We were greeted at the entrance by Fujin and Raijin, who had flip-flopped on their “let’s let Squall beat Seifer back to normal” plan, and were now going to attack us. With two of our current party (Squall and Irvine) equipped with Sleep-inducing Junctions, we had soon knocked both of them out and began to milk Fuu for Full-Life (Arise) spells. Sadly, our third party member, Selphie, didn’t have any remaining magic slots to use to hold Full-Life. And it’s arguably too bad that she didn’t, because she had nothing to do for the whole fight but to attack the Rai and Fu, and so eventually reduced them below a certain health mark that not only changed their AI to a harder one, but woke them both up! I’ve never seen a change in AI remove status effects like this before, at least not without the character casting some kind of spell to explain it! These changes meant that I had to get serious and end the fight. Oh well. Raijin and Fujin ran off. Just a few rooms into the map, and Biggs and Wedge showed up, having not been seen in hours, and they outright quit their jobs and ran off, without even noticing us! The way to the dungeon was now open.
Back at the orphanage, Rinoa has a pretty stock speech about her fears of becoming evil, and asks Squall to kill her personally if she does. Squall tells her to stop, and that he’ll always find a way to rescue her. I’m reminded of a similar scene from Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, pulverizer of cliches, where the character in Squall’s position doesn’t even let the character in Rinoa’s position finish their suicidal request, already at hand with an absolute, even joyful promise to save them. But in all fairness, I can’t be certain if CoM would have subverted the cliche if it hadn’t be dramatized in FFVIII, first! After this, she talks about a dream she had where she couldn’t find Squall anywhere, and they agree that if they’re ever separated in the real world, they should meet here at the orphanage.
At this point, Zell arrives and says that the Estharan government just sent a formal request to hire SeeD to deal with Ultimecia via a plan they’ve cooked up. Oh hey, “SeeD!” Yeah! I remember those guys! Why are you talking to me about them? I haven’t worked with them in like an in-game year or something now, although I admittedly spent half of that time walking along the equator, and the other half playing cards. Apparently, the person who sent the plan was named “Kiros,” so naturally everyone is wondering if it’s the Kiros they know from their time travel escapades, and how he ended up working for Esthar. They don’t even hesitate to hear the details of Esthar’s proposal, we’re just off to Esthar.
Next up… well, next up was some menu diving, during which we discovered that we were sitting on two new Blue Magic items we didn’t even realize we had. We also corrected a few Junctions that had been left vacant when Edea left and took our magic with her, though we didn’t realize that was the cause at the time, and assumed the character’s GFs had gained the Junction slots since we had last checked.
Next up after that, our plan was to continue with sidequests, but since the upcoming quests would involve more fighting, we decided to fetch Rinoa before we continued, since she was well and away our weakest party member thanks to her repeat absences and would benefit from the EXP. I had put off rescuing her under the logic that we’d be trapped bythe plot after rescuing her (we were going to defy Esthar in their own territory, after all), but we needn’t have worried, since you actually get her back without a fight! You go to Adel’s “memorial” and learn Rinoa is going to be sealed away permanently and probably in space, just like Adel (although how they were going to maintain her without a space station, I don’t know). You know, I had actually wondered why Adel had been sealed instead of killed (we get an explanation later on) but I can respect them not trying to kill Rinoa, who’s done no conscious wrong, even if I don’t agree with their method. In any event, all it takes is a swing of a gunblade to break the mechanism and a quick hug from Squall to change Rinoa’s mind about keeping others safe from her dangerous powers (hey, at least he learned how to hug at last!).
Rinoa does her best to make the ride back to the planet a romantic moment, and does an okay job considering her partner is Squall, but now it’s time for her big fear: Rinoa suspects that now that the Estharans know she’s a sorceress, they’ll take her away. I was confused by this, and this time it’s on me. Time for a quick confession: up until this point, I had been under the impression that Ellone was a Sorceress, and hadn’t even mentioned it because I figured it was so obvious! As a result, I didn’t understand why the Estharans would take Rinoa “away” when they did nothing to Ellone. Unless she was in space as a prison, of course. In hindsight my reasons for thinking Ellone was a Sorceress don’t hold up at all, but here’s my former thought process all the same.
Session 5 brought us all-but to the end of the game, stopping part-way through the final dungeon (we estimated no more than two hours of content remaining, max). We were too tired to play the last few battles! And we probably would have been done if not for those meddling cards and their Queen, but more on that in a minute.
For now, it was time to actually attend to business in Esthar. It turns out our next destination wasn’t actually inside the massive city of Esthar, like we had assumed at the end of Session 4, but rather in the surrounding wilds. There were a whole set of locations inside the Estharan invisibility net, including the lab that Laguna escaped from during the last flashback (one which never becomes important again, despite other Laguna locations like that never appearing on the world the map). Also present was a “memorial” for the Sorceress Adel; a creepy location full of unpleasant statuary and known as “Tears’ Point,” which wasn’t explained in any way but did have an item called the Solomon Ring; and finally our destination, the Lunar Gate. While Kyle tracked down these landmarks, we also had our eyes on the local, wandering Malboros, hoping to get their tentacles for a new Blue Magic spell and also another reason we’ll discuss later. Since Malboros are especially dangerous in FFVIII (without proper prep), we were probably just going to Mug them and maybe even run, but Odin killed the only one we encountered!