Back in January, Square Enix revealed Mevius: Final Fantasy, a premium mobile title for the long-running RPG series. Final Fantasy VI and VII director and XIII producer Yoshinori Kitase is producing the game for Android and iOS platforms, and the publisher is treating Mevius as if it's a console or handheld title. It's the beginning of a shift in Square Enix's mobile development that began with the release of Final Fantasy: Record Keeper, focusing on good, solid games, not throwaway mobile fluff.
The thing that stood out about Mevius though was the design of the unnamed main character. What we were originally shown was a male character in ill-fitting armor and a sliced-up swimsuit. It was essentially the same design aesthetic normally applied to female characters. It wasn't something comletely new for Square Enix, as company has seen similar designs in 2000's Vagrant Story, but it's been a rather rare occurrence.
Apparently, certain Japanese fans didn't appreciate Mevius' revealing character design, because Square Enix has backtracked a bit.
Last Thursday, Kitase, project leader Naoki Hamaguchi, managing producer Hiroki Okayama, and an MC simply named Asuna showed off the current build of the game, under a new name: Mobius Final Fantasy. Our previously unnamed protagonist now has a name, Wal, though players can change that name if they see fit. We also gleaned some information on the game's job system, allowing Wal to change his costumes to gain new abilities; the armor-light look Wal sported in early screenshots is the Onion Knight job. One notable change from the previous screenshots is Wal;s lack of open, revealing sides on his outfit. Instead, he now has a high collar and his svelte external obliques are completely covered.
"After we released the screenshots in December, we looked at the various reactions we were getting online, and in the end, showing this much skin..." explained Kitase on the stream (as translated by the fine folks at RocketNews24). "For this game, we're moving forward during development and letting it evolve while taking into consideration users' opinions, so I asked the character designer to make a change."
Wal still remains on the lighter clothing side, with exposed calves and arms and an open back showing off his crazy tattoo. The open back even sticks around while Wal is wearing the thicker armor of the Knight class. Okayama and Hamaguchi did comment on missing the original look, and Kitase admits that the design may return if fans speak up enough.
"If enough people say they like those hiplines, then we might bring the original costume back," he added.
Honestly, while I'll miss that original design - it was odd and striking enough that I wrote about the game in the first place - Square Enix is well within their rights to change it. It is not, as many accuse creators of in other situations, censorship. Like every creative or corporate entity, you're allowed to gauge fan feedback and decide what's the best for your work. Square Enix looked at where they wanted Mobius to go and made changes accordingly. They may change again in response to further feedback before Mobius' release.
The loss is still disappointing. The design is similar to many costumes worn by the women in Square Enix's stable, costumes that tend to make it to release with little issue. Looking over images from my previous Mevius article, you can get an idea of what I'm talking about.
While Mevius' skimpier outfit may not have been a great design, that is not why it was changed. In the fact, the redesign retains a great deal of the original form and look. It just covers up some bits because they were "a little too sexy" in Asuna's estimation. Kitase agreed that fan feedback mirrored Asuna's commentary, which led to the change.
Part of my issue is designing looks simply for coolness or sexiness, something that could be lobbied at Wal's original look, instead of designing outfits that say something pertinent about the character. Final Fantasy isn't grounded in any sort of reality, with each game sticking close to whatever version of unreality it has worked to establish, but even then certain odd choices tend to stand out. The Final Fantasy XIII lineup established Lightning as one type of character, but some of the outfits for Lightning Returns point to a different character. FFXV's Cindy seems to be oddly dressed for someone who's a mechanic, but then again, Noctis' boy band is hardly well-dressed for Behemoth fighting, so what do I know?
Character design should be an integrated part of the storytelling, showing off the visual flourishes of the artist, but also illuminating our understanding of the characters in question. I have issue when everybody's design leans in one direction, even if their shown nature points them toward another.
There's also the unequal nature of this sexual focus in much of our medium, something I'm glad that's changing a bit. For too long, there has been a double-standard in who receives certain types of sexualization. Play around a bit instead of doing the same thing over and over! Square Enix itself is a pioneer on a different FF title, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, which features equally-skimpy outfits for male and female player characters. Akiba's Strip for PlayStation platforms added male strip portraits for the Western release, spreading the fanservice to the other gender. It was a welcome change that Acquire and XSeed didn't have to put forth the effort for.
Sex may sell, but it sells to everyone, so spread the love around a bit! Mobius' Wal was a reflection of some of the ladies in Square Enix' considerable stable. He still functions in that way, but he was an outlandish contrast, something we don't see often. Now he's just a contrast.
At the same time, fanservice doesn't need to be everywhere, so it's best to look at what your work is trying to accomplish - what you want the players to experience and feel - instead of throwing in random fanservice because you can. When you add more variety - more sexualized male characters, more female characters whose primary point isn't sexual attraction, and everything else in-between - the market is better for it. When everyone trends towards one direction, we all suffer for it. Viva la EVERYTHING!