Naruto huffed and puffed as he whacked aside the underbrush and shrubbery getting in his way. Already, his outfit was holding onto his body by the barest of threads and was soaked in all a manner of excretions. He found out the hard way what Shikamaru had been telling him about those Raid Zones, as a few monsters of unknown level had taught him.
He forgot how utterly useless he used to be. Chakra was low. Chakra control was even lower. Speed and strength abysmal. Wisdom and intelligence… well he never really understood those two no matter how he raised them. Anyway, the point was, Naruto wasn't used to being in the body of a child after being so strong for so long. The good thing was that he'd leveled a few times on the way to where he was going just by managing to survive and run away from any of the encounters with unknown beings and every time he raised a level, his health recovered. If it weren't for that fact, he'd be long dead by now.
The Uzumaki brushed past a final tree line and made his way into a small clearing. In the middle was a tiny pond that probably couldn't sustain any fish longer than his hand with some parts of it obscured in the shade by trees with far reaching branches. Underneath the largest tree was a bookshelf filled to the brim with thick volumes, a portable bed, and some other knick-knacks having to do with the shinobi profession. Somewhere off in the distance, he could hear the bubbling of a medium sized waterfall.
Smiling, Naruto cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted "FFUUUU!"
As soon as he woke up in Tsunami's house in Wave, he ran full tilt all the way to Waterfall, or at least the outskirts of Waterfall, where Fu lived before she went to Konoha for the chunin exams. Naruto was going fully off of memory of what she told him her home was like. To escape the discrimination of her people, she made a little home away from home outside of the village and only reported in with her teammates for missions. As she started to spend more and more time away from her house in the village, the little hovel at the outskirts became her main base of operations.
There was a rustling of leaves to Naruto's left. Looking at the source of the sound, Naruto came to gaze at the adolescent version of Fu looking at him apprehensively. She didn't say much of anything as she took in Naruto's look with a measured eye. "Can I… help you?" she asked.
Naruto limped forward to the tree she was standing on with his hands up. "I'm not- I'm not a threat I promise, it's just that- just that I really need to tell you something."
Fu hopped down from the tree, though she didn't let her guard down. "I-If you have something to say, I will hear it."
Naruto came within a foot of her, already invading her comfort zone. "I know this is going to sound crazy, and maybe it is. But you and I… we're going to be best friends in the future. And what else-"
Naruto woke up in the white room with a gasp of shock, sitting up immediately while rubbing his neck. "What the hell happened?" he asked no one in particular.
"She cut your head off, dude."
Naruto looked at the Guidebook, who was now in the visage of some random chunin mook. "What?"
"She cut off your head," he said more firmly.
"I'm not sure if you could see yourself, but you looked like a crazy weirdo about five seconds away from doing something really really weird. It was actually kind of amusing to see."
"Wait… but that means…" Naruto groaned at his own stupidity and covered his face in his hands. "Does that mean that I don't get a New Game+ option since I didn't beat the game this time?"
"Once you beat it the first time, you can try over as many times as you want. Guess I should have been more clear about that," he said with a shrug. "Come on, up at at em. I'm assuming you want to go again?"
Naruto nodded, still somewhat dour at learning one of the people he most loved had beheaded him.
Naruto stood back and watched the fight unfold in front of his eyes. Sasuke was acting like a tank, for the most part, protected inside his Susanoo armor while Sakura did most of the damage to Madara. This time around, she'd gotten more into the taijutsu side of things and was one of the few people who could get a solid hit on the guy. That being said, she couldn't defend against his attacks, which is where Naruto came in, Hiraishining her away from the fight whenever things were getting too dicey and forcing Sasuke to do some distracting.
This time around, he decided to let only a select few people into the party system. Sasuke, Sakura, and Anko were the only ones who made the cut that time. At first, made it seem like he was as in the dark about the game as they were, to keep things simple, but they eventually got the truth out of him about how their timeline was actually his third attempt at that particular game, fifth if he was counting the ones he couldn't remember.
