The next stop on our voyage is Galbadia Garden, which doesn’t have quite the same comfortable vibe of Balamb Garden. There’s a more militaristic and sporty feel to it, and the group notes that it’s much quieter, so it’s no surprise when Squall comments that he likes it. One thing it does have in its favour is that it doesn’t have a wing devoted to dangerous monsters like Balamb, but then that might change later (spoiler!).
I’ve always felt there’s something very unnerving underneath FFVIII’s visual style. Buildings loom menacingly over the party, and symbols can be found everywhere. The warring emblems of Galbadia and SeeD, along with the venomous beauty of the sorceresses and their various chambers, are images that have burned into my subconscious. I get that same sense of unease in other Final Fantasy games that likely have the same art directors, whether it’s down to Tetsuya Nomura or others.
You can have a look around the Garden, but many of the areas are shut off, and a message over the loudspeakers will follow you wherever you go, urging you to head up to the second floor reception room. It’s probably not a bad idea to check out the building’s layout, given that you’ll be back here later under rather different circumstances (there’s that spoiler again).
Once you give in and head up to the reception room, Zell instantly complains that it’s taking too long, and Quistis arrives immediately after that to tell them the situation. In an act of unusual benevolence, Galbadia has decided that Garden isn’t to blame for Seifer’s bad behaviour, and has instead chosen to execute just him. It’s fairly plain to the player that this isn’t the end of Seifer’s story, but it’s treated seriously here, which is nice. A lot of writers realise that a false development will be obvious to the reader so they avoid putting too much emphasis on it, which can make characters ring false, but that doesn’t happen this time.
As Rinoa struggles with the idea that Seifer died for her resistance, Quistis starts to channel Squall, commenting that Rinoa must have been ready for this, and emphasising that the Forest Owls got Seifer involved in the first place. Unlike Squall, she does apologise on realising that she’s done a poor job of consoling Rinoa. Zell, meanwhile, admits that while he didn’t like Seifer, he still counted Seifer as one of them, and didn’t wish this upon him.
Quistis goes on to say that Seifer was troubled, but quickly adds that he “wasn’t really a bad guy”, which I suppose is something you could argue over for hours. Seifer did care about solving some problems, but he was also a bully who didn’t respect anyone who couldn’t fight him. Rinoa, meanwhile, touches briefly on her brief sort-of relationship with Seifer.
In any case, all of this chatter begins to chip away at Squall’s composure. Listening to the others, he steadily gets more bothered by everyone talking about Seifer in the past tense. He dislikes the idea of Seifer being reduced to just a memory (important theme here, pay attention!), and that people can just say whatever they want once the person’s gone.
This is a particular character struggle that’s stuck with me, even though Squall’s outburst is unintentionally amusing, especially given that he never explains it to anyone, and nobody asks afterwards. I’d find this exchange a bit more profound if it had been worded a little differently; its awkward phrasing trends towards the comical, in particular when Squall initially shows his agitation and declares that he “won’t have it!”, and Selphie responds with “Are you MAD!?”
Bursting out the above statement, Squall charges out of the room.
Squall’s flight is fairly short-lived; you’re not told where to run off to, but heading downstairs and into the central hall will start a brief scene where Raijin and Fujin, Seifer’s lackeys, have a word with Squall. They’re apparently here to deliver a message on behalf of Headmaster Cid, which they’ve given directly to the headmaster of Galbadia Garden.
When Squall suggests that Seifer is dead, Raijin and Fujin don’t consider it for a moment. Raijin even bursts out laughing. Absolutely certain that Seifer’s alive (maybe he texted them), they head off to find him. Squall, meanwhile, is advised by loudspeaker to meet up at the Garden entrance, and nobody talks to him about his outburst from before.
Instead, Headmaster Martine drives up to the group and delivers their new orders. He explains that the sorceress’s role as peace ambassador is just part of President Deling’s plan to intimidate the other nations into accepting his rule. Additionally, the sorceress intends to use Galbadia Garden as her base. This said, he hands Squall his new instructions, which Squall doesn’t question, beyond the means of accomplishing them.
