Christina is a current film enthusiast and a past IB Film student who loves analyzing pieces of media and their effects on society.
Fable 2 and Final Fantasy XV are two open-world fantasy video games. Fable 2 follows Sparrow, the Hero of Bowerstone, as the hero travels Albion to increase skills and gather allies in order to confront Lucien. Players can choose whether Sparrow is female or male, but for analysis purposes, Sparrow will be assumed female. Final Fantasy XV follows Prince Noctis as his lighthearted road trip with his close friends turns into a journey to save the world when the kingdom is captured in his absence. In Fable 2, there are three significant female characters: the blind seer Theresa, the Hero of Strength Hannah, and potentially the female Sparrow. In Final Fantasy XV, the significant female characters are the Oracle Lunafreya, the mercenary Aranea, and the mechanic Cindy. As observed in both these characters and the minor female characters, if women are particularly unfeminine in one aspect, there is overcompensation in another aspect of their character. Particularly, when diverting from typical feminine roles in these fantasy games, female characters are forced to overcompensate with either good morality or male-gaze appealing designs. This article will be going through the entirety of the main stories of Final Fantasy XV and Fable 2, so spoilers will be ahead.
Good character design reflects aspects of the character’s personality, profession, and background. This is seen partially in Lunafreya’s design in Final Fantasy XV (FFXV), she is mostly seen in elegant, long white dresses, fitting for her role as the noble Oracle to the gods (Fig 1). When she does take up combat, she wears a more casual, shorter dress but also keeps her heels. While Lunafreya’s heels and outfit can be excused by her profession, Cindy’s cannot. Despite working as a mechanic to the protagonist Prince Noctis, Cindy does not wear the typical mechanic overalls that would provide safety for her occupation (Fig 2). She wears short shorts, a midriff showing jacket over her bra, and heels. Even the outfit female Sparrow wears as a child in Fable 2 reveals a bit of her midriff while her male counterpart does not. There are some women that are exceptions to this, their outfits accurately reflecting their backgrounds. The technician Hannah, a minor non-player character (NPC) in FFXV, wears the typical mechanic overalls for her work in the power plant. The Hero of Strength Hannah (Fig 3) wears an outfit reflecting her upbringing among monks in the Temple of Light and has a bulky build reflecting her strength. Depending on the player’s actions, Sparrow will also be an exception to this. If Sparrow invests many experience points into strength, she will also gain much more bulk in her stature.
Sparrow can also be as morally evil as the player wishes, contrasting her to the rest of the women in both games, who are morally good, frequently self-sacrificing, as overcompensation for practical designs or the uptake of non-feminine roles. Hannah, the strongest of the four heroes in Fable 2, is also one of the few lawful good heroes, depending on how the player acts. Hannah is also the only hero who steps away from fighting after defeating Lucien; she grows tired of fighting and returns to her life of pacifism, the same life she felt suffocated by at the game’s beginning. The main heroine Lunafreya in FFXV serves the sacrificial hero role so well kills her. Most of her actions in the game is to communicate with the gods and convince them to help Noctis in his fight against Ardyn and the empire, which physically drains her life. After a deadly blow from Ardyn, Lunafreya spends her last moments healing Noctis from his wounds and not her own. She embodies the theme of self-sacrifice for the greater good, a major theme of the game which Noctis himself later submits to as well.
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One of the most common narrative roles women have in these games have is the dead damsel; women and girls are frequently killed to motivate other typically male characters. Sparrow’s older sister Rose is murdered by Lucien, motivating Sparrow to gain skills and avenge her. Lucien himself is motivated by his late wife and daughter; he is willing to destroy all of Albion to raise them from the dead. Lunafreya’s death motivates Noctis to embrace his full responsibility as king. It’s important to note that there are numerous male reversals of the dead damsel, particularly in FFXV. For example, Noctis’ father Regis, Gladiolus’ father Clarus, and Ignis’ uncle all die in the first chapter when the city is sieged, which motivates the main party members to fight the empire. However, male reversals do not compensate for the few female characters being used mainly to progress male character development. The three dead men does not negate the fact that the only heroine of FFXV Lunafreya also dies.
The major exceptions to this pure morality and female self-sacrificing trait are Theresa and Aranea. Aranea serves as an antithesis to the game’s theme of inescapable fate, frequently encouraging Noctis and his friends to forge their own paths as she did. Initially, a high-ranking mercenary in the empire’s army, Aranea leaves the empire when she disagrees with her higher officers harvesting people to turn them into daemons. Aranea can exist as her own person, followed loyally by her soldiers, but her design is still geared to the male gaze, her armor leaving her midriff vulnerable (Fig 4). Furthermore, the existence of a character who is the personification of free will in a story where destiny is inescapable for both the protagonist and the heroine undermines the message behind having a character like Aranea in the first place. Theresa, on the other hand, appears to be morally grey. Most of her actions are off-screen, guiding the heroes through their missions, but there are hints that she is also guiding Lucien as well. It’s possible Theresa’s plan was to manipulate Lucien to build the evil Spire, and manipulate the heroes to kill Lucien so she can have all the powers of the spire to herself. This would explain how quickly she kicks the heroes out of the spire once Lucien is defeated. If this is Theresa’s true motivation, then she is not guiding Sparrow to save the world, but to serve her own agenda, and saving the world just happens to be a consequence of that.
Compared to the major female characters, minor female characters fit stereotypical female roles even more so, unless they are evil. There are many distressed NPC women in Fable 2, from the grandmother begging Sparrow to save her grandson from the monsters in a dangerous cave to the teenager Elizabeth coerced into entering the notorious Temple of Shadows, who will run out of the temple sobbing and inconsolable no matter Sparrow’s actions. Besides the distressed woman, there is also the role of the mother, which Holly fits in well with how she cares for her fellow plant workers and how considerate and self-sacrificing she is. While these minor characters do occasionally divert from the stereotypical feminine roles, this diverting is typically reserved only for villains. The white balverine Lilith, disguises her werewolf-like appearance initially, playing the distressed human mother role and asking for help to guide Sparrow and Hannah into a cave to help her child. The reality is Lilith guided the heroes into the cave for her children balverines to feast on. While Lilith is a great divergence from the morally pure woman, following her into the cave is an optional quest that is easy for the player to miss completely. Men can be evil and upfront about it- every main antagonist in both games are male, but women must either be a minor evil enemy or the amorality must be ambiguous and debatable.
Despite both video games being open-world fantasy games, the roles they have their female characters play are quite limited, and even slight divergence from the expected female roles in the plot is overcompensated with the character’s design or morality. Women can be heroes, but only if they leave the heroic life afterwards, like Hannah, or act so selflessly they die in action, like Lunafreya. Women can be evil, but only if they are a minor, easily-missed enemy, like Lilith, or if the morality is debatable, like Theresa. Women can have masculine jobs, but only if they wear impractical clothing, like the case of Cindy or act motherly, like the case of Holly. In worlds that anything is possible, women are still confined to restricting archetypes.
© 2021 Christina Garvis