You read the title, now a few caveats.
One: I will not be discussing Final Fantasy Fashion. I, myself, am not a fashionaaabluh man. I know this about myself, and accepted it back in college when I gave up on the idea of changing my pants every day, and never looked back. Optimus Prime never worried about his outfit, and neither do I. The unfortunate side effect of this line of thinking is that I have no concept of what is hip and/or appropriate at any given moment for my own gender, so women’s fashion is so far beyond me, it may as well be rocket science.
Additionally, I feel that judging the outfit versus personality of any given Final Fantasy Female as we get further into the HD era of a team of thousands creating any given game is folly. In other words, I very much doubt that whoever wrote Queen Ashe’s pivotal dialogue about whether or not to use super destructive nethicite on an invading country scribbled into the margins, “Make sure Ashe is wearing fluorescent pink hot pants during this scene”. I don’t call Disney’s The Lion King a sexually charged furry romp because an animator made a random dust cloud spell, “sex”, and I don’t claim Final Fantasy 13’s Vanille is pornographic because her summoning sequence features inappropriate moaning.
Two: Related to that thing I just said, I am giving pretty much everyone involved in Final Fantasy production the benefit of the doubt. My position is that every FPC (female playable character) is laudable in some way or another, but that by no means means I believe every character highlighted here is some kind of shining bastion of femininity. I’m going to focus on the good, but don’t think I don’t know there’s bad, too.
Three: I am not a Final Fantasyologist. I am also a 30 year old white male. I have so much privilege coming out of my privilege hole, there are national car commercials aimed exclusively at me. The fairer sex is a complete mystery to me. I may have met a few? I don’t know. I do not claim to be an expert in any subject here, and my only credentials for writing this whole thing is a history of playing Final Fantasy games until my eyes bleed, and too much free time between Final Fantasy releases. If you disagree with anything I say here, or I’m downright wrong about anything, feel free to mention it. The comment section is right there, and I’m not the type to go coo-coo over dissent. It’s not like I’m some tyrant. I’ve got Skeletor telling me what vehicles to buy, I’ll be alright.
Four: Due to a combination of fear of subscriptions and peer pressure, I have never played Final Fantasy 11 or Final Fantasy 14, aka the MMORPGs of the franchise. As a result, I will not be covering those games, but feel free to throw in some info on those ones if you’ve got ‘em.
Five: Sorry, Gogo, but I’m not looking at anyone who could be female, but is not definitely female. Mind you, this is just so I don’t get into a whole big thing about how Black Mage has just as much possibility to be a woman as White Mage in Final Fantasy I, and whatever happened between Final Fantasy III and Final Fantasy III DS. This is going to be long enough as is! (Editor’s “second pass” note: Oh God I had no idea.)
Alright, enough preamble.
Wait! Slightly more preamble, but of a different kind.
Final Fantasy is important. The franchise is one of the few non-Nintendo franchises to exist with the same fervor in the NES era as the PS4. While we may never see a Final Fantasy 7-esque cultural peak again, Final Fantasy games are still a global event… at least in parts of the globe where people have the time and money to fritter away on digital weirdos with even weirder swords. Point being, every Final Fantasy is a capital V Video Game, and has been for a long time, which drastically increases the odds your granny who still calls all games “intendas” has actually heard of the franchise, which is proportional to the number of twelve year olds who think the franchise started with Final Fantasy 13 and have been planning on getting a fal’cie tattoo since they were six. My round about point? Final Fantasy has, for good or ill, influenced gaming and a number of gamers, and, were I the type to pursue this line of thinking, I would claim that its directors have a responsibility to the public, and part of that responsibility is not portraying 50% of the population as useless or needy or bothersome or whatever else happens in a number of other videogames. Final Fantasy has been doing pretty well so far, so, without further ado, in chronological order, let’s look at…
Final Fantasy 2 is a terrible, awful game, and I will tolerate no disagreement on this point; however, it is the first JRPG I know of where there’s a clearly defined female PC that is also 100% just as capable as the male party members. She starts with a bow and stats with an emphasis on magic, but if you want to make Maria into the team heavy, go ahead, she’ll be just as adept as that Guy guy. This is a trend that continues through a number of Final Fantasy games, and makes the idea of “girl power” teams much more viable than in games where your female party members are exclusively good at healing. So, good start, guys!
