Good morning! Eurogamer once again marks Pride with another week of features celebrating the intersection of queer culture and gaming. Today, lifelong Final Fantasy fan Ed Nightingale finds joy in finally feeling seen by his favorite franchise… and it all starts with a kiss.
This article contains spoilers for Final Fantasy 16.
“Is he…? Are they?! Yes!”
I drop the controller, throw my arms in the air and let out a scream. A cheerful kiss! In Final Fantasy!
He’s not just any character either. It is Prince Dion Lesage, the Dominant of Bahamut. It’s true folks, the dragon king is gay.
It’s all too rare to see LGBTQ+ representation in high-profile AAA games. But seeing him here, in a Final Fantasy game too, was such a joyful moment for me. That’s why representation is so important: I feel seen and part of this show that I’ve loved for so long.
What I particularly like about Dion’s sexuality is that it’s only a brief moment. Dion and his attendant, Terence, share a quiet heart-to-heart inside his tent, discussing the intricacies of war with neighboring Dhalmeks – a conversation fueled by anxiety. Then they kiss, a tender moment amid the bloodshed as they both ponder what’s at stake.
And then they move on. It’s authentic, normalized. It’s not sexual, just two characters sharing intimacy. Dion’s sexuality is only referenced once again later (as well as in a description of their relationship in the game’s Active Time Lore feature) in a deeply moving tragic moment with little dialogue that speaks to the visuals and the acting of the game.
For the most part, Dion’s sexuality is simply a part of her character that defies explanation. He’s just plain gay. This has no plot bearing, but has huge ramifications for LGBTQ+ gamers.
(Not to mention that’s probably why Final Fantasy 16 was banned in Saudi Arabia ahead of launch, with Square Enix showing “a reluctance to make the necessary changes.”)
Arguably, this could all be taken from the inspiration of the game: Game of Thrones. Dion and Terence certainly have a Renly Baratheon and Loras Tyrell feeling about them, the prince and his assistant engaged in a secret relationship. Whether Dion and Terence are also secretive remains ambiguous.
Still, there are other LGBTQ+ depictions elsewhere in the game, mostly in incidental dialogue. There is a soldier in Northreach who tells his lover about his fears about the coming war, and while on a quest Clive tells a pair of soldiers that he is looking for a man. “Are you looking for a man? Does it look like a brothel, Branded? we respond. I had to laugh. The soldier’s response may be ignorantly homophobic, but it’s proof of the presence of homosexuality in Valisthea – and he’s not exactly meant to be sympathetic.
Perhaps my surprise at LGBTQ+ representation in Final Fantasy 16 is doing Creative Business Unit 3 a disservice. Studio Square Enix is known for its work on the MMORPG Final Fantasy 14 – a game that doesn’t include any characters main that is explicitly LGBT+, but has a thriving queer community. Again, there is incidental dialogue in-game with minor characters, but there is also gay marriage between player characters. In-game Pride parades happen regularly every year, while the studio collaborated on a float for Sydney’s Mardi Gras parade in 2019.
Still, the Final Fantasy series has something of a checkered history with LGBTQ+ representation. While fans imagined FF13’s Vanille and Fang as more than just friends (Fang, by the way, was originally intended to be a male character), in addition to a whole slew of fan-fiction, the scene FF7’s cross-dressing is perhaps the most infamous example of questionable portrayal.
In Midgar, Cloud must infiltrate a mansion owned by mob boss Don Corneo. To do so, he is sent on a quest for various women’s clothing, involving a trip to a seedy brothel, the Honeybee Inn. The quest is fueled by disturbing stereotypes, Freddie Mercury lookalikes, and even implied rape.
Yes, it was the mid-90s. But Square Enix has rightfully updated the FF7 Remake footage, turning the Honeybee Inn into a gloriously queer celebration of community through dance. It’s now a nightclub frequented by men and women – in cute bee outfits – and we’re introduced to new character Andrea Rhodea, who hosts fabulous Moulin Rouge-style dance shows. “Rise up and carry your soul with pride,” the lyrics go, before Andrea and Cloud dance together on stage to funky disco music. “Keep it up Cloud, work on it!” rings at Aerith. Cloud was met with universal applause and the players are awarded the Dancing Queen trophy.
“True beauty is an expression of the heart,” says Andrea. “A shameless thing, to which notions of gender do not apply.”
This is Final Fantasy at its most wondrous and extravagant camp, though it’s plagued by Cloud’s shame after being dressed in women’s clothing. However, this sequence is proof that Square Enix has the will to modernize. As the company seeks global audiences for its games, it will be judged by global standards – for better or worse – but in terms of LGBTQ+ representation, it is rising to the challenge. Additionally, outside of Final Fantasy, last year’s Harvestella was the first Square Enix game to include a non-binary genre option.
Dion and Terence’s kiss is the first explicitly LGBTQ+ moment in the show’s history. It may not have the campy staging of Andrea’s dance, but it’s a more subtle, human moment that’s arguably more powerful and touching. We gay people might know how to throw a party, but we also have the right to show our love.