It was during this particular instance of the game that Naruto felt like he finally got everything out of it that he wanted. To level up, he went on raids with his teammate. He diverted war, brought the nations together to defeat a White Zetsu army with minimal losses. He even found out that the Kyuubi was an actual sentient being with a name instead of just a mass of hateful chakra. That point particularly stung as he thought about how long he kept Kurama cooped up inside of him in his failed timeline. At least he managed to worm his way into Anko's heart, though it was substantially harder than before what with her actually seeing him grow from a youth to an adult since he decided to opt out of Jiraiya's training circuit. Naruto eventually found and befriended Fu, but nothing more. The more time he spent with her, the more he realized that she really only needed a friend who understood her.
Things went… nicely this time. All of his friends survived, Anko was at home holding a swollen belly, the nations were getting over their shit, and the last boss was looking like he was just about to go down.
The final bit of Madara's health bar ticked down as he was consumed by a black shadow and imploded into an entirely new person.
Mother Kaguya, the Last Boss
"Oh come on!" all three of Team 7 exclaimed at once.
Naruto woke up gasping for air and clutching at his chest. He sat up and looked around, almost surprised at seeing the Guidebook by his bedside. "Wh-What happened?" Naruto asked, looking at his hands. His body had reverted back to when he was in the prime of his life.
The Guidebook nodded slowly and understandingly. "I guess I should have put in a system where you can choose your path right after you complete the game. My bad, seriously. Are you okay? No dementia? Alzheimer's all cleared up?"
Naruto's only response was to blink a few times.
The Guidebook nodded. "Right, I should have guessed that you wouldn't be particularly right in the head after living to the ripe old age of 96. Good for you, by the way. 96 is a pretty old age to die."
Naruto slowly got out of bed and checked his body all over. He pointed at the Guidebook with a furrowed brow. "You're from… you're from the game, aren't you? The Guidebook."
The Guidebook nodded. "I just implemented that thing about you getting your memories from all the universes that you've experienced before while chilling out in this room. Feel any different?"
Clutching his head, Naruto could think of a few things conflicting with his memory. Why did he remember marrying both Anko and Hinata? He remembered dying more than once before.
Finally, all the cobwebs cleared from Naruto's perception and he remembered everything of import.
"Right, well, I'm going to guess that since you made peace with your death and everything that you're going to want to hit the Quit button, but I implore you to think of the New Game option. Over the years, I've cooked up so many awesome games for you to play," The Guidebook said as enticingly as it could. It seemed very nervous as it clutched its fingers together and bounced up and down on his heels.
Naruto had lived life to its fullest. He'd done everything he'd wanted. Ushered in an era of peace and happiness, created a world where progressive ideas and sciences were allowed to flourish, created a family large enough that he never had to live in an empty house ever again, and finally died comfortably in a hospital surrounded by his greatest friends and accomplices. By all means, he was done with life. He was okay with it.
The Uzumaki smiled. "What sort of games are we talking about here?"
Hack 'n Slash
With a final flourish of the wrist, Naruto beheaded Lady Kaguya, the demonic princess atop the mountaintop of Truth and Justice. He flicked the blood off of his six foot long sword and put it back into its sheath on his back. The head of the Great Oppressor felt weighty in his hands. He walked to the edge, where all the peoples of the world gathered and showed held the head above his head.
A roar of cheer and gratitude rose from the crowds of gleeful citizens. No more would they have to worry about sacrificing their teenagers to compete in bloody games for the amusement of Lady Kaguya. No more would they have to endure the weighty hand of her Dark Army. They were free to live in peace and happiness.
Naruto tossed the head down the cliff and looked at the screen that opened up to him. The thing that caught his eye was the golden S at the corner of the screen. All the other stats that rolled down below didn't mean anything to him.
The top of the mountain was covered in the blood of the remnants of Lady Kaguya's Dark army, but her throne was conspicuously devoid of anything of the sort. Naruto walked up it with great reverence and sat down.
