So: the worst dungeon to date. Because I never really qualified this sort of thing in the past, the previous record holder was arguably the Ronka Ruins from FFV, as I implied during the FFVII Journal of all places. I don’t consider the air battle before the Ronka Ruins as being a part of the dungeon itself, for the record. Once you’re actually in the ruins, the dungeon itself were a huge, messy maze, little more than an traditional paper maze, with no attempt made to make it resemble a real location and what appears to be active effort to make it more challenging and frustrating. Mazes are everything I despise about dungeon design, and so the Ronka Ruins was once my #1 and still holds my #2 shit-spot.
(Ed. I actually replayed FFV after clearing FFVIII, and found I didn’t mind the Ronka Ruins all that much after all! Still, I’m going to leave my original comments as they stand. I then decided to put some thought into my new #2, and wrote a whole post about my Bottom 5 FF Dungeons so far! Go check it out!)
Enter D-District prison. D-District prison is made up of 12 main storeys of cells, each storey and each cell a functionally identical photocopy of the others. You begin on floor 7, and the only way to get up most floors is to circle the entire storey. According to the wiki, our choices made previously in the game should have allowed us three shortcuts, but we didn’t notice any because the shortcuts are slightly hidden by a wall, and we quickly learned most of the other floors were blocked in that location, so what the hell else were we supposed to think? There are also no directions telling you whether you should go up or down the stairs at the start of the dungeon. This might not have been so bad, as there’s a missable item, a Combat King Magazine, which can only be found if you go what’s currently the wrong way (I’m not sure if you can get it later). The Combat King upgrades Zell’s Limit, but for some reason the door that led to it wouldn’t open for Kyle (you can see him checking out the door at one point in the recording!), so we assumed the room was empty! Most of the side doors don’t open anyways, and only lead to identical cells when they do open.
The rough outline of the dungeon goes like this: Zell goes to find Selphie and Quistis’ weapons, and then returns to them automatically, at which point you end up in a fight with our old friends, Biggs and Wedge. The loudspeaker announces your prison break after this, and also news that the anti-magic field will be lifted so the guards can attack you. But… you could use magic against Biggs and Wedge! Then the party goes to find Squall, and rescues him. More on that in a minute. After several dead-ended attempts to escape, you have to split the party and send one party all the way down from floor 9! Starting the timer from the moment you gain control of Zell, Kyle and I were here just two minutes short of an hour and a half in this dungeon, almost all of it spent looking at the same photocopied graphics and layout. Over and over and over again. While a prison should naturally be uniform, a video game dungeon should not. This dungeon represents the greatest dearth of creativity for me in the series to date, and Final Fantasy IV was half cave.
Time to sharpen my generalizations into specifics. After Zell retrieves the weapons from the ground on floor 8… and no, you didn’t hear that wrong, they didn’t put them in lockers or anything, they’re lying on the floor… we see a cutscene where Squall is rescued from the torture device by the Moombas, who keep shouting the name “Laguna,” having seemingly mistaken Squall for Mr. Flashback. Unfortunately, Squall is too poor a shape to walk, so the Moombas go to find the party and direct them to the top floor (this doesn’t happen if you made certain wrong decisions earlier on, but we were good on that front). While climbing up, two prisoners were willing to play Triple Triad with us for a few trifles. Hey, aren’t all the prisoners in this dungeon political prisoners? Yeah, Rinoa said that earlier! So why aren’t we staging a mass break-out? Why are we breaking into their cells and robbing them at cardpoint?
One nice thing I can say about this dungeon its monsters finally gave us a Steel Pipe, a synth item needed to create several second-tier weapons. We had expected it hours ago, and certainly not on the second disc! Personally, I had almost forgotten that weapon synthesis even existed! When we looked it over, we discovered we already had the ingredients for several other characters as well, but just hadn’t noticed because, again, we had forgotten that weapon synthesis existed. Geeze, FFVIII, shouldn’t we have gotten our first weapon upgrades somewhere around Timber or Deling?
After rescuing Squall, the party asked him if he knew a way out. Zell specifically hoped that Squall had come here as Laguna in his dreams, which a bit of a long shot, and sure enough, it hadn’t happened. Asking Squall how they got him up here from his cell (basically unprompted), Squall points out the cell-carrying crane, and they decided to see if that will work. This finally triggers a memory for Zell about Ward, revealing that he knows how to operate the crane. As a result, the party splits up temporarily. Long story short, the main party (Squall, Quistis, Selphie) doesn’t find anything, except for evidence that they’re underground. No, this sequence primarily serves to leave Zell stranded and vulnerable when some guards show up to capture him. You have to run him away or, if you’re like us, get caught and be forced to fight without a GF or any Junctions because you swapped them to the rest of the party and are too lazy to swap them back! Oh well, it’s not that dangerous.
