An angsty teen at a school for mercenaries graduates and gets contracted by a small-town rebel leader whom he immediately falls smitten with, mere days before he is assigned to assassinate a magical sorceress turned national ambassador. Whom, after a failed global coup, causes the next world war; where our hero must now lead his school of amnesic child soldiers with magical abilities, called SeeDs, into a battle against an entire continental army, the sorceress, and her knight. Who just also happens to be our heroic teen’s longtime bully and mercenary school rival.
But along the way, we follow also follow the chronicles of a warmhearted yet dimwitted Antonio Banderas look-alike and his accidental campaign to become president of the most powerful technological nation on the planet. We also discover that almost everyone in the world is an orphan that SeeDs magical ability-granting monster pets, known as GFs — though not your girlfriend — have been secretly eating away at its user’s memories. That for some reason, people think can be fixed through the power of friendship and love.
But none this ultimately matters, because the real threat is a titillating time-traveling 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 its 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 revisiting this story.
FFVIII Revisited: Act One, Love, and Relationships
The most memorable parts of Final Fantasy VIII are hands down in its first act. Why? Well, there’s a fast-paced plot to graduate, an immediate evil Sorceress to confront, and a budding romantic love story that juggles that in-betweeners period of adolescent romance 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 who is complacent in following orders. Squall is mostly content in brooding in his own unexpressed feelings. Though this changes upon meeting Rinoa, a very open, independent, and oddly democratic young woman. Thus the opposite of Squall. 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 a story all about relationships. It’s about Squall’s intrinsic journey of learning to connect with other people. Heck, even The Guardian Force, or GF, is an obvious play-off the acronym for girlfriend, whose growth progress requires forming a bond and relational compatibility.
Looking back, this might be the most love-triangle upon love-triangle tale ever told 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; our hero, whom as we all-know, is very much in love with Rinoa. Who coincidentally, is a girl who is implied to be, at their first meeting, originally Seifer’s… fling together of 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. Heck, almost every storyline in this game is tied to some sort of contrived and convoluted romantic plot! All meant for teenage angsty awkward nerds, though mostly, pandering to young pubescent boys of the era (of which I was one) who were trying to understand the opposite sex for the first time.
I talked about the excess borderline nudity in my initial review, but there are also, the naughty magazines referenced twice in the game. Highlighted by the character, Zone who is a rebel leader with IBS and a perverted obsession 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. 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 titled as Knight, who’s teased as being Rinoa’s prince/knight often throughout the story. First, when he’s given the duty to wake her at the Forrest Owl’s base, and later, when he carries her across the FH.
It’s cheesy and romantic, though, given Squall’s heritage… also 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. At age 12 this was game was cute. But replaying at age 22, this revelation was life-changing to me as a major fanboy. The hints are peppered everywhere throughout the game, though it takes some degree of maturity, to really see Laguna for what he is.
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.
Laguna’s fondness of that place and time, along with the final scenes of the game, is 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 (Squall) with Raine. It also explains why Elle saw Squall as her little brother at the orphanage, as Laguna acted as Ellone’s father. The two, are in distant ways, actual step-siblings.
There are also a couple of clues just in comparing their character traits.
Squall has lots of Raine’s physical features, her hair, her stubbornness, and her own brush-off the issue ‘Whatever…’ type of mannerisms. Though the most noticeable clue is obviously in their names. As Raine and Squall are both characteristics of a powerful storm.
Coincidentally, Squall’s first GFs are natural storm elements too, being ice and thunder.
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 expressive eyes that are their most noticeably attractive features. Particularly, to both Julia (with Laguna) and Rinoa (with Squall) Heartily. It is slightly weird also that both father and son seemed to have fallen in love with the same mother and daughter of that same exact line. In a very destiny or chemistry type of approach to romance.
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? The first thing they say after licking Squall’s wounds? Not Squall… but…
But Why Are They So Different?
The difference really, between both men, is mostly pride. As Laguna has very little of it while Squall has a great deal. His 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!” line of dialogue 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 ego.
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. For it’s these major differences in personality that serve as red herrings in the game. The reveal being that Laguna and Raine were married and the impact late-game implied connecting the idea that Laguna is Squall’s father.
The Story Is Darker Than I Recalled
One of the great things about replaying the remastered version is that everything has much more intricate details. This made me focus even more on 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. And they cheer her for 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 there is a vast recently filled series of headstones out in the back.
- Immediately after the clash between the Gardens, while traversing an emptier Balamb garden, you find out from one of the students outside the Quads that both Garden and the Galbadia 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 right as the game ends.
- That Tiamat is likely Bahamut from a future timeline. The once legendary King of the GFs is 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. Most of SeeD and Garden are dead at this point.
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. I’m also trying to game less these days and so playing through this remaster marks 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. Like, how at Pizza Hut, they used to hand out the SeeD test levels with a Playstation demo disk and how I’d gotten one on Halloween. I remember, spending the night indoors while the other kids, outside trick-or-treating, spent the evening causing mischief with friends; while here I was, aged 12, fighting monsters indoors and uninvited.
Final Fantasy VIII was 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 would begin this affinity for card games, board games, and anything tabletop-related. And how my love of hotdogs, which are easily one of 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 live 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 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 just called loving someone.
Final Fantasy was my recluse. My escape. My stress relief from the weight of the world as an awkward 12-year-old before the turn of the century. When girls and school and friends and Y2K meant that at any moment, the world could end because everything at that age seemed to make the world end. Everything seemed to matter so much for no reason.
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 of how there is something special in the other. That the emotion, intention, and care? It’s ineffable. Hard to pin down past the blurred lines of romance. Boundaries of the other begin to form and end with one another. Of relationships surely, but also, something much more. Final Fantasy 8 is a story of love lost, love found, love unrequited, and the potential of that which was but could never truly be…
I think romance is a powerful theme in any sort of story. The acceptance of the self through the eye of the other is a powerful theme. One that’s adapted into so many variants and subjects, mostly because the meanings behind it are beautiful; yet also, ever-changing.
Love is beautiful.
And it’s strange that my first idea of love and romance came from a videogame. That experience absolutely made me a hopeless romantic, and like all great moments, had stayed with me for a lifetime.