You’ll have to excuse my absence last week. A little thing called E3 happened, which took up the majority of my time. I barely had a chance to play Final Fantasy VIII at all during the event, let alone write up my thoughts based on that limited play time. Now, however, I’ve just begun disc 3 of 4, and I have plenty of words to make up for last week’s lack.
Early on in the game, and indeed right up until the end of disc 1 when Squall gets impaled, I knew exactly where to go, what to do, and how to do it. I’ve played that first disc close to ten times, but rarely got so far as to actually complete the game. I’ve done it twice, but I’m fairly confident my last full playthrough was over a decade ago. This means that somewhere in the middle of disc two I started to encounter enemies and unravel plot points that I had completely forgotten about. Perfect example, I had absolutely zero recollection of NORG and that whole Garden Master chapter. I remembered there was something up with those guys that littered Garden, but I couldn’t tell you who they were or what they were doing there before hitting that segment. It just goes to show that it’s a good thing I’m replaying EVERY game, including those I’ve previously finished. I’m relearning plenty throughout this voyage.
One thing I’ve relearned is Final Fantasy VIII’s Draw/Junction system. I never really forgot about it, but up until this playthrough I’ve consistently been one of those people that really loved it. If you were willing to grind out a bit early on, you could stock up on plenty of low-level spells from the Training Grounds or the wilderness around Balamb and significantly beef up your starting party. Of course once you’ve got a spell junctioned to a stat, that stat raises even higher if you’ve got more of that spell. Never one to settle for less than the best, I always inevitably end up wasting – yes, I consider this time wasted now – time maxing out as many spells as I can for at least two of my three party members. Even though I’m trying to get through the game fairly quickly this time, I still couldn’t stop myself from following that usual habit.
I have been doing my best to learn skills that change items into spells so as to minimize my wasted time, but whenever I come across a new spell I just have to have it. Instead of attacking the enemy until it’s dead, which would take an average of 10-20 seconds, I would put the foe to sleep and draw, draw, draw, draw; many of my fights have taken more than 5 minutes, simply because I’m a spell hoarder. It’s awful. The mechanic is still incredibly helpful, letting you raise your stats and adding elemental and status attack bonuses, but the tedium you must endure in order to maintain a respectable stat boost on all fronts is just awful. I have definitely become more frustrated with junctioning now than ever before. It’s similar to Final Fantasy XIII’s Paradigm Shift in that I’m happy that Square tried something new, and I did enjoy it somewhat, but I’m glad they’ve moved on from it.
Perhaps the best part of the junction system is the use of summons, or as they’re known in Final Fantasy VIII, Guardian Forces (GF). When you equip a GF you can then set your commands and select which ability you’d like it to focus on learning, ranging from higher summon attack power, to opening a new stat you can junction with, to special abilities like Recover or Mug. Also, when you summon them in battle they do not come out immediately. GFs have their own set hit points, and when you call upon them their ATB gauge must empty before they bring the pain. However while they are active, they take damage in place of the character that summoned them. This is doubly helpful, allowing you a moment’s reprieve from damage that is immediately followed up with a powerful attack. Plus each GF has compatibility bars for each character; the more one person summons them, the higher their compatibility, and the fast their ATB gauge drains. It’s really an excellent system if you ask me. And since you’re here reading this, I think my opinion is exactly what you’re looking for.
Now I know I touched on Triple Triad briefly in my last update two weeks ago, but I have to say again just how much fun it is. I have done well to only play against those I know to have rare cards, and I generally limit myself to only facing them until I obtain the specific card I’m looking for, but damn is it hard to pull myself away. I could truly and honestly just play Triple Triad for hours on end and be happy. If they released a new version of it as a standalone PSN or XBL game, or maybe a mobile app, I would buy that up in a hot second and play it all the time. I’m still 6 games and 5 months away from Final Fantasy XIV, but already I’m looking forward to it so I can experience the new iteration of the game they brought to it earlier this year.
Anyway, moving on from gameplay mechanics and mini-games to the story, I think I figured out why I’ve played disc 1 so many times but rarely get to the end of disc 2. On the first disc you’re playing as a military student performing set tasks assigned to you. You receive a mission, form a team, and carry that mission out. It’s pretty cut and dry what’s going on, with a couple prime antagonists prominently displayed from fairly early on. You know you’re going to face off against Seifer at least once or twice, and eventually you’ll reach the Sorceress Edea and take her down too. But as soon as you pop that second disc in and wrap up the initial Laguna segment, everything’s different. Squall somehow survived Edea’s attack that pierced his chest, with not even a shadow of a scar upon his body. Since your crew attacked the Sorceress and she’s got control over most of the government, you and your party become enemies of the state, constantly on the run while trying to piece together the fragmented memories that are slowly coming back to you.
