With the next missile launch coming at any moment, Selphie’s team puts on Galbadian uniforms, and casually drives up to the missile base. Their uniforms are apparently ID enough, as they’re immediately let in.
The missile base serves as a sort of stealth-lite mission. There’s mostly no combat, and you have to make a series of choices to avoid suspicion, while solving minor puzzles to get further into the base and sabotage the launch. Not all of the choices actually have an impact, and they mostly just vary whether you get SeeD rank increases or not.
Once you’ve gone through a few steps, you’ll get the option to sabotage the launch. To do so, you have to set the error ratio for the missiles to maximum, which should cause the missiles to miss. If you fail to do so, then you’ll get a scene where Balamb Garden gets blasted apart by missiles, along with a game over.
It’s interesting to note that when you reach the point where the missiles reach Balamb Garden, they meet their target – they only miss because (spoiler) Squall activates the Garden’s secret flying mode and gets out of the way. Perhaps it would’ve made more sense to instead have Selphie delay the launch, which would’ve actually impacted that later sequence.
Anyhow, once you get into the control room, the officer in charge notices that Selphie’s salute is wrong and initiates a fight. As with most boss fights involving Galbadian officers and soldiers, it’s a pushover.
Selphie, on a rampage of devastation, activates the base’s self-destruct system. While changing the missile targets is heavily locked behind permissions and not something you’re able to alter, the self-destruct system seems strangely easy to access (and, as with most self-destructs, impossible for the real personnel to deactivate). You also get to set how long until the base detonates, which obviously impacts your SeeD ranking for the mission.
Before Selphie’s team can escape, they find their way blocked by another Galbadian contraption with a name I’ll never remember. If you’re attempting to cheese the fight by having everyone on low health like I did in the above fight, it actually makes it a lot harder, so I don’t recommend it, since the boss actually deals some damage for once. I still won, but it was messier than it needed to be.
Once you’ve dealt with the machine and its pilots, there’s no way out. Selphie and the others resign themselves to their self-inflicted fate, and the missiles fire in the background, heading out on their way to Balamb Garden. While Irvine suspects that Squall considered him expendable, Selphie stubbornly believes in his decision, trusting that Squall felt they’d be able to succeed in their mission. But then the entire base explodes, and that’s the end of those three party members.
Over in Balamb, Squall and his chosen allies return to the Garden, relieved that it’s not yet been destroyed. However, something’s up. People are running around in a panic, and the Garden Faculty seem to be leading a fanatical purge of Cid’s followers as they seek out where the Headmaster is hiding.
One of the many complaints about FFVIII is that Garden Master NORG kind of pops up out of nowhere. I don’t entirely agree with this – not only is he referenced at the Study Panel, but the Garden Faculty give a constant vibe that the Headmaster isn’t the only power in Garden. I feel that the main issue comes from NORG’s actual presentation when you meet him, but we’ll get there in a bit.
For now, your earlier tour of the Garden should come in useful, as you’re sent out on an errand quest to all corners of the facility (well, almost all of them). Headmaster Cid is in hiding somewhere, so you need to visit each wing and rescue SeeDs and other innocents from the deranged Faculty. You also run into Raijin and Fujin – I’m not sure why they’re here, given that they last told you that they were going to Deling City to track down Seifer. Even if Seifer wasn’t present there, I’m not sure what hints would have led Raijin and Fujin to seek him out here, regardless of him once calling it his home. Quibbling aside, Squall tells them about the plan to blow up Garden, and they head out to warn as many people as they can.
After you’ve been to each area of the Garden, it turns out that Headmaster Cid isn’t in any of them. You meet up with Xu, who instantly distrusts you as possible followers of the Garden Master (come on Xu, this sort of thinking is why you never became a main character). Squall dismisses the entire conflict and tells her about the missiles instead, and she agrees to take him to see the Headmaster. Cid has actually been hiding in his office all along.
Cid’s not interested in Squall’s report, and announces that he’s not going to evacuate. Instead, he’s going to head into the Garden’s basement, where there’s apparently some old defence function from when the site was a shelter. I’m not sure how much of Balamb is new, but the inference seems to be that most of the building is actually just the old shelter, and only the decorations and furniture were added by Cid and his Garden initiative.
Squall sensibly identifies this plan as nonsense – Cid has no idea what the functions in the lower level will actually do, and only has the vaguest of hopes that they will defend against the missiles. A more reasonable idea would be to restrain Cid and drag him off the premises, but the evacuation proceeds slowly in any case, so plenty of people would have died if Squall hadn’t gone ahead with Cid’s plan.
