Session 4 was something of a recording fiasco. First off, we got together one day to do some things in the real world, but played just over an hour of FFVIII while we were together. Let’s call that “Session 4a.” Session 4a had no recording at all, because it just plain refused to work. The next time we got together for a full session (Session 4 proper), our capture program kept ignoring our hotkey to start recording. I can’t say why, but that was only the start of our hotkey-related problems: it turns out that we had inadvertently bound our recording hotkey to the same hotkey used by FFVIII for soft resets (Ctrl+R), and ended up soft resetting twice this session. You might be wondering how it took us four sessions to notice this was the case! It turns out FFVIII will only soft-reset if you hold Ctrl+R, albeit for only a second, and we just hadn’t done that by accident until today. What a mess!
Ultimately, despite around twelve hours of play in Session 4, only three were recorded! This made it pretty important for me to do the write-up as soon as possible after our play-session so that I wouldn’t forget the details of the missing 9 hours! Thankfully, we spent most of the day on some truly, truly repetitive sidequests, some that I’m not sure I’d never dare repeat if I ever play FFVIII again. In terms of the main story, Session 4 covers the Battle of the Gardens and some of the subsequent events, including the Laguna flashback that happens not long after the Battle.
(Ed. We’ve since come up with better recording practices, so don’t worry about sending in advice, but it took a few sessions yet, so this won’t be the end of our recording problems in this Journal!)
We didn’t do much during Session 4a – we just partially advanced the Shumi Village sidequest. The Elder assigns his assistant to help finish the Laguna statue, but it’s still not enough. As a result, the Elder tries to assign a Shumi called “Artisan” as well. Artisan isn’t feeling very creative though, so you have to find a friend of his in Fisherman’s Horizon to send him a message that helps revive his spark. We did about half the quest during Session 4A and finished it during Session 4 proper.
(Ed. Or at least… we thought we had finished it. As it happens, there was more to the quest that we simply overlooked, and it wouldn’t be until Session 5 that we saw the actual ending. Unfortunately, I lost our recording of our doing it – told you the recording problems weren’t gone yet! – so I can’t remember when we actually did it during Session 5. I’ll discuss it here for simplicity’s sake. Long story short, we had to help the Elder’s assistant find his path in life. It wasn’t all that exciting, and frankly I’m not 100% sure what path he chose in the end, since he kept waffling back and forth. The prize for this quest is an item that gives a GF a Junction skill. We kept it, reasoning it would be better used later in the game when we knew who need it most. Then we forgot about it and never used it at all. And that’s your moral for today’s story, children: seize power the moment it is within your grasp, use it to crush your enemies or be left behind in the wake of the ongoing arms race of power!)
Oh, and we also found our lost Ifrit card while we were mucking around in Session 4a. At last!
Our first self-imposed mission for Session 4 proper… and one that ended up being strung along for most of the day… was to continue to hunt down rare Triple Triad cards. We started by clearing the Balamb Garden Card Club, a school club dedicated to Triple Triad, whose members kept up hidden identities for some reason (we actually started this sidequest during Session 4a, but we lost all of it thanks losing a game and reloading, only to discover we hadn’t saved at any point after our wins). Most Card Club members were actually just generic NPCs that walked from room to room, and many of them only show up randomly. We might have never found them if not for the internet. There’s no direct reward for completing the quest, but several CC members have rare cards: “Queen Heart” (Xu) has Carbuncle, “Master King” (Quistis, who keeps up being a sexual creeper by sneaking into your bedroom at night for a card game) has Gilgamesh, and optional CC member Joker has two rewards (he upgrades your stats menu with more information, for whatever that’s worth, and he has the Leviathan card). Whatever, done and done. Kyle Carded two T-Rexaurs while we were trying to get Joker’s stuff.
