Final Fantasy 8 redefined the series’ relationship with fantasy – article
Final Fantasy 8, my very first Final Fantasy, turns 20 this year. We all have that unique memory of the first game we put on a brand new console, and this is mine: the opening sequence on the beach, the waves crashing on the shore, the first notes of Free Fatals they give me. goosebumps immediately. First love is never forgotten, yet now I know this game has flaws, especially when you look at it within the context of what came before and what followed.
How do you go about producing something new after such a full-blown success as that of Final Fantasy 7, a game that gave the series a global success and that for many players represents the model to refer to when talking about Final Fantasy? The somewhat disappointing response was trying to give players more of the aesthetics that made him famous. The design of FF7 was characterized by a very modern technology and a theme that explored the evils arising from the misuse of technology, a topic still extremely current. FF8 subsequently sought to further improve the aesthetic modernity, created apparently adult characters, a modern setting and a strongly militaristic theme.
Where FF7 broke away from the origins of the series, through an environmental message, using magic as a metaphor for our natural resources, FF8 made magic less ?? magical ?? and more utilitarian, an approach characterized by drawing mechanics in stark contrast to the impressive and otherworldly evocations. The magic in this game is no longer a life force, but a poison that causes amnesia and feeds the corrupt witches determined to break the peace. The fantasy elements have not been removed, but have taken on an unusual negative connotation.
On the other hand, technology in Final Fantasy has always been something that disturbed the natural order of things. Just think of the fact that the airships, in FF4, were used as tools of war or how most of the vehicles in FF7 were developed by the evil megacorporation Shinra, whose failed prototypes are scattered in the slums. In FF8, the Garden design and many other settings such as military bases, prisons and research centers normalize the use of technology and make it part of the landscape. This game has almost put the modernity of its settings and the tools of war on the same level. FF8 has gone even further into the topos of seemingly endless warfare against an oppressive empire, itself a fundamental pillar of Western fantasy of social criticism.
War and occupation by a higher power certainly represent a central theme for the Final Fantasy series, but FF8 normalizes this state instead of actively opposing it, as happens in other chapters of the saga. Although there are only three Gardens, specialized military schools, their role in global peacekeeping operations between nations is represented as fundamental. In an age where the use of video games to violence is being actively questioned, the evident pride with which a 17-year-old wields a rifle in this game makes a strange sensation. Final Fantasy has a discordant relationship with violence from several points of view: if something looks like a monster or a masked soldier we are free to kill it, but if a character has relevance in the plot, but above all, for our heroes protagonists, then a moral dilemma arises. When Irvine is tasked with killing Edea, who turns out to be his adoptive mother, he is unable to do so. This is understandable in itself, but later, he himself will define his inability to pull the trigger ?? when needed ?? as a flaw, a failure in not being able to do what was expected of him. In FF8, you are always either attacking or defending: Laguna protects a peaceful village by force and Squall takes down the intruders in Balamb’s Garden. As mercenaries, violence is something that is expected of us, even at the cost of paying the consequences on a personal level.
Despite this, the camaraderie component and the modern setting are two things I really like a lot about FF8. Both of these aspects, as teenagers, made us dream of being able to enter the game, when school was always the same old story, shamefully without giant swords and tyrannosaurs. FF8 is closer to real life: you might not need magic to be someone special, and it’s not their fantastic style or mastery of weapons that define characters. It is reassuring for a teenager that even the strong type, good at martial arts, has to worry about not failing.
All subsequent chapters of Final Fantasy have gone in a much more interesting direction when it comes to warfare. FF9 contextualized the effects of war much more than before, not treating it as a past event, but showing its direct consequences on anyone other than us: a mighty warrior with the ability to face enemies. In FF10, the growing helplessness in the face of an enemy acting like a natural catastrophe gave an understandable reason why different forces began to turn against each other. FF12 was all about ending a war without prevailing over one’s enemies, but removing the source of the conflict, which in the good Final Fantasy tradition once again turns out to be the misuse of magic.
FF8, on the other hand, never advocated a peaceful solution and left little room for doubt about the methods employed. A story becomes much more interesting when the hero realizes that his hand is involved in the events that happen and, in this, FF8 has not succeeded very well. Having understood this, made me appreciate FF13 much more, a game in which our group achieves its goals by deliberately challenging their own destiny.
FF8 remains one of my favorite games because it represents a great opportunity for character development. Squall is not a pleasant character and nothing that happens throughout the story completely changes his taciturn nature. It’s really fun to see others tease and torment him, and all those moments when he expresses his emotions seem important and hard earned. Strict Quistis is more than just an instructor, she is also a young woman not used to going beyond what she has been taught. Even Selphie has her time to become more of an annoying assistant once she finds out that she can inspire happiness in others.
Over the course of the game, we get a chance to see a different side to each of our companions, as their relationships develop through conversations about events, where each character can express their feelings. While Noctis in FF15 or Tidus in FF10 lift the morale of the whole group, here everyone is able to express their emotions. In this context, war occupies the traditional role of the fantastic. This replacement makes FF8 unusually obscure, its fantasy elements, such as Mumba, the equivalent in this game of Moogle, look ridiculously out of place.
In later chapters of the series, Square Enix restored the importance of fantasy and magic, gradually introducing a more balanced mix of historical and futuristic design elements. I am happy that Final Fantasy has presented itself to me as a saga that entrusts serious themes to a young audience. Now I understand how some of his mistakes made the whole series better.