Disclaimer #2: This recap, is very, very long. Unlike most Final Fantasy games, the story on Final Fantasy VIII relies on an absurd amount of detail and, in my opinion, trying to do a faithful recap required more detail than usual. If you want a quicker recap, I would suggest another source; however, keep in mind it cuts out quite a bit of the story and a lot of things will not make sense as a lot of the story is cut out. So if you wish to skip over this section, I wouldn’t blame you in the least. The story is quite good though, but you have been warned–long recap is long!
Final Fantasy VIII has easily my favorite intro of the series, I won’t even bother with many words. The music (“Liberi Fatali”) and the cinematic scenes just match perfectly. I was simply floored by a presentation unlike any other I had seen at that time:
The duel in the video is that between main protagonist Squall Leonhart (in black) and Seifer Almasy (in white). The two are participating in a sparring match as both are training and preparing to be a part of an elite mercenary group known as SeeD. The two are rivals and, needless to say, their little training match got slightly out of control with both gaining matching scars in the process.
After the intro, Squall awakes in the medical center of his “home”, Balamb Garden. His instructor, Quistis Trepe, arrives to remind him it is time for his SeeD field exam. The test set before Squall is to control his own Guardian Force (GF), which are the summons in the world of Final Fantasy VIII. Squall heads out with Quistis and faces Ifrit and defeats him, passing his exam. Obtaining this GF allows Squall use of the Junction System (which will be explained in full later) allowing him to draw, junction, and use magic from monsters (a process known as using “para-magic”).
Squall then prepares for his final exam to become a SeeD. His is tasked with infiltrating the city of Dollet, which is currently occupied by the Galbadian Army and attempt to drive them out. Squall is teamed up in a squad with Seifer, and another potential SeeD, Zell Dincht. They soon discover the goal of the Galbadian Army is to reactivate an old radio tower and they are ordered to stop them. Seifer decides to disobey this order and abandons the party. Squall and Zell then soon run into another SeeD taking party in the exam, a young girl named Selphie Tilmitt and she replaces Seifer. The three make their way to the top of the tower, but despite their efforts it is reactivated. A gigantic spider-like war machine then chases the trio and they manage to outrun it and escape Dollet with the rest of the SeeD.
Once everyone returns to Balamb Garden, Headmaster Cid informs Squall, Zell, and Selphie that they have passed their exams and are officially SeeD members. Seifer, however, failed his exam due to disobeying a direct order. At the ensuing graduation party, another memorable cutscene takes place in which a mysterious girl gets Squall to dance with her:
The next day, Cid assigns Squall, Zell, and Selphie to their first mission. They are to assist a small resistance group known as the Forest Owls whom are trying to liberate the town of Timber from the Galbadian Army. On their train ride to Timber though, things start to get a little weird. All three of them pass out and somehow find themselves in a dream featuring three Galbadian soldiers: Laguna Loire, Kiros Seagill, and Ward Zabac. Even stranger, the three all seem to have some sort of consciousness throughout the dream and even all of their junctioned magic has carried over to the three men.
While in this dream state, they see that Laguna appears to be the leader of these men and that they are fighting in a war against Timber. The three men head to Deling City and have some drinks in the hotel bar. Here, Ward reveals that Laguna has quite the crush on the piano player at the bar, Julia. A humorous scene then follows as he tries to approach the girl of his dreams, only to have some sort of a panic attack in which his leg cramps on him and he quickly limps back to his seat (and all the while Squall is offering some more humorous commentary as he sees this unfold).
Kiros and Ward soon leave and tell Laguna to have a few more drinks on them. While doing so, Julia approaches Laguna’s table and has a seat with him. The two strike up a rather awkward conversation (in which even Julia asks how Laguna’s leg is); however, luck is on Laguna’s side as Julia invites him to her room so they can talk in private. Laguna finally gets the nerve to head up to her room and the two start talking and hit it off. Here Laguna reveals his actual dream is to be a journalist (in fact some of his work appears throughout the game). Julia reveals that one day she’d like to sing; however, she struggles at writing lyrics, but she believes that Laguna will be able to inspire her to write a song. Just as it seems everything will fall into place for Laguna, Kiros comes knocking on the door to relay new orders and at that time Squall, Zell, and Selphie all wake up.
After the dream diversion, the three arrive in Timber and meet up with the Forrest Owls and are introduced to their leader, who ends up being the same girl that danced with Squall the night before, Rinoa Heartilly. The Forrest Owls then lay out their plan to the three new SeeD: they are to intercept and hijack the train of Galbadia’s president, Vinzer Deling. After they do so, the plan is to corner him and force him to withdraw his forces from Timber. The plan works; however, the president had a body double and he ends up turning into a monster that the party must defeat.
