We return to FFVIII on the other side of the world, where Sonic the Leonhart has crossed country so fast that, judging by my math, he must have arrived almost an hour ahead of when he started. Arriving in the garden, he finds that the men wearing kasa have suddenly staged an open coup against Headmaster Cid, and had recruited what seemed to be most of the students, all of whom wanted Cid dead or alive! Whoa, uh… well geeze! I knew things were suspicious but I didn’t think they were this bad! Points for the twist! The men in kasa said they were working for “Garden Master NORG.” I was in control during this section, and initially lied about being one of NORG’s followers in hopes of getting more information, but none came, and I soon cast aside any pretence of mixed loyalties and stealth once I came across students under attack by the NORGites. As I said previously, I don’t have any emotional attachment to the Garden or to Cid, but the NORGites were openly evil, like caricature evil, so it didn’t take long to pick a side. Honest to god, one decision in this section you deciding whether or not to defend two actual children from being eaten by a T-Rexaur.
You also meet Squall’s mystery woman from the start of the game again during this sequence, but nothing happens with her quite yet. Each group of students you rescue earns you an item, though some of them were less valuable than others. Probably the most surprising was in the cafeteria, where someone gives you some Gysahl Greens. Uh… friend, I don’t even have a Chocobo, and so this item literally cannot be used? “Squall, we’re counting on you to save the Garden. Have a carrot.”
Early in the “dungeon,” you come across Raijin and Fujin, who are willing to believe you about the missiles and try to warn others. But that’s it. No one else has ears for the looming death bombs, what with the all the chaos, and who would believe you anyways when you could be from the other faction? In any event, this extended section forces you to look for Cid in every one of the Garden’s first floor rooms, which are plentiful. As you go, you battle midbosses, most of them statistically-tweaked regular enemies, and gradually learn that our forgotten one-time briefing officer, Xu, has set up a scheme where the loyal students and SeeDs would hide Cid’s location by pretending that he was in every location. Of course, he was actually in none of those locations, and was in fact still in his office. It’s a clever plan, though you have to wonder why literally no NORGites checked the office. I realize that they’re basically (and intentionally) little more developed than a 80s toy commercial cartoon villains, but the least the game could have done was have Cid hide under his wretched desk instead of stand out in the open!
Cid naturally listens about the missiles, and tries to take steps to encourage evacuation (I’m sure the NORGites will be thrilled to listen to the man they want dead). But he claims that he plans on staying behind, and Squall is naturally curious as to why. Cid tells him that he didn’t strictly build the Garden, as it was actually constructed long ago (no specifics are given, at least not yet) and that it used to be “a shelter.” He believes there’s a device in the building’s forgotten basement that might repel missiles. Of course, he knows so little about it that this could easily turn out to be the fallout shelter’s spam dispenser, but what the hell, let’s give it a shot!
Squall convinces Cid, who is getting on in years and is in ill-health, to let his party find the device, so it was off to the basement for us. The first event in this dungeon involves climbing down a ladder underneath the elevator, only for the elevator to drop down on top of you! Unfortunately, I was so consistent about my movement that I was almost off-screen by the time it the elevator dropped, but it wasn’t a bad sequence in theory. After this, you get a shockingly late-game tutorial which just repeats stuff Quistis already told you earlier in the game! Maybe a remnant of the JP version that lacked those earlier tutorials? Further down the hall, we came to a valve that, for video game reasons, had to be opened in under ten seconds. You have to do it via button-mashing. If you fail, Rinoa helps and the task becomes easier, and then I assume Quistis helps in the third pass – I wouldn’t know, since I passed off to Kyle, the best button-masher I know, after I failed the first attempt. There doesn’t seem to be a penalty for messing this up, even though it seems like something the game would normally use to drain SeeD experience?
Next up came a ladder that you could either climb on your own, send someone else up, or climb as a team. We sent Squall alone. The ladder falls as he climbs, but in typical video game contrivance, it crash-lands right into the room you wanted to go to in the first place. I’m not sure what happens if you send others or the whole party, but it may be that nothing changes at all. I’ll admit that I’m worried about spoilers in this, since we’re getting close to our cut-off point for the play session. I should look it up later.
After a lot of mucking around, the party was finally ambushed from what must be some incredibly stagnant water by a pair of squid-like monsters called Oilboyles. Like most RPG squids, they could blind us with ink, so I fought primarily with GFs, as GF’s couldn’t miss. Nuts to variety. After this, I took an embarrassingly overwrought walk to and from the nearest save point with far more random encounters that there should have been, after which we arrived at The Device.
Squall basically managed to activate The Device by basically turning some random knob, which caused the platform they were standing on to… transpose… through multiple floors to and beyond the Headmaster’s office, collecting Cid on the way. At this point, the missiles arrived, but the Garden managed to survive the attack not by shooting them down or something like that, but by getting up and flying away from the explosion. I’d like to complain that the fact that the base emerges from a cloud of dust, dirt and ruin implies that it actually did get caught by the explosion and everyone should be dead from heat and suffocation, if not detonation, but I’m too amused by Baba Yaga’s chicken-footed Garden to be too picky about that. The party goes to take a look (including a shot of the Garden’s giant propeller blades somehow not shredding a flock of birds), there’s some false drama about Cid saying the controls have stopped responding only for Squall to… use the controls… after which the Garden crashes into the water. Whatever, we have a flying, floating city, this is the best, dumb thing ever.
