“Lightning. It flashes bright, then fades away. It can’t protect, it only destroys.”
The new tale of the crystal started in 2006 when Square Enix revealed their most ambitious project yet – “Fabula Nova Crystallis” – which consist of three titles: Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy Agito XIII and Final Fantasy Versus XIII. The idea was to create a mythology that shares common concepts and base that would ease the creation of new Final Fantasy games. Alongside this, it was possible for each director to freely interpret their own stories and not be restricted to a certain direction. One of the key concepts is crystals: In Final Fantasy XIII, they represent humanity’s hope and life, where as in Final Fantasy Agito XIII and Final Fantasy Versus XIII, crystals are more concrete and used for protecting the nations, wielding the power of magic and summoning eidolons. Now in March 2015 – nearly a decade later – many things have happened: Final Fantasy XIII turned into a trilogy, Final Fantasy Agito XIII was renamed Final Fantasy Type-0 and Final Fantasy Versus XIII transformed into the fifteenth installment in the critically acclaimed series, but the base and mythos remained.
Today, we are celebrating the fifth anniversary of Final Fantasy XIII since it was first released for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on March 9, 2010. It has been such an amazing, emotional and unforgettable journey for the fans as they were able to see their favorite characters grow up and live through the events of each entry in the saga. The developers experimented quite a lot as well: we jumped from story-driven direction to time traveling to an open world game where you could run through the entire world back and forth, from beautiful orchestral recordings to underground experimental rap tunes, from monster controlling to puzzles and much more between all of this. Inspired by us coming together to celebrate these game, I thought to discuss about one of the main protagonist – Claire “Lightning” Farron – and bring up the subject of why is she so polemical amongst the fans and what is her role in nowadays’ industry
“You are not going through this ordeal alone, you know.”
A Mysterious Thunder Lady And Finnish Men: Since the release, Lightning has been a controversial subject amongst the fans, which makes her a good example of a character pushing the boundaries. At first glance, she may appear as a cold hearted individual who doesn’t really have a personality due to her calm and introvert behavior. In addition, she isn’t able to talk about her feelings as openly as others. However, as the story progresses the player learns about her personality and vulnerabilities. One of the reasons behind her coldness is the great need to protect the people surrounding her, but she is too scared she won’t able to do it. This is why she tries to avoid building relationships with people other than her sister Serah, whom she loses in the beginning of Final Fantasy XIII. When Lightning realizes her friends can take care of themselves and she doesn’t need to worry anymore, she is able to become more open and show her humanity.
Her personality isn’t exactly that rare amongst people in real life. Many humans tend to seem cold and uninterested about others because they are scared of getting rejected by them. To avoid failures and disappointments, these people usually push others away, even unintentionally, and build a wall around them to protect themselves – making them less approachable. That kind of characters are rarely represented in games where main protagonists tend to be more outgoing and confident. After going through these facts, it’s easier to understand why many people may love or dislike Lightning and it makes her quite groundbreaking as a female character, while many of them are idealized as more emotional, weaker, sympathetic and open individuals. Would her personality be more acceptable as a man?
I believe it’s more important to take a look at the representation of different personalities and cultures and how well we are ready to accept them. Things that are out from our own confort zone aren’t easily accessible, but they are worth giving a chance. You might learn and experience something new and incredible. This is why setting males and females in certain standards and roles can be hurtful because everyone is different in their own way. This reminded me of one of the lessons one of our directors gave us at the non-military camp where we discussed about (Finnish) men. Many adjectives were negative: depressed, close-minded, shy, alcoholic, suicidal and emotionless, for example. Very rough and generic idea of a Finnish man in our culture. But then she asked us: “Which of you fits this description?” Nobody raised hand and quite many, including me, were laughing at themselves after realizing what has happened. We all were Finnish men and none of us really was how Finnish people had described us. So are we really even like that? No. We are just living in an illusion where society tells us how we are, but in the end just a few of us fit that misleading standard.
“As we gaze upon events that can not be changed, our hearts grow bitter with regret.”
