I’ve been playing a lot of Tales of Graces F recently and a handful of hours into the storyline I gained access to Pascal, a party member who has rapidly become my least favorite. The thing I can’t quite figure out is why I don’t like her. She’s perfectly competent in battle and out of combat is an intelligent, fully-contributing member of my squad.
She is also whimsical and fancy-free, running off on her own for reasons only she can fathom. She is perky and lighthearted, frequently providing wacky comic relief in otherwise serious situations. If this were a movie, she would be played by Zooey Deschanel.
I think I’ve met her before, actually.
You see, Pascal isn’t just Pascal. She’s representative of the stereotype that I like the least throughout a large number of Japanese anime-styled games: the Zany Girl. The Final Fantasy series, particularly in its later iterations, almost always has one: Yuffie (from Final Fantasy VII), Selphie (VIII), Eiko (admittedly, I’m not totally sure about this one, as I don’t like Final Fantasy IX all that much), Rikku (X), Penelo (XII) and Vanille (XIII) are pretty substantial proof of this.
I don’t like any of them. But why?
Perhaps it has something to do with the way I personally tend to react to people who display these types of personality traits in real life. I wouldn’t say that I’m cynical, but… okay, maybe I would say that. I’m not some kind of humorless automaton, though, and I don’t think that people should be totally serious all the time. That’s true in games as well as in life. How serious can you really be when you’re fighting giant slime monsters and collecting scarves and hair ribbons that somehow make you better at punching things?
It may also be that these characters fly a bit too much in the face of the internal logic of their respective titles for my taste. Maybe they should be focusing a little less on being all whimsical and a little more on that gigantic world-ending dragon that is standing between you and the switch that you have to flip to save all of creation? That might be a good place to start, anyway.
As I mentioned before, though, it would be boring if everyone was completely self-serious all the time. That tends to be when games of this genre are at their worst. So, wouldn’t this suggest that we need the zany girl?
Well, that certainly seems to be what writers believe, at least. That’s why she is always stuck in as the token pressure release. I think this is where I start to get an idea of why I don’t like her. It’s not her fault, really. It’s just that her writers are lazy.
In any story worth being told, you probably need to have at least a little levity to make sure things don’t stay too heavy. What the “zany girl” trope does—what I really can’t stand, and what forms the root of my problem—is to concentrate all of that into a single character. She may have another purpose (if you dig far enough, there’s usually a late-game revelation that explains everything away as escapism from some horrible childhood trauma), but it is almost exclusively her job to lighten the mood, because no one else is allowed to do so.
If I ever saw one of these characters as more than a convenient way to cover this deficiency, then maybe I wouldn’t have such a problem with her. Maybe I would include her in my party from time to time. I might even end up liking her, because she doesn’t seem to be a bad person inherently. I don’t mind if she has a generally positive outlook, or even if she has a bizarre sense of humor. While that sense of humor is all she ever contributes, though, I just don’t think we can ever be friends.
The token attempts to make her “real” or “believable” in her motivations never seem to be enough for me, though. Until she is written with a view to making her (and those who surround her) a bit more balanced so that a one-character cover is no longer needed, I don’t think they ever will be. I’ll just stick with Quistis and Lulu, and leave the zany girls on the bench, braiding each other’s hair and squealing over kittens and ladybugs.
-Leah ‘Not-So-Zany’ Haydu
(For further reading, or to lose a full afternoon of your life, check out the TV Tropes article on the ‘Genki Girl’ here – Ed.)