Week One: Personal Experiences
Week Two: Our Heroes
Week Three: Best Song Ever
Week Four: Gameplay Wallbangers
Week Five: The Big Bad
Week Six: Ridiculously Broken Attacks
Week Seven: Title Logos
Week Eight: Chocobos!
Week Nine: Battle Music
Week Ten: Eye-rollingest Plot Elements
Week Eleven: Craziest Fashion Sense
SPOILER ALERT!! This feature by its very nature contains spoilers for every Final Fantasy game. If you don’t want your cherry popped, make sure to skip the bits about games you haven’t played yet.
Final Fantasy characters distinguish themselves in a number of ways, not the least of which involve utterly improbable hairstyles and weapons the size of a kitchen sink. Folks like to blame Advent Children for the cartoonishly over-the-top style flash and bang the series has “devolved” into, but truth is the series has always been more than happy to remind you that the game you’re playing is about ridiculous people gussied up in ridiculous costume gallavanting around doing ridiculous things.
The thing about crazy fashion is that it really cuts both ways. You can look at something crazy and say, “Wow! That’s crazy! But badass!” Or, you could say “Wow! That’s crazy! What the hell were they thinking!?” The line between crazy-awesome and crazy-retarded is paper thin at best, and many of Final Fantasy’s most visually memorable characters walk it precariously.
This week I decided to look at the most baby-boilingly insane fashion choices made by the cast in each game. Unfortunately the selection process contains a fairly wide margin of error; some games are simply crazier than others, which means more examples of both kinds of crazy. For example: FF9′s craziest wardrobe choice is Steiner’s hilarious metal shorts, which strikes clearly agains the “retarded” end of the scale. If Steiner had worn socks I would have had to fall back on the second-craziest option, which would be Quina’s gigantic chef’s hat. Wearing a gigantic chef’s hat into battle is so awesome it about makes my brain explode, so FF9 would have scored considerably higher.
Similarly, the results are skewed because something utterly unbelievably crazy can be perceived as normal given the setting and circumstances. Celes and Rosa both wear ensembles consisting of panties and long flowing capes… but that’s just what chicks wear in fantasy settings. Not crazy at all. (And this concept will be important when we reach FF12.) We’ll call this the Boris Valejo Factor.
Final Fantasy II: Maria’s Golden Boob Cup
As far back as I can remember, Final Fantasy heroines have been locked in some kind of bizarre arms race to show off as much of their boobs as possible without actually showing off their boobs. It’s a losing battle, though, because that bar was set so ridiculously high by the very first Final Fantasy heroine that Yuna or Ashe would literally have to show up for the final boss fight dressed in pasties and magic marker to even be in the race.
What Maria has done here is taken a perfectly servicable purple top and hacked it in half vertically. This decision had the side-effect of leaving 50% of her titties all hangin’ out, so to preserve her modesty she has placed the uncovered one in some manner of breast cradle. It looks as though this device is held in place by a combination of a thin cloth strap clasped at her neck and sheer force of will.
I cannot for the life of me figure what the purpose of this silly accessory is. Her entire left side is exposed, along with half her chest and back, so clearly its protective qualities were not an issue. Since it’s not connected to anything but her necklace I can’t imagine it does much in the way of support. And it’s definitely not a modesty issue; that she’d go outside with a soup bowl over her business is evidence enough to me that she’s a shameless hussy through and through. I’d almost repect her more if she’d ditch the pretenses and go around half-topless.
I’ve done a lot of research for this project, much of it at the Final Fantasy Wiki, which tends to include very detailed physical descriptions of a character’s clothing and physical appearance on that character’s bio page. This isn’t true of the cast of Final Fantasy II, though, and I can only assume it’s because no anonymous editor could type “tit cup” with a straight face. Since Maria’s description is absent, the rest of the cast’s must as well — there are style issues to consider, after all.
Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning’s Gunblade Sheath
Final Fantasy XIII has one of the most stunningly flamboyant casts in the series when it comes to visual flair and over-the-top attack animations. For all that, though, their outfits tend to be fairly reasonable. Vanille’s is slightly ridiculous, but she’s a teenage girl and teenage girls are well-known for wearing ridiculous things. Snow’s coat doesn’t seem to have one zipper, let alone forty. In fact, examining the character artwork might lead you to believe that the cast’s wardrobe is perfectly ordinary given their exotic locale.
