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On Aerith, female leads and fridges

Discussion in 'Final Fantasy XV - Spoiler Discussion' started by APZonerunner, Dec 27, 2016.

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  1. APZonerunner

    APZonerunner Network Boss-man Staff Member Administrator Site Staff UFFSite Veteran

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    Extrapolated from another thread...

    Does FF7 really have a woman problem, though? I wanna go through these in a literary sense:

    Is Aerith really fridged?
    Y'know, I'm not sure she is. Let's grab the definition a second:
    "Fridging" (Short for "Women in Refrigerators") Refers to an act where the villain kills, maims, depowers, or rapes someone close to the hero in order to break the hero's spirit and attempt to make the hero chase him.

    What I want to focus on here isn't so much Jenova's intent in having her puppet version of Sephiroth kill Aerith (as let's not forget, the real Sephiroth is still in the crater at this point) - but more on Aerith's intent. She goes off alone for a reason, and she knows she's going to her death. In fact, it's key to her plan. This is hinted at throughout her dialogue once you leave Midgar, and in dialogue with Bugenhagen both before and after her death.

    "And let me handle Sephiroth."
    "It's only a matter of time before Sephiroth uses Meteor."
    "That's why I'm going to protect it. Only a survivor of the Cetra, like me, can do it."

    Deep within FF7's lore there's the note that there's something cyclical to the nature of the plot; that the original Cetra sacrificed themselves to save the planet, basically, and the battle between Jenova (via Sephiroth) and Aerith, the last survivors of the calamity incident, is basically a repeat of that:

    "Your ancestors escaped... They survived because they hid."
    "The Planet was saved by sacrificing the Cetra. After that, your ancestors continued to increase."

    There's a point to this, and it's one of the smarter things in FF7's plot, honestly; Aerith is the linchpin. She is absolutely key, and she is the resolution to the plot, not Cloud or his gang, ultimately. Their actions allow her plan to work, but without her plan and her sacrifice, there is no recourse. It's the whole point of the game.

    "...It's glowing."

    "Ho Ho Hooo!! It's pale green!!"

    "...Aerith. Aerith has already prayed for Holy."
    "...After I gave the Black Materia to Sephiroth...... Aerith's
    words came into my dreams..."
    "She said, she was the only one who could stop Sephiroth......
    And to do that, there was a secret here..."
    "That was Holy...... That's why, she had the White Materia.
    Aerith knew about here... and what she had to do."
    "Aerith has left us great hope. But, it cost her her life... her
    "I'm sorry... Aerith. I should have figured this out sooner."
    "...You left us without saying a word...... It was all so sudden,
    so I couldn't think..."
    "That's why it took so long for me to find out... But, Aerith...
    I understand now."
    "Aerith... I'll do the rest."

    "The big gift the flower girl left for us... It'd be sad if we
    didn't finish it!"

    "Thank you... Aerith."
    "Aerith's voice has already reached the Planet. Just look at the
    glow of the White Materia."

    And yes, the entire ending of the game, all that fighting, is to stop the 'blockage' in the lifestream, where Aerith is still praying from the afterlife (as indicated in the ending and in Bugenhagan dialogue) so that her plan can go through. Without her plan, everything is doomed all the same.

    I really don't think she 'lucks into it' - she spends a great deal of the early half in of her time in the game unaware, and especially in Cosmo Canyon speaks to the elders and learns, something she talks about. One thing she learns in particular is of the concept of the promised land.

    "The Cetras return to the Promised Land. A land that promises boundless happiness."
    "...You don't 'know' where the Promised Land of the Ancients is."
    "You search and travel, until you feel it. Like you just know, '...this is the Promised Land.'"

    It's shortly after this exchange that she seems to realise the truth. Some of this is lost in the crappy original English localisation, but some of it survives: post Cosmo Canyon, Aerith becomes particularly fixated on the future, constantly talking about "next time" -- almost like she's compensating, like she knows there won't be a next time. There's even dialogue from Tifa that points this out after her death, though the translation sort of botches it. (There's a great PC patch that offers a much more accurate translation than the original - recommended)

    Anyway. Was she Fridged?
    Well... I don't really think she was in the sense that her death isn't really what motivates Cloud, in the end. She also doesn't see her 'duty' as to Cloud (unlike, say, Luna), but she sees her duty to her lineage as an ancient and to the planet itself. She gives her life so that the planet might live, and the others follow her lead and assist her in executing her plan even after her death.

