Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Surprisingly Sexual Pixels (or — The Lady, or the Old Homosexual?)

When I last wrote about Squaresoft, the purveyor of countless adventures for indoors children (1987 to present), I explained the awkwardness of Square’s Tom Sawyer, a Nintendo Entertainment System title. Despite the success that Final Fantasy would find across the Pacific and despite the fact that Mark Twain’s characters made the game an easy sell to Americans, Square’s Tom Sawyer remained in Japan. And while we can’t be sure why, the blatantly racist depiction of Jim probably didn’t help.

Today, it’s another Squaresoft title that never reached American shores and that also dealt with themes that American gamers at the time would have found surprising.

Between February and May 1996, Squaresoft released the last few games for the Super Famicom, the Japanese equivalent of the Super Nintendo. Of them, only one would make it here, and among the ones that didn’t was Bahamut Lagoon, a spin-off of the Final Fantasy series that introduced military simulation elements in a way that sort of makes it a forerunner to Final Fantasy Tactics. (In fact, according to the Final Fantasy Wiki, Bahamut Lagoon was originally going to be called Final Fantasy Tactics.) Also, there’s a bunch of dragons. You know — like you do. But this post isn’t about war strategy or dragons. Nope, it’s about sexuality.

In the game, you control your standard non-speaking protagonist. And while there’s a princess to be fussed over — a princess named Yoyo, unfortunately — there’s also an older gentleman, Sendak, who is wise but doddery and who is skilled in magic.

And he’s also gay. And that’s surprising to me.

Full disclosure: I haven’t played Bahamut Lagoon, but I had some awareness ever since a spread in Diehard Gamefan teased it back in the day as “AWESOME GAME YOU’LL NEVER PLAY, YOU MONOLINGUAL LOSER!” or something to that effect. And I can’t remember how I ended up reading about it, but I learned that this one character was either outright gay or just unusually, specifically interested in the hero to the point that he makes increasingly obvious passes at him over the course of the game. Most discussions about the game mention this in one way or another, and they should: Gay or apparently gay characters in video games still aren’t that common today, to say nothing of games released in 1996.

Now, if that weren’t strange enough, here’s the kicker about gay ol’ Sendak and his constant propositions: You have the option whether to rebuff him. As TV Tropes points, out, “Sure, it’s played for laughs (as is most romantic character interaction in the game), but for a 90s Squaresoft SNES game, it's downright revolutionary.”

And, unless I’m mistaken, you have to be nice to the old guy at the expense of being nice to Princess Yoyo — which, I mean… her name is fucking Yoyo. (If any of you have firsthand experience with choosing or rejecting homosexuality, lemme know how that works out.)

In conclusion, two asterisks that didn’t fit anywhere else.

First, Sendak’s name. It is odd that the older gay man would share his name with a famous author who himself was gay, yes? But I have to assume that it’s a coincidence, because Maurice Sendak wasn’t openly gay until after 1996, and even during the kerfuffle about indecency in In the Night Kitchen seems to stem from the fact that there was a nudity in a children’s book at all and not just that nudity in a children’s book written and illustrated by a man who might have been gay. Or did it?

Second — and this is a short but important one — this game is freaking beautiful. Yes, it sometimes veers toward the kind of saturated multicolor you’d normally see on wolf-howling-at-the-moon t-shirt, but it’s still truly remarkable what the designers were able to achieve with a fourth-generation console.

Video game obscurities, previously:

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