This article originally appeared in Cerise Magazine in February, 2008.
Female video game characters began as either the prize, the motive or the vixen, and then settled into supportive roles. Currently, video game ladies struggle to break free of the “hot and deadly” shell of a male audience. Princess Ashelia B’Nargin Dalmasca deviates from the stereotypical female role with her powerful personality and abilities in Final Fantasy XII and empowers females, gamers and characters alike.
Princesses in video games rarely appear without a typical entourage: gallant princes, castles and flowing dresses. Pursuing these princesses are devious, not-as-pretty women and arrogant, ill-intentioned men. FFXII’s Ashe does not carry such baggage; a refreshing and much needed change.
Strong: Mentally and Physically
Ashe is a princess of Dalmasca, a kingdom beset by discord and war designed by Vayne Solidor of Archadia. She intrepidly takes direct action in the restoration of her kingdom, effectively leading her unforeseen companions. Her will, strength, and loyalty to the people of Dalmasca are best illustrated through her proclamation early in the game: “This is something that I have to do! For myself and all those who have fallen. I will not be made to hide! I’ll fight alone, if I must.”
Despite many disturbing discoveries, Ashe maintains her strength as the plot advances. She refuses to become a pawn or a pretty figurehead monarch, firmly refuting all such suggestions. The men in the party (Balthier, Basch, and Vaan) follow her decisions, despite any personal misgivings or ulterior motives, as Basch illustrates when he mentions “the difficulties of serving royalty.” Never does a party member question or object to her decisions.
Ashe possesses the intelligence to understand her situation and that, however decisive and bold she may be, a misstep may endanger her cause. Ashe knows the history of her land and her inheritance, shown through her numerous explanations of Dalmasca’s heritage, and uses this knowledge to aid her endeavors. Before acting, she seeks understanding, first from the Garif, a tribe of masked peaceful hunters and warriors. When accompanying Larsa Solidor on a mission seeking a possible peace, she does not commit blindly: “I still have questions. I hope to find answers along the way.”
Ashe also wields a sword in aid to her country. Though the License Board allows characters to be customized in any manner, Ashe enters the party bearing a sword and shield, not the typical magic-using skills and staff. Vaan, whose perspective players initially follow, first encounters Ashe fighting alongside other resistance soldiers.
When considering the lack of overweight or small-breasted characters, Ashe’s figure may be the only typical RPG thing about her. Her body and facial features are attractive; she is thin, long-limbed, with a sufficient bust. She is not excessively curvy, nor does she wear excessively revealing clothes. Her garments may seem thin in areas, but when compared to the typical dress in the game (especially the scantily-clad Viera), she is appropriately clothed. Most importantly, her clothes indicate status without typical tiaras, pendants, and puffy dresses.
Her appearance does not demean the feminine form, nor detract from her character’s power, as did the many disreputable outfits seen in FFX-2, nor is her frame so thin that the idea of her wielding a sword would seem ludicrous; a cutscene shows Ashe’s ability to handle a sword, as does her initial equipment.
RPGs, and almost all Final Fantasy games, contain a romantic plot element involving two or more main characters. Ashe’s love is not for any of the men she meets on her journey, but for her late husband, Prince Rassler Nabradia, as shown through cutscenes, discussions, and her prized wedding ring. Thus, Ashe is never viewed as a sexual conquest, nor does any man ever reference such in regard to her person.
Princess Ashe does not defer her agenda to any man. Instead, she practically recruits Vaan, Penelo, Balthier, and Fran, despite early mistrust. Basch follows her devotedly, despite protests and arguments from fellow knight Vossler. Vaan (and through him, Penelo) is caught in her plight the moment he chooses to help her and does little to influence the plot himself. Balthier and Fran, though along by choice, yield to her decisions.
When Marquis Halim Ondore insists on her inaction, she ignores his suggestion and focuses on her own agenda. At Raithwall’s tomb, Ashe manipulates Balthier into continued service. Al-Cid attempts to use her to quell the lust for battle in his homeland; Ashe refuses and tends first to her own tasks. She does not fear such decisions, nor does she hesitate to act when having made them.
Ashe’s character successfully mixes strength and sensitivity; she is not an overbearing strong woman, the type that orders, leads, and does not emote. Ashe speaks with all the characters about their personal issues, or shares some of her own troubles. She shows compassion without excessive vulnerability, the typical “female weakness,” or needing a man to cry on. Vaan feels comfortable enough to talk to her about the death of Reks, his brother. Balthier discusses his personal reasons for pursuing Doctor Cid with Ashe alone, not the rest of the group.
Women can play as Ashe without feeling degraded; this character was not designed for men to ogle. She’s not air-headed or cutesy, nor does she preen or hit on men, flaunt large breasts, or fight in strappy clothes. Ashe appeals to women and acts as a mold for future female leads, possessing strength, intelligence, and independence while maintaining her femininity.
Article © February 2008, Melissa Velte