Claire “Lightning” Farron is one insanely popular video-game heroine, albeit most gamers of the west seem loth to admit it. In Japan, Lightning was voted the all-time favorite Final Fantasy female, beating Yuna, Tifa and Aeris. Lightning has become a cultural gaming icon: a role model known for her courage and elegance.
So how is it that this inspirational character from Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2 became the focus of bra-size and jiggling breast conversations leading up to Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII? What happened along the way?
Other than Snow, the stereotypically sexualized macho, muscular, and cocky male, Final Fantasy XIII had a balanced approach to character design. It conveyed beauty not as flawless perfection, but as flawed.
There was the black middle-aged father and widower, Saz; the average emotional young boy, Hope; the tattooed brunette woman with a facial mole, Fang; the freckled young redhead girl, Vanille; and the petite little pale-skinned girl, Serah.
The game’s cover girl and primary protagonist, Lightning, was no different. She was plain, but pretty. Scrawny and feminine, yet tomboyish. As a soldier in uniform, she was modest and conservative. In no way was she the typical sexualized woman of video gaming
Akin to physical design, the characterization of the protagonist’s personalities was also humanly flawed. Our heroes had their quirks and their faults.
Lightning’s personality was inwardly determined, but outwardly blank. She operated alone, wasn’t afraid to get physical, and bottled up her emotions. Her tough act hid both the past she feared facing and her dread of further emotional pain.
While Lightning seems cold and calculating at first, she gradually reveals herself as courageous, caring and dedicated to family bonds. By the end we saw Lightning as the assertive, strong woman that she was. Her personality had captivated many gamers, and through characterization over sexualization she had become attractive, desirable, beautiful.
In the sequel, XIII-2, Lightning was relegated to a more-minor supporting role, while her sister Serah took the lead. Lightning served as the narrator and as the Goddess Etro’s emissary in Valhalla.
It was disappointing that Lightning took a background spot, but she remained the same strong young woman with an impeccable dedication to her sister. As the Goddess’s Warrior she had an added grace and air of unobtainability.
Like its predecessor, XIII-2 was not a game with any inherent sexualisation. The only downfall of the game in this area was the shameless inclusion of Serah’s skimpy beach bikini as downloadable content.
Those who paid a few extra dollars could get some serious skin exposure. It was a cheap add-on that did nothing but sell sex for a few bucks in an otherwise non-sexual game. Nonetheless, Lightning remained untainted.
Instead of a XIII-3 to end the trilogy, the game that came was entitled Lightning Returns. As you would expect, Lightning returned to the spotlight, somewhat making up for her fleeting appearances in XIII-2. In fact, for Lightning Returns she was the sole-protagonist and only playable character.
Yet somehow the role model Lightning had seemingly been replaced by the lingerie model Lightning. A raunchy cat-costume picture circulated pre-release and then developer discussions with director Motomu Toriyama and character model designer Nobuhiro Goto took a further step.
The game’s developers chuckled as they claimed the other was responsible for increasing Lightning’s breast size from a C to D cup. They then went on to give players advice on how to get her breasts to “jiggle.”
The Lightning we knew didn’t flaunt her breasts, but it wasn’t a new turn for the Final Fantasy series. Let us not forget the attention given to Tifa’s ample bust and mini-skirt back in Final Fantasy VII.
For good and for worse, Lightning Returns was all about everything Lightning. It was pandering to fan demands with blatant fan-service. Even the game’s new supporting character, Lumina, was just a manifestation of a younger Lightning.
It’s in this spirit of being all about giving more Lightning to the fans that made the third game of the trilogy much more sexualized, in everything from costumes, to battle victory poses, even quotes. Her line to Director Sarzhak comes to mind, “If it’s the savior you want, you’ve got her!”
In Lightning Returns players decided how they wanted to dress and accessorize their protagonist. Lightning could wear a revealing bikini, an elegant dress, or more practical combat attire. Whether their Lightning was modest or sexual, conservative or exposed, each player decided.
It can’t be denied that Lightning Returns sexualized Lightning, especially compared to its prequels, yet the whole premise of the game was serving Lightning up to fans. It wasn’t marketed to new audiences; it was targeting players who had fallen for her character over the past four years.
Lightning Returns was a game of pure fan-service, and meeting the more carnal desires of fans became a part of that. The prominence of the sub-culture for Final fantasy XIII “hentai” revealed that such fan demands were there.
The game was about exploiting every aspect of Lightning, including her sexual side, for her massive fanbase.
As a means of comparison, a similar thing was done in Final Fantasy X-2, although to a much further extent. Also immensely popular, Yuna from Final Fantasy X became a pop singing sex symbol in X-2. With her giggly friends, Rikku and Paine, they formed the femme fatale trio of the Gullwings.
They wore numerous revealing garbs, splashed around in hot springs in nothing but their underwear, and mounted their adversaries to give them massages. The extent of sexualization in X-2, compared to its prequel, was far more blatant than the jump from XIII to Lightning Returns.
X-2 was, after all, a story based around romance, whereas Lightning’s journey was for a platonic love of her sister.
While Lightning Returns is more sexualizing than other titles in the XIII trilogy, behind that still remains the strong woman going through personal struggles and triumph. It was the same Lightning, where her beauty was again developed through characterization more than appearance.
Lightning was never just a pretty face and hot body intended to attract sales, but for Lightning Returns she was rather shamelessly promoted. In a manner of speaking, she was “whored-out” to the fans, but in the end, that target audience loved every moment of it.