Entertainment Kiriko isn’t the solution to one of Overwatch’s longest-standing problems
Kiriko isn’t the solution to one of Overwatch’s longest-standing problems
With Overwatch 2’s release just weeks away, Blizzard has revealed new support Kiriko as the last hero to round out the launch line-up. She’s a healer with the sensibilities of a DPS specialist, has a great style that meshes the modern with traditional Japanese dress, and boasts a backstory that embeds her into Genji and Hanzo’s backstories. There is a lot here that I should like. So, why can’t I help but feel like I’ve seen her before?
It’s because Kiriko looks far too similar to many other female heroes on the Overwatch 2 characters roster. The ratio between male and female characters may be relatively balanced in Overwatch 2, but there are deeper issues in their representation. The Overwatch team has been called out for using similar faces for its female characters for years, and Kiriko does nothing to end that trend.
Back when Brigitte was released in 2018, Reddit user Pillow_1 highlighted the problem in a video (opens in new tab).
Brigitte looks almost identical to Mercy – even more so when you remove the eyeliner. And when you look at the rest of the roster, you discover this isn’t out of the ordinary for Blizzard.
It isn’t just character faces that are mixed and matched in Overwatch. If you take a step back and look at all the female characters, it’s apparent that many share the same build: the same bust, waist, and weight. Even Mei, who is supposed to represent a different body type, falls much closer to this idealized style than male outliers like Roadhog. This is especially true of some of her alternative skins.
The exceptions to this stereotype are Zarya and Ana. Zarya is a great character and an even better example of what is possible within the game, though even she succumbs to same-face symptoms. Ana, on the other hand, is much smaller and elderly. Yet Blizzard offers a way to bypass this by offering a younger skin for her, undermining its own efforts at diversity with a model that falls into the same old traps regarding body type and facial features.
This problem wouldn’t be as noticeable if it weren’t for the male heroes enjoying such a diverse range of styles and models. Yes, Cassidy, Soldier, and Reaper are similar in height and build. Still, look at the Blackwatch Reyes skin, which depicts Reaper before his ghastly transformation, he clearly has different features. This level of detail has been invested even when only two of his 17 skins show his face.
On top of that, many male heroes are almost entirely individual in their design. Reinhardt, Junkrat, Torbjörn, Sigma, and the aforementioned Roadhog jump out immediately in this regard. Their different body types, characteristics (aka how they walk), and even their faces are completely different.
As the first new support hero in over three years, Kiriko should have been different.
Talking with the narrative and art designers makes it clear how much effort was put into making her a balanced character that would be fun to play. Kiriko has a rich history in the Overwatch universe. “Narratively, it was really fun mixing the traditional shrine maiden side with the modern streetwear ninja look that she has,” says narrative designer Kyungseo Min. Beyond her clothing design, the character also uses sign language in her hero trailer, a welcome addition to the character and the Overwatch roster.
Sadly, Kiriko’s formulaic appearance overshadows these achievements. It does her unique qualities a disservice when she shares the same physical features with half of the Overwatch roster.
The model to follow
There is hope in the form of Junker Queen, however. You may have heard this new character referred to in the animated short Junkertown: The Plan (opens in new tab). Well, she is finally gracing our screens, and it’s great to see her. Her design captures everything you would hope for in a character from the Mad Max-esque location that is Australia in the Overwatch universe. Her towering frame and wild face make her distinct on the battlefield. It’s great to finally see a female character enjoy the same differentiation that her male counterparts have enjoyed for years.
You may ask why it matters whether Brigitte and Kiriko look alike. Still, given that Blizzard’s devs have been vocal in championing female and diverse representation, they must get it right.
With the sequel on the verge of release, I thought Blizzard would finally draw a line and start on a fresh page. With Kiriko, however, the developer has fallen into old habits. A character with such an exciting story and design deserves her own identity.