Final Fantasy VIII – Vampire Handshake

ffviii-00059Disc 2 follows up Squall’s fall off the float by opening with another Laguna flashback. This time, Laguna was alone, with no sign of Kiros and Ward, as befitting Squall’s situation. Laguna was now in casual clothes in a village of some sort, having apparently been woken from his sleep by a young girl that called him “Uncle Laguna.” She told him someone had come to “the pub” looking for Laguna. Laguna chastised her for coming to his house, because apparently coming from the pub to here would have put her at risk of monster attack! The game’s text boxes addressed this girl as “Elle,” but we quickly learned her proper name was Ellone, which I think is supposed to be pronounced “Elle-oh-nee.” Or as my brain insists on calling her … “Elle One.” I like to pretend Laguna has multiple Elles to keep track of but doesn’t care enough to tell them apart except by number.

On Laguna’s bullet-ridden first floor (seriously, guy?) we learned that Ellone had lost her parents sometime in the past. As Elle had already told us, the Pub was just next door, meaning monsters must be just flooding the town. Weirdly, after this scene, people don’t act half as concerned by this as Laguna is now! Laguna went on ahead of Ellone to “clear out” any monsters before allowing Elle to follow. There were only weak enemies infesting the town as random encounters, familiar to us from the Balamb overworld, but dangerous enough to kill a civilian. They continued to appear despite the presence of nearby Galbadian soldiers, whom we later learned would insist that their job was to protect the town from Esthar, not from monsters. Jackasses. Given the nature of random encounters, much less monsters, it’s hard to see how it’s even possible for them to ignore monsters within their line of sight (and vice versa), but it’s not the worst writer’s hack the devs could have drummed up… goodness knows they’ve proven that already.

ffviii-00060At the pub, we met Raine, Elle’s caregiver. Possibly her sister? There, we learned that Laguna’s new guest was none other than Kiros, who appeared in a new outfit. I personally took the new outfit as being a new Galbadian officer’s uniform, now in a lieutenant’s red instead of a grunt’s blue, like with Biggs and Wedge. Turns out I was wrong, as Kiros would later say that he was out of the military. Kiros told Laguna that he had been looking for Laguna for nearly a year. More specifically, it had been a year since the previous flashback (which you might overlook, as Kiros references the events as taking place in “Centra,” which you’ll recall was hidden away in the menu!). Somehow, after Laguna’s stunt with the cliff and the sea, Laguna had ended up in this town and Kiros and Ward had ended up back in Galbadian territory. Laguna had taken six months to recover, though Kiros and Ward had done better with the medical care in the capital, though Ward had never recovered his voice and was now mute. Ward was now working as a prison janitor, while Kiros had spent his time looking for Laguna, with no mention of a job.

Laguna also asked after Julia, and of course Kiros didn’t know anything about it. Seriously Laguna, did you expect him to stalk your one-date girlfriend? But as it happened, Raine had heard of Julia, as it seems she had followed her dreams and become a singer-celebrity (Julia’s name is far too generic for an English speaker to have thought, “Oh yes, they must be talking about Julia the celebrity,” but her name is still “Julia” in Japan, where I imagine it sounds a great deal more exotic and unique). Raine said that Julia’s famous single was “Eyes on Me,” FFVIII’s theme song (actually sung by Kako Someya), and the instrumental version of the song she had played on piano during the first flashback. Raine says the song is about being in love, strongly implying that it’s supposed to be about Laguna, despite… and I repeat… their terrible, terrible first date, which was also their only date. The game deliberately implied the date was terrible, so this is still super suspicious to me. Either that, or FFVIII’s plot is already a flaming wreck and I just can’t tell because I’m in the middle of it.

At this point, Raine drops the bombshell that after Laguna disappeared, Julia ended up marrying somebody else (well at least she’s a quick in love with her husband as she supposedly was with Laguna…). More specifically, she ended up marrying General Caraway, strongly implying that she became Rinoa’s mother!

