With NORG defeated, Squall heads upstairs to report to Cid. First, though, I don’t know all the points at which the Study Panel updates, but now’s a good time to check in and find some new posts by Selphie. While they mostly just include information we already know about the missions we’ve been on so far, she references Guardian Forces and memory loss again.
As for Squall’s meeting with the Headmaster, it takes place in the Infirmary, where Cid has retreated to have a private cry. This is the third instance where Cid rejects Squall’s report, but you get a chance to ask him a few questions. He clarifies how NORG paid to set up Garden and suggested that they become a private military company to cover ongoing costs. He also confirms the grand secret behind SeeD – that its true intention is to fight against the sorceress.
Squall asks Cid about his alleged marriage to Edea, which turns out to be true. Cid explains that he’s always known that Edea was a sorceress, but got married to her in spite of that. They worked together for a time until Edea proposed the idea of Garden and SeeD, a plan that Cid became obsessed with, despite his misgivings about SeeD potentially coming into conflict with Edea at some point.
Beyond that, Cid tells Squall that he expects that they’ll stop drifting soon enough, at which point he hopes they’ll be able to get things back to how they were before. Something of an unlikely hope, given the current world situation, but bonus points for optimism, I guess.
As Squall leaves the Infirmary and Cid, he runs into Xu, who informs him that a ship is approaching, and that she needs to warn the Headmaster. Squall heads up to the second floor balcony to check on the ship, whose crew ominously inform him that they’re Sorceress Edea’s SeeDs. The party’s ready to fight, but the SeeDs board unarmed and request to speak to the Headmaster, who arrives moments later.
The White SeeDs announce that they’re here to collect Ellone, having deemed that it’s too dangerous for her there now. I’ve played this game a few times before writing this article, and it only occurred to me right now that Ultimecia made a cataclysmic error in ordering the missile strike on Garden. Had she succeeded (which she does, if you don’t muck about with the error ratio), then Ellone would have been killed by the strike, thereby negating Ultimecia’s entire plan.
This is why, when you're mind-controlling sorceresses in the past in order to find someone with a special magical power, it's better to run a low-key infiltration op instead of taking over the world's principal military superpower and ordering all-out war on every available location.
Anyhow, Squall realises that this may be the girl from Winhill. I’d be tempted to quibble about how more than one person might have that name, but aside from it being a reasonable suspicion, I’ve read a fantasy book that did actually have characters sharing the same first name, and it was far too confusing.
Cid just casually asks Squall to find Ellone – “she’s here somewhere in the Garden”. I’d point out that it should be hard to find someone who’s apparently being very carefully hidden, but Ellone’s sitting in the open over at the Library, so I guess I’m wrong again. Squall checks if she’s indeed the Ellone who knows Laguna, which she confirms.
Presuming that this means she must also have something to do with their dream experiences, Squall asks her to explain them, but she largely dismisses his question, deeming it too difficult. She hints at it being to do with the past, and briefly touches on the idea of whether one can change the past. Squall is furious; he wants no part of this, and doesn’t want to be counted on.
As Squall tries to handle his frustration, Xu walks in next to Ellone and asks if Squall’s found Ellone – I do wonder how she got raised to SeeD sometimes. Ellone leaves Squall with the words “You’re my only hope”, and Squall ponders the theme of dependence at length. He accepts that he’s got to where he is through dependence on others, but doesn’t want that to continue. However, he recognises that he’s lost and needs the help of others all the same.
Ellone leaves on the White SeeD ship, and Squall thinks back to a lost memory of his childhood, when he was standing outside a building in the rain, promising an absent “Sis” that he can make it on his own. Sadly, we’ll see more of this building in the not-too-distant future.
The next morning, Rinoa invades his room again to request that they go for a walk together. Squall’s still not even remotely interested, though you do get the option to make him mildly more enthusiastic. I went with the nicer option this time around. Rinoa teasingly addresses him as “your highness”, and you might be pondering if they’ll get closer as they go for their walk.
I’m afraid not, though. The moment you leave the dormitory, Cid interrupts over the loudspeaker, announcing that he’s got it working again, though he lets out a yell of surprise and the perspective moves over to a lone fisherman somewhere out by the sea.
He’s having a quiet time fishing when he suddenly becomes aware of a giant flying/sailing building that sneakily comes crashing into the nearby water-based windmills. Stubbornly, he tries to reel in the fish he just caught, but Balamb Garden cares not for his fishing and nearly crushes him, so he gives up at the last moment and runs for it.
Fortunately, the Garden comes to a halt before it flattens the entire settlement, and Cid calls Squall up to the Headmaster’s Office. There, he tells Squall that they’ve arrived at Fisherman’s Horizon. He asks Squall to head ashore and apologise to the mayor, and look around the “city”. They later also refer to it as a town, which I think is probably a more appropriate description. Cid explains that he wants Squall to think for himself and see more of the world, hence these instructions, but I’m not sure that Squall’s particularly interested.
As they leave the Garden, they swiftly run into representatives of the town/city, who explain that Fisherman’s Horizon, or FH as it’s locally known, does not tolerate violence, though no explanation is given as to how this is enforced. They offer to fix the damaged Garden, confident that they can get it sorted out fairly quickly.
You can go for a good wander in FH before you carry out your main task. This is one of the things that made the earlier Final Fantasy games, and a multitude of other games besides, so engaging. The complaints about FFXIII largely stem from its limited scope, and sections like this really drive that home. Nothing you do in FH (aside from the main story mission) is particularly meaningful, but at the same time you get a much broader view of the world. It’s just like Cid was saying!