    I'd say she makes a noble sacrifice more than gets fridged. (Are Palom and Polom fridged, or do they make a sacrifice? Cecil certainly is invigorated by their death, but it isn't the purpose).

    So, that's Aerith strictly on the story side, but of course there's more to her than that. Even if we draw a line under it and say she was fridged, Aerith is a well-written, strong character for the hours you spend with her in the lead-up to her death. Apart from the unfortunate kidnapping jaunt she really does hold her own, and is snappy, smart and drives the party through the early hours.

    The other stuff -- I really don't have a problem with the Don Corneo sequence because that sequence actually shows Aerith and Tifa at some of their best in a weird way, with snappy dialogue and the like. There's some unfortunate undertones to it that are very 90s, but games like The Witcher are full of brothels and that sort of sexual threat to their women and that doesn't stop them being any less progressive; part of what can make a character like that is how they stand up to elements like that.

    Corneo's side-quest in Wutai is less acceptable by modern standards though, yeah. Scarlett and the slap fight are absolutely terrible, obviously. Tifa's design is questionable for a great many reasons (and they gave her a much more appropriate outfit in AC).

    Elena and Tseng? That's fine, like. Characters are allowed to fall in love. What's interesting about Elena is that she goes from incompetent sidekick who is a pain who they tut and shake their heads at to, in her final scene, being regarded as a 'true' member of the Turks because she's toughened up and grown. Now, admittedly, this comes through a validation of a man - she only seems to believe her own worth when Reno finally admits "You were a great Turk," - but one of the things that's interesting is that through her five or six scenes in the game Elena arguably has more of an arc than Luna in that she actually grows and changes from rookie to pro.

    The same is true of Aerith; she's a bubbly young girl who is trying to hide from and escape her heritage, then slowly learns and becomes wizened and aware of her duty and her fate. Her death is actually the culmination of that, and part of why it stings so is that you got to know her when she was more carefree and got to see her slowly change while trying to cling to her previous identity. There's a point to how, when she appears to Cloud for the last time, she knows she's going to her death but still finds the time to be playful. And yet she hardens and (presumably - with FF7's animation it's hard to tell) wipes a tear from Cloud's eye and says:

    "Let me handle Sephiroth."
    "And Cloud, take care of yourself."
    "So you don't have a breakdown, okay?"

    This is an enormous amount of character change from early on. Garnet sort of goes through a very similar change in FF9, also, but it takes her three discs and a crown to go from the princess sort of role to a commanding presence of sorts. Luna arrives into FF15's plot and exits it fully-formed, and I think that's an enormous part of the problem.

    The TLDR is that while FF7 has some representation problems I think Aerith is a pretty great character and I think pigeonholing her as 'fridged' understates the purpose her death plays in the whole story. There's no doubt that FF7 (and FF8, actually) have some enormous problems with how they deal with women generally, though. 9, 10 and 12 all rectify that enormously however, and FF13 is arguably a mad feminist tour de force in a good way.
  2. APZonerunner

    APZonerunner Network Boss-man Staff Member Administrator Site Staff UFFSite Veteran

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    Double post, but one thing I wanted to point out is that FF15 actually follows the FF trope of its female representation: the games typically have:
    • The tough one (Aranea / Tifa / Freya / Quistis / Lulu / Fran)
    • The love/lead one (Luna / Aerith / Garnet / Rinoa / Yuna / Ashe)
    • The cute one (Iris / Yuffie / Eiko / Selphie / Rikku / Penello)
    If FF15 hits the same marks, why is it getting some stick for it? FF13 obviously shifts this because it has a female lead, but it still broadly fits the archetype anyway: Fang is tough, Serah is love, Vanille is cute. In fact, if Lightning were a dude it'd hit the same marks exactly. (Though it's great Lightning is a woman as she's an excellent character even if she is trapped in a mediocre story.)

