Gaming will always play a huge role in my life, even if I don’t play as much as I used to. My Playstation was my babysitter and while I know how a lot of people feel about that, I think there’s a misconception about gaming, the Internet and all things virtual. That just because it doesn’t technically occur in “real life”, it’s value is somehow diminished or of lesser worth than an activity you would be doing physically.
Contrary to popular belief, being an avid gamer wasn’t at odds with any of my other hobbies. For example, I still read more than ever, even when I had a console. I’d go as far as to say I began to read on even more diverse topics thanks to ideas gleaned from gaming. Final Fantasy has a tonne of mythological references from different cultures, it was surreal looking them up in ancient history books and comparing the original to FF’s interpretation of it. I had an education in games; Dynasty Warriors and all its sequels planted a strong interest in the history the followed at the end of the Han Dynasty. This would later on help bridge the gap between my generation and that of my parents and grandparents. Most relevant to me was that my creativity only blossomed under the influence of video games and until today still plays a pivotal role in the way I write. Games are a bit like novels in that behind every successful game is a strong narrative. But probably one of the most important lessons I’ve learnt from games is to always do what is right and to maintain the optimism that good will always triumph over evil.
Final Fantasy VIII was one of the first RPGs I played and the first Final Fantasy I ever played and finished. It took me a really, really long time to finish it (hey, I never said I was good at games) but because of that I think I truly savoured every last drop of the gameplay and storyline. The reason I was able to appreciate Final Fantasy for what it is, is because I treated it as an interactive story. The only way I could read the next chapter was to play, to beat bosses, level up and continue on. That’s the beauty of RPGs, they’re so highly immersive that you can’t help but fall in love with the characters, the setting and the world that the game is set in.
Rinoa Heartilly is one of the playable characters in FFVII and also the love interest of the main protagonist, Squall. I loved her playfulness and also how stubborn she was, perhaps because I really related to that. Being the daughter of a high profile military man from Galbadia, she was also a bit of a princess which kid-Sam always envied because back then I had all the womanliness of a tree stump.
Rinoa and Bryan Fury from Tekken 3. There were three surreal moments at SMASH 2013. One of them was seeing Bryan (I don’t know his real name) and just having my mind blown that here in 2013 was the 1997 version of Bryan Fury, undoubtedly one of my top three favourite characters to play in the game.
Here is why.
The 2nd moment was when a Jin Kazama (also from Tekken 3) came up to me with his eyes the size of dinner plates and asked me if I was “Lady Rinoa”. A lot of people tend to ask why cosplay, why does it exist and why is it so weird. To me, it’s precisely because hobbies like anime and gaming have been shunned for so long that being able to see someone literally bare their fandom on their chest is so empowering. It says I’m here, I’m one of you and I’m not afraid to show that I like this. The 3rd and by far best moment was actually when I was washing my hands in the bathroom and a mother and her daughter in costume came in, the little girl must have been around 5-7 years old. And just as a passing comment her mom pointed at me and said “Look sweetie, it’s Rinoa”. I don’t know if it was the fatigue from sleeping three hours the night before and then having to walk around all day in costume but I started tearing up immediately.
Rinoa also plays a big role in Dead Fantasy, a series of fan-made CG action movies by Monty Oum. It’s essentially 40 minutes of non-stop smacking each other Battle Royale style which probably means less than nothing to most people but I was completely enthralled by it the first time I stumbled upon early renderings of it on Monty’s deviantArt. I read a lot from his personal blog (posts now mostly deleted) about his journey dropping out of high school, trying what must have been a hundred different things before realising he was pretty good at this 3D art and cinematics type of thing. I’ve never seen Haloid, which was the one that launched his fame, but I hear it’s good.
