It’s a Very Good Thing the FFXIV Nier Outfit Isn’t Gender Locked

The internet is doing good work with it, too.

I love Final Fantasy XIV. If there’s a video game-related hill I’m going to die on one day, it’s likely located in Eorzea, where the MMO predominantly takes place. But there’s one thing about it that I’ve never been able to completely defend: the clothes. A new FFXIV outfit based on 2B, from NieR: Automata, however, is one great step in a better direction.

That may seem odd. The game has a reputation for some of the best and cutest clothes in any game of its type (or really any game at all). And it’s well-deserved. FFXIV is flooded with fashion. It’s dripping with drips. You can’t leave your respective starting area without witnessing 73 people 73 levels higher than you, all wearing meticulously dyed and glamoured costumes. There’s even a weekly “Fashion Report” that scores players in-game on themed ensembles. It gets its audience.

And the audience is, in my experience, a very LGBTQ+ friendly sort. People from all walks of life like to play dress-up — to feel like they have some kind of control over a body they call their own — but that often goes double for queer folks. And FFXIV, whether it was intended at the start or not, wound up catering to queers and ladies more than the average.

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Yet the game makes some very obvious missteps. The most notable of which are “gender locked” races unveiled in this year’s expansion: Shadowbringers. The burly Hrothgar (based on the Ronso from Final Fantasy X) can only be male, while the svelte Viera (the bunny people from Final Fantasy Tactics and FF12) can only be women. Before that, the cat-like race of Miqo’te was also locked to feminine character models. Except that changed when the game rebooted as Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn in 2013.

Locking the gender spectrum down to “male” and “female” at all is a bit of a letdown. Although I can’t say it’s unexpected. A handful of games now explicitly include nonbinary identities (e.g. BattleTech), or avoid distinctions altogether by cleverly framing gender as “style,” or some such (e.g. Pokemon). But the vast, vast majority of games with custom protagonists still ask: Man or woman? I reviewed The Outer Worlds recently, for instance, and was disappointed (but again, not surprised) to find that exact, mandatory distinction.

Still! A wide variety of fashion goes a long way. I’m a nominally masculine person with a nonbinary gender identity. (I use they/them pronouns, but basically look like a dude.) Mannerisms, accessories, and some clothing are my most traditionally “feminine” traits. Which is why I love it when games let me craft a body that looks like mine, but still wear whatever I please.

Unfortunately, in addition to the gender locked races, FFXIV also has a longstanding tradition of gender locked clothing. Cute and often goofy outfits — like maid and butler uniforms — are specific to what binary choice you make at the beginning of character creation. In the summer women get bikinis; men get swim trunks. It’s one or the other… usually.

This pattern broke with the very high-profile addition of the YoRHa: Dark Apocalypse raid added to the game this week. It’s a crossover with NieR: Automata, the fan-favorite JRPG from a couple years back. You can play it for the usual high-level loot that such endgame events always deploy. But the real prize is a 2B outfit you can wear at any level. That’s right! You can dress up like a goth robot battle maid. And there are no gender restrictions.

The game doesn’t play it like a joke or an afterthought, either, as others might. The outfit looks good on every character of every race. And the internet has been putting the fantastic costume to equally powerful us (as you can no doubt tell from all the tweets embedded in this article). Not that I’m surprised about that, either. Guys look good in dresses. That’s just a geographical fact. Ask Young Thug or Billy Porter about it sometime.

I also never assumed the game would play such a thing for laughs — at least not so deeply in the forefront. FFXIV “gets” its most passionate fans and mostly understands the values they bring. It just doesn’t always prioritize those values.

The gender locked Hrothgar and Viera are the byproduct of time constraints and budget. Square Enix has said that even making helmets styled to fit their uniquely shaped heads was a near thing. That feature almost didn’t make it into Shadowbringers at launch. These will likely be the last new races added to the game altogether, too because of how much more time they consume in the development process. Even more styles for even more variations is even more work.

But where limited time and resources get deployed is still up to the developer. And it’s a shame when FFXIV hews to tired norms that don’t leverage so much of what makes the game so great. The Viera women can only be slim and sexy. The Hrothgar men can only be large and burly. And, for the most part, neither can escape a very limited spectrum of presentation within those buckets — despite fan outcry. I very much doubt it comes from a place of obvious maliciousness. It’s just a matter of priorities. And including my kind of identity, in particular, isn’t usually the first concern.

The 2B outfit is a step in the right direction! It’s also a reminder about what FFXIV considers most valuable. It’s not as open and friendly as it could be, even if it is ahead of the pack. That’s a shame… At least I get to look damn good, regardless of what kind of character I play as, though.