Since fan artists have been putting pen to paper, paint to brush, or stylus to tablet, there’s been one area of fan art that has dominated over the rest: shipping.
No franchise is safe from the clutches of hungry fans who are desperate to make their one true pairings come to life.
The Final Fantasy series of Japanese RPGs is no exception. In fact, the series generates some of the most adorable, provocative and downright strange shipping art.
Since the first game launched all the way back in 1987, Hironobu Sakaguchi’s award-winning series has generated a huge global fanbase.
Most recently, Final Fantasy XV introduced us to Noctis, the Crown Prince of Lucis, who must defend his kingdom from an impending invasion from the empire of Niflheim.
By 2018, the game had sold more than seven million copies, proving the fandom is just as strong as ever.
With fifteen games in the main series, and several spin-offs, each introducing us to new and exciting playable characters and NPCs, there are plenty of romantic options for talented artists to explore.
A few of these pieces are sweet renditions of what could or should have been. Many of them are a little stranger, pairing platonic friends or even fierce rivals together.
Anything goes in the world of online shipping wars.
Here are our picks for the 20 Fan Redesigns of Unexpected Final Fantasy Couples.
20 Tifa and Lightning
Ask a Final Fantasy player what their favorite game in the series is, and there’s a strong chance they’ll immediately respond with Final Fantasy VII.
Award-winning and best-selling, it was a seminal game for many who grew up with the original Playstation.
The game introduced Tifa Lockhart, often regarded as a Japanese counterpart to Lara Croft.
Although the two characters have never met within the games canon, it was only a matter of time before Tifa was paired up with another popular female character, Lightning (Final Fantasy XIII).
This artist imagines them more as allies than lovers, but we can’t deny that there seems to be some chemistry there.
Lightning, with her iconic pink hair and hardened attitude hiding a heart of gold, gets a lot of attention in the shipping community. This is just the first of several examples.
19 Kain and Rydia
Final Fantasy IV proved a landmark entry for the blossoming franchise upon its release in 1991. It introduced revolutionary game mechanics, such as the Active Time Battle, that would set the standard for the series to come.
It also set a record for playable characters in the series, with 12 controllable allies with their own character class.
Two of these heroes include the Dragoon knight Kain Highwind, and dragon Summoner Rydia. The two enter a tumultuous friendship after Kain is sent to defeat the Dragon of Mist, and, subsequently, Rydia’s mother.
Although the two start off with a significant age gap at the star of the game, the story speeds things up for us.
Beginning as a seven year old girl, she is then forced to spend time in the Feymarch, a realm in which time goes faster, reducing the creepy factor for this art just a little.
18 Hope and Vanille
If Lightning’s tough demeanor and cold independence hide a soft interior, Oerba Dia Vanille is the exact opposite. A bubbly, optimistic young woman, her sunny personality masks her inner guilt and conflict.
She teams up with Hope Estheim in Final Fantasy XIII when they become victims of the Purge, and fight together to prevent the destruction of their home, Cocoon.
Due to Vanille’s additional four years of maturity, their friendship remains strictly professional and platonic. And the whole saving the world thing sort of gets in the way of any chance at romance.
This hasn’t stopped fan artists from shipping two of the most wholesome characters in the franchise’s history, though. It makes a little too much sense not to.
17 Ashe and Balthier
The swashbuckling era of Final Fantasy XII allowed players to take control of sky pirates, airship bandits and freefolk who roam the skies of Ivalice searching for adventure.
The playable character Balthier is a self-serving yet charming buccaneer who finds himself unwittingly drawn into a political conflict after an attempted robbery.
His devotion to his partner Fran, a viera warrior and fellow pirate aboard the Strahl, means that his story has little room for romance.
That hasn’t stopped this fan from pairing him up with former princess Ashe, despite, admittedly, only sharing a handful of scenes together.
16 Cloud and Zack
Although Japan is making concerted efforts to change their attitudes in recent years, the country as a whole is still behind on a number of LGBTQ issues.
This has meant that representation in their media, including video games, has been either slim or stereotypical.
This hasn’t stopped passionate Final Fantasy fans from embracing the full potential of shipping, and pairing same gendre couples together in a variety of glorious fan art pieces.
Final Fantasy VII follows the adventure of Cloud Strife, an arrogant yet heroic swordsman with a hidden past. Tragic flashbacks throughout the game elaborate on his close friendship with fellow soldier, Zack Fair.
This artist has reunited the pair, depicting them in a loving embrace that would make any aficionados of the series misty eyed.
