Time for another gender-swap! (Fran & Balthier)

Well, folks. It’s that time again! A commenter (I forget who and am feeling too lazy to check, sorry) had previously suggested that I tackle Fran and Balthier as a pair for my next gender-swap, a suggestion which I found delightful. Final Fantasy XII was, in my opinion, one of the weaker entries in the series and while Fran was a pretty decent character, the transparently fetishized design of the viera was irksome, to say the least. Add to that the fact that Fran typifies the “lingerie ninja” school of character design and Balthier is completely covered from head to toe, and they seemed a ripe target for swapping.

So here’s the image that I decided to work from:

Fran and Balthier (Final Fantasy XII)And here’s my version:

Fran & Balthier - gender-swapped(Yes the quality isn’t quite as good as previous entrants. My printer is dead, which meant I had to color digitally. I work a lot slower that way and thus got lazy with stuff like shading, color blending, and background. Whatevs. It gets the point across.)

When I my last gender-swap, there were some people who argued that I shouldn’t have tried to use gender-equivalent garments and that I should have left the outfit unchanged. As an experiment, I decided to change absolutely nothing other than facial structure and anatomy to make them read as opposite gendered. The result, while a bit artistically disappointing, is certainly interesting.

As with previous entrants in the series, the changing of Fran from male to female causes a lot of the sexualization to be lost in translation. Here’s the thing. People like to look at faces – it’s a fundamental human impulse – so any face is going to be a natural focal point. In the original, Fran’s boobs and crotch are right next to Balthier’s face – a natural spot for our eyes to gravitate to. But that gets lost in the gender-swap. The weirdness of the pose does come through nicely, however. We’re so conditioned to seeing scantily-clad women lounging in almost torturous positions that it’s hard to really see how awfully contorted Fran’s pose is until you turn her into a man. So I will give my male Fran a thumbs up.

My swap of Balthier, however, was more disappointing. I wanted to keep as much as possible, including the hairstyles – since Fran’s hair style is so ridiculous. However, I’m not sure that the changes I made are enough for Balthier to read as female at first glance. (Thoughts?) The only thing that saves Balthier for me is that I think this is a great pose for a self-assured, not half-naked and not stereotyped female character. It makes me think of the maxim for writing great female characters – write a male character and then switch genders – and wonder if maybe that shouldn’t apply to making game art as well? Something to ponder.

So there we are. Not my most successful swap so far, but certainly not the worst either. If anyone has suggestions for a character I should tackle down the line, I’m all ears.

47 thoughts on “Time for another gender-swap! (Fran & Balthier)

  1. Heh, I actually always liked Fran and Balthier as a pair of chars, one didnt seem to work without the other.

    Now pardon my dumbness but what is the purpose of these char swaps, is it just to show the utter lack of understanding of female (human) anatomy or something else that eludes me?

    Whats wrong with Frans hairstyle by the way, the short at the sides, looooong at the back thing?

    On a seperate note, +1 perception for me…I had this* as my wallpaper for ages and never noticed that Fran has nicked Balthiers gun…I was wondering why you drew his hands in such a wierd position…

    *Im sure it was this image because its the same one from the manual just bigger, I’d look through my wallpaper folder to find out but its about 7 gig of random named files😦

    • The purpose? It’s mostly to illustrate how ridiculous the sexualization of female characters actually is. We’re so conditioned to seeing characters like Fran as normal that sometimes a gender-swap makes it easier to spot the absurdity of costume or posing, what have you.

      Granted, this isn’t as strong a demonstration as Crapping Frost Mage or my HTK gender-swap…

      • “We’re so conditioned to seeing characters like Fran as normal…”

        I hope I never become conditioned in this way. Fran’s design is so jarringly atrocious I have a hard time finding words for it.

  2. Lady Balthier just looks like a completely awesome character and one I’d like to play. Guy Fran just looks ridiculous. These gender swaps really emphasize how silly the skimpy costumes are, something it’s easy to ignore because I’m just used to seeing this crap on female characters all the time.

  3. Balthier does look a bit ridiculous in that pose and get-up, which is exactly the point. Fran looks awesome, though. Although not what you were going for, I find myself approving of this as a piece of cool queer artwork.

  4. Are those… bunny ears?

    The fact that Fran is hovering and not sitting comes across a lot clearer in the swap.

