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January 10, 2014

As Black as Lightning (Part 3 -- FINALE)

(Cross-Up is still on hiatus, but don't worry -- it'll be back before the end of the month, maybe!  In the meantime, have one more irreverent and overzealous post on a certain magical video game!  Because that's what you're here for, right?  Not the sauerkraut jokes?)

If for some silly reason you’re just joining me here for this FFXIII miniseries (here’s part 1, and here’s part 2), let me give you another primer.  The thrust of my argument is that Lightning Farron, lead character of this so-called Lightning Saga and Square-Enix’s current golden girl, is actually the villain of her games…and as of the last post, you can add “insane” to her name.  If only by accident -- or sheer writing incompetence, if you prefer.

I’d like to think that this trend is going to continue, and get even worse, with Lightning Returns.  It’s easy to shrug off the game as having a garbage story and just enjoying the gameplay -- but that really is a disservice to everyone involved.  If a game is going to tell a story, especially if it’s part of a genre half-built on telling stories, then the quality of the game CAN’T be divorced from the quality of its story.  The technique has to be judged, as do its particulars; ideas, themes, and especially characters have to be taken in wholesale.  And that includes the sequel nobody begged for…to another sequel nobody begged for.

It’s hard to get a full understanding of the story without playing all of Lightning Returns, but with the release date lurching ever closer (God help us all), I think there are just enough details for me to make a few claims.  Obviously, all of this is going to be up for interpretation, so feel free to disagree with me.  I’ll welcome dissent, even if I don’t exactly have a good counterargument.  One man’s villain is another man’s hero, after all.    

So let’s get started.  But before I begin, let’s step back for a moment.  A long moment.

Spoilers for FFXIII and XIII-2 -- and potentially Lightning Returns -- incoming.  I would probably not even read this post if I was you.  Or…you know, if I was smart.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that technically, I haven’t finished a game in this so-called Lightning Saga yet.  That’s not to say that I haven’t played them -- on the contrary, I’ve done so extensively (against my better judgment, because I’m dumb).  I made it to the last boss of the first game, but threw in the towel when his instant-death move randomly killed off the party leader for the twentieth time, and running back to get the one item I needed to protect myself would have not only taken time I didn’t care to spend, but would require me to once again negate a good twenty minutes of whittling down his forms’ millions of HP.  I guess I made it through two-thirds of the second game, but once I realized that the number of significant events could almost be counted on one hand AND the game expected me to go on a reality-spanning fetch quest, I threw aside the controller, popped out the disc, and never played it again.

But for whatever (dumb) reason, I decided to watch whatever I couldn’t earn myself; I sat behind my brother and watched as he cleared vanilla XIII, and the two of us did our best to understand exactly what had just happened in its ending.  I took to YouTube and watched -- well, mostly listened to an LP by a couple of guys named Pork Lift and Wateyad.  They cleared the original game even if they’d long since stopped enjoying it, but couldn’t bring themselves to make it to XIII-2’s halfway point thanks to the “If you change the future, you change the past” line.  I can’t say I blame them.  So I had to switch to the LP done by Kung Fu Jesus and his posse.  And for whatever (dumb) reason they decided to go for 100% completion…with their reward being Caius stating that everything they did was pointless.

It goes without saying, then, that I refused to pay good money for the DLC (or even XIII-2, given that my brother grabbed a used copy while I got the splendid Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction).  But I have seen it play out.  And in a lot of ways -- almost too many to list -- it helps unravel the story, the game, and Lightning’s character even further, doing so in such a comprehensive sweep it’s almost praise-worthy.  If my understanding of the DLC -- and the story at large -- is right, then it means that Lightning not only single-handedly ensured that time and space would effectively collapse, but that she would rather entomb herself instead of taking responsibility and helping out the people now doomed to suffer for ages.  All because of some sort of “atonement.”

Given what I’ve said about Lightning before, you would think that she wouldn’t even begin to understand the concept of atonement. She certainly doesn’t understand the concept of suicide, given that she’s still alive in her crystal shell and waiting for some other god to sort things out.  But the DLC shows that she’s more than willing to engage in self-punishment to make up for her past crimes.  She even has a minutes-long monologue where she spins through space, lamenting what she’s done in the past and deciding that she needs to make up for it.  It’s enough to shut down a huge chunk of my argument.  Maybe Lightning is capable of growth and development.  Maybe she sees the world in more rounded terms than just the standard black and white.  Maybe she cares about Serah on a genuine level, and she actually didn’t mean to push her into the fray…twice.  Maybe.  Maybe.