After this, we went after a few other rare cards that were available, guided along by Kyle’s strategy guide and a few walkthroughs. First we went back to Dollet, where the dreaded Random rule was in play. We later used a famous RNG manipulation trick to put an end to that, but before we managed it, Kyle actually struggled through a few rounds to win the Siren card legit! Next, we went to Deling City in Galbadia to bargain with Rinoa’s father. Rinoa’s dad had Rinoa’s card, but openly refused to play it until we gave him Ifrit. This is confusing, since it’s not like he trades for it or anything, and you can’t even give it to him: you have to deliberately lose Ifrit to him and then hope he plays Rinoa randomly in later games! And we had just gotten Ifrit back! I can’t imagine how frustrating it must have been to play this quest without twenty years of internet posts reassuring them that everything’s on the up-and-up!
After winning Rinoa, it was simply a matter of getting Ifrit back from, of all people, ex-Headmaster Martine, formerly of Galbadia Garden and now of Fisherman’s Horizon. Unfortunately, Kyle lost the Seifer card in the process, our most valuable Triple Triad possession, but Kyle went to the trouble of winning it back legit.
All this time, we had been looking for another card sidequest: the Queen of Cards. This wandering woman starts the game in Balamb town and moves around based on certain rules. We were convinced she had already left Balamb town, probably because she hadn’t shown up during Raijin and Fujin’s occupation, although I don’t remember if this was our exact reasoning. As a result, we checked every town we had ever visited (with the exception of Winhill, if you count Laguna flashbacks as “visiting”) before finally backtracking to Balamb, where she was waiting for us, unmoved. Serves us right.
The Queen of Cards has a number of features that manipulate Triple Triad in the nearby area, like the way that rules are passed from region to region, but she had another feature: if you surrender certain cards to her, and then get her to go to Dollet, her father (an artist living in Dollet) will create new cards, after which you can win back the old ones from her son (you guessed it: also in Dollet). Unfortunately, the Queen has to be in Dollet for you to even learn what cards you need, or that this is even a feature, and even that information is hidden behind an optional dialogue branch that you might not even notice if you assume the Queen has the same dialogue in every town. Thankfully, you can get started on this sidequest early in the game if you have a walkthrough, but make sure to do each card in order! Worst of all, getting the Queen to move around is random and involves either giving her rare cards or winning back rare cards that you’ve lost to her that haven’t gone to her son! Just to rub it in: we didn’t know you could move her around by winning cards back at the time (the game doesn’t explain how she moves around or why you’d even bother), and thought you could only do it by losing them! (Ed. We wouldn’t learn the truth until well into Session 5, and I’m only posting the correct information here because my original writeup made for a baffling read!)
Oh, and the new card you unlock? You have to win it from some NPC rando in a certain town, and all you get is the town name, with no other clues to their location! And even if you find them, they might not play their card! Holy crap, was this developed by the fucking Pokemon R/S/E team before they went full evil? Like a sort of evil training round for hostile design? Or was this Nintendo Hotline-esque bullshit, trying to sell guides? The level of behind-the-scenes foul play and overall randomness was driving us up the wall on its own, and it only got worse when we tried to work out how to upgrade our characters’ weapons to top tier, what with all the enemy drops and Refinements involved. But that’s later.
Long story short, we found the Queen and surrendered one of the two cards we could have surrendered, not realizing that we could have done two at a time (besides, we were so confused that we might not have recognized the advantage in doing so!). We gave her the MiniMog card, which allowed us to unlock the Kiros card. Now in Dollet, we gave her the Sacred card (one of the two Minotaurs), both because it was the next card on her list and because we had to get her leave Dollet so that she could later move back. We didn’t realize that we were setting ourselves up for disappointment, because the Queen travels to a random location, and the game just loves to send her to towns that virtually refuse to send her back to Dollet. And we’d need to give her another rare card that wasn’t on her list just to get her to cycle back to Dollet later in the process! Oh well. At least Kiros’ card was powerful.
(We also did some minor sidequests in Timber and Dollet, involving a kid on the train tracks, and later the Queen of Card’s son, who kept vandalizing his grandpa’s art to hide shitty prizes. Apparently the prizes would be better if we came back later, we didn’t really understand at the time, there were too many garbage-ass variables to track.)
