Mushroom Soup For The Pixelated Soul
Weeks of grueling college work along with a nasty cold (which always seems to coincide with the shift to cold weather….maybe that’s why they call it a “cold” in the first place) have kept me from steadily updating this blog, a promise I have continuously failed to keep.
Now that I’ve got free time, I’ve been working on my backlog of reviews, although that alone won’t make up for the lull in this site. I could have used the time to keep things fresh with smaller, more current topics, such as my reaction to the newest revealed characters for Dissidia’s sequel (seeing how two of my most wanted characters have been confirmed, I’m already quite pleased), or more in-depth comments on games I am not scheduled to review (delayed since said titles ended up on my queue after all).
So with that in mind, I decided that my next post had to be a substantial one to make up for the downtime. By the time you read this, it will already be the end of 2010, so you can look forward to my yearly post about the most memorable game releases of 2010. Until then, I’ve found myself in a Final Fantasy mood again, and since my last FF-related topics have been mostly well received, I figure “what better way to breathe life back into this blog then with a new Top Ten article?”
Without little ado than I know what to do with, here is my picks for the:
If I were to tally up my favorite RPG characters, I would probably have more favorite female characters than male ones. That isn’t too big a stretch, since most female characters tend to have a bit more variety to their designs, often outfitted in exotic garb, from flowing robes to form-fitting battle armor, all creating a style both fantastical as well as eye-pleasing. For better or worse, much of their popularity comes from the latter, and is often reinforced by their creator companies in the form of merchandise that is eagerly bought by overzealous fans worldwide.
But the women of Final Fantasy aren’t just easy on the eyes, but also strong-willed and fun characters to interact with who often support their respective party members, be it physically or emotionally. Whether a princess, a barmaid, Summoner or knight, the FF girls are capable of kicking ass in their own right, matching (if not exceeding) the strength of their male counterparts.
In celebration, I have decided to list my personal favorite female characters in this latest Top Ten list, with other FF-themed lists to follow shortly. I do want to stress, however, that my choices are not ordered based on hotness, although such a statement is rather redundant, given how there isn’t a female character in that series who isn’t incredibly attractive (well, with one exception). That said, I do feel that, from an aesthetic standpoint, their designs do play an important role in the appeal to these characters. As a result, I’ll be commenting on their physical designs in addition to their personal merits.
Please understand that this is all purely opinion; being that Final Fantasy fans tend to be quite “passionate”, I hope you won’t hold it against me for leaving out a particular character you yourself may adore. As I mentioned, there are lots of characters that I really like, including a few that very nearly made the list, but it took a lot of mulling over to narrow them down to ten, so please do respect my choices.
So here they are, in ascending order, my top ten picks for Final Fantasy’s finest females: they may not all be paragons of female empowerment in videogames, but for me they are the most memorable and all-around greatest heroines in one of my most favorite franchises.
At a glance: A latecomer to the series, but memorable enough to make the list, Lightning is the first female since Terra to fulfill the role of protagonist in a mainline FF game. Ever since its E3 debut, much of Final Fantasy XIII’s media have been focused on Lightning’s incredible agility and strength, mowing down dozens of armed soldiers with a mix of magic, guns, and acrobatics.
Design Check: Lightning’s design is interesting for many reasons: it lacks the sexiness and/or femininity of her predecessor’s outfits, but doesn’t quite reach the masculine look of FFVII’s Elena (or, more literally, FFV’s Faris). While it doesn’t bring her physical features to the forefront, it succeeds in making her look like a tough and capable warrior without reaching “butch” levels.
However, Square did her a bit of a disservice in admitting that FFVII hero Cloud was used as the base inspiration for Lightning’s look. Much like the cold shower revelation about Ridge Racer’s Reiko Nagase, the image of “Girl Cloud” is one that was hard to block out, especially when the two are juxtaposed atop each other.
Despite this, Lightning is still quite lovely, even draped in militaristic garb. It’s functional no matter what climate or terrain she may have to traverse (a privilege none of the other female leads listed here can claim), and also works to characterize Lightning rather than exploit her.
Girl Power: The comparisons to Cloud aren’t just visual, as Lightning has also been accused by fans for being as subdued and unfriendly as FFVII’s tortured lead, with elements of FFVIII’s equally mopey Squall thrown in.
On both counts, they are wrong; In truth, Lightning’s tough-as-nails attitude comes from her strong discipline and training, and when she’s not punching her fellow party members in the face, she’s protecting and guiding each and every one of them, so that the day may come when they can all stand on their own two feet. In this regard, she’s closer to Metal Gear Solid 3’s The Boss, a person who pushes her cohorts with military-based teachings while always wearing her maternal heart on her sleeve.