But I doubt it.  Because I don’t believe that spiel for a second.


Where did that characterization come from?  Not from vanilla XIII, that’s for sure.  One of the few -- and maybe only -- times Lightning gets slowed down and questions herself is with the previously-mentioned “we’re like pets” scene, and that that only established A) revelations only affect Lightning if they’re directly related to Lightning, and B) even a basic concept -- one triggered by the random words of a fourteen-year-old -- is enough to leave a grown woman breathlessly saying “I’ve been so blind.”  The world at large and the people in it are just concepts to her, not things that need to be observed and protected. Even as a member of the Guardian Corps, I’d wager that the people she was supposed to protect and serve were only pieces of her objective.  Objects, and nothing more.

Lightning doesn’t strike me as the sort of person that would suddenly have an epiphany, especially three years after the fact.  It’s possible that her character development (such as it is) from soldier to goddess happened off-camera, or perhaps by gaining access to a view of all of history she could reflect on her past actions.  But I have my doubts.  In a lot of ways, it comes off as Squeenix deciding to saddle their golden girl with angst -- which I’d assume is the single strategy listed in their playbook as of late.  It’s an insincere effort at adding depth to a character that isn’t even in five percent of a game with her face plastered on the cover; as a result, it makes the character herself seem insincere.  She’s lying to us, and she’s lying to herself…and that just invites a whole new set of problems.

So here’s a question for you: what if Lightning is actually a psychopath?

Now hear me out on this.  Obviously, I’m not much of an expert in the way of psychology.  Throwing out a term like “psychopath” (or would it be sociopath?) and trying to ascribe it to someone without the proper steps taken seems like a quick way to invite ridicule.  That said, let’s entertain the thought for a bit.  Let’s pretend like all I need to make a diagnosis is reading off a list from Wikipedia.  How does Lightning stack up?  Well, let’s see for ourselves, based on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist.

--Glibness/superficial charm
Lightning wouldn’t be on the cover of two, probably three boxes if she didn’t have that standard-fare Squeenix beauty, so it’s likely that that transfers into the game, even if it’s just a tiny bit.  I wouldn’t say she’s charismatic in a conventional sense, but her tough, no-nonsense attitude has won her fans within and outside the game...even if it is less-than-ideal.  Further, Robert D. Hare once said that "Psychopathic charm is not in the least shy, self-conscious, or afraid to say anything."  Sound familiar?

--Grandiose sense of self-worth
If we interpret Lightning’s need for survival to be a measure of how much she values her own life above others, then I’d say there’s at least a vague connection between the two.  She’s right, and everyone else is wrong; she’s in the white, and those that oppose her are in the black.

--Pathological lying
Thinking back to vanilla XIII, I have to wonder why, exactly, Lightning didn’t just explain to Sazh “her angle”.  If she had just said “I want to save my sister”, it probably would have helped build rapport from the get-go.  Indeed, Sazh notes that Lightning probably wants to be near her crystallized sister, even if the lady herself refuses to acknowledge it…meaning that she’s likely lying to herself.  That sounds like a consistent part of her character, given her space-angsting in the sequel’s DLC.

I don’t know what Lightning did to Serah to make her cling so tightly to her ankle, but from my perspective it’s almost as if she’s conditioned her little sister to come running whenever she says her name.  Then again, it could all be a part of my “Lightning altered everyone’s memories” theory, so…yeah.  Not a pretty image.

--Lack of remorse or guilt
Do I really need to say anything here at this point?

--Shallow affect (genuine emotion is short-lived and egocentric)
According to the Saga’s masterminds, the driving force behind the sequel was the question “Is Lightning truly happy?”  Said question was answered at the end of vanilla XIII, where we see Lightning make her first real smile over the course of some fifty hours at the sight of her revived sister.  That’s HER revived sister, by the way.  I wonder if she has any emotion to spare for the millions of people killed by the physics of Cocoon’s fall…or the incalculable number of people suffering at the malicious fingers of chaos scraping across time.

--Callousness; lack of empathy
Guess I just answered my own question.

