The Women of Final Fantasy XIII: A Few Characters Done Right

Fang and Lightning

Lightning (left) and Fang from Final Fantasy XIII.

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.

Fang and Vanille

Fang throws up her arm to protect Vanille.


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.


Vanille, mid-prance. She has pink hair, a pink halter top, and a fur skirt.


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?

About Lake Desire

Lake Desire, real name Ariel Wetzel, has been blogging about feminism and videogames since 2005 at her blog New Game Plus. Lake also writes at Feminist SF - The Blog! Lake Desire is an English graduate student at University of Washington, studying science fiction, feminism, and cyberculture. At work, Lake participates in rank and file labor organizing and the anti-budget cuts struggle. Lake believes in direct democracy, queer liberation, and opposes white supremacy, patriarchy, and imperialism. Lake is white, queer, feminist, anarchist, and of course a cyborg. Lake may not sound like your typical gamer, but has been gaming since a toddler and never managed to quit.
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15 Responses to The Women of Final Fantasy XIII: A Few Characters Done Right

  1. Matt says:

    I think this is the first FF that’s piqued my interested since 6.

  2. tossca says:

    I agree with you about Fang and Lightning but I absolutely hated Vanille. Her girlishness was way over the top and although I’ve come to expect prepubescent over-sexualized female characters in jrpgs, she just endlessly grated on my nerves.

    Which reminds me, I would have liked Snow if he wasn’t a pedophile.

    Sazh was pretty good. The blatant stereotyping annoyed me at first, but it became much better as his character developed.

    • Lake Desire says:

      Serah is supposed to be 18 and Snow 21… certainly old enough to consent except that she is drawn to look like a 13 year old in her high-tops, school-girl skirt, and side-ways ponytail. Their whole relationship seemed really juvenile, like teenyboppers who have never had a girlfriend/boyfriend before and think they’re in love because they’re so excited to be in their first relationship.

      • tossca says:

        You’re right. It hadn’t occurred to me that it was also their relationship giving off an impression of immaturity, but now that you mention it, it is really obvious.

        • Lake Desire says:

          I don’t think the game questions the immaturity of their relationship, either. I like Lightning’s motivation to protect Serah much, much more.

  3. Ikkin says:

    I was actually worried about Lightning before the game came out because her character renders seemed to degrade from directly challenging to the viewer to looking off to the side and pouting. Her final character didn’t seem to be compromised, though, so I have to wonder who decided to promote Light like that.

  4. Gunthera1 says:

    I have found myself really liking Fang as I play the game. I really like that she is a strong and athletic character.

  5. Pandora's XBox says:

    Both Serah and Vanille bother me greatly. It figures that FF couldn’t have a strong, independent female lead without throwing in two main characters to counteract her.

    Both Serah’s and Vanille’s youth (or childishness, as they both act and look about 13-14 regardless of how old they actually are) are incredibly fetishized. At one point, Serah cowers from an approaching Snow, and to me their size differences reek of sexualized control. Yeah, they are both really immature, but it really squicked me how much helpless weakling/oversized macho man dynamic was played up. And I am exhausted by this obsession in Japanese pop culture with selfless, passive, powerless, tiny martyr females who often get fridged (Ariss, anyone? Just to name another example within the FF franchise).

    I have the same issue with Serah. When she’s with Sahz, who is in his thirties and believes Serah to be about 14-16, there’s all this weird underlying sexual tension (i.e. Sahz’s chocobo intervening when he almost sees up her skirt, Serah coyly drawing a line in the sand so Sahz won’t sleep too close to her). And, at about eleven hours in, I don’t think I can stand anymore to hear her chirp, whimper, coo, and moan her way through every second of her screen time.

    • Pandora's XBox says:

      Just realized I wrote “Serah” for that entire second paragraph where I meant “Vanille.” ERR. My bad.

  6. naruhodo says:

    I agree with pretty much everything you said, but I wanted to point out that Sazh and Dajh weren’t the only two characters of color… there was also that member of NORA with the yellow-orange slightly Wakka-ish hair, Gadot.

    I don’t recall any black NPCs though, so if Sazh, Dajh, and Gadot are the only 3 they actually show in the entire game, then yeah, that is kinda weird.

    p.s. I’m not a fan of Vanille’s sexualization either, but otherwise I really like her character. Even though I love Lightning too, the overaching story seemed to focus on Vanille a lot more by the end of the game, and I think she would have made more sense as the “protagonist” character.

  7. Thefremen says:

    It’s really a shame that as good as some of the characters are, and the story being half decent, the pacing (when the fights are included) is simply unbearable, at least to me.

    I’m glad you included Sahz in there, I really enjoyed a character with whom I could relate. I think the way they portrayed his son was a bit odd though, he came across more happy-go-lucky as a 3 year old whereas 5 year olds and up tend to have a pretty good grasp on the world around them and although precocious are not joyful all through the day.

    • Lake Desire says:

      I also thought Dajh was 3! I don’t know a lot about kids but I think a lot of SF gets ages wrong with kids and development. Like Hera staying an infant for 2 years on BSG.

      • Thefremen says:

        I think in TV it has a lot to do with union rules for filming infants vs. filming toddlers, and also shooting schedules, but for games I’m really not sure. Maybe they just don’t know how to write kids the way Beverly Cleary, Bill Waterson, Kiyohiko Azuma and Roald Dahl do but it seems like you could glean enough from these people’s bodies of work to figure it out.

  8. Suidae says:

    For those of you who didn’t like Vanille due to the “battle squeals” and “ciao”, part of that might just be the english voice acting.

  9. ello says:

    Just wanted to point out that there were black NPCs in that one place (the “city of dreams” place with the chocobos and parades). I’m only about a third of the way in, but I noticed at least two there on the same walk. I haven’t been looking though, so I assume there are more scattered about. Maybe I’m the only one, but I thought Fang was black..? At any rate, she isn’t white.

    Serah and Vanille don’t honestly bother me much. Why? Because there’s nothing WRONG with being feminine. If all the characters were like that, it would be annoying, but you know…there are girls and women in the world who are like that and there’s nothing wrong with that. It would be just as annoying to see all the women painted as tough and unfeeling. I like that they’ve included a range of personality types for both the men and women in this game.

    For instance, maybe he “mans up” at some point I have yet to reach, but so far little Hope comes off as the most needy/clingy to me. I like the exchanges he has with Snow and Lightning on the subject of revenge, what to do next, how to deal with fear, suffering, etc. His idea of growing up seemed at first to be to put on this fearless, “manly” facade…but where I’m at in the game it seems he’s putting that aside for something more human. Snow, likewise, is hardly the unfeeling stoic he looks like he ought to be. He’s big, he’s strong, he looks scruffy and old and tough, and yet he’s absolutely consumed with Serah and that’s ALL you freaking hear about from him for the first quarter of the game . His devotion, and shameless denial of the facts…are uncharacteristic of most of FF’s tough guys past.

    As for Dahj…I just think they should have spent more time on his face. The child looks like a ventriloquist’s dummy!

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