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Final Fantasy XIII
by Artemis

So here we are with another Final Fantasy game. The first one hails from all the way back in 1987, which means the series is older than probably most of the people playing FFXIII, and along the way - besides the actual games - it's given us the ambitious but self-bankrupting The Spirits Within movie, a collection of batshit crazy fight scenes strung together and named Advent Children, and most importantly, 8-Bit Theatre. And action figures, of course - the franchise is presently serviced by pricey-import-figure merchants Play Arts, whose latest efforts include FFXIII heroine Lightning.

Former sergeant of the Guardian Corps, Lightning sought the Pulse fal'Cie, Anima, in order to ask it to save her sister Serah, whom the fal'Cie had turned into a l'Cie. However, much to her dismay, Lightning was turned into a l'Cie herself. Originally named Claire Farron she discarded her birth name after her parents died in an attempt to emotionally reinforce herself so that she could protect Serah, although this only caused tensions to rise between them. Lightning is very independent and determined, but she is also shown to have a compassionate side.

L'Cie are kind of like the suck version of chosen ones, if you're wondering - you get crazy visions pointing you to a quest, and it doesn't really matter if you succeed or fail, you're screwed over either way. Lightning was envisioned as a new kind of heroine - for the Final Fantasy series, anyway - being less feminine and more athletic than her predecessors (although since all I've seen are 1, 7 and this one, that might be utter bollocks for all I know), and specifically, a female version of FFVII's Cloud Strife. Not an easy task for the designers: "less girly than average" but "more girly than Cloud" doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room; indeed, Lightning kind of looks like Advent Children's version of Cloud with a botched hair dye and push-up bra.

Lightning's series - part of a new breed of Play Arts figures dubbed "-Kai-" (who knows why) - ups the ante on both of Play Arts' notable features: the price tag and the amount of painstaking attention to detail you get for it. -Kai- also ups the sheer size of the range, with Lightning standing over 8½" tall, dwarfing the 7"-ish earlier Play Arts ranges - bad for mix-and-match Final Fantasy Celebrity Deathmatch, but certainly a plus for the figure's individual impressiveness. Lightning is loaded with detail, with a multi-layered costume (mostly fashioned from soft rubber, but sporting very sharp sculpting) and every last little detail given its proper paint applications. With Lightning's general style - pink hair aside - being low-key, insofar as Final Fantasy is ever low-key, the figure puts to shame efforts like NECA's Sheva Alomar with its mastery of subtle colouring to create a striking figure without resorting to vivid hues.

Her face - she really does look a lot like Cloud - is up to Play Arts' usual standard, which is to say she looks pretty much like she just stepped out of the screen she was rendered on. Her hair, sadly, misses the mark a bit - the use of pearly reflective plastic, along with some good paintwork, gives it lots of body and definition, but it lacks the darker shadows the CGI manages, which results in the look of the whole figure being subtly thrown of, compared to its source. Worse, there's a mold line running diagonally across her fringe, against the sculpted hair strands - it doesn't seem to want to show up on camera, but it's there, trust me, and it's a real shame on a figure that's otherwise so rewarding to study closely.

-Kai- also promises unrivalled mobility, which is quite a claim since previous Play Arts releases haven't been any slouches in the articulation department - then again, every figure that isn't a McStatue gets called "super-articulated" by its makers, so perhaps it's just one of those things you have to do to get noticed. There's certainly no lack of joints, though: balljoint neck and sternum, both with excellent ranges, swivel/pin shoulders on a pin "hunch" joint, pin elbows, swivel wrists, ball hips with swivel upper thighs, sheathed double-pin knees, swivel boot tops, and two-axis ankles. The gaps left by the sheathing on the knees - covering the double joint within - take a bit of getting used to, but they're certainly no more disfiguring than naked double-pin joints are. The single pin joints at the elbows are a bit of a weakness, versus a true double-pin joint, but they manage an acceptable range.

Lightning has two accessories, which represent the same thing: her Blazefire Saber, the latest in Final Fantasy's fascination with gunblades (which will probably one day evolve into Gatling glaives and Lochaberzookas). The Saber's gun form is an ornate rifle, with the trigger, grip, and little pointy thing beneath the forward barrel all folding into the body of the weapon so that it can be easily slipped into the heavy holster slung from the back of Lightning's belt. The sword form is simpler, with no moving parts; on both forms the grip (which remains slanted, gun-like, even on the sword) fits into the right hand and is held in place by a peg extending from the palm. As well as the gripping right hand, and the matching vague-grip left hand for cradling the rifle barrel, there's also an alternate pair of clenched fist hands.

Finally, there's the stand, and I see what Play Arts were going for here, but it doesn't work. What they've got is a kind of super-Doop stand, a ratcheted claw-tipped limb that, in theory, should be able to support the figure no matter what pose it's in. Unfortunately the joints on the "arm" aren't tight enough, and if there's an inbuilt way to lock them in place I haven't yet discovered it - the result is that the considerable weight of almost 9" of action figure is enough to drag the stand down with it if it's not already balanced. If it is already balanced, there's no need for the stand anyway, and with all that leg articulation, attaining free-standing interesting poses isn't all that difficult.

Prices will vary from place to place and exchange rate to exchange rate, naturally, but my observation is that these puppies are going for about twice the price of a DCU figure, assuming you could find one of those. So is she worth two DCUs? The people buying from my local comic shop seem to think not, since the majority of the FFXIII shipment they got in is still sitting forlornly on the shelves - but you know what, I disagree. Ignoring the line in her hair (which is, after all, just one error), Lightning is a large and very impressive piece of work, with a striking visual design rendered in a very well-articulated body. -Kai- may struggle to find casual buyers, with its high price tag, but I've already put my order in for the next such figures (from Bayonetta), and I don't regret that one bit.

-- 05/13/10

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