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Previous Editions: First, Second

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 FanFiction.net. There’s more there than what I’ve featured, and it’s all worth a look.

Featured Fan Fiction: Castles in the Sky (Final Fantasy 8)

squall rinoa final fantasy 8 fanart

Ashbear is the premiere Final Fantasy 8 writer and this is her top story. In fact, this might be THE top story.

Let me explain. When I was younger and had way too much time on my hands, I wanted to read good fan fiction. Unfortunately, FanFiction.net, the premiere source for fan fiction, does not have a way to rank stories. You can add favorites, you can post reviews. But there’s no objective way to tell whether a story is well-liked or not. I always thought the site should at least have some sort of “Blam” functionality, like Newgrounds has, where works below a certain rating are deleted. So what did I do?

I looked at the Favorites list of every writer of FF8 fan fiction and tallied them up. That’s 466 pages of data. And Ashbear’s Castles in the Sky had the most entries. That’s pretty impressive for any writer.

The premise behind Castles in the Sky is that Rinoa was in a car accident (doubly ironic since her mother died in one) and is now blind. Squall is hooking up with another SeeD called Lauren. And there’s emotional issues, angst, and romance all over the place. But the key is that all the characters act accordingly to the plot. The mood is a little like Twilight, if it was good. It’s better than any soap opera.

Personally, I like Crimson Lies better for the darker tone, but it’s the difference between apples and oranges. Ashbear makes her characters shine brighter than the sun in any story. Castles in the Sky has lighter humor, such as Squall’s run-ins with the touchy-feely duchess and Zell’s interminable bounciness. There’s also a good deal of characters holding the idiot ball and jumping to conclusions when a simple question/answer conversation would have cleared things up. But Crimson Lies had that too.

Castles in the Sky (FanFiction.net)
Castles in the Sky (Archive of our Own)
Ashbear’s LiveJournal

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)

Final Fantasy – I Once Loved You

aeris

Final Fantasy – I loved you, but I don’t anymore, and more people are agreeing with me. I think I know why you’re starting to fail. Your reach is exceeding your grasp. I think you caught lightning in a bottle once, and now you don’t know how to get it back. You keep flailing about, adding more stuff, more stuff, more stuff, more stuff, more stuff hoping one of them sticks. More stuff than one man can possibly play through. Here’s the thing: Just because the disc is 25 gigs, doesn’t mean you have to fill all that.

I remember watching a Star Trek documentary, with Malcolm McDowell commenting on the “trekkie treadmill” that fans seem to get on and never get off. Anything Star Trek does is good, Star Trek becomes their life. Square seems to think people feel the same way about Final Fantasy. I used to too, but here’s what happened: the game lengths got longer, the reviews got worser, and nothing in-between changed.

I don’t mind that you’ve got wacky characters with JP localization problems, or that you’ve got long cutscenes. But when it comes to playing the game, its the same thing over and over. Press the attack button, press the attack button, press the attack button. You can dress up all the battles you want with magic and skills, but at the heart of a video game is the way that the player interacts with the program.

And when you can strap a coin to a button and leave the game alone, something’s wrong. When you’ve got all these complicated formulas to calculate damage and resistance, but you don’t ever change your strategy (because usually you’re not privy to those formulas), something’s wrong. It reminds of the Facebook games I used to play. Click, click, click. Leveling up is an illusion and battles are just an obstacle to get to the next cutscene. So in essence, the game is not playable.

I thought of this while watching this video: Homefront Demonstrates Everything Wrong With Modern FPS Games. It’s a 20 minute look at a level mid-game and how little you actually do any playing in it. The scripted scenes cannot be deviated from. There is no freedom. I don’t mind linearality as long as there aren’t invisible walls blocking me from doing things I should be allowed to do in the world. RPGs have their own forms of linearality — you don’t usually get to jump, and paths are well-marked. But you do have dialogue options, and general free-roaming. But Final Fantasy doesn’t let you deviate, even while there is technology to do so (Mass Effect). You are so locked into the numbers game that you aren’t allowed to leave the D&D trappings that started the franchise.

