I just reblogged an artist who talked about the character designs in the game Dragon’s Crown which are, in my opinion, not very good designs. Before anyone says, “But the designs in Dragon’s Crown are supposed to be satirical!” … Yeah, okay. I’m aware that Vanillaware has done some other very, very good games with excellent characters with excellent design, and this really isn’t an attack on them as a studio. It’s not even really an attack at all. It’s a statement of discomfort regarding those designs.
Because that’s basically the only thing I feel when I look at them: discomfort.
For those of you who don’t know, Dragon’s Crown is a game slated for release later this year for the PS3 and Vita by Vanillaware and Atlus. Vanillaware did games like Odin Sphere and Muramasa: The Demon Blade, which from what I hear are both excellent games, though I wouldn’t know from personal experience. Recently, there’s been a bit of a debacle regarding the designs of two specific characters from Dragon’s Crown, those being the Sorceress and the Amazon. The characters in question:
On the one hand, I really want to like those designs because the Amazon character at least has obvious muscle tone and a giant-ass axe and that’s more than a lot of characters get, but at the same time… no. Just no.
Looking at the other characters, particularly the dwarf’s design, it’s kind of obvious that it’s meant to be a joke. From what I understand, Vanillaware has done the whole overly-sexualised character design thing in previous games, but not quite to the extent that it is in Dragon’s Crown.
Here’s what the artist himself had to say about the controversy surrounding his designs:
I believe that the basic fantasy motifs seen in Dungeons & Dragons and the work of J.R.R. Tolkien have a style that is very attractive, and I chose to use some orthodox ones in my basic designs. However, if I left those designs as is, they won’t stand out amongst the many fantasy designs already in the video game/comic/movie/etc. space. Because of that, I decided to exaggerate all of my character designs in a cartoonish fashion.
I exaggerated the silhouettes of all the masculine features in the male characters, the feminine features in female characters, and the monster-like features in the monsters from many different angles until each had a unique feel to them.
I’m inclined to believe that the designs were intended as satire, but as such and while I appreciate the sentiment, it’s missing the mark. From the same interview, the artist says, “We receive many requests from companies to create publicity illustrations for the game, but we never received any requests for the Dwarf. Also, as the game’s street date nears, most retail shops start requesting exclusive art for their retailer-exclusive bonus items. In Japan, these illustration requests can even be as specific as something like female characters in swimwear.”
Though I think the artist understands and tried to convey that this shit was satirical, not everyone got it. That’s the problem with satire; people even thought that Jonathan Swift was serious about cannibalising babies when he wrote ‘A Modest Proposal,’ as ridiculous as it sounds. And like it or not, the oversexualisation of women in video games (or just media in general) is very, very difficult to satirise properly. Seth MacFarlane found himself at the end of that very argument with his ‘We Saw Your Boobs' performance this year at the Oscars because while his performance was very clearly meant to be satire (as exhibited by William Shatner saying that Seth did a horrible song that offended a lot of people and brought back from the future (which was a part that was cut out of a lot of videos that circulated the Internet)), people were still offended by it. It’s extremely hard to do a satire of a hot-button topic well, and it’s very easy to misconstrue a design like the ones in Dragon’s Crown as serious. Which is what I think most people are doing when they look at the designs in the game. I think people think that these designs are actual, SUPER SERIOUS designs, like someone actually took a look at what they had just drawn and said, “Yes, this metal bikini and thong on this woman with extremely wide hips and massive breasts that are larger than her head is a good character design. People will surely be pleased by this and this is a good decision that we are making.”
Come on, people. No one does that. Actually wait yes they do, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. At the same time, I’m sure that Vanillaware and Atlus both expected backlash. They kind of had to with those designs.
So do I “get it” when I think it’s satire? I like to think so. Does it make me any more comfortable with it? … Well, no. Not really.
Funny as it is, I’m still tired of seeing characters with breasts larger than their heads with enough jiggle to set off the Richter scale. Even though yes, it is meant to prove a point that some character designs really are out of control (see: the evolution of the artwork for Soul Calibur’s Ivy Valentine), it’s still demoralising to see it in yet another game because I know that most people won’t get it. Recognising nuanced jokes isn’t exactly a forte of the mob mentality.
And you know what? Even though it’s a joke, it’s something that I have to roll my eyes at, because it’s not even really all that funny. It’s kind of like they’re saying, “Haha, look at how silly-huge these characters’ breasts are, maybe you should think about how silly other characters in other games look haha isn’t this funny?" and I just have to say, "So… you had the opportunity to go the completely opposite direction and create characters with beautiful designs that were functional and badass and empowering, but you specifically chose to go with ones that gave a character tits each the size of watermelons grown with steroids… for a joke.”
It’s kind of reductionist, in a way, because instead of being actual characters, the Amazon and the Sorceress are being shoehorned into this role of ‘joke being played on the entire industry.’ They’re not real characters. Which in the case of satire, it’s almost just as bad as designing something with those ridiculous dimensions in seriousness in the first place.
Since it’s a game that hasn’t been released and I don’t know how the characterisation will play out at all, maybe I’m being hypercritical. I’d like to give it the benefit of the doubt, but seriously, those designs make me very, very, very, very, very, very uncomfortable and make me not want to buy the game at all. I most likely won’t, actually. It was a risk that Vanillaware and Atlus took, and I’m not exactly certain that it’ll be one that pays off in the end simply because the designs are the way that they are, which is a shame because the rest of the art looks really nice, and I’ve heard good things about every other one of their games.
I’d like for female characters to actually be treated as characters and not just tools for either side of the argument. Because that’s what the Sorceress and the Amazon boil down to: tools.
I have to wonder if the art designers even considered for a moment to oversexualise the male characters for the point of their satire rather than the female ones, because I feel like that would have made more of a successful impact. What they did is so similar to actual, serious designs that it’s hard not to take it as such. Intentions are nice, but if they ultimately fail due to being so similar, then that’s still doing nothing to fight the trope.
And unfortunately, they are really similar.