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Let’s Give Lightning a Little Love

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The Final Fantasy XIII trilogy got a lot of flack for a myriad of problems: linearity, weak storyline, generic collect-and-return quests, but most pertinently, the main female protagonist, Lightning.

The problem with the gaming community is that it is decidedly male-centric, with many developers and reviewers catering to (and belonging to) the male gender. I can understand that; the world is trying to adjust to the influx of female gamers, and, call us crazy, but sometimes we enjoy playing a strong female character, no matter how banal the quests may be.

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As fierce a fighter as any male protagonist.

It’s true: FFXIII was very linear for a good three-quarters of the game. FFXIII-2 improved upon that, though it was almost to the point of confusion, as half the time the player has no clue where (or, more importantly, when) they are. Then came Lightning Returns, a game that improved upon many of the aspects complained about in previous games, and with a typically JRPG storyline – full of twists, turns, and heightened emotion. Most importantly, it featured a more intuitive battle system, which was successful enough to be adopted by the long awaited Final Fantasy XV. And yet, Lightning Returns still received mixed reviews. Why? My only conclusion is that male gamers still find it difficult to play a female protagonist (Square Enix clearly noticed this trend as they reverted to their standard male protagonist in the form of Noctis Lucis Caelum in Final Fantasy XV).

Let’s be clear: Lightning was a strong female character, if an emotionally-stunted one (an aspect which is addressed and resolved in the final game in the FFXIII series). She is a capable fighter with strong morals and, I would go as far as to say, a role-model for female JRPG players. Not even her sister, Serah (the female co-protagonist in FFXIII-2), possessed the gravitas that Lightning’s character brought to the games. Instead, she was unsure and in constant inner-conflict – quite the opposite of Lightning’s self-assured get-the-job-done attitude. This attitude stemmed from having to raise her sister after losing their parents: events that led to her Guardian Corp initiation. The very fact that she is a soldier is already a massive step in the right direction for Square Enix, as female characters are traditionally the damsels in distress. On the flip side of the coin, making Lightning a cold, hardened soldier makes her unlikeable and leaves her without the semblance of a personality. Lightning, being the first truly prominent female protagonist (after Terra of FFVI), definitely broadens the market by catering to both genders. However, Square Enix will need to work on making their leading ladies more relatable. One can’t really blame them: they’ve had very little practice truly exploring the psyche and motives of female protagonists, but practice makes perfect.

One might even say that the emotionally-stunted Lightning was directly contrasted by her emotionally-driven little sister. And of course, FFXIII dealt primarily with saving Serah, who was unable to save herself, placing her in the category of the classic damsel in distress role, waiting around for someone to save her. That ‘someone’ was Lightning, who risked life and limb to save the only family she had left. Then, in Lightning Returns, not only did she save her sister, but all of our favourite characters from the series, and even her arch-nemesis from FFXIII-2, Caius Ballad.

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Polar opposites in personality.

As of now, there are only two strong, independent, and truly prominent female characters in Final Fantasy’s long and complex history: Ultimecia, the primary antagonist of Final Fantasy VIII, and Lightning, the underrated and disregarded protagonist of the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy. Lightning added a feminist touch to the male-centric JRPG scene, though, that is not to say that there are not some great female characters in the Final Fantasy series: Tifa Lockhart and Rinoa Heartilly are prominent in FFVII and FFVIII, respectively, but they were support characters at best – there to guide the moral compass of the male protagonist. Aeris, Rinoa, and Yuna possessed inner strength and a tendency towards self-sacrifice. Though this is commendable, the fact that the developers were willing to sacrifice them in the first place is the real problem here. Then there’s Yeul, who is the ultimate personification of self-sacrifice, but still required not one, but two men to take care of her. The concept of self-sacrifice is a decidedly feminine characteristic, which is also possessed by Lightning, but with more of a hardened goal-oriented outlook that is generally looked upon as masculine.

