In this article I’m very pleased to be writing about the diverse roles that women play in the Final Fantasy XIII series. It is proudly published as part of the Final Fantasy: A Crystal Compendium project, a comprehensive blogging project dedicated to Final Fantasy, which has been envisaged, organized and built by The Well-Red Mage, with some help from OverThinker Y, heroes of the blogging community! I feel honoured to have the chance to take part, and look forward greatly to reading the other articles!
The inspiration behind this article came from being blown away by a scene in the third installment of the XIII series, Lightning Returns. It takes places towards the end of the game when three of the series’ main characters stand on the steps of Luxerion’s Cathedral and desperately debate what the outcome of performing the soulsong – a ritual supposed to cleanse the souls of the dead – will be. This is a real high point, occurring just before the endgame truly starts, and those three characters all have important and meaningful contributions to make to the conversation. Those characters are Lightning, Vanille and Fang, and when I watched it I was impressed, even though this shouldn’t really be the case, at how thoroughly it smashes the Bechdel test. Before proceeding, please be aware there are lots of *spoilers* ahead!
One of the things I particularly liked were that these characters had very diverse roles to play, so here I want to have a look at a few of these roles in more detail.
I’m going to start, with my favourite character in the series, our Sentinel, Oerba Yun Fang. Upon her appearance in Final Fantasy XIII, in which she is a playable character, she comes across as strong, sharp-tongued and determined. The root of her determination is her friend Vanille, who had previously saved Fang’s life. Initially working together to complete their shared l’Cie focus, Fang acts as protector and carer for Vanille, and thus it is appropriate that one of her main paradigm’s is that of a Sentinel, who take damage to defend others. Even though the role of Sentinel was probably the one I used least in the game, I did find that it was necessary to use it to gain Fang’s Eidolon – Bahamut – as it really shows Fang at her best. Whilst Fang and Vanille are not really the main focus of the game, their underlying power to combine and become Ragnarok, who has the ability to destroy Cocoon, gives them both a great deal of power. Whilst Vanille is cautious, Fang has the anger and determination to embrace it.
In Lightning Returns, Fang is the leader of a group of bandits based in the Dead Dunes, where she is hunting for the Holy Clavis. Vanille, and the Order of Salvation, to whom Vanille is now bound, are also looking for this, but unbeknownst to Vanille, Fang does not want to return it, she wants to destroy it in order to save Vanille’s life. Fang isn’t afraid of being deceptive in order to protect her friend. In fact she isn’t afraid of much. Even so she is a genuine friend to both Lightning and Vanille, and despite the initial misgivings people have about her in the first XIII game, her sheer strength of character wins through in the end.
Ok, so Fang is a formidable warrior and leader, who would do anything to protect her best friend. But what then of her friend, Oerba Dia Vanille, who in Lightning Returns is cast as the Saint of the Order of Salvation in Luxerion.
With Fang, Vanille sacrifices herself at the end of the first game to become Ragnarok and form the crystal pillar, which supports Cocoon. However, prior to that her actions aren’t necessarily all that saintly. She is responsible for Sazh’s son Dajh becoming a l’Cie, but after Vanille & Fang’s reawakening, Vanille cannot cope with the misery she feels she has caused and devotes her life to cleansing the souls of the suffering departed, a cause for which she is prepared to give her own life through the performance of the Soulsong. Vanille lacks the type of strength shown by Fang. Her desire to aid those suffering in purgatory is a worthy and yet misguided cause. It seems as if Vanille genuinely believes she is doing the right thing, and I don’t believe her actions are weak, although she does have an element of fear and hopelessness about her. Although almost the complete opposite of Fang, their belief in one another is something which is a real strength of both their characters, even if they are cast in very different roles, each with their own flaws.
But who then is going to save Fang and Vanille (and everyone else for that matter)?! Of course, it is the Saviour, Lightning Farron:
There is clearly far too much to say about Lightning, and really, you’d be best consulting Lightning Ellen for the full lowdown, but I’ll give it a go! So Lightning is our hero, our protagonist. She begins the series described as “A solitary young woman who speaks little of herself” (Square Enix), and although she perhaps doesn’t change all that much, it is still interesting to examine her role.
