The Final Fantasy series has, over the years, played host to some of the most well-known and beloved female characters of all time.
And this isn’t a recent thing, either; if you believe the fan theory that the White Mage in the original Final Fantasy is female (a theory which I can’t help but feel Square Enix leaned into somewhat with the sprite design in the remakes for PS1, GBA and PSP) they’ve been there since the very beginning.
And even if you don’t subscribe to that theory, Final Fantasy II certainly brought us some fine leading ladies, such as today’s spotlight character, Leila. Let’s take a closer look!
Final Fantasy II was the first Final Fantasy that really felt like it had an “active plot” unfolding as you progressed, rather than different areas of the map just having things that happened to be going on whenever you visited.
Final Fantasy II brought us the introduction of the series’ trademark linear narrative with fixed characters rather than a player-made party. For much of the game, your first three party members were fixed, while the fourth slot was typically occupied by a “guest” character — who, it has to be said, tended to find themselves meeting some sort of sticky end before long.
Leila is first encountered as part of the narrative when protagonist Firion and his companions need to cross the ocean to reach Deist, home of the dragoons. Fortuitously, Leila has a ship for hire, and agrees to carry them across the sea… but of course, if something appears to be too good to be true, it usually is, and Leila and her crew of pirates end up attacking Firion, Maria and Guy.
What Leila didn’t count on is that Firion, Maria and Guy have almost certainly been power-levelling their stats prior to this point — this is Final Fantasy II after all — and as such, they end up turning most of her crew into a wet smear on her poop deck.
Understandably somewhat taken aback by this development, she quickly changes her tune and decides that these strong warriors might actually be worth teaming up with — particularly once she learns of their relationship to the Wild Rose Rebellion, who are standing against the evil Empire in an attempt to bring peace to a troubled, war-torn world.
Likely sensing both an opportunity to obtain substantial riches and the chance to give the widely despised Empire a bloody nose, Leila agrees to help out the party — even going so far as to donate her beloved ship to the group by way of apology for attacking them — and sticks around for quite a while.
She even manages to survive the whole narrative despite getting swallowed by Leviathan, which is no mean feat for a character in Final Fantasy II’s fourth party slot — though after a particular point she just hangs out at the party’s home base offering quips and advice rather than rejoining the action as a playable character. That fourth slot has other people to murder.
There’s a nice bit of subtle “mechanics as characterisation” at work with Leila that is easily missed. Her stat growth is such that she has strong agility but fairly mediocre values in other areas, making her ideal to be trained as a thief-like character.
She also comes pre-loaded with the Thunder spell which, for those unfamiliar with elemental affinities, is the most effective against water-based creatures. Such as, y’know, fish, sea monsters and that sort of thing — the sort of thing you might encounter while out at sea.
While her Intelligence stat means that Leila doesn’t make the best mage, it makes a lot of thematic sense for those who spend a lot of time on the ocean in a world where magic use is widespread to have easy access to the most effective means of dealing with waterborne pests. It’s a nice little touch — and remember, the original Famicom version of this was all the way back in 1988!
As a character, Leila is a feisty young woman who subverts traditional expectations of femininity — in terms of personality, at least. Her outfit design, meanwhile, embraces both her natural beauty and practicality, showing off a fair amount of skin while likely being quite easy to move around in. Perfect for a thi– sorry, treasure hunter.
Sadly, Leila hasn’t had much opportunity to shine anywhere other than the various versions of Final Fantasy II over the years. She puts in a guest appearance in several Final Fantasy mobile games, including Pictlogica Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy Airborne Brigade and Final Fantasy Record Keeper, but has not appeared in other franchise-spanning titles such as Final Fantasy Brave Exvius for smartphones, or the Dissidia games on PSP and PlayStation 4.
Still, she certainly set a mould for a distinctive type of character that would recur several times throughout the series. Most obviously, a lot of Leila can be seen in Faris from Final Fantasy V — though the interesting stuff going on with gender there ensures that Faris is very much her own character, with her nautical nature and rather brash personality being the main things carried over from her spiritual predecessor.
I maintain that Final Fantasy II is a vastly underrated and underappreciated game, particularly in its GBA and PSP incarnations, which fix a lot of the frustrations people tend to cite with the original Famicom versions and the Wonderswan Color/PS1 ports.
If nothing else, if you don’t take an empire-busting trip with Firion and the gang, you never get to hang out with Leila. And that’d be a terrible shame now, wouldn’t it?
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