Let's discuss Avengers: Infinity War -- a movie BOUND to make you feel so good!

April 24, 2012

Final Fantasy XIII: Target’s a Target (Part 3)

I hope you’ll forgive me for bringing the FF13 hate train back to the station so late.  As you’re no doubt aware, I had to make a brief stop at Birth by Sleep Junction.  I’ll return there soon enough, but I figure I should take this one step at a time.

It’s the only way to keep my blood pressure down.  It’s a hereditary thing -- stories that irritate the hell out of me shorten my life span by several years.  Given that, I’d wager I only have six minutes left to live.  So I’m going to make them count.  It’s time to discuss one of 13’s most divisive characters. 

And who knows?  In my discussion, I just might find something to make me feel better -- something to boost my lifespan, like some holy elixir of li-

Undisputed Duchess of Suggestive Themes and Wasted Potential: Vanille

"I'm not all smiles and sunshine!" --The last words most men ever hear before being committed.

Several eons ago, I made a joke about the characters in FF13 being like the extreme ends of the tint measure on a TV.  It was a way to suggest that Lightning’s character was far too extreme in one direction -- so tinted that she hardly seemed real.  Vanille has the exact same problem, albeit in the opposite direction.  All of Lightning’s surliness and stoicism is matched, point-for-point, by Vanille’s almost-cartoonish silliness and sunshine.  (It’s especially apt when you realize Lightning’s primary color in the game is red/pink, and Vanille’s primary color is green.)  As a Zero Punctuation review suggested, her kookiness is ratcheted up so high she becomes a sort of singularity.  On that note, I agree.

I know that it’s important to have a light-hearted character thrown into the mix to keep things from getting too dreary, but Vanille is just plain ridiculous.  She skips and giggles her way through too many scenes for comfort.  Rather than easing into a more lighthearted moment, Vanille takes a smiley-faced sledgehammer to any given scene’s tone and shatters it into a million sticker-covered pieces.  And yet, in spite of her best efforts, the game is still a miserable and dreary affair overall.  It certainly doesn’t help that her attempts at injecting levity are undercut by her grim, foreboding voice-overs.   I’m willing to buy that a character that’s sunny on the outside can be deeper and darker -- wearing a mask, so to speak.  But you can’t have a character that acts like Vanille and uses a weapon that throws out a bunch of fishing lines and expect me to take her seriously.  Nor can you make a character believably deep and grim when she spends so much time acting like an idiot. 

Getting forcibly quarantined and deported puts a smile on my face, too.

I’m not the first to note this, but I’m also one of many people who…well, took notice of Vanille’s…let’s call it portrayal.  Supposedly, the voice actor for the English version of the game was told to sound rather “pleasured” in battle.  Yes, yes, I know it’s standard for Final Fantasy games to have one party member play to boys’ trousers, but that element just doesn’t mesh when you’re trying to tell a serious story.  It certainly doesn’t help that you go through painstaking means to paint Vanille -- who I still can’t believe is of age -- as the team’s requisite sexy-sexy time girl.  From putting her plot-relevant brand on her upper thigh (necessitating a very-near-upskirt shot), to having her straddle her summon, to having her appear in the nude in a certain cutscene…in earlier Final Fantasy games they could have gotten away with it because of the underpowered graphics, as well as the (generally) more lighthearted tone.  That doesn’t work here.  The sound and graphics and camerawork worth millions of dollars hide nothing, and leave nothing implicit.  If you intend to have a character sound sexual, then they’re going to sound sexual to gamers’ ears.  No blue text boxes to demand a player’s imagination (or lack thereof); they’ll know, and think lesser of you for your pandering.

Again, they're standing outside a flying airship.

“Vanille is an endearing young woman with a relentlessly sunny disposition. Her bright personality gives no hint of the dark resolve that lies within.”

Yeah, how about no?  I’ll give Squeenix the “relentlessly sunny disposition” bit, but “gives no hint of the dark resolve that lies within”?  Wha…?

When I think of resolve, I think of the dictionary definition: steadfast purpose.  Freedom from doubt or wavering.  Synonyms: decidedness, determination, firmness, purposefulness, resolution.  Those words have fuck-all to do with Vanille.  Once again, it’s a case of the manual’s description having no bearing or understanding of its own characters (and the less said about “endearing” the better).  Vanille’s story arc REVOLVES around her being full of doubt and wavering.  Past events led her to bail out of her mission at the last second, and she’s rendered guilty and indecisive for what follows.  The fal’Cie decide to put Vanille through her paces again (even after she failed five hundred years earlier -- just more proof that the gods of this universe are idiots and their system is ass-backwards), and she sets a number of plot points into motion by…er…randomly stumbling through the world?  Whatever, what’s important is that she feels super-bad about everything that happens, but when it comes to admitting her faults and mistakes she’s not quite so adept.  Does she admit to one of the party members -- the father of a boy whose life she thinks she’s ruined -- that it’s all her fault?  Does she reveal her true identity, her home, and everything about her?  It’s enough to tear her up inside…and bore the player. 

Vanille’s voice-overs throughout the game are problematic, in my opinion.  What do they add to the story?  Telling you that “something bad’s gonna happen, guys” or “we’re in deep, and we’re losing hope” or “I’m not really what I seem.”  Is there really no better way to convey those things?  Can you not integrate cheer and worry, Squeenix writers?  Can you not create a smooth transition between one mood and another?  Can you make it so that a character has more settings than aggressively chipper and obnoxiously mopey?  Can you make it so that the character tailor-made to brighten up a “dark” game actually does so?  Do you know how badly you have to fuck up to make me think THIS is a more believable character?