Which is why I have to look so critically at Final Fantasy 4. Palom and Porom are a duo, first and foremost, and while Porom is another damn white mage, her attitude and general authority over Palom makes her a memorable character for her limited time with the party.
Rydia is pretty damn amazing any way you look at it. She starts out sad and fairly useless, but she’s also seven and literally just watched her mother and entire hometown go up in flames. Adult Rydia, meanwhile, is possibly the most cocksure character in the entire game, which is saying something when you’ve got that bearded old man over in the corner strapped to dynamite and willing to explode for the cause at any moment. Rydia’s continual rebuking of Chief Ninja Useless is refreshing, and Rydia is the only woman in all of Final Fantasy to save the entire party in one of those last minute, near-death scenarios [citations are boring]. Rydia just plain rocks.
But then there’s Rosa. As has been mentioned elsewhere, Rosa does have her good traits, like she does stubbornly refuse to stay home and make sammichs while Cecil firebombs peasants or flies to the moon. On the other hand? She makes the same journey to Kaipo as Cecil, but somehow contracts a nearly incurable disease in the process. She participates in the invasion of Fabul with the rest of the party, and is kidnapped for her troubles. She is continually mentioned as the main reason Kain jumps around the hero/villain spectrum, because women are a commodity for men to fight over. Even in battle, her “Fight” command is never used, ever, as she requires “Aim”, because silly girls can’t even fight right. And, somehow, against all logic and reason, she’s even worse in The After Years, where she fails to excel as a unique white mage among the cast of hundreds and is kidnapped yet again. Rosa, please accept your least improved damsel award and get off the stage.
Final Fantasy 5 is a return to form. Lenna is a princess, but I think is officially queen by the end of the first world. Kind of an important distinction there, as she’s fighting for her father initially, and then her kingdom and the entire world as the plot progresses, portraying a nice bit of maturation on her side. Faris is better than male or female, she’s simply a pirate with her own personal sea serpent, which I believe qualifies her for some kind of Best Character Olympics. I suppose I could take time out of my busy day of writing about Final Fantasy characters to further analyze the dynamics of the masculine sailor hero that eventually is revealed to be a woman and barely changes her demeanor one iota, but I feel like that would detract from the idea of an amazing purple haired pirate raiding your ship via dragon. Krile isn’t nearly as cool as her metaphorical sisters, but her uncanny, innate ability to talk to every living thing in two worlds is pretty damn useful. Aside from being the moogle whisperer, Krile takes up the mantle of her deceased grandfather without a second thought, and, though it may be a simple gameplay conceit, her willingness to become a warrior after seeing Galuf croak in the line of duty is pretty hard core. Ultimately, judged just by survivors and contributions to saving the world, the ladies of Final Fantasy 5 far outpace the male party members.
On the other hand, I can’t think of any named female NPCs in FF5 that aren’t haphazard antagonists. Bartz’s mom? Maybe?
Final Fantasy 6 has been overanalyzed worldwide, so I likely don’t need to note how amazing it is that Terra is trying to understand “love”, and finds it in a more familial than romantic form. As a result, she’s actually one of the few party members that has a clear trajectory post credits (help out Team Mobliz), as opposed to say, Sabin, the unemployed prince who can look forward to a future of… holding up houses? Celes does follow the romantic route with Locke, but that’s well after she single handedly set out to get the band back together and change the entire world for the better.
Worth noting: There are three “magic knights” in The Empire’s employ. The two women are deserters, but the dual protagonists of FF6. The third and only male magic knight is Kefka. He has… issues.