No, to really see the crazy at work here you have to see Lightning in motion.
Most FF characters don’t concern themselves with frivolities like a realistic place to stash their weapons, unless of course it’s stylish to do so. You only get to see Fang’s seven-foot-tall spear or Hope’s wacky fold-up boomerang if its appropriate for the scene, for example, whereas Sazh has dual gun holsters on his belt. Gun holsters are cool, and Sazh is cool, therefore Sazh has holsters. Yeah? This seems to be the logic behind Lightning’s gunblade as well, though she doesn’t wear a sheath on her belt or on her back. Instead, when not in use, her gunblade hangs behind her on some leather straps attached to her waist, just kind of dangling there. An impractical spot to position one’s weapon, sure, but you can’t debate the stylish flourish with which Lightning draws the gunblade for combat.
Here’s the problem: Lightning is the party leader for much of the game. Which means the player spends much of the game behind Lightning, watching her run around. Which means the player spends much of the game watching her stupid gunblade sheath just bouncing around behind her, banging off her legs. It’s a wonder she can even sit, given how bruised the backs of her thighs must be after a full day of jogging around the steppe. While in motion it looks like the gunblade is going to come detached and fall off at any moment… and would Lightning even notice right away if it did? It’s the l’Cie equivalent of losing a cup of coffee that was on the roof of your car.
Final Fantasy XII: Ashe’s Inexplicable Hotpants
By and large the Boris Valejo Factor does not apply to Final Fantasy XII. The viera are all half-naked, sure, but they’re immortal bunny girls who live in a magical forest. If your butt remained perfectly firm after 400 years of archery and tree-climbing you’d want to show it off too. No, the human characters of FF12 are, for the most part, dressed like you’d expect someone who lives in a fictional desert to dress.
All of them except Ashe, that is. Ashe is dressed like you’d expect someone who lives at a seedy Japanese night club to dress. I mean, really? A pair of neon pink rubber hotpants? This is what passes for regal in Dalmasca? I’m sure the baby blue belt with the giant brass buckle isn’t necessary to hold them up; it looks like it takes no less than fifteen straight minutes of wriggling and grunting to get into those ridiculous things as it is.
At outward glance Ashe’s bottoms look more like the world’s tiniest miniskirt (designed to be worn by the world’s skankiest 14-year-old): two pieces of material connected at the waist but not underneath. However, as this diagram clearly shows they are indeed short-shorts… sort of. Actually they’re kind of both. An inverted skirt, if you will, with the connecting material up the middle rather than around the circumference.
Somewhere, in the deepest and most depraved corners of Japanese game development, there is a porno RPG where the main character wears Ashe’s hotpants and Maria’s boob cup and doesn’t look at all out of place. Actually, now that I’m typing this up I feel kind of skeevy even dwelling on such issues. “Ha ha, JRPG girls are hos!” Talk about low-hanging fruit. Let’s move on to something hilarious, instead.
Final Fantasy IX: Steiner’s Metal Boxers
Steiner’s armor defines his character in absolutely every way that matters. He’s a knight through and through, upholding the virtues of honor and duty, acting as a sworn shield to his princess. But he’s also a hapless goof, as evidenced by the loud clank clank clank he makes while running around. The fact that he’s made of metal gives his arch-rival Zidane the basis for his endearing nickname: “Rusty”. And at the end of the day, a fully-armored knight is not at all out-of-place in the setting of Final Fantasy IX.
So committed is Steiner to his metal outfit that he’s even got stainless steel boxer shorts. At least I sure hope they’re stainless. What on earth would possess a man to don a mail shirt and a full suit of plate, then stop once he gets to his knees? The juxtaposition of this dour, straight-faced man wearing double his weight in bulky armor, his frame being carried on bony, stick-like legs poking out underneath… can you really do anything but point and laugh?