By the way, all that card-playing and world-travelling bullshit I just described? Two hours. Nuts to Square. All of it survived in our recording by the way, which means that two of our recorded three hours are nothing but cards. Nuts to us. This is where our footage first cuts out, unfortunately, so it’s time for memory, and for me to once again turn to RickyC’s playthrough from World of Longplays (YouTube) as a source for screenshots.
Still wanting to carry on with the Queen of Cards quest, we started looking for the next rare card, Chicobo, which is won by winning the damnable Chocobo puzzles in all the Chocobo forests of the world. We grabbed the northern forests no problem, including the troublesome Trabia forest this time. The southern Chocobo Forests proved to be a lot more trouble. We couldn’t find the one on the continent of Centra, and for good reason, as it turns out that the only way to reach it at this point in the game is to find a teeny, tiny crack in a mountain range next to a beach, which the party can cross on foot. We found a second forest a few minutes later, but on our way there, we discovered we had arrived at the orphanage just as the plot intended. I steered clear of it… and collided with Galbadia Garden, which was parked just to the side, off-screen. We had literally just crashed into the plot.
Before we move on, though: while we were forest-hunting, I realized that FFVIII’s Chocobos… aren’t actually helpful in this game? You can’t reach them until you have a mobile Balamb Garden, at which point they’re actually less mobile than the garden 99 times out of 100. They can only cross shallow water while the Garden can cross any water it can reach, which is most of it! The only real advantage to chocobos is that they’re smaller than the Garden and can fit through tight canyons (like the one on Centra that I just mentioned), but this is only necessary in one place, and that one place is part of the Chocobo Forest sidequest!
Despite Galbadia presumably waiting in ambush, Balamb somehow gets the jump on them and Squall orders an attack. You actually get to select a few orders from a menu, though the impact is purely cosmetic. Nice touch, though. He also goes to examine the troops, and sees that Zell has prepared a unit to guard the quad on his own initiative. Weirdly, Zell follows this up by asking Squall for his ring. The timing of this was ridiculous, neverminding the fact that the ring hasn’t been mentioned… at all, actually? What the hell. Zell also refuses to explain why he wants it, which is just weird, if not outright creepy. At this point, Rinoa arrives and promises to defend the Garden as well.
Balamb’s ambush doesn’t count for much. Galbadia – commanded by Seifer – was far better equipped and prepared. Balamb has a force of teenagers and SeeDs depleted by the conflict with NORG, not to forget children (three of them, anyways, but that may have been the game scrimping around its memory limitations), whereas Galbadia has the Galbadian army. Also bikes launched from rocket platforms. Also that. That is also a thing.
We take control of Zell to repel boarders, though he and the others (always Rinoa, and in our case also Quistis) aren’t very good at it, with bikers getting past them left and right without so much as an attempt. Zell then shows his commitment to the moment by handing Squall’s ring to Rinoa, promising to make a copy of it for her. Uh… huh. Yup, I’m really confused and getting closer to feeling like this is creepy at this point. After doing that, Zell went back to confronting boarders, only for the camera to cut to pre-rendered CG and reveal there’s no one there! So why the hell have I been walking in this direction while bad guys on bikes are driving the other way? The design answer is that you had to walk here so the game can screw you over when Galbadia collides with Balamb and knocks off a chunk, leaving Rinoa hanging onto some of the exposed rock still attached to the bottom of Balamb. Again: you weren’t here for a reason, the developers just forced you here to suit a CG. Zell goes off to run for a rope to rescue her, as I complained to Kyle about him not shouting an order for someone else to find the damn thing. I mean, really: not only did we run past the former site of Selphie’s garden festival prep, but you have a whole army here but no damned rope? Or as Kyle joked: “Quistis, use your whip!”
Things got all the sillier as we were attacked by Galbadian monsters along the way and spent a long chunk of time harvesting valuable Haste and Slow spells off some of their robots, all while Rinoa presumably held on for dear life. We would later plug the Haste spells into Zell’s Speed slot via a Junction, which made him so fast it was simply astonishing. We made sure to unlock a Speed Junction on our next GF as soon as possible to the do the same with a second party member. Unfortunately, the time it takes to navigate menus in combat is still a limiting factor, so the speed boost only counts for so much… it still counts for a great deal, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a cap!