    • Fran is basically from a species of long-lived playboy bunnies with magic senses. I always liked her, but there’s no denying she look spretty ridiculous.

      • Actually, they’re basically Fantasy Wookies too. Like, they literally live in tree-top communities. Fran and Balthier are more or less Final Fantasy Chewbacca and Han.

        • My argument would be the Viera are elf-analogues – this being a fantasy universe and all. They’re an extremely long-lived race from an isolationist culture which lives alongside nature, they’re attractively exotic looking non-humans, and they’re retreating from the rest of the world. Sounds like elves to me.

          It’s also worth noting that of the various non-human humanoid races and cultures shown, the Viera are the ones who come across as being closest to human in appearance and personality. The Bangaa are basically humanoid goannas (monitor-style lizards); the Seeq are piggish; the Moogles are sentient winged rabbits with a technological bent (as opposed to the standard FF vision of them which has them more akin to bears); the Urutan-Yensa are crustaceans/insectoids; and the Garif could be hume-appearing under the masks, but the whole point is that nobody gets to find out – Garif children put on the masks when they’re born, and never take them off (alternatively, given the Garif all appear to be male, while the Viera all appear to be female, it may be this is a gender dimorphic culture!).

  5. Fem!Balthier is decent, but nothing I’d particularly prefer to play, absent character mechanics. Male!Fran, however, is awesome. That outfit + that beard is such a clusterfuck that it takes the whole thing to Disgaea levels of hilarity.

    Wait, when was the last time we had an FF character with a beard or moustache? Cid from FF4, maybe? Wasn’t he a dwarf or something? Does that count? God, this is going to bug me all day.

    • Actually, you’d be surprised how easy it is to find FF characters with facial hair without going back to the beginning. I’d set forth Snow* and Sazh from Final Fantasy XIII as the most recent (unless you want to count characters from unreleased games, in which case FFvXIII has even more recent examples). 😉

      * I only chose this image because it was the one that best showed off his neckbeard thingy. Honestly. >_>

    • Barret Wallace, Final Fantasy VII – beard and mo. Cid Highwind from the same game had stubble. Reeve Tuesti (same game, minor character) had full beard and mo as well. If you go into the FFVII expanded universe, you have Angeal Hewley (Crisis Core) who has long sideburns and a very carefully trimmed beard, and Professor Hollander (again, Crisis Core) who has a beard and moustache as well. Another entrant in the sideburns parade is Azul the Cerulean (Dirge of Cerberus).

      Final Fantasy X has Jecht, who had a beard and moustache, as well as Auron (sideburns). FFXII – Basch has a beard (he’s blond, it doesn’t show up too clearly, but it’s there); Vossler has sideburns of doom; Balthier also has extended sideburns; there’s at least one of the Judges (Zagrabanth?) who has one of those weird beards without a moustache; the Emperor Gramis Solidor has a moustache and beard as well, as does Doctor Cidolphus Bunasa.

      The ultimate Final Fantasy Expanded Universe (Kingdom Hearts) has Xaldin, the character who wins prizes for killer sideburns of doom, and his original, Dilan, who also has ’em.

      Is that enough different examples just from off the top of my head, or do I have to go through the wiki to find more? (Oh, have a bonus bald guy with a mo – Josef, a minor character from Final Fantasy II – I’m playing my way through that at present). Now, if you’d been asking me to come up with examples of characters without spiky hair, I might have been in trouble…

  6. I don’t know how much of it is the clothing, but it almost feels like Balthiera and Frank haven’t quite finished swapping genders yet. =/ I think the changes to their facial structure are almost too subtle to really offset all the other gender cues — Balthiera’s jawline is a bit too strong to read as definitively female, and Frank’s facial features are soft enough that the facial hair seems incongruous.

    If you want to continue keeping the costume choices identical, I think the hairstyle might be the best place to make a compromise — I’m pretty sure that a fair portion of my sense that Frank still looks like a girl comes from the bouncy side-locks, and he’d read as male easier if he just had the long ponytail without any of the other fluff.And, likewise, Balthiera’s extremely short hair makes it harder for me to place her as a woman, which might be less of a problem if it was styled in a way that’s more common on women. Hairstyle seems to be the sex marker with the least negative consequences, and it doesn’t really have as much to do with sexualization as the other elements of the costume, so I’d think it would help guide the audience’s perception without losing all that much in the process.

