Fan service is the horn in Square-Enix’s Side

Posted on Aug 16 2013 - 8:00am by Gabriel Zamora

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A few months back I had started putting together a piece on Chrono Trigger, an RPG released by Squaresoft back in 1995. Despite its resounding acclaim among RPG fans and critics alike, I never actually played the game until winter of last year – 2012 – over seventeen years after the game was originally released. Yet the game blew my mind, regardless. I was stunned at how much fun I was having with the gameplay, and how the story was straightforward, yet filled with humor, intrigue and tragedy. I had forgotten how much fun I had with Square’s old RPGs.

I was melancholy after finishing the game, to be honest. I didn’t want to jump on the “Square isn’t what it used to be” bandwagon, but I realized that there have been no Square-Enix-developed RPGs to leave a [positive] lasting impression on me since Final Fantasy XII back in 2006. And that game suffered from notable problems of its own.

The article was meant to harken back to the olden days of Squaresoft – when their RPGs were adventures filled with memorable characters and simple, but easily relate-able plots. A time where their game worlds were places a player could get lost in. When one could sit down and have fun, rather than nit-pick at the nonsense of the game’s mythos and characterization.

But I put the article on hiatus when E3 rolled around in June. Final Fantasy Versus XIII, one of the three games initially announced under the “Fabula Nova Crystallis” umbrella of games back in 2006, was finally, finally getting attention after seven years of near-complete silence from Square Enix. It was given a new name – Final Fantasy XV - and we were given a proper debut trailer and gameplay trailer. Kingdom Hearts III was revealed as officially under development – another series that hasn’t seen a proper numbered entry in over seven years.

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It seemed like Square-Enix was listening. They were giving me the content I was actually interested in, and I was genuinely excited for things to come.

And then I read about theseFamitsu and Dengeki interviews with Director Motomu Toriyama, Character Model Designer Nobuhiro Goto and Designer Masaru Suzuki about Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII – and I remembered what made me so melancholy in the first place. What valuable information can we glean from these interviews?

Boobs. Bigger, jigglier, and more pronounced than ever before. What’s that? You want to learn about the as-of-yet unrevealed “Wildlands” region of Lightning Returns? Why? Lightning’s bosom is clearly more important. They even give us pointers on how to maximize Lightning’s breast-jiggling. I wish I was joking.

Look. I’m not the most politically correct fellow around. I like huge, giggling boobs. I like big butts (and I cannot lie). I was secretly envious that Wii U and PS3 owners could jiggle the female protagonists’ breasts with their controllers, while Xbox 360 owners (like myself) got the shaft in Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge. I would abuse the targeting in Resident Evil 5 to get Sheva’s boobs to bounce around. And bounce they did. I also used her tribal costume all the time. I would make Fran the leader in Final Fantasy XII just to see her gloriously detailed butt-animation as she walked. I gave my Arisen and main pawn the biggest breast-size possible in Dragon’s Dogma. I’m playing as the Sorceress in Dragon’s Crown at the moment. Why? I’ll give you two magnificent guesses.

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I don’t actually mind these often-times gratuitous and sexualizing elements in my games. And I’m not sorry to admit that. I love fan-service, and I love when a developer acknowledges there are gamers out there (like myself) who do stupid and/or perverted things in their games, and throw in an Easter egg to make ‘em smile. What I do mind, is having a developer focus on the fan-service.

It’s one thing to add a bit of fan-service and turn a blind eye to what your fans do with it. It’s quite another when you give your fans pointers on how take advantage of the perverseness you’ve injected into your game. It’d be like having your father walk in to your room, handing you a Fleshlight and stack of Playboys, and giving you a wink and thumbs-up as he leaves. “Go get’em, tiger.” Yeah, thanks dad. And thank you too, Square-Enix.

While I don’t want to point fingers, it seems that director Motomu Toriyama has a soft-spot for fan-service, to the point where I feel he designs games around fan-service.

I’m of the opinion that Final Fantasy X did not need a sequel. It was its own self-contained story, and while I appreciate the engaging and fast-paced gameplay of Final Fantasy X-2, I feel it did nothing but sully an already flawed entry in the Final Fantasy series. (No, I did not like Final Fantasy X very much.)