Since there hasn’t been much discussion about her, let’s take a closer look at Relm. Relm has that spunky kid thing going on, which is something of a runner through the SNES titles. Beyond that, we are talking about a character with near-Selphie levels of optimism despite a clearly tragic past. Relm also had a front row seat to the end of the world, literally fell out of the sky, and then, at eleven years old, decided the best course of action would be to get a job painting for the richest guy on the planet. I will reiterate that Sabin’s one marketable skill is “human pillar”.
Other women in Final Fantasy 6 don’t have it so good, though. Locke, Shadow, Cyan, and Setzer (an entire FF6 party) all have lost loves in their motivational backstories. Hell, pretty much ALL we know about Setzer and Locke’s respective pasts is how they both got their lovers dead in new and interesting ways. It’s nice that the Final Fantasy franchise doesn’t see fit to rely on the old “women in refrigerators” trope all the time, though, right?
Whoops, here’s Final Fantasy 7 and Aeris. It would be almost impossible to talk about women in Final Fantasy without showcasing its number one sacrificial lamb, but here’s a thesis for you: Aeris had to die.
Firstly, this operates under the assumption that someone had to die: going all the way back to Final Fantasy 2, the franchise has had great joy in killing characters for dramatic effect. Tellah, Galuf, and General Leo all bit the wax tadpole to great effect in the preceding games, and Final Fantasy 8 and 9 would go on to kill all mothers and the ATB system, respectively. This all led up to Final Fantasy 10, where, thanks to at least one writer having seen The Sixth Sense, death lost all meaning in the series forever. So, someone’s got to go in Final Fantasy 7.
Second, Sephiroth had to do something bad. Kefka might be the craziest, Golbez might be the mightiest, and Galenth Dysley might be the confusingest, but Sephiroth is definitely remembered as the coolest villain in Final Fantasy history. And there’s good reason there. He’s aloof, dangerous, and probably not his mother, which are the three tent poles of the HP/MP restoration item that is coolness. Only problem is that a villain has to be hated to truly work as a villain. Sephiroth introduces himself to the story by killing a guy your party was already trying to kill. He impales a giant murder snake that forced your party to flee like cowards. Yes, he turned Cloud’s hometown into a BBQ pit, but the town is fine when you find it, so clearly ol’ Silver Hair is just big into urban renewal. Sephiroth had to do something to be hated (by the player), and, since we were going to kill someone anyway, may as well make it a party member.
Now the question becomes who: Cloud is right out, as he’s the protagonist, and we just did that with Crono like one game ago. Vincent is optional and maybe already dead, I don’t know, I haven’t kept up with his Livejournal posts, so he’s another easy no. Cait Sith, Biggs, and Wedge are all disqualified under the strict “only one death per character” policy. Cid Highwind is incapable of dying within our atmosphere, so that’s another off the list. And, as everyone knows, puppies and children are safe in all dangerous situations, so Red XIII and Marlene need not fear. Barrett could die under some sort of “mentor” or “sacrifice for AVALANCHE” concept, and he is one of the older playable characters, but, oh man, can you imagine if the franchise’s first black guy died first? We may have inadvertently dodged a bullet (sword) there…
That leaves Yuffie, the franchise’s only female hidden character (well, known female. Gogo is a walking thrift shop of questions). Yuffie may also be the cleverest character in all of Final Fantasy, who, at the tender age of 16, realizes the advantages of joining a group of adventurers, exploiting their friendship, and then robbing them completely blind. Yes, the plan doesn’t go off without a hitch, but, assuming she lifted a late game party’s MASTER materia collection after all the other heroes stopped caring, she really could have led Wutai to conquer the planet with an unstoppable, magic slinging army. Yuffie… no… MAGIC EMPEROR YUFFIE could not be killed by Sephiroth, she would have had the good sense to dodge, and then would have stolen all of his gil. Also, I guess there’s that whole “optional” thing.
