Much like a book, a movie, a poem, or any other piece of literature or media, a video game can have a lasting significance in your life—and no, I don’t mean that in a “Video Games can be art” or “muh Video Games are political” kinda way.
Sometimes, it’s not about the best graphics, or the most finely tuned gameplay, or a killer soundtrack. Sometimes, it’s about what the game (or book, movie, et al) meant to you at the time you first crossed paths with it.
The circumstances, the environment, the people around you, sometimes they aren’t what one would call normal, and then something comes along that helps you distract yourself from all that negativity and harsh times that you were living, ultimately becoming something significantly good that you end up cherishing not for what it is, but for what it meant to you.
Final Fantasy VIII is that to me.
The game had no reason to do so, but it ended up becoming an anchor to a turning point in my life, when i began to cross the threshold between childhood and adolescence at the turn of the millennium, in a time when we were not in a good and comfortable position in terms of livelihood.
We tend to vividly remember tastes, feelings, music, sensations, and attach them to good or bad moments in our lives, combining those sensory elements with your experiences. I remember what songs and the taste of the food I used to eat during happier times of my life (such as 1998), and the ones when things hadn’t been so well for my family.
To put things in context: The year was 1999. I had just moved to Caracas with my brother, mother, and grandmother. The four of us living in a small bedroom at an aunt’s apartment, all of us crammed, but together.
A PlayStation console with a modchip soldered in, connected to an small Toshiba TV with faulty colors on its corners, resting on top of a chair that served as its table, and the same mattress on the floor that I used to sleep in as my chair, that was my entertainment center during those times. And then we have to add the constant bickering and drama of my family members, which ranged from ridiculing the fact that my mom sent my brother and I to school, to the fact that we were considered kind of a nuisance because we occupied their living space.
Suffice to say, it was not an ideal entertainment setup, nor it was a good moment in my life.
While not my first Final Fantasy game, VIII became an escapism of some sorts from everything that was happening in my life at the time of its release. For many, Final Fantasy VII was not only their entry point to this franchise, but its highest point, and with good reason. I first heard about it two years ago on a pioneering local TV shot that talked about it.
I didn’t really had a particularly good experience with Final Fantasy VII the first time I played it, perhaps it was for the same circumstances that made me cherish Final Fantasy VIII so much. I didn’t had a solid grasp of some of the plot elements and gameplay mechanics—I even missed a lot of things my first time around.
Sometime during those days, I got my hands on a burned copy of the Final Fantasy VIII demo disc, the jump in terms of graphics and setting blew me away. I mean, going from the ‘chibi’ models that FFVII sported and having the cast pop out of Cloud’s butt every time they had a conversation to FFVIII’s trio seamlessly walking around together was a radical jump in tech.
I wanted that game so bad, but it was not available in the country yet, I kept longing for it as I kept going with Final Fantasy VII.
A few weeks later I began my high school years, starting seventh grade in a different school. For the second time in that year, I saw myself in a different school, as the new kid, in a classroom full of kids that were at least two years older than me.
Sometime later, my parents agreed to meet again, take some days off, and go on a vacation. I was ecstatic, to be able to spend some days away from that cramped bedroom, how could you say no to that.
Coincidentally, it was the same week that our pirated PS1 game supplier at time time began to sell burned copies of Final Fantasy VIII. My mom arranged it so that he’d deliver a copy on a Sunday night, the same night that we returned from what still is, the last vacation I’ve taken in my life so far.
A few hours after I returned and there I was, with four burned discs that comprised the entire game in my hands. After the quintessential family drama because I dared to get something that my other cousins did not, I booted up the game—only to find out that the first disc was faulty and would crash on the unskippable CGI intro. I rapidly called the guy, and he replaced the disc for me at no charge, it was time for round two.
And there it was, the Liberi Fatali intro that blew my mind.
Squall and Seifer battling each other as their Gunblades clashed with each other in all of its 1999 glorious CGI quality while ominous Latin lyrics blasted through my small tv’s monaural speaker; that sequence left such an astounding impression that has defined much of my imaginarium. Four years after that Sunday night, I was evoking that experience in the fight choreography of a Jedi Outcast machinima project that I was part of along with a friend, envisioning my own fighting scenes in the same vein—except with Lightsabers and E.S. Posthumus.
The next Monday after that remarkable Sunday was a school day, I simply could not wait to return home to boot up my PS1 and continue Squall’s adventures, that’s all I wanted to do. I would say that the dev team wanted to take a different approach and experiment with new mechanics for the future of the franchise while adhering to the game’s turn based RPG core, which would explain the lack of MP, the Junction system, having to time your R1 presses to deal more damage, and all that stuff.
It certainly was jarring to some more used to the franchise’s classic formula, but for me (whose only turn based RPG experiences at the time were Super Mario RPG in 1996 and Final Fantasy VII in early 1999) it was fascinating.
From day one I was completely absorbed and immersed in this game, I loved every single aspect of it. It was a genuine good thing in my life amidst all the bad that was happening around me. As an added anecdote, someone who used to be close to me got very upset that I dared get this game without telling him—to the point that his mother had to buy an original copy of the game to placate his anger after such profound injustice committed by yours truly.
