This week, Marty looks into a trend that Final Fantasy has been using recently where women are sacrificed for the greater good. Has this type of story been told too much? Read more to find out…
*****This whole post is one big spoiler for Final Fantasy 7, 10, 13 and 15. If you have not finished these games, I suggest you do so and then read this article. ***
Having recently demolished Final Fantasy XV and taking in all of the media that Square-Enix had released with it, I noticed a pattern where women tend to give up their life. In Final Fantasy Brotherhood Noctis’ mother died to the Naga monster while Noctis got to live, then, in Kingsglaive, Ravus and Luna’s mother (Sylvia) protected Ravus at the cost of her life. Finally, in the main story of FFXV Lunafreya used the last of her energy to protect Noctis and ensure he completes his mission. Every single form of media related to the FFXV series contained a woman who sacrificed her life in order to protect someone, and I found this a little worrisome, a woman doesn’t need to die in order for the plot to advance or for a character to have motivation. I decided to take a look back in more recent Final Fantasy games, to see what kind of sacrifices women make in those games and if they end up paying the ultimate price.
I’ll start with a game that is based around sacrifice, Final Fantasy X. The story is about a land ravaged by Sin (a monster named Sin, not acts that God deems uncool), and the only thing that can combat Sin are summoners who take pilgrimages in order to gather the power of the Aeons (strong deities that heed a summoner’s call, which they can summon in battle). At the end of the pilgrimage a summoner is then able to make a pact with the Final Aeon. The kicker is that the Final Aeon takes the life of the summoner, and Sin eventually COMES BACK.
The story of FFX follows Yuna’s journey (or the spiky haired outsider who tags along on that journey) as she goes about her pilgrimage. Yuna is constantly making sacrifices in the game. First she hides the true nature of her journey from Spiky Hair (named Tidus) in order to protect his feeling about HER death. Then she agrees to get married to a weirdo to give the people of Spira (the world they live in) peace, but she escapes that fate only to almost get married to his ZOMBIE in order to send his nasty ass to the farplane (Spira’s purgatory). Yuna never gets tired of giving up her life/happiness/well being in order to protect someone or their feelings.
At the end of the pilgrimage the party finds out that, not only does Yuna need to give up her life, but it requires the life of one of her closest friends to become the Aeon to fight Sin on top of her life. That’s where Yuna draws the line; not at her life acting as a temporary solution to a huge problem, but when it involves the life of her friend. It’s fine for her to give up her life, but GOD help her if she’ll let someone else make a sacrifice. The good thing about FFX is that they go beyond this fate, they don’t accept Yuna as the sacrificial lamb despite her best efforts to waste her life. It’s just a shame that most of the game involves Yuna sacrificing herself, but she comes out alive in the end, which is more than what some games can say.
My next example involves Vanille and Fang from Final Fantasy XIII, which involves a lot of backstory and explaining in order to get to their sacrifice. I’ll do my best to summarize it, it’s been a while since I’ve beaten the game (itching to do so again, come at me!). In the world of FFXIII there are two places where humans inhabit (Gran Pulse and Cocoon). Gran Pulse is a planet that houses many creatures and ancient structures and a more primitive civilization. Cocoon is the high tech sister in the sky, it’s a large floating continent that hovers above Pulse. Cocoon houses millions of people and Pulse is full of… sidequests.
The story of FFXIII centers around a group of people who have been given a focus from a god to destroy Cocoon, their home except Vanille and Fang. If they fail to complete their focus they turn into a mindless monster, and if they complete their focus they turn in to a pretty crystal to be born again… maybe? Not great options. The gods who have ‘blessed’ them with this focus wish to cause Cocoon to crash into Pulse, thus killings millions which would lead to Etro’s Door to open, which would allow the gods to be reunited with the great creator of the worlds. Or something like that… it’s… complicated. In order to bring about the aforementioned cataclysm, Orphan (the god of Cocoon), tortures Vanille in order to make Fang turn into Ragnarok (a beast that has the power to destroy cocoon) and complete her focus. Fang gives in to her anger and unleashes Ragnarok upon Orphan. Unable to defeat Orphan in her weakened form of Ragnarok, the rest of the party rushes to her aid and vows to defeat Orphan without Ragnarok so that Fang and Vanille don’t have to give into their hatred and become a monster.