    • I think that’s probably the route I’ll take next time. The weird hair was bugging me too, so it’s nice to have confirmation.

      (Also, I laughed at “Frank”. Heh.)

  7. Balthier’s pose is pretty feminine in the original image to begin with, but it is a great illustration here of one thing I’ve often noticed in fantasy art: sexy women seem to be weightless, or full of helium or something, because they recline or stand in ways that make no sense from the perspective of weight distrubution. It seems a lot more out of place when a big *beefy, weighty* male is hovering like zeppelin.

  8. I’d tend to agree with the person who said they looked like they weren’t done swapping genders. It could just be me, but the way Fran’s face is drawn originally, it’s fairly angular and harsh, while that of Balthiers is fairly soft, which makes it harder to tell. Would that be why you added the beard?

      • Ugh… Sorry about clogging your comments.

        I just realized that the people I suggested are from games with heavy Bioware involvement. Anyway, to prove that it’s not a personal hatred of them or something, how about Miallee and Severis ((?) The elf used for the ranger’s picture in the PHB) from D&D 3.5?

        • Yagh! Well, in another comment I mentioned Diablo, which is what made me post yet another comment here. What about swapping the assassin, the amazon, and the sorceress from Diablo II*, and/or the rogue from Diablo?

          *The assassin is actually from the expansion.

          • /googles

            Huh. I hadn’t played Diablo, so I wasn’t aware of these… I think, though, that I’d be inclined to pick on stuff from more recent games. Improved graphics means that character design has gotten a lot more complex, which makes the process more interesting for me.

            • I can see why it would be more interesting, yeah. What about the others? (Side note: Do you have a scanner that handles greyscale well? I seem to remember there being some better images in the guide (Specifically the Necromancer image, as that’s who I played, but I’m guessing that they’re all of roughly the same quality), if you know someone who has a copy.)

  9. Haha, excellent, I was hoping you’d give this one a go! The beard on the bunny-man is a particularly nice touch. I can almost see him looking sternly at the player while the player is rolling on the floor laughing at the ridiculous costume.

    Maybe next a good gender-swap is in order? To show how some people do get it right? Jade from Beyond Good and Evil, perhaps?

    • A “good” gender swap is a nice idea, but I think it would work better the other way around, with a male character design being changed to a female character rather than a good female character design being changed to male character.

      Jade’s position as a good female character has more to do with who she is in the game than her character design anyway, as far as I can tell (…well, the fact that she’s multi-racial probably figures in too, but that’s something else) — she’s not wearing lingerie, but she’s still wearing a low-cut shirt that exposes her midriff, and that wouldn’t translate over well to a male character. Alyx Vance might work better, if we’re going with the standard “good female character”s, but even she’s wearing low-cut jeans that expose her midriff.

      And then there’s the other problem that it’s perfectly possible to make a female character design that looks good and isn’t objectifying, but would look awkward on a man anyway because guys just don’t generally dress like that. I don’t think “good female character design” necessarily means “completely gender-neutral,” so the gender-swap might seem like it’s saying more than it really is in some cases. =/

  10. What part of “men and women are not the same” are you unable to figure out? What exactly is supposed to be the point behind these “gender swaps”? Oh, but you’ve already answered this:

    “The purpose? It’s mostly to illustrate how ridiculous the sexualization of female characters actually is.”

    Except these gender swaps don’t do anything at all to illustrate that. So… uh. I don’t get it.

    • “What part of ‘men and women are not the same’ are you unable to figure out?”

      Other than the whole “men have penises, women have vaginas” thing (which isn’t even completely true), men and women aren’t polar opposites. It looks like you’ve bought into society’s version of what is and is not feminine/masculine, and are attacking someone for pointing out that gender is NOT so black and white. Give me a break.

      “Except these gender swaps don’t do anything at all to illustrate that. So… uh. I don’t get it.”

      For one, these gender swaps do in fact illustrate the extremely ridiculous sexualization of female characters. I believe the reason why this eludes you is because you believe that the stereotypical portrayal of men and women are actually realistic. Judging by your initial statement (“Men and women aren’t the same!”), you probably think that all men should be macho, fully clothed, and aggressive, while women should be nurturing, timid, and sexy.

