In the tradition of cliffhangers the world over, after Squall’s fall to his apparent death, the game does not cover what happened to him next, but instead brings us over Laguna in a small town called Winhill. He’s approached by a small girl called Elle, who tells him that someone’s waiting for him at the pub. Laguna tells her off for leaving the pub alone, warning her of monsters, and once you leave his house you’ll see why, since random encounters can happen anywhere in the streets.
It was around this point in my second playthrough, while the camera swept around Laguna during a fight, and the mountains rose up in the background, that I appreciated the scale of the story in FFVIII. Certainly, there are missteps, and you can bet I’ll take glee in going into those soon enough, but the ambition of FFVIII can’t be denied. There’s a rich history behind the plot, and while the Laguna sections are apparently fairly divisive, I think they do a good job of fleshing out the storyline.
On that note, if you talk to the Galbadian soldiers around town, they’ll fill in some gaps about the role of Esthar. Ignoring their lack of professionalism (they are apparently fine with allowing monsters to run rampant in town, only caring about Esthar soldiers), they tell you about how Esthar is ruled by Sorceress Adel, who is apparently having her minions kidnap girls as she searches for a worthy successor.
Over in the pub, the owner, a woman called Raine, tells Laguna off for using babytalk with Ellone, and we’re introduced to Laguna’s surprise guest – it’s Kiros. During their catch-up, we find out that a year has passed since the events of the previous dream, and Laguna spent six months recovering from his injuries. Kiros left the army (and only spent a month recovering), while Ward, who never got his voice back, went to work as a cleaner in a Galbadian prison. Sign language is apparently not a thing in this universe, as Kiros only talks about judging what Ward wants from his facial expressions.
As for Julia, Laguna’s old flame, we discover that she did release the song she was talking about, which is called Eyes on Me. However, while her “true love” went off to war and never returned, she was comforted by General Caraway, who she subsequently married. Laguna brushes it off, and then Ellone starts to talk about matching him up with Raine, which he quickly tries to talk over. This links up Julia with Rinoa, who we can assume is her daughter.
Once you’re done catching up with Kiros, it’s time for Laguna to get to work. He’s now the Monster Hunter of Winhill, and you patrol the town and kill off beasties as you go. I haven’t checked for myself, but apparently you can escape from all fights and still get congratulated at the end of the sequence for killing “0 monster(s)”.
Kiros expresses disapproval at Laguna spending his time on these patrols, when he once talked about becoming a world-famous journalist. It seems that Kiros has been speaking to the editor of the magazine Timber Maniacs, and he hints that Laguna should do some articles for them. Back at the pub, they eavesdrop on Raine and Ellone, who are talking about Laguna. Ellone apparently wants Raine to marry him, while Raine rants about his various flaws. As she starts discussing her suspicion that Laguna wants to leave and travel the world, Laguna picks this moment to “return”.
Raine thanks him for his work and recommends that he have a nap before they eat together. When you return to his bed, he talks about his fears of waking up in another place, where he cannot see Ellone or Raine. A common thread in this section is Kiros observing that Laguna has changed. I’m not sure that’s entirely true – Laguna has always been faithful to his friends from what we’ve seen so far, and he’s still going around fighting things and rubbing people up the wrong way. Still, I suppose he’s (maybe) content to give up his dreams of travel and choose a peaceful life away from the major action. Will things continue that way, though?
We’ll just have to find out in the next dream, because once you go to bed, Zell wakes up in the present. Apparently, he had a different dream to the one we experienced, however – he was Ward, working in the prison that Kiros mentioned. Our SeeDs (and Rinoa) are all locked up inside a prison themselves, and Selphie ponders whether they should be attempting to escape. Quistis raises the question of what these bizarre dreams actually are, but it’s again deemed unimportant and immediately swatted as a subject for debate.
Rinoa, however, connects the dots, and suggests that this prison is the same one as in Zell’s dream. Zell initially dismisses that as well, before actually taking a proper look around and realising that she’s right. He announces that it’s the prison Ward worked in as though he figured that out by himself, but before they can come up with any solutions to their predicament, they return to setting the scene. Quistis recaps that President Deling has been killed and replaced by the sorceress, and Zell wonders what happened to Irvine, or Squall, and then we head over to join up with the latter.
