Lightning Refutes: A Defense of the ‘Final Fantasy XIII’ serieson March 27, 2014 at 8:00 am
Last week, I laid the groundwork for my defense of “Final Fantasy XIII” with an overview of the “Final Fantasy” series as a whole. How it’s never been content to keep things the same, and why that’s important when looking at the “Final Fantasy XIII” Trilogy. You can read it here, which I recommend because a) it’s awesome and b) it’ll provide some context for later in this article.
I’m going to get one major complaint about the “XIII” trilogy out of the way: the story.
Is it good? No. Does it serve its purpose? Absolutely. That’s as far as I want to delve into the actual story. Trying to make heads or tails of what goes on in these games would take the same amount of effort that trying to figure out “Evangelion” or the “Xeno” series would take.
Sure, throw a bunch of religious connections in, direct your scenes in a Kubrick or Lynch-esque manner, and use a bunch of made up words with an unnecessary amount of punctuation, then you can claim your narrative is “deep”, “rich”, and “complex”. It isn’t. It’s all nonsense. “XIII” is too.
But, I guess I’m a bit of an odd duck when it comes to playing video games, because I actually care most about the game. I think most video game stories are kinda crap.
Well, that’s a bit unfair. I enjoy them, don’t get me wrong, but they rarely ever linger on my mind once I’ve finished. The majority aren’t all that well written. This goes doubly for Japanese games, since they also have to be localized, which can sometimes make things worse.
I never, ever, hold this against a game, though. It’s not fair because it’s not the focus. The gameplay is the number one priority of, you know, a video game. So, if a story falls a little flat or just become hilariously ridiculous? That’s okay with me as long I’m having a good time playing it.
Like any avid cinephile appreciates great acting and cinematography; me, as a lover of video games, appreciates the true beauty of game design.
Now, that doesn’t mean that I don’t think games greatly benefit from strong characters, though. They can be extremely important and carry a game far further than any convoluted narrative. Some of the characters in this trilogy are weak… but some are pretty awesome. Which is the same as most RPGs.
Snow is a brash, douchey brute who just wants to be the hero, but often does a poor job at it. Vanille is your average, good-natured and kind-hearted female. Fang is a tough, take-no-crap, badass woman. Then Sazh is a pilot and a father, turned suicidal by his circumstances, with a chocobo living in his afro. He’s awesome.
Noel and Serah? Eh, pretty generic. Frustrating when they were the only two characters in “XIII-2”, but they didn’t ruin the game. I’ve seen far worse.
But, the two biggest characters I see people hate on are Hope and Lightning.
Hope is understandable in regards to the first game. He was young and whiny. That’s not typically an appealing thing to see, but he was a kid that saw his mom die. Ironically, she told him that, “Moms are tough.”
As a kid, you put a certain amount of trust in your parents. Trust that everything will be alright. When something they’ve told you ends up being wrong, your whole perception of the world is shattered. It can be hard. Moms may be tough, but they aren’t invincible. Hope’s desire to kill fellow party member, Snow, because he blamed him for his mom’s death? That’s all there and it makes perfect sense.
Hope even gets redemption in later games, seeing that he actually grows up and becomes a valuable support character. Would I hang out with Hope? No, but he’s not awful. I don’t care what memes were made.
Then there’s Lightning, the protagonist of the series. She’s strong, stoic, and serious. Exactly the type of personality you would expect from a soldier, which is what she is. This persona is perfectly suited to dudebros in military shooters, but when it’s your female lead in a JRPG? No, get the hell out of here. You can’t do THAT in this genre.
Wait, why not?
No only is her character completely atypical for females in games, especially Japanese games, but she’s not hyper-sexualized. So, instead of praising her implementation, her attachment to a game everyone hates has doomed her to the wrath of angry fans.
I like her. She feels completely unique in a world of gaming where it’s incredibly difficult to find female characters that don’t have bubbly personalities, large sexual appetites, gigantic breasts, the look and demeanor of a preteen, or a hopelessly romantic attachment to the male lead. Square Enix is certainly guilty of exploiting these traits, and more, in the past.
Lightning may be – feel free to flip your table at this point –the best female character in the entire “Final Fantasy” series. Yes, I’ve gone there. Gauntlet thrown.
I say this knowing that FF actually has a pretty decent line-up of fairly inoffensive female characters. Terra and Faris are particularly good, but others like Rosa, Ashe, Celes, and Fang are all perfectly fine and exist without the slimy tentacles of fanservice tainting their design.
Most believe that Lightning’s boring, but I find that plainness intriguing and interesting. She struggles to express her emotions, something I actually relate with a lot. Independent and kind of a loner? Check. That’s me, too. Wait, do I like Lightning because she’s like a badass version of myself? That’s weird.
Lightning tends to be easily forgotten, even if Square Enix doesn’t want you to forget her. Not exactly what you expect from the protagonist of a series, but it’s a welcome change of pace, especially when cliches can be so easy to rely on. She isn’t super heroic, doesn’t have a heightened sense of virtue, and isn’t out to find justice. She isn’t going to make impactful monologues full of righteousness and doesn’t have an innate desire to strike down evil.
She’s just in a shitty situation and wants to find a way to save her sister. But, like I said, the story isn’t very good. So, there is a bunch of other crap thrown in that barely makes any sense. I’ll happily ignore it when I’m enjoying the people I’m with.