The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

This Aeris Life

aeris final fantasy 7 remake

This morning I was listening to This American Life Episode 679: Save the Girl. The introduction starts out as thus:

IRA GLASS: Of everything in pop culture, what can make a teenage boy cry? That’s a very specialized list, right? And we got to talking about this at our office because Lina Misitzis, one of the producers here, remembers how there was this one video game, a PlayStation game, that got her brother and his friends when they were kids.

And I thought, oh man, there can be only one game that they’re talking about — Final Fantasy VII. And that delights me because whenever old fuddy duddy podcasts like this talk about old games, it’s always with reverence. Because the people who grew up with these games are now making the content. They’re making the material. We’re out of the days where “Comic Books Aren’t Just For Kids Anymore” is a legit headline.

IRA GLASS: And what was it about this character that was so intense?
LINA MISITZIS: Well, OK. So I have no idea. To me, it made no sense. She’s like this one-dimensional girl. She’s a cartoon. At the time, it was a big deal that she was 3D. So she looked, I guess, believable,

Wait, what? They are talking about Aeris, right?

LINA MISITZIS: The official game description of her is literally, quote, “young, beautiful, and somewhat mysterious.”
IRA GLASS: Wait. Could we pause on the word, “somewhat”? That seems so weirdly insulting. Like, well, you’re just somewhat mysterious.
LINA MISITZIS: [LAUGHS] OK. Right. And in the game, she really does just two things. She stands next to people and calms them down. Like she’ll put her hand on someone’s chest in this meaningful way. She’s this reassuring presence, this healer. And then the other thing she does is she asks for help.
IRA GLASS: So that’s the two basic female functions, right?
LINA MISITZIS: It’s like fix and help. Fix and help.

Okay, now I’m pissed off.

I guess I was wrong about what I said before. The fuddy duddy podcasts STILL get it wrong, still manipulate facts to serve their point. It’s like coming up with the thesis first, then picking data that proves it. I didn’t think fake news was a real thing before, but now I’m less sure…

First of all, Aeris is about as far from a one-dimensional character as you can get. She is funny, light-hearted, kind, compassionate. If you had to call her anything, then yes, she’s the healer of the group (because all her limit breaks deal with protection and healing), but in terms of gameplay, she can be just as powerful as anyone because she can have the same materia (magic spells) that anyone can.

You can tell this was written by people who didn’t even read the wikipedia page for FFVII. Point the first, THIS is the game’s official description, as sourced from the Final Fantasy VII Instruction Manual.

Young, beautiful, and somewhat mysterious, Aeris met Cloud while selling Flowers on the streets of Midgar. She decided to join him soon after. Her unusual abilities enable her to use magic, but she seems more interested in the deepening love triangle between herself, Cloud and Tifa.

That doesn’t do her justice (and why is “Flowers” capitalized? Those crazy Japanese). Look the whole point of Aeris is that she’s not just another plucky young girl. She’s descended from Cetra, an ancient race that could control the lifeforce of the planet. And the reason everyone wants her is because she’s the last of her race, and she’s got to come to terms with her past. And she does this while still being a plucky young girl from bad circumstances. Yeah, you save her a lot, but it’s like saving a Wonder Woman who hasn’t developed her powers yet.

Need more proof? How about some of her choice quotes from the game:

Hey, that’s Cloud’s line! ‘…It’s too dangerous, I can’t get you involved…’ Blah blah blah.

“Don’t fight here! You’ll ruin the flowers!”

“I think they believe I have what it takes to be in SOLDIER!” (offering an explanation for being pursued by the Turks)

“A girl!! What do you mean by that!? You expect me to just sit by and listen, after hearing you say something like that!? Mom! I’m taking Cloud to Sector 7. I’ll be back in a while.”

“I want to know you. The real you.”

Aerith: “Just the same as him.”
Cloud: “The same as who?”
Aeris: “My first boyfriend.”
Cloud: “You were… serious?”
Aeris: “No. But I liked him for a while.”
(in fact, this first boyfriend is Zack, a man who looks just like Cloud except for black hair, and a key figure in Cloud’s false memories)

Marlene : “Guess what? Guess what? Aerith was asking me lots of questions. Like what kind of person Cloud is. I bet she likes you, Cloud!”
Cloud: “Let’s hope so.”

Aerith: “I’m…… alone….. I’m all alone now…”
Cloud: “But I’m….. we’re here for you, right?”
Aerith: “I know. I know, but… I am the only…. Cetra.”

Cloud: “Aerith declared that she’ll show me the way. But if I let her, it seems hard to tell who’s the bodyguard.

“I’ll be going now. I’ll come back when it’s all over.”
(these are her last words

sephiroth stabs aeris

And keep in mind, this is among all the other colorful characters — a cat on a puppet, a brooding vampire-thing, a perky ninja girl, a man with a gun for an arm, an ex-pilot who constantly swears. That’s just the good guys.

