The Final Fantasy series is very well known among the RPG community, and the gaming community as a whole. Each chapter in its long history has for the most part been a separate narrative entity unto itself Only the more recent Final Fantasy games have received direct sequels (X, XII, and XIII), though they've generally been rated lower than their original counterparts. The creators have hinted that several games might exist in the same worlds (the Ivalice from XII and Tactics; the way the l'cie are involved in XIII, Type-0, and XV). However, despite these similarities, each games had its own unique tales to tell. In fact, if you dig deep down into the subtext, you will find that each game has an almost allegorical tale to tell below the surface. Final Fantasy VII might tell the story about how big corporations (Shinra) are destroying our environment. Final Fantasy X informs us of how corrupt the leaders of religious factions can become and how important sports and gaming can be to simply unite the world during times of strife. Final Fantasy XIII can be seen as a story of propaganda against unknown foreigners and how radical leadership can always manipulate the masses to assist in "purging" those who differ from the norm.
And at the center of this purge? A same-sex romance story of reconnecting with a lost love.
A little backstory for those who are might not be familiar with the actual plot. Final Fantasy XIII follows a group of unlikely heroes and allies as they are forced to carry out a mysterious "vision" against their will while also avoiding the military, looking to gun them down on sight. Because n this world, god-like beings called "Fal'cie" will choose servants (the "l'cie") from humans nearby. When chosen, this new l'cie host is given a cloudy flash of a vision (their "focus"), which they must then carry out. If they do fulfill their focus, legends say they will turn to crystal and achieve everlasting life. But if they fail, they will become a soulless monster called a cie'th.
Neither of those options seems altogether pleasant, does it? Most players are in agreement about that. And to make matters worse, everyone who lives outside the country of Cocoon in the lands known as Pulse is considered an enemy of Cocoon. Therefore, to become a l'cie of a Pulse Fal'cie is to suffer a fate worse than death, because your focus is more likely to destroy the safe country from the inside.
This brief history brings us to our heroes, brought together during a Purge from Cocoon to rid the country of any possible l'cie that a foreign fal'cie might have created. Or rather, it brings us to five of our six heroes. We meet up with the sixth a few chapters into the story, when we discover she is looking for someone.
Fang's character is a tough, sassy woman with an Aussie accent and a long spear and. She’s looking for Vanille, a girl we already know far too well. Vanille is the young, bubbly girl with a can-do attitude and secret past. Keep in mind that from here on in, it will be impossible for me to discuss the romance between these two without revealing a few mid-to-late-game spoilers, but as the game is now more than six years old, I feel somewhat comfortable doing so.
It turns out both Fang and Vanille are from Pulse, and are already quite close. They were both Pulse l'cie centuries ago and awoke from their crystalline forms as humans 13 days prior to the game's opening events. Fang spends most of the game simply trying to reunite with Vanille, and once she does, she resumes right where she left off as Vanille's protective older sister. Or is there something more there?
Many speculate— myself included — that this relationship was a lot more than sisterly or friendly, but in fact, a love story. In fact, anyone who has seen the ending scene can at least infer that the two women have a very strong connection and love for each other. But the writing alone is not enough proof of this theory, as the characters never show any physical signs of romantic affection (a tender hand placement or hug here or there, but nothing definitive), and although they never speak the words "I love you", there are a few details of their interaction that could sway even the most skeptical player of this relationship.
Fang's character was actually designed as a man in the early stages of the creation of this game. It was only during the animation phase that the developers chose to make the character female. However, this raises a question: did the writers change the sex in order to forego an implied romantic relationship in the first place? That seems probable, especially in a game inspired by many Japanese RPGs before it, in which male characters spend a lot of time searching for an old friend with whom they are very close, being overprotective of that friend, and sharing an ending that suggests that they have romantic feelings for that friend (who is invariably a girl). The simplest answer to that question is that it doesn't matter. The reasons why the sex was changed does not affect the implicit romantic relationship between Fang and Vanille. The the caring and passion they share remains the same. You cannot simply eliminate sincere romantic feelings between two characters by changing the sex of one of the characters, and changing nothing else about them. Pardon my sappy romanticism, but love is love, and it transcends sex and gender. The feeling Fang has when she finally reunites with Vanille for the first time is evident in her eyes. It's the realization that the two of them would rather die together than live apart.
Some claim that people shipping Fang and Vanille are simply seeing what they want to see in a male-driven society. It's the old trope of "two sexy women hooking up is hot as long as it's for a man's pleasure." In some ways, I will grant that it's plausible that the all-male production team of this game might very well have inserted some romantic tension if only simply to pander to their demographic of the "average 32-year-old straight male gamer." However, social attitudes continue to change, and many of those involved with this game have been involved in the development of other Final Fantasy games and continue to work with this franchise. For those who believe they're simply pandering, I ask: do you expect me to believe that these artists and businessmen have been successful and will continue to be successful by simply using old tropes and sexy gimmicks? Because I believe that they've progressed with the times. Quina Quen in Final Fantasy 9, although used often for comedic purposes, was a strong non-gendered, poly-gendered, neo-gendered, whatever-you-want-to-call-him / her / zir character, and that was back in the ‘90s (and if I'm being honest, even as the butt of a joke, it was usually more about zir cultural differences, misunderstandings, and hefty appetite than it was about zir gender).
Ultimately, I believe the discussion of Fang and Vanille will always be up for debate, but at the very least, isn't it nice to see two female characters at the epicenter of a game (three if you count Lightning as the strong female protagonist) for a change, instead of the stereotypical heterosexual romance story of all JRPGs before it? I think so.
Quality: 3 / 5
Queerness: 4 / 6 Kinseys