May contain mild spoilers for up to 20 hours into Bravely Default.
JRPGs are kind of sexist.
This is nothing new to me. Female characters are usually magic users or healers, and rarely tanks. They love to cook, clean, shop. They often don’t get to wear very much, and what they do wear seems to largely ignore the laws of both gravity and physics.
Now, of course, there are exceptions to this. There are always exceptions, and I love the exceptions. Jeanne d’Arc never once shows a bit of skin, and is much more occupied with saving France from demonic Englishmen than with anything remotely “girly.” Mitsuru Kirijo is student council president, smarter than most of the male characters, and will probably grow up to be a CEO.
But even Mitsuru has to go through obligatory hot springs scene. The objectification of female characters in JRPGs is pretty damn pervasive.
Bravely Default is no exception. Not by a long shot.
Most of it is pretty tame, just sort of irritatingly stereotypical. The other characters tease Edea about spending all of her money on clothes. Ringabel talks constantly about his romantic conquests and complains of how much he spends on their gold lame handbags. Agnès is unflaggingly, blandly demure and sounds like she’s voiced by Fluttershy.
Then, there’s the costumes. Bravelt Default has a job switching mechanic à la Final Fantasy III, and every job puts characters in a different costume. Now, I had seen the coverage about how costumes were edited for the North American and European releases, toning down general skimpiness for Western audiences.
So I was prepared for some skanky, improbable fashion, but I figured hey, those are the special, hard-to-get, fanservice-y jobs/costumes, there’s always a few of those, and the devs really want finding it to seem like a reward, so they throw in some eye candy as a bonus.
Nope! First class I get is the white mage, my favorite. White mages wear robes! They look like this:
Or like this!
Or possibly this!
In Bravely Default, female white mages look like this:
See, the guys get robes! The girls get…lingerie? In fact, the girls seem to get a lot of pretty skimpy lingerie.
(Aside: I just opened my DS to look at the knight costume to make sure the girls didn’t get chainmail bikinis or something equally dumb. They don’t, though they do have weird boob plates on their armor. But while I was poking around the menu, I inadvertently discovered how to change the spoken dialogue to the Japanese voice track. Damn, is that better! Agnès still kind of sounds like Fluttershy, but her delivery isn’t so shrill, and Edea and Ringabel sound a hundred times better. Edea’s voice actor was the only really decent one in the English cast, and the NPC voices could be downright grating. Man, I wish I had figured this out 20 hours of game ago!)
This is pretty standard for most video games, though; having the ladies don some eye candy is appealing! So I was cool. Besides, the outfits are all pretty cute, even the skimpy ones. The Spell Fencer’s I Dream of Jeannie outfit is adorable, and is easily half the reason I am maxing out Edea as a Spell Fencer. I get to run around on the map dressed like Princess Jasmine!
But then we get to Florem.
Florem was already a disappointment because the first thing you see when you get there is a giant bunny girl statue, and I was EXCITED because I thought there were going to be viera, which are (obviously) my favorite Final Fantasy race. Because magical hippie bunny girls. But there are no viera in Florem, just that cock-teasing statue and a bunch of fashion-engrossed, vapid airheads. Florem is a town of women that used to be virtuous and demure flower virgins, but now have become materialistic and obsessed with hair dye. They’ve turned their former sacred flower festival into a straight-up beauty pageant, and of course there’s a bullshit plot reason for Agnès to enter the pageant. So I spent a few hours doing quests related to making Agnès as sexy as possible.
The final step to sexifying Agnès was to visit the pervy old man of Yulana woods. Now, I kind of think the pervy old sage of Yulyana woods is hilarious. In the very first FMV of the game, you are treated to footage of Agnès being dressed in her ceremonial vestal robes, which are (predictably) pretty skimpy.
I was tickled to discover later in the game that there was an in-game reason for the robes to be so revealing – the old sage who makes them is a total perv, happily commenting on how “jiggly” Agnès has become since growing up and generally creeping all over her. The guy is so cheerfully pervy, in fact, that his whole existence seems satiric. Maybe the implication is that JRPG worlds have pervy old sages lurking somewhere in the background, quietly churning out incredibly revealing magical costumes for the female mages and priests, and that’s why they’re all dressed like that.
When you return to Yulyana to find a dress for Agnès to wear in Florem’s beauty pageant, the poor girl is terribly embarrassed by the clothes she tries on, especially the final piece, the pervy old man’s masterpiece, the bravo bikini. While we never actually get to see the bravo bikini, Ringabel’s enthusiastic, almost orgasmic reaction and Agnès’ abject horror imply that it’s pretty nonexistent as clothing. She finally declares all of the old man’s costumes “unacceptable!” and ends up entering the contest in her vestal robes, where she is derided by the other women for being too plain, even though Agnès’ vestments are pretty damn sexy.
While the whole episode is admittedly hilarious, it’s also vaguely disconcerting. I keep reading on the Net about sexual harassment in the gaming community, and I wonder if its prevalence has something to do with these problematic portrayals of women within the medium of games themselves. If male gamers are used to seeing female characters as sexual objects and see what is basically sexual harassment normalized within the plots of the games they play, won’t those attitudes naturally creep into real life? If games are conditioning male gamers to objectify all that is female, why is anyone surprised that some of them end up having sexist attitudes towards non-digital women? And the same people who grew up being conditioned by prevailingly sexist games are by-and-large developing games with the same attitudes today. The need to be stronger, less sexist portrayals of women in games to break this kind of cycle, and to get that kind of portrayal, we probably need more women in the gaming industry, something that is apparently a bit of a problem.
As a woman and a gamer, I’d appreciate that very much, thank you. Now, don’t get me wrong. I do like shopping, though I mostly do it at thrift stores and GameStop, and I dress kind of slutty sometimes for gigs with my band, because we get better tips. Those are things girls do. But we also do lots of other things, and I’d like to see girls in games doing other things, too. More characters like Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite or Ellie from the Last of Us! Those were made by male devs, too, so it can be done! Positive female role models in gaming would go along way to changing attitudes about women in gaming, too. And that would just make everything better in general.
Ok, rant done. Back to Bravely Default. Because lingerie aside, it’s still a really fun game. And now it’s even in Japanese! Whee!