How The Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae Demo Changed My Opinion On Its All-Male Cast

If there is one topic in the gaming industry right now that is polarizing fans, it’s gender representation. Whether it’s a lack of portrayal altogether or a sexist objectification, many fans petitioning for equal treatment of women in games are growing louder and louder. Last September, Square Enix added to the controversy with an untimely (official) reveal that Final Fantasy XV’s party will consist entirely of men. Reactions were mixed, while current director Hajime Tabata cited original director Tetsuya Nomura’s initial vision for the game as reason to exclude gender diversity in its main cast.

Like many, I was skeptical of the decision. Final Fantasy has traditionally featured women in its playable cast, often prominently. Without female representation in the party, I couldn’t fathom how the game would feel balanced or, frankly, like Final Fantasy.

Then I played Final Fantasy XV: Episode Duscae. The three hours I spent with Noctis and company revealed a cadre of close friends with a special bond. I was mindful of Square Enix’s choice to exclude women from XV’s party, but well before I completed the demo, I understood entirely why the decision was upheld to leave XV’s party a veritable dude-fest.

Final Fantasy XV hanging out

What’s so discouraging to me is that fans were (and continue to be) so quick to spurn Final Fantasy XV and Square Enix for this decision without experiencing the dynamic the four characters share. Yes, gender diversity is as important as ever, but upon playing through Episode Duscae I realized the creative vision the developers have and why it works.

In a recent interview with GameSpot, Tabata declared, “Even the presence of one female in the group will change their behavior, so that they’ll act differently.” I was surprised how harsh the reaction was to this particular statement, A) because it’s true, whether anyone wants to admit it, and B) because I had the exact same thought while playing through the demo. As the four guys (three, really, because Noctis barely spoke) chatted and exchanged banter, I remember feeling that precise dynamic would not be possible if any one of the characters was female. If you’re not convinced, wait until you see them meet Cidney (the first time the franchise has put a woman in the role of “Cid”). The entire party’s demeanor changes, one growing more bombastic as he tries to impress her, others growing more reserved, and, in the case of Noctis, behaving noticeably friendlier than he does to his buddies.

Still, people continue to declare Square Enix is sexist because they won’t include women in the main cast. What every one of these critics fails to acknowledge is that Final Fantasy is no stranger to gender diversity. Setting aside the fact its last major console releases, the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy, centered around female leads, Final Fantasy featured an all-woman playable cast twelve years ago with Final Fantasy X-2—the first time only one gender has been represented in a Final Fantasy party. There were no legitimate criticisms against the decision to exclude men, and rightly so. The game would not have worked if a man had been thrown in to keep things diverse. It was a creative decision made by the development team for the sake of what they felt the game’s story needed.

The first gender-exclusive party in Final Fantasy history

The first gender-exclusive party in Final Fantasy history

This is no different with Final Fantasy XV. It’s unfair to demand a developer include something you feel is important solely for the sake of you feeling it’s important without regard to whether it would contradict the creative vision of the developers. Aside from that, Tabata has assured fans there are women that play prominent roles in the game. They may not be a perennial presence, but lest we forget, there is technically only one playable character, and that is Noctis. All others, including the three other party members, are supporting characters.

I am a firm believer that the industry has not portrayed women fairly, and it goes without saying the ratio of men to women characters in video games is ridiculously skewed. I also respect a developer’s decision to exercise creative license when they have a specific vision for a game. This reason is sometimes abused (or sometimes other ridiculous excuses are made), but after playing the Final Fantasy XV demo, I am inclined to agree that Square Enix did have such a vision that kept them from legitimately including women in Final Fantasy XV’s main cast.

I respect anyone’s decision to disagree with me (either privately or via the comments). I only ask that you offer the game a chance to prove itself before you swear it off completely.

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