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After four years waiting, Final Fantasy XIII was a sad disappointment. Not just because of the linear gameplay and lack of towns to explore, but because there was no real romance.
Romance is one of the mainstays of Final Fantasy. In VII we had tragic flower seller Aerith, who shockingly died at the end of the first disc. And in Final Fantasy VIII, romance was a huge part of the game as Squall met Rinoa and consequently becomes a decent human being. In X there was Yuna and Tidus, another incredibly romantic story with an ending that was possibly the most heartbreaking of any video game, ever. So, where was all the romance in XIII?
There's Snow I suppose and his fiancée Serah, but as she spends the entire game as a crystal, that doesn't really count. Lightning doesn't get any action, which I found really interesting. She's essentially the first female lead in a Final Fantasy game (although we do play sections with various other players as leaders, she does seem to be the main character), but there's no handsome man to fight alongside her and give her a reason to go on. Personally, I'd have liked to have seen her with Snow, but I guess as he's all tied up in knots over his girlfriend being made into glass, he's out, and Hope's probably about 12, but what about Sazh? Or perhaps a non-playable character as her love interest? Or even just someone whose picture she carries around with her in her wallet? Shouldn't she have someone?
I found myself wondering if the fact that Lightning didn't get a love interest was because she was a woman, and that Square didn't know how to approach romance from a woman's perspective. (You may remember, I noted this in Mass Effect as well.) Or was it that they had bought into the stereotype that tough, ballsy, independent women just don't get boyfriends? I really hope not.
She sounds like she's constantly on the verge of orgasm.
Lightning's a single-minded soldier on a mission, so I suppose it makes sense that she doesn't let herself get distracted by love. But I kept coming back to the sneaking suspicion that it was because the makers simply didn't know how. Whilst women are apparently falling at the feet of compulsively miserable, unlikeable male leads like Cloud Strife and Squall Lionheart, no one wants to woo Lightning?
As I played through the game, the first thing that struck me was what on earth is wrong with this Vanille chick? Seriously, she sounds like she's constantly on the verge of orgasm. She walks into a field and sees a flower and it's "uh... uh.... oh!... oh... uh... hmmm... wow!" People do not make this kind of audio commentary when they are walking about - I haven't heard the Japanese voice over, so I don't know if it's pretty much the same, or if the English localisation team accidentally hired a porn star. Does anyone actually think that a character making these strange noises is cute or endearing in any way? To me, they just sound very, very silly, and make me dislike Vanille quite intensely, when she's actually essentially quite a sweet kid.
Like many other gamers, I wondered exactly what the nature of Fang and Vanille's relationship was. By the end of the game, it still wasn't clear. It's never really explained outright, although many have speculated that their obvious closeness means they're having a lesbian relationship. It's true that the pair do seem to really care about each other. Tough old boot Fang softens around Vanille - she often strokes her hair, holds her close, and says things like "I don't care what happens to me, as long as she's ok." In one scene, they even hold hands.
The idea that they might be lovers made me uncomfortable given their age difference.
However, the idea that they might be lovers made me uncomfortable given their age difference. Vanille's a total kid, and Fang's a world-weary woman. Given that, I'd think it's unlikely that Square really intended for them to be together. More likely is that they have a surrogate mother/daughter or big sister/little sister kind of thing - as is the official line.
This reminded me of living in Tokyo, where lots of teen girls would hold hands while they were walking down the street. I later realised that this didn't have the same meaning as it would do back home - whereas here holding hands usually means a romantic relationship, in Japan it just means two girls are best friends. It's strange for a culture where French kissing in public is violently frowned upon, but then pretty nothing about anything makes sense if you examine it closely enough.
Fang was originally intended to be a male character, if you look back far enough in the development process to see some early character art. She got a sex change when the developers realised that the six were unbalanced - two women vs four men. Perhaps this is why there are some hints that the two are romantically involved, as a hangover from a more acceptable heteroesexual relationship. I was disappointmented when I realised that Fang and Vanille probably weren't, after all, lovers. I think it would have been a really cool and brave step for a video game series.
Although there were parts of the game I enjoyed, ultimately Final Fantasy XIII just made me sad. Both in the intended way that the developer had meant - I cried buckets at the ending - but also because I wonder who's going to make more brilliant games like Final Fantasy VII and VIII now, after IX, X and XII, I have to concede that Square-Enix obviously isn't interested?
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