Final Fantasy VIII – You’re not heavy, you’re my miniature brother

ffviii-00036Quistis left to talk to Galbadia Garden’s headmaster and, after a little exploration, we were called to a meeting room. Despite this quick tour, I found two odd things about the building’s design. First off was a mass of close-clustered save points. They couldn’t have done a worse job hiding the fact that not only will this building be a dungeon in the future, but that it will be a maze dungeon, where nearby rooms end up locked off from one another. What’s that? The Sorceress plans to make her base in Galbadia Garden? Well, don’t you worry, because I am positive she will not succeed!

Secondly, a student in a wheelchair told us that the Gardens are supposed to be politically neutral, so Galbadia Garden is technically not on Galbadian soil, like an embassy. “It’s hard to explain…” he said. Yes, writers, it is hard to explain something when you don’t actually have a working explanation!

Once in the meeting room, Quistis returned, and told us that Galbadia had declared Seifer’s attack to be an independent action, and so the Gardens were not responsible. Seifer, however, had been tried and executed in a matter of hours. Kangaroo courts and all that. Oh, and the fact that it obviously wasn’t true, because Seifer is on the game’s cover and hasn’t done anything of serious note yet. So yeah, you can get a really fast trial and execution when you don’t actually try or execute anybody!

ffviii-00028At this point, Rinoa told us that Seifer was (“had been”) her sort-of boyfriend, and some of the others talked about their memories of the guy. At this point, Squall took it upon himself to have a very negative reaction, but I’m not sure what he was reacting to, as his dialogue seemed tangential and confused. To paraphrase him: he doesn’t seem to want people to talk about him after he dies? And not in past tense? When he suddenly shouts out that, “I won’t have it! I won’t have anyone talking about me in the past tense”, is he thinking that he’s going to set up a situation where no one will want to grieve for him? Is he thinking that he should arrange it so that he will somehow never die? Or is he just being an irrational teenager, but with no other dialogue in the entire game implying he has the thought process of an irrational teenager? Honestly, it seems like a mistranslation overall, which is a shame because the game had been doing so well with localization up to this point. I suspect it was mistranslated because Selphie responds to Squall saying “I won’t have it!” with “Are you MAD?!” instead of, say, “What do you mean?” and when you have one clear mis-localization in an already confusing scene, it’s easy to suspect that localization problems are to blame for the entire scene.

It’s too bad Squall’s rant was so confused. He was having his first reaction to death, a very common teenage situation that’s hard to deal with, a natural hook to hang plot on. In fact, this is a chance for Squall to develop an actual character arc, in that he’s starting to realize that he’s an asshole and won’t be remembered fondly after he dies. But no matter what they intended, they didn’t do it.

(Ed. A few months after completing FFVIII as a whole, I came across this article about FFVIII written by Jack Patrick Rodgers. Rodgers feels that Squall’s problem is that everyone is remembering Seifer inaccurately, even fondly, when he was really a ten-foot parasitic dillweed. Squall doesn’t want his own memory to be corrupted, distorted, and so lashes out. I’m inclined to favour Rodgers’ theory, I like the idea of the scene conceptually and I’m impressed by Rodger’s ability to have seen it in the first place, but darned if it doesn’t feel like this is one of FFVIII’s outright localization failures, if not outright writing failures, because the meaning is just not there on the surface of the English version!)

ffviii-00030Squall heads off into the Garden, and happens across Raijin and Fujin, Seifer’s long-forgotten friends from the start of the game. Apparently, they had been sent with orders for Squall’s unit sent from Headmaster Cid, though the orders are now in the hands of Galbadia Garden’s headmaster. The two of them ask about Seifer, and Squall passed on the bad news about his “death,” but neither of them believed it. And I don’t mean that in the “Denial stage of grief,” sort of way, where they’re blocking it out to keep it from hurting them, oh no. They just outright didn’t believe it, flat-out titanium wall, as though it were pigs-will-fly impossible. Not even the tiniest spark that this might be credible passed through their heads, the way you might react if someone told you that carrots turn into dragons under the full moon. As it happens, I don’t believe Seifer is dead any more than they do, though I’m coming from a narrative perspective. They resolved to go find their friend, wherever he is.

Before we move on to the next scene, I want to talk about a technical problem I mentioned in my notes around this point in our session.  It seems several character’s 3D models seemed to have open seams running down the middle of their faces? I didn’t notice anything of the sort during the previous play session, so maybe something just went wrong for the day? Or in the PC version in general, or even the PC re-release?

ffviii-00032At this point, Squall’s party was called to the front of the Garden to receive their orders from the headmaster. Rinoa is asked to pretend she was a SeeD as well to make things simpler, which led to a few good visual gags. The headmaster needlessly arrived in a car (and seemed about ready to run them over) despite the fact that it must have taken longer to go to the garage and then to drive here than to just walk, or to ask them to meet him in some other room of the Garden? Look, a pre-rendered CG is coming up – sometimes the writers have to make a bunch of poor decisions to make things match up with how they were when the CG was ordered months ago.