However, with Orphan defeated Cocoon is no longer able to stay afloat and will end up being destroyed regardless of the parties actions. It is then that our heroines Fang and Vanille vow to protect Cocoon by both joining together to summon Ragnarok at full strength, who then envelops and supports cocoon. Ragnarok turns into a crystal pillar and keeps Cocoon in the air for the next 500 years. Fang and Vanille gave up their lives to protect many, not knowing their fate if they defy their focus, they still decided to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. They would become free of their crystal prison 2 games later, after 500 years of being Atlas carrying the world on their shoulders.
My final and most obvious example of a woman sacrificing herself in a Final Fantasy game is Aerith from Final Fantasy 7. Unlike Yuna in FFX and Vanille & Fang in FFXIII, Aerith actually gets killed and in death she was able to stop a meteor from crashing into the planet. Now, if you don’t know the story of FFVII then… I don’t believe you. However, I will try to sum it up as crudely as possible. FFVII is about a group of activists who are protesting the use of the lifesteam (the earths spiritual energy that all things dead cycle into and new life springs from) to create energy called MAKO that is used to power everyday life. In their attempt to bring down the company responsible for draining the planet (Shinra), they encounter a man named Sephiroth who breaks his mother JENOVA free from the Shinra company (she’s an alien life form that plagues humanity), and he murders a bunch of people in his quest to find a way to manipulate the lifestream to make himself a god.
Basically, his plan is to use ancient magic to summon a meteor to severely damage the planet, causing the planet to heal itself with a vast amount of the lifesteam – Sephiroth will manipulate the lifesteam to instead power himself thus giving him even more strength than what he already has. Cloud and friends try to prevent this from happening, but Aerith is the key to doing so. Aerith is the last of a special type of human (called the Cetra) who can listen to the lifestream and talk to the planet and to those who have died and entered the lifesteam. She is able to learn what she must do to stop Sephiroth, and leaves the party to do so on her own. She wants to use the counter to Sephiroths ancient magic to stop the meteor from coming down.
While Aerith is praying for the ancient magic to work, the party catches up to her only to see Sephiroth descend from above and impale her with his extremely long sword. At the end of the game Meteor is about to crash into the planet, but is being halted by Aerith’s magic, however it isn’t quite strong enough. Aeith, from beyond the grave, augments the Holy magic with the lifestream to put an end to meteor. Her sacrifice was important, because without her being in the lifestream she may not have been able to manipulate the planet’s energy, but her death came about in such a silly way. She didn’t need to go on her own, it’s not like you can’t pray with other people, and she could have people protect her while she implored the holy magic to activate.
While none of these sacrifices are completely pointless, they do play into character growth and story, I just find Square-Enix relies on the sacrifice of women far too often. There are more examples (Serah in FFXIII/2 and Hope’s mother Nora as well as Tietra from Final Fantasy Tactics) and likely more to come, I just think that Square-Enix is using this plot device a little too often in recent years. There are other ways to create emotional scenes, or give character development.
I’m not against this kind of story telling, I just find that when a large portion of women in Final Fantasy games end up giving up their life then it leads me to question why they feel the need to do that. The women who suffer in silence or the Saintly woman trope are a little tired, let her be a badass or have strong resolve and then don’t kill her or just kill her less often! It is especially puzzling when FFXV had three women sacrifice themselves in a game that was criticized early on for featuring an all male cast. I am not criticizing the women in Final Fantasy – I loved Aranea from FFXV, she kicked arse and I really wanted to keep her on my team. I just hope Final Fantasy can move away from this trend, or use it less often.