You have to walk back to Rinoa manually, the first of two times during this play session that the game expects you to check on Rinoa without actually prompting you to do so? This first one at least leads off from a scene where Squall was thinking about Rinoa, so I can sort of understand in hindsight, but the second is “very 1986,” if you follow me. But I’m getting ahead of myself. While visiting Rinoa, Squall collapses into a Laguna flashback.
But as this new flashback began, we were confronted with new mechanics. The game now wanted us to manually select which present-day party member would “become” Kiros in the dream, purportedly to set up Junctions. The thing was: despite the open claim that Junctions were involved, the game didn’t actually pass along Junctions and GFs from our present-day party member to Kiros? All it passed was the character’s magic inventory and maybe current HP (so long as current HP was lower than un-junctioned max HP, which, thanks to our FFII-style low health at all times, it was), and we didn’t realize the Junctions were severed until it was too late! I’m not even sure why it happened, since the game was perfectly able to pass them along for Squall, and in previous flashbacks! This is what forced me to reset after I first managed to beat Edea at Triple Triad and then forgot to save: I put Kiros into battle without Junctions, realized what had happened, and didn’t recognize when the game gave me the opportunity to correct things (as I mistook it as the option to run away from a certain upcoming enemy, which I thought I would be penalized for doing). Add in the fact that we had equipped Squall/Laguna with Fire attacks just as a boss that absorbs Fire attacks was about to appear, and I was left with a functionally dead party. I felt I had to restart, believing I had saved after collecting the Edea card, when I actually hadn’t. We lost nearly an hour on those two mistakes.
You might be noticing I’m saying “an hour” a lot, and you can blame the lack of a recording for the lack of specificity.
This newest flashback begins by revealing that Laguna has been hired as a film actor, having apparently run out of money at some point after the last flashback (we know it was after the last flashback thanks to Kiros’ red outfit). Guess the writing thing isn’t working out for him? He’s playing a knight in armour opposite a woman playing a Sorceress who’s doomed to die later in the scene being filmed, and Kiros is roped into playing the dragon. Unfortunately, what should arrive on set but a real dragon, and Laguna is stuck fighting it off with a prop sword. Did I mention the ragtime music? Because that’s an important part of the scene. It’s fantastic.
(By the way, if you’ve found a certain Timber Maniacs before this flashback, as we had, Selphie once again influences the past… somehow? And in a much more dramatic fashion, too. Last time, all she did was (arguably) pilot Laguna’s brain to make him susceptible to alcohol. This one’s even stranger, since she sees a publicity photo from the film and sees no sign of Ward, and so concludes he must not have been there. If you don’t read that magazine before the flashback, Ward will appear in the flashback, but if you do… he won’t! But that means that Selphie just erased Ward from an event and a film that would have had him without her intervention? ……What the hell??)
The first phase of the fight with the dragon is not unlike Squall’s fist-fight for the jetpack, but instead of starting you off on low health, the dragon causes huge damage and even blocking its attacks barely spares you. You have to basically wail on it and hope for the best, it wasn’t very fun, to say the least. After that, Kiros (and Ward, if he hasn’t been unmade) joins up and it’s time for a real battle. Or… is it? When Kyle selected the option to change Kiros’ equipment, the game spawned him and Laguna away from the dragon, and he actually made the mistake of climbing the hill for a bit. It turns out that beating the real fight doesn’t even help you, as more dragons keep coming. Ugh, I’m so confused about how this is even supposed to play out!
At the end of the sequence, Ellone speaks to Squall and reveals that since she’s asleep, she has no control over the sequence. Lucid enough to gain partial control, Ellone cuts ahead to a later scene, revealing that Laguna came to speak to Edea about her (Ellone), but it seems Edea had yet to meet Ellone at this point in time. Edea asks if Ellone is Laguna’s daughter, and Laguna gives a weird response that Ellone “just has the cutest voice” as though that explains everything and doesn’t make him look like he’s stalking a child. You’re getting’ creepy again, FFVIII! You better not have Laguna make more creepy insinuations about Ellone during the next flashback or… oh shit, I wouldn’t be saying this if I wasn’t setting up a joke for later, god dammit, why are you doing this, FFVIII?
