Gender Equality through Progression Mechanics – An Analysis of Final Fantasy II’s Progression System
Building on the traditional JRPG elements found in the first Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy II gave readers a more detailed narrative, characters with a purpose beyond that of rescuing crystals and saving the world, and elaborate and complex progression mechanics. Released on 1988, the narrative of Final Fantasy II begins as the three main characters, Firion, Maria, and Guy, are in the company of the temporary character Leon and are attacked by knights of a rival kingdom and left for dead. The three main characters, Firion, Maria, and Guy, are rescued by the Princess of Fynn, Hilda, who is at that point in the narrative serving as the leader of a rebel base in the town of Alatair. the three main characters ask Hilda to join her army of rebels, but she declines, as the characters are too inexperienced. The three characters then set off on a quest to attempt to rescue Leon.
Each of the three main characters have a core motivation that spurs them on their quest. Firion, a friend of Maria and Leon, is driven by the desire to seek out revenge. He hopes to destroy the empire in hopes of avenging his fallen family. Maria, Firion and Guy’s childhood friend, is the female lead of the game. Her motivation to embark on a quest involve an attempt to rescue her brother Leon who disappears during the opening sequence of the game. The third main character, Guy, doesn’t have much of a historical background. All that the player knows is that he is a friend to Firion and Maria, and that he has an ability to speak to animals.
It would be simple to state that there is no evidence in the narrative or in the design of the characters that shows objectification of the characters. Indeed, the design of the characters – both the in-game sprites as well as the game art – treats both genders fairly. However, it seems to me more prudent and exponentially more fruitful to turn our gaze towards the integral elements that make a video game a “game” – its mechanics. In order to fully understand what Final Fantasy II suggests about women, it would be prudent to see how the game mechanics affect character progress throughout the game. We will, then, use the approach advocated by Ian Bogost in Persuasive Games (2006), where he suggests that to find out how a video game makes arguments, the player should consider game mechanics and how they act in relation to the message being explored.
Unlike Final Fantasy, which featured a traditional leveling system with pre-determined stats increases which would prevent characters from increasing skills beyond the limits set by the designer, Final Fantasy II instead relies on a relatively progressive system which rewards practice and repeated use of skills.
Under the Final Fantasy II progress system, the statistics of party members increase depending on the actions taken in battle. If a character relies mostly on physical attacks, that character’s strength parameter will increase. Loss of health points results in an increase of health points. If a character uses a specific weapon type, their proficiency with that weapon type will increase. The same is true with magic types and skills. Below a chart describing which stats increase due to specific actions.
|Stat||How to Increase|
|Health Point||This stat is increased through taking damage. How many health points are gained depends on the “stamina” stat.|
|Magic Point||This stat is increased through continued use of magic spells. How many magic points are gained depends on the “magic” stat.|
|Stamina||Stamina is increased through taking damage.|
|Magic||Magic is increased through casting spells.|
|Intelligence||Intelligence is increased through casting spells from the White school of magic.|
|Sprit||Spirit is increased through using spells from the Black school of magic.|
|Agility||Agility is gained through dodging attacks during battle.|
|Strength||Strength is gained through attacking enemies.|
|Evasion||Evasion is determined by a character’s equipment and by a character’s agility stat.|
|Magic Evasion||Magic evasion is gained through being targeted by magic attacks.|
The progression system outlined above is a mechanic by which all characters increase their proficiency. Whether the character in question is Firion, Maria, Guy, or one of the many temporary party characters, if a player wants a character to become stronger, then the player must command said character to attack monsters, while if the player wants a character to become proficient at magic, they must command the character to cast a specific spell type repeatedly. In order to become proficient in the use of the Fire spell, for example, the character will have to buy the spell book, which will cause them to learn a low level version of the spell. In order for Fire to evolve into Fire 2, the player must cast the spell on an enemy 50 to 100 times. This system holds true for every character regardless of gender.
Certainly, it could be argued that certain players may find themselves predisposed to relegate a female character to a mostly defensive role, or to the role of a caretaker, but this would be a question of the individual player, not of the game text itself. The model that Final Fantasy II gives the player is one that rewards practice and repetition. What it tells the player is that regardless of gender, any playable character can be as strong as any other.
Before moving on to Final Fantasy III, it might be worth discussing the female character Leila. Leila is a pirate who attempts to rob the party. She is the able leader of a crew of pirates. However, she is easily defeated by Firion, Maria, and Guy. Although this may prompt some to make an argument regarding the portrayal of women as weak, I would like to preemptively address the more obvious reason to which we can attribute Leila’s weakness and that of her pirates. Leila’s pirates are easily defeated by Firion, Maria, and Guy because the pirates are pirates. The character of the weakling pirate is not unique to Final Fantasy II. Its first appearance can be seen in the original Final Fantasy, when in the town of Pravoka, at the suggestion of Arylon the dancing girl, the Warriors of Light defeat a group of pirates led by Bikke the Pirate Captain. The Warriors of Light easily defeat Bikke and his pirates and take their ship. With this event as a point of reference, it becomes a more sensible statement to say that the reason for which Leila and her pirates are weak is due to their virtue of being pirates, not because their leader is female.
In the end, Final Fantasy features a narrative that focuses on three protagonists. Two of the protagonists, one male and one female, have clear goals and are fleshed out characters – at least as fleshed out as the technological limitations of the time would allow. The narrative does not show any hint of misogynist tendencies or sexist connotations, and the mechanics which guide the progress of the characters make it clear that in the practice-reward system implemented by the designers, it is practice that is rewarded regardless of the gender of the character. Furthermore, it was demonstrated that the one relatively weak female character is weak by virtue of being a pirate, and not by virtue of being female. It can be said, then, that Final Fantasy II is a step in the right direction. It shies away from the class exclusion and benevolent sexism present in the original Final Fantasy, and sets trend for equality that other titles in the franchise can follow.
Posted on September 27, 2014, in Video Game Commentary and tagged feminism in games, Final Fantasy, final fantasy and gender, Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy II and women, final fantasy II progression system, gender equality in games, tropes vs women in video games, video games and feminism. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.