The “Squall is Dead” theory places part of its argument on how Squall’s life-threatening injury gets written out instantly with no explanation. While that’s true, I suspect it’s more down to sloppy writing than any post-modern interpretation of the storyline. Squall basically wakes up, notices he no longer has a wound, and that’s all the treatment it gets. It’s a bit odd.
However, he has little time to process his situation anyway, as his prison cell pod is lifted up to the top of the prison via some convoluted machinery. While that’s happening, one of the unpleasant prison guards drops by Zell and co’s cell to taunt them, beat up Zell, and have Rinoa taken away with no explanation.
As for Squall, his cell pod reaches its destination, and in comes Seifer, who’s full of confidence now that Squall’s a disarmed captive. He has Squall strapped into a torture device, where he proceeds to interrogate Squall about the true purpose of SeeD. Apparently this matters to the sorceress, though I’m not sure why; she’s well aware that SeeD are going to spend plenty of time fighting her in the future, and a lot of her motivation rests on her desire to avoid her fate dying to a legendary SeeD, but she wastes time on questioning when she could just have each and every SeeD killed.
In any case, that plot point won’t come up for a while yet, so let’s stick with Seifer in the present. Squall has no idea what Seifer’s talking about. He’s a fresh SeeD and hasn’t been clued in on any secret purpose behind their role as a private military company. Seifer’s not convinced, and promises to torture Squall’s friends if he won’t talk, along with having the Warden activate the torture device, shocking Squall with electricity.
Swiftly losing interest in his interrogation, Seifer changes the subject to how “cool” he looked as the sorceress’s knight. We’ll ignore how Squall just drew spells from him for five minutes before trouncing him. Squall is similarly unimpressed, and points out that Seifer’s nothing more than a torturer. As Squall passes out from said torture, Seifer goes on about his romantic dream of being the heroic knight fighting the evil mercenary, expressing his disappointment that Squall isn’t living up to his promise as an antagonist. HOW IRONIC.
As Seifer continues talking to his unconscious rival, the Warden decides that now’s a good time to aimlessly zap Squall, and reactivates the device.
Back in the prison cell, we have our first encounter with a moomba, the weird leonine monstrosity in the picture above. It brings them an empty plate (yes, yes, it’s an early PS1 game and we’re supposed to imagine there’s food on it), only to clumsily trip and drop the plate, spilling nothing all over the floor. The angry guard comes in and kicks the moomba, provoking Zell to step in and stop him. Promising revenge, the guard runs for it.
Seifer, meanwhile, is continuing his interrogation, with little success. A guard pops in to advise “Sir” Seifer that the missiles are ready to be fired at “the Garden”. Seifer informs a shocked Squall that the sorceress is retaliating against SeeD for opposing her (see, she already knew SeeD’s true purpose!), and expresses little remorse about it. Once Garden is destroyed, Seifer’s eager to act as Edea’s bloodhound and hunt down all the SeeDs who remain. I got some heavy Darth Vader-vs-the-Jedi vibes here.
After Seifer leaves, the Warden attempts to continue the interrogation, but Squall keeps the secret he doesn’t know, earning himself a heavy shock.
Zell remembers that he doesn’t use any weapons, so he tricks the guard into thinking that Selphie and Quistis have passed out after being bitten by a snake (?), takes him out, and then escapes and steals back their weapons. Get used to the scenery if you ever play this part of the game, because you’re going to see it a lot. Part of my relative immunity to the complaints about the Hanging Edge in FFXIII likely comes from having played sections like the D-District Prison, in which you basically run up and down the prison three or four times, and the scenery is identical on every floor.
Once Zell brings back everyone’s weapons, the team has a little celebration sequence, where they all grow in size and do a little pose. Even the moomba gets in on the action, though my screenshot with the moomba posing wasn’t much cop. Anyhow, I was delighted when I first played this sequence, because the angry guard returns with… Biggs and Wedge!
Nobody else excited? Okay then.
It seems that Biggs and Wedge have been demoted for successfully reactivating the communications tower despite SeeD interference, and they’re eager for revenge. Unfortunately, while they have a good selection of spells at their fingertips, they’re pretty easy to take down. Just as with Seifer, you can cheerfully spend as long as you like stealing all their spells, unless you’re more sensible than me and prefer to use refining to save time.
