Let me start with a caveat: Final Fantasy is one of my favorite fandoms of all time. It was my first exposure to RPGs and to the realm of higher fantasy. They lost me a bit when things started to turn towards the modern, but I still enjoy it overall.
That being said, one thought struck me clearly when I saw some of the first trailers for Final Fantasy XV (hereafter referred to as FFXV because I can’t be bothered to type out the whole thing): “Why is this so… Bro-y?” For those who haven't seen the trailer or who don't know much about the premise, the idea of this game is that a prince goes on a road-trip of sorts with his bodyguards/protectors/best friends and adventures ensue. Seems pretty close to other Final Fantasy games, right?
The difference here is that the only people in the party — the core characters you get to know — are all dudes. In fact, I would go farther than just calling them "dudes." I’d call them "bros." Now, that term has bit of a pejorative air about it and in my opinion, that's not entirely undeserved, but I use it here for a specific reason. The main characters in FFXV all fit a certain type of stereotype: they swagger, they ride in a nice car, they appear to use physicality for humor and affection. In fact, Conan O'Brien recently did one of his "Clueless Gamer" segments on FFXV and called it "Middle-Earth Entourage." (Spoiler: He did not enjoy the game. See below.)
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t necessarily have a problem with an all-male party. (We’ll come back to that in a minute.) In fact, early reviews of the game have said that these characters and their interactions are actually the best part of the game. While that doesn’t speak very highly of the plot, it does say that some people at Square put a lot of thought and effort into making these characters compelling and human.
What I do have a problem with is how they appear to be portrayed. They seem to be representing very stereotypically male traits, which I think we all know is not necessarily how all those who identify as male behave. It seems to encourage the idea that a group of male friends interact in a certain (one might even say "boorish") way. The game appears to be representing the idea of the male hero in a way that I would argue is far outdated and in need of an update.
While we're on the subject of representation, early press about the game revealed that there would also be at least two female characters in the game — one would be a princess who, while seemingly capable of defending herself, needs rescuing; another who is a car mechanic and who dresses... Well, see for yourself:
Both represent a very "bro-y" ideal of women: one overtly sexy and dirty, but not someone to take home to momma; the other, pretty, fancy and definitely marriage material. Where are the capable, heroic female characters, like Celes or Terra of my favorite in the series, Final Fantasy VI? (Come at me.) Where are the uncertain yet determined and capable female characters, like Yuna of FFX? It's one thing entirely to limit the party to only male characters, but to further compound the problem by presenting female characters in problematic ways shows a tone-deaf approach to modern media consumption.
I'm aware that Square is a Japanese company and that the games they make have to have a worldwide appeal. I'm also aware that the games they make often are created through the lens of Japanese culture, which approaches things like gender roles and norms very differently. That being said, to me, this game feels like an attempt by Square to capture the ultra-masculine crowds, the guys who play Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto almost exclusively. You put a bunch of bros in a cool car (that also flies!), have them flirt with the sexy mechanic, smack down soldiers and monsters, all on the way to save the princess. I might be diluting the plot just a bit, but quite honestly, I expect more from the company that gave us some of the most ground-shattering, complex plots and riveting gameplay in RPG history.
With all of that in mind, I still haven't played the game yet. Maybe my mind will be changed after I get my hands on it — I don't know. But I do know this: in 2016, video game consumers are a much more progressive group than we used to be. We see through marketing ploys and tactics and we demand more of the games that we spend our hard-earned money on. I haven't seen much attention being paid to this particular facet of this game, but I hope that we don't just brush over aspects like this in the future. Sometimes, the mechanic drives the car on her own. Sometimes, the princess saves herself.