Endearing.  Endearing.    I don’t think you guys know what that word means. 

Much like Snow, her Eidolon fight comes with its issues.  As you know, Eidolons appear when a character’s under some emotional stress to push them towards finishing the mission.  Beat them, and you gain their power as your own.  Lose, and you’re dead.  Vanille’s crisis is triggered by Fang deciding that she’s had enough of Vanille’s lies.  She calls her out with a bluff, hoping to get a confession out of her (namely, the truth about what happened in the past); what she finds instead is a boss battle against a monster with about a hundred arms.  I find it hard to believe that even at such a late stage in the game, I still felt so disconnected to these people’s problems -- that it was melodrama for melodrama’s sake.  Also, why is this the moment where Vanille goes berserk?  Shouldn’t it have been the moment where she reveals the truth (or some semblance of it) to Sazh?  Hasn’t she broken down in tears several times beforehand?  Why not have it then, instead of shoved in when she hasn’t dealt with the issue in several gameplay hours?  Why is this a key part of her story arc?  Why do these story arcs feel never-ending and all-consuming, yet empty as a box of donuts at a police station?

So at this point, I’m starting to wonder if Square-Enix knows how to write female characters (or any character, arguably).  Or if not a blanket generalization like all Squeenix writers are idiots, then at least the guys behind FF13.  Let’s check the scorecard: one of them has as much charm as a dinner plate covered in nails.  Another one is an improbably buxom man whose defining characteristics are “sarcastic” and “having an Australian accent.”  And now we have Vanille, who’s sugary enough to cause diabetes on a scale that surpasses the bubonic plague.  And just in case there’s any suspicion that I’m picking on the girls, don’t; need I remind you that Snow’s disappointing too, and I haven’t even gotten to Hope. 

But you know what?  You know what’s really, really sad?  I can’t help but think that Vanille could have been a competent character.  More than that; she could have been THE main character, something that the game could have desperately used.

To say that 13 is pretty disjointed would be clubbing a zombie of a horse with a nail bat.  At the start, the characters are barely able to cooperate in spite of forcibly being brought together.  That’s not something inherently awful, but it’s not handled particularly well in the game (it doesn’t help that they split up fairly early and spend hours apart -- and again, Fang is separate from too much for my comfort).  What the game needed was a unifying force -- someone to bring them together besides the writers and the need to have a decent-sized party.  And I’d argue that that could have been Vanille.

 "Don't worry.  I'll make you suck less..."

Not in her current state, of course.  She’d need work.  Toned-down kookiness, and not nearly so much angst.  If used properly, she could have been the unifying force that brought the party together, and given players a platform to identify with -- she could have been a proof of a premise, and a reason to fight against the forces of evil.    Her cheer and optimism could have been used to combat the dreariness of the game.  She could have a beacon of hope.  And most of all, she could have taken the insidious six and made them a cohesive team more naturally -- not just because the end of the game is coming, or because the writers said so.

Vanille’s compassionate.  Caring.  Whenever someone’s being a sad-sack (besides herself), she’s always the first to say “cheer up!”  Her warmth could have earned the respect of her forced comrades -- and beyond that, she could have proven herself in a critical juncture to cement her role.  I’d argue that she should have been the game’s “leader” instead of Lightning because of it; it’s easier to identify with someone nice instead of someone whose saving grace is her ability to do flip-de-loops.  And also, if Vanille was given a bigger role, then that would elevate Fang as well.

Handled deftly, we could have (should have) gotten a better sense of what life was like in Gran Pulse.  While I suppose the game gave an explanation as to why Pulse was so awful and Cocoon was so awesome -- outside of those miserable datalogs, I hope -- there’s a difference between being told something and being shown something.    You see it.  You feel it.  You understand the impact, because you experience it for yourself.  It would certainly help cut back on the insane number of flashbacks in the game, as well as provide some narrative focus.  Why tell six half-assed stories when you can tell two fleshed-out stories?  Why deny us of a living world?  You’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain. 

It would be a great way to make Fang more distinct -- even if it means playing up that “relationship” of theirs.  You know what I’m talking about.  I won’t go into any of the details and ask for anything too demanding, because I suspect I lack the tact necessary.  But in the hands of brave and learned writers, it could have been a relationship that made waves throughout the industry.  In the same sense that Gears of War played up its “brothers to the end” motif, 13 could have gone to town and made a definitive statement.  Two women -- sisters, if you will -- stomping through the country and kicking ass…or, alternatively, having their story take priority over everything else.  Supposedly there are expanded universe materials that do so, but I’d argue that you should tell a complete story in your medium’s narrative before saying “by the way, if you want the FULL details, go buy this!”

There are a lot of things that Vanille could have been used for, just like with any of the other characters.  But instead of getting the most out of her, Squeenix opted to take the easy way out.  They just made another cute and bubbly girl -- or woman, given her “passionate tendencies” -- and contradicted her basic archetype by weighing her down with angst that was neither necessary nor enjoyable.  Sigh…add another tally onto Final Fantasy XIII’s long, long, long list of failures.

Rule #1 of the internet: always run a gag into the ground.

Whew.  That’s another one down.  What’s next, then?  Who knows?  I suppose I’ll go with wherever the wind takes me…assuming that Birth by Sleep doesn’t continue to disappoint.  Or maybe I'll put up a special project -- one that'll have you feeling the looooooooooooooove...

No comments:

Post a Comment