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They would all be dead if not for Lightning.

Lightning combines the both feminine and masculine characteristics and thus embodies a very unique character. She even goes from fighting a god, to serving a god, to killing a god. That makes her an inspirational character in my book, gender-be-damned.

I like writing. I like gaming. I'm a girl. Those are three sentences rarely said together, but should be. What else defines me as a person? Oreo McFlurrys. And RPGs. Put them together and you have yourself the perfect Saturday night.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. aron

    December 29, 2016 at 4:51 am

    “Bayonetta would still be a good game even of the main character had a penis, and FF13 would still be a mediocre game if Lightning had a dick.”

    C’mon now. Let’s not pretend Bayonetta’s gender has noting to do with the success and style of the game. Sure, if she was a man, it would still probably be a great game. But there would be a hell of a lot less skin, close-up shots of his body, and pole dancing scenes. Arguing that gender has nothing to do with how certain games and characters are written is just being blind to

    As for the ol’ “men in games are chiseled too” argument. Sure, that’s true – male characters usually are muscular and attractive. But I don’t see Nathan Drake running around in short-shorts or Snake doing sexy dances for the camera. They aren’t designed to be ‘sexy’ for women. They are designed to look practical and heroic. There’s a big difference between the designer’s intentions of making Kratos muscular in God of War and, say, making Channing Tatum bulk up in Magic Mike. A better example of a ‘sexy’ male character would be Chris from Resident Evil 5 in his ‘sexy sailor’ outfit. But we don’t see too much of THAT sexualization in games, lest male gamers find it ‘gay’ or ‘icky’.

  2. John Cal McCormick

    February 6, 2017 at 10:28 am

    Honestly, we can try and dress it up as more, and hey, if someone was being held back because they happened to be born with a vagina then I’d be more than happy to join the queue in denouncing it. But sometimes the simplest solution really is the answer.

    Lightning sucks. Lightning Returns sucks. That’s why people don’t like them.

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‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off

The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.

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Life is Strange 2

Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.

Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.

Life is Strange 2

The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.

To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.

Life is Strange 2

In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.

On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.

By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.

Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.

Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.

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‘Yaga’ Review: A Bittersweet Fairy Tale

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Yaga Game Review

Some games feel perfectly suited to their genres, as if they fulfill every ambition that their genre could promise. On paper, Yaga from the developer Breadcrumbs Interactive, should be one of those games. This roguelike RPG is meant to bring traditional Slavic folktales to life, and its procedurally generated structure allows the game to change in every playthrough, just like how the ancient fairy tales it’s based on can change in every telling. Yaga immediately shines on a conceptual level, but as a game, the most important question remains: will this fairy tale be enjoyable to play?

From start to finish, Yaga uses the rich source material of Eastern European history and folklore to create a vibrant, fantastical world. The entire game is framed as three elderly women telling the story of Ivan, a heroic blacksmith who has been stricken with the curse of bad luck. These women spin a fanciful yarn, one in which Ivan is constantly plagued by horrors from traditional fairy tales such as the hideous One-Eyed Likho, along with more realistic foes, such as a corrupt, overbearing Tsar. The game thrives on this balance between history and fantasy. Its world is filled with peasants who face daily, universal struggles with war and agriculture, while massive ogres and goblin-like Vodyanoys haunt the surrounding wilderness. This mixture creates a strong setting that finally gives Slavic history and mythology its long-overdue representation in games.

Yaga Game Review

“Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.”

The frame story always remains the same: Ivan will always have to serve his Tsar while avoiding bad luck in every playthrough. However, beyond these core details, the old women are extremely flexible storytellers, often switching events around or changing story beats entirely. In some playthroughs, you may discover a woman raising an enormous chicken; in others, you may instead encounter a band of thieves waiting to rob you. You will frequently face important decisions to make that will dramatically impact the outcome of your quest. yes, you can always break into monster hideouts with hammers blazing to slay every creature before you; but more often than not, you are also given the opportunity to peacefully talk your way out of these toxic situations. Even more dramatically, oftentimes the game will zoom out to the old women storytellers and allow you to choose how they tell the rest of Ivan’s story. Yaga is at its best when it doubles down on this player freedom. It makes every moment engaging and allows its stories to truly come alive.