    Well... I think one of the things that's caused a bit of conversation about FF15 as far as its women go is that... aside from some notes made about Iris in the world of ruin (talked about, never seen) and Aranea's very basic character arc, none of the FF15 takes on these archetypes actually grows and changes, whereas I think pretty much all the characters in the previous games have major arcs.

    It's that these characters are... static. Luna might be seen a lot more positively, death or no, if we got to see her grow and move towards that fate (see Aerith above), but she just goes from "this is what she's like," to "and she's dead now. wasn't she dedicated??"
  3. Jubileus

    Jubileus AVALANCHE Warrior

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    I've always liked Aerith. Very likeable character. I never understood how or why people hated her until I frequented forums, which I found shocking.

    Her character is extremely important in that, she does die yes, but she also did single handledly summon Holy and stopped Meteor, thus saving the world.

    Her character is extremely significant and not at all "unimportant". Dunno why I've seen people say she is. Without her, the world would've been screwed.

    The women of FF15 were sadly not very fleshed out at all. Most characters weren't tbh.

    However I'd pin it all down to not having enough development time. If the team did have time, I'm sure they would've loved to have made all the characters loveable and memorable in their own way.

    Just gotta wait for dem patches I'd say.
  4. Ikkin

    Ikkin ShinRa SOLDIER

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    I've always understood fridging to include instances where the writer was the one with the intention of causing the hero emotional distress and/or forcing the hero to chase the villain rather than just instances in which the villain consciously had those intentions. It's still a fridging if the female character is bitten by a zombie and the hero has to put her down himself, for instance.

    And regardless of the intentions of any of the characters, the writers were clearly motivated primarily by the desire to create an emotional response in both Cloud and the audience.

    I'm aware of the interpretation that Aerith knew that using Holy would require her death by the time she left the party, but I'm not particularly fond of it for a few reasons.

    1) On a pure practical level, Aerith doesn't act like someone who thinks the use of Holy is conditioned on her death.

    I mean, even leaving aside the fact that waiting for the bad guy to come and kill you is a rather inefficient method of self-sacrifice if the only actually requirement for the use of Holy is being dead, doesn't Aerith leave the party because she knows Cloud's presence endangers her? One could argue that she just didn't want Cloud to be the one responsible for her death, but that would still raise the question of why she'd be so passive in accomplishing her supposed goal afterwards.

    There's even a plausible alternative plan that Aerith could have been following with regards to Holy -- I mean, even if Holy requires the intercession of a dead Cetra, Aerith's prayers in the Forbidden City could have been intended as a request for assistance from a Cetra who was already dead.

    2) Likewise, Jenova/Sephiroth doesn't act like someone who's aware that Cetra can invoke massive power through self-sacrifice. If they had known that, they'd have had every reason not to kill Aerith, since doing so would be the only thing that could plausibly cause their plan to fail!

    Jenova/Sephiroth, at least, must have believed that Holy posed a threat to them even while Aerith was alive.

    (I don't think the line about the planet being saved by sacrificing the Cetra implies otherwise. Assuming that the translation didn't mess up too badly, "sacrificing the Cetra" implies sacrifice imposed externally rather than self-sacrifice.)

    3) It's not actually consistent with Nomura and Kitase's stated intentions for Aerith's death:

    While designing Final Fantasy VII Tetsuya Nomura was frustrated with the "perennial cliché where the protagonist loves someone very much and so has to sacrifice themself and die in a dramatic fashion to express that love". He found this appears in both films and video games from North America and Japan. Yoshinori Kitase concludes:

    “In the real world things are very different. You just need to look around you. Nobody wants to die that way. People die of disease and accident. Death comes suddenly and there is no notion of good or bad. It leaves, not a dramatic feeling but great emptiness. When you lose someone you loved very much you feel this big empty space and think, 'If I had known this was coming I would have done things differently. These are the feelings I wanted to arouse in the players with Aerith's death relatively early in the game. Feelings of reality and not Hollywood.”

    While reflecting on the game, Tetsuya Nomura comments that "Death should be something sudden and unexpected, and Aerith's death seemed more natural and realistic. When I reflect on Final Fantasy VII, the fact that fans were so offended by her sudden death probably means that we were successful with her character. If fans had simply accepted her death, that would have meant she wasn't an effective character".

