Written by guest contributor Hayley Garden, this post is the second in a series that discusses the role of female characters in the Final Fantasy franchise. Check out our recent artist interview with Hayley!
Written by Hayley Garden; edited by Kathryn Cooperman and Catherine Harlow.
Final Fantasy IV was an incredible triumph for video game company Square Enix. The game succeeded on multiple levels: it told a fully realized story and had compelling characters, whose relationships drove the narrative forward. On the heels of this great success, Square Enix began development of both Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy VI, the final two games that would be released on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. However, while Final Fantasy VI was met with critical acclaim from fans around the world, Final Fantasy V was not so lucky.
Final Fantasy V, which has a brighter tone and a tighter focus on game mechanics as opposed to story, is often ignored when compared to the other two games in its generation. It initially came out in Japan on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) in 1992, but it did not see a worldwide release until 1998. The game was described as “just not accessible to the average gamer” by Ted Woolsey, the lead translator for the SNES-era Final Fantasy titles. The game was considered too difficult. Boasting an intricate job system with the return of the active time battle combat system from the previous installment, Final Fantasy V allowed players plenty of freedom to customize their playing experience, but that also led to intimidating, difficult gameplay. The story took a bit of a backseat so the developers could focus on building the job system, but it’s still a fun, lighthearted tale with plenty of humor and heart.
Like all Final Fantasy games, Final Fantasy V has its share of interesting and complex female characters. They are very different from the characters in its predecessor, but still compelling in their own way. The game has five main playable characters. Three of them are female. What makes Final Fantasy V stand out is that it is one of the only Final Fantasy games that does not reduce its female characters to being the blatant subjects of a romance storyline.
Lenna Charlotte Tycoon is the game’s princess character. She is the daughter of King Tycoon and heir to the throne of Tycoon. In the average Japanese Role Playing Game (JRPG), Lenna would be the main character’s love interest. However, the game does not explicitly have her falling in love with the game’s main hero, Bartz. Instead, Lenna thrives on her own and has compelling platonic relationships with the rest of the cast. If each character in Final Fantasy V represents an element, Lenna’s is water, which symbolizes devotion. She fights for her father, and is determined to rescue him when he goes missing. She accepts the duty the crystal gives her. When the Chancellor of Tycoon begs her to stay at the castle, she refuses his requests, feeling that her duty to save the world is more important than her life. Lenna is altruistic and kind, constantly risking her life for her loved ones. At one point in the game, Lenna willingly exposes herself to poison to save a wind drake from death. Her most compelling character relationship is with Faris.
Faris Scherwiz is a cross-dressing pirate captain who initially presents herself as male to the cast. She is one of the first characters in video games to play with gender presentation, though, unfortunately, the game does not explore this too deeply. The game does not have Faris fall in love with Bartz either, instead choosing to focus more on her relationship with Lenna. Faris is courageous and sometimes reckless, and often does not care about what other people think about her. While Lenna is kind and altruistic, Faris is selfish. If Lenna’s element is water, the element of devotion, Faris’s is fire, the element of courage. The two of them clash on the surface, but ultimately share similar character traits in their impulsive natures, courageous acts, and thirst for adventure. Faris joins the team for seemingly superficial reasons, not because she feels she has a duty to save the world. Later in the game, it is revealed that Faris is actually Sarisa Scherwil Tycoon, Lenna’s sister and a princess of Tycoon. She was lost at sea and found by pirates. As Sarisa was unable to pronounce her name, the pirates dubbed her Faris. Learning about her sisterly connection to Lenna is what drives Faris’s character development. She becomes protective and fond of her fellow Warriors of Light, and slowly shifts her priorities.
Krile is the third and final playable female character. She is the granddaughter of another playable character, Galuf, and permanently replaces him in the party after Galuf sacrifices himself in the fight against Exdeath, the game’s antagonist. Krile is a bright and optimistic girl, whose hopeful attitude keeps the group’s spirits up despite the grave situation in which they find themselves. However, the story allows Krile moments of sadness and introspection as well. She is allowed to grieve her grandfather and feel lonely. Krile also loves animals, and has the ability to communicate with them telepathically. The game does not explain why she has that ability, but it makes for a very useful character. Krile, like Faris and Lenna, does not have any romantic inclinations towards Bartz, and she enjoys a platonic big brother/little sister relationship with him.
Final Fantasy V was always overlooked. However, it finds ways to stand out and continue the franchise’s streak of revolutionary gaming choices. It is the only Final Fantasy game where the number of female playable characters is higher than the number of male characters. It is the only Final Fantasy game to not include any romance storylines. There is a focus on sisterhood, and it is the only Final Fantasy game to have that kind of relationship between its playable characters. For a long time, Final Fantasy V was series creator Hironobu Sakaeguchi’s favorite, an opinion he held until the release of Final Fantasy IX in 2000.