LINA MISITZIS: I mean, she has no personality.
LINA MISITZIS: There’s a bird in the game that’s called like a Chocobo, I think, that has more personality than Aeris does.

Does that look like she has no personality? No. She has a sense of humor, she’s not like the kidnapped princesses that Anita Sarkeesian‘s always railing about (although she does get kidnapped a few times, she’s also a playable character who succeeds the Bechdel test). In the game, I would describe her as motherly, in that she’s caring, kind, upbeat, and flirty. That she can behave that way from living in the slums is a miracle. And that’s why when she’s killed, it’s so devastating. She’s the heart of the team. She’s what they’re all fighting for.

Another reason is her presence with Tifa, who is the other romantic interest in the game. She looks like this…

Tifa Lockhart

So on first glance you might think, “Oh, Tifa’s the hot, liberated one and Aeris is the motherly one.” She’s the F in a game of FMK. (Yuffie is, of course, the K.) Aeris is the Betty, Tifa is the Veronica. Tifa is Ginger, Aeris is Mary Ann. Aeris is the Victorian in The Corpse Bride, Tifa is the lively-but-dead girl. Despite this, they actually spend time together (when they’re not fighting alongside Cloud).

LINA MISITZIS: And her death sends them to their actual mission– to save the world. She’s just a prop that gets them there. That’s her whole function in the game.
IRA GLASS: So basically, it’s like she’s this barely filled in character, and yet, just, that’s enough to work, to make people have all these feelings and to actually cry when she dies.
LINA MISITZIS: All she needs is to seem vulnerable and nice.

Yeah, if you’re going to be that semantic, everyone is a prop to get the game moving. Sephiroth is a prop to give them a villain to fight. Cid is a prop to get them a plane that let’s them explore more of the game’s territory. Calling someone in a story a “prop to get the plot moving” is asinine. Characters need motivation, and reducing her to an object is to ignore all the other character traits she has. If you want to talk about props, talk about Mario and Peach. Now that’s a thinly veiled plot mechanic.

But Aeris is not just the ball in the game between Sephiroth and Cloud. That’s what made Final Fantasy 7 such a gamechanger, because the graphics and the story were fleshed out enough that it became as dramatic as a movie. A movie you could be in.

I’d say if anyone is vulnerable in this game, it’s Cloud, the game’s protagonist. He spends a significant portion of the latter half in a wheelchair, having seizures, because his memories are attacking him.

Aeris is not a girl to be saved. She is an independent, fleshed-out character and I’m tired of old media men not doing their due diligence. Sure, just accept whatever reporters spoon feed you to make a good podcast. Stay ignorant of these things. It’s no skin off my nose. But Aeris may have something to say about it…

aeris stabs sephiroth final fantasy 7

The Final Fantasy VII Remake

final fantasy vii 7 logo meteor

So they finally announced the Final Fantasy VII remake. Year after year, it’s been one of the hands-clasped-in-prayer announcements for E3 as much as the Half-Life 3. And me, being a huge FFVII fan, former writer on the FF Compendium, I asked myself this morning if I’d ever play it. My answer was “Pfft, no.”

Look, man, I love Final Fantasy VII. I LOOOOOVE Final Fantasy VII. I love the characters, I love the story, I love the gameplay. My memories of it are nothing but fond. But the fact is, you can’t go home again. It’s 2015. It’s been more than fifteen years since that magic time. I’m married. I have two daughters. I have a career. I’m not the same man I was when I first played that spiky-haired hero. I’m not as forgiving of things like “This guy are sick” or weird fighting houses with no explanation. The stylistic decisions like popeye arms and fuzzy plot lines can’t be glossed over anymore.

Not to say Final Fantasy hasn’t changed/evolved during the time I have. But that’s a large chunk of the problem. Final Fantasy VII has not died in the time I’ve been alive. There have been related material — Crisis Core, Advent Children, Kingdom Hearts, Dissidia — that are fine avenues and extend the FFVII universe. But they’re not good. Not good at all. It’s not so much a quality drop as a coherence drop. I played Dirge of Cerberus and it was a load of nonsense story and dull gameplay. Style over substance. And that’s been the ongoing modus operandi for Square. As technology improves, Squeenix fills every nook and cranny of every bit, every processor, with graphics and data.

Midgar from PSX Final Fantasy VII
Midgar from PS3 Tech Demo
Midgar from FFVII Remake E3 2015 Trailer

It’s now to the point where you have to invest as much time as reading War & Peace to get a full experience. I don’t want to play a single-player MMORPG. I don’t want to walk down an endless corridor with occasional button mashing when a random monster appears. It’s not even fun anymore, it’s just pressing the same button. Attack, attack, attack. There’s no need for strategy with the smaller monsters. Not when you reach a certain level.