    Retroactively turning Aerith's death into a knowing sacrifice flies in the face of all that. There's absolutely a "notion of good [and] bad" and a "dramatic feeling" left by that sort of death, because it's absolutely standard in fiction.

    For the record, it makes sense to me that Aerith would realize that her plan might end up getting her killed. (That'd explain the "next time" thing just as well as intending to sacrifice herself would, even.) But that's not the same as intending to die.

    Fridged characters don't have to be the primary source of motivation for the hero to be consider "fridged," and Aerith's death is certainly a driving force in how the rest of the party acts afterwards. Palom and Porom are a bit of a different situation because they're put on figurative ice for primarily mechanical purposes (which is why it isn't a big deal that they don't actually stay dead).

    I mean, personally, I consider Aerith's story to be enough about her as an individual that it isn't really a problem. However, I also think that Luna's story includes some very interesting wrinkles that are generally overlooked (like, twelve-year-old Luna canonically knew that her duty to Noct was to guide him to his death, given that she was the one who helped Regis cope with his son's fate), and I expect the same would have happened to Aerith had she been introduced in 2016 rather than 1997.

    Personally, I'd prefer a cast of Cindys over the way The Witcher treats its women. =P I mean, naked trading cards? What were they thinking?

    ...yeah, I know you probably meant The Witcher 3. But while that one might have cleaned up its act significantly, it still seems super Male Gazey to me with regards to its handling of anything related to sex. It's probably on par with Game of Thrones, which earns plenty of complaints for that sort of thing.

    You don't think it's a problem for the only female Turk to be in love with her boss? =/ Growing and changing is all well and good, but that's not exactly a good look.

    I also find it pretty strange to compare a rookie mini-boss with a character whose most appropriate archetype is The Mentor. Mentors are generally more static than rookies, but I'm not sure there's anything wrong with that.

    Again, I think it's worth considering that Luna's role is clearly that of a mentor rather than a neophyte. She's more Obi-Wan than she is Aerith or Garnet, and I'm not convinced that there's anything wrong with that.

    And, yes, The Mentor archetype is usually filled by an old man rather than the female lead. But I don't know how one would even go about arguing that she isn't Noct's mentor for all intents and purposes given their interactions. She's the one who teaches Noct of his destiny. She's the one whose role is to guide him towards that destiny. She's the one who dies for him and passes down the figurative torch in the form of the Ring of the Lucii. She's the one who remains a posthumous influence and appears as a ghost to comfort him. Heck, in the mid-game CG, the (four year) age gap between them is symbolically changed to a yawning chasm (24 to 8!) in order to make the nature of their relationship more clear.

    On my part, I don't have any real beef with Aerith or the way her story went. I just think that, had she been introduced today, she'd have ended up at the center of controversy on representation-based grounds given that there are multiple plausible interpretations of both her death and the concept of "fridging" itself.
  5. APZonerunner

    APZonerunner Network Boss-man Staff Member Administrator Site Staff UFFSite Veteran

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    Great reply. I'll reply in full later on, but, I guess my ultimate point is that fridged or not, they get away with it on Aerith because she's actually a good, well-written character that grows and changes. They'd also get away with it because whatever happens to Aerith, they do have another incredibly strong female lead. FF7 doesn't pass the bechdel test, mind, and that's bad, but it's still stronger. Luna doesn't really develop (the largest part of my problem) -- she's flat as a pancake and paper thin. This is why I just sort of roll my eyes when people say "But Luna is just the same as Aerith", cos, no.

    One thing I do want to note, however, is on those quotes you pull there @Ikkin - sure, you're right - they clearly state the death is intended to upset the audience. But that's, er, literature, that's writing, and that's different, I think, from dying specifically for Cloud. Like I say, her death doesn't so much galvanize Cloud as slow him down until he gets over it (which is an interesting choice, actually), and I maintain that she dies for the story first, and for the characters second.

    RE other points, quickfire:

    I mean The Witcher 3, obviously, and TW3's world is extremely harsh for a woman and yet it's produced characters like Yennefer and Ciri who are some of the finest in the medium, so I consider those guys winning, tbh. Cindy's a fucking joke, but I'm not surprised - have you seen Ferrari's deviantart?