After realizing they have been duped, the resistance learns that President Deling will actually be on Timber’s TV Station to address the world. Deling announces that he has appointed a new diplomat for Galbadia, the Sorceress Edea; however, just as he does, Seifer comes storming into the scene and takes Deling hostage. Quistis, who also happens to be on the scene says that if the Timber Team is watching, they need to get up to the station to assist. Squall and company rush to the tower and attempt to talk Seifer down, which fails and he attempts to fall back with the president still held at gunblade point. The Sorceress Edea then appears and begins to talk to Seifer and she convinces him to come with her. He releases the president and disappears with Edea.
As things begin to somewhat settle down, Quistis reminds Squall that since they cannot currently return back to Balamb Garden, they must go to the nearest garden, which happens to be Galbadia Garden. On the train ride there, Squall, Selphie, and Quistis pass out and return to the adventures of Laguna. Laguna and company are in the wrong patrol location and find themselves in a location called “the Centra”. Soon they find themselves on the run from Esthar soldiers. In the end one of the dying soldiers uses an ability that severely cripples the party. They then arrive at a cliff and see an ocean and a boat. Laguna throws his squad members into the ocean and then later jumps himself to escape, after which, Squall, Selphie and Quistis awake.
Everyone then heads to Galbadia Garden and Quistis talks with Headmaster Martine. She comes back to report to the party that SeeD was not implicated at all on the attempt at the president’s life; however, Seifer was found guilty of the entire situation and was executed. As everyone laments Seifer’s passing, it is revealed that Riona and Seifer had a bit of a history with each other, one in which Riona said she “might have been in love”. Everyone else starts eulogizing Seifer, which ends up driving Squall a bit crazy, saying he would refuse to have anyone talk about him in the past tense as they were with Seifer.
The group later meets up with Headmaster Martine whom hands over new orders from Cid: execute the Sorceress Edea. To complete this mission, Martine offers the services of sharpshooter Irvine Kinneas. The group then leaves for Deling City and on the train ride, we find out Ivrine fancies himself as quite the ladies man as he starts to hit on all the female members present.
Squall and company finally arrive in the city and head to General Caraway’s mansion only to be quickly denied entry until they preform a “test of courage”. Succeeding in this test, they finally meet the General, who is revealed to be Rinoa’s father. Caraway then runs down his plan: Irvine will use a sniper rifle to kill Edea during her inauguration parade by trapping Edea in a gateway. If for some reason that plan fails, the SeeDs will attack Edea head on. Riona, however, makes a plan of her own and wishes to use an Odine amulet to suppress Edea’s powers.
Everything, however, begins to go completely wrong. Edea stops Rinoa cold in her tracks and seemingly takes over her mind. She then is introduced to Deling City in which she completely insults the crowd and then kills President Deling. She then basically discards Rinoa and transforms two statues into monsters and makes them attack her. The crowd apparently has no issues with any of this and is ready to celebrate Edea’s self-proclaimed reign of terror:
While we are left wondering what happened to an ice-impaled Squall, we are sent back to the dream world in which Laguna is playing house with a small girl named Ellone and a woman named Raine in a town called Winhill. Kiros happens to find Laguna here and Laguna tells him that Raine nursed him back to health over six months and in repayment, he helps to hunt the monsters that plague the town since the rest of the men are out at war. Kiros mentions to Laguna that he has a contact with the “Timber Manics” magazine if Laguna wanted to write an article about traveling the world; however, Laguna seems to be hesitant to leave Raine and Ellone behind. After a quick scene in which Laguna eavesdrops on Raine and Ellone talking about the possibility of the two getting married, we head back to the real world in which Zell wakes up and finds himself in a prison cell with everyone.
Zell quickly realizes that in his dream, he was Ward and he was working in the same prison they are being held in. As Zell tries to figure a way out, the scene moves to Squall whom is being tortured by Seifer demanding to know the “true purpose” of SeeD and why they oppose Edea. Squall is dumbfounded and has no answers. As the torture ends, a prison warden informs Seifer that a missile attack is ready for Balamb and Trabia Gardens as punishment for opposing Edea. Seifer says once Balamb is destroyed, Edea and Seifer are going to go all Emperor/Darth Vader on the world and hunt down and kill every last SeeD. Seifer leaves and the torture is picked up by a prison warden, causing Squall to pass out.
Zell then starts to help everyone break out of the prison by reclaiming everyone’s weapons and they go look for Squall. They finally find Squall in room he passed out in, having just been awakened by a strange creature called a Moomba that kept calling him Laguna. With the Balamb SeeDs reunited, they try to find their way out and run into Rinoa and Irvine. With everyone back together again, the party escapes and split up into two groups: one to warn Balamb Garden and one to try to stop the missile launch.
