[NOTE: SPOILERS for pretty much all of the FFXIII games. ALSO - I'm writing this post before I've actually finished playing Lightning Returns, so PLEASE don't spoil anything past day 10. Thanks.]
I’ve been working my way (slowly) through Lightning Returns the last few months. Despite the railroad-y nature of FFXIII, I did enjoy the characters – especially Lightning, whom I’ve written about as being one of my favorite RPG characters ever. I enjoyed FFXIII-2 even more, as it combined solid writing with more non-linear play options, even if the ending was 100% full of shit.
Hope can’t fucking deal with how terrible the ending was.
Especially since Squeenix was coy for the first several months about whether there was going to be an FFXIII-3. Yup! We’ve killed a protagonist, destroyed time, and ended the entire universe. The end!
…sorry. Got a little sidetracked there.
Anyway, when I found out that XIII-3 was going to be a thing, I knew that I was going to have to play. It was going to mitigate XIII-2’s crappy ending! And even better, it was going to star Lightning!
And then I started hearing… things. About how the game was going to bring back dress-spheres, and how the development team wanted to implement jiggle physics, and how there was a catgirl outfit that served no real purpose other than making Lightning look hawt. And suddenly I wasn’t so sure I wanted to pay money for the game.
Thankfully, a friend of mine had already purchased it before getting sidetracked playing the re-release of FFX/X-2. Problem solved!
Canonical Lightning’s Outfit sucks
Unfortunately, the facepalms started as soon as I fired up the game for the first time and saw Lightning’s new costume design. Yes, despite supposedly just having woke up from crystal stasis, which she entered while wearing her FFXIII-2 valkyrie armor, she woke up in this brand new outfit that honestly doesn’t make any fucking sense at all. Seriously, check out these stills, both of which happen in cutscenes within the first hour of starting a new game:
The worst part is that the top image is from the very beginning of the game, the first time we see Lightning, the supposed protagonist of the game that I’m supposed to spend the next 40ish hours with. And the first thing I get is Lightning’s crotch.
Seriously, it would be impossible to overstate just how bad Lightning’s starting outfit is. Because while it might look borderline “reasonable” from the front, at least by the standards of normal video game oversexualization, what it looks like from the back is an entirely different story:
That’s right. Her flappy loincloth is designed to billow dramatically, which also, coincidentally, gives us a total panty shot. Also, it highlights that Lightning is really just wearing mostly straps and not much else.
BUT WUNDERGEEK. U CAN CHANGE WHAT LIGHTNING WEARS SO WHY DOES IT MATTER.
Well, yes, thanks internet. But that doesn’t change the fact that I had to play through the first hour or so of the game without any option to change outfits. Also, in terms of what has been established as the “canonical Lightning” for Lightning returns, this is, unfortunately, it:
But sure. Yes. Okay. There are lots of other garbs to choose from, so I don’t have to play with the default garb. True! Except…
The entire impetus for this post happened when my husband was watching me play last night and commented that I hadn’t changed any of my outfits in a long time. (As in 12-15 hours of gameplay.) And I groused that that was because the few garbs I’d encountered with better stats than my current garbs were garbs I wasn’t willing to wear because they were oversexualized nonsense.
So I decided that I was going to look at all of the available garbs in Lightning Returns and see how bad the actual breakdown was.
Sources, Criteria, and Caveats
I used the Final Fantasy Wiki to get a complete list of garbs, although there are a lot of limited edition preorder garbs that are nothing more than color- or pattern-swaps. So I decided to only include the 80 that either come with the game itself or can be gotten as DLC, so that the preorder only garbs didn’t muddy the results.
My goal was to classify each garb as either suggestive or not suggestive, using the same criteria established in my original article that started this blog. Tl;dr: anything showing cleavage, bared midriff or otherwise incompletely covered torso, or legs uncovered by a garment (skirts count, thigh-high stockings do not) counts as suggestive. (And honestly, all of the outfits classified as suggestive hit more than one, if not all of these.)
My hypothesis going in was that the breakdown would probably be 50/50 suggestive versus non-suggestive. So I was surprised when 44 of the 80 garbs counted as suggestive. No wonder I’d had trouble finding useful garbs that didn’t suck! The odds were actually stacked against me!
The problem with the above chart, however, is that it doesn’t really tell the whole story. Because the problem is that while a 45/55 split still sounds okay in terms of reasonable outfits versus sexualized outfits, there were outfits that I wouldn’t ever consider wearing that didn’t count as suggestive.
For instance, there are no less than seven different evening gowns. EVENING GOWNS. Which makes no freaking sense. The entire series has been built up around what a martial badass Lightning is and how no one in the world is as strong or as good at fighting as she is, not even Snow. Not even Caius. So please explain to me how in a game based entirely around solo combat with a sword and shield, it makes even the smallest amount of sense to have Lightning run around in an evening gown while she swordilates things. (Yes it’s a word, shut up.)
In addition to the seven evening gowns, there were two other garbs that I categorically would never use, even if they don’t count as suggestive, simply because they feel so radically out of character that I wouldn’t be able to take the game seriously at all while using them.
Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against non-awful schoolgirl outfits, and this one is certainly pretty decent. The thing is, throughout the entire series, Lightning is depicted as the hardened veteran, the one who knows what has to be done and is willing to walk the difficult path – pretty much the complete opposite of the naive schoolgirl trope. Which makes this garb read as a fanservice fetish outfit to me. Gross.