    My issue with Luna as "the mentor" is that she doesn't get any of the classic mentor scenes. She doesn't get those Obi Wan or Yoda scenes, she has less mentor character moments in FF15 than Q and M in an average James Bond film, even. She's certainly no Alfred, or Fairy Godmother. She doesn't get those scenes or moments; she's inspirational to a crowd of people, she sends you some messages (none of which teach Noct anything), and then in her dying moments she hands over the ring and is more concerned about apologizing to him than telling him something critical to his mission. As a child we see her reading to him about his fate in a round-about way, but I personally don't really get mentor from this. There's the note that she's speaking to the astrals, but this act is one that slots more into heroine, if we're trying to find a category. It's muddled, but I guess that's a theme with this game's supporting cast.

    In fact, there's a far better fit for that literary archetype in FF15: Gentiana, who in a sense actually seems like a deliberate nod at the genesis of the archetype in that Mentor in The Odyssey is of course the Goddess Athena in disguise. (And it's worth remembering that while many think of mentors as typically wise old men, the very first instance of the archetype back in the 8th century and where the word comes from is a woman, haha) What you say about her helping Regis to deal with his pre-preemptive grief is actually great, but it's irrelevant to me because it's not clear in the game. Gentiana more obviously fills the role; she appears to Noctis with cryptic advice that propels him along his journey, yadda yadda. I think, again, I would actually feel better about her death if she did appear and drop more exposition before or after it. It would've been interesting if Noctis got to speak to her when he's inside the crystal, if she helped him to come to terms with his fate, but...

    What's dawning on me the more I write and think about it is, god, I hate that character. Good component parts, but she's so badly done it's astonishing, in stark contrast to the core four, who are excellent. What went wrong? God.
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  6. Ikkin

    Ikkin ShinRa SOLDIER

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    Well, "get away with it" is a relative term. Would a large portion of the audience complain about what happens to Aerith, even assuming the game she was in released in 2016 instead of 1997? Probably not. But I still suspect that there'd be a vocal minority out there complaining about it. =P

    ...FFVII didn't pass the Bechdel test? With the amount of female characters it has and the length of its script? o_0; That's... something, alright. XD;

    Well, that wasn't really the point of using those quotes -- that was more about showing that the devs' intentions didn't really match up with Aerith making a knowing sacrifice.

    And I'd still argue that female characters dying for the story can constitute "fridging" if their deaths aren't critical to their own stories. That obviously wouldn't be a problem if Aerith's arc was learning her true nature and deciding to sacrifice herself, but I'm not convinced that's what her arc actually is.

    I have no love for Ferrari's female character designs, don't get me wrong (I am so glad they gave Aranea full armor leggings -_- ). But pointless fanservice of that sort tends to be far less of a turn-off for me than a near-constant threat of sexualized violence and a bunch of male gazey full nudity/full-on sex scenes, y'know? And, hey, at least XV's guys consider Cindy a potential girlfriend instead of a potential conquest.

    Not to mention, XV's Cindy problem could be almost entirely fixed if they implemented that full jacket from the countdown art as a DLC costume. >_>; The issues I have with W3 go far deeper than that.

    The weird thing about XV is that Noct and his friends already knew a lot about the lore before the game started than we as the audience are clued into until much later. The only thing that Noct didn't already know, as far as I can tell, is what Bahamut told him. And even then, the reaction he had in his attempts to put on the ring heavily implied that he knew his duties would kill him.

    It's made pretty clear that Luna is the one who taught Noct everything he already knew, I thought. He said as much to Gentiana in one of the flashbacks. ("I only know what Luna told me.") It's heavily implied that she's the one who sent Gentiana to guide Noct, too.