The story then follows the group trying to stop the missile launch, lead by Selphie. Despite their best efforts, the missiles do launch towards Balamb. The focus then shift’s to Squall’s group at Balamb Garden and they find everything has gone completely nuts. The Garden has split into two factions, one supporting Headmaster Cid and one wishing to overthrow him, claiming they are allied with the “Garden Master”. Cid gives squall a key that will allow him to go to a restricted level of the Garden saying there is a control system there that should help them out. What they find is a control system to make Balamb Garden mobile, allowing them to avoid the missiles; however, Cid warns them that he can’t fully control the Garden’s movements.
After the crash, Squall is told to report to the “Garden Master” in the basement. There he runs into Cid and later meets NORG, a creature known as a Shumi. NORG explains that he is the financial backer of the Gardens and that he is quite pissed the assassination attempt at Edea failed. Since Martine used Squall to carry out the orders, he believed that Martine was attempting to ensure blame would be placed on NORG and Balamb Garden. NORG then begins a rather insane rant that all Cid and Martine are trying to do is take his Garden (and really, his cash flow) away from him. He wishes to hand over all the SeeDs and Cid to quell Edea’s anger, saying it is “his Garden” and he can do as he wishes. As Squall objects, NORG reveals that Cid and Edea are actually married, and then quickly believes the two of them are in cahoots to take the Garden away from him.
So yeah, NORG loses his mind and tries to attack Squall and his group, forcing them to kill the crazy alien…thing. But hey, if you think the little alien running Garden as well as Cid and Edea being married was a bit weird (even Squall flips out at this point in the game), just wait, we are only getting started.
A Galbadian ship approaches the Garden and it is full of SeeDs dressed in white, whom identify themselves as Edea’s SeeDs (still with me?). They claim to come in peace and talk to Cid and suggest to him that he needs to had over Ellone (yes, that Ellone from Laguna-world) to them so she can be safe. Cid agrees and tells Squall to find her. Squall finally finds the girl and confronts her about the dreams they’ve been having. She confesses that she is the same Ellone that they’ve been seeing, but that their dreams aren’t dreams at all, they are being transported into the past and she was hoping they could change it.
After Ellone is taken away a very confused Squall is lying in bed. Rinoa drops in wanting a to take a walk with him, but their walk is soon cut short by Balamb Garden crashing into Fisherman’s Horizon and Cid calling Squall to his office. Cid asks Squall to go meet with the mayor of Fisherman’s Horizon. The mayor offers to help with Garden repairs, but asks that everyone leaves immediately when it is fixed. Soon after Galbadian soldiers come looking for Ellone and threaten to torch the city regardless if they find her or not. Squall and company help drive them out and he returns to report to Cid.
After hearing Squall’s report, Cid makes an announcement to the entire Garden. He says that the Garden is being fixed and they will use it as a mobile base to start a war with Edea. He also says a new commander will lead them in this new mission: Squall. Squall borderline freaks out, but Cid says that it is his fate to accept this role and defeat Edea.
After Squall’s promotion, the story takes a quick break and Selphie comes up with an idea to celebrate and hopefully make Squall relax a bit. She starts a band with herself, Quistis, Zell, and Irvine as members and wants Riona to be able to talk with Squall. As Squall heads out of his room, he is met by Rinoa in the same dress she wore at the graduation party. She tries, and fails to get Squall to open up to her and have him rely on her and the rest of his friends for help. Squall’s cold responses don’t settle well with Rinoa, whom eventually storms off.
The next morning, Squall leads the Garden to the city of Balamb to check on the situation there. They find that Galbadian soldiers, led by Fujin and Raijin (Seifer’s friends) have occupied the city and are searching for Ellone. They defeat the pair and drive them out of the city. Later, Selphie suggests that they go back to her home Garden of Trabia as she is worried about its condition since it was a target of the earlier missile attacks. Squall figures it isn’t a bad idea so they head out and find Trabia Garden destroyed.
After a bit of lamenting by Selphie, the group begins to talk and it leads in the pasts of all the SeeD members. Irvine’s memory is the most clear and everyone figures out that, save for Rinoa, they all grew up in the same orphanage. We then find out that Squall was always waiting on his “sis” (whom he has legit dreams about throughout the game), this “sis” is none other than Ellone. Everyone tries to figure out why they can’t remember these things, yet Irvine seems to be able to better than anyone else. They finally come to the conclusion that the use of GFs causes memory loss, and since Irvine was the last of the group to junction them, he has the clearest memory.
