Last time I discussed some of my recollections about how I interacted with this game’s lore as a kid, and how that’s impacted my personal headcanon. This time, I want to more closely examine the gender politics of Final Fantasy Tactics.
As I’ve said many times before, Japan is a pretty sexist place, and most of the entertainment that comes out of that country is overwhelmingly patriarchal in tone and intent. Final Fantasy Tactics generally fits that mold, but it offers some strange subversions.
Let’s start with the things that fit a patriarchal narrative, and we’ll get into the more interesting bits towards the end.
The central political conflict in the game’s story centers around the two rival dukes Larg and Goltanna. While Ramza’s running around helping quell a peasant uprising in the first chapter, we get rumors that the king on the throne is unwell, and everyone fears his health won’t hold out. Fortunately, he has two blood heirs, his infant son Prince Orinus and his adopted half-sister Princess Ovelia. Both Ovelia and Orinus are underage, so they would require a regent to rule in their stead. After the king dies, questions of succession arise with each duke backing a different heir. Larg, who is the queen’s brother, backs his nephew, while Goltanna, a distant cousin to the king, backs Ovelia. On a basic level, this is a struggle over which family will maintain control of the throne. Ovelia and Orinus are just pawns being manipulated.
Now, this is where things get a little weird. Even though the king is dead, his wife Louveria is still alive and capable of ruling, and it would naturally make sense that she should be Orinus’s regent if he were to be crowned. Instead, Duke Larg is the one who would become Orinus’s regent. This is a small detail in the grand scheme of things, but it still strikes me as odd. Even if we accept that in the political system of Ivalice spouses to the monarch don’t retain the right to rule if there’s a legitimate heir, why would Orinus’s uncle be the regent in place of his mother? They’re from the same noble house without blood ties to the dead king, so it seems logical that Louveria should rule in her son’s stead, at least in name (if it were more broadly implied that Larg would be the power behind the throne, then I might overlook this stuff). It all seems to me that this bit of background only serves to explain why Larg is the one heading the Northern Sky instead of Louveria, whom we never see in the game (like several of the background characters, we only learn about her part in the proceedings if we bother to read the game’s extensive character entries that are supposed to help you keep everyone straight).
Of course, Louveria’s relegation to the background when she should be a major player in this story is only one minor issue. The women who actually are present get treated much worse in a lot of ways.
Here’s a quick laundry list of narrative cliches that happen to women in Final Fantasy Tactics:
- Three kidnappings (four in the remake)
- Two dead sisters for the purpose of giving male characters man feels
- One implied rape
- One dead wife for the purpose of giving a male character more man feels
- One curse that can only be lifted with the help of her true love
To sum this list up more succinctly, if you see a female character who’s not a knight, she’s going to get kidnapped. If you see a female character who is someone’s sister, she will either die or nearly be murdered. Really, the only female characters who avoid all this stuff are Agrias (whose design is so androgynous that I’ve heard people more than once express surprise that she’s a woman) and Meliadoul (who shows up very late in the game and has the unique pleasure of being the one inverse case of dead sister syndrome in the game, because her brother dies instead).
The story is brutal towards female characters, and it’s a really jarring thing in comparison to the game’s mechanics, which imply a different sort of world from what we’re presented with. Really, the generic characters that fill out your war party seem to have it much better than the story characters do. In the world of Ivalice, it’s apparently perfectly normal for women and men to become soldiers in equal numbers. They have nearly identical competencies when compared across the same class (characters are designed so that male units tend to have a slight edge in physical stats and female units are a little better at magic, although these values are randomized from unit to unit, so it’s not impossible to have individuals who play against the gender type; more importantly, these differences are miniscule and rarely ever have a significant impact on unit effectiveness). There’s no apparent gender discrimination in the profession, as all classes are equally available to units (with the exception of Bard and Dancer, which are gendered, although they require that units be trained against type with men mastering several magical jobs and women mastering the corresponding physical ones).
With the exception of the gendered jobs, the mechanics for Final Fantasy Tactics are remarkably egalitarian, and reflect a world closer to what Kameron Hurley’s getting at in her essay “We Have Always Fought.” Women are everywhere in this world fighting alongside men, and yet the broad story about the clash between the nobles is absurdly male dominated. I suspect there might be something in that, considering the whole plot is framed as a hidden historical account. Ramza, who’s been written out of the official record much like the women that Hurley talks about in her essay, gives us a look into what’s really happening while the people in power do everything they can to push everyone else away.