15 Caius and Lightning
Pairing up the heroic lead with their evil nemesis is an absolute staple of the shipping community – especially in Japanese RPGs, which frequently depict the villains having a steamy subtext underlining their relationship to the hero.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 has possibly the most confusing title in video game history.
It also pits Lightning against a new antagonist, Caius Ballad, an immortal warrior engaged in an endless battle in Valhalla.
Five hundred years after his first defeat, he comes back for more in Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII.
Despite his insurmountable evil, his form-fitting armor, icy good looks and long, purple hair makes him some fan’s dream.
We don’t blame Lightning for being tempted over to the dark side in this case.
14 Noel and Paddra
Paddra Nsu-Yeul is one of the most mysterious characters in Final Fantasy history.
As a seeress from the ruined world of Yaschas Massif, she shares her name with another ancient seeress, who foresaw the War of Transgression.
She travels with Caius Ballad for unknown reasons, despite never acting antagonistic towards the heroes, and has a deep connection with the paradoxes throughout the timeline.
However, given her almost ethereal beauty, it’s no surprise that both fans of the game, and its writers, were keen to pair her up in a romance.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 includes a hastily put together relationship with protagonist Noel that barely gets a look in amongst the game’s other elements. At least they look happy in this piece of fan art.
13 Ignis and Noctis
Final Fantasy XV, the most recent game in the main series, takes the most grounded approach to the franchise yet.
Following the crown prince and heir to the throne, Noctis, it depicts the planet Eos as the closest we’ve seen Final Fantasy get to contemporary Earth (give or take a magic Crystal, some divine beings and a handful of magical creatures).
Noctis is engaged to Lunafreya Nox Fleuret, an Oracle who used to be the princess of Tenebrae, one of the four nations that make up Eos.
This hasn’t stopped artists from pairing him up with one of his three companions that accompany him throughout the game.
Ignis Scientia, a military tactician and Noctis’ advisor, clearly has a more intimate relationship with him thanks to the game’s ‘Active Cross Battle’ system, which incorporates cooperative attacks.
12 Zack and Aerith
The romance of Zack Fair and Aerith Gainsborough is riddled with tragedy, not least because both of their lives were prematurely cut short before they had time to realise their full potential.
It’s one of the series’ most popular couplings thanks to their early beginnings as childhood sweethearts, and passionate devotion to each other.
But did you know that this is only the case for English translations of Final Fantasy VII? That’s right, due to a mis-translation, their relationship has been blown way out of proportion from the original intention.
It still doesn’t make this fan art of the couple finally tying the knot any less cuter.
11 Hope and Lightning
Lightning is significantly older than Hope by the time they meet in Final Fantasy XIII. Significantly more experienced, mature, and essentially cooler in every conceivable way.
Her relationship to the plucky young hero is much more maternal than fan artists would have it, although, we admit, the pair might have more of a chance once Hope grows out of his naivety and into a strong-willed leading in XIII-2.
To the uninitiated, this artistic rendition of the couple appears to be mere wish fulfilment at first glance.
However, this is actually recreating the scene in Lightning Returns, in which the evil god Bhunivelze takes the form of Lightning to play with Hope’s feelings. No judgements here if omnipotent puppetry is your thing.
10 Cid and Vincent
Despite seemingly taking place throughout multiple different timelines and settings, the Final Fantasy franchise, in fact, has a number of recurring characters and elements, such as various different races as well as the comical double act Biggs and Wedge.
One of the most frequent appearances throughout the series is a character named Cid.
Usually an ally most often depicted as an engineer, he has appeared in almost all Final Fantasy media in different forms since his debut in Final Fantasy II.
He even gets his own romantic sub-plot in Final Fantasy VII, but this artist thinks he’s much better suited for mysterious Turk (spy), Vincent Valentine.
9 Aerith and Tifa
This particular pairing may be blasphemy to some who are particularly committed to Aerith’s tragic romance with Zack Fair.
However, as we’ve already explained, that romance is only the result of some shoddy translation errors, so, as far as we’re concerned, anything goes.
This art depicts a sensual scene between Aerith and Tifa.
The two have already demonstrated a strong bond during Final Fantasy VII, and, in the metaseries fan-film Advent Children, she even wears a pink ribbon to commemorate Aerith’s memory.
We wouldn’t be surprised if this took place off-screen at some point. Perhaps Tifa even taught the mourning Aerith how to love again, following the untimely passing of her first romance, Zack.
8 Sephiroth and Cloud
A return to the old favorite, ramping up the tension between sworn enemies until the temptation gives in and their rivalry transforms into romance.