And the moogle queen? …do I even need to explain how weird and jarring it would be to play with this garb?
Anyway, when I factor the above caveats into the breakdown, it winds up looking a lot worse:
Wow. So now instead of having slightly less than half of the outfits being not-suggestive, not-immersion breaking outfits, we’re down to only a third. That sucks. That sucks a lot.
How does it suck? Let me count the ways.
First, let me dispel the notion that when I talk about sexualized outfits, that I’m talking about things like Lightning’s FFXIII-2 valkyrie armor, which was admittedly pretty cool even if it didn’t have pants. The stuff that I’m complaining about is this:
No #2’s outfit doesn’t include the hat by default. That’s just an accessory that makes it worse.
The garb on the far left is actually called, I shit you not, AMAZON WARRIOR. Because nothing says “female empowerment” like battle panties. Or thigh-high stockings. Or lingerie ninjas. You know, because ridiculous oversexualization to the point of becoming the platonic ideal of the male gaze is, like, totally okay if it’s a strong female character.
The problem with these extremely sexualized garbs is that they’re actually what shows up in the game’s in-engine cutscenes, which has been pretty much everything past the first hour. And that radically undercuts any sense of drama or investment in the narrative that I might have. How am I supposed to pay attention to Lightning’s speeches about saving her sister or creating a new world when I can’t take my eyes off of her ridiculous battle panties?
Like the power to somehow not be flashing you right now.
And again, some people might say BUT U DON’T HAVE TO WEAR THEM STFU. And sure, if you ignore the fact that the game mechanically punishes people not willing to use sexualized or impractical garbs by having them outnumber the reasonable garbs 2-to-1, that’s true.
But what is also true is that it isn’t possible for me to entirely ignore the sexualized garbs either. Whenever I visit an Outfitters, looking for new garbs, there isn’t any indication of which garbs are sexy versus which aren’t, so I wind up being frustrated half the time when all of my new options are just more ridiculous cheesecake.
There’s also the issue that some of the ridiculously sexualized garbs are actual plot rewards, which makes them doubly impossible to ignore. The above Amazon Warrior garb is an example of this – it’s a garb that you get as a plot reward upon completing one of the game days. But another equally egregious example is the Mi’quote garb, which you have to actually quest for:
LEFT: Actual victory pose. (The ears and tail are accessories, not part of the actual outfit)
SO GROSS. I did the quest, because I’m something of a completionist, albeit within reason. (I didn’t bother getting any of the ultimate weapons in FFX, for example, although I did build up a champion blitzball team.) But as soon as I saw what it was, I promptly wish that I hadn’t. Hope’s dialogue about the Mi’quote as a culture felt like a weirdly tacked on addition to justify putting Lightning in blatant fetish wear, which was jarring. The director might as well have come onscreen and said “hey, I just really wanted to see sexy catgirl Lightning. Sorry.”
And I hate that. HATE IT. Because the immersive qualities of the Final Fantasy series games are what keep me coming back for each new title. And having that immersion jarred SUCKS. How the hell am I supposed to take this game seriously when this kind of bullshit sexism is being continually shoved in my face?
Just look at the difference one of these stupid outfits makes:
The first screenshot is an epic fantasy hero who happens to be female holding her own against a dude wielding a seriously ridiculous sword. The second is a stripper in a cat costume using an improvised weapon to fend off some creepy dude.
Do some people want to play the second way? Sure. But the people who are actually invested in Lightning as a character and who want to see her treated like a human being and not a piece of meat shouldn’t have to have this bullshit sexualization rammed down their throats in order to even play the game.
In other words, I’m not even saying that the sexy costumes shouldn’t necessarily exist. I’m just saying that they should be optional, clearly marked, and NOT FUCKING PLOT REWARDS. In other words, they should be opt-IN, not opt-OUT.
Lastly, a point of pedantry for the Final Fantasy fanatics
My last beef with the bullshit sexist outfits is that they even spilled over into the classic Final Fantasy jobs that appeared among the garb choices. Here are the six iconic final fantasy jobs/classes that showed up as garb choices:
And here’s how those classes have typically been rendered in other series. (Yes I’m ignoring X-2. It was one game and didn’t match with how the jobs/classes are typically portrayed):
So looking at the Red Mage and Black Mage garbs, I have to say that I actually really like them! The red mage is absolutely true to form. And the Black Mage is actually a really nice feminine version of the typical unisex Bklack Mage design while still not being ridiculously impractical or fanservice-y.
The Dragoon and the Dark Knight I was much less happy with. They’re certainly much better than most of the other sexualized armors, but would it have killed them to include pants? The armors are so good except for that pesky lack of pants!
The two I like the least are the Blue Mage and the White Mage. The Blue Mage, because it tosses all of the design history out the window in favor of sexay that happens to be mostly blue. And the White Mage, while I didn’t actually count it as suggestive, also feels really boring and girly. They didn’t include any red in the design, the silhoutte is completely different, and there isn’t anything remotely priest-like about that dress. Which, honestly. If even X-2 managed to have sexay outfits that still recognizably adhered to the iconic class outfit design, what was their freaking excuse? It strikes me as being just plain lazy.