Of course, a remake could change all that. But that is my biggest point. Remember when the Star Wars prequels came out? Everyone was excited not just because of the new stories, but they’d get to see their favorite things without the clunky, boxy robots and rubbery aliens. And then we got a bunch of detailed CG garbage and fifteen minutes of unnecessary pod racing. This is not going to be just a rehash, this is going to be a giant amorphous mass of FFVII gray goo. Remember Cloud as he first was? He helped Yuffie get over her motion sickness, rode a dolphin to the top of a platform, he dressed as a woman in an extended fetch quest. Can you imagine this guy doing that?

This is the Cloud Squeenix has made now. A taciturn, militant, angsty badass who never sees his friends. He only works in black. And sometimes, very very dark gray. There’s no emotion he can’t push down. Armband representing memory of dead friend? Check. Using sword of other dead friend? Check. Motorcycle? Check. Short, non-committal responses? Check.

One of the lines from Ernie Cline’s “Fanboys” comes to mind, about a group of geeks questing to get their friend to see Star Wars: Episode 1 before he dies of cancer. He’s the only one that’s seen the cut six months ahead of everyone. “You gotta keep the flaws. Crappy effects, real puppets. That’s what makes it so good.”

My Top Ten Hottest Women Who Aren’t Real (4 through 1)

4. Naru

Naru Narusegawa (such a cute name) is the main character in Love Hina. Love Hina is a “harem” anime where one geeky guy, Keitaro Urashima, is forced to landlord five nubile young women who may or may not be trying to seduce him. It’s a typical sitcom if it was written by every high school boy. Naru Narusegawa is the center of this harem — a driven student with no time for the Keitaro’s accidental perversion or romantic interests. Except when she starts to realize that he’s a nice guy. Which is what we all want out of a girl — to see that after our nervousness and ineptitude, we are caring and devoted.

Her main rival is Mutsumi Otohime, who may or may not be someone that Keitaro made a childhood marriage promise to. She’s fun to watch because she has anemia and is constantly falling asleep in compromising positions (it also doesn’t hurt that she’s got huge… tracts of land). You see, 90% of Love Hina is fan service. They have a hot tub/hot springs out back and they are constantly jumping in for a relaxing dip. Almost every episode has a character in a loosely-wrapped towel, a little sweaty, just waiting for someone to fall on them and accidentally tear the towel off (Also see Theiss Titillation Theory). Naru is the unfortunate victim most of the time.

She’s one of the most fleshed-out women on this list (no pun intended). She acts like a girl, but not like a standard anime cardboard cut-out. She’s driven to succeed but can collapse in a heap of tears when things get too overwhelming. I love the little self-referential jokes in the series (“This isn’t antennae, this is my hair!”) and the way Naru responds to her trials and tribulations with equal parts sadness, anger, and fear. All this leads to a believable relationship with a boy she may or may not hate.

3. Malon

All right, I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for red hair. What can I say? It doesn’t hurt that Malon is utterly charming. You first encounter her in Ocarina of Time, at either the Lon Lon Ranch or, if it’s night, outside Hyrule Castle, singing what later becomes Epona’s Song. But that’s all storyline stuff. She represents the “what if” for Link, or the one that got away.

I’m not sure why she gets so much fan-worship — she wasn’t that particularly important to the plot. Her personality is a little too chirpy and bubbly, and she’s looking for a “knight in shining armor to sweep her off her feet”. How droll. But somehow she enraptures you. It might be that she’s one of the few characters that grows up with you in your seven-year-leap. She has the most bad stuff happen to her — Ganondorf takes the ranch and promotes the lazy, money-obsessed, selfish Ingo to CEO. This allows him to use/abuse the horses for gambling while the good-hearted Malon works like a slave. A Cinderella story if I ever saw one. Malon is like Batman’s Alfred — she represents the people Link is fighting for. She brings a face to the stakes.

And what a fanbase she has. Look at all the fan art. Look at all the fan fiction. Look at all the cosplay. Look at her Hyspace page. I think there’s something about girls identifying with Malon – a sweet, responsible farm girl with an unrequited crush. I identify with that too.

The interesting thing is that most people don’t realize Malon started life as Marin, the girl in Link’s Awakening. I loved Link’s Awakening, but I think because of its B&W Game Boy console and insignificant storyline (it all takes place in a dream, so none of it really happened), it doesn’t get the love it deserves. Marin’s quite the cutie too — she loves to sing, she has an idle mind, she has some comic misadventures following Link around — and her romance with Link is just as heart-wrenching. They share some touching moments, and near the end, she’s about to admit something to him but gets interrupted.

