Welcome to the first ever installment of Fashion Fantasy! This is a new pet project where, each month, I’m going to be looking at the style and fashion in a particular game, looking at some of the outfits and garments that are interesting to me, breaking them down, and talking about them!
What I’m aiming to do with Fashion Fantasy is to share thoughts about visual storytelling and characterisation in a fun way that I definitely haven’t just lifted from Raven and Raja’s Fashion Photo RuView series on YouTube. Note that I’m absolutely not an expert in any aspect of clothing or textiles, and you don’t need to be either — it’s more about just having fun and talking about style, fashion and taste! I’m not gonna be analysing every character in each game I choose, because there’re just too many — so I’ll focus on the ones that stand out most to me, for whatever reason. If you wanna talk to me about a favourite character of yours I’ve missed out, you can always leave a comment here or tweet me via Twitter!
To kick things off, we’re gonna start with Square Enix’s 2006 game (remastered in 2017), Final Fantasy XII! XII is one of my absolute favourites of the Final Fantasy franchise, and there’s a whooole looot of remarkable outfits. The characters of Final Fantasy XII were designed by Akihiko Yoshida, who also designed characters for Nier: Automata, Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, and Tactics Ogre.
This post will include some spoilers for the events of Final Fantasy XII, so only continue if you’re alright with that! Let’s begin!
Just to clear the air and set my stall a bit before we begin: I feel like part of the reason Final Fantasy XII isn’t talked about more is because of gamers’ (and in some cases, Final Fantasy fans’) impression of the “main character”, Vaan, particularly in the above image. And I believe a significant portion of that impression was partly rooted in homophobia and misogyny: Vaan’s design (and by extension, Final Fantasy XII, and the Final Fantasy series as a whole) is criticsed for being very “effeminate” and androgynous, or for having “pretty boy” protagonists. As a concrete example, I was looking for images of Vaan for Fashion Fantasy earlier, and I found this one, labelled “vaan final fantasy gay.jpg”, so, y’know. Add to that the fact that a not-insignificant portion of the male fanbase are seemingly repelled by Vaan exposing his smooth chest and boy-band-blonde hair, which they suggest is evidence that he’s there as fanservice for female players. In fact, you can read interviews where the developers straight-up state that they chose more feminine designs for Vaan because of their target audience.
In this case, I say lean into it or get over it. Vaan’s a twink with great dress sense.
I think the overall look of Vaan’s outfit is pretty nice. It’s a more complex version of the outfit worn by Disney’s Aladdin in terms of shape — a small, simple, sleeveless vest (which is left open) a sash around the waist, and bottom-heavy legwear. I think it’s a nice fit for the warm climate of Dalmasca, and the sky blue, metallic silver and red palette contrasts Vaan against the yellow, white and brown of the city of Rabanastre and the desert around it. Which is pretty good, since Vaan’s all you’re going to be seeing for the first part of the game.
I’m pretty partial to “normal clothes up top then massive fuck-off greaves”. It often means that there’s some care and attention on the part of the designer to the lower part of the character model — its very easy to gloss over footwear when there’s larger and more attention-grabbing pieces on the torso, usually. In terms of lore, you could say that it’s a bit weird for a street urchin to be wearing greaves, but my headcanon: what if he stole them from someplace?
I’m also very fond of the fact that Vaan’s outfit uses the same colour palette as his Red Spiral and Pyroclasm Quickenings. I feel like you don’t see sky blue and red together very often, so it’s nice seeing it as a protagonist’s core colour scheme.
It’s also worth noting the necklace Vaan’s wearing: if you look inside the loose part of Vaan’s vest, you can see the string part of the necklace inside the vest, almost as though it’s attached to the garment itself as a kind of clasp, rather than looping round the neck, which is cool if that’s what that actually is (it might just be that the string part is hidden in the folds of the vest). This necklace is also a nice wee connection to Reks — he’s wearing the same one in his brief appearance at the start of Final Fantasy XII.
We’re going to talk first about the skirt, because of course we are.
I am fully not here for the skirt: I think it’s so out-of-place that it undercuts some of the nice holy-warrior-feel of the rest of the outfit. I feel like I might get where this choice came from and can kinda understand what it might represent: sometimes I think, yeah, this is a princess who’s been exiled and bunched with resistance fighters, so maybe she’s freeing herself a bit from the stipulations of what a princess “should” wear, not at all dissimilar to Yuna’s main costume-change in Final Fantasy X-2 — but the truth is, in-game, there isn’t enough playfulness in Ashe’s characterisation to support that interpretation, I think. Sometimes a micro-mini skirt is just a micro-mini skirt.