During this segment, you got to select a number of topics to discuss. One was a question from Squall’s semitransparent sleeping voice, asking where he was. If you select this, Laguna spits it out as a weird non sequitur about “fairies.”

ffviii-00061After the talk, Laguna dragged Kiros into going to work with him. It turned out that Laguna had named himself the monster hunter of this monster-infested town, which finally got a name: Winhill. With that introduction, we were off on a Day in the Life with Laguna, walking a circuit all the way to the edge of town and then back, shooting and stabbing anything that looked funny at us. Before going off on the walk, we spoke with some of the Galbadian soldiers, who told us that the Estharians were kidnapping young girls, in hopes of finding a successor for “Sorceress Adel, the ruler of Esthar.” This implied that either that there was more than one Sorceress in the world, or that Sorceress Edea is the successor Adel was looking for here in the past (or maybe the successor of the successor, but let’s not get silly here).

Lot of fights in this section, so I’ve got to point this out: Kiros’ animations are terrible, especially his wounded animation, which is what we were constantly seeing because of our deliberately staying in low HP to get Limits. Instead of the familiar “breathing-bob” idle animations you see in video games, Kiros squirms all over the place, and in such an awful 1999s way that he looks like he’s twitching – once again, especially the wounded animation. And I want to stress that it’s not just twitching, but poorly-animated twitching, which makes him look outright unnatural somehow. I hadn’t minded so much before, but his new red uniform with its black detail-work has a gross way of making him look like a zombie whose arms and legs were stripped of flesh to leave the muscle exposed, and since he keeps using these jerky, zombie-like animations, it felt like we had teamed up with the walking dead! What’s funny is that all this twitching is entirely contrary to his character, which is clearly supposed to be elegant and smooth, complete with bows towards his opponents after battle and towards friends out of battle. It’s like they assigned the animation work for this calm monk character to a terrible marionetteer instead of an animator.

ffviii-00062As the day rolled on, Kiros began to speak negatively about Laguna’s change in lifestyle. It was clear that no one in town except Raine and Ellone wanted Laguna around (despite his services as monster hunter!), and this pastoral life clashed with Kiros’ old impression of Laguna as a former soldier who wanted to be a world-travelling reporter. He even passed on word that Timber Maniacs were looking for a travel journaliss. At first, I got the impression that we were supposed to see Laguna as having changed and Kiros as being in the wrong about him, but once the two of them arrived back in town, they ended up eavesdropping on Raine and Ellone talk about Laguna, and Raine also agreed with Kiros, saying Laguna hadn’t changed. This even though both Raine and Ellone wanted him to stay? With both Laguna’s old friends and new friends agreeing about his personality, it was harder to imagine they were both wrong, despite my own impressions!

Having eavesdropped long enough, Laguna decided to pretend he had just arrived, and Raine recommended that he take a nap before dinner and his usual afternoon monster-hunting patrol. When he returned home to do so, Laguna adamantly insisted that he really did want to stay in Winhill, and to make his point, he said that he still wanted to wake up in this town after he went to sleep. A bit of a forced transition, but the irony was still nice, since the player knows this would be the end of the dream-flashback, and of course Squall would be waking up somewhere else.

ffviii-00065But just to surprise the player, the game cut not to Squall but to Zell! He was in a prison cell with Quistis, Selphie and Rinoa, with no sign of Squall or Irvine. A quick discussion revealed that he too had been in “the dream world,” but that he had dreamt about Ward, not Laguna. This happened entirely off-screen, and he didn’t learn much, simply reporting what we already knew about Ward being a prison guard. We were now in control of Zell, and after a few quick discussions, Rinoa began to hint that maybe Ward was working in this prison, only for the game to temporarily drop the idea? Sure, it brings it up once you talk to Rinoa a second time, but why drag this out?

