So while we were wasting time with kidnapping a fake president, Watts was actually advancing the plot – he’s discovered that Deling himself really is going to Timber, and he intends to visit the TV Station. The team connects a few dots at this stage – the Timber TV Station is the only place, apparently, that can handle radio transmissions, and Galbadia likely secured the communications tower in Dollet in order to carry out a mass broadcast. It seems that radio waves have been disrupted for many years now, forcing the world to use cables instead, which have a more limited range.
(I’m not sure the tech presented here holds up in the modern era, and maybe didn’t at the time either…)
Selphie suggests/jokes that Deling plans to broadcast about peace and love, while Rinoa says that they could hijack the broadcast to declare Timber’s independence. I don’t see how this plan makes any sense – just saying something doesn’t make it so, unless you are incredibly rich and powerful, and have a lot of dumb followers. Even if the Forest Owls broadcast that claim, they’re six people with three mercenaries – how, precisely, are they going to enforce this declaration?
After seeing Zone, Watts, and Rinoa squat in a corner to discuss strategy, Squall queries their contract. Rinoa presents him with a couple of contracts, one of which is written in incomprehensible legalese, while the other can be seen above. The SeeDs are unimpressed, but Rinoa brushes off any complaints and decides to split the party as they head on into Timber.
Meanwhile, some of the Galbadian soldiers eagerly prepare to bully the population in their investigation into terrorist activity, whether by interrogating all the local teens, or tossing people into jail. Their leader, a more reasonable man, attempts to talk them out of it, but goes ignored.
This section of the game gives you access to a town that also serves as a minor dungeon. You can interact with the locals and visit shops and other buildings of interest, but Galbadian soldiers will attack you in the streets. The encounter chance is fairly low, so you’ll probably only have seven or so fights during your visit, aside from a couple of mandatory battles (one of which is only mandatory if you start the right conversation).
Once you’ve found your way to the TV Station, you can come across this rather unsettling screen. I’m not sure how legible it was back on the old PS1, but it’s certainly difficult with the low-quality PC edition, especially since it’s moving in the game:
The phrases are occasionally jumbled, but they include: IWILLNEVERLETYOUFORGETABOUTME, IAMALIVEHERE, and BRINGMEBACKTHERE. These spooky messages are foreshadowing for Sorceress Adel, the imprisoned antagonist of Esthar’s backstory, but she won’t really become a feature of the story for a while. For now, this screen is used to discuss the radio interference that has affected the airwaves for seventeen years.
While the group talks about this, Watts arrives, announcing that Deling is already in the studio. Rinoa realises that they can’t just storm the station, so she tries to devise a new plan. Rather than assist in her brainstorming, Squall just advises her that he’ll follow whatever her orders are. This frustrates Rinoa, who snarks at how easy life must be when you don’t have to do the thinking yourself. Squall retorts with a jab at her actual chances of achieving anything, and the two have an argument about how serious Rinoa really is about all this. You get the option to soften Squall’s delivery, but it ends up the same way – Rinoa runs off, and Selphie takes her place in the party.
I think this is a pretty good little conflict between Squall and Rinoa. Squall’s personality is pretty abrasive so it doesn’t make sense for Rinoa to just automatically like and agree with him in all their encounters, and here we actually get to see them clash. Both of them have reasonable points, but neither of them understands the wider picture. Squall is correct in that the Forest Owls are not exactly running their resistance in a professional manner, but his delivery is purely dismissive and negative, rather than suggesting ways to improve matters. Rinoa, meanwhile, is correct that Squall doesn’t appear to actually care about their struggle, but she started the dispute by insulting the SeeDs for following orders as per their contract, and she does indeed not treat matters as seriously as she claims.
However, the broadcast finally begins, and the SeeDs turn their attention to the big screen. Now I’m going to go on a quibble rant here, so feel free to skip these paragraphs. President Deling went to the trouble of having his army attack Dollet in order to secure the communications tower, which was apparently achieved just the day before. On the day after, he immediately rushed to Timber and they got everything set up in time for him to deliver this speech to the world.
Now, Deling has gone to this trouble in order to spread this message as far as possible, but he has not actually done any advertising at all to prepare the world for it. Presumably there aren’t different time zones, as the expectation appears to be that this one live broadcast will be enough to spread the word to everyone. He also launched an offensive against Dollet in order to then spread a message of alleged peace, though he wants to intimidate the other world leaders with the sorceress as his ambassador, so I suppose that doesn’t really matter? But why would he need the sorceress to intimidate people when he already has the biggest military and controls half the world? And who isn’t already controlled by Galbadia anyway? Esthar isn’t, but would their TVs even show this broadcast? And how does this broadcast override everyone’s cable TV anyway?