At a glance: Quite possibly the most popular and iconic heroine in the entire series, there are very few gamers who don’t know about Final Fantasy VII’s flower girl, or the tragic event that has defined the series, not to mention RPGs, for generations to come.
Design Check: While not nearly as showy as her midriff-bearing sisters, Aerith’s design in Final Fantasy VII sticks out for purely different reasons; the bright pink colors and flowing dress conflicts with the urban setting and feel, which carries over to the clothing of the other party members. Coupled with her consistently cheery expressions, Aerith’s design gives her that sense of spiritual purity that makes her invulnerable to the grimy, decaying city that is Midgar. In a somewhat ironic twist, the reverse occurs once Cloud and his crew step out of the city and into the world outside, where Aerith fits in nicely with the flower-ridden fields and greener pastures.
As a personal criticism, I always found her jacket a somewhat odd choice, as it contrasts a bit with the rest of her outfit. As recent spin-offs have proven, Aerith looks even lovelier without it, not as a case of showing more skin, but because strengthens the primary colors of her outfit.
This is also probably the only instance (at least in FF) where a heroine’s clothing accessory actually carries an importance to the plot: while Aerith’s pink ribbon may be the most recognizable aspect to her design (a fact that carries over to Advent Children), it was also used to contain the ultimate MacGuffin that eventually saved the world, and as Crisis Core revealed, an important keepsake from a lost love.
Girl Power: Anyone who played through Final Fantasy VII can tell you that Aerith’s death served a bigger purpose than reduce a generation of fanboys to crocodile tears; when everything seemed hopeless for Cloud, his friends, and the entire world, it was Aerith’s spiritual powers that saved the world.
Afterlife abilities aside, Aerith’s role in the game is more of a support character; while FFVII didn’t assign specific jobs to each character, Aerith has always been viewed as the White Mage/Healer of the group, making her a knack for spells of a recuperative nature (not to mention that her most powerful Limit Break is one that heals rather than destroys), but not nearly as physically powerful as Cloud or Tifa.
Many comparisons and contrasts have been made between Aerith and Tifa, mainly on a personal level. Even though both characters feature a friendly, often uplifting demeanor toward the other party members, the big difference between the two is that Aerith is much more open to speaking her mind, sometimes to the point of bluntness. This would probably be most apparent during a scene with Barret in the Gold Saucer, where Aerith tries to cheer up the disgruntled AVALANCHE leader (after an altercation with several survivors of his hometown) by urging him to go have fun in the theme park. Obviously this has the opposite effect, but it does show that Aerith is a person who believes in staying positive no matter how grim the situation may be.
Which is why, as far as personal preferences go, Aerith never held up for me as highly as other FF heroines, especially the ones she shares the game with. Whereas every major character in FFVII is fundamentally flawed in their own way, each with their own personal demons to battle, Aerith remains spiritually “perfect” throughout her life. While this may have been done intentionally to add a deeper meaning into her eventual demise, for me it feels like she’s the mother of all Mary Sues, incapable of doing any wrong or falling in too deep a depression (even though it was shown that as a child, she struggled with comprehending her ability to communicate with the spirits of the dead). It also doesn’t help that she’s often portrayed by internet dweebs as the ultimate “opponent” against Tifa in a long-running fanboy war, either based on personal attraction and/or who is more deserving of Cloud’s heart (while in truth, her deep friendship with Tifa despite the fact that they were both after the same guy was more interesting than both of their attempts to win Cloud over).
Despite my personal choice on both accounts, Aerith has recently grown on me, and it’s thanks largely to her appearance in other spin-off titles, whether canonical (Crisis Core) or not (Kingdom Hearts). In Crisis Core, we are shown glimpses of a younger, somewhat more immature Aerith, having deep fears about facing the outside world due to a sheltered existence, as well as showcasing her relationship with Zack, which felt far more real and endearing than the one she had with Cloud. Her role in Kingdom Hearts also portrays her in a more lighthearted fashion, having characters groan due to her bad attempts at humor, or her bizarre cooking habits (as shown in the manga).
To put it simply, a less God-like Aerith is a more interesting Aerith.
At a glance: The first Final Fantasy heroine to receive a voice, and the third to be given the official title of Summoner, Yuna is unquestionably the most vital character to Final Fantasy X’s plot, as the one chosen to save the world from Sin, regardless of the consequences she’ll face as a result. The main goal of Final Fantasy X is to protect Yuna until she can accomplish her task, which brings a closer bond between the party members than any other FF game, where each character is essentially filling out a family role for Yuna, both spiritually and literally.
