MAGE
FOR
HIRE

A Place of No Return

Part Sixteen: To Esthar

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So, Squall wants to find Ellone, and Edea (maybe) knows where to find the White SeeD ship. Dropping by the orphanage again, Squall quizzes Edea, who gives him a letter of introduction, and tells him that the children on the ship like Centra’s scenery, so they’re probably hiding out around there. I presume that Ultimecia didn’t have much access to Edea’s knowledge (she didn’t find out the meaning of SeeD, after all), which is just as well. I’m not sure what to say about the White SeeDs being incredibly predictable in their hiding habits, but I’ll let this go.

Once you find the White SeeD ship (I’m sure I remember going in circles for ages in earlier playthroughs, but it was pretty easy this time around), Squall hops on board and doesn’t use Edea’s letter of introduction. Suspicious of him, the White SeeDs tell Squall to clear off, and their leader returns to his cabin.

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You run into Zone and Watts here as well. Apparently, after the Timber troubles, they jumped into the sea and had to get rescued by the White SeeDs, who were in the area. Whoever wrote FFVIII abuses coincidence a bit too much – you can find this sort of thing everywhere you go. Why would the White SeeDs have been sailing close to Timber? Wouldn’t it have been safer to avoid Galbadian territory? And how far away were the Galbadians, given that they didn’t notice the White SeeDs, but posed such a threat to Zone and Watts that they were going to try swimming across the sea to escape? Or did the White SeeDs carry out their rescue and then need to escape the Galbadians themselves?

I’m quibbling, I know, but this sort of thing bothers me a lot. More than it should, really, given that I play with coincidences in my own books, but I’d like to think that there’s a certain amount of logic going on in most cases, unless the characters involved are deliberately bad at what they’re doing.

Anyway, Zone gets absolutely furious with Squall for what’s happened to Rinoa, but after Watts calms him down, he mostly drops the matter, and just tells you about enjoying the sea view afterwards. That’s basically it for these two characters – their arc about the Timber Resistance is over and done with, and once the White SeeD ship disappears, so do they.

Squall eventually bothers to show the White SeeDs his letter, and they tell him that Ellone’s not there. After they collected Ellone at Fisherman’s Horizon, it seems that the Galbadians got wind of them, and pursued them across the sea. Just as the Galbadians caught up, an Esthar ship interrupted and fought the Galbadians. During the battle, some Esthar soldiers boarded the White SeeD vessel and advised the White SeeDs to evacuate with them, and while the White SeeDs refused, Ellone jumped aboard the Esthar vessel.

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The White SeeDs are busy repairing their ship for now, after which point they intend to head over to Esthar. Squall decides that he’ll go there himself, and informs his crew back in Balamb Garden. I’m not sure if you’re ever given specific instructions to go there by way of Fisherman’s Horizon, but I remembered that from before and headed over there.

You can also listen to a bit of backstory on the White SeeD ship – specifically, about the Great Hyne, who created humans, only to find they grew in number beyond his control. He began killing their children, which provoked a devastating war between him and the humans. Eventually he “cut off half his body” and gave it to the humans as a peace offering, claiming that it would grant them magic. This caused a war amongst the humans, who squabbled over who should have that power. However, once the war ended, they discovered that the half of Hyne’s body was powerless, but Hyne himself had disappeared, and they never found him.

I like this backstory, because it doesn’t really come up in the main story. It’s a fable that acts as a precursor to the sorceress theme – that is, the sorceresses are said to be inheritors of the Great Hyne’s power. However, you never meet Hyne or find out specific details about where he went. The mysterious fable remains just that for the entire story, which both leaves the past open to your imagination, and also makes the world feel that bit larger than what’s going on in the game.

Back at the infirmary, once you reach Fisherman’s Horizon, Squall decides he’ll take Rinoa to Esthar by himself. As he crosses the bridge, he recognises that he’s changed. That’s true – Squall does change quite drastically between Discs 2 and 3. I’ll allow it to an extent, since big shocks can force us to confront truths we’d previously hidden, but it still feels like a huge jump from him just flat-out rejecting Rinoa and showing zero interest in her.

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All the same, I think it’s a charming sequence. Squall confesses a lot of his insecurities to the sleeping Rinoa, and admits to himself that he’s been presenting himself as this aloof person to avoid going through the sort of loss he suffered as a child. Of course, it’s not entirely an act, or at least it’s been an act for long enough that he’s turned that way, but this situation with Rinoa begins to turn him back in the other direction.

At the far end of the bridge, Squall finds that everyone’s there already, and with Edea to boot. She’s heading to Esthar herself, as she wants to see Dr. Odine. He was referenced very early on, both at the Study Panel, and also with the bangle that Rinoa tried to use on Edea at the end of Disc 1. He’s an expert on sorceresses, and since Ultimecia could still possess her, Edea naturally wants to work out a way to prevent that from happening again.

