The upcoming Mobius Final Fantasy game recently drew a lot of attention for a controversial change. Its hero, Wol, (an abbreviation of 'Warrior of Light') underwent a costume change. But this isn't your average redesign— citing feedback from players, the game's developers changed Wol's costume because it was deemed "too sexy." Calling costumes too sexy is not new in the gaming industry, but it's usually a criticism leveled at the costumes female characters wear.
So, what's the difference here? Is it purely that the costume was on a man rather than a woman? Are developers finally taking complaints about ridiculous costuming trends seriously? Most importantly, did the costume need to be changed in the first place?
Revealing Armor in Final Fantasy Is Nothing New
If a sexy male costume was an aberration in the Final Fantasy series, it would be easy to attribute the costume change to the complaint that it makes the character "too sexy." The problem is, such costuming isn't at all aberrant; the series is no stranger to sexy male armor— take a look at Vaan or Jecht's bare chest, or the revealing armor in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, which is equally scandalous for male and female avatars.
Of course, the series' portrayal of skimpy armor skews heavily in favor of scantily clad women over men. Look no further than Final Fantasy X-2, which features an all-girl cast whose costumes default to bikini tops and tight leather pants.
That Wol's outfit was changed due to criticism is an interesting explanation. Granted, his outfit shows a lot of hip and thigh, unlike Vaan and Jecht (though the point still stands with the ridiculous outfits in A Realm Reborn). But does it actually seem like that's the reason behind his costume change?
The Inequality of Sexy Outfits in Final Fantasy
Unfortunately, it doesn't look that way. Cindy's controversial outfit remains unaddressed, despite annoyance from other fans of the series. For most, the complaint isn't about the outfit in isolation, but rather about her outfit in relation to the rest of the cast. All of Cindy's male counterparts have been dressed in outfits appropriate to their occupation. By contrast, Cindy wears booty shorts and a bikini top to work on cars. The moment the character is a woman, her outfit gets skimpier, but criticism of that trend doesn't seem to herald any outfit revamps.
Why was Wol's outfit deemed "too sexy," when plenty of female characters wear the same thing (or less) and aren't viewed that way? One possible explanation of this is the way much of our culture equates sexiness—and femininity—with vulnerability. This isn't a belief that everybody holds, nor is it true of all video games, but it's not an uncommon theme. Putting Wol in a revealing outfit makes viewers question its practicality, a question that wouldn't be asked of Paine's warrior outfit, for instance.
We Don't Need to Eliminate Sexy Armor – We Need to Equalize It
The real takeaway here is that ultimately, positive change might not involve changing skimpy outfits for female characters, but rather equalizing the way we view skimpy outfits in video games overall. Leaving Wol's outfit as it was would have been a step in the right direction, as it would have been less about just putting women in sexy outfits as eye candy for the straight male gamer, and more about showing that skimpy outfits don't nullify a character's capability.
And, of course, plenty of other female characters in the Final Fantasy universe get by just fine in skimpy outfits. Lulu, Tifa, and Rikku all hold their own despite costumes that bare cleavage, legs, and midriffs.
The issue is that a costume that would look fine on a woman is perceived as out of place on a man, and not because the outfit itself is traditionally feminine—it's not a dress or skirt, just armor with a lot of holes. The issue is that the armor, in virtue of being revealing, reads as feminine. And by reading as feminine, it seems out of place on a male warrior of light.
That is the stereotype that the outfit could address. Sure, we see female characters kicking butt in short shorts all the time, but that's because it's expected. To see Wol doing the same thing could have equalized the way we see those characters, allowing us to view sexy outfits as just outfits without all the additional baggage.
Mobius Final Fantasy Starts a Conversation
Square Enix is obviously within their rights to change the costume as they see fit. If they think a Wol in bulkier armor is the Wol they want to portray, then that's their call.
But it would be nice to see equal treatment in terms of how characters are dressed. We don't have to put female characters in shapeless sacks any more than we have to put men in bikinis, but a little more equality in costume design across the board wouldn't hurt. Regardless of Square Enix's ultimate decision, Wol's costume has incited a conversation, and conversation is the first step toward paving the way for more understanding on both sides of the sexy outfit debate.