Design Check: Yuna’s outfit was inspired by traditional festive Japanese kimonos. This probably factored greatly into the character’s popularity, which might be the highest of any other FF female from Japan. While this may sound like her dress lacks originality, the patterns and colors succeed in creating that fantasy mystique that previous FF heroines are known for. While not nearly as curvaceous as her surrogate big sister Lulu, or having the semi-promiscuous attitude of her literal cousin Rikku, Yuna’s flowing robes or prim and proper attitude do little to diminish her good looks (she’s also spouting some nice side-boob, depending where the camera is angled). While Tidus took the time to admire the supple mountains of Spira during their travels, it was Yuna that got his full attention.
Her Gunner outfit in the sequel was considerably sexier, and resulted in a mixed backlash among fans, but I felt the change to a more daring getup served a deeper purpose than mere fanservice, which I’ll elaborate below.
Girl Power: Yuna’s role in FFX is pretty similar to Terra’s in FFVI; both characters are central to the main conflict in both stories, and both have protectors in the form of the other party members. The main difference is that while Terra constantly doubted her abilities and feared her powers, Yuna embraces her destiny, and is determined to see it through to the end, even at the cost of her life.
But through her confidence and kindness, there is also the desire to live like an ordinary woman. This becomes especially apparent during the pivotal lake scene with her and Tidus, where she is almost swayed to drop all of her responsibilities as a Summoner so she can run away with him. Her resulting sadness shows how dutiful she is to her role, despite her wants.
This is why I consider FFX-2’s Yuna a separate, if not evolved character; once the events of the first game come to a close, Yuna is given the chance to experience a normal life as she always dreamed of. Many people have scoffed at her bolder change of wardrobe, claiming that it has demeaned the character. I consider it an experiment for living; on the surface, her reserved demeanor is still intact, but there is also the urge to grow bolder and speak her mind more openly. Amusingly, many of her new habits come from emulating Rikku, right down to awkwardly repeating her one-liners. It’s meant to portray her in a lighter, more humorous light, but for anyone who wanted to see Yuna achieve happiness in the first game, these moments are the most endearing.
At a glance: The first female character to ever be given a lead role in a Final Fantasy game (though some may argue that the game has no main character, even though the story clearly focuses around her), Terra is a young girl who has been stripped of her memory, possessing the rare gift of magic in a world long stripped of it. She becomes the center of a violent conflict between the power-hungry Empire and the freedom-fighting Returners, and must fight for the survival of the planet itself despite the mystery of her origins and the fear of her own power.
Design Check: I want to make something clear right from the start: For me, Terra will always have green hair. While it’s true that her official Amano illustrations show her having blond hair, in the final game her sprite was given green hair. The reason for this isn’t entirely clear, but it’s sufficient enough for many fans (myself included) to consider her a natural greenette (or whatever term you want to use). Her default look in Dissidia puts her as a blonde, possibly to keep with the Amano theme for each of the characters. While the good news is that her green hair can be inserted back in as an alternate look, it doesn’t apply to cutscenes. Either way, it’s pretty disappointing.
But it isn’t just the hair that makes Terra’s design unique, but also how lithe and minimally-featured her body is. Her official age is 18, and she’s one of the few fictional FF heroines to actually look the part. Her thin, pale demeanor puts her at that teetering balance between child and adult, but also gives her the impression that she is purely a warrior of magic, not swordsmanship. It should also be noted that she’s also one of the few characters where fan-artists accurately capture her small physique, rather than grossly exaggerating it like so many other women (even Relm, who is barely ten years old).
Girl Power: Terra is a magical powerhouse; that much is clear from the start, where the Empire tries to manipulate her into becoming a mindless weapon of war, scorching anyone that she’s ordered to. But unlike the other strong-willed heroines on this list, Terra is in fact quite vulnerable, lacking in the confidence to utilize her full power, much less protect herself. She finds herself the unwilling pawn of a major war between two sides, practically coaxed into joining the forces of good despite her deepest desire to not be party to any of the fighting. The best example would be to imagine if, in The Lord of the Rings, both Frodo and the One Ring were one and the same.
But does this make Terra a weak-willed damsel-in-distress? Not entirely. While she does eventually put aside her doubts and fears and utilizes the full extent of her powers to protect her friends, the fact that she spends much of the story requiring the protection of her fellow party members resonates an important bond, similar to FFX’s Yuna. But more importantly, it resonates with players, who carry that same desire to protect Terra and see her through to a happy ending. Not every FF heroine has to be a bad-ass powerhouse or carry a steadfast resolve; Terra is simply a person thrust into a difficult situation, and has concerns and feelings just like any other ordinary girl would have, which makes her one of the most human characters in the entire franchise, as well as one of the most adored.
