Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Five Things I Love About Final Fantasy VIII, Part Two

And now three more things I love about Final Fantasy VIII!

3. 'I'll be your knight.'

When the first trailer for FF8 came out (as what turned out to be the introductory FMV cutscene), the highlight was a duel between our main character Squall and a white-trenchcoated character named Seifer. Seifer blasts him with magic, and while he's recovering Seifer slashes him with his gunblade, drawing blood. Squall roars in retaliation, lunges up, we see flashes of scenes from other parts of the game, and...

... well, it still works today, twelve years later. But when the game came out, we were all sort of disappointed in Seifer. Our characters are all basically high school students, and Seifer comes across as a real tool. He and his posse make up the Disciplinary Committee, he doesn't follow orders, he acts like a jerk to our other party members, and he has a list of people he doesn't like and adds names to it like so:

Seifer: "...Instructor. I hate it when people wish me luck. Save those words for a bad student that needs them, eh?"
Quistis: "Ok then. Good luck, Seifer."
Seifer: "Add Instructor Trepe to the list!"

He's not what we were expecting, and it gets weirder when he joins up with the Sorceress and becomes our enemy. He's mentioned his romantic dream to us before, but when we're all captured and he's interrogating Squall and torturing him with electricity, he mentions it in more detail:

Seifer: "Even if you don't talk, others will. The instructor, the little messenger girl, or that Chicken-wuss... He wouldn't last 3 seconds!"
Squall: (Th...They're...) "...They're...all here...?"
Seifer: "Oh, you bet. But since I like you so much, I thought you should go first. I was hoping you'd be there, Squall. So... how'd I look in my moment of triumph? My childhood dream, fulfilled. I've become the sorceress' knight."
Squall: (...Sorceress' knight... ...His...romantic dream...? But... Seifer... Now, you're just...) "...A torturer." [Squall passes out.]
Seifer: "What did you say!? Passed out cold, eh? This is the scene where you swear your undying hatred for me! The tale of the evil mercenary vs. the sorceress' knight... The fun's just started, Squall. Don't disappoint me now!"

Seifer's in over his head. He's an immature kid given too much power, and for most of the game he doesn't really feel like much of a threat. His constant talk about being the Sorceress' Knight comes across poorly, like he's a wannabe, and it's further hammered home whenever the Sorceress speak to him; she talks to him with such loathing and dismissiveness that the business of being her knight seems to be completely in Seifer's head.

Over the course of the game, Squall's love interest Rinoa inherits the powers of a Sorceress, and we get this exchange:

Rinoa: "What'll become of me?"
Squall: "Don't worry about it. There've been many good sorceresses. Edea was one. You can be like her."
Rinoa: "But Edea's still... I can't guarantee anything, either, if Ultimecia possesses me again... You saw me. She controlled me in outer space and made me break Adel's seal. What might happen next time? What will I end up doing? Will I end up fighting everyone? ...Scary thought, isn't it?"
Squall: (Rinoa...... Even if you end up as the world's enemy, I'll... I'll be your knight.)

And with a single line of dialogue, suddenly we *get* what the business with Seifer was all about. It doesn't seem crazy anymore. That one line tells us a lot about how much Squall has changed over the course of the game, and it also makes us see Seifer in a different light. Not bad for a single line of dialogue!

4. The most bone-chilling moment in any Final Fantasy
You might think that's hyperbole. It's not.

Towards the end of FF8, Squall's love interest Rinoa is stranded in space. She's been possessed by Ultimecia, a sorceress from the future, and she's been manipulated into releasing the seal on Sorceress Adel's space prison. Her mission accomplished, Ultimecia returns to her own time, leaving Rinoa drifting in space. These scenes are pretty rough, as you get FMV movies of the air in Rinoa's spacesuit running out, and there are long lingering shots of her eyes blinking closed for longer and longer periods as she tumbles slowly further and further into the void of space.

