With the Galbadian assault on FH halted, Squall heads back to Garden. On the way, Irvine stops him and asks if he can request some extra assistance from FH’s technicians. Squall gives the go-ahead, and Irvine urges him to also meet up with Selphie and offer her support, since she’s been affected by Trabia Garden’s likely destruction. They meet up with her at the ruined Garden Festival stage, and Squall attempts to console her. Selphie’s so shocked by this that it seems to cheer her up slightly. Squall gets defensive again and leaves Irvine to take over, and the Headmaster calls him away over the loudspeaker anyhow.
With Squall gone, Irvine announces his plan to Selphie. He’s going to get the FH technicians to fix up the Garden Festival stage so they can have a concert after all. As Selphie reacts well to this plan, Irvine thinks to himself that he’s set to make his move. I’m not a big fan of Irvine, and it’s things like this that put me off him. I don’t really get the vibe that he actually cares about Selphie when he comes up with this plan – he most just seems concerned about getting his flirt on, and it’s never really counterbalanced by anything deeper.
Over with Cid, you’re informed about Selphie’s diary, in case you’ve not checked it yet. Squall, more interested in the events at hand, reports that the Galbadians were in FH to search for Ellone, and Cid abruptly decides it’s time. He goes on the loudspeaker again to announce that Garden is making it its mission to defeat the sorceress, and then tells everyone that Squall’s going to be their leader. Squall reacts badly to this, which I think is pretty fair. He’s a fresh SeeD and none of this has been discussed with him, not to mention his near-death experience last time he faced Edea in a cutscene.
However, just as Squall rages that Cid shouldn’t be talking about this like it’s been decided since his birth, the conversation gets cut off, so we never really get to see how Cid reacted to Squall’s anger. Instead, the story moves back to Squall’s dorm, where we see his internal monologue as he considers the possibility of just leaving SeeD, and ponders killing the sorceress quickly as a way of finishing off this mess as soon as he can. However, he’s troubled by the idea of Cid ordering them to kill his own wife.
Before the story can get too serious, Irvine initiates his plan to hold a concert. You have an amusing little sequence where you have to pick the correct instruments to play a decent tune. When I first did this section, I deliberately picked the wrong combination of instruments to make it sound as bad as possible.
Apparently you can also do a bunch of side stuff as Irvine in FH here and earlier, which I have always missed, since I never take Irvine with me to Balamb Garden. Maybe I’d like him more if I encountered these sections? I’ll put that into my category of reasons why FFXIII forcing you to play as the different party members is a superior system.
Anyhow, Irvine’s determined to push Squall and Rinoa together, but gets irked when Squall interrupts his attempts to “make a move” on Selphie. He sets up a spot for you to talk to Rinoa, marked with a naughty magazine, and Rinoa opens up to Squall. She recognises the pressures that are being placed upon Squall, and wants him to lean on them all a bit more.
This conversation gets a bit dark, not that it bothered me much when I first played it. However, a lot of what Squall thinks about hits home now that I’m a few years older. Squall is terrified by the thought of getting used to people being around him, only to lose them later in life, and the inevitability of that loss. He doesn’t feel that he can bear that, so he pushes everyone away.
For all that Rinoa does a good job of reaching out to Squall despite his sullen demeanour, she gets a bit too impatient in this section. Squall begins to consider her words and agrees to try to open up to them some more, but he wants out of the concert. Rinoa demands an answer to her request for him to rely on them, and Squall says he’ll work on that, though too bluntly for her liking. She snaps at him for just wanting to leave, and suggests that this can’t really be who he really is, before storming off.
I don’t take any issue with the writing – I think it’s fine here, depending on what message we’re supposed to take from it. Squall’s fears are real, and while you shouldn’t let them consume you as he has, there are ways to help him dispel them, and Rinoa’s tactic does nothing but reaffirm his concern that he can’t rely on others. Indeed, once she leaves, he thinks exactly this to himself.
The question, I suppose, is whether Squall deserves to have someone like Rinoa expending so much effort to bring him out of his dark spot, but at the same time, I get the sensation that Rinoa has unfair expectations of who Squall is, and how he should act. It’s not far different from Cid, who just blithely declares that Squall will lead the conflict against the sorceress despite his lack of experience and knowledge surrounding the subject, declaring it as Squall’s “destiny”. Rinoa feels that taciturn loner Squall should just open up and be a different person when he’s taken to a party, but it was clear from their first meeting that Squall isn’t a party person at all.
After Squall retreats to bed, he’s rudely awoken by another of many loudspeaker demands that he report in at the bridge. Once there, Quistis, Xu, and Nida fill him in on the situation. The Garden’s “fixed” (let’s imagine that several days passed, unless it’s infinitely faster to mend a damaged giant floating school space station than it is to repair my laptop), so Squall can take command and get travelling around the world. Quistis also asks him to let Selphie have a rest, after the Trabia Missile Crisis.
I should probably mention that, somewhere around this section, Cid quietly sneaks out of the limelight and only reappears at the start of Disc 3, after putting Squall in charge. Nobody seems to notice, but then I was so busy with events that I didn’t realise either.