At a glance: One of the earliest conceived characters for Final Fantasy VII, Yuffie was actually considered at one point to represent the 2nd leading heroine in the game. That idea was soon scrapped in favor of adding in a third girl (Tifa), as Yuffie wasn’t considered “serious” enough to handle such a responsibility, but I think the upbeat comic relief role suits her just fine.
Design Check: Of all the characters in FFVII, Yuffie’s design was reportedly worked on the longest, with Nomura adding in as many accessories and details to her outfit as he could fit before development was finished. Since the rest of the cast had to be scaled back in both size and detail due to the limitations of 3D design at the time, Yuffie is often considered the only “true” character design to be represented accurately in the game.
Strip away the bracers and buckles of her outfit, and Yuffie is about as lightly dressed as Tifa, minus the skirt. Being younger and much less buxom, her small wardrobe steers more toward cute than sexy, but more importantly it represents her free-spirited and bratty nature (official bios state that her clothing choice represents a direct clash with the traditional ninja garb of her village…it should also be noted that she also once referred to herself as a “princess”, though whether that’s an official title or just another one of her pet names remains unknown).
Yuffie also has the distinction of having the most outfit changes of any FF character (minus the dress-spheres of FFX-2), as she is shown in a different outfit for each of her subsequent appearances in both canon spin-offs as well as the Kingdom Hearts series. She also shows considerable aging in both Advent Children and Dirge of Cerberus, retaining her youthful demeanor but also gaining a slight boost in sexiness (Dirge in particular seems to linger quite a bit on her behind during several cutscenes). Whatever look you may fancy, Yuffie looks great in all of them.
Girl Power: In a Final Fantasy game, the third female party member is usually the youngest, and tends to come in two flavors: innocent and kind, or loud and bratty; Yuffie is clearly the latter on both counts. Practically shoehorning herself into Cloud’s group, Yuffie makes it clear that her goal is to round up the rarest and most powerful Materia she can find…and she always has her eyes on the group’s own collection. Her kleptomania becomes the focus of an optional sidequest that has players running around her village sans their magical equipment, ranging from playing hide-and-seek, fending off foes in a manner most gimped, and eventually preventing the thieving kunoichi from being raped while tied to a giant mountain statue (trust me, it’s funnier than it sounds). This detraction from the main plot tends to be used by players as the source of their steaming, vile hatred toward the character, even though they probably had fun the whole time.
As it may be obvious to anyone, Yuffie is the fun party member, something that is absolutely instrumental considering how depressing the story can get. Her most amusing quirk has to be the disproportionate praise she gives herself, pumping her fist repeatedly while establishing herself as the most powerful (and beautiful) ninja of her clan, capable of facing any opponent regardless of size and number. Put her in a party when facing the likes of Sephiroth, however, and she’ll be the first to cower behind the rest of the team. Story-based cowardice aside, Yuffie is every bit a capable fighter in battle as anyone else in the group.
Usually in RPGs, this type of character will have a pivotal moment where they relinquish their selfish attitude and desire, learning that friendship is far more valuable than any treasure in the world. This does not happen with Yuffie, at least not expressively. Perhaps due to the limitations of dialog on account that her presence in the game is optional, Yuffie never has a vocal epiphany in this regard, but that also doesn’t mean that she hasn’t changed either; just as the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII has helped strengthen Aerith’s character (for me, anyway), the supplementary material has also painted Yuffie as caring about her friends above anything else, even Materia. Again, this is never represented in words, but shown in her actions; she constantly stays in contact with her fellow party members, either through phone calls or by visiting them directly. She is particularly shown to keep tabs on Vincent, often to the point of pestering him, but whether that’s a sign of teasing one of the more popular fan-based couplings remains to be seen. For a more famous example in the original game, just have her in the party during Disc 1’s pivotal ending, and try not to break out the waterworks yourself.
In the end, Yuffie doesn’t carry the emotional depth and development found with the rest of FFVII’s cast, or even other characters that share her role as the “third girl”. But darn it if she isn’t one of the most likable girls in the series.
At a glance: One of the oldest and most recognizable heroines in the series, Rydia is responsible for a lot of first’s regarding women in the FF series; she was the first Summoner (from a plot-based perspective), the first secondary heroine (though she technically joined the party before Rosa, the leading heroine), and the first heroine to undergo a physical and job-based transformation (and the second character to do so, after Cecil). Recent re-releases, remakes, and sequels have propelled her popularity for the modern age.
Design Check: One of the most recognizable and iconic character designs in RPG history, Rydia is instantly identifiable due to her flowing, almost life-like green hair. Coupled with her similarly-colored dress and ornaments, her look defines her as otherworldly as well as exotic, a female magic-user taken straight from the pages of classic fantasy literature.