I find this interesting because the whole game is Link’s shared dream with the Wind Fish. In that dream, Marin represents Princess Zelda (admitted conjecture, but in the Oracle series, Marin and Zelda’s sprite look very similar), but she’s also her own person. And a romantic interest who’s really a dream is all the more tragic. So Marin is kind of a cross between Zelda and Malon. Which means Malon is an evolution of Zelda.

Yeah, if Milk & Honey is any indication, I’m a Malon fan. But I’m not a LinkXMalon shipper.

2. and 1. AerisTifa

I apologize for the tie, but the fact is, I can’t decide between these two. They both represent the ideal woman, the fun one or the motherly one. The one that will keep you from trouble or the one that will get you into trouble. Let’s take them one at a time.

First off, I just love Aeris’s hair. I love Tifa’s hair too, but Aeris’s really communicates what she’s about — a simple braid, worn down the back and flowing in the wind, with two little twisties going down the sides of her head and two, crimped “antennae” out the top. It looks natural and ludicrous at the same time. Her eyes are great too — that vital, luminous green. Not sure about the rest of her outfit though. But all points to her earth allegory.

Tifa seems to represent water. She knows martial arts, many of which involve the concept of “flow” at a base level. Two of her moves are named “Waterkick” and “Dolphin Blow”. Her hair, in contrast to Aeris’s textured look, is a smooth, thick dolphin tail. And this fits with Cloud’s name — an entity rising above the planet, looking down on water and earth. Like a triforce.

Okay, let’s talk about personalities. Aeris is the motherly one. She’s positive, loyal, and has a hint of mystery. Despite her tragic birth and being raised in the slums, she’s optimistic and encouraging. She’s flirty, stubborn, caring, idealistic. She’s timid in combat, but not when it comes to people.

Tifa is shyer about expressing personal feelings, but she’ll kick your ass all over Midgar. She’s complex, mature, proud, self-assertive, and reflective. She’s the one who tries to make connections, like I mentioned in my “writing women” post, probably because of her personal tragedy. Unlike Aeris’s, Tifa loses her family and town at fifteen The post-game Tifa adopts Marlene, Denzel, and contacts the group because she’s trying to keep the family. She’s the badass action girl, but also the girl next door.

I guess that’s the reason I can’t pick between these two. Aeris seems like she’d be the reserved one, the serious one, the motherly one. Tifa should be the flirty one, the plucky one, the funny one. They mix up the stereotypes so much that each seems like they’ve both missed and gained something. Like the perfect woman split into two.

And that’s probably the reason even the fanbase can’t pick one. There is no one right choice because both are good. The creators of Final Fantasy VII really nailed it when they created these two characters. They are exactly what people are looking for.

There. I got through a whole article about Tifa without mentioning her boobs. Oh, DAMMIT.

Featured Fan Fiction: The Complete Set

fan fiction demotivation

Well, I’ve finished my Featured Fan Fiction series, so here’s the complete set. If you need more to whet your appetite, try looking at the authors and stories I’ve favorited on There’s more there than what I’ve featured, and it’s all worth a look.

Featured Fan Fiction: Deus Ex Jenova (Final Fantasy 7)

aeris cloud tifa

I mentioned this story briefly as an inspiration for Milk and Honey, but that was just the sex part. Deus Ex Jenova is not about sex, though it has sexuality. In fact, it doesn’t have that much sex except at the end, as an addendum and a response to the prudish nature of modern American literature, when most classic literature was basically pornography without pictures. They had to make do with veiled metaphors and alluding language.

But I digress. It’s much more than just a spot of naughty. It’s a full-fledged story that employs several no-no tropes, like resurrecting Aeris (don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler), original characters that save the day, main character death, and OOC-ness. But everything it does, it justifies. And makes up for it by a rocking story full of action and an illustration of human anguish.

For one thing, it clearly defines the main characters with both plausible old characteristics and new ones. Cloud has become more taciturn (and this was way before Advent Children). Tifa is fun-loving, temperamental, bossy, and closed-off emotionally. Aeris is cheerful, passive, and motherly. These are exactly how I imagined the characters to act after Meteorfall in the story. And best of all, the characters have sexual identities.

Plus, the characters change over time. They learn, they evolve, they make mistakes, and they are not in the same place they started when they end up together. And remarkably, it does all this while staying in the same universe. Even enhancing it by filling some plot-holes the game left (which is common for JP games).

For anyone who played Final Fantasy VII, this is a must read. I don’t know what Max Zhang is doing right now, nor his co-creator R. Richardson (who’s impossible to Google). IcyBrian lists his site on Geocities, and become fossilized. He actually left me a comment when I posted about Milk & Honey, but I never heard back from him after I e-mailed back. Hit me up again, Max. I’d love to pick your brain about writing and what you’re doing now.