The only towns you visit in FFXIII are hostile, and the few sequences where you can talk to people are usually very small platforms that are essentially corridors. Most of the world-building comes from the main party complaining about how misled and fanatical the general populace is.
Ignoring that nobody seems fazed by the concept of a giant military school floating off into the sea, you get some insight into a variety of features about FFVIII’s world. For one, it seems that Esthar still exists. It’s described as a hi-tech city at the end of train tracks that lead off from FH, and you’re informed that lots of visitors end up heading out that way. The person who tells you this never confirms whether those visitors ever reached Esthar, but given what you discover on your own later journey to the mysterious country, my guess would be that they either gave up or died on the way.
One of maybe the most important side conversations is one you encounter on your way into the city/town proper. A resident questions their mercenary way of life, and warns them not to cause any problems. Squall notes that the resident talks like him, and realises that it doesn’t sound very nice. This is a fairly huge epiphany for him, but he doesn’t dwell on it too long, or act on it for a while yet.
A random boatman gives you some insight into NORG, asking if he’s evolved yet (is he a Pokemon, perhaps?). Squall has no idea what he’s talking about, and the boatman explains that NORG’s a Shumi, which also draws blank stares. Giving up, the boatman tells them that they’ll “start gettin’ it soon”. Sadly they won’t, since I won’t be visiting the Shumi Village on this playthrough, but I do wonder if perhaps NORG had a longer plotline in an earlier script.
Once you’re done looking around town, it’s time to speak to Mayor Dobe, who’s eager to help them out with technicians in return for them all clearing off asap. Before Squall can leave to get permission from Headmaster Cid to allow outsiders aboard, Rinoa chips in, asking why Dobe doesn’t want them around. Squall is impatient, respecting Dobe’s decision, or at least not caring enough to talk about it, but it’s too late to avoid a conversation.
Dobe explains FH’s principle of non-violence, and his concern that Garden’s presence will invite violence to the town. The people of FH believe that dialogue will resolve any conflict, and don’t agree with the concept of mercenaries. Squall, interestingly, silently agrees to the suggestion that reaching a mutual understanding negates the need to fight, but also considers it a trite and dull concept. He opts not to offer any counterpoints and leaves.
Zell’s cross with Squall for not challenging Mayor Dobe, but Squall advises him to just forget it. However, before they can get very far, they find out that Galbadian soldiers have invaded. The mayor’s wife, Flo, accosts them, demanding that they fix this issue, since it’s their fault, but Dobe dismisses her idea, correctly pointing out that they’ll resolve it through violence. He calmly heads off into the town in search of whoever’s in charge of the invasion.
When you catch up with Mayor Dobe, he’s doing a rather poor job of negotiating peace with the soldier in charge. Let’s note here that I quite like this little side-story as it offers a few interesting thoughts and counterpoints. FH is indeed disrupted by the arrival of Garden, and Squall doesn’t outright dismiss Dobe’s anti-violence message.
What I’m not as enamoured with is how Dobe and Flo are written. Dobe’s blunt with Squall, which is fine, but he’s also a shockingly bad negotiator who crumbles before he can even begin to offer anything useful to his conversation with the Galbadian soldier. As for Flo, she’s just straight-up rude and obnoxious, basically starting fights while preaching a kinder approach.
I know. People like these exist in the real world. There are extremes everywhere you look. However, when it comes to having an interesting discussion about a theme in a story, whether it’s a book, film, or video game, I really prefer it to be a bit more nuanced than the protagonists being proven right because their opponents are useless.
Squall’s parting conversation with Dobe is quite neat, Dobe’s silence notwithstanding. Squall accepts that violence is not ideal – he, too, wishes for a world where conflict can be resolved peacefully. However, he also understands the fundamental flaw in this philosophy, in that there are violent people who won’t listen to any requests for peace, which means that military “good guys” also need to exist.
I’m getting ahead of myself, though. After Dobe’s feeble attempt to beg the soldier not to burn down the city, you have the option to intervene right away, which I picked. Apologising for resorting to violence, Squall engages the soldiers, who call in a horribly-damaged war machine that should be familiar to the player.
Here comes another load of quibbling – why is this machine here? Why is it attacking Squall? Is it radio-controlled? There were soldiers inside it during the earlier boss battle, but maybe they were just chilling while it fought by itself? It’s clearly in a dire state and you’d expect someone to have checked inside it after it emerged from the destroyed base, so did Selphie and co. just hide away from the Galbadians? But are they just not aware of what it’s doing? Didn’t they try to destroy it from inside?
Ah, whatever. After another tussle with the machine, it collapses into the water, and out climb Selphie, Quistis, and Irvine. Squall’s surprisingly jubilant, and he even remarks on it being great to see them. Before they can make sense of what happened to Selphie and the others, Zell decides he doesn’t want to hear about it, and interrupts to say they should discuss it later.
Squall sends them all back to the Garden, but Rinoa pauses to comment on Squall’s unusual display of emotion. You again get the option to choose how dismissive Squall is, and Rinoa presses him on the subject, asking how he’d have felt if it had been her, which apparently causes him to turn red. Rinoa finds this endearing, while Squall gets defensive.
It’s at this point that Squall has his aforementioned conversation with the mayor. Dobe refuses to thank Squall for saving him, and you can choose whether Squall explains his stance or not. I chose to explain this time around, and Squall gives his brief speech, before thanking the mayor, who says nothing in response.
With that plot arc done, let’s take a break before we get stuck into the next series of set pieces.