Warning: Contains spoilers for Final Fantasy VIII.
Final Fantasy VIII is a bit of an oddball among its peers. It was never as acclaimed as its direct predecessor, Final Fantasy VII, nor managed to evoke the charm of its successor Final Fantasy IX nor the tragedy of Final Fantasy X. For many years while its peers received acclaim and re-releases on modern consoles, mobile and pc, Final Fantasy VIII was largely ignored. The only legal way to play it was on the original PlayStation 1, the PlayStation 3 via a digital PSone release and a steam port of the original game that could only really be enjoyed thanks to the copious number of community mods.
That isn’t to say that it didn’t receive accolades though. Speak with any longtime fan of Final Fantasy, and most would comment on VIII’s excellent soundtrack. Indeed, as the years have passed, I have often found myself listening to the evocative overtures of Liberi Fatali, of the heart pumping beats of The Landing. These are themes that have permeated my subconscious to the point that I can hear these tunes just by thinking of the scenes that accompanied them. But all Final Fantasy’s are more than their musical score. They are a polished piece of artistic expression that is formulated around a strong narrative, a diverse cast of characters and an interesting take on dystopian thematics. VIII is no different in this regard.
I remember identifying with Squall heavily when I first encountered him. At this time in my life, as sad as it sounds I was a willful loner. Having moved to various schools to be treated as an outcast, or worse invited into friendship circles only to find myself the endless but of jokes, and to add to that cesspool of confusion was the growing dread that I perhaps, could be gay. I recalled feeling completely exhausted and overwhelmed with people and concluded it was much better and safer to keep everyone at arm’s length and be by myself. I related to VIII’s Squall Leonhart in a way I had never before in any medium. Here was a character, that for me felt tangible and real. Not the usual loud brash hero and leader that people expect main characters to be, but rather the reserved loner. I remember as I played through VIII and drew the distinction between his outward cold behaviour with the often panic driven self-conscious narrative of Squall’s inner monologue, I came to realise, I was similar in this regard. I often kept people at arm’s length, when really ultimately what I really wanted was a connection.
As the years passed, this impression, the journey that Squall and company embarked on stayed with me and would often inspire my creative pursuits. I often wonder whether this is possibly a reason why my protagonists are much more reserved than most protagonists are.
If I was to try to define exactly what it is that makes VIII have such an impact, I would fail. I can say that for me its more remarkable aspect is its narrative. A creative blend of the mundane run overused coming of age romance with elements of Sci-FI and Fantasy, in a world that is is familiar and yet refreshingly different from our own. Its antagonist, a sorceress determined to achieve dominion over time itself and by extension, creation. Though her existence and by extension motives are a mystery for most of the game, and her various representations are only truly appreciated on a second playthrough – once you understand the true context, they are arguably as complex and flawed as a person. Ultimecia does not want to dominate everything because she lusts for power, or is inherently evil. She wants to dominate it to try to change her demise at the hands of Squall and ironically ends setting in motion the chain of events that would directly lead to her downfall.
It is this nuance, that makes me excited to play VIII again for the first time in years. Updated graphics and systems will make the game feel even better than its original. But ultimately its the chance to easily experience the original narrative and in many ways rediscover it.
For more info visit the Official Final Fantasy VIII: Remaster Site.
Below are some videos with The Landing Theme and Liberi Fatali