Balamb Garden’s school life aspects were endearing—I suppose, now that I look back into it, that it subconsciously resonated in me, because it goes without saying that it was a polar opposite to my high school days at the time. I did my seventh and most of eight grade in a school called Pestalozzi, a small school that paled in comparison to the Marist school that I used to attend in Maracaibo (my birthplace and home to the best years of my youth) where I had friends, a school that represents the only three years that I was truly happy as a kid.
Putting things into context again, there I was, waking up very groggy at early hours in the morning after sleeping on a mattress in the floor, dressing up in the country’s mandatory high school uniform (light blue shirt, dark blue pants, and black shoes), sitting on a shanty transport vehicle, on my way to attend a school that I disliked in a classroom full of kids 2-3 years older than me, without friends, as I was the new fat kid—a school that the only good thing I can say about it is that they had some brand new chairs for its 7th grade classroom that weren’t bad at all.
I made a lot of mistakes in the game, I understood how the game’s Draw and Junction worked, but I had no idea how to optimize it and ‘break’ the game, nor I had the slightest idea that such a thing was actually possible, it’s not like I had internet access during those days to consult such things like I used to back in Maracaibo.
During the first days of the year 2000, my parents decided to divorce. That, coupled with the ongoing livelihood, and a not-so pleasant high school experience, crushed what few remaining extrovert characteristics I used to have before we moved to Caracas.
I became even more introverted and withdrawn, finding some solace in my video games. And thus, the world of Final Fantasy VIII became my haven, my shelter from all that crap that was beyond the control of my twelve year old self, the game latched onto me and I latched onto the game.
For reasons that I can’t still assert with exactitude, my pirated set of Final Fantasy VIII discs was misplaced, and I actually wasn’t able to beat the game the first time around. I was bummed, yeah, but I had other games to play courtesy of that modchip that granted me access to cheap PlayStation games to fill the void.
Before we moved to this place we lived at another apartment for a brief period of time, and then, with a bit more space and tranquility, got that Final Fantasy VIII itch again. I asked my mom to get me a new set of FFVIII discs through the guy that used to sell pirated media at the hospital she worked at. I actually never played Final Fantasy IX because I chose to replace my copies of VIII instead.
Now in eight grade, I restarted the journey fresh, now with a better grasp of English, and in a better state of mind, without the distractions of my family’s perpetual state of drama.
Once again, the game I had grown so fond of was there for me, in all of its glory. I beat the game at last, and all was good in the world. Sometime after we moved to this apartment I played Final Fantasy VIII a third time around, but only for a brief period of time, since I would go on getting Final Fantasy X.
As time went on, the game’s ongoing lasting impression was ever so present, even after I had started my journey into online PC gaming and Jedi Outcast, FFVIII was still there with me.
My very first JK2 mod was actually a simple music replacement mod that made the game play Force Your Way instead of the default duel music, making my Lightsaber duels all so epic to me. One of the first prototype clan maps that I was working on in GTK Radiant was my own take on Balamb Garden—an idea that proved too ambitious for a fifteen year old Kaleb at the time, I wish I still had those files.
I didn’t actually own a legit copy of FFVIII until much later in my life, when I got a digital copy for my PSP/PS3 as a 21 year old Kaleb that had just started its first job. The least I could’ve done was to actually legitimately buy the game at some point, and for a fourth time, I was playing it.
Thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that almost exactly twenty years after FFVIII entered my life, I saw myself playing as the brand new Gunblade-wielding class in Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers while jamming to their iteration of Force Your Way.
Looking back, Squall’s coming of age journey was diametrically opposed to what I went through back in 1999. In Final Fantasy VIII, Squall goes from not needing friends to realizing that he can’t live like that all the time. I went from having friends and normalcy into becoming a loner due to the circumstances of the time, which is why I cherish the friendships I’ve made in recent times, to the point of considering some to be family even.
It certainly got a lot of flak due to the new mechanics and changes in the gameplay formula, especially after Final Fantasy VII, who many consider to be the masterpiece of the franchise, and I feel like those elements turned Final Fantasy VIII into a very underappreciated game in the series, it is, after all, the middle child in the PS1 Final Fantasy trilogy.
From the world’s setting and aesthetic (which at some point in the past was a massive influence in a precursor to what over time ended up evolving into Sword of the Nation) to Nobuo Uematsu’s excellent soundtrack, this game was a much needed beacon amidst some of the lowest points in my life, and it’s a fundamental influential pillar that ended up nurturing the creative aspect of my brain—that much is certain. I am (and will always be) proud to be one of the few Final Fantasy VIII fans in the world and I will cherish it for what it is, and especially for what it ultimately meant to me during those bad times of my life.
Besides, while the plot does involve time travel shenanigans, there are no Time Jannies, lmao get rekt FF7 plebs.
You know what, once things are more calm and stable in my life I’ll play FFVIII again. Maybe this time I will try some of those gameplay-breaking junction strategies that everyone keeps talking about.
Lastly, this wouldn’t be a proper Final Fantasy VIII post without a “Whatever,” so here you go:
May we all get strong GFs and good friends,