Once Rinoa makes her point a second time, it finally gets into Zell’s head that of course he recognizes the prison, because of course Ward worked here. Square thrives on its coincidences, god knows. Unfortunately, the party doesn’t seem to have clued into the fact that their dreams are flashbacks, and they seem to be under the impression that Ward is working here to the present day. Worse, this information doesn’t help them in any way, since it’s not as though Ward learned about any secret passages or something silly like that.

ffviii-00067In another part of the prison, Squall woke in a private cell and discovered that he has no wound from the Sorceress’ spell. Very strange. Just then, he was interrupted as a great crane collected his entire cell from the wall and raised it up to a higher level. You see this kind of thing in fictional prisons from time to time, I don’t know where the idea comes from originally.

Returning to the rest of the party, a guard (captioned as “Mean Guy”) came to tell that that Squall was going to be tortured, inadvertently informing them that Squall was alive and in the same facility. When Zell stood up to “Mean Guy,” the guard gave him a beating. “Mean Guy” wasn’t just here to be a jerk however, and he asked the party if one of them was named Rinoa. Showing a characteristic, yet still startling naivety, Rinoa identified herself on the spot, and was taken away by the guards with no further explanation.

ffviii-00068Back with Squall, he was taken out of his cell by Seifer, and sure enough he was taken to be tortured via an electric device. Seifer’s line of questioning was very strange: apparently Edea wanted to know the “true purpose” of SeeD. Seifer, assuming Squall knew what he was talking about, refuses to explain this request in plain English. Naturally, Squall didn’t know a thing. At one point, Seifer returned the favour that “Mean Guy” had done to the others by telling Squall that his friends were still alive and in the prison. Actually, he told Squall that he could have easily torture them instead. Oh, so you’re going to admit that Quistis, the former instructor, might be a more reliable source of secret SeeD info han Squall? And that Zell would more easily break? And that Squall is the worst person you could be interrogating? Well so long as we’re being honest!

Seifer bragged that he had fulfilled his dream by becoming the Sorceress’ knight, facing off against the “evil mercenary” (not a cliche rivalry that I’m particularly familiar with, but I’m willing to pretend) This whole picture seemed to suggest that Seifer had only joined SeeD as a means of infiltrating it, but how would he have known they had a secret purpose from the outset? His dialogue implies that it was Edea who told him that SeeD had a secret purpose, so maybe my intuition about his motives is wrong here.

ffviii-00070Back to the rest of the party, where Selphie was trying to use Cure to fix the wounds Zell had got from his beating, only for it to fail. Quistis suggested the prison had an anti-magic field on it. Oh, while we’re here, Selphie casts her spell by saying “Draw… Cure!” as though she were Draw-casting. I understand why the writers had her do that: just in case Selphie doesn’t have any Cure spells equipped at the moment, which, as it happened, she didn’t (since we had taken them from her to equip the sniper team back in Deling City). But where on earth is she Drawing it from? Zell himself? If that’s the case, why can’t we do that in combat when we really need a Cure? I appreciate the effort but it feels like we’re still just a bit off the mark.

Just then, and with no explanation, a bipedal Red XIII-looking creature (monster? pictured below) walked in carrying an empty tray, obviously supposed to be serving food but with the developers too lazy to render any food. Pretty fancy plate for prisoners, by the way. The Red XIII monster tripped and dropped the plate, drawing the attention of a guard, but the party stood up for the little guy.

ffviii-00072

Seifer mimes with his gunblade as though it were a rifle.

Back with Squall (oh for fuck’s sake, pick a focus. This kind of hoping around doesn’t work for games like it does in film!), Seifer asked a new question: why does SeeD “oppose the sorceress?” Well a lot of people seem to oppose the sorceress in a general fashion, but I guess we can see this as a clarification of his previous questions. Just then, a guard arrived to tell Seifer that missiles were ready to launch at “the Garden.” Ah, yes. The usual military operating procedure: tell some random prison guard, probably not even military, your sensitive state secrets and hope he passes it on to the correct authority. Seifer said that after the Gardens were destroyed, they would wipe out the remaining SeeDs.

