In this playthrough, I just went straight to Lunatic Pandora after the briefing, so I missed out on a variety of side events and missions, including but not restricted to Shumi Village. Don’t worry, though – I kept a backup save just in case. All the same, for pacing and story discussion, I’ll be carrying on straight to the end of the game from here.
The team pilots Ragnarok into the side of Lunatic Pandora, breaking through the shields and shooting a hole in it, and from there they invade the last Galbadian outpost you’ll encounter in the game. As soon as you enter, you’re challenged to a fight by Raijin and Fujin.
I really don’t know what was going on with Raijin and Fujin through this story. They start out as Seifer’s bullying lackeys, then they treat you as a friend in Galbadia Garden and go searching for Seifer, then they reappear in Balamb Garden and help evacuate, before turning into Galbadian officers and heading up the search for Ellone in Balamb Town, before meeting you in Galbadia Garden where they announce they’re leaving Seifer up to Squall, only to reappear here as his lackeys again trying to get hold of Rinoa for his evil plans. And let’s not forget that they switch sides again in a little bit.
Still, after giving them a much-needed whack, Squall and co. push on into Lunatic Pandora. You run into Biggs and Wedge one last time as well, but they don’t even appear to notice you. Biggs expresses his frustration at having to follow Seifer’s orders, and Wedge jokes that he should just quit the army. Deciding that’s a great idea, Biggs does so, and he tells Wedge to do the same, so they head off together to have a drink somewhere more peaceful.
As for Lunatic Pandora itself, it’s a sinister location, and as with a lot of the imagery and scenery on Disc 3, I find it a frightening and memorable way to finish off this section of the story. The enemies are apparently all set to level one and don’t give much experience, which I thought was problematic on my first playthrough when I kept losing against a certain boss, since I believed that I needed to level more in order to take her down. Now that I know that (most) enemies scale with your level, I understand that it’s not really an issue at all.
Once you’re done exploring, and finding anything that you unlocked as Laguna during your visit to the excavation site in the past, it’s time to return to that corridor you entered as Zell and Edea before. Raijin and Fujin are there to announce that they have a surprise ready for you, but it’s just the same robot from earlier. The only surprise is that it’s lost its ejection power from before, and it instead engages you in a boss fight.
This dealt with, Squall and the party face off against Seifer, who’s gone full Saturday Morning Cartoon Villain. He’s got his lackeys Raijin and Fujin holding Ellone captive, while he stands atop a platform and commands Raijin to deal with the protagonists. However, Fujin commands Raijin to stop, and Raijin quickly agrees. They release Ellone into Squall’s custody, and then turn to address Seifer.
Fujin drops her unusual caps-based speech pattern and explains to Seifer that they’re his posse, and it’s precisely because of that fact that they’re no longer willing to help him with his ambitions. She recognises that the sorceress is using him, and that he’s lost sight of his true goals. Worse yet, they find Squall more reliable to depend on these days.
Unfortunately, while Seifer accepts her resignation, he refuses to back down, and Raijin and Fujin leave. After that, Seifer hops down from his platform and announces that he is, in fact, resigning as the sorceress’s knight. Declaring himself a “young revolutionary”, he initiates an end-of-disc boss fight.
There’s not a huge amount about this scene that makes sense to me. The business with Raijin and Fujin is fine, and serves as a good way to finish off their plotline, but Seifer’s behaviour is a little more difficult to pin down. I’m not sure what the purpose was in having him resign at this stage – immediately after the boss fight, he returns to doing the sorceress’s will, and his plan to be a revolutionary is given zero explanation, so who knows what he was intending to do.
In order to achieve this unstated goal, Seifer wants to kill Squall (or at least incapacitate him), which is supposed to be reason enough for this final fight, but without really understanding Seifer’s motivations, the fight’s robbed of any emotional weight. The Disc 2 battle where a weakened Seifer attempts to protect Edea, while she just lets the party take him out, had a much stronger foundation, and served as a better finale to his story.
Just to make it worse, if you’ve unlocked Odin at this point, Seifer’s final boss battle turns into more of a comic routine. It opens with Odin attempting to one-shot Seifer at the start of the battle (Odin has a chance in random encounters to just kill everything, but not in any other boss fights), though Seifer kills him instead. Then, when you get Seifer low on health, series comic relief villain Gilgamesh appears out of nowhere and takes Seifer out for you. It’s especially baffling if, like me on my first playthrough, you’d never played Final Fantasy V to understand who Gilgamesh is.
Seifer got a very high amount of focus in the opening cutscene to display his rivalry with Squall, so I find it really strange to see him reduced to this in his final gameplay appearance. The fight’s a bit better if you haven’t got Odin at this point (though that does mean you can never get Gilgamesh), but it’s still not ideal given that Seifer’s motivations at this point are absent.
After you defeat Seifer, a particularly daft scene plays out. Rinoa walks out of the room for no apparent reason (presumably this plays out differently if she wasn’t in your active party), and then Seifer jumps to his feet and declares that it’s not over yet. He runs off camera while Squall stands still, and then Quistis immediately runs into the room and announces that Rinoa’s been kidnapped by Seifer. Give me a break – I don’t believe for a moment that Seifer could beat her that easily in his current state, especially not so quickly.