Now we’re down to Betty and Veronica. Veronica… err… Tifa is a wonderful character all on her own, as she is Cloud’s secret mom. She finds him alone and confused, helps him out, gets him a job, and then sticks around to make sure he’s doing alright. She also, just for Cloud’s benefit, keeps her yap shut when he’s blabbering about being a first class SOLDIER, even though revealing the knowledge that Cloud isn’t really all that and is just some washed out grunt could literally save lives. Then again, I suppose it’s not her fault that AVALANCHE has such a lax HR department. While this all may be used to paint Tifa as some kind of Cloud-based doormat, my actual point is that Tifa is one of the most generous and caring people in fiction, effectively giving up her entire life to take care of a friend and fight for the future of the planet. She could have happily spent the rest of her life slinging beer at her bar, but, no, she decides to actively fight the power and maybe punch a Don’s balls off. That’s right, she kind of completely kicks ass, too. But she is plot invincible until the game’s final hours, as she is the sole person on Earth who knows the entirety of Cloud’s myyyyysterious past and isn’t crazy, dead, or both.
Which leaves poor Aeris. As I mentioned in one of my Xehanort biographies, Aeris seems to be remembered by the fans and spin-off media as some kind of nun, but in truth, she spends most of the game being spunky as all get out. She’s basically an unruly teenager for the first part of the game, and evolves into a reliable party member who may or may not be checking out Cloud’s butt while traipsing around the overworld. Also, a number of people tend to forget that her death happens as she is trying to save the world (and starts a process that eventually does) while the rest of the party is either sleeping or contemplating what next to do on their “Sephiroth jerks us around the world” tour.
So, in the end, Aeris is likable, useful, a direct threat to the villain’s plan, close to the protagonist, and was once nearly forced to mate with a dog: whether by process of elimination or her list of accomplishments, Aeris pretty much had to be the sacrifice of Final Fantasy 7. It would be easy to say she was simply “fridged” for the sake of the leading man, but, like her male counterparts from the previous games, she didn’t die as some “victim”, she fell saving the world… just without the funky facial hair of her forefathers.
And you don’t see “Galuf lives!” graffiti in Wreck It Ralph.
The Final Fantasy 8 women I covered in depth in my Final Fantasy 8 post, and I do so dislike making posts unnecessarily long, so LIT Round:
Quistis Trepe is the brains of nearly every operation in Final Fantasy 8, and has the added bonus of falling for the male protagonist and then getting the hell over it. She also can “learn” how to shoot lasers from her eyeballs.
Selphie Tilmitt is the walking personification of optimism in her or any other universe. She’s also one of the few Final Fantasy characters that seems to have a social life outside of the main party, and her Facebook page has more likes than the rest of the cast combined.
Rinoa Heartily (ugh) started the Final Fantasy trend of making the leading lady of the game the character that secretly is responsible for the entire world being saved and is, coincidentally, some god-level being. Even before Rinoa picks up the sorceress powers that can allow her to single-handedly destroy the final boss, Rinoa is almost completely responsible for moving Squall and SeeD into a position to actually save the world, as opposed to blindly reacting to whatever crisis crops up next. Let’s face it: without Rinoa, Dagger, and Yuna the “heroes” of Final Fantasy 8, 9, and 10 would probably have started a foosball league while eldritch abominations stomped on item shops. Might even be able to pull Tifa into that analogy, too.
Oh, yes, may as well mention the only female final boss (who is not also a weather pattern) in Final Fantasy while we’re here. Ultimecia is, yes, a terrible character. Her motivations are thinner than a flatland supermodel; however, she isn’t so much a character as the primal force of loneliness, to contrast with Rinoa, a walking bastion of love. Ultimecia works as a fairy tale “evil queen”, but she’s kind of lame as her own character, which is a shame coming off of a string of well developed malevolent men (and one tree).
Final Fantasy 9 is a game all about retreading old Final Fantasy ideas, so it’s only natural that its characters seem like a “greatest hits” of previous characters.
