So, I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about this before, but when it comes to storytelling, there are a few golden rules. These range from the classic: show don’t tell; to more niche ones like having a defined structure.
I’ve always had these rules pretty cemented in my head over the course of the last few years, but lately I’ve been examining them with a more critical eye. You see, I’ve been taking some writing courses in college where people constantly debate these topics, and there’s one that has often come up: do stories need a purpose?
My answer is: of course they do, without purpose; what's the point?
While I’ve seen some people trying to argue that stories don't need purpose, but honestly, it falls flat for me as I fail to see how a lack of purpose can be a good thing. However, I have had a new perspective implemented in me, and that is the idea of Headcanon.
There are a lot of stories we love, but something that can be highly frustrating is when you’re loving a story only for the writer to make some decision you really don’t like, or a turn that ruins a lot of what the story had going for it. You might have been fully engrossed in everything so far, you’re in love with the characters, the story, you have an emotional bond to everything happening, which is great. But then, there might be a thing or two here and there that really breaks that reality. A handful of major missteps that affect your experience with the story and leaves you somewhat confused as to how to feel about it.
On one hand, you connected to it on such an emotional level that you can look past its flaws, but on the other hand, its flaws are really glaring.
It might seem like these are the only two options in front of you, but… (and don’t tell anyone I told you this) there is a roundabout, somewhat taboo way for you to both have your cake and eat it, and that is by mentally retconning all the parts you don’t like and create your own personal version of the narrative that leaves everything you loved and throws out everything you hated.
I’ve never really explored this concept before, but when it was presented to me in college, there is one story that automatically came to mind, one that I’ve had conflicted feelings about for a long time. And that is: Final Fantasy VIII.
I’ve never felt fully satisfied with the story of this game; there’s so much I love yet so much that falls flat for me. And maybe, just maybe, through this concept of Headcanon, I can come up with some sort of closure by interpreting it in my own specific way.
The Story Of Squall Lionheart
I don’t think I’ve ever talked about Final Fantasy before in this blog, but it’s one of my biggest inspirations in terms of writing. Final Fantasy VII in specific was the game that really showed me what a story can and could be, and it even inspired me to try my own hand at storytelling.
But that’s beside the point, for this post, I want to talk about the immediate follow up to that game, Final Fantasy VIII, a game I’ve been really conflicted about for years.
Why is this? Well, there are a few reasons. But before I get into that, you’re probably asking the question: what is the story of Final Fantasy VIII? And to tell you the truth, I’m not 100% sure. It kind of bounces around between a variety of plot points and topics that don’t make a lot of sense together.
The game starts off relatively simple, you’re a guy called Squall, you’re part of an organization called SEED, you gotta kill the evil witch, except don’t do that, go help this revolutionary group instead, but oh uh, they fail horribly and now forget about them. Now kill the evil witch again except she’s not actually evil and there’s this other girl who’s the real bad guy, but she doesn’t exist yet and in order to kill her you gotta fuck with space and time to merge the future and present together so you can actually fight her.
The whole thing gets really complicated really fast.
Though there is one main plot point that overshadows everything else, and that is the romance between main characters Squall and Rinoa, and this is the part of the game that I truly love.
Squall is a character we don’t really know that much about. All that we really know at the beginning of the game is that he’s part of this military-like system called SEED and follows order without asking questions.
He’s a really introverted guy who has huge problems talking to people, this includes his instructor Quistis who tries to talk and comfort Squall many times only to fail as he refuses to open up to people.
It’s very clear early on that Squall has serious trust issues and would rather just be left alone as he feels like everyone will just hurt him as people have done in the past. So, he ends up pushing everyone away and is overall in an unhappy state in life. Something that becomes even more difficult with all the responsibility that’s dropped on him at all times.
But then comes Rinoa, the first girl Squall meets that actually grows feelings over him. Unlike a lot of people, Rinoa is actually there for Squall when he needs her. She bothers him and constantly makes sure to be by his side.
