Aside from ruffling the feathers of anyone who particularly dislikes Lightning, the inclusion opens up the weird snarl of non-continuity along the entirety of the franchise. I like Lightning, but this certainly does feel unusual. Even without seeing the quest, I have plenty of questions about how the games tie together, what the possible explanation could be, and how this will affect both worlds (as Naoki Yoshida has said specifically that this is Lightning herself, not someone who looks and acts as she does).
So let’s talk about crossovers, let’s talk about Final Fantasy XIV’s existing fanservice, and let’s ask ourselves if this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Metaphorically. I don’t think there are camels in Eorzea.
Let’s be clear: There’s an established meta-narrative for the series as a whole to link up. It shows up whenever Square-Enix decides to mash continuities together, such as with Dissidia and Theatrhythm. The eternal struggle of Cosmos against Chaos, so on and so forth, warriors from multiple dimensions, etc. This is not the first time these crossovers have happened.
Nor are these crossovers necessarily in some strange setting outside of the actual game worlds. Cloud shows up in Final Fantasy Tactics (which shares the same world as Final Fantasy XII), Gogo shows up in Final Fantasy VI and may be the same character you fight in Final Fantasy V (although he could just as easily be anyone, really), and that’s without counting the array of guest appearances by characters in other franchises and games.
The main difference is that many of these aren’t meant to be taken seriously. Theatrhythm has an excuse plot, anyway; Cloud certainly doesn’t mention spending time on Ivalice with Ramza; and Gogo could be anyone in the world. But this isn’t the first time that the series has had a big dose of crossover between existing installments, which is helped by the fact that the titles are linked more by shared references than by plots.
And by the same token, Lightning is showing up briefly, then leaving, in something that is entirely optional and not a main part of the story for the game. It makes no more or less sense than the Four Fiends appearing in Final Fantasy IX. Except, that, you know… Final Fantasy XIII is a lot further from Final Fantasy XIV than seems comfortable, and Lightning is a distinct element that’s uniquely from that game.
You know, like magitek armor from Final Fantasy VI. Or the final boss of Final Fantasy III. Both of which are making appearances in FFXIV, one as a mount for players and the other as an enemy. (I leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine which is which.)
Much like Final Fantasy IX, FFXIV is going out of its way to contain a lot of fan favorite elements in the game. It’s not being done arbitrarily or with a lack of respect toward the game’s setting, but if there’s a plausible way to get these things in the same place, they will be added. We haven’t seen the last of them, either, as I’m sure we’ll see more references to the series as a whole crop up via expansions and patches.
But it’s not much of a stretch to assume that similar monsters exist across many worlds. It stretches credibility more when a character is explicitly moved across dimensions into a completely different setting, and it brings up questions of how or why these worlds are connected, questions that have to be answered because… well…
The ending of Final Fantasy XIII-2 kind of flips off the very concept of continuity in the way that only an obsessive time-travel plot really can. And the continuity of FFXIV’s relaunch is already on vague and shaky ground because of the explicit five-year gap and the general mucking about with memories, meaning that Lightning’s arrival makes about as much sense as anything else. It would have made more sense when Dalamud was falling and weird stuff was popping up on an hourly basis, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Despite all of that, it feels wrong. It feels like something that doesn’t happen in a world with such a strong sense of verisimilitude. And that gets right to the heart of fanservice, that it’s fun until it starts to feel as if the people in charge don’t take the game seriously. This is a genuinely uncomfortable feeling, something World of Warcraft players are very familiar with. It’s never a good time to realize that even the designers of the game don’t think that it’s worth treating as a serious world with actual people living in it.
Of course Lightning can show up in FFXIV. Square owns the character; it can put her wherever it wants. And of course you can come up with an explanation for why, and you can point to the many other times that similar things have taken place in various games, but you can’t change the fact that it’s taking a main character from one game, sticking her in another game, and then letting the mess sort itself out.
Nor can you change the fact that functionally it would be identical if some random unnamed warrior from the void appeared from a mystery portal, took part in an event, and then vanished just as mysteriously. The thing that makes this difference is that Lightning is a character with an established history and future. Change the name and appearance and it suddenly becomes easier to swallow because it’s not Lightning anymore — it’s some random person showing up through means that may never be explained.
Is there a right or wrong side here? I don’t think so. I can understand why people are upset, and I can also understand why others look at it as no big deal. At the end of the day, it comes down to a matter of preference because the argument comes down to feel. You can feel that it’s a neat cross-pollination or that it violates a well-established world, and neither one is right or wrong because it all comes down to opinion.
Me? I want a gunblade and that outfit. Especially for cosmetic purposes. Besides, I like Lightning.