Deus ex Jenova
Max Zhang’s Website (Internet Archive)

Featured Fan Fiction: Devotion (Final Fantasy 7)

hojo lucretia vincent turks final fantasy 7

Before Dirge of Cerberus came out, Vincent Valentine was Japan’s representative brooding tragic figure with a mysterious past. Before Edward and Angel made the fangirls swoon, there was one dark-haired, brooding, vaguely urban fantasy hero who let his gun do the talking while tresses of his ebony hair whipped before his mask.

The problem was that Vincent was an optional character. So his additions to the story are minimal to say the least. He doesn’t even get a character-building sidequest like Yuffie, the other new character. His contributions are more to gameplay, as he has a long-range weapon and a decent limit break. His history is only ever hinted at in a few scenes, mostly relating to Hojo (the mad scientist). When you finish the game, Vincent’s story remains ambiguous at best. So you’re left wondering exactly how did this introverted former Turk (a special agent/bodyguard) become a morphing monster?

Fortunately, ambiguity is a friend to fan fiction writers everywhere. Next to the “Aeris or Tifa” plotline, Vincent Valentine is probably the most used fan fiction character for FF7. It should be fairly obvious why, but my point is that lots of writers have tried to fill in Vincent’s back story. But only one has done it well, and that person is Sarah Bua (A.K.A. Sarah the Boring).

It’s really too bad Dirge of Cerberus came out, not just because it was a horrible game more concerned with style over substance and didn’t even deliver close to a coherent narrative. But it also negated a lot of prequel fan fiction, most of which was better written than the game. In Devotion, Vincent has a tangible personality, Hojo is given an air of legitimacy instead of the cackling mad scientist he’s usually portrayed as, and Lucretia/Lucrecia is an actual woman instead of a fawning lab assistant. The story of how they met, fell in love, and were betrayed becomes a story you could see happening in the Final Fantasy 7 universe, and it tugs at your heartstrings, much like Sunshine in Winter

Sarah the Boring hasn’t been active since 2002, but her story lives on.

Sarah the Boring’s Blog
Sarah the Boring’s not-so-functional website

Featured Fan Fiction: Sunshine in Winter (Final Fantasy VII)

vincent hold yuffie final fantasy 7

Sunshine in Winter, written by Guardian1, is nice because it’s short (40,000 words) , but it’s packed to the brim with humor, pathos, passion, and drama.

The story is about Yuffie, an extra, but beloved, character from Final Fantasy VII, who fills in the requisite “spunky tomboy” role in all JRPGs and most animes. Her romantic pairing is Vincent Valentine, the “dark, brooding lone wolf” character. Through a silly accident, Selphie’s leg becomes poisoned. Rather than amputate, since she’s a ninja, and leglessness doesn’t contribute to her line of work (there’s no workman’s comp for ninjutsu), she maintains an obstinant attitude that she can be cured. Vincent wordlessly takes care of her as she resists impending death.

The best thing about this story is the humor, thanks to the informal style. Guardian1 captures Yuffie’s voice perfectly and Vincent’s characteristics are plausible within the context of the story. I say the context because there is some interesting characterization here. It goes deeper than the game does, as you’d expect to with extra characters. It’s as if she’s painted the world with bright crayons and watercolors, far brighter than the original material, which is fine. I think this was the author’s intention, and she does it well.

Guardian1 hasn’t made any updates to her profile since 2008. Her homepage link is defunct. So I don’t know what she’s doing now. She’s got 40 stories up so you’re bound to find something you like. All of her stuff is good. I just wish I knew what she was doing now.

Guardian1’s Profile Page

It Wasn’t Me

Well, I’ve done something I said I would never do again. I was bored, and really, idle hands are the devil’s playthings. It’s not my fault, it’s that I was waiting on everyone. I needed something to do. I was afraid I was going to lose my skill. I didn’t want to get fat and lazy.

I started a fan fiction.

I’m not proud of it, but I finished Alien Boxing Story, and it needs to incubate. Now all my stories are waiting on critiques, being submitted, or (in the case of Mermaid Story) are waiting for extenuating circumstances (i.e., waiting for Black Hole Son to be complete). So where does that leave me? Well, Gun vs. Sword I’ve got plenty written on, but the story is still coming to me. It’s hard to describe what’s happening here, but it’s a unique composing process that I’ve never tried and is coming quite naturally. I don’t want to ruin it by interrupting it by starting to compose me.

And no ideas for other stories, so now what? Well, I figured I’d write something fun, something that lifts the pressure off getting published. I’m not spending a great deal of time with pre-writing (I already had a clump of ideas written down, and basic story structure), so I’m diving right into composing.