There was the clacking of high heel boots as his chosen wife, Samui the Ice Sorceress walked from behind the throne and to his side.
"We have liberated the world from the tyranny of the Great Oppressor. What more is there to do?" she asked.
Naruto wasn't listening to her at all, though. He was more preoccupied with the new screen that popped up in front of his face. It wasn't like any screen he'd ever seen before ever since that fateful day at his birth when he was selected as the Chosen One at the Altar of Heroism.
Naruto touched it and fell unconscious
He woke up in the hospital bed, trying to process all the new memories from his other lives. It took a solid three minutes before anything made sense, but when they did, he swung his legs off of the bed and addressed the Guidebook. "Maybe don't spawn me in a world that's made up of videogame elements at birth next time."
The Guidebook nodded. "I was just thinking the same thing."
Naruto grunted in pain as he was knocked backwards onto his ass. Opening his eyes, he found what he'd bumped into, a girl that he'd seen around the village at times with her two other strange teammates and sensei. She was rubbing the side of her forehead, where she and he collided.
"Are you okay?" Naruto asked, getting up before her and offering a hand of support.
Tenten gladly took it. "Yeah, I'm fine. Guess I should've watched where I was going," she said before laughing a little bit to show that she found herself at fault for their collision as well.
A window opened up in front of Naruto as the world around him froze completely.
Wow, you look super strong. Do you work out?
This must be fate. Would you like to go out with me?
Is that a kunai in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?
Naruto groaned in exasperation. That was the third time that had happened since that night in wave. First with Tsunami, then with Sakura. The only he got from those two were cheeks alight with embarrassment and a bruised rib respectively. He still didn't know what was going on, so he picked the one that sounded least creepy.
"Wow, you look super strong. Do you work out?" The words flowed from his mouth without his mind telling his body to let them out. He was fully expecting a sort of creeped out awkward smile as she tried to get away from as soon as she could (after all, girls didn't like being related to having a muscular body, right?). What he wasn't expecting was a dusting of a blush on her cheeks as she processed what he said before averting her gaze slightly downwards while she fought back a bit of a smile.
"I-I mean, I have to keep top form after all. I am aiming to be world's strongest kunoichi."
Sorry, I should introduce myself. I'm Naruto. It's nice to meet you. Are you late for anything?
That's cool. I'm Naruto. Wanna bone?
Naruto's the name, don't wear it out. And you are, beautiful?
"Sorry, I should introduce myself. I'm Naruto. It's nice to meet you. Are you late for anything?" At least with this girl the choices were rather clear-cut, as he couldn't think of a time when he would ever use the two other choices. Tsunami and Sakura's were rather… let's just say he never wanted to see Tsunami ever again and he doubted Sakura would talk to him for at least a month.
"Hi, I'm Tenten," she said, recovering from her prior embarrassment. "And no, I just got finished training. Why?"
No reason. Peace out!
Because you're pretty and I want to take you out for a date.
So I know the name of the person whose head I will display on my mantelpiece.
Naruto really wanted to pick the first option and be done with this weird back-and-forth, but something kept him from immediately choosing it. Whether it was curiosity over what would happen next or wanting to test out the constraints of the game, Naruto chose the second option. Though he did have to scratch his head at the third.
"Because you're pretty and I want to take you out for a date."
Tenten's face turned a bright vermillion. Wide-eyed, she drew a foot backward for support and looked at Naruto more fully. He a bit shorter than her and had pretty unruly hair, but his face wasn't bad and she remembered seeing him in the academy in passing so she knew that he was only one year younger than her. This was the first time that a boy had shown actual romantic interest in her and it wasn't like she had any actual reason to refuse other than mild embarrassment.
"E-E-Erm. Y-Yeah, sure? That uhmm… that sounds okay? This is- gosh, this is pretty sudden. Do you have any places in mind?"
Why not train at a training field?
How about a walk in a park?
Why not a ramen place? I know this great restaurant…
She just got back from training. Walks in parks were reserved for real couples, right? That only left one option left.