The contrast between her child and adult designs is striking, to the point that they could almost be considered separate characters. As a child, Rydia’s outfit is simple and focuses primarily on her adorable features, creating a sense of innocence. When she undergoes her “growth spurt”, Rydia’s taste in clothing becomes much bolder, proving that it wasn’t just her magic skills that received an upgrade. As a result, she has pretty much replaced Tifa as the ultimate target for Japanese fan-artists, often depicting her in rather risque poses (to full on hentai) while also grossly exaggerating her proportions. It seems much of her appeal for Japan’s lewd depictions can be compared to Guilty Gear’s Dizzy: a young woman with a child-like mentality who seems oblivious to her obvious charms, often wearing (whether involuntarily or not) form-fitting outfits that accentuate their buxom bodies. Her outfit in The After Years, which is even more revealing (to the point that the artwork was touched up for American release), didn’t help things, or the fact that her weapon of choice usually involves a whip…
Girl Power: But if anyone can pull off such garish outfits, it’s Rydia. The character’s true appeal comes from her kind and forgiving nature, which is immediately apparent when main hero Cecil confronts her for the first time; even though she is perfectly justified in despising him, as he was (albeit somewhat indirectly) involved in the death of her mother and the destruction of her hometown, she quickly sees the good and sorrowful person underneath the frightening Dark Knight armor. The two quickly form a familial bond born from the ashes of her former life, and while their relationship is eventually downplayed as the plot expands around them, it still stands as one of the most enduring and well-written relationships ever seen in an RPG.
While her gentle demeanor remains constant throughout both of her forms, the big difference between her child and adult forms (besides the obvious) is her confidence; as a child, Rydia lacked the experience to fully utilize her power as a Summoner, and was even too afraid to cast Fire due to her recent trauma. After undergoing training in the Land of Summoned Monsters, Rydia becomes a full-fledged Mage, utilizing the most powerful magic attacks as well as an army of Summons, which arguably makes her the most powerful character in the party.
As for her adult form, it is often debated whether her aging had occurred naturally, spending years in the Summon village when mere days passed in the outside world, or if her body rapidly grew on its own while everything else stood still. My opinion falls on the latter, due to her brief statement that “I think my body grew a little”, coupled with her consistently naive nature, including her indifference to fellow ninja cohort Edge’s advances. This also raises a rather disturbing question on just who in the Summon village was responsible for her choice in wardrobe…
Regardless, Rydia still remains one of the longest beloved characters in the series, and her steadfast determination serves as a permanent inspiration for Cecil and his friends. Forget Kain and Golbez, we all know who should have truly been represented in FFIV’s logo.
At a Glance: The first character that Tidus runs into when he enters Spira, but the last one to join the party, Rikku is an irreplaceable member of Yuna’s Guardians, offering her expertise in machines as well as emotional support for her beloved cousin.
Design Check: In Final Fantasy X, Rikku’s outfit and body type shares similar traits with Yuffie’s, though the former is actually a year younger. While her outfit is considerably more modest than most characters, consisting of a simple top and shorts, her body language and overly excitable antics accentuate her sexiness considerably. She has been referred to many times as “the hottest Final Fantasy character ever”, and it’s hard to argue that when you’ve got moments like this. Despite her somewhat promiscuous nature, her overall innocent and optimistic personality depicts her more like the cute little sister of the group.
At least it did until her makeover in the sequel; an experiment in catering to fanservice, Final Fantasy X-2 featured a more radical and light-hearted look to the original game’s setting and characters. This included a complete redesign for Rikku, giving her a somewhat matured body as well as what could very well be the skimpiest outfit for an FF heroine yet. While it’s not a direct clash with the lighthearted style of dress found in Spira (being a tropical setting and all), and Rikku’s body is lithe enough to pull off such a look (imagine if Lulu wore that outfit….okay, you can stop imagining it…I said stop), it’s still a bit of a disservice for such a well-represented character; even though her personality hasn’t changed much with the new wardrobe, a bikini and thong is still a bikini and thong no matter the context.
Girl Power: On the surface, there isn’t much of a difference between Rikku and previous “third girl” characters from the series; she follows the tropes perfectly, combining the kindhearted nature of characters like Rydia with the spunkiness of girls like Yuffie.
But what separates her from her preteen predecessors is her wild mannerisms and personality; taking advantage of the then-revolutionary PS2 hardware, Rikku displays a wide array of emotions and animations, from hopping around like a jacked-up jackrabbit, to pensively staring at her feet in embarrassment, to practically dancing to the beat of the battle theme when fighting off monsters.
