Retropom – A Post Lockdown Victory Lap

On Friday the 4th of February a friend and I packed our bags and took the Cardiff to London coach to attend the unofficial Final Fantasy fan convention Retropom. This event was organised under the larger umbrella of Kupocon, which has been running in both North America (Canada, USA) and Europe (Scotland, England) since 2016 — each meetup receiving its own charming pun title, like 2018’s UK event Pomingham Palace. The name Retropom, in this case, seemed to suggest two things about the convention: the first being a focus on the older games in the series (I — VI, or I — XII if you want to make yourself feel old) and the second being its continued nostalgic presence in the face of a global pandemic. This was the first in-person Kupocon since February 2020, and the theming of the event, whether intentional or not, reflected the warm memories of a time before COVID existed. Indeed, arriving at Novotel West London (the site of the convention) in Hammersmith that Friday afternoon I immediately recalled those special, small events of the nineties and early noughties. A diverse cast of attendees, adorned in their Final Fantasy merch of choice marched into the lobby, excited conversations took place in the lifts and, for lack of a better term, the vibes were on point.

Great cosplay was everywhere. From left to right — Wedding Dress Yuna, Rosa, Terra and Selphie

After a hearty full English breakfast on Saturday morning, we queued up to register at twenty past nine and attend the main event. Tickets for Retropom came in four increasing price levels all named, of course, after popular spells from the Final Fantasy series — the cheapest being earth and the most expensive being wind. We opted for the water ticket, which was the second-highest priced and came with a t-shirt, a loot bag and, most importantly the quest log (more on that later). The convention hall was split into two key areas, the central stage on the left, and the merch stalls on the right (with other smaller areas dotted about in between). The first event on the schedule was the opening ceremony at ten, during which the organisers of Kupocon introduced the special guests for the day (voice actors from Final Fantasy XIV and Final Fantasy VII: Remake) and welcomed everyone to the convention. There was much emphasis given to how Kupocon was different from other, bigger events, and that the true heart of the experience was based around intimate, passionate fan interaction. This much was certainly true, and attendees were encouraged to openly converse with fellow cosplayers and congoers; to jointly celebrate their love for Final Fantasy. Stickers were even made available for individuals who wanted to engage with the community on different levels. A yellow Chocobo sticker signified that you wanted people to approach you, but that you may be shy, new to the convention or traveling by yourself. A red sticker was available for those who would rather people keep their distance, designed for those who still felt uncomfortable in large crowds (due to COVID, or medical reasons), and there were also blue stickers to signify your role as a carer. While we opted out of this system, we saw plenty of yellow stickers around the hotel and it was encouraging to see that these attendees were sought out and actively included in proceedings.

Some incredible FF7 representation including an awesome Bugenhagen!
Vincent and Barret striking some immaculate poses.

The opening ceremony also touched on the pandemic and reiterated the respect that all participants were expected to show each other. You could not attend Retropom without proof of full vaccination, or a negative test within the past 24 hours. Masks were encouraged, but due to the previous entry requirements, not enforced unless attending the special guest meet and greets. The organisers dealt with the thorny issue of COVID with grace and honesty, ensuring that everyone felt welcome and safe. Those who opted to not wear masks, for cosplay, or medical reasons, were not judged or made to feel bad for their decision. Speaking of cosplay, I’m sure you’ve witnessed the wonderful costumes I have highlighted throughout this little post so far. I’m afraid you can add photographer to the list of skills I lack but trust me when I say these works of art were even more impressive in person. While the individual game with the most representation was (obviously) the insanely popular Final Fantasy XIV (followed closely by VII), there were costumes dedicated to almost every entry in the series. It was particularly exciting to see wonderful hand-made outfits dedicated to characters from IV, V, VI and even, very specifically, the Nintendo DS remake of III. It is truly only at these small scale, niche conventions that such wonderfully specific costumes can be recognised and celebrated to their full, deserved extent. Coupled with all the fantastic cosplay was a large selection of independent art and fan-made merchandise, which was great for the collective, but terrible for my bank account. You could expect to find stickers, keychains, custom terrariums, prints, t-shirts, books and all sorts of interesting, exceptionally high-quality goods. I wish I could dedicate a little section to every single stall, but there is simply not enough time in the day.

While all of the merch stalls were great, I particularly enjoyed the offerings from professional illustrator AJ Hateley (aj_hateley on Instagram), who brought her distinct bohemian-chic style to the world of Final Fantasy.
An amazing Heidegger and Luneth proved that even the most niche characters were well-represented at Retropom.

