All right, class, everyone open your web browsers. I want you to go to a search engine and type in “Final Fantasy Lightning.” Go ahead and click “search” or hit enter, whichever suits you. Today’s discussion is going to be about one of the strongest females in the last ten years of video ga…
Er, wait just a minute, students, my apologies. I must have misspelled Lightning’s name and mixed her up with Sarah Palin, Snooki or another female who is verbally eviscerated at every opportunity on message boards and comment threads across the…no? It’s definitely Lightning?
Okay, class. Fuck today’s lesson plan, we’re going to have a lecture.
Despite Final Fantasy XIII’s emphasis on an entire cast of protagonists, none of whom were second to any other, Lightning was the cover girl from the very beginning. She had every right to be. During initial previews for the universe of the game, immediate comparisons were drawn between her and FFVII’s Cloud Strife. Both appear to be career soldiers driven by a desire to see the mission completed. Cloud, of course, had a lot more going on beneath the surface. Lightning’s story had yet to be discovered, but incredibly, fans and journalists had already dismissed her as one-dimensional and boring.
Perhaps they had a point. How dare SquareEnix have the audacity to craft a lady whose tits are not bigger than her skull. I would go as far as to say that FFXIII incorporates the least amount of sexualization among their female leads, unless you count the subliminal pedophiliac attraction that Vanille warrants.
Let’s get past the exterior and look at Lightning’s personality. She is a military woman, one who has eschewed all things “fun” in life to protect the people of Cocoon. She knows a few things about protection, having cared for her younger sister Serah since they lost their parents during childhood. She doesn’t like the fact that her sister is engaged to the brutish oaf known as Snow, and I sure as hell didn’t blame her at first. When Serah becomes fated with becoming a l’Cie, Lightning’s instincts kick in to overdrive.
As they tend to do in a Final Fantasy game, things get complicated. Preconceived notions are tested, truths are revealed and alliances are both broken and forged. Lightning is at the center of each massive plot event and her resolve never wavers; Serah is going to be okay. Now, please explain to me what the fuck is so “detached” and “vanilla” about the bond between two sisters and the lengths to which one will go to save the other’s life? Has everyone expected the personality traits of an entire cast of characters to be rolled into one superheroine?
I will admit, the overall narrative of FFXIII did not measure up to my personal standards for story in the series; that measuring stick is still held by IX and X. What kept me going through XIII was each character, why they had banded together and what kept them going against some of the most impossible odds in a role playing game to come from the opposite side of the Pacific Ocean. I became entranced with who Lightning was before quitting the military and the hardships she and Serah endured to make it. Does that put me at odds with the rest of the Final Fantasy legion of fans?
This cosplayer perfectly captures the spirit of Kefka in his jabs against Sephiroth. What he also exemplifies is the rampant infighting that dominates the “fandom” of Final Fantasy and also explains why I cannot have a civilized fucking conversation with anybody about it. Let me illustrate a novel concept: I have played and completed every single main entry in the series with the exceptions of III and XI Online. While I like some more than others, I don’t needlessly target the protagonists of one game simply because my first exposure to Final Fantasy came at a different point in life.
Lightning is not the first strong female character to have been conceived by the designers at SquareEnix, formerly known as Squaresoft by the purists that I can feel leering at me through this monitor. Yuna, Lulu, Garnet, Celes, Tifa, Edea, Fran…pick any of those ladies and you’ll get gigabytes of text on why they’re incredible. At the moment, you’re more likely to read about how much better they are than Lightning; hell, I’m sure essays are out regarding the superiority of Fang and her backstory to FFXIII’s cover girl. Enough already.
I feel like I’m overusing the term “butthurt” lately, but I can’t think of any other way to describe the loyalists who get pissed off over the fact that Final Fantasy XIII sold nearly seven million copies, a new landmark achievement for the series. Rather than bitch and moan about the supposed glory days of the series (which differs with age, naturally), why not tell someone who just finished the most recent entry how amazing the rest of the games are? Do you know how fucking jealous I would be of somebody who has never played any of the other Final Fantasies? It would keep them occupied for months, possibly years.
As has been the case with SquareEnix for a decade, Final Fantasy XIII-2 was created thanks to the shit-ton of money the original made. This fall, Lightning Returns will mark the first time a Final Fantasy has made it to a trilogy on one generation of systems. I haven’t made it to the sequel yet, but knowing that Lightning’s story is going to get a proper conclusion gives me further cause to pick it up. That and the fact that it’s now dirt cheap. Superfans should get over themselves and follow suit.
Chris Hansen: NY Daily News