Still, hindsight is 20-20, and Squall is a blunt person who is all about functionality and reason, so I wouldn’t have expected him to go along with this idea. It’s not even like Cid orders him to do it – Squall just shoulders the burden himself, without any real hope that he’ll find something useful. For all they know, the old shelter might just have had a bunch of nifty cannons that could be activated on demand, and which may have required a certain amount of training to use against a barrage of missiles.
Anyway, none of that matters. Squall takes his team down to the MD level, where they have a brief tutorial to teach/remind you about elemental weaknesses. It’s not the most effective bit of training because the encounter rate here is really low and you’ll only fight like two or three monsters at best (along with the boss). After some hijinks with ladders, the team makes it down to the lowest level, where Squall plays around with some machinery, having no idea of what he’s doing.
However, he’s in luck – whatever he did manages to activate the “defence system”, which turns out to be a flying mode for Balamb Garden. Yes, that’s right, the entire gigantic building has a nifty mode whereby it can just shift a couple of bits and bobs and then take off and fly wherever it pleases (well, not quite, the navigation does have some limitations).
For the people pushing Disc 2 onwards as part of Squall’s hallucination before dying, this sequence is a gold mine.
So, yeah, as I mentioned before, the missiles strike the location where Balamb Garden used to be (in spite of Selphie’s meddlings), but the Garden flies off and nearly crushes Balamb Town. Cid has no clue what he’s doing (apparently the controls won’t respond) and everyone badgers Squall to “do something”. Quite honestly, Squall’s treatment in these sections would lead to a more believable villain turn than Seifer’s willing conversion into Edea’s puppet. He gets ignored and hassled all the time and nobody seems aware of how clueless they’re being.
Squall manages to turn the errant Garden away from Balamb Town and they fly into the sea, where the Garden shows that it apparently also has a sailing mode. Cid makes it the lowest priority ever to work out the controls, and everyone else takes a break.
During this period, Squall thinks over what’s been happening so far. We get some insight into some of his barriers weakening – he shows actual concern for the absent missile base team, and even questions whether he was right to send them away. He also declares his intent to get even with Seifer, while pondering the sorceress’s relevance.
However, he has little time to rest. Rinoa invades his room to request a tour of Garden (maybe she heard about Selphie and got jealous), and he goes ahead with it, despite showing little-to-no interest. Rinoa gets impatient quickly and asks him to jazz things up a bit.
I do occasionally pause during these sections now to think about the portrayal of these characters. Growing up, you would often encounter these introverted characters who would get bullied into being social, until finally they’d take off their glasses and change their clothes and WOW they’re actually pretty/handsome when they’re not being their usual self! It’s a pretty nauseating theme looking back, and I feel that Rinoa’s handling of Squall is fairly similar. I see a lot of stuff about Squall being an abusive man and how unfair it is for Rinoa to have to carry the romance, but quite honestly Rinoa brings it on herself by projecting ideas onto Squall and getting cross with him when he doesn’t fulfil them. The same happens later during the concert.
Don’t get me wrong, I think that in a relationship, both sides should be making an effort, but Squall’s clearly not after a relationship and he sets the boundaries pretty clearly during their earlier interactions. He’s actually the one who often makes the effort in getting out of his comfort zone, acceding to quite a few of the demands placed on him and playing a variety of “prove yourself” games.
Contrary to this, I like the bit in the cafeteria where Rinoa is amused by how seriously Squall discusses the hot dog situation. The reason I like it more than her criticism of his tour is that she’s showing some appreciation of Squall for who he is, rather than getting snippy with him for not matching her own idea of how he should be. It makes it feel a bit more realistic that she is actually seeking a relationship with him.
I should note here that I recognise that Squall is a flawed character and he deals with people in pretty terrible ways at times. I just also object to the trope that introverts need to be pestered into going to parties to make them real people.
Oh, and you can also make Squall more of a jerk by having him pretend that Rinoa’s his girlfriend before snarking that he was “seriously joking”. The writer is also a jerk here, since the dialogue choice you get doesn’t indicate that he’s being mean, though I suppose you can reasonably guess that Squall isn’t going to suddenly declare his love in this random scene.
However, the fun and games come to a sudden end when a member of the Garden Faculty accosts you near the elevator and tells you that the Garden Master wants a word. Apparently the whole kill-everyone situation was put on hold after the Garden flew off (Squall did at least mention that they’d cleared up all the monsters while he was mulling over the recent events in bed), but the Faculty are still present in the Garden all the same.
