It’s a Love-Hate Relationship: Kaine

The following is a guest post from NonCon.

Reviewer for the gaming website Gamepad Dojo. Gay gamer, loves games both “casual” and “core,” and hopes to help make the gaming community a more inclusive, friendly one.

I doubt that characters of mixed quality are new to anyone. Far too often, players encounter a character that brings out the predictable response of “So-and-so is a good character, except…” This seems especially true in regards to representation of underprivileged classes. As I encounter more characters like this, I hope to do more write-ups about my love-hate relationships with them.

Kaine, from 2010′s Nier, is a perfect example of the relationship I’m describing. She’s a strong, female character who kicks giant monster ass and doesn’t tolerate people getting in her way, but she’s still a kind person at heart. She hides it behind a callous exterior, but she cares about the rest of the group, and when one of the characters dies, she takes it out on another violently as a way of coping with her grief. A bit of an odd way, but it fits the character, since she’s a violent person to begin with. That she’s the most violent and arguably the most skilled fighter says a lot when the male protagonist looks like he dual-classed and both classes are barbarian.

Yet somehow it gets even better, because Kaine is actually an intersex individual who identifies as female. Her backstory is that she was born that way, and mistreated by her backwards thinking village because of it. They thought she was cursed and would bring bad luck. Parents encouraged their children to beat her up. It’s an awful childhood, and very depressing to learn about, because while it might not always be that bad, intersex people face a lot of ridicule in modern society. However, Kaine’s grandma protected her, taught her to protect herself, and, most importantly, told her she was pretty.

That really stood out to me, because it’s a very positive message. Intersex individuals generally don’t get any video game representation, and not only is Kaine one, but her role model makes sure to specify that Kaine’s beautiful. As I said, Kaine identifies as a woman, so having a character in-game reinforce that that didn’t make her any less beautiful was incredibly important to her, and is a good message for players as well. This game lets players know that an intersex woman can be just as pretty as any other, and for that I applaud it.

Brace yourselves, though, because it’s all downhill from here.


My first complaint is that Kaine being an intersex woman isn’t brought up clearly, at least in the English version of the game. It’s alluded to in a short story segment in Nier’s New Game+, but never stated outright. This short story segment is also the only place the players are exposed to those better aspects of inclusion I mentioned before, like Kaine’s grandma. I’m glad they were inclusive, but many players weren’t even aware of this part of Kaine, because the game isn’t brave enough to tell it to them clearly.

Then there’s a bit of a problem regarding a short story of questionably canon nature. A collection of short stories, art, and the like was released around the same time as Nier. This collection is titled Grimoire Nier, and seems to be official merchandise. As such, I’m leaning towards the accompanying short stories being considered canon, even if they weren’t release in the US. One such short story includes a scene where someone walks in on Kaine masturbating after having recently killed some monsters, because she can’t help herself. There’s some lazy story reasons for this, but this is just incredibly awful, and ties into the fetishization of intersexed people, which is nothing new to Japanese porn culture. I’m not sure whether fetishization is worse or better than not including an intersex character at all, but hearing about this short story made me feel like the developers didn’t respect Kaine’s character as much as I did.

Kaine’s character design reinforces this feeling.

On the left is a rear shot of Kaine. She wields two swords, and her left leg and left arm are bandaged. She wears high heels, a white nightie, and panties, which are easily visible. The rear of the panties is done up with black string. There are revealing holes in the panties on both the left and right of the rear. On the right is a similar image of Kaine, but from the front. Slits are visible in the cups of her nightie, partially revealing her breasts.

Let me delve into all the reasons I hate this outfit. The high heels make no sense for someone whose life goal is to kill a giant monster and is very good at killing monsters. The nighty makes no sense for similar reasons. The running around in her panties is awful fanservice to begin with, but then they cut holes in the back to show off as much of her ass as possible. Then, to top it all off, there are slits in the cups of her nighty. Why? Because it’s fanservicy fetishization. I have a hard time seeing how anyone could write a character like Kaine and then dress her up like that.

