Final Fantasy VIII – Squall Kebab

ffviii-00040Back to Deling we went, and to Caraway’s mansion, where the game tricked me into entering the wrong ID number for the sword by asking for the numbers from right to left instead of left to right! Okay, okay, I should have been paying attention. After getting into the house, Rinoa revealed what had become obvious over a number of hints about her familiarity with the city: she was Caraway’s daughter. She gave Squall an order not to leave her in the house, implying that, despite his favourable political leanings, Caraway might not be a very… ah… nice person, especially not to her. Actually, I’m kind of confused as to why she goes into the house at all if she has these kinds of fears? Seriously, get the poor woman a hotel room and come back for her when it’s time to act.

Unsurprisingly, once Caraway was on the scene, he announced that he would not allow Rinoa to be a part of the assassination, since she wasn’t trained for it. I mean, he’s not wrong, but how about you spread that complaint to the party at large? After Caraway and Squall had a pissing contest about Rinoa, Irvine brought the subject back to the assassination, and Caraway decided to take us to the site to discuss the plan. By the way, “the site” is the middle of town fucking square, right outside of the President’s residence, in the middle of a normally busy street is magically vacated for our briefing. What I’m saying is that Caraway is about to get up on a wide-open stage in the middle of all the town’s spotlights to shout about assassinating a major public figure.

ffviii-00041Along the way, Caraway reveals that the Sorceress’ name is Edea, not to be confused with Edea Lee, future playable character from Bravely Default. Hrm. I know Bravely Default isn’t officially a Final Fantasy game, but Square Enix is usually so good about names like this when it comes to major characters across all their series, unless they’re making a deliberate reference. Even Kingdom Heart’s Riku is spelled differently than FFX’s Rikku! There could be more overlaps than I’m aware of, since the two companies have so many franchises, but the closest thing I can think of to this kind of overlap other than this is Terra from FFVI and Terra from Kingdom Hearts, but that’s Ted Woosley’s doing more than Square’s, since FFVI’s Terra’s name was originally “Tina.”

While she’s not properly credited for it in the game itself, Edea’s mocap was apparently provided by Mayuko Aoka, Rinoa’s mocap actor.

Caraway explains that there’s going to be a parade to celebrate Galbadia’s new good relations with the Sorceress, their historical enemy. Caraway’s plan was to split into two teams: the gateway team and the sniper team. The sniper team was to sneak into the Presidential Residence during the parade and arrive at an elaborate carousal ride that rises from the Residence at exactly 8pm. Ah yes, the national carnival monument, I know it well. Doesn’t Westminister Castle have a rollercoaster that emerges at three in the morning like a neon hydra? Meanwhile, the gateway team would wait until the parade passes directly through the Arc du Triomphe-like structure within sight of the Residence, where they would lower the Arc’s two gates and trap the Sorceress in between, where she could more easily be shot. Apparently. I understand trapping her there in case Irvine misses and the party has to engage her directly, but has FFVIII never heard of shooting a moving target? Especially a slow-moving target? Do they think snipers can only do their job if the target is stationary? Has FFVIII never considered that someone trapped by large, obvious gates would become more alert and protective than someone who had not been trapped, a consideration that also applies to their bodyguards? Oh and by the way, through a contrivance so arbitrary that I think it actually took form at one point of the game and ran across the screen like a gremlin, the Sorceress is due to pass through the arc at exactly 8pm! Did I mention that this was going to happen at the end of the parade, aka allowing for the most possible time for delays to accumulate throughout the affair, yet apparently won’t? The gremlin then gained physical form, jumped out of the monitor and ate my pizza.

ffviii-00043Once we were ready to go, we met up again in Caraway’s mansion, and he told us to split the party into two teams. Obviously Irvine would have to be in the sniper team, and Caraway insisted that Squall go with him, saying that it would be Squall’s job to lead the direct attack if Irvine missed. Wait, repeat that to me: you want the person who will be a large distance away, atop a high carousel, to lead the direct attack if the sniper misses, and… not the group of people inside the very building that is imprisoning the target and could literally fall on her via their trap-door access? We didn’t get to pick a third for the sniper team. Instead, the remaining three party members were automatically assigned to the gateway team (which in my mind made it obvious that Rinoa would be joining the sniper team at some point). Squall appointed Quistis, the experienced SeeD, as the leader of the gateway team.