Squall agrees to go to Esthar together, and you get Edea as a temporary party member. She sticks around a lot longer than Seifer did, and apparently decided to keep wearing her creepy outfit, but sadly she leaves the group eventually. All the same, it’s fun to have her use the Limit Break she “killed” Squall with at the end of Disc 1.  It sadly won’t let you use Limit Breaks on party members, so you don’t get to re-enact that scene.

 

Nobody knows where Esthar is, exactly, but they haven’t checked east yet, so that’s the way you head. If you’re playing the PC version, you might reasonably assume that the flickering sky is another graphical bug, but it’s intentional – Esthar is hidden behind a big illusion, but it apparently still has a few flaws.

Along the way, you get into a tussle with a giant monster called Abadon, which has one of my favourite monster designs. Squall uses it as an opportunity to teach you about damaging undead with healing abilities, though this fellow doesn’t die from Phoenix Downs like Deling’s body double. It’s a shame that Abadon is so pointless to the story, because he looks decent, has a couple of fancy poses, and even has a lengthy death animation.

The one thing I will complain about is that he casts Confuse, which is a blight in this game. It’s from the old era where developers didn’t mind putting in really irritating stuff, and your characters can cheerfully use any of your super-valuable rare items, if you’re unlucky. “Oh, but you should have made them immune to Confuse”. Yeah, well, shush.

At the end of the Great Salt Lake, you have a Truman Show moment where you find an exit in the skybox, and from here you enter Another World. Well, okay, maybe not quite that, but Esthar is so far removed from the other locations in the game that it could practically be from another story altogether.

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That’s not a bad thing, though admittedly I wasn’t happy on my first playthrough. The aesthetic of the main locations up to this point has been a sort of Europe-with-a-bit-of-future-tech, whereas Esthar is just pure sci-fi. I have to say that I’ve been quite unkind to Disc 3 in the past. It’s certainly a culture shock after the first two discs, which are more focused on the military school, and Galbadia’s expansionism. Disc 3 ditches both of these themes, mostly, in favour of Ultimecia’s time-based story, and focuses on Squall’s attempts to revive Rinoa in this strange and alien land, but I think it tells a decent enough story all the same.

But I’ll have more to say on that later. For now, the group find themselves on a strange lift/moving platform that takes them into the city proper, but before they can head inside, they all pass out. Ellone’s decided that now is a great time to deliver some backstory, and so we find ourselves back in the past with Laguna.

This is, I believe, the very last playable section for our “secondary protagonist”. Laguna and his buddies are working for the Estharians in a rather hostile work environment, and, as usual, the moombas are being mistreated. Laguna helps one out (and “nearly” kills it), and its gratitude is presumably what led to the ones at the D-District Prison treating Squall with reverence (psst – Laguna is Squall’s father).

After Laguna tosses a tool to the moomba and it almost plummets to its death, it is saved by its safety cable, and the other worker there decides that Laguna seems like a great candidate to lead the anti-Adel resistance. Kiros and Ward, meanwhile, have been causing trouble, and they join up with Laguna to continue their insurgency. There’s a few references to Lunatic Pandora and a Moon Base, but it all goes by quite fast. The main thrust of this sequence is that Laguna is in Esthar looking for Ellone, and that people are starting to think he’d make a good leader.

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He tracks down Dr Odine and demands to know what’s happened to Ellone (okay, you can read the above screenshot without my help, fine), but Odine runs for it in one of the worst chase scenes ever featured in a video game. Odine manages to run past Laguna, Kiros, and Ward, and get into the lift, but then the three companions join him there and head back up to the surface, only for Odine to continue running away from them when it opens again (why didn’t they restrain him in the lift??). Just as he reaches a car outside the building, Laguna manages to finally grab him, and they all head over to Odine’s laboratory.

Inside, Laguna finally finds the missing Ellone, and at this point the dream ends. A deputation from Esthar meets Squall and the others at the entrance to the city, and Squall demands to see Ellone (I think roughly fifty percent of the game’s dialogue after Disc 1 is people asking about Ellone). Edea advises Squall to calm down, while the Esthar representative offers to take them into the city in his fancy car.

At the Presidential Palace, you meet up with Dr. Odine, who’s much the same as he was in the dream. He confidentially states that he’ll cure Edea of her sorceress-ness, and then permits Squall to see Ellone after he gets belligerent. However, the condition for this is that Odine gets to “observe” Rinoa. The Presidential Aide arranges to meet Squall and the others at the Lunar Gate with Rinoa later, and you’re free to explore Esthar.

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There’s a picture of Winhill in the Presidential Palace, which might clue you in to what Laguna’s eventual relevance to the plot is going to be.

In any case, I recommend exploring Esthar, because not only is it quite an unusual place compared to everywhere else you’ve been so far, but it’s also pretty confusing and maze-like at first. There are a lot of walkways criss-crossing all over the place, and some of the locations look quite similar. I’m not saying you’ll need to know the layout for later, but…

Speaking to people there will also confirm the fact that while Adel once ruled there, she’s long-gone, and they’ve been living peacefully since then. However, for all their talk of peace, you’ll get attacked by monsters as soon as you head back out to the world map and walk around the Esthar City roads there.

Before we set out, though, let’s pause there for now!

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