Female Gaming Role Models: Rinoa Heartilly (Final Fantasy VIII)

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Love it or hate it, Final Fantasy VIII was ahead of it’s time. With the Final Fantasy VII remake on it’s way, Final Fantasy VIII fans are looking to satiate our palettes as well.  I still remember the day I bought FFVIII.

Ever since the opening scene, I was in love. I remember getting home from the store, running into my bedroom, turning it on, and just being in sheer awe. Refusing to budge, while my mom is yelling at me to come eat dinner.

I couldn’t even hear her. I felt like I was standing on that beach. Listening to those waves. Peaceful. Calm. Just for a moment.

Then chorus comes in, and I’m immediately swept away from the calm beach, on a whirlwind journey through different dimensions in time. Seeing pieces of the present and future, playing out simultaneously. Enchanting visions thrown at us in chaos.

The graphics were a big step from its predecessor, and many thought the story was weak. Although, the recent appeal in time traveling and paradoxes means Final Fantasy VIII was just ahead of the game by about 20 years. Stories like Umbrella Academy, Paradox Girl, and the Thanos arc of the Avengers story line, all have some time traveling elements in it that make me wonder if FFVIII was an influence.

All the characters left their mark on me, and there was one that stood out to my fourteen-year-old self.

Rinoa Heartilly. Princess of The Forest Owls.

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Now, before you're completely turned off because *insert reason here*, just hear me out. I know a lot of people didn't like Rinoa, just like a lot of people didn’t like Final Fantasy VIII.

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This is a life long mystery of mine, because I love Rinoa, and I’m going to tell you exactly why.

From the first time I saw her until the end of the game, she spoke to me. She was my video game counterpart. My soul mate, if you will. I don't know if you've ever had that one character that could’ve been you, in real life. More than any other character you ever encountered?

Maybe it's Lara Croft, Terra, Zelda, or Princess Peach. Whoever it happens to be, you understand what I'm trying to say. If not, I will do my best to explain.

When I think of Rinoa, I think of persistence, free spirit, and optimism.

When we first meet her she is on a mission, she’s waiting for someone, and doesn’t want to stand out or seem awkward. So, she walks up to Squall and drags him onto the dance floor. In record time, she teaches him how to dance.

This was the part of her that she wanted people to see, confidence.

The more I played, the more I learned about her, the more I related to Rinoa.

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When we meet her again in Timber, Squall and friends are sent to help liberate the town by assisting the The Forest Owls, a resistance faction against the Galbadian army. Turns out, she is the head of the operation, and went to the dance to ask for help.

In her naive optimistic view, all they need are some mercenaries to help carry out their plans, and the rest would fall into place.  Headmaster Cid must’ve liked her spunk enough to send three rookie SeeDs to help her out. Squall is immediately annoyed.

Her narrow view of how the world works, and her passion to save it drive him insane. Yet, this idealism is only the surface. She needs to know that everything will turn out ok. It’s what keeps her going.

Rinoa is a military brat. Her dad is a general in the Galbadian Army, the very army she is planning resistance against. The ultimate rebellion. She left home, changed her last name, and started a resistance faction. Her feelings for her father resonated with my own, having come from a military family myself.

My father was, and still is, your typical retired military man. As a teenager, he would protect me from the dangers of the world the only way he really knew how: by not letting me in it. It wasn't until college when I had moved out of the house, that I was truly able to become my own person and find out who I truly am.

Looking back I realize now that he was only doing what every parent does the best they know how, “protect the child,” however his tactics and methods were firmly rooted in his military upbringing, just like General Caraway’s.

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When she tries to join her friends on their mission to assassinate Sorceress Edea, General Caraway tries to lock her in his office. (How she doesn't run into Quistis' team is beyond me).

In her quest to help, she comes to a very scary realization. She is not as strong as she believes herself to be. When she was attacked alone, she didn't have the confidence to handle what was being thrown at her. This may seem weak to some people, but I saw this as a very real side of anybody, and a lesson to be learned about people. She gave off a sense of confidence, because with others around her, she was confident. When left alone to her own devices, she didn't have another person to be confident with, therefore, the confidence was not there. Many times in life, we are most ourselves when we are alone. The person we show to people is the outside layer that we would like to be, or how we would like to be seen. This being true of Rinoa, she seemed to believe this to be true of Squall as well.

Even when faced with a cold and unemotional Squall, knowing her own feelings for the world, she refuses to believe someone can be this person that he puts off. Squall has an amazing ability to keep people at a distance, and guard his emotions. Coming from an orphanage, this must have been common practice his whole life. The people he relied on as a child are no longer available to him as a young adult, and he sees this as a sign that everyone will eventually be left alone. Refusing to believe that is all Squall has to offer, Rinoa does her best to break through his barrier, finally succeeding when he realizes he may never hear her again. Things that he found annoying, he missed, and in true Squall style, decides that he, alone, can save her... maybe. 

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Even though her absorption of sorceress powers was an accident, she embraces it with dignity, volunteering to be cast away in fear that Ultimecia may strike again. Knowing this will forever keep her alone, her biggest fear, she looks to Squall, who initially accepts her decision, but then chooses to save her, vowing to forever be her Knight. In the end, as he is overwhelmed by the time compression, she is the one that finds him. She doesn't think of a time period, or a place to return to. She thinks of him. As they have grown individually, and together, throughout their journey, as long as they have each other that is all that matters.

Rinoa, to me, has always been an inspiration to face your fears head on, but hope for the best outcome. There is always another side to the story, and things always will work out in the end. Be confident in yourself, no matter what, and do not be afraid to look for help if you need it. These are the things she has taught me. 

Whether you love her or hate her (or somewhere in between) let's open the discussion! What did you think about Final Fantasy VII, or Rinoa specifically? Has she inspired you in any way? Good or bad? Who is your video game soul mate? Is there a character that has spoken to you?