--Failure to accept responsibility for his or her own actions
You know, I would have expected Hope to harp on Snow a lot, because the big guy (indirectly) caused the death of his mother.  But I would have expected Lightning to refrain from joining in; instead, she’s just as quick to complain about everything he’s done wrong, even though she whacked a fal’Cie’s shell with her sword, and that probably isn’t the brightest idea she’s ever had.  I suspect she’s only sorry when it involves her prized pig Serah coming in harm’s way, if that.  Otherwise, she could care less about her actions.  Also, she spends a bare minimum of three years in another dimension living out her Bleach fanfic without even trying to communicate with Serah, so what does that tell you?

--Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
Here’s some rare early concept art I found of Lightning before her Squeenix beautification.

--Parasitic lifestyle
It’s hard to say what Lightning’s living conditions are like (just how well does the life of a soldier pay?  Is she living with Serah or not?), but if nothing else she needs Serah to fulfill a conceptual desire.  She needs to feed off of her sister to get something that a sword fight wouldn’t allow.  Even as a goddess, she has to drag Serah to her side.

--Poor behavioral control
When in doubt, punch Snow!  (Or alternatively, slap Fang.)

--Lack of realistic long-term goals
Again, I have to ask -- what are Lightning’s hopes and dreams that are so precious to her?  The story proper doesn’t have any answers, and she flat out admits several points that she doesn’t have a plan.  I don’t know about you, but I would at least field an unrealistic goal.  It’s better than no goal, at least. 

I don’t think I need to put anything here.

…Or here.

--Juvenile delinquency.
…Or -- oh wait, there’s nothing in the game to trip this one.  Cool!  Unless there’s a novel in Japan that mentions something, or the in-game datalogs that about eight people in the world ever bothered with.  But those don’t count, so let’s move on.

--Early behavior problems
Again, it’s hard to know anything conclusive here for sure.  Then again, considering that she felt like she had to throw away her name, her past, and her emotions to protect Serah…

--Revocation of conditional release
Doubt there’s any data here, so let’s move on.

--Criminal versatility
Well, she IS a goddess now, so I’d assume that “versatility” entails the ability to super-duper destroy anything that looks at her funny.

So.  Out of eighteen items, a bare-bones analysis of Lightning suggests that she trips about fifteen of them.  Well, technically there are a couple of others, but given that they deal with her sexual promiscuity I think it’s safe to leave them off.  (I’ll leave the imagining to the shippers around the internet.)  But still, those are a lot of worrisome traits, especially when they’re back-to-back-to-back.  And remember, this character is ostensibly supposed to be the games’ heroine -- the one champion who exists to evolve into an enlightened form, defeat the ultimate evils of the world, and ensure that the people can live merry lives unabated. 

And had the Saga ended with the original game -- as it should have -- then it would have at least helped out the canon.  I am 100% convinced that if not for Lightning, the canon would never have entered such dire straits in the first place.  Arguably, there might not have been a canon, period.  She may have a pretty face, but underneath that feathered hair and svelte form is the mind of a callous brute -- a brute that may very well refuse to acknowledge that she’s not as pure as she thinks she is.

And it only gets worse from here.

Here’s what I know about the story of the game so far.  Centuries after the events of XIII-2, chaos has taken root in the world, and time itself has…well, let’s call it “fractured” for now.  Those that were alive at the end of the game live on seemingly forever, while those that died (Serah) remain dead.  But with the announcement of the world coming to an end in thirteen days, Lightning is awakened from her crystal slumber and sent in to sort it all out.  Imbued with new powers by the god Bhundilv…Brunhiliv…Buns, Lightning -- now reported to be “stronger than ever” -- heads off to put an end to this mess before the mess ends her. 

I could point out a number of problems based on that paragraph alone -- why does a goddess need even more power, why are there “days” if time doesn’t exist anymore, why didn’t the god Buns do something to sort the mess out from the start, or at the very least not wait half a millennia -- but again, until the game hits store shelves and I have a chance to not play it (thank you, LP Archive) it’s hard to pass judgment on an incomplete and largely-unrevealed product.  What I CAN pass judgment on is this picture, and the caption within it.

No, Lightning.  NO.