      • “Other than the whole “men have penises, women have vaginas” thing (which isn’t even completely true), men and women aren’t polar opposites. ”

        Men and women are biologically different and have different ways of acting and thinking because of that. Societies also have different social norms for men and women.

        “For one, these gender swaps do in fact illustrate the extremely ridiculous sexualization of female characters.”

        All they show is that men look silly in dresses.

        • “Men and women are biologically different and have different ways of acting and thinking because of that.”

          Men and women are biologically different to an extent, but each individual, whether they be male or female, have their own ways of thinking and behaving based on the environment in which they were raised and their past experiences. Nature is never absolute, and humans are a prime example of the diversity it can produce. Perhaps you should take some college-level biology and psychology courses, because you seem to have been fed some ludicrous notion that every man is identical to other men, and every woman to other women. Your provincial view of the human condition is quite disappointing, and your desire to deny anything that doesn’t fit into the gender norms you yourself have created is just plain pitiful.

          “Societies also have different social norms for men and women.”

          While societies may differ somewhat when it comes to gender roles, nearly every single society follows the same system: men must be strong and work to advance their own positions and fulfill their own goals, while women must be weak and care only about pleasing them by being beautiful/sexy and subservient. You’re getting nowhere with this.

          “All they show is that men look silly in dresses.”

          I find it hard to come to the conclusion that men look silly in dresses when none of the characters who have been “gender swapped” are even wearing dresses. The outfits are sexually revealing, used only for straight-male titillation. Do men look ridiculous in these types of clothing? Of course they do, but women look just as absurd in them. You coming to this blog and trying to argue that women aren’t discriminated against, or are not degraded in the video game industry, is fruitless. The gamers here know all too well the problems in the industry and will not be silenced just because some uneducated, misogynist troll wants attention.

          • “Men and women are biologically different to an extent, but each individual, whether they be male or female, have their own ways of thinking and behaving based on the environment in which they were raised and their past experiences.”

            Thanks Captain Obvious, but that’s hardly relevant.

            “Perhaps you should take some college-level biology and psychology courses, because you seem to have been fed some ludicrous notion that every man is identical to other men, and every woman to other women.”

            Where exactly did I say that?

            “While societies may differ somewhat when it comes to gender roles, nearly every single society follows the same system: men must be strong and work to advance their own positions and fulfill their own goals, while women must be weak and care only about pleasing them by being beautiful/sexy and subservient. You’re getting nowhere with this.”

            I assume you’re talking about a parallel universe, because that hasn’t happened on our Earth.

            “I find it hard to come to the conclusion that men look silly in dresses when none of the characters who have been “gender swapped” are even wearing dresses.”

            Yes, because that was totally the most relevant thing about what I said. Herp derp.

            “Do men look ridiculous in these types of clothing? Of course they do, but women look just as absurd in them”

            No, they don’t. Again: men and women are not the same.

            “The gamers here know all too well the problems in the industry and will not be silenced just because some uneducated, misogynist troll wants attention.”

            You don’t even know what a troll is.

            • “Thanks Captain Obvious, but that’s hardly relevant.”

              You’re quite welcome Sergeant Sexism. What I said is completely relevant. You stated that men and women are not the same, and failed to elaborate any further. What you said was taken as an absolute and it was wrong.

              “Where exactly did I say that?”

              You implied it when you said “men and women are not the same” by failing to acknowledge the gray areas regarding gender.

              “I assume you’re talking about a parallel universe, because that hasn’t happened on our Earth.”

              You’re telling me that you do not know of any cultures who encourage their men to pursue their own goals and desires and their women to be subservient caretakers? Must be nice creating an imaginary world to live in. Try adding history to that extensive list of college courses you need to take.

              “Yes, because that was totally the most relevant thing about what I said. Herp derp.”

              Relevant or not, you said it. Being wrong about something irrelevant still makes you wrong. Herp derp.

              “No, they don’t. Again: men and women are not the same.”

              Yes, they do. Anyone wearing these superfluously sexual outfits is going to look ridiculous. And again: men and women are not polar opposites, regardless of how much you wish for it to be true.

              “You don’t even know what a troll is.”