(Ed. By the way, you never get an explanation for why the Garden can fly, or why the original “shelter” that Cid expanded was constructed. Ever.)
At this point, there was a time skip. Squall says it’s been several days at sea with no sign that they’ll regain control of the Garden’s flight systems and there’s nothing to do. Moments later, Rinoa arrives asking him for a tour of the Garden. You mean the Garden you’ve been trapped in for several days with nothing to do? Rinoa, if you want to ask Squall on a date, just ask—actually, you know what, this is probably the better way to ask Squall on a date, carry on.
At this point, Kyle and I used SeeD tests to advance our rank all the way to “A,” the very top, and ended our session for the night.
I think my general walkaway impression from our second session of FFVIII was that the game is still doing the thing from FFVI and FFVII, the “quilt squares problem,” where the writers do whatever the hell they want regardless of cause and effect (both incoming and outgoing), but it typically lacks the bull-headishness that helped carry FFVI and FFVII through to their narratively dubious ends (although this sequence with the flying school is a notable exception!). “Yeah, Kefka just wiped out all the Espers with a deus ex machina, what are you going to do about it? This is the plot now!” Whereas most of FFVIII hums and haws its way to its baseless twists like this: “Oh… and then the prison sank into the sands… I don’t know, the bad guys are gone now, I guess…” Or, in the cases when FFVIII is ostentatious, it’s with its naïve and even incompetent understanding of the real world. Less “This is happening for no reason, suck it up!” and more “This is happening for the dumbest reason it could possibly happen, suck it up…?” And lest we forget their explanation for their most important plot element to date, the live broadcast, which I’m pretty sure carried through its paradigm shift less through FFVI/VII-style bravado and more through two minutes of coughing followed by three of Linda Blair-style projectile vomiting.
I guess the lesson here is that if you’re willing to defy causality, you’d better make it a fucking rollercoaster ride or it’s not worth the cost! And I’m not sure what we’re getting from FFVIII would be worth the cost in the first place!
On to Session 3, which we picked up after finally clearing FFT for real. And back to our home-grown screenshots! We spent a lot of Session 3 doing optional stuff, so it’s not quite appropriate to say that the session went simply from Main Story Event X to Main Story Event Y. The best I can tell you is that this session ends after my coverage of Shumi Village, so until we’re done there, you know we’re still in Session 3! Unfortunately, something went wrong with our recordings in this session that left it without sound, but the video is still there, and I suppose that’s what really matters.
Like I was saying, Rinoa wanted a tour of the Garden, and Squall went on to provide the worst tour he possibly could, even worse than the “tour” he gave Selphie. This surprised no one, except Rinoa, apparently. It probably didn’t help her attempt at a date that we spent most of the date playing cards with a group of young women. Baby, I swear, we were just trying to get the Raijin and Fujin card from them! We didn’t have any luck getting that card at the time, by the way, though we did grab the MiniMog card, which, judging from its position in the list, was even rarer. Luckily for us, these Triple Triad players were using the “Diff” rule, which meant that when we won, we’d win as many cards as we had won the match by in terms of points, upwards of the opponents’ entire hand!
After an abbreviated tour, we were greeted by a man in a kasa, much to my surprise as I had figured none of them were left. He told us to head into the basement, for reasons unspecified. We were also instructed by the campus doctor to talk to Cid and get him to come to her. Curiously, the latter acted like it was going to be optional, even though Cid did end up going to the doctor’s office after Rinoa conveyed this very message, and we had to talk to him there, implying it was mandatory after all, somehow?
The elevator took us to a part of the basement we had never seen, and Quistis joined us here, apparently on the look for the headmaster. He was down there with us, having a shouting match with two of the men in kasa. He was swearing up a storm, quite in contrast to his meek personality in the past, especially around these men in particular! Cid was particularly mad at someone he called a “money-grubbing son of a bitch,” whom he had met ten years back, but he refused to elaborate, even though doing so put our party in serious danger! Instead, he just left the room, leaving us to be plucked up by the men in kasa and dragged off to speak to “Garden Master NORG.” Which we apparently did, despite the whole open insurrection thing? Why, you ask? I have no idea, but it became clear from their dialogue that we were somehow supposed to have recognized that “Garden Master” meant “CEO” or something to that effect, and so NORG had legitimate power in the Garden that they felt obligated to answer to, despite having never been mentioned prior to his insurrection and his title sounding like a trumped-up bit of hubris. Perhaps another rare localization problem in this otherwise-good localization?