Quistis and the others also urge Squall to make a speech as commander, but he instantly declines, only to realise that he’s transmitting to the entire Garden, at which point he commands them to cut the mic. I’m bringing this small part up because the camera shows Rinoa in the library during this segment, laughing to herself at Squall’s grouchy reaction to the suggestion of a speech. Her last interaction with Squall didn’t go particularly well, but it doesn’t appear to have soured her too much towards him – she does, at least, seem to find his demeanour amusing here.
You have a certain amount of freedom to explore the world map at this point. The Garden can’t fly up cliffs or over mountains and other large obstacles (like sea-spanning bridges), but you can cross the ocean, and fly back onto dry land via beaches. There are a few new locations you can reach, but I’m staying relatively on-course for this series, so I didn’t explore too much this time around. Instead, I went straight to the suggested story location – Balamb.
Uh oh. Looks like Edea got Galbadia Garden flying as well. Balamb Town sits under the shadow of the freshly-aloft mobile base, and soldiers now roam the streets, while some of the residents stand near the entrance in fear and frustration, forbidden from returning to their houses. Squall and his companions negotiate their way into town and try to work out a way to see the commander and bring an end to the occupation, despite the threat of Galbadian retaliation if anyone misbehaves.
This sequence is largely free of combat – in fact, quite a lot of FFVIII seems to be light on battles. The encounter rate in most areas up to this point is low, world map fights can often be skipped by following roads (though these aren’t always present), and many of the major set pieces play out more like a visual novel. Compare this to FFXIII, where practically every location is a combat gauntlet, with only a small handful of peaceful locations.
Much as with Fisherman’s Horizon, the Galbadians have come here to find Ellone. For whatever reason, it seems that this is Edea’s primary goal, tying in with Quistis’s earlier remark that the sorceress’s goals must be something more than “simple” world domination. I didn’t realise that global conquest was such an easy task; I might try it some time.
Anyhow, Squall and co head into the town and set to work. Stopping off at Zell’s house, they discover that the commander is likely none other than Fujin. I really wonder how Fujin and Raijin became such high-ranking members of the Galbadian army. Late in Disc 1, they declare their intent to find Seifer in Deling City, but never appear during that segment. We then join them in Balamb Garden during the uprising, where they help out with evacuating people.
Unless they were already Galbadian officers during the uprising, this presumably means that while Balamb Garden was sailing the seas and visiting Fisherman’s Horizon, they managed to make contact with Seifer, who asked Edea to promote them. Ultimecia, controlling Edea from the future, was then “kind” enough to agree and raise these wayward children into commanding roles. Or, more likely, Seifer has free rein to do whatever he likes with the military, and everyone else has to put up with it.
Let’s not think too deeply on it – it just gives us a chance to have revenge for all the times they’ve been rude to us so far. That being said, Raijin and Fujin came across a lot less antagonistic than I remembered in this playthrough.
Anyway – this sequence is basically a hide-and-seek, where you’re barred entry to the hotel where the commander is based unless you can track down the errant captain. There are a few different things you can do here, but the summary is that you find Raijin slacking off at the train station, and confront him in front of the hotel. So far, we’ve been avoiding combat with the Galbadians because of the aforementioned retaliation, but that goes out of the window once you get talking to Raijin. Zell declares that they’re going to liberate Balamb, and Raijin responds with a boss fight. I’ll also note at this juncture that Raijin’s gimmick of ending practically every line with “ya know?” is extremely wearing.
Raijin’s boss fight isn’t too rough, but I had thunder-element spells junctioned to my two main hard-hitters, which meant that Raijin healed from all their hits. Consequently, this fight took about five times as long as most others since they were basically standing around doing nothing. Once Raijin’s defeated, Zell charges on into the hotel and challenges Fujin to another fight, only for Raijin to join her.
Apparently everyone forgets what Raijin sounds like after entering the hotel, as he yells out a challenge and they wonder who’s there.
In my original playthrough, Raijin and Fujin proved to be one of my roadblocks. For whatever reason, I struggled to defeat the two of them, and had to go through this sequence several times. Well, the reason was likely that Fujin can reduce someone to 1hp, and Raijin often likes to thwack them right after, but that’s not too difficult to deal with. Raijin and Fujin are also susceptible to Sleep, which can make things a lot more peaceful.
After you defeat them, Raijin explains that they’re not following the sorceress – their sole concern is Seifer. Since the Galbadians are only following Seifer out of loyalty to Edea, Raijin and Fujin apparently feel that Seifer needs them to act as his posse. Zell demands that they tell Seifer to cut it out, and Fujin replies with “AFFIRMATIVE”, while Raijin immediately rejects that request. Squall lets them go, but threatens that he won’t hold back next time.
As for the Galbadian retaliation, it never happens, and Galbadia Garden disappears.
Back in Balamb Garden, Quistis ponders their next destination, and Selphie joins them to request a visit to Trabia Garden. A sense of gloom and dread came over me on this playthrough – it was already time for my least favourite sequence in the game. However, there was also a distinct feeling of anticipation; I’ve been looking forward to this since starting this series. The main two things I wanted to discuss were the opening and this particular section, so let’s get flying over to Trabia Garden and enter the rabbit hole.