Apparently in the centuries since the start of vanilla XIII, Lightning has not only failed to learn anything, and not only completely missed the point of her plight, but is almost gleefully moving back into the same mental and emotional rut as before.  Like the NES games of old, Serah is nothing more than a prize to be won, a trinket that signals a victory state in Lightning’s increasingly-warped mind.  “If I save Serah, I’ll be complete again,” she might think.  On the surface level, at least; in reality, her thoughts are something along the lines of “If I save Serah, I’ll be her hero.”  Or “If I save Serah, I’ll have Serah by my side.”

As you can guess, I’m not wholly convinced that Lightning is quite in this for altruistic purposes.  Oh, sure, she might beat the bad guy du jour (Caius?  This new girl, Lumina?  Etro?  Hope?), but I suspect that it’ll just be something on her way to a newfound life as a super-duper goddess -- and I swear, if they go for the “I must sacrifice myself, for I am the messiah” route, I’m going to…be a little miffed.  Because wouldn’t that be the perfect out for her?  Rather than make up for the problems she caused, she’s going to go out in a blaze of glory, choosing to die instead of lending Serah a hand, or even entertaining the idea of life in a ruined/revived world.

But I guess it doesn’t matter.  Because as far as I’m concerned, the game should be called Lightning’s Vacation: Final Fantasy XIII.

Four reasons for this one.  Reason one: Lightning gets to go gallivanting across a new world with several distinct areas and styles, even though Cocoon/Pulse at large have barely been explored or defined.  (Seriously, if anyone can draw me a map of two locations in Cocoon in relation to one another without just showing off a connected tube, I’ll praise them as my new lord and master.) 

I have a hard time believing she has any attachment to the world she helped save, and even with this new game I suspect she doesn’t have much of an attachment to anything she might come across; even if XIII had its flaws, the fact that Vanille reacted to -- or over-reacted to -- the sights is vastly preferable to a character that just stared blankly at the million-dollar visuals.  In any case, Lightning probably just needs a change of pace, even if she doesn’t necessarily have any reason to be excited about this new world as opposed to the old one.

Reason two: Lightning gets to relieve her “stress” by doing the one thing she’s always wanted: kill Snow.  What sounds like the key thrust of a bad fanfic actually appears to be a plot point in this game; the two characters engage in a grudge match that has technically been one-sided since its inception.  Moreover, Lightning gets to fight Noel, who doesn’t really have any reason to fight her besides some newly-minted “prophecy”, but she has every reason to fight him on the grounds that he -- and clearly not she -- was responsible for Serah’s death.  And of course, Caius will probably get his turn at bat, so revenge (such as it is) can be exacted. 

Lightning seems to be systematically working her way from one cast member to the next, to the point where I wouldn’t be surprised if she took a few swings at Sazh because he broke her ridiculously fragile anti-gravity device.  I’d say it’s a means of catharsis, a way to strike at the only people that have even tried to matter to her; if it’s really impossible for anyone to die in this new world, then the consequences are removed…though that just means Lightning can fight and arguably torture her foes to her heart’s content.  They’re battles that are meaningless, yet have a personal meaning -- now Lightning can cut at the ties at bind, severing one connection to her worthless past and more worthless friends.

Barring that, there’s always the Last One mechanic.  Which, apparently, revolves around and rewards HUNTING MONSTERS -- WHICH MAY BE THE WILDLIFE ITSELF -- TO EXTINCTION.

Squeenix, I know I’m just playing around with this miniseries, but you’re making it way too easy for me.

Reason three (and this is a big one, given the news making the rounds): vanity.  Much has been made of the staggering number of costumes revealed, no doubt with plenty more to unlock in the game proper.  Admittedly, some of them do look pretty cool; others…don’t.  And then you hear about Lightning getting a cat girl costume, or a bunny girl outfit, and of course the whole “bigger breasts” demand of the director.  To say nothing of putting Lightning in costumes designed for characters -- Yuna and Aerith, as far as I know for now -- who are not only diametrically opposed to her in personality, but also ill-dressed to do the sorts of acrobatic moves Lightning is famous for…unless they plan to make those forms limited in movement, but that doesn’t exactly seem like a fun route for the player. 

