The woman disappears after the dance, after she spots whoever it was she was looking for (we don’t get to see). Squall goes to brood on a balcony. At this point, Quisis shows up… in her casual clothes? She… she has a uniform, devs, we’ve seen it. And her casual clothes are sure as hell no dancing gettup. She looks like she’s raided Indiana Jones’ lost wardrobe.
Quistis tries to chat with Squall, only for Squall to point out what I was thinking at the time: she’s his teacher and god this is really awkward. I think we’re supposed to have seen this scene as more evidence of Squall’s standoffishness, because she laughs and it certainly continues in that direction, but… no, honestly it was just creepy on Quistis’ part! You’re his teacher.
Quistis tells Squall that even though it’s party night, she has an order for him: “You and I are to go to the ‘secret area.'” UMM, SUDDENLY CREEPIER?? It turns out that “the secret area” is a place where students, “secretly meet up and talk after curfew,” but that doesn’t make it better, because once you get there, it’s pretty clear this is the school’s “makeout point.” I’m not sure why FFVIII even tried to hide it? As it turns out, the Skeeve Room is part of Balamb Garden’s monster-filled training facility, which is open for all students late at night. Because it’s not a makeout point if there’s no chance of being murdered by a monster and/or slasher villain.
Squall tells Quistis to let Seifer’s disciplinary committee deal with it, but she insists, calling it her “last order,” and refuses to explain what she means by that. Squall does what he’s told, and we get another tutorial that additionally warns you that another T-Rexaur can be found in the Training Area. Geeze, just some nice, safe combat training, right? The training centre had two routes to the end point, allowing you to go to the Sex Corner and back in a full circuit if you wanted. This “dungeon” was quickly done, with no sign of the T-Rexaur, only a few carnivorous plant monsters. We were soon at The Sticky Place, where Quistis immediately announced that she “[hadn’t] been here for a while.” I am so, so uncomfortable right now.
It turns out that Quistis actually took you here because it has a nice view of the Garden, and to reveal that as of a few minutes ago (midnight), she is officially no longer an instructor and is just a regular SeeD. Err, okay. I suppose you might lose a queaze point on that technicality, but I think you picked up a few more in the process, especially when she says that she and Squall might work together soon and it seems all too convenient? Apparently Quistis lost the job because she “lacked leadership qualities.” Really? The nineteen year-old instructor, younger than many of her students, lacked leadership quality, in regards to leading her students? I mock, but the confusing fact is that Quistis has never been cast in anything but a positive light as an instructor, including by the headmaster himself, with only authority-hating Seifer as a contrary voice. It’s hard to see where on earth this was supposed to have come from?
Squall turns out to be a terrible listener who’s genuinely not interested in Quistis’ problems, and he rebuffs… whatever she’s trying to do here. Make friends, I suppose, speaking generously. Make friends in the room that smells like a mix of monstrous pitcher plant bile and human bodilyy fluids, oh sure. Squall was enough of a jackass here that his being a loner at the cost of other people came across even despite the fact that this scene was unintentionally skeezing the place up. It’s for different reasons, but both Squall and I would like to go away now. Squall eventually rejects Quistis’ attempts at conversation with Kyle’s favourite line in the game:
Quistis: I just want you to listen.
Squall: Then go talk to a wall.
On their way back out of Hump Alley (which, as far as I can tell, you can never re-enter, not that I wanted to at the time. I was checking it out during a later quest), Squall came across a familiar face on his way out of the training centre. It was the strange woman who appeared for only a few seconds in the infirmary during the game’s opening, who was now very real and definitely present. She also seemed to know not just Squall but also Quistis, whom she called… “Quisty.” That was worth a laugh. Unfortunately, she was under attack by one of the local monsters, and more showed us the moment the fight began. A few GF summons cleared the lesser monsters, and a few more killed the boss before I could really even start to strategize (to be more specific, I killed it with my attempt to Silence it using the Siren summon!).
Just then, two acrobatic men in unfamiliar uniforms arrived and escorted the woman out without another word. Quistis initially wondered who this woman was, but did no follow-up on the matter that I can tell, and the matter was left hanging. Squall headed straight to bed.
Come morning, Selphie banged on Squall’s door, shouting that they already had a mission, and that she, he and presumably others were being sent to the city of Timber in Galbadian territory. After losing a game of Triple Triad to the facility’s doctor, we reset the game and went to get our orders, which included the introduction of Selphie and Zell in their casual clothes. Selphie’s was familiar to me from Kingdom Hearts, while Zell’s was brand new. Also, Zell’s new costume got an introduction on a senseless hoverboard that was immediately confiscated by one of the kasa-men just to show how bone-headed Zell can be.
Headmaster Cid outlined our mission: we were to support a resistance faction that was fighting against Galbadia in Timber. Galbadia had conquered the nation of Timber a considerable time ago, but there were still several groups working against them. The kasa-man started complaining that they hadn’t been paid very much for this mission, but Cid shut him up for once and appointed Squall as squad leader, saying their mission was something of a blank cheque for their employers, ordering Squall to do whatever the resistance leader tells them to do! Geeze!
