Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Call Me "Light."

By Kirk Hamilton

My Paste Magazine review of Final Fantasy XIII is up. I'm happy with how it came out, and think I managed to convey my mixed thoughts on the game. Special thanks to Jason Kills for being a great editor and cool dude.

I already expounded a bit on how I felt about the game's grinding, and remain interested to see if that sort of old-school stat leveling is ever really going to go by the wayside. If it does, then good riddance.

I do want to take the opportunity to write a bit more about FFXIII's characters, specifically the female ones. Rather than get involved in any further Vanille-bashing (or take part in prompting the inevitable "In Defense of Vanille" post that I'm sure someone'll write), I mainly wanted to say once more, for the record, how much I liked Lightning. Because I liked her a whole, whole lot.

I don't think we should take a female videogame lead as strong as Lightning for granted. She's beautiful but never sexualized, strong-willed but also fallible, gruffly maternal and sisterly, cold and detached yet vulnerable and heartbroken. In short, she's a real person.

In gameplay terms, she defies RPG traditions by being the party's most lethal physical combatant as opposed to a healer or spellcaster (though she excels at both of those things, as well). Once she fully upgrades her super-groovy collapsible sword Lionheart, Lightning embodies her moniker, flying into battle like a dervish and staggering enemies in seconds. It is never not cool to watch.

She's also well-served by Final Fantasy XIII's story. Without going into spoiler-y territory, Lightning gets to play all sides of a long, personal saga of leadership, doubt, sacrifice, and self-realization. Ali Hillis (who, interestingly, also did a great job as the young and wide-eyed Liara T'soni in Mass Effect) plays it perfectly - props to her for her excellent voicework.

I actually think FFXIII does pretty well by its female characters in general. Like Lightning, Fang is also a strong, non-sexualized woman - a fighter, guardian, and woman of the wilds. I love her Aussie accent, and the way that Rachel Robinson plays up her Xena-like devil-may-care attitude. And the character of Vanille isn't that problematic either; my distaste for her has more to do with the way she's portrayed. On paper, she's a capable young woman who chooses fearless humor in the face of impossible odds. Why, why, why Motomu Toriyama felt that she should also act like a prancing fourteen-year-old sexpot is beyond me.

But two out of three ain't bad, especially when one of those three is Lightning. I haven't played all of Square Enix's games, but I get the sense that more often than not, they deliver some really strong, well-drawn female characters. That is particularly true of the wonderful Chrono Trigger, with its trifecta of fem-awesomeness - super-genius Lucca, physical powerhouse Ayla, and not-so-distressed damsel Marle. In fact, that game was pretty much carried by the female leads, to the point that one of the most compelling parts of the story (for me) was when the three of them were on their own, carrying the doll of a dead Chrono through time on a quest to reanimate him.

So here's to "Light." She was easily my favorite part of a flawed game, and the minute I had the option, I put her in command of my battle party and never looked back. As strong as most of the other characters turned out to be, I think they'd all agree that Lightning was the only one who could ever truly lead them.


Anonymous said...

Could not agree any more with what you said about the girls in this game. Especially Lightning. Most people just peg her as mean or insensitive and that's it. But I thought she was one of the most balanced and human characters out of the entire FF series and her development over the course of the entire game (not in just one or two moments) was awesome. Lightning was easily my favorite character in Final Fantasy XIII and I personally can't wait to see what they do with her character in the next game.