Yaga

Yaga’s writing and presentation only serve to make this world even more striking. It features a distinctly dark sense of humor – for instance, a man may ask you to push a boulder into a well behind his house, but he will neglect to tell you that he has also thrown his wife into the bottom of that well ahead of time. Much of this dialogue is even written in rhyme, enhancing the otherworldly, fairy tale atmosphere. On top of that, nearly all dialogue is fully voice acted, with most voice actors delivering some eccentrically charming performances that make the game feel as if it’s a playable Disney film. The visuals look like they’re taken straight out of a Russian children’s book of fairy tales, while the music incorporates traditional instruments and language into an electronic, hip-hop fusion soundtrack that captures the cultural heritage that Yaga focuses on while connecting it to modern culture. Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.

However, this leads to the gameplay. Quests may be randomized each time you play, but nearly every one of them takes the same general format. One character will request help, and then Ivan will have to venture out into the world to fight some demons or recover an item. Worse yet, the levels are just as randomized in their procedurally generated design, and not in a particularly clever way, either: most of them likewise follow the same formula, being little more than arenas full of enemies connected by copy-and-paste environments. Many paths in each environment lead to nothing more than pointless dead ends. The combat has a satisfyingly simple basis, with basic moves like long- and close-range attacks, roll dodging, items to use, and a variety of different weapons to equip, although his trusty old hammer is generally the best choice. However, while this simplicity makes the combat enjoyable on its own, there is very little depth to it, and the inherently repetitive design of the mission only serves to highlight how paper-thin combat can be. Most battles involve little more than hacking away at enemies until they die, which becomes increasingly repetitive by the end of the roughly ten-hour campaign.

Yaga

At the very least, the robust customization system helps add a little intrigue to the combat. As a blacksmith, Ivan is naturally gifted with the ability to craft weapons for himself to use. By scavenging parts and items from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the world, Ivan is able to create the most powerful weapons. Crafting is simple to use yet extremely ripe for experimentation, requiring only one base item and a handful of accessories to create unique new items. With dozens of components to discover and use in your forging, there are plentiful opportunities to create the best possible weapons.

“All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.”

The crafting system would be the standout aspect of the moment-to-moment gameplay if it weren’t foiled by another one of the game’s systems: Bad Luck. Ivan has been cursed with perpetual Bad Luck, which grows constantly throughout the game – whenever something good happens, Bad Luck is sure to increase. Whenever the Bad Luck meter fills all the way, Likho will appear and strike Ivan, generally breaking one of his weapons or stealing his money.

Yaga Game Review

On paper, this mechanic makes sense, since it prohibits the player from becoming too overpowered and also fits into the folklore style off the story. In practice, however, it is an infuriating limitation on player progression and invention. It effectively punishes players for putting thought and care into their weapon crafting and character-building – at any moment it can all be washed away in bad luck, so what’s the point? Considering how enjoyable the crafting and combat systems are, it’s a shame that Bad Luck seems to exist solely to diminish the very best parts of the gameplay, leaving the game feeling like it cripples itself.

Your enjoyment of Yaga depends heavily on what experience you want out of it. If you’re looking for a deep and satisfying RPG, then it likely won’t deliver. Although it features satisfying combat and customization systems, the frustrating randomization of its level design and Bad Luck system only serve to foil these good qualities. If you are instead looking for a faithful, fleshed-out image of Slavic cultural heritage, portraying both the harsh realities of peasant life along with its fanciful folklore, then Yaga is a clear triumph thanks to its emphasis on player choice, its excellent writing, and its beautiful hand-drawn visuals and inventive soundtrack. All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.