As the group continues to piece together their past, they remember who ran the orphanage, whom they called “Matron”: Edea. The party comes to grips that they must fight their mother figure and decide to try to go to the orphanage for answers. After they check the place out though, they see Galbadia Garden coming right at them. Squall prepares Balamb Garden for battle and they engage Edea’s forces in one of the more epic sequences in the entire series:
Squall and company face Seifer and Edea once again and take them down. After her defeat, Edea seems to remember everything out of nowhere, and even asks if she has successfully protected Ellone. During this time, Rinoa collapses as well. Later on everyone regroups at Edea’s house and she reveals that she was being possessed by a powerful sorceress from the future, Ultimecia. Edea knew Ultimecia was after alone and therefore allowed herself to fall subject to Ultimecia’s will in order to save Ellone. Ultimecia’s ultimate goal is to use Ellone’s powers to send her mind into the past, present and future so that she can compress time and become a powerful goddess over not just the world, but over all time as well. After the update, Squall goes to check on the unconscious Rinoa…and then once again falls into the dream world.
We then see Laguna working on the set of a movie in which his role is that of the sorceress’ knight. As that scene comes to a close, Ellone begins to talk to Squall and apologizes that she can’t seem to “disconnect” him because she is asleep and can’t fully control her powers. The scene quickly shifts to Laguna talking to Edea as he is looking for Ellone. He reveals that she was kidnapped by Esthar soldiers because they were looking for a successor to Adel, that time’s sorceress. Just before Ellone “disconnects” Squall, she reveals that while Laguna was searching for her, Raine died due to complications in childbirth (yes, that would be her and Laguna’s child). She tried to use her powers to send Laguna back to that very moment, but she couldn’t, nor could she change the past to make it so. Squall then wakes up, and is determined to find Ellone.
With Edea’s help, Squall learns the location of the White SeeD ship where Ellone is being kept safe…or so he thought. It turns out that the Galbadian army found the ship and attacked them. During the battle a ship from Esthar came and Ellone ended up leaving with them during the fray. With this knowledge, Squall decides to go to Esthar alone, carrying Rinoa on his back.
Squall, however, is met with the rest of the group, along with Edea who says she needs to see Dr. Odine so he can take her sorceress powers away, negating the need for Ultimecia to attempt to take over her body again. The SeeDs reunite with their Matron and set out to find the hidden city of Esthar, and eventually they do. As they enter the city, Squall collapses as is taken back to Laguna’s time.
This time around, Laguna is slaving away at a place called the Lunatic Pandora along with Kiros and Ward. The three attempt an escape and while doing so, they overhear Dr. Odine talking to his assistants about using the Lunatic Pandora as a weapon and something about a moon base. They also hear something about the sorceress Adel abducting young girls for some form of research.
After Dr. Odine leaves, one of the assistants ends up meeting with Laguna, Kiros, and Ward, revealing that he is a part of a resistance against Adel. He tells them that Dr. Odine is now obsessed with a young girl named Ellone. Laguna and the assistant then strike a deal to help each other out. The resistance would help Laguna reclaim Ellone and Laguna would aid the resistance effort. Laguna finds Dr. Odine, who gives up Ellone’s location, and finally reaches Ellone after his long search.
At this point Squall wakes up once again, and the party sets out to meet Dr. Odine. He agrees to suppress Edea’s powers and also makes a deal with Squall to see Ellone, as long as he is allowed to examine Rinoa. Squall agrees, and preparations are made to send Squall and Rinoa to the moon via the Lunar Gate. As they launch, a large structure comes out of the ground. Dr. Odine immediately identifies it as the Lunantic Pandora and it seems that Galbadia is to blame for bringing it out of the ground. Zell attempts to lead a group inside, but they are quickly kicked out.
The scene shifts to Squall who has arrived at the Lunar Base. He then meets up with Ellone at long last and requests her help reviving Rinoa. As Squall attempts to bring Ellone to Rinoa, alarms start going off all around the base. Rinoa has seemingly gone mad and is trying to free the sorceress Adel, whom is sealed out in space. All the while, a phenomenon called the Lunar Cry is starting in which thousands of monsters gather on the moon and then are sent down to the Earth at a single point at the behest of the Lunatic Pandora.
Squall then demands that Ellone sends him back into Rinoa’s past in order to try to figure out what’s wrong with her. Eventually he sees what actually happened after Seifer and Edea were defeated. Ultimecia told Seifer to activate the Lunatic Pandora and she possessed Rinoa’s body. Squall then attempts to “connect” with Rinoa whom seemingly comes back to her senses after releasing Adel. However, the space suit she is wearing is running low on oxygen and Squall heads out to space and saves her. Still running low on oxygen, the two find an old spaceship called the Raganrok and in there, a supply of oxygen.
