Mushroom Soup For The Pixelated Soul
A couple of weeks ago, I was surprised to find that Final Fantasy fansite Gloriosa had closed down. For years I had used the site as my own personal resource for obtaining the largest and highest-quality screenshots taken from the many cutscenes and FMV sequences littered throughout the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII.
Even more surprising was the written reason for shutting down; apparently the site owner had become fed up with Square’s latest portrayal of Parasite Eve heroine Aya Brea in The 3rd Birthday, the PSP sequel that was recently released in Japan and will soon find its way stateside. The accusation of Square becoming “fanservice-oriented” is a familiar one that I’ve read about elsewhere from other jaded fans about 3rd Birthday’s system of incorporating torn clothing along with a bevy of impractical outfits Aya will be forced to adorn.
While personally I feel the outrage over 3rd Birthday’s dress-up feature is a bit overblown, despite not having played the game (the ending spoiler, on the other hand, most certainly sounds like a very, very bad idea, one that I can only hope will be undone should another PE game be made), I do understand where folks are coming from; in this age where a massive chunk of female videogame characters (particularly from Japanese games) are heavily sexualized in both design and concept to an almost embarrassing degree (you should have heard the collective gasps echoing in my house during a party when I selected Ivy in Soul Calibur IV), older gamers have been clamoring for more strong-willed, plausibly-clothed female characters as proof that not all games are catered to budding teenagers who lack their own private PC (by which I mean “porn collection”).
The subject is particularly resonating with me lately, as Dissidia 012: Final Fantasy has recently hit Japanese stores last week. Even though the West is just a few weeks away from receiving its own English version (kudos to Square for the speedy localization; lord knows they need to rebuild fan confidence whenever possible), that hasn’t stopped videos from hitting the net, made easier thanks to the game’s saved replay feature. Of particular note are the ripped character models from the Prologus demo, showcasing nearly all of the animations and costumes for many of the new playable characters.
When Tifa was announced as one of the first new playable characters for Dissidia’s sequel (that’s actually a prequel), I was overjoyed. As my most desired character for the first game, I was just as disappointed as the rest of her fans for being left out of the first FF free-for-all. You’d think one of the very few actual fighters from the franchise would be given priority in an FF fighting game. Regardless, her confirmation for Dissidia 012 already assured that the newest additions would meet my expectations (although I was equally elated to see that Laguna and Prishe were also included, along with a few other female characters to help fix the first game’s predominantly male ratio).
And yet, I wasn’t quite as excited about the “enhancements” Square made with Dissidia’s graphics. Specifically, the game now features breast jiggling. Guess which character they had in mind with this?
Now keep in mind, the jiggling physics in itself are mild, almost unnoticeable even. Prevalent only in her opening and victory poses, the bouncing boobs don’t come even close to the kind of water-bed wobbling seen in other games like Dead or Alive or Soul Calibur. In fact, the recent Kingdom Hearts spin-off Birth By Sleep featured similar jiggling with its newest female character Aqua (how they managed to sneak in something like that past the Disney execs, I honestly do not know). In all honesty, I’ve often found myself in favor of implementing breast physics from a purely aesthetic standpoint, as recent games like Final Fantasy XIII (along with the CG film Advent children) actually suffered from Uncanny Valley due to the lack of breast bouncing; if someone like Vanille is going to hop around in a top that tiny, there needs to be some momentum going on. It’s all for the sake of gravity.
The problem I have with Dissidia’s inclusion is that Square is adding more fuel to a fire that should have burnt out by the end of the 90’s. Since her debut in the original Final Fantasy VII, Tifa Lockhart had become one of the most popular and widely-known characters in the franchise’s history, appealing to a mass market of casual gamers whose interests don’t usually fall into RPGs. The same of course applies to main hero Cloud, along with the game as a whole. For many people, it was the first time the words “Final Fantasy” became relevant to their gaming lives.
