Last time, our band of new SeeDs found they’d shared a mysterious dream about a group of Galbadian soldiers, but deemed this unimportant enough that they immediately dismissed it. The train’s arrival in Timber pushes us back onto the resistance storyline, as we meet up with Watts at the station.
This is one of those sequences that stuck in my head. You were given the password earlier to identify yourselves to the resistance, and you have to pick it here or… er… you still get access to the rebel base, but for the sake of accuracy, I always go for the correct response.
Satisfied with the correct response, Watts leads the group to another train platform, where a smaller train rolls up and allows them on board. It seems that this is the secret base of the Forest Owls resistance group, and their leader, an unassuming young man called Zone, introduces himself. Squall’s clearly unimpressed by the small scale of the operation, and even more irritated when Zone asks him to go and collect their “princess” so they can have a meeting.
Zone’s gimmicks are that he likes naughty magazines, and that he gets a stomach ache whenever… well, whenever anything happens, really. He either fakes them as an excuse to not do anything, or he actually does feel unwell under pressure, but whatever the truth, there’s not much I particularly like about him and he mostly serves as an inconvenience.
As for the princess, you don’t get a prize if you successfully guessed that she’s Rinoa.
Everyone on the train warns Squall that bothering Rinoa during her naps is dangerous, but she doesn’t seem too hostile. In fact, she’s delighted that SeeD are there to help, while Squall would prefer that she calm down. Rinoa explains that Garden has been refusing to help her for a while now, but that Seifer was able to secure her an introduction with Cid himself. After speaking face-to-face, Cid immediately agreed to lend assistance.
She also asks if Seifer’s there too, but Squall denies this, and also mentions that Seifer isn’t a full SeeD. Rather than dwelling on Seifer, Rinoa moves straight on to praising Squall’s dancing, and Squall acts like he wasn’t terrible until she guided him, giving a speech about how it’s a skill that can be used for infiltration. Rinoa also introduces you to her pet dog, who assists her in battle either as a reactive ability, or one of her Limit Breaks.
However, Squall’s ready for business, and they head over to the meeting room for their briefing. Watts has found out that President Vinzer Deling himself is coming to Timber by train, and they intend to kidnap him via a complicated train-swapping plan. In short, they want to switch out the president’s car with a fake one, and then drive off with Deling. This sequence basically outlines the gameplay features of the upcoming set piece, before allowing you some time to get ready in the Forest Owls base.
This part is one of the iconic sequences of FFVIII. I remember it being all over the previews, and I read very few reviews that didn’t include screenshots from it. It starts quite abruptly, though – once you confirm with Rinoa that you’re ready to get started, the game instantly deposits you on one of the trains in the middle of the action.
There are two main features to this section – one of them is entering a code without getting spotted, which you have to do twice. The first time, you have Zell and Selphie to warn you that guards are getting close, while the second time, you need to manually check every now and then. It’s not too difficult.
The second component is the guards’ sensors, of which there are two varieties. One type tracks you if you’re moving, the other tracks you if you’re standing still. However, when you actually get to that section, the sensors are broken and you can just waltz on past. I have a suspicion that they had the idea for this the section but could never get it to work, so they just left in all that stuff as a joke. If you really want to sample that sort of gameplay, I recommend checking out Undertale.
I should probably touch on the presentation in this sequence as well. Most of the game has largely static pre-rendered backdrops, with the exception of the 3D world map and combat arenas. A few objects move in the pre-rendered backgrounds, but you can’t turn the camera or anything like that. However, for a few of these action set pieces, the game runs FMVs where you can move about or engage in combat minigames while things happen around you. FFVII had this style in a few sections as well, but FFVIII took it to the next level, and some of these train sequences were/are impressive indeed. And I should give a special mention to the giant shot of the moon partway through.
Anyhow, once you’ve done both code entries, it’s time to confront President Vinzer Deling himself! However, time’s really not of the essence, and you can wander around the Forest Owls’ train first. One of the rebels will tell you about how Zone and Watts’s parents resisted the Galbadians years ago, and were shot in front of everyone as an example to the people of Timber. Deling, freshly risen to President, took a gun from one of the soldiers and shot the corpses, just to make a point.
Just as you sidetrack in the game to find this out, I’ll sidetrack briefly here as well. If you’ve read my FFXIII series, then you may remember me touching on the subject of how the game’s social issues give way to fantasy and never really get resolved in any satisfying fashion.
It feels similar here as well. Deling himself isn’t a very interesting villain; he doesn’t get much screentime, and when he does actually show up, he either gets taken hostage by Seifer, or impaled by Edea. However, the world the game builds around him is interesting, and the tales told about him create the picture of a fascinating conflict.
Deling came to power around the time of the world’s conflict with Esthar, a mysterious nation ruled over by a despotic sorceress, and he fought fire with fire. Focusing on militarisation, he swallowed up other countries and mobilised an army to take on Esthar. When the war came to a sudden, surprising halt, he continued to take over other countries, and his soldiers largely mistreat the populace and stamp out individual cultures where they can.
You’ll see a lot of that throughout FFVIII. The question of young soldiers and military powers. The theme of war orphans. The notion of fighting back against bullies destroying your identity. And it all gets swept away by the end of the game. Instead, the story becomes the tale of an angry sorceress who, fearing her prophesied death, tries to destroy the very notion of time itself, and none of the problems with Galbadia are really resolved on-screen. The last battle against Galbadia is around the end of Disc 3, when they bring Lunatic Pandora to Esthar, but this is also around the same time that you initiate Time Compression and head on over to Ultimecia’s castle to take her down.
When you return, that’s it – whatever issues you had with Galbadia are apparently done and dusted. What happened to Galbadia without Deling or Edea/Ultimecia leading them to conquest? Did Timber ever get their independence again? And will Garden stop training child soldiers now that they’ve fulfilled their mission to defeat the sorceress, or do they need to continue in order to reach that point in history where Squall and co. took her down?
Well, I’ve jumped way ahead in the story, but it’s something I feel happens a lot in fantasy, and I’m certainly guilty of it myself in many cases. FFXV is almost exactly the same. The human and relatable issues are used to introduce the main conflict, but the actual reasoning behind everything is something ancient and disconnected from the modern situation.
But Rinoa’s getting impatient, so we should probably join her as she confronts Deling.
Well, Deling turns out not to be Deling at all. Not only is he a body double, but he’s also a mildly deranged monster called Gerogero. When I first did this boss, I spammed him with Guardian Forces, because that’s just how I played the game. However, aside from him being relatively easy anyway, you can just pop a Phoenix Down on him to kill him instantly since he’s an undead beastie.
It’s a bit of an anti-climax, given that you don’t actually learn any important information from doing all of this train-jacking. It’s instead Watts who pops in with a new lead, which we can follow up next time!