It’s comical, to be sure. And Steiner is a comical character! But it’s the wrong kind of comical. Steiner’s not funny because he is, himself, funny. Rather, he’s funny because of the way his humorless demeanor clashes with the rest of the cast and with the situations he finds himself in. It’s funny when Zidane swings gracefully onto the deck of an airship using a rope, chased immediately by Steiner who instead crashes into the side. It’s funny when he tries to give earnest orders to his bumbling, clueless underlings. Steiner’s not the kind of guy who would say, “I’ll show everyone my ankles! How wacky!” Why, then, does he do it?
Examining other knights in the world of Gaia doesn’t work. The only other example that particularly matters is Beatrix, who is all cleavage and stockings… but she’s covered under the Boris Valejo Factor. Steiner is a dude. Those legs ought to be covered up, soldier!
Final Fantasy X: Lulu’s Skirt of a Thousand Belts
Two things are worth noting at this point. First, we have now departed crazy-ridiculous and entered the realm of crazy-awesome, as far as I’m concerned. And second, Final Fantasy X had better be glad I’m only examining individual characters here and not entire casts as a whole. I’ve typed like twenty paragraphs so far, but that’s less than half the space I’d need to describe how cosmically stupid most of the inhabitants of Spira look. Geographically speaking the entire world is tropical, leading to an entire race of scantily-clad island villagers.. each one more baffling than the last.
Lulu, however, eschews color altogether and rocks an elegent low-cut gown with a heavy fur trim. I fell instantly in love with Lulu upon first seeing her, having been a big fan of both Squall and Edea’s fashion sense in the past. The visual design of those characters sets them apart from the rest of FF8′s cast, which is comprised largely of folks wearing what could pass as regular street clothes. So here was Lulu, the love child of the two of them; dark and mysterious in a world over-full of brightness and sunlight.
But… what’s with the belts?
Tetsuya “Zippers” Nomura’s character designs are often derided as being almost parodies of themselves, with random objects stuck anywhere and everywhere for any reason that strikes his whimsy. Where you stand on this particular opinion probably correlates with how passionate you are about the Kingdom Hearts games, but even the most ardent defenders would have to concede the point when it comes to the front of Lulu’s dress.
Now, there’s stuff here to like. The glimpse of Lulu’s lacy garter is a fairly classy way to show some skin, considering most of FF10′s NPCs are just wandering around in sling bikinis or grass skirts. And the belts do make a fairly cool pattern they way they’re criss-crossed in front of her legs. You can almost envision Lulu, so very different from everyone else she knows, cleaning out the belt section of a Besaid thrift store and staying up all night threading together a garment that is as difficult to understand as her tormented soul.
Anyway, a few years later I would fall in love again with Paine, and for many of the same reasons. I’ll take any reason to mention Paine I can get, as she’s my favorite character from the world of FF10… but again, the unexplainable belts. You can just hear Nomura chanting “More straps! More buckles!” Very strange.
Final Fantasy VII: Yuffie’s Armguard and Leg Brace
Before falling into a belts-and-buckles induced state of madness, Nomura designed the characters in Final Fantasy VII. The characters themselves are pretty left-field — which is your favorite, the kitty cat on a giant robot or the one-armed Mr. T look-a-like? — but the clothes they wear are pretty standard. A barmaid’s outfit, a metal pauldron, a vampire cape. Nothing worth really getting worked up over.
You can’t very well talk about crazy fashion decisions without bringing up the subject of impractical armor. Nobody in FF7 really wears the stuff at all; body armor is sort of pointless in a world where magic and gunpowder are so prolific. And ninjas are not a class of people well-known for protective gear, usually portrayed as relying more on stealth and agility. A bit head-scratching, then, that the teenage girl ninja wears more armor than anyone else in FF7, and all on the left side of her body.
The armguard actually makes a lot of sense. You can tell it’s used more for active rather than passive defense, meant to block blows rather than absorb or deflect them. It’s bulky, but Yuffie is small, so with enough speed she can use it to cover a good deal of her slight frame. Plus she’s most proficient in thrown weapons which only require the use of one hand.
Her left leg, though… I can’t even look at it without picturing a scene from Forrest Gump.