This sort of thing is why people get annoyed about the whole Damsel in Distress trope – Rinoa and Ellone spend half the game getting helplessly captured, and there’s usually very little effort put in when it happens. Ellone gets kidnapped twice off-camera, and Rinoa suffers that at least once. Her confrontation with Edea on Disc 1 is decent, and I can allow that she handed herself over to Esthar willingly given her fears of possession, but this last one is just lazy and rushed.
Anyway, Seifer, our young revolutionary, has started banging on about Ultimecia’s wish again, and he ignores Rinoa’s pleas to let her go. As he approaches Adel’s Tomb, the screen fades to black, and Disc 3 comes to an end. It’s worth also noting that information found in the Debug Menu indicates that Adel was likely going to be the Disc 3 final boss, which makes Seifer’s finale feel even more irrelevant.
Engaging Seifer also serves as the Point of No Return. Once you’ve defeated him, you lose access to the unrestricted world map, and from here it’s all about defeating Ultimecia (with the odd superboss to tackle, if you feel so inclined).
Disc 4 opens with Squall and co. following Seifer up to Adel’s Tomb. Once there, they find a moustache-twirling Seifer handing Rinoa over to Adel, who breaks out of her tomb and grabs Rinoa. Adel junctions Rinoa to her, which acts a little different to how Guardian Forces are junctioned, since you can actually see Rinoa partially-absorbed into Adel’s torso. It’s a bit icky if you think about it.
Now, this boss was my wake-up call when I originally played FFVIII. My tactic of spamming Guardian Forces as my primary form of damage output just did not work. You see, Rinoa counts as an enemy target during this battle, which means that area effect attacks hit her as well as Adel. Along with that, Adel occasionally drains health from Rinoa to restore her own, which means that you need to keep Rinoa alive long enough to defeat Adel.
I’d love to see my old save from when I first reached this stage and take a look at my party build. I’d also be interested in watching my younger self attempting to tackle the fight. What sort of damage was I taking? What spells did I have junctioned? What passive abilities did I have set on my party? My theory for why I was losing back then was not are my tactics bad or is my party built poorly, but I don’t have enough levels.
As such, when it became clear that the enemies in Lunatic Pandora wouldn’t give me enough experience to level (they give like one or two exp apiece), the only reasonable solution seemed to be to load an earlier save. Now, FFVIII was my first game of this length and scope, but I still apparently had realised that I might want to replay earlier sections, so I had a save I’d kept at the start of Disc 3, and I booted that up. I then proceeded to replay everything up to Lunatic Pandora, and explored the world. I levelled my characters heavily. I upgraded their weapons. I gathered spells and Guardian Forces en masse. I also discovered that Zell’s Limit Break was totally overpowered.
When I finally came back to challenge Adel, I destroyed her. That was much the same in this playthrough as well. I know this all seems like a lot of anecdotal waffle, but I think it’s important to consider experiences like these when discussing games and their structures, because it can differ so much depending on a variety of factors. When certain sections in games (especially MMOs) are made easier, it’s common for people to express total confusion at why such changes would be needed, but it’s not hard to forget how these systems can be misunderstood.
Once you’ve defeated my old arch-nemesis, Rinoa is freed, and Laguna arrives with Ellone to initiate their plan. Erm, one thing first, though – what happened to Seifer? He doesn’t appear during the boss fight, and he’s not present in this conversation either. Maybe Ultimecia released him from her control, and he ran off? But if Seifer was really, truly, being controlled by her, then surely he’d have attempted to fix his mistakes after getting his mind back? He was never the sort to run away before she got involved. Alternatively, she doesn’t release him from control, and he just gets forgotten. Either way, I don’t think it’s a particularly satisfying way to finish Seifer’s involvement in the main plot.
So anyway, everyone follows the plan. Ultimecia possesses Rinoa, and Ellone sends her to the past. As expected, Ultimecia initiates Time Compression, and everything goes a bit bonkers. The room warps, and everyone drops through the sky, surrounded by bubbles displaying scenes from the rest of the game.
A series of unusual events follows, as the group ends up underwater surrounded by fish, floating above an upside-down sea, and dragged through a tunnel surrounded by an enormous number of birds. Squall advises them all to head for Edea’s house, but they end up in Edea’s room in Deling City instead. There’s a save point directly in front of you, but it suddenly multiplies itself when you touch it. It’s all a little unsettling, and it gets worse as you approach Edea herself, who’s seated facing away from you. She does that unnatural animation where she stands up with her back bent right back, and then a boss fight starts.
I quite like the spectacle of this encounter, which pits you against a “succession of witches” through time. What this means is that you’ll be fighting a series of sorceresses in different battle arenas from the game, including Timber, forests, and Balamb Garden. Once you’ve defeated most of them, a giant, serpentine/bug-like sorceress arrives for a final challenge, battling you on a rocky platform surrounded by a swirling red sky.
Once she’s been dispatched, the party finally reaches the orphanage, which looks much as it did in the past, when they all lived there. However, as you step out to survey the beach and lighthouse behind it, the scenery shifts, and the group find themselves surrounded by the corpses of White SeeD fighters, while chains swoop up from the surface to an ominous floating castle in the sky.
We’re nearly done! But the game doesn’t rush its finale, so let’s not get carried away either. See you next time.