              All of us here know what a troll is, hon. You aren’t fooling anyone with your pseudo-intelligence. Go clog some other blog with your prejudice and ignorance, because we’re all out of food here, troll.

              • “What you said was taken as an absolute and it was wrong.”

                Your inability to understand generalizations is not my problem.

                “You’re telling me that you do not know of any cultures who encourage their men to pursue their own goals and desires and their women to be subservient caretakers?”

                First it was “nearly every single society,” now it’s “any cultures.”

                “Relevant or not, you said it.”

                And?

                “Yes, they do. Anyone wearing these superfluously sexual outfits is going to look ridiculous.”

                Men and women are not the same.

                “All of us here know what a troll is, hon.”

                There are probably less than a hundred people on the Internet who understand what a troll is, and I’m the only person here who’s one of them.

  11. I love these gender swaps. Balthiette looks like a total player. Very cool. Francis looks like his entire species lost a bet. Almost as hilarious as the HTK gender swap. And that was HTK, after all – it doesn’t get much funnier than that.

  12. Hey, Wundergeek: do you think it would help if we had a post about what a troll is on this site, so we can just link it as a response any time someone starts trolling (and link it again when they reply, until they stop)? I’d think that might make it easier to keep them from being fed. (I know that’s sort of what Derailing for Dummies is, but I think it might be overly restrictive for a blog you intend to use to educate a larger audience, rather than a safe space with an expectation that the audience already knows most of this stuff)

    • That’s probably a good idea. When I have a minute I think I’ll cull some stuff from Derailing for Dummies and post a short definition in the About section that people can link to. I’ve also been meaning to write up some comment guidelines, just about stuff you should consider before deciding whether to reply to someone or just ignore them. I’ll make sure to get that done soon too.

      • You are truly a retard if you take Derailing for Dummies seriously. It has zero logical or internal consistency and exists only to automatically validate everything feminists say while invalidating everything their opponents say. It is the very height of intellectual dishonesty and laziness.

    • That would certainly help to discourage those who are not here for constructive discussion…

      It is extremely disheartening when several adults are sharing and hearing new and enlightening opinions, only to be interrupted by a child with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. -_-

        • ““Discussion” is of course defined here as a circle-jerk.”

          You’re the one choosing to be the cracker mate, says more for you than the rest of us.

  13. That was horrifying, I’m sorry but that mentally scarred me. I’m not the biggest fan of 12 either, mostly cause of the stupid protagonist and his hopeless nonlove interest (or vice versa),anywho I aint knocking your idea, which was great in every way including the pic, I just feel that I must speak up about giving Fran a beard…I just feel weird looking at that picture. I”m not trolling, just saying don’t be getting on this dream-like character which was obviously made for guys who love majestic rabbits. In all realness though props for this blog and the article. 🙂

  14. I really hope this doesn’t come across the wrong way, but I think you may be in slight error in your analysis of Fran’s pose. Specifically, you cite the weightlessness and sexually submissive nature of the female character’s ability to contort into bizarre positions to impress titillation, but that’s not what’s happening here. Fran isn’t lounging tortuously, she’s leaping off of, or ‘mantling,’ the ledge with her weight supported by her left arm. Her weightlessness, along with the direction of her hair, is present to add motion to the image and convey the athleticism of the figure.

    The entire image, common to JRPGs, is a character composition that adopts visual shorthand to inform the viewer of the personality of the figures within. Fran is jumping into action, taking the gun right out of Balthier’s hands, mantling over structures supposedly high above the ground. Balthier lounges nonplussed despite the cacophony around him. Fran is lithe, take charge, and physical; Balthier is cavalier, lazy, and detached. Their physical proximity denotes a relationship between the two (as the rest of the character portraits in this series feature solo images, it is notable). There are the basic characteristics of the characters as played out in the game. Fran essentially acts as Balthier’s bodyguard.

    Now it is entirely possible that these characteristics adhere to improper gender stereotypes, I’m relatively unaware. It should be noted that the inverse situation exists in the game as well: Basch in physical servitude to Ashe, though no implied sexual relationship exists.

    I’m kind of late to the party here, so I don’t really expect a response, but I just didn’t want the artist to be misinterpreted (though I’m sure that if you asked him, he’d likely tell you that he was trying to “capture the beauty of Fran’s character,” so I guess that’s reprehensible too).

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