I know it’s a little futile to talk about reasonable clothing in a Final Fantasy game, but they really are an important aspect of a character.  (Street Fighter’s world warriors dress the way they do for unspoken but understood reasons -- except Cammy, unless she’s just immensely proud of her backside.)  I agree with the sentiment that most of the clothes Lightning decides to don don’t fit her personality -- at all -- but maybe during this little vacation she wants to be free to explore the possibilities.  Maybe she wants to look good, and feel like she looks good.  She’s been aware of her power for years, but now she wants to explore and accentuate her beauty -- to the point where she’d willingly do inappropriately-naughty poses.  Gotta justify that grandiose sense of self-worth somehow.

Reason four is on some pretty shaky ground, but hear me out here.  Maybe Lightning’s vacation isn’t much of a vacation at all.  Maybe it’s all just a dream -- she’s still in her crystal cocoon, preserving the memory of Serah and junk.  And everything that happens in the game is either the product of her slumbering state, or the majority of it happens while she’s asleep, only for her to wake up at the fifteen-hour mark as per some sort of plot twist.  That’s not exactly the most likely outcome, of course.  Even I don’t really buy into it (since I’ve never put much stock into things like the “Alfred’s hallucination” theory of The Dark Knight Rises). 

That said, it’d almost make too much sense.  A grim, grisly world with the threat of death hanging over all, and the only one who can save the day from the black is the last embodiment of whiteness -- Lightning, the “warrior goddess”, doing what no one else can or will.  She’s quite literally, according to trailers, taking on the title of “Savior”.  Her vacation is, once again, her fantasy.  A new fantasy, but one that’s in line with her desires.

There’s no telling how this story -- this Saga -- is going to end.  I’d like to think that I’m patient enough and forgiving enough to give anything a fair shake.  That said, I have a low tolerance for entertainment that fails to entertain, be it bland, clichéd, uninspiring, or even fundamentally broken.  And indeed, this Saga is fundamentally broken to me.  However it ends, there is no way it can satisfy me the way it needs to.  Squeenix won’t let it.  Lightning herself won’t let it.  The gods are on her side, and any attempts to fix the canon are going to come off as token at best or offensive at worst.  

I said earlier that I’d be mad if Lightning Returns took the heroic sacrifice route, and I meant it.  Part of that is because I’ve never cared for the trope in the first place; even if we never see the outcome by way of the story ending, the threads left hanging by the now-dead hero leave tons of missed opportunities.  And more often than not, it comes off as a cheap way to tell an audience “This is the ultimate hero, because he/she gave up living for the sake of others.”  I don’t agree; the ultimate hero would be one that overcomes the odds without giving up their life, and make it back to repair or change the world ravaged by the baddies.  But I can’t shake the feeling that that’s exactly what Lightning WON’T do at the end of this final game.

She’s never cared about her world.  She’s never cared about the people in it.  She’s never cared about the people around her.  She’s never cared about rules, or morals, or even reason.  She’s just in it for herself, and her rules.  Every word that comes out of her mouth that suggests otherwise is a bold-faced lie.  I know it, you know it, and she knows it.  There’s no sincerity to her words, but she says them anyway. 

So when she says “I might not even be human anymore”, or something to that effect in a trailer, it telegraphs one of two outcomes: A) she’s going to give up her powers at the very end to reunite with her “friends”, or B) she’s going to sacrifice herself -- either by going out in a blaze of glory, or by ascending to true godhood and separating herself from the others permanently.  My money’s on B, because why would she do anything else?  Why would she care about a world she tangentially acknowledges and actively wrecks?  Why would she want to be remembered as anything besides “the warrior goddess who saved the world from chaos”?  Why would she bother with anything beyond absolutes -- beyond her forceful defining of what’s black and what’s white?  Why would she care about reality when she has her fantasy -- and a fantasy she’ll use to crush all opposition?

Why Lightning?  Or to be more precise, why, Lightning?

It’s very likely that I’m wrong here.  Almost a given.  What I’ve put up here is little more than an interpretation of a character I’m on record of saying is the WORST character I’ve ever seen in a video game.  She’s at the top of a list that includes DmC’s Donte, Birth by Sleep’s Terra, Halo’s Master Chief, and Tales of the Abyss’ Ion.  (And that list is probably even longer; if I could remember a blasted thing from Gears of War besides a few “choice” cutscenes, I’d immediately add Marcus Fenix just under Tekken 6’s Lars Alexandersson.  Because I really hate Lars.) 

