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1. Lightning ('XIII') vs. 8. Fran ('XII')
Let’s revisit the advantages that enabled Fran’s victory last time around, as well as why they may no longer apply. Viera boast a physical and sensory advantage over their human counterparts. The l’Cie, however, aren’t so easily dismissed. XIII’s entire party is their own breed of superhuman, with Lightning obviously posing the greatest threat. Lightning’s perfectly serviceable Gunblade negates Fran’s advantage from range. And should Fran turn to her misty berserk state to level the playing field, Lightning outclasses her on the skill front by miles. Call it revenge for how people generally feel about her games, or call it whatever you like, but Lightning stays comfortable and christens our Sweet Sixteen.
5. Basch fon Ronsenburg ('XII') vs. 4. Leon ('II')
This pair of tragic knights hosts what is arguably our grittiest matchup yet. There’s no lack of mettle to pick on this time around. It is worth noting that while XII’s progression encourages the mixing and matching of skillsets, II’s magic penalty funnels players into more restrictive roles for their characters. These are, of course, gameplay details that take a backseat to how the story establishes our fighters. To that point, there are few soldier profiles more suited for this tournament than a Judge Magister from Final Fantasy XII. Basch is Gabranth’s twin and equal, which says all you need to know about his abilities. Not to mention he’s the series’ closest thing to a Metal Gear Solid protagonist. Where Leon excels, Basch goes a step further as one of Ivalice’s finest warriors. Punished Basch toughs this one out for the win.
11. Rinoa Heartilly ('VIII') vs. 3. Firion ('II')
To reiterate, Final Fantasy II punishes balance to some small degree. If Firion enters this fight as a mage, an opponent specifically designed around more intricate magic hopelessly outmatches him. So we’ll give the rebel his best available opportunity as more of a fighter. With this setup, it’s a tale of two strengths. Rinoa’s mobility, range and, let’s not forget, trusty companion provide pesky obstacles for straightforward attackers. And, depending on which theories you subscribe to, she’s either an exceptionally powerful mage or an absurdly powerful mage. Rinoa is the rare berserker mage with the ability to rapid-fire one big mystery box of mystical death. Say what you want about her mixed reputation among the fan base, but Final Fantasy VIII’s leading lady overwhelms the II protagonist at every stage of this encounter. Call it an underdog story, because Rinoa advances to our Sweet Sixteen.
10. Tifa Lockhart ('VII') vs. 2. Bartz Klauser ('V')
Both contestants here wield a world of possibility. But Bartz is best aimed at more physical roles and Tifa is a brawler above all else. Chocobos are better vehicles than they are combatants, but the bird is still a minor inconvenience to factor in. Being dubbed a warrior of light is no joke, but Bartz is ultimately more of an adventurer than he is an outright warrior. The V party has some impressive accomplishments but, in the grand scheme of protagonists, Bartz isn’t the deadliest of any bunch unless you’re every Bartz player I’ve encountered in Dissidia NT. Tifa battles at the forefront of a terrorist organization, an accurate word I imagine they’ll stray from in the remake. She’s comparatively vicious, despite not always carrying that decisive aggression into her personal life. It’s one of our closer battles, given the wide range of interpretation when analyzing the V cast and their job mastery, but Tifa is the tougher fighter in a tight matchup. She wins again as another protagonist falls.
1. Noctis Lucis Caelum ('XV') vs. 9. Faris Scherwiz ('V')
Faris won her last fight behind the help of a sea monster. That’s not a factor to take lightly, but the last king of Lucis beats up on sea monsters in his spare time. Kid’s a natural. I’m honestly not sure how to canonically fight his Armiger arsenal. I suppose you’d…run away until it stops? There’s a heroic strategy. Faris can bring any assortment of help and skills into this fight, but there are few powers in the Final Fantasy multiverse that can stand up to Noctis’ very potent and protective relatives. If the guy’s kingly powers don’t run out of gas, there may very well be no hope against the walking sword tornado. Swordnado? I’ll stop. Noctis wins.
5. Freya Crescent ('IX') vs. 4. Auron ('X')
These are two similarly renowned warriors in their respective worlds. They lend considerable strength to their parties and form a meaty matchup here. Freya may be among FFIX’s toughest warriors, but Auron is world-renowned. He’s the guardian of all guardians, and will likely win any duel against those who utilize the same skills in battle. Final Fantasy X goes well out of its way to establish this through the awestruck reactions of various NPCs or party members. The guy may be too humble or subtly angry to soak up much of his own reputation, but Auron’s stoic composure prevents the upsets you may see among the tournament’s more overambitious favorites. Auron wins a tough fight against the anthropomorphized dragoon.
6. Balthier ('XII') vs. 3. Luneth ('III')
Separating the men from the boys doesn’t guarantee a win for either this time around. Luneth joins Bartz in the “more adventurer than warrior” category, which is of course a leading factor against Balthier once the two job-system each other to a near stalemate. Luneth fights for his friends, a charming quality that Square Enix uses more than the lights in their office. But Balthier ran with and subsequently defied the Archadian Empire. He wasn’t the highest ranking or most powerful Judge in the empire’s history, but that military experience in addition to his naturally devilish cleverness makes Balthier a winner and a taker above all else. Characters that border on naïve don’t do overly well against those who don’t need to play fair. Balthier outsmarts and overpowers the feisty kid, securing another win.
10. Edgar Figaro ('VI') vs. 2. Zidane Tribal ('IX')
We’ve got a prince and the pauper scenario in today’s final matchup, and a wealth of charm from both. Zidane may be tremendously important, and even greater in the likability department. But he doesn’t canonically overpower opponents in the way we see some other protagonists lay waste to the bad guys. Edgar has the arsenal to debilitate and severely damage any foe. Zidane’s speed and adept thievery, however, may very well strip the king of that arsenal piece by piece. It’s a tough call until we revisit the Trance state mentioned in the previous round. If Zidane fails to run circles around Edgar for too long, he’ll inevitably transform into a being that significantly outclasses his opponent. Terra’s very similar state can destroy most challenges in the VI universe, and a pinked out Zidane turns a tight battle into a win for the boyish bandit. Zidane beats Edgar, presumably because girls were watching.
Round 2 hits the halfway point after some upsets, some not-so upsets, and the first eight of our Sweet Sixteen. Check in next time for Round 2’s remainder in Final Fantasy March Madness.