Thursday, August 23, 2007

Wild Arms 3's Virginia: The Male Protagonist Who's a Girl

Many thanks to my friend Jolt for taking a lot of his time to help me organize my ideas on this.

I come to you tonight after another long lapse between updates, which will doubtless be followed by yet ANOTHER long gap, to talk about the protagonist of Wild Arms 3, Virginia Maxwell. Back when I made my rant on General RPGs' Odd Protagonists, I considered mentioning her in there, but I decided Virginia was worth a whole rant by herself, and I've finally gotten around to doing it.

There're a lot of RPG main characters who are female...Marona of Phantom Brave, Terra and Celes from Final Fantasy 6, Sailor Moon from Sailor Moon: Another Story, Shion from Xenosaga 1, and so on. And they can be pretty cool.

But when they're main characters, you KNOW it's a girl that's the main character. All the issues that they deal with, and their way of handling these issues, and the situations they run into, are most often very different from the normal ones that an RPG guy protagonist will deal with. Marona deals with friendship, acceptance and kindness. Celes and Terra both mainly deal with different forms of love. Shion deals with...well, being an annoying bitch, I guess. These are main personal conflicts and goals that you don't see in the main male characters as major issues so often. With guy protagonists, these things can be there, but they usually aren't the really defining, core dilemmas and issues that the guy will deal with. Take Luke from Tales of the Abyss. Like Marona, he deals with issues of acceptance, and his friendship with Guy is a minor part of his character development, and he does have a romantic interest in Tear, so, like Celes and Terra, love is also a part of his character growth, though a very small one. But mostly, Luke deals with issues of personal worth and identity, redemption, and apprentice vs. student conflict--things that female main characters rarely touch upon in any depth. I'm not trying to seem gender-biased or anything; this is just something I've noticed. Female protagonists very definitely deal with different priorities for their development as characters.

It's obviously good to have some variety, of course, but at the same time, the fact is that the game's very plot is tailored around that character's gender, which is, in most cases, ridiculous. A good game can still come about, of course, as FF6 and Phantom Brave prove conclusively, but still, it's like there NEEDS to be a change to the working formulas for any female main character. And I frankly think that something as trivial as one character's gender, even if it's an important character, shouldn't have such an overwhelming influence on how a story unfolds.

Now, let me describe a main character to you with great potential for emotional impact with the player, and to influence the plot well without dominating it.

A hero, using a powerful and destructive weapon, sets out on a quest to find personal vindication of ideals, which unfolds into a larger journey to save the world. Along the way, the hero holds the hero's party together through good and bad, and leads them with courage and strength of character. Along the way, the hero encounters the hero's estranged father, who is very deeply involved in the plot in ways that the hero only comes to understand over time. While not the only one, the issue of the hero's relationship with the father is one which weighs heavily on the hero's mind, and develops as the journey continues, until a final climax to and resolution for it is reached. Also during the journey, the hero encounters a rival, not necessarily a villain, but certainly a problematic obstacle at multiple occasions, who helps and cultivates the hero as much as the rival does hinder the hero. The rival is similar in many ways to the hero, and it is the similarity as much as it is the difference between them that causes the semi-hostilities.

Now, I just described an RPG protagonist that we can agree has a lot of good potential for artful, worthwhile development in a game. Not to say that this potential would necessarily be realized, but only that the potential for a great character is there. Nothing in the above paragraph is something we haven't all seen before, of course, and we can apply it to literally dozens of RPG heroes, both great and crappy, with few variations to it.

But what I just described above is not just the arguably most standard formula for an RPG hero. What I described is also the formula for a hero that is NOT a female. Even though all of the above can be made realistic and easy for the audience to understand and relate to, and is good material for a character of any gender, you really just do NOT see main female characters doing any of the above stuff. As I mentioned, their focus is on much more different issues and concerns.

The ONE exception to this is Virginia. Virginia is a female in a male protagonist's position and story--in fact, everything I wrote up there for the example of a male protagonist is based off of her. And it WORKS for her. It works fantastically. It's fresh, it's believable, it's not anime-gender biased as usual, it's just a human being working through times and issues that anyone, male or female, can have. The writers of Wild Arms 3 developed a great personal story for the game's main character, one that, if not exactly original in its premise, is at least interesting and original in much of its execution. And its impact and meaning doesn't get marred or lost at all by her gender. It's really just very refreshing to see an RPG plot and protagonist's story that don't dance around and make exceptions for the fact that oh my God, it's a girl.