Unfortunately, not everyone likes the character for her strong personality and stronger martial art skills. Jump into virtually any gaming form where the subject comes up, and you’ll have a plethora of people posting about their anonymous fantasies about the virtual character while also pondering how she manages to move around with “breasts so massive and heavy”. Type up “Tifa” in a Google Image Search and at least half the pictures will be pornographic in nature, or at least titillating to the point that you wouldn’t want to be caught at work looking at it. This is not even counting the almost endless amount of fan-art (both from Japan and the West) or fanfiction that depicts Tifa doing (or being done by) every single man, woman, child, dog, or monster that has ever existed in FFVII, if not beyond the very game she came from.
Of course, I’m not being truly prudent with all that. The rule of thumb (or as known in the internet, Rule 34) is that if something or someone is really popular, there’s going to be porn of it. As one of the most popular games of all time, transcending even the Final Fantasy series itself in notoriety, it’s to be expected that there would be lewd material out there. Plus, it’s obvious enough that the character’s design was made to titillate in some fashion. As a male gamer myself, I can say without shame that Tifa is, in fact, quite titillating. That’s not the issue here.
The issue is that even during straight-up discussions, the character has often been accused of having no relevance beyond her curvaceous frame, to the point that some people consider it a negative trait that eliminates any possibility of taking her seriously at all. Folks who hold Aerith with the same amount of reverence usually pit her character against Tifa’s as an obsessed fan debate of “Angel vs Slut”, particularly for those who demand the former as Cloud’s one true love interest. While on the opposite end of the spectrum, other folks along with gaming websites who do look back at Tifa with fond memories tend to list her “sex appeal” as her most positive trait, stating that she is “the de facto sex symbol of the entire Final Fantasy series.” Truthfully speaking, that doesn’t sound like a compliment. If anything else, it’s like giving a lifetime achievement award to a porn star.
I’ve written before how I consider Tifa to be the best written female character in Final Fantasy history. For a series filled with characters (both male and female) that I hold with such high esteem, that’s not a statement I make lightly. Even with the now-primitive 3D graphics and somewhat mangled translation, I could see the strengths of the character brought forth as I played; when she suffered, I felt actual sadness. When she kicked butt, I cheered. When she was given a chance to spend a romantic night with the hero that she truly loved, I felt touched. No one debates that it’s impossible to feel an emotional chord strike with fictional characters, or we wouldn’t have so many people admitting to bursting out tears when Aerith died.
But despite that, I also can’t argue that the technical depiction of Tifa in the game proved quite damaging to the character. Whether intentional or not, virtually every instance of the character during the FMV scenes emphasized a ludicrous amount of detail on her assets. Coupled with a few rather demeaning moments in the story, including an out-of-place slap fight and more than a few suggestive dialog options and you can’t really blame the average teenager for taking things the “wrong” way. And it’s not like FFVII was the only game guilty of whoring out its women in such a way.
But that’s all in the past now; as I’ve mentioned many times before, one of the biggest positives about Square’s FFVII revival with Advent Children wasn’t just reuniting the characters we all adored back in 1997, but reintroducing them with a more mature, more realistic look that befitted the leaps in CG technology. No one benefited more from the cast’s new makeover than Tifa, who now sported a more proportional (but still quite sexy) body type along with a more modest (but still form fitting) attire. Official comments about the film’s development mentioned the great care Square’s artists took with Tifa’s new look, intent on depicting her in a more serious look that did justice to her character, but still retaining her gorgeous features.
They succeeded completely. Fans focused less on her bosom and more on her bad-ass brawling, often citing her pivotal fight scene as the greatest moment in the entire film (which is saying quite a bit considering the epic 10 minute finale with Cloud and Sephiroth). Her official promo image turned up nearly as many hits on Google as real celebrities at the time, and her new threads were universally cosplayed with professional results. Her subsequent appearances in titles like Kingdom Hearts were handled just as well, earning more praise from fans (and even converting former naysayers). While this didn’t stop the consistent amount of erotic fan-art (again, popularity will do that), it at least resulted in a revamp to be proud of.
