Character Critique

"A lot of dreams died to get us here, and we can't let it be for nothing."

Since fansites are all about admiring a favorite character, I thought it'd be a refreshing change to think about the the negative aspects of a beloved character. Then, I thought, since I've already discussed some of Light's personality flaws (or at least insinuated that I see them as flaws), why not take it a step further and discuss flaws within the creation of the character? After all, this is a fictional person in a medium design for entertainment. There are a lot of factors considered when she's developed, and a lot of factors that determine player reaction.

Trapped by Gender Complications

It doesn't matter how modern and progressive people are about gender identities... gender norms still influence everything! Even after a person understands the problem with sex stereotyping, there is still a whole new set of challenges to consider. With Lightning's design, it feels like the developers were caught between the risk of falling into one of two ends of a spectrum: either making Light too feminine or ignoring her femininity.

Many people think that the path to sex equality is to have women be radically assertive individuals that participate in traditionally hyper-masculine activities, like sports, beer, cars, and male-dominated profession. I disagree! It is great to not be restricted from activities due to gender. However, molding women to such does not bring about equality, it's just making women feel like they have to be men! It actually furthers both men and women if taken too far. Women can become chastised as backwards-thinking if they truly enjoy things that are traditionally associated with femininity. Additionally, it also pushes women to ignore parts of their identity, instead of celebrating them.

So this was the problem the developers faced in designing a female protagonist. If you make her too strong, too cool, too much of a bastard, you're depreciating the female gender. She might even end up being a Mary Sue. If your make her too sincere/vulnerable, too sociable, too reflective, too talkative, you're going to get cries of sexism. Thus, they gave Lightning 50% cool characteristics associated with male heroism and 50% emotional integrity associated with female behavior.

The result is that Lightning's character feels a little too safe, not to mention obvious in its intent. They're were trying so hard to strike that perfect medium that they did not add any additional attributes. With so many aspects of gender identity to consider, putting anything quirky into the equation brought a risk of upsetting their delicate balance.

Being Unrelatable & Unlikable

There also the common complaint that Lightning is too much of a b*tch jerk. I both agree and disagree to an extent. I understand that she's unrelatable at first. And yes, she is a jerk. She's not conventionally polite to everyone she meets. She gives the cold-shoulder to many people, like Sazh, but is quick to anger, with Snow and Fang. She also deserts Hope in the wilderness that is the Vile Peaks.

But let's not forget that other beloved protagonists, Cloud of FF7 and Squall of FF8, acted like complete jerks too. At least in the beginning. What's the difference? Internal thoughts. We have no idea what Light is thinking. Unlike previous games, players aren't shown the text thoughts of the person they play. So when Squall ignored Quistis's questions, knowing that what his rationale was, no matter how deluded it was, made it somewhat acceptable because we understood his train of thought. When Light ignores someone, we have no idea why she did it, so we can only see it as rudeness. Including a window into her head might have made Lightning more relatable and made the game a more engaging experience.

However, I do see the merits of having Lightning act cold in the beginning as well. Her development is about partially about connecting with others, which someone that she makes great strides in throughout the game. It's just that it was done well. And when things are done well, it's subtle. By the end of the game, she went from an inconsiderate lone wolf to a compassionate leader. She still has tendencies to run off on her own, but she is now a pretty dedicated team player as well. Having Light be a bastard in the beginning makes her transformation more significant. It also helps us see Lightning change from the same perspective as everyone else, instead of being spoiled with telepathic knowledge.

Living Up to the Fame

Lastly, it can be argued that Lightning is boring and one-dimensional. I chalk this up to the high expectations that have been placed on the successful Final Fantasy series. Though each main numbers title is a stand alone story, love for previous games place a heavy burden on the developers to make a game that's as good (which is subjective anyway) as the fan's favorite, if not better. People forget that some of our most treasured classics are the ones that just hit you out of no where. But because of the pressure from fans, as well as the financial expectations of large corporations, even a good series can be destroyed by its own success.

Consequently, the designers' creative freedom is stifled. With all the money put into marketing and development, they just really wanted Lightning to be likable... by everyone. So they created her cautiously, almost to a point where she might be considered cliche. Her personality is discreet. If this was not a Final Fantasy game, she'd be completely fine. But it is a Final Fantasy game, where past characters had peculiar and intricate blueprints. In comparison to those unforgettable legends, of course our little well-rounded Eclair Farron is relatively "normal".