be released for at least another year, seeing as the Episode Duscae demo doesn’t have even a projected release date in its conclusion. More female characters are entirely possible, and perhaps Cindy will play a bigger role in the game.
But having come from a storied history of varied, deep female characters, with the latest entries in the series revolving around sisterhood and warrior women, something just feels off with such a blatant display of sexualization. Having one female character look like an archetypical pure girl, dressed in white, while the other wears almost nothing even as the bit characters around her dress differently just feels reductive.
I expected better of Square-Enix, of Final Fantasy. Even with XIII‘s narrative missteps, it still managed to bring a diverse, deep cast to the table, with female characters that were more than just archetypes.
In a world where Gamergate is still an issue, where calls for diversity are met with death threats, Cindy seems like a step back.
Ashcraft, Brian. “For Some Reason, Lightning Returns Has Boob Jiggling.” Kotaku. Kotaku. 29 Jul 2013. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.
Gantayat, Anoop. “Gaimaga Blows Out Final Fantasy XIII.” IGN. IGN. 31 May 2006. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.
Prell, Sophie. “Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII’s creators justify a third game in a series with falling sales.” Penny Arcade. Penny Arcade. 18 Jan 2013. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.
Video Game Sales Wiki. “Final Fantasy.” Video Game Sales Wiki. Video Game Sales Wiki, n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.
Video Game Sales Wiki. “Mario.” Video Game Sales Wiki. Video Game Sales Wiki, n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.