Squall tries to push her away as always, but she persists and is eventually able to have Squall open up a bit. And even though he wouldn’t admit it, that small crack Rinoa created really affected him. For the first time in a while, he was happy.
But then important plot beats happen that cause Rinoa to fall into a coma right when Squall realized that he truly loved her. After a long sequence that involves going to space to try and heal her, Rinoa is saved and the two finally have time to talk after realizing their feelings for each other.
In what’s easily the best scene in the game, Rinoa and Squall talk about what they’ll do when they reach Earth, knowing that maybe things won’t be the same due to the antagonist of the story possibly destroying the Earth. But neither of them
care about that, more than anything, they care about each other.
If I’m being honest, I find the story of FF8 to be somewhat beautiful. It’s about a guy learning to cope with his own introverted nature and trauma and learning to let himself be vulnerable. To be open to others so that he can actually find some sort of happiness in life through his love interest.
Even though it was hard for him to do, after embracing the girl he was scared to open up to, he was finally able to find that happiness he was looking for and have a happy ending.
Now, while the core of the story I love, there are some (a lot) of things that seriously bog down the experience.
Primarily, while everything I just said is cool and all, the story makes, no, fucking, sense.
The Last Jedi Of Video Games
I’m going to go into a bit of a rant in this section, so bear with me.
There are a lot of things in Final Fantasy VIII that just make no goddam sense both from a common logic standpoint but also from a structural standpoint.
Firstly, I know I’ve just come out of gushing over the main core of the story, but I also have to admit that it has more holes in it than Swiss cheese.
First of all, the main purpose of the story is how Rinoa’s love for Squall is what helps him get out of the dark state he’s in. Except Rinoa has absolutely no reason to feel this way about him.
While the actual relationship between the two has proper buildup, and the love Squall feels for Rinoa feels genuine, the same can’t be said for Rinoa herself. There isn’t a scene or moment or anything that lets us know that Rinoa is falling in love with Squall. She just randomly starts doing all these intimate things with him for seemingly no reason.
In fact, at the beginning of disc 1 she states that she has feelings for an entirely different character named Seifer and has absolutely no interest in Squall. Of course, characters changing is at the core of what makes storytelling compelling, but we don’t see that with Rinoa, her feelings just sporadically change for no reason.
Now, I get that in real life feelings aren’t something that can be explained, but this isn’t real life, this is fiction, and in fiction I expect there to be a certain structure and buildup so that everything that happens feels natural and believable.
This is just the start of the game’s problems.
While the core of the story follows Squall and Rinoa, there are actually three whole separate storylines happening during the events of the game. And none of them feel at all cohesive or tie in together well.
The first is the actual conflict of the game, that being defeating the big bad guy in the form of Witch Edea. In fact, I’d say most of the game involves conversations and plots to kill or overthrow her, and yet, you barely know anything about her.
You’re essentially told through the course of the game that she’s really bad and needs to be defeated. She never makes an impression on the story or world until you face her at the end of disc 1, and even then, the core of her character can be summed up in “kill the big bad guy”.
This is especially a smack in the face considering previous FF villains like Kefka and Sephiroth were absolutely amazing in not only the role they play in the story, but also making an impact on the narrative. These two are some real pieces of shit that you want to absolutely murder by the time you face them in the end, in comparison, Edea just kind of exists.
But this isn’t where it stops, because after disc 2 it’s revealed that Edea is not actually the big bad guy but instead just a puppet for an entirely different character and the real villain of the game: a woman from the future named Ultimecia who was using her space-time magic bullshit to control Edea in the present and destroy the world or something. What the fuck? Ultimecia is easily the most boring antagonist from the Sakaguchi era of Final Fantasy games. She has no personality, no actual role in the story, in fact, you don’t even see her until literally the very end, making it hard to actually care about what’s suppose to be the main conflict of the story.
But of course, it doesn’t end there, there’s also the storyline regarding each party member outside of Squall and Rinoa. Other Final Fantasy games have done this, but the thing is, their stories are extremely underdeveloped.
