Girl in the Machine
Monday, December 3, 2007
The curious case of Sorceress Adel.

When I was but a bright-eyed thirteen-year-old, the eighth installment of the Final Fantasy series was released unto the masses. Still happily reeling from the convoluted yet satisfying experience that was Final Fantasy VII, I accepted VIII's bright colors, futuristic setting, and generous cast of characters with open arms.

However, there was a lot about VIII that was truly puzzling. Aside from the body-jumping antagonist, the time traveling nonsense, and the charming Every Baddie Levels Up With You So Don't Even Think About Having A Snowball's Chance Against The Omega Weapon system, there is the curious case of one Sorceress Adel. She's so minor that she only has three meager speaking lines and spends her sole boss battle as the puppet of the almighty Ultimecia (she of the "I will kast the world into khaos with katastrophic Time Kompression!"), and yet, Adel really stumped me.

You may notice from her picture that she is a man.

Well . . . she looks like a man, anyway. Or at the very least she has an extremely male physique. Or something.

The Final Fantasy series is not a stranger to gender-bending characters. VI's Kefka was certainly no Rambo, and it isn't much of an achievement to possess thirty times the raw masculinity of Squall, but Adel's appearance was so jarring to me as a budding teenager that it sticks in my mind even today. What could be the story behind this fascinating character design?

Certainly what's so neat about Adel's place in the storyline is that she's one of the baddest, most paralyzingly evil sorceresses that was ever cryogenically frozen and shot into space. Long before the plot of VIII even begins, Adel ruled Esthar as dictator, spreading enough fear and confusion to instill a deep prejudice against all sorceresses in her people (thus leading to Ultimecia's only discernible motive). In a game full of female characters that are willowy, flirty, and practically doll-like in their porcelainity, it's refreshing to see the rugged and almost ugly likes of Adel.

It makes me wonder if it's her beefy constitution that drives away the feminine stereotypes. Adel is ruthless and power-hungry just like any badass supervillain, and while Ultimecia is just as bloodthirsty and awesome, she . . . loves to play dress-up. Which isn't necessarily bad on its own -- I mean, who doesn't love the snazzy parade scene or Ulty's copious face paint? -- but, well, see for yourself. Her backwards hospital gown getup doesn't really strike new ground as far as objectified female villains go, and it's nice to see a woman of villainous ilk feared for her abilities rather than ogled for her goods.

Which is why Adel's stumpability is important. In a genre with a deathgrip on its cookie-cutter female characters, the ability to make players question what they know about the binary sex and gender system is a huge plus. Pretty, feminine men are basically the norm in the Final Fantasy universe, but tough, masculine women still have little exposure. Perhaps Adel was meant to be a man, and something got lost in translation; perhaps this was an intentional choice on the part of developers. Considering her broad shoulders and complete lack of breast development, it isn't a stretch to perhaps call her the first male sorceress. She could be referred to in the feminine form because sorceresses had always been female, just as female pharaohs often wore beards and were called "he." Who knows?

Either way, it's something different, and different is certainly good in my book.

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 9:00 AM + Link to this post

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