At this point, we took control of Quistis as Squall headed off with Irvine, the first time we had controlled anyone but Squall. She was barely on her way out of the room when Rinoa charged in, holding an item she called an “Odine Bangle,” which had been devised to seal the Sorceress’ power, though it hadn’t been tested. She had found it in her father’s room, and it was obvious (even to her) that he had rejected the idea of using it, because how on earth were they going to get the Sorceress to wear it? Quistis – somewhat abruptly but given that the operation was already live, maybe understandably – blew up at Rinoa and said what we had already been thinking: Rinoa’s just childishly inserting herself into an actual, calculated plan as some way of getting back at her father, and this will never work. You know, I’m starting to think that the game made a serious mistake by introducing Rinoa and the Forest Owls with that highly effective train hijack, because it’s pretty clear that we’re supposed to see every one of the Owls as childish, ineffective hacks.

ffviii-00044Cut back to the sniper team. Squall and Irvine have a philosophical discussion as they walked, Squall revealing that he is a moral nihilist, i.e. he doesn’t believe in morality. Bit of a curious take for a fantasy hero, and something that certainly makes it harder for me to sympathize with him, but here we are (not that he’d want us to sympathize with him, but I think Square would like you to sympathize with him!). Caraway set up both teams in their proper starting places, and then returned to his home for whatever remained of his plausible deniability after that town square execution pantomime he pulled earlier in the afternoon.

You’re probably familiar with the expression: “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” This is certainly true. You may not have heard the related expression often heard in Square’s offices around 1997-1999, which was, “No plan survives contact with contrivances we created to facilitate our plot, which do not exist for rational or in-character reasons, because we, the authors, who are bad at their jobs.” They really said that, true story! On a completely unrelated note, Quistis Trepe, professionally trained spy and assassin, decides to leave her post to go apologize to Rinoa on the other side of town in streets clogged with parade-watchers. She allows her teammates to go with her.

I was complaining to Kyle about all of this, as he just nodded and nodded and nodded, until I was forced to stop when the game did something even more arbitrary than this. Yes! Oh yes, you heard me right! It’s going! To get worse!

ffviii-00045Specifically, we cut to Rinoa having a one-sided fight with her father. He leaves, and she realizes that if she stays in the house, her shithole father might lock her in the building. She flees the room, and moments later, Quistis party enters. They are then locked in by Rinoa’s shithole father in her place. This implies that – deep breaths people:

  1. Quistis decided that Rinoa can’t be in any other room, not even after Caraway sent her to another room (presumably her own) during the previous scenes.
  2. Apparently Quistis’ party and Rinoa did not see or hear one another in the hall despite Rinoa leaving only four seconds earlier, with no implication of a time skip.
  3. Caraway didn’t see or hear Rinoa, or the party moving about his house, despite being only a few seconds later than that, despite Quistis’ scene playing out in real time, making a time skip outright impossible this time.
  4. Caraway also didn’t look in the room to confirm Rinoa was there after his absence. Indeed, he didn’t even give it a glance, as Quistis and party were directly in front of the open door and he didn’t see or hear them.
  5. Quistis and party, despite realizing that Caraway locked them in Rinoa’s place almost instantly, do not shout to explain themselves to Caraway with their clearly identifiable and clearly multiple voices.
  6. Caraway also doesn’t hear his daughter leave the house presumably after the fact.

I don’t know what to say. My head is spinning, I’m in a critic’s talespin. There’s too much going on and every step feels like it’s worse than the last. I thought we had hit rock bottom with the broadcast thing, I really did, and yet here we are. I think the only thing that kept me from an extreme reaction, like our laughing fit during Cid’s fake-out death in FFIV, was the fact that Kyle knew it was coming and just kept calmly nodding, saying “Yup. Yup.” What do I… what do I do with this scene?

ffviii-00046In the next sequence, Rinoa has somehow gotten into the Presidential Residence, despite the fact that Caraway had spelled out that this was impossible for the sniper team to do until later. I don’t even care anymore, if FFVIII wants to burn its own facts to the ground, that’s its goddamn decision. She climbs up some boxes to the roof, and lucks her way into the Sorceress’s chambers. There, she foolishly identifies herself and claims she has a gift, only for Edea to blow her away with magic. By the way, the bangle is gone from the game now, since it was only a petty excuse for Rinoa to be here to begin with. Edea then uses mind control on Rinoa without even looking back at her (alternately, maybe the spell that blew Rinoa away was also the mind control?) and she walks out onto the residence’s balcony, passing through the double doors on her way. Huh. That’s going to complicate the whole “trap her with gates” thing, I think.