Quistis has an unrequited crush on main character Squall, how do we know this? Because she mentions it like twice in the whole game. That is literally her entire character.
Irvine is a gunslinger who joins you in order to snipe Edea, he mentions one time that he has self-esteem issues, and that’s it. That’s his whole character. We don’t get any proper backstory, or character arc, or really anything of substance. And the same thing goes for all the other characters.
Now, I wouldn’t mind this normally if they’re just party members for the sake of gameplay, but the story insists on having them be major components at all times. Like with the baffling reveal that all them actually knew each other before the events of the game in an orphanage that none of them remember being in. This plot twists adds absolutely nothing to the story and has one of the most dogshit explanations I’ve seen in fiction.
Lastly, we have the most pointless storyline I have seen in a video game with the form of the Laguna flashbacks. These are sections the game occasionally cuts to where you play as an entirely different character called Laguna in the distant past. They’re purposefully confusing and seemingly don’t directly connect with the main story.
When you first do these sections, you play them with the expectation that they’ll lead to some sort of major reveal and will slowly start to connect more and more with the main plot, and while they do lead to something, the reveal at the end is so fucking underwhelming it makes you question what the point of these flashbacks were as you could have had the twist without them.
At first, I thought the story of Laguna is supposed to parallel or juxtapose that of Squall, expect it totally doesn’t and he just has nothing to do with the main character. I’ve seen people online theorizing that Laguna is Squall’s dad, except there’s absolutely no reason to believe this. The flashbacks are just there for no reason.
There is so much going on in the story yet none of it logically ties in together. It just feels like a bunch of random plot points thrown in together and hoping they stick.
Or at least, it doesn’t if you take the game at face value.
You see there are theorists out there that have set out to answer the lingering questions set by Final Fantasy VIII. Supposedly, if you think about them in a specific way and start to make some assumptions, all of the pieces that previously didn’t fit together now all of a sudden start to make sense. Though, these theories are controversial, so don’t tell anyone I’m telling you this.
Basically, the popular fan theory goes like this:
At the end of disc one, Squall gets stabbed across the stomach and seemingly fucking dies. And yet, at the beginning of disc two, he wakes up as if nothing happened with no hole in his body. The theory states that Squall actually died in this moment, and everything afterwards is his dream sequence or something before entering the afterlife.
This is of course, a form of Headcanon as I talked about earlier. When you take ideas from a story and form them in whatever way you want and hence creating your own version of events. And heck, there’s actually some decent evidence to back up this claim that Squall is actually dead.
This explains why Rinoa suddenly has feelings for Squall. For the whole game, Squall has wanted nothing more than someone’s love, and since he’s dying, his last wish is for exactly that.
It also explains why characters are so underdeveloped and lack screen time, it’s cause Squall just doesn’t care about them and focuses on what he truly cares about.
The last major piece of evidence comes with the really cryptic dogshit that Ultimecia narrates at the very end of the game:
“Reflect on your… childhood… your sensation… your words… your emotions… Time… it will not wait… no matter… how hard you hold on… it escapes you… and…”
What the hell? These series of lines are so cryptic and eerie and come right before a massive acid trip of an ending with flashing lights and bizarre imagery. This could easily be Squall making his way into the afterlife and accepting his own death.
Now, this whole Squall is dead theory sounds nice and neat, however, it has holes… a few holes.
Simply put, the theory is just too ridiculous, other than a bunch of admittedly circumstantial evidence, there’s nothing concrete to back it up. And besides, director Yoshinori Kitase has already denied the theory, so we can throw that out the window.
While these last few paragraphs might have seem like a complete waste of time, I think this idea of creating your own narrative based of what already exists is definitely on the right line, especially with the ideas present in the Squall is dead theory.
While I don’t think the Squall it’s correct, I do however think it’s on the right track. And I want to take the ideas presented here and maybe come up with another explanation to the story that will hopefully create something satisfactory. A Headcanon that will finally give me peace over the last few years I’ve spent thinking about Final Fantasy VIII.