She is a soldier who is very hesitant about fighting alongside others. She seems to feel the battle is hers and others perhaps just get in the way. Although she remains a solitary figure throughout the series she does develop some strong relationships with the other characters, and her single-minded goal of saving her sister Serah is ever-present. Although a soldier in the first game, her role in Lightning Returns, that of the Saviour, is a really interesting one. Her appearance has been foretold in prophecy, telling of the coming of a woman with rose-coloured hair, who is known as the Saviour. The legend of the Savior chosen by Bhunivelze is preached by the Order of Salvation and is widely, although by no means universally, accepted in Luxerion. Lightning is placed in this situation after making a deal with Bhunivelze in which she must ‘save the souls’ of as many as possible before the impending end of the world, and in return Serah’s soul will be returned and the sisters will be reunited.
Initially Lightning has few qualms with this. She is after all prepared to do anything to save Serah. As the days tick by she learns more about Bhunivelze, about the Soulsong, the Holy Clavis and the Order to Salvation, and she realises that she has been lead astray. Lumina, who is a younger version of Lightning, does try to warn her, but her implicitly untrusting nature gets the better of her, and it isn’t as if Lumina seems particularly trustworthy anyway! Although she has the (mostly) intolerable Hope guiding her, she doesn’t trust him either, and is put in a position where there are many questions, many opinions and no actual answers, so she does what she does best and strikes out on her own (with a wee bit of help from Fang and Odin), and takes down a load of nutters and a God in the process.
Initial impressions of Lightning may be that of her soldier nature: strong and quiet. However, this judgement misses really important aspects of her personality, and one word that I’d like to use to describe her is ‘responsible’. Ok, sometimes she goes off in a strop, but by the end of Lightning Returns, she has taken responsibility for the fates of pretty much all of her friends, mostly to their benefit. I find it particularly interesting in the scenes where she deals with Noel and Caius, who for some part at least are both antagonists, as she is responsible enough to show she understands where their anger comes from and that their motives are not in fact evil, and she is able to decide, at least in the way that I read it, that she should save Noel’s soul, but not Caius’, such is the difference in their situations.
So what of Serah? The little sister Lightning is so desperate to save? I find Serah a difficult character to write about, because I feel that compared to the other characters discussed here, she is comparatively normal. Her role in XIII, although important to the story, is minimal, she comes across as a victim as she is branded as a l’Cie and turns to crystal. However, as the protagonist of XIII-2, she really shines. What I like about Serah in XIII-2 is her ability to keep a clear head. Sure, she shows occasional lapses in judgement, I mean who on earth would agree to marry Snow? But still I think she is probably the most sensible and rational of all the characters, and even in the face of her own destiny, having discovered she has seeress powers that will shorten her life, she battles on to free Lightning from Valhalla and sort out all of those time paradoxes!
Serah isn’t the only seeress of the piece, and lastly I want to have a look at a character who isn’t discussed as much as I would like: Paddra Nsu-Yeul. Her role, starting in XIII-2 and developing throughout Lightning Returns is complex and rather difficult to explain. She is really neither good nor bad, and she acts both selflessly out of a desire to save the stricken Caius, and selfishly in her wish to be with Noel. But this is what makes her so interesting. As she is not one, but many. There are an infinite number of Yeuls, who come in to being one after another. They all look the same, but “Noel’s” Yeul, is only one of the voices, and each are their own individual.
As a seeress, she has the ability to see the future, which is a good thing really in XIII-2, as there are a large number of time paradoxes with different futures, however, she also has a limited lifespan connected to these visions, and therefore she dies and is reborn many many times. Each Yeul is born with the knowledge of when she will die, but is unable to reveal this, and so must carry out her duties as the seeress, simply accepting her fate. This to me seems a very sad role to carry. She is gifted with foresight but has no ability to change fate, making me wonder if her powers are a blessing or a curse.
If you have played Lightning Returns, you will know that our beloved cast do make it safely to the New World. It is a happy ending on the face of it, even Yeul and Noel finally get to be reunited as she had promised in XIII-2, but I also found it rather sad, as all of the other Yeul’s stay on the other side, with Caius as their shepherd. Yeul is a torn personality, some incarnations want to stay with Caius more than anything, others wanted to leave, and in the end only one could.
There we go! The women in the Final Fantasy XIII series are not only numerous, but also have complex, interesting and diverse roles to play. They are capable of love, hate, pain, sorrow, regret, kindness, friendship, and they can pretty much all kick your ass, and I think that whilst this shouldn’t be surprising, it is still worth celebrating!
Thanks for reading,
Final Fantasy XIII, XIII-2 & Lightning Returns are all available now in multiple formats from the Square Enix website.