Video Games: Final Fantasy VII’s Female Characters Then and Now

Screenshot of Aerith Gainsborough from ‘Final Fantasy VII Remake’. Copyright goes to Square Enix.

Hey! Hallie here!

I’ve been thinking a lot about Square Enix and their female representation recently. Earlier this week I made a post about how disappointed I was when I returned to ‘Kingdom Hearts’ after a few years of not playing it. One of the reasons I was so disappointed was because of the female characters. None of them are good. The ‘Final Fantasy’ games haven’t fared much better. While you’ll get a good female character on occasion, the most recent ‘Final Fantasy’ game, ‘Final Fantasy XV’, had four awful female characters that demonstrated just how far Square Enix still has to go. Of the four characters, Lunafreya dies halfway through the game to further the main character’s plot, Cindy is a scantily clad mechanic meant to be eye candy, Iris is a largely useless character who spends every battle healing the main characters (All are male), and Aranea is dressed in armor that is clearly not very functional. When the ‘Final Fantasy VII’ remake was announced, I was kind of on the fence about it. I didn’t have high hopes that Square Enix would change some of the more problematic things that were included in the characterization of the female characters in the first game, nor did I believe Square Enix was going to make any sort of progress on their female characters in general. But I ended up really liking the female characters in this game. Let’s go through the characters and what changed to make them so good.

Tifa:

Let’s get the most glaring thing out of the way first. In the first game, and multiple appearances of the character afterwards, Tifa had a comically large bust. Her entire outfit was also ridiculously designed to call attention to her exaggerated features. She wore a small white crop top, and a black miniskirt to call attention to her long legs. Considering that Tifa is a close combat fighter who’s specialty is boxing, it isn’t hard to realize how absurd her entire outfit is. Her new outfit isn’t completely better, they still wanted to stay true to the original design, but there are significant improvements. Her crop top is given a black underlayer that prevents it from being too thin or showing off her bust. Her bust size has also been made more reasonable. Though the miniskirt is still present, she’s also given long black socks that give her a little more coverage. It isn’t bad considering everything they wanted to do to keep the outfit recognizable. As for Tifa herself, there are definitely some changes. In the first game Tifa stays behind from Avalanche missions for reasons that are pretty unknown. She’s shown as a motherly figure to Marlene who stays behind to watch her. Her entire motivation to leave and join Cloud is more about her affection for Cloud than anything else. In the remake, Tifa stays behind from Avalanche missions because she’s conflicted about the destruction they cause. But she still wholeheartedly believes in what they do and remains ready to fight to protect them and their beliefs. Tifa’s connection to Cloud is still present, but she has other motivations she’s willing to fight for. She also doesn’t bring up his childhood promise to protect her nearly as often, which is a nice change.

Aerith:

Aerith has no major design issues. She does, however, fall neatly into a pretty large stereotype in the first game. While she does fight, she’s pretty clearly the sweet, helpless girl who needs protection. While she playfully gives Cloud the position of her bodyguard in both games, it’s pretty clear that she needs one in the first game. In fact, she mentions to Cloud on multiple occasions how grateful she is to have someone there who will make sure nothing harms her. Aerith also dies to further Cloud’s story. She dies while Cloud has pretty obvious feelings for her so that Cloud can be all angsty about it. In the new game there’s an interaction that you can randomly get before entering a battle that sums up Cloud and Aerith’s relationship pretty well. Cloud says, “I’ll protect you”. Aerith responds with “I’m pretty good at protecting myself, you know”. She doesn’t need the help but she knows that Cloud’s help couldn’t hurt, and that Cloud is pretty messed up and needs someone to understand him. She encourages him to interact with the people of her village, and employs him herself, because she knows that he needs the interaction. She’s pretty badass too. The entire fight between Cloud and Reno she stays on the sidelines, but only to yell at them about how they’re trampling her flowers. She later fights with Cloud against Rude and refuses to let him give her directions. She also competes with Cloud in the arena in Wall Market, a scenario that doesn’t happen in the first game, and is just as highly praised as Cloud. There are even portions of the game where Tifa and Aerith go off on their own, in which case the player takes control of Aerith. On top of all that, it seems her premature death will be completely avoidable in this new continuity.

Jessie:

There isn’t much to say about Jessie in the original game. Jessie’s just one of the members of Avalanche. She has a cool design, and it’s nice that another woman is involved in Avalanche, but she’s given mostly nothing. She’s given the background that she was once an actress and then she dies in the early stages of the game, eliminating one of the only female characters. Jessie is given a personality in the remake. She flirts with Cloud because it’s fun, but she’s pretty clear that it’s mostly playful banter. There’s an entire mission added into the story where you learn about her parents, visit her house, and help her come up with plans for her next bombs. She also struggles with guilt over how much her last bomb destroyed despite her calculations, and claims full responsibility for the entire situation though she isn’t completely at fault. Her death is also implied to be fixable in the new continuity, which would give the series yet another major female character. The remake gave us an entire personality for Jessie that I hope we’ll be able to continue to explore in the future.

Square Enix made some major strides with these characters, especially compared to some of their recent releases. The remake is taking the entire story much more slowly, so it’s pretty natural that the characters are receiving a bit more personality than they had before. But they took care to avoid and contradict some of the harmful aspects of these characters that were present from the first game. I’m excited to see what they do with the other female characters we haven’t seen yet. Particularly Yuffie, who’s considered one of the most annoying video game characters of all time. I’m not completely convinced that Square Enix has changed or that we won’t see more setbacks from them in the future. But I can’t deny how much I appreciate the steps forward they took in ‘Final Fantasy VII Remake’.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

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