Final Fantasy VIII will always be known as one of my absolute favorite games in the history of all time ever. As a child, the game was an imaginative journey that held probably way too many hours of my consciousness, but as I grew, the game grew into a complex story that I grew to intensely appreciate. Needless to say, a lot of growing occurred.
I tend to be drawn to more character-driven stories, and FFVIII definitely delivers some well thought, complex characters. It’s surprising to see how much you can actually relate with these multi-dimensional characters, and that is why I’m focusing this character analysis on one of my favorite characters of all time: Squall Leonhart.
To be honest, I hated Squall at first. As an introvert, he does an exceptional job at being overly uncompassionate and endlessly broody. For a while, all I could think was, “Wow, what an emo kid.” And perhaps that’s what the player is supposed to think at the beginning. A seventeen year old expressing inner angst is something most people roll their eyes at, but as the game progresses, the player begins to understand that maybe there is a fantastic reason as to why Squall acts this way.
In fact, the only time we really see a spark of passion from Squall (before the story grows) is within his interactions with his rival Seifer Almasy. Seifer (also a favorite character of mine) is nearly a polar opposite to Squall. He is rebellious, arrogant, and boastful. He’s sometimes irrational and acts too quickly. This makes him appear to be your normal cliché bully, when in fact, Seifer carries nearly as many different characteristics as Squall (but we’ll get to that another day).
Squall’s past life is slowly revealed as the game progresses and continues to share his important backstory as his character continues to break out of his exterior shell, and this is what helps develop him into a complex personality. His aloofness and indifference to everyone and everything around him slowly starts to crumble beneath the weight of the chaos taking place around them, as well as the personal feelings that begin to form inside him.
The player learns that Squall’s lack of compassion is due to an irrational fear of abandonment. Through flashback scenes, we learn that Squall was separated from his step-sister Ellone. As children, they both grew up in an orphanage, but Ellone falls beneath the danger of the game’s main antagonist: Ultimecia. Her evil plan is fairly unoriginal—taking over the world— but she needs Ellone to cast the spell known as Time Compression, which essentially would cause space and time to shift in her image and allow her to take over the universe.
Damn those evil wannabe conquerors!
Ellone’s abandonment is the first step that causes Squall to hide within his shell, but it’s not the last. His feelings become magnified from the use of the Guardian Forces which ultimately causes the loss of memories.
There’s one main factor that forces Squall’s character to grow, and that is Rinoa Heartily. One of the main things I enjoy about FFVIII is the romantic subplot, and it’s something that I continue to think about to this day. While other characters and plot points help crack Squall’s icy exterior, Rinoa’s involvement is what ultimately pushes him to the breaking point. The woman is a bit of a mystery to me. We never learn why she chooses to pursue Squall after meeting at his graduation (although I love the waltz scene). Unlike Squall, Rinoa is carefree and spirited, but she does carry a similarity that is perhaps what helps pull the two together. Like Squall, Rinoa suffered a loss in her early life. Her mother, Julia was killed in a car crash, alienating her from her father General Caraway.
When Rinoa is reintroduced after disappearing from the waltz scene, the player becomes involved with her resistance group, and eventually become tangled with the main plot of Ultimecia’s mission to complete the Time Compression spell.
Rinoa carries some complexities of her own. Eventually, it is revealed that she is a sorceress, and when she is possessed by Ultimecia, Squall furiously looks for a way to cure her. His motivations begin to change, shifting away from his fear of abandonment to succumbing to the feelings that begin to bubble to the surface. Soon it’s not him searching for comfort, but the one offering it.
It is ultimately the journey of the story that creates the depth within the plethora of emotions the game presents. It was nice to see a shift within a character that wasn’t forced or overdone. Squall’s lone wolf image is slowly obliterated beneath the one theme that the game continuously touches on: Love.
How cheesy… I love it!
Beating the game and defeating Ultimecia was far less satisfying to me than it was to finally see Squall and Rinoa kiss in the end, because this confirmed the growth of their characters, and it was finally obvious that they had reached the end of their roller coaster battle with their own inner demons.
Plus I’m just a sucker for happy endings… *sob*