Final Fantasy X-2 was the first time I felt that Square-Enix was pandering to a specific crowd, rather than making a game that appealed to everyone. The entire world of Final Fantasy X shifted perspective, with a focus on the younger, “hipper,” characters. Teens Yuna, Rikku and Paine were the central protagonists, and it seemed like any character over twenty was an unimportant fossil who would break their own hips if they so much as tried to participate in the narrative. Powerful established organizations within the game world, like the Crusaders, Yevon and the Al Bhed, were now led by snotty, over-dressed, fashion-reject kids. Suddenly, Final Fantasy turned into a video game for the Shōjo and Shōnen audience.

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And then we get to the “Dresspheres.” Final Fantasy X-2 reintroduced the “job” system of earlier Final Fantasy games, where each job had specific and unique attacks and abilities, through a system called Dresspheres. The gist is, Yuna, Rikku and Paine could switch between jobs (gaudy dresses) mid-combat, through silly and lengthy Sailor Moon-esque outfit-changing animations. Because combat was so dynamic, players would want to switch between combat roles regularly to maximize their offense, which meant lots of silly dress transitions.

No, Square-Enix. I don’t want to see awkward half-naked dress-switching during gameplay. Yes, it makes me uncomfortable. As fuck.

Sadly, it seems that this transition – this focus on the otaku crowd – is here to stay. Yoshinori Kitase explained Square-Enix’s focus on the younger demographic during an interview with Edge Magazine prior to the release of Final Fantasy XIII. In short, Square-Enix intends to stay focused on the younger generation of gamers. If you keep playing their games when you grow out of the target demographic, then great! But if you actually expect them to mature their storytelling for your sake, tough luck. Final Fantasy simply isn’t for you.

The 3rd Birthday, released back in 2011 for the Sony PSP, had female protagonist Aya Brea’s clothing tear as she took damage. From a story perspective, this made absolutely no sense. She isn’t physically present in the gameplay areas – rather she possesses soldiers and fights through them, according to the narrative. Her clothing and ridiculous outfits and costumes were created solely as fan-service. So having these non-existent articles of clothing get damaged at all is beyond silly. What made this really awkward was that her clothing could get tattered to an obscene degree – some outfits would be reduced to strips of flimsy cloth barely covering Aya’s goodies.

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And of course, let’s not forget the shower-scene easter egg that you are rewarded with if you fulfill every bonus objective within a mission in The 3rd Birthday.

But you know what? I wouldn’t have cared about the cosmetic damage or the stupid costumes (or even the shameless shower scene). What amazes me is the fact that this seemingly unimportant aesthetic feature was given so much thought and presence in The 3rd Birthday. Go to the official The 3rd Birthday website. The clothing-damage feature is listed under gameplay elements, right between her “Overdive” ability and character progression. The fan-service is just as important as actual gameplay or story, apparently. Yes, the different outfits are meant to give Aya different defensive perks. In my experience, the defensive bonuses were negligible.

Now, I’ll admit, The 3rd Birthday had a laundry-list of problems that plagued the experience, the least of which was the shameless perv-pandering. But I can’t help but feel that the development team’s efforts could have been better used towards improving the gameplay and story narrative, rather than focusing on completely unnecessary fan-service.

While we’re on the subject of unnecessary things to focus on, do you know Snow’s shoe size? Snow, being one of the protagonists of Final Fantasy XIII, and Lightning’s foil. Who gives a damn, you say? Well, Square-Enix, apparently. “Mr 33cm,” was Snow’s nickname prior to his official reveal, as referred to by character designer Tetsuya Nomura. Why he chose to mention this explicitly during an interview, I have no idea. I imagine Nomura thought it was important enough to know.

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In any case, Lightning Returns once again makes playing dress-up a major gameplay element. Each schema (role) gives protagonist Lightning a new look, in addition to granting her new abilities in combat. Does anyone else notice how dress-up gameplay elements are only ever important when females are the central protagonist of the game? Aya Brea in The 3rd Birthday, Yuna, Rikku and Paine in Final Fantasy X-2, and Lightning in Lightning Returns. Coincidentally, these three games were directed by Motomu Toriyama.

But even if the focus on costumes wasn’t shameless pandering, how does one explain Lightning’s boob-job? Did the God Bhunivelze enhance her bosom? What for? Are they magical now? Does she even notice that her bosom is a cup-size larger? Maybe side-character Hope, (who has somehow reverted to his teenage form from Final Fantasy XIII) will notice and comment on Lightning’s… enhancements. Or maybe Snow will.

