Being a life-long female fan of video games, especially RPGs, makes for a lot of awkward interactions. Imagine: your mom walks into your bedroom and sees you playing Final Fantasy VII as Tifa. She jabs her finger in the general direction of Tifa's party balloon-sized breasts and says "What the hell is that?" while you stammer something about how Tifa is a strong and cool character.
And, honestly? She is. Tifa's the top student of a martial arts master. She works as a guide on the treacherous mountain path bordering her home town. She attempts to murder Sephiroth (without much success, but she gave it a good try). Still, she's allowed to have serious flaws: Her enablement of Cloud's identity crisis demonstrates her fears and weaknesses.
But that's all difficult to explain to someone outside the pastime when their eyes are locked on Tifa's impossible chest.
What's to be done when a game trots out a silly anime trope like gravity-resistant breasts on a scantily-dressed woman? Do we put our foot down and refuse to play the game until Japan "learns its lesson?" Do we bristle and fight anyone who criticizes Japan's cultural norms? Most of us do what we've been doing for a long time now: We take the bad with the good.
Tifa is just one example. Another example is Ace Attorney's Mia Fey, who bears Grand Canyon-length cleavage whenever she shows up in a court of law, but is a fearsome lawyer. Then there's Fran from Final Fantasy XII. She's a literal bunny girl who runs around in high heels, but damn, I kind of love her. Cutting off ties with her forest home caused her mental anguish, but when there's a job that needs to be done, she gets it done.
Now we have Pyra from Xenoblade Chronicles 2, a living weapon who tucks her ample chest into a skin-tight top and walks around in booty shorts (and accessorizes with an inexplicable forked scarf-thing that trails behind her). Pyra is voiced by 22-year-old Skye Bennet, and her words and deeds have a certain maturity I appreciate in JRPG women. She doesn't flop around, fall all over the place, and squeal about Rex being her "big brother." Granted, her calm demeanor makes her silly clothing seem even more ridiculous and out-of-place, but I've been compromising on female game characters for decades, and I didn't expect Pyra to change that. Simply put, I can overlook obvious fan service if the character I'm spending time with is good company. Hence why I like Tifa, Mia Fey, and Fran. I like Pyra, too.
Do I wish game developers (and Japan in particular) would give me more characters who are properly-dressed for their jobs and have complicated personalities? I sure do. Here's a secret, though: There are a couple of women characters like that in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, but they've been overshadowed by the uproar over Pyra. Nia is a fully-clothed cat lady (there's a nice change right there) who's best pals with a white tiger. I want to be friends with a white tiger. Morag is a highly respected and feared officer of the Empire who never drops her professional demeanor. I think Nia and Morag are cool, but I also hear and see a lot of people saying they won't play Xenoblade Chronicles 2 because they're too "grossed out" by Pyra and some of the designs for the other female blades (who are bestowed upon you via a random bonding process, and therefore may never even enter your line of vision). It's a shame to see people toss out the baby with the bathwater.
It's also a little bemusing. Pyra's design isn't necessarily appealing, but I find it much more generic than offensive. Again, I've been "making do" with JRPG heroines for ages, and learning to look past their cheesy physical quirks. It's saccharine to say, "I like these women, Pyra included, for who they are inside," but here we are. Pyra's only sin is her dumb costume, but as far as I know, she made it herself. She made the choice to wear it. And, to be honest, seeing that costume on the body of a woman with an adult voice is almost a relief given how fanservice usually goes.
I'm not excusing Monolith Soft's design for Pyra. I think Xenoblade Chronicles 2 should've had a single character artist over its decision to utilize designs from dozens of anime artists and manga-ka (I still can't get over Tetsuya Nomura's design for one of the games' bad guys, Jin, who is essentially Cecil from Final Fantasy Dissidia wearing a mask). I'm just saying Pyra is more than her cut-off bicycle shorts, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is more than Pyra, and the reasons why the industry still struggles to create strong female characters add up to something bigger than either of those things.
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