That’s why her latest appearance in Dissidia feels like a step backwards. No sooner than the newest videos crop up that folks instantly zeroed in on the jiggling juggs, populating YouTube comments and the like. While normally I would just shrug off such comments, as it tends to be the norm for un-modderated venues like YouTube, it almost feels like Square Enix is encouraging fanboys this time around; recently, news broke out about Dissidia 012’s ESRB rating, which revealed the in-game text about using the model viewer to “zoom in on Tifa’s cleavage!”. While the line could be seen as a simple jab that’s meant to be humorous instead of hurtful (the previous Dissidia featured a similar suggestive line about looking up Terra’s dress), between that and the jiggle physics, I can’t help but wonder exactly what Square wants its fans to think of Ms. Lockhart as a character. Looking back, for almost every classy depiction they release with her, there’s always a more suggestive iteration released in tandem.
Again, none of that should be a big deal on its own; fanservice is fanservice, and it’s something nearly every videogame character with a vagina must go through. Be it Chun-Li, Samus, or even Princess Peach, there’s hardly ever a female character that doesn’t have her own brand of official merchandise. Heck, just be happy Square doesn’t go the Evangelion route and release full-body pillows of their characters (although they would certainly make a killing doing so). And it’s not like she’s the only FF female reduced to such pandering either (the recent explosion of fan-art centering around FFIV’s Rydia almost suggests she’s the newer, younger model to replace Tifa in Japan’s perverted preferences).
But once more, the big problem here is that also feels like the fanbase wants Tifa to be looked at this way; for every comment showing outrage over Aya’s exploding jeans or Lightning’s new pants-less armor, there are almost as many comments demanding that Tifa be exploited further; heck, many fanboys were outraged her breasts weren’t big enough from her official Dissidia artwork. Does the amount of fanboys who want Tifa whored out outnumber the amount of those who want to take her as a serious, well-written paragon of female empowerment? It’s something I can’t help but ponder, and I also can’t help but worry over which side Square wants to cater more towards. It does seem that whenever she’s in Nomura’s hands, Tifa is handled with full respect (judging by her AC and KH appearances), and since he’s not the director of Dissidia, perhaps he shouldn’t be blamed for this recent turn of events. Then again, this is the same guy who put Rikku in a thong, so who’s to really say?
Perhaps the whole thing is just an overblown mess that requires no further thinking; I have faith that from a story perspective, Tifa will be handled with every bit of respect and confidence as she has been for her last several appearances, just as the rest of the new female cast who will band together against the forces of Chaos in the newest story mode. I have also been informed that the jiggling isn’t exclusive to Tifa either, as Yuna is apparently a victim of the newest physics as well. I would greatly prefer this over one character being singled out in the fanservice department.
Still, I doubt Yuna will get nearly as much attention, as Tifa’s jiggling is not only prominently featured in her win pose, but is also depicted in a continuous loop.
So once again, I wonder exactly how “damaging” this will end up, and I also wonder if this is the start of a slippery, fanservice-filled slope that Square Enix is heading, as feared by Gloriosa’s webmaster above. When the inevitable Remake and/or Sequel to FFVII finally surfaces, I want to look at Tifa with the same admiration and fondness as I would with Cloud, Aerith, and the rest of my favorite RPG cast of characters. Sure, she’s easy on the eyes, as are most of the franchise’s female leads, but that shouldn’t be her defining trait, just as no one labels heroines like Wonder Woman, Xena, or Jean Grey in a similar fashion despite all of them possessing the Most Common Superpower.
I’m certain I’m not alone in saying that Tifa deserves better than this, Square Enix. If you guys can manage to do the impossible and give Lara Croft a respectable (not to mention realistic) new look, you can make sure not to do the opposite with one of your most beloved characters.