Pushing the Industry Forwards & The Death of Art: Square Enix has a long history of lead female characters such as our grand example Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII, Aya Brea from Parasite Eve, Lara Croft from Tomb Raider, Zero from Drakengard 3, Agnes from Bravely Default and many others, especially in Final Fantasy games. All of them are unique, dislikable and likable females characters: they follow or break rules of what’s an ideal woman in our society – some of them are very emotional, weak and sympathetic, some of them are complete nuts and mindless killers looking for revenge, some of them are independent adventurers looking for historical treasures.Viewing the current backlog, Square Enix doesn’t have much to prove anymore in terms of gender versatility because Lightning and others are enough to justify Square Enix’s needs to also push new kinds of male characters forward and even create a male-only cast. It’s because they clearly don’t care about gender, rather about stories and characters touched by these events, while others companies may not have reached the same level of openness.
Before the release of Life Is Strange, Dontnod Entertainment revealed that Square Enix was the only one who didn’t want to change the female protagonists in order to make the game appeal to the wider audience – addressing the sexism issue the industry is currently dealing with. Most importantly, it revealed another serious problem: the corporations’ intentions to limit the artists’ creative freedom and possibly killing what would make games considered as an serious art form. It’s not just an issue with companies, but also gamers: the same way Final Fantasy XV’s current male-only cast is under discussion. Now some people are asking for female characters and being negative about the game just because it lacks characters they would want to be there. It’s almost the same problem as with Lightning’s personality – she isn’t the person some people would like her to be. This means the fans would be forcing the creators to add unnecessary characters or push the existing one to another direction to please the customers, and when that happens the games become products – not works of art. Are we ready to sacrifice that?
“I’d call it a mixing blessing. I’m more powerful than I ever was, but it came with a price. I’m not even sure if I’m human anymore.”
Quota of genders: It’s important to understand that Final Fantasy XV is still in development and we have yet to see what kind of characters it has to offer. When it comes to women, Square Enix has already showed us characters likeStella, Luna, Cindy, the mysterious dragoon lady and a dark-haired woman, but since the very beginning of the development, former director Tetsuya Nomura has explained that the story is focusing on characters and their life situations. These individuals just happen to be a group of young men who have known each other for a very long time.
In an ideal world, things shouldn’t need a quota of women or men to be great, since if people truly are equal, one’s gender shouldn’t be the main factor at getting a job just because the company needs 50-50 of men and women – individual’s skills and talent should be the main factor for hiring. But how does that transfer into the world of games? Life Is Strange’s issue was that game publishers thought that female leads are too risky, but Final Fantasy XV is about developers wanting to tell the story they want. In both cases we are facing an issue, where the fans or the publishers are wanting to limit the artistic direction these games are planned to take. It’s good to talk about issues like lack of females or sexual minorities because they exist and perhaps it will naturally encourage the developers to create games involving them. Forcing and pressuring creators to add quotas will be just the death of the art.
The End: Even after nearly ten years since her reveal, Lightning continues to be an iconic female character in games and has yet to meet her match. She is finally free and no longer needs to fight, but her brilliant flash of light hasn’t yet faded away. She continues setting a standard for other female and male characters – not to be like her, but who they are. As other companies are still struggling and scared to use characters that might not appeal to a larger audience, Square Enix seems to have chosen another direction. This has made it possible for other unique character to appear later on – like Maxime and Chloe in Life Is Strange. If creators are allowed to focus on creating stories and experiences freely, it will be more than exciting to see what the future has to offer to us.
“Some people wish they could go back and be together like before. Others look forward to the day they can meet again.”
If you haven’t yet given a chance to the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy, it’s really worth trying. In the best case, it can become a journey of a lifetime and one of the most identity-defining experience you will ever have. The same goes for the other Fabula Nova Crystallis games, Final Fantasy Type-0 and Final Fantasy XV. It makes me extremely emotional that we are coming to the end of an era that started in May 2006 as the final piece of the mythology is being released in a few years. Experiences like this make you really put things in perspective and see how influential games can be in your life. Places like Square Portal will be forever crystallizing the love of the fans towards the series. And if you are part of this group, this will always be home for you.
FINAL FANTASY XIII, FINAL FANTASY XIII-2 and LIGHTNING RETURNS: FINAL FANTASY XIII are now available for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Windows PC. The release of LIGHTNING RETURNS: FINAL FANTASY XIII for PC is planned for this Spring. Do you have the courage to face your destiny?
“We live to make the impossible possible! That is our focus!”
Categories: Final Fantasy XIII