Zell is knocked out by the warden, but Squall gets his revenge on the warden by jumping off the crane mid-elevation to kill the thug. Zell is so appreciative that Squall has to pry him off with the hilt of his gunblade. Again, I’m generally enjoying this game’s humour, even in this low-point of a dungeon!
Just then, other guards opened fire on the party, but they were rescued by the sudden arrival of our long-lost party member Irvine, accompanied by Rinoa. Rinoa explained that her father pulled some strings to get her released from prison, and had sent Irvine (who had presumably escaped capture, though this is technically unexplained) to fetch her. Irvine didn’t want to stage a jailbreak, and Rinoa had to “[scratch him] to death” to convince him. Sheesh, well at least we know who’s really our friend here, huh?
The party was once again forced to split up as the gunfire continued, forcing us to split the party: Squall, Rinoa and one other (Selphie, in our case), would go up, and Irvine and two others would go down to find the crane elevator. Wait, wasn’t the crane elevator above them? I mean, Squall came to rescue Zell through the air somehow. At first I assumed Squall had jumped off the crane elevator, but fine, I’ll admit: for all I know he climbed up the wall with his bare hands! But Quistis and Selphie definitely walked down the stairs from above! I-in any event, we rejoined the other party and ended up fighting a “boss” fight at the exit (just a larger group of common enemies, par for the course for this undershooting dungeon). After this, we triggered the elevator and the game told us to wait for the rest of the party… and they never showed. Kyle and I became quite confused, and even walked several rooms back because what did we know? After deciding we had gone back too far, we turned back to the exit and Squall and friends decided to just walk away from the exit entirely, leaving their party members behind! Great teamwork!
Outside the exit, the party discovered a bridge, and once you cross to the middle, it’s revealed that D-District prison was actually made of three towers constructed on screw-like stems connected by bridges. Rinoa curiously says that this wasn’t how the prison had looked when she came in earlier (i.e., after she convinced Irvine to go back for the others), but because this game runs on contrivances, Squall interrupts her, and not to ask what on earth she meant even though it would absolutely be relevant! The question then answers itself, but not without additional contrivances: Squall somehow ends up in the middle of the bridge despite Selphie and Rinoa being across it, at which point the bridge retracts out from under him. He falls down and has to grab on to the edge as the entire dungeon screwed its way into the ground, essentially lowering the towers to the surface. Oh, and Squall basically vanished into the rubble and sand kicked up by the process at one point, only for no one to comment on it after the fact. The worst dungeon in the franchise capped off by one of the worst scene transitions I’ve ever seen! They are, if nothing else, consistent!
Let’s set aside the matter of Squall’s vanishing and the terrible scene transition to talk about the nonsense of this… screw?… prison. I guess the idea here is that if someone breaks out, they can’t get down because it’s so high, but if someone wants to visit, they can lower it? You know… instead of just building a tower and hanging a rope ladder, or setting up a helipad? Yeah, I think we can all agree that the concept here is nonsense. The bigger question is why the dungeon descended after we killed the “boss,” and for that matter why the enemies stop pursuing you after this moment, long enough that the party is about to lazily steal equipment from them in the next scene! Remember, Rinoa got into the prison like this so it’s not like the descent seals the doors when it’s finished! As for why this even happened, I’m at a total loss. The bad guys have no reason to do it (and again, seem unable to pursue you afterwards?). Maybe Irvine and friends hit the elevator button on the way out, which is all the devs really needed to do to convince me (in fact, it could have been a good comedy punchline for the dungeon?), but shouldn’t we have seen that?
Like I was saying, the scene goes on to show the party stealing two vehicles from the lowered prison without any interference at all. They drive these off to a nearby crossroads and start talking about what to do regarding the missile attacks. Irvine tells us that he heard news that both Trabia and Balamb Garden will be attacked by missiles, and Galbadia will presumably be conquered for use as the Edea’s base of operations, as earlier implied. Squall wants to go and warn the two gardens that are about to bombed, but Selphie wants to stop the launches altogether, since there’s no time to warn both. And… Selphie should have won the debate right there, shouldn’t she? The launch base is so close that we can see on the horizon of this very screen, whereas warning even one of the gardens would require cross-continental travel? Unfortunately, it’s too late to stop the first launch: missiles are shot towards Trabia Garden before the discussion is even finished, and so Selphie’s home garden has been destroyed off-screen. You know, the target considerably less responsible for the assassination attempt?
