I owe my understanding of Final Fantasy VIII to various media sources — but mostly shrines.

Sheila

As I’ve noted throughout the site, I began with a dim view of Rinoa. She struck me as spoiled, petty, and pushy, and clearly the less desirable love interest despite the game’s conclusion. One of the wonderful things about being aware of shrines as a genre is that these are so often works of love, the point being that love is something that can be shared. So I looked at the work of someone who clearly loved Rinoa: Rebelling Princess. The web design struck me first (Sheila was one of the first web designers I became aware of with specific style), but the site is also rich with information and consideration of the character, enough that I realized that Rinoa was not just there to be saved. Quistis is still the character that I identify most strongly with, but I no longer see Rinoa as a faulty competitor to the character — and really, I don’t think the character saw her that way, either.

ALTOL

I owe a lot of credit and influence to Altol’s ‘Fire and Ice.’ Begun as a response to boredom, she wrote it intending to specifically involve a litany of clichés in the genre of Quistis and Seifer fanfiction. The funny thing about working with clichés is that writers reuse tired material constantly, not always with tired results; language itself is something we’re always breathing new life into with every new usage, and yet we understand how someone is using that term because of a background of previous usages (i.e. tiredness). Altol’s work is living to me, so much that I think my version of Quistis is greatly informed by her own. She’s unafraid. She’s selfless. She’s emotionally stunted. She has formed a life around being alone. What makes this fanfiction so successful, to me, is the symmetry in Seifer and Quistis’s stories in FF8: they are both initial but not final love interests to Squall and Rinoa respectively, and could be viewed as foils to each character; they both pursue excellence, though with opposite means, Quistis by strict adherence to the rules, Seifer by flouting regulations. Altol manipulates that symmetry into a story of anger and sadness as a response to loneliness, and the ways that confrontation can lead to recovery. It’s quite angsty, and very beautiful.

LARISSA

STEFI

Larissa’s Divide and Stefi’s Antihero are fantastic explorations of how the game frames Squall Leonhart, both drawing from a technical background I lack. Divide is written by an adult gamer and reads that way. The horror of what Squall is asked to face is often downplayed by nostalgia goggles for me. I don’t mean that I am unable to be critical of the game, but having first played it as a kid, it’s hard for me to shed a kid’s sense of what ‘normal’ means. Not being seventeen, it seemed plausible to me then that an adolescent could reasonably avert the apocalypse without trauma. Larissa presents the surreal qualities of FFVIII unapologetically, but also weaves in the strengths of it as a game. Pay particular attention to her commentary on seemingly inconsequential choices in RPG’s and time travel iterations. Stefi’s Antihero presents the character of Squall as a navigation between dichotomic poles. Being a boorish American, I was wholly unaware of the ways that Squall’s character is response to Japanese concepts pertaining to the social constraints on selfhood, and her philosophical work on freedom and determinism highlights the ways that those causal concepts are at play in the game, in ways the range from subtle to obvious. Both are also nontraditional tributes. It’s rare to find shrines that consist in an ordered series of commentary on what it feels like to play the game, and it’s rare also for a shrine to devote itself to stating and analyzing important character-defining concepts. Stefi and Larissa complicated who I thought Final Fantasy VIII was about — and what a shrine was.

SOFIA

Sofia’s loving tribute to the world of Final Fantasy VIII, Second Chances, shouldn’t be missed. You forget, since most shrines are dedicated to characters, that so much of your experience as a player is specifically of setting. Some of that is the sheer geography you encounter, but it’s also the history of a place, the flora, the fauna, and the rules that guide how the world changes. Someone designs all of that in the hope of communicating with player, and Sofia goes into gorgeous detail about every facet of the plot and every place to go. That kind of focus evokes an abiding love. Part of why I felt comfortably lazy with my own dramatic summary is that there is already a place to go with all the information — right here.