Final Fantasy XV, due out sometime in 2016, has already distinguished itself as a unique Final Fantasy game through its preview footage and demo alone. Whereas most Final Fantasy games center around corrupt empires, crystals, and airships, Final Fantasy XV is based around a road trip. Imagine making a leisurely drive down the east coast, but instead of making a pit stop at a Wawa to grab a burger, you make a pit stop for the specific purpose of kicking in a Behemoth's teeth.
But Final Fantasy XV is seemingly distinct in another surprising way: The core cast of travellers has no women amongst them. This is quite unusual -- and disappointing -- because the Final Fantasy series is generally good about giving us cool female fighters.
"There are quite a lot of female characters the guys will meet along the road they take and they really enhance the story, and perform a lot of different roles in the story," game director Hajime Tabata told Examiner in late 2015. "Not just as love interests but other ways as the story progresses."
Tabata pointed out that Cid, for example, is a woman mechanic in Final Fantasy XV, and if she wasn't present to keep the boys' car purring, the journey wouldn't be possible.
This follows previous comments by Tabata on the reasoning behind the cast.
"Speaking honestly, an all-male party feels almost more approachable for players. Even the presence of one female in the group will change their behaviour, so that they'll act differently. So to give the most natural feeling, to make them feel sincere and honest, having them all the same gender made sense in that way," Tabata told GameSpot. "The world might be ready to see the curtain lifted on what boys do when girls aren't around, when they come out of the tent all prim and proper. That's kind of the idea behind it… we think, male or female player, that everyone will feel a certain connection and bond with the four characters."
While it's honestly nice to know the gals of Final Fantasy XV seemingly serve a purpose beyond love interests, and while it's likewise nice to have a female tinkerer on the team, these progressive tidbits still feel like consolation prizes compared to having actual women warriors in the front seat, so to speak.
Tabata's remarks also drudge up ugly memories of being separated from activities like sports, ceremonies, and religious rituals because I was a girl. To lessen the sting, I was told "Oh, but girls have important, special roles to fill, too!" The examples that followed were almost always some real-life equivalent of keeping the car tuned up so the boys could go on their road trip and leave me behind.
Talk about a gut-punch from a series I've always counted on to give me relatable female characters. Final Fantasy bred sword-swinging, gun-wielding women long before discussions about better representation in games became the norm.
1992's Final Fantasy V has Farris, a pirate leader who pals around with a dragon. Final Fantasy VI has Celes, a young female general who commands Imperial troops (before it all goes horribly wrong). Final Fantasy VII has Tifa, a brawler who makes a mafia don talk by threatening to punch the metaphorical slum located under his belt.
And even though Final Fantasy XIII is a divisive game, there's little argument that its star character, Lightning, can handle herself in a scrap. Granted, the sultry poses she sometimes strikes as part of the dress-up simulator in Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII is groan-worthy, but she's still not someone you'd challenge to an arm-wrestling match unless you've informed your next-of-kin of your intentions.
So far, Final Fantasy XV looks to be weird, wild, and tons of fun. It should be a good time for everyone involved. It's just weird to see Square-Enix regress in female inclusiveness, a department it's generally done okay with.
Women like road trips, too. The love of greasy food, loud music, and random fights with monsters (or rabid hitchhikers, depending on the world you live in) knows no gender.