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Almost Having the Guts, Almost Breaking Stereotypes

by Chris Brown

Final Fantasy Four, known as the second installment in the United States, has come under much controversy since its initial release early in the 1990's. First, the game was brought to the United States under a different title, to not confuse people who had not been exposed to the 2nd and 3rd installments in Japan, and Final Fantasy was not the flagship it is today and not nearly as recognizable. Next, the fact that the version that came to America was the "less challenging" version of the two Final Fantasies released in Japan. Moreover, certain things were deleted from the American version of the game, such as the "Porno Mag" and a dancer who sheds her dress for some kind of three pixel two piece bathing suit. However, there was another point, which was so kept under the table that the Square execs vowed that they would take the secret to the grave with them. It was so secret, that there has been next to no discussion of this topic.

Some things cannot stay a secret forever.

The fact is, in Final Fantasy Four, Gilbart in the Japanese version and Edward in the United States translation, was intended and originally designed as the first major homosexual character in gaming. This was designed in a classy way, and proposed only to diversify the Square universe and represent more people of different backgrounds. He was intended to provide a strong role model for many people who were unable to relate to the testosterone sword wielding heroes of Dragon Warrior and various action games and even most of the male characters within Final Fantasy Four. Square made the decision early on to make him somewhat stereotypical, so as to completely convey the meaning of what they were trying to portray.

The reason for this bold move is that Square was not really a number one seller at this time. They had been having success and were a strong company, but had not really hit the pinnacle of the gaming world. As you know, any company's goal is to sell products and appeal to as many people as possible. Therefore they saw it as a strong move to include a character from this previously untouched demographic. Early on in development some of those involved wanted to have this character, originally named "Lance", be the main character. Unfortunately, this never materialized and was never close as most involved didn't want to take that step. But they did agree, with some opposition, as expected, to create this character as a side character, not one of the primary five or six, but was part of the group and important. As part of the agreement they did not want to make him too obvious by him having a relationship with another male character or Non-player character, as that wouldn't have been acceptable by Nintendo either and they knew it would never make it to America which is a loss of money there. So they tried to keep the same exact character but exclude any relationship elements. The character's homosexual identity had become fuzzy, he had lost his uniqueness and was just another bland recycled prince. The point was made and is a valid one that homosexuals are no different than anyone else, but they had a point they were trying to make.

Originally "Lance" was intended to wield a spear and was more of a proud prince than what we later saw. He also stayed with the party for a longer period of time and rejoined in Toroia, also known as Troia and was even stronger than before. They had not yet mapped out the entire game when they decided to make the change to further reflect a "more telling" personality. In the process the designers no longer felt they were dealing with "Lance" and Gilbart was born. They also developed the Hide technique during this time, and the decision to reintroduce Rydia in the underground world was made.

Time passed and development continued. It was smooth sailing, other than the usual bugs and glitches. The designers were a bit stressed from the hours they had been putting into the game and getting it finished on schedule. However the worst was yet to come.

Unexpectedly, when they brought the game to the Square execs they hit an unforeseen snag. Unlike anything else they'd heard from the fat cats upstairs they were told the very concept and ideas behind the character were flawed and wrong. Taken aback, the designers had no response. However, their jobs were dangling before them and the company had invested its future into this game and the high up executives were not going to have it go down in flames because some designers wanted to change the way people think. They were told to fix it and fast, and some hired thinkers were brought in.

The result of these emergency meetings was "Anna." They rushed and fabricated a plot device with Gilbart being engaged to her. They also were fortunate and smart enough to introduce it in the context of other existing characters and added the fatherhood of Tellah. This actually managed to expand and humanize Tellah's role more than their original explanation did, which was that Golbeza had bound Tellah's old spells in an effort to remain unopposed. They also added the confrontation between Gilbart and Tellah and rounded it out with the night scene after Rosa's cure.

The Square Fat Cats also made the point to keep this completely under the table and rug, working so hastily there was hardly a noticeable delay on the game. A well crafted lie and design if there ever was one. Nonetheless, if this had happened today the more prying media, with Internet news sites updated hourly with the latest news and scoops and a Square that is far more in the public eye now, it would have been found out and made known.

However, despite the well thought out nature of their approach, what they were left with was far from their original vision. While the average Joe and Jane may have remained largely unaffected, it alienated those who still to this day do not know they have been alienated. It definitely didn't reach those that the designers were trying to reach out to, and at this point in time have yet to be represented. Nine years later and there is still no progress. Imagine if the executives were not so afraid and scared, and unwilling to accept change. Pop culture and the video games/electronics world's acceptance of people of other views and backgrounds would be much different, and everyone would have benefited greatly. Nevertheless, people still suffer bias because of cowardice back in the early 1990's.

-Doc Chris Brown March 2000
hontom@iglou.com

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