Why is Monty Oum and his work important to me? Gaming doesn’t have a good name, even today. My dad was the one who bought me my console, against the disapproving looks of my mom and my stepmom. Being a girl, I was often told that my hobby made me a tomboy and it wasn’t something girls should be interested in. I had “friends” as a kid who wouldn’t let me play with their GameBOYs because I wasn’t a boy. It wasn’t easy to make friends either when girls are meant to only play with girls but it was the boys who I shared a common interest with. I spent most of my childhood trying to defend a hobby that most people condemned because they didn’t understand how important these virtual worlds were. And the fact that Monty rose above that and created the highest form of fan art, was validation to all of us misunderstood kids.
It’s been close to eight years now since the first instalment of Dead Fantasy was released. He had planned a whole series of videos with an actual overarching plot although the last one he released was back in 2009. Monty died earlier this year so it looks like it’ll never be completed. It’s bitter irony that title Dead Fantasy ended up being self-serving.
For all the reasons above, I decided to cosplay transient princess Rinoa at SMASH this year. This has been a dream of mine since I saw Monty’s fan art but I always put it off thinking I would do it next time, when I had more time. Monty has always been quite responsive to cosplay interpretations of his art so I was also looking forward to his feedback. Although that will never happen now, I couldn’t think of a more fitting year to do a tribute to him.
I literally could not have done anything without all the help I got from everyone. My mom agreed to help me on this quest, which was basically just us going back and forth a lot on Whatsapp and her organising the costume to be made by a tailor in Malaysia. This is the same tailor who made my 21st dress so the similarities of my dress and the costume is quite amusing. The end result could not have been more perfect considering I never made it to Malaysia for fittings and she based it off that dress she made over two years ago. I contemplated getting a weapon but couldn’t find the time to do it myself back when I was working two jobs and going to uni. The commissions I had found were also terribly expensive. I resigned to not having a weapon to go with it until just a week before SMASH when my friend Skelton popped up on Facebook and asked if I still wanted one. Not only did he go out, buy the materials and cut out the shape, he also came over to my place to oversee me not completely mess up the paint job I had to do. I haven’t done any painting since early Form 1/Year 7 and have not a single crafty bone in my body so this was very much needed. The boots I found in Market City after visiting all the usual places around the city and were almost 80% off. Goes to show that you can really find some awesome diamonds in the rough.
I wanted to make sure to get good photos on the day, the only way I could do that was to beg/plead/coerce my photographer boyfriend into coming with me. And he did despite having a terribly late night, having to wake up super early to get to Rosehill Gardens on time and put up with this concentration of passionate anime/gaming fans when he didn’t have the slightest interest in the genre. All SMASH 2015 photos in this post minus the photobooth ones are courtesy of Robert Newey!
The thanking doesn’t stop there. I’m not fully up to date on the latest happenings in anime as you can tell by how dated my characters are. What really helped was that I got to spend a lot of time on the day with Vivian and her friends from JASS, which they all came dressed as the Cardcaptor Sakura Crew!
The highest and mightiest of fives though has to go to Jesse who came as my dream come true, Jumbo Cactuar, one of the Guardian Forces from Final Fantasy 8. We even got to have a hectic battle!
Jesse’s costume made by his grandmother out of green material and yoga mats was an absolute victory.
Other people I got to hang out with were The Consouls. They were playing a few sets of video game jazz music which was super popular throughout the day, way to make our geekiness super classy guys! I’ve loved their stuff since the beginning, you can read about their EP launch here and my cover story on them here on Hijacked.
Julian plays the piano. Him and I have a lot of things in common so we’re always chatting on Facebook but never meeting in person. So it was good to catch up with him on the day and make him model his own Consouls t-shirt.
I was at SMASH from around 10 am to almost 4 pm. I participated in almost none of the events aside from walking around and checking out the booths and listening to some people belt out their love for karaoke on stage. I walked around in stupidly high heels and a skimpy costume that also gave me a perpetual cameltoe. I didn’t really get recognised nor did I expect to but it made the times that I did that much more awesome. By and large, I spent the entire day feeling like an absolute rockstar but also feeling a light sort of contentment within me. I don’t know much about the afterlife or if everything just goes dust to dust. But thank you Monty. And thank you Squaresoft for giving me the gift of Final Fantasy VIII.