It’s actually kind of fun. The writing comes fast and furious, the plot is developing naturally. It helps a great deal when you have the world already made for you. The only thing I’m worried about is that the tension is not high. It’s a character development story. You’re not going to find Shadow Creepers or Sephiroth here. So what are they doing? They’re playing baseball.

A fan fiction with Final Fantasy VII characters playing baseball.

I just got to keep telling myself, “It’s just an exercise.”

Video Game Memories #20: Final Fantasy VII

final fantasy 7 box cover

Final Fantasy VII (1997)

Some of the greatest things in my life came from things I didn’t like at first. Then as time went by I started to appreciate them more and more, like a wine that gets better with age. Except this is a wine that never runs dry. Also, I’m not really a connoisseur – I drink my wine like pop. Anyway, one of those things was Final Fantasy 7. It’s probably a good thing I got into it, or I’d be left out of a hundred inside jokes on the Internet. Plus some great fan art and fan fiction.

Final Fantasy 7 has been taken into a thousand different lives of their own. On one hand, Square still keeps a tight hold on it, dangling little meat chunks for the fans every once in a while. The other hand is the fans that make it their own, that create and continue the final fantasy legacy. The difference is the 5% of the world holding 95% of the Final Fantasy and 95% of the Final Fantasy fans responsible for 5% of the legend.

But we’re not here to talk about them. We’re here to talk about me. My first memory of Final Fantasy 7 is seeing some friends playing it. A teeny characters was running up and down some roller coaster tracks and then the screen would periodically swish to a battle where the graphics weren’t much better. Weird monsters, little teeny SD characters, and the kiss of death – turn-based gameplay. I thought, huh, this looks like a goofy game.

final fantasy 7 screenshot cloud forest

But my friends couldn’t stop talking about it. They played it periodically when we all got together. I watched the ending before I ever played it. I saw a lot of important parts like Meteor’s coming to Junon and the final battle with Sephiroth + ending, before I played it myself. I didn’t have any idea what was going on, except I knew well in advance that Aeris died. I didn’t quite know who Aeris was though.

final fantasy 7 aeris screenshot
How does she keep her hair like that?

But when I played it, and I don’t remember how I got my hands on it or why I was motivated to – maybe everyone was talking about it and I caved, this affected my gameplay. All the time, I’m wondering, when is Aeris going to die? When is Aeris gonna die? I wish I hadn’t known, because it affected my user experience. She was the black sheep of the team because I knew I was going to lose her at some point, and Cloud was supposed to end up with Tifa. So that’s how I played it. When her death came, it was more like, eh, that’s too bad. It wasn’t as devastating as it should have been, and that’s one thing I always regretted.

aeris dies fan art final fantasy 7 sephiroth

What I didn’t know was how big an impact that this game would have on the world, or on me. I wasn’t stupid enough to think that the FMVs that composed the commercials were the game itself. In fact, I think FF8 was already well out by the time I played FF7, and FF9 was on the horizon. But FF7 somehow became part of my life, downloading fan art and reading fan fiction. I didn’t even care that most of it was crappy, I wanted to return to these people. I wanted to hear the rest of their stories, or their stories if the timeline had gone in a different direction. FF7 is filled with all the components of drama – heartache, war, alienation, family, life, death. As with most things I get interested in, I started to glom onto any bit of information I could find about FF7 – timelines, characters, plotlines, environmental aspects. An encyclopedia, if you will.

I don’t really have any distinct memories of playing this game, except maybe for taking on the weapons. I did everything in the game that I could, so I would have EXP and then took on the Emerald Weapon and Ruby Weapon. I didn’t think one was harder than the other – they both had different kinds of strategies. Emerald Weapon was more of a regular battle, and my companions – Cloud, Yuffie, and Barret – were chosen based on their limit breaks and physical attacks. I’m quite the brawler. Ruby was more frustrating, because, after several unsuccessful attempts with a Phoenix, I had to base my strategy around one character beating him up, because the other two would inevitably get taken out of the battle. Basically, each character had to be able to stand on their own. This made some very interesting characters that eventually made the final fight with Sephiroth a joke.

final fantasy 7 screenshot battle
“I’ll whack you with my pointed stick!”

Most of my love for FF7 came from the fan fiction I read. It really inspired my love, and led to my eventual decline in interest. Too much Sturgeon’s Law. But it also led to me becoming part of the FFCompendium for a year. I think I’ve already discussed my trials and tribulations here, so I won’t go into that, and believe me, that nutjob didn’t know how good I was, but it was a pleasure to use my knowledge of final fantasy to enhance and deliver information, as well as shoot people down about their ideals and theories (its Aeris if you’re in FF7 land, and Aerith if you’re in Kingdom Hearts land). Now I just shoot people down doing beta-reading for fan fiction. Which is still fun.