Eiko is Rydia. Like, the end. She’s an orphan summoner who, despite being practically an infant, is powerful and faces down knights and monsters alike. She’s also got a healthy amount of Relm and Krille in there, too. I’m really not that upset that this archetype seems to have gone the way of the imp in Final Fantasy games of the last decade, but Eiko does copy from greatness here, so if you were only introduced to Final Fantasy through the PSX generation, she’s a worthwhile addition to the 32-bit pantheon.
Princess Garnet Til Alexandros XVII (but you can call her Dagger) is… something. She’s The Princess, and, as mentioned before, without her, Zidane would just be a drama club monkey as opposed to saiyan savior of the world. It’s her drive to see the world and escape her overbearing mother that kicks off the adventure, and Final Fantasy 9 is as much her story as it is Zidane’s. However, we’re also dealing with a woman who is treated like an object for half the game (“We must possess her and her power!”), and proceeds to have a bout of PTSD that absolutely cripples her as a viable character. Look, I know I said I wasn’t going to get into the “bad” of Final Fantasy with this essay, but, come on, EVERY Final Fantasy protagonist has some kind of crazy past or terrible game events or something that makes them doubt everything and oh gosh am I doing the right thing I don’t want to beat up walking cacti anymore. And EVERY SINGLE ONE has absolutely no problem using the Fight command and blowing away bad guys. Let’s look at the noble Sazh, who loses his son and contemplates suicide, but at least smiles wide while riding around in his cool new race car before he blows his afro off. Dagger is basically the only character that has her own mood as a status ailment in the entire franchise, and, whoops, turns out she’s a woman, too.
Tangent aside, she is a very active princess, and ultimately accomplishes the most out of the entire party. Have I said that before? Geez, seems like a lot of queens dating hobos around here…
Freya is pretty much a male archetype in a rat lady’s body. She’s a noble knight, forsaking her kingdom for the sake of her lost love, questing and righting wrongs while hoping to one day find the bride… err… groom she once lost. She’s also the most useful, competent damage dealer in the party, and has a distinctly friendly relationship with Zidane. They’re tail bros. Probably my favorite character in the game, it’s no mistake that she’s also the most divorced from the overwhelming nostalgia of the game. There just aren’t a lot of lady rat dragoons to compare her to.
Special kudos go to Beatrix, the female counterpart and counterpoint to Steiner. Beatrix is everything Steiner is not, which makes her incredibly competent and powerful. Steiner is all heart, Beatrix is all blade. I can tell you which one I’d rather have in my party. Beatrix’s greatest fault is actually doing her job.
Final Fantasy 10 is Yuna’s story, and we all know it. Tidus is the player (I’m sorry), Yuna actually has to live here. While Yuna is not distinctly a princess (she is very much the daughter of a sort of royalty), Yuna once again fills that position, saving the world, and then sticking around afterward to become the queen (of pop). Yuna is willing, for nearly the entire story, to die to see her world become a better place, and that’s an enviable trait whether you’re from our world or some magical dream. Yes, technically, every Final Fantasy character seems willing to die for their cause, but keep in mind that Yuna’s goal directly leads to her own death. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, just hopefully it makes the world a better place.
Which puts Yuna right there with Lulu. Lulu, prior to the events of Final Fantasy 10, guarded two other summoners before Yuna’s pilgrimage. Lulu literally watched someone die trying to save the world, then decided to do the same thing again, more death, and then again after that. And we know at least one of those pilgrimages got mere inches from the finish line before she had to pack it up and dig out her funeral belts. Lulu has tenacity to spare. Wakka and Tidus are a couple of chuckleheads who are helping out on their way to a volley ball tournament; Lulu has been trying to save the world professionally for years, and odds are good that if Yuna somehow failed, she’d get right back on that horse and ride it all the way into Sin’s stupid face. The greatest sin Final Fantasy 10-2 committed was turning Lulu into a generic fragile mother (and not modifying her model to reflect the fact that she was nine months pregnant, too). Lulu, left to her own devices, might be capable of conquering all of Spira. At least we can safely say that she’d be doing the whole guardian thing well after she’s dead.
