In the franchise’s 35 years, Final Fantasy has touched on every genre from sci-fi to Shakespearean epic. Yet, some of the most impactful stories have been romances. The relationship between Cloud and Aerith in Final Fantasy VII is so impactful that it still stands as one of the most emotional stories in the medium.
The black sheep of the family, Final Fantasy XIII, is an underrated gem at large. With a strong female protagonist, unique art direction, and fresh gameplay FF13 deserves more credit than it gets. It also offers one of the series' most emotional depictions of love through the relationship between two women out of time: Fang and Vanille.
Meant to be
There are two main musical themes in Final Fantasy XIII. The international theme is titled “The Promise.” The original Japanese theme is titled “Eternal Love” and ends with the lyrics “I don't want to lose my love for you / I swear on the night sky / I will never let go of your hand.”
FFXIII’s Japanese theme.
While the majority of Final Fantasy games give the main protagonist a romantic interest, sometimes even more than one, Final Fantasy XIII lets Lightning stand alone. As one of the franchise's only female protagonists (even ensemble casts like Final Fantasy VI don’t quite count), she is not defined by her connection to a love interest. Her closest relationship is with her sister Serah, who is the driving purpose of everything Lightning does.
In the game’s narrative, the most prominent relationship is between the party members is between Fang and Vanille. The two are the last remaining Pulse inhabitants alive, having crystallized six hundred years ago and only recently awakening from this stasis early in the game. They share an immensely close bond, defined by their devotion to each other above all other duties. If gamers had a tough time accepting Lightning as a protagonist because she was a woman, then the idea of a queer romance was even harder to wrap their heads around.
Fang and Vanille are queer — not gal pals, not sisters, not close friends — they are lovers.
They were always intended to be lovers. Fang as a character changed drastically during development. Tetsuya Nomura, who served as the main character designer on XIII, revealed to IGN that early in development, Fang was a man.
Originally conceived as a love interest for Lightning, Fang was altered when the team decided to focus on Lightning’s relationship to her sister as a means to showcase her strength and determination. Fang’s romance was then transferred to Vanille. Further into development, Fang was changed into a female character, but her relationship with Vanille was not.
In describing Fang, director Motomu Toriyama stated that her defining characteristic is her willingness to do whatever is necessary to protect Vanille. Much of the game’s early hours are spent with Fang doing whatever she can to reunite with Vanille. The two have been all the other one has for over six hundred years and that relationship is what drives them both.
Throughout Final Fantasy XIII, Fang and Vanille are seen doing anything to be with each other. They lie, steal, and cheat. When first introduced to the player, Fang is working with the government of Cocoon to track down Lightning and her friends. She is working with the enemy just so she can find the person most important to her.
In the end, when faced with fulfilling her promise to a god or fulfilling the promise to the woman she loves, Fang chooses Vanille. The two merge, becoming the being Ragnarök who is destined to destroy Cocoon. Yet the two women break from this fate. Forcing lava from within Pulse’s core to burst forth, Vanille and Fang crystalize a pillar that surrounds Cocoon, holding it above the planet. This is the moment Yoshitaka Amano depicts in his logo art for the game.
The final shot of Final Fantasy XIII slowly zooms inside the crystallized pillar revealing at its center the bodies of Fang and Vanille enclosed around each other. They hold onto each other's hands ... never to let go.
Perhaps the greatest trick Square Enix ever pulled was convincing players that Final Fantasy XIII was about Lightning when in reality, it is a story about the undying love between Fang and Vanille.
Final Fantasy XIII is leaving Xbox Game Pass on September 15th, 2022.