After the mission, Cid gave us a Magical Lamp, which you might recall from FFV as an item that could summon a random summon on use. Not so in this game, but the reference is still deliberate, as you’ll see. Cid calls this “a cursed item,” prompting more than a few jokes about him trying to murder us. You see, if you select the Lamp on the overworld, the menu advises you to save first (breaking the fourth wall to do it!). If you go through, you will summon the GF Diablos, who will immediately battle you! I think it’s funny how you might try to avoid the Lamp until later in the game when you’re a higher level, only to remember too late that enemies in this game level dynamically, making Diablos only stronger! On the other hand, Kyle told me after the fact that you can Draw Holy spells from him if you fight him past level 30, so there might be something to that!
Diablos’ gimmick is that he opens fire with Gravity attacks and almost never lets up. We haven’t really had a chance to talk about the Gravity line of spells outside of Kingdom Hearts. Gravity is sometimes called “Demi,” even in this game, which uses both “Demi” for the base-level spell and “Gravija” for its upgrade! Gravity/Demi is unique, since its spell line does flat percentage damage to your current HP. This means that Diabolos can lop off huge chunks of your HP in an instant (1/4, in this case), but the attacks get weaker as you get weaker, and he an’t use the spells to kill you. Basically, the fight against Diablos a lot to do with luck, chiefly whether or not he chooses to use a physical attack just in time to kill you. Your job is to minimize the luck factors and pray the game doesn’t slip through the gaps in your strategy. The best strategy is arguably to Blind Diabolos and to Protect yourself, and then using items or spells to cause Slow. Yeah, we didn’t do any of that, and probably couldn’t at this early part of the game (there are some advantages to waiting, after all!). After Diablos kicked my ass, Kyle took his turn and just Limit-bombed the boss into oblivion, using Selphie’s Slots ability, Full-Cure, to do any repairs. Kyle also took advantage of an old trick: by passing a character’s turn while no one else has a full ATB bar, it will immediately become their turn again, but the odds of them getting a Limit is re-rolled, potentially allowing them to use a Limit when they otherwise could not! Of course, you have to be careful not to cycle past your Limit by passing their turn again!
Back to the plot. To get to Timber, we would have to take the intercontinental train, which actually passed underwater to reach its destination. And we’re not talking about an underwater passage the size of the France-UK Chunnel, but a span of water that is nearly as wide as the entire country of Balamb, an utterly massive construction project that would bankrupt the countries involved, probably several times over. Square just can’t help but accidentally imply its worlds take place on teeny, tiny softball globes, can’t they?
Unfortunately, we weren’t sure where the train station… was. We saw something we thought was the train tracks, but for some reason didn’t clue into the fact that we had missed an exit in the town of Balamb. Once we finally found it, we also found the Queen of Cards, a woman who plays Triple Triad in a variety of towns as part of a sidequest that I don’t claim to understand from Kyle’s short summary. She can also help you change the ante used by card players in the nearby area, though I don’t claim to understand that system, either? Thanks to our new Diablos card, Kyle beat her, thank goodness. Indeed in spite of her title, we had our best ever winning streak against this so-called “Queen of Cards!”
At this point, Kyle decided to take advantage of one of the game’s major features: GF refining abilities. I mentioned earlier that GFs can refine spells from Cards, but it goes further than that. You can actually refine all sorts of items, making up a system that’s essentially what we’d call a “crafting system” today, although Refinement only uses one item at a time to create a different item (or “ammunition” for a spell). Kyle’s plan was another one he knew from past playthroughs: to buy Tents at the shop in Balamb and then convert them using Siren’s L Mag-RF to create Curaga spells, which are well and beyond our level at this point in the game. A bit of an exploit! He was able to wrangle up 80 casts before he ran out of money, which he used to junction Selphie’s HP into the stratosphere. Unfortunately, now we were out of money… and train tickets cost money. It took 25 minutes of grinding and walking around for our next SeeD paycheck to come in and resolve the issue. Twenty-five! We have the recording!
Before we go on, I want to file a complaint about Refine: it is unbelievably slow and complicated. There are multiple Refine skills attached to multiple GFs, and you start by selecting the skill from a list, then the source item you want to Refine, and only then do you see what it can make. The Refine skills really should have been put in one place and given you more information, maybe in chart form, and there arguably should have been a way to sort by results you can currently access instead of just components, and those subdivided by GF!
Most of what happened on the train was minor character moments and a shallow history of Timber that I’ve basically already related to you, so I’ll accelerate to the point where Selphie came into the private SeeD car complaining about nausea. This must have been a mistranslation, because Squall replied to Selphie’s stomach flu by saying, “You should get some rest if you’re tired”? At this point, both Zell and Selphie fell asleep on the spot, followed by Squall. A strange, high-pitched foley played over the scene…