Similar to last time you defeated them, Biggs manages to have something of a last laugh, as he sets off the security alarm.
I probably should have mentioned earlier that moombas attempted to free Squall from his imprisonment, while constantly saying “Laguna”. When you leave the prison cell as Zell, you run into more of them, which seem eager for you to follow them upstairs. Zell feels lucky and decides to do so, though moments later it’s announced over the loudspeakers that monsters will be released on each floor until the situation is contained, along with orders to shoot to kill. I’m not sure how they round up the monsters once the situation’s contained, but it feels like that would make it just as messy as trying to retrieve prisoners.
But what do I know? I don’t run military prisons.
While we’re on the subject of monsters, I should probably touch on FFVIII’s datalog, the Information/Tutorial section. You can find out a few details here ahead of time, such as information about the Lunar Cry. We’ll be seeing a lot more about that, but not for a while. I still don’t find the Information section as much of a hurdle as FFXIII’s datalog, which was spoiler-filled and used to fix the wonky plot delivery.
Once you’ve gone up the prison as Zell (and maybe down too, if you want to grab all the extras hidden away in cells there), the moombas lead you to reunite with Squall, who’s looking worse for wear. The group takes a cell pod down to the bottom (leaving Zell behind to operate it), but they find that the door down there opens into dirt. Apparently, the prison is underground!
Before they can come up with a new plan, gunfire alerts them to Zell coming under attack. I thought Zell was right at the top of the prison, while they were down at the bottom, but they’re correct anyway, and are able to get back up in time to rescue Zell from being shot. Zell is so grateful that he clings to Squall, who swiftly becomes uncomfortable and bops him on the head with the hilt of his gunblade.
Selphie and Quistis arrive, and the former points out that Squall really took off in a rush to save Zell. Squall admits to nothing, while Zell preens. However, the crisis isn’t over yet, and they duck behind cover as a salvo of gunfire comes their way.
Their saviour comes in the form of Irvine, who shoots the offending guards before casually stepping down the stairs in full show-off mode. Rinoa, trying to follow behind him, gets impatient and boots him down, as above. When she sees Squall is still alive, she’s taken aback, overcome with relief. Squall, however, doesn’t react to her at all.
Rinoa goes on to explain that her father pulled strings to get her released from prison, and Irvine, who wasn’t imprisoned or captured for whatever reason, was sent to pick up her, and only her. Outraged at him leaving the others captive, Rinoa “convinced” him to help her rescue them instead, with some corporal punishment. They’re interrupted by gunfire again, and Irvine offers to hold off the guards, while Squall takes a group up to the surface.
Outside the prison, Squall and the others find themselves on a walkway over a desert. It seems that the prison is made up of three drill-like buildings connected by bridges, and it can dig itself into the sand on command. You know what, let’s just stick in a screenshot and hope that makes things more clear:
After a few more fights, and a near-death encounter when the prison starts its digging routine while Squall’s crossing one of the walkways, the group meets up again at the prison garage, where they steal themselves a couple of cars. They drive to safety, but once they reach a crossroad, they come to a stop to discuss their next move.
Since missiles are about to be fired at Garden, Squall wants to go back to Balamb and warn everyone. I don’t know how long they have until the missiles are launched, but it seems like a lot of optimism to be able to drive to a station and grab a train to Balamb, then drive from the town over to the Garden, and still have time to warn everyone to get moving. However, that’s what Squall’s set on doing.
However, Selphie has another idea. She wants to go over to the missile base nearby and sabotage the launch, especially as she’s afraid for Trabia Garden, where she came from. At this point they start quibbling about which they should do, or who should go where, and Galbadia calmly fires the missiles in the background.
Irvine mentions that Trabia Garden was going to be attacked before Balamb, and Selphie sinks to the ground. The group returns to debating which group should go where, while Squall silently expresses his frustration at having to be leader all the time. Once your groups have been settled, Squall and co. hijack the nearest train, while they’re briefly pursued by a very stubborn and fast-running Galbadian soldier.
That’s quite a lot covered, so let’s catch our breath before tackling the next two missions.