Aww, who am I kidding? I know exactly what’s going to happen – nothing. Lightning’s breasts are larger, because TITS. No character will acknowledge her larger breasts in the slightest, because the change to her bust was done for the benefit of the player, and not for the sake of the narrative.

Perverts are going to perv. We all know that. I expect better from the developer, though. A little integrity goes a long way, and I get none of that from the Famitsu and Dengeki interviews.

Square-Enix made Lightning’s breasts bigger. Why? To appeal to pervs and otaku? They’ve added jiggle physics? Again, why? To appeal to pervs and otaku? They’re giving us tips on how get the best view of Lightning’s new jiggly bosom? Why would you tell us this? Why would you think it would be okay to share this information with a news publication, and your fanbase? How morally bankrupt do you have to be to deliberately exploit your character sexually?

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Look at the Miqo’te outfit Lightning is wearing. Look at her pose. Does that seem like Lightning at all, personality-wise? I’ll admit, the characterization in the Final Fantasy XIII games has been piss-poor and spotty to date. But if there’s one thing Lightning has not been, it’s a cam-whore. Yet that is exactly what she’s being depicted as in Lightning Returns. What’s next? Duck-lips Lightning? She’s been relatively sexless aside from a few subtle quirks (like her belly-button piercing), so seeing her depicted like this is jarring, bizarre, and a little creepy. Yes, I understand that she’s doing the Miqo’te victory pose from Final Fantasy XIV, and it’s supposed to be fan-service. It doesn’t make it any less ridiculous or out-of-character.

As I’ve no doubt clearly established earlier, I’m no prude. I have no problem with a female character who is depicted as sexual and seductive. Bayonetta comes to mind, and Bayonetta is one of my all-time favorite female characters. The difference is that Bayonetta has, since her inception, always been a sexual creature. And despite her flirting and sexual flaunting, Bayonetta has always been a female in control of her sexuality. She taunts her enemies with seductive poses, and challenges them to touch her, knowing full well that they’re far too slow and incompetent to ever keep up. She dances around the battlefield and has the time of her life teasing, but it’s obvious that she does it purely for her own pleasure – she teases and taunts and flirts because she loves it – it’s for no one’s benefit but her own. We, as the player, get to enjoy watching Bayonetta enjoy herself – but she’s not posing and flaunting herself for our sake.

Lightning has never been portrayed like this in any way. She has always been reserved and calculating. Beautiful, but never in a flirty way. She has never flaunted her looks prior to Lightning Returns. Who is she coyly staring at in that Miqo’te screenshot? Who is she leaning over and posing for? Clearly, she’s posing for the camera. For the viewer. For us. Her “Sorceress” role has an awkward victory pose as well, with Lightning holding her arms over her head and smiling for the camera.

It feels like Square-Enix is selling out.

I can’t stomach how they have compromised a character’s established personality and design for the sake of fan-service. And this isn’t the first time this has happened, either. Aya Brea was completely and utterly bastardized in The 3rd Birthday – she behaves nothing like Aya Brea did in past Parasite Eve games. Oh, there are very legitimate (and utterly stupid) narrative reasons for why her character was rewritten. But what it boils down to, essentially, is that Aya Brea didn’t appeal to Square-Enix’s target demographic, so they remade her for the purposes of the game. Basch fon Ronsenburg, the grizzled and betrayed original protagonist of Final Fantasy XII, was supplanted by Vaan, a young pretty-boy street-rat, to better appeal to Square-Enix’s target demographic.

I actually liked how Lightning had b-cup breasts and relatively thin legs. Sure, you wouldn’t see her in a Victoria Secret ad, but she was attractive and natural. Not that having large breasts is a bad thing, but changing her physical appearance just reeks of a lack of direction and integrity. Nothing is sacred anymore. What’s next? How about a nude Tifa DLC skin for Dissidia? I’m sure that would sell like hotcakes. Or is that somehow too exploitative? If you keep lowering the bar, Square Enix, you are eventually going to hit rock bottom.

When looking at Lightning in that Miqo’te screenshot, I just can’t shake the mental image of old Japanese men salivating and licking their lips in between malicious grins as they stare wide-eyed and hungry, flexing their fingers, ready to cop at feel (at the very least) of their enhanced cyber-beauty. And It makes me really uncomfortable.

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Gabriel Zamora is a freelance writer, ghost writer and hardcore video gamer. He has contributed written works for 2D-X, Examiner and MultiplayerGames among other sites.

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