An angsty teen at a school for mercenaries graduates and gets contracted by a small-town rebel leader, of whom he immediately falls smitten with, days before he is assigned to assassinate a magical sorceress turned national ambassador.
After a failed coup, war is declared, as our hero must now lead his school of amnesic child soldiers with magical abilities (SeeDs) in a battle against an entire continental army, the sorceress, and her ‘knight’, our heroic teen’s longtime bully and mercenary school rival.
Along the way, we follow the chronicles of a warmhearted yet dimwitted Antonio Banderas look-alike and his campaign to be become president of the most powerful technological nation on the planet, discover that almost everyone in the world is an orphan, and reveal that SeeDs magical ability granting monster pets (GFs) have been secretly eating away at its users memories.
Which for some reason, people think can be fixed through the power of friendship and love.
But none this matters, because the real threat is a titillating time sorceress from the future named Ultimecia, who is destined to battle these specific six teenagers we’ve been following throughout the game, in a final confrontation for all human existence.
This is the storyline of Final Fantasy VIII. Honestly, it’s pretty ridiculous. Still, I loved this story very much as a kid, even if it’s second half was a bit… everywhere.
And though Squall being dead after disk one is now a debunked, yet almost better fan theory explaining some of the convoluted plots of the game, I absolutely loved revising this story.
FFVIII Revisited: Act One, Love, and Relationships
The most memorable parts of Final Fantasy VIII are hands down in its first act. In it, there’s a fast-paced plot to graduate, an immediate evil Sorceress to confront, and a budding romantic love story that juggles that in-between period of adolescence to adulthood. All while examining the moral quandaries about living the of a mercenary during times of war.
We see this world through the eyes of Squall, a gifted but isolated soldier, complacent in following orders though is mostly content in brooding in his own unexpressed feelings. Though this is changed upon meeting Rinoa, a girl very open, independent and democratic, thus opposite of Squall, who serves as his foil. The two develop a relationship over the events in the game that eventually leads to love.
Putting away the Sorceress and Soldier plots aside, VIII is really all about relationships. Squall’s intrinsic journey is about connecting with other people. The Guardian Force, or GF, is an obvious play off the acronym for girlfriend, whose growth progress requires forming a bond and relational compatibility.
Likewise, looking back I realize now that almost every single character was in a romance of sorts, all for the most love-triangle driven story I believe in final fantasy history.
Irvine crushes on Selphie, Zell is semi-dating the Library girl with the pigtails (they even have their own ‘Lost In Translation’ in-game lovequest), Quistis has a fan club of admirers despite her confusing romantic longings over Squall, whom as we know, is very much in love with Rinoa, a girl who is implied, at their first meeting, to originally be Seifer’s…
Well, whatever the two did together last Summer.
There’s also Edea and Cid, Laguna and Raine, who after a failed romance between Laguna and Julia… led to the theme song ‘Eyes on Me’ and the settling into the arms of General Caraway, Rinoa’s father.
Almost every storyline in this game is tied to some sort of contrived romantic plot, meant for teenage angsty awkward nerds, though mostly boys, trying to understand the opposite sex for the first time.
And I say boys because this game is kind of perverted.
I talked about the excess borderline nudity in my initial review, but there’s also the naughty magazines referenced twice in the game and of course, the character, Zone. He’s a rebel leader with IBS and a pervert with an obvious thing for Quistis. Upon second meeting he talks about looking for the ‘Girl Next Door’ dirty magazine, and just so happens to be holding onto the rare Shiva card, the FFVIII GF that’s an almost totally naked blue girl.
Atop of this, there’s also a large degree of cliched chivalry throughout the series. As knights and sorceress are often referenced, and Rinoa is called ‘The Princess’ by both the Forrest Owls and Quistis herself. This nickname, of course, is usually followed alongside Squall’s, who’s deemed Rinoa’s prince/knight and often throughout the story, has been given the duty to wake her — both at the Forrest Owl’s base, but also when he carries her across the FH.
It’s cheesy and romantic, though, given Squall’s heritage, it also kind of fits his family’s backstory. Speaking of which…
I Didn’t Realize Laguna was Squall’s father until 10 Years Later
Yes, I’m serious, and at age 12 this was game was cute but at age 22 this revelation was lifechanging to me as a major fanboy. I never noticed the signs my first playthroughs ages ago, but they’re peppered everywhere throughout the game.
If you look at the waiting room at the Esthar Presidential Palace, above the entrance is a painting of the town center of Winhill. It’s Laguna’s favorite little place in the world where he lived, briefly with Raine, and their (basically) adopted daughter Ellone.
It’s Laguna’s fondness of that place and time, along with the final scenes of the game, where we learn that Raine and Laguna were in fact married. This is critical because, throughout the game, Ellone keeps sending Squall into the past as Laguna, to try and get him to stay in Winhill to care for his child with Raine (Squall). It also explains why she saw Squall as her little brother at the orphanage, as Laguna acted as Ellone’s hero and surrogate father.
There are also a couple of clues just in comparing their character traits.
Squall has lots of Raine’s physical features, her hair, stubbornness, and her own brush-off ‘whatever’ mannerisms, though most noticeably, it’s in their names. As Raine and Squall are both characteristics of a powerful storm. (Coincidentally, Squall’s first GFs are storm elements too)
Comparing Squall and Laguna, they’re both charismatic leaders. Men willing to care for others and stand up for those in need. Physically, both men have pretty expression-filled eyes, which are their most noticeably attractive features, particularly to both Julia (with Laguna) and Rinoa (with Squall) Heartily.
