When we regained control in Disc 3, Squall had been up and about for hours or days and the game wasn’t going to give us any explanation for the missing time. FFVIII, do you… have to do this bullshit? We shouldn’t have to learn things that Squall learned during our play period a second time, second-hand. It feels like flourish for no purpose, if you follow me.
We did some walking around. Rinoa is still unconscious, but Quistis calls Squall to go to Matron’s House, the old orphanage, where apparently Edea is walking around freed, for reasons the game refuses to explain until you get there! Since Kyle and I were already annoyed at the game for trapping us with the plot in the middle of our Chocobo Forest hunt, we just went back to our sidequesting and said nuts to Edea.
Weirdly, the Garden was almost empty of students as we headed out. Only while looking at this Longplay do I see that a student explains that many students “dropped out” (a-huh, definitely not dead, after all the talk about how they were dying in battle!), but the student who said so didn’t even appear for us on our first trip, despite being the only person with an explanation for this obvious change, and we didn’t care to talk to them on later trips! Anyways, goodbye Balamb Garden, we’re dropping out to hunt birds!
Our first sidequest stop-over was at a nearby dungeon, which we found before reaching the Centra Chocobo Forest. You might be wondering why we went there after just complaining about the Chocobo Forest, and my answer is simple: the plot had made us forget where it was, and now we couldn’t find it! Hoh boy… In any event, the dungeon operated under special rules. You’re given an unexplained twenty minute timer to solve it, and if you do solve it under the timer, you get a chance to fight Odin. We had been pre-warned about all of this by Kyle’s strategy guide, and had started training up Diablos’ Enc-Half and eventually Enc-None abilities some time ago, essentially putting an end to random encounters until the dungeon was done! And good thing, too, because the encounters at this dungeon were Tonberries, who are incredibly durable. More on that in a moment, but for now: Odin, who wasn’t much trouble. So little trouble, in fact, that I’ll just cut ahead to how he works as a Summon, which is to say… he doesn’t. Instead of being Summoned, Odin will just show up at random, a 12.9% chance, at the start of battle. This is actually fairly high odds as these things go, so we often saw Odin twice in a row, and later something like three times in a span of five fights! I could be more particular if it weren’t for our lost recordings, but since we had spent most of the day grinding away tedious sidequests, it became a running joke that Odin was getting angry at FFVIII’s sidequests for keeping the two of us from the plot with their RNG bullshit (yes, it’s even funnier to us that Odin was angry at RNG bullshit when he himself is RNG bullshit).
Speaking of bullshit, it’s time for the tower’s other, hidden quest. This quest is straightforward, but unmentioned in the game, and also annoying as all hell: you have to kill ~20 Tonberries (a random value from 18-22) during random encounters (they are the only random encounters in the dungeon), after which their King will show up and challenge you. Beat him and he becomes a GF. Thankfully, you don’t have to mow through the poor 22 Tonberries in one sitting. Our early strategy employed Diablos to do percentage damage, but we later augmented it with advice to Refine “AP Ammo” from the Tonberries’ Kitchen Knife drops, and then to let Irvine Limit Break them with it. Late in the process, I advised Kyle to save, lest the Tonberry King kill him and force him to start over. He tried to take my advice, only to be jumped by another Tonberry on the way out… immediately followed by the King. Thankfully, with all that AP Ammo and the sudden sense of emergency, Kyle probably couldn’t be stopped and we moved on just fine.
While this dungeon’s two quests were going on (an exhausting process that took over an hour), I was picking through weapon data online to figure out which top-tier weapons we could make at this point in the game. Some of the weapons required drops from the Esthar region, inaccessible to us at this point in the game, but a lot of others were ready and waiting. This included Squall’s, which was arguably the most important as it influences his available Limit Breaks. Special thanks to Boko, who fetched us an incredibly rare Power Generator from Chocobo World: this is normally used to give Quistis one of her Blue spells, but could also be used to Refine “Pulse Ammo,” which just so happened to be required for Squall’s ultimate weapon, the Lionheart. We did the latter.
Unfortunately, we were still missing 4 Dragon Fangs required for the Lionheart. Our first attempt to find these drops involved tracking down Blue Dragons near Trabia, but we only saw one of these monsters over the course of what must have been another honest-to-god hour, and it gave us rarer Dragon Skins instead of Fangs! We could use that for Zell’s ultimate weapon later on, but after all that time it felt like getting ripped off! It eventually occurred to me to double-check another piece of data from the web and worked out that we should hunt Grendels in Galbadia, which had a lower drop rate but might have a higher appearance rate. Furthermore, I found a trick online that gave us Grendels 100% of the time (go to the forest from one of the Laguna flashbacks and hug the mountains. I don’t know why it works either). Unfortunately the Grendels refused to give us more than 2 Fangs – it turned out that our Blue Dragon hunting plus our Grendel hunting had shot the current party well into their Level 30s, which qualified them for a different list of enemy drops that didn’t include Fangs! Even the two we had earned were probably eked out of the game randomly spawning the Grendels at Level 29 when our average was higher! Thankfully, we still had other party members who hadn’t breached 30 and were able to grab the Fangs before we disqualified ourselves from getting them from Grendels altogether! Ugh, anything this game’s RNG touches turns to shit in creative ways I couldn’t have even imagined going in. I’m just shocked by the depths of their creative evil.
