Here’s the way I see it. You’re free to agree or disagree with me.
Lightning’s the sole playable character in Lightning Returns, which means that she evidently hasn’t lost her edge. It’s too early to say for sure, but we can assume that she’s the same vicious, determined Lightning as ever.
As a feminist bisexual, I am always struggling to balance, “A lot of fanservice is objectification of the kind that the male characters just don’t get, and some of it is demeaning/distorting to the female character” with “but women shouldn’t be shamed / victimized for wanting to look sexy or feminine if that’s their thing (glad I don’t have to carry the torch on that front, because NERD)” and “sometimes it’s fun to pretend to dress up in virtual reality without having to DO IT” and “I totally think Lulu is the HOTTEST THING EVER (except also Auron)” and “Let cosplayers have fun if they want to.”
Even if my first gut reaction at seeing a Lightning-fanservice new model was to wince because it doesn’t match my conception of her. (Lebreau with that costume? Including the Moogle ears headband? Yeah, I could see her rocking that for fun. Lightning? Brain hurts. But my mind can expand.)
And if Zack can beat off goons while shirtless using a beach umbrella, Lightning can fricking defeat the armies of chaos singlehandedly wearing a tutu and mirrorshades. (Although I like to think that she’d impale the person who swiped her uniform after she was done.)
TL;DR you said it all better.
My feelings are that we should absolutely allow people to enjoy the dress-up aspects of Lightning Returns. Playing with a traditionally feminine fashion-oriented mechanic is absolutely fine. You can even enjoy media that sexually objectifies females. I, myself, am going to enjoy the hell out of it. I love dress-up mechanics. I’ve never played Final Fantasy X-2, and I don’t even like Final Fantasy X, but I am actually really interested in X-2’s HD remake just so I can play with pretty girls in pretty dresses in HD.
However, we should not accept the sexual objectification as progressive or cease criticizing it. Being feminine is not the same as being feminist, and I can’t stress that enough. It’s fine to be feminine. I won’t go anywhere without lipstick—but wearing it is not a feminist act. It’s a socially acceptable act. When I do feminism, I want to shake up society and destroy the patriarchy. I plan on doing that while wearing lipstick because I like it, but that doesn’t make wearing lipstick a progressive act. Just because women do something does not necessarily mean it’s not problematic or lacks the potential to be problematic. Femininity can be awesome. It can be positive. But that doesn’t make it the same thing as feminism.
And it’s also perfectly acceptable, and I would argue necessary, to enjoy our media and be able to criticize it for its failures at the same time. I adore the Final Fantasy series and have since childhood, but I’m not going to be shy about criticizing it for its problems. Objectifying men in a game does not solve the problem of the constant and extreme objectification of women in not only video games, but all forms of media. Zack fighting in his swimming trunks is nothing like the sexualization of, say, Vanille when using her Eidolon in FFXIII. If Final Fantasy XV really only has two major female characters? You better believe I will be complaining and analyzing that flaw—all while simultaneously enjoying what is likely to be a fantastic game and slashing the male characters. Reactions to media can and should be complex.
So you go right on and defeat all the bad guys in a ballgown. Let’s just not confuse the wearing of the ballgown for empowerment, because you can also do it in combat fatigues or stark naked and be just as progressive.