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‘Resident Evil 3: Nemesis’ — A New Height to Survival-Horror

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Resident Evil 3 Nemesis

If we can forget that Nemesis was a poorly designed rubber goof in the Resident Evil: Apocalypse movie, we can easily state that he is the apex predator of the series. The follow-up to Resident Evil 2 had quite a few expectations to fill and, for the most part, Resident Evil 3 delivered. While not so much a fan-favorite as RE2, there was a lot to like about RE3. The return of RE‘s Jill Valentine, some new intuitive controls, and, of course, theNemesis.

RE3 marks the first time in the series where you are limited to one character – Jill. Through this, the story is slightly more focused and straightforward – despite the plot being all about Jill trying to leave Raccoon City. RE3 director Kazuhiro Aoyama cleverly sets in pieces of RE2 to make this work as both a prequel and a sequel. If you’ve never played RE2 – shame on you – you would not be able to scout notable tie-ins such as the police station. With a large majority of the building still locked up, Marvin Branagh, the wounded police officer who helps you in the second game, is still unconscious and has yet to give anyone the keycard which unlocks the emergency security system.

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Where RE3 really shines is in its latest entry of Umbrella Corps. bio-engineered tyrants called Nemesis. The hulking tank brought a new dimension to the series, invoking more cringe-inducing terror and stress than ever. As if zombies and critters jumping through windows weren’t bad enough, now you have to worry about an RPG-wielding maniac busting through a wall and chasing you around the entirety of the immediate environment – and chase is certainly brought to a whole new level indeed. It became a running joke when you would encounter a handful of zombies, but could escape unscathed by simply running into another room. Nemesis, on the other hand, will continue his pursuit no matter what room you run into. At the time, this brought a whole new level of detail in the genre. Knowing that at any given moment he will just appear and will certainly derail whatever key or plot item you’re quested to look for made Nemesis a very intense experience.

Resident Evil 3 is the pinnacle of the series and the last of old-school survival-horror.

The gameplay also takes a few different approaches in this game. There will be moments when you encounter Nemesis, or certain plot occasions where you will be prompted to make a decision. It was a great alteration to the series, as it added new layers and weight for the player. Another addition to the gameplay came in the form of control although as minute as it sounds, is having the ability to turn a full 180 degrees – yes you read that correctly. Resident Evil quintessentially coined the term survival-horror, and survival certainly predicates the genre. There will be times – if not numerous times, you will run out of ammo. When those moments used to occur, you would have to make your character turn in the slowest fashion imaginable to make a run for the door and to safety. It was those moments back then that would pull the player away from the action. With the addition of the quick-turn ability- which was actually first introduced in Capcom’ Dino Crisis game – it gave the player the chance to just cap a few zombies and dash creating more seamless and dynamic gameplay.

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The level design of Resident Evil 3 is grand, if not grander than RE2. A lot of the setting and scenery take place in the open air of the city and a few other places around the vicinity. RE and RE2 mostly took place indoors, and those settings helped create unique moods especially when it is all about tight corridors adding a more claustrophobic feel. Aoyama definitely went with a bigger setting and atmosphere in the follow-up. The game takes you through a police station, a hospital, a local newspaper office, a clock tower and a factory. More often than not, though, people tend to forget the scope and grandeur of RE3. Not to mention you can only… spoiler… kill Nemesis with a Rail-Gun at the end.

Resident Evil 3 is the pinnacle of the series and the last of old-school survival-horror. It took everything that it did so well in the previous titles and made it bigger and better. Nemesis encapsulated fear and dread in ways rarely experienced at the time. The scene where he popped through a window and chased players through the police station has always remained a nostalgic moment, much like anything that comes through a window in the RE series. In fact, a bit of advice for anyone playing the first-gen of RE titles: beware of windows.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on May 16, 2016.

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