When it comes to Final Fantasy, there’s rarely a female character that can be seen as iconic as Cloud, Tidus, Squall, Zidane and Zack. Tifa, Aries and Yuna are strong candidates, but they suffer from the criticisms that have become an ongoing narrative in gaming ethics.
Tifa is somewhat sexualized, Aries gets her glory taken from her in an act of violence, to which she must be avenged by the lead character. Yuna is the object of Tidus’ love; she becomes the object that drives him to make the ultimate sacrifice and become a true hero.
Lightning Farron is the female heroine that has yet to fall victim to these pitfalls, but she remains one of the most under-appreciated main characters in the series. Lightning is never sexualized until her final spin-off game (Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII) and even then it’s by way of novelty and fan service.
Throughout her journey she shows admirable strength and determination while still being able to show just enough emotion to keep her humanized. By the end of the XIII saga, we see the entire world resting on her shoulders, which is a rare responsibility for a sole female heroine in this series.
Could it be that the under-appreciation for Lightning comes from the poor reception of the series that she’s featured in? Is it possible that such an admirable character can be held back by the logistics of the game she’s featured in?
When I visit gaming forums and see topics such as “Why won’t Lightning go away?” I always explore them to see the thought process, and it seems that many feel like the character is being forced upon them. Indeed, perhaps Square-Enix was overly keen on pushing the character, and this hasn’t been helped with her becoming an official Louis Vuitton model.
But that doesn’t mean they did a bad job with her. I still believe this distaste is caused by the lack of admiration for the core games themselves, which is a shame.
I often hold out hope that Square-Enix will find a way to place her in a game where she can get the credit she deserves as a strong female heroine.
I’ve seen many articles listing the best female characters, and Lightning is always omitted. So I decided to come up with this list of reasons that she is one of the best and most overlooked female characters in gaming.
Her growth is inspiring
Lightning starts off wanting to protect her only family, Serah. She has no other concern and is willing to leave others behind if they can’t keep up with her. It’s easy to see these actions as selfish when there is a greater crisis going on in the world, especially because she holds hatred for Serah’s fiancé Snow Villers for failing to protect her.
Eventually, after she travels with Hope, she begins to open up and realize the error in her outlook. She begins to consider the thoughts and feelings of others instead of being so consumed by her own problems. She realizes that if she solves the greater problem she can also save her sister, Serah.
This growth is inspiring because it’s easy to get absorbed by our own lives and forget that there are ways to improve the world for those around us.
Love for her family
Let’s go back to Lightning’s desire to protect Serah. Serah is the only family Lightning has left after losing both parents. She’s had to look after her younger sister and she matured earlier as a result. Now, Lightning is unable to rest unless she knows her sister is alright. In an age where people have become secluded and absorbed in their own concerns, it’s refreshing to see such a genuine bond between two sisters. They could have easily used a romantic plot device to tie Lightning to this story, but going with the desire to protect her family is something that everybody should be able to understand.
She wields a sword
Swords represent true power; and even just the visual of wielding a sword gives a character instant validation. Sure, we’ve seen a few females wield swords before. But Lightning wields swords convincingly throughout the Final Fantasy XIII saga. She starts off with her trusty gun-blade but in FFXIII-2 when the stakes are raised, we see her take on a sword and shield for her ongoing battle in Valhalla. Her new weapon set signifies the importance of her new responsibility to defend the throne of the weakened god Etro. In Lightning Returns the variety of swords is expanded ensuring that she lives up to her reputation as the savior.
Her fear of failure is relatable
Lightning comes off as cold and standoff-ish in Final Fantasy XIII, but it’s not always on purpose. The reason Lightning is dismissive towards others who need help is because she fears not being able to save everybody. She fears having the responsibility of saving the world because if she fails then it’s all on her shoulders. This is a relatable theme in life, we get so worried about failing that we neglect to take risks and rise to the occasion. Seeing Lightning overcome this fear shows the strength in her character later on in the XII saga, especially in Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII.
She’s not overly-sexualized
Considering Final Fantasy XIII is a Japanese made title and the culture difference usually allows for more sexualized character models, Lightning is surprisingly undersexualized in FFXIII and FFXIII-2. In both games she sports a combat ready look that makes her look as practical as her male counterparts.
In Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII however, the developers went for more of a fan-service approach, allowing players to switch up Lightning’s costumes for new stats and abilities. As you can imagine, some of these costumes are risqué, but I still feel as though they’re not as sexualizing as some of the female characters we see in other games. Plus, even with the costume changes Lightning maintains the same personality traits we see all through the series and you could even argue that Lightning Returns is the peak of her character.
She holds onto her human qualities even after being turned into a monster
In Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII Lightning is awakened from her eternal sleep to become the savior and preserve as many souls as possible due to the world being set to end in thirteen days. Lightning is granted new powers that make her no longer human.
It’s astounding that although she is no longer completely human, she manages to retain her previous human qualities and persuade her former friends that they have fallen from grace. She allows these people who are still human to see the error in their ways and show the compassion that they threw away so long ago.
It’s this humanity that’s still left inside of her that allows Lightning to put things right.
She doesn’t need to be rescued
When it comes to women, being saved by a handsome hero is a common trope in all forms of storytelling. But Lightning rarely ever needs to be saved, and when she does, it’s her sister Serah who wants to return the favor. Lightning can look after herself quite fine.
I hope you agree with the list and I hope I’ve helped at least a few more people understand just how important a character Lightning is when it comes to female representations in Video Gaming. Also with it being International Women’s Day I wanted to honor my favorite female character. The entire Final Fantasy XIII saga is now on PC and I recommend everyone check them out with an open mind.