Welcome to the grand finale of my series on Final Fantasy VIII! Fair warning – if you don’t like spooky faces (or a lack thereof), then you may want to skip this one.
So we last left off with main antagonist Ultimecia slowly exploding. Her death animation is suitably over-the-top, but eventually she bites the bullet and the party gets thrown back into the void. Here’s where the game’s weird final act goes into overdrive. We see various party members running around an empty white space, trying to encourage each other. Quistis’s last line of dialogue in the entire game is warning them not to fall into a time warp “whatever you do”, which always amuses me and I can’t quite figure out why.
Rinoa focuses on Squall, but he’s nowhere to be seen. We join him in a black void instead, where he ends up stumbling into Edea’s orphanage in the past. He sees his childhood self running away in pursuit of Ellone, and meets up with a younger Edea. Before they can exchange more than a few words, Ultimecia appears, back to her normal self. Squall’s ready to fight, but Edea understands that she’s there to pass on her powers before death.
As Edea explained a couple of entries ago, she opted to take on that power herself, rather than allow it to afflict any of the children in the orphanage. Once Ultimecia’s given Edea her powers, she dies (again), and that’s the end of her for good. Squall then plants the ideas of SeeD and Garden (something something thematically appropriate), and Edea tells him to leave. She seems weirdly hostile, to be honest, but I suppose mysterious time-travellers aren’t your everyday occurrence. She was a lot more warm towards Ultimecia, though.
From here, we head into nightmare territory, as Squall struggles to find his way out of Time Compression. Surrounded by warped visions of his adventures, he calls out to people, but hears no answers. His last line of dialogue in the entire game is “Where… am I?”
Most of his recurring visions are of Rinoa, her features warped and indistinguishable. We’re treated to a particularly uncomfortable dance with a distorted Rinoa, as scenery and images whirl by, and then Rinoa jumps towards the screen, as in the first cutscene and the rescue from the Sorceress Memorial, followed by a flash-by of images, including the infamous faceless Squall:
It’s a real blink-and-miss-it shot, by the way, so don’t be surprised if you never noticed it (I didn’t). There’s a lot more emphasis put on the final image, which is of Rinoa lost in space, her helmet shattering. Since that’s also incredibly unsettling, I’m putting that here as well.
All of this is too much for Squall, who falls to his knees in the middle of a dusty void of clouds. A solitary feather falls to the ground nearby, and Rinoa walks into view. She kneels next to the fallen Squall and hugs him, and it seems for a moment as though he may have died. However, just as all hope seems lost, the clouds part, sunshine breaks through, and petals fly in the air all about. They’ve made it back to the field at Edea’s orphanage, and their own time. Perhaps most thankfully, we’re done with the nightmare imagery.
As Eyes On Me bursts into full flow, we get a series of cutscenes to fill us in on a few of the goings-on after the Ultimecia crisis was ended. Seifer is at Balamb Town’s dock fishing, but he’s having little success. When he sees Raijin’s managed to catch something, he hurls his fishing rod to the ground, but Fujin boots Raijin into the water, and Seifer laughs with joy. I’m not fully sure that Seifer deserved this happy ending, but then we never really got to cover the extent of his loss of self, so perhaps I should give him the benefit of the doubt (nah).
Balamb Garden flies overhead, and then the camera shifts to display Laguna standing in another field, looking at a ring he’s wearing. Time shifts back to when he was his younger self (don’t worry, we’re done with Time Compression, it’s just a normal flashback), and we see him proposing to Raine, who’s tear-struck and delighted. It’s a bit bittersweet when you think about it, though, given that he essentially forgot about her later and never got back in time.
He’s redressing that wrong now, though, as when we rejoin him in the present, we see that he’s approaching Raine’s grave. Ellone joins him there, while Kiros and Ward stand in the background. That’s basically all Kiros does – he might as well be a cardboard stand. Ward does, at least, get to wave, but that’s it. Balamb Garden passes overhead one more time, and then the screen fades out, and the iconic Final Fantasy Prologue theme plays (this is the first time I ever heard it, actually, so maybe I didn’t finish FFVII first).
This is a great credits cutscene, and makes me wish that we’d spent a little more time with our side characters. It follows Selphie and Irvine as they film everyone at a party at Balamb Garden. We get to see Quistis feeling awkward as Selphie persists in filming her, a cheerful Cid able to relax and have fun with Edea for the first time in presumably quite a few years. Zell, finally, gets the hot dogs he kept missing at the Cafeteria throughout the game, and he’s accompanied by the library girl (it seems she really doesn’t have a name). Irvine angers Selphie by waving at a bunch of girls, Zell nearly chokes on his hot dogs, and then Angelo suddenly runs past them.