Rikku shows a similar determination, just in a different direction. Rikku IS going to save her cousin, and she’s not concerned with how the entire rest of the planet feels about it. Much like Lulu, Rikku will do anything for Yuna, but in this case, she’s leaving the planet behind, damn the whole better world thing, she just wants to see someone she cares about live her life. It’s no mistake that she seems to get along well with Tidus: they’re on the same page even before they can understand each other. It very much makes for an interesting dynamic, as Rikku and Tidus almost come off as selfish or childish in wishing for a future where the world is saved with Yuna alive, but, in the end, they’re both proven to be completely correct, and not by accident, but through their own actions. Team Yuna stands up to Sin for Spira, Rikku stands up to Spira for herself… and wins.
Skipping ahead to Final Fantasy 12, holy crap, here’s another princess that is trying to save her kingdom and teams up with a hobo to do it. Ashelia B’nargin Dalmasca sets herself apart from her princess foremothers by being a straight-up queen from start to finish. Ashe is not worried about random encounters or potion management or the fact that a t-rex seems to be living just outside of city limits, no, Ashe is worried about her kingdom, first and foremost, and all the heavy, taxing decisions that that involves. Many a Final Fantasy hero has had access to crazy, world destroying magic (seriously, how does anyone have issues with anything once they have access to a hulking space dragon?), but Ashe is the first to truly consider the ramifications of WMDs (Weapons of Magical Destruction), and using them on an unsuspecting populace. Yes, Ashe could nuke the final boss from orbit, but would that be the right choice, morally and politically? In short, Ashe is one of the first, true women characters in all of Final Fantasy, as opposed to the parade of girls that have shown up before. Go have your crazy freakout time in the corner, Dagger, the adults are talking.
Penelo, meanwhile, may be yet another “girl”, but she’s one of the truest in the franchise.
A moment for an anecdote, if you’ll indulge me (he typed as his ailing fingers throbbed from belting out the previous 4,500 words). When I was approximately college age, I would hang out with a group of friends that had no name, but was a collection of men and women who had known each other since high school. At our largest, there might be twelve of us, including whomever someone might be dating, at our least we were a collection of four, which was no mistake, as there were four gamecube controllers. We would hang out nightly, oftentimes until well in the morning. I’m sure many of you have had similar experiences at a similar age.
As we hung out so often, on many occasions we would be desperate for something “new” to do, and would hit the local video rental store. For those of you younger folks reading this, a video store was like Netflix, but you had to actually go to the store, and you could not leave until you chose something. This was a sticking point. Even when our group was a mere four people, it would take us ages to choose just one movie for one night. When we were at full capacity and three times as many people, we would take approximately our entire lives to choose a film we all could agree on. Due to our shared childhoods and complimentary tastes, I would venture to say that there was not a group of more like-minded individuals in our hometown that ever could exist, yet we would take hours to finally settle on one stupid Adam Sandler movie.
My point? I can tell you what would happen if I suggested to the group, even at its closest, that we needed to venture into an active volcano to save the world. We would debate the idea, carefully consider it, map out what supplies we’d need if we were going to go through with it, and then maybe, MAYBE scout out the volcano itself, if it wasn’t too much of a drive. Nothing would ever get done. 200 years later, Kary would be vaporizing the human race, and Shaun would utilize Zangief to piledrive my Iceman into oblivion, turn to me, and say, “Heh, remember that time you wanted everyone to go into a volcano?”
Penelo? If Vaan said that it was time to march into the volcano, Penelo would be there with bells on (+2 MDEF against ice). For all the crap that Vaan gets for existing, I can’t be angry because he brings us Penelo, who somehow out selphies Selphie on the “I would do anything for my friends” scale. I am envious of people that have a Penelo in their life, and the people that have the unbridled love to be a Penelo.