One of Retropom’s defining features was the aforementioned quest log, which allowed attendees to complete certain tasks and receive a stamp in order to earn Gil — a convention-specific currency that could be traded in at certain stands for Kupocon merchandise. Filling in this little booklet proved to be tremendous fun and provided ample opportunity for all of the con-goers to interact with each other. Examples of some of the simpler quests included taking a selfie with someone you’d never met before, finding specific posters that had been pinned up around the venue, completing a retro-themed Final Fantasy worksheet and posting about Kupocon on social media. These small objectives helped to create an exciting communal atmosphere, one in which every person attending, whether they were in costume or not, felt like an active part of a larger experience. A separate set of hunts also allowed you to earn EXP and, in turn, obtain more Gil. These involved even more elaborate, wacky and game-specific tasks, like taking a photo of another attendee begging for Gil, videoing a Cid declaring himself the real one amongst a group of other Cids and (my particular favourite) snapping a picture of someone attending to a Kefka cosplayer’s sand-filled boots. Thanks to this jam-packed quest log (which included even more mechanics and events than mentioned) there was never a dull moment to be had at Retropom. The constant and consistent buzz lived up to the claim that Kupocon events are essentially, as the website puts it, ‘a giant Final Fantasy-themed birthday party’.

The quest log, Gil and cosplay token.

This sense of intimate, community-driven interaction was even exhibited by the special guests. Voice actors Peter Bramhill, Timothy Watson, Colin Ryan and Bethan Walker (who voice Thancred, Urianger, Alphinaud and Alisaie respectively) all attended as representatives for Final Fantasy XIV, along with the voices of Barret and Aerith from VII: Remake, John Bentley and Briana White. Each guest was available for a meet and greet plus autograph session at their own table, while also appearing in duos on the main stage for three separate panels. Sitting in the audience for all three of these on-stage interviews, it was clear to see the passion and appreciation that all the guests had for their fans. Each relayed moving, personal experiences they had shared with the community, with John Bentley, in particular, telling an emotional tale regarding a couple he had interacted with a few years prior, who very recently got engaged. He then asked said couple to stand up in the crowd, which they did to the thunderous applause. Moments like these go to show the depth of appreciation people can have for the actors who bring video game characters to life, and the positive emotional influence that they wield. As each guest also mentioned, it was a chance for a lot of them to meet each other for the first time, as most recording sessions took place in separate locations. While I did not get the chance to queue and attend the specific meet and greets, my friend and I did bump into both Peter Bramhill and Timothy Watson at the bar during the after-party (post them singing songs on stage in the voice of their respective characters). I can’t overstate how pleasant this experience was, with both Peter and Timothy graciously accepting our tipsy compliments and even sharing a toast to good health. I even got to tell Timothy Watson how much my mother enjoyed his performance in The Archers, to which he responded, ‘she does know I’m the villain? Right?’, a conversation I will look back on warmly for years to come. We were also lucky enough briefly converse with Bethan Walker in the lift on the way back to our respective hotel rooms, who reiterated the busy, intense and amazing fan interaction she had experienced at Kupocon. Indeed, it was common to see all of the voice actors throughout the day and even during the after-party; chatting with each other, with fans and integrating seamlessly into the larger community. This not only speaks to the quality of character of these individuals, but to the quality of Retropom in general, which was a safe, welcoming space for all to enjoy.

An extremely detailed Cait Sith received the most cosplay tokens, while this impressive Trance Kuja was the judge’s favourite.

The final event of the main convention was the closing ceremony, which took place at five-thirty. During this time, two prizes were awarded for best costume. One was given out to the cosplayer who received the most tokens (each quest log came with a small piece of paper to give to your favourite cosplay) and the other was given to the collective favourite of the Kupocon staff — you can see both winners pictured below. As tradition, a Warrior of Light was also selected, which is an award given to individuals who truly embody all the values of Kupocon. Emotions ran high during the end of Retropom, tears were shed, speeches were made and the hall erupted into applause more times than I could count. What was made clear was the passion of the community and the healing qualities that come with being part of a close, tight-knit fandom. A lot of people have faced hardships during the pandemic, some have hit a low that they never thought they could climb out of but, in the face of it all, they kept going. Kupocon too, survived the world being turned on its head, returning triumphantly to physical space events with spectacular finesse (is it too obvious to make a Phoenix Down joke here?). Retropom saw old friends reunited, internet-only friends meeting in person for the first time and new relationships blossom under the unique, quirky umbrella of Final Fantasy enthusiasm. Even as a first-timer, all of this was crystal clear. The event was brought to life through the organisers, staff, volunteers (who deserve particular praise) and every single person who turned up. As the iconic main theme of the series blared from the speakers, we all got up to leave the convention hall, some returning home, others to prepare for the after-party. I think, however, the same thing was on everyone’s minds — the next Kupocon event cannot come soon enough.

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Thank you to everyone who gave me permission to post their pictures online. If you recognise yourself in this article, please feel free to reach out to me so that I can properly tag you!

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