    As for Luna's dying moments, that's... not how I interpreted them at all (apart from handing over the ring, since that's obvious). What you took as an apology, I took as wistfulness -- it's not so much that she's sorry to disappoint him as that she desperately wishes she had more time, too, but (unlike him) she's able to accept that she doesn't and be glad that she at least had the chance to speak to him (paralleling the mid-credits campfire scene where Noct likewise finds it difficult to say goodbye). She doesn't need to drop more exposition on him because he already knows what his own chosen path is. So, instead, she serves as a model for his own inevitable fate. She equates the fulfillment of her calling with her death, which he's not yet able to understand, and sort of brushes off his wish that he could have saved her because that was never possible. She promises to watch over him and serve as his light in the dark, which prefigures their shared fate at the end of the game. And she charges him with the fulfillment of his own calling even though reminding him of it clearly upsets him.

    All of that seems pretty mentor-like to me. *shrugs*

    The thing about Gentiana, though, is that -- as I mentioned earlier -- she's consistently implied to be acting on Luna's behalf. Before she reveals herself as Shiva, Ignis refers to her as "A Messenger, a spirit faithful to the Oracle," and the guidance she offers is consistent with that. And once her identity is revealed, she makes it clear that she's still acting in Luna's stead -- "Let it now be done, as promised to the Oracle."

    Gentiana flat out says that that's what happened, though -- "At first, the father had mourned the fate of his chosen son. Yet in Tenebrae, the two found solace. It was not the Oracle who assuaged their fears. But the girl."

    It'd have been nice to see it in a cutscene, granted, but the structure of the story wouldn't really have allowed for it, since we're not supposed to be sure what Noct's fate is until he meets Bahamut.

    I'm completely on-board with this suggestion. And, actually, it'd be possible to make it work even if they didn't want Luna to be able to communicate posthumously due to what happened in Tenebrae -- showing Luna comforting Regis and Noct could serve two purposes simultaneously.

    Lack of screen time? I don't have a problem with the foundation that we actually got for Luna; it'd just have worked a lot better if we were given more, especially since her most interesting aspects go against type and it seems to take a lot more to convince the audience that against-type traits exist than to get them to fill in the blanks with on-type traits.
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  7. All Hail King Bimpy

    All Hail King Bimpy Yevonite

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    I have no problem with Luna's sacrifice under the context of how she was characterized before Final Fantasy XV. Almost ever Luna related scene in KG and BH presents her as a woman who does not understand tact, insisting others its a waist of their time to go against any determination she exhibits. During Final Fantasy XV much hasn't changed toward that description, ttherefore she is a static protagonist. The only scene where she does think otherwise is when she lets her composure slip to Ravus. In that one moment she is terrified about the possibility of her failing health being a burden to Eos because a dead Oracle can't fulfill their duty. All she wants to do is help Noctis ascend and receive the power that is rightfully his. This is what her upbringing taught her, being disccused in flashbacks. NOTHING, not even death, blocks that desire. She has no life outside of it. Since she was a child she knew what it entails. She isn't shy or indecisive when it's time to act upon it, which gives the illusion of "flat" characterization. There's no doubts as long as she has the health to do fulfill her duty. There's no journey towards obtaining the duty because it's a birth right drilled into her at home though those scenes of being taught Eos's lore from another adult are visually absent. There could have been a few more scenes expanding upon why she cares about said desire. Not really even a few. Developers could have reworked the negative (fear) emotionalism behind her connection to said desire and the conflicts against. From her first introduction Luna already set values she wouldn't give up on. They never changed upon her death. We just don't get to see the opposition her duty puts her against occurring naturally until near the end. Yep it's the conflict that's the bigger issue here.

    The Orcale's connection to Eos can receive some DLC episodes from her playable point of view. After all the Empire could not fully assimilate Tenebrae unless they wanted to deal with civil unrest from the rest of Eos. This would help flesh out why people of Eos rally behind her. I'm talking about duty gives rise to NPC reaction. She fights to prevent their deaths. But the way it's framed makes her like a religious figure I guess. I think I'm looking at their reaction from the wrong view point.

    Aeritha on the other-hand is the typical goody tushu innocent bystander, depending on the writer, except... she has a secret heritage and because of that she can come to terms with it. she therefore has an actual arc with a finish point middle point and end point where she changes. but by the time said development happens the game is nearly over. It comes out for the conflict's convenience. She isn't tied to any one else except her ancestors. She creates a duty of servitude through understanding what her linage means. She has a constant presence in the game that our main characters could interact with.
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2016
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