Where Are the Asian Characters in 'Final Fantasy'?

"Final Fantasy XIII", the latest installment in the popular video game franchise, was released on March 9, 2010 in the United States. The game boasts better graphics, an elaborate plot and a host of playable characters—most notably pink-haired protagonist Lightning, who is, in many ways, reminiscent of Cloud Strife from "Final Fantasy VII."

As cool as Lightning and the rest of the cast look, it strikes me as odd that there are no Asian characters in a franchise that was founded by a Japanese game designer. Gamers can enjoy characters who show off all shades and styles of hair, but the majority of "Final Fantasy" protagonists and villains bear Western features.

The best example of such a character may be Yuna, the female protagonist from "Final Fantasy X." Designed by Tetsuya Nomura, Yuna wears a dress that appears more or less like a modernized version of a kimono, though her features are not Asian. Her hair is a hazelnut brown, her skin is white, and her eyes are blue. The rest of the "Final Fantasy X" cast, including black-haired Lulu who was created by the same designer as Yuna, does not have any Asian features either—surprising given that the characters are plenty diverse in non-racial aspects.

A friend of mine once argued that since "Final Fantasy" depicts characters who usually boast magical powers and/or extraordinary fighting abilities, they are not expected to look average, which means they should transcend, by default, any and all racial boundaries. I would agree with this, if all the characters in "Final Fantasy" were pale-skinned with extreme variations of hair and eye color, but this is not the case. Sazh Katzroy, a lover of chocobos and the color green, is the second playable African American character in the Final Fantasy series, the first being Rude from "Final Fantasy VII."

From an economic point of view, it makes sense that Final Fantasy creates characters who possess a Westernized form of beauty, since the franchise wants to make itself as appealing as possible to gamers all over the world. In a Star Tribune opinion piece, Bao Phi, a community activist, attempted to argue and counter-argue the lack of Asian characters in Final Fantasy products by asking why game developers who bemoan racial boundaries and politics choose to make the majority of their characters Caucasian.

While Final Fantasy’s designers have certainly made a lasting impression on the gaming world, I'm not as disappointed by the absence of Asian characters as I am curious why game developers, especially ones who are Asian themselves, would choose to ignore issues of race and ethnicity. If they really wanted to be racially neutral in their games, one might expect them to create characters of every imaginable race, instead of focusing exclusively on just one or two.

Photo via digitaltrends.com