Is Fan Service Doing Us A Disservice?
Fan service: The placement of a certain material or character in media to please a fanbase. Originated from anime and Manga. May be meant to be titillating (sexually arousing; See Bayonetta)
I've always looked at the above definition of so-called fan service and lowered my head down in disgust. The mere idea that something is done for the fans aside from releasing the actual product up to a standard expected by that fanbase is ludicrous. Before I go on, I want to make sure people understand that I have no issues with putting in an Easter egg or something nostalgic for a new release.
For example, this is fine, the Tanooki Suit in Super Mario 3D Land was a retro-trip that does serve a purpose in the game as a power-up than makes the game more enjoyable to play and even has multiple variations. What I hold an issue with however, is with characters or iconic symbols of an established franchise being put in place not because they're trying to better the player's experience, but to merely please fans without any regard for quality of the product and ultimately pleasing no one.
Take for example everyone's favourite Final Fantasy to rip on:
No, not that one! This one!
Final Fantasy X-2. Critically, the game scored quite fairly, with most reviews in the 8-9 range, though the most common criticism was the lack of significant improvements over what many consider to be one of the best entries in the series and the change in the soundtrack from series composer Nobuo Uematsu to Noriko Matsueda and Takahito Eguchi's. Fan reaction however?
Yeah, not looking too good Square Enix.
Though essentially the same game mechanically from 2001 that so many loved, Final Fantasy X-2 was and still is, detested by fans as one of the worst entries in the series to date. In this game you play as three females (and no one else), Rikku, Yuna and Paine, the former two being in the previous game while hunting down Spheres and see another love story unfold with two previously unknown characters that were just Titus and Yuna's story love story through a different looking glass... and a lot less reason to care about any of them. Final Fantasy X-2 feels like a game without a soul. It didn't feel like it was made because they wanted to tell a good story and make a good game, it was made because Square Enix saw Final Fantasy X sold over 6 million copies and wanted to sell more and then proceeded to cover it up with a bunch of fan service, namely girls in kinky outfits. Yeah, as if Rikku being an ideal sex fantasy to some people isn't enough of a creepy thought, now she can look like this:
And for only $12.99, you too can unlock the Underage School Girl Dress Sphere, complete with five under-skirt shots! Then again, she is wearing clothes than she normally does...
There's actually quite a few games in Final Fantasy that are deliberate fan service (All The Bravest... ugh) but we need to move on. Besides, it's not just limited to games either. It's easy to find some in anime and several manga adaptations nowadays, but it also happens in films too:
Nope. Bring in some guy that looks like everybody's favourite Boba Fett!
Want more? Here, the Stormtroopers are in it too because they were in the first three films!
Not good enough? Look, Yoda's kicking ass like a boss because he's supposed to be a Jedi Master like they said in the first trilogy!
It felt like George Lucas was saying to the film crew "I want them to love me again, look at how great I am. Look at it, love me!"
Right? I mean the film is constantly making references to the original trilogy, so people will love it, right? No.
Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones was the equivalent of a pandering, attention-seeking, whiny little brat trying to get their mother's attention by constantly yanking on her skirt until he tugged so hard he pulled it down and left her undergarments showing off in your local Wal-Mart. It's embarrassing on both parts and sends you the message about what kind of parent they are to their uncontrollable child. Episode I may be a lackluster film 5/10 eye-candy mess at best, but Episode II is by and large the worst Star Wars film. Instead of improving on what had outraged fans so much in The Phantom Menace (namely the film being mediocre compared to previous theatrical ventures in a galaxy far, far away) Attack of the Clones tried to cater to fans and no one else, leaving everyone with a film that has little to behold except a terribly written story, the same eye candy visuals from its previous film, and an awfully executed romance that continued the discrediting of George Lucas as a film director. And as someone who is not overly fond of Star Wars to begin with (but has nothing against it), I can say that it was not just distracting to see all this fan service, but irritated down to my core that the film itself was nothing more than a boring theatrical disaster.
Well, i'm not holding it against them as I am holding it against the creators for putting it in the first place
As for what set me off... It was this:
This is what got me to finally discuss my disgust for the idea of fan service and its true lack thereof. The redesign of Eirika from Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones for the soon-to-be-released Fire Emblem: Awakening. For those unaware (as i'm sure many of you are, what with not playing Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones), in Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, Eirika is portrayed as a strong, kind-hearted young woman who ventures out to save her twin brother during a war after her homeland is taken over and is crawling with enemy soldiers and heartless bandits who would gladly see her and her brother die, and is every bit the equal to the young man she's trying to save, her twin brother Ephraim. She's a well-written and well designed character throughout the entire game that you believe can be a soft-hearted young lady in one moment that could snap into a strong, fearless warrior on the battlefield in another.
This is the Eirika I know and love. Sure, she has a skirt that's way shorter than it should be and those leggings... boots... things, whatever, the character is written as someone who is strong and doesn't need some male support of her own. Eirika is not some girl who looks like she's getting ready to become some man's swooned lady overjoyed for her marriage day. This redesign is degrading to her character and another example of the many objectifications of female leads in gaming that there is no shortage of today.
Blasphemy you say? You think it's just me thinking this? Well tell that to the artist of this:
Just here to remind you again: They're brother and sister.
And if that's not enough, her class in the game is "Bride". If the idea surrounding fan service is to serve the fans with placing familiar material to make fans gleeful with joy, then why go to the trouble of completely removing what we liked about them in the first place? That's not fan service, that's a disservice to everyone. Now let's think about the other side: What about people who play this game first and move on to Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones? It gives the new audience a false impression of the character they found in Fire Emblem: Awakening and betrays fans of the original conception with something that fails to satisfy anyone.
If this is what happened to Eirika, I can only imagine what the heck they did to Ephraim...
Of course he looks eve more like a heroic knight than he did before. I guess I shouldn't expect much fairness for the female characters when the designer is the same guy behind Sylvia from No More Heroes and Liberation Maiden.
I'm not kidding, Travis Touchdown and Chrom have the same character designer. Life is confusing sometimes.
Now I could go on and on listing every single piece of fan service, arousing, exciting or whatever the original intent was, and it wouldn't make a difference. Remember the boob window for Power Girl?
Yes, clearly that was there for ar-tits-tits-I mean, artistic merit and for the joy of writing for this deep, interesting character. The point is that as a fan of many series, gaming or otherwise, I always want the best for it. I want to see it improve with every film, game or whatever media it may be. I expect better from a series and its creators, especially one that I enjoy as much and hold in such high regard as Fire Emblem. Sure, it might seem nice that they're including fan favourites in this instalment, but what does it matter five or tens years from now when we look back at it and the other instalments that come out over the years? In the past, we've seen that fan service does nothing but degrade the original creators' design just to serve a small part of a fanbase and either alienate or anger the rest of the people who experience their choice media/s.
Hoo, ok, i've got that all out of my system, I feel much better. Anyway, it's too little too late now, and Fire Emblem: Awakening is only days away from release. You'll be hearing from me whether I was wrong or not on the matter (and I really hope I am) but what about years after when we look back at this entry and its inclusions within the game? I want to remember Fire Emblem: Awakening years from now for what it brought to the series and the good time I have playing it on my ninth and tenth time on Hard Mode in a row. I don't want to be reminded of characters from games i'd much rather play. I'm sick of this idea that including something from the past makes it better just by pure nostalgia. It doesn't, not for me at least. If the term fan service is meant to describe something in to please fans, then I can't think of anything better than the creators gave it their all and brought us a truly wonderful experience that we'll remember for the rest of our lives. That is the greatest fan service that a creative team can ever give its fans.