For one brief second, let’s forget both the monumental juggernaut that will be Final Fantasy VII Rebirth to wish Final Fantasy VIII its very well-deserved happy 25th birthday. You’re reading that right. Exactly 25 years ago, hundreds of thousands of Japanese players got to discover what was beyond that still amazing-looking beach (sorry, US fans, your anniversary isn’t until September).
Yeah, the Junction system made us too strong, too easily. Sure, the monsters’ level scaling system was dumb as hell. Yes, its story sometimes went too wild for our ’90s minds. And, okay, the main character is hard to like, but only if you quit the game before that character development magic starts to happen.
But the worst crime of all was it’s a different game from Final Fantasy VII. Still, I’d argue that it features some of the slickest worldbuilding I’ve ever seen in a game.
I shall summon a movie to prove it
Not too long ago, Twitter mocked a dude for calling The Last Of Us Part II the Schindler’s List of gaming, then proceeded to mock Neil Druckmann, TLOU’s director, for trying to hold to that piece of praise for dear life. It was beautiful.
Comparing games to film as a positive inherently devalues this medium, as it paints the power of film as something that only a few miraculous games can hope to achieve.
But if there’s one game we should compare to a great movie, it’s Final Fantasy VIII, and the great movie is The Godfather Part II. The most obvious reason is that both entries in their respective franchises had the absolute largest shoes to fill. But more importantly, let’s look at how they both treat their narratives. While FFVIII’s plot will forever be divisive among fans of the series, the way it tells it should not be.
The Godfather Part II is heralded not only as one of the greatest films of all time but one of the few movie sequels that might surpass the original. However, at the time of its release, Part II didn’t fare that well with some critics due to its more unorthodox approach to narrative, which many derided as “incohesive.”
The Godfather tells a linear story about the passing of the torch from crimelord Don Victorio Corleone to his son, Michael Corleone. Part II continues to follow Michael’s life but also weaves in a series of flashbacks telling how Don Vito began his crime family. This tale of the two Corleones (which, by the way, is Italian wordplay for “Lionheart”) is one of the first prequels in the history of cinema and arguably still one of its best.
Similarly, Final Fantasy VIII follows child soldier Squall Leonhart (whose name is English wordplay for…well, you get it) and, through a clever plot device, has Squall reliving key moments in the life of a man named Laguna.
Many fans didn’t care for the constant jumping between these two characters and their respective times. However, the Laguna flashbacks provide a unique opportunity to build the world of the game through showing and not telling. The game never falters in this regard.
Though most Laguna flashbacks show you something interesting about the world of this game, it’s hard not to highlight one where a dubious movie production has him playing the role of the Sorceress’ Knight, which culminates in an accidental fight with a real dragon.
These events inform Squall about Laguna, but they also show players about the world and some of the game’s most important storytelling beats of other similarly secretive characters. Yeah, the dragon fight plays out like a gag, but eagle-eyed fans will realize Laguna’s movie role inspires Seifer, Squall’s rival, to join SeeD and aspire to become a knight in his own regard.
Even more importantly, we learn from early on that Squall’s reluctance to get along with others comes from the fact that he was left alone as a child. An important moment later has Squall finally meeting up with Laguna, now aware that Laguna is his father. Instead of an angry outburst or a tear-jerking scene, Squall just doesn’t think much of him.
Squall is more than capable of taking a real dragon on his own, and in front of him stands an apparent coward who was never even able to raise a child. Luckily, the flashbacks show us and Squall that the game’s ultimate mission – stopping a sorceress from the future who’s about to destroy the world – is something Laguna had accomplished back in his day only through the use of his wits.
Whereas most other games would have players go through a reunion scene that would leave players with a sense of closure, Laguna and Squall’s final in-game encounter leaves players wondering about the future between these two.
And that’s great! By then, players already know all that they need to know. Squall deserves the privacy to make whatever choice he wants regarding this issue.
You can check out Final Fantasy VIII Remastered on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Steam, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.