After making sure everyone was still equipped (it’s not like we remembered the minutiae from the last time we had played), we went to see NORG, who revealed himself to be a huge, yellow humanoid with huge ears and chin. He spoke to us from a large machine in the middle of the room, with two big, blue lights on each side. NORG demanded Squall give his debriefing on the failed assassination attempt, and NORG went off in a fury at Squall’s insinuation that Balamb Garden had approved the mission. Unfortunately, the section that followed was poorly written. Based on later dialogue, I think NORG was trying to say that Martine, headmaster at Galbadia Garden, wrote up the assassination mission on his own and only pretended to have Balamb’s support, since NORG had no plans to oppose the Sorceress and so would never have allowed Cid to send orders of the sort, much less send orders like that himself. But as-written, the dialogue suggests that the Gardens did agree on the mission, only for Martine to vaguely “use” the party “as a last resort,” which is bad for… reasons?… and then… um…? Or maybe the implication is that they all approved the plan, but Martine was to blame for putting together a tremendously shitty team (undeniable, considering Irvine’s behaviour)… ugh, I can’t tell. Like I said, the dialogue is starting to fall apart. In any event, NORG is pissed, which is all you need to know.
So… I assume NORG is responsible for the weird impression that the Gardens are both mercenaries and yet not mercenaries? NORG seems to want to be a mercenary group, and Cid does not. But wait a second: if SeeD is internally confused, why was it presented as though they had a consistent reputation and only the higher-ups knew something was off-kilter? They simply shouldn’t have presented it by having people state one thing was true while others stated another. If it was meant to be confusing, it should have been described as confusing, or contradictory, or at odds. Instead, we had a bizarre state where everyone acted like one thing was true and not the other. It’s like… okay, this analogy isn’t going to make much sense, but it’s because FFVIII isn’t make any sense, but try to bear with me… imagine a modern grocery store, which sells all types of foods. But no matter who you talk to, they insist on calling it a “Deli” or a “Bakery.” No one mentions the other things the store sells, and no one would ever dare mention that a deli exists alongside the bakery or vice versa, only whispered insinuations and hints. It’s ludicrous, especially when it comes to people outside the organization. No well-advertised place should have two wholly unique reputations existing atomically, without contact with one another, each out on their own in the wild! There’s even something odd about the whispers and hints. Sure, that sounds absurd when I talk about a grocery store, but isn’t SeeD just a business as well?
NORG orders that Squall and his team be handed over the Sorceress to appease her and to prevent further attacks against the Gardens, and he begins ranting about how the Garden is his because he fronted the money used to establish it. By the way, can I add that this plot is a really jarring change in scope? We were just escaping the evil empire of a powerful sorceress, but the bad blood between Cid and NORG is just internal corporate politics! We just entered a stock 80s cartoon plot between one guy who wants a cozy mom and pop store and the big, bad, corporate boss who wants to go national, only now one of them wants to assassinate a head of state while the other wants to publicly execute us!
NORG now leaks the important info that Cid is married to Sorceress Edea, which seems more than a little unbelievable, but there’s no time to argue, as NORG decides to attack the party with his machine, closing himself inside to prevent direct attack.
This was our first fight of the session, and I was less than… shall we say… on-the-ball than I could have been? As a result it took an incredibly long time to beat NORG. The gimmick was that NORG’s machine would cast magic on us if the lights (called “Left Orb” and “Right Orb,” or as I like to call them, “Left Norb” and “Right Norb”) turned from blue to yellow and then finally to red. You could change the lights back a step by hitting them with physical attacks, while attacking the “pod” in the centre to break it open and face NORG. Once revealed, NORG would cast spells and buffs, and you can Draw the GF Leviathan from him. If I had stayed on the ball, I would have probably managed this fight better with Carbuncle, but it didn’t help that NORG was only weak to air spells, and I only had a small handful, and even then, only on Squall! In all, my garbage play made the fight drag on for eighteen minutes, plus a real-world delay that made it feel even longer!
After the battle, NORG says something about being afraid of the party, and then disappears, either fleeing or dying. Even the party doesn’t seem certain on the matter. Squall even complains about how confusing things have been lately! In fact, come to think of it, Squall reiterated that complaint across the entire play session, which you’d think would have been a warning to the writers, but… nope!
After this, we had to go speak to Cid, who answered us on a few recent questions, if by “answer” you mean in the briefest, shallowest way imaginable. NORG was “a black sheep” from “the Shumi tribe,” and yes, he did fund the Garden. Edea and Cid are indeed married, and she was the Sorceress at the time so it’s not like there was some kind of heel-turn on her part. Cid claims that Edea even came up with the idea of the Garden and SeeD, even though Cid also confirms that “the real meaning of SeeD,” was that they were built to stop the Sorceress from the off. So in case you didn’t catch that: Edea invented SeeD as a way to stop… herself. Cid refuses to explain further. Furthermore, remember when Seifer didn’t know the real meaning of SeeD and claimed the Sorceress, Edea, asked him to find out? For all it might look like a writing problem at first glance, we soon learn that this is a genuine mystery, and the game will confirm as much by pointing out some of the mysterious particulars a little down the road.