I will say that I like the repetition of blue belt / gold buckle / pink skirt, then blue shoe cuffs / gold trim / pink shoes later — however, I wish it was another colour, because those just feel so odd and discordant to me. On the other hand, I appreciate that the outfit is so remarkable because of that. I’m so conflicted!!!!
The black, white and gold elements of the rest of her outfit are pretty nice — it’s like she only had time to grab some of her Paladin gear before she got exiled.
There’s a slight wee hint to Rasler in Ashe’s outfit — the fleur-de-lys symbol on her boot is also present on the tassets of Lord Rasler’s armour, but I’m not sure if it’s used elsewhere in the game.
Can I just say that I love the little multi-colour touch in this outfit? If you look closely, Basch has a breastplate on underneath the jerkin that has wee brightly-coloured squares on them — it’s a strange choice for this outfit, but a very pleasant one. I don’t have any strong evidence for this, but I like to think that it might have been a wee nod to the License Board.
I’m also so here for the fact that his kinda-sorta-undershirt is unbuttoned so far (forming a nice little complement to the cut-out part of the jerkin), as well as the fact that it looks frilled! I previously thought the white material around his torso was an undershirt, but there’s clearly no sleeves to it, and you also don’t see the underarm seam where the sleeves would be. It looks like it disappears halfway up the jerkin, which I very much appreciate — it’s unusual and interesting.
Basch definitely looks like he rifled through some army surplus equipment for anything that worked, and since he’s a resistance fighter, I’m happy to consider that canon.
Ahhh, Penelo, the stylistic lovechild of Final Fantasy VIII‘s Selphie and Irvine.
This bodycon jumpsuit/romper is amazing. I love that it’s form-fitting, I love that the sides extend a little further down the thigh and then end in those big straps. The colours are great — in-game, they look gold and black (my faves), but in the promo material the black looks more like a dark navy blue, which is pretty nice as well. I attached an image of the character model to draw attention to some stuff you can’t see in the official render: the high collar is beautiful (it’s one of my most favourite things about the whole outfit), I love the belt across the sternum, and I love the ornate scalloped hem that her undershirt sleeves have.
Perhaps controversially! I even like the boots — their chunkiness is so blatant and outré that you kind of have to respect it. And in fairness, how often can you say that an RPG character has striking footwear that’s not heels? It’s such an interesting choice: Penelo’s also (in the spinoffs, but also hinted at in her Quickenings) a dancer, so for her to have these boots alongside a form-fitting garment I think makes it very striking and interesting, because when you think “dancer”, you don’t think “chunky footwear”. It makes me love it all the more. And hey, if you don’t like them, go talk to Vayne — he’s wearing a very similar style. If it’s good enough for Rabanastre’s Consul, it’s good enough for its gutter princess.
If anything, I’d say this outfit makes Penelo look more like the would-be sky-pirate than Vaan…
Honestly, it feels kind of difficult to critique any part of Balthier’s look negatively. He’s a suave sky pirate, so anything you give him is likely to look idiosyncratic and interesting in some way (although… we’ll talk about Reddas later).
The brigadine-looking chestpiece is really beautiful, and is perfect for a gallant rogue. The folded-down lace ruffle around his neck is a nice wee nod to Dr. Cid’s as well, as he wears a similar one — a tiny wee touch of backstory in clothing right there. I love the embroidery on the trousers, even though you don’t really get to see it in-game. The big satchels on the belts slung round his hips look great, and change the flow of his silhouette — they also emphasise his hips too. Final Fantasy XII is very much a game about hips.
Similarly to Basch, I love the tiny multicolour splash in this outfit — the rings and bangles on Balthier’s left hand are all bright and fun, and it’s an interesting choice to go with when you could easily have just given him gold rings to highlight his pirateyness.
Bikini Armour Battle Damage highlighted a lot of the issues with this outfit from a practicality standpoint.
However, personally, I’m not overly interested in practicality, especially from high fantasy. I want something that’s very stylised, and Fran is giving me just that.
(Incidentally, also think there’s something to be said for taking critical examination of female characters in games further by exploring the presentation of femininity in games specifically through a queer lens. Compare this with Bayonetta, which when it was released was largely dismissed as being an example of all things bad with the representation of women in games — as Todd Harper said on Twitter, “Bayonetta becomes easier to understand when you realise she’s a drag queen.”)
All that said, I’m not going to suggest that Fran is necessarily a drag queen, a queer icon, or even anything but the most fevered fantasy of people who otherwise probably wouldn’t call themselves part of the furry fandom. But I am going to suggest that Fran looks cool as fuck.