"Why not a ramen place? I know this great restaurant…"
"S-Sure, I could go for a bite to eat."
At the end of her talking, the world paused again, though this time the window popped up had only an empty bar with a mini picture of Tenten's face next its leftmost side. The empty bar slowly filled about a tenth of the way up before stopping. Words came up in a new window that overlapped the first.
Congratulations, you got your first date. There are now more dialogue options. You're on your way, Casanova.
"Wait wait!" Naruto shouted before the world started up again. "What's going on? What's the point in all of this?"
The two previous boxes disappeared and a new one popped up.
This is Naruto: the dating sim. The goal of this game to fully max out all the relationship bars of all the available romantic interests around you at least once. Bonus points for bagging ones that are out of your age range or characters off the beaten path. You have three years to achieve this goal, or everyone you know and love will die.
"But what's the point? And how is it possible to fill them all up? Isn't that, like, polygamy or something? Also, what do you mean everyone I know and love will-"
How you go about the goal is your prerogative. It should be noted, however, that they don't all have to be filled at the same time, just that they all get maxed at one point or another.
"B-But, oh," Naruto stopped himself as he realized that the world was back to normal. "Erm… shall we go then?"
"Sure," Tenten said, walking next to him as he led her to their first date.
Naruto woke up peacefully in the hospital bed and sent a simmering glare at the Guidebook. "A dating sim, really?"
The Guidebook shrugged. "I thought it would be fun. Also, you'll find that the memories of your past lives are easier to come to terms to now."
Naruto nodded. "But… seriously? A dating sim?"
"Hey, you looked like you were enjoying yourself. I only programmed in a harem route for the sake of consistency. I never thought you'd actually take it."
A smattering of red showed up on Naruto's cheeks. "W-Well, it's not like I planned it out like that. It just sort of happened."
"Yeah… right… I'm actually a little bit reminded of that offshoot timeline."
"Yeah, it's a timeline that doesn't look really tied to anything to what I did, yet remains a differentiated version of the main timeline. In it, you're arranged to marry five women from five different nations to stop war."
"Huh? How does it go?"
"You get your arm cut off."
"Buuuut everything works out in the end, more or less. Anyway, you up for another game, or do you want to do the dating sim over again?"
Naruto shrugged. "Show me what you got. Better not be anything weird, though."
Naruto breathed in the fresh air of the late morning as he gazed down on a small town with a small river running through it. Lazily, watermills chugged around and around, slowly grinding up foodstuffs or generating energy. What the people of this town didn't know was that they were right smack dab in the middle of four major commercial cities. Normally, this hamlet would be overlooked by any and all people traveling through the Land of Fire as exactly what it appeared to be. Naruto saw something different, however. He saw potential.
Pulling up the window telling him of the local prices, whether they be as small as an apple from a vendor or entire swaths of land, Naruto settled on the four major points entering the village and began manually going through the logistics on how he would go about creating roads through the hamlet connecting to the commercial centers. He was pretty bad at math as a rule, but was finding it easier and easier the more he used it, especially considering it had an actual impact on the job he was doing.
He felt a presence lean over his shoulder and look at the window he was writing on. "I still can't believe half the things you do," she murmured.
Naruto shrugged. "Adapt to survive. The business world is just as ruthless as the shinobi one. Well, not really, I guess. The business world will never slit your throat in front of you. Then again, if you piss people off enough, you could get yourself assassinated- Whatever. You get what I mean."
Ino nodded and looked at the little village with longing. "Oh, what I wouldn't give to be able to live in this place. So serene and peaceful."
"You'd pull your hair out in three hours. The people are uneducated, the only way to get a living is by farming, and it smells."
Ino groaned. "Why do you have to ruin everything?"
"If there's anything these past six months has taught me, it's that one should value pragmatism over all else."
"Do you even know what pragmatism means?"
"Pragmatism is the school of thought that people should shed useless things attached to themselves and to focus solely on the worldly. Oh, what was that? You weren't expecting me to know that?" Naruto turned around and leaned forward, coming into her personal space a bit to jokingly say "What now?"