Then all of a sudden you learn that six of the seven main characters all grew up together at an orphanage run by the evil Sorceress Edea and her husband, Balamb Garden’s headmaster and mentor to many, Cid. It just so happens that you all conveniently forgot about your childhoods together due to your frequent use of GFs during your teenage years, and Cid never thought it was important enough to bring to your attention.
Excuse the outburst, but fucking WHAT?
Now I’ll preface this by saying Kingdom Hearts is one of my favorite video game franchises, but the amount of convolution and “plot twists” present in Final Fantasy VIII from disc 2 rival the crossover series pretty heavily. I never seemed to have a problem with all of that when I beat the game all those years ago, but I’m going to chalk that up to being an impressionable teenager who readily accepted most anything thrown my way without much question. Perhaps I’ve become jaded over the years, or perhaps I’ve finally realized what many others have known for a long time already, but if I’m being completely honest, I’m not really enjoying the story of Final Fantasy VIII this time around.
Almost completely contradicting that, I have also come to appreciate and admire Squall as a character at the same time. In Final Fantasy IV, Cecil is a good man doing a bad man’s bidding, and after performing some seriously evil deeds he was ordered to do, must go on an arduous journey of redemption. In Final Fantasy VI, Terra is a half-human, half-esper who has her destiny of bringing peace and acceptance to the divided world thrust upon her in an epic quest. In Final Fantasy VII, Cloud is a skilled mercenary/clone of a genetic experiment with all sorts of mental problems to sort through. These characters are all so out there and fantastic, which I suppose makes sense for a series called Final Fantasy. Even so, it can be difficult to relate to such characters on a personal level.
Squall, on the other hand, is a standoffish young man in his late teens who attends what is essentially a military school. He attends class, performs field assignments, and works with an assigned team to complete the various tasks at hand. He can relax with a game of cards or go to the training center to hone his skills. He has a hard time opening up to people, and doesn’t trust easily, and his favorite words are “Whatever” and “…”. The role of leader often lands on his shoulders, and throughout the game this frustrates him more and more. He doesn’t want the responsibility of looking out for others, because he wouldn’t want anyone else to have to worry about him. Everyone should take care of themselves. All of this just points to Squall being possibly the most relatable protagonist in the entire Final Fantasy franchise.
Squall is the quintessential teenager. Everyone goes through that phase of wishing everyone would just leave them alone, and at one point or another we all get hurt in a way that makes us wary of trusting anyone with anything. For some this phase comes and goes, while others live large portions of their life this way. Whatever the case, I can see a bit of Squall in almost everyone I know. I always liked him the way most people tend to like the main characters of games they enjoy, but I have definitely gained some new-found appreciation and respect for this dude.
Having said that, opposites must indeed attract, because I’ve grown much less fond of Rinoa in the same time. He takes challenges head-on no matter how stressful or crazy, while she’s so back-and-forth and wishy-washy. One moment she’s part of a resistance group that wants to take down President Deling, then the next thing you know she’s all whiny and trying to convince the party not to fight. She’d rather they try sorting their problems through peaceful talks. Her character is just so wildly inconsistent, and it doesn’t come off as evolution or character development; it feels more like lazy writing, and that bugs the hell out of me.
I mean, it certainly warms the heart to watch as Squall grows slowly more fond of Rinoa as Final Fantasy VIII progresses, but from his end it’s all gradual and building and nice. Rinoa, however, jumps onto the scene in a spectacular ballroom dance scene, seemingly smitten with our hero. We later learn that she and Seifer dated, and she admits to thinking she was in love with him. The team learns that Seifer is alive, but she barely reacts to that news, instead wanting to spend more time with Squall. He even explicitly states (through his inner monologue, of course) that it is so obvious how everyone is trying to set the two of them up, and it’s a bit out of hand. This makes Squall even more relatable than before, as he openly acknowledges the ridiculousness of the situation.
So now I’m at the beginning of disc 3, ready to learn more about my childhood orphanage and find out what’s the deal with Edea/Matron and how Rinoa fits into all of this. I’m just now realizing that I didn’t make any mention of Laguna and the Dream World, but I’m already at 2000 words. That’s more than enough for now. Hopefully I’ll have Final Fantasy VIII wrapped by next week’s update, and I can touch on Mr. Loire’s inclusion then. If you made it this far, thanks for being such a trooper. Remember to follow me on Twitter for live-tweets as I play, looking out for the #RoadtoXVin15 hashtag. See you next week!