Cards on the table: I love Final Fantasy VIII (FFVIII). I love Squall, I love Rinoa, hell, I even don’t hate Irvine. I love the overly-dramatic love story, I love the ridiculous weaponry and I love the fact the mercenary badasses are called SeeDs (pronounced seeds) and are trained in a Garden. It’s over-the-top-awesome and today is its fifteenth birthday.
In Scotland, birthdays for a loved ones usually involve heavy drinking and swapping stories. I’m all out of beer but I have a thing or two to say about the game I remember so fondly.
You never forget your first
FFVIII was the first game my father ever bought for me; there had been other games from other sources and I had gotten hand-me-downs from him in the past, but this was the first time I had asked for a game just for me. I saw it in a second hand store on George Street in Aberdeen and actually I chose it by mistake because I believed it to be a copy of Final Fantasy VII (FFVII). I had seen a friend play FFVII several months before and been intrigued by its weirdly static battles and odd visuals, so when I thought I saw it, I had to have it. However my roman numerals weren’t so great back then and I ended up with a copy of FFVIII. I didn’t regret it.
FFVIII was my first JRPG and it blew my mind in ways I cannot express. It was more than a door being opened, it was like a wall had been knocked down and for the first time I was glimpsing unending possibilities. I had always been a reader and consumed books way above my age level so even at that age I realised I was experiencing more than a game, I was experiencing a story, and a beautiful one at that. After years of playing action games like Tomb Raider, Crash Bandicoot and Fighting Force I suddenly knew that there was something else, something bigger that I had been missing all this time.
I never knew that games could do what FFVIII did: tell a story of depth and imagination equal to book or film. I was intrigued by the complex mix of friendship, enmity and competition that fuelled Squall and Seifer’s relationship. I was shocked at how they dissected the Zell’s overconfidence and Quistis’ lack of leadership. I was compelled by the love story that changed the protagonist so completely. Say what you will about the overly-dramatic nature of FFVIII, but my god it’s a good story and it was the first time that I had seen a game achieve anything like this level of complexity.
It made me hungry for more.
Why did FFVIII have such an effect on me?
Simple: because like many boys in their late pre-teens, I was Squall; I was a moody, enraged little asshole. I snapped at friends, parents and teachers, I lusted after girls whom I simultaneously found annoying. If I liked you, I was dick to you, if I didn’t like you I ignored you until you left. Sound familiar? Squall’s infamous “whatever” was something that I could understand, as was his lack of understanding, angst, and general surliness. It all clicked for me and made me feel like I wasn’t the only one going through this awful stage in life.
What’s more, FFVIII made Squall cool. Despite being a dick, Squall always came through and, though it took some time, when he connected to someone he would never, never abandon them. At that age, this is who I wanted to be: surly, mysterious, reliable and, most importantly, loved.
As well as acting cool, Squall did the most incredible things, he commandeered his school and flew away in it! And then he fought his rival school with his flying school! He went into space, he got the girl, he saved the world and he made me think that maybe, just maybe it wasn’t going to be this way forever. For a kid who was pretty isolated at school and lacking any social skill, this was a pretty important feeling.
I know for many, their memories are tied to Cloud and his epic struggle against his one-time master Sephiroth. But, for me it’s always going to be Squall, his gunblade and the battle to be a better person.
(Image source: gunblade)