In this post, I will review Lightning and Fang from Final Fantasy XIII. Mild spoilers ensue.
Last month, I blogged about how excited I was about Final Fantasy XIII because it starred a woman. I beat the game this weekend and want to praise two of the women in the game as good examples of female character design: Fang and Lightning. While I found the world-building a bit thin (I never got to know Cocoon well enough to care why I should save it) and the game overly linear (I miss the exploration aspects of previous games), the cast was great. Not only was Lightning a likable and capable protagonist, but women overall drove the story. The game does rely on a damsel-in-distress narrative, but does something new: the damsel’s over-protective guardian is her sister.
To save her sister Serah, Lightning teams up with Serah’s fiance, Snow. I’ve read that Snow and Lightning were intended to be co-stars, but Lightning easy outshines Snow–and from reading GameFAQs, Lightning is by far a more popular playable character than Snow.
Prior to the game, Lightning’s parents were killed when she was a teenager, and she changes her name to “Lightning” and becomes a soldier so she can better protect her sister. She doesn’t feel sorry for herself, and even rescues the men in her party when they face danger. Her costume design is attractive but not sexual. Perhaps my favorite thing about her is that she isn’t anyone’s love interest. We never learn her sexual orientation, and that’s OK. Lightning has more important things to do than fall in love, like save the world. How often do we get female protagonists get to same the world without being objectified? It is about time.
According to the Final Fantasy Wiki, Lightning was originally designed to be sexy, but that was toned down so players would take her more seriously. Overall, it worked: Lightning is easy to take serious. But I’m surprised to read that the sexiness was transferred to Fang because she does not seem like typical fanservice. She’s pretty butch (she was originally written as a male character), and butch women aren’t usually presented as “hot.” I think game designers actually did a pretty good job with Fang. She is sexy, but not pandering. I find her strength and androgyny what makes her the most sexy.
To my surprise, Fang surpassed Lightning as my preferable battle leader. What were the odds that there would be not one but two strong women as playable characters? Fang is the tank in battle: she deals the most physical damage, and takes the most hits. Who’d know her blue robes could provide so much body armor?
I also enjoyed the romantic innuendo between Fang and Vanille. They seemed to have a bit of a Xena and Gabrielle relationship, with Fang being blunt and tough, and Vanille more sensitive and feminine. I would love to see a romantic relationship developed between these two characters in a sequel or prequel. If people think I’m reading into things too much, check out this scene at 3:38.
I have mixed feelings about Vanille. On the one hand, I admire how she can remain optimistic after becoming a l’Cie and charged with killing millions not once but twice. I respect that she lies to protect Fang (showing the tough characters aren’t the only ones looking out for others), and appreciate that she narrates the game. On the other-hand, I found her hyper-femininity distasteful because it manifested itself in prancing and battle squeals.
Although I primarily set out to discuss women in this post, I want to give a shout-out to Sazh. It was really nice having a playable character who was middle-aged and a black character who didn’t talk like Mr. T. I found Sazh’s drive to save his young son Dajh one of the most compelling sub-plots in the game. Some folks might have thought the baby chocobo living in his afro was ridiculous, but I happen to be a huge fan of the chocobo chick. I did find it pretty odd that Sazh and Dajh were the only black characters in the whole game. Lazy world-building?