Ino chuckled and pushed him away. "Okay I get, I get it. You know what you're talking about. So what's the plan with this place anyway? Like you said, it is pretty backwaters."
"That's correct. This place is far away from development. It is, however, right in the middle between four large commercial centers. Commercial centers that just so happen to be plagued with bandit problems all along their main roads."
Ino's eyes narrowed in realization. "Oh, you're devious. Is that the bandit leader you made a deal with? Isn't that a little, you know… sceevy?"
"They'll get taken care of sooner or later by some shinobi outfit or another." Naruto said dismissively. "What matters is that they can't exchange goods the way they are. When they hear of plans to build out four connecting roads that all come into a single spot that could act as an intermediary trading town with luxurious facilities and safe travel ways, they'll frontload the project with more money than it requires. That money will be put into getting the town up to snuff with accommodations."
"How are you going to convince them that this place will be good for it?"
Naruto smiled deviously. "I'm not well heard of in the business world as of yet, but anybody could do a quick background check and look at my previous work. Wave, Grass, Hotsprings. Everywhere I go, rapid development goes with me."
Ino scrunched her brow and looked up. "Rapid development? How do you manage…" Ino's eyes lit up. "Shadow clones. You built stuff with your shadow clones really quickly."
Naruto nodded. "At first, this place will be nothing more than a byways. As time progresses, merchants will put up shop to sell to the high traffic, basic commodities will be set up to care for a new residential base, heck, it might even get its own micro shinobi village to take care of any bandits who are chafing for a new place to roost. That's all in the future, though. For now, I buy the town hall, start my project, and send messages to the captains of industry to those four commercial cities."
"A man with a plan is pretty dangerous nowadays, I hear. But I have to know, what's your goal in all of this? Why… this? It wasn't long ago that you were shouting about becoming Hokage."
Naruto thought back to the morning of him graduating from academy, when the Guidebook first presented itself to him. He tried to ignore it at first, but gradually got sucked into the world of trade, profit, and finance.
"Because… It's finally something I can do right," Naruto said a little quietly.
Ino clapped him on the back a few times. "Ah, that's not true. You're good at making people laugh, and… um… other things, I'm sure."
Naruto straightened out his back and gazed down at the village one more time before turning around and walking back. "Regardless, my mission is to bring together all of the elemental nations in peace and harmony. A world with no war. A world where everyone tries to understand each other. With this game, I can do it. So I will."
Naruto slowly got up and rubbed his head dolefully. "Aww, man."
"Why the long face? You completed the goal didn't you? And rather nicely at that. I haven't seen leaps of strategic logic since I found a universe where Sherlock novels existed."
The Uzumaki stood up from the bed and began walking with the Guidebook. "I'm starting to have all these complex, conflicting emotions in me. I've fallen in love so many times. I've saved the world so many times. I've come back so many times… It's… hard to explain what I'm feeling."
The Guidebook only smiled and nodded. "You know what'll fix that?"
"Forgetting about it for now and playing a videogame."
"WHO THE FUCK'S IDEA WAS THIS?! THIS IS SO SCARY AND WEIRD! AAAAHHHHHH!"
The Guidebook winced a little bit as Naruto woke back up from the hospital bed. "Too much?"
"NO MORE RACING GAMES!"
The Guidebook smiled and gave him a thumbs up. "I got just what you need."
"WHO THE FUCK'S IDEA WAS THIS?! THIS IS SO SCARY AND WEIRD! AAAAHHHHHH!"
The Guidebook winced a little bit as Naruto woke back up from the hospital bed. "Too much?"
"NO MORE HORROR GAMES!"
The Guidebook smiled and game him a thumbs up. "I got just what you need."
"Okay, so if I send my chunin force on a patrol route here, then make my peasants farm gold here, and keep my main fighting force here, then I should be able to at least hold out until- Oh, fuck. They're rushing. They're rushing! Nope nope nope. Main fighting force, advance!... okaaayyy. looks like the fight's going in my favor. I need to get them back soon because my base is… undefended! Oh shit, it was a rouse. Get back there! Get back. Oh, goddamnit."