Presumably this is part of the sorceress’s way of manoeuvring herself into Deling’s government, but she could probably just have had herself declared as his advisor without any need to mess around with communications towers and world-wide broadcasts. Her goal is to secure Ellone, who is being hidden somewhere by Garden, and use her strange power to achieve Time Compression (let’s go into that later). She uses the military to bully towns into handing over Ellone, but there’s still no need for this false peace treaty business, as taking over Galbadia is apparently as easy as killing Deling in front of a mind-controlled crowd.
I love FFVIII but I think that a lot of the story gets overly complicated to the point that it no longer really makes sense. Ultimecia’s plan is ultimately a fairly simple one – possess a sorceress in Ellone’s era, capture Ellone, and then use her power to initiate Time Compression. Carrying it out isn’t guaranteed to be easy, of course, but a sorceress who can affect the will of crowds of people could probably abuse that power to sneak herself into Garden undetected, unless they have some sort of sorceress detector. There’s no need for her to take over the world’s primary superpower and initiate a global conflict, not to mention initiating a Lunar Cry so she can take over an imprisoned sorceress in place of the one she’s already controlling.
Anyway. In summary, President Deling announces that he wants to hold a peace conference, and that the sorceress will serve as his ambassador. At this point, Seifer breaks in, beats up most of the guards, and then takes Deling hostage. Quistis charges in after him, warns the guards to stay back, and addresses the Timber team by speaking directly to the camera, anticipating Squall’s reluctance to get involved as she directly states that they have permission to intervene.
You might expect to have an action sequence where you fight your way into the TV Station, but no – you go straight into the next story section. Zell loses it with Seifer, and after Seifer casually insults him, Zell demands to know if Seifer is being taken back to Garden. Deling is naturally very interested to hear who’s responsible for taking him hostage, and an unimpressed Seifer drags Deling off and tells Squall and Quistis to sort things out.
This is where we sort-of meet our main antagonist at long last. The screen is covered in a blue-violet filter, and the sorceress appears from the darkness to speak to Seifer. She calls him a scared boy, and invites him to follow her and become a man. This eventually seems to get through to him, and he releases Deling and follows her, both of them disappearing just as she magically appeared before.
With their mission to the TV Station a total failure, the group runs for it, only to find that the Forest Owls base has been discovered and destroyed. They hide out in the house of another resistance group’s leader until the commotion has died out instead, and try to gather their thoughts. Quistis tells Squall that Seifer was outraged at Garden setting three “rookie” SeeDs against the entire Galbadian army, and declared that he would go to Timber himself. Quistis apparently dismissed this claim at the time, only to find that he actually meant it later on.
There’s an amusing little exchange here where Rinoa says she feels sorry for Seifer, while Squall thinks to himself that Seifer would hate that, and even laughs at the notion. Rinoa is outraged, not aware of exactly what’s amused Squall.
The following conversation underlines Squall’s dismal worldview. While Rinoa is concerned for Seifer, Squall doesn’t believe in hope. He just settles on the worst possible outcome to avoid being disappointed, and advises Rinoa to do the same. She takes this somewhat childishly, calling him a meany and turning her back on him.
Once things have calmed down, the group catches a train to the East Academy Station, figuring that their best course from here would be to follow the SeeD guidelines and seek shelter at the nearest Garden. On the way, Zell, who’s been uncharacteristically downcast, admits that he’s afraid that Garden will be attacked because of his outburst at the TV Station. Squall says that Garden may indeed be attacked, and could even lose to the Galbadian army, at which point Rinoa steps in again. She berates Squall for being so callous towards his comrades, but Squall continues to dismiss her worldview.
However, before they can get into too much depth, Squall, Quistis, and Selphie all pass out, and we rejoin Laguna and his comrades in the past. They appear to have come across a strange site of some sort, and they head on down to investigate.
They swiftly come under attack from Esthar soldiers. I can’t remember when Esthar was first mentioned in the main story, or if it’s even come up at all beyond some side references, but the Esthar soldiers all wear strange bug-like Power Ranger outfits and never speak in these sections, giving them a mysterious and alien feel.
Speaking of which, the excavation site is built around a crystal formation of some kind, with some striking locations and a couple of unusual monster types as well. The relevance of this location to the overarching plot is both debatable and not important for a while yet, but it’s good to see it make an appearance so early on.
