After the fight with the Anacondour, it was up a hill to the communication tower, where the soldiers were conducting repairs on the broken tower. Here, Seifer announced that every time he completes a battle, he becomes closer to his “dream.” “You have one too, don’t you?” Yeah, Squall, you have to believe in your dreams or something, and your honour as SOLDIER! Urm… SeeD. Your honour as SeeD. God, I had no idea Crisis Core cribbed so much from FFVIII, this is really disenchanting me from my “favourite” FFVII game.
Seifer ran off at this point, which meant he crucially wasn’t present for the arrival of Selphie, who tripped to our current location complete with… sigh… up-skirt shot. Well I’ll thank you for being honest with us, FFVIII, because FFVII waited until midway through Disc 2 to get to this level of gruel with its slap-fight. It’s good to know your real priorities from the off. Selphie finally gave us her name and announced herself as being from Squad A, with a message for our commanding officer, Seifer. Unfortunately, he was already far off, and taunting us about his secret, “ROMANTIC dream.” Whoa, seriously? That’s more KH2 whiplash from me. I knew from KH2 that “romantic” was one of Seifer’s catch-phrases, but I didn’t think its origin was so… porn-y. Worryingly, Kyle promised that it would get even worse before it was over.
We didn’t learn much of value in this second search of campus, honestly. There was another mention about a sorceress, more about the Garden Festival, nothing worthwhile. We soon had our uniform on and were meeting up with Quistis in the foyer for the big SeeD exam (curiously, we learn during this segment that Squall must have a roommate in his dorm, but Kyle tells me that we never meet them!). Quistis announces the squad assignments for the exam, and we were put in a squad with someone named Zell Dincht. Zell proved to have about as much military discipline as a… well, Kyle put it better in a later scene, so I’ll wait on that, but let’s just say that he’s doing flips in the foyer as he reports for duty so… that. Zell was a mechanical descendent of Sabin from FFVI. He was a Monk, and his Limit Break, Duel, used specific button inputs to launch attacks. In Zell’s case, these attacks could be chained together into a long combo, with special “finisher attacks” that you can use at the end of your combo, so long as you fit it all in before a timer runs out!
Lot of game mechanic chat today, since FFVIII front-loads a lot of this stuff, but at least it’ll be over with when we’re through!
From here, we headed out onto the world map, where everything looked just… just terrible. The world map has easily the worst visuals in the game so far, with blocky textures and meshes and… ugh. At least your character disappears into the forests when you walk into them, which is a detail I hadn’t expected after past Final Fantasy games.
We headed straight to our destination, the Fire Cavern, where two men were waiting for us from the Garden. It was incredibly unclear who these men were supposed to be. Obviously they were supposed to be Garden employees, but the game never bothered to establish their actual job. They were wearing what looked to be kasa – a wide-brimmed rice hat, sometimes associated with Buddhist monks in the real world. The kasa hid their faces.
The men were here to facilitate a challenge that I still don’t understand. Here’s the short version: they asked us to estimate how long it would take us to complete the mission, from a list of 10, 20, 30 or 40 minutes. After making your choice, you would be competing against a timer that ran during battle, victory poses, and even dialogue (dialogue counting against the timer was a real piss-off, let me tell you). It seemed kind of rude to ask you to bet how long it will take you to complete a dungeon with no idea how long that dungeon is going to be, doesn’t it? The game might have been trying to say “Since 10 minutes is an option, the dungeon must be short!” but how do we know that? Maybe 10 minutes is a bluff! Or maybe just for hardcore players! I mean, FFVIII has a special reward for heavy grinders in just an hour or so!
Right, where we we? Oh, yes. Infodumping. Brilliant.
Squall’s “study panel” offered a gameplay tutorial, and also explained a few really shallow things about Balamb Garden and the world. Honestly, for all the reading involved and the complaining I just did, this is one of the least informative infodumps I’ve ever experienced. But let’s summarize what’s there. Balamb Garden is a military school, the first of three opened by the headmaster, this game’s Cid. In addition to schooling, they also operate their own mercenary force of their best and brightest graduates called “SeeD.” (Get it? Gardens? Seeds? Get it??) The field exam Squall was taking was actually for SeeD.
The game even skimped a little information about “GFs,” an incredibly important part of its setting, simply saying that they were developed by studying “a sorceress,” which is an odd thing to say considering another part of the game implies sorceresses aren’t necessarily historical? “GF” stands for “Guardian Force,” which makes for some unintentionally funny reading in the present day, where “GF” stands for “girlfriend.” The game uses the term “GF” almost to the exclusion of “Guardian Force,” and I soon got curious whether the characters were actually saying the letters “G.F.” or if they were actually saying “Guardian Force” every time and the text is simply abbreviated so it would fit in the box? I suspect that it’s the latter. I base this on how the game handles another abbreviation used later in the game: Squall says that a room is “on the 2F,” as in “on the second floor.” If the game had really wanted him to say “two-eff,” they presumably would have written “on 2F,” with no “the” stuck in the middle.
“I’ve just had an urge to play FFVIII,” Kyle said to me one day during our FFT playthrough. “I know that’s weird.”
“That is weird,” I replied, “because you’ve been talking the game down for the last twenty years.”
Kyle went on to explain that after all this time, he didn’t really remember the game all that well and wanted to see it over again. For my part, I was only familiar with a few details, since Kyle’s complaints over the past two decades were mostly concerned with the game’s mechanics, and even those I only knew second-hand. We finally settled in to give the game a play before even clearing FFT, since we were in more of an RPG mood, and Kyle’s change in attitude towards FFVIII had me curious. Better yet, Kyle had dug up his old strategy guides for VIII, IX and X, reasoning there was no sense in leaving them to go to waste! To spare me any narrative spoilers, Kyle handled the guides almost exclusively.
As the sound novels were not available for our playthrough, I’ll be using screenshots from the end credits for this appendix.
Remember FFT’s Errands, and the artefacts they sometimes rewarded? You know, the ones that referenced past Final Fantasy games, accelerating the grand, incestuous tradition of Final Fantasy cross-references? In international versions of FFT, there’s only one artefact you get to examine up close: the Scriptures of Germonique. But this wasn’t necessarily the case in the Japanese release, where all the book-like artefacts can be experienced to some degree, in this case in the form of “sound novels.” These were never translated, not even in international versions of the remake.
What does FFT consider a “sound novel?” The term shouldn’t be confused with “audio drama,” and the word “novel” shouldn’t be taken literally either. Basically, they’re text-driven short stories that happen to have dynamic background music (the music is available internationally, if only in FFT’s hidden sound test). FFT’s sound novels also happen to be games of a sort, ranging from Choose Your Own Adventure-style stories to games with actual variables to track.