The nice thing about being a FF7 fan is that you understand when someone says “kweh?”, or seeing in-jokes in Robot Chicken, or all the hot Aeris-on-Tifa cosplay… oh, I wasn’t supposed to talk about that. I believe we’ll see a FF7 remake in our lifetime, but I’m hoping for one on the PS4, when the technology’s really good. Probably right around the time Duke Nukem Forever is released.

Why I Quit Final Fantasy

Since I seem bored with writing about writing these days, let’s talk about video games. Specifically Final Fantasy. I was a big fan of the games since FF7, and from my first exposure to it in high school, I was hooked on anything with two F’s in the title and someone holding a funky sword on the cover. I loved the characters, the rich and epic story, the experience systems, and the hybrid style of future and fantasy.

So why did I have to quit?

Well, “have” is a strong word. Somewhere in the Venn diagram where “have to” and “want to” cross over is where the truth lies. Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Why did I have to quit Final Fantasy? Well, the big reason is the games are too long, too expensive, and too advanced (that’s apparently three reasons, sorry). I’m a 26-year-old with a wife, mortgage, and .8 of a kid. The time I have to play video games any more dwindles sharply. I can barely dedicate my time to the short games like DDR and Guitar Hero. Trying to start a new FF game would be like trying to read War and Peace a chapter per week. By the time I get to the end, I will have no idea how I got there, who the people are, and how they met in the first place. So the significance is lost on me. Now imagine reading War and Peace and having to grind Warthogs in the Thalassian Valley.

New releases are expensive too. I picked up Dirge of Cerberus for $50, and it was a 10 hour game I played only once. The real reason I picked it up was because, like many others, I just wanted to find out what happened in the FF7 world. I could have played it twice (since I usually do, one without help, and one finding everything), and thought about it, but I didn’t see what the point would be. I already knew what was going to happen, and the game made feel like I was playing army with an air rifle or pop gun. There was no impact, no fun in the journey.

Dirge of Cerberus was part of the “Compilation of FF7” which is a fancy way of saying “we released a bunch of stuff related to FF7”. This and the Advent Children (the short movie) were the only real things that made it America-side within a reasonable time (is Crisis Core out in the U.S. yet?). Apparently, Square thinks this is the way to go. FF10 had a sequel on the same system, which was all right, but then FF11 needs you to pay a monthly fee, since its a MMORPG. FF12 has Revenant Wings which is a… what? Spinoff? Sequel? Anyway it’s on the DS and I don’t have one, and I’m not gonna buy a system to play one game. Likewise with Crisis Core and PSP. And now we’ve got this Fabula Crystalis Whatsis for FF13? Isn’t this supposed to be like this 10 year dedication to one single FF world, released on multiple systems? How expensive is that gonna be? I can’t even get a Wii. So if I want to get the whole story of FF13, I’m going to have to take out a small loan and freeze myself cryogenically. No thank you.

Which leads me into why I wanted to quit Final Fantasy. Dirge of Cerberus brought to us a very complicated weapon system, with many combinations and permutations of guns, so that you would get nervous purchasing even a key chain, lest you have buyer’s remorse. The game was linear, and mostly composed of movies. Simply put, the game wasn’t very fun.

None of the games have been very fun. Since FF7, there’s been a steady decline in the ‘fun’ factor of Final Fantasy (lots of F’s in that sentence). FF8 I loved — great characters, but the magic system made you nigh invulnerable. FF9 was cute and had memorable animation and story, but the characters and magic just didn’t click like the last two games. FF10 brought voice acting, which was both good and bad. The sphere grid was interesting, but like Dirge of Cerberus, you worry about buyer’s remorse and end up never using it to its fullest potential (maybe I’m too hoardy with the rare items). But the characters were bland and lifeless (I never even used Kimahri), the enemies repetitive, and the environment was neither cyberpunk nor swords n’ sorcery. When you started FF10, you thought “aw great, here’s this cool world that looks like Las Vegas in the future, and they’re playing soccer in a ball of water. And there’s a giant alien monster that I can’t even see attacking. This is gonna be awesome.” And then you find out it was all a dream. And you have to go on a journey with a beach bimbo and a daddy’s girl. I couldn’t identify with Tidus, couldn’t inject myself into him. The same with Zidane. But I could with Cloud and Squall.

