Revisiting Final Fantasy (VIII)
Recently out of sheer nostalgia, I decided to replay my absolute favorite Final Fantasy games. I remember playing Final Fantasy VIII with David when it first came out and I was very young and impressionable, and I fell in love immediately. It’s one of those series where you never forget your first one, and FFVIII will always hold a very special place in my heart. I used to make it a habit to play through it at least once a year, because I loved it that much and also because in a weird way, it assured me that friendship, love, and good could and would win in the end. Sometimes I needed that assurance. I hadn’t done so in ages because adulthood is far busier than I thought it would be (remember thinking adulthood meant doing whatever you wanted whenever you wanted? Ha, me too) and so it was about time for another playthrough.
I also loved Final Fantasy X and X-2 when they came out. Again, I was a young teenager and the love story hooked me. When FFX-2 came out and it was female-centric and fun, I remember loving it as well. Between David and I, I think I was the only one who played it through enough times to cumulatively get 100%. I loved it that much. After finishing FFVIII, I decided to pick these two up since they’re now remastered for the PS3, and give them another go. Unfortunately for me, whereas I was able to play FFVIII without the use of a strategy guide (since apparently I basically have it memorized) I’d forgotten how much work X and X-2 were, and they took considerably longer to get through.
As I was playing through them recently, though, I noticed several things about each of the games and playing them through as an adult(ish). This week, I’ll focus on my thoughts on Final Fantasy VIII and next week I’ll cover my thoughts on X and X-2.
In Defense of FFVIII’s Story and Characters
Final Fantasy VIII is the type of game that people seem to either love or hate. For a lot of people, after the ‘amazingness’ that was Final Fantasy VII, they decided VIII was a letdown and not epic enough. For some people, the love story was too much in a video game. And for other people, I think they couldn’t understand the time compression/travel aspect and disregarded its own epicness. Even David shied away from talking about the story is his post (which, maybe not so coincidentally, was yesterday’s Throwback Thursday – check it out) and opted to defend its battle system and other aspects.
I’d like to counter that by actually talking about the story, and how well done it was. I recently saw an article (which you should definitely read) that pointed out the parallel between the new, more realistically styled people in FFVIII and the more realistic storyline. I’d never given that much thought, but as I read through the article I realized how true that was. Final Fantasy, before VIII, was known for it’s small-sized, often times ridiculous looking characters, who were sometimes talking creatures and not humans, and its otherworldly magical stories. It was a huge change from what they were known for. And it seems as though, to balance out the shift toward realistic proportions in their games, they also gave us a more realistic world to explore and more realistic characters. Every playable character in FFVIII is a human, and almost all of them are also teenagers, which is another way to make them more relatable to the player since that was most likely the target audience.
Beyond the more grounded, realistic story, I’ve always marveled at how layered the characters were emotionally. Sure, Squall is off-putting, especially at the beginning of the game. But as the story progresses and he is continually thrust into leadership roles, he begins to grow as a person and I honestly think that’s where FFVIII did everything right. The characters are round; they make mistakes, they change, they grow, they form new bonds instead of staying stagnant. Squall is an anti-social loner at the beginning, but he learns to let people in and even, by the end, to love. The other characters do not go through transformations as huge, but they do not start off the story as deep in their bad habits as he does. Rinoa, Seifer, and Zell are maybe the other characters whose transformations are more obvious and dramatic as Squall’s. I’ve always loved getting to see the characters all go through their transformations, every time I play through FFVIII. It’s not often that characters are as rounded as these in video games; I notice a trend toward characters that are awesome, stay awesome, and end the game awesome as well. FFVIII boldly shows flawed characters learning to work through their problems, and that makes them incredibly relatable.
As far as the time compression story goes, it’s easy enough to understand, especially if you fully exhaust conversation options with certain characters. Sure, it has some plot holes, but they’re mostly rooted in the idea of villains wanting to create a world where only they survive. Almost every story that has that sort of villainous plot can fall a little short, just because it makes for a one-dimensional bad guy. I think what makes it work for Final Fantasy VIII is that it balances the ultimate bad guy with smaller ones who have more nuance to them, even if in the end they were all a version of the bigger villain (Edea, for example). In a lot of ways, the villain seems to be a means to an end for the game, giving Squall and the party a catalyst to go through to enact their character transformations.
The love story, to me, is still amazing even after all this time. It’s an interesting way to get two opposites together without one or both of them completely changing for the other. Sure, does Squall come out of his shell a bit more by the end? Yes, but it’s not only for or because of Rinoa; it also has a lot to do with being forced into leadership, saving the world, finally making some friends, and finding his family after all this time. Do his “Whatever’s” become fewer and farther between towards the end? A bit, but only because he finally trusts that he can express his opinion to other people, and trusts that they won’t ridicule or disregard him. I think, especially for someone like me who’s always felt socially awkward, the love story definitely feels hopeful and optimistic, and seems to convey the idea that everyone can find love. I’ve always loved that bit.
Overall, I think the game still has immense value, and if it weren’t for having to adult all the time, I’d probably try to get back into my habit of playing it through once a year. Sometimes you just need a bit of hopeful nostalgia to get you through. I know that personally, if they rebooted any of the older Final Fantasy’s (after they do VII) I would really like for it to be VIII.