At this point, we had to run to join up with Squall, who learned about Rinoa only to also hear from Xu over the intercom that boarders were going to attack the classroom where they were keeping the children! Any second now! Aaaaaannnnny sec— Yeah, Kyle and I stopped to Draw more magic along the way, so long that Xu’s prediction that the Galbadians would attack the classroom at all started to look outright magical. After rescuing the children, the Garden’s doctor calls for Squall, only to reveal she… doesn’t have anything to talk about? But after a conference, during which Squall said they were going to lose when the next wave hits she advises them to attack and defeat Seifer, because this is a video game and fuck if beating the boss doesn’t help more often than not. This is the logic going on here. We’re going to lose any second, go clear a dungeon and fight a boss and all will be well. In any event, they decide to ram Galbadia Garden to gain access.
Squall agrees to lead the attack into Galbadia Garden, only for every single person in the party to get mad at him for “abandoning” Rinoa. By the way, after the battle these assholes are going to be getting mad at Squall for being too concerned with Rinoa, and Irvine comes off as the biggest hypocrite considering he was shouting at Squall for not rescuing Rinoa back on Disc 1. As Kyle put it, “There are a lot of reasons I don’t like Irvine.” Cosmos save me from my own supporting cast!
At the badgering of the rest of the cast, Squall agrees to abandon his post as leader of a town’s worth of teenagers and children to go rescue one person who surely fell to her death thirty-five minutes ago. It’s not clear how he plans to do it, especially since he gets off the elevator at the wrong floor, something that happened earlier in the attack as well! While there, he learns that one of the children had gotten lost or something, and when Squall goes to find the kid, the two of them are ambushed by a trooper wearing a huge jetpack of sorts. Why Squall doesn’t pull his sword, I don’t know, he gets plenty of time to do it. Instead, you have to play a minigame of sorts. As the minigame is going on, Squall escapes through an emergency hatch and then punches the trooper unconscious, all while grappling for control of his jetpack. I won’t say it’s not epic, but the unorthodox control shift from nowhere, the fact that you have to start on diminished “health” compared to your opponent, and the whole contrived setup on top of that all really hurt this scene.
I lost my first pass at the jetpack fight, so in Marathon tradition I passed back to Kyle, who won it. At this point, Squall goes to rescue Rinoa, as the jetpack allows him to deasily do so. I got a laugh about how we had left her stranded for over a real-world half hour and even then, Squall had to rescue her with a rope, meaning she had to keep hanging to a new thing until she finally touched ground! She’s going to have arms thick as steel beams once this is over. At this point, Squall and Rinoa run for the entrance to Galbadia, which just happens to be past this battlefield, right over there! How convenient! Make sure not to help anyone on your way to the other side!
At this point, Rinoa decides to thank Squall and then start flirting with him. Hey kids? Kids? My stupid, stupid kids? This is not the time! Your friends and allies are literally dying not ten feet off screen right! The conversation is nice, I guess, but what the scene really need was some Sorkinian talking-and-walking, which I guess would be asking too much since The West Wing wouldn’t even debut until ’99. But still! Rinoa admits that she has Squall’s ring and that she wants a copy for herself. It’s here where we learn the ring features Squall’s signature lion, which you even get to name. The default for the lion is “Griever,” which is already the Squall-est thing I’ve ever heard, it’s perfect. Squall complains about her trying to get the two of them together, and they finally come to their senses and head into the enemy Garden.
Time for the Galbadia Garden dungeon I had predicted weeks ago. Despite my predicting it would be a maze dungeon, the garden was actually close to straightforward. Oh, it was still a maze dungeon, but only because of a few keycards, two of which were incredibly easy to find, and the last of which was basically at the end of the dungeon and only unlocked the boss and a few shortcuts, so no harm done. I do have some complaints, however, namely that the dungeon’s halls all looked alike, just a few edits away from being outright asset re-use, and several of the rooms were asset reuse. That was half of what made D-District Prison a giant slog, and all that saves Galbadia from being as bad as D-District is that it’s smaller and still half unique, “unique” here meaning: “unique, minding that you already explored it earlier in the game.” (In another coincidence, both Galbadia and D-District have innocent people – former students, in this case – that you can duel with cards in the middle of a crisis!