The guns are overpowered — you play a pilot who knows how to work a automatic sniper rifle with no recoil and auto-aim. You shoot a guy in the leg, he dies. You get just as much interactivity from a flash game. Same with Final Fantasy. Spend an hour leveling up, and you’ll be ahead of the difficulty curve for all future battles. It’s more important to get to where you can see the cool moves, and then that’s just for the sake of seeing them. Otherwise, you save up so many items that budgeting for Ethers (magic restoring potions) becomes moot.

I want Final Fantasy to come back, and not just on the laurels of your past successes (Kingdom Hearts, Dissidia, remakes for portables). You need to stop adding so much into the game. Quality over quantity. No one wants to play a game that’s got so much you miss out. No one wants to play a game that’s got secrets that can only be found on the Internet. That’s not playing the game, that’s playing the program. That’s taking you out of the game. Someone in the game needs to clue me in that if I dodge 200 lightning bolts, I can get Kimahri’s weapon, not from GameFAQs. Make another Aeris, not another Squall. Make another Sephiroth, not another Yu Yevon/Necron. And condense.

One last thing: why the hell did you call yourselves “Square” when you used to have a triangle in your logo?

Seriously, get on the frickin’ page here.

Featured Fan Fiction: Crimson Lies (Final Fantasy 8)

squall and rinoa final fantasy 8

Crimson Lies comes to us from Ashbear, the premiere writer of FF8 fan fiction on FF.net. I think the reason she’s so popular is that she knows her romance, and she does this by concentrating on the most redeeming aspect of Final Fantasy 8 — the love story between Squall and Rinoa. The key to making a good fan fiction is by staying true to the characters, and the key to a good love story is by keeping the characters apart. I guess it’s like the equivalent of dread for a horror story. It’s all about elongating the experience.

Crimson Lies takes place after the events of Final Fantasy 8 and no one’s happy. Squall has become the leader of Garden, steeped in politics and bureaucracy. Rinoa has married an abusive plutocrat, and must stay in hiding because she is a Sorceress, the last one. And Sorceresses aren’t too popular since the last few have tried to kill the world. And then everyone else like Irvine, Zell, and Quistis are running the tables, just trying not to be miserable.

But love finds a way, it always finds a way, and it will find a way. But it’s going to take a lot of not-so-fun experiences, some mystery-solving, dramatic scenes, and good characterization. Ashbear starts the story with a warning that it’s a darker look, full of “fate, lies, and betrayal”. Personally, I think it’s just what FF8 needs. The original story has angst, but it’s forced J-Pop teen angst that doesn’t really go anywhere. Crimson Lies takes it to a whole new level, giving us characters that are not only true to the canon, but enhanced. The story is top-notch, full of page-turning events.

Ashbear still writes, and is still active in the FF community. So if you like Final Fantasy 8, definitely give this one a read. It’s a mature story that’s not filled with fluffy love like FF8 was, but that can be a good thing. It’s like a filet mignon, rich and dark. You know you’re eating an animal when you eat filet mignon – you can taste the blood. But it tastes good.

Crimson Lies (FanFiction.net)
Crimson Lies (Archive of our Own)
Ashbear’s Blog

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 FanFiction.net 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

Featured Fan Fiction: Sowing the SeeDs (Final Fantasy 8)

quistis final fantasy 8

Our next story is called “Sowing the SeeDs” by Greenbeans, A.K.A. Amanda Anderson. If you’re not familiar with the Final Fantasy 8 universe, yes, that last D is supposed to capitalized. But no, it’s not an acronym or anything. I don’t know how to explain it, it’s this whole thing.