You don't really think they're going to kill Rinoa, but then, tell that to Aeris. In this case, Squall eventually gets his act together and does manage to follow her, and just when it looks like they're both going to die in space they happen upon an abandoned spaceship, the Ragnarok, which was part of the team of ships that brought Adel into space seventeen years ago. It feels a little convenient, but it does serve to save our duo and get them back to the planet.

Fast-forward to the end of the game and the phenomenal ending FMV. Our heroes have successfully defeated Ultimecia during her attempt to cause Time Compression, which is supposed to make all times one time. What this actually means is open for debate, but during the ending our characters are lost and trying to find each other. Squall is wandering a metaphoric wasteland and he seems to be losing his grip. He keeps seeing shots from FMVs earlier in the game, many of which feature Rinoa, as you'd expect. He sees her at the dance where they met, he sees her at the flower field where they promised to find each other if anything happens, he sees her smiling during happier times.

But then something disconcerting happens: her face starts to get blurry in these images. He keeps seeing these scenes, but now every time Rinoa appears you sort of can't tell if it's her. Her face is blurry, slightly off, pixelly. It looks like you're seeing her face through a whole array of Photoshop filters. There's a (popular/unpopular) theory out there that this is proof that Rinoa eventually becomes Ultimecia, and the quick (and only!) appearance of Ultimecia in an FMV superimposed over Rinoa here is often cited as support for that theory, but I think what this sequence is showing is simpler and more sad: Squall is forgetting what Rinoa looks like.

They're not done twisting the knife, though. Things are building to a climax now, the music is going crazy, the sound is at full blast, we see her falling towards the camera from the scene when Squall cut her free from the Sorceress Containment Prison, and then we see this:

It's horrifying, and the emotional impact of that single image has never been matched by any other game in the series.

5. Hand-held Video Camera

The ending of FF8 is done so masterfully that it takes up two of the slots on my list of five, but this entry is much lighter than the previous one. After Squall's terrifying memory/dream, we see a few scenes with other characters, including a heartbreaking one with Laguna and a silly tension-relieving one with Seifer and his posse.

The credits begin rolling on one side of the screen, and in a small rectangle on the left another FMV begins to play. This one is different than all the others, though: it's in the style of a camcorder recording. The idea is that Selphie is filming a celebratory party at the Garden after the events of the victory, and unlike the other FMVs in FF8, this one is intentionally wobbly, occasionally out of focus, and entirely convincing.

Irvine: as good at video as he is at sniping
There's some entertaining character stuff in here too: you see Irvine horsing around, bragging to Quistis about something or other; eventually Selphie hands the camcorder over to him and takes his hat to wear, but shortly afterwards he starts focusing on the other girls at the party and an angry Selphie storms back into frame. Zell finally gets his hotdogs, and then horror of horrors is caught choking on camera! How embarrassing, and also how very likely for poor Zell. The camcorder sequence also serves as a neat curtain call. You get to see your favorite characters again, and there are cameos too: even Angelo makes an appearance.

It serves another purpose too. For much of the ending, Squall's fate has been left in doubt. The last we saw of him, Rinoa was cradling his apparently lifeless body. Here at the party, the camcorder eventually finds Rinoa out on the balcony as the battery life indicator appears, and as we zoom in to focus on her, she turns to say something to someone next to her, and the battery runs out.

Obviously it's Squall, and the post-credits scene picks up right where the camcorder leaves off. Everyone's favorite mopey teenager gets a well-earned smile, and FF8 comes to an end.

The highs of FF8 are pretty high, and the lows are admittedly pretty low, but recent playthroughs leave me with a pretty favorable opinion of the whole thing.

1 comment:

  1. I've been replaying all the Playstation era Final Fantasy games on the PSP as well and I have to agree VII has no subtlety. VIII was the first of the three I played and consequently it always has that going for it but every time I replay it I tend to notice new things, last time I noticed that no one will shake Zell's hand. Should probably have noticed sooner but I didn't.

    Anyway interesting blog, keep it up!