But the real draw was in her voice-work; whereas Yuna’s English voice actress received mixed opinions from fans due to her abrupt pauses during her dialog (which was mostly due to having to match the original Japanese lip movements, a limitation that Square later rectified in the sequel), Rikku’s received unanimous praise and even a few awards; best known for her role as Blossom from The Powerpuff Girls, Tara Strong’s vocal chops were the most instrumental in bringing Rikku to life, ensuring that every line spoken by the perky Al-Bhed would be memorable. In Final Fantasy X-2, Strong was able to take the character even further thanks to the more lighthearted tone, although she has also been quoted in questioning the character’s sexuality during a few fanservice-filled moments.
But there’s no denying that Rikku values family above all else; whether it’s her brother and father, who are trying to make a living despite the persecution of their Al-Bhed heritage, or her cousin Yuna, who she fights desperately to protect as well as find a way to save the world without sacrificing her life, Rikku’s selfless behavior is always brought to the forefront no matter what wacky shenanigans she finds herself in. In fact, she is so likable that it actually diminishes Wakka’s character a bit (a personal favorite who might end up in my eventual “Top Ten Final Fantasy Heroes” list) when he learns of her Al-Bhed heritage, immediately persecuting her for being a “sinner”. He does receive the appropriate flak from the other party members, and soon comes to care for Rikku along with everyone else, but he is often hated by fans just for this brief moment of bigotry. Just shows how popular Rikku is, a perfect mix of smart, silly, and sexy rolled into one memorable character.
At a glance: Even though Final Fantasy XI is an MMORPG, and as such considers its individual players as the primary characters in the online story, the expansion pack Chains of Promathia chose to deliver a tight-knit story involving several NPCs that players must assist; thrown in the middle of the conflict is Prishe, a young female Elvaan who possesses a great power that could destroy the entire world. Players work alongside Prishe to discover the origins of her power and the dark fate that binds her.
Design Check: On the surface, there isn’t much uniqueness to Prishe’s look; spend some time in Vana’diel and you’ll find plenty of Elvaans like her, though she does possess an exclusive wardrobe and hairstyle not found in the hundreds of other NPCs and PCs.
Girl Power: The real draw to Prishe is what her looks aren’t telling you; cursed with an immortal body, Prishe has lived far longer than she appears, being technically older than her full-grown best friend Ulmia. It’s unknown if her true age factors into her crude personality, but it’s ultimately irrelevant; if you thought the likes of Yuffie were considered brats, Prishe’s crude nature and filthy mouth would give FFVII’s Cid a run for his money; the Tavnazian Safehold must make its capitol from the gallons of swear jars she must turn in on a weekly basis.
But much of her crass attitude comes from the stigma she endured for centuries, labeled by her fellow Elvaan as “The Abhorent One”, with a dark crystal permanently bonded to her chest like a Scarlett Letter. Rather than resign herself to her fate, Prishe instead fought to protect the very people that demonized her, eventually earning their trust and favor, but never allowing herself to drop her guard even with their newfound acceptance. Only Ulmia and the player’s custom character are ever allowed to see her softer, more vulnerable side, as a deeply sad child trapped in darkness that longs for a normal, mortal existence.
What makes Prishe truly stand out is the way she completely blows away your expectations, both in a story sense as well as a conceptual one; even when you get used to her sailor talk, you may find yourself surprised again over her significant role in the grand scheme of things, a responsibility none of the previous young girl characters had. Watching her in action in the penultimate battle is also a treat, as she manages to handle the taboo combination of Monk and White Mage (something that would typically get you kicked from most parties when grinding). After the days (if not months) you’ll spend completing Chains of Promathia, seeing Prishe’s tearful smile as she embraces her new-found freedom nearly makes it all worthwhile.
At a glance: The second major female party member in Final Fantasy VI, and often considered the second most important character in the story.
Design Check: Celes has always been an interesting case from a design perspective, because she seems to have two separate and radically different outfits, to which fans are often divisive over which is her “official” attire…it doesn’t help that she has some of the fewest official artworks of any FF character. Amano’s rendering of the character has her wearing a leather-based design consisting of a jacket and high boots. Her in-game sprite, on the other hand, is the polar opposite in terms of modesty, donning what appears to be a one-piece leotard that’s one white cape shy of a swimsuit.
Like Terra’s green hair, the sprite look is typically the one fan-artists use to portray her, though obviously it’s because it’s also skimpier. Once again, her proportions are typically exaggerated, even though no artwork of this look exists aside from a super-deformed profile shot in the instruction manual. It should be noted that her sprite seems to have a much more pronounced chest than the other female sprites in the game, but whatever her proportions might be, it still isn’t exactly the kind of outfit you would imagine an Imperial General would wear. My personal theory is that she was stripped of her armor upon her defection from the Empire, and never bothered to cover up as it would only remind of her of her violent, brutal past.
