Final Fantasy XIII [PS3]. (2010). El Segundo, CA: Square Enix North America.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 [PS3]. (2012). El Segundo, CA: Square Enix North America.
Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII [PS3]. (2014). El Segundo, CA: Square Enix North America.
To try and properly put XIII into context is difficult, especially when keeping the game play separate. What I’m going to attempt to do is review the main characters/sisters Lightning (Eclair) and Serah within the context of the trilogy.
To say that Final Fantasy 13 is a triumph for gender equality is obvious. Not only do we have two (main) female protagonists throughout the series, we have a caring father, sisters-in-faith rather than by blood, we also have an engaged couple and a pair of star-crossed lovers. The fact that we have so many different types of family and relationships throughout the series also demonstrates that Square Enix has finally accepted that there are many differing roles possible for both men and women, a far cry when looking back at their earlier games in the series.
Lightning (a la Eclair Farron) is a no-holds barred soldier who has two priorities – taking care of her sister, Serah – and doing the right thing for those around her. Her changes throughout the trilogy, which one may also see as the journey of transcendence from mortal to god – always come back to those two priorities. She has no love interest throughout the trilogy; that role is somewhat regulated to Serah with her fiance Snow. However, Lightning does intercede in romantic interests of others, fulfilling the role as go-between at times for NPCs in both FF13 and Lightning (and as big angry sister towards Snow); she is not without romantic feelings, just none for herself. It is because of this and her role as a soldier that she is possibly the most sexless creation in the entire 13 universe. This enables us as gamers to identify with her as a person and less a woman – both problematic and accessible at the same time. The only time in which we are reminded of Lightning’s femininity is in XIII-2 and Lighting with her garb, some of which is obviously eye-candy. XIII-2 is less gratuitous in that her armor at the very least is actually shaped for use; Lightning‘s outfits at times are less than a bikini (which is not meant for combat anyways, but video game aesthetics being what they are…) and quite frankly, detract from the story as well as the respect due in her being a soldier.
Serah Ferron, the other main playable protagonist, is portrayed as being exceptionally feminine and not like her sister – pigtails, dress, romantic relationship, etc. However, the biggest difference between a traditional ‘feminine’ character and someone like Serah is that while she is fine with being a woman, she still manages to fight – on her own terms. Lightning even commends her on her abilities: “Serah. Forgive me. That was a past you never should have to deal with. But now, became of your courage, the timelines have one less knot to unravel. If I could, I would thank you for what you have accomplished. But I can’t. Not just yet” (XIII-2). In order to save the world, she still uses her abilities as a Farseer in order to change history, no matter the cost to herself. Her strength is different from her sister’s, or her fiance’s, for that matter. She trusts Snow to use his abilities to the best he can, even when they fight separately. And he trusts her to do the same.
Both of these women epitomize the ideals of what the feminist movement wanted – a woman’s right to choose not only her gender identity (arguably Lightning is neutral) but the roles in which she allows her gender to shape her. While both women play into classic Final Fantasy tropes (both Lightning and Serah end up having a romantic evening at one point or another) it is their decisions that make them seem strong – Lightning uses the date she is on (XIII: Lightning Returns) to gain time and resources, while Serah utilizes it to strengthen the bond between herself and Snow (XIII). Probably the most positive part of their identity is that neither of them states at one point or another “I’m doing this because it’s the womanly thing to do” – and the men also never state that throughout the games, either. (Zazh is incredibly wonderful as a single father – he is both nurturing as a parent and tough as a fighter.) They are themselves; gender identity does not define them.
These are a wonderful series in terms of gender identity. I won’t go on with the problems of the games (of which I’m sure you can find tons online) but in terms of gender equality, I’d have to give them an A.