Final Fantasy VIII – The Great Train Robbery

ffviii-00071The party gets off the train and arrives in Timber, and immediately meet up with their contact, who led them away from the platform. Before we went, however, I became morbidly fascinated by a blocked-off building marked “Pet Shop.” “Who… builds a pet shop next to a railroad station?” I asked, aghast. “A bad person,” Kyle said. When we talked to the person blocking the entrance, we learned that his dog had been left inside without anyone to tend to it and presumably without food or water. “A very bad person.”

Our contact led us to the resistance base, which was closer than I expected, in a manner of speaking. Specifically, it was on board a train, a mobile base! Interesting approach! There, we met the nominal leader of the resistance, Zone, who introduced our contact as Watts, and the resistance as “the Forest Owls.” I was going to complain to Kyle about the fact that our code phrase to Watts had been about forests and owls and how foolish that is, but I swallowed the complaint, and would later learn that this flaw was definitely intended by the developers. Let’s just say… this may not be a professional terrorist organization.

ffviii-00072Our meeting with the Owls started with a great double gag, first when Squall refused to shake Zone’s hand, and then when Zone forgot to offer to shake Zell’s, because Zell. After that, Zone said that we’d need a resistance member that he called “the princess” before they could proceed with their meeting. He told Squall to go wake her from her nap, and the party complained about being used as gophers. We were ultimately forced to do it, if only because the plot insisted, and also because Zone feigned stomach pain. Apparently no one wanted to wake the princess since she would react very poorly, but we never got to see it. This was because the “princess” was actually Squall’s dance partner from the graduation party at the Garden, and she was delighted to see him.

The “princess” told us that she had been sending requests to the Garden for ages, but no one had responded until she came to Balamb and spoke to Headmaster Cid directly. But getting to meet Cid needed an introduction, and the “princess” got it with the help of someone she already knew: Seifer. In fact, she was disappointed that Seifer hadn’t been deployed with the others. It seems that Seifer forgot to mention the fact that he hadn’t graduated to SeeD!

ffviii-00074At this point, the “princess” finally introduced herself, and we gave her the default name, Rinoa. Rinoa’s mocap actor is Mayuko Aoki, who like Masakazu Morita (Zell) would go into voice acting after voicing and mocapping a lead character in FFX, in this case Yuna! Yeah, both of FFX’s lead characters were mocap actors in FFVIII! Aoki even sang as Yuna on FFX-2’s “Vocal Collection,” although I don’t know if the song is a track from the game or what. Unlike Morita, who branched into anime, Aoki has largely been restricted to Square Enix, but she’s got a few credits: she voiced Freyra of the Turks in the FFVII OVA, Last Order, aka “Shotgun (Female),” from Before Crisis. She also voiced Seven in FFType-0. And while she isn’t properly credited for them, Aoki also did mocap for Garnet/Dagger in FFIX and Tifa in Advent Children. Why we know Aoki’s credits from FFIX and AC when we don’t know most of the other mocappers, I can’t imagine, but I’m glad that somebody got credit for their work. Rinoa’s action actor is Hoshimi Asai, whom you might recall was also Selphie’s action actor.

Rinoa also introduced her walking set of game mechanics, which we got to name… urm, I mean, her dog. She introduced her dog, Angelo, whom we got to name. Rinoa fights with a strange projectile disc launcher called a “Blaster Edge,” but uses Angelo for her limit breaks, including the preposterous starter limit break, “Angelo Cannon,” that shoots the dog with her wrist launcher, causing a massive explosion. Honest to god, Kyle later told me he didn’t know how to use Rinoa’s mechanics from his past playthroughs, because Angelo Cannon weirded him out too much. As it happens, you teach Rinoa new limits by finding pet training magazines and then setting the skill to be trained in the menu and filling the required bar by walking. Unfortunately, the game only tells you these tricks are done training (and that it’s time to manually switch to a new trick) with an unobtrusive but incredibly easy-to-miss chime sound effect, which sounds exactly like any other success chime in the game, save that this one comes from seemingly nowhere. These dog tricks include abilities that even occur without a Limit, making Angelo something of a successor for Interceptor from FFVI.

ffviii-00076Now that everyone was ready, the Timber Owls told us their plan. Watts had picked up information that the tyrannical president of Galbadia, Vinzer Deling, was coming to Timber by train, and they knew exactly when and where he would be and when. Their plan was complex: they were going to run their train-base on a parallel track to the president’s train, and then trigger automatic coupling and uncoupling devices on the president’s train such that the president’s car would be separated. They then plan to swap out the president’s car for a lookalike car they had prepared, and then do another coupling and uncoupling to deal with the caboose, all before a junction in the track. Essentially, they were going to hijack the president’s car right out of the middle of the train!