Yeah, uh, related note, but I’m not… geeze, I feel kind of guilty saying this but it’s still true… I’m not all that invested in the Gardens? Sure, I don’t want hundreds or thousands of fictional people to die, especially the Garden’s innocent children, but devs, please don’t act like you’ve earned any special love for the characters who work there. The game is doing its hardest to present them as some kind of Force for Good and a Home For Our Beloved Characters. But on the first point, I’m not morally aligned with the idea of mercenary organization to begin with, and the situation hasn’t changed. They’re mercenaries, they kill people for profit. As Seifer himself points out, mercenaries can be pretty bad people! To return to an older metaphor: we’re not watching someone threaten the innocent Shire here, children excepted. On the second point, the game has pulled a Junon by making me spend more time in Timber than in Balamb, so Balamb doesn’t feel like my character’s home, even though it’s supposed to be? Furthermore, the game has – deliberately, I’ll remind you! – presented Squall as an asocial jerk that you’re not supposed to like, so why should I care about the Garden that he only moderately seems to care about to begin with?

ffviii-00069

The “Red XIII-looking creature.”

The threat that Galbadia might blow up Balamb Garden is basically no more impactful to me than the discovery that Dharm had been destroyed by the Water Entity in FFLIII. Oh no, not Dharm, the hometown that I spent maybe three minutes in at the start of the game, most of it shopping. Please not Dharm. Oh no, please not Balamb Garden, the place that taught my character to murder but that he’s not all that emotionally attached to, and what little he does care is mostly an informed attribute. I just won’t be able to take it!

If the game’s hoping to cast the Gardens as good because they’re against the sorceress, I don’t think that’s working for me, either. After all, they’ve made no effort establishing the sorceress or why she’s supposed to be evil. I mean, she clearly is, but it’s been poorly and scantly done, and all this new information about SeeD secretly fighting the Sorceress off-screen and all along doesn’t make them anymore heroic, and in fact arguably less heroic, than Galbadia prior to her takeover, because Galbadia openly went to war with her! Meanwhile, the Gardens’ biggest effort was to send a sniper who can’t snipe! I half don’t know what’s going on; I don’t have an emotional investment in the victims here except generic respect for fictional human life; and am mostly just riding along since I enjoy the gameplay, and some lingering hope that things might get better as the character arcs advance?

Seifer heads off, leaving the faceless warden to continue the torture. Squall chose to give up his resistance at this point, and passed out. The Warden ordered two “Moombas” to guard Squall, which was such a goofy name that I immediately knew it belonged to the Red XIII-looking monsters.

ffviii-00073Returning yet again to the main party, it finally sunk in for Zell that he’s a monk and he hasn’t been remotely hampered by the guards taking his weapons. The game presents this delay as though it were Zell’s fault, as though he was too slow to get it, but I can’t help that notice that Selphie and Former Instructor Quistis, who may have actually taught Zell how to fight, didn’t clue into this either. Long story short, Zell pretends the others are ill, punches out the guard, and no one even considers taking the guard’s baton to join Zell on the jailbreak. Nope, no one in the party is trained to use batons, so obviously you can’t use them at all! Don’t try to use weapons taken from the wandering monsters and guards Zell is about to defeat, it’s not like guns revolutionized warfare by allowing even untrained soldiers to fire them with ease!

So yes, Zell is loose in the prison, with the Moomba at his side as a faux “party member” who doesn’t fight. At this point, the game’s Information menu is happy to tell you that Moombas identify people by… licking their blood… which is enough to make me wish I had never been curious about them. After some GF shuffling, we were ready to go, though Kyle would eventually go back to the GF menu and equip Zell with every single GF we had, because why not? (Ed. Because they get less EXP that way, that’s why not.) And so we were ready to go. Thus… into D-District prison, a dungeon that I am going to introduce to you, without my usual context and buildup, as being the single worst dungeon in the entire franchise to date.

Prev: Final Fantasy VIII – Squall Kebab
Next: Final Fantasy VIII – The Nadir

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