Footnote: getting real tired about not being able to leave Squall out of the party during these mundane tasks. At least Ramza understood the need to send lower-level troops during the optional shit!
After this, we realized we were only one Adamantine away from Zell’s Ultimate, so we went to a beach across from Dollet, deliberately sent our 30+ party, and hunted Adamantoises. Unfortunately, even they only had a 75% chance of dropping anything at all (the game checks that before picking any specific prize), and it took us three battles to get the two Adamantines we’d need (one for Zell and one for Selphie’s ultimate weapon later on). We could have grinded Anacondours in the area for some more items we were missing, but at this point we had gained something like 15 levels and it was way past sunset in the real world, so we figured maybe we should get back to plot business.
…You know, after the Chocobo thing. God, this session just went on forever. We tracked down the missing Forests and were so tired that we just used Kyle’s strategy guide to get their answers to their puzzles. After this, we used the guide to show us the route to the final Forest, hidden in northern Esthar, where we finally got the Chicobo card. Good riddance, and what a fuss for such a tiny prize! One guide we were looking at at the time went out of its way to insult the prizes from the forests, too, and good point! What a monotonous catastrophe, and all this after the Tonberries and the grinding for drops!
Unfortunately, we had one last priority that would prove our downfall: once we came to talk to Edea, we were far more interested in playing her in Triple Triad than for her big exposition dump. You see, we were worried the game might prevent us from playing with her after the infodump (we were wrong), and so we insisted on playing with her between her big introduction speech and before her big followup speech. We’d have to repeat the intro each time we lost a valuable card and had to reboot! And we lost a lot, as not only did the region have the Centra Random rule, but the Plus, Same and Combo rules. I’ve talked about Random and hinted at how much I and nigh-everyone who has ever played Triple Triad despises it, but I can understand the intended appeal of Plus, Same and Combo. Oh, sure, they’re easy to hate, since they prevent you from easily winning with high-level cards and Triple Triad’s sidequests are too mind-numbing to play fair in, but if you were actually designing the game to use weaker cards, they make a certain amount of sense. …For a computer! Every one of these special rules involves matching or (degrees worse) adding up numbers to particular sums, and we’re just not mathematically inclined enough to plan ahead for them. The AI sure as hell is, though! And in forgetting that players aren’t computers, Square bombed the big one and left Triple Triad with four garbage rules instead of just one.
I eventually “won” Edea’s card from the woman herself thanks to an accidental Plus and Combo, but don’t think I’m going to start liking the rules for that, because they had screwed me over numerous times before and would again after. Furthermore, I found myself dead-ended later on, and we were forced to reboot to before Edea’s speech yet again, and it took Kyle a long time to duplicate my accidental feat and win her card back. For what it’s worth, Kyle won the card fair and square, no accidental use of obscure rules, but damn am I tired of the Random rule punishing us for the dozen Geezard cards (an early-game monster with a card to match) that the game handed to us whether we wanted them or not! After my fuckup in the next sequence and Kyle’s card trials, it took nearly fifty minutes to clear the sequence (we have a half hour of Kyle’s attempts that actually survived our recording problems, if that’s worth anything).
So let’s move on to the big exposition. It wasn’t worth repeating several dozen times, for the record, but I can’t imagine what exposition would be. Her big confession, the reason Cid had been both working for and against her, the reason she had turned against her own foster children and 180’d in personality but couldn’t be explained to anyone… was that she was possessed. That’s it. The easiest possible fantasy answer. It’s the “the butler did it” of mysterious fantasy behaviour, something that’s not even her fault, and you went out of your way to hide this secret? This is our big payoff? Okay, okay, once you learn what was possessing her, things get a little more interesting (read: preposterous), but to that I say: wouldn’t it make more sense to hear that from Cid at the outset, rather than from her after she tries to murder you twice, plus declared war on you and murdered half of Selphie’s community? I’m not inclined to believe Edea so much at this point, shall we say. As I said aloud after Cid asked us to, “find it in our hearts to forgive her”…: “No. I’m going with no.” Of course, Squall did forgive her, even as every NPC who wasn’t raised by Matron asked “Why?”, but FFVIII is driven by contrivances. Oh, by the way, did I mention that Seifer started addressing Edea as “Matron” only after you remembered it yourself, despite him not being there to remember or to know that the secret was out? Contrivances. Honestly, I think my patience and suspension of disbelief with FFVIII has dried up, and that’s probably for the best, because it’s going to make for a less constipated read.
