Unsurprisingly, Wussy RPG Girls have few fans among female players. The Princess Type may have been popular among the ladies in Tokugawa Japan, but young women who grew up with Buffy the Vampire Slayer tend to want a heroine capable of something other than sobbing uncontrollably in the corner. Yet JRPGs remain extremely popular among women, perhaps more so than any other genre. I know next to none who actually like these characters, compared to oodles who start grinding their teeth at the mere mention of them. Wussy RPG Girls are a necessary evil we endure, but not enjoy, when playing the games we love.
Game writers seem to have finally gotten a clue, however. The prissy Princess Type has been on the decline in recent years, replaced by more capable female leads. And by "capable," I don't mean they need to deck their male co-stars in the face once per hour of game time, a la Lightning of Final Fantasy XIII. While an immense improvement over the Wussy RPG Girl, Lightning is really an example of the same principle taken to the other extreme. In the place of constant kidnappings, the game pounds her toughness into players' heads by having her perform random acts of aggression. She's written as far more overbearingly macho than the majority of male protagonists and, just like the Wussy RPG Girl's nubile frailty, her toughness is so exaggerated that it's sometimes hard to take her seriously. Can you imagine a Final Fantasy VII with Cloud constantly sucker-punching Barret?
Final Fantasy XIII conspicuously avoided giving Lightning even slightly feminine traits, perhaps for fear they would still carry that ancient connotation of weakness. But it's definitely possible for a heroine to be girly - and, yes, even a bit vulnerable - without making her a cream puff. Althea from 2006's Luminous Arc 2 is a good example. This pink-haired magical girl is soon revealed to have a great power: She's a "Beast Fiend" created by an evil sorceress, capable of using lost magic to control powerful white fire. No villain kidnaps her to use those powers in his deeds; they are hers to wield, and she kicks serious butt with them, saving the party from the brink of death. Of course, her dark heritage causes her to doubt her humanity, and the male hero does comfort her. But he does so with the same words Althea used to bring him back from his own earlier moment of self-loathing.
The Wussy RPG Girl is unlikely to die out any time soon; she's a relic of hundreds of years' belief that the sexes are completely different. The strength expected of male and female heroes in Japan's kabuki differed dramatically based on that assumption, and that sentiment lives on in the sword-wielding bad-asses and quivering maidens of traditional JRPGs. But writers are at last realizing it doesn't have to be that way. The protagonists of games like Luminous Arc 2 are, irrespective of gender, neither pure warrior nor pure wuss - and ultimately, that's what makes them all the more compelling.
Eileen Stahl is a University of Michigan graduate and freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She currently continuing her heroic struggle against rampaging, homicidal deer in Etrian Odyssey III.