If you've ever played a JRPG, particularly one from before the early 2000's, chances are you've encountered the Wussy RPG Girl. Meek and doe-eyed, these healer characters double as the love interest and are usually billed as the "heroine," though they seem to possess little power of their own. In fact, it's rare that they do anything more heroic than grappling with low self-esteem or getting kidnapped - which tends to happen a minimum of twice.
Calling characters like Final Fantasy IV's Rosa "heroines" seems a bit of a stretch when compared to the indomitable courage of their male counterparts. But these characters aren't designed to be like modern "heroines," who are just as willing to stare danger in the face as the boys. It's the same character type used in Japan hundreds of years ago, when women were seen as inherently fragile and their "heroism" was defined by their maidenly virtue, not their actual ability. Their chief purpose is just to make you feel sorry for them.Or, to put the problem in the words of Shadow Hearts' Alice: "I-I can't. No ... I ... I can't do anything. I ... KYAAAAAAAA!!"
Happily, ladies with spines are finally starting to outnumber the wusses. Nevertheless, writers should keep in mind that giving Mike Tyson breasts and a sword might not be the best way to go about doing it.
Wussy RPG Girls go back much further than gaming does. Kabuki is a Japanese style of drama popular through the 17th and 19th centuries, famous for its over-the-top stories and characters. Actors were trained to play a variety of stereotyped roles, or "types," that reappeared frequently in plays. A very popular type of heroine was the "Princess Type," and she was virtually identical to the Wussy RPG Girl. Beautiful and innocent, she represented a sort of maidenly purity - the ideal Japanese woman of the times.
Tokugawa-era Japan was a deeply sexist society, and the character of the Princess Type reflected that. These characters' personalities followed the Onna Daigaku, a contemporary guide to "appropriate" female behavior, to a T: "The only qualities that befit a woman are gentle obedience, chastity, mercy, and quietness." Naturally, that kind of heroine didn't get to do a lot of ass-kicking, with a major exception. Because Japanese women were expected to serve the needs of others before their own, she often made heroic sacrifices, usually for her samurai beau. In Hashi Kuyou Bonji no Mongaku, for instance, the heroine hides herself under the covers and tricks her husband's assassin into thinking she is him, dying in his place. But for the most part, the woman was passive. Cultural norms stressed a deep contrast between the sexes, and it was the men who were tough. Submissiveness and vulnerability were inherently female traits.