Final Fantasy XV is almost upon us, after being in development for longer than most tectonic plates. Will it be any good? I have no idea, but I haven't hugely enjoyed any main-series Final Fantasy games since FFVIII (XII is pretty decent, I guess) and I'd be surprised if Square-Enix managed to break that trend this time around. I'm definitely not impressed with what I've seen of the character designs thus far, with their painfully on-the-nose Latin names and, most of all, their costumes.
This is Noctis, the main character of FFXV, a game which apparently takes place in a world without hairbrushes. I'm finding it very difficult to warm to an RPG hero who dresses almost exactly like the teenage boys I used to see trying to wangle their way into over-eighteens-only rock clubs. The clothes maketh the man, and in this case they've made a My Chemical Romance fan circa 2005. Of course, my feelings on the matter are almost certainly down to misplaced nostalgia and encroaching old age, so I'm going to look back on what the other main characters of Final Fantasy games were wearing. If anyone is qualified to make judgements on fashion, it's me. You don't suffer through Rugrats: Totally Angelica without learning a thing or two about style.
Warrior of Light - Final Fantasy
Already I've hit a snag - the party members of the original Final Fantasy are characterless ciphers whose appearance changes based on what job you give them. So, here's the Warrior of Light, the first game's representative in the Dissidia fighting game spin-offs. He's supposedly based on series artist and hardcore bead fan Yoshitaka Amano's original artwork for the knight class, so he'll do in a pinch. The most immediately arresting feature of the Warrior's outfit is his massive horns - combined with his metal armour, they make it impossible for him to go out in a thunderstorm. Why are they so long? Is this like the Secret Boots from Symphony of the Night and he's insecure about his height? Does he desperately want to ride a rollercoaster but didn't quite reach the "you must be this high to ride" limit? Maybe he lost a fight after being headbutted once and he's determined it'll never happen again.
Horns aside, there are some other nice details here on what is overall a pretty neat design. He's using an ammonite as a clasp for his cape, he's wearing the most vestigial loincloth I've ever seen and best of all there appears to be a sharp-toothed monster face on his belt, as though at some point he won the Heavyweight Championship of Halloweenland.
Firion - Final Fantasy II
Ignore the fact that Firion is carrying more garishly-coloured fantasy weapons than a duffelbag at a LARPing event, that's really just a Dissidia thing. However, the later remakes of Final Fantasy II also depict Firion in this style, so that must be how Squaresoft always wanted him to look - and it's not a bad look, either. The bandanna / turban headwear and lighter armour give Firion a somewhat exotic look, and the single shoulder spike will come in handy for both deflecting enemy attacks and hanging his shopping bags on when both his hands are full. The negatives of this ensemble? Well, his cape looks more like a security blanket than, you know, a cape and his trousers appear uncomfortably tight around the crotchular region, but aside from that, yeah, I like Firion's look.
Onion Knight - Final Fantasy III
FFIII went back to using interchangeable job-having puppets as its cast members, but the Dissidia version of the Onion Knight is mostly consistent with the original Famicom sprite only a hell of a lot more... ploofy. Voluminous pantaloons, orange thigh-scarves and a feather duster sticking out of his hat give the Onion Knight a certain chicken-like quality. Mmm, chicken and onions. The most puzzling thing about this outfit is the string of fairy lights sticking out of each shoulder pad. I think their purpose is to illuminate and draw attention to the Onion Knight's biceps. He's surprisingly ripped for a kid.
Luneth - Final Fantasy III DS
When FFIII was remade for the Nintendo DS, the generic Onion Knights were replaced with actual characters, with names and different models and everything. The main character became Luneth, who you see here. Luneth does not understand how belts work. This is an accusation that can be levelled at great many of the Final Fantasy characters designed by artist Tetsuya Nomura. I don't believe Luneth was designed by Nomura himself, but whoever did come up with the idea of someone wearing three enormous belts as a breastplate must surely have been inspired by Nomura. I didn't play much of FFIII DS, but if there isn't a scene where Luneth begins an action sequence by shouting "okay, everyone buckle up!" then, well, what's the point of playing the bloody game? The belt-armour's most important design function, however, is to distract you from noticing that Luneth is also wearing a hoodie over one of his mum's chunky turtleneck sweaters.