Or, you know, hot fantasy women. Yeah, moving on…
Girl Power: Again, it’s often debated whether Final Fantasy VI truly has a main character, but if people won’t accept Terra having that role, then they most certainly will give it to Celes instead. In fact, during the game’s major halfway point (something you will literally see coming from orbit), the storyline completely puts Celes in the lead, beginning a long winding quest to regroup with the other party members. In fact, you could even take on the final boss without Terra, placing Celes as the leading voice for humanity during the final confrontation.
Whereas Terra starts off as weak-minded and doubtful of her abilities, only to overcome her fears to embrace her magical gift, Celes’ development actually works the opposite way; when she joins the group, Celes comes off as cold, unwilling to accept the friendship of the other party members and demonstrating her ability as a magic user and swordswoman; she may have been stripped of her title as a General, but her pride remains intact.
Or so it would seem: it soon turns out that her tough exterior is really a wall to her true feelings, with the cracks quickly forming as the story continues. Forged into a weapon of war since she was an infant, Celes curses her very existence, and doubts that she could ever lead a normal life; where Terra longs to learn the meaning behind love, Celes finds herself unworthy of embracing it, but longs to do so, particularly with a certain Treasure Hunter who vowed to protect her.
But rather than interpreting this as a strong character becoming weak, Celes’ deconstruction instead shows that it’s never too late for someone to change their ways, no matter how violent their past. Some of the most celebrated moments in Final Fantasy VI revolve around Celes, such as her grandiose performance in an opera (to which many, myself included, cite as the greatest moment in videogame history), or her penultimate moment of despair, should you fail to save her surrogate Grandfather (and considering the arbitrary methods required to do so, it probably happened to many people); if you don’t find yourself emotionally invested by this point, you’re probably as cold-hearted as Kefka himself.
By all accounts, Celes possesses all the qualities to make my top choice for Final Fantasy’s greatest heroine, but misses the mark just slightly in favor of my number one choice…
At a glance: Even if you’ve never touched a Final Fantasy game in your life, you should very well know who this is. Officially and unquestionably the leading female character of Final Fantasy VII, as that was the very reason for her creation; once plans were in place to give Aerith the ax (er, sword), Nomura needed to create a new heroine to take her place. After passing around some unfinished drafts to fellow college buddies (who unanimously voted “skirt” over “jeans”), and hiring a separate writer to work on her dialog (who later went on to work on Xenogears, an RPG that featured its own list of strong female characters), Tifa soon evolved into one of the most recognizable faces in the entire franchise.
Design Check: It’s impossible to talk about Tifa without mentioning her design, so let’s just get it out of the way: while Aerith is unquestionably beautiful in her own right, Tifa’s design draws its appeal from a sexier standpoint, accentuated further by her light wardrobe consisting of a tank top and mini skirt. Many people have celebrated this look for breaking away from the classic mold of lithe, robe-wearing women from past titles in favor of a more urban and daring look that is pleasing to look at but also inspires a confident, take-no-prisoners female fighter.
But the double-edged sword to Tifa’s old look is that it completely misinterprets the actual character; the average person unfamiliar with Final Fantasy VII would often label Tifa as a flirtatious “slutty” character (and even those that have like to stigmatize her with this label anyway, particularly if they’re hardcore Aerith-lovers). Especially damaging was the size of her breasts, which went far beyond the originally intended size due to Square’s inexperience with CG technology, resulting in some grossly disproportionate FMV scenesthat were meant to be taken seriously. Years of suggestive fan-art, horribly written fanfiction and Japanese doujins have thus flooded the hard drives of horny gamers everywhere. While you can’t put all the blame on the CG, as FFVII still remains the most popular RPG of all time regardless, it’s added an unfortunate disservice to such a well-conceived character.
Which is why her updated design in the sequel film Advent Children remains one of the most positive and welcome aspects in Square’s Compilation of Final Fantasy VII. Whether a symbolic sign of maturity after the events of the first game, or an attempt by Nomura to have fans look at her in a different light (namely, getting their eyes to focus back on her face), Tifa has the honor of being one of the very few videogame heroines to end up wearing more clothing in the sequel, as well as a more plausibly proportionate figure that is still sexy, but also draws attention to her other features. Simply put, the more modest makeover has made her far more attractive than her original look.
But even that old tank-top and skirt look has gotten a nip/tuck as well, with Square offering us a glimpse of her potential model for the long-rumored (and ultimately inevitable) FFVII Remake. Her recent inclusion in the upcoming sequel to Dissidia has resulted in yet another redesign, adding a greater emphasis to her muscle tone and hips while subtracting from more “obvious” places; She still doesn’t look like someone who could beat Barret in arm wrestling, but at least she looks like someone who does work out.