Then in FF10-2, who knows what they were smoking when they made that. It was an okay game, especially since I wanted to find out what happened to the characters I had a meager investment in. It certainly wasn’t a FF game though. And after a while, it just wasn’t fun. The mini-mission style and my completist personality just didn’t mesh, I was always afraid I was missing stuff. Plus its nature led to the story not being very engaging. Eventually, I was just playing it to get through it. To get ready for the next playthrough, I leveled up my character’s jobs so everyone was expert in everything, thinking this would be fun. I did the ‘rubber band a quarter to the button’ trick, but it still took a few weeks. When I got there and restarted, the game was even less fun than I remembered. The battles were dull and repetitive. It felt like I was watching a movie that I had just seen. Not to mention there’s no way to complete the game at anything beyond the most basic level besides getting a game guide or FAQ. Seriously, there’s no way you could know that dodging 200 lightning bolts would get you Kimahri’s ultimate weapon, unless you looked it up online. That’s not fun. There should be at least a clue somewhere, otherwise reality intrudes.

Let’s clear up something with linear first. Most FF games are linear up to a certain point, then you get free reign to explore the world. The trick here is to make a game that doesn’t feel linear. FF7 and FF8 didn’t feel linear – you skipped around on the map, your primary mission changed, you went to a variety of places, you revisited places frequently. FF10, you could see the path you were going in a dotted line, and you only ever had one mission – get to Zanarkand – it never changed as you went.

I loved FF7 for the hybrid style. You started in a big futuristic metropolis… that sucked a mysterious chemical out of the ground for power… right next to a farm for yellow ostriches you could ride… past a gigantic snake… to an ice cavern… to go after a samurai… who was genetically engineered… with DNA from an alien. See? It’s got something for everyone. FF9 though, had knights, and castles, and airships, and while it was all gorgeous, it was also predictable. FF10 was the same way, very little that was vibrant and jumped out. It was very calm, and there was nothing that made me want to play just to see what happens next. There was no puzzle.

I don’t know what happened to FF. Maybe all the talent trickled out slowly. Three big players have already formed their own studio, so who’s left at FF? Maybe it’s all the marketing guys making massive games. But once I saw the plan for FF12: Revenant Wings, I knew I had to quit. I didn’t want to stay in FF with only half-assed knowledge, and I didn’t want to play games that weren’t fun, just for the sake of being a fan.

At this point I do have to make a confession. I used to write for the FF Compendium. I was brought on as a maintenance person, but I basically took the place over. It was like trying to clean up after a fire — the place looked like a geocities website. I diligently neatened everything, made updates, and piece-by-piece, took apart the back log of things that needed to be added.

Then I started improving everything. Tables, anchor tags, frames — that was all hot shit in 1998, but it was making the site horrible and archaic. For Christ’s sake, the site still played midis. I was the only one ever doing things on that site, and the webmaster didn’t much care for my improvements. He thought I was moving too far too fast, he said from his horse-drawn carriage. I’d like to say we split over creative differences, but he didn’t like that I was making minor changes without telling him, like deleting faulty entries. I wrote him a nasty letter telling him the sheer magnitude of maintaining the website, and everything that still needed to get done, and to back his ass off. In truth, I was half-trying to get fired. The fact is the guy hired me to do a job, and I was doing it, and doing it well. Then he thought I was making too many changes that he didn’t like/approve, so bye-bye. In my experience, if you’re going to be a webmaster, then you should be the person who’s on your site the most, that you should have just a little ambition.

As I understand it, he hired a whole new staff after I left, like five people in five departments. Wow, you’d think you’d really get stuff done with all those people. Let’s look at his last update – “Well, our server move is complete! I’ve finally conquered my e-mail backlog, which is a start. 😎 There are still more things in the pipeline though.” Hmm, not promising. What was the update before that. “Just reminding everyone that I’m still alive. I did a quick update a week or so ago to get up to date on my e-mail backlog.” Well, gee, there sure was no e-mail backlog when I was working there. Where’s his famous team that was supposed to help him? The last update made by someone who was not the webmaster was in June (and there’s a delightful sql error on the update history page).

Frankly, my leaving couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. FF12 was about to be released and I had A) no desire to play it and B) no time to play it. Not to mention more games were coming down the pipeline on systems I didn’t own, and I didn’t feel I could live up to the job if I didn’t keep up with the games. Plus I’d started a new job, and wanted to put more energy into my writing. And I was sick of dealing with his prideful crap, and limiting what the site really could have been. Crash and burn. Well, enough gloating. Back to Final Fantasy.

I must say I’m a little sad. FF13 looks like its going to compare with FF7 at least with style – cyberpunk and swords. The girl looks like a winner, no Yunas or Rosas (and she’s got a weather-related name, and a funky sword). It also promises fast-paced battles and cool summons. But this Fabula Crystalis Nova thing? Three games on three different systems? And none of them have to do with each other. Kingdom Hearts is going the same way – another franchise I like. But KH2 was too heavy on cutscenes and the buffs to the main character made it too easy. Plus they’re making three new games on three different systems, and none of them are a sequel. Not compatible with my life style. And who wants to play all that? I simply can’t invest my time anymore, and the games just aren’t as fun as they used to be.