Obviously, I have some extreme bias towards Lightning and her games.  Obviously.  I wouldn’t have done as much ranting and raving, and even outright troublemaking if I didn’t have a massive one-sided grudge against this saga.  My judgment is clouded, and I’ve likely taken some subconscious liberties; I’ve strung my words together in such a way as to put up a strong argument -- a condemnation of a character that is ultimately harmless.  But I’ll be the first to acknowledge that my argument has holes, and massive ones at that.  That’s precisely why I’ll welcome dissent.  Prove me wrong if you so desire.  As a wise man once said…

But in exchange, I want you readers -- especially you who like Lightning -- to do something for me.  Whether you like the character and her saga, or whether you’ve spouted more bile than I ever could, I think we can all come to a similar conclusion.  An answer to a simple question. 

Couldn’t Lightning and her games have been better? 

Before you answer that, think carefully about what I’ve said throughout this miniseries.  Think carefully about the games.  Think about your past experiences, and your current preferences -- and then watch this video.  Remember these events.  Remember that, as tongue-in-cheek and out-of-context as it may be, this is supposed to be a highlight reel of this character’s finest moments.    This is supposed to be the person we’re rooting for, and want to succeed.  This is our hero.

I don’t buy it for a second.  But you know what?  At the end of the day, I don’t mind playing as the villain.  I think good-hearted heroes are a lot more entertaining, but I’m not opposed to taking a walk on the dark side.  Marvel vs. Capcom 3 introduced me to characters like Super-Skrull and Dormammu, and now I think they’re some of the coolest guys around.  Two contenders for the 2013 Game of the Year -- BioShock Infinite and The Last of Us -- effectively made players into unrepentant killing machines whose grisly acts couldn’t be justified by their cute female sidekicks.  Grand Theft Auto might as well be called Terrible People Doing Terrible Things, but that’s one of the franchise’s biggest strengths.  The latest game in particular establishes from the get-go that the leads will default to the least lawful option to suit their needs.  And that’s fine.  That honesty is refreshing.

That honesty is sorely missing from The Lightning Saga, either as a result of blind incompetence, or because of willful ignorance.  “It’s a JRPG, so you have to play as the good guy,” the reasoning might go.  Or “Sure, the hero does some bad things, but it’s for a good cause.  The real villains are a whole lot worse, after all.”  The genre itself invites slotting into certain mindsets and never getting out, but it is possible to deviate from norms.  You’ve probably got a good half-dozen titles in mind by the end of this sentence.  And indeed, I can think of at least a couple that defied conventions.  (I’ve developed a stronger attachment to a baddie that spends three quarters of the show as disembodied forearm than to ANY character in this Saga.)  They were willing to be honest, and honestly explore the possibilities.

The Lightning Saga isn’t.  The games tell us that Lightning is our hero, but the “hero” herself contradicts that with every other breath; it’s as if they tried to sell us a bowl of spinach and called it ice cream.  I would have been fine with that if they had made her this sort of character on purpose -- if her faults and vices were intentionally added for the sake of calling her out (and indeed, every character in the Saga in turn), or even if they named her specifically as the villain.  But they didn’t.  The developers themselves firmly placed Lightning in the white, enabling her descent into the deepest, darkest black imaginable. 

She’s been given the freedom to do as she pleases -- to destroy and distort the very world she was supposed to serve.  A good story can’t exist without a good lead character; if said character isn’t allowed to be themselves, with the repercussions to follow and the development that stems from it, they’re hamstringing the story.  And that may be the biggest crime Lightning has ever committed.  That may be what makes her a true villain.  She isn’t just wrecking her world.  She’s wrecking her own games.

I asked earlier if Lightning and her games could have been better, but I’d like to rephrase that a bit.  Any game, good or bad, could have been better.  There’s no such thing as a perfect game; in the end, it all comes down to a matter of opinion.  And I fully accept the opinions of others.  Honestly, I WISH I could have gotten as much enjoyment out of The Lightning Saga as some of you out there.  But I can’t.  I can’t like the character, the canon, or the games, because I can’t turn my head without spotting a missed opportunity…either that, or an infuriating facet.  Some may agree with me.  Some don’t.  No matter the opinion, a question still remains.

Couldn’t Lightning and her games have been loved by all instead of some?