The Headmaster, Martine, made a big speech about how important these orders were, and how he personally approves them alongside Cid despite their nature, so obviously those orders were going to be something extreme. Martine informed us that, surprising no one, these upcoming “peace talks” are actually going to be a Galbadian display of threats, using the Sorceress’ reputation to ruin things. Actually, Martine seemed to treat this conclusion as self-evident, rather than claiming to have evidence to the fact, which I took as suspicious and paranoid, even though I agreed with his conclusions? This was unfortunate, because I think I was supposed to trust him implicitly? In any event, “We entrust world peace, and the future to you.” A group of novices!

Squall was handed the orders, but after looking at them (his hands at his side, even though the camera’s position would have easily allowed the devs to just hold his hands in front of his chest to pretend he was reading the orders), he noticed that they called for a sniper, even though none of the party was a sniper. Martine took this as his cue to introduce one of his own students. Why Martine hadn’t introduced him before “any questions?” is pure narrative tripe, but anyways.

ffviii-00033Our new sniper was Irvine Kinneas, a cowboy and Gunner, mocap provided by Ichiro Katou. No action actor, so we’ll just move straight into game mechanics. If you’ll recall, our last turn-based RPG Gunner was Barret, but don’t confuse Barret and Irvine. For starters, FFVIII doesn’t have a front-and-back formation system like FFI through FFVII, so Irvine, Rinoa and Quistis don’t have any explicit advantages like back-rank weapon-users in the past. No, Irvine’s uniqueness comes from his Limits, like most FFVIII characters. Irvine’s Limits allowed you to select an ammunition type from your inventory, at which point you could tap R1 to unload them into the enemy. You get a timer to fire your shots, and ammo is deducted for each limit break shot (but not regular attacks).

Now that we’ve met Irvine, and because the game is about to introduce the party member swap mechanic, I think it’s time to complain that FFVIII’s characters somehow feel even less distinct than FFVII’s. I am definitely on-board with Kyle’s complaint that the limit breaks are not enough to distinguish them. In FFVII, characters were distinguished by their limit breaks, their front and back-rank weapons, and sometimes their equipments’ materia slots (although in most cases, equivalent weapons had identical slots). In FFVIII, characters are have Limits and… what, different synth recipes for their weapon upgrades? That’s it. That’s seriously it. Each character has equal access to GFs. Let’s say you have Ifrit and a very particular junction setup that you like, and we’ll call it “GF build #1.” Using this build, you can essentially replace Zell, aka “Character with GF build #1 and the Fight limit break” with Irvine, “Character with GF build #1 and the Shot limit break” and feel almost no differences! The game almost feels like it’s lying to itself when it pretends the characters are distinct from one another. The only character we wanted above any other character was Rinoa, because Angelo’s non-Limit skills can be helpful, and because we needed her to be in the party to train Angelo’s new skills. If the hour ever comes when Angelo is finished training, or if we ever managed to synth a weapon for two other characters but not Rinoa, Angelo’s other skills would probably lose their lustre and she’ll become just another generic nobody!

ffviii-00035Martine leaves, and the party ignores Irvine for a minute to ask Squall about the mission, and he reveals it: they are meant to assassinate the Sorceress. The party reacts to this with shock… or rather, everyone does except Rinoa, though I’m not sure if that’s a plot hint or a scripting error. Hrm. Irvine was to shoot the Sorceress and, should he miss, the rest of the party was to attack her the good old fashioned way. Also, they’d be supported by a traitorous Galbadian general, Caraway, in the effort. Irvine promised us that he never missed his target. That’s nice, Irvine, but this is an HP system game, hitting isn’t the real problem.

By the way, now that we’re going to try to put a bullet in her head, I’d really like to learn a little more about the Sorceress? What is a Sorceress? All I know about her is that she was the “bad guy” in a war a while back. For a while, I wasn’t even 100% certain who was fighting the Sorceress in that war, though at some point I learned it was Galbadia, and I still wasn’t sure when the war happened. How do you have a war against one person, anyways? Was it just against her, alone? Is she that powerful? Or did she have soldiers? Monsters? Kyle just laughed at me for “wanting explanations.” “That’s a nice thing to want,” he said.

ffviii-00034It only took a few seconds with Irvine Kinneas to realize he was a womanizer. His first words to Squall were to suggest the party split into two groups, one of which would be of him, Selphie and Rinoa. The gag was supposed to be that he wanted to hang out with the women, but it wasn’t as obvious as the developers intended, what with him forgetting to include Quistis. I think the devs should have had him declare that he wanted to go with all three women, making an impossible party of four, but the devs wanted to leave Squall with a party of three if you agreed to Irvine’s sleazy move. Irvine would make his womanizing even clearer once the party got to the train on the way to Deling City. Quistis seems to have intuited something about his nature, since she told Squall to keep on Irvine’s ass when he went off to hit on Selphie. Um… well I mean, sure, and I sympathize, but doesn’t Selphie get a say in this first? It’s not like she’s present in the room to give Quistis a signal or something. Like, maybe she’s into cowboys with boundary issues and–okay fine I’ll do it, I just don’t want to talk to him either!