Naruto woke up from the hospital bed rubbing his head. "I don't think high minded strategy is my strongest area."
The Guidebook clapped him on the back a few times. "Neither did I, but it sure was fun watching you flail around like that."
Naruto stared at the strange weapon in his hands for a few seconds.
Ultimate Destructor Shotgun Katana Windmill Shuriken of Laundry Death
+30 cloth washing skill
+ 2 death
He shook his head at the amalgamation of pointy blades, grips, strong leather, and corrugated steel (for washing clothes on, he assumed) with a sort of annoyance that could only be borne out of experiencing a certain event or action enough times that although it may have given him joy at one point or time, now filled him with nothing.
"This is just getting ridiculous," he muttered to himself as he swapped out his main weapon for the new one.
What? Its stats were better.
Naruto jumped out of bed with a gasp and much flailing arms. "Did I…. wait, what?"
"You just barely managed to beat the game. Nearly lost it when you blew up and you didn't get to see the aftermath, but hey, a win's a win."
Naruto shook his head to wipe away the fuzzies. "Anything else?"
The Guidebook tapped his chin in consideration a few times. "I've got a few more. I'm open to suggestions. Anything you want to play?"
Naruto smiled. "Yeah. A few."
And so the game went on. Any genre, every sub-genre, mechanic, system, or way of doing things was tried out. Naruto failed. He tried again. Started over. Died. And was born again. He gained something every time and lost something of the same value.
He had fun. He raged. He cried. He burst out in happiness. He thought. He tried not to think. He screamed in horror. He fell over from exhaustion. He got married. He had children. He succeeded. He failed.
He lived more lifetimes than anyone could even mentally process and then some.
And finally, he stopped. At the altar where he made the choice of retrying, starting over fresh, and finally quitting, he faltered for the first time.
The Guidebook found this strange and shot him a questioning look. "Anything wrong?"
Naruto didn't say anything. He simply looked away from the dais and stared the Guidebook in the eyes. Nothing had to be said. Behind those eyes were a thousand different Naruto's who lived a thousand different lives, found love a thousand different times, and succumbed to loneliness and hatred a thousand more.
The Guidebook's face went neutral. "Done?" he asked. It was a rhetorical question. This moment was a long time coming for the both of them.
Naruto nodded slowly.
The Guidebook put his hands on his hips and belted a great sigh of contentment. "Well, I had more ideas still, but it'd be a moot point if you didn't want to try them out with real enthusiasm. It's been fun man, well, mostly fun, but… you know what I mean."
Naruto's hand hovered over the Quit button.
"Just… Look man, before you hit that button, I want you to know something."
Naruto paused and looked back to the Guidebook.
"Whatever's beyond here, wherever you end up, whatever type of existence you choose to lead, just know this: life isn't worth living if you can't fail. And life isn't worth living if you can't get back up and try again after failing. That's the key concept of all videogames and it's also what makes them fun. Life is supposed to be fun like that and death is too. So whatever happens, make sure to fail, make sure to get back up, and make sure to have fun."
Naruto smiled again, for the last time. "Thanks," he said, pushing the button.
AN/ I just wanted to thank everyone.
And yes, I mean everyone.
I want to thank the people who read this story from start to finish.
The people who jumped in half-way through and quit halfway through
The ones who criticized and the ones who critiqued
The ones who never failed to comment and the ones who never did
The ones who PM'd me
The ones who favorited and followed
The ones who were too nice
The ones who were too mean
And the ones who were just right
I want to thank all of you for everything you've done for me as an aspiring writer. I began writing fanfiction with my first story about two years ago and that was the first time I'd written narrative since the fifth grade. Since then, I feel like I've become great, and if not that, then at least good.
It's all thanks to you and for that, you have my deepest thanks.
Have a gentlemanly life.