Women and Outfit Transformations – Lightning Returns versus Ar Tonelico III
‘Did you see new article on Lightning Returns? I feel like they’re trying to sex Lightning up.’
‘I’m surprised you don’t seem upset about it’.
I got these texts from a male friend from regarding the costume mechanic in Square Enix’s upcoming Lightning Returns. Truthfully, it’s a yes-no thing for me. On the ‘yes’, I can’t say they haven’t sexed Lightning up, between outfits like her cat-girl one and her going from a perfectly fine cup C to cup D, complete with breast jiggling. Yes, these have me slamming my head into my desk and remaining unsurprised when the answer to why Lightning’s breasts needed to be bigger was the director going, “I want to make them bigger” to the character designers.
On the ‘no’, there are two reasons. The first being that I, like many gamers, like character customization, even if it’s just an aesthetic change.
In games like Pokemon X/Y and Resonance of Fate (Japanese Name: End of Eternity), there are tons of different outfit and accessories you can buy for your characters. There are no rewards, stats, or game-progression reason for dressing up your character and costs of new clothing can easily be over one-hundred thousand to buy. A piece. And yet, players are willing to spend over tens of thousands of in-game currency or even real-life dollars for new outfits for their characters.
‘Why’ players would vary from player to player. A friend paid close to 20 USD for DLC costumes in Tales of Graces. When I asked why, he said it was because he thought the cast would look awesome and it felt more personal – even if it meant confronting the final boss with the male party members dressed like butlers and the female party members being dressed like maids. While I’m not invested enough in customization to pay 4 dollars apiece for new outfits, I can get some of the allure.
When there is the option to change a character’s appearance, I usually end up changing it. It’s not because I dislike the original designs (though that is sometimes the case) but because I like the option to personalize the character a little. It makes the character stand out, making searches on YouTube and on Let’s Plays interesting just to see what other people have done and how it reflects their style.
And then there’s my second reason for not being as bothered by Lightning’s Outfit changes: in-game execution.
Granted, the game isn’t out yet so my opinion may change from being whatever about it to more head bashing. However, though the ‘fashion-show’ aspect of outfit-changes shows in advertising to some degree, how it seems to be handled in-game seems much more tasteful. It’s quick, no different than attaching a different weapon, and the variety of outfits leads to not only personalization in appearance but in gameplay. If a player wishes to take a more tank approach, they might wear a heavier armored outfit. If they prefer a lightning-bruiser approach, there are lighter outfits that optimize speed and take on a fencing style. If they want just fanservice, they can go with the Cloud or Yuna outfit (or more predictably, cat-girl).
Many games take this sort of approach and I don’t really mind….and then you get the Ar Tonelico IIIs.
The Ar Tonelico series is notable for its Hymmnos music (which I will probably need to not go bang my head over ATIII) uses of innuendo and how much it can get under the radar. It toed the line with suggestive scenes from the first game, the bath mini-game and more suggestive sense in the second game, and jump skipped the line into an M rating for its third game. The main reason, of course, was the Purge system…
…Aka the sort of Stripping for ~POWER~ system.
While there is a long technical reason behind why Purging gives the heroines power, including how ‘transforming’ the layers of clothing into waves allow the heroines to synchronize with the planet, increase their power output, and enable them to unleash powers no other can, this explanation is only included in the Japanese supplementary books. Instead, the game dumbs it down to a throwaway line made by one of the heroines that she gets power from the planet and two short tutorial comments: the first, that “the more skin she exposes, the more power she gets” and “he who controls stripping, controls the battle. Build a great relationship with the heroine and lead the party to victory”.
What makes ATIII much more obnoxious than other games with their outfit transformations is that it has the subtlety of being bashed upside the head by a desk. While other games feel like they might also be cashing in the fan service appeal that is not necessarily a bad thing. Some fan service can be enjoyable; ATIII’s is more than a tad problematic.
While the vanguard characters may also ‘strip’ by using an ultrasupermove – the excuses range from ‘moving so fast the clothing ripped’ to ‘I just get hot when I use this move’ – it’s not treated the same way. When the vanguards strip, more emphasis is placed on the flashiness of the attack and there is no real difference in presentation than if they were still fully clothed. When the heroines strip, it is an exhibition: close ups of the disappearing layers and the skin underneath, provocative poses, and lots of blushing and while looking right at the player. Because the show is for them, obviously.
On the bright-side, there is an option to turn off the stripping animations in battle. On the down-side, not only are there mandatory strip cut-scenes in the plot but the girls need to strip down for you to power them up outside battle. The game doesn’t let you abstain from participating because of the emphasis placed on the purge system in both the plot and the gameplay, especially when the girls are most powerful in battle when they’re stripped down to the minimum.
The biggest difference between something like Lightning Returns and ATIII for me is execution. In the former, I know there’s going to be some fan-service and while I’m disappointed with choices like superficial breast enhancements, I don’t feel like it’s going to detract from the overall game, whether it turns out to be a good or bad one whenever it’s released. In the latter, not only is there fan-service in cloying amounts but it becomes a feature that excludes female fans. While female fans can still play and find things to enjoy, there are pointed reminders that the game does not care much about them as an audience. Meanwhile, almost all the major female characters, no matter how much they grow, are still reduced to ‘types’ (specifically, whatever the male player’s type is) and moe, blushy objects of desire.
It’s those sorts of attitudes that make me ‘upset’, more than the concept of outfit changes.