game, video games

Women Labor: Final Fantasy XV’s ‘Hidden’ Feminism

 [Note: Major spoilers for Final Fantasy XV.]

Telling the story of three bodyguards and their charge, the last remaining king of Insomnia, Final Fantasy XV spends most of its plot following the misadventures of Noctus and his friends as they make their way across the landscape, collect ancient weapons, and finally confronting the cause of the demon uprising that has plagued the world for thousands of years. Throughout this, the game reiterates the construction of masculinity as the pull toward more power and the way it can, if not diffused across allies for support, corrupt a person into a monster of complete darkness. The way of being a “man,” shows FFXV at its climax, is leadership through working together and always supporting your friends, even if it might mean your own death. Yet, despite this often-overt emphasis on masculinity as the sole source of strength and resilience, there is a ‘hidden,’ if potentially overwhelming, bastion of femininity and far stronger women in the game, its world, and as the basis for its cosmology. Although, as FFXV seems to support as its narrative focus, it is men who “finish” things, it is the women of who performed the hard labor of support, held back the darkness, and helped those who have fallen from their paths.

Following the call of Royster and Kirsch (2012) in Feminist Rhetorical Practices to engage in a critical imagination as a way of “think[ing] between above, around, and beyond” the assumptions of evidence, an examination of who “labors” in FFXV immediately disconnects the four protagonists from the actual work around them (p. 71). Although often presented as the heroes who defeat the monstrous threats before them, in each case a woman has either prepared the way, bestowed a power, or pointed the four men toward their next target. It is the women, starting from the beginning, who have laid the groundwork and prepared the way for the saviors to move within the railings of their destinies.

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Cindy Aurum

Presented initially as a more rural mechanic in the town of Hammerhead, Cindy is extremely emblematic of the sexism within the game and in its visual depiction of women. With exposed cleavage and a tendency to bend toward the camera to expose them, Cindy is also, over the course of the game, the only mechanic who can understand the complexities of the Regalia, even after the car becomes a flying ship in the post-game. It is Cindy who can be reliably called upon wherever the men need her, and who can customize any option without fail, too. She is shown to have a vast network of informants who point the men toward collecting parts and can do the work herself. Despite her appearance, Cindy is highly self-reliant, knowledgeable, and confident. At no point does she need a ‘man,’ and often is the one who “rescues” the men when they run out of gas or have broken their car.

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Lunafreya Nox Fleuret

Alternatively shown as a close friend and even love interest to Loctus prior to the events of the destruction of the city of Insomnia, it is the planning of their wedding which pulls Lunafreya (Luna) into the main course of action and prompts her to finally take a more active role in her own destiny as an Oracle. During the game, it is Luna who takes the initiative and is shown, often in cut-scenes after the men have arrived to the scene, to have orchestrated events and confronted deities (Astrals) prior to Noctus even being aware of needing to go somewhere. Luna is even revealed to have arranged things with Shiva prior to the start of the game to protect and guide Noctus, and it is she who had gone to talk to Titan far before Noctus to request his power in defeating the demons. Although dying at the hands of Ardyn in such a way to invoke Noctus’ anger (and point out, again, the sexism of the game), she was, moments before, standing in front of a god and requesting his power alone.

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Camelia, leader of Altissia

Appearing for only a brief few scenes in the game, Camelia is the first true leader the men encounter outside of those corrupted by darkness or in flashbacks. Quickly establishing not only her own placement within the uneasy alliance with Niflheim and her interest in protecting those she governs, Camelia also recognizes the importance of the ritual that will raise Leviathan and the cost it could (and does) have on the lives of her people. Submitting Noctus and the player by proxy to the only extended instance of dialogue trees in the entire game, she challenges Noctus on how he presents himself and how he has progressed toward realizing his own importance to those around him. Shown in flashbacks as supporting Luna in the same way, Camelia represents the best of women in the game: she must balance the ego and power of men, the call of destiny, and the drive to protect and save her own people.

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Gentiana (Shiva)

Revealed late in the game to be one of the Astrals herself, Gentiana serves as a messenger for the gods and as a guardian of their representative, the Oracle. Shown in flashbacks as emotionally supportive of both Luna and Noctus when they were younger, it is she who, in place of Luna, guides Noctus to each new encounter with an Astral before herself. She is also, in the confrontation with Ifrit, who can come to the aid of Noctus to quickly end the battle. Although shown as wearing very little in her Shiva form (in line with the visuals of her in all Final Fantasy games), as Gentiana she is depicted as having her eyes often closed and within a servant role to Luna.  She acts as fierce protector of Noctus and fights against Ardyn before they find her ‘corpse’ and is the who gives Noctus the ability to travel into his own “past” to explore more of the open world.

The “Witch” of the Woods (Kimya)

Buried within the Hunter side-quests, this “witch” of the woods is revealed, through conversation with her, to be the aunt of Dave, the current leader of the hunters. Exiled into the woods by her group, she was thought to have been a witch because her supplies were better than her sister’s and feared by those who did not understand her. Yet, as in its construction of much of the femininity of the game, she has been watching out for the hunters and will supply anyone who asks with items. She also leaves Noctus with a message for her nephew to put the hunters back on their true path and to avoid making the mistake that lead to her exile. Despite the hunters fearing her, she still protects them.

Women of Lestallum

Lost among the various conversations which can be overheard in Lestallum are two major details to the events during the ten-year period in which Noctus is away from Eos: one, the power planet which fuels the town has been there for thousands of years and two, and most importantly, only women work in the power plant. Although not narratively explained beyond a handful of overheard conversations and some late-game side-quests, the women of Lestallum work within the power planet and can only be seen at night when they are off work. However, as is explained in exposition after Noctus returns and only Hammerhead and Insomnia are available locations for travel, Lestallum is the last remaining source of light in the world from its power planet. It is very reasonable to assume, therefore, that the women of Lestallum, although not shown, are the guardians of the only outpost of people beyond those few found in Hammerhead before the very end of the game.

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Aranea Highwind

Presented initially as a recurring enemy to the men, it is Aranea who imparts wisdom to them as they explore ruins in search of ore for the boat to take them to Altissia. It is also Aranea who rescues them when their train fails and supplies them with troops (Biggs and Wedge) to take them toward the corpse of Shiva. She is also explained during the exposition when Noctus returns to have become a full-time demon hunter and a major ally to the whole region of Lucis while the men have been waiting for Noctus to return.

Professor Sonia

Within the main game, Professor Sonia is the only biologist and, at least among the current listing of characters outside of any DLC additions, the only scientist as well. She alone represents the progress of science outside of that used to create soldiers powered by deamons. She is also a quest-giver and constantly wants the men to seek out more specimens or information for her research. Although represented as a forgetful or perhaps more absented-minded professor, she is also respected by the men and introduced by Gladiolus as a major figure in her field.