Fran is obviously pure Playboy-bunny realness. She has long, slender legs like Naomi Smalls from Drag Race season 8, and her outfit shows them off. I like the scalloped top edge of her leg armour, it makes it look like a long stocking, which, with the sheer veil over her stomach, makes her seem very alluring and sensual. At the end of the day though, that armour on her is still armour. I like the naturalistic patterns in the armour, almost like filigree, with a wee touch of Art Noveau that links her back visually to her species’ home in the Wood.
I’m not fond of the plate sticking out of her right shoe though. It’s so minor, but it bothers me. I understand why it’s there and why people might be into it, especially considering Fran has a few kick-y moments, such as when using Whip Kick, so it’s a visual reference to a game mechanic thing, which is cool. It just strikes me as being a little off somehow. Maybe I’m put off by the asymmetry of it compared to the other foot? Maybe, in spite of everything I said above about practicality, I’m kind of put off by the impracticality of it — just imagine kneeling down and that metal plate just jabbing into your shin. Ouch.
Remember what I said about Final Fantasy XII being all about hips?! Look at this majestic queen making sure we know she can balance the whole fucking world of Ivalice on that hip.
Reks is Vaan’s older brother, and as a new recruit of the Knights of Dalmasca, he’s wearing a somewhat-revealing. military outfit. Personally, I find gladiator outfits pretty hit or miss, and this is no exception. It feels kind of chaotic and strangely scaled: for example, that Graeco-Roman tasset belt looks pretty bulky, almost like it’s been resized bigger than it should have been.
Note that Reks is wearing the necklace we later see Vaan wearing.
There are no two ways about it. That man is wearing a fucking harness under his business-casual-mafioso shirt, and I’m happy to report that everyone in the world universally loves it.
Al-Cid Margrace is very much “Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcom in Jurassic Park“, with a bit of Spanish flair. His shirt is a lace-up purely so that you can watch him unlacing himself out of it (and just try to tell me that wouldn’t look identical to the scene where Dr. Malcolm’s reclining with his chest out?) The silhouette of this is really wonderful, because the sleeves are so big and baggy round the elbows, but the rest of his outfit is pretty tight. I also love that the shirt is black pinstripe — it gives him a very executive and modern air (which fits his character very much, as a suave prince-spy-diplomat-ladykiller). It’s also interesting, since now that I think about it, I don’t think you see a lot of stripes in fantasy attire outside of things inspired by continental European theater/drama. I’m thinking specifically Italian-inspired outfits, the setting of Final Fantasy IX, Vivi’s trousers… anyway, that’s for another time.
Al-Cid Margrace is literally perfect.
I also want to say that even if there was any doubt about Penelo’s outfit being Good, Actually, Al-Cid provides another vindication of it: the lower part of his outfit is quite clearly by the same designer. The colour palette is identical to Penelo’s (but with the overall surface area of each colour adjusted, of course), his boots are similarly blocky and monochrome, and he even has that down-the-side-of-the-leg strappy-harnessy thing going on too.
Curiously, the insignia on Penelo’s boots is stylistically similar to the one on Al-Cid’s… but I’m sure that’s just stylistic flair rather than Deep Lore.
The Marquis’ outfit is pretty cool — I like the big collar, and I looove the spine detailing on his jacket — but the real treasure is in the concept art for him.
One of the designs for his outfit shows that the bottom of his jacket can apparently be removed, and honestly, I can’t stop thinking of how cool it would be if during the Battle over Rabanastre, Ondore ripped that off like a tearaway as he went into full Rebel Commander mode. It’s all about hips, man, I’m telling you.
Dr. Cidolfus Demen Bunansa is the ultimate high-fashion dad. He looks like an extravagant William-Petersen-as-Gil-Grissom decked up in a bold Romantic outfit that includes a tailcoat, elbow length gloves, glasses on an eyeglass chain, and those shoes. Honestly, you can tell this man’s a genius because his style is unparalleled across the entirety of Ivalice.
Cid’s an antagonist in Final Fantasy XII, and as a result he has elements of the camp theatrical villain. I’m tempted to say that there’s a wee bit of queer-coded-villain going on here, but I have complicated feelings towards it (as queer people often do). I really revel in how extravagant this outfit is without it being strange for the world of Ivalice.
The red, purple, gold and white colour scheme for his outfit is beautiful, and not entirely dissimilar to the high-campness of characters like Final Fantasy VI‘s Kefka, or Final Fantasy IX‘s Kuja. Would I be wrong to call the gold hemlines and patterns quite Art Deco-y?