The reasoning of the developers is supposedly that she does it to accentuate her femininity, but that makes no sense for Kaine’s character. In speech and behavior, she defies conventional stereotypes about femininity. She’s possibly the most stereotypically masculine character in the party. If she wanted to “accentuate her femininity” she’d do that with how she acted, not by running around half-naked in a ridiculously impractical outfit. She doesn’t try to act stereotypically feminine, which leads me to believe she doesn’t care about that, which is awesome and perfectly fine, but that means that her design is nothing but offensive fanservice, and it’s a shame to see that done to who could have been one of the best characters I’ve ever seen in a video game.

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14 Responses to It’s a Love-Hate Relationship: Kaine

  1. Jales says:

    There are also other outfits that could accentuate her femininity without delving into the ridiculous, impractical, and stereotypical.

    I’ve said before that sexy is not synonymous with half naked. You can be classy and sexy. It’s really a shame when they make a great character, give it depth, and then dilute the crud out of it.

  2. Lake Desire says:

    I was trying to avoid Nier spoilers (this game is on my to-play list), but I’m more excited to play Nier now that I know there is an intersex character! Her outfit looks ridiculous in those screenshots, though.

    • NonCon says:

      While certainly not the best game of the year, Nier is probably my favorite. That’s likely why I’m as critical of it as I am. It does some things very, very well, so the things it does poorly really stand out by contrast. Kaine is pretty much a perfect representation of that aspect of Nier.

  3. EmmyG says:

    Some authors are really odd about their need to make sure that you see characters as being “appropriately girly”. I recall reading an authors discussion about a character in a particular game who is, I think, the only one who changes clothes in the story, and changes into a rather frilly dress. They explained that they felt it necessary to have this outfit for her because her character design has short hair which was far too challengingly masculine! (And I’m not talking about a buzzcut.)

    • Ikkin says:

      I can understand, to an extent, wanting to make sure one’s female characters aren’t “men with breasts” and the kind of importance that would place on the character’s “femininity” when a character is defined in part by overtly “masculine” attributes.

      But the thing that’s being defined as “appropriately girly” in this case just seems to be entirely shallow — the character has short hair, which is Not Girly, so she must wear a dress that is Girly to make up for it. And, likewise, Kaine acts like a frat boy, which is Not Girly, so she must wear a super-revealing (and therefore Girly) outfit to balance it out. It feels really disconnected from the character as a whole because it affects the character’s looks without regard for anything else, and generally is good for nothing except fanservice for the guys. =/

      (What game were you referring to, by the way?)

      • Maverynthia says:

        From what I hear of Japan (and it can apply to other cultures), if a female character acts and or dresses like a male character, they will cram SOMETHING in the story and/or dialogue that screams FEEEMAAALE! Like a boyish sports character from Jewel Pet has a love for cute pink things. The women can’t be women in their own way, they always have to ascribe to some cultural bias of what a woman is, either having a secret love of cute pink things or wanting to become a bride. Take a look at Samus. While she was degraded in the ending screens, the whole game played nicely.. UNTIL Other-M where they hammered her out to be weak and vulnerable.

        It seems that women always have to be better than a man (being able to kick giant monster ass), or be shoved into some gendered niche. Never can a woman be like a man and not be “spectacular” or gifted.

        • NonCon says:

          I agree that it’s very much like Other M. Rarely will you encounter a strong female character in a Japanese game who isn’t feminized to make up for it. There are a couple, I think, but they are incredibly rare. I want to say the same applies to most western games, but I’m not familiar with enough western games to say for certain, as I’m primarily a jRPG fan.

          There are actually story-related reasons for her being strong as/stronger than the main character. I just chose not to spoil them in the article as I felt they weren’t relevant enough the focus, and I wanted to spoil as little as I could for those who haven’t played this game yet.