Edea came out to the balcony (roof?) to make her public appearance, President Deling having already apparently introduced her. She took to a podium with Rinoa at her side, causing Squall and Irvine to notice Rinoa, though I can’t imagine how, considering the player can’t see the Sorceress from their angle, much less Rinoa. I mean that, by the way: it’s not that Edea and Rinoa are indistinct, but that as far as I can tell, their models aren’t even placed in the shot!

ffviii-00048At this point, things get especially confusing. Edea, with the microphones in front of her, begins to make a speech about how everyone in the crowd is pathetic, and how dare they condemn her as an archvillain during her war with Galbadia but embrace her now? What’s strange about this is that the audience continues cheering during the whole scene. Now, let’s be clear, you can’t claim that she is using mind control on the entire crowd, because Squall and Irvine are both waiting in the crowd and are not affected. The trouble is… fuck, what else could it be but mind control? It can’t be Squall and Irvine’s GFs protecting them, because Rinoa has a GF as well. Does SeeD training give you an anti-mind control microchip or something?

(Ed. I just want to clarify: yes, from an endgame perspective, I now know why Squall and Irvine might not have been affected, but the game should have presented this detail as a mystery instead of an oversight.)

President Deling, who definitely isn’t under mind control (probably a deliberate exception on Edea’s part), steps up after the box clears to ask what on earth she’s doing. Edea then executes the president with her magic, as the crowd bursts into a louder cheer. No, seriously, what’s going on? Like the scene with Julia and Laguna, everything is far too deliberately strange to be a mistake, but I am at an utter loss to explain why on earth it’s happening!

ffviii-00049Edea then throws Deling aside, and the game lets out an extended whoopie cushion noise while surrounding him with yellow gas.

I… I really need to put this Journal aside and sit down for a while.

For what it’s worth, I do get what they’re going for with this setup. Edea taking over another empire, I mean, not the fart. It’s not just the old, “Have Sephiroth kill President Shinra to show that he’s the bigger villain” trope (although yes, it is), but it also allows for a technological empire to be under a magical leader, a sort of mixed antagonist force. That’s pretty neat, even if it took a while for them to get there.

Edea promises her adoring crowd that she’ll crush them soon, and goes off to start the parade that serves no purpose when she doesn’t need to win anyone’s hearts and minds! Ego and supervillains, what can I say? Also, she then transmogrifies some nearby carvings into monsters, which run through the crowd (which do react to them, while others continue their cheering) and lunge up to the roof to attack Rinoa. Irvine is understandably upset and demands that Squall do something, only for Squall to point out that they can’t get into the residence, remember? For some reason, this only makes Irvine more furious with Squall. I just… what is with everyone in this game and being mad at Squall when he says something practical and factually correct? I get that he’s a dull, barely emotive, asocial wreck – indeed, there are a lot of Squall being a dick that I’m not even commenting on because it would get redundant – but Irvine is angry that Squall isn’t doing anything when he literally can’t do anything, not that he isn’t showing emotion! Irvine, you can’t emote away obvious facts! What does Irvine want? Does he Squall to be so overcome by anger that he vaults over a twenty-foot concrete wall? The fuck is with this game’s writing?

ffviii-00050Back with Quistis, the gate party tries to look for an escape from Caraway’s office. After quickly deciding they can’t break open a window (though the game gives no reason why, not even with a text box saying you can’t, despite Zell raising the possibility and the game even giving you a close zoom perspective on the window when you approach it?), Quistis looks around and finds a secret passage. Or rather… Quistis picks up a martini glass, as though she’s decided to drink herself out of the situation, and then puts it in the hands of a nearby statue, essentially solving the secret door puzzle before we recognized there was a door there! Great job, devs. They descended the steps of the passage and found themselves in the sewers beneath the city. Even better: Laguna’s scenario had proven that these sewers lead straight to the Arch!

Part-way through the sewers, the gates opened at the presidential residence and the parade began, Edea riding a grandiose float through the town, a troupe of dancers doing moves from “Thriller” leading the way. No, really, the moves are deliberately lifted from “Thriller!” We even know the people who did the dancing: Kazuo Ohashi and Kaori Ohtuska. Irvine then ran in into the compound, getting his first legitimate complaint about Squall’s behaviour when Squall just sort of dawdles around even now that he didn’t have an excuse. Okay, this time I’m with Irvine. Squall, this is out of character even for you. Maybe you don’t care about Rinoa. Fine, you big asshole, but the mission you claim to be so concerned about revolves around you sneaking in through the gates in the next few seconds, so what on earth are you doing?

ffviii-00051At this point, the game revealed something that was not much of a surprise: Seifer was still alive. I don’t think the game even expected the player to think he had died, honestly. He was riding the float along with Edea, carrying his gunblade, implying that he was there as a bodyguard. But that’s for later.