The next sequence is a little odd (are any of them not, at this stage?). You pop down the elevator to the Garden Master’s room, a strangely-empty chamber with just a large pod in the middle. For some reason, Cid deemed it safe to come down here by himself to have a chat with the Garden Master. Bear in mind that the Faculty were not exactly inviting him for tea earlier – they were ordering everyone to capture or straight-up kill him.
Anyhow, the Garden Master’s apparently not quite so violent now, and he was happy to have an angry discussion with Cid. You get a few hints at Cid’s deal with the Garden Master, and then Squall tries to deliver his report again. He does this three times during this series of set pieces, if I remember right, and Cid’s never interested. Anyhow, Cid walks off, having no concerns about what Squall’s going to discuss with NORG, and the Faculty lead Squall over to have a chat with the Garden Master.
The Faculty are clearly afraid of NORG and his strict demands, and they advise Squall to do what he says as soon as possible. It turns out that NORG’s some sort of unfamiliar creature (Squall doesn’t recognise what he is, at least), and he speaks in a very strange, caps-loving fashion. Now, there’s a lot of bad stuff to say about NORG, but I’ll give him this – he actually requests to hear Squall’s report!
This following conversation eludes me a bit. Squall tells NORG that he receives the Headmaster’s orders to assassinate Edea, but they failed. NORG gets angry at this point and declares that Squall’s been deceived. Apparently, NORG was aware of Deling’s alliance with Edea, and that the sorceress would try to seize the Gardens. Knowing this, NORG sent an order to Martine in Galbadia Garden to assassinate the sorceress.
However, it seems that “sly weasel” Martine used Squall as a “last resort” to carry out the assassination to place the blame on NORG. Squall questions if this means Balamb Garden had nothing to do with the order, and the Faculty confirms this, saying that Squall was used.
I’m so baffled by what’s supposed to be going on here. NORG (Master of Balamb Garden) ordered Galbadia Garden to assassinate the sorceress, and Martine recruited Squall to do it to blame NORG for delivering the order that he actually did give? I feel like the translation is wrong here, or something. Did NORG not want the sorceress assassinated? Was he trying to shift the blame onto Galbadia Garden and got angry because they did the same to him? Did Martine only recruit the new SeeDs because he wanted them to fail?
Maybe I’m missing something obvious (it’s been known to happen). If so, feel free to point it out to me, and I’ll apologise as much as is needed, but this “betrayal” completely eludes me.
Anyhow, NORG’s concerned about the sorceress’s plans to retaliate, and so he’s decided to hand over the SeeDs responsible. Squall points out that they train every day to fight threats like the sorceress, to which NORG effectively says “shut it loser”.
Oh, and if you still think I’m wrong about NORG’s conversation making no sense, he then goes on to say that Cid dispatched SeeD to kill the sorceress. But he originally “corrected” Squall for saying that he received the Headmaster’s orders and said that he was the one to give them.
So NORG goes off on a rant about Cid getting Garden in trouble, and we learn that NORG put up the money to found Garden. He then complains that the students didn’t side with him and bring him Cid, though he just had the opportunity to capture/take out Cid and let it go. Sure, maybe his Faculty is diminished after the uprising, but he’s perfectly happy to start a boss fight with Squall and his two friends, so he’d surely be brave enough to tackle the aging Cid.
When Squall suggests that Garden is not solely NORG’s, NORG gets angry and reveals that Cid and Edea are married. Squall’s confused but NORG’s on a roll now, and he decides that Squall must be here to steal Garden from him. He retreats into his pod and initiates a boss fight.
Here’s a rare screenshot of my party not all at critical hp.
NORG opens his boss fight by telling you how to negate his magic powers, which basically sums up how much sense he makes during his brief entry into the storyline. Once you whack his pod enough, it opens up, and he engages you directly. You can also draw the Guardian Force Leviathan from him at this stage. After he takes enough damage, he declares that he’s afraid of you and shuts his pod again, ending the fight.
This sequence is described even more accurately when Zell says “What the hell was that?” and Squall responds with “Forget about it for now”. While you can get a little more information on NORG from a few different sources, his story relevance is done and none of his confusing machinations have any more impact on what’s going on.
In any case, Squall’s had it with all this plotting. He feels like a puppet in a major scheme, little realising that there’s very little consistent planning going on. Declaring that he’s going to speak to the Headmaster, he storms out of NORG’s basement, which I think is a neat place to stop.
Next time, Squall runs into a forgotten friend, and his way of life comes into question.