I keep hearing the sound of screeching gorgons about female representation in video games yet at the same time many of these voices ignore the obvious... Well written female characters have already appeared in gaming. The Final Fantasy series by SquareSoft, now Square-Enix is a treasure trove of gals that stand on the front lines and tug at our hearts.
Just mention the death of Aeris to any JRPG fanboy and watch them get quiet. Or show them her death scene and break out the tissues.
Every game in the series has at least on, if not more that grab us male gamers not by the little head down below as many seem to assume. Rather they grab us by the heart-strings and even after the final credits we don't want to let go. Celes in FF3, Aeris in FF7, Quistis in FF8 (Yes I'm a Trepe fanclub member), Eiko & Dagger in FF9... I could go on, but you get the idea here. In FF-10 Yuna stands out from the crowd with the only notable exception being Terra in FF3. Tidus may be the lead character who serves as the fish out of water exposition machine to help the player understand the world, but Yuna is without a doubt the central protagonist the story revolves around.
Rikku is my first love... "Syopa cusatyo". Lulu seems to be just eye candy, until you learn she is grim and moody due to personal tragedy she has yet to come to terms with. But in the end they both, despite being well written in their own right, stand in the shadow of Yuna.
Sit back, pour a cold drink... This is going to be a long post.
We first meet our protagonist through the eyes of our player controlled character on the island of Besaid. Which is geographically as far from civilization as one can get. Guarded throughout her youth by Kimahri and raised by the local villagers. We swiftly learn that she is the daughter of Lord Braska and adopted sister to Wakka and Lulu. Her father had died many years before, leaving her both an orphan and growing up in his shadow.
The camera pans and follows her showing a young woman in her late teens, with an outgoing friendly smile... and physically short of stature. Not the first impression that would wow the onlooker at one of the future saviors of the world. This coupled with the first few interactions, she seems reserved and shy... Then you head onto the pilgrimage and almost immediately her guardians command her to stay back so they can handle things.
Not much of a heroic opening.
It should be pointed out, a summoners guardians are somewhat symbolic in nature and more part of an overall ritual as part of a summoners pilgrimage to Zanarkand. They do protect the summoner from harm yes, but they also play a huge roll in the overall story narrative. A tragic one at that... But I digress.
It really isn't until a short time later on the shores of Kilika that we see just how serious she takes her role as a summoner. It is here, without hesitation, that she performs a ritual known as the sending. The screen cuts to her performing a stylized dance so that the souls of the recently deceased do not return as monsters, and she does so without shedding a tear until afterwards when the nearby bereaved can not see her face. She knows this is her duty and the path she has chosen, and soon returns to her quite polite demeanor as to not upset anyone who is in mourning.
While the Kilika chapter is short, it does give us insight into her responsible nature and how she shoulders the burdens of others without restraint nor complaint. After Kilika we continue onto Bevelle where the first cracks in our heroines armor show during the infamous laughing scene. Although it seems wildly out of place, it is important that she reveals her tactic of just keep smiling. Here we learn that despite her growing fame as a summoner... her happiness at this time is mostly a mask. Naturally all protagonists on the heroes journey suffer some sort of villainous evil-doer, but just as dangerous to her are the lingering doubts.
As the adventuring group heads along to the Highroad, we also now have a profound sense that Yuna thinks of the well being and happiness of others before her own. Her journey isn't about being as legendary as her father, but the hope of bringing peace to the world.
From here, she has many trials along her pilgrimage. Maester Seymore who plays the role of villain we just want to punch in the face, and why won't this guy just stay dead. Well he is a huge part of her heroic journey. At one point she abandons her friends (So they will not be harmed by any fallout from her plans) to confront Seymore. Of which in this journey there are a few moments that she truly rises to her status as a strong feminine lead.
The scene in Macalania stands out when the burden of her path to Zanarkand finally hits a point where she finally breaks down in tears. You may think, how is this heroic? Well, it is the first time in the story she really lets anyone in. True Wakka and Lulu are her adopted siblings, who love her just as much as she loves them. However they are kept at a distance for the most part during the pilgrimage, and this is the first time she is really able to be emotionally vulnerable and openly honest with anyone. While not a feat of bravery in its' own right. This scene really adds the human depth to her character that has been somewhat missing.
Her first confrontation with Seymore, shows that her guardians are not just her sworn protectors. They are her friends and family. She commands great loyalty not just by being a summoner, but by being a kind soul, and they are willing to protect her to the bitter end, because each and every one standing with her love her for who she is. And even when she falters they stand by her side the whole way without judgement, but in turn acting as her pillar of strength as she has done for them many times before.
At Mount Gagazet, the Ronso tribe spell it out as plain as day. Even though they are quite a stubborn and reserved people, they have the insight to yield to her words. It is this recognition they give her which lays it bare to the viewer just what kind of person Yuna is. Even if the player hasn't caught on yet. Yuna is all but unshakable in her drive and purpose to see her choices create a better world for all.
And her final stand, as it were, is when she faces off with Yunalesca. Who reveals the truth about the ritual of having guardians, the truth that the final summoning is a smokescreen of false hope, and that there will be no end to the suffering even if Yuna completes her pilgrimage to defeat the biggest baddest evil guy. It is here along with some prodding from Sir Auron that our protagonist and her family face off against the lie of false hope.
It bears mentioning at this point, Yuna became a summoner and took on the duty of the pilgrimage fully aware that to defeat Sin (The Biggest Baddest Evil Guy) she would have to lay down her life and die. On learning all summoners before her died, along with their guardians under the lure of... Meh mebbe it'll work this time. It is easy to see how a delicately framed sheer force of will would politely respond with a middle finger.
Naturally, all is not well... And the group learns how to put the thumbscrews to the final boss, and get right to the core of the being to take out the animus that keeps bringing back from destruction. As a sidenote: Next to "One Winged Angel" - FF7, The final boss music for Jecht is a bag of awesomesauce! However one final task remains... Which is to lose her Fayth, also known as the beings she summons to aid her in combat.
In a quiet, almost funeral like melody, one by one she must sacrifice them. Which as a player is bittersweet, as at this point each Fayth is known to be a soul of a heroic person with their own lore and in some cases reasons for assisting a summoner. So one by one, to destroy the real bad guy, Yuna must willingly be the one to summon each Fayth... Each soul one last time as winning this battle means they are dead forever. A very bittersweet victory.
Oh an Tidus pulls an hero after all is said and done, whom up to this point has been her love interest edging close to the boyfriend zone. There is that too. So the only guy she cared about enough to let in past her mask and be vulnerable with... Herp Derp jumps off the front of the airship to burst into multicolored scrubbing bubbles. While she does get all weepy and knows this moment is coming to a degree, she still isn't fully prepared for the reality. Yet true to being herself, despite not wanting to let go, she understands that she must... and does.
Thanos: You finally saved the world, what did it cost?
In my book, Yuna stands out as one of the strongest examples of a feminine heroine. She isn't a woman flexing her muscles, or demanding respect. Yuna is just... Yuna. These days where strong female characters are just copies of masculine heroes all too often, it is a breath of fresh air to look back and know there are kind, compassionate, responsible, polite, and brave women already in video games.
"My father... I loved him. So I... I will live with my sorrow, I will live my own life! I will defeat sorrow, in his place. I will stand my ground and be strong. I don't know when it will be, but someday... I will conquer it. And I will do it without... false hope." ~ Yuna