Squall doesn’t even want to talk to Ellone, he just wants Rinoa to be healthy again. Ellone tries to comfort Squall by revealing she’s had something of an upset recently: she tried to change the past to stop Laguna from coming to rescue her (yes, stop!) because his leaving apparently caused Raine to die, via some unexplained series of events that may not even include a single direct influence and by god this game can’t explain anything and I’m not sure it cares to try? Furthermore, whatever killed Raine may have also killed her recently-born baby, although the phrasing on that last bit was suspect. Ellone tried to change the past to keep Laguna at Raine’s side, but no luck. She concludes it may not be possible to change the past after all? She adds that she can’t send people into the past if she doesn’t know the person, though I’m not sure why she brings this up, as it doesn’t seem to apply to either Raine or Rinoa’s situation. I mean, sure, she doesn’t know Rinoa, but she knows Squall and his friends, right? People who could help Rinoa? The writers seem confused about her powers again. At this point, Squall completely ignores everything she just said (he probably wasn’t listening to begin with) and becomes obsessed with Ellone changing the past to save Rinoa.
Now awake, Squall realizes something he should have earlier: the SeeDs that took Ellone away called themselves “Edea’s SeeDs,” so Edea might know where they are, right? I can’t be mad at him for realizing this late, as I forgot it myself (in my case, I forgot because I saw that scene months ago, but I suppose it might have been months for Squall too! Maybe? Final Fantasy is never clear on timeline stuff, as I’ve frequently complained). Now that he’s reminded me, I’m annoyed at Cid and Edea for not giving the answer in the first place! They were just talking about the need to protect Ellone a few minutes ago!
Oh, by the way, don’t get me started on Squall concluding that Ellone is still on the ship we saw earlier instead of at some sort of destination, because that’s basically the same rant I made in regards to Kingdom Hearts II. In KH2, Sora was convinced his friend Kairi was in “the Realm of Darkness,” even though the Realm of Darkness was basically the “vehicle’ that took her somewhere else and he should rightly have known that. Except this time it literally does involve a vehicle that could have taken her somewhere else, and not some vehicle-analogue like in KH2, so it’s even more blatantly incorrect and driven by authorial knowledge than Sora’s situation ever was!
Edea explains that Ellone used to live on the white ship, and that it’s supposed to keep her safe by constantly moving around (see, now Ellone still being on the ship makes sense!). She then reveals that her SeeDs are terrible at their jobs (my word, not hers, but still true) and that they frequently hide in many coastal inlets on the Centra continent, which had been “shattered” by a flow of monsters from the moon! Remember the monsters from the moon thing? It’s back now! Since we were on Centra right now, the ship couldn’t be far! We just had to check a few inlets and there they were, although I admit we got lazy (we were still super angry at the wasted time we had spent with Triple Triad and the Laguna flashback) and checked a guide… which confused us, got us lost, and had us wasting even more time before I realized we had misread it! Fuckin’ whatever at this point, I don’t know what to say. Our recording cuts off in the middle of this, so it’s screenshots from RickyC from World of Longplays (YouTube) for the rest of the session.
The SeeDs told us to buzz off, because Squall is incompetent and doesn’t give them a letter of introduction from Edea as soon as they got on board, even though she told him he’d need it. There’s no way to excuse this at this point, he’s incompetent and we’re lucky they didn’t throw him off the ship with their bare hands when they ordered him to leave. The only reason the authors delayed the letter of introduction was to have the surprise reveal of Zone and Watts, Rinoa’s friends from the Forest Owls, who are apparently still alive despite the odds. We were glad to see them, even though they weren’t glad to hear about Rinoa, because they’re our old buddies and such endearing characters that the narrative just wasn’t the same without—ahahahaha, I can’t keep it up. No, no it’s because they had two rare cards, Angelo and Shiva (the former we had missed earlier in the game, because we weren’t playing Triple Triad all that obsessively in early Disc 1). Even better, our trusty monochrome chocobo gave us a second copy of the porno we had to trade to Zone for the Shiva card, so we got to keep our own copy. Which is useless. I’m… I’m trying to teach Boko how to tell the difference between quality and junk, it’s not going well.
