That Which Devours – DK

First things first, this is a Final Fantasy VIII fan fiction. So for most of my followers this review will be absolutely useless. But if you’ve landed here after googling something along the lines of ‘Final Fantasy VIII fan fiction’, you’ve come to the right place.

The great thing about reading fan fiction is that I already know the characters and the settings. When you read something original, there’s always this awkward transitional phase where you need to work out what the protagonist looks like, how they think, and how they fit into their world. It’s especially bad with genre fiction, where the author needs to explain the setting to you without breaking into outright exposition, and there’s all these funny names and Arbitrarily Capitalised Words. That’s not a problem I had with That Which Devours. From playing the game I already knew that Squall is a grumpy introvert who looks like Keanu Reeve and lives in a flying boarding school for child soldiers who fight with mythological entities painfully grafted into onto their brains. Simple.

Fan fictions based on video games are particularly great because they allow us to see the game’s world through the eyes of the characters who inhabit them, instead of just hovering above them like some godlike camera. We learn how player characters react emotionally to the events we put them through and how they makes sense of their wider culture. It’s like the difference between watching a film and reading the novelisation, or between watching someone do something and having them explain to you why they did it. This fan fiction does it fantastically well.

DK’s That Which Devours hooks you with one of the most compelling sentences I’ve read in a blurb for a good while. ‘Parodies don’t always have to be funny’. The scenario this enigmatic phrase hints at is this: after Squall has a particularly powerful mythological entity removed from his brain, an uncannily handsome and competent doppelganger is born. This double slowly usurps Squall’s position at the flying school, his relationships with his friends, his entire life basically. He does this because he wants the same things the original wants, but unlike the original he’s willing to enact his forbidden desires – with horrifyingly violent and occasionally incestuous results.

This whole situation is a play on the old ‘Mary Sue’ trope. A Mary Sue is a character too perfect for the audience to sympathize with, and instead become an object of their contempt. The stereotypical fan fiction Mary Sue is an impossibly beautiful girl with an absurdly tragic past and one single, inconsequential, flaw. To me, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and Conan the Barbarian are all Mary Sues. You can get away with writing perfect characters is you put them in a scenario that can only be overcome by perfection – I’m thinking of Superman. Sues are commonly complained about, and are frequently parodied, often without actually being funny, so it’s refreshing to see someone play the concept seriously and explore the consequences.

Another good thing about this fic was how they handled the character of Xu, Squall’s second in command. In the game she’s noticeably unimpressed by her superior and this characterization in maintained in That Which Devours. After everyone else falls in love with Squall’s double, Xu remains as apathetic towards him as she was to the original. It’s nice to see such a minor character given the limelight.

Anyone who loved Final Fantasy VIII will enjoy this story. And I think the scenario is inventive enough for anyone unfamiliar with the source material to enjoy it, if they’re willing to muddle through confusing terminology or just Google everything they don’t know. It’s only 30,947 words long, after all.

For the rest of you, I recommend this: go to Fanfiction.net or Archive of Our Own, choose a franchise you know well, sort the stories by reviews, comments or favourites, click on the top five, and you’ll find something brilliant. I guarantee it.

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