Part-way through the dungeon, you come across Fujin and Raijin, who are peaceable and want the “old” Seifer back. I get where you’re coming from, you two, but I don’t know if that’s how people work, especially since you’re asking us to do it. By beating him. With swords. Later in the dungeon, we came across the school’s ice rink, done up for ice hockey! Unfortunately, we missed the random encounter with a mutant hockey team, which is a shame. I only learned about them by after the fact on the wiki, entirely by accident! If I can make a suggestion: should have been a midboss!
Later in the dungeon, it’s possible to come across the GF Cerberus. The party identifies him as a GF on the spot, and decides to snag him just for funsies. I spent the first half of the battle milking Cerberus for Triple spells, a spell that give you a “status effect” that allows you to Triplecast, but it only lasted so long before Cerberus Tripled himself and it became an emergency to kill him as soon as possible. As a GF, Cerberus makes for an odd summon, using an ability called “Counter Rocket,” which involves him he fires off a bunch of rockets that don’t… counter… anything, and instead the party is buffed with both Double and Triplecast. …Weird.
After finding the third keycard, we were able to ride the elevator to confront Seifer and the Sorceress. Seifer insisted on fighting us first, and he was a complete failure. We spent the whole fight just milking Firaga and Thundaga spells off him while he did nothing to us in turn. And then we did it again because of one of our hotkey-related soft resets! By the way, I’ve got to ask: is Seifer like… deliberately pathetic? Is that what I’m supposed to actually be gleaning from this narrative? That he’s actually pathetic and really easy to defeat? The other bosses aren’t easy like this! Cerberus triplecasting had me in a genuine panic, but Seifer…?
After the fight, Edea dismissed Seifer as useless, and then melted through the floor to another room, probably to make sure you run into Cerberus, since he’d otherwise be on an optional branch of the dungeon. She arrived in the next room, an auditorium, by smashing through a TV screen for the sake of pure drama, so that’s nice. Rinoa was with us at the time, but checking a Longplay to make up for our lost footage, I see that she arrives on scene even if she’s not in the party at the time. Seifer then dragged himself out of the rubble of his “romantic dream” (which I now realize is a “romantic dream” involving his mother figure?) to stand in front of us again. The battle showed both him and Edea on the field, though we were only able to fight him at first, implying that the fight would carry over, buffs and all, to Edea without interruption. With nothing left to Draw from him, I just buffed, Mugged and clobbered him. The final hit was Rinoa’s Mug, which told us that he, “Has nothing.” Not even his dignity.
As for Edea, I suppose I could have used Carbuncle, and repeatedly tried, but by this point I was relying on Rinoa and Zell being at low HP to trigger their Limits. As a consequence, Rinoa kept doing Angelo Moonlight, an ability that renders the entire party temporarily invincible, including to spells that could be unfriendly in the wrong context, like Reflect! Not that I was complaining! Long story short, we Drew Alexander from Edea, and after that the fight was a bore, what the way FFVIII forces you to watch GF summon sequences over and over again without variation. Yeah, it’s something of a black mark against the entire game, and Square has no one to blame but themselves. To make matters worse, Edea could barely hurt us after all our buffs. As I said to Kyle: “If causing 400 damage with Thundara makes you the Sorceress, then fuck, we’re all ‘the Sorceress’ at this point.”
Edea sort of exploded out with purple smoke after the battle, and Squall found himself collapsed and unable to move. He could see Seifer however, just as unconscious, and could see Rinoa stagger over to him. She lifted him up somewhat, and somehow revived him to the point where he was able to walk away, only for Rinoa to collapse herself. A moment later, Edea stood up, congratulated her former foster children, and then began to call out for Ellone, asking if she had “protected” her.
At this point, Squall became conscious of Rinoa’s injury, and the disc came to an end! So we’re going to end each disc by fighting the Sorceress or something, huh? I guess that’s a fair pattern.