As for the letter of introduction, Squall finally passed it on, and we confirmed what we had already learned from the ex-Forest Owls: Ellone had been kidnapped by Esthar. The SeeD captain told us that she went willingly when they were wedged between an Estharian and a Galbadian vessel, and I suppose I can understand their surrender, but I was too busy chatting with Kyle about a line from Watts implying that everyone on the ship wasn’t an adult. Really? These people – all members of SeeD – aren’t adults? It turns out the SeeDs on the White Ship were raised by Edea like a second, floating orphanage (it seems being good to children is like a bad habit for her) and they’re still all teenagers! But aren’t Squall and the rest of the party adults by now? They’ve been seventeen all game, so if they’re not eighteen by now we’ve got to be several months closer to the line, so we’re really splitting a hair here, and I had Quistis in my party besides, and she’s an adult for sure!
In any event, the party would now have to get into Esthar, an isolationist nation surrounded by mountains (you know, the mountains that naturally surround continents like a wall when erosion is informed that there will be an RPG on the planet millions of years later, and erosion will have to keep boats out until the third act?). The only way in would be the broken railroad in Fisherman’s Horizon, and I knew that, but I didn’t head there straightaway. Good thing too, because you can’t! No, I was also still mad at the game, and remembered how they had forced us to talk to Rinoa with no prompting before the Laguna flashback, and worried they’d pull some bullshit like that again. After all, Squall was acting like he knew how to get to Esthar even though he hadn’t mentioned FH in the slightest and was acting like the Garden could get to Esthar on its own? The game was starting to smell like shit, vinegar and arbitrary progression flags, so I asked Kyle to check the strategy guide, and sure enough we had to talk to Rinoa despite Squall acting like it was time to leave. When we did, Squall decided to kidnap Rinoa and leave without telling anyone, all despite his bluster about the Garden getting to Esthar somehow. Presumably his bluster was supposed to referring to stopping off in FH before going to Esthar, but I’m so, so done with this game at this point!
Squall carried Rinoa on his back down the train track, complaining that he didn’t realize it would be this far. Really. Really? You didn’t realize the ocean-spanning train tracks, longer than half the planet, which had blocked the Garden’s progress almost a dozen times during our side-questing, forcing us to go halfway around the planet to get around it, half of which is in front of you now, would be a long walk. I dreamt I was playing a video game staring an idiot. (Note to Square: you could have made the bridge tall enough to sail under and I blame you for not doing that.) While he’s walking, Squall remarks: “But there’s no guarantee that everything will be resolved if I talk to Ellone.” Actually, she already told you that there’s a guarantee that she can’t do anything, but thanks for paying attention.
Squall takes a break to have a one-sided conversation with Rinoa about his standoffishness, nothing really revelatory, and then gets back up and begins to walk down what Kyle figured was the electric third rail of the tracks, and that I figured was actually supposed to be a gap in the tracks that Squall would have fallen through if not for video game convenience, so great job scripting team for putting him directly on top it either way! (Speaking of the tracks, they were shot from the side here, unlike the tracks in FH itself, which are all at an angle. This exactly horizontal “stage” is so unusual in these PSX games – it is, after all, a pretty boring camera angle, being used deliberately here to emphasize the monotony – that it actually reminded me more of Before Crisis than of FFVII or VIII!)
After what most have been literal months of walking given the length of the railway, Squall arrives on the continent of Esthar in a decrepit railway station, where Quistis and Zell are already waiting for him. Irvine and Selphie show up later. How they all got there ahead of him, I do not know. Maybe they passed him during one of several weeks’ worth of total sleep? Naturally they’re here to join him, but they don’t make a big “friendship” deal out of it, partially because that isn’t their only reason for being here. No, Edea arrives from off-screen, saying the others are her “escort.” She explains: remember the weird necklace Rinoa tried to use on her ages ago? It was made by a Dr. Odine, an Estharan man who’s the expert on GFs and Sorceress both. Edea hopes he may be able to prevent Ultimecia from possessing her again.
Unfortunately, now that they had arrived on the Estharan continent, the party had could find no sign of the city of the same name. In fact, the whole landmass appeared to be empty!
At this point, Irvine and Selphie arrived on scene and Selphie begins teasing Squall about how cute Rinoa looks when she’s sleeping. Yeah, hey Squall, your girlfriend’s adorable when she’s in a death-like coma from which she may never escape except through the true embrace of the reaper. Jesus Christ.