Squall and Irvine got to the location where Rinoa climbed up the building earlier in the game, annnnnd… I headed into the nearby sewer to do some grinding. Kyle and I kept making jokes the whole way through about Irvine bemoaning Squall getting further and further away from Rinoa. Half for gameplay reasons and half “to annoy Irvine,” I decided to sit down in the middle of a fight with an enemy called a Creeper, and used Draw to syphon out, without exaggeration, 100 casts of both Thundara and Life for Squall. It took ten minutes. I’m sure Rinoa is fine.

After climbing the building with a realistic, if not exactly urgent, climbing speed, we arrived on the roof and found the body of President Deling, which Squall had no comment on. No words on the passing of a tyrant, Squall? Not even you, Irvine? Your call! We headed into the building to find Rinoa at the mercy of the gargoyle monsters. Frankly, even without our jokes and stalling, it was a wonder they hadn’t killed her yet. The fight went quickly enough, though it would have gone faster if I had had the slightest idea how to use Squall’s Limit break before this, as it required practice to land a series of timed hits. Yeah, seriously, I had never encountered Squall’s Limit break before this point, only Kyle! Bit of a side effect to having 2000 or so HP in the opening hours of a game! The gargoyles used a team-up attack, but thankfully even my incompetent use of Squall’s Limit break killed one of them before too long, preventing the team-up attack from doing any serious harm. Also, the bosses served as a draw point for a new GF, our old friend Carbuncle.

ffviii-00052Rinoa eventually got up on her feet, having apparently gone into a panic attack. She tried to eke some kind of physical affection out of Squall, but it was never going to happen. The party headed down to the carousel, as planned. There, they found a sniper rifle waiting for them, planted by Caraway. By the way, as I pointed out to Kyle earlier on: in the real world, an assassin might hide a sniper rifle at the scene because sniper rifles are huge weapons that are impossible to conceal and frankly unweildy, right? Of course, in this world, we’re already travelling around with a visible shotgun, a blade launcher, chain whip, nunchakus and an 8-foot sword with a pistol grip, all within enemy territory. I think the precaution may have been unnecessary.

Irvine gets all quiet, and Squall suspects this be his way of focusing, like Irvine had implied during his gross ejaculation-metaphor speech on the train ride here. Squall decides to leave him to it, and Squall decides to hold a conversation with Rinoa. Showing a little heart, Squall told her that he had seen Seifer in the parade, but even now he couldn’t stop being practical, and had to add that he might soon have to kill Seifer if he really is serving as Edea’s bodyguard. Rinoa takes this better than previous Squallisms.

At this point, conversation shifts to Irvine, and Squall notices that their sniper is trembling. He goes to check on him, only for Irvine to say that he can’t go through with it, but as to why will have to wait, as at this point the game hops back to Quistis.

ffviii-00053The sewers under Deling proved to be an odd dungeon made of largely identical rooms divided by cage bars. The gimmick is that you can’t tell which cages hold doors and which do not until you walk up to interact with them, and also that the dungeon had various water-wheels that could be used as one-way elevators. The entire dungeon ended up taking fifteen minutes (actually, thirty minutes, since I once again sat on my ass and began sucking magic out of a Grand Mantis monster for a huge period of time), making it almost comical that the parade was still going once they finally arrived inside the gatehouse through a fluke of luck.

At exactly 8pm as scheduled, the carousel rose out of the capital building, projecting awful clown holograms into the air. Technically speaking, Edea was late to the scene, but only by a few seconds. Quistis and the gatehouse team trapped her inside just as planned, so it was now time for Irvine to act. Irvine revealed to Squall that he always chokes up during sniping missions, and he felt even worse now since shooting the Sorceress would be an historic event. Not that I don’t sympathise with him – although he should honestly find a better line of work – but I am incredibly mad at Headmaster Martine for selling us this lemon of a sniper. If Martine doesn’t turn out to be a traitor before this is over, I’m going to blame the writers for this as well.

ffviii-00054Squall eventually gets Irvine to treat the shot as “just a signal” for his ground attack to begin, and Irvine goes with it. As it happens, his shot is perfect, going straight for the Sorceress’ face, but at this point we reach the inevitable conclusion, the end result that anyone could have guessed from the moment the plan was revealed: Edea uses a magical barrier and blocks the shot. Like, I don’t even disrespect FFVIII for doing that, I think most writers would have written that exact scenario. This was always going to happen.