Sowing the SeeDs is a prequel to FF8 and is the story of Xu. She’s not an original character, but she might as well be because this story gives her a ton of backstory. Xu is about to graduated from Garden (a school for mercenaries) and has been charged with taking care of a young prodigy named Quistis. As they both progress in their education, they form relationships with other students, enemies, and most of all, who they are in the world. Other characters include Kei, Xu’s cousin, Enju, an undercover assassin who cannot perform magic, Sierra de Ling, a troubled student, and cameos by Zell, Seifer, Squall, and others.

This story gets fan fiction right–it takes a minor character and explodes her, but keeps us grounded by making a main character from the universe into a minor character. The resulting debris shines light on corners of the world that didn’t even exist. Prequels are somewhat uncommon in fan fiction because people want to see their characters continue on after the series ends. But prequels, especially to Final Fantasy games where the past is often a big puzzle, work well, and this one does more than any sequel I’ve read for FF8.

It’s beautifully written and has well-rounded characters. The serial format keeps the plot hopping with new developments and storylines. It’s full of flesh and bone, conflicts, characters to like and dislike, and things that are never present in the world, but make perfect sense. So when you play the game again, you have a re-definition of the world.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any information about what Amanda Anderson is doing now. She has some touching biographical information on her homepage, but her last known update of anything was in 2003, seven years ago. I hope she’s continued writing since then.

Sowing the SeeDs homepage
Greenbeans’s Blog
Greenbeans’s Website

Video Game Memories #28: Kingdom Hearts

kingdom hearts box cover

Kingdom Hearts (2002)

The first thing I noticed, when I saw/heard about Kingdom Hearts, was the return of all my favorite Final Fantasy characters, who had grown to legendary status in my mind by this point. Squall, Cloud, Aeris (I’ll never call her Aerith), Yuffie, Cid, Sephiroth.

The second thing was “They have voices!? Squee!”

Imagine it. After years of reading text, and everyone having the voice in my head, I get to hear what Squall sounds like, see how Cloud uses that big sword, what a real-life casting of Fira looks like. And they didn’t use just run-of-the-mill voice actors, they had celebrities. Squall was David Boreanaz, Aeris was Mandy Moore, Sephiroth was… Lance Bass? Oh, well. Still.

lance bass
Exhibit A

But really, it was the first real glimpse of our favorite characters after the ending of their respective games. Even though it was not a canonical context, it would answer a sliver of that fateful question: “what happened after?” (not that that question is really answered to any satisfying degree, especially when the reunion of Cloud and Aeris is a soundless three-second scene during the credits)

kingdom hearts aeris cloud

Oh, and of course, this is all integrated with the worlds of Disney. No small feat there – not only do you get to see your favorite FF characters from your middle years, you get to see and interact with your favorite characters from your formative years. You get to go to Alice in Wonderland Land, Peter Pan Land, Tarzan Land, Winnie-the-Pooh Land (wait… what?). It’s what I’ve been talking about throughout all these video game memories – the ability to escape into a different world. Now it’s a world you always saw in a static, never-changing context, a world that you dreamed about in your youth. But the scale and aim of this game exceeded all expectations – it was something you never thought you’d see. It was the must-have game of the year, and I’d be a fool not to get it.

Slight problem: I did not have a PlayStation 2.

But I didn’t let a little thing like that stop me from asking for it at Christmas. I also asked for Final Fantasy X, which had been well out by now, figuring it would be very likely I’d get a PS2 for Xmas, since that would be my “big gift” and they were readily available. But I stipulated that these items should only be bought if I got a PS2.

I should have realized that my family does not read Christmas lists very carefully. They also don’t bother with the whole “checking if someone else bought the same thing”. I got two Final Fantasy X’s and one Kingdom Hearts, and no way to play them. I should have realized this would happen when I got three of the same Ace of Base CD one year. Wait, did I say Ace of Base? I meant Metallica.