And here’s where we hit yet another moment where FFVIII appears to have been written by aphids with so little understanding of everyday, real-world concepts that seems impossible that they completed production of a video game in the first place, because Squall’s plan to warn Balamb Garden via cross-continental travel is apparently viable. Squall ends up splitting up the party, his party going to Balamb and Selphie’s party going to stop the missiles, which I will repeat were launched from a base on the horizon. By the way, I looked it up, and according to Wikipedia the horizon is around 4.7km away on a flat surface like the desert we’re in now, and the party has a car! As it happens, the world map won’t allow you to travel to the base in a straight line, but the true distance can’t be that much longer than 10km. Meanwhile, Squall’s party has to drive to the nearby train station, which is not visible on the horizon, and must then take the train to Balamb. I will remind you that the train ride between Timber and Balamb took so long that the party ended up taking a healthy flashback nap in the middle of it, and then tell you that D-District prison is even further away than that.
Now, spoilers again: unfortunately, despite her best efforts, Selphie will not prevent the launch of missiles at Balamb. Before the launch, her mission contains at least one segment with an explicit real-time timed segment. So after driving ~4.7km away, add a 20 minute timed segment and maybe another 10 minutes grace before the missiles launch. That’s Squall’s head start. You following me? Because intercontinental Ballistic Missiles travel around 7km/sec. This means that FFVIII is about to allow Squall to not just to outpace intercontinental ballistic missiles cross-continent with only ~40 minutes’ head start, but is actually going to allow him to arrive so far ahead of them that he ends up participating in gameplay events that took Kyle and I an hour and fifteen minutes to complete. In the real world, rockets are so much faster than trains that Squall should have been laughed out of his leadership position for even suggesting he could outrun them, but in this world… fuck, I don’t even know what to say!
That’s it for that scene. Unfortunately, I appear to have lost the video recording for this next section, continuing straight through to the end of the session. Thankfully, we’re close to the end of hte session, but not that close. This missing footage is strange, as I definitely had the recording when I was first drafting, but it’s since gone missing. In any event, the recording is gone, so the rest of the screenshots from below this paragraph to the end of the disc will be taken from the World of Longplays playthrough made by RickyC (YouTube).
At this point, you designate the two parties and take control of Selphie’s party (in our case: Selphie, Irvine and Zell) to infiltrate the missile base using their Galbadian military vehicle and some uniforms they had stolen. This mission involves a lot of dialogue choices to try to disguise yourself as a Galbadian soldier. Kyle managed to land every correct decision from end to end, earning us two SeeD promotions in the process! In short, you have to pass on a few messages, mash some buttons to smash things and to sabotage the missile shot at Galbadia by setting its “margin of error” to a higher percentage. Why they even have that feature is a bigger question, and I’m surprised the developers were even aware of something as complex as “margin of error!” Now let’s see if they’re familiar with the even more “esoteric” concept of “miles per hour.”
Should you make it to the commander’s room without being unmasked, you’re outted as intruders by your phony salute, and have to battle the commander. Selphie then shuts down the missiles and triggers the self-destruct, the game allowing you to set the timer to a value of your choice. Unfortunately, just like with Biggs and Wedge at the communication tower, the party fails to check the bodies like they should have, and this time people could easily die for it, because one of the grunts revives long enough to once again order the firing. You incompetent morons. Selphie and the others arrive on the surface only to see the missiles launch.
Unfortunately, while most of the soldiers are retreating, some of them spot you and attack you with a special, hovering tank called… uh… “BGH251F2.” It just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? The boss battle involved breaking parts off the tank while the timer ticked down, and Kyle had gone for the shortest, 10 minute fuse! Thankfully he won through, but it was bad news for the party: after destroying the tank and killing its occupants, they discovered the tank had crashed in front of the only exit. that’s actually kind of clever! They were trapped, and went up in flames as the self-destruct went off. At the time of writing, none of them have been seen since. They may be dead!
Good thing Squall’s party can suck the GFs and magic right out of their cross-continent corpses, eh?