While there’s no rule that says videogame heroines have to be below a certain cup size or dressed a certain way in order to be taken seriously, in a medium that is littered with bluntly obvious sex objects like Mai Shranui, the DOA girls, and Lara Croft (although even she seems to have finally come out of a successful surgery), it was always unfortunate for Tifa to be lumped together with those kind of “women”. It took about ten years, but it’s safe to say that Tifa is your favorite character without someone rolling their eyes with a “I wonder why” rebuttal.
Girl Power: One thing that can definitely be agreed upon is that Tifa is indeed powerful; whereas most Final Fantasy heroins are either masters of magic and/or swordsmanship, Tifa was the first female character to utilize martial arts, a trait that is usually reserved for male party members like FFVI’s Sabin (not counting FFV’s gender-neutral job system). In battle this usually led to exaggerated, often superhuman situation, including the ability to suplex monsters as big as houses with ease, as well as channeling an aura of pure energy into an explosive punch, to having a dolphin appear out of thin air in the middle of a deadly combo. Her beautifully choreographed battle against Loz has also been considered by many as the high point of Advent Children, and even (unofficially) recreated in a Korean music video.
But the strongest aspect about Tifa is her very character; she is as kind and friendly as Aerith, but doesn’t share her naivety. This sometimes has fans refering to her as a tomboy, but that statement isn’t accurate either. While she isn’t afraid to lecture her closest friends and mercilessly beat down her enemies, she also lacks Aerith’s confidence to be more open about her personal feelings, particularly the ones she shares for Cloud.
Tifa’s deep feelings for Cloud, which become a large focus for the second half of FFVII’s story, often has people accuse her of being “lovesick” and “clingy”. Personally speaking, I felt it portrayed the great lengths someone will travel for someone they love, as well as how they can share that person’s pain in an emotional level; the scene where Tifa reunites with Cloud as he lays comatose in a wheelchair, nearly devoid of all motor functions, in which her grief causes her to drop to her knees cursing the cruelty of it all is one of the most emotional and depressing moments in a game that is filled with many. Of particular note was her decision to leave the party, admitting that the crisis facing the planet no longer mattered to her, and choosing to stay by Cloud’s side instead. This of course is considered a selfish act, which she admits apologetically to her friends, but it goes a long way in defining her character, not as a champion of justice vowing to save the world, but an ordinary woman thrust into an impossible situation, forced to make her own decisions in order to protect herself and the people she cares about the most. The fact that those decisions don’t always turn up well shows that she is a flawed character, just like most of FFVII’s cast, but that’s also what makes her (and the others) so interesting.
Also of interest is her relationship with Cloud, who is also one of the most flawed protagonists ever conceived. While there are still plenty of Cloud/Aerith supporters, even after it’s become abundantly clear (and outright confirmed in several occasions) who the “true” couple in FFVII’s Love Triangle is, there is no doubt in my mind that Cloud and Tifa’s relationship is far more interesting, as it’s one built on personal insecurities along with a deeply-complex plot. As the two of them share what may be their final moment together, just before the final battle against Sephiroth, Cloud comes to terms with his feelings for Tifa, but still lacks the courage to say them outright. Knowing this, Tifa speaks her famous line that words aren’t always needed to express one’s feelings. The fact that the two of them can still deeply love one another despite their personal doubts and demons makes their relationship, in my personal opinion, the most heart-felt and well-written romance out of any Final Fantasy game ever made, if not RPGs period. With plans to continue their story one day, there is still hope that their love will be expressed in a more forward manner before the book closes on them forever (if it ever does).
Tifa has also been described by Nomura as “a person with many faces”, including “a mother, a lover, and a friend”. This, ultimately, is the reason I placed her above all other FF heroines. Where past female leads had a specific emotional crutch to overcome in their respective games, Tifa’s personality can not be defined to just one description; in one instance, she shows a loving maternal bond with Marlene, the next she’s pummeling her enemy’s face into the concrete in order to protect her. She establishes a close friendship with Aerith while also feeling jealously over her open advances toward Cloud. She doesn’t go through an emotional change because there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with her base personality; rather, she reacts appropriately depending on the situation and forms doubts about herself during the more dramatic consequences of her actions (such as an entire city block being destroyed just to take out the members of her group), and is often hard on herself as a result.
To put it simply (though I thank you for reading everything up to this point), Tifa is my favorite heroine because she’s believable, which is far more important than the fact that she is also beautiful as well as powerful. But since those aren’t negative traits either, they round out in creating who I believe to be the number one heroine in the Final Fantasy series.