      • XIV says:

        While I also can understand the ‘men with breasts’ issue, I’ve always been unsettled by the idea. It’s true that there is a threat of completely overshadowing femininity in favor of masculinity, as if masculinity is somehow superior, can be incredibly degrading to women and risks making everything male-centric by defining everything masculine ‘good’ while defining everything feminine ‘bad’. I get that but I also don’t like the implications of the ‘men with breasts’ idea in the first place.

        I guess I always find myself wondering what is masculinity and femininity in the end? I’ve seen a different kind of reaction, not here but other places, to women being perceived as ‘too masculine’ that has always bothered me a lot. The whole ‘men with breasts’ is sometimes used to shame those types of female characters and imply that they are not acting ‘appropriately’ feminine enough (Especially when they start being ‘too’ aggressive or violent or ‘strong’ or ‘fearless’). I myself hate the idea that men are allowed to /claim/ some kind of story element or character type or personality trait as their own and women can’t ever touch them without being accused of being ‘men with breasts’. It’s almost like traditional femininity and traditional masculinity is being used to define what a ‘real’ woman and a ‘real’ man is. And that just comes off as the same gender policing as before, where everyone has to be careful not to stray from their own blue and pink boxes.

        I’m probably not making much sense since it’s hard for me to put this all into words but it’s sort of like my reaction to the Tomboy label. It decides that certain traits belong to boys/men and certain ones belong to girls/women and that when women take on any traits that are stereotypically designated to be male-territory only, they get labeled as imitating men or a variation of a man with a term like Tomboy. Not ‘real’ or ‘normal’, but an anomaly or exception as it denies she’s even a woman and more like a man. But our society never seems to acknowledge that perhaps they’re not trying to imitate anybody, perhaps they’re just girls and women who just don’t fit in that stereotypical mold.

        • Ikkin says:

          It does seem like there’s a good deal of potential for that phrase to be misused, yes.

          But I think that, at it’s heart, the point of it isn’t so much “the character isn’t feminine enough” as it is “the character defines herself in opposition to femininity, in the same way men do.” And, in that sense, allowing the character to retain some “feminine” traits is a way to show that she doesn’t feel any need to change herself to avoid being girly.

          It’d be nice if there was a better word/phrase to use to describe such characters without that potential for Unfortunate Implications, though. =/ And there’s still the issue of women with no natural “feminine” traits to consider, and how they can exist without being inherently misogynistic.

      • EmmyG says:

        Ever 17, which is a great game, and the girl in question is still a wonderful character – it was just the explanation of why they felt it necessary to put her in a cute dress that made me blink.

        • Ikkin says:

          Yeah, it’s really the way that it’s stated that makes it so weird. The character herself is visually androgynous enough (as an anime child drawn in a somewhat shoujo-esque style) that I could actually somewhat see a point in using clothing as a way to clarify gender — but saying her hairstyle is “challengingly masculine” boggles the mind.

  4. Thefremen says:

    Wow, thanks for bringing this to light. I have no intention of playing Nier, so it would have been nierly impossible for me to have heard of any of this otherwise.

  5. Denis Farr says:

    This game, and in particular this character, were my first post at GayGamer. It’s one that I keep meaning to pick up, but getting sidetracked by something or another (plus, I was somewhat thrown off by negative reviews I read rather early on). I suppose at some point I shall have to get it, just because I really can’t justify not taking a look for myself, considering how few intersexed characters exist in the game industry.

    At the time I seem to recall there being some details about her spirit being possessed by a demon, and that’s why she was so masculine? Does that actually figure into the game/character, or is that merely a perception of her?

    • NonCon says:

      [SPOILERS] Yeah, she’s possessed, but I never really saw it as that being the reason she’s so masculine. It’s why she’s as powerful as she is, but the flashback short story thing makes it pretty clear she picked up her penchant for rudeness and foul language from her grandmother. [SPOILERS OVER]

      Also, Nier is pretty awesome storywise once you get past the first half, assuming you enjoy stories that are emotionally manipulative towards the player. I love depressing stuff, so I loved it. That and the music is just damned gorgeous. The gameplay itself is pretty average, but I didn’t actively dislike it, and it does some cool stuff.

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