Girl in the Machine
Monday, March 31, 2008
The Flower Girl

Playing Crisis Core has got me all nostalgic for 1997's Final Fantasy VII (but then, any story-butchering pre/sequel tends to do that to me). It always tickles me pink to see my favorite characters in action again, and I couldn't help but pick up the old classic just to see how it's aged. I was pleasantly surprised, poor translation and all, and glad to see that one of my favorite characters, Aeris Gainsborough, is still as great as ever.

It's true that Aeris has a huge fan following. Hundreds of gamers in Japan even sent a petition to SquareSoft asking for the ability to revive her after her iconic death. There are plenty of reasons to like her, but I want to concentrate on what makes her such a strong female character. Stereotypes and stock characters run amok in role-playing games, especially of the female persuasion, and it's good to see a leading lady that passes muster.

I'll start with the basics. While FFVII doesn't have a job system per se, Aeris is clearly the party's standard white mage, complete with staff and restorative Limit Break. While the conventional female character locked into the healer role tends to annoy me, this works in context. Aeris is balanced out by not one but two other women, neither of whom are magic users (Tifa as a monk and Yuffie as a thief). This is rarely seen in other Final Fantasy games wherein white mages like Rosa, Garnet, and Yuna also have magic-using female compatriots. More importantly, her "job" as a white mage works in tune with the plot. To rescue the Planet from Meteor, she uses the White Materia to cast Holy, a well-known high level spell in white magic.

A character's appearance plays an important role, as always, and it's great to see Aeris is not afflicted by a cheesecakey design (something that's admittedly relegated to black mage women like Lulu or Fran). I've always liked her Dress And Hiking Boots combo, showing a measure of function over form. Personality-wise, she's flirty and somewhat childish, but it works because she's not limited solely to these traits. Her relationship with her adoptive mother is poignant, adding to a display of genuine maturity that runs through her character.

In much of fictive media, the death of a female character is typically used as a simple plot device. The brave protagonist falls in love with Stock Woman A, she's killed off by the merciless villain, and the brave protagonist is spurred on by his love's death to ultimately defeat the merciless villain. Aeris's death works quite differently. While she can be seen as a love interest for Cloud, her flirtations never seem serious, and her death comes so early in the game that there's little time for a romantic relationship to form. She leaves the party and goes to the Forgotten City by her own choice, even though it would have been easy for the game designers to have her kidnapped in some way. She doesn't sacrifice herself for Cloud, and her death is so sudden that it doesn't feel forced or played-out (and, thankfully, the violence done to her is not sexualized in the least). She's still vital to the plot thereafter, and saves the Planet in the end. Arguably, she can be seen as a driving force for Cloud to destroy Jenova, but her purpose extends beyond this, and Cloud himself has a lot more to fight for.

I'll always be partial to games I played when I was younger, and it pleases me to say that Final Fantasy VII is still an enjoyable game eleven years later. Aeris is a wonderful example of those rare "strong female characters" you've heard so much about. She shows that, when done right, a character can be girly and swathed in tons of pink and still be a great representative of feminism in games.

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 7:57 AM + Link to this post

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