Cecil - Final Fantasy IV
Cecil: now there's a name you don't see much these days. Has any other name fallen off a metaphorical cliff in terms of popularity as much as Cecil has? Well, Adolf, I guess. Anyway, full credit goes to Cecil for being the last main character in a Final Fantasy game to have the common sense to wear proper armour. He might struggle if the monsters attack his arms, but other than that he's fairly well protected. That said, he must have had a few embarrassing moments when he tried to run through a narrow doorway and was stopped by his shoulder-spikes. All in all, though, a good set of classic fantasy armour that's made extra stylish by Cecil's choice of complimentary lipstick.
Bartz - Final Fantasy V
Another image taken from the Dissidia games, this alternate costume for Bartz - who'll always be known as Butz in my heart - is a recreation of his FFV sprite. Bartz Classic, if you will, and it's a good look for a young wandering adventurer. It's got something of a "squire" feeling to it, the look of someone who's not quite ready to be a fully-fledged knight, although I'm not sure green wellington boots are particularly heroic. Comfortable for trudging across the overworld, I imagine, but also leaving the vague impression that you grew up in the home counties and spent a lot of time around horses. I love Final Fantasy V and I'm very fond of Bartz, who's a simple, well-meaning, non-conflicted RPG hero. That's probably why he can get away with having a popped collar without seeming like a complete arse.
I can't mention Bartz's outfit without bringing up this completely fabulous alternate costume from Dissidia. Bartz doesn''t need armour, he's got dazzle camouflage and combat leggings.
Terra - Final Fantasy VI
It's often said that FFVI doesn't really have a main character and the game was designed as an ensemble piece, but Terra's on the game's logo and she's always chosen as FFVI's representative in spin-offs and crossovers so she fits the bill better than most. Terra doesn't really have a settled design, either: her hair colour changes regularly and her original sprite had shoulderpads that seem to have been done away with these days, but this is basically her look: floaty and magical, feminine without being sexualised and with shoes that you'd have to put on very carefully unless you wanted to lose a couple of fingers. Terra's outfit is an inversion of most of the ones we've seen thus far in that the arms are covered but her shoulders are woefully lacking protection, but as she was intended for a life of servitude spent riding around in a mechanical death machine her lack of armour makes a little more sense. I think her tights would benefit from a different pattern, mind you, because these ones look like she was eating taramasalata too fast. Still, Terra has one of my favourite outfits in the series and it definitely looks like the wearer might transform into a flying god-monster every now and then. She must buy her clothes at the same store as Bruce Banner.
Cloud - Final Fantasy VII
Ah, Cloud Strife. One of the most iconic characters in gaming, a fan-favourite who helped define the PS1 era. Not bad for someone wearing binbags as trousers. SOLDIER wages are not competitive, it seems. How do you even manage to make your trousers so pointy, Cloud? Do you spend hours ironing in each crease? No, you can't do. That wouldn't leave enough time for hair sculpting. The trousers do a good job of hiding just how weirdly long Cloud's legs are, though, obscuring the fact that his waist is practically under his chin.
Trousers aside, two things about Cloud's outfit draw my attention. The first is that he's wearing surprisingly normal boots. They've got slightly unusual fold-over tops, but aside from that they're common-or-garden work books. I own a pair of boots not dissimilar to Cloud's myself, and I get it, they're very comfortable. The other thing is his weird belt, stolen from a Victorian strongman and with attached suspenders for... what? Holding up the belt? What is it with Final Fantasy games and belts? Actually, now that I think about it the belt and suspenders are probably designed so that Cloud can hang the Buster Sword on his back. You might think doing so would lead to a moment of agony as your vertebrae explode followed by a lifetime in a wheelchair, but here's the theory I subscribe to: the planet of FFVII has much lower gravity than Earth. That's why everyone can jump ridiculously high and Cloud can lift his sword.
Squall - Final Fantasy VIII
It's a "James Dean falls into a vat of liquid anime" look for the hero of FFVIII, and this is almost something you could see a real person wearing. It's basically just a white t-shirt, leather jacket and black trousers, after all, although they do seem to be leather trousers. Swap the leather for jeans and hey, that's almost normal! Oh, right, the belts. There's always something going on with the belts. The crossed belts do make sense when you think Squall's kind of a gunslinger, and FFVIII's intro does show that the Gunblades require ammunition even if you're stabbing the bullets into people rather than shooting them. I'm not sure how those belts aren't falling down Squall's legs, though. Let's say it's magnets. Less readily explained are the belts wrapped around his right leg. Are they spares, in case his other belts fail? Does he hand them out to those without belts, bringing joy to the loose-trousered people of the world? If only FFVIII had received as many sequels as Final Fantasy VII, we might have had a glimpse into Squall's future as the owner, proprietor and best customer of Squall's Belt Shack, the Cheapest Belts in Balamb.
