Thursday, November 30, 2006

She's a Viking Now

So this is apropos of nothing, really, but what on my blog ever is?

I bought Final Fantasy 3 for the Nintendo DS. Disregard all preconceptions you may have about a game series with the words “final” and “fantasy” in the title. When I was younger, the few Final Fantasy games Nintendo actually translated for American audiences were a major part of my recreational hours. This game, however, is one you may have seen advertised on TV recently. It’s not the new one for the Playstation 2, which I won’t play and which looks like it was cast with a bunch of actors from the CW. No, this is the one being advertised at the one Final Fantasy never before available in the United States. I’ve had some awareness of this game for more than a decade, and being fashioned in the old school kind of greatness that early 90s video games often are, playing it is a nice way to be back in touch with something I forgot I loved. The game, of course, received a graphical facelift and looks like it could have been invented today. But at its heart are good, solid play mechanics that aren’t weighed down by the apparent desire of the developers to re-invent the wheel that so often make new games pretty to look at but dull to play.

The developer, the venerable Square Enix, also decided to improve the game’s story by making the four playable characters into actual people, with a name, a face and a personality. In the original incarnation, the four playable characters were these silent, identical ciphers that only swing swords and opened treasure chests. In this go-around, there’s a main character and three others — his fellow orphan friend, a rebellious girl and an older military-type guy — whom he meets shortly into his journey. They talk about things, argue among themselves and, in a way, seem a little beset to take on the kind of stereotypical epic quest that ends in saving the world. (Really, wouldn’t you be?) Like in the version 1.0, however, these four still share the same physical attributes, and over the course of the game the player can change their class to all manner of strangely-costumed jobs in order to complete the game in whatever fashion the player wishes.

Now, this is where my weird ideas kick in.

In a world of knights and wizards and thieves and ninjas and all that, I’m assuming the natural tendency would be to make the main character and the military-type guy the physical powerhouses, and leave the healing magic and wizardry to the other two, solely on account of the fact that one is a girl — and we all know girls can’t fight — and the other, who looks strikingly feminine, is introduced as being timid. Personalities aside, the characters are still identical, however. So I take a strange sort of pleasure in making the latter two characters change into various buff classes — currently, she’s an axe-toting Viking and he’s knight — while the other two are the classes typically viewed as physical weaker, what with the responsibility for healing and helping the axe- and sword-swingers and all. I’d imagine most players — especially male players — would stick the sole girl character as a healer or, if they could, a new class where she attacks with frying pans and vacuums and Lee Press-On Nails. And it’s strange, because by virtue of being a one-player game, no one else will ever interact with my little take on the characters. Nonetheless, on some level, I feel like I’m subverting the rules of gender politics.

I mean seriously — the girl is a Viking. That’s got to count for something.

And even if nobody else knows what the hell I'm talking about, Meg H. at least will appreciate this.


  1. Anonymous1:48 PM

    Well at least Nintendo gave you the option this time of being able to make the girl the strong one. Unlike Smash Bros. where Peach actually fights with a frying pan. The only thing better would have been if they made her do the laundry of the other players after every match.


  2. Anonymous3:04 PM

    I noticed that too. In FF Tactics (PSX), female soldiers come equipped with significantly less strength and bravery points, which significantly affects their physical ability on the battlefield.

    But then, in FF Tactics Advance (DS), some of the best physically-oriented job classes are reserved exclusively for the female characters. So now I direct a phalanx of lady assassins, and have no male characters aside from the main one.

    I need to check out some of the older ones before I can formulate a set opinon on this.

    And regarding Peach, it seems to me she's weighed very heavily when it comes to power, and yet retains the agility of the smaller characters. She may fight with domestic objects, but she's still probably the single best character in the game, short of Captain Falcon.

    Is this a fair trade-off? I'm not sure. But at least her external, delicately feminine appearance doesn't mirror her actual capabilities.

    But I'm going to stop now, before I end up outblogging the length of your post.

  3. Anonymous1:32 AM

    To add, FF2 also has levels of customization that allow you to break the mold. I'm not sure if the fact that they are characters is new or anything, but the characters don't exactly level up, they just improve whatever skill you happen to use the most. So while the female main character starts out an obvious back line fighter, based on her starting stats, she doesn't have to remain that way if you put her in front and make her swing a sword enough times.

    Also, what is CW? I admit I don't particularly like how pretty they made the main character of the latest FF. I keep expecting him to want to stop the fighting to get his highlights redone.

  4. Anonymous1:57 AM

    Well, I found out what the CW is. And I find it somewhat shocking that I watch so little TV that a major network renamed itself and I didn't notice. I had no idea I was that out of the loop.