Information on SquareEnix’s next big MMORPG is scarce: even after looking forward to the big reveal for years, the most fans ended up with post-E3 was a cinematic trailer and some generalized interview answers.

Love it or loathe it, this means one thing and one thing alone for the fan community at large:

Loads and loads of speculation.

We already know Final Fantasy XIV has races returning from XI, and it’s fair to assume those won’t be the only similarities; the development team behind the new game is the same one from XI, and even in the brief trailer we have in our hands it’s clear things are already looking rather similar.  To this effect, discussions on what will and won’t be returning are seemingly highly relevant.

Of Manthras and Girlkas

One of the hot topics burning up message boards is on playable races new and old.  The old, in particular, being Mithra and Galka in this case:  It’s already been revealed that races from Final Fantasy XI will be returning, just for familiarity’s sake, but there’s some rumbling from players that these races should be due for a change.

The reason being that in Final Fantasy XI these races were gender limited: the path of the graceful cat was reserved for women, and the way of the bulky, bull-like Galka was solely for the men in the crowd.  While this provided personality for the game, many players also felt like they’d been robbed of choices.  Where were the man-cats?  Where were the strong women?

Of Manthras

It’s assumed by many players at this junction that male Mithras are a complete shoe-in, and that their playability in XIV is practically assured already.  And why shouldn’t they assume so?  Ever since Final Fantasy XI’s cat-girls hit the scene, guys (and cross-playing girls) have been saying “Me too!” and these Mithra are easily one of the most popular things to come out of the game.

There’s also startlingly little actually barring the possibility: none of the defining “cat-like” features of the existing Mithra are really so based on predefined gender stereotype to prevent their migration.  And none of that pesky racial backstory from Final Fantasy XI (that clearly stated that male Mithra simply were simply not feasible for adventurin’) is going to find its way to XIV, either.

Male Mithra have, in any case, been seen in Final Fantasy XI.  Simply not in a playable capacity.  The single demonstrative character, one Lehko Habhoka, was fairly feminine, to boot.  Which brings about the question: in the event that character creation isn’t flexible enough to allow all of the above (and that’s not a world I want to be in, understand), would playable manthras be a similar build to their male human comrades?  Would they be lion-inspired powerhouses?  Or would they shake things up and be, like Lehko, more befitting of the traditional “bishounen” label?

Of Girlkas

Galka, unfortunately, don’t have their journey so clear cut.  The outcry for female versions of these powerhouses is expectedly much less so than the “manthra” alternative.  The fact that Galka weren’t exactly the most popular race of choice certainy does help; but moreso the fact that demand for the option for strong female characters is definitely on the low side.

Which is, frankly, a shame.  A fun, surprising shake up for Final Fantasy XIV like this would certainly give the game an added kick.  And it’s hardly a secret that gaming as a whole is short on physically strong women that are taken seriously.

The biggest (and most ridiculous) problem among speculating fans is the belief that girlkas would be nothing more than Galkas in makeup and a push-up bra.  Or, to put that funny image aside, the belief of the larger public that anything that combines a female with some amount of musculature is disgusting.

Luckily, neither of those things are true, and there’s no reason a female Galka couldn’t take on a number of different forms.  An athletically lean, tall beauty?  Perhaps a simple role switch that emphasizes a curved waist and long, powerful legs instead of upper body strength.  If Square was feeling pretty lazy, they could even simply be regular women with a Galka-tinted skin color and slightly more defined features.  One of the greatest comparisons I can think of in terms of gender differences in games is the Gerudo of Ocarina of Time: Gannondorf, the sole male, was a brute with sharp features, whereas the female representatives were the very definition of curvy, yet still strong-willed with those same sharp, but well balanced, features.

Artist Fred Perry’s even got some sketches on the concept.  He paints a picture of a well toned and muscled girlka that also features curves and strong hips.  It’s certainly not a possibility I’d mind having in-game.

In any case, even though the streets aren’t boiling with demand for female Galka, I sincerely hope we get the variety; we certainly need it.

(It’s worth noting that part of the Galka lore of Final Fantasy XI was their relative “androgyny”.  Again, though, this lore will not be returning in Final Fantasy XIV to the best of our knowledge, and it can hardly be denied that Galka were masculine in identity, even if they were not so physically.)

Of Gender Exclusive Races

So, with all the mutterings about the state of these two, it makes me wonder:  What’s the role of gender exclusive races?  Why do they exist, and should they continue to, at least in MMO-like environments?

Of course, they are a point of personality for a world, and Final Fantasy XI was all about personality.  They successfully build on existing, strong archetypes.  The graceful, capricious woman who adopts the identity of the feline more than the human.  The strong-willed and stoic brute, with a strong back to match.  In this way, our characters and the world built around them adopt some fairly traditional, strong flavors.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re without negatives.  While features like this may work well as a backdrop for a world, when put in a players hand they can easily become more limitations than flavor.  There are no strong women here, no capricious, cat-like men.  For players who have these flavors in mind and are yet denied, the world and backdrop becomes even more limited.  Not to mention it can be hard to connect to a character who is simply your “second choice”, and character-player connection is one of the strongest driving forces of any MMORPG.

Not to mention the reinforcement of tired gender stereotypes (not that I want to talk about this much on a gaming blog on the internet, but).  As far as players are concerned, in Vana’Diel aloof, graceful men are not allowed; the same with stoic and strong-willed, able bodied women.

To finalize:  As much as I appreciate the history that features like these bring light to, it’s hard to shake that maybe they’d be better off simply as backstory and not so much something imposed on players, who often have a hard enough time connecting with their characters as is.