Well, that didn’t bother me. I had been on the fence about getting a PS2, mostly due to games like this, and this clinched it. A few days later, I took my Christmas money, exchanged my duplicate FFX, and bought one. ‘Twas a wise investment. I still have that PS2 to this day, and Kingdom Hearts.

kingdom hearts screenshot stained glass

Gameplay-wise, KH was the game I always thought should have existed – Final Fantasy in real-time. Well, as close as you were going to get anyway (until FF: Dissidia came out, but by then, Square had become all style and no substance). From sword-slashes to special moves, the battles here are fantastic. The only thing is that the worlds lack the puzzle-depth of Zelda. But the sparkly magic spells, the diverse enemies, and storyline all make up for it.

kingdom hearts screenshot

The most interesting thing I found was how well the base storyline stands on its own. They didn’t need Disney at all. Goofy and Donald sort of stay in the background, and the characters of Riku, and the Heartless compete with Tarzan and Captain Hook for starring roles. It feels like one of those simulation Disney rides that tries to have a story. But it’s a good story, and it especially shines when you get to Hollow Bastion. I mentioned in the Vagrant Story article that I wanted to get a tattoo of the Rood Inverse on my back. After I played this game, I wanted to get a Heartless symbol on my chest.

The only thing I wished this game had was two-player gameplay, optimally co-op. I think it would be pretty easy to integrate – its essentially a beat-em-up. You could do a one-screen, or a split-screen if the player gets too far away, a la “War of the Monsters”.

And the reason I say this is because at the time I got this game, I also got my first girlfriend (who eventually became my wife). She wanted to spend a lot of time with me. I, having been indoctrinated to a life of solitude and geekly loneliness, was not used to the amount of attention a girlfriend needed to receive. It was like having a beeping Tamagotchi. Whatcha doing? Wanna hang out? Can I come over? She was in love with the idea of fighting with Goofy, her favorite character. (Actually, she wanted to play AS Goofy, and continually said so, even when I reassured her that she could not) I soon found out I could not play Kingdom Hearts around her because she was always begging to play. I’d say, “It’s a one-player game.” “Well, I’ll just play for a little while.” “You need your own profile, this is my character.” “I want to play.” Eventually, I’d give in, and she’d immediately fall off of something and die.

Also, she wanted to do the Shadow Heartless’s hair.

kingdom hearts shadow heartless

Yes, I still married her.

Unfortunately, I had picked a girlfriend who was not especially video-game savvy. She never got farther in video game evolution than Super Mario Bros. So now welcome to the PS2 where EVERY BUTTON DOES SOMETHING and YOU NEED TO KNOW ALL OF THEM TO SURVIVE! This is not Super Mario Bros. This is a Square game. Square has no mercy if you die, that’s why you level up. If you die, you’ve got to start all over. Oh, no, go ahead and plunge into the treetop abyss. Yes, I love to see you start over and over and over. I had to lie to her that I was doing homework just so I could get some uninterrupted play time without her bugging me to hand over the controller. This is my game. This is my world. My territory. She doesn’t know who Squall and Cloud are. She doesn’t know a Blizzaga’s more powerful than Blizzara. She doesn’t even know where those names even came from – that it was just Fire, Fire2, Fire3 until 1999! She doesn’t appreciate the difference in keyblades, that it’s not the blade that changes, its the key chain that changes its properties, and how important it is when you get a new one. No, sure, I’ll just hand over the controller so you can get your ass handed to you by some stupid enemy because it takes too many fingers to use a potion.

OK, I feel better now.

So, yes, I love this game. Kingdom Hearts II… not so much. At this point, Square became a money-printing machine, and while the game added a great deal, it lowered the challenge, upped the complexity of the plot, and substituted substance for style. Seriously, you spend the first 10% watching cutscenes and putting up posters as someone you’re not even going to be. Who thought that was a good idea? But I’ll be playing this game again… eventually… some time… maybe.

kingdom hearts sora donald goofy keyblade