While you’re looking around the facility, you can find a couple of keys (and immediately lose them), activate a trap, and use a detonator to move around some boulders. Doing so will give you a few extras when you visit this pillar again in the future, though it’s not the end of the world if you miss these features.
On that subject, there are quite a few things you can miss in FFVIII, especially once you cross a certain plot boundary in Disc 3. This is something that I feel should be done fairly sparingly, if at all. By all means, have extra conversations and dialogue to spice up the game world during different plot junctures, but don’t gate off things like Guardian Forces and locations, unless you’re going to give players access to them after the end credits roll. Even FFXIII got this wrong, and it had years of Final Fantasy experience to look back on. But then it had many other issues that could have been avoided, so let’s not go down that rabbit hole.
The Excavation Site is probably the longest uninterrupted series of fights and exploration in the game since Dollet. In Timber, I rarely had any random encounters, and my expected battle sequence at the TV Station never happened. Here, though, you’ll get pulled into combat a fair amount, especially if you’re trying to work out all the little secrets hidden around the place. Alternatively, you can just race through and initiate the finale of this area without getting too sidetracked.
So how’s combat holding up, with maybe five or more hours done? Well, to be quite honest, I don’t think it’s doing particularly well. FFXIII gets a lot of valid criticism that it withholds features of the combat system for far too long, and that’s true, but the combat from Chapter 3 onwards does require you to react to enemy attacks and make use of the Stagger system to bring fights to a speedy conclusion.
In FFVIII, though, here we are several hours in, and quite honestly, you’re better off just spamming Attack and dozing off. Sure, you can use magic, but it’s not really all that powerful compared to attacking, and carries the downside that you’ll need to restock, especially if you use those spells to buff your stats. You can debuff enemies, you can abuse Limit Breaks, you can spam Guardian Forces, but really and truthfully you don’t need to, and haven’t needed to for all the game up to this point.
I always felt that there was a strict trade-off for Final Fantasy’s various turn-based combat systems, in that the basic fights got tedious, but you would get memorable and epic boss fights in return. When FFXII introduced its own largely automated battle system, that was reversed, with basic fights becoming less of an issue (it formalised the attack-and-doze-off system and enshrined it as the only way to play), while the boss fights became uninvolving as a result. Really, when it came to boss fights in FFXII, I only really needed to be within a reasonable level or gear range for a fight, and just interrupt to manually heal now and then.
FFVIII was my first of these games, so I didn’t think too deeply on it. I was mostly just excited to be experience an epic TV/book series in a game format, where I could walk around and do my own thing from time to time. The Junction system gives you some flexibility and there are some interesting ideas to explore, but there’s a heavy redundancy to most of it. Sure, you can get some crazy stats near the beginning of the game, but the reward for that is… an even easier game?
There are some endgame dungeons and fights that make things a lot trickier to handle, and that’s great, but if FFXIII can be criticised for having a very basic combat system for the first couple of chapters, then you don’t have to look far to find the same elsewhere in the series.
Back in the world of FFVIII, Laguna, Kiros, and Ward continue their exploration of the crystalline tunnels and find themselves cornered on a cliff overlooking the sea. The last Esthar soldier manages to use a plot ability to take Kiros and Ward down to one hitpoint apiece, wounding Ward to such an extent that he begins to lose his ability to speak. Laguna tries to keep the group’s spirits up when he spies some ships down in the water, and he tosses his friends over the edge so they can get on board. When he gets cold feet and tries to climb down carefully himself, he loses his grip and falls from the cliff.
At this juncture, the SeeD group in the present wakes up, and Quistis notes that everyone seems to be quite familiar with this sort of vivid vision/visit to the past. Squall immediately dismisses it again, stating it a waste of time. I know that the writer wanted to avoid answering these questions so early on, but there are far less clumsy ways of doing so. This kind of experience would be mind-blowing, but nobody really seems to care. They just treat it as though they saw a dog ride past on a skateboard, and carry on with their lives.
Rinoa briefly apologises to Squall when the others head on through the forest, saying that she feels that she went too far. While she’s probably correct that she didn’t discuss it in the most constructive fashion, attacking him rather than questioning, Squall just waves off the apology but makes no effort to meet her midway. While Squall gets told off at several points in the story, it’s often at the points where he’s making at least a bit of an effort (such as the concert on Disc 2). I’m not sure he deserved the apology here, or to get away with just acting like he was in the right all along.
We’ve covered a fair bit now, so let’s copy the main party and take a break from the action ourselves. See you next time!