Why does Yuffie need a leg brace? Would she walk around with a limp otherwise? Did her father Godo perceive her to have poor posture? Is she trying to cover up a hideous childhood scar? Together with her armguard, Yuffie looks like she’s geared up on one side of her body but not the other. She’s ready for half of a fight.
Final Fantasy III: Geomancer’s Pajamas
The original Final Fantasy aped a lot from Dungeons & Dragons, but one thing it invented for itself was the visual design of its six character classes. The black mage’s straw hat, the red triangles on the white mage’s robes, the fighter’s fiery afro… these are things that went on to define the look of Final Fanatsy characters for years to come.
Future FF games had job systems too, though. The base jobs were already in place: black mage, fighter, white mage, etc. But the new jobs all needed iconic designs as well. Some of these went on to enter the FF lexicon and be used in future job-based games, which themselves invented new jobs and therefore new designs, and so on and so forth, on into perpetuity. Others didn’t quite stick, and were either forgotten entirely or received new designs as the situation warranted.
Final Fantasy III introduced its share of second-generation jobs, and new designs along with them: the ranger’s feather cap, the scholar’s nerd glasses, the dark knight’s spikey armor. The best of them is the geomancer though: two beedy yellow eyes peeking out from behind a pair of puffy pajamas, topped off a floppy blue hat.
At first glance the geomancer is just a retooled black mage, but there’s more to it than that. The black mage is mysterious, perhaps even evil. You can look at a black mage and imagine the faceless wizard underneath, a creature of shadow who commands dark energies. The geomancer, though? He’s just overdressed. His pajamas are padded and poofy, not draped and flowing. The reason you can’t see the geomancer’s face isn’t because he might not have one, but because he’s got too much stuff on.
That getup sure does look comfy, though!
Final Fantasy VI: Gogo’s Shroud of Many Colors
Final Fantasy VI is the first game in the series where the in-game character sprites really began to resemble their design artwork. Just going by the sprites you can tell that Locke is wearing a jacket rather than simply a nondescript shirt, and that Celes really is clad in a battle thong (covered by the Boris Valejo Factor, of course) rather than an oddly-shaped suit of green armor. An interesting side-effect of the larger and more detailed character sprites is that trends begin to emerge. A cursory glance at the cast of FF6 reveals that mohawks and ponytails are both very much in style.
Two members of the crew have gone to great lengths to keep their faces covered and their identities secret. In the older games it would have been very difficult to convey the subtle difference between these two characters, but FF6 rises to the task. On one hand you have Shadow, the ninja without a name, clad entirely in black and hidden behind a mask. On the other you have Gogo who, like the geomancer in the previous entry, is simply wearing too many clothes.
Before writing this entry I had at least a general idea of what I was going to settle on for each game. FF6 challenged me though, since none of its characters really stands out from the rest when it comes to their wardrobe. I spent a lot of time poring over the character artwork and realized I had never really looked at Gogo’s clothes before. Each layer of his shrouds has its own colors or pattern to it, and many of these mimic one of the other PCs. The outside of his overcoat is Setzer’s white and black triangles; the inside is Strago’s red and white stripes. He’s got Terra’s floral print leggings and adorned with Relm’s beads and feathers. Draped across his chest is the same pattern Locke’s bandanas was fashioned from. The slit in front of his eyes is the exact same shape and size as Shadow’s. There’s even a bit of Kefka in there, in every mismatched ruffled scarf.
Gogo is a character I never cared much for, so it’s particularly interesting to notice some aspect to him I had long overlooked. Even outside of this revelation, though, there’s just no other character in the series who is quite this visually striking. He’s mysterious not by choice, but by nature. Speculating what may (or may not!) be underneath Gogo’s shrouds is far more fun than it would be to ever actually find out.
Final Fantasy IV: Yang’s Happy Pants
If the theme of Nomura’s designs is “random objects that serve no purpose”, the theme of Yoshitaka Amano’s would be “colorful patterns that serve no purpose”. Where Nomura often tries too hard to be cool, Amano often tries too hard to be weird; that’s how we end up with stuff like Maria’s boob cup and the summoner job’s pointy horn. One common trait to Amano’s designs are the colorful prints and patterns adorning the character’s clothing. These designs are usually not representative of anything; they’re just random patterns or swirls of color.
