Girl in the Machine
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Let's Sing a Sad Song about Doggies

A Look at Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus

I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard that Vincent would be starring in his own game for the PS2. I’ve been a rabid fan since I dragged him out from the Shinra Manor basement in Niblheim. It’s all of his internalized angst that makes him so much fun!

Anyway, as you’d expect with a spin-off, we met all kinds of never-before-seen female characters in the Final Fantasy VII world: Shelke, Shalua, and Rosso. They’re a strange bunch. I feel like they should have come from different games.

Shelke is an interesting character—she begins the game as a villain, transitions into neutral, and then finally begins to directly support Vincent at the end of the game. At first, I had some problems with her—she was too shota with her “I’m nineteen in a nine-year-old’s body” thing going on, and while her outfit was nothing compared to the dangerously sexy Rosso, it was still creepy on a nine-year-old girl. Her small size can be excused by her physical age, but she practically disappears when placed next to the hypermasculine brute Azul. I worried about her potential when I saw her faint without explanation at the beginning of the game. Her invisibility magic made me worry that she couldn’t actually fight.

Shelke surprised me, though. I grew to like her; within the Tsviets, she’s a hacker who uses the worldwide network (internet?) to obtain information on her enemies. Her sabers are pretty bad-ass, and that coupled with her shield material make her a competent fighter. She manages to avoid being trapped by the sentimentality of most female supporting roles (in fact, she’s rather unfeeling). Perhaps most importantly, Shelke is not a sexual character; maybe she lacks the emotional capacity for that kind of thing, or perhaps the producers realized the horrifying repercussions of having a physically nine-year-old girl trying to sex someone up.

Shalua blows my mind. She’s definitely cool—I mean, how many women have you seen in video games that have one eye, one arm, and a body full of reconstructed organs? She’s tough, too. Even at a one-arm disadvantage, she holds her own in hand-to-hand combat and can wield a gun. That’s not all, though; she’s also caring and compassionate. She sacrifices herself to save her sister early in the game, demonstrating far more humanity that any of the other females. She operates based on her own objectives and is a successful scientist for the World Regenensis Organization.

So then why does her miniskirt have a crotch window? Combined with the sky blue high heels and long white lab coat… I mean, a professional would never wear such a boobtastic top. It’s just such a confusing visual! She’s basically a scientist in stripper’s clothing; it’s a shame that her awesome character concept conflicts with her ridiculous getup. Thinking of her as a real scientist is like trying to have a serious conversation with someone who has a pigeon on her head.

And then there’s Rosso. Where Shelke and Shalua demonstrate areas in which the game succeeds, Rosso represents a nearly complete failure. Besides her appalling outfit (What is that hideous Lion Brand Yarns “Fun Fur” train!?), Rosso has fallen victim to the Oversexed Female Villain complex. In one of her first cutscenes, she looks longingly into the sky and says, “This is the first time I’ve felt the rain on my skin.” What should have been a touching moment that generated sympathy for Rosso becomes warped by her “come hither” voice. I’m also bothered by the way she always calls Vincent by pets names like “love” and “darling.” In your final battle with her, Rosso actually says, "Pain is a pleasure.”

I would argue that we should overlook Rosso’s sexy speech patterns and dismiss them as errors on the part of the producers and the voice actor. It seems to me that her voice actor tries to turn everything sexy when the script doesn't call for it; in some scenes, Rosso appears to be turned on by violence, but that impression comes from the way her lines are read. This does not excuse the fact that she was written and directed this way—the voice directors should have been open to voice options besides “sexy.”

So what did they do right? Well, I admire the fact that although she acts according to the will of Tsviet leader Weiss, she does not do so for his affection. Her determination to serve him comes from a recognition of his strength (a reasonable response from someone so strong and violent herself), not blind lovey-dovey devotion. Also, while her voice actor and costume make her sexual, the majority of her words and actions are aggressive; midway through the game, she rips a hole through Vincent’s chest and wrecks tremendous havoc at all other times. Of all the Tsviets, she plays the most active role in hunting for Vincent. In fact, when other Tsviets encounter Vincent, it is usually through coincidence rather than a deliberate attempt to kill him.

So then, what are we left with at the end of the day? In a way, Square Enix was on the right track with its character development. Sure, Shelke is as cold as ice, Rosso has a serious dominatrix edge to her, and Shalua is a martyr, but I’d argue that for the most part their characters depart from the stereotypical women for their roles. I mean, as a supporting character, Shelke didn’t merely fawn over Vincent and act cute. Shalua is far from helpless despite her disadvantages. Rosso plays a strangely active role for a female villain in a game with so many male antagonists. Square Enix deserves some credit for diversifying the pool of female characters... but damn. I don’t want to worry about seeing any parts hangin’ out.

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 Posted by Calabar
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