The people who fell for Final Fantasy in its glory years when it was huge on the NES, Super NES and then the PlayStation are now adults. They're having kids, and they're the kinds of people who just might name their daughter Aeris or their son Kain.
Baby Hana Aeris tries to sell us her flowers
Giving your kid the name of a Final Fantasy character is a way to establish tradition, and legitimise a video game as a very real, crucial thing in a personal history. With everyone going Final Fantasy-crazy again thanks to the release of FF15, the chances of some new mum or dad naming their kid Prompto are now pretty high. Well, not that high. But I did find a few people who've started Final Fantasy families and talked about what the series means to them, and how they intend to share their passion with their kids.
Baby Kain and his parents, Nick and Nora
Nick, Father Of Kain
Nick was one of the few kids on Earth who played MMOs with his parents. At 15 he was running raids with his mum and dad. Their game of choice was Final Fantasy 11, the first entry into the series that was a purely multiplayer experience. One fateful night, a girl named Nora, who was about Nick's age, joined their group.
"We messaged a lot and spent plenty of time on voice chat for the events, but we also became part of each other's social groups within the game as well," he said. "Two years later, after many hours and tens of thousands of texts, we met for the first time for a Valentine's Day weekend vacation from school."
Nora had spent two years of her life becoming intimately familiar with a family from across the void. She wanted to see Nick, but also his parents who'd been helping her take down internet monsters throughout high school. They met. They had a great time. And Nora planned to move near them permanently for university.
Three years later, Nick and Nora got married. Their Final Fantasy 11 character names are inscribed on their rings. They still make time to play MMOs together daily, even while holding down jobs and taking care of a four-month old baby.
Nora had a family name she was set on if it was a girl. But the potential boy's name was all up to Nick. He started with Cid and was denied. That opened the discussion to other names related to video games close to their hearts. There was John from Halo, and Kain from Final Fantasy 4.
"When we found out our child was male, he was moving around on the ultrasound," says Nick. "I said he was jumping around like a Dragoon, and from then on the name was Kain."
Right now, Nick, Nora and Kain are all playing through Final Fantasy 15 together. Sometimes Nick sings Kain lullabies from Final Fantasy 13 as he drifts off to sleep. One day, Kain will sit by himself in front of a keyboard and mouse to kill monsters and claim victory with his parents and his grandparents. Three generations of Final Fantasy.
"Square Enix and Final Fantasy will continue to be part of my family life for the foreseeable future," he says. "I'm very excited to share it with him."
Vivi and her parents
Bryan, Father Of Vivi
Two decades ago, Bryan was standing in a Toys "R" Us, mouth agape, letting a demo version of Final Fantasy 7 light up every synapse in his brain. He had played Chrono Trigger on the Super Nintendo, but this was the first time he'd seen that style of Japanese RPG adapting to a fleshed-out 3D world.
"I had a paper route and was saving for a computer, but this completely redirected me," he told me. "I told my mum I was emptying my bank account by buying a PlayStation and Final Fantasy 7."
Bryan submerged himself into Gaia, soaking up all the beautiful graphical flourishes empowered by a futuristic machine like the PlayStation. As he got deeper, he found a kinship on a much more human level.
"I had no idea that a video game's story could be so gripping, no idea that I would actually grow fond of the characters themselves to the point that I almost viewed them like I would another person," he said.
The coup de gras, and the beginning of a bottomless fascination, was the vivid end of the flower girl Aerith. For years, death in video games was just another mechanic. Bryan had slain thousands of polygons without a single empathetic tug. But Aerith was different. Aerith was his friend. When done right, loss in a video game can feel more profound than in any other medium.
"After that scene, I saved as soon as I could and took a two or three day break," he said. "It was that moving."
After Bryan finished Final Fantasy 7 he started saving his paper-route money for future entries in hopes that they might provide a similarly altering change in perception. FF8 was great, but not groundbreaking. He fell deeply for FF9, which is one of the more underrated games in the Final Fantasy oeuvre.