Such is not the case with Yang’s pants in his character artwork for Final Fantasy IV. His baggy red pants are undeniably covered in pink smiley faces. Which, you know, is exactly the type of thing you’d expect a karate master to wear if he were drawn by a 7-year-old, or appearing as a special guest star on Sesame Street.
The question for years was, “Is Yang really wearing happy pants?” A fair enough inquiry, considering lots of Amano’s bizarre little flourishes don’t make it into the actual game. When he draws Strago riding a hooverbike or Quina with a motley cap you can just shrug and say “Well, he does a lot of drugs.” Much in the same way real-world fashions are brought down a notch somewhere in between the runway and the cash register, so do Amano’s designs get tweaked down into something more resembling video game characters.
But then the DS remake came out, and with it the high-res CG renders of the entire cast. Brand new picture, brand new technology, same baffling happy pants. So yes, I have to conclude that Yang does go around kicking ass in smiling gypsy pants, and that little detail was only left off originally because there weren’t enough pixels on his sprite to do it justice.
Final Fantasy VIII: Squall’s Bomber Jacket w/Fur Trim
Final Fanatsy VIII stars a group of teenagers attending boarding school together, and tries its hardest to portray its world as being close in look and feel to our own. Case in point, all of the player characters look like they shop at The Gap. Rinoa’s wristwarmers and Irvine’s trenchcoat… why, these are things which are only very slight spins on things trendy youths actually wear! Note that I’m not actually complaining here; after years of pink-haired spellslingers and knights in impossibly-shaped armor it was actually a little refreshing to see my RPG hero show up sporting jeans and a DiCaprio haircut.
Ah, but Squall wouldn’t be an FF hero if he didn’t have some zany addition to recommend him. First off, he’s wearing one too many belts, neither of which are really in a position to hold his pants up. And second, his leather bomber jacket has a unique fur trim around the collar.
This flurry of white material is the very first thing I remember noticing about Squall. I didn’t quite know how to react. I remember thinking it was far too… detailed for an FF game. Remember, this was the late 90s, and at that time it was either SD sprites or blocky LEGO people. Rumor has it that the level of detail is the purpose of the fur trim to begin with; the character designer wanted to give the renderers a difficult challenge to overcome. They succeeded. Even on the low-polycount in-game models you can tell the collar is made of fur; it only kind of looks like a half-roasted marshmallow.
After playing the game a while I decided that I really, really liked Squall’s jacket and that I would even wear it if I owned one. Of course Square then began selling it as official FF8 merchandise, with something like a $400 price tag. Some things simply were not meant to be.
Final Fantasy V: Blue Mage’s Ballmask
Final Fantasy V‘s job system is very much an extension of FF3′s. It keeps all the old jobs worth keeping, consolidates some of the more esoteric ones, and adds another group all its own. Not only do we have the horny-headed summoners and pajama’d geomancers, but each of the game’s five playable characters has his or her own unique spin on those costumes. So many of these are worthy of mention that FF5 could populate a Crazy Fashion list all to itself, but the blue mage’s ballmask and superhero cape are by far the most amazing.
Blue magic is a turbulent skill which rangs from indespensible to worthless, often requiring the player to jump through a series of hoops simply to activate. Each entry in the series puts its own spin on the skillset, often attaching it to a particular character or item rather than being a class unto itself. By the time spin-off games rolled around that did feature job systems, someone made the unfortunate decision to redesign the class. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy X-2 all have unique (and less interesting) designs, so there’s no real evolution to this class like there has been to the other colors of mages. There’s no real sense of identity.
And that’s a real shame, isn’t it? The featureless black mage and the flowing white mage are icons of the series, instantly recognizable no matter where they pop up. No such love for the blue mage, even though its earliest design is clearly its best. While donning the blue mage costume, a hero is incognito, you see. A random monster doesn’t know he’s dealing with a world-saving hero any more than a criminal speaking with Clark Kent knows he’s dealing with Superman. Furthermore, blue magic is less generic than white or black. A black mage casts Fire; a blue mage casts Flamethrower. Or uses a Goblin Punch. Or throws 1000 Needles. These aren’t magic spells; they’re natural techniques. They’re super powers.
