I first played Final Fantasy 8 (FF8) when it was released in 1999 as a wee little eleven year old. I was blown away by the massive leap in graphics quality as I watched human-shaped figures walk through beautifully rendered backgrounds. Of course it looks incredibly dated now, but the remastered version goes a long way toward making it both visually appealing and nostalgic on my PS4.
Note: These posts are not entirely spoiler-free, though I have forgotten most of the game, so honestly, there’s not a lot I could spoil if I wanted to.
Okay, let’s go!
- The intro still slaps! The music is ominous and thrilling and exciting, the fight between Squall and Seifer is dramatic, and Rinoa in a field feels eerie and hopeful and that fall into each other’s arms at the end – so romantic!
- I have so much to say about Quistis, and I will later, but even here in her introduction, it just rubs me the wrong way that she makes fun of Squall in this weirdly intimate way when all we know about her is that she is his instructor.
- A lovely little spoiler exists if you search Squall’s computer in class when it casually mentions that GFs may cause memory loss, though this isn’t proven.
- I love that FF8 sets up the card-playing game immediately. This is my favorite mini-game from any Final Fantasy game, and I am all about collecting cards, turning monsters into cards, and saving often so that if I lose Ifrit or Diablo I can undo it!
I think the battle system in FF8 is my favorite of all Final Fantasy games as well. I adore the system of junctioning GFs and magic to make yourself stronger. It relies so heavily on strategy as you have to balance using your powerful magic as a junction to increase your stats while also being powerful magic that you’ll want to use in battle. I love the Draw action in battles, and my strategy is always to max out on every spell immediately.
Similarly, I love the strategy surrounding limit breaks in FF8. The fact that your strongest attacks are only available when you are at your weakest moment is dramatically appealing, but it’s also a fun fine line to walk. I have lost many a battle because I risked staying at low health to keep doing Renzokuken one turn too many and got wiped out by the T-Rexaur. So fun!
- Speaking of T-Rexaurs, I fought one before entering the Fire Cavern, and it legitimately took me 20 minutes. Ironically, I won, which made me cocky when I got to the fight in the Training Center, where I died three times in a row. Ugh!
- The graphics are surprisingly good on my whatever inches tv. The cutscenes look great, and the general gameplay is good, though the difference between backgrounds and moveable objects is laughable.
- I really like Seifer, and not in a “hot bad boy” way. I really dig the way he and Squall get each other, and the scene where he claps for Squall passing the SeeD exam is so lovely. (And the sychronized disappointment of the three who don’t pass makes me giggle every time.) Seifer is hot-tempered and passionate, and like, the teachers bully him?? Honestly, the teachers at Balamb are very unprofessional.
Speaking of unprofessional teachers, let’s talk about Quistis. She drives me crazy in this early part of the game. She straight up tells her colleagues that Squall is a good student but isn’t very social right in front of him – rude! She tries so hard to get Squall’s attention, which is forgivable in a girl with a crush, but not for a teacher! When she finds Squall after the dance and compliments him? INAPPROPRIATE. She literally says, “So you’ll dance with someone you don’t even know, but you can’t stand to talk with me?” What even is this nonsense?
It gets worse when she invites her student to the secret area late at night, after a party, and hints that it is the school makeout spot. She’s inviting him into her personal life in a way that is so uncomfortably intimate. And guys, I get it. I remember the revelation later in the game. And even right there in that scene, she says she is eighteen, which is only one year older than Squall. So it all kind of tracks, EXCEPT THAT THIS REVELATION IS TOO LITTLE TOO LATE. She is introduced to us as an instructor, and that opening scene with the glasses makes her look anywhere from 25-35, so all of this is just wildly uncomfortable.
She deserved to be fired. Just be a SeeD, Quistis.
- The dance cutscene is still so good! It is a perfect introduction to Rinoa, who is a girl who knows what she wants. She gives off some mean girl vibes, but honestly I’m not mad about it. It’s adorable to watch her teach a flustered Squall how to dance, and it is so satisfying when they dance well together. Love it!
- Further hints about future story arcs with Ellone appearing in the training hall. It’s such a good little plot nugget that she recognizes Squall and Quistis when they have no knowledge of her. Although…I also have forgotten why she is even in Balamb Garden at this point, so maybe the forgetfulness is catching…
- I fought Diablo immediately after Headmaster Cid gave me the magical lamp, and hoo boy! I just barely won with both Zell and Selphie dead and Squall at 4 HP. Whew!
Our first dream takeover with Laguna, Kiros, and Ward! I’ve forgotten how and why this is happening, but it super doesn’t matter because Laguna is a precious gem and I love his over-excited puppy energy. This conceit is smart, both as a fun mystery, and as a character study, since Squall’s reaction to Laguna reveals a lot about himself. Squall is all about mitigating losses by not expecting or asking for anything while Laguna is hopeful, talkative, and a pursuer of dream, unfazed by embarrassing mishaps along the way.
- The Timber train heist is fun, though the stakes are far too low. I got caught trying to input codes, and my punishment was…being able to do it again, but with a longer time frame? Pah!
- The whole “our princess” dynamic between Rinoa and her rebel crew is a little weird, but I ADORE a train hideout.
- This is such a small point, but I love Georgie and his dog. These games are so good at creating tiny but memorable roles for their NPCs.
- Sorceress Edea appears! Her vaguely sexual dominatrix move of calling Seifer a “little boy” is fabulous, and it’s so disconcerting and fun to be in the middle of a very political, very earthy quest when suddenly MAGIC! People are walking through walls! What is this world? So much fun.
Before we end this recap of FF8: From Balamb to Timber, I want to talk about how this game does a love triangle really well.
We’re primed to ship Squall and Rinoa, both from the opening cutscene and from their adorable dance together at the SeeD exam celebration. We’re also primed to view Squall and Seifer as antagonists and to see Rinoa as a privileged princess. It would be easy for the game to lean into the drama and have scenes of the two boys fighting over her, or of Rinoa wavering between the two.
Instead, the love triangle plays out mostly offscreen, and this is genius! We get a real feeling that she is attracted to Squall, but his ambivalence about helping Timber become liberated from Galbadia is very unattractive to her. On the other hand, Seifer is reckless and passionate, going to great lengths to help her cause. It is believable that she would be interested in both of them, but because we don’t see her interactions with Seifer, this isn’t played for drama. Instead, it places the focus on her relationship with Squall. It offers us a point of comparison, and we’re led to ask, “Can Squall overcome his apathy and become someone who would fight for a woman he loves and the things she cares about?”
I cannot explain how much I love this. This game came out before media was oversaturated with love triangles, but it should have been a lesson in how to do so effectively. People’s affections can be pulled in multiple directions without it being the point of the story or overdramatic. More like this, please!
Alright, that’s part one of my series replaying Final Fantasy 8! Come back in a few weeks as we journey to Galbadia Garden and beyond.