Dr. Cid also has a pair of spectacles that are not only very slender, but are on an eyeglass chain. Campy, bookish, and perfect for the misunderstood-genius-villain archetype. How often do you get to see a male character with an eyeglass chain? How often do you get to see a character have an eyeglass chain who’s not a teacher or a librarian? I love it.
His gloves are white and elbow-length, which again is very theatrical/operatic, and again, not something you see intended for male characters very often. The only gloves I can think of for men that extend past the elbow are for fetish purposes, which is really only my personal headcanon for Cid, and not something visually present in his character.
On to those shoes. Are they thigh-high boots, or are they part of his trousers? It’s difficult to say, but whatever they are, they’re a magnificent feat of sartorial engineering. I also love that they’re white — it looks a little jarring when compared to the rest of the outfit, because you’d almost expect them to be red for contract against the purple trousers (or is he wearing a union suit under there? the seam is pretty thick for a pair of trousers…) White looks very bold against the rest of the outfit, so I’m here for it.
Note that the neck ruffles are a wee visual motif that connect him to Ffamran — I mean, Balthier.
I’m trying to understand the pink-and-green neon shorts as being emblematic of Reddas’ anarchic nature as a sky pirate, but I’m so much in love with that top that it almost feels like an injustice that the shorts are that colour. It’s a similar thing to Ashe’s skirt — it just seems so strange to have them there.
That top is everything though. Massive collar, exposed chest, exposed shoulders, flouncy sleeves all laced up, his dangly belt bits — it’s just beautiful. I love his fuzzy white beard as well, it’s true art. Sky Pirate Dad is wonderful.
But I can’t get over the shorts. Désolé.
Mateus’ fucky black-and-deep-pink-possessed-armour-with-glowing-robes-attached is amazing and probably one of the best designs of any summon in any of the games, in my humble wee op-onion. There’s a lovely mecha-mermaid theme going on with Mateus, which is made doubly weird by the fact that Mateus is, ostensibly, the armour part of the summon, and the blue-skinned woman is “a Goddess of the Demesne of Ice” that Mateus has apparently kidnapped. There’s something very Persona-y/JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure-y (or, more correctly, something very Kazuma Kaneko/Araki Hirohiko-y) about Mateus’ design here — impersonal, inhuman armour with an echo of humanity to it.
As an aside: obviously if you’re going to have “a Goddess of the Demesne of Ice”, you’re probably going to give her blue skin, right, so this obviously isn’t canonical or even really that meaningful: but wouldn’t it be interesting if the Goddess there was Shiva? After all, isn’t it kinda weird how there’s a trend of doubling in some the Espers of Final Fantasy XII? Belias has two heads and two sets of arms, Mateus is the armour that holds a Goddess, Shemhazai seems to be a centaur-like entity with another armoured head above her own, Zalera is holding a shamaness… Trend alert.
I love Drace.
I love the massive tassets on her thighs that give the armour a skirt-like appearance, and the shell-like plate around the knees. The big slightly-squished-Princess-Leia-esque buns on the armour is such a nice contrast with the rest of the judges as well. She’s bulky and broad and stern and cold, and that’s what you want from a villain.
When you finally get to see Drace without the helmet on, you discover that she has a fucking incredible haircut that’s as severe as she is.
King Raminas B’Nargin Dalmasca
WELL HEY THERE, DADDY.
The King of Dalmasca is not afraid to show some skin. I wondered if the reason the king’s outfit looks like this because of Dalmasca’s climate, as it does look like something you might see as traditional wear in equatorial societies — but to be honest, all you have to do is compare it to Rasler’s outfit (of which there are a lot of shared visual links) to put a wee bit of doubt in that reasoning. Rasler is covered almost chin to toe in armour and fabric, whereas the king’s is a lot more uncovered, so it’s nowt to do with heat.
Maybe Raminas just likes showing off — and if so, I fully applaud him, because this is a cool look. I can’t identify any of the pieces with my limited understanding of fashion in different cultures, but it almost looks a little Ancient Egyptian in terms of the short skirt and leg armour — maybe a fantasy version of some kind of Ptolemaic crossover between Egypt and Greece/Rome? I’m not sure. It looks regal and beautiful though, so I’m here for it.
So that’s it for our first installment of Fashion Fantasy! We’ve learned that Final Fantasy XII is filled to the brim with good taste, chunky boots, hot pink legwear and incredibly strong hips.
I’m hoping to have a particular special guest with me on next month’s Fashion Fantasy, so stick around if you wanna see more. If you have suggestions for which game we should take a look at next, or if you’ve got some thoughts on any of the characters we covered (or didn’t cover!!), tweet me on Twitter!
Fashion Fantasy was a regular feature on Patreon. This installment was first published here on the 31st of January, 2018.