The difference between them is mostly is pride. Squall’s favorite animal is the Lion, a creature of great strength and pride symbolized, and later confronted, as the GF Griever.
At the final battle against Ultimecia, a somewhat cathartic moment of ‘defeat your own pride, let go of your ego’ was lost in the English translation during the battle against Griever. As Squall was meant to vanquish a recreation of what he saw as the ultimate power in the universe, his defeat of it, an undoing of his own ego. Given the Squall we knew at the beginning of the game, this makes sense.
Laguna, on the other hand, if you’re lucky enough to finish the FH and Shumi Village quests by endgame, is quite the opposite. Literally groveling and humbling himself for the sake of peace rather often. He’s more a man of words and compassion, well-loved by the Shumi’s, and the Moombas, especially.
It’s these major differences in personality that serve as red herrings. With the reveal that Laguna and Raine were married, being the big impact connecting the idea that Laguna is Squall’s father.
Though the biggest giveaway is that Laguna holds Squall’s triple Triad Card as it’s the only picture of his son that he has. Also, as a DNA test, the little Moomba Lions at the D-Strict Prison?
What’s the first thing they say after licking Squall’s wounds?
The Story Is Darker Than I Recalled
One of the great things replaying the remastered version is that everything has added tiny intricate details. This made me focus even more for this playthrough, which made me realize something big: that the story was much darker than how it presented itself. Here are some things I noticed in this playthrough.
- Edea murders the president in front of a large crowd of cheering sycophants. They’re cool with it.
- There are bullet holes in Ellone’s house implying that her parents were likely murdered there.
- Trabia Garden was hit directly by missiles. There’s almost nothing left, and a vast recently filled makeshift graveyard out back.
- Immediately after the clash between the Gardens, while traversing a much emptier Balamb garden, you find out from one of the students outside the Quads that both Garden and the Galbadia army had severe casualties. Most of the students had either dropped out or died.
- That the Lunar Cry destroyed Centra, a once flourishing civilization. This hints that the great technological city of Esthar should suffer the same fate given it’s underneath a Lunar Cry.
- That Tiamat is likely Bahamut from a future timeline. The once legendary King of the GFs now slave to Sorceress Ultimecia, just like everyone else.
Seriously, the casualties of wars are severely underplayed in this game. It also conveniently explains why Balamb Garden isn’t seen much at all late in the game. Because most of SeeD and Garden is dead and destroyed.
Why I Love Final Fantasy VIII
I wrote this feature knowing that I’d likely never play this game ever again.
Realistically, this game is not on the priority list for Square Enix to remake anytime soon. That I’m trying to game less these days, and that playing through this remaster was the end of an actual part of my childhood.
So, I thought I’d send it off by attempting a perfect run. I missed it by a single Occult Fan IV. Though, that’s okay. I enjoyed the journey.
Like many, I loved this game mostly because of its fond memories.
At Pizza Hut, with a Playstation demo disk (they used to hand those out), at one fateful Halloween. Spending the night indoors while the other kids, outside trick-or-treating, spent the evening causing mischief with friends; here I was, aged 12, fighting monsters indoors and uninvited. With Final Fantasy VIII, my first final fantasy, my only friend.
I didn’t know know how long the game would stay with me. How tiny details follow you over time and throughout influences.
How Triple Triad began this affinity for card games, board games, and anything tabletop related for me. And hotdogs, one my favorite guilty pleasure foods, was oddly reminiscent of the popular hotdogs at Balamb garden. How, not only did I turn out to be a writer, much like Laguna Loire, but that I also had a pretty bad romantic hang-up with a girl, aptly named Julia, and whose textbook romance was somewhat similar to Laguna’s… a lifetime ago.
Final Fantasy VIII taught me that you can say a lot with a simple look and a feeling. That to care, means to express yourself and your opinions openly, and not be pretentious about it by bottling up emotions inside. That you shouldn’t live a life of unspoken regret because you don’t know who may not make it through the battle the next day. That magic is real, limits can be broken, and GFs are very nice things, though shouldn’t always, fully occupy my mind. That monsters can be allies, and depending on people is sort of, okay.
That it is alright to call out and trust in a friend. Especially, when you’re lost, in memories, or in time, or worse, situations where you have nowhere else to turn. That it’s okay to be vulnerable and it’s okay to let down one’s pride and somebody else in… that’s called loving someone.
Final Fantasy was my recluse. My escape. My stress relief from the weight of the world, as a 12-year-old, before the turn of the century. When girls and school and friends and Y2K meant that any moment, my world could end because everything at that age seemed to matter so much.
Finally, I take away from this final run, one last lesson.
I don’t think there’ll ever be enough stories about love. Not always in that grand romantic sense, but just in that intangible ineffable… something. The magic that there’s something special in the other. That the emotion, intention, and care are there, but that also, that it’s hard to pin down past the blurred lines of romance. Boundaries of beginning to end from one to another. Of relationships surely, but also, something much more.
Love lost, love found, love unrequited that could never truly be… I think romance is a powerful theme in that it’s the acceptance of the self through the eye of the other. That love is a powerful theme that’s adapted into so many variants and subjects, mostly because the meanings behind it are beautiful; yet also, ever-changing.
It’s strange that my first idea of love and romance came from a videogame. That the experience, made me a hopeless romantic, and like all great moments, had stayed with me for a lifetime.
So that I could learn that even the stubborn Squall Leonheart’s s of the world, are at least, deserving of love. And that maybe there’s hope for any of us… we just have to be open to it, first.