"I particularly loved the theme of FF9, the idea of not really knowing who you are and finding yourself along the way, which was definitely the case for the character of Vivi," says Bryan. "It really spoke to my teenage self. I think we were all trying to find out who we really were while fitting in where we could."
Bryan had been dating his future wife for 13 years. They met the first day of high school and got married last year. Video games were never a huge part of their relationship, but when she became pregnant with their future daughter, they were at a loss for a name. Three days before the girl was born, Bryan was driving home from work and Vivi, the loving, brave, occasionally clumsy black mage from Final Fantasy 9, popped into his head. "I knew that was her name. I just knew. But I also knew I would have to justify it with a real-world name, too," he said.
Bryan brainstormed names that started with Vs, and he came up with Violet. As soon as he arrived home, he walked up to his wife and said, "Her name is Violet."
"My wife smiled, and said, 'Yes it is.' I immediately had a huge grin on my face and told her, '...but I am calling her Vivi,'" he said.
On the birth certificate her official name is Violet, but everywhere else, she's Vivi. Bryan, now 32, makes sure to tell everyone he knows that she's named after a Final Fantasy character. In fact, he "counts it as a huge win".
Someday, when Vivi is a little older, Bryan intends to play through Final Fantasy 9 with her. He envisions it as a TV show or a storybook, but with a personalised moral.
"She'll realise that Vivi the character has the same name as her, and I imagine she'll ask," Bryan said. "I think I'll tell her that it's because it's one of my favourite characters in the story. And I will list the reasons of strength, compassion and empathy."
Mark and Hana Aeris
Mark, Father Of Hana Aeris
Mark, now 30, was mystified by those old Final Fantasy 7 commercials that aired in the late-'90s. They'd show the brunt of the PlayStation processing power, with every ridiculous and wonderful moment from the game paired with an orchestral score. Post-industrial motorbike races, screen-filling summons, Aerith sinking into a crystal pool like a cyberpunk Ophelia, Sephiroth brandishing a hilariously overcompensating sword. It was enchanting, enough for him to request a ride to his local video store to rent a copy of the ostensible prequel, Final Fantasy 6.
"I had never played an RPG before, so this was a mind-blowing experience for me," Mark said. "Video games could have stories! And characters you can fall in love with!"
Things were never the same. After Final Fantasy 6, Mark conquered Earthbound, Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger and other earlier Final Fantasy games. In real life he was dealing with bullying and family problems, but his RPG party always had his back. Sometimes he wondered if it was healthy to sequester himself from reality. Maybe he was hiding from his trauma when he spent his time in a world where the only major problems were evil wizards and ill-conceived snowboarding mini-games. In retrospect, he considers all of that time well spent.
"I have all these treasured memories of really beloved stories and characters that are part of me in a way that you don't really get as an adult," he said. "You get a little more jaded, a little more critical, and it becomes difficult to fall in love with a story like you could when you were little. So I'm glad I have that."
Years later, Mark was caught in an endless cycle of World of Warcraft. During those adventures, he met a woman who was living in California. He was in Calgary. They were far apart, but they made it work. After a number of trips back and forth, they got married. A few years later, they were expecting a daughter.
The couple had a few names in mind, all carrying a certain degree of nerdiness. Misty from Pokemon was a top pick, but eventually they settled on Aeris for her middle name. (The character's name was spelled "Aerith" in later products, but was spelled "Aeris" in the original English FF7 release. Both spellings are now widely accepted.) Her first name is Hana, which is Japanese for flower, so it just made sense to christen her as a descendent of "everyone's favourite flower girl".
"I expect her to grow up playing video games with us, so I'm sure she'll learn [the connection] early on," Mark said. "When I was young playing these games, I remember how excited I was to share these stories and characters and experiences with other people. The prospect of sharing these things with her so that she can fall in love with them like I did makes me feel like a little kid again. It's one of the things I look forward to most. Later tonight, we have some Final Fantasy 15 to play as a family."