Proving my case about how Squall shouldn’t have been the one to attack Edea, he jumps down from the carousel, steals a car, and drives it to the gate. Also, all of a sudden the crowd is rioting. I have no idea when this happened. If they’re still under mind control, why are the Galbadian soldiers resisting them? Did she take over the minds of the crowd, but not the army? If they’re not still under mind control… why? It seems like a great way for Edea to stop Squall before he reaches her! Ugh, I really don’t understand what’s going on with the “maybe it’s mind control!” plot element.

ffviii-00055Squall squeezes through the bars of the gate and finds himself face-to-face with Seifer. Seifer announces that being the Sorceress’ “knight” has always been his romantic dream (although he also implied his dream isn’t fulfilled yet?), meaning he was always planning on turning to evil like this, or at least as much as the Sorceresses always seems to be evil. Again, we don’t really know much about this stuff at the moment. This leads to a one-on-one boss battle between the two rivals that Seifer was never going to be able to win. Nevermind that Kyle had given the entire party a set of 100 Curagas Junctioned to their HP by this point, giving Squall (and everyone else) several thousand HP. Seifer simply couldn’t cause much more than 100 points of damage in one shot. He averaging 75, so I doubt he would have been threatening even with a reasonable HP cap. One-on-one fights are always like this in RPGs. Didn’t I say so when Barret fought Dyne?

At this point, Squall attacked Edea, who called him “a SeeD […planted] in a run-down Garden.” Unfortunately for her, Rinoa and Irvine arrived on the scene to help Squall, Irvine saying he had to redeem himself for his screw-up. Well, good for you then. I was kind of hoping you’d angle for a life without murder, since it seems to bother you so much, but if you feel more comfortable shooting someone in the face with a shotgun than at a distance with a rifle, deal with it however you feel appropriate! Unfortunately for Edea, Kyle pointed out that this fight could be easily routed using Carbuncle, who as ever called up Reflect spells on the entire party. While I won’t claim to have worked it out myself, the game did plant him right before the fight, so I didn’t feel like I was cheating after Kyle pointed it out. Edea could cast Dispel to tear down the Reflects, but could only do so one target at a time, and would not start casting offensive casting spells until all three Reflects were gone. This meant I could almost always have another Carbuncle summon before she finished her work. I will admit to messing up a few times, but that just gave the fight texture. Since I could handle this almost without taking damage, I sat around once again Drawing spells from her with Squall! Why not, right?

ffviii-00057Kyle wondered aloud how different the game would be if Draw had a limit usage per fight, but I pointed out that that would force the developers to spread out their rarest spells, since even I could tell that they had probably stuck some of the rarest spells on just one boss somewhere, because of course they did.

After being defeated, we entered a pre-rendered CG, and Edea cast a spell that summoned a number of crystal (ice?) shards that she hurled at the party. One of these impaled Squall between shoulder and chest, and he fell from the float into what looked like a greenish void.

This was the point where PSX players arrived at the end of Disc 1, which is considerably earlier than the disc break in FFVII thanks to FFVIII’s more numerous cinematics. It took us 12 hours to get through FFVIII’s Disc 1. I’d like to compare our FFVII Disc 1 time to our FFVIII time, but as you may recall, we didn’t record our FFVII playthrough. RickyC’s experienced playthrough of FFVII took 14 hours to get through Disc 1, though. I imagine our first-timer Marathon playthrough (well, my first-timer playthrough) of FFVII must have been several hours longer!

ffviii-00058There’s little sign of the disc break in the PC release of FFVIII, since it doesn’t make any overt mentions like FFVII PC. The only remnant of the disc swap is an option to save the game, which could be easily mistaken as just some regular old mid-narrative point, and sure enough, that’s what I mistook it for! I didn’t learn that we had passed into Disc 2 until I asked Kyle if we had at the end of the night!

Prev: Final Fantasy VIII – You’re not heavy, you’re my miniature brother
Next: Final Fantasy VIII – Vampire Handshake

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