After the two clean out the ship of some nasty monsters, they are able to get back in touch with Esthar. The ground control team there helps Squall set the ship on a course back to Earth successfully. On the way back, Squall and Rinoa share a rather touching scene along with the game’s theme song “Eyes on Me”; however, everything comes crashing back down to reality once Esthar realizes that Rinoa is on the ship and deems her a threat as she has become a sorceress and unwillingly took on Edea’s powers without either of them really knowing it.
Once Squall and Rinoa land, Rinoa agrees to be sealed as Adel was. She believes that this must be done so that Ultimecia cannot possess her any further and achieve her goal of Time Compression. After Rinoa is taken away Zell fills Squall in on the Lunatic Pandora and how it managed to start the Lunar Cry. Not only that, thanks to the Lunar Cry, Adel’s now unlocked tomb was caught int the Lunar Cry stream and Adel is now back on the surface inside the Lunatic Pandora. However, there is only one thing on Squall’s mind and that is saving Rinoa and he saves her before she is sealed away.
After another conversation between Squall and Rinoa (ah, love is blooming), everyone is informed that Esthar has formed a plan to defeat Ultimecia and their presence is required at Esthar at once to meet the president. The group flies the Raganrok to Esthar and are greeted by Ward and Kiros, as well as Esthar’s president, Laguna. Squall prompts Laguna for the plan, which is followed by an explanation from Dr. Odine on how Ultimecia is controlling minds across time, via a machine he created to mimic Ellone’s powers called “Junction Machine Ellone”. Since the machine has limits, Ultimecia wanted to find Ellone in order to actually achieve the goal of time compression.
So they come up with the following plan: Squall and company will go inside the Lunatic Pandora to both kill Adel before she fully awakens and to rescue Ellone. With Adel dead and Edea’s powers now passed on to Rinoa, Ultimecia would be forced to possess Rinoa once again. At that point, Ellone would send Riona’s mind back into another sorceress of the past, prompting Ultimecia to trigger Time Compression. At that point, the party would be transported into Time Compression as well, allowing them to face Ultimecia herself and have the chance to destroy her. However, being able to survive Time Compression is quite a tricky process, and to make it through, everyone must remember their love and friendship (an explanation that even Squall admits is corny).
Squall and company go to the Lunatic Pandora and execute their plan to perfection, taking down Seifer and then Adel. As planned, Rinoa was possessed by Ultimecia, Ellone sent her back to the past and Ultimecia was tricked into compressing time. The entire party was able to make it safely through the attempted time compression and arrived in Ultimecia’s time. As they arrive in front of Ultimecia’s castle, they see the bodies of SeeDs everywhere, causing Squall to believe that SeeD has been fighting Ultimecia for generations.
The party then enters their final challenge, which is probably one of the more unique final dungeons of the series. As they enter Ultimecia’s castle, all of their abilities are stripped, allowing them only the ability to attack. The party must unlock their abilities one by one by defeating several bosses throughout the castle, all the while solving several puzzles in order to get to them. Finally, after they unlock everything, they face off at long last against Ultimecia.
This starts off a four stage battle which serves as the final conflict for the game. First, the party fights against her “normal form” and she chooses three random party members in which to do battle with. If any character is left KO’d for too long during the fight, Ultimecia can absorb them into time and they are replaced with another party member (which the player can actually use to their advantage to get their “main party” into battle). After the party beats the sorceress, she then digs into Squall’s mind and summons, Griever, the name of Squall’s ring and his idea of the ultimate Guardian Force. After the party takes out the beast, Ultimecia then junctions herself to Griever, creating a hybrid form of the two. Finally, Ultimecia enters her final form, which has all sorts of nasty attacks. Not only can she cast some of the best magic in the game and instantly kill the player’s GFs, but she also creates a new spell from her own mind called Apocalypse, which is her idea of the ultimate Black Magic.
After this battle comes to a close, Ultimecia finally falls, and her Time Compression spell begins to reverse. As everyone tries to get back to the present time, Squall seems to misfire slightly and ends up back in the past, coming back into contact with Edea:
With Ultimecia’s powers transferred, she finally dies. The scene still follows Squall as he seems lost in time and tries desperately to remember his friends, and especially his love, Rinoa:
After Laguna fondly remembers his past with Raine, the credits roll and we are treated to rather humorous “home footage” of everyone celebrating their victory. And after the credits are done, we see what happens with Rinoa after the camera’s battery dies:
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