Zidane - Final Fantasy IX
If that's what the cuffs look like, we should all give thanks that Zidane got rid of the rest of the shirt. However, seeing someone wearing cuffs that aren't attached to any sleeves always makes me think of male strippers, so thanks for that, Square. I'm sure there are other things that can be said about Zidane's outfit, but I cannot get past those cuffs. I feel like he should be able to glide short distances using those bloody things. I can just imagine Zidane walking into a jewellers and saying "I need the biggest cufflinks you have. No, bigger. Bigger."
Okay, cuffs aside Zidane has has a very nice doily around his neck and boots that would fill with water every time it rained. He's so close to figuring out how belts work, though! He just needs to buy a shorter one. Or steal one, because he's a thief. An unappealing little goblinoid thief with the disturbing face of a porcelain doll and hair like a bad David Bowie wig.
Tidus - Final Fantasy X
Good god, and I thought Zidane's design was bad. At least I could kind of see what they were going for with Zidane, but Tidus' outfit is just completely insane. I once described this costume as "the result of running a toddler's wardrobe through a woodchipper and then randomly sewing the pieces back together," and I'm not sure I can come up with a better description than that. I'm going to try, though. He's the ghost of a surfer who died in a terrible accident at a fabric recycling centre. The host of a kid's TV show from a universe where mankind was enslaved by a race of alien clowns. A jigsaw puzzle of garbage dump that's been assembled wrong. He looks, to be blunt, like a complete idiot. He's wearing what appear to be rubber socks, for pity's sake. And again, surprisingly normal boots. Which he swims in. Underwater. Yes, these are Tidus' underwater swimming clothes, because nothing says deep-sea exploration like dungarees. It may sound hypocritical of me to complain about this after I said Noctis' design was boring, but it's possible to go too far in the other direction, you know?
Vaan - Final Fantasy XII
As a child, Vaan was once kicked in the shin. Vowing to never suffer through such pain again, he built a custom set of impenetrable leg armour. Unfortunately, this meant he had no money left to buy any other clothes, and so he had to settle for a vest he made from the leftover scraps of metal. All I can think of is how unpleasant a steel vest would feel as it rubbed against your nipples. Or maybe Vaan is into that kind of thing. If he is, I wish they'd mentioned it in FFXII, anything that gave Vaan even the smallest amount of personality would have been a welcome addition.
They say wearing socks with sandals is a fashion faux-pas, but I'm not sure if that rule still holds when your socks are leather. On the other hand (ha ha,) Vaan has swerved the stigma of wearing fingerless gloves by donning gloves that are only fingers. I should point out that Vaan lives in a desert city, just in case you had any lingering doubts as to the practicality of his outfit. Business on the bottom, party on the top, that's Vaan, and if this image is anything to go by it's a sexy party.
Lightning - Final Fantasy XIII
The shoulderpad makes its triumphant return in FFXIII! It's something of a runty, vestigial shoulderpad with no elaborate horn sticking out of it but hey, it's nice to see it back. Lightning is often accused of being nothing more than a female version of Cloud, but I don't think that's fair. True, they both favour the single shoulder-pad and the sleeveless turtleneck, but were Cloud's boot plagued by a swarm of small belts? I think not. I don't mind Lightning's shoe-belts so much, even if they are utterly useless, because she's on of the few FF character to wear a regular, standard belt around her waist in the appropriate manner. Lightning also brings back the cape, something that has been sorely lacking from FF heroes in recent years. Overall, though, I'd say Lightning's design is a little bland and no amount of superfluous belts is going to change that. Unless they wrapped her entirely in belts like some kind of leather mummy. That would definitely not be bland. It'd make the combat a lot more interesting, for starters.
So, in conclusion I think my favourite is Terra and the worst is Tidus by a significant margin, and although I've given some of them a hard time I do like the majority of these character designs. The pre-Final Fantasy IX ones, anyway. They're striking, fun and unique and even after all these years a tiny part of me still wishes I could get away with dressing like Squall. Don't worry, I know I can't and I won't try it. Not again.