And speaking of dedication, there’s Fran. It would be a severe disservice to claim that Fran is simply the Penelo to Balthier’s Vaan. No, Fran is something different, as she didn’t choose someone to follow, she chose an entire life to lead, and Balthier happens to be part of that. Ivalice is crazy political, from the obvious giant kingdoms vying for power, to the comparatively smaller guilds that work as a makeshift (monster) police forces. Fran is a member of Team Balthier, membership: two, and chose a life of free wheeling sky piratry versus the secluded bunny pastures of her people. Like Tifa or Lulu, she could easily lounge around, fearing nothing but wabbit season in her enchanted glen, but she chose a completely different and overtly dangerous lifestyle. Yes, she does get to hang out with the most interesting man in all of Ivalice, but that seems to be a bonus that only shines through in various pieces of art, and not her aim.
Finally, we have Final Fantasy 13, which is such a crazy estrogen fountain, I’m surprised MRAs haven’t been swarming over it for years. Right off the bat, the grand, human tragedy of the entire Final Fantasy 13 trilogy is that two sisters want to be with each other. It takes one thousand years and the destruction of an entire planet and the majority of space and time, but the underlying, human conflict is simply two sisters who care for each other. And back in simple Final Fantasy 13-1, the world is literally stopped from crashing into oblivion by either the familial or romantic love between two other women. Of the “men”, Hope is a child and part of his moral is that it’s okay to be a child and be upset when your mom dies. Snow is the pinnacle of machismo, and he’s practically a walking joke inside and out of combat (“Stand stiller! Good!”). Sazh is the only “man” that isn’t terrible, and he’s a struggling single dad just trying to be a decent father, which isn’t exactly the male ideal in most fantasy media. But we’re not here to talk about the men, we’re here to talk about the part of the cast that isn’t dreadful.
Lightning I shouldn’t have to get into. She’s pretty much the poster-child for strong female character for the PS3/360 generation, but I can’t stop typing, presumably because of that evil witch I ran over earlier (I am not so good at parallel parking), so let’s focus on one aspect of Lightning: She’s named Lightning. People call her “Light” for short. It is absurd. One day, Lightning decided that, like moms, she was going to become tough to protect her sister and keep her family together, so she got everyone to start calling her Lightning, presumably because she read a bunch of Thunderbolts comics a while back. Despite the fact that this is the kind of name you come up with because it’s really easy to sign your name with a zigzag and it’s totally going to impress all the other freshman, everyone goes along with it. Obviously, Serah (oh, like Princess Sara? I just got that) knows Lightning’s real name, Snow probably does, and her CO Lt. Amodar would know it as well, but no one calls her by her “real” name. Eventually Lightning winds up working for the literal gods of the universe, and they all call her Lightning as well. Who calls her by her given name, though? The villain of FF13, Barthandelus, in an effort to shake Lightning’s confidence, calls her by her “old” name. It’s appalling, because it’s an attack not on Lightning’s HP, but her very self. Lightning made herself the strong woman she is by the time of Final Fantasy 13, and her fear lies in losing the identity she has crafted and strengthened.
And speaking of identities, we have Oerba Dia Vanille. Full confession? I love Vanille. Vanille may be the first actual teenager to appear in the franchise. As you may have guessed by reading this word vomit you’re wading through, I spend way too much of my time thinking about Final Fantasy games, and have since Nintendo Power #30 or so. Needless to say, by Final Fantasy 13, I knew all the tricks, and my brain had reached that overly critical stage that does not allow me to enjoy anything. Oh, look, a character has appeared on screen, HOW DOES THIS APPLY TO DADIST PRINCIPLES AND/OR CAMPBELL’S HERO’S JOURNEY? Ugh, it makes it hard to get out of bed in the morning. So, from the moment everyone in FF13 became a l’Cie, I took a careful inventory of the party and their brands, considered which character could potentially be hiding said brand from a physical and narrative perspective, and immediately deduced Vanille was a big fat liar and had been a l’Cie from moment one, and, there we go, found our Kain Highwind for the story, nailed it, now I can get back to overanalyzing Snow’s coat size or something equally stupid.