Here we get our sixth team member at long last. Whatever the instructions are, they require a sniper, and Martine provides the band with Irvine Kinneas, an irritating would-be cowboy. There are several reasons I don’t like Irvine, but the most pressing one would be that he delivers the awful plot twist extravaganza at the end of Disc 2.
Right now, though, he states that he’s the sort of person who says things that get a rise out of people, but adds that if Squall doesn’t let it bother him, they’ll get along fine. I’ve never met a person who says “I say what I think, don’t be so sensitive” who doesn’t go into overdrive if you even slightly criticise them or their worldview. It’s a massive red flag, and so that instantly put Irvine on my hit list.
All the same, Irvine isn’t secretly a malevolent abuser and I don’t need to take his snub so seriously, but I might as well justify why you’ll almost never see him in my active party.
With that brief introduction done, Squall outlines their next mission. They’re to assassinate the sorceress, in short, with the main goal being to support Irvine as he attempts to snipe her. Should Irvine fail, they’ll just go and attack her in their usual style. Irvine brushes off the suggestion that he might miss.
At this point, Irvine tries to decide on the party, grouping himself with Selphie and Rinoa. I decided instead to take Rinoa with me, and Irvine was outraged at being left with Selphie and Quistis – apparently he’s not into Selphie as much as he claims later. The game, meanwhile, decides that now’s a good time to teach you how to switch party members and junctions. This probably ought to have been taught earlier (re-junctioning Guardian Forces without Switch is a bit cumbersome), but I suppose it’s better to have an explanation than not.
The group grabs a train to Deling City, and Irvine takes the opportunity to start flirting with Selphie and Rinoa. Selphie seems receptive to this and becomes flustered, not that Squall realises, thinking she’s just nervous about the coming mission. Quistis tells Irvine off, and he sulks and tells everyone to leave him alone. Zell, irked by Irvine’s attitude, slams the floor with his fist, and nearly derails the train.
Deling City is just as it appeared in the dream about Laguna, and Rinoa’s familiar with it as well, though she doesn’t clarify when Squall notices. I was a big fan of Deling City back in the day – I’d often go exploring the world and fighting monsters for hours, and then take a break in the city to play cards and unwind. This sort of opportunity to create your own memories and habits wasn’t really present in FFXIII, where you could go to Gran Pulse and fight monsters, or go to Cocoon and fight monsters. The only real variation was riding chocobos, but I can’t say that playing the treasure game was my favourite way to relax between grinds.
On the way to Caraway’s mansion, Squall wonders if a full coup d’état is planned, given that Caraway is head of the Galbadian army, though he’s quick to dismiss the notion. You’re blocked at the entrance by a guard, who claims that General Caraway will only let them inside if they prove themselves via a test. I would have thought that preparing for the mission would have superseded (superSeeDed?) the need for this silly hurdle, not to mention that Garden ought to have documentation about their SeeDs to prove their capabilities, but it does at least give an excuse to enter another dungeon and fight some beasties.
The test involves going to the Tomb of the Unknown King and checking the ID left by a student who went there on a similar errand and never returned. Apparently the student’s fate is not important to confirm. You’re also given a map, which you can use to navigate the tomb, and can optionally purchase a tracker for five thousand gil. This all seems like a bizarre system for a military professional to operate, but there it is.
The tomb itself isn’t quite as confusing as it seems initially – everything’s in a grid, but there are a few different things you need to interact with in order to open all the chambers. And it’s worth noting that the ID number is only a few paces inside the tomb – if you don’t care about the optional Guardian Force, or just exploring in general, you can leave practically instantly and get back to the plot.
This is the only fight so far that I’ve nearly lost. Being arrogant, I entered with very little health, and it doesn’t require many Limit Breaks to take them down, but one of the two minotaur brothers can clonk everyone for a reasonable amount of damage. Still, I got through it anyway, so make of that what you will.
This seems like a good place to stop – everything’s about to kick off, so let’s come back next time ready for the Disc 1 finale.