I think they could have been.  They could have, once upon a time.  And the fact that they aren’t -- the fact that what was once a glowing, beloved pillar of the gaming canon for so many people has turned into a mockery of its former self -- is heartbreaking.

That’s not an opinion.  That’s the world we live in.

Then again, we live in a world that has The Wonderful 101 in it.  So it all evens out.


  1. I don't have time to read the post, but I figured I should warn you:

    Your expectations for Lightning Returns? Lower them somewhat. The ending? Lower your expectations even further.

    I went and spoiled it for myself, since I won't be playing it, despite being neutral about the whole FF13 situation that Square Enix slowly destroyed themselves in over the past generation.

  2. You want me to lower my expectations...for a game I already have negative infinity expectations for?


    I don't know the particulars of the game, but by accident -- by looking up a completely unrelated song on YouTube -- there was a song from the game that revealed the final boss. It's exactly who I thought it would be, because sticking close to JRPG conventions has never failed before. But as if that wasn't bad enough, I ended up stumbling upon four words in relation to the ending that nearly made my head split open.

    I'm just going to pretend that I didn't read what I think I did. It's the only way I'll sleep tonight...even though I dread the day my brother begs me to play it for the sake of a "great game, great experience" on par with Resident Evil 6.

    Man, can we just knock this coming February out of the timeline? It'll save more than a few gamers a LOT of heartbreak.

  3. I have DanganRopa pre-ordered and February would be about when I finally start hearing back from my law school applications. Can we please not remove February from the timeline? XD

  4. Okay, new plan, then. You and the rest of the world can have your February, and I'll just freeze myself and wait out the month. That way, everyone's happy.

    I'm nothing if not willing to compromise -- even in matters of chronological displacement.

  5. Claiming Lightning is insane isn't much of a stretch, it's 90.1879% true. My knowledge of psychology is limited too (having only taken a general social sciences cluster course in high school... and intro to psych in college), but even with limited knowledge or awarenesses of certain branches of disorders can make Lightning look absolutely sick in the head. But maybe I'm just as biased against this female dog like you are.

    I realized something else from this mini series. Lightning is obsessed with her sister, just as much as - if not more than - a typical female character in a shonen series is for the male protagonist. Think about it. Orihime pines endlessly over Ichigo, even if any past development of her being strong and independent in combat gets shot down the toliet. Sakura is still in love with Sasuke, even if she can't bring him back, even when he nearly KILLED HER, and he blew off her confession. It was so bad, that even the canon-confirmed STALKER Karin, who would steal Sasuke's sweaty clothes and lock herself in a room with him just to get some ass, nearly gets killed too... BUT immediately regrets and ends her feelings because she had enough common sense to see how much of a psycho the jerk was!

    Heck, it's impossible to list every female character who is obsessed with a male character, to the point she shuts down b/c she can't have him. That she has no future, no dreams, no hope without that one man they pin for. She dedicates her entire existence, will, and body to him. Nothing but him matters.

    Now, replace the "she" with Lightning and "he" with Serah, and call that family bonding. (Not to mention that Serah is no powerful force to be reckoned with. She's a floppy doll make of string.) As far as I can tell, Lightning is just as pathetic as Sakura, or insert stupid spineless Bella Sue here. No amount of military training and punching Snow can change how narrow, obsessive, and unhealthy her priorities are - oops, I meant "priority", since she has only one goal. This is not a strong female character. This is an illusion of one that SE is trying so hard to make us believe.


    Fuck FF13. I should not hate a subseries I haven't played, only seen let's plays of. But honestly, to hell with this subseries. To spare myself from more disappointment, I'm going to claim FF15 will be the death of Square Enix. Having no hope is better than having it stolen from you in the most violent way imaginable.

  6. B-but she HAS to be a strong female character! She does flips and can fight good and doesn't show any of those AWFUL emotions and oh God, I can't even joke about that. There are probably still some poor, unfortunate souls that still buy into this total package of a character.

    But anyway, you've got a good (if incredibly worrisome) point. I'd like to think that stuff like Naruto and Bleach have problems because of their target audience, but that's a flimsy excuse, especially since there's probably some overlap between the target audience and plenty of other demographics. Just the fact that those things have footing in the states is a big enough signal...which only makes their "conventions" stand out even more. Was anybody asking for Sakura to be chained to Sasuke, or for Tenten to be a non-entity? Did anyone beg for Orihime to stay out of the way just when it looked like she was going to reach a new plateau? Not a chance. But the mindset seems to be that in order to make one character look good, the creators have to make other characters -- the ladies, unfortunately -- look worse. That's a real problem.