But Vanille is no Kain. Yes, she lied to the party, but why? She lied because she was a prosecuted minority in society (l’Cie) and had, accidently, hurt another member of the party (Sazh and his son). She wasn’t lying because she needed to maintain her secret plan to steal the crystarium at the last moment or some such nonsense, she lied to keep her new friends. She lied because she didn’t want to hurt anyone or be hurt. She lied, in short, because she was human. This is why, despite all the crap heaped on Vanille, I can’t be anything but happy with this very human character, who is flawed in a completely normal way in a completely fantastic circumstance. I can say with almost complete confidence that I will never have to contemplate using a WMD on a rival kingdom, or sacrificing my life to bring a temporary peace to the world, or even what it means to feel love when I’m half fluorescent pink monster; but, on a nigh daily basis, I have to make decisions about whether I’m going to be honest and truthful, even when it hurts someone I care about, or makes them think less of me. And, yeah, Vanille makes the wrong decision in a lot of cases, and she has to deal with the consequences, and that takes a kind of strength you don’t usually see in a series where leveling up is the only way to get past obstacles. Sometimes in the middle of even the greatest fantasy, you need to know there are real humans out there.
Oh, and according to the extra data out there, one time Vanille killed a bear by herself.
And that leaves us with Oerba Yun Fang, Vanille’s other half who is either her lover or metaphorical sister but definitely her best friend. In a weird way, she’s sort of Vanille’s Violent Penelo, in that she will literally destroy the world and everyone in it to be reunited with and protect Vanille. Another character we’d all like to have in our corner when it all gets real; Fang’s dedication to Vanille borders on absurd, but I suppose Vanille is not only her friend, but also the last vestige of her old life from 600 years back, so I’ll let the codependency slide this one time. Fang grows the least out of the FF13 cast, which is a shame, as the story is predominantly a character study, and Fang, as the lone party member that is not right there from the beginning, feels kind of perfunctory to everyone else’s deep seated issues. On the other hand, this paints Fang as the one party member who actually has her ducks in a row, knows what she wants to do, and, when everything goes crazy, she’s got her hand on her spear, reliable, as always. And, oh yeah, would be remiss if I didn’t mention again that her love for Vanille (and Vanille reciprocating) is exactly what saves two worlds, while Snow just stands there, thinking about how much he’s going to makeout with Serah.
Oh yeah, may as well throw Serah in here just to throw off the whole “rule of three” dynamic. Serah, obviously, spends the entirety of Final Fantasy 13 as a literal object to be rescued. Given her chief rescuer is another woman, I’m going to let that slide, particularly in lieu of the fact that she recovers and spends Final Fantasy 13-2 kicking ass and taking names. Seriously, at the top of the game she’s, what, a kindergarten teacher or something, then she gets a magical bow, and she starts felling behemoths with the world’s last monster hunter. She could just sit around telling everyone that her sister survived, but, no, she decides to go off and leap through time to prove it. Of course, she winds up a good 500 years in the future, so everyone she was trying to prove wrong is dead, but, hey, good effort. She even pulls a full-Yuna by being warned that her world saving will lead to her death, saves the world (mostly), and then actually dies. Huh. That sounded more heroic before I typed it all out. Look, it takes five centuries of nigh global misery and upheaval, but she gets better, so it all works out okay in the end.
Which, really, sums it all up. The Women of Final Fantasy are by no means perfect, either from a character or individual perspective, but, overwhelmingly, they work out okay in the end. They’re varied (though there are an overwhelming number of princesses), they’re smart, they’re strong, they’re everything a woman can be (except over 25). From Maria to Serah, the Final Fantasy franchise has created a number of laudable women, and hopefully will continue… in Final Fantasy 16. Come on, guys, Final Fantasy Sweet Sixteen! It writes itself!