Irvine capped all of these embarrassing and creepy exchanges with a purple prose speech about how hard it is to be a sniper, crammed full of ejaculation metaphors. This caused Zell to hit the ground (one of his stock animations) so hard that the train came to a stop. I wasn’t sure how to react to that joke. I actually blanked on Kyle for a few seconds there.

ffviii-00037Deling was a huge city, and it was incredibly easy to get lost, even with our experience from when we were there as Laguna. Sometimes, an exit on one side of the room (say, the east) would lead to different places depending on where you crossed it (to continue the example: crossing the east edge of the screen slightly more north than south!). A few days later, I later encountered this same problem when I played The Colonel’s Bequest for the first time, but Sierra had the excuse that they made their game in 1989. What’s Square’s excuse? Rinoa proved familiar with the city, including the location of Caraway’s mansion, but once we arrived (thanks to the city’s free bus system!), we were told we weren’t allowed in. It seems that the developers wanted to shoehorn in a semi-optional dungeon, and couldn’t think of any more elegant way to do it but to pretend that Caraway was willing to risk his life arranging this coup with the Gardens, but now wanted to test the applicants with a test so pathetic that anyone capable of travelling on the overworld in safety could trip over it. I am not exaggerating.

Specifically, the test was to go to the Tomb of the Unknown King nearby, and to find a Galbadian student’s ID number that the guard said would be found “early” in the dungeon. The guard repeatedly hinted at the earliness, so you won’t be surprised to learn the ID is in the dungeon’s very first room. That made it odd when the game attempted to pretend this was an incredibly hard puzzle, with a multi-level hint system that you could purchase with money, not unlike the mayor’s puzzle in FFVII! And I get it: putting the ID in the first room is a clever psyche-out, and the rest of the dungeon is quite complex if you choose to challenge it. But they might as well have lit up the words “early” with neon for all they were repeating it, and the sword with the ID number is incredibly obvious. Related note, but if this student went to the Tomb just yesterday, so how does Caraway’s guard know enough about where their ID ended up to give you any hints?

ffviii-00038As for the rest of the Tomb (the optional part), it worked under an unusual principle: instead of setting the camera at the same location for each room, this dungeon places the camera behind the player character no matter where they enter the room, as though this were some sort of third person action game, but without the part where it follows you through the halls. That might sound unremarkable today, but the halls are almost identical, both to make the dungeon more confusing and to facilitate this unorthodox camera system! That meant that if you came to a certain hallway from the west, and then later came to it from the east, it would look the same both times, and both times you’d move from the bottom of the screen to the top, even though one time you’d be moving “west” and the other “east.”

(By the way, the game repeatedly mentioned that this dungeon had a map, which finally clued us into the fact that FFVIII had a minimap system to begin with! Unfortunately, it uses a globe minimap on the overworld, even though RPG worlds aren’t set on globes – you’ll recall from FFA that the proper shape is a physically impossible “duocylinder.” But oh well, it’s neat, just like the FFII Famicom globe was neat.)

Kyle’s trip through the dungeon introduced us to an old friend, Sekhmet the minotaur from FFV. Sekhmet was called “Sacred” in FFVIII for reasons that are a little beyond me. The Japanese name was changed to “Sacred” as well! After defeating him, he ran off (actually, he sort of jumped right on top of Rinoa and presumably squashed her like a goomba) and went to wake his brother, still named “Minotaur,” in another room. You have to solve a brief puzzle involving a sluice gate to finish the dungeon off first, which involved an animation that made it look like we were about to be flushed off the map by the waves.

ffviii-00039Unlike the Minotaur of FFV, this Minotaur was much smaller than his brother, but was also much stronger. The two of them had a powerful Earth-element team-up attack, but Kyle came with foreknowledge and was ready to cast Float on the entire party. He also cast Float on the two brothers, since it stopped them from getting Regen from the earth itself. This is something the game doesn’t really explain, so I was glad Kyle knew about it ahead of time. “They’re earth brothers so they have to be attached to the earth. It’s very scientific!” After the fight was done, Kyle added: “And we’ll never need Float again.” If he’s right, that’s just great game design.

After this whole shebang, the two minotaurs joined us as a single GF, “Brothers” (and also as two Triple Triad cards, which finally gave us an unshakeable edge against low-level players and stopped our humiliating loss streak). There was also some shebang about the ghostly unknown king, but it was virtually pointless, as the Brothers were the real prize all along.

Prev: Final Fantasy VIII – Tune in Next Time!
Next: Final Fantasy VIII – Squall Kebab

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