Matt Bird writes all sorts of nonsense, but he dedicates a large chunk of his time to writing game walkthroughs.
The Final Fantasy series is, like so many others, dominated by men. The main heroes are usually male; the villains are usually male; the important NPCs are usually male; even the random enemies typically appear to be male. Yet every now and then Square Enix will move out of the male comfort zone and create a strong, vibrant, interesting female character, and their games come out all the better for it.
Below is a list of ten of the best female characters in the Final Fantasy series. They're compelling, they're nuanced, and they give their male counterparts a run for their money in a number of ways. (And, yes, this is just my opinion. Feel free to blow me out of the water in the comments.)
10. Rydia (Final Fantasy IV / Final Fantasy IV: The After Years)
Rydia's had a bad childhood. Her mother's been killed, her hometown nearly burnt to the ground, she's been abducted by one of the men responsible for it all, and, hey, she's been sucked into a whirlpool by an otherworldly monster. Yikes. Yet Rydia endures it all, emerging on the other end of the darkness with a fire, spunk, and the power to summon mighty monsters roiling in her belly. Final Fantasy IV's characters weren't always that well-developed, but Rydia was definitely one of the best.
9. Lightning (Final Fantasy XIII / XIII-2 / Lightning Returns)
You've gotta respect a soldier, even if she does start out as a bit of a Cloud clone. A former Seargent in Cocoon's Guardian Corps, Lightning throws her entire life away to save her sister—and is quickly dragged into a series of time-spanning debacles that no one could have anticipated. Yet Lightning remains unperturbed through it all, whether she's fighting god machines or defending mystic realms far beyond the norm, and despite all that changes around her she manages to cling to her honour and her strong views on protecting one's family. Brava.
Oh, and did I mention that she's a valkyrie? Yep, that's a thing. A pretty awesome thing.
8. Terra (Final Fantasy VI)
Who am I? Everyone probably asks themselves this question at least once, but no one is quite so deserving of an answer as Terra. Kept in thrall by the Empire for her entire adolescence, Terra is nothing more than a weapon, and she remains that way until fate intervenes and frees her of imperial bondage. Final Fantasy VI's first half is very much a tale of self-discovery, and Terra's struggle to find her place in the world—the normal world or another one—is both compelling and a little sad. Considering all she's capable of, Terra doesn't want to seem anything more than a normal, happy life.
7.) Ashe, Final Fantasy XII, Revenant Wings
Kingdom, crushed. Husband, slain. Subjects, crushed beneath imperial boot heels. Most people, men and women, would probably bow down and cry under such pressure. Not Ashelia B'nargin Dalmasca, though. Instead you find her in the sewers, fighting off enemies in a bid to escape the controlling influence of the invaders and strike back in secret. Ashe is a bold, cunning, strong leader, only showing signs of cracking weakness at her lowest moments - and even then, she's willing to go to extremes to set things right again. Some members of Final Fantasy XII's cast may be a little lacking in personality, but Ashe ain't one of 'em.
6.) Edea, Final Fantasy VIII
Villain or hero, sinner or saint, Edea is pretty awesome. The owner of an orphanage that eventually blossoms into a potent mercenary force, Edea is forced into a much more villainous role when the time-skipping Ultimecia inhabits her body and turns the sorceress into a sadistic, war-mongering tyrant. Possessed Edea is creepy yet seductive, presenting unearthly scenarios that you know will end badly with casual, uncaring grace. Ultimecia as herself is not nearly so interesting a villain as her early game counterpart.
5.) Celes, Final Fantasy VI
How far do you go before you scream 'No more'? Raised, trained and indoctrinated by an Empire with predictably imperial ambitions, Celes Chere is a rare, tormented protagonist whose grief springs from a valid source. How do you atone for ripping apart the world? Even worse, how do you recover when everyone you'd learned to trust is seemingly killed in the apocalypse...? Celes is forced to endure much, and her characterization as a stern general forced to shed her toughness is brilliantly executed.
4.) Aeris, Final Fantasy VII / Crisis Core / Before Crisis
Aeris, Aerith, Ancient, Cetra, Flower Girl, call her what you will, this young woman is marvelous. The final lingering remnant of a long-lost civilization, Aeris is the epitome of the optimist: despite being hounded by a greedy conglomerate that wishes to subject her to experiments most foul, she remains ever upbeat and peppy, willing to encourage and support her teammates in the greatest battle of their lives. Yet at the same time she is flirtatiously enigmatic, always retaining a slight air of mystery... and when the time comes to part, you get the sense that she still think she's won, even if it appears that Aeris has lost.
3.) Fang, Final Fantasy XIII / XIII-2 / Lightning Returns
What do you get when you combine an outback outfit, a quasi-Australian accent, a wicked spear, and a temper? Oerba Yun Fang, that's what. A relic of another age, Fang bursts into Final Fantasy XIII with an acerbic sense of humour, a rough-and-tumble outlook on life, and a complete unwillingness to compromise. Fang is endlessly self-sacrificing, willing to do anything for her friends, and just plain fun to listen to when she gets into a tizzy. She also more than makes up for her partner Vanille, who, uh, is not quite as cool. Stay frosty, Fang.
2.) Beatrix, Final Fantasy IX
Square Enix has a thing for soldiers questioning their loyalty to their sworn lords, and Beatrix, despite being something of a side character - a side villain, even - epitomizes this viewpoint. Though ruthless and mocking at times, Beatrix prizes her personal honour above seemingly all else - to the point that she'll serve a monarch she knows is in the wrong. A swordswoman without peer, and possibly the coolest character in Final Fantasy IX, Beatrix manages to eclipse even those women who get a full game's worth of screen time.
Also? Showing up Steiner. Their scenes together are priceless.
1.) Lulu, Final Fantasy X / X-2
Yep, everyone's favourite grouch takes the top spot. Yuna's Pilgrimage to Zanarkand would not have gotten very far without Lulu to keep it on track. A pragmatic, cool, level-headed and biting individual, Lulu is equal parts protective den mother and fierce warrior, supporting Yuna on her journey with an unflappable demeanour and some seriously potent black magic. It's a shame she didn't get to tag along with the main party in Final Fantasy X-2 - her replacement, Paine, just doesn't have the same gravitas. (Though admittedly, it's tough to picture Lulu in anything but her furs.)
FFVIII4Life on June 13, 2019:
Beatrix doesn’t ever get enough love, thanx for showing her some.
Spencer on December 29, 2016:
Where's TIFA!?!?! :(
Nadia on December 09, 2016:
I want Tifa!!!!
Jimmy Jobber on November 19, 2016:
No Tifa? Really?
Poppy from Enoshima, Japan on July 15, 2014:
Great article! You're clearly a fan of the Final Fantasy series. I must admit I love Dona from X and X-, even though she's not a playable character, she's strong, independent and cold. Paine is cool also. Glad to see Lulu as #1 though :)
Ilona from Ohio on March 08, 2014:
My daughter is a huge fan, and entered a drawing of Lightning in Deviantart contest. I sort of got interested through that, although I'm not a gamer. I have to agree with her about the way Final Fantasy is a really interesting story and characters.