    I'm not going to play the "that's sexist!" card just yet, but much like the jokers at Squeenix, I'd say it's a result of incompetence. Thorough, thorough, thorough incompetence. And that's all I'm going to say on that for now...because this is probably a topic I need to get into sometime in the near future. I don't support the mindset, but believe it or not I know how easy it is to fall prey to it. Granted it's also easy to break away from it, but that's a topic for another day.

    This so-called Lightning Saga is an absolute tragedy -- and not the good kind -- but there is a bright side: once Lightning Returns is released upon the States, we'll finally be able to put this behind us. And even if there's a VERY good chance I'll end up eating my words later, I'm just going to go ahead and say that things can only go up from here via FF15. It can't possibly be any worse than The Super Duper Lightning Power Hour.

    It can't. It just can't.

  7. Haha. Physically, yes. Lightning is strong. Punching the abominable Snow is miraculous for a woman of her tiny stature and scrawniness. Emotionally and mentally, she's an infant who'll die if she cannot feel the warmth of her mother. In this case, she's an infant who'll destroy the universe, time, space, and herself just for her worthless, spineless sister to exist. We would throw feces at a male character if he was Lightning. Add on insane and psychotic. Then make a reference to he has mommy issues Freud rambles about in his sleep. Female characters should not be values when they are like this, especially when the male version is demonized.

    I know you're joking. Though I know some might not have understood my point. But it is sad that there aren't many impressive, dignified action ladies in fiction, it's just as bad when women will strong wills, beliefs, and confidence are forgotten/ignored. I can at least say a character like... Yukiko in Persona 4 - whom I don't care for much - is a strong person in her own right. Her formal, polite personality gives her a flair for traditional appeal, but she can hold her own in a fight, and she isn't afraid to voice her thoughts or call out on a jerk. Sure, her weapon is a fan, but she throws it like a frisbee. AND get her away from matches or lighters. And Majora's mask. Yeah. Scary.

    So, yeah. It may be too much to call Squeenix sexist. As you said, many writers can fall into this pitfall. It doesn't help with crazy dictations like the Bechdel test, in which you are left so paranoid about how you write women and dialogue in fiction. (I know my fanfic fails hard on it too, especially with that damned third point about no men under any circumstance - which is very, very damn hard considering our very masculine, patriarchic society, history, and culture.) Though to be fair, having two female officers come up with a tactical plan to take down a terrorist is far more respectable than two chicks yammering about relationships and marriage over coffee in Buckingham palace. Though Squeenix did not make a catty brat/damsel in distress, Lightning still comes off as hopelessly lost and confused without Serah as Bella after Edward left her in New Moon. Male or female, such glaring weaknesses should be exploited and deconstructed, not ignored and glorified.

    ... Maybe I should make a rant about this sometime. I have way too much juice on this in my system.

  8. "Punching the abominable Snow"

    That made me laugh a lot more than it should have. Probably because I have a secret soft spot for yetis.

    But in any case, yes. Do rant. Do rant, indeed. It doesn't matter about age, race, or gender; the treatment of women in fiction is...well, problematic, and the only way things are going to get better is if writers look at themselves before they go pointing fingers at others. It's true that paranoia can really get to you (oh man, I know that feeling), but it's an important mechanism to have in some cases. Sometimes, you just have to question what you're doing because you NEED that course correction.

    Ah, now if only Squeenix could take such lessons to heart.

    It's almost a given that Lightning Returns is going to be awful, but I'm holding on to the belief that it'll be the least awful of the trilogy (whoa, almost threw up a little just typing that). Vanilla 13 tried to develop six characters when it could barely flesh out one. 13-2 alternated between simultaneously over- and under-explaining its time travel aspect so that they couldn't even try with its whopping two characters. With LR, they have ONE character, and the ONE character they care about most. This is their last chance to send Lightning off with something resembling dignity, so maybe, just maybe, it'll retroactively make the other installments ever-so-slightly better.

    At least they're chucking that god-awful battle system. Baby steps.

    ...Seriously, though, that rant? Go for it.