An ex-SOLDIER for the Shinra Electric Power Company, Sephiroth was driven mad when he discovered his true, twisted origins. Once idolized by Cloud, he fell from grace, and attempted to conquer the Planet.
He represents the darker side of Cloud’s history and, if given a push, could tempt the hero into evil temptations.
We don’t know why Final Fantasy villains are so drawn to long, silky hair, but it’s a look that works for us, and is definitely working for Cloud in this piece of fan art.
7 Lightning and Vanille
Well, this ship is a no-brainer.
If opposites attract, the sunny disposition of Vanille couldn’t be further from the hardened outer shell of Final Fantasy XIII‘s protagonist Lightning.
That said, they both use their external personalities to mask their deeper conflicts within, so it’s only natural that the two would be naturally drawn together.
That is, if the series was a little braver on the same gendre coupling front.
This beautiful sketch art creates a tender scene between the two, a brief moment of peace between the chaos that could make way for a passionate kiss.
6 Balthier and Vaan
How could the buccaneering Captain of an airship not be tempted by Vaan’s roguish good looks, tousled hair and distinctly piratical, and revealing vest?
Vaan doesn’t play a huge part in Final Fantasy XII, but when he appears, it’s largely in service of a boring will-they-won’t-they relationship with his childhood friend, Penelo.
An orphaned street thief who, like Luke Skywalker, dreams of destroying the Empire and eventually owning an airship of his own, Vaan would be much better suited in the arms of a bona fide sky pirate like Balthier.
This art makes that dream a reality, because, let’s face it, there’s not much in the way of romance going on between Balthier and his ‘life partner’ Fran, anyway.
5 Prompto and Noctis
With its sports cars, American-style diners, and slick fashion choices, if any Final Fantasy world has invented the selfie, it would definitely be Final Fantasy XV‘s Eos – especially with Prompto around, a playful and flirty photographer who is constantly taking pictures of their travels.
As one of the game’s few royal protagonists, the prince Noctis seems a little reluctant to take part in the practise of commoners, but if anyone can convince him, it’s Prompto.
Their paparazzo companion is a little jealous of his friend’s nobility, but, as this fan art proves, class can’t stand in the way of friendship, or even romance.
4 Noctis and Lightning
Another awesome piece in the genre of characters who have never met but would still be perfect for each other.
If Noctis thinks being a prince comes with responsibilities, wait until he realises the full weight of Lightning’s burden.
As a knight anointed with the near-impossible task of protecting a literal god from Caius Ballad in XIII-2, she not only succeeds, but is then chosen by another god as the saviour of souls before the impending Apocalypse.
Talk about pressure.
If anyone deserves to settle down with a good-looking and heroic prince, it’s Lightning.
3 Rydia and Edge
Many fans will insist on both sides that this pairing is or isn’t canon.
Once Rydia leaves the Feymarch, she has grown into a young woman and, therefore, at the mercy of Edge’s persistent flirting.
Thanks to Edge’s huge crush on the young Summoner, it’s one of the most drawn couples we’ve seen for Final Fantasy, but due to his constant rejection, not all of the pieces are exactly… well, consensual.
Maybe if Edge hadn’t tried to leave Rydia and her friend Rosa behind during their adventure, which he describes as “grown-up work,” he would have stood more of a chance.
This piece thankfully puts the pair on equal footing, and depicts a tender kiss rather than Rydia giving in to his relentless pursuing.
2 Cloud and Aerith
We promised you redesigns, and this is one piece that finally takes the idea to the next level!
Cloud and Aerith wouldn’t look too out of place in Final Fantasy XV in this artwork.
They’ve decided to ditch the gloomy fantasy aesthetic and grab a milkshake with two straws in a classic American diner, complete with a juke box and a leather jacket.
Aerith is looking adorable in a pink dress, and, if anything, her Rosy Riveter style hair ribbon is even more fashionable in the 1950s.
It almost makes you forget about her romance with Zack.
1 Lightning and Fang
These two characters develop a strong bond over the course of Final Fantasy XIII and its two sequels. Fang even sacrifices herself to protect Lightning’s home world Cocoon.
Hundreds of years later, she and Vanille emerge from their crystallised shell, and Fang teams up with Lightning to try and prevent the Apocalypse.
Lightning’s saga has some of the highest stakes we’ve seen in a Final Fantasy game, with Fang experiencing the adventure right by her side.
Other than its black and white style, this piece could have been lifted straight from the game, the two characters sharing an intimate moment after almost witnessing the end of the world.
Can you think of any other unexpected Final Fantasy characters who belong together? Sound off in the comments!