Of all the jobs in FF5, the blue mage is one of the few every veteran knows to keep on his team at all times. The decision to do so is made all the easier by virtue of their totally awesome costumes. Happy coincidence, or purposeful game design? Hard to say, but of FF5′s new jobs the blue mage is the one that ended up having the most lasting power. I wish its visual style had endured as well. To be honest though, this entry was a toss-up between the blue mage as a whole, and Bartz specifically in his spectacular dancer costume. Fortunately I can have it both ways…
Final Fantasy XI: Dancer’s Attire Set
So we’ve seen retarded clothes, and awesome clothes, and hilarious clothes. Now it’s time to look at fabulous clothes.
Fashion in MMOs is always a strange issue since the gear that looks good on you and the gear that works well in combat are very seldom one and the same. Back when I played World of Warcraft I had some pretty swank-looking gear, and if I had cared to endure guild politics long enough to raid every night for a couple years I could have had an intensely kickass looking set of armor. When I was just out and about though, running quests or farming gold? I looked like a clown. And so did everyone else from Westfall to Nagrand.
I spent a little while just flipping through the various armor sets in Final Fantasy XI before asking a current player what I should be looking for. He linked me to a few different sets, but I knew right away Dancer’s Attire would take the prize. There’s just something… correct about playing a Flemenco dancer in a world full of dragon knights and magic robes. The only thing that could make this frilly ensemble better would be an accessory that makes a rose dangle from your character’s mouth. Although come to think of it I don’t know that FF11 doesn’t have that. (And I’d prefer not to be corrected, thanks!)
In general terms, the armor sets in FF11 are all pretty great looking. There’s not a class in the game that doesn’t look fantastic when decked out in its exclusive gear. I never played the game long enough to reach that point; my white mage never really had an option outside of “generic doublet” or “ugly grey condom suit”. Great as they all may be, though, nothing quite gets the blood pumping like Dancer’s Attire. Of course anything that looks good in this game has to look good on a tarutaru as well as a galka, which just ramps the ridiculousness up to even greater hieghts. Just look how limber he is! ¡Viva la Flamenco!
Final Fantasy I: Red Mage’s Pimp Hat
The jobs from the original Final Fantasy are the most elemental in the entire series. Three fighters and three mages, all of which have distinct sprites just oozing with charm. Of these the red and black mages stand out from the pack. When you see one of these characters you instantly know you are looking at a Final Fantasy wizard. No question. And of all the class designs these are the two that have been remade, redrawn and re-applied the most.
But that red wide-brimmed hat with the feather in. Man. You just don’t beat that. It’s a thing of beauty. It’s the very definition of perfection. What else would a well-traveled jack-of-all-trades adventurer wear?
In FF1, red mages are pimps. They have an advantage over every other class in the game. They can use better weapons than a thief, the same heavy armor as a fighter. They get all but a very few white and black magic spells, and are at no disadvantage when it comes to using them. They’re a one-man party. If someone in FF1 is gonna wear a pimp hat, it would certainly be the guy who can do anything.
There are layers to the symbolism here, though! Going forward a bit in the series, FF3 and FF5 have the same red mages with the same pimp hats. In these games red mages are not actually pimps. Their magic is quickly obsoleted both by specialized white and black mages and by newer mage types whose spells they can’t access. I won’t say they’re useless, but they’re not a class one would actually use. It’s easy to think of this generation of red mages as big blowhards, making grand boasts about their abilities and acting much tougher than they actually are. That’s the kind of person who would wear a pimp hat, too.
One of my most vivid memories of my time with FF11 was my good friend setting his long-term goal: he was going to main red mage and get him a pimp hat. Not for the stats, you understand. Not because it resists paralysis or decreases spell cooldown. But because 1) it look pimp and 2) it’s what red mages wear. That’s quite an endorsement.
Two weeks left in this ambitious little project of mine! One of the weaknesses with this format is that narrowing my focus only to the numbered series leaves out some pretty important parts of the FF lexicon. I won’t be breaking the format for next week (I’m far too stubborn for that!), but I’ll be… loosening it a little bit. Thanks for reading!