Following Angelo’s trail, Selphie points out Rinoa standing on the balcony, looking at someone off-camera. As Irvine focuses the camcorder on her, the battery dies, and the next set of end credits roll, this time with no video playing.
I have to wonder what this would have been like if they’d reconciled with Garden Master NORG, and he’d lumbered into frame during all this.
And don’t worry, all is not lost. After the credits finish, we get one last video, joining Rinoa on the balcony a few seconds before Selphie noticed her. She turns to smile at Squall, who, in probably the biggest plot twist ever seen in a video game, smiles back. They move together for a kiss, the camera swoops back to show Balamb Garden flying over the sea with the moon overhead, and then the screen fades out, signalling the end of our time in FFVIII’s world.
So there it is, the end of another series on a Final Fantasy game. It’s been great to look back at the game that kick-started my love of RPGs, and forever influenced how I approached story-writing. Is that a good thing? Well, I think that for all the missteps I’ve pointed out, FFVIII gets a lot of things right. It has a detailed world with a variety of backstories that are either directly related to the main plot, or help to support the vision of a wider world. It also has a collection of memorable and colourful characters, and while most of them don’t have very detailed arcs, they’re fun to have along for the ride.
I talked a lot about FFVIII’s steep decline in quality in the second half, but I don’t think, on reflection, that I was right about that. There are several missed opportunities, and the theme of the main plot (Ultimecia wants to compress time) isn’t the most interesting, but Esthar as a whole provides an interesting and different experience to the adventures on the other continents, and some of the best sights in the game. The pacing is also quite fast after Disc 2, with each subsequent disc getting progressively briefer, so it’s not like it outstays its welcome either.
If FFVIII was to be remade, I do think that the combat system would need to be overhauled from the ground up. It may have sounded like I was trying to show off, going on about how easy the fights were for me, but the point is that the level of power is not even remotely balanced between abilities, and a lot of the time, putting in extra effort in combat is a waste of time when you can just pull out the old Limit Break. Sure, some fights don’t let you get away with that, but they’re the exception, and most regular fights are simply a case of spamming Attack. The Draw system is similarly draining, and while you can bypass some of it with the Guardian Force refining options, that’s not always an option depending on where you are in the game, or what spells you want to collect.
While the newer versions of the game attempt to address this by allowing you to just automatically max out your spells, that’s all well and good, but it highlights that the base function of the game doesn’t really work. I’d prefer a more elegant and entertaining solution than simply using the equivalent of a cheat code to bypass it altogether.
As for the final act, I’d really want an option to move between the regular time period, and Ultimecia Castle. There’s nothing extra in the time-compressed world map, so you might as well just let players return to the old one between forays into the end dungeon.
FFVIII is also probably one of the worst Final Fantasy games for missable content, with tons of items and sidequests disappearing if you trigger the wrong story event. While none of it is required for completing the story, it’s just one of those cases where I feel it punishes players for exploring the game and not following a guidebook.
It’s obviously too late to make a FFVIII-2, since the majority of fans have likely forgotten most of it by now, so while it would sell a lot of copies just for being a Final Fantasy game, I imagine it wouldn’t make the sort of cash that Square-Enix requires to justify creating it. All the same, I’d like to see a follow-up where the impact of the Lunar Cry, and Galbadia’s legacy, get explored in a bit more detail. Perhaps a bit more time with the main cast wouldn’t go amiss either!
Anyhow, I do think FFVIII is worth the time investment, especially since the PC version has those in-built “cheats” to let you bypass some of the more tedious aspects of the Draw system, but even without those it still plays relatively well.
Since writing this full series, the Remastered edition was announced and is now approaching fast, so I’ve had to cut out part of this last section. Originally, I encouraged trying out the PC version despite its low-res backgrounds and borderline-bootleg rendition of the soundtrack. Now that they’re remastering everything, I guess I can just say GO AHEAD AND PLAY IT! (when it releases)
As for the story, I think it’s well worth the look. FFVIII really pushed its more realistic world, with heavier focus on characterisation and romance, and with the exception of a couple of over-convenient plot twists, it mostly provides an entertaining experience.
And if it sounds like I didn’t enjoy any of it at all, well, that’s just me, I’m afraid – I complain about everything. I probably enjoy things less when they make sense. I’m trying to think of a single game where I didn’t find something that prevented it from being the Best Game of All Time, and I’m drawing a blank.
So yeah, thank you to the team behind Final Fantasy VIII for introducing me to such an inspirational and vibrant world, and here’s to the next Final Fantasy game, whenever it comes out.