Team Ninja is obsessed with breasts. This happens to be an obsession most American men (and women) share. Game after game, Tecmo and many other publishers give us girls that make Dolly Pardon look prepubescent. Most thoughtful gamers (or prudes) have already declared this tendency absurd, or at least unrealistic.
Arguing that Team Ninja should be neutered is a position that is seen as pro-women and inclusive. Call Final Fantasy characters effeminate, on the other hand, and you invite accusations of homophobia and narrow-mindedness. Before I justify my stance on the character design of Final Fantasy games and many other Japanese titles, let me first establish what I mean when I say the art is effeminate.
Squall from Final Fantasy VIII looking coy in his furry coat is a good example. Notice how pretty his hair is and his elegant stud earring.
Tidus from Final Fantasy X leaning back, his hair wet, almost exploding in orgasm. What beautiful porcelain skin.
Someone from Final Fantasy XII with a rounded face, thick, pouty lips and beautiful skin. Sometimes I wear my hair like that.
Sephiroth has a distinct lack of muscle mass for a big bad guy. He does, however, have more than enough flowing silver hair and exposed pectoral muscles.
Even Locke from my beloved Final Fantasy VI was very girly.
The typical explanation for all of these androgynous men is “culture.” Japan has a culture from different America and thus they can draw womanly men until the cows come home (I hear they have excellent beef). Japanese women, it is said, find effeminate boys attractive and will buy more products if they’re chock full of estrogen. Yaoi is perhaps the culmination of Japan’s interest in homosexual characters. The term is derived from “Stop, my butt hurts!” (not a joke) and is marketed primarily to women.
According to recent research, women (or British women) seem to be more attracted to effeminate men, so the phenomenon may not be limited to Japan.
Now on to my point. Large breasts tend to be preferred by American men (and Japanese men, if their anime indicates anything) yet this fact does not stop me and many others from criticizing games with special breast rendering engines. Based on this premise, declaring any criticism of Japanese effeminate game characters to be culturally ignorant and insensitive is baseless.
Perhaps more importantly, designers should be bored by the archetype by now. Why do they refuse to experiment with character designs? If the soundtracks in Final Fantasy VI through XII sounded identical, wouldn’t it be valid to suggest Square be more creative?
There is a very slight chance (read: no chance) that Square has continually designed girly men in order to fight the muscle bound stereotype seen in Western media. Even if this were true, fighting a stereotype by creating another does not seem to make any sense. This doesn’t necessarily mean all game characters should be realistic. A particularly gay, busty or fat character in a game is not an issue. It’s when most of the characters (all of the main characters) continually look the same that valid complaints may be raised. If one game has a unique art style of all breasts or all beautiful man-hair, that’s fine. It becomes grating when series that have existed for decades refuse to alter character types.
I dislike the effeminate male character design for the same reason I dislike the character design in Dead or Alive. I find them to be both aesthetically boring and repetitive as well as distasteful. I hope Japanese designers put more effort into making original looking characters and leave the stock characters behind. I also hope gamers stop calling anyone who dislikes a style of art a culturally ignorant xenophobe.
What I personally find also upsetting is that not only does Square constantly repeat their designs, the designs are crappy. A look at a high res Tidus should be sufficient to prove this. His outfit is completely absurd, in a bad way. His overall things aren’t part of his pants nor part of his shirt, which seems to be a quarter vest thing that just barely covers his nipples. The outfit is liberally dotted with crosses and chains, each limb has a different clothing design, and he seems to be wearing thermal socks. It’s hard to decide what’s worse, his garish leather gauntlet or the fact that his pants unzip midway down the thigh (which Tidus has happily made use of). But really, this last argument is for a different article.