Let’s take the main core of the story, the relationship between Squall and Rinoa. This is the heart of the narrative and what everything revolves around. With this in mind, I’m going to try and come up with an explanation that centers around this storyline.
You see, the reason for why the Squall is dead theory seems somewhat right at first is because Squall gets everything he wants. Particularly in the form of Rinoa’s love for him, even if that love makes no sense.
But what if there’s more of a metanarrative going on in here?
You see, the thing about the relationship between Squall and Rinoa is that it feels like something a lonely guy would want. A lovely girl who’s there for him in the worst moments and treats him well, and well… loves him.
This is obviously the point of the story, but when I started to think about it, I realized something. Squall as a character is someone who is inherently a reflection of the person who created him, and in term, the type of person who plays games like Final Fantasy. He’s introverted, he’s very insecure about himself, he doesn’t know what to do half the time and has a lot of pressure on him to do things right and well, he seems like the type of person to want someone like Rinoa in his life.
Having Rinoa fall in love with him doesn’t really make sense, but it’s not supposed to make sense. Rinoa is someone who represents Squall’s deepest desires and what he truly wants in life. To be loved and to have someone who’s there for him. It’s why he gets so extremely upset when he almost loses Rinoa at the end of disc 2. Her feelings for him don’t make sense because the story isn’t really about her.
The story in the end is about Squall and him coming to accept what he really wants, but at the same time, it’s also meant to serve as a form of comfort from the creator to the player.
We currently live in such an epidemic of loneliness where more and more people are isolating themselves from the rest of the world, and I’m sure that the creators of Final Fantasy have gone through similar things in their lives. So, they create games as a type of comfort. Something to reassure people like them that things do get better, that people like Rinoa do exist out there in the world and they’ll eventually meet them. That they will also find a happy ending just like Squall.
Now, you might think that this is a story that’s a bit superficial. But at the same time, this is part of the reason why these stories are so important. In a way we’re telling each other that things will be okay. That we might all be in the same difficult boat, but through stories we can find comfort in not only the character, but in each other. And maybe, just maybe, that’s what Final Fantasy VIII is for, and I personally find that very comforting.
Could the story have been executed better? Probably. Do other aspects still make no sense? Yes. Is the story itself still a mess? I don’t know, I think that’s more subjective. But what I do think I can conclude is that Final Fantasy VIII is a story that isn’t meant to be the same philosophical rollercoaster of something like FF7, but instead, it’s meant to comfort us.
It’s a story that shows the lonely guy playing Final Fantasy that there are other people like him out there. And that even though doubt and anxiety might overcome you sometimes, there are still people out there for you. And that one day, you will find your Rinoa.
Wow… it certainly has been a minute. I haven’t uploaded this blog in well over four months which makes this the largest span of time I’ve gone without uploading since I started doing this thing over a year ago. Though, this isn’t without reason.
During January (right around the time I uploaded my last post) I actually got a job as a writer in this little website called WhatCulture. I mainly do top tens and I don’t have the same liberties to do what I want as I do here, but it’s a pretty awesome job and I’ve been dedicating a lot of time to it recently. Though, this comes at the expense of some of my other writing like The Lechuga.
Now, this doesn’t mean that I’ll be writing exclusively for WhatCulture moving forward. I don’t plan to abandon The Lechuga even if I spend big periods of time without uploading.
I’m aware that I don’t really have a lot of readers here – if any – but I still want to keep a consistent upload schedule and just talk about some topics I’m really passionate about that I won’t be able to talk about in WhatCulture.
So, the TL;DR here is that I got a job somewhere else, but I’ll keep uploading here though in a less consistent way.
With that said, thank you so much for reading until the end of the post! I’m glad I finally got to talk about Final Fantasy for once. If you like this, make sure to check out my linktree: https://linktr.ee/adrianlechuga and subscribe to The Lechuga newsletter to get notified of new posts.
Do you like FF8, or do you think it’s a chaotic mess? Did what I said make sense to you or do you still think the game just sucks? Whatever your opinions, let me know in the comments below. Regardless of what you think, I’m already glad you read until the end.