All of this was demonstrated via model trains, by the way, complete with everyone involved, party and Owls, mocking Rinoa’s hand-made attempt at a train car. Oh, and I later learned that if you go through the chore of repeating the incredibly boring instructions, Selphie will announce that this is all too complicated for her liking, and she’ll volunteer to murder the president and everyone on the train in return. Fucking legendary.

ffviii-00077The hijacking took place only minutes later! It essentially played out like a minigame. Because of the level of complexity on display here, the hijacking has few rewards and fewer penalties for failure (you have to fail ten times to get so much as a SeeD demotion), since it would be so easy to mess up. The first portion, which involved guards with sensors, was the most complex part of the mission, but probably the easiest in hindsight. After this, Squall had to enter some passwords into the train while dangling off the side and keeping an eye out for enemy patrols, all complicated by the PC version’s practice of referring to buttons by their joystick names (“B1” through “B12”). Our controller isn’t marked like that! The passwords were also conveyed to you via numbers that you had to turn into the proper buttons in your head, which you have to turn into the proper buttons on your controller… ugh. It was all very… let’s just not do this again, all right?

Having kidnapped the president, the Forest Owls moved to interrogate him. Squall says to check your GFs before doing so, and for good reason, as Zell and Selphie have unequipped their GFs? Maybe the game intended Rinoa to join the party in some earlier build, but they took it out of the final? In any event, the man in the hijacked car to reveal that he was not the president but one of his body-doubles, and not just any body double but some kind of monster clone called a Gerogero. There are a lot of interesting details about Gerogero online, like the way his exposed internal organs were recoloured internationally for censorship reasons; or how, in English, his name was changed from the two-part Sumerian name “Namtar Utukku” to the Japanese name “Gerogero,” which means… “PukePuke.” In any event, I don’t remember much about the boss fight, because like my fight with the Elvoret, I found myself too overwhelmed/engaged with the game’s mechanics to focus on the fight itself? And yes, I do mean both overwhelmed and engaged. It wasn’t as though I was put off by the mechanics, but I was still getting a handle on them two sessions in, and that made it hard for me to focus on both them and the boss. Thankfully I got used to them not long after, at least enough that I didn’t haze my way through future boss battles!

ffviii-00002While the party and the Owls were bemoaning their results, Watts rushed into the room to announce that he had just learned that he had new information about the real president, and said that he would be at the Timber TV station. The whole scene was oddly reminiscent of the FFII scene where Gordan rushed in after you killed the fake Hilda to tell you about the real Hilda, never even mentioning the fact that you just stabbed the former, not five feet away? Rinoa wondered why the president would go to the Timber TV station to film himself instead of simply doing it from somewhere else in Galbadia like he normally does, but the SeeDs had information to explain that: the communication tower in Dollet was built to receive the old-style radio broadcasts and analog television, and wouldn’t you know it, the Timber TV station used to make such broadcasts. It seemed the president might be trying to make an analog broadcast, but how he was going to circumvent the interference plaguing the entire planet, and for what reason, no one could say.

The Forest Owls decided to hold a meeting crouched over in one corner of the room, which was so informal and amateurish that it provoked the SeeDs to ask to see their contract with the Garden just to be sure these people were legit, and so they would know when they could leave so that they would have something to look forward to. Naturally, this is information Squall should have been told before leaving, and we’re only here out of narrative contrivance and comedy. For what it’s worth, I did find myself laughing once I saw exactly how the contract was phrased. It turned out that Cid really had Rinoa a blank cheque, just like the game had been teasing: she basically had full control over the three SeeDs until the entire nation of Timber was liberated.

ffviii-00004Rinoa then announced her plan: to get to the TV station and assess the situation. If they can kidnap the president there, all the better (although she admits that it’s doubtful), but failing that they’ll use the broadcasting equipment to broadcast a message of Timberian independence just for publicity points. It was around here that Kyle and I started to complain about a certain plot hole, but I’m going to let the game dig itself in a little further before I discuss it.

At this point, Rinoa joined the party for part of the TV station mission, the first time she had officially joined us. I immediately plugged some highly dangerous Guardian Forces into this untrained woman’s brain. I’m the hero.

While we’re on the subject of Rinoa as part of the party, I’d like to take an aside to talk about the earliest FFVIII demo, released in a variety of sources. The demo essentially contains the raid on Dollet scenario from the SeeD exam, except it removes Seifer and Selphie from your party and gives you Rinoa in their place (from the start of the raid), I guess because she’s the game’s female lead? Rinoa’s role in the demo is very odd. It’s not like we’re looking at some early draft where Rinoa was supposed to join you earlier and Seifer not at all: nearly every sign suggests that she was never supposed to be there, and was added in purely for the demo. The chief clue is that she never speaks or is even addressed! That said, apparently the demo was worth enough to Square (and who can blame them after the success of the FFVII demo?) that they actually originally created the CGs in Dollet to feature Rinoa instead of Selphie, even though they must have known they’d have to fix them later, and who knows how expensive that would be!