Anyway, who or what was possessing Edea, but isn’t now? Edea and Cid explain: the Sorceress Ultimecia, a Sorceress from the future. From the fuuuuuutuuuuuure. This is so corny I hardly need to extrapolate. As big antagonists go, “sorceress from the fuuuutuuuure” is going to end up a few tiers above but still in the subterranian neighbourhood of FFV’s “Tree,” and there’s nothing FFVIII can do to make me take it seriously. It’s too late, I don’t have any suspension of disbelief left to spend on it. I might have accepted it in hours zero-through-five or even ten, but this is just too goofy a concept to have been anywhere but the outset? When you’re going to do something as patently silly as, let’s say, “teenagers with attitude and spandex fighting a moon witch,” or “transforming giant robot toy commercial but with emotions,” you have to spell out the concept right at the outset. Link Between Worlds has a sorcerer that imprisons people in paintings, and that’s ridiculous, which is why he appears straight after the tutorial. That’s especially important in LBW, because you’re going to spend the whole game as a painting yourself. Kefka Palazzo had to be in hour one. Turn-based RPGs arguably afford a few extra hours, maybe all of Act 1, but it still stands: JENOVA had to be in Act 1 or I would have balked at the space alien coming out of from what would have been nowhere. The sorceress from the fuuuutuuuure in Hour 34, Disc 3 does not qualify, and I’m going to treat it as being just as goofy as it sounds.
Not that this isn’t without precedent in FFVIII, but precedent is going to make this weirder than it already is. Let me explain: Edea explains that Ultimecia has been possessing other Sorceresses in the past, including the former leader of Esthar and propagator of the Sorceress War, Sorceress Adel, so Edea knew this was coming. To that end used herself as bait for Ultimecia so that Ultimecia wouldn’t be able to possess Ellone, because Ellone is Ultimecia’s primary goal. You see, she wants Ellone’s power to possess people from the past. …The power she already has. The game refuses to clarify how Ellone’s power is different from Ultimecia’s. As I write this, I still do not understand, and am still not convinced that there is an explanation that doesn’t rely on authorial incompetence. But go ahead and prove me wrong, FFVIII (Ed. an explanation is not provided until just short of the end of Disc 3. It’s worth noting that the scene in question makes several other unearned assumptions of the audience!). In any event, I began to suspect that Ellone might be Ultimecia from the present, but I’m willing to treat them as separate people for the time being, as I can’t imagine why Ultimecia would need herself from the past when it’s clear she already has identical powers?
(Ed. By the way, the reason I’m not confident the author isn’t making a mistake is because a later line of dialogue reminded me of FFLIII, which was likewise very confused about the distinction between relative time and absolute time, and it strikes me that the plots might be coming from the same mentality. In FFLIII, “Past” and “Future” were distinct, yet bizarrely absolute periods of time, instead of relative periods of time anchored to the present day at all, even though that doesn’t make sense. The later dialogue from FFVIII made me worried that the author might be implying that Ellone might have power over “Past” and Ultimecia over “Present,” despite that being her relative “Past.” Sorry if that’s confusing, but if you grew up with FFLIII, you’d be intimately familiar with its faults too!)
Squall isn’t paying attention to Edea’s speech. It seems that he’s incredibly distracted by Rinoa’s injury (which is funny if you just spent the past 4+ hours chasing birds and rocks at the other side of the planet). He describes Rinoa’s condition to Cid and Edea, saying she’s not moving or responding, and very cold. I couldn’t help it: I put on my Cid voice and said: “Squall, is she dead? Did I teach you so poorly that you don’t recognize death?” Rinoa being dead was a running gag for the rest of the night. I’m sorry.
While Squall was brooding, Edea went on to explain that Ultimecia’s true objective was to achieve “time compression,” wherein past, present and future all exist simultaneously. Squall doesn’t care, and essentially cuts off discussion of time compression (sorry if you had questions!) to talk about how he just wants Rinoa back, suddenly deeply aware of how much he cared for her only now that she’s gone. I will complement the game for being consistent on that, the same way Squall began to ponder death after thinking Seifer was dead. He then just walked off, insisting he needed to tell everyone in the Garden that Edea wasn’t evil, except she might be evil again if Ultimecia wanted her to be, and also not to leave guards to watch Edea in case that happens. This man is incompetent, but I’m getting used to that.