On top of that, the demo puts all the characters in plainclothes instead of uniforms, which would also have to be recreated when they remade the CGs. I suppose Square figured… in for a penny, in for a pound, right? And better to have your cast in the clothes that would be their signature than some temps. As it happens, the CGs were recreated in a somewhat faulty manner, including at least one shot where Rinoa is still visible instead of Selphie in the final game (and also Zell in his plainclothes). Luckily for Square, you can barely make it out on the PSX’s 320×240 resolution, so we can probably give the devs a pass. There’s also a shot where Selphie has Rinoa’s shadow, which is also virtually impossible to see unless you know to look for it, but is somehow more entertaining to me than the even more overt failure to remove Rinoa from the later shot entirely. It looks like she’s being chased by a demon!

ffviii-00075By the way, while we’re on the subject of the modified demo CG, I should note that it also doesn’t depict Quistis at the turret gun, instead replacing her with some random, masked soldier. This is understandable given that Quistis isn’t and wouldn’t have been in any other part of the demo, but I have got to say how much more respectable the demo’s CG looks for having someone in actual military gear instead of a SeeD uniform, which is a modified Japanese high school uniform pretending to be a military uniform like a child wearing their parents’ clothes. I said it before, but the smashing together of Japanese high school with a mercenary company in this game is never anything better than “silly” to me, especially when they’ve got chain guns.

Back to the present. We added Selphie to the party as our third member, and set about the annoying process of switching out Zell’s GF and junctions to Rinoa. The game does provide a method to do this in only a few clicks, but it was included as part of the party switch screen, the game hadn’t told us about it yet, and Kyle didn’t remember! Honestly, the game should have told us about it from the moment we lost Quistis and got Zell back in Session 1, but these tutorials were only added to the international release and I guess they made a simple oversight?

Before leaving for our new mission, we spoke to another member of the Forest Owls, who told us the Owls’ backstory. Apparently they were descended from one of the earliest Timberian resistance cells against Galbadia, formed before the war with Galbadia was even over. Its members were publicly executed for their efforts. The game throws in additional dog-kicking for the bad guys by saying that President Deling shot one of their dead bodies just to be mean. What do I even say at this point? I feel like I blew all my ammunition about shallow, cartoon villains only a half-dozen entries into FFVII and then this game had Seifer literally kick a puppy. I’m just… I’m just tired.

ffviii-00005Just before getting off the train, Watts told us some additional bad news: the only way to get to the TV station is to go to a part of town you can only reach via the local train, and the local train was shut down as part of the Galbadian security efforts. Yes, that’s right: instead of being a functional city – indeed, instead of existing in physical space – Timber is constructed with infinitely tall video game walls, such that it is literally impossible to walk from place to place between buildings, making basic transit through the city is impossible, something would only ever happen in video games. Square… it is 1999. This isn’t Moria from 1975, at the dawn of gaming, a mere year after the release of Dungeons & Dragons, when towns were built out of the same level design principles as the actively hostile, monster-infested mazes. I should truly hope that after 25 years of RPGs, you would have learned design a game challenge that doesn’t stem from a purely arbitrary wall slammed into the middle of a supposedly functional space! And this had damned well be the last of them, because—oh, excuse me. I just heard a soft voice, ringing out from late 2016, 17 additional years after FFVIII and 42 years into the life of the RPG, nearly a half-century. It sounds like one of the main characters from FFXV, commenting on how the city of Lestallum is “built like a maze.” I… I don’t know why, but it makes me want to cry.

After a gag where Watts runs off on foot after his own train, we were off to find the TV station, our only clue being that it was behind the headquarters of the Timber Maniacs magazine. The town was hot with random encounters against Galbadian soldiers. As we fought with them, Kyle took the party to the pet shop we were joking about earlier, where I learned that the pet shop sells items for your GFs. That’s… yup, that’s worse, that’s definitely worse. We also picked up two more dog training magazines for Rinoa, making a total of four so far and giving her plenty to do.

ffviii-00006

Kyle went into town a fair way, rescuing some guards at the gate who were being threatened by their Galbadian occupiers (and didn’t seem all that concerned about having to answer for the dead Galbadian bodies we left at their feet), and also to Timber Maniacs HQ, who didn’t seem to know anything about the TV station supposedly next door to them. There was no way through the building, either. At the home next door, we saw the path to the TV station through the back window, but that didn’t serve as a route either. Unfortunately, Kyle got a little overzealous with the card playing during this section and lost two of our rare cards in sequence, forcing us to reload an older save and basically replay the whole lot. This replay also included a Triple Triad offensive on my part. “This is mostly about vengeance at this point,” I said. Kyle agreed.

After finally getting back to business, we came across a pub that might serve as a way into the back alley we were looking for. We fought some bullying guards here, who had stolen a Triple Triad card from a drunk local, and used it to bypass what a drink mixing minigame by giving the card back to the man. I wonder how many people actually even play the drinks puzzle, considering the card is by far the easier solution and returns an arguably better reward (a Tonberry card instead of a Forbidden card)? The card you offer to return to him isn’t even a good card, so I wouldn’t be worried about losing it? It was of Buel, an enemy from the Fire Cavern. We already had two of our own!

The TV station sequence chews up a few words, so we’ll get to in the next post!

Prev: Final Fantasy VIII – Causality’s Gone to SeeD
Next: Final Fantasy VIII – Tune in Next Time!

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